The Mavic Gravel Race is new for 2018 and is part of the Roc d’Azur MTB festival – a week long end-of-season event comprised mostly of mountain bike racing and a massive bike show in Frejus in the south of France. The gravel race takes place on the Saturday and consists of a 77km route with 1400m of vertical ascent.
I was primarily there to support Glen, racing the four day trophy race which includes sprint, XCO and marathon races through the week, but on Saturday his race was shorter and needed no support so he encouraged me to enter the gravel race. It was a great chance to experience some of the terrain he was racing on as it roughly followed the route of the marathon he’d done the day before, the main difference being the descents which were slightly tamer in our race.
We stayed in St Aygulf, 5km from the start, so it was an early start for both of us – this meant lots of removable layers for a cold morning which would be followed by a hot day in the 25 degree October sun. A quick breakfast, tyre pressure check and once Glen had stopped faffing we rolled to the start. Fast looking Euro-types had a mixture of fancy looking bikes and very fancy looking bikes, so I was slightly out-gunned with my old Kinesis 5T – luckily my new Hope hubs and tan-wall Schwalbe’s were looking on point so I was excited and terrified all at the same time.
I managed to squeeze into the second row which (with 300+ riders) meant at least I’d have some view of where I was headed, which turned out to be a 200-meter sprint to the first section of thick mud! After which we rolled out through the fields an onto the first major climb of the day – the 5km ‘Lere Montee’, was a hard category 3 climb on a red sandy path with parts getting up to 27% gradient – the steepness and the views were taking my breath away.
After this we headed around to the Col du Bougnon – a 17% gradient wall which I’d been to the day before to shout support at Glen and hand-up a bottle. The wide sandy paths gave way to a short stint on the road and then singletrack which zig-zagged up and down cat 3 and 4 climbs for the next 20km on our way to Roquebrune.
I was enjoying myself, the views were out of this world and I was learning lots from descending on some insane big rocky trails, loose gravel and water crossings that came over the BB. I had to get used to the bike moving around underneath me, but I made up any losses on the climbs. A group of French guys shouted encouragement as I beat them up a very rocky climb. Everyone was so friendly – language barriers don’t matter much on the bike! The feed stops were really well stocked with oranges, bananas, honey cake and pate on bread (not chocolate spread as Glen found out to his disappointment).
Rocquebrune was the longest climb of the day at 8.2km which saw us topping out at 394m – the descent from here was beautiful and not too steep. With wide hairpin gravel roads I even started to enjoy myself going downhill. After more flowing singletrack we reached the Col du Bougnon for the second and final time. 17% was stinging more this time as we climbed up but I dug in deep and kept a good rhythm, overtaking riders and getting ready for the final downhill back to the sea.
We rode back into St Aygulf, along the rocky seafront and on to the sandy beach in front of where we stayed, before turning west, across the pontoon and back toward Frejus.
After 4km of bike path we turned onto the final section – just once we’d dried out from the hundreds of stream crossings we were faced with a 300m long, deep black mass of thigh high water followed by thick gloopy mud again before reaching the finishing line. It was a long slow-motion sprint through the thick sludge after 77km of off-road riding but I finished in 4h 20min and just missed out on the podium, taking 4th senior women. 2 hours quicker than Glen predicted so I was pretty chuffed – time for a beer on the beach!
Photos by “Sportograf”, courtesy of Pip Jenkins.
Written by Pip Jenkins.
Edited and compiled by Glen Whittington.
Pip rides for the Southborough & District Wheelers. She races road bikes and TT’s at local and national level. She receives personal support from the.æight.bicycle.cømpany.
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