It’s chilly; I’m wet but happy to be back racing. We are halfway into the Nordic Gravel Series in Bergslagen, outside Nora in Sweden. The event is part of the Gravel Earth Series, a collection of some of the most epic gravel events in Europe and Africa.
We are 15 riders left in the front group rolling along lakes and through forests. A beautiful scenery, but I cannot capture it as the wet gravel makes the water spray from the wheel in front of me. It’s the wheel of Tobias Perry, the pro rider from EF Education-NIPPO Development Team. He is the favorite today.
There has been a selection, and some real hitters are together in the front. Nathan Haas, Adam Blazevic, and Simen Nordahl Svendsen might be the most known names. I have been active and feeling strong, trying to break away, but it hasn’t worked.
We are approaching the second feed zone, and the speed is rather slow.
– Two gels, I loudly ask Hanna, my fiancé, which is serving me bottles.
We are 125 km into the race and our second feed zone. Seeing her on the roadside gives me lots of energy, and it is great to have her supporting me in the deep countryside in Sweden. I throw off my hydration pack, zip up my cycling west and get another bottle of Ryno Power hydration mix – now it’s time to prepare for the final. 70k to go.
I like racing hard and didn’t have the patience in the beginning to conserve energy. The recent weeks I have been traveling up north with Hanna, and my training has been focusing on shorter sessions with more intense work. It has been a mental getaway from the racing and everyday tasks, but also many hours driving on the road.
Now, my legs are starting to feel fatigued. It seems like I lack some endurance training. Maybe also some freshness after the traveling.
We arrived yesterday night, after a five-hour drive from Oslo, with Andreas Ohldieck and his wife, Ann-Elise. We checked in at the race hotel at 9 pm. Twelve hours later, we were racing. Maybe not the ideal preparations, but I am happy to be here.
The course is fast, and the gravel is mostly hard-packed. The gravel has survived the last week’s storm well, but there are quite a lot of water pits still. And the light rain doesn’t help. It’s wet and sometimes slippery. I am on my Felt Carbon Breed with DT Swiss GR1400 wheels set up with Challenge Strade Bianchi 45 mm tires. A wide slick tire that seems to work well on the gravel. They roll fast and give me grip in the corners.
Perry is pushing through one of the trails. My legs are screaming, but it seems all the riders are suffering. I make the split. A few other riders must let go. We are 11 riders left in the front.
165 km and less than 30 km to go. Perry has been the driving force for the last kilometers and tries to make a selection. At one time, I made a break with Perry and Blazevic, which seemed promising, but the others returned to us. I know there will be a new attempt soon, probably the next climb. There is not too much climbing; it’s a flat course, so each hill is marked as a chance to attack.
We have been racing for five hours now, and it’s getting warmer, so I remove my wind vest and put it under my speed jersey. I know the race for the win starts now.
I am in the back of the group as we hit a climb. Then Perry attacks. Again. I know it’s now or never. I have to hang on, but I’m suffering. The Brit, Michael Mottran, is in front of me and can’t hold on. I am caught behind. I manage to pass Michael. Nathan Haas is in front of me. He is accelerating to bridge the cap. Auch! My legs don’t want more; I am getting dropped. Five meters become 10, then 20, then 50.
– Come on, Jonas, don’t give up! I tell myself.
A little up the road, I see Diederick Deelen. He is also dropped. I give it my all to make it up to him.
Finally, after several minutes of chasing hard, I make it up to him. It’s a relief being two in the chase. I don’t expect to catch the group up front, but we are in contention for the top 10.
From the back, Michael makes it up to us. Then he keeps pushing the pace hard. I can barely hold on. Deelen has to let go.
Soon after we pass Adam Blazevic.
We are into the last 15 km. I work well together with Michael. On the longest stretches, we see the six men group up the road. Will we manage to catch them? Perry is gone, but maybe 2nd still is possible?
The group ahead speeds up as we approach the finish. Michael and I won’t catch them, but we are fighting for 8th.
Around the next corner, I see the finish line and sprint as hard as possible. Michael tries to match my speed, but I make it first. 8th.
There are many smiling but dirty faces after the finish. We are all covered in mud and sand, wet from top to toe, but still happy with the day. And there is Hanna. I kiss her on the cheek, and she gets covered in mud.
194 km in Bergslagen was fun and a great way to spend the Saturday. Now it’s time for BBQ, and next weekend I will continue racing with UCI Gravel Grit n Grind in Halmstad.
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From the organizer of Gravel Earth Series:
The Bergslagen area, located in central Sweden, is the cradle of the Swedish early industrial wonder with its countless mines and iron ores. Historical villages, connected by excellent gravel roads, are spread out amid the vast forests, lively streams and humble hills. The gravel exploration of the area has just begun, and we invite you to explore the natural beauty and harsh hills in the Kilsbergen mountain range, the picturesque surroundings of Nora as well as the culinary gifts of Grythyttan and beyond.