The inaugural UCI gravel race Gralloch took place last weekend in the small Scottish town of Gatehouse of Fleet, and at the very front of the startline among cycling pros Connor Swift, Nathan Haas and Alex Dowsett was the cycling enthusiast and F1 driver Valtteri Bottas. We managed to catch the F1 superstar for a quick bike check and pre-race feelings.
2023 Gralloch - valtteri bottas before start.jpg, by Suvi loponen
It was a surprise for most to see Bottas on the Gralloch starting list - and that is because he had made a last-minute decision to participate in this gravel race after the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix in Imola got cancelled due to flooding. He was definitely attracting a lot of attention at the race village, not only because of his vast success on the Formula 1 track but also because he has built himself a reputation as a fast gravel rider, too.
“Yeah, I was supposed to have an F1 race in Imola, but that got cancelled on Wednesday. And then I was like, what do I do now? Tiff [Cromwell] was already going to the race, so we asked if there was any chance I could enter and they said yes!
"So I booked my flights and got here on Thursday evening. This is going to be my fifth gravel race - I’ve done the BWR Kansas and SBT Gravel twice. I thought the distance is nothing crazy, it’s not an ultra like some of the gravel races, so I should be able to complete it and have some fun - but at the same time challenge myself," Bottas explains how it all came to be.
Valtteri Bottas, Tiffany Cromwell, Gralloch, by Red On events
The Finn also said this is a great opportunity for him to see how the UCI Gravel World Series is as an event.
"So far, the experience has been nice. I have to say it seems slightly more serious than some of the gravel races in the US - the day before the race less beer was consumed - but of course, when it’s World Series you expect people to be more professional. It’s still not a road race, though, it’s more chilled vibe!" he laughs.
When asked about his race strategy, Bottas was very clear in his answer.
"I am gonna go all out, full gas. I got lucky that I got a front-row start and I will try to hang on to the fast guys as far as I can, and we’ll see. My goal is to enjoy and be in the top 25 per cent - although my age group is super competitive so let’s see!”
If you wonder what Bottas' result was - he narrowly missed the qualifying top 25 per cent of his age group. But as he said, the 19-34 age category was undeniably the fastest and most competitive of the event - it's the one where the race winner Connor Swift raced, as well. Bottas' partner Tiffany Cromwell won the women's race.
2023 Gralloch - Valtteri Bottas-drivetrain, by Suvi loponen
At the Gralloch, Bottas was racing his trusty Canyon Grail CF SLX - the very top-of-the-range gravel bike from the German brand that the F1 star is partnering with, and the bike he got for the Steamboat gravel race that he won in his age category last year.
The bike is equipped with Sram Red AXS wireless groupset with an XPLR cassette and rolls on Zipp NSW 353 wheels, wrapped in Zipp G40 gravel tyres in 40mm width.
2023 Gralloch - Valtteri Bottas- wheel valve, by Suvi loponen
Bottas admitted that he is a bit of a geek when it comes to tyre pressures, and you can spot his bike featuring Quarq TyreWiz air pressure sensors that connect to a cycling computer or phone to show real-time data of the pressure in the tyres.
“Actually it’s quite interesting with temperature, how much the pressure is changing,” Bottas says smilingly, praising the technology. When asked about what pressure he is running for the race, he told 27PSI for the front and 30PSI for the rear.
The cockpit on the bike is the Canyon double-decker setup, offering more flex on rough terrain.
2023 Gralloch - Valtteri Bottas- cockpit, by Suvi loponen
The pedals are Time, which was increasingly the trend among Sram riders at the race, and the saddle is S-Works Power Arc.
2023 Gralloch - Valtteri Bottas time pedal, by Suvi loponen
“And lastly I have this very interesting feature on the bike, a taped-up CO2 canister - just in case! My pockets are kind of full so… I just taped it there," Bottas smirks.
Just a few days after Gralloch, we saw Bottas on a custom-painted version of the Grail, celebrating the racer's Finnish heritage. And talking of Finland, Bottas' next cycling race in three weeks' time will be FNLD GRVL - a gravel race set up by him, Tiffany Cromwell and SBT GRVL - at his hometown Lahti, Finland.
2023 Gralloch - Valtteri Bottas- detail, by Suvi loponen
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