Racing in Spain
June 18th, 2010 by Ashleigh Moolman Pasio
After a long, hard ten days of racing in Spain, I am happy to be back in Italy to settle back to some routine again. My racing experience in Spain started off with a World Cup in Valladolid on Sunday 6th, followed by a one day race in Durango on Tuesday 8th as a warm up to the Iuretta Emakumeen Bira Tour which started on Thursday 10th to Sunday 13th. It was a week jam packed with racing, learning and invaluable experience.
Valladolid World Cup
My introduction to European racing was rather nerve racking to say the least. Starting with a World Cup was not exactly my opinion of an easy transition to the world of international women’s cycling. Looking back however, I am proud of the way I handled the pressure.
The World Cup circuit consists of 9 races around the world, at the end of which, the rider with the most points wins the title of World Cup Champion. The team’s objective for the Valladolid World Cup was to protect team mate, Grace Verbeke, during the race to ensure her a good finish, in order to retain her high placing on the overall World Cup point’s standings.
It was quite a frustrating race. The route was rather flat, and although there was wind, it was just not strong enough to notably split up the bunch. Being my first European race, my major personal aim was to work hard at maintaining a good position in the bunch, to ensure I was in on the action at the front. All was going to plan, however, with 10 km to go, disaster struck. I experienced really bad cramping in my calves.
With a hard week of racing ahead, I decided to limit the damages to my body and ride easily to the end. Cramping is not something I have experienced before and looking back, I am not sure of the exact cause. It was probably a combination of adjusting to a new race juice, a stomach bug the day before and my body not being used to the high intensity for that period of time.
I didn’t finish well and although I was very disappointed, as I had raced so hard and was with the front bunch coming into the last 10km, I was happy with my overall performance in my first World Cup.
Iuretta Emakumeen Bira Tour
The Iuretta Emakumeen Bira Tour consisted of 5 stages over 4 days, taking place close to Bilbao in the Basque region of Spain. One of the major attractions of the Basque region is its mountainous terrain, but don’t forget to bring your rain coat to protect yourself from the “tixirimiri”, the typical very fine rain. Wow, and did it rain!
The first stage consisted of a very technical lap route in and around the village of Iuretta. Lap racing in Europe is always tough as it means racing through many narrow village streets, over cobble sections and around numerous sharp corners. Moreover, racing in wet conditions does not make this any easier. Although there were three category 3 climbs included in the route, the climbing was not tough enough to split up the bunch. The race ended in a big, dangerous bunch finish where I managed to finish 54th out of 86 girls. This stage was all about remaining in the front bunch and playing it safe. With my lack of European race experience, I was proud to have finished in the main bunch with no time loss.
Stage 2 was bound to be the decisive stage of the race, as it included five categorized climbs. With all that climbing, there was no doubt that a breakaway would form, which would determine the major general classification standings for the tour. Unfortunately for me, lady luck was not on my side for this stage.
I felt so strong, and with a few days of racing in the bank, I was feeling much more confident in the bunch at the start of the stage. I summated the first climb with the front bunch and started descending really well. The first descent was rather long, with lots of slippery, wet corners. Near to the end of the first descent, disaster struck, when I slide out on one of the corners.
The damage to my bike was minimal and I had no broken bones, so I got up quickly, got back onto the bike and started chasing. I managed to rejoin the bunch again, but unfortunately, a breakaway of 8 riders had gotten away on the descent. This breakaway consisted of all the major contenders, expect for Nicole Cooke (World and Olympic champion).
As we reached the second climb of the day, Nicole and I worked well together and climbed strong. We managed to gain considerably on the 8 rider break away. As we summated however, I once again ran into trouble, when my chain jammed probably due to the damage to my bike during my fall. This set me back once again, as I lost the bunch and found myself chasing on the descent.
On the last big climb of the day, Nicole and I worked hard once again and we both managed to rejoin the select group of 8 riders at the front of the race. I could not believe my luck when with 20km to go and on one the second last descent of the day, a race official on a motor bike clipped the girl in front of me as he passed, resulting in both her and I going down. By this stage there was no chance I would be able to rejoin the front group again. I got back up and rode to the finish in the second bunch, finally finishing 21st on the day, but with a 9 minute deficit on the front group of 9 and some nasty grazes on my battered body.
What a disappointing stage, but I am so thankful that with the help and encouragement from my team manager, I continued to fight back, despite my two crashes and one mechanical incident. I had proven a lot to myself and to my team by not giving up!
Stage three was a 5.9 km time trial which consisted of 2.2 km of steep climbing (average gradient of 10%), while the remainder was flat and sometimes even downhill. With the terrible day I had had the day before; I decided this stage was make or break. With 2.2 km of steep climbing, it was possible to make up positions on the overall general classification standings. I gave it my all and with amazing support from my team manager, Dany, and Carl, my husband, in the following vehicle, I managed to pull off a respectable 7th place for the stage. This meant that I moved up to 12th place on the general classification.
Relatively boring stage as there wasn’t much climbing. There were numerous breakaway attempts by some of the lower placed riders, but nothing managed to stay away. With everyone’s legs being a bit tired from the morning’s time trial effort, the stage finished with a big bunch sprint once again. I finished 24th, with no real time loss, and maintained my 12th place overall.
Probably the driest stage of the entire tour, I rode the 5th and final stage with increased confidence from the experience I had gained in the past week. It was a long and mountainous stage, and with 4 stages of racing done, it was always going to be a tough one.
I felt strong and rode confidently in the bunch, but made some rookie mistakes along the way. Being a bit too eager on the climbs, I spent unnecessary energy at the front of the bunch when others were conserving. Claudia Hausler attacked on the second last climb of the day, earlier than I had expected, and I was caught off guard. She got away with two other riders and managed to secure her tour victory by gaining 5 minutes on our group. I finished in the second bunch, in 16th place and managed to move up one place to 11th on the general classification.
Being my first tour in Europe, I am incredibly satisfied with my result. Finishing in the top 15 amongst the world’s best, in wet conditions and with crashes and mechanical problems along the way, is an achievement I am proud of. I am proudly South African.