Recently NoTubes Women's Elite team rider Kathy Sherwin completed the Andalucia Mountain Bike Stage Race in Spain. Kathy competed with friend and long-time endurance racer Jenny Smith.
The duo took second in the final general classification but the journey was anything but smooth.
In this three part article, Kathy shares her tales of adventure and misfortune along the 6 stages of Andalucia.
MTB Stage Race
written by: Kathy Sherwin
Never say never. I should
know that but I had always thought that Mountain Bike Stage racing just sounded
like something I would never want to do. Putting that many hours
on a bike some of which can be grueling just had never appealed to me, that is
until Jenny Smith, successful Xterra and MTB Stage Racer, called with an
opportunity of a lifetime.
A paid "vacation?” Geez,
who can say no to that really. Hotels? Eating off china plates as though
you were actually normal and civilized? Free Massages after the race?
Accommodations paid for? Transportation and Transfers included? Well
"DUH”, of course I want to go!!! I think?!?!
Jenny and I made sure we were on
the same page before signing up as a team. The goal? Get some
ripping base training and mileage in. Never mind the fact that I have yet to put
in over 4.5 hours on the bike (that may even be a stretch) let alone doing that
6 days in a row!
SLC to ATL to Paris to Malaga,
Let the mishaps begin: No
Ah heck, who needs luggage
anyway? Well at least the Air France pilot warned us to "Not smoke IN
the toilet”. Does that mean I can smoke outside of the toilet??? Just
I probably should have been a
little more alarmed than I was without luggage, being alone in Spain and hoping
that my ride from the race organizers was going to be there. I don’t speak
Spanish and my husband Chris (aka Pepe) who does, was flying in the next day.
My luck turned around as a gal I
started talking to in Paris, was native to Malaga, spoke English and Spanish
and knew exactly what to do about lost luggage. She waited patiently with me at
the luggage carousel to make sure my bags were indeed not there and then walked
me over to the "window” to file a lost luggage claim. This was taking
time and I was sweating a little that my ride (that I hadn’t seen yet) would
leave me since I was officially late for the pickup. Ok, getting nervous.
And I can’t go outside and get the driver because I can’t go back in!!!
So I made a few calls (that’s gonna hurt!!!) and found out that the van driver
was there and would wait. Relief.
Next mishap: Towed
Secretly I didn’t mind not
having to lug my luggage around the airport to the van. Only thing was
that our van wasn’t there. The driver, Pablo was, but no van.
Apparently he parked a bit too long waiting for me and the van was towed.
In the meantime myself, Jenny
who had appeared on scene from another flight, Thomas from Specialized, Henrick
and his race partner Mads (eventual Masters Overall winners) hung out at the
airport Starbucks. Yep, Starbucks is near the Mediterranean too.
Mishap #3: Got
Once Pablo figured out the van situation
and paid the fine we packed and were off…..well until he scraped the side
mirror on the concrete parking structure. Poor Pablo!! And once he
got going again Henrick took his fist and hit the side of the van to make Pablo
think he hit something else!! Pretty funny but I think at that point
Pablo was ready to abandon ship!
I could see clearly that this
was going to be quite the experience!
Malaga to Cordoba
Spain was super green as we made
our way through the hills, expansive olive groves/plantations and even some
bull fighting arenas. To make the area even more beautiful there was a
dam nestled in between the mountains. Incredible area.
A couple hour drive to the
beautiful hotel in Cordoba and a frantic trip to the quick mart (think 7-11)
that had a BAKERY in the back of it and Jenny and I were feeling like we could
start getting settled. Well that was after rearranging the room,
identifying that thing in the bathroom as a bidet and laughing about the
hairdryer that looked like a hose vacuum.
The next day my bike showed up
and I got it built just in time to join Jenny for a ride. The ride felt
great after 2 days of no riding and the warmth felt exceptional. Even got a
sneak peek of some of the singletrack in the area. Hard packed smooth
The next morning we got up
around 6:30am for what turned out to be an excellent buffet breakfast by the
hotel. Pretty much everything you could ask for to include the thickest
black coffee ever along with salty meats and cheeses galore. Olive oil was
abundant as we were in the olive oil production capital of the world. And, In
case you are wondering what the current MTB World Champion, Jose Hermida, chose
as his pre race food it was a fresh baked baguette with olive oil drizzled all
Now it was time for the real
test for me…..to figure out what to eat on the bike. What was I going to
want to eat? I don’t know!!! I rarely eat on the bike and usually
only fuel with sports drink but now that we were going to be on the bike for 60
+ miles I HAD to eat. I just packed it all (gels, blocks, bars, etc) so
that I had a choice. Better off with some food that you will actually eat
because what sounds good now may not sound good at race pace. I was ALREADY
thinking about Stage 6 and how I could make it that far without depleting my
body or getting dehydrated so I really wanted to be careful. I also
settled for carrying 2 sports bottles and no camelback because there were going
to be plenty of feed stations along the way.
Neutral Start: CRASH
Before the race started I was on
my head. There was a neutral roll out from the hotel to downtown Cordoba
before Stage 1 began. I knew jitters were in the air and I told myself to
stay out of trouble. I purposely put myself ALONE in the extremely large
pack when from out of nowhere a guy swooped in, crossing bars with mine!!
We fought it for a while and I ended up going down hard on the pavement.
Everything flew out of my pockets and no one hit me thank heavens. Jenny was
luckily right there to gather everything that had launched and get us back up
to the group before the stage start.
The bike was fine and I was
fine- more just annoyed. Got the first war wound on my bike from that one.
Can’t believe everything was ok aside from what turned into a sore left arm for
the rest of the week. To think that my (our) race could have been over
before it even began!!!
STAGE 1: Córdoba–Cerro
Jenny and I rolled up to the
start of the race only having a few minutes to shake off the shock of the
crash. The gun goes off and I send my body into more shock racing from
downtown Cordoba towards the hills for 6400 feet of climbing. That kind
of intensity trying to get a good position in the pack made me feel like I
wanted to barf for the first 2 hours of the race. Awesome feeling.
But my mind was easily diverted
as all the Andalucía Bike Racers had been started WITH a separate Marathon race
that had 1000 starters. It was flat out mayhem as Jenny and I rode with
groups for the first 2.5 hours of the race. Still at that point there was only
about a 10 second gap to the next person. I even gave some poor guy
begging for food as I rode by my sports bar. When you are out in the middle of
nowhere like that, you are all in it together.
We headed up paved roads, thru
tight singletrack, into tiny towns, and down some of the sketchiest descents
that I found myself riding thanks to my Nobby Nics by Schwalbe Tires!
We passed some amazing ruins during the stage too. It was truly
breathtaking out there. But it wasn’t completely dry. There were
MANY stream crossings that were ridable but left you with a cold, wet, and
frozen foot for the rest of the race.
At about the point we thought
the race should be ending it just kept going and going and going. Oops,
they forgot about that last hellish 7k. And it’s not that the last 7k was
that bad but when you expect it to end and it’s not, that’s when the troubles
with the head begin. But Jenny and I kept trucking along even
pushing ourselves up one hideous climb only because people were lining it
screaming. It just about cracked me. That is what you call peer
pressure and we succumbed and both decided after maybe that wasn’t the best
idea in the world.
When we finally crossed the line
we were told we had come in 2nd and I really thought that they
had made a mistake. But after a few interviews for Spanish TV and a bunch
of pictures, it was reality that we had indeed really come in 2nd!!
Wow, in my first stage race ever. I think I could like this stuff! : )
Notes: I am loving the
international feel of this race!! 14 countries are represented and it’s a
hit or miss if the person speaks English or not. Even have some heavy
hitters from the pro road arena (Heras and Beltran) mixing it up in the dirt
STAGE 2: Western Cordoba
To Be Continued Tomorrow… Check
in tomorrow for more of Kathy’s story