Subaru-MarathonMTB.com racer Stu Spies made the journey out to the second European round of the 2013 UCI marathon series, the Quebrantahuesos MTB, in northern Spain. Here’s how the adventure unfolded.
Lets start with few handy race tips, you must know many but here are some refreshers:
Race tip #4001:
Pay the extra for legroom on Monarch flights, don’t ask why, just thank me later.
Don’t freak out when the Ibis desk clerk says ‘Joo gotta pay da tourista tax, 90 Euro each’ ‘WTF!!’ he means cents…not Euros, ‘oh right’, pheeeew!
Always go to race briefing, even if its entirely in Spanish, when people go ‘ooh aah’ you can ask why!
I’m chalking this weekend up as, ‘great to race with Bridgey, great to get position dialed in, great single track’. But racing wise…eesh I’m struggling to not want to punch myself in the head!
Sabiñanigo is a 3hr drive northwest of Barcelona, you know Barcelona right? That place with the coffee, the beaches, the architecture, the stuff that melts hearts and minds. I have to be brutally honest here, Sabiñanigo in terms of feel, is a touch more labour camp than fanciful Gaudi utopia. I’m not being mean, its just that the town itself was such a far cry from what you would expect of a place based in such beautiful surroundings, I can’t help but point it out. It is purposeful, utilitarian and as Rough Guide describes, ‘somewhat joyless’, seemingly this is not where the Spanish come to retire, you stop over or stay as part of an event.
Anyhoo subjective opinions aside, we were here to race, not sun ourselves on the beach, good thing really as there is apparently no more sun left in Europe. We’ve either forgotten how to switch it on or all these Euro austerity cuts are even beginning to affect the weather. Pull out the longs, buy some more gloves this report’s gonna be cold!
Saturday – Get there, get ready
Bridgey, aka ‘Northern Monkey’, real name Matt Bridge, had flown in rather leisurely from his base in Holland to prove he really can climb a mountain. 2 hours later than expected we canned the idea of driving up north Friday night and booked in to the local airport Ibis.
Driving up the next day gave us time to catch up.
‘Bridgey how’s the training been going?’
‘Not bad, not great, 150-180km around the lake I’ll only cover about 30m of climbing!’
‘Blimey, hows the bike?’
‘Not bad, ridden it once, used to be Emil Lindgren’s the Swedish Champion’
‘Wow, 29er, all set up’?
‘Nope, 26, twitchy as fook and had to get a new seat pin’
Aah those fateful words ‘get a new seat pin’.
Unpacking to discover the brand spanking new carbon seat pin for Bridgey’s literally PRO machine has the most diabolically shit clamping idea ever conceived in the history of badly executed bad ideas was troubling, very troubling!
We battled continuously for a couple of hours to get the stupid thing to work, eventually deciding it was time for a real pro and hit the local bike store. With much hand gesturing and Google translating our new found buddy salvaged Bridgey’s ride, a whoooole lot of secret torque sauce, bashing, clamping and twisting, Matt had a position, not his own position mind you, but enough to finish a race on, yippee, can we get a coffee now?
Sunday – Ding ding ding
Right so we’re called into our start pens, the part I probably enjoy the most, even with no points to my name I still had a relatively clear run of the opening few km, come to papa! The minor fact that we had now missed the second Spanish on-the-line briefing (telling us snow had made part of the course unrideable) meant the fury of the start took me more than a little by surprise! Clip in BANG! Bloodthirsty line switching, this was anarchy!
I scramble to get on the tail of a meaningful groupetto, but the hunkered down surge into the first rise and balls literally to the bartape handlebar ripping attack onto the first tar section has me thinking maybe, just maybe, I’ve underestimated my fellow competitors?
We can sight the lead group, yay, they are about 500m up the road already and the chap to my right has now wiped out the full groupetto crashing headfirst into a divet and sliding under the wheels of everyone. Being a corner hugger I’m safe, but stranded in no mans land, no probs, chill head veins chill. Up the first single track, speed dictated by the pissed off Spaniard I’m now slowing down ‘BABBLE BABBLE BABBLE SOMETHING VERY ANGRY’ ‘all right already mate, I’m getting slowed down by this guy’ violently gesticulating not an option. The trail bucks and weaves through the prickly Spanish brush, no time to drink, eat, think or apparently breathe its up up up and away, ‘faaaaaark me finally’ we crest and enter a swooping rollercoaster of now mercifully negative gradient scree singletrack.
‘Ooh Bridgey’s gonna hate this’ our plan for a spot of Transalp pace matching thrown well and truly out the window, he’s no doubt cursing his mini wheels and slicing himself a new butt crack swinging dangerously close to the back wheel. Steep, rocky, technical battering ensues.
Somewhere in all of this I actually pause for a guy I’ve just passed to work together through the valley, he fades before hitting my wheel but is swarmed by a now furious looking 3rd group, these guys were steaming along! I thought it was the leading masters… which I should seriously consider joining given I’m ‘old’ and all that. Nope these were just another bunch of madly up for it mini marathon racers who knew the pacing dial needed to be ratcheted to 12, not 6.
I love the pace for a bit, its too much but what the hell, the group is a total mix of teams, one little fella up front driving the pace for all he’s worth. Out the valley we hit the final, in my mind second last, climb, I leave em to it, dammit, why am I so off the pace? If this is what it takes I’m doomed, I’ll never handle the 40km after this mother?! Negative thoughts aside I buckle down, drink, gel, prepare for the churn and gurn, bike going so well I’m wondering what could possibly cock things up as body, bike and, relatively speaking, mind, are all in the green.
A slight vertical hike and bike and I’m looking over the lip of the run into the final few kilometres in the valley below, ‘gulp’. This is nuts. Over the edge, slide, brake, slide, ‘oh wow oooooh gently, shiiiiiiiiit, MOTHER oh phew…….YAAAAAAA!!’ heart banging in my ears, I’m awestruck at the lunacy of the descent but equally reminded of how beautifully the 29er copes, me, I’m just a passenger!
I move over for the leading lady, who suspiciously seems to have a male pace setter, thought we banned those? She rips down to the final water point, I stop for a refuel, fingers barely able to hold the bars so may as well right?
Wrong, I hear tannoys, ‘oh we must have to roll through the start finish before the last climb’. No, thats it folks, yer done, eh, what?! Bewildered I walk over to the commisaire ‘Aah I think I took a wrong turn’ ‘No no no you done, race 65km’ *sigh*
Gutted! This whole travel to the back end of nowhere to screw up a race thing is getting me down. Bridgey rolls up ‘what a sack of monkey s**t’, yeah mate, too right. We try to see the funny side but its lost, so much effort and another cock-up, this one avoidable, I feel like an idiot, no one to blame but myself.
It was great in part, the effort on the organisers’ part is undeniably immense and to see the biggest online retailer Chain Reaction getting behind the race was fantastic but I can’t help feeling there could have been a lengthening of the circuit, European marathons make up for shortened courses with giant climbs of which Sabiñanigo had potentially numerous but I feel the easy option was taken and the race lost out, the snow had been there for a while, why was race info only updated that weekend? I’d find it really hard to justify the financial outlay to go back to Sabiñanigo and that’s a shame, the mountain biking is pretty first class. My recommendation would be, go if its not going to cost you an arm and leg, otherwise…well…ride local.