Rift Iceland 2021

Rift Iceland 2021

The Rift Iceland gravel race has fascinated me since it was first announced. I’ve only been to Iceland once, during a short layover on the way to France for Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015. I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of the landscape – everything seemed vast and inhospitable, yet also magnificent and beautiful.

The Rift goes for 200 km (125 miles) over an incredibly challenging course. Not only is it extremely hilly and rough, but there are many water crossings, too! With Iceland’s location at the half-way point between Europe and North America, the Rift draws an international field of racers from both continents, plus many locals who have the advantage of being used to the Iceland’s very particular landscape and riding conditions.

This year, those conditions were especially challenging, with cold rain and wind making the landscape (and the water crossings) even more inhospitable.

Holly Mathews won the women’s race against some of the world’s strongest gravel racers. She had been in second place for most of the race, but she fought back on the last kilometers to finish 54 seconds ahead of Sarah Sturm.

Holly ran a road-oriented double SRAM drivetrain on her 3T Exploro. For tires, she chose the Rene Herse 700C x 42 mm Hurricane Ridge Endurance. (I say ‘chose’ because we only found out that she was running Rene Herse tires when we saw the photos from the race.)

After her big ride, Holly (above with Travis Lechner) reported:

“Your tires are incredible and made the difference out there! In all the rain and with water spewing, I lost a contact lens early in the race (and I’m quite blind). So my depth perception was lacking, to say the least. Especially on the steep sections, that left me making less selective line choices and more just bombing down through the volcanic rocks, hoping that it would work out. It did – these tires are bomb-proof!”

Sarah Swallow came second in the 4000-km (2500-mile) Tour Divide just three weeks ago, so everybody was surprised to see her at the start in Iceland. But those who know Sarah may not have been surprised after all… She rode to a very strong sixth place on a day that was not without challenges.

Sarah ran a typical gravel One-by drivetrain on her Specialized Diverge, and she opted for 700C x 48 mm Oracle Ridge Extralight tires. Sarah reported:

“The Rift was such a cool route and challenge in the conditions. It truly felt otherworldly. The tires held up really well and made all the rough terrain that much smoother. I was a little nervous with the Extralights and all the sharp volcanic rock, but had zero problems.”

Thank you to both Holly and Sarah for being such inspirations! Some day, I hope to ride (or race) in Iceland myself.

Photo credits: Sarah Swallow (Photos 1, 8), Rift Iceland (all others).

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