Gravel Cup Ottawa - My First Gravel Race

  • 7 minutes

Pre-Race Prep 

The week leading up to the race was filled with some nice long days out on the bike making sure my legs would be ready to handle a just over 100km race. Looking into the weather all week kept making things very unpredictable as well as it kept jumping between rain/snow and anywhere from 5-12 degrees so that was another stressor to my first official gravel race. The day before the race a bit of a storm rolled in bringing snow/rain and really getting my brain turning on how that would effect race day. On race day, however, we very very much lucked out and the sun was shining with nary a cloud in the sky. Dressing for the event was still a struggle as I am used to doing a lot of my solo riding so I know how much I need to be ready for usually but I had never been in a race sort of situation which would present me putting in a bit of extra work and therefore not needing the extra layers I would presume ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ .  


Race Day 

Once everything from fuel, drink and clothing was sorted I gave myself a little bit of warm-up and just went for a little 10 minute cruise to open up the legs (have now learned that I should give myself a bit more to open the legs next time) coming back there was roughly 5 mins to what should have been official race start time so me and a good friend who I convinced to come take part and do his first race as well lined up for the mass start event. We lined up more nearer to the rear of the group and that’s a lesson that I learned real quick for my next race as we rolled out for the neutral start I could already tell that me and my buddy would be splitting up quite quickly into the race. We came to the first gravel road and turned onto it and what would have been the full start had a bit of an issue and we all had to stop again and wait for another lead car to get in front of us. After a few mins kind of standing around and being a little bit confused we started to roll and there in that moment is when I learned about where to start in a mass start style race (nearest to the front as you think would make sense).  


The Start 

As the real race started there was a small riser/kick up in the road obviously being a bit far back I had to start making my way through some of the pack and try to latch onto the big main peloton. Very sadly/lesson learnt I got very very near that first main 30-35 guys/girl but I couldn’t quite latch onto the back after the effort that was needed to pass the other 30 or so people. For a quick moment I was in a bit of a bummed out sad spot but the thing I told myself coming into this race was this is your first one and you are using it as a learning experience so put your head down and keep rolling. Being in no mans land for roughly 10 minutes or so a person bridged up to me and that was definitely a god send as we were able to both work together and keep our pace nice and high trying to catch that front group still. We could see them just a little ways ahead of us at this point which was helpful for the morale. While working together well there came a nice little descent and according to my wahoo a quick right turn was coming up and I became pretty puzzled when my new compadre decided to just keep hauling down the hill and continue on straight ahead. As I turned right and was back to lonesome no mans land I had lost view of the front group or what I assumed was that they either went the wrong way or started to really pick up their pace. Either way I once again put my head down and started to just try and keep a nice good effort going along some of the fastest hard pack dirt that I had ever ridden.  


A bit of Help 

After about 15kms or so of soloing I was bridged up again with yet another person who explained he had been basically chasing me since I had first starting working with the first person. This time though things were less about getting into a pace line and taking turns pulling and was more of a casual chit chat type of ride, still trying to keep the pace high as could be but also just enjoying the ride knowing that all hopes of every catching back up to that big main peloton were gone. While cruising we passed 2 people that had gotten dropped off and asked if they wanted to join in but they gave us the I’m done and we kept on our way. At about km 50 was a rest station and my compadre needed to stop for some water and told me to keep going he would catch up and as I had enough fuel for the entire ride on me I obliged.  


No Man’s Land 

So again me solo 😅 this time felt like the longest section of solo riding for me but I wasn’t completely paying attention to how far into the ride I was based on km’s but just looked at keeping my power in check and new that if that was good I’d be good. While cruising along I finally noticed somebody just up ahead of me and so for me that became now a small goal to catch up to them and have another person to work with again. After finally catching up with this new person we may have been riding for all of 3-4 mins together before boom all of a sudden there was another 10 or so people with us, 2 of which were the guys I had previously worked with earlier on in the race (wrong turn and rest stop). Now that we had a nice sized group we started to get into a bit of pace lining and keeping the speed up especially on the paved sections. With only 25kms remaining in the race I knew that as long as nobody did any real attacking we should basically all cruise in together. I was unaware but at roughly 10kms left to go I looked around and noticed we had dropped 2 or maybe 3 people off the train and so even though it meant nothing in the overall of the top places of the race I wondered what I should do at that point. My legs were feeling great and my fueling strategy had been on point so I kept debating whether or not I stayed with this group and just worked together or if I was to throw a little attack on a riser and see if I could stay away till the end. I decided to just keep the pace with the group and stay on the front doing a bit of extra work to keep things a bit fast.  

cyclist on gravel road

5 Km To Go 

Turning left onto the last gravel road we had roughly 5 kms left and so we all kind of just road together until about 900m’s when I decided to test the little group and since it was my first bike race the placing didn’t matter anymore and just the idea of ending the ride with a last sprint/burst move, I decided to wind up a little and see who was willing to sprint with me if anybody at all was. As I took off 1 person jumped onto my wheel and I dragged him for roughly 400m’s or so before kind of sitting up and looking around to see what had happened, in sitting up for a second at about 400m to the line he came around me and started to give his last push but my inner competitor grinned and I stood back up and pedalled as hard as I could and was able to get just ahead and clearly come in before my entire group.  

dirty bike wheel
dirty bike

The Finish  

Rolling across the line was an amazing feeling and I was quite happy that I had finally got the chance to do my first gravel race. Small ride back to the parking lot to get changed out of the muddy and gross cycle kit and wait for my buddy to come in from his ride (a very very long wait I should add). All in all an amazing day on the bike and lots of lessons learned that will be implemented a lot during the next gravel cup event and all the other gravel races I plan to get involved in this season. 🤟🏼 

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