I have just returned from end of season races in Mallorca, which included the European Masters Championships, Europa Cup, and the 4 day Tour of Mallorca.
Travelling with my training partner Warren Giddins, we were looking forward to some good racing in hopefully good weather conditions for the duration of the cycling week.
We arrived the day before the first race which enabled us to get the bikes together and have a relaxing ride and do a 'recee' of the championship course. It turned out to be a really good course of 11km's in distance with some very fast stretches on some wide and excellent surfaced roads.
RACE DAY...the sun was out and it was very warm for this time of year all bodes well for some fast exciting racing! My category started at 9.30am and with over 60 riders chomping on the bit I made sure I was near the front form the outset. Well, fast was the 'dish' of the day, everyone trying to get near the front to avoid the whiplash on the back, as the peleton lined-out on the main roads? It stayed like this for lap after lap with no breaks getting more than 10 secs advantage and by the very last lap a small group of 9 riders managed to slip off the front and were holding a small 5 sec gap on the peleton...speeds were touching 40mph and coming onto the seafront with 1km to go they were almost caught, WHEN...crash...crash...bikes were tumbling everywhere, a mirror image of the pile-up form the previous time I rode this! Once again I could not avoid the inevitable and went over the top of what I could see was a mountain of carbon fibre and bodies. I banged my knee very violently and had various cuts and bruises on my legs, luckily my bike escaped with just a couple of small dings!
*This race turned out to be the fastest group of all the categories*
So, no result, I limped off the circuit nursing a swollen knee wondering if I'm going to be fit enough for the rest of the week.
Warren had a good race staying with the group for the 5 of the 6 laps, pulling out on the last laps, exhausted with constant high speed and digging deep to hold his place.
We had a day off the next day which was good as it enabled us to have an easy recovery ride and chill-out at one of the many cafes and sample one of the many cafe-con-leches we were to consume over the coming week...lovely! We got together with Alan Ramsey for an easy ride around one of the most idyllic roads in Europe, the coast route going south form Arenal. It's a 20km road which skirts the edge of the island with an unbelievable backdrop of the med on your right which on a clear sunny day like today just makes riding the bike a pure pleasure!
After a little over an hour we made are way to a small cove just off the main coast road, and to say it was stunning would be an understatement, see picture...oh how the other half live!
From here we continued on the coast road until we reached a small cafe, a regular stop for cyclists, where we had a 20minute stop for coffee. Here Alan decided to tell us his plans to go faster in the ToM prologue by designing and making his own aero bars...wait for it...out of wood or bamboo?? Well, I nearly chocked on my coffee, but, what was even funnier, Alan was deadly serious.
We continued on, deciding to take the bike route back to Arenal via Lucmajor, and would you believe it we stumbled upon a bamboo bush, how ironic, I was hoping Alan would miss it, but alas he was off his bike and over the fence rustling through the bamboo like a 'Panda' (his new nickname). He emerged with a fully grown six foot bamboo shoot, which he then proceeded to tie to his bike, well, I had to say something, Warren had already rode off shaking his head in disbelief...I told Alan 'no way are we riding with him with a six foot bamboo shoot dragging behind him like some panda from a circus act'!
He agreed, then started in earnest to cut it down, and that was another story, see picture...
The moral of this day was, purseverence pays off...he made the bars and if truth told he done a very professional job, albeit at the bike check they told him he had to cut them down, which he did with the help of the local fire station...you have to tilt your hat to the guy!
EUROPA CUP (Magaluff)
This was the toughest day of all the races with many climbs from the outset, including two of 8km and 5km respectively. It may have been a short race of 64km, but it was fast from the start, with many riders going out the back as soon the road went up. I stayed near the front to calm my efforts for later when it really counts and as soon as we hit the first main climb the pace went up, I managed to stay in the lead group of about 19-20 riders and as we went over the top the hammer went down again and as I was near the back I had to make a huge effort to stay in line, so-much-so that on the first hairpin I over-shot and hit the barrier with my back wheel, which caused me to lose contact with the fast descending lead group. I still had a good gap on the chasers and recouped to start my chase back-on where I was joined by a Dutch rider called Gerrit who was going super down the climb (Dutch racing makes for great bike handling). We were soon making headway and could see the lead group just 20 secs ahead, we were working well together riding at over 55kmph on the flats, but as the next mountain climb approached we just couldn't close the last 100m! The German team working for the yellow jersey saw us coming up and increased the pace up the climb making impossible for us to make contact. We eventually came in together and finished 18th & 19th after riding a super 2-up for the last 20km's.
Warren rode the first lap of two and pulled out unable to stay in contact up the main climb...he was in good company, Andy Eager’s had also pulled out suffering from lack of form
THE PROLOGUE (6.4km)
The course was fantastic, an up & back along the Arenal beach front, with totally closed roads and a police motorbike for every rider, it was like a professional tour start.
Most of the Spanish and German riders had the full gear, low pro, disc wheels and aero helmets, the full Monty!
I and Warren did respectable rides considering we only had our normal road bikes and kit, with 9:22 and 9:59 respectively.
STAGE 2 (Cala Dor)
This turned out to be a nightmare, because my category was off early at 9am, I had to meet the transfer bus at 7am, so Warren said he would set the alarm for 6.15, great, no worries...not quite...he forgot to set the clock forward from GMT, well, you can guess what happened...I missed the bus . So rushing around in total panic we decided to ride out, which in hindsight, was a bad move, it was 55km away and with a pace of a fraction under 40kmph we were destined to be knackered even if we made it! Well after a valiant effort we arrived 20mins late, my race had already started, and with rules being very strict I was unable to start in Warren's category. Deciding to stay for a while and watch the races we had a well deserved coffee and baguette to replenish our energy and wait for the Warren's race to start. My race finished in a bunch sprint, which wasn't surprising as many were complaining that the distances of the races were too short, making breakaways virtually impossible because the speed is so high!
I decided to ride back as it was a fantastic day and as I retraced I saw Warren's race coming round, they were still together except for two riders, one was Warren who looked tired after his long ride out! He later said he was at the wrong end of the peleton when the hammer went down and with splits occurring he just could not close the small gap of a few bike lengths and had to watch the race go off into the distance!
*So I was out of the overall classification, but I was allowed to start the next two stages, Inca and Cala Pickaford.*
STAGE 3 (INCA)
Another early start to the catch bus, this time we both made it! Once we arrived it was a case of signing on and getting the all important coffee down before the 9am start, lots of milling round with riders warming-up and helpers taking bags to vehicles ready for the finish.
Sixty riders for the first race lined up for the 64km around the mountains course, it was going to be a make or break ride for many of the contenders for the overall classification...for me it was a case of trying to get a stage win as I was not eligable for the overall after my mishap with stage 2 .
The pace was high from the off as we followed parallel with the new motorway linking Palma with Alcudia, but with the strong winds any breaks only managed a small gap at most. Within 15km's we turned off the main road and turned inland and this was a very tough rolling road with short but steep climbs coming regular to test the legs. The yellow jersey was controlling all the moves, but I did notice a reluctance from his team mates to chase, persumably worried about the big climb looming up once we reached the outskirts of Alcudia. I decided to have-a-go and on the very next climb I countered a move from one of the Spanish riders attacking hard on the right hand side and within 100m I caught and passed the rider, but, it was short lived as the yellow jersey rallied his helpers to bring me back.
It went quiet from then on, everyone was either saving themselves or quietly craping their shorts with the impending pain that was about to rise-up in front of them. The climb itself was 10km's long with an average gradient of 7% and as soon as we reached the first few hairpins the race had already fragmented into many groups. Myself, Joey and Alan were holding well, and it wasn't long before a select group of 25 riders or so were away including all the main protaginists. At the 1km to KoM the lead group split once again chasing points at the top, with me and Joey in the second group of 10 riders just 30 secs adrift...Alan had dropped back earlier to the next group on the road...Now the chase was on, but there was reluctance in the group to work with most on the limit, happy to get a tow. When we got to the the final descent to Inca it was a case of every rider for themselves, the speed shot up, with Paul Doel and myself riding at over 60-70kph throwing 'caution to the wind' tring to force a gap on the many switchbacks...it worked...by the time we reached the bottom with just 5km's to go there were only 5 of us left including a great effort by Joey to make the split. We caught dropped riders from the lead group on the run-in which was just unbelievably fast, there was just no-way anyone was going to clip off now! Stage placing 17th.
Warren started soon after we had finished, he was nervous of this stage, as in his words 'If it goes up...I go backwards' Anyway he was away and hopefully get round in good shape!
Myself, Alan and Ivor decided to ride back as it was such a warm, sunny day and we ended up riding nearly 90 miles all-told...a good day, especially once we got back to Arenal for a welcome coffee and cake at Aladins...just the best cakes around...and all for 2 euros!
Despite being dropped, Warren battled on and completed the course, albeit we never told him that Sean kelly was on the main mountain climb watching the races...just hope he was looking good as he climbed alone thinking 'where have my climbing legs gone?'...Good effort bud!
STAGE 4 CALA PICKAFORD
Need I say it, this was even an earlier start...no bloody holiday here...This was the stage I decided I was going to give-it everything, attack the yellow jersey as many times as possible, with Alan, Ivor and Steve promising to help me by going on the offensive. The course was fast but it did have some leg breaking climbs, which I hoped would split the race, but despite this it went off at over 50kph and every break was only gaining a few metres at the most. Down through the marsh road Ivor made the most of a small lull in the pace and just simply rode off the front, this caused a reaction and instantly the temporary peace was ended. As soon as he was brought back I went and was soon joined by one of the top German riders, who because of his threat to the leader was in hindsight the wrong person to ecape with. Despite working well together and building a good 45secs lead, we were never allowed to get to far and after a 5 km effort we were brought back to the peleton.
It wasn't long before I went on the attack again and it was with one of the National German riders believe it or not! Like before, we worked well and got the gap, but it was not to be, the jersey wasn't letting anything go and we were soon back in the comfort of the main field.
Just before the 2nd cat climb I went again this time with Gerrit (the Dutch rider I rode with in the Europa Cup), but it was a fabled effort, as the peleton were moving fast to get the points at the KoM. Gerrit carried on which was a mistake, as once the group had caught him he was unable to get on and found himself out the back. Luckily, once over the top the pace eased and those who got dropped on the climb managed to get back to up to the main field including Gerrit, who looked a little shell-shocked when I saw him back in the peleton.
With 5km's to go it was all together and the 'gas' was full-on, I was starting to think about the possibility of doing a 'Cancellara' in the last km if the window of opportunity presented itself? Guess what, it did, the whole peleton swung over to the left and suddenly the door opened... I didn't need an invitation...I was gone, looking down at the computer I was moving at 52kph with the whole race lined out behind...a great feeling, but alas as we turned a tight right for the last 200m, the sprint was on...end of race. Stage Placing 20th...Can't say I didn't try!!
Warren decided to stay in bed and have a day off, shame really, he missed a great racing parcour!
*Overall it was a good week, with fantastic weather and great racing, the only downer being the early starts and my crash in the European Champs.*
Thanks to Alan 'Panda' Ramsey for keeping us entertained.