What happens when you bring two Spaniards from sunny Barcelona to the muddiest, wettest gravel race ever? Fun, loads of fun...
Words and Photography by Marc Gasch
Rain and mud = maximised fun
"I think I will keep my slick WTB Horizon tires for the Grinduro UK race"... what do you think? My UK friend start shouting at me on the phone, and a few minutes later I'm back at my basement fighting with tubeless sealant and adding proper knobby rubber to my Exploro bike. Best decision ever as I would find out later on the week. "This is not California" they said...
Apparently the weather forecast called for a muddy route, not something Marcel and I are used to. In fact, we normally don't even go riding when it's raining down here in Barcelona. You know it's gonna stop in the next few hours, and that tomorrow will be sunny for sure, so why get wet and miserable...? I mean, we are not afraid to ride in the rain (check our Sicily trip) but why kill your bike, your washing machine and get a cold when you can ride tomorrow in the sun? Well Grinduro changed our perception about this...
Since we knew there was a project for a Grinduro race in the UK, we have been in contact with our friends at GIRO Dain and Melanie, and when we knew our own XPDTN3 "explorer" Paul Errington was taking care of the logistics, there was no turning back. Embracing the weather forecast and hoping for the best. So a couple of phone calls later with Marcel and 2 cheap Ryanair tickets to Glasgow-Prestwick, conveniently placed near the ferry crossing to the Isle of Arran, we were ready to tackle the famous Scottish trails, along with other riders that came to the Grinduro not only for the race.
Because the Grinduro is not only a race. I mean, ok, it's a race, so there are 4 timed sections to prove yourself and get on a final GC list, but the untimed sections provide this "ride-with-friends-on-a-sunday" feeling and pace that make a more social event possible. 33% enduro, 33% gravel and 33% gran fondo in spirit, the Grinduro format allows for stops after every timed section, an opportunity to regroup and ride with your friends, even if they are stronger or weaker than you. Push yourself on the climb or descent, regroup, eat, drink and keep laughing together until the next stage.
Not to mention that the Grinduro is not planned as a one day event, but as a long weekend to spend with friends and partake in lots of side activities, like stell brazing demos, bicycle shows, local art, live music by the Van-t's, food trucks and tents, camping (glamping?) life and local beer and whisky! Needless to say, that fit our 3 day trips plan perfectly, so after a carb-deprived English breakfast, we drove our rental car to Adrossan, where the ferry was waiting to carry riders and bikes to the Isle of Arran, a beautiful island sometimes referred as "Scotland in miniature"
The Isle of Arran has indeed all the classic "features" and topography of Scotland, all condensed in a small space, with the classic forests, green sheep steep pastures and moors, along with beautiful coastal trails with views to the Irish Sea. No time for a full trip to Scotland? Plan a weekend trip to Isle of Arran and you'll have it figure it out...
Starting a race with your rain jacket on and raining at the start of the race is never a good sign, but everyone was smiling and eager to start the day. Some were anxious to get to the first timed section, a killer and long fire road climb, while other can't wait to get to the Velo Cafe near Kilmory, a cycling sanctuary that brought many to life with their amazing coffee and teas. Thanks guys! We definitely didn't miss the racer's briefing, but didn't get the distances right...Marcel and I heard something about a 4.6km climb, and we were prepared for that. Turned out the actual climb was not 4.6km but "from km 4.65 to km 11.2", so we were struggling to keep the pace we started the timed section with. Ouch. Amateurs.
After killing ourselves with cold legs and heavy breathing for what felt like an eternity, we reunited at the stage finish, along with some other fellow riders, and kept riding at a slow pace, now embracing the weather (we were all wet anyway, so who cares...) and enjoying the scenery. It's funny how you start the day trying to avoid water puddles and rain, just to realize you are going to get wet to the bones anyway after a few hours on the bike, so you just relax and go with the flow...
My favorite part of the route was definitely the second part of the first loop, where we had cool views from the sea (still under lots of rain) and a tricky second timed section on a root infested forest ! Loving it. Being a mountain biker at heart, that was the most fun I had that day. Needless to say, the heavy rain and the pass of several dozens of riders in front of us had created some havoc on the trail, with deep puddles of mud (think wheel up to the hub ) and slippery conditions. Marcel and I could not stop laughing all the way down the track, slipping all the time and saving a few good crashes. Viva el barro!
By this time all the bikes on course were creating a symphony of creaking bottom brackets, grinding chain and cassettes and brake pads slowly disappearing into a metal to metal affair. But nobody cared, tomorrow will be a Kärcher and lube kind of day. Luckily there was a stop for lunch between the first and second loop, and the cool guy at SRAM was handing brake pads for free for everyone! Thanks for saving our day... The lunch stop was longer than expected due to some local parade and celebrations, so we had time to get warm, get cold, get warm again, eat copious amounts of food (too much for being in the middle of a long ride-race) and wait for the heavy rain to stop. After a while, the rain indeed stopped and the second loop started, luckily for our stomachs with a fast forest track descent.
The last timed section, the 2km forest track climb was happening in heavy rain again, but the spirits were high, seeing the finish line coming soon and the thoughts of recovering beer and warm food again. The rain was falling all day, but the temperature was warm enough so you were not cold when wet. If it had been 10 degrees C colder, it would have been a very different story. By this time, my Sony "Pro" camera had already "died" from the extreme wet and muddy conditions, all clogged with sandy mud and foggy lenses on the inside, , and so I finished the second part of the photo reportage with my trusty and waterproof Gopro 5 Black in photo mode. Thanks God for the new RAW function (and Lightroom), that allowed me to get some usable images for you guys! :-)
Once at the finish line, our friend and cycling legend Paul Errington was again at the finish line uner the rain, greeting and shaking hands with every rider that was completing the route (talk about attention to detail) and directing us for the closest food available, something we have been dreaming of for the last hour. After a quick shower and ditching the muddy clothing and gear on the bathtub, it was time to enjoy the festivities, as they say, and test the local beer, the amazing food cooked on site, and vote for the best bicycle in the show. After the awards cerimony, where Marcel got the second place in his category, we enjoyed the Van-T's concert, but pretty tired, skipped the DJ session and went to sleep sooner than other riders. We had an excuse though. We were starting a new XPDTN3 trip in another part of Scotland the next day, so we needed to save some energy and get all the gear ready for the rain and mud again... Stay tuned for that other trip around the Capital Trail around Edinburgh, coming in the next weeks...See you soon!
Check the FULL PHOTO GALLERY here below: