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Race Recap: Conquering the Santa Vall gravel stage race in Girona



After a big winter of training it was finally time to go racing again! After being hit pretty hard with covid in July last year and struggling to regain power and fitness through the second half of the year there were some worries about whether I'd ever be back to my best. I have my eyes set on the Gravel Earth Series in 2024 and with that laser focus I knuckled down to work. After several months of hard graft we arrived in Girona for the Santa Vall stage race.

 

After travelling we had just enough time for a look at stage one’s mass start hill climb prologue route. It was quickly obvious this would be a tough start to the season with 362m ascent in 6.3km. This was the first round of this series which has events all over the world, after Santa Vall I’ll also be racing The Traka in Girona Spain, The Rift in Iceland and Ranxo Gravel in Spain.

 

On start line as the countdown began the atmosphere was electric, after countless hours of training and preparation the moment we had been working towards for so many months was finally here. With hearts already racing we waited for the start gun to fire. Whilst the distance of stage one and race format was far from my strengths it was fun to put it all on the line in this short-paced effort. It felt amazing to get my head down and stomp on the pedals. 150 elites storming into a two-person wide climb was chaotic but the gradient quickly sorted the pack out. Gaps began to open around me and I could see a few riders opening gaps but I was just about dangling onto the lead group as the hill got steeper and steeper. During the final meters which had gradients of 20% it felt like you were barely moving, each pedal stroke moving you slowly closer to the final line. 441 watts normalized for this 17-minute offroad hill climb was 'only' good enough for 11th place in this stacked pro field. I was happy with the effort and result, time gaps were tiny so there was everything to play in the following days.




Stage two I made too many mistakes, after the success of yesterday I tumbled down the results sheet. It was still a really fun day racing the Lauf Seigla in the sunshine but when you put so much work into something it’s so frustrating when a silly mistake has such a big effect on the result. This stage was another unusual one, with two timed segments within the 72 kilometres overall distance. The first segment went well enough but I lost a few seconds to the leaders at the very end when the group separated as we caught the back of the ladies who set off 10 minutes before us, overtaking was tricky in the final singletrack. A shame the racing got broken up in this way for both the men and women, all of whom are just trying to do their best.

 

The race for segment two starts way before we actually reached the start line, during the ride between segments the group had doubled in size and everyone was keen to keep a good position at the front. I was the wrong end of the bunch as segment two began, we immediately rode some tight narrow singletrack where overtaking was impossible. At the back of the group we were going a snail’s pace and allowing big time gaps to open. Back out onto the gravel the race was fully lined out but I was able to catch the front of the race, legs still feeling good. However going into the next singletrack section I again got caught too far back in the group, the race completely split and the leaders opened a gap. Out of the singletrack I was able to open a gap on the group I was with which included Daniel Oss and Piotr Havik! I just dropped someone who raced the Tour de France last year, little me with a full-time job putting the hurt on these superstar cyclists! I put my head down to see if I could catch the group in front, I was so focused on the power numbers I missed a turn on the track. It took a minute to realise my mistake, after looping back I’d given two minutes away to the group I had been with, that turned into four minutes by the finish line.



After these time losses the chance of a good position on the overall classification was all but gone, I told myself the next day I could try for a stage podium, the day after I could go to the opticians!

 

After psyching myself up with a big pep talk, I approached Santa Vall Stage 3 with a renewed sense of determination and focus. I reflected on the sacrifices made day in day out and this week leaving the family behind at home during school holidays. Stage 3 wasn't just going to be another race day, it was an opportunity to push my limits and get a notable race result.

 

Stage 3 was a more typical gravel race, timed from start to finish, the stage was 116 kilometres with 1542 metres of climbing. At 8.30 the women’s rolled out, then an hour later the men started. We quickly entered the ribbon of gravel roads in the hills just north of Girona. I again wasted a lot of energy getting caught behind riders who couldn't ride the singletrack very fast but I was climbing like a rocket! Each time a gap opened I closed it on the next climb. On the second big climb of the day I buried myself to close the gap to the lead group, there in the middle of the race I rode 14 minutes at 410 watts, ten of those minutes were at 424 watts.



Off the hill and onto the long flat second half of the stage I would catch the lead group, there I would stay all the way to the finish. Coming into the final kilometres the pace was electric and moving up to be in a good position was tough. Just before the finish one rider launched an attack and opened a small gap of a few seconds. This was the chance for that stage podium, a huge result to start the season.

 

We sprinted for second place, my sprint was no match for the power of the other riders and I crossed the line in 9th place. So close to that stage podium. With the calibre of competition present, a field brimming with world-class athletes who make a living out of riding their bikes, I can be happy with the performances over the three days. Petr Vokoc took the overall win ahead of Hans Becking and David Lozano Riba. Full results can be found here.

 

It was great to be back at the Gravel Earth Series and see the how much the series has expanded this year. Although this was an early season race the level seemed to have stepped up once again with the race at the front becoming faster and faster with more sponsors and teams appearing. I finished 15th overall in the GC, if you take away those 4 minutes lost on stage 2 going the wrong way I’d have finish 6th overall. I’m proud of my performance and with the Santa Vall stage race now behind me I'm happy that my training is on track and progressing so quickly. As I look ahead I'm filled with excitement for the training and racing coming up next.




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