Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Stage 4: Lanzarote 4 stage MTB race

Tired legs were confronted with the longest, hardest stage. Riders headed over undulating rocky and sandy tracks towards Teguise where challenging trails awaited: narrow, loose singletracks winding around volcanoes; fast, rutted descents; and steep, rocky ascents. Once in the north of the island, the longest climb, known as the Tabayesco climb, snakes up on gravel doubletrack to the highest point, clearly recognised by the wind turbines at the summit. Spectacular views rewarded those who had the energy to look! It’s a mistake to think that it’s downhill from the top; short fast descents are followed by short sharp climbs. The final 20km are the sting in the tail – a mixture of sandy then rocky trails lead to Famara and then hug the coastline back to the finish. With Club La Santa in sight, momentary lapses in concentration resulted in punctures and crashes, and a number of riders ran the final kms or tended to bloodied elbows and knees.

After a less than perfect day yesterday, Bulls rider Simon Stiebjahn was able to set a fast pace and finish the race with a stage win; however, Sergio Mantacon held on to the overall win. For me the aim today was to stay out of trouble, ride hard, but descend with a bit of caution – no need for a crash or puncture on the last stage – everything went to plan and now I’m able to relax in the sunshine, eating nice food at the Club La Santa poolside bar J This really is a great location for hard training because the facilities make everything so easy: wellness centre, massage, sports shop, bike shop, gym – everything you need is right here. And there’s a really nice vibe.   

Sally Bigham 3:35:15
Sandra Santanyes 4:23:45
Mar Franco Peneula 4:43:27

Simon Stiebjahn 3:07:59
Sergio Montecon Gutierrez 3:08:03
Christian Kreuchler 3:08:18

Overall Results after 4 stages

Sally Bigham 08:43:52
Sandra Santanyes 10:25:15
Mar Franco Peneula 11:04:10

Sergio Montecon Gutierrez 07:37:49
Christian Kreuchler 07:40:44
Tiago Ferreira 07:42:19
Simon Stebjahn 07:43:11

Monday, 28 January 2013

Stage 3: Lanzarote 4 stage MTB race

There’s nowhere to hide in a time trial – each rider battles alone – there are no tactics; riding as fast as possible from start to finish is all that matters. Starting from the picturesque Famara beach, where perfect lines of blue swell dissipate onto white sand, riders are sent off the start ramp – at one or two minute intervals – up a gravel track which is at times pretty bumpy. At approximately 20 minutes in, just when legs are starting to burn, a narrow, steep, loose singletrail adds an extra sting. A short series of rocky ascents and descents along a ridge overlooking Famara beach leads to the halfway point. From here onwards it’s a case of staying low, minimising the impact of the strong headwind, while climbing steadily towards the church in the distance marking the finish line at the summit.

TORQ Banoffee Guarana Gel ready for easy access

Chasing and catching people is what I like to do, it’s motivating and allows access to the last dregs of energy, but today I was the mouse: fast men (from higher in the GC) caught and past me playing with my mind: Am I riding hard enough? Am I going backwards? Was I faster last year? These thoughts must be pushed aside and replaced by positive ones: I feel strong today! Satisfyingly I was faster than last year, despite not having a carrot dangling in front of me – last year I was able to chase a fast female rider who set off ahead of me.

In the men’s race Simon Stiebjahn, the young Bulls rider, lost time to race leader, Sergio Mantecon, and consequently his second place in the GC. With the hardest stage to come – 80km over challenging terrain in the north of Lanzarote - it’ll be interesting to see if anyone can challenge Sergio for the overall lead. For me a comfortable lead doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily take it easier, but I will be aiming to stay out of trouble! Fingers crossed for one final day of good luck.   


Sally Bigham 1:03:57
Sandra Santanyes 1:16:39
Mar Franco Penuela 1:20:25


Sergio Montecon Gutierrez 00:51:05
Tiago Ferreira 00:52:19
Christian Kreuchler 00:52:50       

Courtesy of Bob Foy

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Stage 2: Lanzarote 4 stage MTB race

More technical trails and singletrack characterised the stage today taking riders through Timanfya National Park, which is not too dissimilar from how I imagine it would be to ride on the moon: gnarly black lava rocks, stretching as far as the eye can see, flick across the trail in unpredictable ways and loose terrain: sometimes sandy, other times deep gravel make it hard to find grip. Early parts of the course are open gravel roads allowing riders to find their rhythm and settle down before more tricky sections ahead. Many of the rocky, twisty trails are on narrow, elevated walls around farmer’s fields. The consequences of a mistake are high – literally. Falling from one of the walls into the rocky field below isn’t pretty, as one rider in front of me found out.     

The wind once again influenced the race; groups could work well together, but in my case this didn’t seem to happen: large groups sat up, nobody wanted to pull everyone along and do ‘more work’. It seems that smaller groups are happier to share the load. After a few stints at the front to encourage the guys around me to push on, a couple of guys rotated with me while several others sat back and enjoyed the tow.

The leading guys have to battle hard in a really close race and the young Bulls rider Simon Stiebjahn isn’t making things easy for the Wild Wolf race leader Sergio Mantecongutierrez. Yesterday I built a good lead, so for me it wasn’t close racing today, but I never relax too much; the race isn’t won until the finish line on Tuesday and between now and then anything can happen. 

Tomorrow’s stage is a 20km uphill (600m) time trial. Starting from the beach in Famara the course follows a double track leading up the cliff to a Church overlooking the coastline. I like time trials - just me against the clock.        


Sally Bigham 2:33:51
Sandra Santanyes 2:59:29
Mar Franco Penuela 3:08:33


Sergio Mantecon Gutierrez 2:17:04
Simon Stiebjahn 2:17:06
Tiago Ferreira 2:17:07

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Stage 1: 4 stage MTB race, Lanzarote

The 4 stage Mountain Bike Race in Lanzarote started today with a short, fast 38km loop starting and finishing at Club La Santa. This is my third year taking part in the race and I’m hoping that the saying ‘third time lucky’ will accurately describe my experience over the next few days - I’m yet to win the overall race! The course was a little longer than last year due to protected birds choosing to lay their eggs on the original course. The additional KMs were on more technical terrain and longer race times reflected these changes.

A fast start was inevitable: in the men’s race there is close competition with The Bulls and Wild Wolf going head to head. For me a cautious start – I didn’t want to crash in the enthusiastic scramble – meant that I had a little work to do once we hit the first off-road section, but this was fine because it’s good training. There was a fair bit of wind so staying in a group was pretty helpful. I seemed to be alone more often than I was in a group – sometimes you need a little luck to get a good group – but again, I didn’t mind because working into the wind, I told myself, was great power training.

The tracks here are often fairly similar to those in South Africa and with the Cape Epic in March, the race in Lanzarote is perfectly timed to be able to test equipment and get a feeling for the loose, rocky and sandy terrain that we’ll encounter. The conditions are tricky and it’s important to stay focused, otherwise it’s really easy to make a mistake and the lava rocks are pretty unforgiving!

I felt strong and had a good feeling, despite all of the hard training in Gran Canaria over the last few weeks. Let’s hope that this feeling remains over the next three days. Tomorrow is a longer stage: 58km over more challenging terrain. Choosing good lines will be important to avoid puncturing on the sharp lava in Timanfaya national park. Continental protection tyres are pretty strong, but a bad line here could puncture even the strongest tyre!

Sally Bigham 1:30:49
Sandra Santanyes 1:45:19
Mar Franco Penuela 1:51:39


Sergio Mantecongutierrez 1:21:49
Simon Stiebjahn 1:22:05
Jesus Delnero Montes 1:22:14 

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

My new website

Topeak Ergon have built a new website for me. Click here to have a look! Also, don't forget that I have a Facebook fan page too - 'like it' to see regular photos and updates on my training and racing :)

Preparation for the new season

It's been a long time since my last blog and I've done a lot since my holiday in November. After my last race in 2012 - Roc D'Azur in October - I had 3 weeks of social riding followed by another 3 weeks completely off the bike. After such a long but successful year we decided to treat ourselves to a windsurfing/surfing holiday in Barbados where we have lots of great friends who we haven't seen for far too long. It was so nice to take time out of our 'normal' bike life and do something completely different.

Helping hand from some Bajan children

A change from biking!

After our holiday we were lucky to be able to start winter training in South Africa where the MTBing is amazing. It was a bit of a shock to start training again and it took a couple of weeks for my body to relax back into riding, but eventually my heart rate lowered and my legs started to feel like those of a cyclist again! The weather was amazing, but often it was so hot (40+ degrees celsius) that we had to get up at 6am or earlier to try to beat the heat. Lots of people choose South Africa for winter training and I was lucky to be shown around by Sharon Laws, Ariane Kleinhans and Jennie Stenerhag. The road riding in South Africa is nice, but it's not entirely safe so often Dave followed in the car behind me. Sadly after we returned home we learned that Burry Stander - a very talented MTB rider - was tragically killed when he was hit by a vehicle while training near his home in South Africa. 

So many trails - the only problem is deciding which ones to ride!

Stunning view of Table Mountain from our apartment in the winelands

'Four Passes' ride with Sharon Laws
We reluctantly left South Africa and landed at Heathrow on Christmas morning. After a 4 hour drive we arrived at my parents house in time for Christmas dinner :)  I had a couple of very wet, cold road rides in The Peak District, ate lots of nice festive food and relaxed by the fire. After briefly touching base at home in Poole we left again to start another block of training in Gran Canaria on New Years day. During our fleeting visit back to the UK we both managed to get ill with colds, sore throats and coughs....an unavoidable part of winter it seems!   

Gran Canaria is brilliant. The climate is perfect (20-25 degrees) and the weather is often very stable. The roads are about as safe as roads can get and the options for riding are vast. It's so easy to eat up the miles here; no clock watching and counting down the hours! The motorists  - with the exception of some tourists - are often very respectful of cyclists: patiently waiting to overtake, gently sounding their horn to let you know they're there and offering words of encouragement. This couldn't contrast more with the cycling experience in the UK where motorists can't waste precious seconds to overtake, aggressively sound their horn to get you out of the way and use verbal and gestural abuse to vent their frustration with being confronted by a cyclist! 

The view from Pico de las Nieves. The highest point of GC at 1949m

View of the GC606 (switchback road in the distance) aptly named 'The Valley of Tears'. 

We have one more week left in GC before we go to Club La Santa in Lanzarote where I will take part in my first race of the new season: the Lanzarote 4 day stage race. The race also forms part of a week long Cape Epic Training Camp where I will be a guest guide and offer training tips and race advice. We hope to see you there!