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08-05-2023 | Rick Groeneweg

Blaavand Gravel: only for real Vikings!

On Saturday, May 6, 912 participants are lining up for the first edition of the Danish UCI Gravel qualifier for the UCI Gravel World Championship on Oct. 7-8 in Veneto, Italy. The venue was Blaavandshuk. The organization had transformed the village in to a festival, bringing many international gravel top riders to Denmark. There was only one small issue and that was the weather. A strong wind was blowing and the night before, it was constantly raining. Add to that the wind chill of two degrees: real Vikings weather!

Photo: Gravel Challenge Blaavand

Start with three bangs this time!

After the commotion in Limburg last week, the Danish organization had completely redesigned the start. There are three 'guntimes' (start times) with five minutes in between each. In the first wave (with the priority box) there were no riders from the other categories (with later guntimes). Fair enough this time! With these separate start times there are actually three separate races and you can't really speak of an overall classification (which the UCI does, by the way).

Full gas towards the dunes

Since I am only starting this race with M40+ peers (and above), it is not directly a catch-up race but mainly about positioning. After a short neutralization of 2 kilometers behind the car, the race immediately goes full speed ahead with speeds well over 50 kilometers per hour. Everyone wants to be at the front and position themselves well for the first tricky gravel/sand strips and beach exits.

I manage to position myself well at the front at the first beach entrance but unfortunately crash in the deep sand. That wasn't there yesterday at the recon; the storm had blown the sand up.

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'Wind' is Danish for 'mountain'

I get back on my feet straight away and I manage to quickly fight my way back to the front over the endless wide gravel roads of a military compound. The tanks that drove over it have loosened the gravel considerably, making it a constant search for the ideal line. The stormy crosswind causes groups to form. I am comfortable until I fall on a paved slab at the entrance to the beach. Ouch, that hurts. I pick up my bike and continue up the beach. Unfortunately I see the front men riding away and with the strong cross winds I can't do anything to get closer solo. I am soaking wet and completely covered in mud. I missed the connection and I end up joining other riders. I seem to have missed the battle; is there any point in carrying on?

Comebacks & pacing

Those Danes just can handle cold, rain and wind much better, that much is clear. After another crash and chain issues, I decide to pace smartly into a large group. That goes well for me and the group turns nicely. Slowly we pick up other small groups and riders, also from my category. After a brief analysis, I see myself riding back into the top ten, with no sight of the three leaders in my category. After much perseverance and still trying to eat (despite stiffened arms from the cold) I manage to reach the finish after 161 km. There is even a sprint for qualification; P6. I go straight to the shower and stand under it with my clothes on; how nice!

Afterwards I understand that only 1/3 of the riders made it to the finish and that the 161 km in 5 hours in 22 min (30 km/hour) is not so bad. Oce again World Cup qualification limit has been met. The winner in my category M40 is pro rider Henning Bommel from Germany; he is a whopping 11 minutes ahead of my group at the finish line; respect!

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Next stop of the UCI Gravel train

Next weekend in Aachen it's time for the first German qualifying race: 3RIDES Bike Festival. It will be warmer and  there will be quite a bit of climbing to be done; more my cup of tea! Also be sure to check out my recon early this year!

Full results can be found here.

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