Gravel Fondo Limburg Preview

The third round of the UCI’s Gravel World Series – the Gravel Fondo Limburg – sold out within weeks. I managed to get an entry and will be heading over for my first race of the year.

The Gravel Fondo Limburg is a new gravel race that takes place in Valkenburg, in the south of the Netherlands. Like all the UCI’s Gravel World Series, it’s open to licensed professional and elite riders, as well as us amateurs. Like all the races there will be a party atmosphere – maybe more post than pre-race – with music, food, beer and an expo.

The route

The race starts and finishes at the Shimano Experience Centre in Valkenbeg, with the race heading straight up the Amstel Gold’s Cauberg climb: that should help thin the groups out. This first section is 5.1Km long and takes riders on to a 33.9Km circuit. This is raced two or three times depending on your category. On your final lap you then take a different 5.9Km stretch to finish back at the Shimano Experience Centre. The two race distances are 79 or 133 kilometres and there will be two feed zones on the main circuit. As well as the Cauberg, riders will tackle the Keutenberg, another climb from the Amstel Gold. You’ll want your climbing legs as the Keutenberg is considered to be the steepest climb in the Netherlands!

The Gravel Fondo Limburg route has some tough climbs
The Gravel Fondo Limburg route has some tough climbs

You may have gathered that this part of the Netherlands, Limburg, has a bit of a bike racing record. As well as the Amstel Gold, there have been four world championships held in the region: must be something in the air!

Qualifying for the World Championships?

The Gravel Fondo Limburg is a race at the front end, with competitors racing in UCI age categories. As it’s part of the UCI Gravel World Series, finishing in the top 25% of your category will earn you a place at the World Championships this October in Veneto, Italy. Riders will start the race in their category pens in numbered order. The order has been selected on a first-come first-served basis: so no pushing to the front. A special start pen has been reserved at the front of the race for selected riders. While anyone could apply for entry to this pen – I did! – the organisers made the final decision: I didn’t make the cut. The idea being to give the top riders a clear run.

Last year’s Houffa race started with a disco countdown outside the Mayor’s office

I rode my first UCI gravel race in Belgium – the Houffa Gravel – last year and had a blast. For us UK riders riding or racing in Europe is always an eye-opener. Races take place in the middle of town, with the locals enthusiastically supporting the race. Locals aren’t actively trying to stop the race and everyone will cheer you, no matter how far off the pace you are! I managed 7th in my category last year, but from what I can see the quality of the fields are increasing. What’s the standard like? Well recently retired Alejandro Valverde took the win at the La Indomable, so it’s pretty high at the front.

This year I hope to ride more of these UCI events, including the Gralloch, the Gravel150 and the Kings Cup. The latter isn’t part of the UCI series, although it is organised by the same people behind the Gralloch: it’s also the British Gravel Championships.

Handsling CEXevo ready to race!

Kit choice

Last year I rode the Houffa on my Handsling CXC cross bike. I had 38/35 tyres and 52/36 chain-rings and mini-V rim brakes. This year I’ve upped my game and progressed to the CEXevo. With wider tyre clearances I can run some fatter rubber if I need. Although you have to remember that along with the off-road there will be tarmac, so you have to go for a happy medium. And I will finally be running disc-brakes! While the mini-Vs are fantastic brakes, off-road the benefits of disc-brakes are just that much greater. And with those two bergs to tackle, I’ll be running 50/34 chain-rings: Alejandro Valverde I’m not!

I will take a full selection of tyres and will see what the conditions are like underfoot. The weather leading up to this weekend has seen a mix of sun, rain and wind. Potentially this could could be a muddy one, but I’ve ridden in some parts of the Netherlands and the off-road was sandy and fast draining. Hopefully this will the case. My usual go-to tyre would be Schwalbe, either a G-One or G-One Bite, although I do have a pair of Vittoria’s Mezcal tyres that are waiting to be used: maybe this will be their chance?

Join me for a post-race beer at the Gravel Fondo Limburg
Join me for a post-race beer at the Gravel Fondo Limburg

My preparation leading up to this weekend hasn’t been great. Running related injuries and a bout of flu, meant no ‘cross racing this year. There then followed a period of colds, gastric flu and terrible weather, which all put me back. Then to add to the list of woes, I cut the end of my index finger off six days before the start! That’s going to make changing gear difficult, although I have just switched to 105 Di2: so maybe not so problematic? So that’s my excuses loaded, let’s see how Sunday goes. I’ll report back next week.

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