If last year we already talked about The Traka as one of the leading gravel races on the continent, this time we are left with few adjectives to describe the new heights that the event has reached. Experiencing it first-hand, we could feel the excitement among participants and everyone involved, creating a contagious good vibe that lasted for the entire week.
A week-long gravel event
With the official program ranging from Wednesday, April 26th, to Sunday, April 30th, it was clear that there were many more things to do beyond race day. The locals and those who traveled to Girona early in the week kickstarted The Traka with the Hill Climb Challenge by Pas Normal Studios, one of the main sponsors this year. All the participants that climbed up to the Sant Miquel castle earned a good portion of paella and, although the main goal was having a good time and gathering as many gravel enthusiasts as possible, there was also a prize in the shape of a spot in the “elite starting box” of The Traka 200 for the top 5 fastest riders.
Thursday and Friday were mainly about saving energies for what was to come, but several social rides were announced so that everyone could find one to join. It was the time for brands and shops to be present and attract the hundreds of participants coming from abroad.
The Gravel Earth Series, comprising six races across the globe including The Traka, was created this year but it still lacked a formal presentation, so on Thursday at 7 PM the organizers and the star riders of the series were present on the stage in Parc de les Ribes del Ter. We finally got to know Mikel from the Migration Gravel Race and we also listened to what the organizers of Octopus, Nature is Bike, The Rift and Nordic Gravel Series had to say about their interesting events.
From then on, there would be a constant flow of participants and curious people passing by the start venue of The Traka to either check how everything was taking shape or to pass the mandatory bike validation ahead of the 360 km race.
On Friday, riders faced the dilemma of staying as horizontal as possible or exploring the beautiful city of Girona, which during those days had even more things to offer to cyclists given the magnitude of the event they were going to take part in.
Also, several brands related to the cycling industry used The Traka as the perfect occasion to present new products, like the new X-Tour gravel bike from MMR, or put new products to test in secret to make them public later in the year.
Massive international attendance
When we said that we experienced The Traka in the first person, we meant that we were on the startline too. Toni would ride The Traka 360 with an AURUM Manto that was launched just the day before, and Javi would use for The Traka 200 one of the Titici Relli that the Italian brand brought all the way from Brescia.
Even if on the same weekend there were other well-known cycling events taking place, around 1.600 riders took part in one of the distances that The Traka had on offer: 360 km or 200 km on Saturday, and 100 km or 50 km on Sunday. It was organized in a way that allowed people who on Saturday were the soigneurs or photographers of friends or team members to race themselves the following day, and even some of the ones who raced on Saturday thought “why not?” and rode on Sunday too.
The riders taking part in the longest distance started at 6 AM, with the 200 km version of the race starting one hour later. During the rest of the morning, the venue in Parc de les Ribes del Ter was quiet, but as soon as the first rider of the 200 km race crossed the finish line, it unleashed a constant flow of riders appearing from the distance and covering the last few hundred meters already on the grass of the park to complete their achievement.
That first rider was Paul Voss, who surprised the attendees at the finish line when they saw him running on foot the last section as his rear tire blew out during the last singletrack of the route. Still, he arrived in six hours and two minutes, five minutes ahead of the riders who sprinted for the two other spots on the podium. Nathan Haas claimed the second place and Benjamin Perry finished third.
German riders won both the men’s and women’s classification, as Carolin Schiff from the recently created Canyon CLLCTV was the first one to cross the line. Svenja Betz, still under the seven-hour mark, finished second, and Luise Valentin rounded up the podium.
Little by little the finish area was populated by riders, most of them going directly to the food tent to refill their stomachs. Some took a shower, while others wanted to show for a little longer how covered in dirt they arrived.
The bulk of the participants of the 200 km distance arrived around 2 PM, and for the next few hours, race announcers and other members of the organization were busy welcoming all the riders. Just by looking at the faces of the riders we could already tell what they had gone through: joy, suffering, and much more.
Three wins in a row
Once the frequency decreased, everyone switched their focus to the 360 km race, which Mattia De Marchi was already leading after no one could follow his extra push at km 150. Thanks to the multi-camera live streaming, one of the novelties of this edition, we watched from the big screen at the finish area how the race unfolded.
Just before 7 PM, under 13 hours of elapsed time and beating the course record he set last year, the Italian from Enough CC crossed the finish line and was immediately sprayed with cava. After the post-race interview, in which Mattia constantly thanked everyone for their support, it was time to see how the battle for the second position unfolded.
Tobias Kongstad and Diederik Deelen had collaborated for most of the second half of the route to distance themselves from the others and stay close to Mattia, but there was no gentlemen’s agreement and they sprinted for the second spot on the podium. In the end, it was the Danish rider ahead of Driederik, who still improved his 4th place from the previous edition.
The women’s field included two of the most relevant off-road cyclists of the US scene: Amity Rockwell and Sarah Sturm. The first one had stayed Girona for almost a month ahead of The Traka, with time enough to get to know the people and culture of the Catalan city, while Sarah arrived a few days before after racing on home soil the previous weekend, with almost no time to get used to the different time zone.
Despite their different approaches, both performed at a high level and took the first two places. Amity arrived at the Grava Pals feed zone with a 10-minute gap and extended it over the remaining kilometers to arrive around 9 PM back to Girona. Sarah struggled to eat but her experience in overcoming hurdles allowed her to keep her second position ahead of the Irish Emma Porter.
Bringing the gravel family to the next level
It was already dark, but family members and friends of those still on course were either at the finish line or at the different feed stations to support their riders. Some riders pushed alone during the night, others rode in small groups to get through the darkest moments, and there were also people who decided to approach it in a different way, camping overnight.
During the weekend, we heard things like “this is officially now the super bowl of gravel racing!” or “the vibe at the finish line is similar to the Red Hook Crit”, and the truth is that both the event itself and the gravel community as a whole have benefitted from a remarkable 2023 edition of The Traka.