Ride Report – The Gravel Earth Series Final

This year has seen the first running of the multi-country Gravel Earth Series. Participants who wanted to be in with a chance to be crowned overall winner had to take part in the grand finale of the series, which was held recently in Catalonia, Spain. Jorge Padrones was racing at the event and sent in this great write-up of what it was like.

Gravel Earth is a series of gravel races around the world that has an overall classification summing up results from all of them. The races were held in destinations as varied as Kenya with the Migration Gravel Race to Iceland passing through Spain,SwitzerlandFrance and Sweden with a total of 7 events. In the grand plan for the event was a series finale in which the riders who wanted to win the overall classification must compete. This year, in its first edition, the Final was held in Cardona, Catalonia, just 80 km away from Barcelona. It was a very convenient location for those who had to travel from other countries, while at the same time was amazing how the location transported us to a forested, mid-mountain area, which also lay so close to a big city. 

In the mix we had all the ingredients for a perfect final:

  • The Place: All the action happened in a resort completely taken over by the race, so there was an exhibition, events area and chill zone. In a way there was a gravel ambience all around and you could speak to fellow riders from the previous day or after the race. There was accommodation also for those needing it at the same resort.
  • The course: A tough gravel course consisting of 180 km and some demanding 3400 elevation meters divided into three marked segments. Half of the elevation gain was concentrated in just the 60 final km, so the script was saying this would be an elimination and survival race. You can find a link to the course here
  • The participation: There were some ‘big name’ riders coming to this final - Lukas Baum and Georg Egger swho came second in this year’s Cape Epic and last year winners, Carlos Verona, current pro cyclist on the Movistar team, Hans Becking, MTB Legend from the Buff Megamo Team, Mattia de Marchi, the current series leader. In the women’s category, were Traka and Migration Gravel race winner and current series leader, Amity Rockwell, also Madeleine Nutt, Anabel 

On Friday evening there was planned a social ride so we all could have contact with the terrain and to socialise with other riders, unfortunately there were big storms in the area, which meant the organisers had to cancel it. It was not only that, but the storms also somehow marked the competition day. There were areas of the course which previously were meant to be easy, but with the arrival of mud became more technical and added difficulty to the race or somehow gave more advantage to the technically skilled riders. We must remember that the participants had a range of backgrounds, some coming from the MTB and others from road cycling. The skills of the riders differed depending on their background. 

The race started at 7.40 am with the first light and we had a long day on the saddle ahead of us. The first section was very tricky with mud from the previous day's rain, very slippery while it was very fast on some of the descents. This made the group split and made many different small groups, with gaps starting right from the beginning. The middle part of the race was an easy rolling part in which speeds were high.

In a 180 km and 3400 ascension meters race, the key was to know how to pace yourself, especially when the hardest part was right at the end of the race. You had to be wise when you chose in what group to sit - if you sat in a very demanding group, you would most likely end up paying for the extra effort in the end.

Around km 80 I started to feel my rear tyre was losing pressure, so I decided to stop to put some air with my pump and to see if it was sealing. This meant I had to leave the group in which I was riding. I was hoping for a new group to come along, but just two riders passed by. Then I had to stop again and I had to be stopped for around 10 minutes trying to find the source of my tyre problem. After this, no other group passed. This just gives you an idea of how fragmented the race was even by km 90 and how big the gaps were already. By the way, I should give my thanks to the official mechanics BikeLand of Ponts, at the second feed zone as thanks to them I could finish once they fixed the problem with my leaking valve. 

From that second feed station at km 110, commenced the really hard part of the course with more than 1500 meters climbing still to be covered by the riders. There were no long climbs, but a series of short and steep ramps. In the days before the event, we were discussing a feed station that was located at just 17 km before the finish line, when almost all the rest was downhill. We saw it kind of useless, but in reality, it saved our lives. I arrived there with no water at all as in the end it was a hot day with temperatures in the 30s Celsius. The final feed station was located more than two hours riding away from the previous feed one, so numbers and profiles do not always tell the truth. 

The top riders were flying over the course. Lukas Baum expressed the previous day his intention to make the course in just 6 hours. That’s 30 km/h average - pretty high expectations taking into account the mud and the heavy terrain from the previous days' rain that made it more difficult to roll. He was not very far off the mark - he stopped the clock on 6 hours 12 despite all these challenges and a flat tyre that he suffered. In second place was Hans Becking, who was riding with Baum until the last climb before the finish line and in third place was David Lozano, a pro from Team Novo Nordsik.

In the women’s event, there was an epic battle between the top riders as they rode together until the second feed station. At this moment the elimination began. Taking the win was Annabel Fischer, followed by Svenja Betz and Geertje Schreurs. As the Gravel Earth Final, this race decided who took the win in the overall series classification. Amity Rockwell was the overall winner in the women’s category, while Mattia de Marchi won in the men's category.

After the race, we could enjoy a nice meal and some relaxation and also an after party. This is something we really love about this type of gravel event. They are not just pure competition, but there is a nice atmosphere after the race and you can chat and share your experiences with other riders, making new friends with a common passion.

The Final was the perfect pinnacle to this first Gravel Earth Series, an initiative that we hope has many more editions to come. This format of individual races that form part of a league are a real boon for those who can join several events around the globe. The whole series had spotless organisation by Klassmark, the organisers of The Traka and Ranxo and they have all the experience to organise these races to perfection end to end.  

All images courtesy of the Gravel Earth Series

Jorge Padrones

Jorge is based in Spain and is a regular on the start-line of different gravel events across Europe and further afield too.

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