Continued from Part 1.
Stage 4: 64.85km, 2,497m ascent (changed from 68.75km, 3,055m ascent because of bad weather and snow – they weren’t kidding).
The day started halfway up the mountain in Bedmar and it was freezing. Seriously, like really really cold. I have never started a mountain bike race wearing a vest , a jersey, arm warms and gilet (that was considered ‘dressing light’). And it was a downhill neutralised start just to make sure you really had the shivers going. Once we were underway though it kicked up steeply which got everyone warm, most people dropped, and once again we settled into our own pace knowing we had plenty of vertical meters to overcome.
Having climbed steadily up to the first feed/tech, the ‘proper’ uphill began as we hit another steep offroad and then settled on the tempo fireroad. In a group with Milton and Raul (I know because the names were on the back of their shorts), along with a couple of singletons (presumably their teammates had DNFed the race, but they had been allowed to continue riding solo), and Seb was complaining the pace was too slow. To be honest I was afraid of the distance and was aware of not charging too early. A couple of minutes later and I also felt it was too ‘easy’. We slipped around and began to set the tempo. The others couldn’t hang with the little man’s revs and once again we were on our own.
Pretty quickly we were well into the snow line and riding tight in the tracks made by a jeep – probably the local farmer. I imagine his sheep dog was called Ramone – which is the Spanish for Shep. For company we had one of the motos who rode ahead and then came back with warnings of where the worst ice was on the trail ahead.
Having fought our way though terrible conditions and over the next climbs we were in sight of three more teams ahead with just the final 5km climb left and a downhill road finish. Once again we rode down the Mitsubishi team, and began to close in on Hermida and co. By the top we were within 20 seconds, and despite what I thought was a tight aero tuck and sprint on the descent we crossed the line the same gap back in 8th.
Very few problems with equipment throughout (ignore day 1) – big shout to KCNC, ROTWILD Bikes, Conti Tyres, ESI Grips, Fox Forks. Wheels have already gone to Clee Cycles for a rebuild and forks to the super efficient Mojo – they’re your problem now guys.
Now we were on a role and back at the Parador feeling good about the last two days.
Stage 5: 74.22km, 2,813m ascent – cancelled due to bad weather.
The forecast was rain, and sure enough we awoke to a miserable day. The organisers had already changed the route the night before to allow for this, but on the drive to the start line it was looking suspiciously like sleet. We were actually rubbing our hands together knowing that it was turning out to be a great opportunity to tough it out for a good result.
However with 40 minutes to go time, they cancelled it – apparently the Policia were saying it was too dangerous on the roads, and that it was snowing heavily at the top of the climbs. To be fair this was proved correct the following day where the stage routes overlapped.
We still think they were a little premature, because 10 minutes later the rain stopped and it began to clear. A lot of riders, including ourselves, went out for a spin to check out some of the sections for the final day and it really was ok to ride. They’ve got soft down there in the South.
So the rest of the day was spent prepping bikes and eating.
Stage 6: 51.54km, 1,370m ascent (changed from 45.25km, 1,359m ascent, team time trial).
A shorter distance and no neutralised section, we decided to treat the final stage like a familiar XCO. We established that we wouldn’t hold back at the start, go for it, and see if we could get lucky and make up the 7 minute gap to the next team ahead on GC.
The start was actually pretty tactical. Wild Wolf’s Gutierrez and Coloma were obviously targeting the stage win and went from the gun, but nobody was worried as they were well down on GC. Back at the front of the bunch the pace was dipping around as people had a dig on some of the kicks or crashed. Seb was unlucky to be caught back in a couple of these and had to chase back – one caused by Lakata (Topeak Ergon), get it together big guy.
The climb was pretty steep and it soon began to break up. Quickly we were in the snow again and absolutely freezing despite the high intensity workout. We slide back downhill before a long ‘flat’ push to the finish. I could tell Seb was suffering, but he stuck it out as we looked to close back in on two teams just ahead. All together at the finish a sprint ensued in which we came second, and so finished 7th on the day.
Overall we were 13th on GC. Happy considering the disaster on stage 1. And you know you’re pro when the Spanish Government taxes the prize money at a 25% rate. By the time we had split what was left with the support crew there was barely enough for a soda from the Parador vending machine.
So would we go back? I think so. After the first two awful days I was convinced I would never agree to do a stage race or marathon again, but we managed our fatigue well (helped by a huge quantity of Torq products, which to its testament did not melt our stomaches as other brands would) and became relatively stronger throughout.
A note on the other major British Teams:
- Ant White & Rich Rothwell – won the 40+ category. Worth checking out the story behind that.
- Sally Bigham (Topeak – Ergon) – unsurprisingly dominated the Elite Women’s race.
- Ben Thomas & Tim Dunford (Mountain Trax – Vauxhall) – two days of broken shifters.
- Gareth Montgomerie & Dave Henderson (GT – Muc Off) – retired after stage 4 with injury.
- Matt Page & Mel Alexander – 3rd GC in the mixed category.