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Kathy Sherwin: Tales From the Andalucia MTB Stage Race Part II

Posted by: Shannon Boffeli |March 31, 2011 4:28 AM
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STAGE 2:  Western Cordoba

What a crazy way to start a race…..take 170 riders up a 10 second sprint on a dirt road and pinch them all through a 2 person wide hole in the fence which sends everyone STRAIGHT down a steep loose rocky hill.  It was tempting to ride that steep part but with all the mayhem, carnage and people slipping everywhere (on foot and on bike) I chose to think about the bike and the rest of the LONG day we had ahead and run the sucker.  

It was a good move because whatever Jenny and I did allowed us to jump on Mads and Henrick’s wheels (current Masters Leaders) across the flats.  They were drilling it to get a gap on their competition while Jenny and I held on strong behind them before going our own pace up the long climb.  We were doing well at this point.  So well that we were in the lead! 

The leaders caught us towards the top and we continued to put the pressure on when Jenny said "We are doing GREAT Kathy”.  And (not even kidding) a second later she says "OH NO!!”  Jenny had chain suck BAD.  So bad that she had to take the chain apart to repair the thing.  I was calm, as I didn’t want to rush the repair job.  I was confident in our ability to get back in there if we could do a solid fix.  The real thing I was worried about was what seemed to be an angry bull headed our way.  He got close but didn’t bother us (amen!).  15 minutes later we were back on the bike and riding our own tempo in 5th place now.  Such is bike racing!

It took us about an hour to catch up to the next competitors.  As we made our way through the field, fellow racers were cheering, giving us time gaps and letting us draft off them.  Pretty neat to see the excitement and enthusiasm everyone had to race a bike and help us get back up front!

I think we ran into almost every kind of scenario on this day.  From the mechanical to horses merging onto the path that we needed to take, some random hike a bikes on the river (it was a NICE change to get off the bike), some missed turns (discovered quickly – no time loss) and a few dropped water bottles (which must be collected in a race like this) but we found our way to back up to 2nd place and 2nd overall in the race!!

Note:  I think I am already getting as good as those competitive eaters are at powering down bananas and figs in the feed zone. What a sight!!  It’s something you’d not want to be caught doing at the dinner table!

STAGE 3:  Eastern Cordoba

What a mess.  Today after hitting the first mud puddle my rear brakes decided to work just barely.  Sweet…only 45 miles to go on unfamiliar terrain!!  UGH.  At least when I kept them dry I would get a bit more out of them.

This was the day that I knew would likely come but I didn’t know when.  I could barley turn the pedals over.  A sufferfest at its finest for me.  Luckily it was only 5600 feet of climbing on this day but that was about 5599 too much.  My body had a complete melt down and I know it was screaming "REALLY?? AGAIN???”   It was an excruciatingly painful 5-hour day of dare I say, hell.

Towards the end I almost lost it completely but didn’t let my mind go there.  Told myself I HAVE to get through this because there kind of really is no choice when you don’t know where you are and you aren’t really just going to stop. Instead I chose to enjoy the captivating views as I slogged every foot of that stage to the very end.  And it was odd, I didn’t want to stop racing or riding I just needed to get off the bike and recover the best I could.  Oh and maybe not see another hill in a while too. Yeah right, fat chance on that one.

 But with Jenny pushing me around all day we came in 3rd.  Here’s to an understanding and wonderful race partner!!!  We were still sitting 2nd overall in the race too!

Note:  After the race I summoned the help of Julian Absalon’s (2 Time Olympic Gold Medalist and multi-time World Champion) mechanic for my 29er Alma Team Orbea.  They totally dialed my bike and did WAY MORE than I even asked for.  Those guys were incredible, did an amazing job and were SO NICE.  Thank you for keeping the bike purring!!!!

STAGE 4:  Priego de Córdoba-Jaén

Today’s stage was just what I needed.  It was a longer stage of 115k with a climb at the start and end with the middle section being a long flat Rail Trail.  But we didn’t get to start (what was) the 5hr and 40min stage until our 5:30am wake up call to pack all our stuff in preparation for the transfer to the new hotel and city (Jaen).

It was important to be race ready as well since the bus was dropping everyone off at the stage start in the middle of Jaen, a beautiful white city on a mesa at the stage start.  The only thing I will say is that it was quite interesting finding facilities to use prior to the race.  Imagine 170 racers who are race ready getting kerplunked in the middle of an ancient city.  Yeah…Uh...Hugh.  Jenny and I laughed about that pretty hard that evening.

At the beginning of the race on the 1hr + climb the top-3 women’s teams stayed together but unfortunately we were separated from the leaders in the feed zone immediately following.  They had a feed and we had to stop to fill our bottles up. That minor separation put us in a group of 9 or so along with the Spanish Ladies Team (Esteve) who have proven that they can and will be right there when we crack or have a mishap.  They are strong and they clearly wanted 2nd again.

I was purely in love with the long stretch in between climbs letting my legs flush themselves while Jenny was looking for her gun. It was a bit windy on the flat section but I found a great use for all my wrappers as I stuffed them down my race jersey - wind block barrier!  This would prove to be a valuable lesson in the days ahead.

When we hit the final climb The Spanish Esteve team was off like a shot and I did my best to stay with them. I didn’t have as many matches as I had hoped for on this day but was able to climb steady until I almost cracked like an egg along with everyone else near the top.  It was like a sea of delirious people barely turning over the cranks at that point.  I had sweat pouring off me as I suffered up the last part of the climb at a snails pace. I was more annoyed that I was feeling that way because my mind was in it but the body was conking out on me.

That is when Josh Ibbett (Mixed Team Overall Leader with partner Cait Elliot) came to my rescue.  It was taking EVERYTHING I could do to TRY and eat.  I wanted to eat my gel blocks so bad but had no energy to do so once I finally willed myself to get them out of my pocket.  I held the package in my hand forever as they bounced out onto the ground one by one. Josh recognized the ridiculousness of the situation and grabbed my bag and literally ended up feeding me.  What a guy!  Thanks Josh!!! 

By the time I hit the top deliriousness really set in and so did the lack of balance and coordination.  It was such a terrible feeling knowing you were that tired.  But the trails were so good you wanted to truck ahead!  As we descended towards the finish we encountered a steep slope leaving you to wonder if you were really even supposed to be WALKING your bike down it. 

In the end and with a few gnarly crashes by yours truly, the Spanish team had come across the line 4.5 minutes ahead of us.  RATS!!  We took third, which we were pleased with but knew we were capable of better.

Note:  By now after all this climbing we have been doing, my mind just assumes that around the corner is a climb.  And you know what; my mind was pretty spot on! 

STAGE  5:  Eastern Jaén

To Be Continued… Check back tomorrow for stages 5-6 and Kathy’s wrap up

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