It’s been a difficult year for racing, so Ribble Weldtite’s Jacob Tipper, Will Brown and Rich Jones were looking to Gravel Racing for something a little different. That’s where the epic gravel grinder that is Dirty Reiver 200 comes in. We caught up with the trio to gather their thoughts on how it went.
Dirty Reiver 2021
To anyone that thinks gravel bikes don’t have a place in the UK, maybe you should investigate Dirty Reiver, the UK’s best answer to a Gravel Grinder.
Taking inspiration from the gravel racing scene of the US Midwest, home of SBT GRVL and UNBOUND Gravel (to name just two events), Dirty Reiver offers the same test of endurance, only a little closer to home.
It ties together 200km of fire roads and gravel tracks in the Kielder Forest, along with 3,500m of ascent. Dirty Reiver is a gruelling test of endurance and equipment in one of the most beautiful landscapes the British Isles has to offer.
Click on the link below to view Jacob’s Strava file for Dirty Reiver
The first edition, held in 2016, sold out in a week. Its popularity has only grown. With the explosion in off-road drop bar riding, it is now widely considered the premier gravel event in the UK.
The course is not intended as a race, rather a mass start Gran Fondo were finishing the event is the goal for most riders.
This doesn’t stop people battling it out for the win. So as the road racing season comes to a close, a few riders from Ribble Weldtite decided it might be time to see what all the fuss is about. With lockdowns and travel restrictions affecting most of the racing calendar, the boys decided it would be best to find other events to get stuck into.
We caught up with Jacob Tipper, Will Brown, and Rich Jones who all took part in this year’s event, looking to make a name for themselves.
Will and Rich both have a background in Cyclocross, so riding a drop-bar bike off-road is nothing new to them. With less road riding this year, and a postponed National Road Race championship, they’re deciding to go all-in with off-road riding, starting with Dirty Reiver.
But as a road and track racer, with stage wins at the Tour du Maroc and Tour of Qinghai Lake plus National Team Pursuit wins to his name, Tipper has swapped his Endurance SL R for a Gravel SL. Turning to off-road riding for a new challenge.
“You get to a point where you think ‘how much more can I do on the road?’ I work a lot more hours than I used to, I’m buying a house, I just bought a puppy this week. I’ve still got ambitions on the road, but I’m not going to suddenly improve massively. It’s definitely about finding some new challenges, I think everyone can relate to having new challenges.”Jacob Tipper
And a new challenge is exactly what Jacob got. From the start, the riding was a lot harder than any of the 3 had anticipated.
“It went off a lot of spicier than I expected. I was in the front group of maybe 10 riders, but my heart rate hit 184bpm. My TSS was 100 (training stress score) after just over an hour. I was in an absolute box and thought ‘I can’t sustain this, so I dropped back to the second group. I was pretty chill there and thought ‘surely some of the guys in the front group will blow-up’”
Even with recent form off the back of the Tour Series, Will was stunned by the speed and aggression of the so-called Fondo.
“It went out of the blocks like a bullet, I couldn’t comprehend how fast we were going”
Very soon, however, it wasn’t just other riders that were causing issues for Jacob.
“I punctured. I faffed for ages sorting it and nailed myself getting back onto the group I’d punctured out of.”
Rich suffered a similar fate.
“I made the front group, but unfortunately punctured after 50km. It took me a little while to get it sorted but I was losing pressure gradually as I kept riding. I pushed as hard as I could for a couple of hours, on my own.”
With no support, either in the form of other riders or support staff, gravel racing can be a lonely place. For Rich, his puncture meant soloing over half the course, before he could regain the shelter of other riders.
“I didn’t see anyone else for about the next 100km until I finally caught a couple of guys in the last couple of hours. They were both fairly spent, and so was I by the time I got there”
Having regained his group, it sounded like Tipper was having a slightly more enjoyable day. However, the rugged Northumbrian hills weren’t letting him get away with it for too long.
“We just started having fun after about an hour, attacking each other… then I punctured again. I was quicker than last time though, so I caught them again. When I reached them, I was in a right strop, so I just went straight past them and finished the last 2 hours solo.”
Even with all the mechanicals, the lads all managed to complete the course in under 8 hours, an impressive feat. Even more impressive was the fact they managed to enjoy it too.
The winning time for the Dirty Reiver was 06:49:02 and Rich was the best-placed Ribble Weldtite rider. He crossed the line 25 minutes after the fastest finishers when he completed the course with a time of 7:14:33. This was good enough for 7th place overall and less than 7 minutes off a third-place finish.
“So, a little bit frustrating, a good day out and happy I’ve done it. Early on there were over 1000 people starting and I found myself in the front group. Riding lovely tracks and nice scenery, but obviously frustrated by the punctures in the middle part of the race. Still, a lovely day out.”
Finishing just 2 minutes later, with a time of 7:16:10 was Jacob, who secured 9th place. Having put in some serious effort around the various punctures, his power data says it all.
“So, that’s my biggest ever TSS score by about 100. Before, my biggest TSS score was about 350. That was on the last day of the Tour of Yorkshire, 3 years ago. Today was 450, which is outrageous. I think I enjoyed it, I know my shoulders aren’t enjoying it, but overall, I enjoyed it. Even considering the mechanicals.”
Only 12 minutes later, finishing 15th with a time of 7:28:43, was Will, who put it far more succinctly.
“Brilliant, but about the hardest thing I’ve ever done”
Despite the suffering, the lads are clearly hooked. After only one gravel event they are getting ready for their second, King’s Cup gravel, in just a week’s time.
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