Gravel is growing and this year the International Cycling Federation is organising a Gravel World Cup Series which qualifies the fastest grinders for the first ever World Championship in Gravel Cycling.
This weekend the series visited Halmstad in Sweden and I was lining up with strong gravel riders from all around the globe with the ambition of making the qualification for the World’s.
I went with my service team from Morsa SK: Lars Tore, Bjørn and Espen. A proper support team for one rider, but I needed it, as I have been battling Covid after The Rift. I haven’t been very ill, but had to take a few weeks more or less off the bike. You can say my preparations and training up to this hadn’t been perfect.
To qualify I had to be in the top 25% of my age group, 19-34 y.o.
The World Cup race was stage 2 of the Gravel, Grit n’Grind, a three-days stage race.
What: Gravel Grit n'Grind, UCI Gravel World Series
Where: Halmstad, Sweden
Distance: Three stages, where the 2nd stage was the UCI World Series Race
Dates: August 19th-21st 2022
Weather: Sun, some clouds, 22-26°C
Team: The Nordic Trailblazer (Morsa SK)
Support: Bjorn, Lars Tore, Espen
Bike: Cannondale SuperSix Evo CX
Wheels: DT Swiss GR1400
Head unit: Stages Dash M200
Power meter: Stages Power meter
Tires: Maxxis Receptor 40mm
Race kit: Green Cycling Norway from CCN Sport
Helmet: Met Manta
Shoes: Fizik Terra X5
Chain lube: Muc Off
Nutrition: Squeezy Sports Nutrition
Pre race massage: Impuls Helse
The first stage was an individual Time Trail, which is not very typical in the gravel discipline. We started in 30 sec time slots for 23 km in a party technical parcour. I got a chance to do a recon on the Thursday, and felt kinda ready for the race, but also a bit nervous for the intense race. Normally you may use the first part of a gravel race to ride in, this time it was go from the gun.
I had my aerobars on, and I managed to pace myself decently, but didn’t corner perfectly and probably lost time in the turns as well as time trailing has never been my strength. I still finished 7th in my age category, and had a pretty nice boost to my self-esteem after not been racing for 4 weeks. Seems like my body was functioning well.
The second stage was the important one in terms of qualification to the World Championship. I had to make within top 25%, which would mean top 17 in my age category. In gravel racing you never know what may happen, especially when it comes to mechanical issues or how hard the race will be. You can get an idea of the course by looking at the profile, but the surface vary a lot, and riding in loose gravel or in mud have other demands than if it’s solid ground. When it’s soggy, even the smallest rise would feel like a massive hill to overcome.
The race was 124 km, and I was lining side by side with rides like Nathan Haas, Nicholas Roche, Jasper Ockeloen, Piotr Havik etc.
After a neutral start of 6 km, we hit the gravel and soon a single path and it became quite hectic for a while. At one time I lost the first 12 riders, but we created a chase and got back up. Eventually I got into the race feeling better.
After the feed zone at 58 km, we reached a 8-9% straight up on gravel for about a kilometer. I saw Havik and Ockeloen attaching and I also went as hard I could to the top. The first 4 riders had a small gap in me and I gathered with 6 riders for the chase.
It was still about 60 km to the finish, but it didn’t look lite the guys up front would let off the gas. Our chasing group focused just as much to keep the other riders behind us, and we worked well together.
Our 7 men group got down to 6, then later down to 4. The km flew away and we closed in to the finish.
There - finally we saw some riders up front, Roche and Blazevic. The were dropped by the two Dutch riders, and we hoped to catch them. With 7 km to go, we lost sight of them, and I didn’t know if they had speeded up or what. Maybe they took a wrong turn? Later it proved to be right, and we were fighting for the podium. I only had 42T on my crank ring, which was a bit light for the fast downhill section leading into the finish. I decided to try to attack before.
I got a gap, but had to slow down in the upcoming corner as I wasn’t sure of the direction. They got back to me. I tried again the last 1 km, but no chance. The finishing straight was about 300 meter, and as I had a high speed I decided to keep the speed and hope it would give me a head start to the last sprint. It didn’t work out, the 3 of them passed me, which put me into 6th place for the race, and 5th in my age category.
I was pretty happy with the result after all, and more importantly I qualified for the World’s in October in Veneto, Italy.
After yesterday's qualifier the last day of Gravel, Grit n’Grind was to enjoy. To be honest, I felt pretty destroyed after the World Series race. The Sunday's course was a bit shorter, of 88 km and not much climbing, but rolling terrain on beautiful country gravel roads.
The first climb came after just 5 km and the pace was set. I stayed up with the front, but soon we were down to 30 riders. I was already in pain, and hoping it would be better soon.
Roche sneaked away, and got up the road with another rider. Nobody seemed to react at first, but then eventually a fire work started. Ockeloen put in some solid attacks, then Havik went on his counter making the peloton explode. I was not in a bad position, but just didn’t have the legs to stay with them. The first 7 riders got away.
I got into the second group and we didn’t manage to really set up a good chase. Most of the time the group worked together, but too many riders made gaps and didn’t put power to the pedals. I started feeling better and wanted to jump the group. I tried a few times and finally after about 63 km I got away with a Danish rider. We worked well together and never saw the riders behind before last 3 km, where a fellow Norwegian rider, Petter Sørensen, made it up to us and we were three riders sprinting for the 8th positing. The Dane was the fastest, and I finished in 9th.
To be honest, I was okey with it, a bit disappointed not being in the first group, but at least I made it in the top 10 another day, and finishing off a great weekend in Sweden.
Thanks to all my sponsors, and especially to the three Morsa guys, Lars Tore, Bjørn and Espen for making it a weekend to remember!
Now the prep for the World Championship starts!
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