Race Workshop: Index

With the race season about to kick-off in earnest, may of us are deep in our prep for those early-season openers, whilst others focus their effort on one particular event. But for some, now is the time to choose a racing challenge for the year – and we’re here to help get you to the start line.

 

The biggest question for many riders new to racing and events is where to start? With a plethora of riding styles and distances on offer, its important to choose the right event. In this article we’ll delve into the different types of racing on offer.

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Ulrich Bartholmoes on rocks with mountains behind

 

Gravel Racing

Originating from the huge network of unpaved roads in the mid-west of the US, the popularity of gravel racing has gained pace in recent years.  The advent of a UCI-supported series has attracted professional riders from a whole range of different disciplines, in particular pro-road racing, making these events quite a different feel to the original gravel races such as Unbound in the US.

At more traditional gravel events there are a wide range of distances on offer, giving multiple options for those looking to line up at a start for the first time. Whilst many of these events and distances will have a sportive-style atmosphere to them, there will no doubt be a distance which will be the unofficial ‘racers race’. Often, this won’t be the longest distance on offer and can often be a shorter 100-200km distance.

 With a wide range of events encapsulating a wide range of distances and terrains, from the dirt roads of the Midwest US, to the technical terrain of southern Spain, there is a distance and style of race to suit many different abilities and tastes.

Credit: Nils Laengner
Riders cycling through large puddle during Unbound

Credit: Nils Laengner

Ultra-Distance

Whilst any event that breaks the 200km mark is technically an ultra-distance event, this style of racing is characterised by distances of anywhere from 500km to well over 1,000km. This style is synonymous with a self-supported ruleset, requiring riders to be entirely self-sufficient, carrying everything they need to complete the event, making use of publicly available services like supermarkets and cafes for food and drink, with sleep falling to those who choose to camp or those who use hotels to get their rest.

The community focus of the ultra-distance  scene is one of its key attractions, with a close-knit group of race organisers and riders who harbour a shared ethos relating to the do’s and do not’s of this style of racing. In stark contrast to gravel racing, ultra-racing is relatively devoid of big-name sponsors and pro-riders, making it a very grassroots sport and although it is often associated with mental and physical challenges, it is actually one of the most accessible race styles.

ITT’s & FKT’s

Individual Time Trials and Fastest Known Times , (ITTs and FKTs) are an emerging style of racing, taking influences from  ultra-running, this style of racing is based on an individuals time to complete an established, fixed route, solo and unsupported.

Herein lies the attraction of this style of racing, as riders can choose a depart time and date that suits them, choosing the perfect weather conditions and opting to approach the challenge with an early, or late start, depending on their personal preference. Ultimately it is just the rider vs the clock, making it a very accessible style of racing, since riders can attempt an FKT on a local fixed route, or, even create their own. The advent of tools such as Ride With GPS and Strava mean that a rider can simply record a qualifying ride and upload their attempt for validation via a website such as the UK’s Fastest Known Times, run by ultra-distance racer, Molly Weaver.

We spoke with Meaghan Hackinen as she compares her experience with traditional Grand Departs (also known as mass starts)  and ITTs, speaking about some of the advantages of an ITT, including the added the control, convenience and accessibility. ITTs can be quite an intimidating and lonely endeavour, it is more suited to those riders who enjoy their own company and can motivate themselves with no outside support. That being said, with a more seemingly lonely pursuit, camaraderie can be found in the route planning process, with speaking to the cycling community to share notes on the best routes, what gear to take and overall experiences with the style of cycling.  

 

Meaghan Hackinen during her most recent Log Driver's Waltz ITT

Meaghan Hackinen during her most recent Log Driver's Waltz ITT

For anyone looking to choose their first race, there is sure to be something that’s suitable for your experience level, distance and terrain requirements. For inspiration, check out our bikepacking events calendar for year-round event suggestions.