The format for the Gran Canaria Bike Week – of which the Pico race is the highlight – had altered quite a lot this year, and it’s a great credit to the organisers to have put together such a wonderful event in these unusual circumstances. On the day of the race, the organisation couldn’t be faulted, many thanks!!
It was my fourth time on the start line, and I came in 4th place, and it inspired me to have a little look back at the previous editions I have taken part in.
At my first tilt in 2017, I still had my old Focus Izalco, and a woeful 39-28 smallest gear.. ! The race was shorter- starting not at sea level, but just outside Ingenio, on this segment.
The 2016 winner had lined up, and was back to beat his record, wasting no time in doing so with 2 attacks in the early kilometers, the second being the last time anyone else saw him that day! His record remains, and the rest of us were left to pick up the scraps; I dragged myself to the line in 7th place. I met a new friend in fellow competitor Knut, and then continued with my plan to use the gained metres from the race to explore the north of the island. Doing some 200km before I got home..!
2018 I was back; a new course – now from sea level in Playa del Burrero, a 'new' bike (a 2011 Scott Addict), and added experience, but no real expectation. Sometimes you have days where your legs answer all questions you ask of them, and this was one of those days. I initiated the early breakaway and rode with 2 others the whole way to the top, able to dig deep and ride an average heart rate of 176 the whole way (my max is 185..!). In the last 1km I put in an attack that only one of my companions could follow, and after forcing him to lead out the sprint, I was able to cross the line in first. Here I was as a fairly average all arounder, and yet crossing the line first in a hill climb race! My friend Eddy had given me a lift to the start before recceing the climb himself, and we rode a sunny euphoric descent back to the car, doing less than half the kilometers of last year.
The next year several things had changed in my life: I was in love with the most amazing woman in the universe, who was riding from Maspalomas to the top to meet me at the finish, I had a new job guiding with Life On 2 Wheels, and some slight pressure of expectation..! Nevertheless, I held back at the start, letting others who were seemingly willing to work into the headwind do so, but when I saw a dangerous group get a gap, I immediately jumped across. The group then thinned to just me and Samuel Martin, and we rode together very well up until the steepest ramps at La Pasadilla, where I drifted ahead on the brutal slopes. From then on it was mano a mano, feeling like I had a shadow chasing me, always one corner below me. I managed to hold the gap up into the cloudy finish, collapsing into the arms of mi amor at the finish. ❤️❤️ I had the gracious support of my friend Eddy once more, who had given me a bottle at Cazadores, and unfortunately wasn't allowed to pass the race to meet me at the top with my jacket. So it was that we spent 2 freezing hours on the top until he picked us up, following the last rider on the road. We gladly accepted a lift home, to make this an even shorter day on the bike.
And so finally we come to the epic 2020 edition. I had been 'training', and limiting chocolate consumption for 4 weeks – usually foreign concepts to me – so I felt I had allowed myself to arrive at the start in the best possible condition. I got a ride with my friends Flo & Manuela who were also racing, who livened up our journey there with the Romanian folk song 'Constantine, Constantine' … Constantine , Constantine - Muzica traditionala romaneasca 😂😂😂🎶🎶
Manuela- Romanian national champion on the road & MTB, had the win in mind, and Flo was hoping for a top 10. There were 2 young continental pro riders at the start line also, so the level was high. Cold winds blew even at the start, and glancing skyward there were only grey clouds at the top.
The race started after the short neutralised section, and immediately Thomas Devaux (Akros – Excelsior - Thömus) attacked. He was brought back, but not long after went again, seemingly a foolhardy move with the whole race left to go, and the next exposed section with a strong headwind coming up. A few more small skirmishes occurred behind, and left one other rider- Mads - dangling 50m ahead of the peloton, chasing our lone leader. The group had thinned, so I jumped across to Mads, and shouted to let him know I was coming and had a gap, and we set to work immediately, trying to narrow the leader’s advantage. The other pro in the race, Olav, bridged across to us, and now we were 3 working against one.
Our quarry held a gap all the way through the windy part, but we had him very much in sight at all times, and we slowly struggled our way up the wet, cold slopes at times barely 50m apart. On gradients of 23% 50m is a long time though!
In a show of strength, we still hadn't caught the leader when the worst ramps ended, but the 3 of us continued to work well starting the final 10km. Alas it was all about to unravel for me 5km later. I wear sunglasses with a prescription insert, and the cold wet conditions had thoroughly fogged up my glasses. There is one small descent in the race, past a magnificent volcanic crater called Caldera de los Marteles, where the road surface is atrocious. I realized too late I wouldn't be able to descend it safely with my glasses on, and unfortunately these glasses don’t grip your helmet if stuck up there, so I tried to get them into my back pocket with frozen hands, and by the time I had my hands back, there was a gap to my breakaway colleagues. I dug as deep as I could in the remaining 5km to the finish, coming within 25metres of my erstwhile co-conspirators, but they never let me back on. I sprinted up to the finish having lost 35 seconds to them at the line, but in the process set my fastest time ever for the final 5km.
The clouds were solid, and my dazed eyes only found my marvelous wife in the last second, who had managed to arrive at the top just minutes before me once more for an exhausted yet elated reunion!! We threw on all our extra clothes and high tailed it down the descent, leaving behind 5 degrees, wind and rain, to magically descend through the seasons, arriving back in 25 degrees and 'summer' in Maspalomas. We gazed back up at the thick clouds, sitting like a dollop of cream on a cake over the summit, and marvelled at this rapid transition: once again a demonstration that this island truly is a mini continent: Winter and summer, barely 25km apart as the crow flies.
Chapeau to all who rode this day in these conditions, and in particular to the tour de force from the winner, and Manuela who won the women’s race with a huge margin, finishing 27th overall in the process!