Big Ride – Cannondale Spanish Open Enduro RD1, Ojen, Andalucia 6-7 April 2013
Words: Aidan Bishop
Photos: Barbara Sztyk
After racing a round of the Big Ride – Cannondale Enduro series in Spain last year and liking it a lot I have planned to do more this season. This year it is the official Open Enduro series in Spain, backed by it National Cycling Federation, and so should see it step up another level. With the UK’s springtime still more than resembling winter, a trip to race in Spain was an even more attractive weekend ahead. Flying out on the Thursday evening, we had the Friday to get our bearings, check out the town and ride a little on the hillside……unfortunately the weather was damp to say the least on the Friday, but the temperature was in double figures so it didn’t seem so bad!? The opening round was held in the town of Ojen in the southern Spanish region of Andalucia, with lemon and olive trees, white buildings and narrow streets it was as picturesque as you could imagine.
A couple more Brits made it out for the race too, which was good, so Friday we met up with Joe Rafferty and Mark Scott (Pro Ride Guides) for breakfast, a catch up and some riding. They are friends with the guys at Roost DH, a MTB holiday company down near Malaga which host DH riders from all over for good riding and good times. Chatting with the guys it turns out Mark has done some work for the guys there and so knows the trails in the surrounding hills pretty well, this would come in handy for the day as we’d have a world cup level DH rider show us some of the terrain. So myself, Joe, Mark, a local Ojen biker and Spanish elite endure rider Ruben set of into the hills for some riding. As it turned out we rode what was to be the 5th and final stage for the race, a trail that had been used by national teams for DH training this year already as well as the Atherton’s, so when I try to explain the technical nature of it you’ll understand a little and hopefully the video will give you an idea too.
Saturday morning and we awoke to a perfect blue sky, exactly what I had hoped for! The event was looking slick and professional as always, with good signage everywhere and the town fully embracing the event. The centre of town was dominated by the Cannondale starting stage which would be the centre stage for the weekend, I really like the way this involves the local town with the race and adding to the whole atmosphere, it’s a shame the UK doesn’t have so many well placed towns at the base of a quality hill.
Saturday was for practice, riders being seeded from previous results and so no qualifying is needed. 5 timed stages with varying transition time allowances, the timings for the race added up to 4hrs riding and racing time.
Setting off from town at 8:30am, I was first to go followed by Joe, Mark then Tony Perez last year’s Spanish open enduro champion. A 20 min climb mainly on the road and we’re at stage 1, flowing singletrack to begin before an awkward rocky stream crossing and pedal followed by narrow lane down then climb before firing you into the final section of steep loose rocky trail to finish just above town, sub 4mins was a good effort.
Then a monster transition! 1hr time allowance for this full on road climb (which would be amazing on a road bike) to offroad trail leading you to stage 2 start line. Normally you wouldn’t set out on your 150mm trail bike up a road climb to get to your riding trails, but I think this is part of the attraction of Enduro racing where the route dictates you are out pedalling your bike for hours all the while chatting with friends and fellow racers, fortunately with the weather the views and the gentle gradient it was a pleasurable ascent (but this is where many would appreciate a double front ring set up?). The stage itself was 3mins long, the trail snaking down a fire break with some man-made jumps and berms to start then a rocky chute before climbing back out and up the other side, keep on the pedals before a few more good corners and then finish your legs off to the line.
Hit the Powerade feed station (a godsend!) before Stage 3. Started with a fire road sprint before dropping in right into a nice cut out trail with berms, dusty turns and some fun natural whoops that you could roll, manual or jump through to the spectators delight! A rocky doubletrack pedal was broken up by some long bus stops before a high speed loamy couple of turns to the finish, under 4 mins was good, then refresh again before setting off to the next stage.
A new twist this year at the Big Ride was that stage 4 was kept secret until race day! Another epic road transition, so switch my Jekyll down to short travel, saddle up and spin up the mountainside and take in the views. Once at the top there was time to walk the first few corners and get a feel for what may lay ahead. At over 5 mins it was mostly put your head down and turn the pedals as fast as you could hold, in between there were some turns I nearly missed and some nice singletrack sections, before dropping down some natural drops to the finish…knackered!
A short pedal to the top of stage 5 and it was party time!! A whopper of a stage, this is the trail that is used by many for DH training. For this race it turned out to be over 8mins start to finish, the trail itself was fantastic, winding its way down the hillside through natural gulleys with open and switchback turns. What made it technical was the amount of rocks embedded in it the trail, this meant you had to react quick to the line you were on if you didn’t know every inch of trail, so sometimes it was hang onto the bike and ride them sometimes finding a take off point and clear the pointy ones to lessen the risk of puncturing. After 4 mins of this the trail flattened a bit and followed a dried stream bed where you had to try and maintain rolling speed which was tricky due to tiredness from hanging on and plenty more extremely rocky sections. Successfully out of this it was through a long dark tunnel before joining a section of stage 1 along flowing trail before the last little rocky pedal to the line….and breath!!! Honestly of DH World Cup level terrain it was an amazing trail for different reasons, you said your prayers at the start and hoped you and you enduro bike made it to the bottom in one piece, these bikes really are incredibly versatile to handle everything thrown at them.
To the race then. Stage 1 and Spain’s Tony Perez was fastest here with Mark Scott and Myself in hot pursuit. Stage 2 I hurt myself to break the 3min marker and win the stage with Joe Rafferty close behind and Tony in third. Stage 3 Tony just pipped Joe for the win here with Andres Fernandez in third. Stage 4 Joe killed it and led the way on the fresh track to be fastest ahead of Tony and Mark Scott. Stage 5 and young Mark Scott knew what he had to do and went full gas here to win by a full ten seconds (with a crash!) from Tony Perez with Spanish elite rider Santiago Lombo in third. So after the first 3 stages done it was looking to be a close contest between Myself, Joe, Mark and Tony with all of us having a clean day. Stage 4 I had a tumble which cost me valuable seconds meaning I lost touch with the other three. Stage 5 was the decider for the overall result, I rode most of it smoothly and didn’t puncture but with 30-40 seconds of the track left my chain snapped leaving me to roll as fast as I could and the last little section I opted to run as I couldn’t pedal and managed to trip and fall for good measure! Joe had issues and subsequently lost valuable time to Mark who was charging hard and dropped it on one tight sandy switchback but still went sub 8mins for the stage and overtook Joe on doing so and in the overall standings. But it was the rally driving Spanish orthodontist Tony Perez that was strong and consistent all day who took the well deserved win. For the women the talented multi-discipline racer Eva Castro was four mins ahead of Nicola Weaver, with Natalia Gonzalez in third after over 34mins of time racing.
I was really looking forward to riding and racing out in Spain and it lived up to every expectation. Guti, Monica and the whole Big Ride team put on a great event, the town was busy and friendly as was all the new friends and riders I met there. With the sun the 30euro entry fee and if you can find cheap flights to then I would highly recommend anyone go and enjoy a race out there, I am now looking forward to the second round in Tui in June.
Full results can be found at www.bigridechamionship.com, along with media and future race info.
Big thanks to Cannondale, Mavic, Crank Brothers, GoPro, MRP, RRP, Maxxis for their support.