The Andalucia Bike Race has now become an important part of my winter training and preparations, and it's a race I wouldn't like to miss. After lots of road riding in the earlier part of the winter, the technical trails around Cordoba and Jaen help to put me back in touch with riding off road under race conditions. Of all of the stage races that I've raced, the ABR is definitely the most technical with many nice trails - I highly recommend it. After winning the race in 2011 and 2012, I was uncertain whether it would be possible to win a third consecutive time: so much has to come together and luck plays a significant role too. Amazingly I did win with my Swiss team mate Milena Landtwing, who is now racing for Topeak Ergon Racing Team in 2013. We'll be teaming up together in all paired stage races throughout the year.
After racing the 4 day stage race in Lanzarote at the end of January I know that I am in good shape, better in fact than last year. The Lanzarote race is a solo race whereas the Andalucia Bike Race is a paired race with a partner and the rules stipulate that you must stay within 2 minutes of your partner at all times. The race dynamics are therefore totally different in solo races compared to paired races. It isn't about how fast you can ride the race, but instead it is about how fast you and your partner can ride together. When both riders are the same speed then this is a concept that works well. However, it is unusual for both riders to be perfectly matched and time and time again I see that this can cause problems between partners. The slower rider can feel under pressure and the faster rider must hold back. An understanding relationships in this case is critical in order for the partnership to work, but often the relationship breaks down. In fact, in the ladies category of the ABR this year one team decided to incur time penalities (amounting to 15 minutes) when the faster rider rode her own speed and left her partner behind. I completely understand the frustrations of the faster rider but it seems they missed the point of paired racing: you ride together. It's a big test of strength of character! It can be quite amusing watching how the men deal with this situation ;) But seriously, it's simple: if you support your partner and work together then you'll actually reach the finish line faster than if you just go racing off! I love to race solo races because I love going on my limit the whole time, partnered races present a whole load of different challenges and if you can work together to overcome this then you can have fun and build a solid friendship.
One exciting new addition to my equipment this year is my new size small Canyon Grand Canyon CF SLX 29er. Its first outing was during the Andalucia Bike Race. I wouldn't normally want to ride a new bike for the first time during a race, but the fact that I did and the fact that I had so much fun is testimony to how well the bike fits and suits me. Now I'm really looking forward to racing it again throughout 2013 :)
We have 10 more days until the start of the Cape Epic (an 8 day stage race in South Africa). Although I won in 2011 and 2012, I am open minded and fully aware that a third consecutive win would be like a fairy tale. My aim is to enjoy the trails and my new bike, use the race as training miles and to further develop my partnership with Milena where our big goal will be the Trans Alp in July.