Rob Britton didn’t actually hang up his wheels when he retired from the pro peloton. In fact, he rarely stops turning the cranks at all. After 12 years with pro road teams, last with Rally Cycling (now Human Powered Health), he just completed his first year as a ‘one-man show’ in the boom world of the gravel gold rush.
How was the full-time foray into off road? Britton found a vein of success that helps him with his “Wirth It Project”, as he calls it. As a top 10 finisher in the elite men’s division of the inaugural Life Time Grand Prix, he scored a portion of the $250,000 prize purse after his 14th place finish at Big Sugar Gravel. For him, it is about sharing the wealth, as he has committed to donate half of his prize money to WIRTH Hats Counselling Fund, which provides free, virtual mental health resources to people worldwide.
“Initially, when I stopped road racing, it was with the intention to do gravel and some adventure stuff. I stopped road racing because I wanted to do a lot more in cycling, and not just travelling around Europe, not that that was a bad thing. I had achieved a lot and I was very satisfied,” Britton told Cyclingnews in Bentonville.
“I wanted to do more than just make money for me, myself and I. I spent a lot of years doing that, like most people do in their careers. So It’s been fun to give back, half of my earnings to WIRTH Counseling Foundation. It’s been great to work with them. It’s nice to have another purpose other than just trying to smash money for myself.”
WIRTH Hats was founded in Vancouver, British Columbia, where Britton resides, to honour Jakob Wirth, who died by suicide in 2014. Since the company’s inception, the sale of hats and stickers has been the main source of funding to provide mental health counselling and outreach programs to individuals and families in need. Britton selected the BC-based foundation as a suggestion from a friend, and because “it just clicked. Mental health is really important.”
“Prize money is always a nice bonus, it’s never a guarantee. The prize purse for sure is massive [at Life Time Grand Prix]. I’m stoked to be in the prize money.“
Britton finished seventh in the final Grand Prix standings, a tie with Adam Roberge with 109 points once the best five out of six event finishes were scored. The tie-breaker went to Roberge, as he finished third at the final event, Big Sugar Gravel, 11 places higher than Britton. But Britton still received a check for $8,000, which meant the year’s donation to WIRTH goes up by $4,000.
“I started doing some stuff with them during the pandemic, in 2020. We raised just over $12,000,” he said, referring to a 24-hour ride across the 510km length of Vancouver Island to begin the fundraising.
Since many of the ultra-distance pursuits do not have prize money, Britton added a crowdsourcing initiative for his 1000-mile FKT, fastest known time, effort at BC Epic. He was seven hours faster than the previous record, a new best time of 2 days, 9 hours and 24 minutes. To date, his effort has raised $6,242.
Then came the Life Time Grand Prix presented by Mazda. He had to finish in the top 10 of the pro men’s invitation-only field of 30 to receive a paycheck. His best finish of his five events was fourth in his first outing at Unbound Gravel 200.
“This year has just been a total experiment more than anything. And, yeah, when I got into the Life Time series, I was super excited, and relatively humbled, just because I didn’t anticipate actually getting into the series at all. So everything’s been a first time in many of these races. And it’s been really incredible,” the retired road pro said.
“They’re all totally different. Starting out with Sea Otter mountain bike in April, then Unbound 200. At Crusher [in the Tushar] I was dying a thousand deaths. And now here in Bentonville, Arkansas in October. This whole year’s been just wild.”
The only event that did not make his schedule was Chequamegon 40-mile MTB in Wisconsin, which conflicted with the BC Bike Race. Would he race the Life Time series again? Short answer, yes.
“You can see it’s getting validation. I don’t know what the series will look like, if it will mirror this year, or if Life Time will acquire more races or not. But yeah, it’s been fun,” he said.
“And like, there’s that part of me that does really love being on the sharp end of competition. I like racing the best guys. Seeing guys like Keegan [Swenson] and Alexey [Vermeulen], you’re seeing the best. I still have something to work towards, which is hugely motivating. I’d still like to have that balance of all the adventure and non racing stuff, so finding that balance is really kind of key.”
Swenson took the overall pro men’s title and Vermeulen secured second place at the Life Time Grand Prix, which wrapped up in Bentonville last weekend. Now that Britton’s first year as a privateer is done, he’s looking forward to one final event in December and add a few more dollars to the Wirth It Project.
“I call it The Last Ride. It is all the good parts of gravel in a local ‘anti-race’,” the Canadian explained. “There is no start, no finish, show up, get coffee, get the route and finish with gourmet food and beer. We’ve done it for seven or eight years and opened it to the public in 2017, just about 50 people. It’s one more event to raise some money.”