Team Cyclingnews.com - Down Under - 2004
19th Circuito Montañés - 2.5, Spain, June 16-22, 2004
Tales from the gruppetto
By Cody Stevenson
Well, Spain... what a mixed experience.
The seven-day Circuito Montañés was supposed to be a race with nice weather, a few big climbs, and cute Spanish "Chicas" cheering along the way. What it turned out to be was a race with mixed weather, 30 one day, 10 the next and rain, a lot of BIG climbs, and old hairy Spanish men called Pedro holding out cans of Coca Cola at the top of each pain-riddled climb! I can only write this report from the gruppetto, as that is where I spent five of the seven days.
Stage 1 - June 16: Santander - El Astillero, 153,8 km
Already had me on the ropes, the team missed a 14 rider break and we had to chase for 70km to bring back a break from three minutes to one minute so that our classement riders, Phil and Erik, could still be in contention. Ricey, Wormy, Svender and I along with three others from another team did a 70km team time trial over a rather dubious "flat" parcours, which included a 2km climb each lap of the 25km circuit. At the end of the day the damage was one minute, and I managed to finish in the peloton.
Stage 2 - June 17: Los corrales de Buelna - Laredo, 167 km
I once met a Spaniard called Giupetto, he drove a bus called Gruppetto. Today was my first gruppetto experience in a mountain stage, and it was a group that I was going to spend a lot of time with over the next few days. Going up was hell, but I had a lot of fun on the descents, clocking amazing speeds and doing my best Garry McCoy and Troy Corser superbike noises as I backed through the gears and then fed on the power of my two horses as I exited the apex of the corners!
Days 3, 4, 5, and 6 were all a bit of a pain riddled blur, so I will do my best to remember certain episodes of each day.
Stage 3 - June 18: Laredo - Renedo de Pielagos, 156 km
Three Cat 1 climbs and there was a lot of piano playing in the 50-rider gruppetto and I was fortunate to have Ricey and Tom "Cyril" Barras along for the ride.
Stage 4 - June 19: Agua de Solares - Torrelavega, 157,5 km
I thought it was all over. We had just climbed a "special category", (I would have called it something other than special), it was raining, I was already in the gruppetto, I was freezing and just as we hit the top of the 20km descent, I had a front wheel puncture. I got a wheel, but by now I was LAST man on the road, alone, 1200 metres above the sea and still with over 100km to go. Mum, don't read the next bit! I did the descent flat out, it was raining, cold and there were no guard rails! I was hooking into corners and had two wheel drift at 80kph, Rossi would have been proud! After about 10 minutes I still couldn't see the gruppetto! As I got closer to the valley floor, it started to clear, and I could go a little bit harder in the turns! Just as I hit the bottom of the next first category climb I rejoined my 'amigos', and grovelled through the next 80km to the finish.
Stage 5a - June 20: Polanco - Santander (La Atalaya), 134 km; Stage 5b - June 20: Maliaño - Alto del Churi ITT, 9 km
A split day with a circuit race and an uphill time trial in the afternoon. Once again it was a "flat" circuit, that finished up a 1km climb. I attacked on the second lap and got a gap with four others including Erik, 20km later I was back in the bunch having blown on one of the 'flat' climbs. I managed to finish in the peloton. The time trial, yeah well, I finished inside time cut!
Stage 6 - June 21: Torrelavega - Potes, 196,7 km
The queen stage, 200km, five categorised climbs, rain, cold, and tired legs! Once again the attacks started at km 0, not one day has it been a steady start, just attack, attack, attack, 200km to go... no problem, just attack from the start!
A 20km, "special category" climb 15km into the stage put me straight into the gruppetto, were I was learning how to play the piano quite nicely, and who's numbers had diminished to a lowly 20 riders. Each team had lost riders by this stage and we had also lost Tom and Sven the previous day from sickness, this meant that the gruppetto was getting smaller and smaller everyday. Only 90 of the 150 riders would finish the race. Ricey and I managed to battle on through this stage and we both thanked each other at the end of our six hour ordeal... we didn't talk much but we understood each other's emotion, and feeling as we crossed the line. Phil had been up the road all day and was alone in the front of the race, one minute up, 30 km to go, 20km downhill, when he had mechanical trouble, ruining his chances of a stage win... it can be a cruel sport!
Stage 7 - June 22: Potes - Santander, 152 km
The last day, and yet more categorised climbs, I managed to get over the categorised climbs but blew 20km from the finish on one of the 5000 "little" climbs that riddled the course. It was pretty much the last climb of the race and I got booted, and with strict rulings, no convoy to get back on to the peloton, my day was done and dusted 10km from home. Cameron was less fortunate, and he ended up doing the last 10km in an ambulance after going over the guard rail on the last descent of the race. It is so unlucky for Wormy; he is the most consistent, determined rider and deserves a bit of luck!
All in all, it was a great experience, a real eye opener to racing in real mountains... everyday, and amazing to see guys who are five feet tall and 50kg tearing everyone's legs off! I am happy to be back in Belgium and happy to be one of the little guys again!
Next stop - somewhere assured of a bunch kick!