There are lots of gravel events cropping up and vying for your attention, but the Lauf Gritfest is one you should definitely get in your diary for next year. As it did in 2018, the event served up two days of quality gravel riding through spectacular scenery, with amazing weather and the winning combination of timed stages within longer routes making for a very laid back and sociable atmosphere.
Gravel enduro is a top format, taking the idea of short timed stages within a longer route from mountain bike and motocross and applying it to gravel works very well. There’s no denying the particular appeal of long-distance events like Dirty Reiver, but they are definitely Type 2 fun. Gritfest is fun every step of the way.
Based in the big hills of mid-Wales the event this year offered up 80km on day one and 40km on day two, slightly shorter than last year, not that anyone was complaining. There were six timed stages in total, equally spread out on each day, with the longest a 19km leg burner on Saturday. Each timed stage was on prime gravel, some packed with climbing, others more gravity fuelled, and others plain rollercoasters through the forests.
There was plenty of tough riding either side of the timed stages, so it wasn’t all plain sailing when you were riding against the clock. In particular, the beast dubbed K2 on the first day which 99% resorted to walking. It was a good way to loosen the legs I suppose…
My favourite timed stage? It’s a close call between the flowing nature of the Lauf True Grit stage with an awesomely quick descent to the finish or the final stage which took in the mountain bike trails of Cwm Rhaeadr and brought bike handling skills, as well as stamina from two days of riding, to the fore.
As there was last year, the event attracted a wide range of cyclists and bikes, the event proving to be accessible and appealing to people of all experience levels. The bikes were a varied bunch too, from the latest dedicated gravel bikes to cyclocross bikes then lots of mountain bikes, from lightweight 29er hardtails to retro 26” rigid steel bikes.
That’s the beauty of this event and events like it. Any off-road bike will do. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a gravel bike, a CX or MTB will do just fine. Which bike is better more than likely comes down to the rider and how hard they are willing to push on the timed stages. One thing everyone could agree on, tyre choice and pressure are just as important. And tubeless is essential!
My ride for the event was the brand new Open WIDE, with 650bx54mm wide Schwalbe G-One Bite tyres that despite two self-sealing rear punctures, were ideal with good rolling speed and traction. The new SRAM eTap AXS groupset worked slickly all weekend, and the 42t chainring mated to the 10-50t cassette provided an adequate range that I was able to comfortably get up many steep climbs that many people simply run out of gears on.
There’ll be a full review on the bike soon.
You can view results from the 2019 race here and check out the event website at https://gritfest.co.uk/, where the 2020 dates will be announced soon. See you there!
Photos © www.anthonypeasephotography.co.uk
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