ANDALUCIA BIKE RACE STAGE 4
Words: Matt Page
Today was supposed to be the “Queen Stage”, as in being the hardest of the event, but yesterday evening we heard it had been shortened and had less climbing (a mere 2600m!) due to snow on higher ground.
The stage start and finish locations would remain the same however, which made logistics a bit complicated. Because the start/finish towns were away from the official hotel and was a linear route it meant that last night I had to take our bikes to Jaen, which for us was a 20-minute drive. They were being transported overnight to the start, while we had an early 6am wake up call to get to Jaen for 7.30am to take a bus. I didn’t really see the logic in all this, but there was no point in complaining about it.
We arrived at the start town at 8.30am, a full 90 minutes before the race was due to kick off. It was 3 degrees, blowing a gale and I was in shorts [Editor’s note: classic Brit abroad]! Not nice. We took refuge in the first cafe we found along with many others and at 1€ for a “cafe con leche” it was a decent place to hang about. We stayed in there until 9:20 and then headed to the start line. Layering up was essential to stay warm, but we both knew that when racing we would be warm…but what about at 1400m where we were going? It was a tough call; we both played it safe, wearing more layers than usual.
The start was OK but not great for us. Down a steep road other riders were pushing through, which was a little intimidating. Then there was the option of either a river crossing, which would obviously be cold but push us up 30 places, or a queue for the bridge. We took the bridge! It was too early and too cold to get wet feet today. Soon after we hit a steep and loose climb on which there were effectively two lines where cars had been up, outside of that you were walking. I was doing fine until someone nudged me off line and I lost traction. Mel was able to hold her ground and keep riding and thankfully not too long after I caught back up to her.
At the early stage we were riding with the Ridleys team in fourth place but we could see the Blue Motors Points team, who were third and 50sec behind us in the provisional placing. Slowly but surely we caught them up over many, many kilometres of climbing with the occasional fast descent thrown in. Mel commented that they must have forgotten to include singletrack today, which seemed quite apt after the previous three days of riding.
From 35km mark we got to the Blue Motors Points team and were riding just ahead of them. I could see that their male rider was pushing the female quite a bit, which isn’t against the rules. Mel was strong enough to ride under her own steam though (as was I!), so we kept it like that.
From 1100m altitude and up there was quite a bit of snow, which made line choice crucial. We had three descents/climbs from 1400m to 1100m and back up, on each one the team behind kept right on our wheels. I controlled the pace; Mel sat behind then the other mixed pair right behind us. I didn’t want to let them get away on the descents, so felt it best to stay in front. I was feeling pretty good and happy to take what wind there was and control things.
After 50km we re-joined a track that was in last year’s race, we were in a small group of about 8 and I called to Mel to get in front as there was a long descent coming up. She did just that, narrowly avoiding a pile up behind and we were leading into the first singletrack of the day, with the next team still right on our wheels. They were slightly quicker downhill, but as it was so narrow there was nowhere for them to get by. It was an amazing descent; this year I could enjoy it a little more. Last year trying to hold on to Milton Ramos’ wheel was a nerve-wracking experience! It was probably the best descent of the week so far, going on and on with just one horrible fire-road climb in between sections. From the bottom I knew it was one long climb and a short descent to the finish.
I kept the pace steady on the early part, as it steepened and zigzagged a bit on a gravelly road then pushed it towards the top, the team behind stuck with us the whole time but were working hard to do so. I was hoping the final descent was going to be technical singletrack, but it was a wide gravel road. Leading the way, trying to be careful but fast the pair behind snuck past and were able to get a slight gap. The gravel road took us right into the finish town of Mancha Real where we had just a short downhill road section to the finish.
At the finish
We ended up third mixed cat on the day, 20 seconds behind the Blue Motors Points team, which leaves us in second and just 30 seconds gap to them overall. With 2 stages left to go it’s going to be extremely close, we are going to have to pull out an advantage on the climbs and hope to hold them off on the descents. It might be to our advantage that there is rain forecast tomorrow. Being used to riding in mud it might help even things out.
No rest for the wicked…
The logistics of today’s stage didn’t end at the finish. We had 2 choices, either to take the bus transfer back to the start, which would have been fairly quick but our bikes would travel on a lorry that would not arrive until evening. That would mean lots of driving and late night cleaning of bikes. A massive hassle that I wanted to avoid after the previous 2 days.
The other option: ride the 18km from Mancha Real to Jaen. That is what we did and luckily it was downhill pretty much all the way, although the majority of it was a slightly iffy dual carriageway that I wasn’t sure if we could ride or not! It worked out though and we were back in our accommodation, bikes cleaned, showered and ready to chill out by 5pm. Today’s logistics headache was something we could have done without and one that really affects those not staying in the very expensive official hotels. Hopefully the organisers will revert back to last year’s stage plan in future.
Tomorrow is now probably the “queen stage”. 75km and 2800m climbing with a poor weather forecast. Last minute update! Whilst writing this I’ve heard the stage has been shortened again because of the weather forecast. It will now be 64km with 1500m climbing. Hopefully the singletrack planned will remain. At it’s easy for travelling and we can have an early night and an extra hour in bed as a result!
More about Melanie Alexander.
More about Matt Page.
Today’s stage news from the organisation:
Thomas Litscher and Ondrej Cink got a new stage victory today, but Lakata-Mennen, third today, keep leadership. In females, Bigham and Landtwing are still dominating, while Spanish Marga Fullana and Sandra Santanyes had to retire.
Hard fourth stage in Andalucía Bike Race 2013. The entrance into Jaen’s province welcomed all the participants with really cold weather, that made participants to fight strongly to finish the stage. Thomas Litscher and Ondrej Cink, young Multivan Merida members, couldn´t believe their victory, according to their own comments, because they “suffered a lot during the day”.
Even though, yesterday´s time loss made them stay third overall, a classification leaded by Alban Lakata and Robert Mennen, who were third today.
Second position in stage was for German Centurion Vaude, Jochen Kass and Markus Kaufman who, thanks to their regularity, are second also in overall.
Spanish representation was leaded once again by Juan Pedro Trujillo and Fran Pérez who, even if they started pushing hard, they finally went behind.
Sally Bigham and Milena Landtwing are still making history in female category of Andalucía Bike Race. They were first ones on finish line today again, and this confirms their absolute leadership and their record of victory stages in this event since its creation back in 2011. They have won all the stages every year, except from 5th stage of 2012′s edition (the equivalent to tomorrow’s one).
Spanish Sandra Santanyes and Marga Fullana, who were second overall until today, had to retire today because of Marga’s gear derailleur, which broke.
Then Norwegian Borghild Lovset and Heidi Rosasen, second today ahead Spanish Nuria Picas and Anna Villar
Despite Marga’s retirement and being out of the race, Santanyes crossed the stage’s finish line.
Annika-Langvad and Thomas Bonne confirmed again their power in Mixed, with a new stage win.
In Master 30, today’s victory was for Vicente Pla and Javier Cherro, who got leadership over Tomas Misser and Pablo Egeda for some seconds. This tight result predicts an intese fight in this category during the two stages already remaining.
In Master 40, winners today Francesc Sabiote and Manuel Gonzalo.
Tomorrow’s stage, fifth in Andalucía Bike Race 2013, will have 63 kilometers and will be held entirely in Jaen, with both start and finish line in Hotel HO Ciudad de Jaén.