When I was originally told about a new gravel event in Iceland I was pretty excited. Travelling to a country you've never been to is always something to look forward to, and the more I looked into it, the more I realised how unique this was going to be... 200 kilometres through lava fields and active volcanos!
We arrived a couple of days before the race so that we could visit Hjolasprettur, the team who bring WTB products to the cyclists of Iceland. These guys are so helpful and so well stocked, if you are ever out in Iceland with your bike you should definitely pop in. Who doesn't love visiting a new bike shop right!?
Gravel, MTB, Adventure Road, these guys got you covered...
After a tour of the shop and some much needed coffee we rolled down the road to Hvolsvöllur, the host town for the island's inaugural gravel race.
The Rift is based out of the Lava Centre, the perfect place if you want to learn about volcanoes, earthquakes, and how Iceland was formed. It also boasts a great restaurant with good food and local beers, the perfect place to hang out when not exploring the lava fields on two wheels.
Varied terrain means varied tire choice. Each model had it's moment to shine during the 200km adventure
After an early breakfast riders arrived at the start line for 7am with pockets full of sweets, energy bars and gels. A safety briefing that included 'what to do in the event of a volcanic eruption' preceded a mass start of some 200 people group all grouped together as if starting a road race. There were mountain bikes, cyclocross bikes, gravel bikes and even fat bikes. All united and ready to battle through 200kms of lava fields.
Four major river crossings stood between riders and the finish line - lots of non-major ones too!
From the race HQ based on the southern edge of the island, the route gradually brought you inland and up into the mountains. Nothing too steep, but the total elevation number was slowly climbing up to around 1500m. Combine that with the ever changing terrain and challenging weather that Iceland can spring on you at any moment, and you truly have a recipe for a tough day out.
We certainly made use of the feed stations along the way. It was hard to consume as many calories as you burn but we gave it a good go. Sandwiches, jelly shot blocks and strips of bacon were on hand to keep the salt levels up, but my personal favourite was a 50% cola 50% water mix that I filled my water bottles with at every opportunity. That constant sugary sips tasted so good!
After just over 9 hours of pedalling we arrived at the finish to a warm welcome and a specially brewed Icelandic beer. To say that we were happy to reach the line would be a huge understatement. My body was aching all over and clothes soaked through, but after an epic day across the some seriously testing trials and tracks, there was an overwhelming sense of achievement setting it. How lucky are we that the bikes can take us to all of these magical places and provide us with the scope to see so much in a single day. The Nano 40 tyres I was using coped with everything that Iceland threw at them, as did the whole bike - totally faultless. That's quite reassuring when the vehicles out there look like this!
Well done to the organisers of The Rift 2019 who delivered an event that fully lived up to everything they promised and more! See you in 2020....
Pics by Petur Thor Ragnarsson