The 2023 British Gravel Championships will take place this weekend at the King's Cup Gravel Festival in King's Forest, Suffolk. The start list for the third edition is a who's who of not just the best gravel bike riders, but British cycling in general, and includes Ineos Grenadier and all-new gravel master Connor Swift, who won the first edition of the Gralloch in Scotland earlier this year. Last year's winners Jacob Vaughan and Danni Shrosbree are back to defend their titles and Vaughan lines up alongside another gravel convert, Alex Dowsett, and the British National cyclocross champion, Cameron Mason, to name but a few.
The senior championship events are 76.5km long and run over five laps of a completely off-road loop that is 15.3km in length. The women's event starts at 8:30am local time, while the men's race sets off at 12:30pm. In the race guide, the organizers describe the loop which starts and finishes at Wideham Farm as "fast and furious Strade Bianche type sterrato in Suffolk – but without Chianti and the pasta might not be as good". The route features narrow and technical sections amongst the wide open gravel roads, with a fairly modest 440m of elevation gain, which should make for some rapid gravel racing.
Last year, it was Danni Shrosbree and Jacob Vaughan who took out the titles. In the women's race a group of five went out early, and when mountain biker Tiffany Keep attacked she took Shrosbree with her. Keep, from South Africa, crossed the line first but, of course as it was a British Championships, the title went to the first British rider, which was Danni Shrosbree. It was a nine-man sprint for the title in the men's race, after a dangerous breakaway from Ribble Collective rider Michael Mottram was reigned in. Jacob Vaughan sprinted over the line to take the victory ahead of James Phillips and Ben Thomas.
As mentioned, Danni Shrosbree is back to defend her title, returning from the US where she has been racing the Life Time Grand Prix series, where she claimed fourth place in the peanut butter mud of the 2023 edition of Unbound. She'll be lining up against some new rivals for the title this year, including Amelia Mitchell who came second to Tiffany Cromwell at the UCI Gravel World Series round at the Gralloch earlier this year, and also Xan Crees. However, another Ribble Collective rider who won’t be in the line up is the globe-trotting Maddy Nutt who I chatted with about her decision not to be at the British Gravel Champs.
“As a gravel specialist, it’s a shame that the British Gravel Championships aren't reflective of other international gravel races in terms of distance or the course itself. I’ve chosen along with my team mate Michael Mottram not to race as a result and prioritize an international gravel series instead. Although I completely appreciate that it would be very difficult to put on an endurance gravel race in the UK, given restrictions and race insurance. It would be great to see a proper gravel race like the Gralloch doubling up as a national champs, which is what Sweden did with their UCI gravel race this year."
The Gralloch was also at the race where Connor Swift emerged as a gravel contender, with the road professional winning in his gravel debut. The six-time national champion in the time trial, Alex Dowsett, will also be lining up in the men's race at the British Gravel Championships alongside Cameron Mason, who has made multiple podium appearances in the Gravel World Series and, as mentioned, is the National Cyclocross title holder. Two-time Olympic gold medallist in the triathlon, Alistair Brownlee, who is on the return from ankle surgery, but fresh from victory at the Raiders Gravel event also held in Scotland.
I spoke to Cameron Mason as he prepared for the weekend and he gave me his thoughts on the race, "It’s going to be quite tactical race I think. There won’t be as much attrition over the shorter distance, so it will be racing from the front and managing the other guys. Connor Swift is of course the favourite, his level on the road translates really well to the dirt, and I think Joe Blackmore has a great combination of road and MTB form at the moment. It will be open for the first half I think and then there will be a pace change. I hope to be on the right side of it..."
The British Championships will also see the winners, if not already qualified, being able to line up in the Veneto region of Italy for the 2023 Gravel World Championships that take place on October 7th and 8th. For anyone looking for a last-minute entry, there are some races still available including the Night Race. For more information check out Kingscupgravel.com.