Gralloch 2024

Gralloch 2024, the return.

The Gralloch 2024 was the eleventh race in this year’s UCI Gravel World Series. The twenty-five race series, gives riders of all ages and sexes a chance to qualify for the final championship race. While the elite riders may garner most of the attention, with many current and ex-WorldTour riders present, the age-category riders are also there to race.

The Gralloch’s course is tough but fantastic

Last year I rode the inaugural edition of the Gralloch and suffered like the old man that I am! Little did I know as I set off up Fuffock Hill, that my race was the final straw that would see me spending a week in hospital with pneumonia.

That, however was last year. Since then I’ve been riding back to fitness with the help of coach Ric at CycleCoach. I had hoped to race again in a better state than last year. Unfortunately I then crashed and got a sick again, so everything has been a little delayed. Thus my plans to qualify for the UCI Gravel World Series final in Belgium have changed to “do better than last year”!

Do better than last year

Last year’s race had been a bit of a nightmare and I finished hardly able to stand. So my plan was to ride sensibly and finish stronger. Ric’s coaching plan had seen me steadily increasing my fitness back to where I had been. At least it had until I ran my bike into a solid wooden post, resulting in a couple of weeks off the bike! I wasn’t panicking however, my plans were now focused on doing better, rather than qualifying. It’s nice to have the pressure off going in to a race.

After last year’s Gralloch, we decided that this year we would go up a day earlier. Setting off at 0430 on Thursday morning, we drove 450 miles up from the South Coast to Gatehouse of Fleet. This is where the Gralloch 2024 would be based. The journey up, although long, was beautiful, particularly through Yorkshire and the Pennines; where the sun came out! We had started out in foggy, dank weather, which slowly improved the further north we went. In fact the whole time we were in Scotland the weather was incredible. The sun shone and the temperatures were hitting high 20s and there were no midges!

Start venue

The start and finish had been moved from the High Street into Garries Park, which gave the event room to breathe. Garries Park is a large open green space which was perfect if the sun shone; which it did! The start pens and start/finish straight wrapped around the site, with a marquees and outdoor seating in the middle. The cover would have been appreciated if it rained, but it didn’t!

Inside the site were various eating and drinking concessions. There were excellent food choices and a fine bitter; drunk only in moderation of course. A main stage was the focus for both guest speakers, podium presentations and live music. There were a few retail opportunities as well as a bike wash and mechanics tent. The whole atmosphere was very relaxed and we spent a few hours every day relaxing, eating and chatting to other riders. Perhaps this was the Spirit of Gravel, that some seem so concerned about? If it was, what was it doing at a UCI race, surely those bureaucrats wouldn’t allow that? Whatever, it was very pleasant and I commend the Gralloch’s organisers for pulling it off.

Course check

On the Friday before the race there were two ride-outs organised. These covered different parts of the course. The morning focused on the start and the afternoon the final kilometres. I was mainly interested in the latter as it had changed from last year. I was also running different tyres and wanted to check them out before the race.

The afternoon ride out was led by PAS Normal

If you haven’t ridden in this region before the main attraction are the gravel logging roads. These roll up and down the beautiful countryside and are wide and generally well surfaced. When I say well surfaced, I’m referring to gravel. So there are loose sections, recently filled parts and even a bit of mud, but generally the riding is non-technical.

The views up here are amazing

Much of the surface is made of fine gravel where the logging-trucks have ground it down. This is fine to ride on and very predictable. However where the tyres don’t go it can be made up of chunky, square-edged stones. These are perfect for cutting tyres and you need to choose your line carefully and carry spares!

The 111 kilometre route has 1700 metres of climbing, most of which is of the long rolling kind. The only steepish climb is Fuffock Hill at the start and even this isn’t a knee-breaker. While you won’t need your 50 tooth ring, the climbs do wear you down. Fortunately the views as you grind your way up make up for your suffering; almost!

Race day

Race day dawned and the weather was even better that the previous days. There had been some chat about mud on the circuit, but the recce ride had proven that to be limited. So it was a shorts and short-sleeve jersey kind of day. Even the sun-cream – bought hastily the day before – was out. Rolling in to town and Gatehouse of Fleet was full of riders riding up and down before their start. Today’s start would see the elite male riders heading off first, who would then be followed by the junior men and then the 19-34 year olds. After that we were set off in our UCI age categories, these are five year groupings. 45-49, 50-54, etc.

The final male riders set off at 1032 and then there was an hour’s break before the female riders were released. Putting that gap between the sexes meant the elite women didn’t have to fight their way past groups of riders like me. Last year they would have probably been held up on some sections by slower riders. This way the race would have begun to thin out and slower riders wouldn’t be such an issue for the faster women.

Start pens

Starting a mass event like this is always a problem for me. Should I turn up early and get a good spot at the front of the pen? Or, do I get a good warm-up and not worry about start position? On long events like this there’s plenty of time to make up places, but if the field is big you spend a lot of time chasing. Starting further back means you also don’t know how many people are in front of you, a problem if you’re looking to qualify. All of the UCI gravels events I’ve done also like to have a steep climb at the start, to thin the herd. So having a warm-up beforehand is an advantage. In the end I went for a warm-up and didn’t worry about where I was at the start.

Once we were safely herded into our pens, the nerves begin. Have I trained enough, are these the right tyres, why does everyone look so fit? Thankfully we’re not here too long. Once we’re on the start and the whistle blows, we roll out behind a lead car, keeping everyone to a sedate 10mph. Just as well as the start is a little technical and if we had hit it at full speed, there would have been chaos. Out along the High Street, time to say hello to my supporter, and then onto the road climb to Fuffock.


After a short period the lead car roars away and we’re swinging uphill. I had decided to take it easy this year, rather than red-lining it like last year. The first climb is called Fuffock Hill and you turn left onto it after a short period of tarmac. This is a bit of a wake-up call for the legs; unfortunately my legs had hit the snooze button! This was definitely a test for the legs that I didn’t pass. However, as I kept telling myself, today wasn’t about qualifying, rather I was going to treat it as a test for body and machine.

Once Fuffock is done, there’s a nice descent to enjoy. This is a great chance to make up a few places, as many riders are being careful. Being careful on these descents is a good idea, a wrong line choice can send you into the chunky stuff. Crashing through those tyre-busting stones increases your chance of having a mechanical, so it’s best avoided.

Food options at the Gralloch 2024 included some very tasty alternatives
Food options at the Gralloch 2024 included some very tasty alternatives

My legs were still feeling very wooden, so I just rode steady. At the first checkpoint I was around 60th and happy with that. I thought I needed to finish in the top 70, but had got that wrong. It was the first 40 that would go through. So I was thinking “wow, I’m not feeling great, but I’m in with a chance here!” Oh well, there’s me saying I’m not bothered about qualifying and now I’m going to try and do just that!

As the sun beamed down and the dust enveloped us on the fast sections, I was fully enjoying myself. While I wasn’t able to keep up with my category’s leaders – or the over-60s either – I was enjoying the ride. As I said the surfaces are generally easy to ride and the countryside is spectacular. I passed the first feed-point without stopping, I had plenty on board and was making use of the Gralloch’s bottle service.

Bottle drop

This was an extra add-on you could purchase for the race. You stuck a couple of decals with your number onto your bottles, then handed them over. Just before the second feed, tables were set up with the bottles positioned in numerical order. You just rode up, found your bottles, put your empty ones back in the boxes and off you go. A really simple idea and it meant you could avoid the usual feed-zone chaos.

With the warm temperatures the bottle drop was much needed. I like to ride with standard 500mL bottles, the big ones have a tendency to eject themselves on the rough stuff. Stand at the bottom of any rocky descent on a gravel race and reward yourself with a clutch of lost bidons! Knowing that I had my preferred energy drink waiting for me at the halfway point was reassuring. No more queuing for the refill or getting a weird tasting flavour.

GRVL.CC were at the Gralloch 2024 and have produced a GB kit for the final
GRVL.CC were at the Gralloch 2024 and have produced a GB kit for the final

Are we there yet?

I must admit that after the bottle drop, I began to suffer, mentally and mechanically! The mechanical issue was simple to solve. I had crashed over an unseen concrete lip at the bottom of a descent, which had slowly began to make itself felt. Fortunately I was running Vittoria’s gravel airliners which meant I could keep riding until I found a safe place to pull over.

This was something that the organisers had been keen to point out at the race briefing. Riders should stand off the race line, as it can be dangerous to stay on the course after a mechanical, or walking back to civilisation. I gave the tyre a quick blast with Muc-Off’s BAM which got it back up to pressure. Unfortunately I hadn’t given it enough and ten minutes later I was stopping again to repeat the process.

After this I started to suffer mentally. My speed was dropping and every climb began to feel like a wall. The effort was beginning to tell and then I was passed by one of the over-60’s as if he was on a Sunday stroll! That was the final straw, I gave myself a stern talking-to and started to keep an eye on my heart-rate. That was better, it still hurt, but I felt like I was racing again; remember I still thought I was in the qualification group.

Post Gralloch 2024 legs
Post Gralloch 2024 legs

Easy downhill

The final ten kilometres of the Gralloch 2024 were said to downhill. Well, let’s just say that while that was something that kept me going, it wasn’t all downhill. At this stage I was chasing another rider in my category, I had to pass him! As I ploughed on I picked up a couple of riders from other categories. “Oh good” I thought, “we can work together”. Or not, as they decided they liked me chasing the rider in front, but wouldn’t pull through to help. Oh how I cursed!

As the final kilometres sped past the riders behind decided to blast off and leave me, curse them! I carried on, with my rider-shaped carrot dangling less than a hundred metres in front. As we hit the High Street before the finish, we had a little group of four and we started jockeying for the final sprint; you have to have a little sprint eh? I got pushed to the side where a kerb baulked me and I couldn’t make it to the front; no glorious finish for me.

Post Gralloch 2024 hair do prize goes to...
Post Gralloch 2024 hair do prize goes to…


Rolling over the line was a wonderful feeling, especially considering the condition I finished in last year. Then I had been hardly able to climb off the bike and had been suffering from cramps. This year I felt a lot better, still knackered, but able to get off the bike un-aided! At the finish a giant screen had live finish results and I realised that once again, I hadn’t qualified. Oh well, there’s always next year!

Below are my stats from the Gralloch 2024, nothing amazing, but I was only four minutes slower than last year. While I was slower, I finished in much better condition and I’m nowhere near the level of fitness I had last year. This gives me plenty of confidence for future events, as long as I keep following my programme.

Gralloch 2024 performance stats
My Gralloch 2024 performance stats

Have a go!

Entries for next year’s Gralloch have already opened, with early-bird pricing. If you’re wondering whether to give it a go, I would fully recommend it. The organisation is really good, the riding is great and the weather….well it’s been good so far!

What to ride?

The constant question on gravel racing is always what equipment to use? The conditions vary so much, not just weather, but what you’re riding on. Surfaces can vary from tarmac to mud, from sand to gravel and even actual gravel. Although even just the word gravel can conjure up so many variations of surface. Anything from compacted fine gravel that’s better than some of my local tarmac, to chunky square edged stones.

So what do you need to tackle these kind of races? Well under UCI rules you can use anything from road bike with clearances for wide tyres to a full-on MTB. Of course each bike will have its own pros and cons, depending on the course. The Gralloch doesn’t have anything rough enough to justify suspension, although some people were using it and I did see a fully rigid MTB being ridden by a Belgian.

The bike

Then there’s gearing, tyres, tubeless, fuelling and what emergency kit to carry; here’s what I took. I rode my Handsling CEXevo, this is a T800 carbon-fibre frame that is as happy being ridden on or off-road. It’s tackled short cyclo-cross races and 100 mile gravel events as well as multiple UCI gravel races. In short, I think it’s the perfect bike for this kind of riding.


I run a 2x Shimano 105 Di2 drive-train, with 50×34 chainrings and 11-36 cassette. For most of my riding and racing I find this set-up to be just right. It has enough top end for the road and I can get up most of my climbs without too much trouble. Although for something like the CX Century, I tempted to put something a little bigger on the back!


Wheels are Handsling’s own hand-built carbon hoops. These were the first carbon-fibre wheels that I ever took off-road; something that I would never have done previously. However the guys at Handsling were positive they would be fine, and they are. The rims are 38mm deep and have twenty-four spokes, I’m a fairly light rider, not prone to grabbing air, or other such nonsense.

They roll superbly and although I was initially very cautious when riding anything too rough, I’m a lot happier now. Part of this is down to my now running liners in my tyres. These foam inserts absorb any hard hits and allow you to keep rolling if you do puncture. I’m using both Vittoria and Effetto Mariposa’s liners, depending on tyre width.


As to tyre choice for the Gralloch 2024, last year I used Vittoria’s Mezcals in a 44mm width. This year I swapped to their new Terreno Dry Endurance, in a 40mm width. I figured that they might be a little faster, but would need to run them harder. In fact this something the organisers kept mentioning in their pre-race commentary. Local riders tend to run their tyres at 40psi and higher to avoid pinch flats and they recommended we do the same. On the day they performed well apart from the puncture, which was a really hard one. The road sections definitely felt fast and they griped well in the loose corners.

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