GritFest 2018 – Race Report

An epic weekend of riding brought to us by GritFest 2018 – Wales’ premier gravel race

  • Gorgeous Weather brought to us by the Welsh Summer
  • Flawless timing and race results brought to us by Sportident
  • New ‘Team Scimitar Endurance’  race kit thanks to Scimitar Sport
  • Stunning Scenery brought to us by the hills, valleys, lakes, rivers and forests of Mid Wales
  • Banter in the campsite from Will, Rhys, Chris, Toby and Stevo
  • Commentary from the ‘A Cycling‘ Team
  • Sausage Rolls, chocolate flapjack, welsh cakes and other goodies at the feed stations
  • Beer, Burgers and Pizza
  • Live Music
  • Campervan Living

What is there not to like about a weekend racing at Gritfest?

Punctures, more punctures, faulty spare tubes, bent derailleurs and broken quick releases, that’s what! Yep, it was an epic weekend of riding with perfect organisation, good people and an interesting format, but I was frustrated with mechanicals throughout.

Gritfest 2018

Things started well with a nice easy drive to Cilycwm near Llandovery on Saturday morning. I rolled into the campsite and found a gap amongst the other campers and tents. Registration was already open so I signed on and headed back to the camper to chill for a while. Rhys soon turned up and knocked on the door of the motorhome next door. Turned out I’d parked right next to Will.

Campsite

Campsite

It wasn’t long before we were chatting in the morning sunshine, drinking coffee and then getting ready for a long day of riding. The weather was perfect, blue skies, no wind and it had been dry for what seemed like weeks. The trails would be amazing.

I had new kit to try out in our Scimitar Endurance team colours and even had matching socks, shoes, helmet, watch strap, bike and toenails!

Team Colour Toenails

Team Colour Toenails

Race Numbers attached, timing chips on, kit sorted a catch up with some friends and we were soon lined up ready for the start.

Race Format

Timing was provided by Sportident and seemed to work perfectly. We each had a timing chip on our wrists that were turned on as we left and then activated as we rode out of race HQ. The race didn’t start here so it was a relaxed affair as we rode out onto quiet country lanes. The format for GritFest was a 91.5km ride on Saturday and a 41km ride on Sunday. Each of these days had 3 special times stages. It was the cumulative time of these timed stages that counted as your race result. The ride in between the stages didn’t count so could be taken at whatever pace you liked.

This proved to be a really good format as it allowed you to be sociable for much of the ride, take in the scenery, stop to take photos and stop properly at the feed stations. The only time you had to put in any real effort was during the timed stages. Even then you could of course just ride around enjoying the day out and not worrying about your time if you wanted.

GritFest Day 1

We soon settled into a steady pace as we rode up to Llyn Brianne. The sun was blazing and it was hot on on the roads as we steadily climbed up to the start of the first timed stage. Chris was up ahead somewhere in his matching Scimitar Endurance kit. He was taking things a little more seriously than me this weekend. He seemed pretty focussed beforehand and went off towards the front with a race in store. I was taking things more relaxed this weekend. It was never intended as a race for me, instead I was pottering along somewhere in the middle of the field chatting to people and having a nice day out.

The first timed stage started after 11km on the dam across Llyn Brianne. Water sprayed from the outlet far below us . Apparently the outlet through the dam draws water from the bottom of the 85m deep lake where it is always cold. This cold water interferes with fish moving upstream for breeding in the summer months so the water is sprayed out high into the air before it enters the river in an attempt to warm it up somewhat.

This first timed stage was a 6.8km undulating climb. I did of course pick up the pace a little for the timed stage. As I changed into my big ring and started putting in an effort there was an horrible grating sound followed by terrible chain rubbing and clattering. I looked down and my front derailleur was sticking out at a weird angle, my chain was off and things weren’t looking good. I jumped off, put the chain back on, twisted the derailleur back into place and tried again. Unsurprisingly things still weren’t as they should be, but at least things were turning. The chain was rubbing terribly if in the big ring. It was OK in the small ring but I was trying to go faster here and needed the big ring. The chain also came off a couple of times as I changed up but I was able to massage it back on with the derailleur. I pushed on regardless keeping a close eye on it. I could see that the derailleur cage was bent out of shape but with only a few kilometres to go I pushed on with the plan of fixing it after the timed stage.

I made fairly good time considering and was soon through the timing gate where I slowed to a halt and managed to bend my derailleur back into shape with the help of a stick.

On I plodded through amazing gravel track scenery towards Special Stage 2.

What a View

What a View

We had quite a few gates and cattle grids to negotiate here thanks to an unhelpful land owner who didn’t want us to use this section of trail despite the fact that we were legally entitled to do so. It didn’t matter as there was no hurry and everyone was having a great day out. You can see the trail we had just ridden down in the photo below. We were now riding up the other side of the valley.

Looking Back to Trails Just Ridden

Looking Back to Trails Just Ridden

Special Stage 2 was the longest of the weekend, a 22.7km undulating rollercoaster ride that started at kilometre 31. I was going well on this one, putting in a good effort and overtaking lots of people. I was making my way through the field, catching people on the climbs and hanging on for the descents. A few people passed me on the descents here and there but I soon overtook them on the next climb and left them behind. My derailleur was behaving itself too. But then, psssssccchhhh! Oh no, I head a flat front tyre. I was halfway through the timed stage so had no choice but to stop and fix it. As I did so everyone I’d overtaken went streaming past. Will, Rhys and Toby passed me too. Almost everyone who rode past checked to make sure I was OK and had everything I needed. I did of course, but I still lost getting on for 10 minutes right in the middle of a timed section. Typical, things weren’t going so well.

Flat tyre fixed and I rode on to the end of the timed section and on to the feed station where I stopped. We sat on the grass, grazing on the feed station fare and chatting. Eventually we headed off once again into the sunshine. Rhys had a puncture now but as it wasn’t a timed section Will and I stopped with him while he fixed it. I forget the exact order of things now, but we had a steep road climb called the Devils Staircase next. I left Rhys and Will behind here and continued on my way to Special Stage 3

Special Stage 3 was a 8.9km descent. This was never going to be my forte as my descending skills are sadly lacking. Having already lost time on Stages 1 and 2 thanks to mechanicals I kept up a decent pace but didn’t take too many risks. Thankfully I made it down unscathed and then started the long ride back to Race HQ. This involved another long climb and some undulating roads and trails weaving their way through the Mid Wales scenery.

As I rolled into the finish line I dibbed my timing chip. They turned it off to preserve the battery overnight and handed me a printout with all of my times for the day. brilliant!

My results weren’t great. 14th for the first timed section, 34th for the second timed section thanks to my puncture and 20th for the 3rd timed section. Chris meanwhile had been working hard up at the front, hadn’t had any mechanicals and was doing the Scimitar Endurance kit proud. He was in 10th place.

Evening at Race HQ

It had been a good day out in the sunshine and a long day of riding. The new Scimitar kit had been comfortable as well as stylish and life was good. The showers on site were just what was needed and soon we were chilling in the campsite, drinking beer, listening to the live outdoor band, eaten burgers and scoffing pizza.

Evening at Race HQ

Evening at Race HQ

Everything wound down at 10pm though and soon the camp was quiet as people headed off to bed ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

GritFest Day 2

I was up at 5am which is quite late for me at this time of year so I obviously slept well. I soon had a coffee on along with several pot porridges for breakfast. I then chilled in the van for a while enjoying the camper van lifestyle.

The format for Day 2 of GritFest was the same. We activated our wristband timing chips on the way out and then headed off for a 10km rollout towards the first of the days 3 Special Stages. I took it easy and stopped to put some more air in my tyres on the way out. This meant that everyone I knew was in front of me which was just the incentive I needed to chase hard on the first of the times stages.

Special Stage 4 was a 10km climb and I went hard from the start. I soon overtook Stevo, Toby, Rhys and Will, not that they were racing. Will did come careening past me on a mini descent within the section. He was laughing and howling as he did so but I soon overtook him again on the next climb and left him behind. According to the results I was 17th on this section so put in a fairly respectable time for it.

Special Stage 5 was up pretty much straight away. I’d barely had time to catch my breath before I was through the timing gate as hurtling down a loose, gravelly descent. It was a 2.4km descent down to the feed station. I was going quite well for me on a descent, mindful of the fact that Will was likely to be catchiung be up. I rounded the first bend and that familiar hissing sound of a puncture reared its head again. Arrrgggghhh! Not again! I jumped off and changed tubes but just couldn’t get any air into the new tube. I even tried a photographers pump as he was lying in the grass nearby snapping photos. That didn’t work either. By now I’d spent ages here so decided it would be better to walk the next km or so down to the feed station and sort things out at the Cycletec van.

Fixed Again

Fixed Again

Any hope of a half respectable time was now out of the window. Everyone else did this timed section in around 3-4 minutes. It had taken me over 24 minutes and according to the results that was dead last for this section. So, what with the mechanicals yesterday I’d now lost at least 35 minutes just fixing things at the side of the trail! I walked into the feed station a little frustrated and spent some time trying to fix things. Eventually we managed to get a tube in that would take some air and pumped it up. That wasn’t the end of my troubles though as the quick release mechanism on my bolt-thru axle decided to break as well. I could turn the bolt to tighten it but couldn’t lock it off. We couldn’t fix it properly so I had to limp the rest of the way home taking it fairly easy in case it started to come loose. I stopped to check it a few times in the untimed sections.

Special Stage 6 was a single track climb and descent along mountain bike trails. Not ideal terrain to be going hard on when you have a dodgy front axle. I didn’t stop during it but having lost so much time already and with the worry of more mechanicals forefront on my mind I didn’t push hard. There was little point by now so I may as well save my legs for another day.

It wasn’t far from here to the finish where once again I handed in my timing chip and was presented with a print out of my results. I barely dared look at them as they would be so bad!

I had a quick de-brief with the others, explaining what had gone wrong today and then headed home in the van.

Not the best of races from a performance point of view thanks to all of the mechanicals, but the GritFest event itself was as good as it gets. Perfect organisation, perfect routes, great trails, great scenery, a really good format and a good time was had by all. Hopefully that’s enough mechanicals to last me a year or two. Better to get them all over with in one race rather than spreading them across several I guess.

 

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Alan Cole

Alan is a Freelance Website Designer, Sports & Exercise Science Lab Technician and full time Dad & husband with far too many hobbies: Triathlete, Swimming, Cycling, Running, MTBing, Surfing, Windsurfing, SUPing, Gardening, Photography.... The list goes on.

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