The sun is rising. 15C. It’s quiet but humid after yesterday’s storm. Soon, another storm will be coming, named the final of Gravel Earth Series.
I am lining up with many big names in the world of gravel. Mattia de Marchi, Lukas Baum, David Lozano, Piotr Havik, Adam Blazevic and so on. I shouldn’t forget to mention Carlos Verona from Team Movistar. The women are starting 5 min behind us.
It’s an early start. 7.40 AM. We are minutes away from the final leg of Gravel Earth Series. A series gathering unique gravel events around the globe, from The Rift in Iceland to the Migration Race in the Masari desert in Kenya. I raced the Gravel Earth Series race in Sweden. Now we are here in Catalonia, 80 km outside Barcelona.
I arrived Thursday night. Jofre Prunera picked me up at the airport. Jofre is a friend and the founder of 101percent Training, where I also work as a cycling coach. Yesterday, we were accompanied by the Italian Maurizio, who, like Jofre, is racing for team Oleka. This morning, we woke up in our AirBnB by our alarm at 5:15 AM. I made my oatmeal, and after a morning coffee, we took off to the start.
The organizer is setting the scene with sparklers and a motivational talk. “The world’s best gravel riders are all here, “ he says. It’s discussable, as a few top guys might be missing, especially the Americans, but the field is packed, and I know there will be a fast and challenging race. Yet, I am hoping to be up there. I have been in great shape the last month but have also been busy organizing cycling schools, hosting Nesfjellet Gravelduro, and renewing our new home. Balancing all those things isn’t easy. I have been tired the last week, and the race can go either way.
Off we go. We ride behind a motocross bike, setting a neutralized pace for the first two km. I make my way to the front. The moto almost slides out in a corner, in the slippy mud after the rainfall.
– Yihaa, he screams, and then he drives away. The race is on.
The pace is high. It doesn’t take long to get a reality check on my form. As I feared, my legs aren’t responding well to the high power output. I start losing places in the peloton. I was in front, and soon, about 20 riders passed me. Carlos Verona flies by. I need to pace myself. Find my rhythm and eventually the right group. It’s going to be a long day.
Now, we are closing into the 2nd aid station at 120 km. I had three bottles of Ryno Hydration mix and a hydration pack with another liter of water. I skipped the first aid station, but it was hot. The sun is heating the dry Catalan inland. We have been pushing the pace for hours; hydration and nutrition are essential. I was riding with a 10-man group for a while. Mattia de Marchi set the pace as we caught him after he had a puncture. In the last climb, he pulled away, making our group split into pieces. I am now with only four riders left.
– Do you remember we were also chasing together here last year?
It’s Martí Vido del Arco. We were racing on the same roads one year ago during Ranxo Gravel. Then, we made it up to the first group after a long chase. I am not sure today. We keep the speed high, but I am tired and have heavy legs.
There is the aid station. It’s like coming into an F1 pit stop. Two women run to fill my bottles, and another man asks if I need lube on my chain. I have never met them, but they treat me like a VIP. As I’m sure, they are doing with all riders. We are taken care of.
– Suerte, now the big montaña starts, the mechanic says and sets me off.
He is right. Immediately, we start gaining elevation.
It’s only Seth and me now. After the aid station, we hit a solid climb of almost 10 km and 500 meters of climbing. It had some rough gravel with ramps of 15%. I like that kind of hill, but it was brutal. Luckily, it was worse for the other three guys I rode with. I eventually took off and caught Hakizimana Seth. He’s from Rwanda, racing for Team Amani, an African gravel team, one of its kind.
A few km ago, we hit a steep 12-15% climb and were met by a group of fans sharing and offering a cold Coke. A highlight after all the suffering. It is more than 31°C, so anything cold is a blessing.
We are sharing turns to keep the pace up. We have been riding in undulating terrain since the aid station. There is not much time to recover before the next challenge occurs. However, now, it’s finally more downhill than uphill. We are closing in on the finish.
The last 10 km are the same as the first, and it feels great to be back on the muddy terrain again. It’s still muddy and wet, but Seth and I are not taking risks and getting comfortably through. I have no idea where we are positioned. We could be top 30 or top 15. Either way, I decided to give it a go-to outsprint Seth.
I hear the sound of the arena. The music is high, and the speaker is cheering riders across the line. I push the pace and wait for Seth’s response, but he doesn’t try to pass me, and I make it across the line first. The speaker is announcing: 14th!
We were not that far outside the top 10. After a long day of suffering and heavy legs, I am happy to be able to finish off with a 14th, which is a solid result. 263 NP for six hours 51 minutes, is not nasty. It’s lower than my better numbers, which gives me confidence I could have been up there with the best. Top 6-7 could have been possible on a better day.
The Gravel Earth Final isn’t finished with the race. We are led to an outdoor buffet with lots of food and drinks. There is a pool there, and after a good portion of Paella, I swim in the pool. Nice after a long day in the heat!
The following hours, I spent chatting with fellow gravel friends. I am enjoying the stories. It has been a great ride on a challenging and fun course. I want to do this again. Thanks, Klassmark, for hosting a great weekend while taking environmental responsibility, which other organizers should learn from. Trailblazing mentality. I like it.
Thanks also to Jofre for the company and the last days joining him at home in Botarell, outside Tarragona.
Now it’s about absorbing yet another gravel adventure, both mentally and physically, and getting back to my best form heading into the Gravel World Championship in Italy.
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Check out the promo video from the race organizer: