On Saturday morning, my team picked me up in Tudela on their way North from Madrid to the Basque Country. The mood was good in the car, everyone was up for the race on Sunday. With 200 riders down to race and €1000 on offer for the winner, The Memorial Sagasti in Mungia is one of the biggest U23 races on the calendar.
Before Mungia, we had entered a race in Segura on Saturday afternoon. Although it isn’t the same level as Mungia, the race in Segura was likely to prove to be harder. Part of the Euskaldun series, Segura is open to first and second year elite category riders; up to the age of 26. This, along with the 4 repeats of a short steep climb known as Liernia, makes Segura one of the hardest races in the Euskaldun series. Our plan was to ride for Diego Noriega. Diego is in good shape at the moment and, being a first-year elite rider, he couldn’t ride Sunday’s race. Our brief was to cover the early moves and make sure Deigo stayed out of trouble. I was confident that if he could get to the finish with the front group, he’d have the better of them in the uphill sprint into Segura.
I got in a few early breaks. I went over Liernia the first time with a group of 20 which I thought might stick, but it wasn’t to be. We were caught by the bunch on the next lap. After about an hour a split of around 20 riders got a gap, I was badly positioned and watched helplessly as the gap grew.
Diego and our new signing Mauro Rato had made the split. I sat in the second group behind. There was about 40 of us but no one wanted to chase because most teams had riders in the front split. After a lap or so of lone riders trying to solo across to the front group and being chased down, Lizarte reluctantly came to the front. Lizarte dragged our group over the last climb as I prepared myself for the sprint. Although we were racing for 20th place, I wanted to make sure I finished well.
I made my move far too early. A rider attacked with 600m to go and I followed him. As soon as he saw I was on his wheel, he sat up and left me on the front. Without hesitation, I opened up my sprint. I managed to hold off all but two of my group to come in 22nd.
Mauro and Diego had been active in the front group. Mauro covered several moves to set Diego up for a 3 man break which was caught on the last climb. Diego had managed still come in a respectable 13th.
Biel Pons was going to lead the team on Sunday. He has been on top form in recent weeks, claiming 5th in the Volta a Castello. Having not raced on Saturday, he was fresh and the team were confident in him. Mungia is always a hard race to predict, the 4 laps of the hilly 30km circuit favoured a breakaway last year, but large groups have been known to contest the finish in previous editions of the race. Our plan was similar to the day before: we were going to cover the early moves in order to allow Biel to hide for the first few laps, setting him up for a late move.
As planned, we shared out the early breakaways in the first two laps. Me and two teammates took it in turns to follow attacks and put ourselves in moves that developed. It took almost 2 hours before a break stuck. As soon as I saw we had a rider represented in the move, I sat up. I took the next hour or so easy, not coming to the front of the bunch at all.
We caught the breakaway with 20km to go. Bicicletas Rodrigues Extremadura, had been on the front bringing the group back. As soon as the junction was made to the 6 up the road they sat up. This change of pace set off a flurry of attacks. I sat in and followed the wheels, waiting for my moment.
In the last 10km, descending the main climb on the circuit, the bunch sat up. Coming from the back half, I carried my speed from the descent around the side of the bunch and off the front. I got working with a group of 7. We shared the workload and started to increase our advantage on the peloton.
Just as we crested a gradual climb, two more riders came across. I looked back to see who they were, Jaume Sureda and Edu Llacer of Caja Rural and Aldro had joined us. Having won several races between them this year, these guys are big names. Our break of 7 sat up to force our two new breakaway companions to work on the front. In this moment of indecision, a Fundacion Contador rider attacked. He got a gap of a few hundred metres before Sureda sent his teammate to the front to set the pace.
With 4km to go, Juan Pedro Lopez, the Fundacion Contador rider was still off the front. Sensing the danger, Sureda attacked on a short steep climb to try and get across to the lone leader. The only rider who had the legs to go with him was Edu Llacer. Coming into the last 1km Lopez had a small gap on the two behind. My group of 6 were slightly further back but we had the leaders in sight.
Any one of us could have closed the gap to the group in front but we all knew that this would mean sacrificing our chances in the sprint. Like the rest of my group, I decided to cut my losses and prepare to sprint for 4th. On the last corner I went for the inside line to move onto 2nd wheel. I took far too much speed into the corner and felt my back wheel slip. I avoided crashing but I had unclipped my foot to stay upright. By the time I got my foot back into the pedal it was too late to catch the guys who had passed me on the corner. I ended up 8th. Lopez had held on for the win with Sureda and Llacer coming in 2nd and 3rd respectively.
At the finish I was fuming. I shouldn’t have let the Fundacion Contador rider go, I shouldn’t have hesitated when Sureda and Llacer came across and I certainly shouldn’t have dive-bombed the last corner.
In hindsight, 8th is a pretty good result and the mistakes I made provide opportunities to learn. The team were happy with my placing and with Vicente who had won the mountains classification from the breakaway.
Next week I am heading to the Basque Country once again for an U23 race on Saturday. Look out for my next post.
Muchas gracias a Unai de Miguel:
Mungia (top 10):