Peaking in February was definitely not the best idea for us but we figured this would be a perfect race for building up the pre season fitness. It is difficult not to get super competitive though, as the locals would be totally up for it.
We wanted to push hard and finish high up but there was no Vets category so we were up against the youngsters in the Masters category; this was going to be a challenge. A flotilla of Brits had similar thoughts to us and had made the journey to absorb some Andalucía sun, and dust.
This is an important international race now, judging by the 400+ riders and big names (Hermida/Bigham etc) in attendance Spanish TV covered it. There was even a flying camera thingy, straight out of a sci-fi movie.
Important Glossary of terms
Neutral start: about as neutral as a WWII resistance meeting in a small French café.
Gridding: on UCI terms…. little relevance to ability (or the prologue results for that matter). This resulted in the Neutral starts more than a little intense.
Euro descenders (1 and 2): Two main categories; (1) Skilled but with a Kamikaze approach or (2) Diabolical descending skills, usually with a triathlon / road background (often irritatingly snarling up the descents).
Prologue Carnage – (Day 1): Cordoba 34km Climbing 715m
A neutral start in our world neutral means a leisurely leg spin with the possibility of an invite for tea with the vicar. Not in the Andalucia Bike race. The prologue resembled a cross between a 400 strong un-gridded xc race, (see ‘Gridding’) and a mass start Red Bull Downtown.
Apparently, the local council would not allow a time trial style prologue, instead preferring the option of a stampeding herd thundering through narrow alley ways, down flights of stairs, charging at oncoming traffic, and generally terrifying themselves and the population of Cordoba.
We were gridded in box 7 of 8. After what seemed like an eternity of narrowly avoiding metal bollards, assorted pavement furniture, and life threatening injuries, we hit gravel in a huge bunch. We got caught in the log jam and moments later after the pack hit a single file hike-a-bike gulley. Game over. We were standing still.
Once we’d scaled the gulley and started to pull back through the field, it was apparent the fast guys had got away. Some great singletrack followed and the short stage ended with an amazing Lake District-esque fast rocky descent where we picked off a couple of euro descenders (2). Still, a disappointing 16th Masters and a big time gap had opened up already; 7minutes to 3rd in less than a 1 1/2hrhr stage.
Stage 1. (Day 2) Cordoba. 78km. Climbing. 1965m
Despite a poor finish in the prologue, we expected better gridding as, based on the prologue, we would have expected to move up in the start pen. Nope, well not much. Gate 4. 100 riders in front of us. This made the neutral start another sketchy ordeal as the faster masters had to spring forward.
Amazingly, we survived. Hurrah! And we got a cleaner start. Jumping between groups we cleared the town and this stage had no early snagging points (If only that had been the case for the prologue….). The technicality of the course was superb.
You couldn’t take your eye of the track for a moment. Especially with the euro descenders that would appear in front like a brick wall (2) or from over your shoulder like suicidal parrots (1). We picked though the field though and sprinted in for a hard fought 3rd Masters (just behind the previous days Masters winners)& around top forty overall. That’s more like it!
Stage 2 (Day 3) Cordoba. 78km. Climbing 1950m
Despite our good finish on the previous day, we were still gridded in box 4 and it was clear we wouldn’t get any higher as all Elite riders (anyone not in masters or mixed) had to be ahead because of UCI rules. (We didn’t managed to catch the UCI official to check our saddles angles to see whether they were legal, or whether our cycling shorts were providing illegal compression advantage) . So, the neutral start, resulted in us riding a extra hard to battle up the field. We got split up quite badly in a spectacular Cape Epic like cloud of dust. Eventually regrouping we pushed on strong and ended up with the now ‘usual suspects’ in our category. Quite satisfyingly we passed the new Masters leaders from yesterday who looked totally shot.
In the final run-in a couple of Master’s teams (crack euro descenders (1)) out sprinted us, so we were 5th.
Stage 3 (Day 4) Priego de Cordoba. 70km. Climbing 2082m
A change of venue today; Priego de Cordoba. The previous day’s neutral stage was slightly tamer. This lured us into a false sense of security; the neutral start was Downtown xc II. Just when the field had thinned, we were swooped straight back into town to regroup, random leg breaking metal posts and all… We got a good start though and the trails were the best of the week.
Some scratchy gorse bush hike-a-bike led to super technical descents with stunning scenery; a rocky stepped alpine style canyon with baying crowd was a highlight. This was closely followed by a relentlessly long and steep road climb. Ace!
We held 4th Masters overall. There was the outside chance of a podium here….
Stage 4 (Day 5) Jaen. 86km. Climbing 2600m
On paper, this was The Daddy. It opened with the minor detail of a steep 20 mile climb to the snow line…. Our Herculean physiques resulted in us making good ground here, but groups were forming and chasing down escapees with ease…. the trails turned down, we got swallowed up again and ensconced in packs of euro descenders (1/2).
After having focused so heavily on the intimidating opening climb, the second ‘small’ climb of the day hadn’t really registered…. It did after about fifteen minutes of Death Valley like head down horror though, with riders snaking up to the horizon as we peered upwards through sweat soaked brows. With no water left this was tough.
Anywho, after a tricky gravel descent we did some smart road work and hooked back on to a group of Masters. Perfectly positioned, we could see the town on the hill above us; this was going to be a steep road finish. Perfect! Erm… nope; the trail suddenly shut into a stretch of rubble strewn hike-a-bike singletrack. The group lined out, with us at the back. Doh! Stage over.
Still in 4th 13 minutes down on 3rd. One day to go.
Stage 5 (Final Day 6) Jaen. 60km. Climbing 2151m.
We had a mountain to climb. Literally. These guys are strong and not the folding types and were recovering very well. We tried a few of the meat based tapas delicacies to find their recovery secrets the night before.
The stage was essentially one massive punctuated 30 mile climb, followed by a 1000m cliff drop of a descent. The weather had turned. It was cold and damp. Our English endurance racer noses twitched with the scent of mechanicals, euro descenders (2) walking the drop, and a good bit of ‘proper’ weather.
It wasn’t to be; we were out climbed (the chorizo and morcilla tapas didn’t work) + the descent had been diverted; apparently they had intended a death drop but the organisers had last minute reservations. The final 12km downhill was spectacular and fun but doable for all. We trundled in, a disappointing 11th in the Masters for the day and dropped to 5th Masters for the race and 33rd overall.
Still, this was a good result. The standard was very high and we rode to the best of our ability. That’s all you can ask for.
The natural trails were absolutely incredible, the atmosphere and camaraderie on the course superb, and so was the organisation of the event. We thoroughly recommend this race. And if you think endurance / xc racing is just about fitness and not technical skill think again. Crowds were out in force and very supportive, lining the sicker uphill and downhill sections.
The event will grow as the timing in the season is good. We are expecting more categories to inserted, including a Vets category … it will be full-on though, the top two Masters teams looked even more wrinkly than us.
About half the bikes on show were 29ers . We were very happy on our 26in ultralight full suspension rigs.
We did our own thing on accommodation and transfers rather than take the stock race hotel approach. This saved money but upped the stress a bit. We would do this again though even though we had some major hire van hiccups (that’s another story).
Jose Hermida and Rudi Van Houts won overall.
A massive well done to Sally Bigham and Milena Landtwing for winning the women’s race. Respect to Matt Page and his Spanish partner Milton Javier Ramos for finishing 13th. Superb finish also from the Scottish GT riders, Dave Henderson and Gareth Montgomerie, who finished the week in 10th. Commiserations to Josh Ibbett and Ben Thomas who had to retire on day 4, with Ben’s hand injury.