Melanie Alexander takes us through her final stage at last week's Andalucia Bike Race. Fair play to Mel for finishing with only a front brake on the long final descent!
ANDALUCIA BIKE RACE FINAL STAGE RECAP
Words: Melanie Alexander
Going into the final stage we knew it was going to be tough but possible to hold onto the overall 2nd position, which we held from Blue Motors Ponts by 34 seconds.
We had worked out from riding closely together over the week that we were slightly stronger on some climbs, on technical singletrack we more or less matched but that they were way faster than me on the fast fire-road descents. They also had the experience of being partners in previous stage races. Really, it depended on who had recovered the best and therefore had the strongest legs.
Due to the bad weather that Jaen was receiving the route and structure to the stage had to be revised and changed a couple of times the previous day. So we turned up not quite knowing what to expect of the route.
I was nervous on the start line, how were my legs going to respond?
There was no neutralized start and we rode flat out from the get-go. I was really struggling to hold onto this instant speed and dropped back a little. Both Matt and the Blue Motor Pont team were soon out of sight. The First 16km was flattish, fast fire road and gradually I re-worked my way back up to Matt who was riding close to the Blue Motor Pont pair. We stuck behind for a fair bit until we spotted a good opportunity to attack, with myself going flat out for a minute until Matt could catch up and take the lead. We established a gap, not a huge gap but big enough to have some distance separating us for the upcoming climb, which was mainly singletrack. We were climbing the singletrack well and stretching out the gap. At the top of the climb between 26 and 28km there was a fair amount of hike-a-bike, which, with my long legs, I seem to be quite strong at.
At the top of the climb with around ninety percent descending left to the finish line at 52km, my rear wheel jammed. I couldn't work out what was causing it. Matt, who had dropped back on the hike-a-bike, caught me up and it took a little while to establish that I had lost all my rear bolts on my rear disk. Unbelievable, once the problem was diagnosed the wheel was whipped out, disk fell to ground, the wheel was put back in and Matt said, “you have no rear brake go, go, go", which I did.
We were back on the bikes and Blue Motor Pont had not caught us up. At first it was fine as we were gradually descending but it was raining and my hands quickly went cold and numb as we descended. The trail was also getting steeper. On a not-too-tricky section which had a lip then a right hand corner before steeply dropping down a muddy chute I went to feather my brake, but with the numbness and all the mud on my gloves my hand slipped off the brake lever and I picked up too much speed and went way too fast over the lip then fell off, scraping my knee on a rock. I got up quickly but my nerves had gone and I had to scramble to the bottom. I had to stop again, this time to tighten up my rear wheel and this is when Blue Motor Pont passed. It was tricky for a bit more and my head had completely gone now so I was running quite a bit. The race finished with 15km fire-road that gradually descended. I managed to get my head back together for a bit on the straight fire road but struggled when it became twisty. In hindsight we would have been best putting a few bolts on my rear rotor from my front rotor but we didn’t know how steep and slippery it was going to be and there was just not the time under race pressure.
After the race…
After the stage we had the podium presentation but my knee was throbbing and I was too worried about all the mud that had got in it to really enjoy standing on the podium. The medics sent me to hospital where my knee was cleaned and stitched up. It was a bit of a mad way to finish, as there was no chance to congratulate others.
I learnt a few things during this final stage. Mainly how important it is to make sure you tighten your bolts up enough when putting your disc rotor back on your wheels after travelling! Secondly that flapping does not help and to spend a few minutes longer fixing a problem could save you more time in the long run and definitely would make it a more enjoyable finish to the stage.
It has been an interesting week having such a close competition for the 2nd or 3rd overall spot. Stage racing is not just about being the slightly stronger riders; there is a small element of luck, consistency, good communication and a bigger element of making sure the equipment keeps running smoothly.
It has been a very enjoyable and rewarding week.