COSTA BLANCA MTB RACE
by Steve Smales
by Steve Smales
Over the last thirty five years of cycle racing, I’ve often considered my peers and their contentment at riding the same disciplines, indeed the same races, year in year out. Each to their own and all that, but it’s not for me. It’s probably a Myers-Briggs personality thing. Firstly, I like new experiences; secondly, as a very average amateur athlete, I have never really found a discipline that has offered fame and fortune. Riding the same races over and over again holds little appeal.
A Sixth Dann karate grand master eventually gets bored of breaking bits of wood.
Thirdly, I really enjoy exploiting and experimenting with my physiology. It’s really interesting working out how to get the best race experience from the body physiology and limitations nature has given me. As a six feet three ectomorph, I’m the classic endurance non explosive cyclist. Just for the record, my pathway of mediocrity through the disciplines 1985 to present has been:
Time trialling, road racing, MTB XC racing (which at the time was like delayed action suicide on 1.5inch wide rubber and cut down handlebars), take away food/beer marathons, more time trialling/road racing. Then In about 2010 ‘it’ happened… Cyclocross happened. Like all the best addictions, I sought bigger and bigger off road highs, which resulted in half a dozen MTB XC’s for 2019.
This leads me to where I am now. A reasonably seasoned bike racer, with decent fitness and dodgy bike handling off the road once it gets gnarly.
There’s a couple of factors… the two person multi day format is really interesting. Going to a four day long race with another athlete brings a whole new dynamic to the experience. Either my partner or I will almost certainly have an off day. Secondly the two person format adds a unique challenge, that is to mutually exploit each other’s strengths and manage each other’s weaknesses. The mass start format with each team’s stage time for general classification being set by the second rider crossing the line is complex. With team members being regulated to ride in close proximity, the discipline effectively becomes a massed start road race, held on a MTB, over a moderately technical course that is ridden like a two up time trial.
Then we add in team composition. Teams are obviously mixed ability. Even two seemingly absolute equal ability riders will almost achieve their individual ability by using their own individual combination of mental, physical and technical cycling DNA. Then there’s the inevitable interpersonal relationship between team members.
Then of course, there’s the locations. MTB stage racing is rarely seen here in the UK. It’s really popular in Southern and Central Europe along with South Africa and Australia.
It’s a really interesting format. I want to have a go at it. Badly.
Having scoured the internet and UCI calendar, the Costa Blanca Bike Race caught my eye. Four days long, in late January it has a reputation for good weather. It also is immediately apparent that it has easy logistics, with all four stage starts being situated in close, rideable proximity of the headquarters Hotel Cap Negret at Altea.
Low cost flight into Alicante, forty minute transfer to the hotel and race for four days (hopefully in winter sun), forty minute transfer back to Alicante and fly home. With clear commitment from the hotel to provide massage, secure bike storage, race support and a race village experience what’s not to like. Here is a link: check out the dedicated cycling pages – Click Here & here is a short video – Click for video
So now for a team mate. In a flash of inspiration, I decided that pre existing friendship wasn’t necessarily a prerequisite for a teammate. In reality, what has personal friendship got to do with it? This is about forging a strong athletic relationship where the object of the exercise was to enjoy the racing. From looking at the results, I noticed that mixed gender teams were really popular, often with husband and wife composition. Sitting and thinking about it, I suddenly came up with an idea… how about if I found a really strong, experienced female MTB racer with a proven track record to ride with? Someone who I could learn from and would almost certainly push elements of my riding.
Rather than posting a dodgy something on social media, I did a little research on results and spotted a female elite with a British sounding surname in the top ten percent of the field overall in a UCI MTB Marathon Series race in Italy. I got a little lucky as Facebook stalking revealed we had a couple of mutual friends. The individual is a recently retired pro who winning at master level in Italian marathons, no surprise as she has worn a British Cycling national champions jersey a few years ago. In June, after plucking up courage, I made a cold call and an initially awkward video call she agreed to race with me. It subsequently turned out she’d raced the iconic seven day Transalp a couple of seasons ago. With regards Transalp the clue’s in the name… she’s going to hit four days in the Catalan mountains hard. I intend to write about the experience and dynamics of of a gangly fifty one year old very average cross rider racing a multi day event with a younger, more gifted thoroughbred MTB racer.
So, my new friend and I are sat with the entry fee set aside in our bank accounts waiting for entries to go live for the 2021 race. I’ve booked the rooms at the Cap Negret Hotel… and I’ve switched one of my weekly base endurance training sessions from the road onto the trails around Nidderdale.
I intend to detail the logistics of our race trip as we get nearer to help anyone else who is motivated to race The Costa Blanca Bike Race – but I’m very happy to share information to anyone who contacts me via social media etc.