Ulrich Bartholmoes shares his epic tale of his recent ultra-distance challenge. Despite the challenges he faced, he prevailed with sheer determination and discipline. Below is Ulrich’s account of the events in his own words. What a treat for endurance addicts and gravel junkies alike! Check out the video below to get a better sense of the race.

About THE TRAKA 360

The TRAKA 360 is a 360 kilometers gravel race with over 5,000 meters of altitude difference through Catalonia in the north of Spain. The start is in Girona - a city that has developed into a true cycling mecca in recent years. The city is an incredibly active cycling community and it’s no wonder many Wordtour teams and mountain bikers come here in winter to train, not to mention being home to world-class triathletes like Jan Frodeno.

More than 200 courageous starters have ventured onto the longest route of the Traka - among them last year's winner Matti de Marchi and World Tour pro Lachlan Morton. So the foundation for a truly grueling adventure was already laid at the start line.

Race Report

The Start - The first 20 kilometers of the course were very demanding - planned to split the peloton into smaller groups. Together with the best of the best, I started very quickly and intensively - was able to keep up well with the first two nasty climbs with over 25% gradients and establish myself at the front of the race. I also mastered the technical descents better than expected. 

The Crash - But then - after 25 kilometers a mass crash. I didn't crash, but another rider crashed into my back and tore open my hydration pack - and completely soaked me in 2 liters of sticky liquid. Not exactly what you want after an hour of racing - when you know you have at least 12 more to go....

Although fortunately nothing happened to me, the incident thoroughly ruined the race for me. I had to stop to fill my hydration pack and lost time and contact with the leading group. Fighting my way through rough terrain and 7 kilometers of single trails on my own with a lot of energy I managed to catch up and overtake rider after rider from 15th place. 

Halfway Point - Nearing the halfway point I had found a group and together with 4 other riders we managed a 100 kilometer section of completely flat section of flowing fast gravel. Here it was primarily a matter of saving energy as much as possible!

Finishing Strong - On the last big climb about 80 kilometers before the finish it was clear: I have to attack here if I want to have a chance. The podium was still within reach - Mattia (the eventual winner) and Lachlan (2nd place) would decide the victory between themselves, but there was still a chance for 3rd place. 

Attacking, I managed to shake off one competitor, the other two were strong and suffering and kept coming back. Although I tried a few attacks, I couldn't get rid of them - and so after 360 kilometers it came down to a sprint finish. 

With the worst line and probably the smallest / non-existent sprint talent of myself, I ended up in 5th place overall. A huge result considering a distance that is actually still too short for my personal ultra-distance preferences.

To get an idea of which distances are actually more to my liking, here's a little documentation of my last 800 kilometer gravel adventure.

Why Kogel for Ultra-Distance Racing

Here are my TOP 3 reasons why I take ceramic bearings & oversize pulley systems to a pretty rough gravel race.

1. Heavy Usage: My bikes are in daily use and roll a lot. Usually over 30,000 kilometers a year. I put great importance to durability - and it makes a difference to me when parts last a whole season and don't have to be constantly replaced in between. Especially the tough requirements in gravel races do not make it easy for the bearings: Dust. Mud. Water. Constant hard knocks. Kogel bearings have convinced me: ceramic bearings with Cross Seals last a whole season for me!

2. Marginal Gains: How much wattage does an oversize pulley save? Honest answer? I don't know. But let's do an example calculation: Assuming the more efficient path of the chain saves 1-2 watts - that could theoretically make a difference of 100m per hour more I can cover with the same power. 100m per hour? WTF? Doesn't matter? Let's extrapolate this to a race for which I do 360km in 13 hours: That makes a difference of > 1 kilometer or at least some minutes. That's no longer nothing, even for such a distance! Means maybe I don’t need to sprint if the others are only on factory default pulleys ;)

3. The Look: Damn - it just looks freaking good, doesn't it?

Ulrich Bartholmoes is an ultra-distance cyclist and member of the Kogel Collective with many accolades such as top step on the podium at Transpyrenees, Transiberica, ThreePeaksBikeRace, 2VolcanoSprint, and GranGuanche Road to name a few. We are delighted to support his journey on his latest race, The Traka 360km

Kogel on Ulrich's bikes: 

Ard Kessels