Coming off the back of the Taça de Portugal it was clear that for both of us some form was starting to come together. With that in mind we were determined to put together two top races on Salamina Island just off Greece a couple of weeks later.
The travel down to Salamina was on the long side thanks to a jackknifed van and trailer on the M25 on route to Gatwick, a late flight in to Athens and then some dodgy hotel sign, or lack there of, on Salamina Island. Making it a little easier on our arrival in Greece was the fantastic weather and the dramatically different temperature to the last time we were on a ferry from Moss to Horten in Norway.
It was our first visit to Greece and it was typically southern European in every way, right down to the crazy driving and endless mopeds and bikes weaving through the traffic with riders sans helmets. The hotel was also a casual and basic operated business with bizarrely wonky and strange angled walls. We tried to discern whether this was a deliberate feature or just shoddy workmanship, and after deciding that it was more awkward than quirky we opted for the later.
However we were there to do a job with Category 2 races held on both the Saturday and Sunday, a different course on each day. On Friday we were greeted by a howling gale and rain (the wind lasted the duration of our stay) which coincided with course practice on an unusually damp morning.
We took in a lap of both courses to see what was on offer and get a feel for how things might unfold. The terrain under tyre was very barren and massively rocky and loose making our Conti ProTection tyre compound definitely the way to go to reduce the chance of puncturing. Also with the start/finish area literally 15 meters from the sea the wind was clearly going to play a part in the proceedings.
The opening course was a little bit of a disappointment. It consisted of a long false flat drag inland, with a couple of short steep punches, a 90 degree turn, and a high speed motorway section back down to the sea. Saying that, it is always good to race different types of courses and not always ones that you necessarily feel suit your style and strengths. Given the track it was clear that it was going to be a fast, potentially tactical race not too dissimilar to an off road crit.
There was a reasonably long section of wide track following the start giving ample time to move through the pack, so with Hamish gridded row two and me directly behind him on three we didn’t feel overly pressured to get outstanding starts and be in the top 5 after 100 meters or so. However like so often when you don’t need it, it happens and I had an absolute flyer from behind Hamish and nearly made the top 5 by the first bend with Hamish just to my side. Certainly not going to complain about that.
With the track so wide at that point it meant everyone was trying to move forward and be near the front which meant lots of pushing, swerving and generally good old aggressive Euro racing where you always need a sharp pair of elbows. We’re fairly well trained in this now so held our positions well and sat 4th and 5th wheel hitting the first singletrack short climb.
Given how loose the ground was, traction was hard to come by in places when putting the power down. So being sat back in the lead group on lap 1 there were a number of times where one or both of us was stalled by the rider in front requiring us to work back on to the group using up some energy reserves.
Towards the end of the first lap the lead group had been whittled down to just five with both of us in the mix. However on one max speed rough section Hamish lost his chain requiring a dismount to put it back on. I was on his wheel at the time and thought the time he’d loose would put him out of contention from the front group given the speed we were going.
Coming round the next lap one rider jumped clear on a singletrack section as the guy sat in second place let the wheel go, as he was clearly feeling the affects of the first lap. Once I got around I took up the chase but with the gap he had built up, and the man-on-man battle on the false flat in to the head wind, I just didn’t quite have the firepower to close it down quickly. Nearing the halfway point that lap I turned to discover Hamish back involved and another rider off the back. It had taken him a monumental effort to close the gap down and bridge back up to the front.
A lap later and we had dropped the remaining rider with us and were in team time trial mode trying to catch the leader up ahead. In the end he had built up too much of a gap and by the final lap we hit cruise control to save the legs for the next day knowing we weren’t going to catch first and were far enough ahead not to be caught by fourth.
Coming in to the finish together to take second and third was pretty awesome, especially the way we had done it. Certainly a team effort, and dominating the podium proceedings.