The Bike Magic dream team, Matt Page and Melanie Alexander, took one final blow in the form of a mechanical and a subsequent injury, but they held their heads high and kept trucking to the end, finishing in a brilliant 3rd place in the mixed category of the 2013 Andalucia Bike Race.
Here's a round-up of the final stage and Matt's thoughts on the event, Mel's own version coming tomorrow and a full story from the race coming from Matt later in the week.
ANDALUCIA BIKE RACE STAGE 6
Words: Matt Page
The cancelation of stage 5 was certainly the right decision given the conditions but it make the day a bit strange. We were both a little unsure of what to do and apart from a 1hr spin on the roads around our accommodation it ended up being a pretty lazy day. After several days of hard effort the final day would go one of two ways, either we would be well rested and go well or the tiredness would build up and make the legs sluggish. With just a 34 second gap over 3rd place everything would be decided on the final stage. The continuing poor weather conditions meant the stage was altered to 51km with 1400m climbing and it would be a mass start, not a time trial as planned. It was still going to a fair height, reaching 1200m of altitude, so we would certainly be riding above the snow line.
Waiting on the start line we were a little unsure what was ahead of us, we didn't know where we were going and what type of tracks the route was going on, but we were both hoping for a wide but gradual climb followed by a technical singletrack descent as that’s where we felt stronger compared to the Blue Motors Ponts team in 3rd.
There was no neutralised start so when the whistle went it was flat out straight away. I moved up through the field quickly, but Mel was having problems with some Spanish riders blocking her path so we didn't end up gaining any ground. Heart rates were flat out for the first 10 minutes and the tracks were all wide, but with so many people there were still hold-ups. We eventually got through them OK. The Blue Motors team were just ahead and we managed to tag on to them quite early on. The female in the team was on her own and working hard taking the wind so we sat on her wheel for a minute or so before she realised and started to slow the pace. When this happened Mel made the move and sprinted off, getting a gap instantly. I held off for another 30 seconds or so then made the jump and joined Mel. I pushed as hard as possible on the front, which was a long, very gradual uphill track working right on my limits. It worked though as, although the Blue Motors team had regrouped and were in a small group, we had the gap we needed.
After about 10km the course started to climb more, I eased off and Mel carried up at her pace allowing me to recover. Speeds were right down, so drafting wasn't as important. As the climb went up it became more technical, reaching a forested section, which undulated for a while. It was muddy but you would swear by watching some of the riders that it was like ice, as they were falling off left, right and centre. Being used to the mud we made the most of it, increasing our gap all the way up the long climb. I was looking back and guessed we had a minute or more lead. After 25km it turned steeper, more technical and even muddier meaning that we had to walk at times. The snow line was just over 1000m and there were a few long sections that I had to push. I only have little legs so struggled here whereas Mel seemed to leap up, gaining several places. Reaching the top I struggled to get by some people who wouldn't move over then was unable to clip in due to the ball of mud and snow on my feet: cue lots of shouting from the riders behind who I had eventually got past! My feet were like blocks of ice by this point, very little feeling in them whereas Mel was struggling with her hands more. It was certainly really cold, much colder than down in the valley.
When I finally got going I came across Mel stranded on the side saying, “my back wheel won't turn". OK, don't panic. I changed gear, thinking the chain was jammed but no. Then I could hear a metal sound, which I thought was a broken spoke but they were all fine too. Then I spotted the rear rotor was unattached and flapping about. Somehow all the bolts had come out and there was nothing to hold it on. I made a snap decision, removed the rear wheel, took the disc out and said, “You only have a front brake, you will be fine, GO!". With no knowledge of what the downhill was like I hoped it would be OK. In hindsight I could perhaps have removed 2-3 bolts from the front rotor and used them in the back, but that didn't even cross my mind at the time and would have taken several minutes to do.
At first the track wasn't too steep and Mel was going great. I was using just my front brake as well, to try and gauge what was possible and what wasn't to try and help her along. There were a few wobbly moments, but overall it was fine until one steep section where she was unable to slow down enough and had to ditch the bike. Obviously hurt she kept going, shouting at me to keep the pace up, which I did. A little further down I noticed that she wasn't following and after waiting a few minutes saw the Blue Motors team ride past (and crash immediately!) Soon after I was told Mel was stuck and she came by saying the wheel had fallen out. I tightened it up and we headed down again, but by now the people who were chasing us had a good gap and the terrain started to get more technical, losing us more time. Eventually it eased and turned to dirt road and we were able to push a better pace, with the final 12km being the same as we rode out. It was fast, gradual downhill. We put everything into it, but were not able to close the gap and crossed the line a few minutes back on the Blue Motors team, which put us to 3rd overall.
Reflecting after the final stage
It was a frustrating day, the mechanical problems almost certainly cost us 2nd place as the descent would have been perfect for us otherwise. Soon after finishing Mel realised that she had cut her leg and it wasn't looking too great, so a trip to the medic and then the hospital to get it stitched up wasn't the perfect end to the race. Despite this, we still achieved a podium in one of the most prestigious stage races there is and that’s exactly what our goal was, so we can hold our heads high and say we achieved that. It was a privilege to represent Bike Magic and also a massive thank you to Pivot for loaning a Pivot Mach 429 for the event. It proved to be superb and is without doubt the best bike I've ever ridden, being supremely confident both uphill and downhill and drawing attention throughout. I'll be very sorry to hand it back!
Despite the weather issues and our own dilemmas during the race, Andalucia Bike Race remains one of my favourite events. The scenery is fantastic and the riding is incredible, especially compared to the majority of other stage races, which tend to steer clear of technical riding. Maybe that is why it’s so popular with British riders and will no doubt continue to grow as the great singletrack and terrain favours us well. Hopefully next year the weather will be back to being warm and dry!
Congratualtions to Sally Bigham on winning the Elite Female category with her race partner Milena Landtwing. Also Richard Rothwell and Anthony White, winners of the Masters 40+ category. Strong performances throughout the week by both pairs despite them both having rollercoaster races much like our own.