The Andalucia Bike Race was held over 6 days (6 stages) from the 24th February in the Southern region of Spain. The format is pairs, where teammates have to remain within 2 minutes of each other at all times during the stage (although not convinced this was enforced). The overall ranking is taken on total time from the second rider in each pair crossing the line over all the stages.
We have been quietly eyeing up a pairs race for a while, because we train and live together nearly all the time, and when the Andalucia came along with a Class 1 ranking, stages that weren’t crazy long, and huge climbs in the mountains, we were in. Expecting nice weather, and marginally worried about overheating during the racing, we were horribly disappointed to fly into a cold, damp Malaga with not a stag, hen, or lads on tour group in sight. It had been raining a lot.
For the first few days we stayed in an apartment owned by your classic southern Euro – Lois, with long hair, pointy shoes, and snappy dress code. Surprisingly very helpful, even offering to carry a bike bag up two flights of stairs. Should have checked the weight tag first though. 30kg requires a punishing gym schedule. So having wrecked his back, we waved him goodbye, to see him only once when we were leaving to calm the neighbours (who were in an uproar about the use of bike cleaning products on the shared patio).
Stage 1: 67.09km, 1,639m ascent.
The first day was mental. A ridiculously long neutralised roll out, which seemed to take in the whole town, was very nervous with everybody fresh and not wanting to miss out, but not everybody used to riding in big bunches.
Eventually they dropped the flag and the pace upped on a road climb before turning right for the mountain biking to begin. Still in XCO mode we stayed up front, pointlessly overtaking on singletrack, before settling into the second group (up to 6th place). We were with some good riders, including the Brzozka brothers (JBG-2) from Poland, and were generally feeling good despite Seb’s attempts to relieve himself without dropping off the group. Who needs a slash while racing?
However disaster was about to start literally 700m, and just out of sight, from the first feed/tech zone and the beginning of the second big climb. Seb punctured. We stopped and while I reinflated with a CO2, Seb had that toilet break. A couple were filming everything so somebody has that on video. From there I admit I panicked a bit, thinking we could get back to the group before the top of the climb and went absolutely mental with the speed. This might have been the reason for my puncture a few minutes later, which again we reinflated (with our final CO2). Unfortunately this one wasn’t sealing properly and slowly flattened out again until I had no choice but to ride it rimming to the next tech zone… 10km away… mostly uphill.
By the time we reached that and swapped out the wheel, my legs were in shreds. From there Seb nursed me home at an agonising pace, until I flatted again on the final downhill. I had picked up some more CO2s with the wheel change and this time put a tube in.
By the time we rolled in we had lost a good 20 minutes, and ended up finishing within 30 secs of the other main British teams who had had an equally trying first day. Gareth Montgomerie and Dave Henderson (GT – Muc Off); punctures. Ben Thomas and Tim Dunford (Mountain Trax – Vauxhall); Tim broken shifter (rode a single speed over the climbs – strong).
Stage 2: 70.74km, 1,895m ascent.
The start and finish were in the same place as the day before so by now it was becoming familiar. After another dangerously nervy roll out the stage was de-neutralised on a flat fireroad. One rider’s over-the-bars in a deceptively deep puddle warned everyone to stay on the ‘hard pack’. Soon it was onto the first major climb which quickly caused the splits.
The first feed/tech zone near the top was followed by a fair amount of unridable climbing over large rocks and boulders, which was to be common on this stage. We found ourselves out with one other pair, before dropping them on a downhill section. They soon caught us up, with the British (Scottish) GT – Muc Off guys in tow, while we were floundering off course having mistakenly followed a lead moto around a stream only to have it get stuck in front of us.
By this point, a mere 1.5hrs in, I was already feeling the twinge in the quads which signifies a long day of staving off a major crack ahead. The rest of the day we were mostly with Gareth and Dave, along with a couple of other teams. I was pretty much gone after 2hrs. Seb was totally killing it on all the uphill and had to keep waiting to smash the downhill or pace me back on. I felt bad.
Towards the end I was swinging off the group and we dropped back. Fortunately it was a downhill run into the finish (the same descent as the day before), which allowed us to make back the minute (plus some more) on the group and come home in 16th. I’d say that our downhill skill saved us a lot of time throughout the whole day. Massive get out of jail.
Having packed up Lois’ apartment we made the commute down to Preigo de Cordoba where the next stage started. Turns out the hotel was an old monastery. It was pretty weird. There was religious music playing in the courtyard all night, no parking anywhere near, and the streets were so narrow we had to fold the wing mirrors in on the hire-van. There was a lift though.
Stage 3: 66.7km, 2,090m ascent.
Having been blocked in by various people dropping their kids at pre-school we eventually made it across town to the start/finish arena. The day’s neutralised section was very short and steep road uphill which immediately thinned the bunch down before the race had officially started. Then Wild Wolf – Trek took to the front to weed it out further.
With three pretty sweet looking climbs on the profile, we decided to pace ourselves and deliberately dropped off the front group. By the first feed we were with the Multivan – Merida duo (Hermida and Van Houts) along with a couple of other top teams and knew we had made the right call.
Once we hit the first major climb (8km, 600m ascent) I slipped back onto Seb’s wheel and we gradually rode down some of the teams ahead. The second uphill came after tech/feed 2 and kicked up steep offroad, before joining a mountain pass. The steep tempo road climb. Seb’s specialty. Again we settled in and tapped back time.
On the descent we missed an arrow and found ourselves off course wandering through a boulder field. The BMC guys had followed us as well and everyone was gesticulating but not really doing a lot to get back on track. Eventually we spotted some other riders and, despite slipping on a rock and adding another scar to my knee (running out of space now), were back in the race again. 5 minute hiatus for the day ticked off.
Final fireroad tempo climb of day (8km) I let Seb off the leash and we went for home. Big ring, middle of the block, 10% gradient. That gets the lungs going. By the top I knew we were in a good position and kept pushing on, catching the Mitsubishi team on the descent. No downhill finish today, instead an absolute wall to totally bury the body after a long day. Maybe just as well as we ditched the Mitsubishi guys on the steep and rode it solo to the line to finish 11th. Ahead of the Merida boys who got the excuses out pretty quick for the management. Stomach problems, sure whatever.
After a brief spin down it was straight to the petrol station to get at the pressure washers, and then a drive down to our next, and final, hotel of the trip. By the time we reached the Parador hotel, a castle… built in 1965… we were both starting to feel it. Only halfway through and I was curled up in the foetal position trying to recall who’s idea a stage race had been.
To be continued in Part 2.