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09-06-2023 | Frank Nederveen

La Rioja Bike Race: just pure mountain biking

Right along with the positive email from CycloWorld in late December that I had won a ticket to La Rioja Bike Race there was even more positive news: a positive corona test. Just when I thought that when I heard "corona" we could start thinking about nice fresh beers again, I was suddenly out of the running for two months and the bike stayed in the shed.

New goals

I adjusted my goals and will focus on finishing and enjoying. Fortunately, by the middle of March we could start training again. The La Rioja Bike Race; a three-day MTB marathon through the heart of Spain's most famous wine region. A total of 168 kilometers and about 4000 meters of elevation. Very difficult kilometers and meters of elevation that cycling friend Koen and I quickly noticed while exploring part of Saturday's queen stage. It is a bit different from the usual rides back home. Climbing and descending on a narrow path along the edge of the mountain while on the right side a great depth gapes.

Stage 1: short but fast

Stage 1 is one of the short but powerful type: 28 kilometers and over 500 meters of elevation between the vines. It is ridden as if it were an XC race and in terms of duration it actually is. Short steep climbs alternate with nice technical descents on cool singletracks. Everything I lose in the climbs on the light riders I can make up in the descents and the last part towards the finish. After the finish quickly eat some food and recover for the next day; the queen stage.

Etappe 2: very steep

Day two features 85 km and about 2000 meters of elevation. The stage begins with 20 kilometers of slightly uphill terrain after which the first real climb begins. The next 5 kilometers are a mix between steep and very steep. The descent goes a lot better for me than during the reconnaissance.

In the village of Torrecilla and Cameros we cross the river and the 20-kilometer climb begins. Almost nowhere do you get the chance to get into a nice climbing rhythm as the the profile of the climb is erratic and the narrow paths are full of loose round boulders. From 1500 meters altitude we descend again towards Logrono with occasional short steep climbs. Beautiful but difficult singletracks alternate with wide paths. Unfortunately, quite a few participants have trouble with the drops and other technical obstacles, making the narrow paths congested at times. In addition to sore legs, hands and forearms are starting to get sore due to all the braking. Towards the finish there are a few short power climbs in the course, which suit me well, and I continue full speed towards the finish. What a great stage!

Stage 3: A wolf in sheep's clothing

And then another day of relaxed riding, at least that's what I remember from the quick scan of the route before we flew toward Spain. However, a local rider warned us about the final stage. 55 Kilometers and almost 1800 meters of elevation. Three climbs of about 5 km that turn mostly red on the profile map.

It's chilly as we bike toward the start and as we stand in the start box, it begins to rain. Spaniards are standing at the start in long-shirts while we have just decided, after long deliberation, to put on a mesh shirt. Of course, today too we start hard on slightly sloping terrain. After 5 kilometers the first steep climb begins and 7 kilometers later we find ourselves between the white clouds. I'm sure the view is very nice but not visible today.

What follows from the top is a tricky descent, a sort of downhill mud CX race. This is where our Dutch cyclocross experience comes into its own. Enjoy! In the next climb I slowly catch up with Koen. The next climb and descent we ride together. By now we are back under the cloud cover and the views and depths are gigantic. The final climb starts steep again, of course, and the surface is loosened, slippery stones and round boulders. I haven't had to walk this much while mountain biking before.

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As the heavens open full for a moment more, I can't see Koen riding behind me by now. A broken spoke 20 kilometers from the finish line results in a DNF. I am now in the final part of the climb. There's a lot of walking here too, but once we get to the top there's another beautiful descent. Switchbacks, drops and beautiful trails follow one another.

With three of us we ride toward the finish. When the rider in third position, who has done the least amount of work at the front, cuts a piece off we can't let that happen. We ride full speed to the finish and in the final sprint I am just ahead of him. You can't end a race like this any better than a sprint!

Pure mountain biking

A well-organized event with beautiful routes, that is the conclusion we draw after three days of La Rioja Bike Race. No spectacular side events or stalls where you can spend your money well but just pure mountain biking. The area seems to have a lot of MTB possibilities. If you also like good food and the best wine Spain has to offer, Rioja is the place to be!

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