Ultra-Competitive: The Traka 560 ‘Adventure’

Europe’s biggest gravel race has a new 560km ‘Adventure’ event, attracting some of the biggest names in ultra-distance to its debut – could this be the closest race for podium spots we see this year?

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Ulrich Bartholmoes riding Tour De Frankie on gravel road

Credit: Tom Hardies

 

The Jewel in the Crown

 

In recent years, The Traka has become the jewel in the crown of the European gravel scene. Separated from the UCI’s take on the gravel race format, not least in terms of its distance, with the two main race formats playing out over 200km and 360km, its terrain is as varied and technically challenging as it is long. The 360km distance has seen gravel pros and privateers rub shoulders with ex- and current World Tour road riders, garnering itself a reputation for a ferocious start as riders jostle for position. In many ways, this iconic race set in Europe’s gravel heartland, Girona, bares many similarities with the original long-distance gravel race, Unbound.

This year sees the debut of the Traka 560 (The Traka Adventure), a distance which sits at the intersection of long distance gravel and traditional ultra-distance racing, architected in part by Apidura ambassador Ulrich Bartholmoes.

Credit: Tom Hardies
Ulrich Bartholmoes cycling up close

Credit: Tom Hardies

“The route is wonderful because it combines the hilly landscape around Girona with the high alpine terrain in the Pyrenees. There are wonderful contrasts! Nevertheless, the race will be relatively short - I usually can only play to my strengths on routes longer than 2 days - here we will only be on the road for a little more than a day. But that also makes it very exciting, I'm looking forward to it.”

-Ulrich Bartholmoes

This distance is not unheard of in gravel racing, with the aforementioned Unbound and its XL category boasting the same 560km, albeit with 4,000 metres of elevation in contrast to the 10,000m that riders will navigate during the Traka 560.

Cynthia Carson on a bike racing on gravel

One rider who will be lining up for the inaugural Traka 560, but who is no stranger to traditional gravel racing, is Cynthia Carson. Since graduating from the gravel-focused Velocio Exploro team to pursue her own schedule, Cynthia has racked up wins at events as diverse as Badlands and the Atlas Mountain Race, whilst still competing in gravel races in the US.

Once they added the 560 route, I immediately planned on racing it. It’s still a bit short for me - I prefer 48-hour races or longer, but I’m really looking forward to racing out of Girona with such an exciting scene around the event. The elevation gain is nothing to laugh at! I love to go fast and something like Unbound is great for that, but The Traka is all about going up and who can manage all of that elevation gain.

-Cynthia Carson

The athletes confirmed for the Traka 560 comprise of some of the biggest names in the the ultra-distance and bikepacking race scene with Ulrich Bartholmoes, Cynthia Carson and Robin Gemperle lining up against the likes of Lael Wilcox and Sofiane Sehili, but, seemingly their field is missing some of big-name gravel racers, suggesting that this longer, hillier route is very much in the ‘short ultra’ category, a phenomenon that has gained popularity at a grassroots level throughout the UK and Europe in recent years as ultra-distance and bikepacking events start to reach a new audience.

Robin Gemperle

Credit: Nils Laengner

Credit: Nils Laengner

I'm really motivated to race, but my resources have been a bit limited so my preparation will be a bit more 'Robin-style'... Not too much focus and just see what happens!

-Robin Gemperle

At the grassroots level, these ‘taster’ style 500km events act as a fantastic introduction to this style of racing. However, outside of events like Badlands, which still come in at 750km, Traka 560 will be the first time a field of this calibre has lined up for a 500km ultra-distance race.  For those used to extended days of dotwatching racers across Europe at events like The Transcontinental, this race will be a relatively short-lived affair, offering up the potential for much closer racing than us dotwatchers are accustomed to during longer races. Does that mean we will see a sprint finish? Perhaps not, but the competitive aspect of this shorter distance will no doubt be reflected in the differing approaches riders will take compared to their usual calendar.