After yesterdays killer stage I was feeling very tired in the evening after and the chest problem that I’ve been been carrying for about 2 months which had got much better since being out in Spain decided to come back with a vengeance and I couldn’t stop coughing. A massage, good meal and an early night in the bag I’d hoped to have done everything needed in order to recover for the final day, which although short, was a essentially a 48km climb with a 12km descent. Throw in 1950m climbing and it wouldn’t be easy.
Waking up, drawing the curtain and seeing that it had rained was actually quite a welcome sight, knowing how many riders don’t like the wet, cold and muddy conditions hopefully it would be to our advantage. Almost everyone was wrapped up in layers as it was rather chilly, even I added some arm-warmers as we were climbing up to 1400m where it would be even colder. Todays start was another good one in the fact that it was a very short 2km neutralised section without the stupid narrow streets that plagued the race in the first 4 days. When the flag went down and racing kicked off I tried to spring off with the group, but my legs were not responding. The terrain was mostly flat with the occasional rise which didn’t really suit me, so I found myself off the back of the main pack and struggling to keep up with riders coming past. It was really sticky, claggy mud with lots of small stones, so if you were following a rider you just got pelted and covered in mud. My heart rate was really low too, suppressed by the previous 5 days racing no doubt. Milton was in the front group and I didn’t see him until the route started to climb after about 15km. He had eased up and I was starting to move past riders around me, the gradient seemed pretty good for me.
The first feed station passed at 20km and I knew from here it was more or less uphill all the way to the top at 48km. There were sections of dirt roads, the occasional singletrack section and a horrible steep road climb too. We passsed the Focus-Danika team, who were just 15 seconds behind us as they had a mechanical in a wooded section, so hoped to stay ahead of them but they can really climb fast, and they passed me on the steep road section. Milton was half riding with me, but each time he would ease up, let me get on his wheel and then accelerate off. I simply don’t have the ability to do that and have kept telling him, so he spent most of the time about 15 meters in front of me which did nothing but frustrate me. I was coughing constantly, especially after a sustained effort and then easing off.
There was one short descent on the way to the top, which had a very steep hike a bike lead in. I pushed hard to try and get in front of 4 or so riders just in front, but I wasn’t able to do it. To make things even worse a stone had stuck in my cleats and I couldn’t clip in, so I had to pull off the track and sort it out. By the time I reached the bottom I’d caught back up with the riders in front and up the next fire road Milton was waiting and just started shouting something at me. I didn’t even know how to start explaining what had happened in Spanish so I just shouted back at him in frustration. Maybe he thinks I do things to annoy him on purpose!?
I was suffering badly when we passed feed station 2 at 40km, but knew there wasn’t that far to the top. The last kilometres were a good gradient too, so I could get into a rhythm and made up time on the riders ahead, passing two danish riders near the top. I wanted to get by them as I knew we were much stronger on the descent. There was a flat singletrack section on the top which I used to recover before the downhill started, which was very muddy and slippery. Some riders were obviously struggling and we caught a group of 10 or so up really quickly. The only problem was because it was singletrack it was difficult to get by, the only chance was to go for it on the inside of a hairpin. I managed to get by 2 riders but then found myself going far too slowly while stuck behind a group on a slippery patch, lost the front wheel and found myself tumbling off to the left down the mountain. Had there not been bushes about 6ft down to stop me and the bike I might have been in trouble as it was quite exposed and very steep in places. Back on the bike I felt OK, rode for another 500m or so where the singletrack stopped and muddy dirt tracks started. This went down for quite a while and although I caught back up, the advantage was lost. It certainly didn’t seem like 1000m of vertical meters that we had dropped down and for the first time in the race I was disappointed by the course.
Dirt tracks gave way to concrete road which then joined a bike path for the final 3km to the finish, which I have to admit was rather rubbish. On the final run in my right knee started hurting from the fall and I couldn’t put much power down. The finish line at Jaen Cathedral was a very welcome sight and I was very relieved to have crossed the line, disappointed by todays stage, both in the route and also my performance but pleased with the event overall. We finished the stage in 18th position, which wasn’t too bad but we were a fair way off where we could have been. The Focus-Danika team passed us on the overall, but a team higher up had dropped out, so we managed to retain 13th overall which I’m really pleased with and gives me a good chunk of UCI points, although not quite enough to enter a World Cup XC race, which would have been nice!
I didn’t come to the race with any real expectations and didn’t know what to expect but I would certainly recommend the event to anyone. The only negative points were the crazy starts on days 1-4 and the poor route on the final day. Other than that the organisation has been fantastic and the riding has been superb, worthy of the UCI status and being able to mix it up with some of the best riders in the World has been a great experience, all be it a tough one! Milton is a really nice guy (especially off the bike!) and it has been great riding with him, although we were not well matched in fitness and that led to frustrations on both sides. I love stage racing, but I’m not sure if pairs racing is for me and I’d give serious thought to who my partner was if I do one again.
Todays data on Garmin Connect