Tuesday, 23 February 2016

ABR - The sprint finish

Today should have been a slightly easier day although it’s funny how quickly your perspective changes during these events. It’s rare to call 72km of off-road with 1,800m of climbing ‘easy’ but compared to yesterday, it should have been.

I knew something was up quite early on as ‘things’ just weren’t feeling right; my shorts weren’t comfy, my vest was riding up, I forgot to put my heart rate monitor on. Nothing was flowing. And to cap it all my right thumb had lost all strength and I was unable to grab clothing, open gel packets or (more importantly) push a gear lever with ease.

The start was another mass panic through town and out across the fields, followed by lots of walking down into little gullies to cross a stream and then walking up out the other side. This was not the flattish first 20km I had expected and my legs just weren’t there. The whole day I had nothing, no real feeling of getting going, I was just going through the motions with my heart rate hardly getting about 160bpm.

Even steeper than it looks
The real kicker came around 55km and the big climb which, although fire road, loomed over the valley and looked almost vertical at the top. It was tough but at least the summit marked the start of the last descent. As I reached it, Sally was waiting for it and happened to mention she’d caught the pair who were probably in second place, they were only about 8 minutes ahead. Hmmm, 14km to go, mostly descent, 8 minutes gap, never going to happen, forget about it…

We flew down the final descent like we were invincible. Steering and braking was a thing of the past as we were now confident enough in our ability, and that of the bike that we could just straight line everything and the bike would suck it up. How right we were and much fun was had, despite a few dodgy line choices. Ahem.

Then it happened. As we rejoined the section that had been the first 6km, we spotted the pair in second. Subconsciously I picked up the pace a little bit – well, I’d done nothing all day, it’s not as if I was tired. We soon caught them on the undulating sections and I desperately tried to remember the route home. The 5km to go sign and we were sitting on their wheels. Competitive? Us? Never.

I told Sally to hang back and not go past, save her legs, she might have to tow me home. Down onto the gravel track and they were leading us out. They sat up a bit and eased off. At the next slight descent I went for it and Sally sat on, it took them a while to get up to speed but they soon did and were sat on our wheels. I sat up, knowing we weren’t going to shake them and let Sally come alongside to give her a crash course in race tactics.

At around 2km to go Sally upped the pace and I tucked in behind, keeping an eye on the chasing pair. Soon we were approaching tarmac roads at the edge of town, “make sure we get into the streets first, they’ll be tight in places” I said. My Garmin then said 1km to go and on the closed roads of Andujar I dropped low on the bike and went as hard as I could just hoping Sally was with me. The roads were long and straight for a while, maybe I’d gone too early, better dig in and hope. But then came the last couple of bends and the finish line, we’d done it!

Only metres later all four of us were high fives and hugs, what an awesome way to finish 5 hours of racing. The ladies from the Polar Team were just as happy as we were; who doesn’t like a healthy bit of competition and a good bit of tactical bike racing. Andalucia Bike Race stage 3 results are here.

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