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Hey there everyone! Just discovered the site and as a complete rookie to the Gravel game, I have a few questions heading into my first race, the Lost and Found 100 on May 31st.
A little background on myself... I'm a Cat 1 mountain biker, and a competitive Cat 3 on the road. I've only been racing for two years. With a busy year on the bike last year resulting in a little "burn out" on the road, I'm looking to mix things up this year with some new races on the calendar. With that said, the gravel only seems fitting. I know each and every race is different, so I'm hoping to just get a broad and general feel for the sport as a whole in the answers to these questions...
-My first big question relates to tactics.
Is there more of a road race dynamic during the race or more of a xc mountain bike race?
Meaning, is it commonplace for a peloton to stay together for a majority of the race? Is it custom for attacks to take place? Do Breakaways form? Do breakaways stick? Is there a cohesive chase if there is a break? Or am I over thinking it and it's just a matter of having the legs to ride all day and eventually ride everyone off your wheel?
When I first got the idea in my head to race this event, I mostly envisioned the starting gun firing, and it being a pretty much 100 mile individual time trial on dirt, where simply the strongest man wins. After thinking about it more, I realized that this is probably not the case, and that with 100+ people racing there must be some advantages in drafting and working together.
Second question is regarding neutral support/aid stations.
Assuming that there is a peloton, or lead group, is there an organized stop and grab food/water or is it typical for bottle hand ups to be made? And "nature breaks"?
I ask as I'm not sure which way these races lean(road or xc). On the road there is no point where you stop and unclip, where as on the mountain it's not uncommon for you to stop, fill a bottle, hammer down a gel, take a leak, etc...
Those are my two big questions thus far, although I'm sure I'll be reaching out to you guys in the next few weeks with more.
This being my first foray into the realm, I'll be on a little less than ideal bike for this course I believe but hoping to make the best of it. I have a rigid titanium 29er that I'm setting up with some drop bars and a 1x10 setup(36t up front, 11-36 rear but considering 11-32 for tighter gearing).
Thanks for the insight!
Welcome to the Forum!
Generally speaking, you'll find the environment of a gravel race more similar to a road race, but less regimented. What I mean is that generally a lead group forms early, and shells out riders as they fall off the pace. A breakaway/peloton arrangement is rare, simply because you'll have almost no clue where other riders are if they're are outside your field of vision. Usually the winning rider ends up soloing the last portion of the race.
Attacks happen, using the terrain like road racing, but a mechanical can split the group, and without support, a single flat tire can ruin your chances.
The Dirty Kanza is one of the more "road-like" rides. It attracts higher category riders (Rebecca Rush, Jay Petervary, etc). I believe riding as a team is allowed, but you'd have to double check the rules. You'll want to work together and draft as much as possible.
For the very long rides (Trans Iowa) it's more of a very long time trial, or your XC style ride. The winner usually finishes alone, and the field has such a high rate of DNF that groups are rarely larger than 3-5 by the end. 70% DNF or higher is common.
Most gravel races have very limited/no support allowed. Dirty Kanza and Almanzo have check points for crew support, Trans Iowa allows zero support, you could be DQ'd for having someone cheering you along. In almost all cases, you need to be prepped to go 50 or more miles entirely on your own.
Many gravel races (exemplified by the Almanzo 100) have a high percentage of riders riding just to finish the course, with a small percentage in competition, often making for huge (1000+) and unorganized fields.
If you want to do well on these rides, you need to be ready for the possibility of slugging it out over lousy roads and not seeing a single soul for a substantial portion of the ride.
It's physically like road racing, mentally like XC, hows that?
Thank you for the insight Clodhopper!
You nailed what I was looking to hear from someone with experience. From your description this could be just the type of event I had hoped for. The mix you describe in your last sentence is precisely what I was hoping, as I have a background in both. I grew a little frustrated in my last road race at the lack of action and yet the near impossibility of doing it solo(not for lack of trying on my part with two attacks). I really prefer longer distance events, and the mental fortitude that is require to complete, and compete in, them.
Thanks for the help!
With in inconsistencies in road surface you don't get big packs and with the lower speeds aerodynamics aren't quite as important. Riders seem to clump up in small groups of similar pacing. On the longer rides you tend to stop at aid stations or convenience stores. The longer races are really just randonneuring, where you're trying to maximize your average speed, being strategic about your energy reserves.
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