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The Traka 2024: Every cloud has a silver lining

Girona is one of those regions where there is no need to take a look at the weather forecast before going for a ride, because you can usually take for granted that the weather will be pleasant. This was not the case during the week leading to The Traka 2024, and during those days riders and organizers looked up to the sky more than ever.

The circumstances put the event in a difficult situation, as the 3.200 registered participants from 77 distinct nationalities faced some hurdles they were not expecting. Brands had also invested heavily in The Traka, and there were a lot of question marks around the races and the parallel events that were planned during the whole week.

It was going to be a real test of fire for the biggest gravel race in Europe, and required extra work among all those responsible for making sure that the event keeps growing year after year. All those efforts, together with favorable weather conditions just in time for the racing to start, allowed The Traka to take place and pass the test with flying colors, setting an even stronger infrastructure for years to come.

Leading up to the weekend

Most of the warm-up rides and events were modified or canceled, but the attendance at each of them was still remarkable. For example, the hill-climb race organized by Pas Normal Studios was substituted by a popular paella at the start venue, and the Rapha x SRAM ride on Tuesday was instead an event at Casa Athletic in which we were introduced to the Frodeno Fund project, and the people behind AMANI provided an update on the team.

Well-known locations like El Pont de Pedra or La Comuna were the common starting points for the dozens of rides organized every day, so you could simply pass by at any time of the day, no matter the weather, and join one of them. Several bike shops were open even on Labour Day to address the needs of the riders getting ready for their event, and many non-cycling local businesses embraced the arrival of people from all over the world.

The Traka Adventure

One of the novelties for this year was the introduction of The Traka Adventure. The original track was very promising, with a route of 560 km and over 10.000 m of elevation gain as riders headed to the Pyrenees and then in eastern direction towards the Mediterranean, before finishing in similar fashion as the 360 km course.

The start was planned for Wednesday, May 1st, but during the days leading to it rained a lot. It was needed and welcome given the drought period the region was experiencing, but it was expected to truncate the plans of the 200 riders looking for an entry-level bikepacking event.

We were one of the individuals registered for this adventure, so we followed the developments from close. The organizers were in constant contact with the Meteorological Services and local authorities, and all decisions were taken with common agreement. On Tuesday we were notified that the start was initially delayed for a day and that the course had been modified to avoid the high-mountain areas, where the fresh snow was a clear obstacle for anyone trying to ride past. As we were getting ready for the rescheduled version, an email confirmed that The Traka Adventure was canceled for good, and we were allowed to join the The Traka 360 distance instead.

It was time to change our bike setup, as you don’t need the same gear if you are no longer planning on spending one full night riding your bike and you can rely on the feed stations of The Traka 360 race instead of doing it in a self-sufficient way. We kept our new Tailfin Wedge Frame Bag on, in which we would store all the tools and food, but the Top Tube Bag and Down Tube Bag were put aside.

We would also like to highlight the courage of all those who, despite the cancellation of The Traka Adventure, defied the weather and did the route on their own, with Quinda Verheul as the best example.

The Traka 360

After three consecutive days of carb-loading, two of them halted after the different news we were receiving, it was time to line up for the start of The Traka 360, together with +850 other participants from all over the globe. Originally planned at 6 AM, the start was, in the end, one hour later given that the course was also slightly shorter (344km) in order to skip the unrideable parts. We were all excited, and Gerard’s message just before the start was truly emotional.

“Today is the day. Today is your day. A long day. Respect the mountains. Respect nature. Welcome to The Traka 2024” – Gerard Freixes, organizer of The Traka

We were already aware of it, so we were not surprised by the exceptionally high level of competition, nor by the amount of mud we had to tackle. The first 10 kms were on tarmac, and by the time we hit the first off-road section, we were already located in a group riding at the pace we considered was the best for the day. It was better to be at the front of the group, so you could choose your own line and take a look a few meters in front to avoid the different puddles.

A layer of mud covered our bike and legs by the end of the first hour, and we are glad we packed some lube to stop the unpleasant noises of a dry drivetrain. While the ones at the front passed by the feed stations in F1 style, we took our time and resumed our effort only after our stomach was full of the varied food the organizers had prepared for us.

Regarding the beauty of the route, we still remember the moment we had the snow-covered Pyrenees in sight while riding over a perfectly smooth gravel path. More than three-quarters of the race were on off-road surfaces and that is very difficult to find in any race of similar distance without relying on small loops. We consider that the best section was the 50 km we did along the Massís de l’Albera, with a tough but beautiful climb followed by impressive views of the Mediterranean Sea and a nice descent back to sea level.

That section finished at around the 160 km mark, and the following 100 km until the last feed station were completely flat. We were heading in southern direction and it was block headwind, so it was the perfect moment to ride with a group. Guess what? We were completely on our own, and we lost years of life pushing against the wind and looking behind every other minute hoping any rider would catch us.

An oasis is something typically associated with the desert, but the last feed station was also an oasis for us. There we stuffed our belly with a bowl of rice and sat down for two minutes before tackling the last big climb of the day, Les Gavarres.

By the time we reached the top, with 70 km left, Peter Stetina had already crossed the finish line in Girona after 11 hours, 42 minutes, and 23 seconds of elapsed time, 17 seconds faster than Rob Britton. Chad Haga would round up a full American podium. Mattia De Marchi had been in contention for a fourth win in a row, but a mechanical problem frustrated the dreams of the Enough CC rider.

While we were racing the sunset, the top riders started populating the finish venue after their impressive efforts. Karolina Migon, the Polish rider of PAS Racing, got the win ahead of the Dutch but semi-local Geerike Scheurs. In the women’s field the gaps were bigger, as Karolina created a 20-minute gap to the second during the day and most riders arrived more than ten minutes apart.

The night arrived and the photographers were gone by the time we reached the finish line, but given the race circumstances, arriving before 10 PM can be considered a decent achievement. We wanted to stay at the venue and wait for others to arrive, but our feet had been soaking wet during the whole day and we were starting to be very cold. Kudos to everyone who arrived back in Girona late at night with a smile on their face.

The Traka 200

While some riders were still covering the last section of The Traka 360, others were already taking a spot at the startline for the 200 km version of the race. It was not going to be as long, but it was still going to be long. It was not going to be as muddy, but it was still going to be muddy.

One of the constants was the prestige of riders. Some of the most in-form specialists in the discipline, together with professional road and mountain bike cyclists, populated the first rows, eagerly waiting for the start.

The early part of the race was very tough, accumulating over 1.000 meters of elevation gain in the first 40 kilometers. The last 125 kilometers were exactly the same as The Traka 360 course, but even if riders tackled that rolling terrain with fresher legs, everyone had to grind their teeth to make it to the finish line.

Focusing on the women’s race, three riders fulfilled the pre-race expectations and distanced themselves. The reigning champion Caroline Schiff, the rising star Klara Sofie Skovgard, and the underdog Morgan Aguirre were mostly together until the second third of the race, but a crash for the American rider and the race experience of the German decided the outcome. Caroline retained her crown, the Danish finished second, and Rosa Maria Kloser came third.

Waiting at the Parc de les Ribes del Ter for the men to arrive, we heard that a big group was still together in the lead with only a few kilometers remaining, so we were curious to see who was going to appear on the horizon in first position. It was a group of three riders sprinting for the win, and among them, the fastest was Frederik Rassman, of Rose Racing Circle. Gerard went to congratulate him and hand him a deserved bottle of cava, but not long after we started hearing whispers of a possible sanction because he received a hydration pack outside the feed station, something which is not allowed in The Traka.

The decision was made and Frederik was given a five-minute sanction, placing him outside the top 10 given that the first ones arrived less than 30 seconds apart. This also meant that the second to cross the line, Petr Vakoc, would be awarded the victory of the race. Petr had already won the GC of Santa Vall earlier in the year, which in addition to his recent results collected in Europe and the United States, put him as the rider to beat for the races to come. Jasper Ockeloen and Johan Jacobs were next to him on the podium, marking a perfect weekend for Canyon and their riders.

Wrapping up the weekend

Sunday, May 4th, was the last day of The Traka week. Some riders were at the startline of the 100 km and 50 km races looking for a less-taxing day out, while others had already raced earlier in the week and wanted to make the most of their current shape. The mud finally turned into dust, and the vibe at the Parc de les Ribes del Ter was once again admirable.

Alexis Brunel and Hugo Drechou, from Groove Gravel, arrived together at the finish line and decided with a rock, paper, scissors, who would cross the line as the winner of the 100 km male race. The female race was also a team affair as three riders of the professional road team SD Worx finished on the podium, with Marie Schreiber getting the win. The Germans Kathrin Hammes and Luis Neff won the women’s and men’s versions of the 50 km race, respectively. A completely different effort when compared to the longer distances of the event but a remarkable achievement nonetheless.

Over the following days, riders headed home with a smile on their face, ending their stay in Girona on a high after the uncertainty at the start of the week. This edition had its obstacles, but the organizers behind the biggest gravel event in Europe showed once again that their level is on par with the quality of the riders they persuaded to spend a great week in the Catalan region.