Connor Swift stormed to an impressive solo victory in the first-ever running of the Gralloch gravel race held at the stunning Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway. The event organized by Red:On Events was the UK’s first ever UCI Gravel World Series race and after a tremendously successful inaugural event, it's sure to grow into one of the best gravel bike races, with Malcolm Smith from Red:On saying "they would look to bring the UCI World Gravel Championships to the area in the next few years."
The event attracted a host of top riders from across the globe with well-known names including British cyclocross champion Cameron Mason, Alex Dowsett, and included the Alfa Romeo F1 Team driver Valtteri Bottas who is the partner of the female event winner Tiffany Cromwell. I caught up pre-race with the former British road race champion and Ineos Grenadier, Connor Swift, for a behind the scenes chat and a first look at his Pinarello Grevil F gravel bike that he had just received having been built up for the event by JS Cycles in Knottingly.
Connor told me that his Pinarello Grevil F had only been built up the previous week for him and that the Gralloch would be his first-ever gravel race. "I had a little gap in the road calendar and it meant I can give gravel racing a bash, it's been a bit of a rush so I'm grateful for the guys at JS and Pinarello for pulling it all together. The bike is a weapon and Ash Finney, the mechanic, has done a great job on it. I've only ridden the Grevil twice before today, so I'm looking forward to getting out there, the course looks mega."
I asked Connor what his thoughts were on him being one of the pre-race favorites.
"It's my first go at a gravel race but I'm feeling good, just see how it goes and hopefully I don't have any mechanical issues, I've done some pretty tough races like Paris-Roubaix, and Scotland is always good for riding, I've great memories of doing a fastest known time on the West Highland Way."
Before I left Connor to get organized I asked him what the rest of the year was shaping up like.
"I've got the Tour of Norway in a few weeks first, and then see what the team decides on after that. The World Championships of course and hopefully I get selected for that, I'd love to do the Tour again (de France), Ineos team is pretty stacked so I'll have to see if that happens."
Connor had kindly agreed to let me wander off with his stunning Pinarello to shoot some pictures before I returned it and wished him good luck for the race. At the start line, I grabbed some images of him as he looked beyond chilled for the just over 110km route that lay ahead, with the majority of that off-road, and which also featured a lung-bursting 1,880m of climbing. As the race started and the field headed into the Scottish wilderness, I headed for the first gravel sector to grab some pictures and then back to the start to see the finish. As I relaxed in the Gatehouse of Fleet sunshine the live-up dates were telling the crowd that Connor was over 6 minutes clear and barring any incident it looked like he would be victorious. I grabbed my position inside the barriers and prepared to grab the shot of him crossing the finish line.
Minutes later he appeared with time to get his crossing-the-line moment pose perfected and I grabbed my shot and also other images of him as a remarkably calm and not even remotely tired-looking Connor chilled and greeted the other riders as they finished. He had won by well over six minutes and with an astonishing average speed of 34.6 km/h, which with the elevation involved was incredible.
Soon after the podiums took place with The Gralloch organizers presenting Connor and Tiffany with a massive deer antler which had to be one of the most unusual cycling trophies ever presented, although Connor did tell the gathered crowds he almost won a race where a live pig was the trophy, which would have been a slightly bigger problem to deal with than a deer's antler.
I caught up with Connor away from the crowds to find out how the race had gone for him and how the Pinarello Grivel F had ridden. “I’m pretty chuffed with that, my first ever gravel race, and on a new bike, it was great. The course was great. I probably committed to my effort a little bit too soon and I didn’t get to enjoy all of the scenery, I was going pretty deep in my effort but the route was amazing, proper gravel race, and we only touched the roads a couple of times. It was a cracking race and I enjoyed being here and pulling off the win just tops it."
“The bike was also mega, I've got a few minor changes to do, which if I'd ridden it more I'd have done for this, but for the short notice it was great, and with no mechanicals, it really helped me take the win."
Before he headed for the journey home, he posed for some shots with the massive antlers and having met his dog Tejay, the Hungarian Vizsla, I commented on how I'm sure he'd have his eyes on the prize for a chewing session. Wishing Connor all the best and planning a ride out as soon as his schedule allowed I headed on my way after a thoroughly epic day with incredible access to a top pro rider, made even better by him taking the win.
Tech specs: Connor Swift's Pinarello Grevil F
- Frame: TorayCa T700 UD Carbon
- Fork: Grevil Onda fork with Forkflap
- Crankset and Chainrings: Shimano Ultegra 50/34
- Cassette: Ultegra 11spd
- Bar/Stem: MOST Talon
- Tape: MOST
- Shifters: Shimano R785
- Seatpost: Pinarello Aero
- Saddle: Fizik 3D Printed
- Brakes: Shimano GRX 140/160 Dura-Ace rotors
- Wheels: Shimano Dura-Ace C40
- Tires: Continental Terraspeed Black Chilli tubeless