In May, the first Rapha Gentlemen’s Race in Continental Europe was staged from their new base in Munich, exploring the rolling Bavarian foothills and less-beaten tracks extending south into the Alps. After the positive feedback from the first few of these private, unsanctioned events worldwide, Rapha seems to be trying to host more of this popular style race wherever they have a presence.
As I’ve been testing Festka’s carbon Zero road bike, they asked me along to join their crew on the adventure in Munich. We drove down from Prague the day before the race and picked up a camper trailer on the way that would become our service course for the next 48 hours.
Read on past the break to see more pics of the ride and to hear more how the bike and others fared…
The Gentlemen’s Race format is simple and definitely draws a lot of interest: invited groups of six riders complete a team time trial over more than 160km/100mi of mixed surface roads, with anything from asphalt and cobbles, to dirt and gravel roads, and even singletrack. The two key gentlemanly aspects are that the roads and trails are open to other users so caution and consideration is required, plus the complete team must finish together, which leads to lots of helping out the slower riders.
Eighteen teams from all over Europe were invited, including teams from Amsterdam, Prague, and across Germany. Since it is a private, invite-only event it doesn’t get announced much in advance and kind of requires a bit of knowing the right people, which is a bit frustrating. It’d be great if fun races like this were accessible to anyone. But after the invites were handed out there was extra space, so Rapha opened it up on their Facebook page for the last couple of team spots.
The location was an ideal opportunity to experience some of the picturesque scenery and rolling hills of Bavaria, backing up to some real mountains of the Alps. And with seemingly endless kilometers of dirt and gravel roads in the region, it was the well thought out execution of the Rapha locals to stitch together a 180km ride that led you through sandy riverside singletrack, seemingly endless gravel roads between farm fields, killer dirt road descents, straight across a grassy field or two, and even a 5km switchbacked mountain climb with a snaking descent down the other side.
The morning of the race arrived with perfect weather for a long day in the saddle. 15-20 degrees Celsius and mostly sunny meant that our Festka team could push pretty hard without suffering for the heat. And push we did. With two ex-pros who’ve been out of competition for several years (including one of the owners of Festka and current UCI athlete’s hour world record holder Ondřej Sosenka), it was clear the racing knowledge was there. From the gun we pushed a pace that I being the least fit of the group struggled to hold on by the end of the first hour. But the consummate experts surrounding me, even years into amateur status, encouraged me in every way possible, sheltered me from the wind in the worst places, and gave me more than a couple of well-needed friendly shoves to get me back up on the wheel ahead to close my gap.
At the heart of the Rapha rides is an exploration of the road, or rather the track less-taken. And while our team won the distinction of the most flats at the end of the day (three tubes and two tubulars), the Festka Zero I’ve been testing performed flawlessly with no mechanicals or flats, while setup with in-house wheel brand Rocket Wheels’ 20mm deep carbon tubular wheels shod in 25mm Tufo Elite Ride tubular tires.
Having been known to take any bike that rolls and stops on true mountain bike trails, I was very curious both to see how the Zero could handle such punishing terrain and to see how I felt after riding it. I wasn’t too surprised to see that the bike was up to the task. After years of progress, carbon production durability has come a long way, and the brains behind Festka definitely are prioritizing durability and ride quality versus a race to the bottom of the lightest frame possible.
I was a bit more pleasantly surprised at how fresh my body felt after spending 6.5 hours, at least a third of that off road, on a bike that very much has the fast and stiff feel of an elite road race bike. Surely running tubulars at <80psi on shallow rims lent some give, but even with the oversized carbon tubes of the Zero, Festka manages to build a bike with true all day comfort.
Not to be discounted is the social nature of the Gentlemen’s Race, which lent a welcoming nature from start to finish. Even though it was essentially a team time trial, there was always time for chatting with either those catching up or being caught. And a couple of times when our team would have a flat, it was no problem for me being the slowest of our group to roll ahead for a while with the next easy group to chat and rest before my crew were underway once more.
It was definitely a crash course in teamwork and high intensity group riding. Our group was comprised of a few who rode together casually, but none had raced together, and we had to quickly build a dynamic to sit on each other’s wheels to move fast, descend together, and pick-off other teams at every chance. We were certainly a very competitive team, as well, but hampered by a rash of flats, on the mostly carbon Zero and two XCr bikes . Most of the guys rarely took their bikes off road, so we could all have benefited with a bit of team gravel grinding ahead of time.
Of note also racing were the Berlin based guys from 8bar bikes testing the new Kronprinz road bike we previewed a couple of months back, and who produced the entertaining, if not slightly crazy, AlpCross fixie video as well. They were quite happy with the comfort of their custom butted aluminum frames over the course of the day, but were singled out at the end of the day for something else.
They won the Lantern Rouge prize for being the last to finish, but more importantly was the hardman camaraderie that led to that finish. 80 km in (and 100 to go!) one of their teammates had already twisted a link in their chain, repaired that, then destroyed a three-ride-old Ultegra derailleur on the shortened chain. By the time they arrived at the day’s mountain climb the bike had been converted to a singlespeed, but even that wouldn’t last. Before they had gotten up the climb, the extra chain tension and overall stress killed the free hub leaving the the other five guys on the team to literally push the unfortunate rider over the top of the mountain. Having made it over the top of the highest pass their aptly named Berlin Grupetto team decided to stick it out, even refusing a ride from the organizer’s broom wagon, to ride another 90+km pushing their teammate the entire way through headwinds, steep forest climbs, really rough gravel roads, and rolling roads.
Capping off the friendly nature of the event, post-race beer garden prizes were generous not only for the fastest team who each won a Rapha jersey and the next team across the finish line who won the 18 cases of beer that each team chipped in. The Lantern Rouge guys won a set of red caps to remember their troubles, but not only that the organizers promised to send them a new derailleur and freehub to get the stricken rider going again. And our flat-prone team, we apparently earned a set of Continental Gator Skin tires and a pair of fresh tubes in hopes that we’ll have at least two less flats next time.
And with that, we the 108 riders who all finished, ended a great day on the bike by ravenously eating all the freshly grilled meats and veggies and recovery beers on tap at our start/finish hosts of the historic Kuger Alm beer garden just south of Munich, Germany.
More photos can be found over at instagram.com where racers were hash tagging #rgr, and a write up with some great pictures can be found over at Rapha’s stories blog. Also for those interested the route can be viewed and downloaded over at Ride with GPS.