My First Gravel Enduro Race
It’s kinda handy that I developed an interest in gravel racing right before Red Hook Crit announced there would be no races in 2019. It’s meant I’ve been able to properly explore a new discipline and thoroughly get to know the Specialized Diverge that I’ve been riding this season.
After bikepackingA Californian Bikepacking Epic in Big Sur and riding Nova Eroica in California I headed to Tuscany for a multi-day event called Tuscany Trail. Then it was back to England for a short while before travelling to Wales for Gritfest, a two-day gravel event with an Enduro format.
In Enduro races, generally you’re timed only on special segments but have as much time as you need to make your way between them, the winner being the person with the quickest combined time across all stages. It’s a perfect way to inject some competition into a day out with friends, in fact it’s not that far removed to trying to beat your mates up significant climbs – you just get official times at the end of the event. I really like the format because it allows you to enjoy the scenery and ride with slower/faster partners or pals for the majority of the day, but it’s still a race. And I love to race!
I’ve not ridden much in Wales, aside from visits to several of my favourite mountain bike parks such as Bike Park Wales and Black Mountains Centre (and that one trip up to Red Bull Fox Hunt) so I was keen to see more of the country. It’s strange that I live relatively close (at least to some of it) yet I know little about the place. I know of Snowdon and I’ve heard great things about Pembrokeshire but that’s it. That has to change!
The event took place near Llandovery so I really enjoyed part of the journey as it took me through and around the Brecon Beacons. The road wound it’s way past castles and enticing looking hills, the market towns looking so appealing in the sunshine As people gathered outside pubs and walked along rivers I was so tempted to stop the car and break up the journey but I forced myself to continue as I’d left Devon five hours earlier and needed to get to the campsite (note to self: avoid the M5 on a Friday in summer).
When I arrived at Gritfest HQ I was very happy, and not just because I’d bought a punnet of raspberries and some Welsh Cakes on the way. Nestled in a beautiful little valley, the campsite was in full sun and I was able to see the hills (big ones!) we’d be riding up the next day. I had no idea what I’d see once I was up there but I couldn’t wait to find out.
Camping really adds to an event like this – I enjoy being outside the entire time, sitting quietly with a pot on the stove and relaxing on my new camp chair in the evening sun. I find it really soothing and calming, which is just what you need before a race. So though an air mattress and a sleeping bag isn’t always as comfortable as a bed, camping makes up for it in other ways.
I won’t go on much more about the weekend as I cover what happens on race day in my video. Suffice to say, the area is absolutely incredible for gravel riding, maybe one of the best spots in the UK (along with the other best spots I’ve already named – the Peak District and the New Forest. There’s a real abundance of gravel roads that slice right through some vast, wild expanses of moorland, some forest tracks, steeps climbs and descents, reservoirs, rivers… you name it. Obviously we caught it at its absolute finest – I heard from one regular he’d not actually seen the full extent of the landscape on his previous ten visits as it was never usually entirely clear up there.
Please enjoy watching this as much as I enjoyed making it!