Mitas 4 Islands Stage Race – Croatia

4 Islands Mountain Bike Stage Race: Racing from the New World to the Old

Written by: Shannon Boffeli

Just over a year ago Jen and I finished our last mountain bike stage race, Titan Tropic Cuba, two weeks ago we went from what felt like a developing civilization in Cuba to racing in the earliest expanse of western civilization; I can’t imagine a greater contrast from out last stage race to the Mitas 4 Islands mountain bike stage race in Croatia. From racing in the untouched interior of Cuba we transitioned to racing on trails built in the Roman era; the start of stage one traverses through castle ruins for shit’s sake. A castle built well before discovery of the Americas, when the earth was still thought to be flat. How’s that for a contrast.

Despite the differences in location there were several constants shared between this and other stage races we’ve done, the most important being: incredible trail riding.

Riders roll through the ruins of castle Baska – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

The 4 Islands organization know they have a special gem in their hands and they want to share it with all their mountain bike friends. From the opening climb through the castle Baska ruins on day one to the seaside trails and beach finish on the final day in Losinj, 4 Islands serves up an all-you-can-eat feast of dope singletrack, breathtaking views, rowdy descents, and steep steep steep climbing. This is an amazing race but you best be ready to throw down because 4 Islands will test you in everyway.

The 4 Islands stage race follows a course through historic Croatia hitting 4 of the over 1,000 islands in the Eastern European nation. Tucked just across the Adriatic sea from Italy, Croatia is a beautiful country with a rich mixture of old world charm, modern European comforts, and post-Soviet culture.

Riders are never far from coastline and port cities at 4 Islands – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

Each stage of 4 Islands begins on a new island starting with Krk then moving on to Rab, Cres, and finally Losinj. Participants have a choice of staying on a yacht, the race hotel package, or arranging their own lodging.

The race is a team event so each racer needs a teammate. Teammates have to stay within 2 minutes of each other throughout each stage. The race hosts roughly 300 teams during the 4-day race.

Jen Hanks and Shannon Boffeli ride in the Mixed category at 4 Islands stage race – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

4 Islands is a UCI event so it’s guaranteed some of Europe’s fastest riders will be in attendance. This year accomplished UCI riders like Fabian Geiger and Esther Suss were pushing the pace up front and although you won’t be starting with them, unless you have your UCI license, the men’s and women’s times will definitely be measured against these superstars.

There is no doubt 4 Islands will provide what you are looking for in a European adventure. Incredible scenery featuring everything from hidden inlets and secluded coves bathed in the pristine turquoise waters of the Adriatic, towering mountain scapes of jagged, jostled limestone, to medieval cobblestoned villages seeping with old world charm. 4 Islands will not disappoint.

Team Ghost navigates the rocky singletrack in Croatia – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

And if challenging yourself on the bike is your goal well you’re in for a real treat with this race. Without a doubt Croatia offers up some of the very best riding I’ve seen in all of Europe. And I don’t mean groomed flow trails. I’m talking about narrow, rough, rowdy singletrack that never lets up from the start of stage one to the final beach on Losinj.

Unlike some other European stage races, 4 Islands is a real mountain bikers race and you won’t do well if you can’t ride your bike. Croatia’s unique geology leads to a land covered in baby head, limestone rocks and when I say they are everywhere, they are literally everywhere. The porous limestone on the Croatian islands, called karst, allows water to seep through the rock rather than run off in streams and rivers. This slowly erodes and dissolves the top layer of sediment exposing an ocean of baby heads. Over centuries the Croatians have used these stones to build their paths, trails and endless stone walls that line everything, the only clear land visible is because some intrepid Croat cleaned away all the rubble using it to create an endless maze of rocky ramparts (thank you Les Brown, professor of geology and 4 Islands finisher.)

Riders cross the Moonsurface on stage 1 -Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

What I’m trying to say is riding in Croatia is a blast! The difficulty level of riding at 4 Islands was a real treat. Each day you are being challenged not just by distance, fatigue, and competitors but by the trail itself. Full suspension is a must and even a dropper post would be a welcomed addition for most riders who find themselves hurling their way down rock strewn descents with 5-foot stone walls on each side funneling the riders through 10 to 20 minute descents that feel like one never-ending rock garden.

Despite having 600 racers on course at the same time and an abundance of singletrack riding, the racers rarely encountered bottlenecks or slowing on course because of slow moving riders. The 4 Islands crew does an admirable job of dividing riders into 4 different starting waves and because racers start most days right from the ferry it means you often face a brutally steep climb right out of the gate that does a great job of stringing out the pack and allowing riders to attack the singletrack when they approach it. A real treat in any big stage race.

4 Islands climbs are steep steep steep – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

Outside of the racing activity the 4 Islands staff are nice as hell, as were all Croatians we encountered, they will bend over backwards to help you out even if what you actually need may get lost in translation a bit. The food provided on course and at the race hotels is fantastic and plentiful with a wide variety of meal options that made it easy even for a gluten-free and vegetarian racer to stay well fed throughout.

 

Our Experience

Mitas 4 Islands stage race is our fifth stage race competing as a mixed team, male and female partners. We arrived in the start village of Baska on the island of Krk two days before the race. Just enough time to get bikes built, pick up our registration, ride some of the opening stage, and take a quick tour of the Baska harbor.

Baska harbor

One of the more exciting aspects of racing in an international event is having no idea who you will be facing out on the trail or how high up in the race you’ll be. It’s all a mystery until the start.

Day one began with a big climb of about 1,200’ right out of the gate. The pack spread out quickly and we found ourselves surrounded by about five other mixed teams heading up the long first climb that empties out onto a rubble-strewn mountain top called the “Moonsurface”. The riding gets tough here as you weave your way through fields of baby heads. Jen surged ahead through the rough riding and moved us into second place for a bit before settling back in to fourth.

4 Islands offers up some of the best singletrack Europe has to offer. Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

We spent the rest of the day chasing a Belgian duo who would give up time on the techy parts but make up time on the roads using a cable that allowed the male rider to tow his partner in the open sections.

We crossed the finish pretty happily in fourth place not far behind the Belgians. We had spent about four hours weaving our way around Krk. All the talk at the finish line focused on the abundance of gnarly descending throughout the day as I think everyone was happily surprised by the quality of the trail riding.

 

Day Two

The morning immediately had a different feel. It was raining. An early transfer to the island of Rab offered no respite from the rain as it was coming down in sheets by the time the race started.

cold, wet, and muddy was the name of the game on day 2 – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

We were instantly drenched from a combination of the persistent rain and water pooling on the road and trails. Once again we opened up with steep climbs but the rain and cold deadened our legs a bit. Once again we were battling with the Belgian squad but without the tow cable this time.  As it turns out, towing is illegal and they were given a 30-minute time penalty after stage 1. They seemed to have a bit more juice than us and, I’m going to presume, perhaps a bit more experience with cold and rainy conditions coming from Belgium.

About an hour in, the second place team (MT Zoom) were on the side of the trail with a mechanical and despite not feeling our best we were excited to be in third again.

Rab was one the most scenic days of riding in 4 Islands as the trail skirted along endless miles of shoreline within inches of the sea offering riders views of the incredible hidden coves and inlets around the island. Enjoying the scenery was tough as water, mud, and more water poured over us all day long. The stage finished with a massive descent into the resort town of Lopar which our drenched bodies were unable to enjoy; as the descending just made us colder.

Riders begin the final rainy descent into Lopar on day 2 – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

After crossing the line most riders quickly retreated back to the port where dry clothes were waiting. Recovery was critical on this stage.

We were excited to finish third again but lost over 18 minutes to the Belgians. Things could always be worse though as we later found out that Ant White from the MT Zoom team had broken a crank arm and, incredibly, rode over half of the race with one leg! Mountain bike stage racers are a tough bunch.

Mixed team leaders Thomas Weschta and Rebecca Robisch power through the rain to win stage 2 – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

As difficult as the day was the aftermath was almost as bad. Cleaning bikes, cleaning bodies, cleaning clothes, getting warm, eating, cleaning bikes again, replacing brake pads and cables, drying shoes, and preparing for the next stage left very little time for recovery and rain was, again, in the forecast.

 

Day Three

Mercifully we woke to clear blue skies and much warmer temperatures the morning of stage 3. We prepared for another ferry transfer to Cres. The location of the day’s stage. As we boarded the ferry we were told the race mechanics had run out of brakepads overnight and anyone needing new pads would have to wait until we landed at the port to get them. The exhausted race mechanics had been working until 5 in the morning getting bikes ready for riders the next day but a shortage of brakepads meant either you would be going without or frantically work some of your own bike magic when we hit shore.

Riders enjoy the return of sunshine on stage 3 -Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

Luckily, I used the 2 pairs of pads we had with us on Jen’s bike the night before. That meant I only needed stoppers for my bike.

We hit the shore with about 50 minutes before the start. After navigating a long line of distressed racers I finally got my pads and had just enough time to change the front set of pads while we waited on the start line; only having front brakes is better than no brakes at all and there were plenty of people who would be going without.

We started off the ferry deck and immediately up a 1,200-foot leg-burner. After that we were dumped again into fabulous Croatian singletrack flowing through vineyards and fields of olive trees, lined with rock walls of course. The warm weather and sun helped to fuel us to a strong start sitting comfortably in third on the stage in front of the Belgians this time.

Race leaders bounce between another of the many stonewalled descents in 4 Islands – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

Midway through we hit a long stretch of two-track hugging the Cres coastline. A breathtaking track but wide and flat enough that it allowed our rivals to catch up just as we hit the base of the day’s steepest climb. About a mile long and well over a 20% grade for long sections the Belgians attacked early. We were able to close the gap back down and when it kicked up again we countered their attack and briefly got a gap of our own before they brought us back. They launched to final counter attack just as the climb crested and that was it. We were in damage control mode again.

We rode strong the rest of the day enjoying the dry trail, tacky dirt, and endless Croatian singletrack.

Race leaders charge through the cobbled alleys of Osor – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

We finally finished the stage charging down a long section of cobblestoned streets and narrow passageways through the medieval town of Osor.

Despite losing more time to our rivals we really enjoyed the day and felt good about our performance on the 4 Island’s queen stage on Cres. Finishing in Osor was icing on the cake. Cobblestoned streets, canals, a rusty old drawbridge, all in the shadows of centuries old steeples and facades made an amazing stage that much more memorable. With big smiles, we boarded the bus for our final transfer to our finishing hotel on Losinj.

 

Last Day

Another warm day and no transfers made for a more relaxing feel to this final morning of 4 Islands. We were a bit nervous though wanting to hold onto our second place in the GC and knowing we only had just over 5 minutes to work with. With a shorter stage on tap it seemed possible especially if we could get off to a quick start like we had the previous day.

The start of stage 4 in Mali Losinj – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

After a mile or two cruise to the day’s start venue in Mali Losinj we found ourselves right in the middle of a perfectly picturesque scene in the quaint port city. Imagine the most idyllic European seaside town square and that’s Mali Losinj. Cobblestone streets lined with cafes and coffeehouses, majestic sailboats resting in crystalline blue waters set the scene for the final day’s start.

The last stage was the shortest but featured two very steep climbs at the start and a long flat run into the finish line following the coastline.

The start was fast and our Belgian rivals managed to get in front of us as the climbing started. It was tough to enjoy another warm, clear day as we pushed hard to limit the time gap.

One big climb down, we reached the bottom of the final big ascent of the race. A beast of a mountain that starts hurting before you even start. It’s so steep you can see the final climb for a half kilometer before actually getting there. The climb itself is so steep they recently had to pour two parallel ribbons of concrete running from top to bottom to help the 4×4 trucks get up. Pick one ribbon at the bottom and stay on it if you hope to have any chance of riding your way to the top. You need every bit of your 50 tooth eagle rear cassette to get up this thing.

Most riders are forced to walk on the epically steep final climb of stage 4 -Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

As painful a climb as this was it lifted our spirits a bit as we could see the Belgian duo in front of us and they were off walking.

We crested the climb and attacked the usual mixture of rock-strewn singletrack, walled descents, and seaside walkways literally giving everything we had to get to the finish line.

We spent no time enjoying the incredibly scenic final kilometers, running just feet from the Adriatic, we were pushing with all we had for the finish line. When we finally crossed, it was a mixture of accomplishment and disappointment that waited for us as we were so happy to be on the podium but lost second place but just 21 seconds!

Riders celebrate the final day at Losinj – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

The disappointment quickly faded as we enjoyed another great post race meal and shared our stories with the new friends we made throughout the week.

4 Islands is an incredible race. It gives riders everything they could possibly want from a multi-day stage race; unrivaled scenery, tough competition, challenging course design with loads and loads of singletrack, friendly staff, and excellent food and sleeping accommodations. My two tricks for making your 4 Islands experience the best would be: pay the extra coin to stay on the boats during the race and take advantage of the race mechanics to service your bike each night (your legs will thank you for the extra time to recover).

Final podium of the mixed category with Jen Hanks and Shannon Boffeli in third – Photo courtesy of 4 Islands

 

Click Here for Full Results from All Categories 

 

Pisgah Stage Race Coming April 9

The 10th annual Blue Ridge Adventures Pisgah Stage Race takes place April 9-14th, 2018 in Brevard North Carolina.  This 5-day journey takes you on a 140-mile tour of Pisgah through the temperate rain forest sampling some of the best singletrack Pisgah has to offer.  The race delivers with a timed enduro section each day, scenic views, waterfalls, creek crossings, technical east coast rooty-rocky singletrack and has over 20,000 feet of elevation gain.  Racers from around the globe including 9 different countries and 23 states are signed up making the race already 75% sold out!

https://youtu.be/akXImuoJIyc

After each stage of the race the Brevard Music center serves as the venue for results, awards, slide show of race day photos and a local gourmet meal.

Some racers are looking for a challenging week with scenic views and technical riding but some are looking for a podium position.  Which racers can push their limits and take the top spots this year?

The defending champion in the Women’s Pro class and fat bike national champ Jena Greaser is returning and hoping to hold on to that top step.  Trying to challenge her will be Ada Xinxo from Spain, Jenna Downey and many other women eager to be crowned the new champion.

In the Men’s Open category Elliot Baring, Stefano Barberi, Jeff Cheever, Santi Val and Tristian Uhl are all looking to face the 2017-defending champion Tristian Cowie.  With such a stacked field of men its definitely going to be an exciting race.

Stages:


Moab Rocks: Stage 3

Canadians Dominate the Final Stage in Moab with Maghalie Rochette and Geoff Kabush Taking the 2017 Titles

Written by: Shannon Boffeli and Marlee Dixon

Cloudy and overcast skies with mild temperatures again greeted riders for the final stage of Moab Rocks. Starting at the Gemini Bridges parking lot. Riders attack a steep, Jeep road climb before entering the Magnificient 7 trail area. Moab Rocks promoters have connected a flowy loop to challenge riders including some of the best singletrack available including the Bull Run and Great Escape descents.

Geoff Kabush (#42) leads the first climb of Stage 3. He would go on to win the overall classification of Moab Rocks. Photo by: John Gibson

Open Men

With just seconds separating the top riders going into stage three the open men’s race was sure to produce some major excitement.

A leisurely pace to the base of the first climb quickly changed as the leaders wound it up looking to decide who would become 2017 Moab Rocks champion.

At the start of the day Justin Lindine (Apex/NBX) was just 50 seconds out of first place and was looking to challenge Canadian superstar Geoff Kabush (Scott) for the lead. Ben Sonntag (Clif Bar) wasn’t far back either and the ever-aggressive Chris Baddick (Boulder Cyclesport) was looking to continue his climb up the leader board having moving into fifth with his efforts yesterday.

The lead group got away early in a stage that featured much more singletrack and tougher passing than the previous days.

Justine Lindine (2nd overall) leads Geoff Kabush who eventually won Stage 3 and the overall general classification at Moab Rocks. Photo by: John Gibson

Lindine indeed gave it his all throwing everything he could at Kabush but the lanky Canadian would not be shaken. Kabush’s combination of incredible fitness and outstanding skills on the bike once again proved too tough for the competition.

Although Lindine kept it close, Geoff Kabush took his third stage win of the race and the overall title finishing just nine seconds in front and adding to his endless list of victories on American soil.

Ben Sonntag capped off a consistent weekend taking third place on the day and third in the final GC.

This left the race for fourth overall to be decided between Baddick and Taylor Lideen (Pivot/Industry Nine/Infinit). Lideen struggled mightily with his injured thumb making it difficult for him to grip the bar with his left hand.

Tokyo Joes rider feeling the flow in Mag 7. Photo by: Jean McAllister

Baddick did his best to take advantage, pushing hard and dropping the Pivot rider. In the end he picked up over 2 minutes on Lideen but needed one more to takeover fourth in the GC.

Lideen managed just enough to keep his spot secure as Baddick finished fourth on the day but fifth in the stage race. Lideen rolled across the line seventh in today’s final stage.

Maghalie Rochette of the Luna Team-1st on Stage 3 and 1st overall. Photo by: John Gibson

Open Women

Stage 3 of Moab Rocks was a mellow start with racers bunched together in a peloton for the first mile before hitting the steep loose dirt climb of Gemini Bridges Road.

From there Maghelie Rochette (Clif Bar) started to take the lead, pushing fast up the climb.

GC leader Jena Greaser was right behind with Marlee Dixon (Pivot Cycles/DNA) following closely.

Once over the opening road climb Greaser took off, blazing down the road followed by Rochette but once climbing started up the next steep climb of Gemini Bridges road Rochette made her intentions clear and started to put some space on her competitors.

Once the women hit singletrack, Lea Davison (Clif Bar) with Ksenia Lepikhina (Tokyo Joes) right on her wheel; passed Dixon.

Ksenia Lepikhina leads Lea Davison in the single track. Photo by: Jean McAllister

Davison put some time on Lepikhina and caught up to Greaser who was having trouble maintaining her power and speed from the past few days.

Rochette continued to put the hammer down looking to put time on Greaser and steal the GC title on the last stage. She rode aggressively all the way to the finish.

Davison stayed in second position and although Greaser crashed, she held on for third for the day.

Lepikhina and Dixon bunny hopped each other at one point with Lepikhina finishing fourth followed by Dixon in fifth.

Rochette, having her strongest stage of the race, finished a full 5 minutes ahead of Greaser, taking the overall win.

Jena Greaser-3rd on Stage 3 and 2nd overall. Photo by: Jean McAllister

Greaser dropped to second in the GC followed by Dixon in third, Davison in fourth and Lepikhina in fifth.

The women put on a great show at this year’s Moab Rocks. The extremely competitive group produced three different stage winners with a change in GC leader each day.

Although amazing scenery was all around riders had little time to enjoy the views on a fast stage through Mag 7. Photo by: Jean McAllister

By any measure the 2017 Moab Rocks was a huge success: a sold out event, stacked fields with national and world champions, incredible trails, hard racing, exceptional camaraderie, and organization like a finely-tuned Swiss watch. The folks at TransRockies events know how to put on a first-class event and all those on hand hope this event continues for a long time to come.

Click Here for Full Results From All Categories Including Final GC Standings 

Gallery

Titan Tropic by GAES – Stage 4: Vinales to Vinales

Written by: Shannon Boffeli

We had been looking forward to stage 4 all week; 84 kilometers of dirt! The excitement was high going in and we felt like we would have fun and probably open up our lead a bit more doing it.

Unfortunately, that plan quickly went down the toilet as I woke up with a nasty stomach ache and some unfriendly diarrhea. I thought maybe I could power through but once I sat down for breakfast the mere sight of food made me want to barf.

First placed mixed duo team of Jen Hanks and Shannon Boffeli on stage 4. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

I nursed down a glass of orange juice and went back to the tent to get ready for the stage.

Yesterday had been long and hot with a humid night of sleep to follow so I wasn’t sure if I was suffering some dehydration or a stomach bug. Just in case I started taking an antibiotic I brought down.

I was excited to start the day because sitting on my bike was actually easier than trying to stand or walk. The first 10km went by mercifully quick but I had pretty much burned any matches I had at that point.

Race leader Diego Tamayo controls the front of the field from Vinales to Vinales. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

I was walking all the climbs. Jen took my heavy pack with all the tools and let me carry her lighter one but that barely helped. The second-placed team quickly passed us and I could tell by their urgency they wanted to put some time into us.

When I could ride Jen would push and pull me the way I do for her most stages but I still couldn’t keep up with her. Finally, after about two hours of suffering and harboring serious doubts that I could finish the day I managed to get some Honey Stinger energy chews in, the first calories I had eaten all day. I followed that with a little water and things were looking brighter.

Racers power past a tobacco drying barn in the Vinales Valley. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

I could at least keep up with Jen on the flats. After a bit more time we actually passed a few people and were getting a good chuck of kilometers behind us.

At the third and final aid station I was feeling good enough to drink and force down a banana. We were off again. I gulped down one final drink and that put me right over the edge. Everything came back up. My mouth was like an uncontrolled fire hose ejecting every bit of water and food I had eaten the entire day all over my bike.

Shannon Boffeli rolling his way through stage 4. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

With nothing left in me I actually felt the best I had all day. The final 20 kilometers of the day weren’t fast but I could easily keep my legs moving unlike earilier in the day.

We crossed the line having lost just 18 minutes to our rivals. I immediately headed for the medical station.

Upon seeing me they put me on a stretcher and carried me into their makeshift clinic. My color was pale and skin was dry despite the 90-degree temperature and matching humidity. The team quickly placed an IV and started giving me fluids to replenish what I had lost.

Stage 4 offered up the most dirt of any stage in the 2016 Titan Tropic. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

It helped. A lot! After 2 hours, a liter of saline, and something to help with nausea I was feeling much better.

Today was a real struggle but also a great test of the mixed duo team category. Today it was the female partner pulling her teammate along. Doing everything possible to put in the fastest time and it worked. Without Jen’s help I very well may not have finished and definitely would have lost a lot more that 18 minutes.

Now I just need to get some food in me before tomorrow. It’s the shortest stage of the week but 68 kilometers could be impossible on two days without food.

IV fluids and oxygen after the finish. Photo by: Jen Hanks

Raul Hernandez and partner Laura Ortiz look to pick up time on stage 4. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

Titan Tropic by GAES – Stage 3: Soroa to Vinales

Written by: Shannon Boffeli

I apologize in the lapse in coverage from Titan Tropic 2016 but internet service on the interior of Cuba is fleeting at best. The experience is unparalleled however. We saw incredible sights while crossing the Cuban island from north to south before turning to the northern, Atlantic coast again for the finish.

Day three was the queen stage taking the race from the lush gardens of Soroa to the hidden valleys and floating islands of Vinales.

Race leader Marlies Mejias (Cuba) leads her teammate and defending champion Olga Echenique through the early river crossings. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

The entire stage is roughly 114 kilometers with over 2,000 meters (6,000 feet) of climbing spread out along the way.

A long neutral lead out got us going, extended by the overall race leader, Diego Tamayo (Team Tamayo), stopping to pee before the control car could pull off.

Once the group was released it was clear today was going to be another fast ride, despite the extra miles.

Tinker Juarez wowed the crowds this week in Cuba. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

After a handful of early road miles, we dropped off into some of the most remote riding we had done thus far. Rock strewn, beaten, forest tracks, cross cut by streams and muddy fords traveled over hundreds of years by nothing but horses and ox drawn wagons now provided passage for 150 mountain bikes.

Dropping deeper and deeper into the interior of Cuba we passed homes that rarely see visitors and must have thought the alien invasion was finally happening as gaunt beings in brightly-colored spandex, steadily streamed by. If indeed they thought the aliens were upon them, they were exceedingly nice about.

After the dirt ended, we climbed to a high ridge that traversed endless valleys. An absolutely marvelous road that feels like your riding the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia with forests of palms taking the place of the old growth hardwoods of North America.

The preferred beast of burden in Cuba. Photo by: Shannon Boffeli

For kilometer after kilometer we followed the winding road without encountering a single car that wasn’t affiliated with the race. It’s no mystery why the area around Vinales is quickly becoming a road riding destination.

Finally, we dropped into the Vinales Valley with it’s 1,000 foot mogotes, giant haystack shaped mountains, standing guard. A more unique and varied landscape would be difficult to imagine as lush greenery and palm trees sit atop limestone monoliths with sheer-vertical walls on all sides.

Sightseeing had to be put aside as our focus returned to reaching the finish line. Jen and I had ridden hard all day almost exclusively by ourselves. My feet were on fire the last 30km as the early morning creek crossings had softened my shoes and allowed to feet to float around.

Former Formula 1 driver Jaime Alguersuari rides in the shadow of the many mogotes of the Vinales Valley. Photo courtesy of Titan Tropic by GAES

We picked up Jaime Alguersuari, a former Formula 1 driver, who passed us earlier in the day but was now dealing with some serious dehydration. He was riding with just bottles and lost one on a downhill section. He elected not to go back for it and it was costing him at this point. Jaime tucked in for the final road sections to the finish.

Stage three proved to be our best day as we put almost an hour of time between us and the second-placed duo mixed team, who we also learned are the former winners of the Titan Desert in Morocco.

Tomorrow, promises to be one of the best days for riding. The scenery of the Vinales Valley combined with a 100% off-road course should make for great riding and fun racing action.

Keeping the bikes clean and ready to go was important throughout the week. Titan Tropic workers power-washed hundreds of bikes a day. Photo by: Jen Hanks