Dirty Jutland is one of the oldest Scandinavian gravel events. Since 2018, Uggi and his team have invited riders to ride along the windy west coast of Denmark. 900 riders signed up for this year’s event. Many riders participate in the 130 km “One Thirty” course, some brave souls tackle the entire 460 km XL from the German border. I will share my story from riding the original 223 km Grinder from Klitmøller to Skagen.

This is my race setup for the Dirty Jutland. You can see the whole setup if you click on the thumbnail above. (Unfortunately, there are not many photos of me during the race.) Photo: Andreas Ohldieck.

Splits on in the windy West Coast

While going south of Norway, I expected a warmer climate but it’s quite cold here. The northern breeze is chilling us to the bone. Only 11 riders remain in the front group. Out of the 400 riders starting the Gravel Grinder signed up for the event, we have narrowed down the group to the last few. However, we still have 150k to go.

On Friday morning, I took the ferry from Larvik to Hirtshals with Andreas and Anders, two riders I coach in 101percent Training. Today, Andreas had a strong start to the race but lost the front group with a puncture. Anders should be another few minutes behind him.

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The group is dominated by nine Danish riders, five from Willing Able. They are pushing a strong pace, as we have been having the whole day. But one fellow countryman is here, Vebjørn Rønning. We rode as teammates in the World Championship last fall. He also raced DNF GRVL two weeks ago in the snow. Now we are here in the cold Danish spring. I felt strong in the beginning, but it’s harder now. The tailwind helps with the pace but not with the drafting. There’s no place to hide.

In the first part, we rode many sections of beautiful forest roads. This is another group behind. Photo: Eventfotografi/Dirty Jutland.

There are many challenges to overcome

The route has led us along the beach, on forest roads, country roads, through towns, and mostly on gravel. It’s beautiful and fun. It’s pancake flat. The many twists and turns, but the sharp flints are the biggest challenges.

Many people experienced punctures, but I didn’t, thanks to my Challenge Getaway XP 40. Photo: Eventfotografi/Dirty Jutland

BAM! 

A rider in the group hits something and loses control of his bike. He’s down, and with the high speed, it’s almost impossible for the riders behind to avoid hitting him. It’s a domino effect, and I have first-row access. It’s too late to break. I’m in the middle of the gravel road, and a bike is flying towards me. Another rider on my right crashes into the ditch, and in a quick reaction, I manage to find a tiny gap, dodging the bike and the riders to my right. I’m through! Five riders are down. Vebjørn is one of them. None are seriously injured, and the fallen riders tell us to keep going, so we do. It’s a survival of the fittest. 7 riders left in the front.

One of the most iconic parts, when we were riding on a single track along the beach before we had to climb up the stairs. Photo: Eventfotografi/Dirty Jutland.

It’s getting hectic

We are passing midway, and soon, we catch the riders from the 130k route. This event is inclusive, and you’ll find riders from all levels. The many, some less experienced, riders create traffic jams in the narrow sections. I am doing my best to keep up with the riders, but I have to chase and maneuver gently (and sometimes not so gently) between riders. It’s a chaos. 

With 900 riders on the course, it was sometimes a lot of traffic. Photo: Eventfotografi/Dirty Jutland

I hit a rock, and it feels like my front tire is out of air. Panic sets in. Could it be a puncture? As we turn onto an asphalt road, I slow down to check, and to my relief, it’s not. But as I check my tire, a gap opens, and the leading riders pull away. I am getting dropped. I take a deep breath and summon all my strength to make a final attempt to catch up. I sprint with all my might and start counting down the seconds. 50 seconds…49 seconds…48…47. My legs feel heavy and full of lactate, and I can barely push the power. My heart is pounding, but I refuse to give up. I keep pushing, and finally, I start closing down the gap. The wind is howling in my ears as I continue to sprint. I can see the leading riders getting closer and closer. I give one final push.

Finally, I make it as we hit the gravel. Surprisingly, two fellow Norwegian riders from Sandnes are catching up. One of the riders had an early puncture, and they both stopped to fix it. They must have been chasing for hours, but they made it—impressive.

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You don’t get much draft in tailwind on a gravel road. I am still in pain after my last effort. We are heading towards the sea. I had heard about this section, and now we are finally here. We are riding on a 10km stretch of hard-packed beach. It’s an amazing road! The sand is so hard you can ride your road bike. Some cars also drive on it, but you need to be careful because there are occasional patches of loose sand where your front wheel can get stuck, and you may lose control. We also cross rivers and water pits on the beach as we maintain a high pace.

But I am in pain. I am losing the wheel in front of me. The gap is opening up again—5 meters, then 10, so 15. I don’t have another acceleration in my legs to get back up. I have to realize that I will not see the first eight riders again before the finish.

I team up with Kristoffer after getting dropped on the beach. Photo: me.

Finding my rhythm

Kristoffer from Sandnes also drops, and we team up. We don’t talk much, but we have a common understanding. We are both exhausted, but we are determined to reach the finish line. Eventually, riders from the 130k group start to pass us. I try to keep up, but I am completely exhausted right now. I haven’t felt this depleted in a long time. My heart rate is high, and I think my body is a little unwell, but I have no choice – I must reach the finish line. There’s no one to pick me up, and my bags are already in Skagen. I have to keep going, and if I can just keep up with some of these riders, it will be over much quicker than if I ride alone.

Three strong masters pass me. They have a good pace but are not trying to drop one another. It’s a perfect trio to follow. The train is moving, and we are getting closer to the end, kilometer by kilometer. Now we catch Kristoffer, too.

The last hours are long. I try to focus on the tasks ahead, my biggest being following the trio. I also make sure I drink and keep eating. I am about to empty my bottles, and the hydration pack has been empty for a while already. I would have stopped at the feed zones, but I didn’t risk getting dropped by the group.

I count down each of the last 20 km. It’s a test of patience, but we are closing in on the final kilometer. Five kilometers to go. We turn into a narrow cycle path crossing some scenic nature. It’s beautiful, but I am not able to enjoy it. Instead, I am getting dropped by the group. They are disappearing, but I don’t mind anymore. I know I am going to make it to the finish in Skagen.

The last 20 km had some really cool sections like this one. Photo: Eventfotografi/Dirty Jutland

Skagen – here we are!

We are in the Northernmost town in Denmark. And there it is—the finisher banner! I cross the line, tired yet satisfied. Despite my weak last hours, I hold on to 10th place in the Grinder!

I love the atmosphere in the finish area after an epic gravel ride. The riders are all exhausted but happy. The organizer serves burgers, chips, beers, cokes, and coffee. Food has never tasted better! Andreas and Anders are joining my table and sharing their stories from the day. We all agree it has been a ride to remember. This was epic! Thank you, Dirty Jutland. We will be back!

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Stage 1 – Hill climb

It’s a beautiful day outside. Shakira’s “El Jefe” is jamming on the speakers. The speaker is counting down, and you can feel the excitement building up in the 99 elite male riders. It’s like the calm before the storm, and you can sense the tension in the air. It’s a moment that’s both nerve-wracking and thrilling, and you know that something big is about to go down.

Rider lining up to race
Quiet before the storm. Photo: Gravel Earth Series

The first stage of X Santa Vall and the Gravel Earth Series is starting. I am accelerating and pushing over 1000 watts to get to the front as everyone wants to be in the front before the road narrows for the climb. Stage 1 is considered more of a prologue, and it’s where we put all the hard work done back in Norway to the test. We have focused on building our engine, and here we push it to its limit. It’s a 6 km hill climb with a mass start.

Rider smiling before a race
Big smiles when lining up at Santa Vall. Photo: Gravel Earth Series

I can see some well-known riders, including Peter Vakoc, Daniel Oss, Chad Haga, Jasper Ockeloen, Mattia de Marchi, and Ivar Silk, among others, ahead of me. The women’s group had already started climbing as they began earlier than the men. The event has attracted many renowned gravel riders along with a large number of high-level amateurs. The race is being held for three days in St. Gregori, outside Girona in Spain. More than 400 riders are here.

I quickly realize that I am not in my best shape for racing. I have to let the first group of riders go ahead of me. Soon after, more riders pass me as well. My legs are not functioning well and are completely blocked by lactate. It’s painful!

A dinosaur and fanatics are creating an amazing atmosphere! Photo: Gravel Earth Series

Andreas Ohldieck is passing me too. We traveled here together and stayed in an apartment in the center of the cycling capital – Girona. 

I crawl towards the summit, with fans cheering me on. Despite their encouragement, I can’t go any faster. Finally, I spot the finish line. I made it!

Now it’s time for the following pizza party at the event arena!

Many riders were fighting up the hill of the first stage. Photo: Gravel Earth Series

Stage 2 – Segments

Yesterday’s stage 1 was quite challenging for me. I knew that my preparation was far from ideal, as I had taken a two-week honeymoon break with my wife Hanna and had not been riding during that period. Although it was a planned break and I don’t regret it, the Santa Vall race came a little too early for me. This year, my training has mostly consisted of Zwift, gym work, and skiing. It’s been snowy and cold, and it’s hard to ride outside. However, since this is not an A race for me, it’s all fine. Yesterday was a bit of a shock to my body. This race was a great way to open up my legs and body for the upcoming months leading to the main events.

The ground is partly rocky. Photo: Gravel Earth Series

Andreas is pushing the pace, trying to move us up to the front. Stage two is slightly different from a typical race, as we had two timed segments of around 25 km. We were starting in group 2, and the pace is fast. Even before the timed segment. As I expected, many strong riders are aiming to catch the first group which includes the top 50 male riders from yesterday’s stage. They were starting 5 min before us. 

Andreas is leading the group. Photo: Gravel Earth Series

The weather is perfect for riding today. It’s getting warmer. The temperature is close to 20ºC and there’s no wind. I unzip and take off my vest. Once we hit the start of the segment, the speed picks up. Soon enough, we are on a single track and the group is stretched out. Currently, I am in 15th position just behind Andreas. However, gaps are opening and too many riders blocking the track make it impossible to catch up with the first. Honesty, I have more than enough with keeping this pace. 

The first five riders from our group slip away. I am about to lose contact with Andreas and the riders around me. The gap grows, from three meters, to five, to ten, to twenty.

– Come on, Jonas, get yourself together. 

I gear up, get out of the saddle and make a last effort to stay on, I convince myself to do a 30-sec max effort as a last attempt. The gap is decreasing! I am in pain but I manage to get back in the draft. Thank, God. 

I concentrate on pedaling hard, but it’s a real challenge. Photo: Gravel Earth Series

We are catching a big group. I did manage to stay with Andreas and the rider through the first segment. We are now in the middle of the two segments. I see a huge group of riders ahead of us. It’s the first group consisting of the top 50 riders, including the elite women riders. I think the organizers are dividing us to prevent having too many riders together at the same time for the segments. Now we are 100 riders together. 

The second segment is starting. Photo: Gravel Earth Series

The second segment is starting. This part is more technical; we are now lining up on a single track in a forest. The course is fun, but I feel the lactate building up again as the speed increases. This is going to be painful once more!

The segment is 30k and all the way to the finish. The group is split into pieces, and eventually, I find myself together with the German Marius Karteusch, 2nd place from the Unbound XL 2022.

The peloton was all together before the segments started. Photo: Gravel Earth Series

We stick together until the end, greeted by a rider-only area filled with refreshments. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with other cyclists. Being part of Santa Vall is more about the community than the actual race.

Stage 3 – Mass start

– Why am I here?

As I struggled up the longest gravel climb of the day on stage three, the question kept popping up in my mind. Stage three is halfway, and it’s brutal.

It started straight into a 12k undulating climb. Close to the top, the splits started to open up, and I had to let the first 50 riders go. Today, my legs are both tired and stiff. The lactate is building up today, too, making every pedal stroke painful.

The climbs are steep and has partly loose gravel. Photo: Gravel Earth Series.

The course is 115 km long and really beautiful. There is almost no traffic. A few crashes are mostly caused by overly excited riders taking too many risks. You have to pay attention to the course, but there are not many other obstacles than some rocks and not many punctures. 

Finally, I find a group of riders I can follow. The course is flattering out, and getting some drafts is now easier. We are five people sharing the workload against the wind. I feel okay as long as I can ride at my own steady pace. It’s fast enough to be able to contribute to the group. We are far behind the fastest riders, but I am glad I can finally get some momentum here on the gravel. 

There is the last feed stop. I’m stopping. The other riders aren’t. I refill one bottle and grab a couple of gels and a handful of candy before I’m back on the horse. But I am once again by myself. 

I’m chasing, but my legs are heavy. Photo: Gravel Earth Series.

Riding alone while tired feels like standing still. I know I am not very fast, but I can’t go any faster. 

As I ride, a group catches up with me. The group is led by Halfstein, a real gravel Viking from Iceland. I accelerate and manage to join them. I am surprised that all these riders are so far behind. As we ride, the kilometers tick away quickly. I soon realize that we are on the last stretch, going in the opposite direction from yesterday’s start. It feels like I can smell the paella they serve at the finish line. I decide to push the pace for the group during the last two kilometers. I don’t feel the pain anymore. Maybe it’s just a mental boost, but knowing the finish line is near gives me a much-needed burst of energy.

There – I cross the finish line.

At the Gravel Earth Series, the community and the overall experience are more important than the results. We are spending a lot of time here, enjoying cold drinks, hot coffee, rice, and pasta. Santa Vall is a very welcoming and inclusive event, and it’s easy to strike up conversations with other riders.

As anticipated, my form was not yet ready for the race, but I am not concerned. This past weekend was an excellent training opportunity and a welcome return to the gravel community, and it has provided me with the motivation to work hard to regain my best shape.

Gracias, Girona, and X Santa Vall. I look forward to being back!

Traka has become the European version of Unbound Gravel, and it is safe to say that Traka is the premier gravel race in Europe. More than 2000 riders have visited Girona, the self-proclaimed gravel paradise, within the five-day gravel festival. Most of the world’s best-known gravel riders are racing the 360k or the 200k route, while many recreational riders sign up for the 100k or 50k. The bravest riders sign up for an incredible 560k route. As an elite gravel rider, I decided to take on the 200k route, but I also signed up for the 100k. Let’s dive into my 200k experience!

– Swoosh. 

The mud is splashing as I try to keep up with Laurens ten Dam’s wheels. The rainfall of the last few weeks has turned the gravel into a dirt road, making it wet and slippery. I have to trust my Challenge Gravel Grinder tires to keep me on the right path. We’ve been going fast all day. The gun went off when the sun rose and we began the trail, starting with a neutral start that quickly became chaotic.

I’m following the fast pace. Photo: The Traka

Not really a neutral start

As the car took off, everyone wanted to be at the front into the 4k steep graveled climb that was about to begin. The separation happened instantaneously, and I was around 50th at the start of the climb. I had to work my way up the climb overtaking riders who were getting dropped, but it didn’t work out well. Midway up the climb, the first riders were already gone, and I found myself in group three. The group kept growing, and now we are about 20 riders in total.

It’s a beautiful morning with a temperature of 15ºC and the sun shining. There’s no wind, just the wind resistance. The course is twisty, and it feels like I have to sprint out of every single corner just to keep up with the group. This is a different kind of course than what you’ll find in Kansas; this is Girona.

– Man, if I stay back where tail gunning, I will for sure get dropped as elactic band will eventually snap. I got to get to the front of our group. 

It’s harder to stay in the back of a fast group. Photo: The Traka (from the 100k race)

Into the biggest climb of the day

– Gogogo, Jonas. 1 min to the next group. Andreas texts me, and it pops up on the screen of my head unit. 

Andreas participated in the 360-kilometer race yesterday and performed exceptionally well, finishing in the top 30. Today, he is following my race from his hotel room. He had hoped to support me by providing food during the race, however, he discovered that the rental car his wife used on the gravel roads yesterday had a puncture. It’s even challenging for cars to drive on these roads, not to mention 40 or 42-mm tires. I’ve seen many riders with punctured tires. Fortunately, my tires are holding up well.

There! I spot a group ahead while on the open field. It appears that my group has caught up with them. Unfortunately, I am not with them anymore because I took a wrong turn five kilometers back. The course is not marked, and one has to follow the GPS track. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the details on the little head unit. I mistakenly thought we were headed straight, but we were supposed to make an S-curve and continue on the other side of the creek. I had to turn back but lost about 20 seconds, and I couldn’t catch up with the group. Not yet, anyway.

I’m in time trail mode and catch a few riders while chasing the group ahead.

Chasing down riders. Photo: The Traka.

Start of the last climb. 7 km. 

I don’t know if the sign is motivating or depressing, but I get into a rhythm and try to ride the whole thing as fast as I can. But it’s steep, and the surface is loose or rugged. I see a rider ahead. I am motivated to press on. Let’s catch him!

I caught a rider and we are working well together. Photo: The Traka.

Hitting the bar

– Where did my energy go? 

I feel completely exhausted. I can’t even sustain 150 watts. I caught up with a fellow rider at the top of the climb and we cooperated for a while. However, I had to stop at the feed zone to refill my bottles. When I resumed chasing, I managed to catch up to him again, but it seemed to take more effort than I anticipated. I think I’m hitting the wall.

I stop to urinate and eat a snack, but I still feel empty. A group of cyclists passes me, and I cannot keep up with them.

– I need a Coke. 

There is a small town. I make a quick call to ride off the course to find a place I can buy a drink. I find an open bar and ask the bartender for a Coke.

sitting on a bar stool in the bar
Like the good old days, when the riders had to refuel in bars and shops along the way. Photo: Jonas Orset.

– Quieres algo mas? 

The bartender asks me if I want something more. I get an urge to get some salt. On the shelves, there are small bags of chips. I choose one, pay by phone for Coke and chips. This is a surreal moment. I was in a competitive race; now I am hitting the bar.

But after just a few sips of the Coke, I can feel my energy coming back. I chug the whole can. The chips taste so good. I put my phone back in the hydration bag, grab the bag of chips, and get back on the bike. I return the 250 meters back to the course and keep riding. 

A group of riders pass me, and I follow them. The bag of chips in my left hand, the legs pushing the pedals. I am back. 

A tough final of the race

200k on gravel roads is always tough, but this course makes the riders have to fight for every meter. The climbs are steep, the gravel rocky and loose, the course twisty, and the sun is also heating up. Several riders are cramping. I am feeling better again. Not great, but I am definitely back to where I was before I boinked. The group I’m in now has been growing. We are catching dropped riders. 

I know the last 20k as I did them in Santa Vall X. It’s wet, muddy, and rocky. I consent to stay on the best line. Please, no punctures or crashes today. 

It’s a beautiful course, but partly rocky. Photo: The Traka.

It’s satisfying to know the last km, as I know we are getting close to the finish. The last 5 km are on single track, which can be interesting on the slippy trails.

There is the finish line, I try to sprint, but my legs are not moving any faster. I have to let two riders pass me. Finally, I make it. 63rd.

I finally made it and having another Coke is definitely in place. Photo: Andreas Ohldieck.

It’s a bittersweet feeling. On one hand, I am so glad to be back I have been suffering badly. On the other, I would have hoped to be in a little better shape and maybe a little better result. But what an adventure it was. The Traka is something special. 

I will do it all again tomorrow with the 100k! I can’t say that I’m looking forward to it right now, but after some finishers’ food and a good night’s sleep, I know I’ll be ready for another adventure. Because if there’s one thing that Traka truly is, it’s an adventure.

Gracias, Klassmark, for a weekend of gravel adventures I’ll never forget! I’ll be back!

Next up, Gravel Locos.

READ MORE: Unbound 2023

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