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Utopia Gravel Fest 2024: the consolidation of a big gravel event

Amidst the rugged and characteristic terrain of the Gorafe desert and the magnificent Sierra de Baza as protagonists, the Utopia Gravel Fest took place a few days ago. Formerly known as Guadix Gravel Race, this event has undergone a transformation, emerging this year with this rebranding and setting a new episode in its history. The Utopia, in turn, corresponded to the fourth stage of the Gravel Earth Series 2024 and the first of the Gravel Race Series circuit, organized by Janosch Wintermantel himself.

Against a backdrop of breathtaking landscapes, cyclists from 32 nations converged for three unforgettable days of gravel riding. The first day consisted of a tough time trial climb to Cerro Jabalcón. The second, the main course, a demanding 165 km route with nearly 3000 meters of elevation gain, through the extensive Granada Geopark, recognized worldwide as such by UNESCO since 2020. For Sunday, and the last day of Utopia, a social route and with the mere intention of enjoying the landscape, putting the competition aside and continuing with the recovery process.

But beyond the sheer physical challenge, the event embodied the spirit of resilience and camaraderie that defines the gravel cycling community.

The hill climb race up the Cerro Jabalcón

Friday hill climb could perhaps indicate who would be among the main contenders for the following day race. In the men’s time trial, Nathan Haas topped the podium, clocking in 07:40, 4 seconds ahead of Tsgabu Grmay from Team Amani, as James Swadling completed the podium.

The women’s hill climb competition saw a close finish between Hayley Simmonds and Annabel Fisher, with the former getting the win by less than a second, both in 09:34. Amity Rockwell finished in the third place.

A Triumph of Grit and Determination

The Saturday race unfolded with all the drama and intensity one would expect from a gravel cycling spectacle. In the men’s category, early leaders and Groove Gravel riders Hugo Drechou and Alexys Brunel set a strong pace, with contenders like Nathan Haas and Tsgabu Grmay in pursuit. However, the Italian rider Mattia De Marchi from Enough Cycling ultimately surged ahead, showcasing endurance and strategic prowess as he conquered the challenging terrain, ultimately claiming victory in an impressive time of 5 hours and 30 minutes.

Similarly, in the women’s division, the battle for supremacy was fierce. Axelle Dubau-Prévôt surged to an early lead, but it was Caroline Schiff who emerged triumphant. She navigated treacherous trails and overcame opponents to cross the finish line in 6 hours and 37 minutes. Her victory showcased her athletic prowess and served as a testament to the indomitable spirit of female cyclists in the gravel racing scene.

Beyond the Finish Line: A Journey of Transformation

For event organizer Janosch Wintermantel, the Utopia Gravel Fest represents more than just a race. It Is a culmination of passion, perseverance, and a relentless pursuit of new challenges. Reflecting on his journey, the organizer acknowledges the pivotal role that events like the Badlands played in shaping his path.

“After participating in Badlands, I felt a profound need for change,” Wintermantel explains. “The decision to organize a gravel event had been brewing for some time, but it was the experiences on the trail that crystallized my resolve to embark on this new venture.”

Despite the challenges of organizing such a monumental event, Janosch remains undeterred, driven by a sense of purpose and a commitment to fostering a vibrant gravel cycling community. The journey has been arduous but immensely rewarding, from navigating bureaucratic hurdles to securing sponsorships and attracting riders.

Looking Towards the Horizon

As the dust settles on yet another edition of the Utopia Gravel Fest, Wintermantel looks towards the future with a sense of excitement and anticipation. With the Utopia Gravel Fest being one of the three events in the Gravel Race Series, alongside Octopus in Andermatt, Switzerland and La Contrabandistes in Andorra, Wintermantel’s vision for the series is clear; to continue offering unique and challenging experiences for gravel cyclists around the world.

With plans for a new stage race in Morocco slated for 2025 and the introduction of cycling camps in picturesque locales, the horizon is brimming with possibilities.

Photos: Utopia Gravel Fest archives