Wednesday, 24 February 2016

ABR - The longest day

Life has now become about three things: eating, drinking and riding bikes. Sleep and rest might also sneak in but nothing else matters. I’m at that point where having three platefuls of breakfast knowing I’m going to be riding for 5-6 hours that day is totally normal; anyone who has ever done a stage race will know what I mean. And you also find yourself saying things like “just 40km to go”, “this climb only goes up to 700m” and “there’s a couple of big climbs and the rest are less than 3km long”.

At 90km today was the longest stage of the week and also took us past the half way point in terms of distance – finally! The start in Cordoba was incredible, in amongst the Roman temples, theatres and ruins. We started next to the river and headed across the old Roman bridge on a very twisting and dangerous 5km run out of town and onto the Cordoba estate.

Needless to say the countryside was gorgeous, views amazing and more ancient ruins were scattered around. The riding was also brilliant. Anyone thinking of going on a mountain bike holiday to Spain should really come to Andalucia – there are miles and miles of beautiful, buff, flowing, rocky, rooty, steep singletrack that seems to go on forever! I’m sure our race route is just scratching the surface and it definitely deserves a repeat visit. A proper holiday next time.

Today also gave me a new contender for my ‘most unfun things I’ve ever done on a bike’ list: the old railway line. I don’t mean some polished, flattened, landscaped old railway line that Sustrans have as part of their enormous National Cycle Route network. Oh no, I mean 2km of actual ‘old railway line’ with sleepers, tracks, stone infill and all, just abandoned. If you’ve never ridden a bike along an actual railway line it’s quite hard to imagine how uncomfortable, bumpy and awful it really is. Go try it some time.

After 50km we were ticking along just wanting to get through the day, until the inevitable happened and with 20km to go we caught up first place. From here the route pretty much climbed for 9km and ended with a 6km downhill. There was no way I’d stay with them on the climb so I told Sally to take the climb and descent at her own pace and I’d catch her/them up towards the finish; a gutsy plan knowing the level of rocky trails we’d been riding all day, but I was confident.

Now it’s probably appropriate here to point out that the first time I ever rode the Canyon Exceed CF SLX I’ve been using as my race bike was during the first stage on Sunday. I’ve only ridden a 29er half a dozen times, I’ve never ridden the Rock Shox RS1 fork and there are a number of other components that are new to me, including SRAM XX1. So I’m sure it’s testament to the bike’s ability and my new favourite suspension fork that I actually made it down in one piece.

I’d been using the lazy ‘point and shoot’ technique all day (the one where you don’t pick a line you just go straight and hang on) and now was no different. I hit everything full on, fingers off the brakes as much as possible just letting the bike roll and suck up every rock, drop, jump and lump that was in my way. “Sketchy” would be an understatement, “on the edge” more like it and I’d definitely throw in “hooning” because I like the sound of it. Arm/wrist pump didn’t take too long to set in and with the lack of strength in my right hand it was an effort just to hold the bars – turns out faster equals smoother due to less time on the ground. Bonus!

I managed to make up about three minutes and caught up the others as we turned onto a flatter gravel track. Sally had nothing left and with the few minor uphills we had to the finish, and the fact the leading pair were riding in with a group of mates, I just couldn’t close the gap no matter how hard I pushed. Their winning margin was just a couple of corners through the finish area, 31 seconds. Oh well, there’s always tomorrow…

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