Are you thinking of entering a gravel race, but put off by the idea of a mixed mass start? Or maybe you've raced a gravel grinder already, but felt intimidated, and it wasn't what you expected?
I'd probably agree with all of the above, mixed mass starts can be intimidating, and if you come from a road racing background, then yes, they're COMPLETELY different. I do however believe that gravel races are awesome, and present such an opportunity our talent, especially for us females.
Why do I think this? Well firstly, by abandoning any type of category system it allows novice racers to line up and test themselves against the nations best. No other race will allow you to slice and dice with the Pro's unless you've spent years progressing through a bureaucratic points system. Talk about the opportunity to throw a few curve-balls! Secondly, it negates that whole "let's ride around easy and then sprint for the win" type of scenario you often see in women's road racing; which is ridiculously frustrating!
Having raced a number of Gravel Grinders this year, here are a few of my tips to help you survive mass starts and to use mixed fields to your advantage.
- Getting a good start is absolutely key and begins with your start line position. No other way to say this than, get yourself to the front! As far forward as you can, even if this means on the front line next to a dude twice your size! By getting a good start you reduce the risk of getting caught up in crashes, slowed down by bottlenecks and gives you a much better opportunity to stay in that front group when splits start to happen.
- Use big packs as a vehicle to navigate the course. There are so many gains to be had as a female who can hang with the guys. Use their horsepower to help share the work, especially on a windy day or a flatter course, the benefits of working with a large group are huge.
- Stay calm
and hold your line, if you've worked hard to position yourself well, don't give it up just because someone else's elbows are sharper than yours. I strongly believe that being assertive on the bike is actually a skill you can learn, so use group rides and club runs to practice feeling comfortable in a pack.
- Be confident in your technical ability. It would be easy to shy away from entering technical sections first- thinking you're not as good as the company you're riding with, but, I have a saying: "if you're in the position you're in, then, you deserve to be in the position you're in." meaning you've not got there on luck, so, chances are you're as good as your present company.
Gravel Grinders have completely captured my heart, and I think it's racing at its purest. If you're looking for a tough, honest event to push your limits then I'd definitely get involved. Competitors are serious, but the vibe is relaxed, and organizers super friendly. This sport is growing for a reason, and that's because it's different!
This Article Was Written by Former Professional rider and UK National MTB Champ, CINCH Coach Sophie Johnson.