Grinduro France goes down a storm in the Vosges

After the success of the opening round of the Grinduro global gravel series in Germany at the end of May, round three saw the purple party setting up camp in the mountainous Vosges region of eastern France. This was the inaugural visit of the event to France, where a combination of a well-loved format and some local flavour seems to have gone down a storm. Paul Errington, of Grinduro, escaped the office to take part.

Grinduro France in the Vosges

The end of June saw Grinduro, the destination gravel event, stick another pin in the ‘must ride’ gravel global map.  The event took place in the town of Xonrupt-Longemer, a perfect starting point to explore the surrounding region. Xonrupt- Longemer is part of the Vosges region, a range of medium-sized mountains in Eastern France.  This area offered gravel riders the chance to ride perfect gradient long gravel climbs with balcony views, punctuated by descending technical enough to test the best of bike handlers.

Still a relatively unique proposition after nearly ten years Grinduro continues to offer riders a more sociable opportunity to combine experiencing riding in a new area at a more civilised pace while still racing for a podium place or just the respect of one’s peers.

The event stretches from Friday to Sunday – a main Saturday race day presented by Shimano, bookended by the Schwalbe Shakedown ride on the Friday and the traditional Wahoo hangover ride on the Sunday to vanquish those party-induced headaches.

The Schwalbe Shakedown ride was a steady 15km loop from the event village to ensure both body and machine were working ready for the main event.  A few steady gravel climbs in the surrounding forest with just a hint of the descending Saturday would bring.

Friday evening is always a more sedate social gathering. Not so much that participants needed to stay on point for the riding, but more that they were saving themselves for the Saturday party, which in all its years has never failed to disappoint.

As with any riding experience, the weather plays a key part – sunshine and warm temperatures greeted the riders on Saturday morning and after a top-notch barista coffee, nearly 200 riders rolled across the startline to mark the start of another Grinduro experience.

The format is the same wherever in the world you get your Grinduro fix – a roughly 100km loop punctuated midday by a lunch stop with 4 race stages thrown in to keep you on your toes. An equal mix of fitness and bike handling are needed if you wish to triumph.

My day would be spent riding with Martin from Leatt, a Grinduro Global sponsor. This showcased the true genius of Grinduro – although we had been able to complete a very differing amount of climbing practice in the lead-up to the event, we could still enjoy each other’s company as there was no pressure to complete the course in any specified time.

Stage 1, the climbing stage. As always, the stage start approaching is indicated by the recognisable purple event signage and a sweeping right-hand bend sends us passed the timing box and it’s game on. Initially on tarmac, a tempered effort is needed to succeed on this 3km climbing stage.  However, no sooner has a rhythm been found when the tarmac gives way to gravel and measuring grip and choosing line gets thrown into the mix. Just short of 14 minutes of effort and the stage is over.

A feed station punctuates the transition between stages and soon we are at the next stage.

Stage 3. Yes, I know where did Stage 2 go? We will get to that. Stage 3 was the technical singletrack stage.  

As a group of riders stands at the start of the stage discussing the absence of Stage 2 downhill legend Wyn Masters drops in and cleans the first section easily before disappearing into the stage.  Inspired by such a display the next rider starts. Not more than a bike length after the timing box, he hits a rock square on, sending him flying over the bars. Though up on his feet and off riding again, this rider’s display has sown some seeds of doubt with the onlookers and the next handful of riders opt to walk through this first section. With a ‘what’s the worst that can happen attitude’ (which was obviously, crash over the bars) I dropped into the stage, carefully clearing the first section and with the confidence bolstered by this, I picked up the pace into the rest of the stage. When Grinduro was dreamt up as an event it was always meant to find the absolute limits of a gravel bike and this stage definitely aimed to do that.  Finding myself in one piece at the end felt like a win.

Stage 2. Found it! Somewhat confusingly placed after Stage 3, this was the fast downhill stage, or at least it eventually was, as after a full-gas start, the trail started to climb and instant regret set in regarding the initial pace. After the short climbing interlude concluded the descending started and it was fast double track, rough in parts but careful line choice allowed a lot of speed to be carried.  

Stage 4 finish

Three stages down in the morning loop and we were back to the event village for a well-deserved lunch. A key component of every Grinduro is the catering and large portions were served to fuel the afternoon’s loop. By the time lunch had been served, we had covered over 50km of the planned 100km loop, but had also completely well over 1700m of climbing, indicating (hopefully) that the afternoon would be a touch easier.

What comes after Stage 2? Stage 4 of course 🙂 The up and down stage. It was long into the day’s riding, but everything left in the legs needed to be left here, hoping that the riding after the timed stage would allow for an easier return back to the finish. The long drag at the start was then met by a fork in the trail and a misread on my Wahoo put me down the wrong trail for a moment. Quickly rectified, I was soon back on track and the Up part of this stage was giving way to the down – another healthy serving of rough gravel double track. Nearing the end of the stage, I dropped my chain but not wanting to waste time stopping it was time to tuck and carry as much speed as possible. Stage 4 done. My dropped chain had turned into a snapped chain, but was quickly remedied with a spare link and I was back off again.

More sublime trails were ridden to complete that afternoon’s loop and then it was time to enjoy another meal as part of the event’s ‘all-inclusive’ offering. While we were eating, the added drama of a brutal rain storm rolled in, which luckily had had the foresight to ensure the riding portion of the day was done before it arrived.  As quickly as it started the rain ended, allowing the riders plenty of opportunity to enjoy the live music and DJs of the now legendary Grinduro Stage 5 … the party! Oh, and for the faster riders, the podium placings.

Another Grinduro in the books. Another location on the map. Already looking forward to next year!  

Fantastic images courtesy of @Erwin Sikkens

Next on Grinduro’s global merry-go-round is Italy. The event is being held in Massa Marittima, Tuscany over the last weekend in September. You can find all the details here