ANDALUCIA BIKE RACE STAGE 1
Words: Matt Page
After a slightly “exciting” time at Bristol Airport, somehow putting my passport back into the hold luggage without realising and having a tiny panic, I’m now in Andalucia for the 2013 Andalucia Bike Race along with my race partner Melanie Alexander and we’ve just finished the first day of racing.
Thankfully EasyJet customer service were ace, letting me through the boarding gate and onto the runway where they had pulled my bag out of the hold for me to collect my passport. It could have been really bad, had they not let me and my bag gone I wouldn’t have been able to get another flight which would have been race over before the start! This would also be the first ride on a bike borrowed for the race, a Pivot 429 Carbon. It would be nice to be back on 29er wheels, my last ride on one would have been the Crocodile Trophy way back in October.
We arrived in Cordoba on Friday afternoon and managed a short ride, checking out the brilliant final descent then another ride on Saturday with Gareth Montgomerie and Dave Henderson from GT Racing we were feeling good, but a little nervous.
This is the first time racing as a mixed (male/female) pair and although I know Mel well, I’ve never raced with her so the entire process will all be a little unknown. The weather had not been kind in the days leading up to the event, dumping a fair amount of water and a Spanish rider I know commented that it would be his muddiest ride of the year! Compared to back home it was no worse than a typical summers day.
Muddy yes, but not in the slightest bit hard to ride. The bike proved to be suitably impressive on everything I rode in practice. It was most impressive on anything technical, either up or down and felt unstoppable. Downhills were taken at speeds that I wouldn’t have dreamed of on previous bikes and it left me grinning from ear to ear!Time to race – day one
Race day dawned and we made the start line in good time. Most other people seemed to be dressed in hundreds of layers where as I was in shorts and jersey. The sun was shining, it was about 5 degrees and it felt great! We were both a little nervous about the ensuing chaos that is the race start in Cordoba and I had perhaps talked a bit too much about it to Mel, hopefully not scaring her too much. We were in pen 7, the very last pen. With over 600 riders ahead of us it was going to be an interesting start. The only good point was all mixed teams were in the same pen, including Annika Langvad and Thomas Bonne who were just behind us and most definitely the strongest team. Annika was the 2011 World Marathon Champion and is a full time pro racer.
As the race started they showed their class straight away, zipping through the field and disappearing within 100 meters. I was trying to be cautious through the start, which was a sight words simply cannot describe. Chaos, stampede, carnage and madness are some apt words. We were funnelled down narrow, people filled streets with bollards and street furniture all around. It was a guided tour of Cordoba by bike, except with riders within inches of each other screaming, shouting and to the sound of brakes screeching and tyres skidding. I managed to keep Mel in sight the whole time through the so called “neutralised start”, getting split up would have been costly so it wasn’t until the road eventually opened up and we started a tarmac climb that we could settle into a pace.
The first 3-4km were thankfully tarmac, giving riders a chance to spread out and we were making good progress, cutting through the field and riding around people with low numbers compared to our plate of 393. As the route turned off road we kept pushing through, passing wherever the opportunity arose until the inevitable bottleneck where we had to stop and walk. Back on the bikes for a bit and up a technical section where the crowds had gathered, it was amazing to pass through, people lining the track and cheering us on… well they were mostly cheering Mel on! After that we were stuck behind some rather slow descenders for a while with no chance to pass, then thrown into what can only be described as a ravine, complete with river. It might have been rideable in some way, but there were too many people ahead of us walking. At the bottom we made good progress again and got into a fast bunch for a flat section along a storm drain. We were both on the limits, but knew it would be beneficial to stick in the bunch. It was pretty wet in places with water splashing up from the riders in front and some seemed a little scared of getting wet, but considering we had just walked down through a river I had no idea why!
After 30km came the big climb of the day, knowing exactly where we were the first stages were taken at a steady pace, Mel was going really strong and we tried to stick to a elite female pair riding with us as well as lots of Male pairs, including several Elite teams. The longer the climb went on (and it was a pretty long climb!) the better we did. Eventually reaching the top we had passed the female pair and both felt good. The next 20km was all rolling terrain, some steep sections up and down with no real chance to recover fully. Some of the teams around us were struggling, so it was really encouraging that we were both feeling good. Because of the terrain there wasn’t really anywhere to gain a big advantage by drafting, there was only the occasional short tarmac section of fireroad. There were people in small crowds on the peak of anything relatively high and also on anything technical, up or down and Mel was getting big cheers the whole time. Through the 3rd feed station we made our only stop, a quick bottle refill and judging by the reaction I guessed we were doing OK.
After a tortuous section that seemed to go on for ages, going uphill steeply in stages we hit what I knew was the start of the long final descent. The first section on singletrack through the trees, a little muddy but still loads of grip and brilliant to ride. After crossing a road and then a brief few hundred meters of tarmac it was into the very last bit, which I remember well from last year. Several kilometres long and super rocky. I got a little bit carried away, letting go and letting the bike do the work. The Pivot showed its class on the descent, passing several people and taking all sorts of interesting lines. The course then went down a steep descent that was new for the race and I followed James Porter from Team Juice Lubes who showed his skills making it look very easy. At the bottom I knew we were close, so I tried to encourage Mel to push on, although she started to have a bit of cramp, so we eased up and spun up the final section and into the race finish to cross the line.
After crossing the line we didn’t know how we had done but I was really happy with how we rode and was sure we had done well. It was great to see Ant White and Rich Rothwell stepping onto the podium as the leading Male 40+ team, way to go! They only invite the leading team, which in our category was unsurprisingly Annika Langvad and Thomas Bonne.
We didn’t hang around the finish too long, just enough time to refuel with Torq recovery drinks and we then made our way back to our accommodation. Checking the results soon after we realised that we were in 3rd position within the category, just 2 minutes behind 2nd place!
The next stage
The leaders look untouchable, with Annika being the fastest woman outright. Sally Bigham and Melena Landtwing finishing as the leading Womens Elite team less than 10 minutes ahead of us. That makes Mel the 5th fastest woman so far, which is really encouraging. It sets us up well for the rest of the week, both feeling pretty good afterwards and both confident that we can push on to try and gain 2nd spot.
Tomorrow is again raced from Cordoba, but on different tracks (except the final descent which remains). If its similar to last year then we can expect more challenging and technical terrain and hopefully the disused railway which was rather fun!
More about Melanie Alexander.
More about Matt Page.