Words: Melanie Alexander
What a difference a day can make! Stage one we were riding in 20 degrees, finishing with rosy faces from the heat of the sun and the trails were very dry and dusty. Stage two was the complete opposite, with really tough conditions; rain all day and so much mud and at points it was thick like clay weighing us down. Despite all the rain and the tough conditions I still thoroughly enjoyed the challenge. We got to race on some more awesome single track.
Stage 2 started and finished in Jaen again, was 59km and 1900 metres of climbing in distance and consisted mainly of two big climbs and of course a lot of descents. The first climb of the day being the highest at 1361 metres, as we traversed along and up at the top there was snow on the ground, thankfully it was no way as cold as last year but still cold. The first main descent was fire road then followed by brilliant single track that was slippery from all the mud. The second climb was tougher and claggy and I felt I was going backwards at this point, but then out of the mud we were going well again and at 44km it was mainly descending all the way to the end.
Due to not having had a great start to the stage race the previous day, our gridding position was further back than we had hoped, meaning we still had a lot of riders to get past to be competitive with other mixed teams we felt we could compete with. It got a bit frustrating to be held up on the singletrack, not just because our competition was further up the field but also because I wanted to get a chance to enjoy the great trails!
With no mechanicals and continually pushing all day we worked our way forward and were chuffed to find we crossed the line third in the mixed category and moved up to fourth in General classifications. It was a really tough 4 hours 17 mins of racing, but still plenty of enjoyment had.
Today we were up at 5.30 to pack, as we were leaving our accommodation in the quaint town of Martos and would be moving on to Cordoba after the race for the rest of our stay. From Martos we drove 50 minutes to Andujar where stage 3 was to be held. It was a very pleasant drive with stunning views of olive trees over rolling hills. Andujar was a new stage venue for Andalucia Bike Race, and certainly did not disappoint. For me this was the most enjoyable stage so far.
The stage was 10k longer than the previous two days at 71km, with 1664 metres of climbing.
The route started off with more rolling terrain for 20k, which was followed by a 500 metre climb, more up and down before a long descent, one final big climb and an absolutely amazing long descent to finish the stage with.
Mark and I had a brilliant start, working our way up the field and with no early singletrack this was easier to achieve. We worked our way into second on the stage in the mixed category and we were going well. Then I had a ridiculous crash in a muddy puddle, landing on my head and feeling a bit of a fool and slicing my knee again (not needing stitches this year). It took a bit of time to get going again as I picked up my glasses, and had to re-align my shifters and brake and put chain back on, but luckily we still sat in second.
We continued to go well, but at the half way mark one of Mark’s spokes broke, a couple more minutes were lost as he tied it out of the way. At this point the team that are sat in second overall (Transalp winners from 2013) caught us and we rode together for a bit, but a few clumsy mistakes, difficulty with shifting due to a broken barrel adjuster from my crash, and a stop to retighten my rear wheel and we were separated.
The final climb was steep; only 2km long, but raised 350 metres. Once at the top we had the most amazing 5km rocky descent then a bit more rolling to the end. We had to stop one more time on the final descent this time to tighten Mark’s shifter, which was barely hanging on. Despite our misfortune this is definitely the best day of trails and racing so far. I felt more part of the race, and we never got held up as we were riding around riders of similar ability and strength. Despite all our issues we managed to finish third today (just) and keep fourth in the General Classification.
Tomorrow’s stage four starts and finishes in Cordoba.