The Traka – Where self-doubts vanish in dense gravel dust
At the end of Labor Day, appropriately enough, she crosses the finish line. Her face is covered in dust sticking to sweat. Blood runs down her arm, a restrained smile. True soccer fans would now shout “this is what winners look like”. Gravel biking however is a bit more reserved. But that’s what she looks like, the winner of The Traka – Marion Dziwnik.
Photos: Moritz Sauer
But let’s hop back to the beginning. The starting line of The Traka. This gravel race around the Spanish cycling capital Girona. According to Wikipedia, Girona is best known for the historic city centre, the city walls and the remains of the Roman fortress Forca Vella. But for all two-wheel enthusiasts, Girona is all about cycling. And that, excitingly, no matter in which discipline. Here you can find triathletes at training camps, legendary road bike routes, but also numerous demanding mountain bike trails. And maybe just because of this variety and mix Girona is predestined for a race like The Traka.
For me, this was the most dramatic bike race I have ever done. There were moments when I was so close to the limit that I didn’t care about placing, and moments when I thought I wouldn’t finish at all.Marion Dziwnik
360 kilometers, 5,000 meters in altitude – these are the simple yet tough key features of the two-day gravel race. And that – at least by Central European standards – very early in the season. For Marion Dziwnik, like for many others, it is the start of the season. She arrived with her teammate Thorben Haushahn from the VOTEC Endeavor Project. Both with different goals. Thorben is above all a strong crit rider. This year, however, he is focusing entirely on the UCI Gravel World Championships, which are taking place for the first time. The Traka is a form test of sorts. After a Covid infection not long ago and a long break from training, his expectations are not too high and in the worst case he’ll simply enjoy the landscape – and the vegan ice cream in Girona everyone is talking about so much. For Marion it is the start of the racing season. After furiously winning The Badlands last year, she’s no longer an underdog here. And yet the start is filled with certain self-doubts for her, even if her friends treat her as a favorite.
So here they are, both at the starting line on April 30th, with a geolocator on their bikes, their bib numbers attached and the tour data on their GPS device, and they are left to their own thoughts and their very own expectations. Marion chose the long 360 km route, Thorben the shorter 200 km route – just right for the Gravel World Cup.
The 360 km route of The Traka starts directly with two steep and snappy climbs. A good place to divide the field. On the one hand for safety reasons, but above all for reasons of experience. Gravel roads determine the track. 80% of the route are gravel, 5% trails in the national park and 15% side roads. Starting at 6am at the end of April, it’s a quiet start – nature is still asleep and at the first two climbs, the riders’ panting and rolling tires are the defining sounds in the landscape.
When I looked at my phone for the first time after about 120 km, the other two women were about 10 km and 15 km ahead of me (but it could also be that my tracker was already a bit off). “Phew, that’s bad,” I thought, “15 km is a lot. That’s almost 45 minutes with the 22 average I’m riding at the moment.” At the same time, I was so close to the limit that I couldn’t imagine riding any faster. At that moment I actually decided that from now on I’d forget the ranking and only ride for myself. I just do my best and see how far I can get.Marion Dziwnik
Basically, The Traka can be roughly separated into three parts. A good two-thirds of the climbing is covered in the first 160 kilometers. And not in one long climb like you might know it from the Alps, but in a sawtooth profile that has it all. Although the highest point of the race is still just under 500 m, the lowest point is almost at sea level – and so the first part of the race is either an uphill or downhill section. There is no real space of breathing, and you can only switch off your head on the climb.
Surprisingly, the second part is almost flat. The route goes through historic towns such as Castello d’Empuries and Pals to Cruilles. Shortly before Pals, the profile and the Costa Brava become a little hillier again. And yet there are rather short climbs and the goal is to use this part as some sort of final regeneration before the final part. Here it is more important to swim with the current.
From Cruilles, where 270 kilometers have already been covered, the route goes back into the mountains and straight into the Les Gavarres massif and thus back into the well-known demanding sawtooth profile. For those who still have eyes for the surroundings, this is one of the most exciting parts of the race. The area around Cassa de la Salva is full of Roman remains, historic churches, aqueducts and most importantly, quite an impressive cork growing area. But to be honest, after 280 km in the saddle, your eyes and your head are definitely focused on persevering.
The last 80 kilometers are still hilly, even if the climbs are not as long and demanding. It’s slowly getting dark, eating has less and less of an impact on strength and tunnel vision is becoming more and more pronounced. Marion has already been able to take the lead here, she is leading The Traka confidently, despite a fall that ripped her left forearm. Thorben has also found his rhythm. He’s enjoying his returned strength, swimming well in the top 10% and feeling reassured in his plans for the year. It’s also this onset of darkness that connects everyone even more to themselves, and brings them back into their own heads. And maybe that’s the strength of good long-distance cyclists – dealing with it, maybe controlling it and drawing energy from it.
And that’s how the last 80 kilometers pass – not in a flash, but they do. And then Marion stands at the finish line with a smile that indicates her joy about the victory, but above all the successful adventure. The finish photo alone tells stories of blood, sweat and tears – not meant to be entirely martial, but still adventurous. And now, it’s time for some sleep before everyone meets up again in Girona for ice cream the next morning – just as if nothing had happened.
Dr. Marion Dziwnik won the Badlands in 2021 and is an expert for non-stop endurance racing. She is a Science Coordinator at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. The Traka was the season opener for her, also with the Badlands firmly in her sights again in 2022. She raced with the VOTEC VRC – the all-road bike in our portfolio. The sportier setup suits her and she can compensate for the lesser comfort with her strength and experience.
Thorben Haushahn is the Berlin criteria specialist in the VOTEC Endeavor Project. In 2022 he has his sights firmly set on the UCI Gravel World Championships. That’s another reason why he was racing the VRX – the genuine gravel racer from VOTEC.
The Traka is the most famous gravel race of Klassmarks. The event agency organizes numerous running and cycling events around Girona. They are concerned about the sustainable development of the region and, above all, the further development of sustainable tourism. They focus on leaving a minimal footprint with their events.