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“It’s about time that I got on my bike”: Chris Boardman joins 1,600 cyclists in taking on Dirty Reiver

The former Olympian might be a bit dulled out with his day job, so what better way to take a break than taking on 200km of gravel?

Olympic champion, Tour de France veteran, Active Travel Commissioner, and gravel biking aficionado, Chris Boardman is set to take on 200km of gruelling gravel at one of Europe’s biggest off road cycling events, the Dirty Reiver.

The Dirty Reiver challenge, being staged by Forestry England and Focal Events, is currently taking place in Kielder Forest in Northumberland. More than 1,600 cyclists set off at 7:30AM today to tackle a single lap of up to 200 kilometres through the 63,000 hectare (647sq km) forest.

> When took on the Dirty Reiver 200 

Alex MacLennan, from Forestry England which manages Kielder, said: “It's not for the faint hearted.” He said it was “a fair old slog on the pedal, up hill, and these guys are doing 200km of forest road in one lap”.

And amidst those riders will be Boardman, who recently posted a video on social media, updating about him participating and secretly training for the competition (Boardman taking notes from Evenepoel?).

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“I spent so much time the last few years looking at active travel and getting people to ride around on bikes for transport, sat in offices with councillors and people who design routes, well, it’s about time I got on my bike. So I’ve been quietly been getting ready to go and ride the Dirty Reiver” said Boardman in the video.

dirty reiver ed mason 1.JPG
The Dirty Reiver

But why would he, who excelled in his long and famed career in time trials and set records at several velodromes, choose the brutal gravel to come out of his sabbatical? Well listeners of our podcast will know that although now Boardman doesn't get as much time to ride as "he’s too busy getting others on a bike", whenever he does get on one, it’s always a gravel bike (which one? Boardman, duh).

> Podcast: Chris Boardman "doesn't care about going fast now", only rides a gravel bike and has finally become a Zwift convert

Last year, Boardman came on our podcast and told us that he “doesn’t care about going fast now”, adding that he loves the flexibility gravel bikes provide on his two-hour rides around the Wirral peninsula.

Speaking to BBC recently, he also said: “Having ridden a bike personally, professionally and for fitness for more than 50 years, it's truly wonderful that it's still possible to keep discovering new ways to use this marvellous machine.

“Gravel meets my needs perfectly - no traffic and a bit of personal challenge all wrapped in spectacular surroundings.”

If Boardman’s getting a little bored with the brown draperies of council offices and all the red tape of bureaucracy, the Kielder, which is the largest man-made woodland in England at 250 square miles and is three-quarters covered by trees, will surely be a nice change of pace.

Neil Atkinson, from Focal Events which organised the race, said that cyclists taking part wanted to enjoy both the challenge and the scenery.

“What makes Kielder so special is that it is so remote, it is so stunning and one of the most unique places in England to be able to come and ride a bike,” he said. “I don't think there is a 200km loop, one single loop, elsewhere in England that you can get all on gravel roads.”

Will Boardman rise to the challenge? We’ll find out soon, but meanwhile we can only hope that he’s still paying as much attention to detail in preparation and training as his golden years. Our own tech writer Suvi is also taking on the Reiver, so check back for galleries and podcast content from her ride soon!

Adwitiya joined in 2023 as a news writer after graduating with a masters in journalism from Cardiff University. His dissertation focused on active travel, which soon threw him into the deep end of covering everything related to the two-wheeled tool, and now cycling is as big a part of his life as guitars and football. He has previously covered local and national politics for Voice Wales, and also likes to writes about science, tech and the environment, if he can find the time. Living right next to the Taff trail in the Welsh capital, you can find him trying to tackle the brutal climbs in the valleys.

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Miller | 12 months ago

I rode this yesterday. It came out as 195km and 3700m of elevation. Fantastic event, minging weather. It rained all morning so not so much dirty as filthy 😉.

ChuckSneed | 12 months ago

Good to see him still riding without the helmet! Stick to your guns Chris!

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