This past weekend the cycling circus flew to the middle of the North Atlantic Sea for the Azores MTB Marathon, a round of the UCI World Marathon Series. The Azores are a group of 9 volcanic islands with the racing taking place on Sao Miguel which is the largest and most populated island. The geography of the island makes it a fantastic place for cycling and tourism. Away from the bustling seaside city of Ponta Delgada you’re quickly transported into a paradise created by volcanic activity. Scenery you’ll remember for many years is around each corner. The event actually races around the edge of a 3 mile wide volcanic crater high above the Sete Cidades lake.
The race had attracted some top names to the start line including World Marathon Champion Tiago Ferreira, former World Marathon and XC Champion Gunn Rita Dahle Flesja, and the Centurion Vaude Team. The event in its second year as a UCI race has been working hard to increase participation levels and improve the course. Many new kilometres had been added including some fantastic trails along the northern coast.
All week the cyclists enjoyed sunny hot conditions as they prepared for Sundays race either pre riding the course or maybe relaxing in the natural hot springs. On race day though the weather added an extra challenge with wet condition, even so it couldn’t spoil this special experience and temperatures stayed warm.
The course spread out the participants along a road and gravel section out to the west of the island before sweeping inland to start the climb up to Sete Cidades. This is where the real race happened, this long unrelenting climb was hard work and split the race apart. The reward was a fantastic trail down to the lake before another long climb up to the top of the volcanic crater where we could try to spare a moment to enjoy the views.
In the women’s race Gunn Rita took an early lead and never looked back, storming to victory with a smile on her face. Let’s hope she finds some spare time in her busy schedule to race some more marathon events next year. Michalina Ziolkowska was 2nd just ahead of Celina Carpinteiro.
The men’s race was a close one with Tiago Ferreira winning the race in the rainbow bands giving the race organisers their dream promotional pictures. Belgium rider Frans Claes put in the ride of the day finishing just 9 seconds behind in 2nd. Marcus Kaufmann led home the quartet of Centurion Vaude riders in 3rd, 4th, 5th and 7th.
My race was a tough one, everyone was suffering on the first long mountain climb but I was suffering more than usual. During the warm up I didn’t feel fresh and the heart rate wouldn’t go to the normal levels, maybe I got carried away with training in the days before. After the race split I didn’t know gaps to people in front as I had no support crew in the feed zones. It was windy so I didn’t even know if it was worth trying to break away from the group I was in and chase. Then when I did get a gap and started making up time with 15km to go I sliced my tyre. I managed to finish 9th, a disappointment to me now but I think this just shows the progress I’ve made over the years, a top 10 a year or so ago was just a dream. The result won’t dent my fond memories of this fantastic paradise island. Hopefully I’ll be back next year to put things right and enjoy the delights of the Azores once again. My next UCI Marathon is this Friday in France, onto the next adventure.