I raced on my own this weekend. The team were racing in Murcia at the Copa España and, having raced the first two rounds, it was my turn to sit one out. Being based in Navarra means I am close to most races in the Lehendakari series. As U23 races, the Lehendakari series regularly attracts fields of around 150 riders, and so are well respected races in Spain. I rode almost every round last season and so have got to know the roads quite well. I was looking forward to a weekend which consisted of a 113km race in Urretxu on Saturday afternoon followed by a harder 124km race in Estella the next morning.
Saturday was a race I have had my eye on since last season. The key feature of the day was a hill called Atagioti, a gradual 9km climb the race would go up twice. The first time up the climb comes quite early in the race and provides an opportunity for riders to establish the early breakaway. The second time comes only 10km from the finish in Urretxu. Last year my job was to position the team for the final ascent of Atagoiti in order for our sprinter to make it over the top with the leaders and contest the finish. I managed to do my job and everything was looking good for the team as our leader had made the final selection of 40 riders over the final climb. Unfortunately he crashed 2km from the finish.
Racing on my own is not ideal and not something I am keen to make a habit of. Being in a team is an important part of cycling and necessary to gain entry into the bigger races. However, this weekend I was looking forward to the freedom of not having to work for anyone else. On Saturday my job was simple; I had to conserve as much energy as I could in order to give myself the best chance of making the final selection on Atagioti.
I was able to position in the front third of the bunch for most of the race which helped me get over the first ascent of Atagioti fairly comfortably and meant I avoided several crashes. With 20km to go the entire Lizarte team were on the front.They were chasing a small breakaway for 4 riders who had around a minute advantage on the bunch. Lizarte are the feeder team for Movistar. They had the overall leader of the Lehendakari series and so the pressure was on them to set the pace. I sat around 15th in the line as the bunch weaved its way up the final climb. The pace set by Lizarte made attacks impossible: riders would ride had hard as they could for 2 or 3 minutes on the front of the line before peeling off and allowing their teammates to take over. One by one Lizarte used up their riders, each moving over to the other side of the road in order to clear the way for the next to person take over the pace making. After having spent all of their energy pulling the bunch up the final climb, as they moved aside, the Lizarte riders would look around at the damage they had done to the race. Slowly but surely the bunch was getting smaller and smaller as riders were being dropped. By the time we went over the top of the climb we had caught the breakaway and there were only 15 riders left.
On the descent I caught my breath and took a minute to gauge the race situation. Looking behind, I realised we were out of sight of the rest of the race. With only 7km to go, it was clear the winner would come from our group. We were met with a strong headwind for the last 5km of the race which was followed by two 90 degree bends before a narrow finish in the town of Urretxu. One after the next, riders who didn’t fancy their chances in the sprint attacked to try and get a gap before the finish. A strong headwind made it difficult for anyone to gain an advantage. I followed the wheels and waited for the sprint. I managed push my way into 3rd place for the final corner. Once on the finishing straight I opened up my sprint. For a brief moment I thought I was going to win. In the last 50 metres it became clear I had gone to early. The finish was a slight uphill drag with two late speed bumps, I didn’t have the legs to hold off the bunch. 3 riders came round me and I ended up with 4th.
A short video of the sprint in Urretxu (full race video here) –
4th is a great result for me. It is the first time I have contested the win in an U23 race, and a major improvement on my best result last year of 16th. But at the time it did not feel like that. I was so frustrated I didn’t win.
Before I knew it, I was racing again. Sunday’s race in Estella started at 10am, only 15 hours after my race had finished the day before. Last year Lehendakari Estella had been one of the hardest races of the year with only 22 of the 135 starters finishing the race. Early crosswinds had eliminated half of the peloton and the climbs of Lezaun and Eraul had meant only the strongest riders would make it to the finish. I had worked hard in the crosswinds to help our protected riders and so had been left behind on the climbs along with most of my teammates. Just like the day before, my target was to save my energy for the key selection and do my best on the last climb.
The race was fairly tame for the first 60km, an out and back loop through the towns of Oco and Ancin did little to affect the race. As soon as we hit the hills however, the race exploded. On the steep ramps through the town of Irurre there were riders everywhere. I began the hardest of the 3 short hills up to Guirguillano around the middle of the bunch and had to dig deep to stay in contact with the leaders. By the time we were onto the descent I was in the second bunch. There was a group of 50 or so riders who had a small gap on us. That was the key selection, I had to get back to them if I wanted to be part of the race. Over the next 20 minutes or so the my group worked well to try and make it back up to the leaders. When we did finally make contact we were on the final climb of Lezaun. Having spent so much energy chasing back on we had no chance of hanging on as the front riders picked up the pace on the climb.
With 25km remaining two clear groups had formed, the front section of the strongest riders who would decide the race and my group, some 5 minutes behind. I was disappointed not to make the front selection. If I had been better positioned and things had gone my way, it may have been different. Nevertheless, I got on with finishing the race and making sure I at least came in at the front of my group. I ended up 46th.
Overall it was a good weekend’s racing. While Sunday could have gone better, on Saturday I showed big progress by finally being strong enough to seriously contest the win in an U23 race. Next up I have 3 races planned with the team, two in Zamora and one next Tuesday in Ontur. Keep an eye out for my next blog entry for the write ups.
Video of the Urretxu race –
Results Urrretxu –
Results Estella –
Photos Endika Oregi –
Other photos – Rafa Etxebarria
Finish and podium photos – https://blogalpedhuez.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/mikel-alonso-vence-en-urretxu/