Sunday, 26 February 2017

Andalucia Bike Race 2017 - Did not go as planned

Quick facts about the Andalucia Bike Race:
  • 6 stages
  • Andalucia region of Spain
  • Mountaneous terrain
  • First and last stages are a bit shorter
  • Middle four stages all have some 2000hm of climbing and are between 80 and 100km long
  • UCI race

This was my first time ever competing in the Andalucia Bike Race. I didn't know quite what to expect but I knew that it was going to be technical and tough. My references, the stage races that I'd previously done, are Beskidy Trophy in Poland, Trans Schwarzwald in Germany and Four Peaks in Austria.

Bike used: BMC Fourstroke 01 XX1, Rocket Ron 2.1 SnakeSkin front and back. 1.50 / 1.50 bar. Stans Notubes Valor wheels.

Summary

  • Leading up to the race things didn't go quite as planned: Two weeks before the race started my achilles tendon started giving me trouble. I had to change my training (cut much of it) in those last two weeks leading up to the race. Still, as the race started and all through the race the pain got worse. Going from lots of training to almost none also resulted in some unwanted weight gain (about 2kg+ so I think I was around 74-75kg when I started the race)
  • The stages:
    • 1: 48th in my category (out of approx. 200 in M40)
    • 2: 36th 
    • 3: Three punctures, had to walk to get a new tube, 96th in my cat.
    • 4: 55th
    • 5: Rear deraileur broke, had to retire.
    • 6: Skipped
  • The results (placings) were not quite what I was hoping for. I was thinking that perhaps the opposition would be something like at Beskidy - It was NOTHING like Beskidy. Even tough my training had not gone well leading up to the race the 48th placing of the first stage was a bit of a shock. The eventual winner of my category, Francesco Casagrande; Well, I googled his name: He was an old pro who had come in second in Giro de Italia a few years back. 
  • The terrain, the track and the trails of this race are amazing. A very large prat of the race is on single track. The descents are super technical. This is a race for the fit and skilled mountain biker!
  • The organisation is very good. The track is well marked. The food and drink stops are good. There's technical assistance along the track. 
  • I highly recommend this race!

Stage 1 - The Achilles tendon held!

Yeah, stage 1 completed and my achilles tendon held together. There were three places during the stage where I had to get off the bike and push it up the hill (too steep to ride), and that was bad for the tendon. During the walking and for a while afterward I had some pain, but nothing serious.

Due to the fact that I had to reduce training in the two weeks leading up to the race because of the imjury I did unfortunatelly gain some weight... Perhaps 1.5-2kg up from my lowest reading of 72.8kg. It's too bad but nothing I can do anything about. I was unsure if I was going to come to the race at all as I had some serious pains in the last couple of short rides that I attempted at home in the days just before traveling to Spain. But I decided to come here anyway. My plain is to try to ride the whole race but if the pain gets too much then I will abort.

This first stage was the short 30km one where we started individually. The track was a lot of fun with some nice downhill segments and climbs mostly on gravel roads. Lose stones and gravel on some of the descents made things exciting. I didn't get off the bike in any of the downhill segments which I'm happy with. There were some blind corners and dangerious descents and there are absolutely no warning signs that a difficult section is coming up. I saw some brake skids on the ground which ended at, well, at the edge of a cliff. As I'm new to this terrain I'm being extra careful.

By the end of the stage I had been overtaken by four riders and I think I overtook about 40-50 riders myself. So I thought it might have gone quite okay... well, that is until I saw the results: 48th place in M40! What the...?! Yeah, so tough opposition. The guy who won M40, Fransceco Casagrande, it seems was close to winning the Giro de Italia a few years back when he was a pro (I googled him). Some 200 riders in total in my category.

Everything else felt good today, body, heart, legs... Heart rate responded well, but that's not surprising considering I have not been able to train properly during the last week due to the achilles problem.

Tomorrow's stage will be completely different compared to today's: 80km and 1800hm.

Stage 1 results

I'm trying out AirBnb for the first time ever for my housing arrangements for this race... This is me and the house cat in Cordoba (just after stage 1):

Oh, I just remembered that I should also mention the drama that occured just before the stage started. So I'm warming up and doing a steep gravel road downhill 30 minutes before the start of the stage... and my chain drops off the front chainring!! WTF!? Yeah, I had done some extensive riding back home on just this setup and had no problems. I had however changed from a 34T to a 32T (and my testrides were with the 32T). So the chain did seem a bit slack on the top gear. Anyway, very close to the start of the stage so I don't feel like shortening the chain myself.. But I thought I might ask for some help from the pro mechanics. So I find some Shimano guys just at the start area and ask them to shorten the chain by one link. They look at the bike and just wave their hands and say that there's no point in shortening the chain, they'll just adjust the rear deraileur to increase chain tension. And they do so. But when I get on the bike to try it out (15 minutes before the start) the bike will no longer shift into the highest gear. I go back to the Shimano guys. They do some more adjustments. Still doesn't work. Go back to Shimano. More adjustments... And again... 5 minutes before the start the bike is shifting correctly again. I'm in my start box on time and start the race... and... at the top of the first hill the chain drops off the front chainring!! However, after that there were no problems. I made sure not to be in the highest gear on the bumby terrain as the chain isn't tight enough there. I don't want to do any more changed to the bike right now as I don't want to risk anything.

Stage 2 - Started a bit too optimistically

Stage 2 was 80km and 1800hm. We started at the old Roman Bridge in the center of Cordoba. Now Cordoba is a big city and we had quite some distance to cover through town before we got out of the major streets. And of course there were intersections and roundabouts and cyclists going crazy trying to make their way further up the field, even though we had some 4 hours of riding today. As always in these situations I try to stay calm and passive until the field thins out.

As we got to the first climb, some 20km into the stage (yeah, those first 20km were absolutely bonkers), I started moving up through the field. The climbing was mostly done on different kinds of double-track. Very little climbing on any kinds of roads. Really nice. Each climb followed by some sort of fun downhill track. One could tell that most of the downhill tracks were used by local riders and very challenging and fun.

At about 30km or so a really fast racer was moving up through our field and when he came up from behind me and overtook me I got on his wheel. The other people in my group were dropped and we started catching up to and overtaking other racers. The pace was really quick but my legs felt great and I was feeling optimistic. This went on for some 20km... now I knew that the last 10km were almost all downhill so I was thinking that, yeah the pace was quick, but that I should be ok as long as I could keep it up until we got somewhat close to the finish. But already at 50km, with 30km left of the stage, my legs started to complain. I had to slow down a bit to survive.

Afterwards I saw that my placing during the time checks had been 35, 32, 31 and then 36th over the finish line. So, yeah, I dropped a few places towards the end. But I think I managed to keep it together mostly.

The most positive thing about the whole stage was how I handled the downhills sections. This has always been my weak point and I don't know how many races that I've been totally left for dead in technical downhill sections. No more! Now, sure, there was one or two insane local dudes who just went down the steep sections like batshit crazy. And I had no chance there. But for all the other 'normal' racers I held my place in the group. So really happy about that.

I finished the stage in 36th place and have moved up to 36th in the totals too, up from 48th yesterday.

Stage 2 results

Stage 3 - Three punctures, ran out of tubes, had to walk

The title says it all... I run my tires tubeless, as always. At about 30km into today's third stage I noticed the front tire was slowly losing air. I get off the bike and give it a shot of CO2 hoping the Stans fluid will fix the hole. Get on the bike again and keep going for about half an hour: the front is flat again. Take off the wheel, put in my spare tube, inflate using the second and last CO2 canister. I observe that there's plenty of Stans fluid inside the tire (which should've fixed any puncture).

I keep going for another 10km but going over a creek full of stones the front punctures (probably a snakebite). I'm out of tubes. I remember that I passed a service station not too long back so I do a u-turn and start walking back. I get to the service station, they put in a new tube (and give me an extra one to carry). They inflate the new tube to about 3 bars but I'm not going to argue, I just want to finish the stage. Mentally I'm wasted and in no mood to race. I just want to be off the bike. But I have half the stage left. I finish in just under 5 hours. Not fun, not fun at all.

Now I'm back in my room: I've had two pieces of great chocolate cake so things are looking better. However I need to drive to the next stage town; Linares this evening. Also I want to go back to tubeless on my front wheel so I need to find the cause of my slowly leaking front tire. In order to do this I need to get hold of a floor pump, so I'll try to find a shop and buy one this afternoon / evening. I don't feel like doing any of those things right now... But it's almost 5 o'clock so I'd better get going...

UPDATE: 9 o'clock now and I'm in my hotel room in Linares. I did the whole procedure with the front wheel: Washed the whole thing and cleaned the outside of the tire, removed the inner tube, cleaned the tubeless valve, remounted tubeless valve, remounted tire, added Stans fluid and inflated tire to 3 bars. It's standing next to the bed now... as far as I can tell there's no leak. So what happend? I have no idea.

Stage 4 - Achilles tendon starting to bother me


My achilles tendon was rather painful yesterday, the evening before today's stage. The whole right ankle got rather swollen. I was thinking that stage 4 might be my last one if it continued to get worse.

This morning before the stage I wasn't in much of a race mood. The ankle was stiff. I did a minimal warm-up and got into my start box. The good thing was that the sun was out and it was supposed to shine throughout the day.

The stage started really badly... In that the terrain was really badly chosen. The first 20km was up and down some rolling hills. The problem was that going up each hill was so steep that everyone ended getting off their bikes and walking up. I think we all got off the bikes and walked about 10 times during that first part of the stage. This was both really boring and also rather bad for my poor ankle. Each time I switch from walking to biking is really painful. As long as I just can keep biking the pain is nothing more than a minor annoyance. I just ended up taking it really easy here because I didn't want to break anything (in my body).

The other thing that happened during that first 20km part was that we crossed some streams that had sharp rocks in them. The streams were all at the bottom of steep downhill segements so we came barging in at full speed. The good thing was that I actually converted back to tubeless in the front yesterday. Had I not done that I would've had a puncture in the first few km of today's stage. There were others that were not as lucky as I was however and after each of these sharp-rocked streams there were 10-20 cyclists fixing flats. I bottomed out twice but as I was running tubeless I didn't get a flat.

After 20km we got into the first long climb (of a total of two for the day). It was all on gravel road. This was more my cup of tea and I overtook a lot of cyclists going uphill. Then followed some varied up and down hills.

The second to last downhill was the most tricky one today. It's hard to describe it but it was down a walking path. However this walking path was strewn with big rocks were someone had made a road by pouring concrete between the rocks. These just made things really uneven with lots of weird steps, drops, high ridges and generally very uneven surface. My arms got so tired from working the bike and braking that I almost wanted to stop just to rest them. I got down safely but lots of riders were a faster than I was here.

The last climb went well and I passed a bunch of cyclists here too (not as many as the first one though). The last downhill towards the finish area was very nice

Something in my rear wheel started sounding really badly during the last 8km. Each time I pedaled hard in a high gear the whole drivetrain made a terrible grinding noise.

I got over the finish line. In 55th place on today's stage.

Update from this evening:

1. I was expecting my achilles tendon to get really bad this evening. Last night I was limping around in my hotel room. But it hasn't... it's actually less painful than it was yesterday. I can't figure out why!

2. I cleaned the bike and oiled the drivetrain and now that grinding noise is gone.

So right now it looks like I will continue with the fifth stage tomorrow! Let's hope my body and bike hold together!


Stage 5 - Aborted with broken rear deraileur

About 10km into today's stage I noticed something wasn't quite right with my driveline. Jumped off the bike and saw that the rear deraileur had broken. Aborted the race

These nice people gave me a ride back to town


2 comments:

  1. Gött köttat, nerver ever give up. Se det positivt, du kan köra mtb o njuta medan vi andra svennar knegar o tittar ut i regnet.

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    1. Tackar! Jag brukar sällan ge upp, om jag bara är trött. Det här är första gången jag cyklar/tävlar skadad och det är lite en annan situation. Dels så är det jäkligt jobbigt att cykla med smärta. Men sen så ställer jag mig även frågan: Förvärrar jag skadan? Förstör jag resten av årets säsong?
      Jaja, jag kör i alla fall etapp 5 imorgon så får vi se... Om jag nu inte skulle vakna med helt kass sena.

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