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Iron gravel 360

A quick write up of the very long gravel challenge, Iron Gravel 360. I thought I would enter this as a nice training boost to the Transiberica that I've entered for later in the year.

I arrived the day before, picked up the usual goody bag and GPS tracker. An early night was needed ready for a 5.00 am start, with 2 alarms set for 3.50 am! I tried to get some sleep. I got up and ate some of the weird breakfast choices I brought the day before.....cold tortilla, a Spinach empanada, cold coffee and chocolate muesli bar.

At the start it was pretty cold and I soon realised I probably didn't have enough clothing for what was going to be a late night or even early morning finish but it was too late so off we went into the neutralised start. Considering we had 360 km to cover the start was the usual far too quick over excited affair but I eventually calmed down and settled into my own pace. The first descent was pretty sketchy in the dark and I soon passed the first casualty, calm down, calm down, it's a long way to go I was mumbling to myself. We finished the first few climbs and the sun had come up and we were passing through endless smelly cabbage and onion fields before eventually hitting some never ending flat canal paths which made the kilometres tick by nicely.

The first checkpoint was at 153km and was very welcome as we had not passed any shops so far. I had a top up with water and made the most of the food laid on and headed off where the route was about to start going up. And up it went winding across the side of a mountain on lovely gravel tracks that occasionally turned to concrete (if a gravel track turns to concrete its usually 15-20% so cars can get traction) It was a long tough section and I hadn't really paid attention when the next checkpoint was so when a town came into view I stopped at the first cafe for some food. I spotted another rider the other side of the square getting a nice bit of outside assistance from friends in a car (not allowed, frowned upon etc), looked like he was tucking into some nice fresh pasta. I bumped into him again later that night at a checkpoint where after there was a super steep concrete climb but he turned right in front of me and took the easier road climb that later joined the track, saucy bastard. Anyway, back to the real racers and it was starting to get warm and a lot more mountainous. I had a look at the guide and the next checkpoint was at 213 km with free paella, I'm having some of that I thought. I had a chat with some other racers and we tried to guess what time we would finish, I went for midnight. I headed off into the Sierra de Salinas for the next stretch which was getting quite tough but I started feeling better after the great food and the kms were ticking by nicely and I was enjoying it a lot. The longest climb of the route was after the last check point and I was getting a bit nervous about how cold it was going to be but I've been frozen on the bike many times and survived so I tried to not think about it. I got to the last checkpoint at 280 km and got topped up with supplies. I got some sheets of kitchen roll to stuff down my top for the descent and a lovely lady lent me a woolly hat. I started the long climb waving our friend off on his shortcut and made fairly short work of it. On a smooth section I gave Sarah a ring and she told me she was having a nice curry with friends, helpful. The climb topped out at 292 km and it was nearly all downhill to the finish.

The trouble with descending on a gravel bike if the track is rough is it takes ages and time soon slips away. By this point everything ached and my vision was becoming a bit blurred, usual. The lights of Alicante were slowly coming into view and I eventually rolled over the finish to be given my tiny sew-on Iron Gravel 360 patch and a cup of luke warm soup, awesome. Unfortunately I had a hotel booked for Sunday night but I had finished at 1am....... Sunday morning and Sarah couldn't get me a room during our call so in true bikepacking style I slept in the car, I say slept, more shivered all night while watching other finishers roll in through the night. It was an excellent event and I got some breakfast the next morning and made it to the hotel.



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