Season of 2022

Jonas Orset

Coldest, hottest, career highlights, a few lows. The year has literally been about climbing the highest mountains and pushing through valleys. What a year it has been!

We are into the last month of the year. I have no major events or crazy plans for the remaining weeks of the year, so it timely to wrap up the season, looking back on the most memorable events.

Post covid season

The never-ending pandemic, which put the world on hold, was finally backing off. I decided to shift my racing focus from the road to gravel back in 2019, but when the lockdown put a stop to most bike events, and especially international travels, this year was my first chance to really step into the prime gravel scene.

First, the winter had to let go.

The coldest

Organizing the Winter Cycling Day in Oslo Feb 11 with Green Cycling Norway and partners was nothing in comparison to what was to come.

April 2nd, I went to Longyearbyen on the Svalbard islands, about as far North you can get without being on a floating iceberg. I was on an epic mission, to do the Northernmost Everesting Challenge, in winterly conditions. An Arctic Everesting.

READ MORE: This is the story of Arctic Everesting

In freezing cold, -19°C average, and for more than 19 hours, I climbed the road up to Mine 3, 39 times. It was quite a physical and demanding challenge, but it was all worth it, as I did it to raise money for Ukrainian refugees and the work of Hope for Justice.

The local

Back on the mainland, and when I had thawed up, my team and I organized one of my favorite events, my local DNF GRVL. A challenging, yet super fun adventure 100-miler. The third edition offered a route from Hvervenbukta, following small and beautiful gravel roads all the way to Askim. Tor-Einar made the route and yes, this one was great.

The hottest

Early May I packed my bags and went to chase the American gravel dream with the Cadence Cyclery from Dallas.

May 5th, roughly a month after the Arctic Everesting, I was lining up for the Red Bull Rio Grande in West Texas. Temperatures in Marfa raised to more than 100°F (40°C). Going from the cleanest air in the world in the Arctic, to the dusty sandy dessert air. The organizer had been watering the trails for weeks to minimize the dust, but it sure was more reasons to use a bandana than the cool look. Surprisingly I did cope well with the heat, finishing 5th in the 79-mile race.

Great start to my American gravel campaign.

group of cyclists riding in dust in rio grande
In the lead in Rio Grande. I’m to the right, next to Inno, followed by riders like Paul Voss and Colin Strickland. Photo: Roszko.

READ ABOUT: Red Bull Rio Grande

Texas gravel in deadly heat

The following weekend I got a special invitation to Hico and the Gravel Locos, with most of the American gravel pros. In a proper historic Texan town, similar to the ones in the 20s Western movies, and in fact, the hometown of Billy the Kid no less, more than 1500 riders took on the challenge.

The sad news hit us straight before the start, as one of the riders, Mo Wilson, had been shot and killed by the ex-girlfriend to Colin Strickland, one of the main characters in gravel racing. It seemed to be an act of romantic jealousy to the friendship of Colin and Mo.

The gravel community is not that big, and most people know each other. I spoke with Colin few days before the homicide, which made it near for me as well, even though I didn’t know the victim. Rest in peace, Mo.

The race started as a huge mass start. Later, the separation started while the heat became unbearable. I felt great from the get-go, making the selection with the strongest 12 riders. Then, I was dropped from the lead at mile 110 and found myself solo for the next 15 miles in the burning heat. I was totally breaking down, dehydrated and overheated, going basically zig-zag looking for shadows along the road. I considered stopping at one of the few lonely farms to ask for water, but afraid of getting shot, or at least chased by a dog, I kept pedaling.

Finally, I was caught by a small group with riders like Dylan Johnson and Ted King. I wasn’t feeling good and could barely hold on, and crossed the line in 17th place overall.

This heat was more dangerous than the cold in Svalbard, and to be honest I was happy I survived.

RACE RECAP: Gravel Locos

group of cyclist riding in texas
Leading group. I am side by side with Peter Stetina. Photo:

The turning point

Being among the better riders in my first real gravel races, I started believing I had more in store. I was going into the next weekend with Rule of Three in Arkansas with high ambitions. The short version from Arkansas, this was not going as hoped. An early puncture, then crashing bad in the chase, I was ending my race in the hospital.

I wasn’t badly injured. I had a small fracture in my left wrist, I broke three teeth, and was generally bruised up. The doc said there was no big risk of making it worse, so I was free to ride my bike. I just had to stay upright. No more crashing.

I was able to race, but my body went into recovery mode, and I didn’t find the same form I had in Rio Grande and Gravel Locos.

Rider with injuries

The biggest race

The World’s premier gravel event is, no doubt, Unbound Gravel (former Dirty Kanza). The 200-miler is known all over the world and is on most riders’ bucket list. However, not many get a chance to go to the inner Kansas to race. It’s located pretty much in the middle of nowhere. The only thing around is the town of Emporia.

It was pretty special to finally be here. The race I had my eyes on for years. The reason I started with gravel. I had to postpone my participation two times due to covid regulations, but this year I made it.

The race started hard, but I didn’t have any problems staying with the first 40 riders, until puncturing at mile 46. Coming from the road, punctures are usually taken care of by changing wheels from the support vehicle. In a gravel race you are self-supported, except for the few aid stations. It took me a while to get going as I hoped it would seal, or a plug would make the drill. Eventually the tire inflated, but was leaking slowly. I lost a lot of time to the first riders. Now it was all about finishing.

Just finishing a 200-miler can be a challenge. 320 km on gravel roads is not a walk in the park. I passed the finish line after 11 hours 19 minutes, in The end result was a bit disappointing, but all things considered, I am happy to make it to and through my first Unbound Gravel.

READ MORE: Unbound Gravel

The party event

Where most cyclists are taking the following week after Unbound easy, I tried to get the most out of my last days in the US.

I raced the Tuesday Night Crit in Richardson, then Thursday Night MTB race in Erwin Park, before heading over with the Team Cadence to Tulsa for the Tulsa Tough and 3 days of crit racing.

My legs where a bit fatigued. I didn’t have the speed for sprinting, finishing all my races mid pack, but I enjoyed racing the pros at the highest level in American Crits, against the famous Legions from LA.

The late-night crit was special, racing under the light in Downtown Tusla. It was a lot of crashes, probably due to slow reaction by the riders when it’s dark.

My Saturday Crit was a bit better. It was burning hot, but the course was fast and quite fun. The high speed in the peloton didn’t give me or other riders much chance to make anything out of the race expect finishing mid pack. Sprinter’s race.

In the 1/2 race (not my race) a homeless man walked into the road making a massive crash, paying the price of losing his own life. Another sad story. Life is fragile. You never know when you’re going to go, so you got to make the best of each day.

On the Sunday’s Cry Baby Hill-race, we rode short loops in a neighborhood climb, with some scenes I’ll never forget. In more than 44°C, hundred, if not thousands of party-ready people, dressed in all sorts of clothes, if barely dressed at all, lining along the road to cheer, throw water and beer at all the passing riders. In the heat, it was pretty refreshing. I made a few good attacks. Due to the heat, I didn’t recover after my attempts. Finally, I was pulled out with 30 min to go, with just about 40 riders left. Team mate Cesar finished 3rd, which was really impressive.

The lava race

Back in Norway I disconnected a bit from races and travels and reconnected with my girlfriend in the South of Norway.

Then, the next cycling objective was to build up to The Rift, one of the most amazing gravel races, as it goes on lava gravel roads around the active volcano Hekla. The landscape is rough and really something else. The biggest test here is not the elevation, even though there are definitely some hills to overcome too. The challenge is the sharp lava rocks which makes the tires prone to punctures.

I started of the race well, making the selection of 9 riders, and felt like one of the stronger ones, at least top 5. However, after about 45 km I got my first flat which took a long while to repair. I gathered with fellow Norwegian and friend Andreas Ohldieck, and he was my saving angel as I kept puncturing. 4 flats.

I guess that’s part of the experience, but it would been more fun racing for a result than just to survive.

Group of riders riding in volcanic landscape.
Icelandic nature. I’m the rider in the middle with the open jacket. (Photo: Ragnar, The Rift)

Covid and social work

The day after the Rift I started feeling sick. Back in Norway I took a covid test which was positive. The following weeks meant lots of time to relax and not much training. I wasn’t that sick, but I didn’t want to rush anything.

The next week I restarted with light training, and most of my spare time was consumed by social work.

Break the Cycle 200 is a charity event where riders ride 200 miles, or 320 km, to fight modern slavery. The purpose is to raise money and awareness for the work of Hope for Justice.

August 6th, I organized the Oslo ride, but due to covid recovery just rode about 60 km myself. August 27th, I led the Stavanger event, and finally I was able to ride myself. It surely was two amazing rides. Pedaling together for something bigger. Thanks to all riders and staff who wanted to be a part of Break the Cycle.

Group of cyclist cycling towards Halden.
Break the Cycle arriving Halden after 160 km. Photo: Espen Vinje.

Green Cycling Schools

From mid-July and through October I led the Green Cycling Bike School project, where we hosted cycling days for kids and visited schools to develop skills. The goal of the project is to inspire the kids, of all levels and former experiences, to cycle more.

This season we in Green Cycling had more than 25 days of cycling schools for a total of about 500 kids.

Children cheering to the camera after cycling activities
Green Cycling School. This photo is from 2019. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

Racing continues

Racing continues

In mid-August I was back racing high level gravel, this time on the European ground. First off was the Gravel Grit n’Grind, a three-day gravel race, where the main event was the Saturdays UCI Gravel World Series event. It was the first event World Series in Gravel, and it shows how gravel is growing.

The race went pretty well. After finishing 7th on the Friday’s Time Trial is was even better on the important one on Saturday. Racing strong riders as Nathan Haas, Jasper Ockeloen, Nicholas Roche, Piotr Havik is never easy and it was a real hard race. I felt better through the race, but really had to dig deep a few times. In the end I was sprinting for 3rd, but didn’t have the gears with a 40T chainring. I lost the sprint in the group, but placed 6th in the race and 5th in my age category.

group of cyclist cycling in the forrest
High speed in the Halmstad UCI World Series.

I guess my lack of training after covid made my recovery suffer as I wasn’t feeling great in the Sunday’s race. However, I pushed through finishing 9th.

READ MORE: Halmstad Gravel Grit n’Grind

A month later, I was back racing the UCI Gravel World Series, with Hutchinson Ranxo Gravel in Cataluna. A great event and something I really enjoyed.

The start was intense with a 4k climb just 3 km into the race. I lost the first group and chased back for more than 40k. I made it, and eventually other riders started to struggle. In the end, it was every man for himself, and I managed a 7th place, about 10 minutes behind the winner Carlos Verona. Potentially my best performance ever as it was a really solid race lineup.

Hard racing in Catalunia. Click on the photo to read more. Photo: Ranxo Gravel.

Nesfjellet Gravelduro

In the beginning of September there was time for some Norwegian gravel event. I got the fastest time in Nordic Gravel Series Oslo September 3th.

The weekend after I organized the Nesfjellet Gravelduro in Nesbyen. It’s potentially the funniest gravel route I ever have done, with lots of gravel single tracks and beautiful mountainous surroundings. It was part of the Green Cycling Weekend in Nesbyen and we have two days of cycling schools in relation to the race. Such a great weekend and I look forward to the 2023 edition.

GET TO KNOW: Nesfjellet Gravelduro (external link)

UCI World Championship in Gravel

For the first time ever, the International Cycling Federation organized a Gravel World Championship. It was set to Veneto in Italy October 9th. I was the only Norwegian rider in the elite category, lining up with riders such as Peter Sagan, Mathieu van der Poel, Greg van Avermaet, Magnus Cort and more, as well as most of the non-American pro gravel riders.

I was traveling with a great support team, with the Morsa SK guys Lars Tore Markussen and Bjorn Bergenheim, together with my girlfriend.

It was really a milestone to be there with the top riders, and something I’m proud of. Unfortunately, the racing wasn’t anything to remember, as I was not in my best form due to a recent cold, and when I had a puncture after 10 km and had to ride 12 km on my flat tire to the service zone, it was not much of a result to remember. At least I made it to the finish.

Lining up for the first ever World Championship in Gravel. Photo: Lars Tore Markussen.

READ THE RACE RECAP: UCI World Championship

Back to the US

Straight after the World Championship I went to the US to finish of the season with Belgian Waffle Ride in Kansas and Big Sugar in Arkansas. Finally, I got a chance to bring my longtime friend, photographer and web designer Kent Erik over to show him what American gravel is all about.

The Belgian Waffle Ride came close to my travel from Europe. The course was really fun, with three single track sections, and lots of time to push power on a hilly Kansas countryside near Lawrence. I was on the attack early and in a few early breaks. I’m not sure if it was my lack of proper training the last weeks or just fatigue from all the traveling, but I really went out of gas just over halfway. I still finished the race in 17th, but I was racing strongly the first part so it was a bit disappointing finish.

Finishing 17th in Lawrence for the BWR race. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

In the midweek I spent some time in Dallas, and I joined the CX races. The cycling community in DFW is just great and I feel very welcomed. In some sense I felt home coming back to the Cadence Cyclery family. Not to mention the Corey Ray family with Sarah and their three kids who opened their home and let us sleep there. The hospitality is priceworthy.

group of riders cycling together
Group ride with GravelLocos and Laurens ten Dam. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

The last race of the season was Big Sugar in Arkansas. The final of the Lifetime Grand Prix series would have all the best American gravel racers lined up. It was held in the cycling town of Bentonville, and we stayed with the amazing Andy Hauser in Bella Vista.

I started the race aggressively making the first break staying away a few kilometers. When we hit the gravel, the field blew into pieces, and I was in a great position until my saddle fell down. I had to stop to adjust it, and from there it was all a chase to the finish. I made it in 27th, which is acceptable at the prime gravel scene. With no mechanical issues I would probably be closer to 15th.

Cyclist holding a cup and a maple sirup can
Last race with Big Sugar in Arkansas. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff.

READ MORE: Big Sugar Gravel

Thank you for making this season

An intense season came to an end October 22nd.

The last months I have been back in Norway. It’s kind of an apathetic feeling finishing a season, but it’s important to be able to look back and enjoy the memories, and next move forward and start dreaming for what’s coming.

It’s been one of my most memorable years yet, as racing gravel on the big scene has really been fun. I love that I can combine the racing with social work, and it’s worthwhile seeing all the kids experience the joy of cycling, and it’s been great to do those charity rides for those in need.

I am proud of that we managed to put our money where our mouths are, and let The Nordic Trailblazer be a prominent gravel viking. We put down a lot of time in this, and we believe it’s just the beginning of leading the way and building bridges through gravel.

There are also things to evaluate. I had several races ruined by mechanical issues, and it’s been a learning curve. I have learned much and feel I am where I belong, and hopefully there will be more top results to come, potentially more podiums in some of the bigger events.

cyclist cycling is a gravel road
Season of 2022 is over. It’s time to look forward to climb to something more in 2023. Photo: Kent Erik Harridsleff

Thanks y’all

Thank so much for all of you playing a part of this season. I appreciate all of you readers and those of you sending messages and encouraging comments on my social pages. Please keep it coming and let me know if there’s something you want to see more of!

Huge thank you to those of you being involved in my season and events, both support team, sponsors, and others helping out. Especially thank you to the guys behind The Nordic Trailblazer, and the Morsa SK support.

Big shout out to the Cadency Cyclery and the DFW community. You guys are great!

And to my personal sponsors, it wouldn’t be possible without you. Thank you!

Komoot (Route and navigation community)
Stages (Power meter, indoor bike and head units)
Cycling Service Nordic (DT Swiss wheels, Met helmets, Fizik, Muc Off, Sram)
CCN Sport (Cycling clothing)
Cannondale (Bicycles)
Impuls Helse (Physiotherapy and massage)
Squeezy Sports (Energy products)
Pharma Nord (Vitamins)
Universal Biology (Probiotics and vitamins)
Ski Kiropratikk og Velvære (Chiropractic, Ski)
Elite Performance Chiropractor (Chiropractic, McKinney)

I have been in some really exciting sponsorship meeting and have some motivating gravel racing goals for 2023 I cannot wait to share with you.

Stay tuned.

As a Christian I want to round up this resumé focusing on what really matters. I wish to share with you one of my favorite passages from the Bible. May you have a great Christmas and an amazing upcoming cycling year!

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:28-31
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