Tiffany Cromwell and Connor Swift take dominant solo victories at The Gralloch gravel cycling race
Tiffany Cromwell and Connor Swift stormed to impressive solo victories in the respective women’s and men’s race at the UK’s first ever TREK UCI Gravel World Series on Saturday.
Both riders broke clear early in the race in the Galloway Forest Park in South-West Scotland, with Cromwell(Canyon//SRAM) winning by 10 minutes ahead of Amelia Mitchell in second.German, Svenja Betz (Maxx-Solar Rose Women) won a three woman sprint to take third place having only arrived 40 minutes before the start.
In the men’s race Swift’s winning margin was just under seven minutes, Sam Culverwell (Dolan Ellesse RT) beating the World 19-34 Age Group champion Kevin Panhuyzen (Giant Liv Benelux) by as olitary second.
Starting and finishing in the small Dumfries and Galloway town of Gatehouse of Fleet, The Gralloch took on a 113kmcourse through the hills of the Galloway Forest Park, tackling a 90% off-road course set over more than 1800m metres of climbing.
The women’s race race began first, immediately tackling a six kilometre climb which took them to the course’s highest point, followed by a testing descent. After 18km a group of only seven women remained at the front, Cromwell and Mitchell joined by Heidi Franz (DNA Pro Cycling), Xan Crees (Team Spectra Cannondale), Nikki Brammeier (Muddita),Hayley Simmonds (Movistar Gravel) and Morven Yeoman (Torelli).
Cromwell followed former British cyclocross champion, Brammeier on one of the descents, but when she punctured the Australian forged on alone. Behind her Mitchell, Franz and Crees chased and Simmonds suffered a double puncture, ending her race. With Cromwell alone at the front building a significant advantage, Franz set off in pursuit, but was reeled in with just over 40km remaining, eventually finishing fifth.
As she tackled the final climb Cromwell had to deal with Swift, whose race had started 40 minutes after the women, but who overtook her on the final climb.
"Pretty happy with that,” said Cromwell. “Slightly surprised myself today because I knew it wasn’t going to be easy and I knew there were some strong women here. But then after 20km I found myself by myself and I was like ‘okay, here we go.’
“This was after I got dropped on the first climb because whenever it’s a hard start it never favours me because I take a little bit of time to warm up, but I knew I was better on the downhills and I was able to catch back on the first downhill, and it was Nikki Brammeier going hard on the downhills, which I enjoyed, and then it was me Nikki and Heidi.
“I could see Nikki and Heidi were a little bit further back,” Cromwell said when asked if she was aware of her advantage. “But after that I had no idea, I assumed I had a safe gap but you should never make assumptions, so I focused on my own race and said ‘OK make sure I’m on the climbs riding at a good level without completely killing myself and not going too slow,’ I knew on the downhill I was always going to make time and on the flat section its was just a case of keeping the power on the pedals. I focussed on my fuelling and got into a really good rhythm and I never really dropped off.
“Just that last little climb it definitely hit me when I saw Connor come up and it was a bit of a surprise seeing somebody, but then I saw it was one of the guys and and it was OK, all good.
“It was really nice,” Cromwell said when asked about the course. “It had a bit of everything there was some really fast gravel there was some pretty tough stuff to get through. But I liked it, that’s what gravel should be, a good gravel course should be a mixture of everything. The climbs were never too challenging but hard enough, the downhills were also challenging but not too hard, it’s a course that really anybody could ride, some at the edge of their limits others comfortable, but it’s really nice, and when I had a chance to look at the views there were some beautiful views. But there wasn’t a lot of time for that!”
Though the opening climb spilt the race up, the men’s event stayed together longer than the women’s, a large group emerging into the route’s second third. That group grew and shrunk but Swift was an ever present, and having checked the route and planned his strategy, attacked around half way through, building his lead quickly.
Behind him the attritional route took its toll leaving only Panhuyzen, Culverwell and Olympic gold medal winning triathlete Alistair Brownlee chasing. However, when Brownlee punctured the podium was decided, Culverwell taking the final bend in front and sprinting to second place ahead of the Belgian minutes after Swift had crossed the line.
In catching Cromwell not only had Swift brought back the winning woman’s 40 minute advantage, he also finished the day as the first rider across the line from the entire 861 riders who started the event.
“I’m pretty chuffed with that, ”Swift said. “It was my first ever gravel race, I got my bike built on Wednesday so it was my third ever ride on the bike and it was mega.
“The course was great, I probably committed to my effort a little bit too soon and I did didn’t get to enjoy all of the scenery because I was going pretty deep, but the route was amazing that was a proper gravel race. We touched the roads just a couple of times, we had a mega day with the weather, a cracking race and I really enjoyed being here and pulling off the win just tops it off really.
“It’s a real slog because even on the false flats you’re pushing over 300 watts to keep that momentum and speedup and then when you do go to the climbs the power’s really there.
“I looked at the first climb yesterday but I knew someone else would take that on and that would form a group of 20 or 30 guys, and that’s exactly what it did. I looked at the elevation and I saw that at around 54km there was a decent little hill that went into a bit of a cross wind and then a nice sweeping descent, so I thought if I squeeze there, take the descent pretty full gas and see what happens at the bottom.
“I thought a few more were going to come across, but I stayed solo from there. It was a super hard effort, I sort of started regretting it on the very last climb, I had a nice cadence on all the rest but the last one was a proper slog and I was on my last legs there and I didn’t have any time gaps but I was fully committed.”
As part of the UCI’s (Union Cycliste Internationale) TREK Gravel World Series The Gralloch is a qualifying event for the Gravel World Championships, which happen in Veneto, Italy this October.
The race is run in age groups, with the top 25% from each men’s and women’s group qualifying.
The Gralloch was supported by Gatehouse Community Council, Dumfries and Galloway Council and their major events fund, Forestry Land Scotland and a contribution from Galloway Glens Scheme helped restore some of the route.
Almost 1,100 riders signed up to ride, of which 861 started and 779 finished. The event was lucky to have been welcomed by the community who joined with friends, family and supporters of the riders in the town to line the barriers many rows deep along the start and finish straight in Gatehouse of Fleet, and while the race was on local businesses reported higher than average footfall for a Saturday. Indeed, the Murray Arms, Masonic Arms and Fan Zone in the town’s Ann Street were full of people until early evening.
Riders attended from all over the world, representing 32 nationalities, many of whom stayed for multiple nights, taking advantage of local accommodation, thus giving the area’s economy a significant boost.
The Gralloch is run by Red:On which organises other gravel cycling events including Raiders Gravel, also based in Gatehouse of Fleet, and King’s Cup in Suffolk which incorporates the British Gravel Championships. www.weareredon.com
Full results are available at www.grallochgravel.com/results