Getting your nutrition right
The biggest gravel event in the country of the year brings the biggest pressure to perform. You have one opportunity, then a whole 365 days until you can do it again.
For that reason you need to have confidence. Not only in your own abilities but also the equipment choices you make, which ultimately will be responsible for getting you to that finish line.
I first did this race in 2022. With most of my calendar this year consisting of gravel races I knew what to expect and how to prepare. But even with months of preparation I was a little nervous when the start list was announced the week prior. From ex-world record holder Alex Dowsett to world tour rider Connor Swift and some other big names like Cameron Mason on the start list it was daunting, but also an opportunity to mix it up with the big names to really see what I was capable of.
5 laps totalling 75 kilometres may not sound like much. But when the watts are dropped right from the gun it can be a very long day if you’re not adequately prepared.
"From ex-world record holder Alex Dowsett to world tour rider Connor Swift... the start list was daunting"
Aside from your form, there are two key aspects for a race like this. The first is nutrition. Without the correct nutrition strategy it doesn’t matter who you are, you will hit that ‘wall’. At 2 hours long it’s fairly short for a gravel race, so my nutrition strategy would have to be altered from the 15 to 18 hour events I had done previously this season. Fast digesting forms of carbohydrates would be my best friend, primarily in the form of energy gels.
“Fast digesting forms of carbohydrates would be my best friend”
My target during a race is always 80 grams of carbohydrates per hour, just over 1g per kg of body weight. That would mean me packing 7 energy gels and taking on board 3 sachets of Passo in my hydration vest. In the past I have always been weighed down by my energy gels, but at only 33g each the Veloforte range of energy gels are super portable and easy to consume even when the pace is full — so they’re the perfect choice of fuel for this kind of of event.
Don’t neglect electrolytes
At 28 degrees it wasn’t a cool day either, so hydration would be key. What I love most about the Veloforte energy gels is that they contain electrolytes, which many energy gels don’t. However, being a heavy sweater I did opt for some extra electrolytes in my bottles to boost my sodium intake as well as my carbohydrate consumption.
It may sound a tad excessive for a 2 hour race, but I did hear some horror stories of riders struggling to pedal due to cramping, or being dropped by the peloton simply because they had run out of energy. To that I say, you should have chosen Veloforte!
The right fuel + the right bike
The second vital component to gravel racing is the bike. For this event I was riding the Ribble CGR, a bike I have been riding for the past year as part of the Ribble Collective. It’s been my bike of choice for countless races and training rides so I knew that I could rely on it to get me to that finish line.
Designed for all-out speed and fun out on the trails, Ribble’s range of gravel bikes offer you the flexibility to explore the most rugged terrain. Of course every adventure needs to be fuelled by the most delicious, powerful and natural energy products on the market and that is why we are giving you the opportunity to win both a Ribble Gravel SL and a year's Veloforte subscription which you can enter here.
How the race played out
Signed on and warm up complete, the start of the National Champs is like no other race. At approximately 200 metres wide each rider can choose where they start along the line before the gun is fired and the racing is started. Snacking on half a packet of Amaro chews, I headed for the middle of the starting pen in the hope it would give me the shortest and straightest line into the wooded single track that was only 500 metres away from the start.
It proved to be the right choice, after clipping into my pedal first time I found myself fourth or fifth wheel into the first bottleneck of the day. With the squeals of disc brakes in the background as everyone struggled to fit through I managed to keep up towards the front as the pace was pushed on.
The first lap went like a blur. Attacks were coming from every direction as everyone was jostling for positions to stay up near the front. Three riders made it clear but with still so far to go I was conscious to save my energy for when it would be needed later on. I also made sure I was keeping on top of my energy levels by taking one energy gel every 20 minutes.
The first time over the start and finish line things started to light up.
Connor Swift, a World Tour rider for Ineos Grenadiers put in a blistering attack as we headed into the most technical part of the course, the single track woods. Coming straight out of the Tour of Britain it was clear Swift had some form and there were several attempts to try and bring him back, but none were of any success.
No regrets, it was what I kept telling myself and so with that I put an attack of my own. Being a technically good rider, I chose my moment through the twistiest and sandiest section of the lap where I would be able to make the biggest difference over my rivals and it paid off. Two riders came clear with me in the form of Joe Blackmore and Cameron Mason, putting in some big turns to escape the chasing peloton and catch Swift and the leading trio out front.
It didn’t take too long until the gap was closed and the initial group of three became seven. Surrounded by this company did take a little while to process in but there was no time to think too hard as each of us pushed the pace on as hard as possible to break the elastic to the group behind.
The next 20 kilometres were just full gas and as a result the gap just grew and grew and grew. Initially we only had 30 seconds to the chasers, then it was 60 seconds, then it was 90 and then all of a sudden it was 120. The inferno pace meant there was no time to eat, but my choice of fueling only on gels paid off. Taking only a handful of seconds to reach into my back pocket, take my gel and put the wrapper back away meant I was able to keep on top of my energy and electrolyte levels.
The next lap went by in a blur. Although the gap we had was substantial we were taking no chances and so the pace never let up, in fact if anything it got even faster. It all started when one of the riders dropped his chain (should have chosen a Ribble) and Swift attacked over the top.
At the time of the attack we were tackling the only slight climb of the day and I was on the front unaware of what was happening behind as we still had 35km to go. Caught off guard, Swift flew past with Cameron Mason, Joe Blackmore and Sam Culverwell on his back wheel.
I chased as hard as I could but there was no bringing back the four ahead who raced off ahead leaving me in the dust. However, with the pursuing pack behind us there was no time to sit up and so Joe Griffiths and I rode as hard as we could together in an attempt to stay away.
The next 35km two up time trial was agony, trying to squeeze every last bit of energy out of my legs to stay away but working well together meant we were lucky enough to stay away. Even as we neared the final few kilometres when things can sometimes get cagey we had no idea how close or far the group was behind and so we carried on pushing right up to the line.
This meant a two up sprint and my choice of fast releasing carbohydrates meant I had the kick I needed to come around Griffiths to secure 5th place.
One of the hardest, craziest but best races I have done in a long time and to finish with one of my best results in recent years I couldn’t be happier.
A cold refreshing Vita protein shake to quickly recover, then it was time to wash off the Ribble and head home to stretch out my legs before the cyclocross season kicks off in a couple of weeks time.