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Racing the Rift in Iceland “The Land of Fire and Ice”

by Julian Buitrago 02 Aug 2021 0 Comments
Iceland is a volcanic island, rooted in Viking lore, adorned with breathtaking landscapes, heated by geothermal activity, capped by glaciers, spanning two continents, and home to a bike race simply known as The Rift. 
Gravel has erupted in Iceland, and in 2019 it resulted in the birth of The Rift, a 200km gravel race, along “The Rift” between the North American and Eurasian continental plates.  The race starts and finishes in the town of Hvolsvöllur, looping Mount Hekla, an active volcano, while crossing near freezing rivers, along rough and rugged volcanic gravel “F” roads.
The weather gods did not smile upon us on race day, as we were greeted with sub 50 degree temperatures, rain, and howling winds; winds that we all knew would not be in our favor for the last 100km.  The sun does not set this time of year, however on this day, it hid behind a blanket of thick clouds.
Like most gravel events, we started with a short “neutral” rollout, where I was able to establish my position at the front of the pack.  We hit the gravel about 8km in, and the pace accelerated.  I looked right at U.S. Road National Champion Lauren Stephens and said “looks like the racing has commenced”, to which she nodded in agreement.
The Rift packs most of the events vertical gain into the first 80km’s, approximately 6,000 ft worth.  It’s a rollercoaster ride that repeatedly takes you up into the clouds (literally), and back down loose, rough, rutted descents.  The climbing is highlight by “Thor’s Hammer”, a vertical face impossible to ride (yes, all of the pros walk it too), and at best, difficult to hike with a bike in tow. 
If you reviewed the course profile, you’d think that at the 80km point you are home free, and that a gently,  120km descent, all the way back to Hvolsvöllur awaits, and you’d be wrong.  The last 120km was loaded with some of the roughest gravel I have ever experienced, including a washboard section that had me cross-eyed for 30km’s.  Let’s not forget the wind and piercing rain, which did not relent.
It was a tale of two races for me, one that saw me improve my position with every pedal stroke, as I climbed to the highest point on the course, followed by a drop through the ranks as the course, and the weather took their toll.  Much like this land, I was “On Fire” early, only to be “Cold as Ice” on my push to the finish line. 
Till next year Iceland, as I have already committed to 2022 edition of The Rift…
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