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Things Don't Always Go to Plan

Things Don't Always Go to Plan

The Gralloch was held in South-West Scotland on Saturday May 20th 2024, The Gralloch was the first UK event to be part of the TREK UCI Gravel World Series, the Union Cycliste Internationale’s highest level of gravel racing.

The status means the race is the only event in the United Kingdom where cyclists can qualify for the Gravel World Championships, to be held in Belgium next October. Rupert opted to have a go in his age group (50-54). This was the biggest field consisting of 360 men. The women had their own category.

Words & Photos by Rupert Robinson

Ready for the off

The race started and finished in the Dumfries and Galloway town of Gatehouse of Fleet, some 160km (100 miles) south of Glasgow and 50km (32 miles) southwest of Dumfries itself. We would tackle around 113km (70 miles) taking us north on a hilly route into the Galloway Forest Park – almost entirely off-road and with 1854m of climbing on some of the UK’s best gravel trails, the event was billed as a tough day in the saddle... Preparations had gone well and my Kinesis GX Race was decked out with a new chain, cassette, tyres (tubeless) and bar tape.

Registration

We were going to camp so arrived at the campsite mid afternoon in time to register on Friday to avoid the busyness of the 2-hour window before my race at 10.20 the following morning. A ride round the block to make sure everything was working OK after registration with the bike then numbers pinned onto front bag and jersey and bottles handed in for feed station number 2.

I had opted to pay and have my own bottles halfway through the race, so I technically didn’t have to queue. The bottles would be in numbered age group boxes on a table I could grab myself and deposit my empties. The vibe around the campsite was good and as everyone fettled with bikes and nervously talked tactics before settling down for the night.

Time To Go

In the morning we headed into the event arena. My age group pen opened at 10am and we would be filtered in and down towards the starting gantry for 10:20. We nervously pushed our way through. The Pro men athletes, who were going off first, left 10 minutes late so it was just after the prescribed time.

Pushing & Fighting

The field would be led out of the arena and through the town neutralized to allow everyone safely to get moving before we imminently hit the first climb. Even though this was guided the pace was soon up on the road part as we headed out of the village and left onto the first climb and gravel.

It was definitely a bun fight for position with riders everywhere. Pushing past riders whilst being pushed past was like the start of a cross race! The track was about 3 riders wide and the grassy strip in the middle seemed to be the best option to avoid the rocks. There was a plateau in the climb and groups started to form.

Disaster!

At the top of the climb there was one of ten tech boxes. These were specific open top boxes that were positioned approximately every 10km throughout the course with sealant and inner tubes. A track pump was also available.

As we crested the climb the descent came fast. I could see there were already some riders who had been in front of me on the side with mechanicals! Blimey I thought.

As I got towards the bottom I hit a hole and double punctured. OMG! Or something a little more fruitful I’m sure I said. I pulled over as there was a good amount of riders behind. I’d had the tyres set up tubeless and the rear was completely flat, whereas the front was just soft. I whipped the rear wheel off whilst laughing about it to another rider only a few feet away in the same position.

This is technically where my day ended – although I hadn’t yet worked that out. I removed the small needle nosed pliers and set about removing the tubeless valve once one side of the tyre was off so I could put a tube in. I turned and turned it for what seemed like ages until I’d worked out the whole valve was spinning as the nut was so tight I couldn’t get it off.

I picked the rubber off the inside of the rim at the bottom of the valve and forced it out of the wheel. In went the tube and up it went. This had taken me 45 minutes. By now I was definitely at the back of the men’s field. Oh well, just get some air in the front and I can enjoy the rest of the course.

This also wasn’t to be. The removal core of the valve kept coming completely out when I removed the pump. I couldn’t believe it. I was now getting very frustrated!

With minimal air in I set off to enjoy the day. It was very slow going on the rough stuff with very low pressure in the front wheel but I figured I wasn’t that far from the next tech box where I’d use a track pump. The track became a bit more favourable and I started to speed up.

Bloody Rocks...

I didn’t see any other riders for quite some time until I heard a motorbike coming and the warning that the two leading pro women were approaching. They had set off 2 hours after my age group as I was only at 20km.

I pulled over to let them pass as I didn’t really have control of the front wheel and didn’t want to hinder them. They passed rapidly and onwards I plodded now being overtaken continuously. Finally, the front wheel gave up the ghost and I hit some serious boulders.

If That Wasn't Bad Enough...

At this point, I thought it was worth trying to sort out the front wheel. I had no idea where this tech box was supposed to be, but I hadn’t seen it and I was rapidly getting more frustrated. More and more riders past slowly commenting and asking if I was OK did I need anything? I even had one rider point out that had a front wheel flat!

Eventually, the gravel ended and I turned onto an onto a road section. It was here a small buggy past me with an official and I asked how close I was back to the main village, as I decided that I was now going to not finish the race and if there was a quick way back, I’d take it. He told me to stay on the road for 5km, and I would come back to the event village.

At 2km I came across the first feed station – bonus I thought, I’d grab some tubes, do the track pump, sort out the wheels with more pressure and crack on. At least I’ll be able to finish this to be the case. There were no tubes. There was no sealant and there was virtually no water left. There was no food and they were so apologetic, but it was just unbelievable, I was definitely going to head straight back down to the village now. I couldn’t risk riding another gravel section to the next tech box to risk another puncture and having to walk back.

A Disappointing End

After putting more air into the tyres, I cruise back down to the village where I handed over my timing chip and went back to the campsite.

It was a very disappointing weekend with all the travel, cost, and anticipation leading up to event with training and buying parts I felt I’ve been somewhat cheated but sometimes things don’t go as you planned. The bonus was the day before I’d managed to get a tick off one of the 100 climbs in the local area so it wasn’t all bad.

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