My race season began this weekend and boy did it live up to my Spanish racing expectations.
Having spent last year racing in the UK and listening to Lee & Brian rave about the racing here in Catalunya (think sun, fully closed roads, 200-strong peltons, full race convoy, full moto escort, etc.) I joined a local team Equip Femenin Frigorificos Costa Brava, based just down the road from me in San Feliu de Guixols.
Our race calendar is made up of the Copa Espana, stage races & the Copa Catalana – which I raced this weekend. Now, women’s racing here is at the stage where there are a fair number of women’s teams, and a fair number turning out to races, but just not enough to have our own race. Enter the Cadet boys.
Cadet boys are around about 15-16 years old. Some are tiny, some are huge, some can’t ride in straight lines but some are pretty good. Looking around at the brightly clad very Euro-looking crew, I actually felt pretty at home and pretty confident. (I also have a rather splendid kit – purple & luminous green).
The weekend started with a Team Time Trial on Saturday, 6 kms of suffering up a climb. We scraped the win by 1 second from a French women’s team. Everyone was proper chuffed and the trophy was absolutely enormous (think giant silver salad bowl).
Day 2 was the road race – I had felt good in the TT but wasn’t sure how my form would be for the first race of the season. Conscious of the high crash-likelihood of the first few kms of the first race of the season, I moved up to the front of the race, glad when it lined out and tucked in on wheels where I could. On the first ascent of the 6 km climb I stuck near the front but cracked towards the top, one fellow surviving woman snuck past, I squeezed out as much as I could on the rest of the climb and latched onto her wheel on the descent.
It was a bit of a crash fest and I held back from the bunch. I created more work for myself but thankfully avoided the pile ups. There’s nothing like the sound of carbon clattering on tarmac to slow you down. Ascent number 2 was much more controlled but I was too far back to make any moves. Again, I held back too much on the descent, and saw the peloton sneak further away, with my rival lady safely tucked in on the back. Not good.
At 5 km to go I was still chasing in the race convoy, the smell of fumes in my nose and the flickering of cramps in my calve muscles. Very not good! I hit the drops and made my final effort to latch onto the back of the bunch. Made it. Now to finish ahead of the other lady, who’d clearly ridden a much more sensible race.
2 km to go. I tried moving up a few places in what was a now 40-ish strong group. Not happening. I edged in front of the other woman, she edged in front of me. The final left hander was rough and catapulted us straight up the finishing rise. I started to sprint, eased off to get round yet another pile up and followed through to finish ahead of the other woman. I’d got the ladies win, but only just.
My lovely team mates moved in to congratulate me, we’d secured the team win for the weekend, a fantastic start to the season for everyone. One girl had been caught in a nasty crash, so thoughts were with her too.
Then began the 4 hour wait for the podium presentations and the host town of Santa Eualia de Roncana did a fantastic job of making it as fun as possible. There was a botifarra stand, a pasta truck, local dance schools performing, giant puppets and a totally bizarre punk dance routine. I sat in the sunshine with my team and worked on my tan lines. (Thoughts turned to my first race of the season last year – the Tour of the Reservoir in snow & ice)
The podium presentation was epic – trophies & flowers for each category for the boys and girls, jerseys for the stage race winners, jerseys for the Copa Catalana series. It went on so long Brian even had time to finish his 140 km race (in which he held his own and had a solid finish in the main group – not an easy feat by any means), drive 10 km over to my race and cheer me on – thanks Brian!!
Despite the successful finish like any racer I am not satisfied and hope to build on this result over the coming months. More challenging races will follow where easing off on the descents will mean game over. I’ll celebrate properly when (if!) I manage first over the line in an elite women’s race. Bring it on!