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How Not to Start your Gravel Career | The Traka 200
“I just need to get through the first 30km without accident or incident.”
It’s 05:00 and I’m shovelling white rice and a bag of Haribo into my mouth. An hour later, I meet my good friend (and real gravel pro) Nathan Haas, outside my front door. We roll the couple of kilometres across to the race start and are met by tens of people who are leaving the nightclub which is just below where I live. It’s a weird feeling to be going to a bike race when people are falling out of a night club.
“I just need to get through the first 30km without accident or incident.” pretty much the final words I said to Nathan before we went our separate ways at the line for the 7am start.
Unfortunately, I did the exact opposite as that.
Let me get my reasoning out the way fast, then I’ll go into details. You have every right to class these as excuses.
Approx. 15km: I crash myself out of the front twenty due to a lack of skill.
Approx. 20km: Now in Group 2, my chain jams and I have to jump off to repair it.
Approx. 30km: Now in Group 3, I have a front wheel mechanical and have to jump off to repair it.
That whole “without accident or incident” went well.
My best comparison to this sort of situation is when racing in crosswinds on the road. The second you mechanical or drop out of a group, you don’t see it again until the finish line. Once I was out the back of the third group, there was such a big gap to the next that I was just with one other guy. I chased hard, probably too hard. I made no headway and blew myself up. I miss having the race convoy in this situation.
Gravel racing starts are hard. I’ve got my old-faithful road neutral positioning skills and managed to go into the start of the off-road stuff in sixth wheel. Bloody hell it was hard. I thought I was in a safe space, but attacks were going left right and centre. Did these guys not know that there was another 190km or so to come?!
There’s not much to report after the first 30km really. I rode hard all day, but knew the race was gone. I had a *very* dark patch between 140km-170km. It felt like the lights were on but nobody was at home. I was definitely paying for the long stretch of solo chasing. My saviour was a bottle of water that I picked up with 30km to go. Never ever in my life has water had such an impact. I almost immediately downed the 500ml, and I was a new man. I had a complete new lease of life in that final 30km.
As I write this Substack, it is 16:42. I have been up since 5am, I have raced 200km and I sank a couple of beers immediately post race. So, forgive me if the edit isn’t quite as golden as usual. I thought it’d be good to get this out as soon as possible. Get it written while I’ve still got dried blood on my left knee and all that stuff/
I’ve got a lot to learn in gravel. I know that I’ve got the engine, it’s just the technical aspect. Unlock that and I’ll be good. It’ll just take time. I’m slightly frustrated about today. Going from group to group was annoying, especially considering it was largely due to mechanicals. But, that’s bike racing.
I hastily say this as it was a hellish day out, but I did enjoy it and I finished with a smile.
Oh, there is one final thing that I wasn’t going to mention but will make you chuckle, and damage my ego. With around 15km to go, we cross over a main road and come home on one of my regularly ridden trails.
In all my genius, I cut the corner and ride the grass as it would be a faster line. It turns out that grass was hiding (an approx.) metre deep ditch. My front wheel sank, I go head over handlebars. I’m largely okay but my lever takes a shunt, and my ego majorly bruised. Welcome to Gravel.
Where did I finish? Honestly I have no clue. I guess around twenty minutes down.
Lessons I Learned:
GRVL RCNG is hard
Double check and tighten EVERYTHING on your bike. Stuff rattles loose.
42x11 is too small a gear to race on.
Think about the heat. The slower average speeds means that you roast when racing off-road.
Have a good nutrition plan, but plain water is Godly.
It’s easy to go the wrong way. The GPS is your Bible.
Do a proper warm up.
7am is the earliest I am willing to start a race at.
Don’t cut corners, because then you crash.
Listen to Nathan, he’s usually right.
Thanks to both Dave Smith and Alan Murchison who said “it’ll make a good blog thing if nothing else.”
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