The Andalucía Bike Race is a six-day mountain bike stage race. With a route that takes in beautiful southern Spanish countryside complete with mountains and Mediterranean woodland, it’s a stunning location for an event.
Don’t let this fool you though – this race still requires good fitness and technical skills, and is a grand challenge.
Although it’s only in its fourth year, the Andalucia Bike Race is already establishing itself as a big race on the MTB calendar, with competition points and prize money available for the top riders, and the chance of some early year sun for us mortals.
For the second year running I headed out to the south of Spain in February for some riding and aforementioned sunshine. In theory it’s against my principles to go on holiday somewhere I’ve been before but the riding and atmosphere was so good last year I was keen to go back again.
Each day of the race consists of about 70km of riding, and 2,000m of climbing on a circular route. One of the characteristics of this race is that competitors must race in pairs, who must ride the course with no more than a two minute gap between them, or else they suffer a time penalty.
I was teaming up with fellow endurance rider Rickie Cotter in the female pairs category, alongside fellow Brit(ish) women Anna Cipullo, Agata Tamulewicz-Downey and Mel Alexander riding in the mixed pairs.
In total there were 11 female pairs and another 27 women in the mixed pairs out of over 700 riders.
The race is based in two towns – Jaen and Cordoba – which make the logistics easier than some other races that move from town to town each day. Racers either based themselves in apartments or hotels. After going for the hotel option last year, this year Rickie and I shared apartments with another couple of racers.
Hotels tend to be more convenient but apartments cheaper so it’s a matter of balancing up the pros and cons.
The first couple of days were based in Jaen, the more mountainous of the two towns, which meant a fair amount of hills at the start of the race.
The weather for the first day of the race was beautiful – blue skies, sunshine and over 20oC, and the riding pretty epic too. After a big old hill at the start of the day there was some amazing (and tricky) trails to be had before another, seemingly never-ending, climb and some more fun on the way down. A great way to start the week.
Day two had a much more British feel about it; after the sun of the day before we had continual rain, snow on the hills and a lot of mud. After getting caught out last year by such weather I’d come better prepared with thermals and waterproofs so had a great time slipping and sliding in the mud whilst keeping relatively warm and dry.
The choice of apartment accommodation brought with it the bonus of a washing machine at the end of the day which beats washing filthy kit in the shower.
Day three was based in the intermediate town of Andujar which made for a slightly stressful morning of map reading and instructions from an out-dated sat-nav, but we got there in the end. The weather had settled to a pseudo-British level of dankness which suited us fine and as we were out of the big mountains, which also meant the gradient of the ascents were a bit more to my liking too.
After Andujar we travelled onto Cordoba for the second half of the race. Although the moving about hadn’t been unduly stressful it was nice to know we didn’t need to shift on from where we were. Having to pack up all your kit and move locations always takes time and energy.
The riding was not quite as technical as it had been earlier in the week, with more open track and greater distances than the first couple of days, but there was still plenty to keep you on your toes and, if you weren’t careful, your backside.
The distances of the stages in the latter half of the week were a bit longer than the first, but with less severe climbs, so we were riding for a similar amount of time each day.
Over the six-days we all covered 400km and around 10,000m of climbing in sunshine, rain and snow. The weather wasn’t as glorious throughout the week as on the first day but nevertheless I’m pleased to report that my cycling tan lines have managed to make an early show in 2014.
Due to the absence of top-Brit Sally Bigham the women’s race was more open than in previous years with stage wins shared between the top pairs with the Spanish Polar Race team coming out on top.
I was pleased with our results; Rickie and I sat in mid position for most of the race finishing in sixth place overall whilst Anna and Agata came in a very respectful eighth in their first stage race.
All in all the Andalucia Bike Race is a really well organised and enjoyable stage race and at 400 Euros entry isn’t as expensive as many. It’s certainly one I’d recommend if you are thinking of trying one for the first time. Just take your waterproofs as well as your suntan lotion.