Monday, June 05, 2006 6:05 PM

A week in Spain & my first win in Europe.

For the last week (from the 20th to the 29th May) I have been racing in a northern region of Spain called Navarra. Whilst there we had a one day race on Sunday 21st called International Txuma and then we a 6 day tour starting on the Tuesday called Vuelta a Navarra.

The team flew to Spain on the Saturday which was quite a luxury for us considering we drive to just about every other race for the year no matter which country we are racing in. We landed in the town of Bilbao, which is on the north coast of Spain, on the Saturday afternoon and went for a little road ride to prepare for the race the next day.
There is one particularly interesting thing about Spain that I wasn’t aware of… It is in the same time zone as the rest of Europe despite being so far west. The way I compare it to is living in Perth on Melbourne time, so the whole country’s daily routine is completely different. Their day doesn’t start until about 10am, then the racing here starts at around 3pm as apposed to 12 or 1 in Italy, then they don’t eat dinner until 9.30-10pm and then they go to sleep about midnight. To us it seems like a very lazy lifestyle but here everything just happens a couple of hours later to what we are used too.

International Txuma on Sunday 21st May, was a one day race starting about 10km east of Bilbao involving 170km with a big 40km lap followed by 6 laps of a 20km circuit and the a final lap of a 10km circuit, which was half of the 20km circuit. The race itself was fair hilly but what I’ve been used to racing lately is seemed pretty flat and windy. Right from the gun the race was completely out of control. Not so much in the way of being crazy but completely unorganised and breakaway’s going left, right and centre, and not looking like coming back. I found myself in second group on the road after about 50km but was then caught by the peleton and then about 10km later there were 4 groups away and I was still in the peleton… I then started to panic a little and rode to the front of the peleton and leaped across to the next group up the road by myself. Then in the next 10km I managed to ride all the way across to the front break away of 9, but this stage a rider had already attacked from this group, who we never saw again and went onto win the race. It was then a battle between my group for 2nd place. I had 2 team mates there, Shaun Higgerson and Johnny Clarke. All 3 of us made attempts to break away but on the descent with 4km to go it all regrouped and down to a sprint finish where I was 3rd, so 4th overall. Sean finished 7th and Johnny was 8th. We also won the best team prize for the having 3 of our riders in the front group.

The Tour of Navarra started on the 23rd May. It was 6 days in duration and began with 2 reasonably flat days and then it headed into the hills the next 3 days, the followed by a bit of a flatter day to finish off with.
The first stage was quite aggressive and with everyone having fresh legs they all wanted to have and impression on the race. There was an early break that was established and then with about 40km to go the race went over a couple of rolling hills, but the wind made it quite difficult and that race split into pieces. Matt Goss and I managed to make front group which then split again and Matt & I were again able to make the selection. We finished in the first group behind the break which we could see for the last 20km but couldn’t catch. Matt and I ended up 7th & 10th at the finish.

Stage 2 was similar to the 1st, but with 20km to go there was a cat. 2 climb. Matt was able to break away right at the top with 4 other riders who stayed away to the finish. Matt won the sprint finish to take the stage win. A very impressive ride!

The 3rd Stage began to head into the hills with a cat.1 and a cat.3 for the day. The cat.1 was raced at a very controlled pace therefore the group did not split. The pace for the cat.3 was quite a bit harder due to being closer to the finish of the stage but the first to groups got back together after the final climb. We decided that because Matt was sprinting so well and was probably one of the quickest guys here, Johnny, Shaun and myself rode on the front all the way to the finish to keep the bunch under control and to ensure that it came down to a sprint finish. Our plan worked perfectly and Matt had a clean run in the sprint came away with another win 2 days in a row.

Stage 4 was the hardest of the tour with 6 categorised climbs (cat.3, 2, 3, 2, 1, 1.) By this stage I was sitting 10th on GC but wasn’t really worried because I was focusing on a stage win for this tour. Little did I know that today was going to be my day! The race was quite spread out right from the first climb with little groups splitting off the front and the back of the peleton. By the time we got the final cat.1 climb there was one rider away solo with a break of 8 behind him followed by a front group of about 20 which I was in. The final 2 cat.1 climbs were the same hill that we rode twice. It was an unbelievably hard hill averaging about 10% for 5km with some 15-17% sections in it.  On the final climb was able to sick with the yellow jersey and 2nd place  on GC over the top and the 3 of us managed to ride across to the break of 8. After the climb there was a fast descent followed by another little climb before dropping down to the finish on probably the bumpiest road I have ever ridden on… After seeing this section of road on the previous lap I thought that this was my section. So with one rider still away I attacked the front group on the descent and forgot that I had fear for the next 10km and went down this road as fast as I could. I caught the lead rider with about 5km to go and he only worked with me for about 2km and then refused to come for a turn. So it was then up to me to get us to the finish and I figured that I would prefer to come 2nd than have the group catch me and not get any place. So I rode on the front all the way to the finish. The other rider didn’t attack me coming into the finish which surprised me, so it came down to a sprint which I won taking the stage win and my first win in Europe. We managed to stay away by 10sec which was enough to move me up to 7th on GC.

The 5th stage was another very hilly day, I gave myself the best chance to get another good result by riding good position on the climbs which included a 13km Cat.1 climb which was like a wall of death and completely split the race to pieces. After the last climb I found myself in front group but with 40km of flat roads and cross winds to the finish,  the first two bunches regrouped and there was a 40 up sprint for the finish where I found myself a bit out of position and with some tired legs and only managed top 20.

The final stage (6) was another flatter day with only two cat.2 climbs which most of us got over and then is was up to Johnny and I to try and set up the sprint for Gossy. We road the front for the last 15km and brought the break back except for one rider who just eluded us by 10sec and Gossy won the sprint in for 2nd.

This ended up being a very profitable week considering it was a Men Elite Tour meaning that it was open age and not U23 and we still came home with 3 stage wins and me finishing 7th on GC.