Race-winning bikes of the British Gravel Championships from Specialized and Bianchi
Diverging approaches from the men's and women's champions saw the former prioritise comfort and the latter opt for agility
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The dust - or more accurately, sand - has now settled on the 2022 British Gravel Championships at the King’s Cup Gravel in King's Forest, Suffolk.
Tiffany Keep was first across the line in the Open Senior women’s race but, as a South African, the British title was instead claimed by Danni Shrosbree. Over in the men’s the result was simple - Jacob Vaughan saw off all the competition, winning the Open Senior and taking the British title, too.
We caught up with each of them, picking their brains for training tips and racing tactics - you can find all that right over here in our coverage of the British Gravel Champs.
But you came for the bikes - and that’s just what you’re going to get. Starting with the first person to cross the line on the day…
Winning bike of the women's King's Cup Gravel - Keep's Specialized Diverge
Tiffany Keep was clearly on imperious form, bursting out from the select front group and putting multiple bike lengths into her rivals. Her bike choice, though, somewhat belies the razor sharp racing: the Specialized Diverge - a great bike though it is - sits much further towards the bikepacking end of the ‘gravel spectrum’ than its stablemate the Specialized S-Works Crux.
The geometry of the Diverge is more relaxed to increase the control as well as boosting the comfort - with a more upright riding position and 20mm of suspension travel under the stem. Whilst the Crux follows in the tyre tracks of the Specialized Aethos with regards to its feathery weight, the Diverge leans more in favour of robustness.
Could it be that comfort makes an efficiency that’s is more important than the lightweight and more aerodynamically optimised frames that were raced? Or is it a testament to how the rider is fundamentally the most important element and the amount that talent, power and skill count for can outweigh the more marginal differences of build and spec?
Sorry if it disappoints, but you’re not going to get an answer right here. Food for thought though, the men’s race was also won on a Diverge…
Marking a sharp contrast to the bike, though, Keep chose to run Favero Assioma power meter pedals and the necessary Look Keo cleats - rather than make the switch to any two-bolt pedal system, which are more typically used for off-road events.
Although there were technical sections, with deep sand in certain parts of the course, this wasn’t a CX style loop. Ridden well, there wasn’t a need to ever unclip and dismount - with Keep confident in her skills, power data was more valuable than versatility.
Another similarity between the victors was the rubber they were running - Specialized Pathfinder Pros front and rear. With a slick centre tread opening out with ever more aggressive knobs towards the shoulders, they provided the right balance for a fast course with some looser sections and more than a handful of 90 degree bends.
Winning bike of the women's British Gravel Championships - Shrosbree's Bianchi Zolder
Quite the contrast to the more burly builds run by Keep and Vaughan, the 2022 Women’s British Gravel champ, Danni Shrosbree was riding a Bianchi Zolder - a bike with a racing pedigree that has stretched to none other than Wout Van Aert.
Although a cyclocross bike by name and nature, the capacious clearance for the filthiest of CX races means that there’s ample space for up to 40mm tyres in less extreme use cases. Making full use of the space available, Shrosbree ran Teravail’s Rutland tyres front and rear - a more markedly more aggressive choice than the Specialized Pathfinders, with taller and more widely spaced knobs.
This was balanced by reasonably high tyre pressures, with the front topped up to 35 psi and the rear holding around 37 to 38.
The wheels, though, display another case of road-fare being pressed into gravel duties, with the Fulcrum Speed 40 DB having been optimised for aerodynamics and designed with tarmac in mind. Still, despite the narrow (particularly for gravel) internal rim width of 19mm, they were unfazed by the course - and a raw carbon weave will always win bonus points for looks.
With her pedal choice Shrosbree has been rather more orthodox and elected for Shimano’s time tested SPDs. Power numbers haven’t been forgone, though, with a Stages GRX specific left crank providing single sided readings.
Winning bike of the men's British Gravel Championships - Vaughan's Specialized Diverge
Finally, we have the second Specialized Diverge to have taken the top spot of the podium - this one under the stewardship of Jacob Vaughan. A roadie through and through, this Vaughan’s first gravel bike - and he only even bought it just earlier this season.
Further evidence of a pedelication for tarmac come from his wheels, with these Hunt hoops being a road model rather than gravel - which explains why the 38mm tyres appear to bulge quite so far out over the walls of the rim.
Still, the pressures Vaughan chose to run revealed no roadie hang-ups - 30 psi front and rear was lower than that of the women’s champion. There were sections of the course that Vaughan did admit he wished he had popped a few more psi in for, but on the flipside the setup was ideal for the sandy sections, so it’s hard to say what really would have been best.
With a 2x11 Shimano GRX groupset, there wasn’t much showing in the way of roadie tweaks: no swapping in of a compact 50/34t chainset or a tighter spaced cassette. Although Vaughan did admit that he was worried the 48/31t might prove a little too small (it did turn out to be sufficient) and that the jumps between some of the gears was noticeable.
For the record, that Ultegra rear rotor doesn’t speak to a ‘performance edge’ so much as component availability.
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