My first Gravel Road Challenge... My first victory!

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My first Gravel Road Challenge and my first victory in one of my favorite place to ride any kind of bicycle like Punta Ala in Tuscany

Last week end I had the chance to go back to one of those locations where any kind of cycling is possible: the Maremma Toscana.

The chance to take part to one gravel road race was in my plans and the Gravel Road Challenge of Punt Ala has been the best occasion to do it.
I'm actually riding a pure gravel road bike, a Santa Cruz Stigmata that I only have been riding it on asphalt, so I changed my tires from completely slick to some more tessellated ones, perfect for dirt, muddy and a bit rocky roads.

I knew already that was going to be a great event. The spirit is about "have fun and taste the local specialities" more that race, race, race.
So we met at 9 to get number and everything set to start the race. We are Italian so we need to take time for a coffee and a bit of chat before the event begins.

The PuntAla Camping Resort and Punta Ala Trail Center hosted the event right on the Tuscan coast and impossible not to take some shots on the beach to post them straight away on my instagram. Well, that place is really great and well served for any kind of biker.

The Gravel Road Challenge format works exactly the same as an Enduro mountain bike race. We've got our times of the transfers to stick on our bike and the finish time that we have to be back. The race count the time of three special stages where you have to go faster than you can.
So we all head to the first stage at the right time and one after the other, we started to rock'n'roll. An amazing dirt road to climb as first hard piece of race and than a fast and pretty bumpy downhill where I think a some point I tried to got as fast as I could without know where I was going, shaking on my bike. The adrenaline was much stronger than my fear but just after the stage I realized what I did.

I know also that I missed a stunning view on the coast of Castiglione della Pescaia, but I was for sure super happy because I didn't crash!

So one stage done and the first feed zone was there waiting for us. Wine, sweets, pizzette and delicious things were there to satisfy our hunger.
Heading to stage two we had a couple of hours where we had the chance to ride all together in a big group through the countryside where the sinuous gravel roads climb smooth hills of vineyards.
Stage three was actually flat, but against the wind in a rough section of puddles and stones.

After this one, the race wasn't finished yet but the it looked like we had a price. We ended up at Tenuta le Mortelle, one of the Antinori's Vineyard of Tuscany. Wine taste, delicacies and some bio fruits were waiting for use to feed us and give us energy for the next and last stage. 

A pure immersion in a typical Tuscan farm surrounded by the Mediterranean maquis. No water at the buffet, but tasty white, rosè and red wine.

So it was time to head to the coast where the start of the third stage was waiting for the riders. After climbing Tirli's road and surviving at the storm, another pit stop was right in the village center, but I did just a quick stop to don't get cold and don't loose time... We had still few kilometres before the last shot.

The sun came back out and the air was warm again and made our last part of the race perfect. The dirt road to the start was still a long way before to get at the judges spot.

This made my victory at the my first Gravel Road Challenge.

It was for sure a special sunday for my win, for the weather that wasn't to bad, for the people that had fun with me and for the nice locations which we had the chance to ride through.

I was looking at the time scrolling quickly on my Garmin screen and I was worried that I was not going to make in time with the risk to get late at the start line. But I've got there 10 seconds just before my start. I just had the time to open my gilet and go... Go as faster as I could. I knew already that road which takes to Cala Violina, a famous bay near Punta Ala... But I couldn't remember the two climbs after, that took us to the finish line.

During my pedaling up I could see people jumping off the bike and walk... But walking is slower and harder especially with those cycling shoes, so I tried my best and pedaled up to the last meters of the stage. That sandy and soft gravel road wasn't helping me on climbing up. But I made it, we all made it... And I was in perfect time so i didn't get any extra minutes charged on my total time.

The area between Punta Ala, Castiglione della Pescaia, Follonica and Massa Marittima which goes from the sea to the highest hills of the Maremma, is an ideal area for every cyclist. Mountain biking, road biking, cycle tourism, gravel road biking, e-biking, enduro... It's some of you can do here!

// Photo credit Alex Boyce