Whilst gravel headlines are all about a certain race over in America big things are happening over here in Europe, that includes Ranxo Gravel by Klassmark.
Visiting familiar places and bike races is great, especially when you have your favourites and get to show friends and family that place you’ve been raving on about constantly for the 365 days since the last bike race there. Visiting new places though give you that nervous excitement, it’s the unknown and adventure of it. This week I sat on a jet plane heading to Barcelona, a familiar route, but instead of then heading to Girona I directed the hire car inland to Ponts. This sleepy town in Catalonia is nestled below the towering Pyrenees mountains. This weekend, for the second year, Ranxo Gravel comes to town and it would be my first visit the area and race. More than 30 nationalities attended the event in Ponts, the women’s winner travelling all the way from the United States.
I arrived Friday evening so had time Saturday to ride some of the course, I rode nearly 3 hours, but was probably out there for nearly twice that as I just kept stopping to take pictures of the amazing scenery. This area could be gravel paradise! Not only was the countryside picture perfect the riding was also very very good! There was a complete mix of gravels roads and climbs to test and thrill everyone! There was even some fun singletrack at various points along the route which I loved with the Lauf fork’s 30mm travel.
Race day dawned, but only just, a 6.30am start for the ladies and 6.45 for the men was an early start! No low glycogen style riding here especially with 5 hours of full gas action ahead so breakfast was at 5am! 4am uk time. Ouch! After the start line scrum to gain a good start position, we were off like rockets towards the base of the first climb. We would need to be rockets because this climb was a beast, 3.84 kilometres with 239 meters climbing, average gradient of 6.2% but with regular pitches of between 15 and 20%! I started the climb a bit far back and had to chew the stem to make up ground, 455 watts for 10 minutes. Despite the efforts I still wasn’t far enough ahead to make the front group, I could see it forming in front and then slowly gapping us. Onto the descent and we safely but very quickly dropped back down the hill.
A large second group of 15 people formed, some worked, some got a free ride. We set a good pace over the following smaller hills, I felt frustrated that I had not made the lead group and I knew it would be almost impossible for us to close the gap. The kilometres passed and then suddenly in the dust ahead was the lead group. The target was locked on, we dropped down the gears and put down the power. It wasn’t easy but we caught the lead group just as we entered a long piece of rocky singletrack. At this point Jente Michels from Alpecin got a bit of a shock on his road bike with semi slick 30 or 35mm tyres! How he made it round with crashing or having a mechanical I don’t know! At this point we were a group of 25 riders with all favourites in attendance. In the female race, American Heidi Franz made an early move to go solo quickly after the start.
By now the morning mist has burnt off and over the next 50 kilometres the air temperature and race temperature rose! The Movistar pairing of Alejandro Valverde and Ivan Garcia Cortina were firing off the front on every slight rise trying to make a break happen. Each time we’d chase them down but it was reducing the size of the lead group quickly. I was working hard but feeling good, able to position myself near the front and follow moves. I knew that I had to keep on top of my energy levels as this was a high pace and high energy expenditure. During the 5 hour race I had 2.5 litres of energy drink with 400 grams of carbs and 4 gels with 140 grams of carbs so 104 grams of carbs per hour. As it warmed up though I could feel that 500ml of fluid per hour wasn’t enough.
Attacks kept happening, left right and centre. Uphill, downhill, through feed zones. Whatever, whenever. A few times I was away with what could have been a good small group but it never stuck. Then the winning break went and I was half of it, the other half was Valverde! All aboard the pain train! There was just two more climbs to go after this one and then 15 kilometres flat. I stayed with him for about 5 kilometres, it was insane, I couldn’t contribute anything, I was hanging onto his wheel, just! I should have decided earlier but the pace was too much, I had to let him go and wait for the next group to catch me. I was swinging now though and the last climb was pretty tough, the next group caught and past me, I went from lead group of two to about tenth place.
I reach the top of the final climb and fly onto the descent going full gas to recatch the group, I’m using the final bits of energy to sprint out of every corner. I catch and then my chain falls off the chainring. Ahhhhhhh. I quickly stop and fix but the group is moving fast. We are now on the flat fast finish along the river. I dig deep, put the head down, grip the bars and chase again. I catch. Breath. Not for long through because people are accelerating off the front. Cortina gets away, that’s first and second places to Movistar but who will be third, fourth and fifth on the podium? The rest of the group stays together but I’m at the back as we turn into the last singletrack one kilometre from the finish. The group thins out and spreads out, I try to get back ahead of a few of the group when we exit the trail but there’s not enough distance to the line. We sprint for third but I’m eighth over the line. So close to my goal of the elite podium. The competition is ridiculously high though and as someone else pointed out later in the day I’m likely first finisher with a full time job! I was second in my age category so still got to stand on the podium.
In the women’s race Heidi Franz was caught by British cyclocross rider Anna Kay halfway into the race, Kay would then go solo herself. By the finish though it was Franz again in the lead, winning with a 4 minute gap to Kay.
Ranxo Gravel and Ponts delivered a perfect gravel event in a beautiful area of Catalunya. I’m already buzzing for my next Klassmark event! The organiser runs a large selection of events including Europe’s largest gravel event the Traka, and also the new Gravel Earth Series. Ranxo is part of the UCI Gravel Series which includes fourteen events in sixteen countries.
The mens top 5 was Valverde, Cortina, Kevin Suarez Fer Nandez, Ismael Esteban Aguero and Michels. The women’s top 5 was Heidi Franz, Anna Kay, Claudia Galicia Cortina, Morgan Aguirre and Caroline Livesey.