I had heard about how much fun it was at Tenterfield in 2022 for their inaugural gravel n granite event so there was no way I was getting FOMO (fear of missing out) in 2023. Tenterfield - an historic country town in NSW with enormous granite boulders outlined amongst rolling mountains and plateaus - I could well imagine Captain Thunderbolt (the notorious Bushranger who frequented this area) on his trusty horse seeking shelter in the caves and granite hideouts in this vast wilderness.
Tenterfield had a lot to offer apart from the champagne gravel roads for cycling - the locals are friendly, and the food on offer in the region is spectacular - not to mention the wineries and breweries.
Gravel n Granite had three ride options - a 29km, 68km and 105km route - being held on Saturday 4th March 2023. Just to make it extra spicy, the AusCycling Gravel State Championships were also part of the event. Also on offer was a youth event for ages 9-14 which involved a 3km fire trail loop. What a great way to get the kids involved in riding bikes and the kids received a free event medal. I don’t know about you but if I was a kid again, this would mean the world to me!
Here are the links to the routes:
29km route - https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41200818
68km route - https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41102592
105km route - https://ridewithgps.com/routes/41102613
I rocked up to get my race pass the day before the event at the Tenterfield Showground. The partners or hosts of the event had a great set up at the showground and there were a few cyclists out riding and getting a feel for the race for the following day. There was also a bike mechanic available at the event for last minute adjustments or bike issues.
I decided to go with the 68km route with 1235m of climbing for my first gravel n granite and I could see that it was going to be a huge event. Over 780 cyclists gave it their all - on mountain bikes, gravel bikes, a tandem bike, an adaptive bike and e-bikes with many categories on offer. The youngest rider (who completed the 29km route) was 15 years old and the oldest rider was 86 years old! What a legend!
It was staggered starts - first the 105km cyclists at approximately 7:30am then the 68km cyclists at 8:00am followed by the 29km. It was a respectful pace at the start line but as the pavement widened, most cyclists who wanted to race were off at a cracking pace with some steady climbs. Kildare Road was recently paved with fresh bitumen so most people (unless you were absolutely confident on the bike) took it easy down the steep declines. There were two food stations on offer at the 33km mark and 47km which was a welcome reprieve from climbing. As I am quite competitive on the bike, I chose to bring my own food and hydration (okay I will be honest - I made my husband carry all the food and hydration packs haha). There was a brutal headwind that day but we tried to take advantage of the downhills and absolutely bombed it where we could. The gravel on offer did not disappoint. It was mostly smooth sailing with a few rocky parts here and there but most of the gravel was absolute champagne quality. The views of the granite and mountains were breathtaking and I was trying to take it all in but also giving it a crack. There were a group of gravel cyclists sticking together and everyone was being positive and friendly with a few laughs and conversation thrown in here and there.
At the 47km mark, it was a different story. This is where it got brutal. There was a 12km stretch of gravel and it makes me laugh now but at the time, it was challenging to say the least. I like to think I am a climber but there were two or three gravel sections where the gradient was up to 22% (by the way ridewithgps.com says the gradient is only 11% - I will tell you now - it is not) and I was humbled and so was everyone else. People were walking their bikes up those rocky gravel sections and I was one of them. I only saw one or two champions who rode up those sections. At this point in time, I also came across a few wounded warriors. I came across a guy who had a broken toe - one or two that didn’t drink enough water or consume enough food before or during the ride - another guy who was laying on the ground in absolute agony with calf cramps and another poor chap who also had leg cramps but was bravely trying to stay on his mountain bike.
After a self-adjustment, food and hydration, I got back on the gravel bike and pushed on. The last 5km was on paved roads with a beautiful descent and a tailwind back to the showground in Tenterfield. We were met by a flag bearer, spectators and volunteers cheering us on as we came through the finish line. We high-fived other riders that finished with us and the atmosphere was fantastic.
After the ride, the event village was pumping with plenty of food options and craft beer on offer, as well as drinks for the kids. After a craft beer or two, we had a tasty meal of dumplings and later nachos and listened to the MC host the event for a few hours, watch a wheelie competition, admire the many bikes being ridden, as well as cheer riders coming through the finish line.
At the end of the day, I was tired but happy and also stoked to learn I got a 3rd place in my age category. Overall, gravel n granite was a well organised event. An inclusive event for all cyclists and all ages. Thank you to the organisers and volunteers of the event. I would also like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we cycled. I will be back in 2024 for the 105km route and looking forward to seeing new faces.
If you don’t have the gravel n granite on your cycling bucket list, you need to!
Written by Jodie Solorio. You can follow her on Instagram - coolcatgravel