My 24th día de competición this season was an U23 race in the town of Tolosa, in the Basque region of Gipuzkoa. The race was on the same day as the U23 Spanish national championships so my team hadn’t planned anything. As we had the Vuelta Segovia coming up, I decided to go to Tolosa to prepare.
In Spain, the U23 national championships are competed by regional teams. Points are scored by riders for their region during the season which determine how many riders each region can have in their team. This year for example, the Basque selection took 9 riders whereas Andalucia were restricted to 3.
Each region’s seleccionador chooses his team based on results and, in some regions, selection camps. Selected riders travel to the champs in regional teams then, in theory, work together in the race. However, much like in the professional World Championships, where riders compete for their countries as apposed to trade teams, riders have been known to ignore regional selections and work with their everyday teammates. Such cross-regional alliances seem to undermine the concept of regional teams, but in Spain no one seems to bat an eyelid. This year for example, the race was won by a rider from the Castilla la Mancha selection, Isaac Canton. Canton attacked a select bunch of 15 in the last lap of the race. Canton’s Fundación Contador teammate, Diego Pablo Sevilla, riding for Madrid, was in the group behind. No one in the chasing group wanted to take Sevilla to the line, so there was no real chase. His trade teammate held on for the win and Sevilla took 3rd in the sprint for second place. There was no fuss made: everyone congratulated Canton on his win. Fundacion Contador tweeted a picture of their two riders celebrating gold and bronze at the finish. The team were proud to have 1st and 3rd in the national champs and rightly so.
Cycling fans will remember a similar scenario in 2013 world championship where Valverde seemed reluctant to help his countryman Joaquim Rodriguez chase down his Movistar teammate, the Portuguese rider, Rui Costa. Costa took the win and, in Spain at least, no one seemed to care. Such things have caused scandal in other countries, just ask Charly Wegelius…
While there may be a laidback approach to the team riding on the day, the U23 Spanish champs are a great event. An U23 national road race is a good idea in any country and riding in regional teams means riders’ travel and accommodation are covered by the regional cycling federations.
The U23 champs took place in Soria and my race in in Tolosa was that afternoon so on the startline, all the talk was about the nationals. I got chatting to a friend of mine. We were both expecting a reduced field in our race but we still lined up with 115 riders. We were looking around to see who had come to race. While the top Basque riders were at the Champs, we spotted some real hitters. All of the South American usuals were present. Eiser Hirumet’s talented Colombian climber rider Nicolas Saenz, who has been on the podium several times this season, lined up in front of me. To my right, I spotted last year’s winner, Mauricio Moreira from Uruguay. There were also some notable absences from the regional selections: I was surprised to see Gomur’s Jose Antonio Garica warming up. Garcia took a big win in Renedo in June was on the podium in the second stage of the Volta a Castelló this year. I brought this up, “What’s he doing here?” I asked. Surely he would have been selected for the Andalucian selection? The guy next to me explained that most regional selections are decided by just one person, the seleccionador. He suggested that maybe he had done something to fall out of favour his seleccionador. “La politica” he said. But, giving the seleccionador the benefit of the doubt, it is possible Garcia opted to ride in Tolosa, thinking the course would suit him. Or perhaps he just performed badly on the selection day.
Our race was decided by 3 climbs in quick succession. After about 2 hours of rolling terrain we climbed to the village of Altzo, before going up the longer climb to Orendian. After Orendian, we tackled the Altzo climb again. Then it was 7km of descent and flat to the finish in Tolosa. Altzo the first time reduced the race down to around 30 riders then 30 became 11 as we went over Orendian. I had dig deep but I made it into the group of 11.
Our 11 man selection hit the final climb of Altzo. Everyone I expected to be there was present. I knew if I could stay with them to the finish I’d have a good chance in the sprint. I didn’t think I was as fast as Garcia but it was a technical run-in where anything could happen. In any case, I thought a podium was on the cards, if I could just make it over Altzo in contention.
Halfway up, I was on the limit. I knew I just had to hang on for a few more kilometers but the attack from Nicolas Saenz cracked me. Eiser had been on the front all day working for Saenz so an attack from him was inevitable. He had left it too late to go solo but his attack did enough to get rid of me and two others. In the last 5km I worked in a group of 3 as we chased the front 7 riders. A few times we had them close but a late attack from Mauricio Moreira with 2km to go put them out of our reach. I came in 8th, 30 seconds down on the winner, Antonio Garcia.
Coming up just short of the final selection is a common theme of mine this year. In Markina, Bergara, Beasian, Mungia and most recently Tolosa I have been agonisingly close to making it to the finish with the front group. I feel that I will have the better of a lot of the pure climbers in a sprint from select group but, more often than not this season, they’ve been too strong for me on the last climb. While top 10s and 20s show big improvement for me this season, getting so close gives me the motivation I need to continue working on my climbing. I’ve just got to keep knocking on the door …
U23 champs results:
Photos U23 champs: