Maddy Nutt Diary - Mud, chaos and an endless challenge: The story of the Traka 360

Inside one of the toughest gravel races in Europe

This article was produced in association with Ribble and Panaracer

In the second of her three diary entries, Maddy Nutt recounts a wild, challenging and ultimately extremely rewarding experience riding the Traka 360. From chaotic feedzones, to close-call crashes and a race to beat the sunset, this is the story of 14 hours in the saddle and a top-10 finish in one of Europe’s biggest gravel events.

The first word that comes to my mind when thinking about the Traka is: hard.

Rain in Spain

I didn’t want to risk getting ill in the lead-up to the race and the rain was really significant – it wasn’t just drizzle, it was like an actual downpour. I ended up riding on Zwift one day,  which I’ve never had to do in Girona before. The level of uncertainty was impacting the preparation because there was always the potential that the race was going to get moved. I trained significantly less in that week than I was meant to, but being fresher didn’t end up necessarily being a bad thing. I'd seen some content from people who had been on some recon rides and there were deep river crossings which looked too extreme to send the masses out to race in. 

We only found out the night before that it was going to start an hour later, which was joyous news, because it meant an hour more sleep. It was initially going to be a 6am start which would mean a 3am wake-up, which is so early that your body can’t function, but 4am I can cope with. The route had been slightly shortened to 340 kilometres, but it wasn’t ridiculously different. There were a few more road sections and they had taken out the really significant river crossings where it was just mud.

The day before the race was actually quite stressful. There was so much to do. You've got the added element of downloading and working out the new course, too. One of the biggest tasks is packing all the food, packing all the drink mix and prepping bottles and hydration vests, as well as giving the soigneurs a briefing on what they need to do. You also have to charge a huge amount, there’s so many lights. I had to go to the event venue and sign on as well so it was all a little bit stressful.

Carnage, chaos and racing sunset 

On the morning of the race, I try to do absolutely no prep at all – I aim to have everything ready because I know my brain at that time in the morning is not ready to make any decisions. I just woke up and ate my rice with coconut milk, cinnamon and some brown sugar. That's my classic race day breakfast because it's really high in carbs. I think there was around 120 grams of carbs in my breakfast.

The whole race felt a lot more serious this year. I've read social media posts from others who agreed that the whole atmosphere of the race and how seriously everyone was taking it completely stepped up a notch from last year. That definitely added to the nerves – it was things like everyone had multiple people in pits supporting them. You couldn't really be that competitive without having a support crew which is pretty crazy considering only a few years ago people were just self-supporting it. The Gravel Earth Series actually has prize money in it now, so when you add money to things people get more serious. The level of competition has gone up so significantly.

I was lucky in that I got to start in the front pen. Since there were over 1000 people, I would have to be there like an hour before to get any good starting position. It started through a really muddy field which was just chaos and people were flying everywhere. You had all the people who weren't in the front starting grid who were trying to move forward, so it was carnage. Someone actually crashed into me quite dramatically on my side just because they weren't looking when they were riding. 

In the first road section, it just went off ludicrously hard. People were riding like it was a one-hour race. At that moment, I decided that it was too hard for me to try and sit with them and I thought that everyone was going to blow up, so I completely controlled my own effort. I went at my own pace and decided I was just going to work forward through the race. 

At the first feed zone, which came after about 110 kilometres of riding, I stopped to get a hydration vest and new bottles and food. I was actually way more efficient than I planned to be – it was a super fast first feed. It definitely feels quite hectic in the feed zones. You've got people who have professional soigneurs helping them. I had Amira [Mellor] who very much knew what she was doing and she was saying the right things about my position and what I needed to do. The level of how fast people are is immense, it was absolute chaos. After that, there was another 65km until a water point that was unassisted, but we didn’t have another assisted feed for 150 kilometres, it was too long. It was way too long.

The section in between those two feed zones was really tough because it was flat and it felt like it went on forever. It was so boring. When you've got hills, you've got a distraction because you're just focusing on your effort or if you're descending then you're thinking about what you're doing. This was an 80km flat section where you kind of went out and back on yourself a lot. It was mentally draining. I think that was the hardest part of the race which is so strange, because it was probably technically the easiest.

When I got to the second feed, it looked like a warzone. You could just see men all over the floor, it was just the faster guys who had blown up. I've actually got a video of a man just sitting with his helmet on eating pasta – apparently he was there for 30 minutes. I was just asking for time gaps wondering how much I had in between me and the person behind me. I left the feed and I was really hoping for someone to get in a group with, but I was alone and ended up riding on my own to the end.

I knew the course from that feed zone and I knew there was just one 9km climb which I’ve done so many times. I was also racing the sunset because I didn’t want to ride in the dark – I think that really pushed me towards the end.

A pizza and no regrets

When I made it to the finish, I just felt relief it was over. I was happy with my effort. I found out that we had a pizza reservation booked just in case I finished on time, so I was very happy I could go to that. Overall, the race was notably not as tricky as last year, which you could tell by looking at other people on the finish line – everyone was just a little bit less broken, including me. I think that was due to a lot less climbing and they cut 20 kilometres off the route, so that all made a difference.

I don't regret my pacing strategy because I think if I'd have gone harder at the start, I would have potentially been further forward but there would have been a high chance that I would have blown up and ended in a worse position anyway. It was satisfying to work forwards through the race too, rather than backwards. 

In terms of equipment too, that was perfect. I changed my gear ratio for the race to actually have fewer gears. I thought that was a bit risky because of the last climb which I had to walk sections of last year, but this year I could completely ride it, even with only a 44T at the back. I rode the new Panaracer GRAVELKING X1s and they were ideal. I think a lot of people went for wider tyres than I did but given the mud, I was so happy I went narrower because there was no point where I was worried that my wheels were going to stop moving because of a lack of clearance with mud. Also, they did have good grip in the mud and I think a lot of people were running like their classic Girona semi-slicks, but the terrain was such that you actually did need a bit of grip.

My Ribble was great too. It felt really fast. It’s good in aero situations, it's definitely a fast bike in the flat sections. It doesn't have suspension or anything like that for the descents but there was no point where I felt uncomfortable. It handles technical descents really well. I actually didn't have any back pain this year either.

In the end, going for pizza was the perfect way to end the evening. I was in an extreme rush to shower and get changed out before the booking ran out of time, but I made it to Bartali, my favourite pizza place in Girona. It was exactly what I needed after a day of eating mostly sugar. The next day, I felt really sleepy but I was able to ride still. I think I caught a bit of a cold so I dialled down my training a little bit. Riding the Traka 360 has an extreme impact on your body, but it’s an experience like no other.

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