BikeRadar's L'Etape du Tour diarist Lindsay Crawford is in Europe, making final preparations for his eighth L'Etape, this time up Mont Ventoux on July 20. We find Crawford in Spain for the Quebrantahuesos sportive.
June 19. It was time for me to pick up the event packet for Saturday’s Quebrantahuesos XIX sportive. The event’s driving force from the promoting club Peña Ciclista Edelweiss, president Roberto Iglesias (a tireless individual that seems to be in ten places at once) asked me if I would attend special ceremonies at 19:30. How could I refuse when he gave me a last-minute seeded entry?
Various groups of participants were brought on stage to be recognized and since my Spanish is very limited, the best I could determine about the significance of our group of four was that we were the only solo non-European entrants. One from South Africa, one from Australia, sorry to say, but I didn’t catch the home country of the third rider, and me from the US. There was also a team from Mexico.
A couple of cycling notables were milling around the hall during the various ceremonies. Abraham Olano, former road world champion and now a regular at many cyclo-sportives, and Joan Llaneras. Both were signing autographs and posing for photos with excited fans. They couldn’t have been more gracious.
Spain's Abraham Olano leads compatriot Miguel Indurain during the 1996 Tour de France
If you think you recognize the name Llaneras, but can’t put your finger on why; he was riding the Ghent six day in November 2006 and during the Madison, his partner Isaac Gálvez, died when involved in a crash with another rider. The loss of his friend and Madison partner caused Llaneras to retire.
Spaniard Joan Llaneras after winning gold in Beijing on the track last year
However, he did return to racing a little more then a year later and went on to win a Gold Medal in the points race and a Silver Medal in the Madison at the 2008 Olympics. He is now retired for good. He also rode for the US Postal Service Team in 1998.
Saturday, June 20, 04:00 and out on the road driving to the start in Sabiñánigo. Some light rain on the windshield, but the sky was clearing by start time with a moderate temperature of 15C (59F).
As last year, the start was very fast (60 kph/37mph) almost immediately. Once past Jaca (26km/16 miles) and the first signs of a climb ahead, we turned north into a strong headwind, from the north.
No one seemed eager to put his or her nose into the wind, so the pace was somewhat slower then last year. Plus, the 8500 field of riders tended to stay together. As we approached the summit of the Somport the weather continued to deteriorate with fog, wet roads, and colder temperatures. As usual, the fans were crowded around the summit with properly folded newspapers to hand up to passing riders for putting under the front of their jerseys to ward off the cold on the descent.
Unfortunately, I had to stop, momentarily, on the descent to investigate a noise coming from the rear brake. Nothing serious and I pressed on.
During the 40km/25-mile descent, riders fueled up and contemplated Escot and start of the ascent of (the feared) Marie Blanque. It may be short, but it’s a difficult climb. Most profiles show 11-percent maximum gradient, but that’s an average over one kilometer. I’ve ridden up it four or five times and using three different cyclometers have seen 13 -14 percent. It’s almost a relief when it drops to 10 percent.
The east side descent is one of my favorites with switchbacks and fast short straight sections.
Right turn and southbound for the Portalet and return to Spain. This year and last, the number of people, cheering us on (most common words: “Venga, Venga” and “Anima” or “Animal”) was incredible, The tunnel of spectators became more and more narrow as we approached the summit.
Sorry, I was unable to take a photo of the scene. Couldn’t do it while trying to avoid the fans and maintain some semblance of forward motion on a grade of 12-13 percent!
Looking at a map, you would think it was a straight shot downhill to the finish in Sabiñánigo, but no, the route planner had one more surprise, the Hoz de Jaca, to remove any strength the riders might have in their legs.
Typical of most all the sportives, I’ve ridden, if you’re in a group nearing the finish, it will be like the lead group in a road race. Tactics will come into play as you start paying strict attention during the final kilometers.
Checking the riders around you to detect strengths and weaknesses, not chasing the inevitable early attacking rider who went way to early and will be caught, finding the right wheel to sit on as the sprint begins and waiting until the last appropriate second to pass him for the win.
Even though I’m getting slower and slower in the mountains, my race brain is still functioning okay for the sprint and I won it again this year. Of course it was for 1,710th place out of 8,485 riders; it was fun anyway.
Pleasantly surprised to find I had the fastest time in my age group (63 65+ riders) for the second year. Go for the Hat Trick next year? I don’t know just yet.
During the awards ceremony, I felt honoured to be recognized and shake hands with Joan Llaneras.
I guess, for me, it doesn’t make any difference if it’s 40C/100F and light wind, as it was last year, or cold and wet at the higher elevations with strong winds, as it was this year since my average speed this year was only .27km./hour slower then last year.
It’s Monday and I took a, relatively easy, 100km+ ride to recover and look at some of the beautiful Spanish countryside.
Leaving Spain tomorrow for France and the L’Ariégoise on Saturday.