There is no guarantee that the RAGBRAI chronicles found on this website under THE RIDE ==> RAGBRAI HISTORY are exhaustive but they do mention that 2000 had more gravel than usual and 2001 had none at all. The last time the word gravel is mentioned in them is this entry from 2004:
The ride from Iowa Falls to Marshalltown was the second shortest of the ride at 62 miles, but proved one of the roughest with two sections of hilly gravel roads near the end due to unexpected construction. Following the shortest day of the ride, Marshalltown to Hiawatha weighed in as the longest at 84 miles. The greeting the riders received from the first-time host, Hiawatha, was worth the trip. Rain soaked the riders as they made their way to Maquoketa on Friday. A section of gravel out of Anamosa turned to soup by the rain, and by the time the riders left that section of road, they were covered from head to spoke with a thin layer of mud. Locals along the route with hoses were more popular than food stands that day.
I for one hope that they continue to have a gravel loop. It was fun and even if only around 5% of the survey respondents report riding it this year I think that number could grow enough over time to make it worthwhile for the pass through towns if they keep promoting it. Put something especially interesting in the gravel loop town. Or use the gravel loop to show us something that only can be seen from that gravel road. You can run what you brung if you stick to the tire tracks, you can run a sensible pair of tires for that day, or you can do what I did and run “fat” (38mm) tires the whole week. I’ve ridden at least parts of four RAGBRAIs all on those same tires which are about worn out now and I will replace them with the same or fatter if I can find something fatter that I like. I dropped the front to 40 pounds, the rear to 65 and if there was anything on this year’s loop big enough to give me a pinch flat I could not find it. It was not for lack of trying, I rode all over that road. I made my own tire tracks! Gravel is an option worth keeping for those who enjoy it.
Personally I think century day should remain an optional loop, not that I think there is any real chance this policy would change. Not everyone can do it so making it an option makes the ride more accessible for them and at the same time it quietly taunts them and so encourages them to become able to do it! The 540 miles I rode this year are the most I have ever done in a week and I would love to see a second or third or … optional century loop so that I could make that much every year and see how much more I could take. If they continue the gravel loop day it could easily be extended to make a second century loop, wouldn’t have to be all gravel either but I could have done two or three times as much gravel easily if it were no worse than this years.
Ironically, after challenging us to ride the gravel the day before they forced us to walk the short stretch of main route gravel on century day this year!!