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Training – Basque Style
While the first week had me rushing around trying to keep up with a hectic schedule, the second week was far more relaxed, which allowed me to get in much more riding. Monday morning was my ride in Vitoria-Gastiez and I joined Ethan for a recovery ride around a nearby lake called "Landa". The weather was ideal with very few clouds and the temperature hovering around 17 degrees, which allowed us to get in some good shots throughout the day.
Riding out of Vitoria-Gasteiz
Tuesday was less of a photoshoot day and more of a let's-get-to-work day on the bike as I joined Ethan and another teammate, Arritz, on a ride towards a climb where we would do some hill repeats. Despite the leg grinding efforts, I was dumbfounded by the sheer beauty of cycling in this region. It’s hard to take a bad photo here to be honest - the sights you come across on a ride are often so picturesque that you don’t need an ‘eye’ to capture them.
What I can’t quite yet capture in a photo though is the simple wonder of these roads. Someone driving a car generally might not appreciate the quality nor the diversity of a road, as they are usually only concerned with going from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time. A motorcyclist? Sure, they’ll get something out of the experience. But a truly great road really does, in my opinion, need a cyclist upon it for its majesty to be realized.
Riding with Ethan and Arritz
First exposure to Basque Racing
In Belgium a typical race attracts between 50 and 80 riders, but here the number goes up to 200! Due to a paperwork mix-up, I couldn't enter a race that was scheduled for Thursday in a town called Durango. Instead I decided to ride there and say hello to the team management, who I had not yet met.
I opened the google maps app and checked for directions to Durango. A pretty cool feature was the "Bicycle path" feature that shows the shortest route that can be traversed by a bike. Little did I know that this feature does not yet differentiate between road-bike paths and Mountain-bike trails. In the second hour of the ride, when I was 6 kms away from Durango, I was instructed to take a right turn onto a beaten, rock-laden, 4-foot wide path. While descending.
Not what I expected
Off the Beaten Path
"I'm going to hit the main road at some point very soon." I said to myself and began the descent. But 60 metres in, I saw a huge brown figure rush towards me at 11 o'clock followed by a thundering bark. I hit the brakes hard and stopped in my tracks, watching as a Bullmastiff charged towards me before being stopped by its chains. Despite being a huge dog lover, I realized my best option was to turn around. So this is exactly what I did as I retraced my path faster than a cat living its 9th life.
I took the longer and well-paved road to Durango and met with the team management who were quite warm and curious about my racing history. I waited around until the race flagged off and headed back home.
Catching the start of the race
2 hours and a category 1 climb later, I was back in Vitoria-Gasteiz where I had the chance to appreciate more domesticated canines. All from at least 4 feet away.
Fun fact (and also my favourite stat about Spain so far) : 1 in 3 people in Spain have a dog!!
Group Rides – Basque Style
Thanks to Allan's help I was able to co-ordinate with Joseba Beloki and I joined him and a group of other cyclists in Vitoria-Gastiez to go on a 5 hour long ride. Beloki is a legend in the Basque racing community. He podiumed three times at Le Tour de France, all while racing clean during the Lance era! Despite his high achievements, he was incredibly down-to-earth, chatting with everyone in the group and offering me a bit of advice while even pulling a couple of pranks on his friends!
This was my first 2-man-wide bunch ride in over 5 months, and while I was more strained mentally than physically, I quickly regained my rhythm and was quite comfortable within an hour's time. This was short lived as soon I was put into physical strain as the bunch tackled every road that sloped upwards at a punishing speed.
With Beloki and co.
5hrs and 1700m of elevation later, I was back in the comforts of my room, only to come face-to-face with my nemesis..
On sunday morning I hoped to get in a 4-hour endurance-paced ride in order to recover well from the previous day's exertion. 2 kilometers into my ride out towards Landa however, I spotted a bunch of eight U23 cyclists about to start a group ride.
The rule of thumb in cycling is - "Train with someone who is slightly stronger than you." Keeping this in mind, I approached them to ask if I could join them on the day’s ride. "Sure" they said.
The pace was quite comfortable in the first hour until we hit a climb and were soon going up it at speeds I hadn’t thought were possible. Halfway through, I couldn't hold on and got dropped. I was certain they would not wait for me and began dreading the thought of having to use Google maps again to get back home. Surprisingly, they were kind enough to wait for me at the top of the climbs.
|Them Quickstep boys are quick!!|
I got lost in translation (and a bit of my shyness) not knowing how long we would be riding for. 3hrs into the ride, we stopped to get some water and I learnt that we were 2 hours and one Cat1 climb away from home. "Oh okay", I replied in my typical stoic manner while internally dreading the obstacle ahead.
After a total of 5.5hrs of suffering over 2250m of elevation gain, I was happier than ever to see my refrigerator. I promptly downed 4200 calories, happy about finishing a solid weekend of training!
What's next: Barring any catastrophe, I will lining up for my first Spanish race on the 23rd of April. Follow me on Facebook and Instagram for regular updates, and this blog for fortnightly ones.