Moriah Wilson: Vermont’s Super Star Gravel Racer

Ted and Laura King founded Rooted Vermont and have been some of the top gravel racers since the sport began to grow.  Opening photo is Moriah giving Laura King a high-five after Mo finished third at Rooted Vermont in 2021. Ted remembers her here. For more on Moriah Wilson, see How Moriah Wilson Became a Star

I first met Mo Wilson this spring on a group training ride in Sonoma County, California. She’d already stacked up some monumental wins early into this season, which I read about in the headlines, but I was curious to hear her bigger life story. I rode up to Mo and lightheartedly asked, “How is it we’re both from Vermont, but we only meet here on the West Coast?” With her characteristic ear-to-ear smile, she responded, “Home in Vermont is my favorite thing to talk about!”

I learned that as a kid growing up in East Burke, downhill skiing was her passion. She joked that if she’d ever really paid attention to it, her true calling would have been towards endurance sports. Mo loved downhill skiing. She also loved exploring the Kingdom Trails on her mountain bike. She wasn’t racing bikes at that point in her life, but that time riding trails surely laid the foundation for the bike-handling skillset that’s required for any kind of cycling success, especially in gravel riding.

Gravel cycling is on one hand quite niche. It’s a new facet of the sport, with no official beginning— although the term “gravel” has only been used for the past decade or so. On the other hand, it’s far and away the most popular side of cycling. Thanks to its welcoming nature, gravel riding draws people to the bike who would otherwise never ride. Gravel events intentionally cater to the masses. Often, both first time riders and speedy professionals attend and ride the same event, all pedaling to the same party afterwards.

Mo was superlative in a variety of ways. Her ability to straddle those two camps – that is, to be relatively new to cycling yet immediately find her place among the sport’s very best – makes her story stand out to so many.

She only got into racing bikes in 2019, after graduating from Dartmouth and moving to California’s Bay area. Finding early success in this hotbed of a local cycling scene, she then burst to national attention when events came back online after the 2020 shut down.

In my eyes, one of her most exemplary performances wasn’t actually a win, but her second place at the Leadville 100 in 2021, just a few days after finishing third at our Richmond gravel race, Rooted Vermont. One of the most challenging races of any discipline in North America, the Leadville 100-mile mountain bike race snakes across Colorado’s sky-scraping Rocky Mountains, crossing terrain where oxygen feels nonexistent.

Cycling is a sport that rewards cumulative training. Chronic hard work, year over year, often for upwards of a decade or more is what puts a rider in the very top tier. The more challenging the race, the more those previous years of training are relied upon to grit through the challenge. For such a new racer to land one step away from the top step of the Leadville podium is extraordinary.

The standout names in the burgeoning sport of gravel cycling have earned their recognition with a lengthy history in more traditional aspects of cycling. The best gravel racers have spent lengthy careers as professional road or mountain bike racers. It truly wasn’t until Mo’s meteoric rise to the very highest level that we’ve seen someone come from out of the blue to reach the highest level. Mo did it uniquely her way.

The highest tier of gravel racing is a full-time job. Flying from race to race, spending time at training camps, or fulfilling sponsor obligations is all encompassing. Juggling a separate job outside of the sport is nearly impossible.

Mo was doing both. Some of the most exciting news in the gravel world was that Mo had just announced she was stepping away from her full-time job in sales forecasting for Specialized in order to focus exclusively on training and racing. She was already winning, and with more training, more time riding, the sky was the limit.

The news of her passing has been indescribably heart-wrenching and has cast a pall across the gravel community. I’m thankful that I can eke out slivers of happiness having briefly gotten to know Mo, having seen her at the races and events, and witnessed the positivity she emanated. Her reputation in the cycling world was built on a combination of positivity and humility. It’s with these two characteristics, plus incredible results, that her name was already

No words can encompass the devastating loss of Moriah Wilson. It’s incomprehensible the tragedy and heartbreak surrounding her death. The gravel cycling community often feels like a family and the news of her passing sent a shockwave throughout this tightly-knit group.

She was on the minds of all gravel racers in 2022. She’s now in the hearts of gravel racers forever.

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