The second round of the Copa España, Aitzondo Klasika is the sort of race the Basque country is famous for. Steep hills, bad weather and technical descents make racing in the North of Spain notoriously hard. On seeing the weather forecast the day before, everyone knew what they were in for. I was up for it, I know the roads in the Basque region of Gipuzkoa well from racing the Lehendakari series last season. Leading up to the race I had some good signs, my resting HR was the lowest it has been since getting ill in February before and I was starting to feel better after my crash last week. Although I hadn’t done any major damage at the Don Benito race the week before, I was suffering with back and shoulder pain from the impact, but by last Friday I was starting to feel better.
My instructions from the team to be in any early splits, my familiarity with the course and, perhaps, my own naivety meant I spent the first 50km of the race in the front 20 riders of the bunch. I had watched the video of last year’s Aitzondo Klasika where the early break had almost made it to the finish, so I thought a bit of positive riding early on might pay off. While I did find myself in some moves, nothing stuck. The break that did go clearly wasn’t going to last, a move of only 4 riders with none of the big teams represented. Being at the front helped me avoid some big crashes and was important for the team. But it was something I would pay for later on in the race.
After 50km, the race went up the 4km climb of Alkiza. I managed to get over it fairly comfortably. There was a battle for positions on the last hairpin and a sprint up the last ramp of the climb. Everyone wanted to be well positioned for the descent. A long technical section saw the 200 strong field in single file. After descending Alkiza the race turned onto a narrow bike path with several sharp corners through the town of Asteasu. Once through the town, the two short steep climbs of Zizurkil and Aduna completed a circuit the race would do 5 times.
Due to a crash shortly after we went over the top of Alkiza, I found myself on the wrong side of a split, in the third group. It wasn’t until we had done a lap of the circuit that I caught up to my teammates in the second group. They caught me up on what was happening in the race: we had missed the key selection after the first climb and there was a group of 18 riders up the road. The group of 18 included all the pre-race favourites: they were not coming back. Over the next few laps, I did my bit to help the chase and position my teammates for the climbs, but every time we went uphill I was struggling. Over the climb of Aduna each lap, I would be on the back of the 50-rider second group, and then would have to fight my way back in order to recover and position myself for the next climb. The efforts early on in the race and the climbs of Zizurkil and Aduna took their toll on me. I did what I could to help the team, but with around 40km to go I was dropped. I rode for a while in a small group but with the circuit being so short, the race convoy had to keep the gap from the front to the back of the race to a maximum of around 5 minutes. We were soon eliminated.
I couldn’t be too disappointed: I did my job. I would have liked to have made the finish and perhaps on another day I could have done but, all things considered, it wasn’t the worst day for me. The team weren’t happy, and rightly so. The team director couldn’t believe the entire team had missed the split. There was no excuse: we had messed up. To make things even more disappointing, 3 of our team had gone over the final climb of Sarasola really well, with one rider even catching some of the guys in the break. This showed we had the talent in the team to get a much better result than we ended up with. Days like this happen to the best of teams. As a group, we will learn from this race and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
I won’t be with the team for a few weeks. Instead I’ll be racing in the Basque Country and training in Navarra. Being able to live in Navarra is great for me as I am close to lots of the races in the Basque country while not being too far from the team in Madrid. There are 4 U23 races this month all of which relatively near to where I will be staying. I am looking forward to getting back on top of the training and making the most of the calendar.
Here are the links to the videos of the first two rounds of the Copa España:
Aitzondo Klasica :
All photos (Martin Early):