After 3 days of racing across the Easter weekend a total of 524 cyclists completed the Volcat GP, a UCI category 2 event. Sadly I was amongst the none finishers having picked up the bug on stage 2 which left me too ill to race stage 3. The 2 days I did experience though were great fun with and some amazing trails, nothing too technical but lots of fun fast flowing trails. It was clear from the first visit to the race arena that the organisers, OCI Sports are an established business and knew what they were doing. They have a large portfolio of events and hosted the World MTB Championships at Vallnord in 2015.
The event attracted some of the best cross country and marathon racers looking for some good early season competition and the chance to pick up some UCI points. The Belgium Cycling Team had turned out in force pretty much taking up the front 2 rows on the start grid! With the stages being short and the terrain fast rolling the racing was rapid from the start to finish.
On stage 1 run over 55km’s and 1400m’s ascent Leonardo Paez (Olimpia Polimedical) and Annabella Stropparo (Amici di Anabella ASD) took victory beating favourites and previous winners Tiago Ferreira and Githa Michiels. Leonardo Paez launched an early attack and built a lead of almost 3 minutes over a large chase group which included myself. The group felt a bit like a Belgium Team timetrial with the numbers they had! Even so the pace in that group was pretty comfortable but due to the size of the group it was always a battle to be in the singletrack first. Each time the singletrack started a few people were shelled out the back as the elastic stretched.
The chase group split up in the final 15km’s, Ruben Scheire finished second 1 minute 40 behind Leonardo Paez. Didier Bats was 3 minutes 5 back from the lead. Tiago Ferreira, three-time VolCAT, finished fifth at 3 minutes 55 surely still feeling the fatigue from the Cape Epic which finished just 5 days earlier.
In the females the first stage went to Italian rider Annabella Stropparo with a margin of 2 minutes over Githa Michiels and nearly 10 minutes over Ramona Gabriel.
The 2 leaders Leonardo Paez and Annabella Stoppara extended their leads during the queen stage on day 2 which covered 80km’s and 2700m’s of ascent. The winning time of 3 hours shows the pace this race was run at. To complete that amount of distance and ascent over those trails is rapid! Tiago Ferreira did his best early on the stage to break Paez’s hold on the race but after 20km’s was caught and past by the race leader.
The third and final stage again demonstrated that Leonardo Paez and Annabella Stropparo were the strongest cyclists at the race. This stage was the shortest at just 42km’s and 950m’s of ascent. Both race leaders had a big lead starting the stage. A large lead group of 30 eventually split after 25km’s with Paez, Bart De Vocht and Didier Bats taking the lead. The Belgian Bart De Vocht used a technical descent to open a gap of 30 seconds but by the final kilometres the 3 were back together. Didier Bats (Belgian Cycling Team) won the stage in 1 hour 27 with a gap of just 3 seconds to Leonardo Paez (Olympia Polimedical) and 7 seconds to an exhausted Bart de Vocht (Belgian Cycling Team).
Annabella Stropparo again showed her stength taking another win with Githa Michiels 3 minutes 16 back and Michalina Ziolkowska (Volkswagen Samochody Użytkowe) was third.
After a short rest to allow everyone to complete the stage the top 10 females and top 22 men raced a thrilling Eliminator event where each lap the person in last place was removed from the race. Githa Michiels escaped early on to take the win. The men’s race was a more unpredictable battle with the lead changing hands many times. This was before Miguel Munoz (Berria Cycling Team) animated the race with a big attack. His lead was only small but the chase group was unable to close him down. The crowds were loving the action. With 2 laps to go the leader was joined by 2 riders, Belgian Didier Bats and Victor Manual Fernadez. Didier Bats with a late overtake in sight of the finish line took the victory.
I was gutted to have missed out on the final stage especially having now heard all the stories of some epic singletrack. I wasn’t sure about the Eliminator concept but having now watched it I would have loved to have been part of the action. Being ill sucks! I had an amazing time on the first 2 stages though, the trails were an absolute blast to ride on my Turner Czar.
Volcat GP is definitely worth adding to your list of races to attend, it definitely suits the cross country riders but everyone will enjoy the sunny climate, the great organisation and the fun trails.