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XX4.ELEVEN/COLLECTIVERIDERBLOG – GRAVELRACINGROUND-UP Pt.1

It feels as if we’ve been on the road for 2 months now - mostly because we have! It’s been a rollercoaster ride that started in Spain, took us to Scotland, and then Kansas, before I headed to Belgium, Paris, Yorkshire, and soon to Stonehenge! But the two really big trips were the Traka in Spain and Unbound in Kansas, USA, so here’s a quick catch-up on what we’ve been up to...


Way back in the Winter, Jesse and I were discussing potential races for 2024 and where he might need more support - he can take care of himself on the shorter races, but proper support makes a big difference to the Pro Mid-Distance races. Traka is a race that’s been getting bigger each year and Jesse is one of the more experienced riders now, this being his third time competing. Two years ago it was one of his first races and gravel was super chilled out at the time - riders were even stopping in shops to refuel! Last year it got a bit more serious and Jesse scored an 8th place, supported by his Dad and brother. The level of racers had improved and the style of racing was much more like a Marathon XCM Race. This year we realised it was going to be like a World Cup XCM - Gravel has got serious!





I flew out to Barcelona to meet Sean and Jesse with my bike and as many tools as Easyjet would allow! Actually it was super easy to get over and apart from a short delay, we were soon on our way to our accommodation. The three of us aren’t massive fans of all the noise that surrounds the bigger races so Sean picked a place that was about 20 minutes north of Girona, almost on the course - perfect for some nice quiet recce rides. The first day was our biggest, doing a recce of the first feed and the northern part of the course taking in a few key features. I helped Jesse with a few pointers on line choice, tyre pressures and we chatted tactics around the feed zone. It’s nice to use my experience of other races that I’ve done myself to help him. We must have done something right because in the race, our first pitstop was 7 seconds from foot down to riding and he left in P1 before some riders in the lead group had even found their support crew!


On the two days before the race, we did shorter recces, collected Jesse and Sean’s numbers, worked out a nutrition plan, talked all kinds of tactics, and relaxed whilst tweaking the bikes. Sean was also racing the 360km race, and Jesse’s brother Liam was doing the 560km - this was cancelled due to some extreme weather and so Liam decided to jump in to the 360 and ride with Sean. Jesse was the Protected Rider, but I’d try and help Liam and Sean where possible. I think we absolutely nailed the nutrition plan - it takes longer than you think to plan it, but during the race there is very little communication between rider and mechanic, so it’s vital that you both know exactly what to do. The same applies to tactics - it’s impossible to know how the race will go, so we discussed all kinds of scenarios. During the race it’s important that I know what Jesse’s feeing as it affects what we do at the three support stops. Traka is quite relaxed upon support crews being on the road, so I was also able to get some photos and videos of all three of the Yate’s - although I’m not allowed to do anything else, it’s a good moral boost for the rider to see the mechanic from time to time.


Between the first and second support stations the lead bunch blew to pieces in the hills and then riders regrouped on the 100km flat section in the middle. Jesse missed the front split, but was in a nice chase group. The advantage of this is he missed the chaos in the second feed and I was able to get his bike sorted with no stress in super quick time, with a bit of help from Aidan (Owner of Fifty One Bikes). We washed the chain, rewaxed it, swapped bottles, replaced gels and bars, removed the camera, did a quick Yatesy wipe down, gave him some info on positions and time gaps, and off he went.





In the section between feed two and three Jesse made up a bunch of places and worked his way up to just outside the top ten. I could tell he was enjoying it and was in a super comfortable head space - he was working at max capacity but was nice and calm. As he rolled into feed three everyone was separated by pretty equal time gaps - I reassured him that he had to focus on who was ahead rather than who was chasing, replaced his bottles and gels and gave him a good push into his final two hours.


A couple of days after we rode the 100km support race together and the section after feed three was the same. There’s plenty of flat-out fast sections and this means riders can easily see one another - Jesse ended up in a strong group of three, just before the final two smaller climbs. When I rode it I realised just how much of this section was like a mountain bike race - loads of singletrack and fast descents. This isn’t something Jesse normally races and he did well to hold on to the other two for most of this before one final technical section, 3km from the end, split the group up. Pete Stetina came home in first with a good time gap, but the rest of the field was blow apart in ones and twos with pretty minimal gaps - Jesse did us proud by bringing it home in 13th. He raced out of skin in a field of ex-pros, current pros and very experienced riders which made the trip well worthwhile. We did a nice debreif on the way home and agreed we’d nailed the tactics, racing, and support - of course there’s always things to learn and improve upon, but we were both super stoaked.


But that's not where the Traka finishes, because Sean was still out there with Liam, so after a quick refuel I left Jesse back at base and headed to feed two to meet the boss. When Sean arrived he hadn’t eaten for two hours and it was now really cold. I found Liam another jacket and got some plain food for Sean. Then they headed out into the biggest climb of the day to feed three. Wisely Sean called it a day on the climb, and I rocked up with the van to take them home. We found out later that Sean had an issue with his pacemaker and so his gut decision to stop was a good one!





It was a great couple of days that followed - relaxing and chatting about the 360 and having a nice spin around the 100 with our mate Ashley. I know this sounds like a bit of a jolly, but the reality is that it gave me a chance to see exactly what the route is like, banking knowledge for next year, and it was also just a super nice way to get some relaxed time on the bike with the rider - it means I can understand his feedback much more closely and gives me a chance to see areas where we can improve. I’m not as fast as I used to be but I can still offer some relevant technical help which I think Jesse is grateful for. We packed up our kit on the Monday and headed back to Sussex to give the bikes a full rebuild.


Results;

13th Traka 360 Pro - Jesse Yates 12:23:41 @29.04kph average (over 3kph faster than last year)!

68th (10th V40) Traka 100 - Glen Whittington 3:46:27 @26.5kph average (look at the average speed difference - the pro race is fucking rapid)!



Photos by Mark James


2024.RIDERS – JESSEYATES

Jesse started cycling in 2013, initially with TT’s and then with some local road races, while being supported by his Dad. In 2015 he got a taste for racing in Britany and this led to two seasons on a French team living abroad while on The Dave Rayner Fund. Then he joined Team Wiggins in 2018, racing across Europe. After a years break he continued road racing before making the switch to competing in off road events and Ultra races in 2022/2023 where the most notable result has been a Badlands Pairs win and a host of top ten places. Follow him on Instagram and YouTube.


2024.RIDERS - GLENWHITTINGTON

#aeightracer – Glen’s an ex-racer who still finds time to ride bikes as much as possible - follow his adventures on Instagram. He started racing in 1998, initially specialising in XCO, Marathon and Solo 24-Hour Mountain Bike. He became a mechanic in 2002, working in shops and also for professional race teams. During this time he spent more time racing ‘Cross and Road, and then also TT. In 2013 he built his first bespoke steel frame and then spent several years at Roberts learning the art. Since then he’s designed his own range of bikes, frames and wheels which he now offers to the public, alongside servicing and race support, as part of his ÆIGHT brand - you can find his business Instagram account here.




GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO RACE WITH US?

We’re always looking for riders to be part of our ÆIGHT CØLLECTIVE. The #aeightbikeco is about doing things a little differently - Rather than a jersey being the common theme, we kit our riders out with bespoke steel bikes and handbuilt wheels made in our Sussex workshops, the ÆIGHT WHEELWØRKS and the ÆIGHT MANUFACTØRY. We then support each other at events and races regionally, nationally and internationally - whether that’s for mountain bike, ‘cross, gravel, crit, road or TT - it’s what we call, the #aeightbikeco


The best part is that we’re not asking you to leave your team or club - that includes racing in your club/team kit. We’ve got certain brands that we work with, mostly so we can standardise shared equipment, but your own sponsors and clubs are almost always welcome. We have some strict qualifying criteria but don’t be put off by this – if you’re interested in being part of the #aeightbikeco then please get in touch by emailing your racing CV to eightbikeco@gmail.com



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