A six-day mountain bike marathon in sunny Andalusia, Spain, at the end of winter: that sounds like a wonderful warm-up to marathon season! The 339 kilometers and 9,400 meters of elevation of the Andalucia Bike Race don't seem too extreme to us. I take back all these words immediately: this Spanish stage race is perhaps one of the most technical and toughest multi-day races we have ever ridden. It is mountain biking in its purest form.
As we are already a couple in everyday life, it is extra special for us to be able to participate in this duo-race as a Mixed Team. We have been training in all winter conditions to be ready for this Spanish party. On the internet we get a promising impression of what awaits us: fantastic trails among the olive trees, riding in short-shorts with glorious sunshine! Vamos!
In this UCI horse category marathon, big names are popping up as participants beforehand. None other than cycling pensionado Vincenzo Nibali, Belgian mountain biker Wout Alleman, fellow Dutchie Hans Becking and, in the ladies, favorite Irina Lützelschwab will appear at the start.
During this six-day event there are four different starting places, where you can stay overnight at two locations. We sleep in the hotel recommended by the organization. That ensures that you stay completely in the atmosphere of the event, but also in the world of the pros. All the team buses are set up around the hotel, where there is non-stop tinkering with the riders, and you sit down to breakfast with Nibali in the morning. This thin divide between recreational riders and the great gentlemen and ladies is definitely the charm of mountain bike marathons as far as we are concerned.
Once we arrive in the starting town of Jaèn, the Spanish vibe is far away. The hail is pouring down and we see snow-covered mountain peaks all around us. Fortunately, we brought some winter clothing; it looks like we won't have to show our white legs to the world just yet. Because of the low temperatures, snowfall and rain of the previous days, it will be extra challenging for many participants. We Dutchies are perhaps a little more accustomed to those kinds of conditions than the cold fish Spaniards.
At 10:00 Monday morning we may start with seven hundred other participants in temperatures around freezing. Fortunately, the sun is also showing itself. There are many nationalities participating in this race, but the majority are Spanish. After three tough stages around Jaén (and quite a bit of travel), there will be a shorter time trial, the Queen stage and the final stage around Córdoba.
All stages lead us over endless trails, both up and down. From day one, it is clear that they know no mercy here. The climbs are steep, very steep, with the necessary obstacles. In the first kilometers of several stages, there are regular jams on technical, narrow sections as a result. If you think you can ride a steady pace on a longer climb to get into your rhythm, forget it. The climb on day 3 where 900 meters of elevation had to be conquered is the one I remember most: it was uneven on singletrails through the forest and ended with extreme gradients of close to 30% in the last kilometer. Almost everyone had to walk toward the snowy peaks.
And if you think you can recover in the descents: no way! 200% focus is required to keep the rider in control. There is just another climb hidden in every descent after all. In fact, you regularly ride up trails that would normally be categorized as an S2 descent. Or shuffle over the snowy and slippery trails in the higher elevations. This course requires the utmost from our riders and ourselves. For the first time this year I am riding with a dropper post and I was very happy with this upgrade in this terrain. Despite the intense trails, I was able to ride many technical sections and was able to push my own limits by just riding behind my team partner.
Along the course we daily encounter large crowds. Climbs that are impossible still become possible when we are encouraged to the top by the enthusiastic Spaniards! Shouting 'Venga, venga', and 'animo' with clenched fists or sometimes with a little push they help you through the last meters of the climb. The race is alive here and these cheers make the overall experience extra special.
What was really beyond our expectations:
Although for us the performance is secondary to finishing in one piece, we are very pleased with our fourth place in the final Mixed Teams classification. The overall winners in the elite categories in the men's category are Italy's Fabian Rabensteiner and Belgium's Wout Alleman and in the women's category are Switzerland's Irina Lützelschwab and Lithuania's Katazina Sosna. A link to all the results can be found here.
We honestly underestimated the Andalucia Bike Race beforehand. Not only in terms of difficulty, but also in terms of organization and environment. Because everything was right, we intensely enjoyed the overwhelming nature and the fantastic course. As a result, this has become one of the most beautiful multi-day events we have ever ridden. The event itself exceeded our expectations on all fronts and Spain stole our hearts! One thing is for sure: We'll be back!
Need more inspiration or have any questions? Feel free to find me on social media and I'll be happy to answer your questions. You can find me on Instagram: @mieskuh.