Ride Report - Tierra Estella Epic Gravel 2023

Like every year, the team from Estella had organised the Tierra Estella EPIC gravel. It is not a typo that I wrote the EPIC in capitals, because this year we had the beauty of the landscape and the well curated route, but we also had the EPIC component that maybe was missing in previous editions.  

Images courtesy of @Unai_m

This year the race took place in the middle of a cold spell in Spain, leaving us with below zero temperatures and snow in the areas surrounding Estella in the days prior to the race. In the mix this year we had as EPIC components the cold and also the mud. Luckily despite the wet conditions, the course was still rideable, but it added the requirement for certain technical skills to the route. Somehow the mud made it easy to spin the wheels, but also our tyres clogged up with the sticky soil.

Image courtesy of @Unai_m

Usually when riding an MTB we have multipurpose tyres on our bikes, while in gravel riding, we tend to have more variety of trail surface and be more polarised on the tyre choices we make to match with the type of rides we do. In my case, I don’t usually ride in muddy or wet conditions and am used to having a well packed surface to ride on. For the event I had tyres with almost no knobs on them, making it difficult for me to control the bike on slippery mud. I have to say it added a pinch of salt to the ride 😊

Image courtesy of @Echavarrida

The course was quite long at 99kms and was plenty hilly, with 1860 ascent meters, which when added to the surface conditions and the low temperatures made it a very hard race. But not everything was bad, on the other hand we enjoyed some fantastic views over snowy peaks in the background making it a very beautiful wintry ride. 

Images courtesy of @Sandra Azplicueta 

It is my third time doing this race and it amazes me how we almost repeated no sectors along the three years apart from the ones surrounding the start/finish area and some other in the middle - each year we have gone through a different route. This year we visited the Alloz Lake, circumnavigating it along the surrounding hills. This part of Spain is for me one with the biggest gravel riding potential due to the amazing gravel roads and tracks, its never-ending rolling hills and steep climbs, making it a bit alike to the Tuscany but a bit more hilly. 

Images courtesy of @FotosCarreras

The competition format of timed segments, where individual times are added together so the fastest one is the winner, was not marching somehow with the riders thoughts, with some exceptions. Usually it was very difficult to know when we were in a timed segment and when we are not, as people just went full gas regardless of being timed or not like in a normal race. In fact the winners were the ones that rode in the first position the whole race, Ismael Esteban (former cyclocross national champion), Oliver Aviles (former XC relay World Champion) and Haimar Zubeldia (former pro and 29 Grand Tours rider). In the women’s category the fastest was Ainara Elbusto.  

The course had a reward for us in the end and it was not only the finish line and the paella we enjoyed afterwards, but was a 2 km single track along the course of a small stream that made us arrive to the finish line with a big smile, knowing we have accomplished something EPIC and thinking about coming again the next year.

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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