Big Ride – Cannondale Spanish Enduro Series Round 4 Manzaneda Bike Park 7-8 September 2013
Words: Aidan Bishop
Photos: 365 photos
Last weekend saw the fourth and final round of the 2013 Big Ride – Cannondale Enduro series. This final round would be a little different however as this race was a mass start ‘avalanche’ format that would still count towards the overall series. The location was Manzaneda Bike Park in the northeast region of Spain, and I was looking forward to some lift assisted mass start riding and racing again.
The course started at the top of the ski resort of Manzaneda and ended 14 km down the mountain in the village below. Friday afternoon and Saturday morning was time for practice, with buses and trucks bringing all the riders back to the top Saturday lunchtime if they chose to ride down the avalanche course fully. In order to seed the 250 or so riders for Sunday’s main race, rather than qualifying races on the avalanche course a two-stage enduro was run with these two run times combined to give you an overall result, these times would also count towards Sunday’s race result. So it was the chairlift to get you to the start of stage 1, which used one of the bike park trails, followed by a pedal back to the top of stage 2 on another bike park trail. More like DH trails, they were both very fun to ride and much more natural in terrain than you normally see from a bike park trail, with fast, flowing and naturally rutted (almost bermed) turns leading into open pedally sections and plenty of flowing technical singletrack with roots and some big rocks to ride over or around.
The course for Sunday’s avalanche race started with two tight, grassy corners (to string out the field straight away) then fast open track, which guided you into what was stage 1’s trail. As you approached the lift station you pedalled past the resort and onto woodland trail, which started out as double-track followed by a pretty long section of singletrack, tricky due to being littered with rocks to navigate through. It then got out into the open with a fireroad pedal including a small rise and onto more fireroad that was a mix of pedalling and fast, rocky descending. This was broken up with further rocky singletrack, a couple of steep and dusty chutes and some grassy turns with some high-speed natural rollers and drops along it. The trail then turned across a small storm canal and turn right for the last pedal/sprint towards finishing under a natural stone archway in the village, the whole thing taking between 20-30 mins depending on how your race went.
On Friday afternoon I arrived and got up to study stage 1, I didn’t want to tire myself out and so just sectioned the trail and really got to learn it like I used to learn DH courses. Saturday morning and it was time to practice both stages ready for the qualifying later on. Having learnt stage 1 well and getting familiar with stage 2, we then carried on down the mountain to try and learn the avalanche course. One run done and most of it you could take in with a few places that needed remembering come race time. A coach ride back up and some time to kill or squeeze in a bit more practice on the qualifying stages before race time.
Come race time and the clouds rolled in and made it a grey setting but no rain, so conditions were dry. Stage 1 I rode well, attacking corners and finding the limits of the grip there and enjoying it. A solid, clean run and I posted the fastest time in 2 mins 16 secs, result! I set off with plenty of time to get back to the top so I could take it easy and save as much energy as I could. Stage 2 and I started off a little messy and had to settle down a touch, otherwise a clean run again and this time posting the third fastest time on a 2 mins 17 secs, but the lead I got from the first stage meant I was fastest in seeding and was top seed for Sunday’s race; job done and I was happy with that.
Sunday morning and the sun was out, if it stayed like this it would be perfect conditions for the race. A 10:30am start for the first race and everyone was getting called and lined up from 10. With about 10 metres before a 90 degree right hand corner I lined up close to the inside with enough room for a good line into it. The countdown began for the start, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, avalanchers! I didn’t start well and had to be careful not to touch bikes or bump into anyone, then on the second corner too many guys went for the inside line together and some went down, luckily I saw it getting messy and went wide and around any trouble coming out in about seventh place. I pedalled hard and made spaces back and slotted into second place by the time we hit the singletrack, a little recovery time following Tony Perez (the overall series leader) here before the trail opened out for a bit and I made the pass on him. I then led down through the resort and following woodland singletrack onto the first and biggest fireroad pedalling section. Here Ruben Rodriguez pedalled past and shook hands with me as I was taking on water, he’s a good friend I’ve made at these races this year and a fast rider. I didn’t look back to see who was where and stuck with Ruben at the front of the race, I followed for a short while until I took back the lead again.
Here Ruben Rodriguez pedalled past and shook hands with me as I was taking on water
Going too tight on a corner with some loose rocks made me go down, damn it! I quickly got up and we had opened a gap so no more riders passed me but I had lost ground to Ruben. I tried hard to get back on his wheel as quickly as I could but it took a while before I lined up to sprint past before arriving into the village and the finish line, getting so close I buzzed tyres with Ruben but it wasn’t wide enough to overtake cleanly and so he crossed the line first with me right behind him. Congratulating each other on a good race and battle we completed the course in 19 mins 5 secs, then the winner of last year’s race here Joseba Leon came through in third place together with Tony Perez both 15 secs back on us.
A break to get everyone back to the resort and time to fix bikes, eat, etc. and then everyone started to get the chairlift to the top for the second race at 1:45pm. The nerves build and the countdown begins again, this time a cleaner start for me but still coming out of the first corners in about seventh place so a big effort to pass as many as I could before the trail narrowed and got technical. This time last year’s winner Joseba Leon and his team mate were out front and pushing hard so I just squeezed past Tony Perez so I could keep on their wheels. The same first wide section of trail and I passed one of them and set about tracking down the leader Joseba, who was opening a small gap. I caught up to him and started to think of the overall race, I had a 15 sec lead on him and so only had to keep him within that distance of me to win, but I couldn’t afford to crash, mechanical or flat otherwise it would have been game over.
We came past the resort together and he was pushing very hard, hucking to flat a bank I would normally slow up to roll down! Thankfully my Cannondale took the pounding and kept on going. Racing here previously showed as I followed some neat little lines he had along the following singletrack. We soon hit the fireroad section and I put my head down and pedalled past him, I didn’t ever look back and concentrated on keeping a steady, sustainable effort.
I didn’t ever look back and concentrated on keeping a steady, sustainable effort
Fairly soon Joseba passed me back, head down, tucked and pushing the biggest gear he could. I kept on his back wheel and we must have passed each other about four times in this way, making for great racing. I still had no idea how close anyone was behind me, I just concentrated on riding safe and keeping the win in sight. Soon enough we sprinted along the storm canal and once it turned onto tarmac the finish was close so I again put my head down and pedalled past and regained the lead. The final bend before the finish arch and suddenly Joseba surprised me by squeezing through a gap on my right side and he won the second race by a wheel’s length! He punched the air with joy but knowing I had the overall win in the bag was more satisfying than that single race win alone, I had nailed it and put in two solid race runs with no big mishaps or punctures, I was stoked! We had both gone faster too and completed the course in 18 mins 42 secs, Joseba’s team mate Jose Diaz came through in third with Ruben in fourth both 20 secs back. This meant I finished first with Joseba second, getting enough time back to put Ruben into third.
In the women’s it was Judith Viana in first, Alicia Delgado second and my very own Barbara Sztyk in third, who decided to have a go at racing despite being a relative newcomer to the sport and had a great time doing so (big thanks to Cannondale Spain for the loan of a bike for the weekend).
A really nice touch was at the finish of the race. The large podium stage was set up in the courtyard of the village library and the bar opposite had laid on a large buffet table with food and drink on it for everyone so it turned to be a real good party atmosphere while everything was worked out for the podiums, and the beer was cheap so I definitely took advantage of that, which made for some fun podiums.
With the series finished next the points had to be worked out for that also, due to a puncture at the previous round I didn’t score any points and all rounds counted. Going into this final round in third overall with my win here I had managed to bag second place across all categories, finishing Tony Perez, myself and Eduardo cuesta in that order. I had also managed to place first in the Elite category for the year too, so a satisfying finish to a good year’s racing at a very good race series out in Spain.
Big thanks to Cannondale, Mavic, CrankBrothers, RRP, Evoc, MRP, GoPro for their support this season and to Guti, Monica, Andres, Ignacio, Israel and Javier for making the racing out there so much fun.