World Gravel Series: the recon
“Come on, let’s just go and do it. I’ll find a bike and it’ll be fun!”
We were talking about a gravel race in Italy.
I’m midget-sized and have a saddle height of 62cm: I didn’t find a bike.
We went anyway.
I wondered fair few times in the weeks after, as I tried to prepare for my comeback triathlon race with a less-than-operational left leg, whether I regretted pronouncing those words. Yet despite the pain and embarrassment and slightly predictable confirmation that my off-road cycling skills are not quite up there with the best, I can say with conviction that I do not.
The World Gravel Series in Alba turned out to be a little more than it advertised (i.e. the use of the word “gravel” may be subject to discussion) but it was a super fun, 90km amble through the gorgeous Piedmont countryside with three short, timed sections strategically placed throughout.
The beauty of Piedmont – by © Mario Perguidi
Given my limited off-road cycling experience (read: I don’t ride off-road, ever) my plan was to recon the timed sections on Saturday, and if it was too technical I would just go out and ride by myself on Sunday while Guilhem raced: no risks involved.
Faced with the impossible task of finding a miniature-sized cyclo-cross or gravel bike in four days, I ended up putting a set a slightly-profiled 25mm tires on my beloved Basso Diamante and convincing myself it would be more than sufficient for the white roads of Italy. It wasn’t like I was going downhill or enduro riding after all, was it?
Well, that depends wholly on perspective.
Saturday’s ride turned into a thrown-in-at-the-deep-end intro to advanced cross-country mountain-biking – on a road bike. The organiser’s reinterpretation of “gravel” racing led through muddy forest, rivers, fields, sand, rocks and vineyards. Never mind my 25mm tires, some uphill sections weren’t even negotiable with 40mm crampon-tread. (Nor in road bike shoes and cleats for that matter.)
Churning through the mud… I couldn’t even walk up it.
I did my best, honestly.
I stopped counting the number of times I hit the floor, plastering myself and my beautiful bike in mud, but pushed valiantly on, trying to ignore my other half and his mate as they effortlessly bunny-hopped over roots and raced each other through the boggy mess ahead of me.
But slowly, the nerves came undone… My shoulders started shaking first, hands clenched white on the handlebars. The tremors quickly spread to my knees and ankles. By the time the river appeared I was sobbing and my body was about to shake me off the bike.
Then the course dropped over something resembling a cliff, with a row of solid trees in lieu of reception, and I went into full-blown, princess panic mode.
And did triathletes’ bike skills reputation absolutely no good as I tobogganed down on my backside, screaming and dragging my bike behind me.
I had had enough, and so had my bike.
I was saved by my rear-derailleur telling me in no uncertain terms that it was NOT designed for this, and it would much rather go and cosy up with the spokes of my back wheel.
Blood, mud & broken parts…
Oh the relief of having an excuse to run back to the car, pushing rather than riding my filthy, broken bike…!
I could replace a bent hanger and a couple of sprocket screws… And I now had a perfect excuse to go for a beautiful run rather than race the next day!
It’s not meant to look like this… Sorry BASSO!
Perhaps unfortunately for me, I wasn’t about to get let off the hook quite as easily… Wait for the race report coming in the next chapter 🙂