6 votes

A murder roils the cycling world: In gravel racing—the sport’s hottest category—the killing has exposed a lot of dirt


  1. soks_n_sandals
    Cycling sure has its fair share of douchebags. Also, didn't have "Chris Tolley interviewed for a New Yorker article" on my bingo card this year. I followed this when it happened because I'm pretty...

    Then a rider waiting for the next race walked up, confirmed that I was a reporter, and angrily told me to leave. When I asked him who he was, he said, “My name is Fuck You, Bro.” Later, it was easy to identify him—a real-estate agent who is a friend of Strickland’s. The man asked me why sexual infidelity was newsworthy. His ill humor was understandable enough, but it was striking that a woman’s murder had registered to him primarily as a challenge to Strickland’s well-being—a story about being caught out. Minutes later, as I was talking with the cyclist I’d arranged to meet, the real-estate guy shouted that I was a narc. The other cyclist apologized and rolled his eyes. Someone on a loudspeaker proudly declared that the evening’s event was “sponsored by nobody, presented by nobody!”

    Cycling sure has its fair share of douchebags.

    Also, didn't have "Chris Tolley interviewed for a New Yorker article" on my bingo card this year.

    I followed this when it happened because I'm pretty interested in American crit cycling and am familiar with some of the more prominent figures. I guess I still have some difficulty in bridging the story from this popular athlete (Colin Strickland) to his jealous ex-girlfriend (Armstrong). To me, this article is far less about Moriah Wilson than it is about how cycling produces (or attracts?) asshole dudes with huge egos. Like, this article is 8k+ words and it's not really about this awful tragedy so much as it is about Strickland and his sphere of influence. I guess I just have mixed feelings about it. Is it trying to implicate Strickland? Not really, I guess? Is it trying to paint him in some poor light? Maybe moreso? And I guess it also kind of paints some others in the sport the same way?

    2 votes
  2. AugustusFerdinand

    One morning in June, before dawn, cyclists began gathering at an intersection in Emporia, Kansas, to remember the victim of a recent murder. These were professional athletes as well as serious amateurs, on high-end bikes that click-clicked loudly while coming to a stop. The riders hugged; their bike lights blinked. By five-thirty, a few dozen women and men had collected in the dark.

    These cyclists had travelled to Emporia to compete in races the following day, in which most of them would ride for two hundred miles, on rolling unpaved roads, for at least nine and a half hours. The event is the biggest in the new niche sport of gravel-bike racing—a form of slog that presents itself as both a solo endurance test and a party in the mud. “Gravel” became a cycling term only about a decade ago, to describe machines that are a compromise, in weight and handling, between road bikes and mountain bikes. Gravel bikes, and gravel racing, have since proliferated—at a time when American participation in racing of the Lance Armstrong kind (skinnier tires, lighter frames) has been in decline. Indeed, the Kansas event, Unbound Gravel, can now fairly describe itself as the most important in all of American competitive cycling—even if many of the hundreds who pay to ride in it each year have little competitive ambition beyond not giving up. Like a big-city marathon, a typical gravel race is both an élite contest and, at the rear, something less pressing. Gravel evangelists sometimes like to compare this mix to a mullet haircut: “Business at the front, party at the back.” Emporia, a low-rise college town, had been filling with video crews and podcasters. Banners printed with the muddy faces of past winners hung from street lamps. The manufacturers of rival anti-chafing creams had set up stands.

    The early-morning cyclists were about to begin a memorial ride for Moriah Wilson, one of the sport’s leading athletes. She had died three weeks earlier, in what Amy Charity, who was riding that morning, described to me as “the most tragic and shocking thing that’s ever happened in this small community.” Wilson grew up in Vermont, the skiing daughter of a champion skier; she graduated from Dartmouth in 2019, then moved to California. This spring—a year after her first gravel race—she seemed poised to dominate the women’s field. In California in April, she won a major competition by twenty-five minutes. She was predicted to prevail at Unbound. In May, VeloNews described Wilson as “the winningest woman in the American off-road scene.”

    Hours after that article appeared online, Wilson was fatally shot, in an apartment in Austin, Texas. The crime was soon understood to be connected to her friendship with Colin Strickland, the biggest star that gravel racing has yet produced. Strickland, a thirty-six-year-old Texan, won in Emporia in 2019. He’s lean and good-looking, and has the deliberate enunciation of someone who’s a little more stoned than he’d planned to be. Another racer has observed that his cool, earnest self-assurance evokes both the cowboy and the hippie. Strickland has strongly appealed to fans and to commercial sponsors; these include Red Bull, which spends hundreds of millions each year associating itself with sports that have an air of risk. Gravel racing, as an upstart discipline, has endeavored to be taken seriously; so has Strickland. Great weight has been given to his pronouncements about what is called, with varying degrees of irony, “the spirit of gravel.” Last year, he wrote an article warning newcomers not to spoil the sport’s “authentic and relatable” reputation by introducing the sneaky team tactics of road racing—a sport that he defined as “non-inclusive.” Gravel racing was at its best, he wrote, when it fostered narratives of heroic solo achievement. (He was referring to achievements like his own.) A cyclist friend, posting on Instagram last year, teasingly called Strickland “Gravel Jesus.”

    On May 11th, Wilson was staying with a friend of hers in Austin, ahead of an upcoming race in Texas. Strickland picked her up on his BMW motorcycle; they went swimming at a local outdoor pool, and he dropped her back at the friend’s apartment mid-evening.

    At this time, Strickland had a long-term romantic partner, Kaitlin Armstrong, a real-estate agent and sometime yoga teacher who had become a keen weekend cyclist. (Kaitlin is not related to Lance Armstrong.) She and Strickland lived together, and had just started a business renovating vintage trailers. The day after Wilson’s death, the Austin police questioned Armstrong and released her. Then she disappeared. By the time of the memorial ride in Emporia, a warrant had been issued for her arrest, on suspicion of murder. The affidavit securing the warrant noted that, last winter, Strickland had bought Armstrong a gun.

    The dawn ride began; the cyclists headed east as the sun rose. After half an hour, they stopped by a pond. A woman read aloud from a blog that Wilson, writing in a likable, guileless voice, had begun in March. The cyclists heard Wilson’s thoughts about a recent race in Oklahoma, which she had lost after hesitating at a key juncture. “There will be more opportunities to take what I learned” and “apply it to other moments, both in cycling and in life,” she had written. “Next time I won’t risk taking the safer option. Next time, I will go.”

    1 vote