Melanie Alexander and husband Mark Spratt are out in Spain racing in the Andalucia Bike Race – a multi-day stage race across some of the south of Spain’s toughest terrain. Mel has written a kit check, and below you will find Mark’s write-up from the first day of racing. Stay tuned for day-by-day updates from the race.
Kit and Bike Preparation for 6 days of racing
Words: Mel Alexander
Doing well in a stage race is a combination of a few things: fitness, consistency, preparation and looking after yourself and your kit throughout the duration of the race. Nutrition, clothing choice, and kit preparation will all impact on the race so here is an idea of what we will be using for the six days of racing in Andalucia.
Temperatures in Andalucia this time of year are around 15 degrees at the hottest time of the day. Last year, on the days we raced from Cordoba I was fine racing in shorts and short-sleeved jersey. Leg, knee, and arm warmers, warm gloves, over shoes, Gilet and waterproof/wind breaker jacket were often needed on the mountainous days from Jaen as the temperatures dropped a lot higher up the mountain and at times it got very cold in race kit especially on the long descents. Obviously there is a chance of snow again up in the mountains so on these days it is essential to take clothes for the changing temperatures.
We will be covering 400 km and 10,800 metres of climbing in six days. The distance per day will range between 56 to 83 km, so we could be looking at 3 to 4.5 hours of riding a day, roughly building up to 20 + hours for the week. Nutrition is therefore important to get right before, during, and after the race. I will be fuelling my race with Torq energy gels and energy drink, which work great for me. I aim to have a gel within the first hour and then every 40 – 45 minutes after. I will also start with two bottles filled with Torq energy drink and at the midway feed zone we will swap the bottles with two new bottles of Torq. This should cover most the stage.
Straight after each stage I will have my favourite Strawberries and Cream recovery drink and a bit of food – those that participate know about the 20 min window after exercise and I find recovery drink easy to digest. I don’t often eat bars during a race but I do like to have one for just before the race if it has been a long gap since breakfast, or to keep me going between meals. 30 gels, 1 litre of energy drink, recovery drink, and 12 bars should be enough to cover my race.
With Easy Jet raising the bike weight limit to 32KG it is now possible to take a lot of tools, which are not perhaps necessary but could be very handy in time of need. We will be using The Lezyne Port-a-Shop which has a great range of allen keys, torx keys, chain tool, puncture repair kit, and tyre levers all kept tidy together in their case. We will also be taking bleed kit, shock pump, track pump, digital pressure gauge, fibre grip, tubeless repair kit, torque key, bottom bracket/ rotor removal tool, and cassette socket/chain whip – these are to make sure Mark can maintain the bikes and sort out any issues that might occur in the evening.
The SRAM bus will be at the race offering bike servicing and will have a good stock of components for sale, which should cover the most needed parts. We will be taking the following slightly worn spares: cassette, chain, chain rings and a spare tyre each. Also, new brake pads, cables, and mech hanger.
Bike set up
I am racing on my Scott Scale 900 RC, with SRAM components and Syncros carbon wheels. The bike is light and fast. The drive chain is in very good condition and has been well set up by Mark for the race, which should limit the need for the spares. I have chosen to run Schwalbe Racing Ralph snakeskins as I feel they are fast and will give plenty of grip over the terrain but that it is also worth having more protection on the side walls that the snake skin tyres gives for the very rocky terrain.
Although riding in Andalucia will tend to be a lot drier and less muddy than it is in the UK in February, the trails (if anything like last year) will not be bone dry, so I will once again be using RRP Neoguard to keep a lot of muck out my eyes.
Food (off the bike)
We have chosen to stay in self catering for a couple of reasons – other than being the cheapest option, the main attraction is having control over what we eat and when we eat. We have booked accommodation with Matt Thompson and Grant Leavy (Team Urban Cyclery/Jif), and have accommodation in Martos – a 30 min drive from Juan – for the first five days, and then in Cordoba for the final part of our trip. There are a few foods worth taking like muesli and porridge oats; these we could not find in the shops last year and as breakfast is a huge part of race performance it is good to have something you know works and can be enjoyed.
We will keep you updated on our progress on Bike Magic and through twitter, follow me on @Mel_XC
Andalucia Bike Race – Day 1
Words: Mark Spratt
We arrived in Martos on Thursday afternoon and spent the day settling in to the house we’re renting. The following morning we headed out on our bikes for a 90 minute spin on the road to loosen the legs. Another quick spin the following day and all seemed good but back at the house my rear brake was seized, cue trip to a bike shop in Jaen to buy a new brake. Falling victim to i-spec updates my i-spec A shifter wouldn’t fit the i-spec B brake. Solution: i-spec C – zip-ties and a new mounting system I suspect Shimano won’t be picking up any time soon.
Sunday morning and we were up at 6:30 and on our way to Jaen by 8am. We dropped our tech boxes containing spare bottles and tools and prepared for the start.
Grant and Matt, racing in the Elite Men category, were lined up in the first pen but Melanie and I were in the last pen with the other mixed pairs – in fact we were almost at the very back due to our high start number. With a long road section to start there was an opportunity to make up some spaces and by the time we turned off road we’d moved some way forward and were both riding strong, passing many riders that had started far forward of us.
At the start of the first main climb a downshift brought that horrible crunching sound of chain overshooting the cassette. I told Mel to carry on but freeing the chain took an age and I was passed by many of the teams we’d fought to get past. By the top of the climb I’d rejoined Mel and we were back on terms with those we’d been around at the bottom, but not as far forward as we could have been. As we entered singletrack we were to pay a second time as we were now held up by the sheer numbers ahead of us. This was unfortunate as the way Mel is riding right now we could have flown through this section.
The singletrack itself was fantastic – really tight in places, sweeping through olive groves and between trees. At other times we were traversing at speed with a drop to our right, sweeping around the contours of the mountain. The trails were completely dry and we rode in bright sunshine under totally blue skies. This was the riding Mel had told me about last year and was part of my reason for wanting to take part.
We both continued to ride well and to pass other riders, but on crossing the finish line our fears were confirmed – we’d finished 6th in category, almost certainly losing a podium opportunity to a mechanical and down on our expectations. Still, there was a point on the Saturday whilst in i-spec hell that I thought I might be riding with no front shifter. The climbs today made me glad that wasn’t so – we’d have been some way further back if I had.
So tomorrow we’re looking forward to a starting position well ahead of today’s. We expect our competition to be a pen ahead of us and the leaders will be in the front group – a huge advantage which may be unassailable for us, but we’re both determined to move upward in the standings and get the result we’ve both been working towards.
And best of all, thanks to Anthony Jordan I now have a compatible i-spec shifter and have ditched the zip-ties. Tomorrow’s gonna be a good day!