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Fernie Gravel Grind - The Long Haul

June 24, 2023



Tucked in the mountains the City of Fernie was the next stop on my race calendar for 2023 for the Fernie Gravel Grind, a whole weekend event hosted by the Anything Goes Event Series. Over 400 people took to the line to race or ride over 3 different distances. For my event, The Long Haul, a course which covered with a total of 110km and 1670m of elevation, there was a total of 216 riders that completed the course.


The race started with about a 5km neutral rollout from Downtown Fernie. The race suffered a false start 100m in with a train that came through the crossing and gave an encouraging whistle to all the riders as we waited for it to pass. Once the tracks cleared the lead vehicle took us on our way out to the gravel mountain road that awaited us. The start of the race began as soon as we hit the gravel road which I must say is far different than the gravel roads of back home. This was hard packed and arguably better than some paved roads back home but it was littered with deep potholes. After a short stretch of getting rocked around by the bumps I went to reach for my bottle to take a quick drink to realize that my 2 downtube cages were empty… At this point I realized the violent rocking of the potholes must have jarred the bottles loose and I was down to a single bottle of electrolyte on the seat tube. I knew this wouldn’t be enough to get me through the race so I conceded I would need to stop at one of the many aid stations along the way for hydration. I wasn’t giving up on the race but I knew my chances at success would be very slim knowing the leaders at the front would not be needing the same break.


The race strategy though would play to this well, I knew with the course profile the shorter less steep climbs would be where I would need to attack and that is exactly what I did. Leading into the 1st aid station there was a short climb where I sprung away, I was expecting a few riders to come with me as there were some smaller attacks leading into this one but when I looked back I realized I was on my own. I pushed on creating a sizeable gap but still conserving energy. My goal here wasn’t to stay away but to break up the group and when the group caught me just as we were going down the other side into aid station 1 it was indeed smaller than when we started.


Starting just after the aid station is where the first real climb of the race began I stayed closer to the back of the group recovering from my last push that I had just finished. There were just a hand full of us now. As the road winded up the mountain side I swung around and again made a push which again made the group work. A couple more riders fell off the pace and again I was pulled back in by the group but the war of attrition was paying off and little did I know at the time the pace I pushed up that climb would get me a Strava KOM.


The group would pass the second aid station where the real test of the race would begin shortly after. A stretch of 16.7km at an average grade of 3.4%. By those numbers it doesn’t sound like a tough climb but lets break it down. It started with a shallower 2.6% for around 11 km after which it levels out for a km then ramps up for the final 5km for about 5.5% with the steeper sections coming in at 11%. In the planning I knew my spot to make a gap would be on the first section and from there hoping to stay away from the true climbers on the steeper section; in reality now the goal was to get enough of a gap on enough riders to give me some time to stop at the summit aid station to get some water. The group settled into a climbing pace and at just the right moment I sprung off the front. This would be the make or break point I dug deep and put a good sized gap between me and the rest of the riders. As the road continued to wind up the mountain I would push a bit more when I was out of sight in hopes that the group wouldn’t be able to react. By the time the first section was done and the second began a lone rider Mathieu Bélanger-Barrette bridged up to me. We traded a few pulls but it was evident he had the stronger legs and eventually drifted up the road leaving me behind. Mathieu would go on to win the race solo. Well done! I still had a good gap on the rest of the pack of riders, or at least I hoped I did, they were out of sight but on a twist mountain road line of sight is limited.


As I crested the climb it was downhill for about 3km to the aid station where I stopped to rehydrate. I had conserved the bottle I had knowing that it would be more useful later. The aid station volunteers passed me two bottles of water which I instantly chugged down and stuffed a third one in my empty cage which I drank quickly as I hopped back on to push back up the short climb I had just came down. I had stopped for 40 seconds but it was enough for the group of 3 or 4 riders behind me to get me back in their sights. I pushed hard up the climb to get more of my gap back knowing that coming down the long 16.7 stretch I would be able to recover a bit.


Then came the long downhill. On that stretch I would be caught and passed by 3 riders but I worked as much as I could while staying safe knowing that one wrong move would be catastrophic. I always kept them in sight and come the flatter sections I could see I was coming back to them. Once the downhill was done it was a short hard push to bridge up and we were a group of 4 on the way to the finish. It was mostly still downhill to the finish but there was a few short climbs left. Not enough to break away like on the way out but they were enough to drop 2 of the other 3 riders in our group. As we pushed up the last kicker of 2km of 3% I pushed up and only one rider, Mark Fagnan, was able to keep pace. As we both came over the top our gap was small but we worked together to widen it knowing that we could both get to the podium.


It was evident that the mountain bike trail at the end would be the deciding factor for those final 2 spots. Leading into the trail was a paved road with a decent pitch and I managed to get a small gap on Mark but he quickly closed it at the trail entry. Entry into the trail was tight and with 3 other riders there trying to navigate it I hopped off taking to cyclocross style before remounting. Mark was able to get by me and he took the lead up the trail. I held his wheel about half way up but one wide turn and he made a gap that my cooked legs could not close. Mark got second and I came across the line in 3rd securing a well earned final spot on the podium.


The mountain trail top finish was filled with joy and well stocked with excited racers for finishing the event and food and drink to nourish. Carter Nieuwesteeg and the AGES group hosted an excellent event, one that I really enjoyed. Thank you to the organizers and all the volunteers that made this event grand.




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