As a TREK UCI Gravel World Series event, The Gralloch attracts some of the world’s best riders, and the first professional signed up was Nathan Haas.
Last year was Nathan’s first racing full-time on the trails, and he capped a strong season with 16th place at the inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships.
In a 10 year career as a World Tour road professional he rode with top teams and bagged top results in huge events such as Amstel Gold Race. One of his seven victories came at the 2012 Tour of Britain, when stage two finished in Dumfries, just down the road from The Gralloch!
With his season about to lift off we gave Nathan a call and chatted gravel racing and his impending visit to The Gralloch.
Tell us about the vibe around gravel races.
NH: “I was certainly ready to have cycling be something that was more in line with my relationship to the bike, which is wanting to race as hard as I can, but having all smiles and conversations and just taking things a little bit easier around the race.
“The nice thing is you're getting people from all colours, all sizes, all languages, all places all corralling on the start line altogether. We do the same course and at the end of the day we have the same stories, just from different parts of the race at different times.
The vibe is like a shared experience as opposed to something that was dog eat dog, it's a good feeling, and at the same time super hard competition, which I think is a perfect mix.”
How do US races differ to European ones?
NH: “The reason gravel is so big in the United States is that road racing is completely dead. There's a lot of animosity for people riding on the road there so gravel races are a really easy way to navigate the lack of ability to have a closed road race.
“In Belgium, you still have a pro kermesse every single night of the week in summer, there’s crits and different clubs, the British cycling scene has still got a time trials, so gravel isn't the only thing left in cycling like it is in America.
“For Unbound there's 4000 starters, but I believe there's 10,000 people that are entering the lottery to get one of those starts, the events are enormous, whereas in Europe it seems to me it's still a little bit more just about riding the bike part. What is important is that we have a great route, a safe route, and have fun and healthy level of competition.”
How has your training changed from road racing to gravel?
NH: “I don't have to train anymore to be good day after day after day, I don't have tours, they’re one day races.
“I have to work on my power, I have to work on my intensity, and I have to have these super hard endurance days, seven to eight to nine hours long to get ready for that many hours on a bike.
“It's like classics racing, but because it's so much more hardcore on your overall body I've had to do a lot more core. There's a great metaphor you can't fire a cannon from a canoe, so it's very important that you actually work on the fundamental aspects of health and stability. So that you can actually push your bike fast enough and then to also hold your bike through technical stuff. And skills training is a huge part of what makes me a good gravel racer.”
I'm probably most excited for this race on my calendar, probably more than anything.
What are you most looking forward to about racing The Gralloch?
NH: “I have good memories of being in Scotland I raced the Mountain Bike world championships on Ben Nevis, and I genuinely had a fantastic time. It's a beautiful part of the world.
I'm probably most excited for this race on my calendar, probably more than anything. I'm returning to Iceland, which I did [and won] in 2022, which was my highlight visually for the season, but I'm thinking that Scotland is going to blow my mind in 2023.
“I'm a big nature lover, I love dramatic landscapes, and I love horrible conditions in races, it sort of brings out the warrior.
But more than anything, I'm very much looking forward to having a nice whisky at the end of the race.”
Tell us about your kit, last year’s looked lovely?
NH: “I'm working with Castelli and Colnago right now on finalising our look for 2023. What's fun is that unless you have a dramatic sponsorship change it's not January when you launch everything and we're watching when we want to do it, which is into my first race of the season.
“Instead of five kit changes which we did last year, five different bikes, five different kits, we're actually going to be having two. We’re going to have season part-one, we're gonna also unveil a whole different look for season part two.
“All of my sponsors have more or less remained the same, Colnago, Campagnolo, Fizik, Garmin, Castelli, Kask and FulGaz, with the small exception that I'm now using Koo sunglasses Schwalbe tyres.”
If you want to see Nathan’s progress to the Gralloch and beyond you can follow him on Instagram @nathanpeterhaas, the handle is the same if you do Twitter too!