Words and images by Matt Bird (@mattbird)
In a blur of crunching carbon and dust the sting of lactic acid is replaced by the sting of gravel rash, bringing an end to my day at Gravelista. I’d hoped that my first little gravel event diary would end with something more exciting than a ripped skinsuit and a bruised ego, but that’s the nature of this sport.
The first weekend of September saw the UCI Gravel World Series descend on Beechworth for Gravelista. A town I’ve never been to despite being close fairly often. With seemingly endless gravel and a bustling town centre it’s not hard to see why it’s developed the reputation it has as a great place to ride bikes. I was joined in by some fellow Adelaideians and we spent the days before the race exploring both the local riding and the town itself. All of us commenting that it would be a great place to revisit without the looming stress of an upcoming A race.
The race itself started in the cold early morning sun, quickly splitting into a small front group as we rocketed down the technical first descent and into the creek crossing, the cold water chilling the already cold body. I’ve always maintained that it’s not a real gravel ride unless you cross a creek or do something properly silly, so it was good to get this checked off early. From here we settled in for a fast and aggressive race as attacks flew, all quickly extinguished due to the high pace of the bunch. As we rolled out of Eldorado (Is this the coolest named town in Victoria?) We were treated to a gun slinging show befitting the western sounding name. As we hit the steep grades of Mason Road the group splintered. I was happy to make it into the front group and was beginning to settle in for the final 30km when the aforementioned blur of dust and crunching carbon unfolded. Jumping to my feet and running to the bike I was sad to see my saddle had snapped itself clean off, leaving me with no way to continue. Day done.
After waiting in the shade for a lift back to the aid station I watched the rest of the event from there. The spirit of gravel is talked about often but to me it’s not really relevant to racing. Racers will always look for every advantage no matter the cost, it’s in our nature. To me the spirit of gravel is the enjoyment and variety you see throughout the field. While we bombed through the aid stations in a flurry of hand up’s and flying bottles it was refreshing to see the smiles and camaraderie throughout the rest of the field. The people who were able to look more at the beautiful scenery and less at the best place to hide from the wind. Able to think about how many treats they could have at the aid station instead of their target carbohydrates per hour. While my day didn’t go as planned it was nice to hang out with my new friends Bert and Julie as we offered snacks and encouragement to the people who make these events as special as they are.
Did you take part in Gravelista? Share your thoughts below, I’d love to hear your stories from the final 30km I missed!
Follow Matt on Instagram: @mattbird