Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Dorset Gravel Dash 100 ... "this is not a race"

I don’t remember how I discovered gravel racing, its not as though the UK has a huge scene… until last weekend it had no scene at all.

I guess probably an article featured in XXC Magazine or one of the ultra racing forums probably brought gravel to my attention.   Some people cannot imagine anything worse than ‘grinding’ long sections of hilly gravel road but to me it struck a chord and I wanted in.

My first event was in 2012, the Dirty Kanza 200 in Kansas, 200 miles starting and ending in Emporia, Kansas.  I met amazing people and got a taste for the gravel scene.  The following year I went to Iowa to take on the well-respected Trans Iowa, famed for its long distance at 325 miles and often brutal riding conditions.  Trans Iowa tested me but again I was inspired by the people I rode with and the whole feel of the event.

This year other events conspired to keep me from the US and another gravel race but luckily in 2014 gravel came to the UK, the Dorset Gravel Dash 100.
The event was hardly local, in fact I have driven to events in Europe that took less time to get there but when some one has not only spent time but also stuck their neck out to put on something new as a rider you need to make the effort to attend and show support.

Charlie the Bikemonger … the man, the organiser, the legend … those who favour one gear over many will of heard of if not met Charlie.  Running a bike shop out of Swanage Charlie has always pioneered so it was no surprise he was the man to step up and launch UK gravel.
Swanage is nestled down on the south coast, the town sits on the sea surrounded by steep hillsides.  Swanage was the start and end of the Dorset Gravel Dash 100, specifically the Red Lion pub.  Now in my mind all great events should start and finish at a pub !



The ‘race’

Firstly the ‘Dash’ was not a race ... lets make that clear though it was however ridden as quickly as possible by all that rode it.  91 ish miles in distance (100 if you count wheel spins too) the course covered a lot of bridleway gravel, some road , some trail and the occasional bike swallowing puddle !
The start was a fairly comfortable 8am and being able to start and finish an event not only the same day but with time for an afternoon pub lunch was novel.
I don’t think I have ever seen such a diverse selection of bikes line up for an event before … thin, fat, geared, singlespeed and even fixed!  Most boxes had been ticked.

Post ‘race’ the bacon sandwiches and coffees were handed around, this was not to be a day fuelled by energy bars and gels.



8am and we are on the high street riding out of town …  a leisurely start was soon rudely interrupted by an attacking George Budd, UK Salsa rider, off the front racing away (a stewards enquiry was held regarding possible racing during the dash.  Not wanting to miss the party at the front I had to ride over to George, this was made easier as he realised his GPS (the whole course had to be navigated by GPS) made a better paper weight than a means of navigation.



George’s fait to ride with me for the entire route (almost) was sealed as though he had the physical advantage I was clearly the more technically endowed with a fully functioning GPS.
The course was superb, the views alone made the effort worthwhile as we rode headlands that allowed us to survey the Jurassic coastline this region is famed for … steep cliffs and secluded bays were dotted along the coastline.




In the first few hours there was a loose group of around 4 or 5 guys who would come together every now and then though George being a pure bred racer was always keen to establish a comfortable gap and in the process make sure I was working hard, he even gave me a nose bleed!

The first and only feed station came just after mid way and after bottle refills and a slice of bacon cake (a first for me) we were quickly back on the bikes just as the 3rd place rider, Jack Peterson, rolled in.

The varied course was an interesting comparison of which was the better machine for the day as George had gone 650b mountain bike against my Halo Twin Rail tyred Salsa gravel bike ... the Warbird.  On the gravel and flat road sections the Warbird eased my effort and allowed me to ride at least alongside if not occasionally in front of George.  When the mud got deep or we found ourselves bashing alongside or up a farmers field the 650b’s fatter tyres and lower gearing was envied.
A few times the twin rail semi slick tyres gave me a quick wake up call as the bike tried to escape my grasp.

With a gap established over 3rd place we had just to maintain a consistent effort till the finish, the weather was fantastic and the company excellent, it was a great day to be riding a bike.
The final foray in to Swanage and the finish line involved a climb from Studland up on to the cliff tops then a traverse along the headland before the final descent to the finish along the sea front and back to the Red Lion pub.

As we started the climb up to the cliff top the density of walkers increased on the trail and as George got out the saddle and comfortably eased away it was soon apparent that the natural born racer was going to for home, I had to sit and suffer with no reply to offer. 

As I arrived at the top of the last agonising grassy climb along the headland a group of local riders had gathered to cheer the riders on and indicated the slopes of the final descent to the finish.
A spin along the sea front and short road section saw me back at the pub and as soon as I had finished in true Charlie style I had been furnished with a pint.








George in the last few miles of climbing had put nearly 10 minutes in to me, made more amazing by the fact that the previous day he had won a 6 hour solo race on a fat bike!
All that was now left was to enjoy the weather and cheer those finishing after us whilst enjoying the company of local riders and those that had made the trip for the previous days singlespeed ride out.
My prize for second place was a food and drink voucher for the local bistro, the tastiest prize I have ever won and enjoyed the same evening.



A huge thank you goes out to Charlie and everyone that helped him put on this amazing event.  The first of its kind and hopefully the first edition of many more.

Thanks to George for you company during the day and a fine ride to win the ‘Saw of Glory’.

Thanks to Salsa Cycles as always for the bike underneath me, the mighty Warbird now a veteran of many awesome events.

Thanks to Halo for my wheels and importantly tyres, the Halo Twin Rail which again proved itself as a master of all surfaces, almost.

Thanks to Alpkit for the stem cell feed bag that kept food at hand all day.


Thanks to Jon Macey for the photographs and video.