Gravel racing doesn’t come any bigger in the UK than Dirty Reiver, this event had grown its reputation over the years and is now the headline act. Two years ago this was my introduction to gravel and now in 2023 I’m racing a full calendar of gravel events. Returning to the event it was amazing to see once again how quickly this side of the sport is growing. The event village was packed with lots of different brands showing off their goods including my sponsors Wahoo and Lauf. There was a great atmosphere around the castle with over 1600 participants raring to go!
This year was definitely dirty! As we drove up on Friday it looked like it hadn’t rained in this part of the country for a while, there was dust on the edge of the roads. Forecast for race day however did not look good, we almost bailed several times on the drive up, it was supposed to be heavy rain all of Saturday, not what you want when the distance is going to take almost 7 hours! Fortunately, we got away with it, yes it rained and it was cold but it wasn’t half as bad as predicted.
Friday, riding in beautiful sunshine.
Saturday morning and participants gathered under threatening skies, the nervous tension was almost overwhelming. At 7.45 the gates of the castle grounds opened and participants sped towards the gravel roads of Kielder Forest. After a quick tarmac dash we were offroad through a tight winding trail to spread everyone out before the first gravel road blast began.
Very quickly a group of 20 formed at the front, this quickly dropped to about 12 by the first feed zone. Earlier on when the group was larger there was quite a lot of people sitting on not doing any work on the front, but once the group got smaller most people worked hard to maintain the pace taking turns to work. The standard was a lot higher this year with some strong competition from the UK and overseas. Pace wasn’t too hot for the first kilometres and I was feeling pretty comfortable. Gradually the group got smaller and smaller, there wasn’t any attacks or accelerations to break the pack apart but people just got dropped from attrition and the strong consistent pace.
Several things helped me during the race, the first of those was clothing. I was shivering on the start line it was so cold, and was pretty warm for the first 20 minutes but once it started raining I was the perfect temperature. I raced in waterproof overshoes, thick socks, thick Kalas RainMem leg warmers which are water and windproof, thick Kalas Shark water and windproof bibshorts and softshell long sleeve jacket, a warm base layer, insulated gloves, a neck warmer and winter cap. I carried my Kalas eVent waterproof jacket but despite the persistent rain actually stayed dry enough thanks to everything else I was wearing. I’ve had years of riding and racing in pretty disgusting conditions and the kit I completed Dirty Reiver in is the very best I could imagine using.
Saturday, the first few kilometers before things got serious and it rained.
By feed zone two there were just four of us, Ingvar Omarsson, Nicolas Roche and Michael Mottram. Two people started with two bottles and a hydration pack which would take them through the whole distance. This was my original plan but talked myself out of it as I didn’t want to carry the extra weight and didn’t want the hydration pack on if I’d have to be putting on or taking off a rain jacket whilst riding. I had to stop at feed zone two to refill my two bottles. I was only stopped for 35 seconds but I had to work hard to catch back up. 6 minutes 30 at 403 watts normalized, which is just below threshold, got me back to lead group. This was the hardest 6 to 10 minutes of the race. This effort happened after 3 hours 19 and 3300 kilojoules of work.
Recatching the group had been hard work but once I was there I was feeling good again. The group continued to work well together. With quarter distance left we reached the final feed zones, I would have liked to have filled up a bottle again but only one person was stopping so I took the risk not to stop. 3 litres of energy drink for 6.5 hours was minimal even for these chilly temperatures and I was feeling pretty thirsty by the finish line. Before starting my aim was to consume 90 grams of carbs per hour and 500 ml of fluid per hour. This came from two 750ml bottles of Super Carbs, two 750ml bottles of OTE’s regular Energy Drink, three Super Gels, two Caffeine Gels and four pieces of flapjack bar. Total carb intake was 620 grams, 95 grams of carbs per hour. You can buy all these products from our online shop.
With about 50 kilometres to go Micky stopped with a slow puncture, the group was then just three. A few kilometres later Nico dropped off the back after a steep descent having punctured. It was then just Ingvar and I at the front. At this point in the route we completed three of what were probably the biggest climbs, it was obvious at this point Ingvar was struggling. For some reason I deciding to wait and give him a pep talk! I told him to eat and drink to rebuild his energy levels. I didn’t want to do the last 40 kilometres on my own. We are good friends and it was good fun being out there together, especially as we were both nailing the descents which when we had been in a larger group would create some gaps to the others.
The bike setup for this years Dirty Reiver including frame bags to carry required kit.
The Lauf Seigla with the Smoothie handlebar and Grit fork with its 30mm of travel was incredible once again. The bike gave incredible confidence on the descents, along the rougher gravel sections and through any muddier sections. So many people during the weekend were asking questions about the bike and especially the fork, I can safely say that I finished the race in a faster time and feeling a lot fresher than I would have done on another bike with a rigid fork. The setup this weekend included the Strada Gravel Ultra Plus wheels which providing an aero setup for the fast gravel roads of Kielder Forest. On those wheels I ran Schwalbe G One R’s in 45c width at 30 psi with tyre inserts front and rear. I was riding a 46 tooth Rotor Q ring with a 10-44t cassette, this was fine for the rolling hills.
I tried hard on the last 19 kilometres to get rid of Ingvar but along the path next to the Kielder Water it was impossible to open a gap, he was riding tactically and was glued to my wheel. On any short rise I would put in an acceleration but the climbs were all sub 30 seconds but this short sharp effort is my weakness and suited Ingvar far better as he does a lot more cross country racing than I do. I did my best 30 second power of the day, 654 watts, after 6 hours 29 in one last ditch effort to open a gap.
Covered in mud but happy.
In the end we rolled towards the castle climb together. I already knew this was going to be a tough but gave it everything, 20 seconds at 790 watts with a max power of over 1100 watts. This was post 6 hours 34 and at almost 6500 kilojoules! I thought I had it but at the last second Ingvar swung round to the right of me taking the inside line into the 90 degree corner through the tight castle wall into the finish line.
The last two years the fastest finisher was around 6 hours 44 but this year we knocked ten minutes off that to set a new course record. The standard of the competition helped, especially as we had such a good group which worked together. It was a shame not to be first over the line but actually I took the fastest time having rolled over the start line a few seconds after Ingvar! Third fasted time was Nico, followed by Micky, Jesse Yates, and national champ Jacob Vaughan.
Dirty Reiver was an amazing weekend, riding in a beautiful location and seeing many friends, coaching clients and the crew from Lauf and Wahoo. Gravel cycling continues to flourish here in the UK and oversees. Whilst I return home a little tired after some poor sleep and all the travelling I’m buzzing for the next gravel race this weekend!