By 8:30 on Saturday morning I was on the train to Madrid. I was looking forward to a busy few days with the team. We had 3 races planned, two in Zamora at the weekend and another in Ontur the following Tuesday. I had spoken briefly to the team about what to expect and on the train I studied the information on the races. Being a flat, out and back, 90km route, I knew Saturday would almost certainly end in a bunch sprint whereas Sunday’s and Tuesday’s courses looked far more selective. At 152km and 156km in length, Trofeo Iberdrola and GP Ciclista Primavera in Ontur were more likely to be contested by a late breakaway or a select group. Once in Madrid, I joined up with the team and we made the 3 hour drive to Zamora in time for lunch 2 hours before racing at 4pm.
On Saturday our objective was clear: we were to ride for our sprinter Cristian Torres. Having been on the podium already this season, Cristian is in great shape and capable of winning from a big bunch. The race followed the main road for 45km from Zamora towards Vegalatrave before turning around in Losacino and returning to Zamora. On the way out, we were met with a strong headwind which stopped anyone from getting away. This, of course, became a tailwind on the way back, making for a fast run-in to the finish.
With 20km to go, Caja Rural and Supermercados Froiz were on the front: they were both using their riders to set a hard pace and lead out their sprinters. I was positioned just behind Caja and Frioz with Cristian on my wheel. When the road narrowed or we hit a small hill, positioning was easy: I would simply slot in behind the two leadout trains. However, on the wider stretches of road and the descents other teams would move up and try to take control. This meant Cristian and I would be swamped by riders moving through the bunch either side of us. To avoid losing our position, I stayed on the left of the Froiz riders and Cristian would give me a shout riders started moving up towards us. On getting the heads-up from Cristian, I would move up on the left do a short hard turn on the front to avoid being overtaken by other teams. Once the race calmed down or when we hit a harder section, I would then slot back in behind Caja Rural and Froiz. This tactic worked well for us for most of the last part of the race. It was impossible to ride parallel to the other teams with only one leadout man, but by doing shorter turns less often we were able to hold our position at the front. With 3km to go, I popped. I had got Cristian this far but I had spent all my energy: he would have to do the rest alone. My job was done, I was empty, I rolled back through the bunch and focused on finishing the race. There was a big crash with 1km to go, which thankfully my teammates managed to avoid. Cristian ended up coming second in the sprint. A bitter-sweet result, Cristian did well considering we didn’t have a proper leadout train but he was disappointed having come so close to taking what would have been the team’s first win of the season.
Trofeo Iberdrola has been a fixture in the Spanish amateur calendar since 1949, with previous winners including Miguel Indurian and Alberto Contador. It was once considered the most important race of the season, but in recent years it has struggled financially and so has been unable to afford to be included in the Copa España series. This year, in its 67th edition, Trofeo Iberdrola attracted a high level field of around 200 riders. While not including any mountains, the course is filled with short climbs which always prove selective, especially late in the race.
This year the crucial selection was made after 140km on a 3rd category climb. We hit the hill after a fast descent, meaning the bunch was in single file as we made the left turn onto begin the climb. Immediately I was struggling: I was poorly positioned and didn’t have the strength to move up towards the front. With 50 or so riders lined out in front of me, I could hold the pace but I was on my limit. Unable to move forward, my race depended on the riders ahead of me: if anyone left a gap I would be helpless. As we went over the top of the climb, a gap opened around 5 riders further up the line. I ended up being dropped along with 4 others. We chased hard but we got caught up by a larger group. I came in with the second group, way down on the leaders. Although my race hadn’t gone to plan, 3 of my teammates had placed in the top 20 winning us the team prize. A step up to the podium provided some consolation to my disappointing performance.
I spent Monday in Madrid. With another race around the corner, I went out on the bike for an easy few hours to help me recover. I joined up with a group including the Bahrain Merida neo-pro Ivan Cortina, who was also looking for an easy spin as he tapered for the Dwars Door Vlaanderen on Wednesday.
Tuesday’s race in Ontur would provide a different set of challenges to the weekend. An almost entirely flat course makes the race perfect for crosswinds. Sure enough, within the first 30km we were all in the gutter. With the winds coming across the road from the right-hand side, everyone moved to the left to try and shelter. Towards the front, the Latvian national team and the Spanish team, Aldro, began to form echelons. Lined out diagonally, riders would take it in turns to ride in the middle of the road protecting their teammates from the wind before moving along to allow the next rider to come through. This tactic is effective as it leaves the rest of the race exposed to the crosswinds while the team can use the echelon to draft. It wasn’t long before the race had split into two groups, with the more organized Aldro and Latvian teams opening a gap on the rest of the field. I began to panic, but luckily for me, before the front selection could get out of sight, we took a 90 degree right-hand turn. With the wind now coming head on, my team were able to regroup and organise the chase. After 20 minutes of chasing, helped by the G Sport team who had also failed to get a rider in the front split, we brought it back together. For the next few hours, the crosswinds were relentless.
There were lots more splits, one or two of which I found myself in, but nothing stuck. While the conditions were perfect for echelons the race was constantly changing direction, preventing groups from getting away. With 45km to go we hit a 15km straight. This was it, the crucial point of the race. With the wind coming across the road from the left, the race was in pieces. I managed to get in the front group. I was hurting but riding well. By the time we were almost at the right turn which marked 30km to go, it was clear my group was going to stay away. As soon as we turned right, we would have a strong tail-wind making it impossible for the rest of the race to catch us. Then, within a kilometer of the turn, I punctured. In possibly the worst point in the race to get a flat tyre, I was stranded. I had to watch the entire race pass me by. 200 riders in 4 or 5 groups came past before my team car could reach me and change my wheel.
Back up and running, I chased back through the convoy of cars but by this point the race was out of sight. I joined up with 6 other riders and we worked together to try and catch the group in front. At first I thought we could make it but it gradually became clear we were just riding to finish.
Once back in Ontur, I caught up with my team. A break of 6 riders had got clear in the end and the race had been won by a Latvian rider. The team mechanic couldn’t believe my bad luck.Talking to him on the drive back to Madrid, he was sure I would have finished strongly if I hadn’t punctured. While we were both disappointed, it wasn’t long before we got talking about the next race. Punctures and mechanicals always feel like the end of the world at the time, but with more races around the corner, I have to move on.
This weekend I am back to racing the Lehendakari series in the Basque Country. This Sunday’s round in Bergara finishes up the famous climb of Gorla, making it the most prestigious in the series. Hopefully things will go my way and I can get a positive result. Keep an eye on my Twitter page for any news.
Photos Ontur – Club Ciclista Onturense
Video Ontur –
Photos Zamora/Iberdrola –
Results Zamora –
Results Iberdorla –
Results Ontur –