Words: Mark Spratt
This was the first of three stages starting on the university campus in Cordoba, the race having moved here from Jaen via Andujar. Once again I was looking forward to the riding from Mel’s account of last year’s race, and it did not disappoint.
The logistics of getting to Andujar for stage 3 and then on to Cordoba meant that Tuesday was a long day – up at 5:30 and bed around midnight. Mel, Grant, Matt, and I were all pretty tired by the end of the day, but the luxury of our apartment in the centre of Cordoba was a good reward and we all slept well in preparation for today’s stage.
Thanks to our third positions on days two and three, Mel and I today moved up to pen two, starting closer to the mixed pairs ahead of us. As we rolled out of the University Campus we again moved forward well. Early on we hit some singletrack that was an indicator of what was to come later; tight and twisty through trees with rocks jutting out of the sandy soil. Grip was excellent and surrounded by fast riders we were able to take much of it at speed.
Of all the mountain bike stage races I’ve done the Andalucia Bike Race so far ranks highest for the quality of the trails. Of course there are sections of wide dirt roads, but much of the climbing and descending is on technical terrain. I’ve really enjoyed the challenge of clearing the steep rocky climbs, almost entering trials mode at times. I certainly have no memory of tedious fireroad climbs, and good bike skills are needed throughout each stage. One thing I do remember from today are the many river crossings, and I’ve made a note to myself to bring a second pair of shoes in the future to avoid starting with wet ones. The RRP NeoGuards we have fitted to our forks today worked well, keeping spray out of our faces as the trails were still muddy in places from the recent rains.
Mel and I had decided that we’d ride our own race today and not worry about positions. Early on I could see the second-placed team slightly ahead of us but didn’t know whether we were sitting in third on the stage or further down. Day four is usually a tough day as the legs start to complain. While we didn’t have a great burst of speed today we were able to keep up a good pace and fell in with the day’s leading female pair, both of whom were incredibly skilled riders.
Mel and I had opted for the Tech Box option whereby the race organisers would place a box of whatever drink, food, clothing, spares, and tools we chose at the second of each day’s three feed zones. Mel and I have then been able to pass straight through the first and third feed zones, simply swapping out our bottles at the second. On today’s stage the third feed zone came at 50km, and again we passed straight through. However, immediately afterwards Mel lost her only full bottle on a rocky descent, leaving us 20km on my one 500ml. Fortunately for us this last 20km was mostly singletrack and taking a bottle was the last thing on our minds. The final few kilometres passed quickly on gravel tracks and after 73kkm we crossed the finish line, once again in third position.
We’ve closed the gap on the third-placed pair and now lie eight minutes adrift, with two days remaining. Our luck seems to be improving and we hope to make up most of the eight minutes on the 82km stage 5.