At 7km long with an average gradient of almost 8%, La Subida Gorla is a legendary climb. Being in the heart of the Basque country, it has hosted bike races for almost 50 years. Originally, it was simply a race from the village of Bergara to the top of the climb, but in more recent times the race has been made into a 90-125km loop. Despite some variations, for the last 16 years the race has included a the climb twice, once fairly early in the race and then again at the finish. Having been won by riders such as Contador, Joaquim Rodriguez, Andrey Amador and Mikel Landa, the race continues to attract Spain’s top U23 riders. My team were racing in the Copa Espana in Alicante but, as always, they encouraged me to go and make the most of the Basque calendar. Last season, I hadn’t been selected to ride Gorla but this year it was my turn to have a go.
The race is easy on paper: suffer the first time up the climb, make the selection, save your energy between the climbs and just go as hard as you can on the last time up Gorla. As we rolled out of the village of Bergara to start the 60km of flat circuits, I knew I had to sit in the bunch and make sure I hit the climb in good shape and well positioned.
On the run in to the climb, I found it hard to stay near the front of the bunch. Some of the more organised teams had riders working on the front in order to protect their leaders. By the time we passed through the village of Zubillaga, 5km from the climb, 4 teams were riding parallel on the front of the peloton. Behind them was a mix of riders like me who didn’t have a team and were having to bump and barge to stay at the front end. On the 90 degree right-hand turn into the town of Bergara, just before we started the climb, I was in the first 30 of the bunch. ButI had made the mistake of positioning on the wrong side. Everyone on the right had to break twice as hard whereas the riders on the left could carry their speed through onto the climb. By the time I had got round the corner and back up to speed I was in the back third of the bunch. Once we began the climb, I had made up a few positions but I still wasn’t where I needed to be.
Being badly positioned made on the early slopes made the climb twice as hard, I had to constantly accelerate to close gaps opened by other riders. By the halfway point I had managed to move into the front 20 of the bunch. Caja Rural had their whole team setting a hard pace. Behind the line of Caja Rural riders, I began to find my rhythm. I thought I had got away with my early efforts on the climb but on one of the switchback bends around 1km from the top I came unstuck. Most of the other riders got out of the saddle and were able to accelerate to deal with the change in gradient, but I was spent. I hung on as long as I could, trying to limit my losses, but as I went over the top of the climb the front group were out of sight. Just after I was dropped, the front selection of the strongest 20 riders were joined by another small group who had measured their efforts and rode a constant speed instead of trying to accelerate on the steeper parts of the climb. It was clear to me that not only had I positioned badly, I had been drawn into following the stronger riders into accelerating out of the saddle on the steeper parts of the climb.
Between the two ascents of Gorla, I worked with a small group of riders as we tried to catch the front selection. We were eventually caught by a bigger group. In the second group I was kicking myself: by positioning poorly and not keeping my composure on the climb I had ruined my chances. Gradually, the riders in my group began to realise the front split were out of catching distance. As we descended the climb of Deskarga, everyone began thinking about the last climb and our pursuit of the leaders ended entirely. As soon as we began Gorla the last time I accelerated and rode the climb on my own, somewhere between the two groups. I managed to catch a few riders from the front group but the race was gone. I came in 46th.
I am disappointed with my ride. I feel I could have made it into the front group had I positioned better and climbed more steadily. But, as always, I have to learn the lessons and focus on the next one. This Sunday I am riding the Copa Espana Memorial Valenciaga. La Valenciaga is widely respected as the single most important race in Spain. I am back with the team, we have a rider second in the under 23 competition and are fighting for the podium in the team classification, so it is an important one for me. As always, keep an eye on my twitter for any news.