With the number of events exploding on the UK gravel scene, we took in the third edition of Gritfest in Mid Wales and ponder on why this might just be the best of them all.
So, what even is Gritfest?
Gritfest is a two day, enduro-style gravel stage race hosted in Cilycwm, a village in Carmarthenshire to the north of Llandovery, with routes stretching into the Cambrian Mountains of Mid Wales.
The event has been put together by prolific rider and racer Matt Page and his team at A Cycling, who you may also know from popular events including Battle on the Beach and Cross Mountain. Price-wise, you’re looking at a ticket of £110, which includes Friday and Saturday night camping, a fully-signed route for two days, electronic chip timing, water resupply points (and ace cake in non-covid times) and a finisher’s tee.
A gravel endur-what?
Mountain bikers may be familiar with the term enduro, but for those who find themselves scratching their heads at the term, it’s essentially a race comprised of selected timed segments. In the case of Gritfest in 2021, this meant three timed stages on the Saturday and three timed stages on the Sunday, too.
Riders are divided into eight categories, Open for ages 16 to 39, Veteran for 40-49, Grand Veteran for 50-59 and Super Veteran for 60+, with separate categories for men and women.
The incredible gravel track around Llyn Brianne often features in the Gritfest route
Therefore, you can take in the routes with your friends or new pals at a social pace before testing yourself on the timed segments, and waiting for the others (or have them wait for you) to catch up. A pretty awesome format, if you ask me.
Timing is all done using ‘dibbers’ – an electronic system that registers when you enter and exit a segment via a gadget on your wrist.
More than just riding or racing
Putting the ‘fest’ into Gritfest, once the riding is done there’s a lot more to be savoured off the bike, too. It’s clear that Matt has made a concerted effort to involve local businesses here too, which is a major plus if you ask me.
In previous years, the local pub have hosted a bar inside one of the farm barns, right next to the field where you can camp. A mix of tents, vans and motorhomes bring real old school MTB racing weekend vibes.
Then there’s the food options; from delicious beef, lamb and pork roasts from nearby Nixon Farm to pasta and pizza dishes, plus great coffee and cakes, there’s plenty to choose from for all meals of the day, or of course you can bring your own.
Then there’s the entertainment; local bands and the famed tug-of-war competition… just trust me on this one, you don’t want to be lined up against the fearsome team of the caterers – those Welsh boyos and lasses really now how to pull! In addition to that, there’s also usually daytime activities for all the family back at the campsite, perfect for if you want to leave your husband to entertain the kids while you go off racing..!
I do hope the full suite of campsite laughs will be back on the menu from 2022 onwards, but I have to say that the attention (not to mention determination) that Matt and the team have put into making the 2021 event go ahead within Covid guidance has been nothing short of superb.
Really the best?
I’ve enjoyed all three editions of Gritfest, which probably tells you all you need to know: this is just an event that I keep coming back to. Sure, it may be billed as a race, but in reality, there’s so much more here for everyone.
The setting has to be a huge part of that. As anyone who’s ridden this area – on or off-road – will be able to tell you, it’s simply out of this world. Even the road segments on this year’s edition blew me away; contouring mountain-size slivers of tarmac with far-reaching views so you could be sure there was no oncoming traffic as you railed corners and made the most of the natural undulations.
I think most of all it’s the vibe that makes it so special. Everyone is so friendly, and of course while there is a real competitive element at the sharp end, the enduro format works so well to keep it sociable.
I have to admit I was a bit gutted not to have Matt’s mum’s cakes at the feed stations this year (Covid-safe, totally agree and understand), but that was another great place to chat and get to know people. In fact, I’ve made some really long-lasting friendships through meeting people at Gritfest. Isn’t that what attending events like these is all about?
So whether you’re a racer or party-pacer, looking for new gravel roads or new pals, I don’t think you can go wrong with a June weekend at Gritfest. The one thing you’ll have to race for though is tickets, as this one does sell out fast due to its banging reputation.
Last modified: 2nd July 2021