– This early break is not a good idea, I think to myself.
We are 50k into the UCI Gravel Series race in Halmstad, Gravel Grit ‘n Grind. Most European gravel pros are here, and I am ahead of them with four other riders. After a fast start full of attaching, I saw my fellow Norwegian Vebjørn Rønning get away from the peloton. I remember his TT strength from Unionsrittet and thought jumping up to him was a good idea. We were companied by Gustav Dahl from Denmark and Richard Larsen and Hugo Forsell from Sweden—five men riding as a carrot in front of a chasing, hungry big horse.
The horse includes names such as Niki Terpstra, Laurens ten Dam, Paul Voss, Jasper Ockeloen, Ivar Silk, Mattia de Marchi, and Tobias Perry, plus another 400 strong riders.
We are putting down the hammer and working as a train, everyone doing their turn to keep the pace high. We are floating through Simlångsdalen’s beautiful forestry landscape. We pass lakes, and farmland, hitting climbs and rolling through countryside houses. The sun is up, and temperatures are in the mid-20s Celsius. Comfortable warm.
After the first 1.5k climbs, the roads have been flatting out until now.
We are flying past the feed zone and into a steep road climb. I’m out of my saddle on my Felt Breed Carbon, getting into a rhythm where I push hard but not accumulating too much lactate. I’m leading the breakaway up the climb before Richard goes to the front to maintain the pace over the top. I suffer but am glad to be in the break, as I can only imagine the power the main favorites are hitting lower in the climb. We can’t see them, but I know they are chasing. I assume we are a minute up the road. Nobody tells us the time gaps, so it’s a wild guess.
We are leading but cannot let go of the gas either. It’s another 50k to the finish of the 131 km gravel race.
I get a bottle from Sindre, the father of Vebjørn Rønning. But where is Vebjørn now? I turn my head and see him longer down the hill. Too bad he is gone. We are now four in the front group.
The next part of the course is a tough one. The roads are undulation, and the gravel makes every tiny hill a battle to overcome.
I’m taking charge up a narrow country road. It’s steep and rough. I remember this from last year. I was in pain up then, but now I enjoy it. Hard, but I feel strong. The others hang on.
Then, soon we are into a forest road full of loose sandy gravel. I’m riding with 45mm Challenge Strada Bianca tires, which roll well and float awesomely on rougher surfaces, but the slick tire isn’t giving me much traction in the sand. Not many tires would anyway, but now it’s Gustav and Richard having a better momentum. I’m hanging on. Hugo is gone. Three riders left.
Just as we start riding downhill, the favorites catch us. It’s expected, and it’s pretty perfect timing. The next 10-15k would be easy to tag along, and it’s only 30k to the finish. I’m in contention for the top 10, which would be a great result in this packed field.
But then, as we ride down a bumpy and rocky downhill, I hit a rock, and my bike makes an awkward movement. My chain falls off!
– Oh, no, not again.
Chain drop is a reasonable quick fix, but when the group is going 45 km/h on a narrow forest road, and your heart rate is at max, it is not easy to make it smooth.
I jump off my bike while the others are quickly disappearing. I start to put the chain back on, but something is odd. The chain is twisted, and in the heat of the moment, I cannot comprehend how to put the chain correctly on. Another group passes me. Then another group. Finally, I get it sorted and jump onto the saddle of the gravel horse.
No riders to see. That was it. I’m never getting back up to them.
I don’t like to be pessimistic, but as the speed has been so high the whole day, catching a group by minutes alone is nearly impossible. I get into tempo steady pace and head into the last 25 km.
I’m not catching riders, but a group is catching up with me.
– Then it’s us again? Michael Mottram jokes as he passes me.
It seems like we always tend to end up in the same group. We did in FNDL GRVL, this spring in UCI Aachen, and last weekend in Bergslagen. There are some strong guys in this eight-man group I’m now teaming up with. It should be about 20 riders up front, but we are still going fast to limit the loss.
I outsprint Martin Schatzl, the last remaining man in our chasing group. The promoter tells me I’m finishing 18th overall and 12th in my 19-34 age category.
Outmaneuvering the others in the chasing group is sweet but bittersweet. I was up there with the best gravel pros. I felt strong. The top 10 overall would have been truly good. Instead, my chain dropped and took the light out of me.
Well, I am down, but I’m not broken. I need to step up again, find a solution to my chain drop problems, and revenge this. I am pleased about being strong enough to be up there, and hopefully, I can also get some results out of it eventually.
Happy to see Niki Terpstra from the Felt family winning the race solo. Felt bikes are fast.
Thanks to Felt Scandinavia and Morsa SK for the help this weekend, and Gravel Grit ‘n Grind for a well-organized UCI race. See you next year with no mechanical issues!
First off, my event Nesfjellet Gravelduro Sept 2. That should be great fun!
CHECK OUT: Nesfjellet Gravelduro
From the organizer:
We are super excited to host another UCI Trek Gravel World Series race in 2023. We also want to take the opportunity to say thanks to all participants in 2022 that inspire and motivate us to continue this journey. Thank you for all the encouraging posts we received after our event in 2022.