Monday the 1st of May, 9:30am – time for the 6th round of the Copa España, the Klasika Santikutz. For us, the tactics were simple: get our 3 strongest climbers to front at the start the climbs – all 8 of them. It its 84th edition, the race included 3 short climbs: Aztiria, Liernia and Eizaga. The race would tackle these hills twice before hitting the Kirtenberg then finally, 10km from the finish, a longer climb – Deskarga. The 3 shorter hills and Deskarga are usual features in the race, and most years a large group gets to Deskarga where the race is decided. This year, however, the organisers added the Kirtenberg. Named “berg” after it’s resemblance to the short steep climbs seen in the Belgian Classics, the Kirtenberg is only 900m long but averages 12% with stretches as steep as 21%. The road up the Kirtenberg is too narrow for team cars and comes after the race goes along a cycle path. Positioning for the Kirtenberg is key, the further back you hit the climb the more chance you have of being caught behind crashes or splits in the bunch.
My job was to make sure our 3 best climbers were well positioned at the key points in the race. I would have to stay near them in the race, bring them forward when they need it. At times, I would have to ride on the front of the peloton allowing them to shelter behind me to avoid being swamped by the bunch. This has been my job in previous Copa España races and can be quite rewarding if done well. While I look forward to opportunities to race for myself later in the year at the U23 races, I don’t mind doing a job for the team when asked.
One rider from my team got in the early breakaway, meaning we had a free ride until the start of the climbs 50km into the race. After sitting in the wheels for the first hour we managed to get most of the team into position. As the race went on, I would push to the forward as we hit the hills, then I’d lose my position on going up before fighting back to the front for the next climb. A few times I found myself on the wrong side of splits in the bunch, but by the time we were approaching the penultimate climb – the Kirtenberg – the race was still together.
On the road up to the town of Legazpi, where the Kirtenberg starts, I moved up on the right-hand side of the bunch. On my way, I picked up two of my teammates. Gradually, we made our way forward. For the last few kilometers to the climb, as everyone battled for positions, I rode on the front as hard as I could. As soon as we hit the Kirtenberg I sat up and began to try and find a rhythm on the climb. I had given everything on the flat just before the climb but I still wanted to finish the race and that meant getting over the Kirtenberg in a contact with a group I could ride with to the final climb of Deskarga.
The scenes on the Kirtenberg were amazing. People lined both sides of the road cheering us on and pushing riders they knew. The climb was so steep that you couldn’t ride out of the saddle as your back wheel would slip due to the lack of weight at the back end. Riders had to sit down and grind their way up the climb. Everyone was suffering, the crowd were loving it.
Eventually I got over the Kirtenberg in the 3rd group of around 50 riders. Together we pushed on to Deskarga, where once again the race broke up into small bunches. I came in with a group of 10 riders, 71st. I headed straight for the team van to find out how the race had ended up. We had taken 7th, 8th and 21st meaning we had won the team classification and improved our position overall.
This weekend we have 3 races planned: Friday and Saturday in Villarreal then another Copa España this Sunday in Cataluña. Hopefully we can put some more good rides in and get a result along the way. Follow the team’s twitter account to stay up to date.
Martin Early –