On Saturday I competed in theRift Gravel Race in Hvolsvollur Iceland. This event had been a bucket list race since 2019 before I even had a gravel bike. The 2020 event was canceled and a friend of mine won the women's edition in 2021.
With the luck of the draw, I got into the 2022 edition with two of my Rollfast teammates in their lottery.
I started focusing more on riding and racing gravel in 2021 and this spring did a number of races in Michigan and Indiana. One of the athletes I coach and her husband have been instrumental in helping me get acclimated to this wild variation of the sport of cycling.
If you aren’t familiar,
“Gravel racing sits somewhere between road, cyclocross racing and mountain bike racing, and tends to take place on open gravel roads, dirt double tracks and snaking singletrack, often with some stretches of paved road to link off-road segments.
Gravel races are rapidly gaining popularity across the world with a variety of formats, each offering a different flavor and designed to suit a range of riding styles. From day-long races over relatively smooth gravel roads to enduro courses peppered with short and spicy singletrack, there’s something to suit everyone.
As a relatively new racing discipline, gravel racing has a strong ethos of inclusivity and fun. Although the racing is very competitive at the pointy end (especially with the recent influx of current and ex-pro road cyclists at many popular races), there’s still a keen emphasis on participation, regardless of speed.” - bikeradar.com
Most of my training for the event occurred on the road and I'll be honest, between running multiple ventures, starting a new brand, and life in general, my training wasn't going as I wanted it to for the last few months.
On numerous long training rides I was struggling with power at the end of the workout. I bought a glucose monitor and made adjustments to my diet and fueling based on the data. But, I still wasn't as confident in myself as I had been in previous "A Races".
My wife Chris encouraged me a lot and she helped me stay focused. We tried loading for long rides with different foods and found out what worked best for my body. I looked to other "older" athletes for guidance and advice. I scraped as much knowledge as I could from friends that had done the event in the past and other gravel riders that had more experience than me. I researched equipment and worked with STS Bicycles to design a bike specifically for racing on gravel.
Even with all this preparation I arrived in Iceland with a full bag of excuses just in case I felt like I failed.
But on race day morning I let it all go. I knew the pros would be fast and the night before I decided not to chase them, but aim for my age group with my best effort.
I still started at the front and raced hard to stay there in the race open, but once separation started and I was above my power zones I focused on my own numbers. "Power Control" is scribed on my helmet in gold sharpie. It's something I live by on and off the bike. Having power in life is great, but conserving it and using it at the most effective time is really what creates success.
At 30min in I watched the pros ride away. I was still passing several riders with flat tires and getting passed by some strong riders that got caught up in traffic crossing the first river.
Once I settled into my flow I focused on being efficient on the bike. Using power at appropriate times, trying to be quick in transitions off and back onto the bike (I need to improve here!), crossing water sections, getting fuel at rest stops, hiking up unrideable and epic hills, and ass sliding down the snowy descents (OK, I fell down trying to ride it).
The scenery was insane. If you've been to, or seen pictures of Iceland you know. Lava rock is everywhere, much of it covered in green moss and vegetation. The gravel ranges from deep sand to volleyball size rocks (yeah its nuts). We climbed an active volcano, crossed rivers about 6 times and had two sections with about a foot of snow.
We were blessed with good conditions in the start around 50 degrees and cloudy, but it warmed up as the day went on and the sun was shining for the last 30mi of my ride.
At mile 78 one section really shook me up. It was an add-on to the original course from previous years. Extreme rocks and washboard "road". I was going about 6mph through this 1 mile section. I got dropped by a guy I was riding with and I felt like my nutrition was fading. After the section we turned into some tame gravel and then a paved road where a group caught me that was flying. I dug deep and was able to jump into the group. I knew this was the moment of urgency in my ride. I had to stick in and get as many miles as possible with these guys in the wind and non technical sections. I ate and drank all my water while sitting in and recovering a little bit.
With 15 miles to the finish, the group was falling apart a little. Some guys wanted to go faster, some were smashed. I was feeling good, but something wasn't right…. Oh no, I had a flat front tire! Not totally flat but really mushy, I think it burped or punctured and sealed. It was OK on the gravel, but turns were dicey and the harder packed roads it was really slow.
The final 7 miles were paved and I was solo with two guys chasing. My speed on the pavement wasn't great with the flat tire and they caught me with about a mile to go.
I pushed on and crossed the 129 mile finish line solo at 8hrs 14min. I was happy with my result not even knowing where I placed. The day worked out well. All the preparation had paid off and renewed confidence in myself. Upon review of the results, I was 13th in my age group and 30th overall.
I have to thank some people that always believe in me and helped me be my best on Saturday. Chris my wife, you are the number one person in my life and I rely on you every day. Justin and Katie Ratliff, you guys have taught me so much in the gravel scene. Josh Kirsh, excellent pep talk at just the right time, I appreciate our strong connection. Tommy D, best training plans in the game. Rollfast family, you guys and gals are an amazing group and I am touched by each of you. Rob and Steve, thanks for making Iceland memories that we'll never forget. Stracta Sauce for all!
Strava Ride File:https://www.strava.com/activities/7516282185
Full Photo Gallery: https://rollfast.smugmug.com/2022/The-Rift-2022/
The Rift Website: https://www.therift.bike
Race Day Checklist: https://stratefuel.com/products/race-day-checklist
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