Arriving at the start area for about 10am you really couldn’t fault the race organisation. Riders had been seeded (unsure how, as it can’t have been UCI points) with 25 pairs per “box”. We were at the front of “Box B” which was a fairly good position. Just before the start all the boxes were removed and riders could mass together. The stage got underway at 10.30am and that is where the good organisation ended, as the route then proceeded through the streets of Cordoba. Should the organisers have properly explained the start procedure, the fact that the first 8km would be neutralised and should be a “procession” then perhaps the ensuing chaos would not have happened as riders went crazy, trying to improve their position in the pack by any means possible. The route went through all the old areas of Cordoba, including all the super narrow streets which obviously caused massive bottlenecks and then a mass panic to catch back up afterwards. The situation carried on for ages, it was very dangerous with cars on the street, lots of street furniture and obviously the riders around you to avoid. I had completed lost my race partner Milton Ramos and didn’t have a clue how far up he was.
8km into the route, things finally started to improve slightly as the neutralised zone ended on a road climb, so everyone bolted and tried to get a good position before the dirt tracks where it all narrowed again. Dust was being thrown up everywhere and it was hard to see, but I did manage to slowly improve my position and found myself riding with Josh Ibbett and Ben Thomas, but still no sign of Milton. It was flat for a while and then started to slowly climb and by now I was able to start moving up a few places. Then we hit the technical climb and there was just one line up, so it became a single file line with no chance of passing, although a few did try – and fail and one Spaniard even tried pushing me off my bike to get passed! The climb steepened and turned into a hike a bike for a good 5-10 minutes, which I knew about and just accepted.
Finally it opened up and crossed a road and from here on I knew it was rideable all the way. A nice singletrack section with technical ups and downs, again very little chance to pass but good fun. This brought us out at the feed station and I could see Milton was waiting for me. As soon as I caught up he bolted and I tried my best to stick onto his wheel, which was very hard! We caught a group of 15 or so riders and he managed to get right to the front where as I was towards the back gasping for air. On one section where it really widened I gave it everything and passed the group and then we were away!
A few more singletrack sections where we were able to open up a gap on the small group behind and started catching a few pairs ahead. Milton was really going for it at the front and I was just able to hang on. We passed a timing point where it said 8:?? so I guessed that meant we were 8 minutes and something down on the lead pair. Not too bad, but could have been much better. From here it was a fast undulating singletrack section which took us to a high point and from here I knew the way. We had another pair around us and on one short tarmac section 4 of us were sprinting to get into what we all knew was a long rocky descent. Milton was first in but one of the other pair sneaked in front of me and literally as soon as the rocks appeared he slowed right down, but it was impossible to pass for quite a while. Eventually I got by and could see Milton further down. We caught and passed another 3 pairs on the downhill stretch, the big wheels just floated over the rocks where as 26” bikes were having to pick a line down.
Out of the rocky downhill it was just a short, hard road sprint to the finish. No one passed us on that section and we crossed the line together, 1hr 13 minutes.. I was really disappointed by how badly I started, it must have been really frustrating for Milton having to wait for me. It could have been much worse and hopefully the rest of the stages won’t be quite so crazy, or “loco” as the Spanish say and the longer distances will help too. The stage was won by Jose Antonio Hermida and Rudi van Houts in 1hr 2 minutes.
Link to my Garmin connect, here