Andorra 21 Ports

Ari and I drove to Andorra on Wednesday evening and worked from there on Thursday. In the evening we rolled down to the capital and I registered for the 21 Ports race. It’s a three day road cycling stage race. At least it was. As it turns out this is the 2nd and last time the race will run. It will be swallowed up by the very commercial Haute Route Pyrenees next year. The format of the race is quite simple, you ride up passes and back down. There’s not a lot of flat riding in the race, which makes sense as there’s not a lot of flat in Andorra. It covers 300 km over three days and has over 8000 m of climbing. Ideal for someone 10 kg lighter than I am.

Stage 1

I coasted down to the start line on Friday morning with Ari following behind in the car to help shield me from the traffic. We started in sunshine at 9:30 am. The countdown before the race was complete with dramatic music which morphed into ACDC’s thunder strikes as we all crowded across the line with the sound of shoes snapping into pedals. The field wasn’t huge,  120-ish. The first round-about sent us 180 degrees back towards the start, and the route took us straight into a climb, 23 km of climbing to be exact. I tried to take it easy so that I’d still be ok on the second pass. I followed a couple who were part of a 22 strong Israeli team for some of the climb. I eventually passed them but they stayed not far behind. We rode through a tunnel and ascended through one of the most ugly ski resort towns I’ve ever seen. The road goes to France too so there had been a lot of traffic up to the tunnel. I stopped at the drinks station at the top of the pass and then rolled down. Only the climbs are timed in this event.

After a very long descent the course lead directly into another climb. This one was much more picturesque and much less busy. Unfortunately my legs were already a little tired and the snickers bar I’d had at the pass didn’t seem to be doing the magic. A few cyclists cruised slowly past me as I rode to the top. It was a 180 degrees turn at a ski area and I stocked up on energy before rolling back down. Half way down we were directed onto another road which stopped almost immediately. I carried on along a gravel path with hikers. The section was longer than I expected and in parts a bit rough with potholes that were worth avoiding. I passed a lake on my right and then it was back onto sealed road. I called Ari’s phone briefly to give her the secret signal that I was 45 minutes from the finish. A secret signal was required as casual data use in Andorra is enough to bankrupt the very rich. I had another long descent and rolled across the finish line about 30 minutes later. Secret signal fail. Ari arrived later on.

Cris at the start line (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above: The race started each day from the capital, Andorra la Vella.

Signing in (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)Cris in the starting area (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above left: Each day we signed in on the board. Above right: There were only around 120 competitors in the race.

Finished Stage 1 (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)Cris and Ari after Stage 1 (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above left: I survived the first stage! Because it was so hilly there were no bunches and everyone finished more or less at different times. Above right: Ariadna supported me for the race.

Riding after finishing (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)Going to Topic for a meal(Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above left: We headed back up to the flat in Ordino after each stage. Above right: We went for a meal at Topic in the evening with Anaïs.

Andorra 21 Ports 2022 Stage 1 85 km/2300 m

Timed sections: 3:15:06 Place 59/93 Male finishers

https://www.strava.com/activities/7361069066

Stage 2

It seems that the previous three weeks of very high temperatures, and therefore the very little cycling that I did was not an ideal build up for the event. I was feeling pretty pooped and had niggly injury like feelings in my legs. Anaïs joined for the start and Ari and her followed me down the hill to the start line. It was sunny again and we set off like yesterday. My knee niggled at me painfully and I worked on ignoring it. After a few km of uphill it seemed to come right and we turned left onto a picturesque climb with many switchbacks. It seemed to be a Tour de France climb as there were the names of cyclists scrawled on the road. We wound our way up. I generally held my position, overtaking a couple of people. I had my gopro on the front of my bike and managed to get some amazing shots of me draping a banana peel over the handlebars in a particularly steep part.

I rolled back down from the drinks station and found myself climbing into Ordino. Ari was waiting patiently at the roundabout and cheered me on. There was more rolling and then a gentle climb, leading into a much less gentle ascent up towards where we’d been ski touring in April. Instead of hanging a right, the route continued up and up, passing through a tunnel proudly proclaiming it was a three times participant in the Tour de France. The climb seemed to drag on and I was feeling slow and tired. It was cold at the top and it looked like it might rain. I rolled back down and down and started up another valley for the third ascent of the day. I was definitely running out of go-juice for this one. It climbed steeply in parts until the last 5 km where it flattened off. Runners were on the side of the road competing in the UTMB 105 km ultra that was on at the same time. I pushed along the last section that slowly lead around the hills to the pass and stopped on the far side of the timing cables to eat whatever I could get my hands on at the drinks station.

I had another very long descent back to the warmth of the valley below. A few large drops of rain came down as I descended and I felt sorry for the cyclists still coming up, that later ones with still a big climb ahead. I continued to drop down and was directed through a tunnel that had been closed to traffic except cyclists for the race. It was a strange feeling riding through a tunnel that should have been full of traffic. I was still riding alone and the tunnel did a good job of stopping any wind, which meant I could mash the pedals.

There must be hundreds of people involved in the race mostly directing traffic. It’s quite impressive and makes me wonder how the organisers can make any money at all. Each roundabout has someone directing traffic and we were given right of way through the entire course. I narrowly avoided an accident as I sped down towards a roundabout, the motorist thinking the warden was gesturing to her rather than me. A sharp right hand turn and I was on the narrow cycle way to the finish line.  Ari turned up 30 seconds after I arrived indicating that the secret signal was improving but not quite there yet.

Cris and the girls at the start (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above: Both Ari and Anaïs came to the start line for Stage 2 to see me off. My legs were already feeling pretty tired!

Riding away (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)Coming into Ordino (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above left: The race started each day bumping down a narrow path onto the  main road, then hading down to a roundabout and looping back in the opposite direction. Above right: Ari waited at the roundabout in Ordino to say hello.

Riding into Ordino again (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)At the finish line after Stage 2 (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above left: Ari waited again in Ordino for when I came back through many vertical metres and a couple of hours later. Above right: I did more posing at the finish line. The little sign lit up with my name and time whenever I crossed the finish line, much to the annoyance of one of the organisers.

Andorra 21 Ports 2022 Stage 2 105 km/2900 m

Timed sections: 4:19:14 Place 71/92 Male finishers

https://www.strava.com/activities/7367014422

Stage 3

The last stage. Sometimes I don’t understand my legs. I was sure it would be a very painful slow stage but it ended up being my best. Perhaps it takes me two stages to warm up. The stage started as usual with a climb. We headed up towards Ordino, riding through the same tunnel that was closed to traffic yesterday. I towed a group for a bit, enjoying the lack of wind in the tunnel. We veered off the main road and I rode with a group, up smaller winding roads. We had the media star from the all woman Catalonian team in the group and a race motorbike was recording her every move.

I rode ahead a little with the Israeli couple and we kept right, next to a line of cars, banked up due to the race. Ari handed me a bottle at the roundabout and shouted go, go, go!. I went. I tried to walk the line between pushing too hard, and blowing up, and riding too slowly. I was probably more on the conservative side. The already sparse field dispersed further until I was more or less riding alone. I passed a couple of people during the climb and exchanged places with the Israeli guy, passing him again near the top.

Rather than turning around at the pass, the route rolled down the other side for a few km before the drinks station. After a good break, that didn’t count towards the overall race time, I continued down. It was sunny and warmer than yesterday. The descent was very nice and the road passed stone houses pasted onto the side of the hills. I joined the main road that leads to France again and continued down, finally passing through the capital and heading further down towards Spain.

Finally, there was a left hand turn and the road kicked up into a steep climb. Beep, I crossed a timing mat on the road and the race was back on. The second climb also went well and I felt pretty good despite expecting to fade. Although it was far too hot at the bottom, it was cool by the time I got to the next refreshment stop at the top. I spent some time eating before rolling down the windy roads alone. There was no traffic and it was enjoyable. I descended back down into the heat and rode down the valley a few km before turning right and starting the final climb, a 1000m ascent.

It was very warm. The sun was beating down and the cliffs around and rock near the road were radiating heat. The ride started with switchbacks. The yellow girls team stopped, for some reason, within the timed area and their support vehicle stopped with them. Later I could see them a few corners behind me, following up the road with their support car playing music and the lads sitting with their torsos out of the windows, driving slowly up the road. I edged away from them, passing a few other stragglers up the road also. My legs were doing well and the temperature was starting to get more bearable as I climbed. The road narrowed and became very steep. I passed a couple of others and it was just a few more switchbacks before the top and the drinks station.

It was the last of the timed section and I took a good break before rolling down the very steep descent. There was no cellphone coverage to call Ari until I found a cell tower next to the road further down and found I had 5 bars of coverage. Amusingly, I heard a fan spinning up inside the tower as I placed the call. It’s quite a remote road and I guess there’s not that many people making cellphone calls, or perhaps it was just a coincidence. I continued down grinding my brake pads into the rims. The last few kms back to the finish line passed quickly as I had a big tailwind and was enjoying mashing the pedals. I crossed the line feeling good to end my first and last Andorra 21 Ports race. Next year the race will merge with the Haute Route Pyrenees meaning it will be much more expensive!

I did some active recovery in the evening with Ari and we did an easy via ferrata route near the apartment.

Inside the athlete tent (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)Ari at the end of Stage 3 (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above left:  The competitors had a large tent where they could hang their bikes and eat after each stage. Above right: Ari came to the finish line each day.

Active recovery (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)Refueling (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above left: I felt surprisingly good after the last stage and we did an easy klettersteig near the flat in Ordino. Above right: We then refuelled in the evening with Anaïs at a restaurant.

Another KS (Andorra 21 Ports 2022)

Above: The following day was home office followed by another klettersteig.

Andorra 21 Ports 2022 Stage 3 105 km/3100 m

Timed sections: 4:19:14 Place 54/87 Male finishers

https://www.strava.com/activities/7372352203

Orbea Cadi Challenge 2022

I left beautiful Kärnten on Thursday arriving in Barcelona in the evening. We drove into the night to Guardiola de Bergueda in North Catalonia. Friday was a work day from our Air BnB and Saturday was the first stage of the Orbea Cadi Challenge. Cadi being a brand of butter and also the mountain range here.

 

Stage 1

The butter challenge didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped on day one. I lined up at the start line with approximately 200 other cyclists, most of them wearing the nice golden cycling jersey that we’d got in our race packs. The jersey proclaimed finisher on the back, which seemed all very positive but perhaps slightly pre-emptive. The challenge is a “RTF”. It’s not timed or ranked as it seems Spanish laws don’t allow that without strict traffic management, including closing roads. Clearly the Austrians are a little more laid back. I started near the front, all the same, and we rolled out over the start line. I clicked through the gears and went to change into my big chain ring. Oh, oh, nothing happened. Something was blocking it. I pulled over to take a quick look and to my dismay found that the cable had been almost entirely severed. It must have got damaged during the flight to Barcelona. I’d not been for a ride since landing and had only given it a quick check to see whether everything look to be ok.

 

I messaged Ari saying I couldn’t ride the race. As I was doing that, what looked like a team car pulled up in front of me loaded with bikes on the roof. A guy jumped out and started talking with me in Spanish. I say with but at is a more accurate word, as I didn’t understand a thing. I said “English only” and pointed at my shifter. A picture was worth enough words to convey what was happening. He kept talking in Spanish (in the hope that I was a fast learner), measured the bike quickly then he grabbed one of the bikes from the roof of the vehicle and lifted it down for me. I was surprised. He seemed to be offering me a bike! I spotted Ari in the distance walking back slowly to the apartment and waved at her frantically. She came running over and I asked her if she could translate. With Ari, the babelfish in my ear, it became clear that he was indeed offering me a bike and was going to take mine and fix it. I swapped over bike bottles and grabbed my Edge 530. Time was ticking by and all the riders were well gone but the first 5km was supposed to be neutralised with the first of many climbs following. The mechanic reasoned that I’d be able to catch them up on the climb so I set off on my new bike, thanking him profusely in as many languages as I knew how.

 

I headed down the main road, taking the first left up into the hills. It was very scenic, a small road with no traffic but also no riders in front of me. At some point the mechanic drove past. I kept going and was happy to see flashing light in the distance, the ambulance and a police car following the back of the race. The cars let me pass and I saw the mechanic’s car. He wound down his window as I passed and we both communicated in the universal language of the thumbs. The direction being up.

 

The course took us up and down windy little roads. I passed many people as I had started at the back of the field. At some point two guys who’d been fixing a puncture road past me and I jumped on their wheels. I rode with them for a large portion of the race managing to keep up on the up-hills with not much room to spare. We came to a long 1000 m climb. One of the guys dropped back and I rode on ahead also leaving the other guy behind. At the drinks station, I had some success communicating in English before I continued. The road climbed up to the highest point of the course where it was starting to feel slightly cool. The road then dived back down into the valley over many km and it was back to the stifling heat. Just 20 km left.

 

I crossed the finish line and sat in the shade. Ari and Anaïs had got lost during their hike and I went and found them recovering at a restaurant nearby. We drove back to the start to our Air BnB in the evening and went for a bit of a hobble.

 

https://www.strava.com/activities/7253177429

 

Orbea Cadi Challenge Stage 1

Elapsed Time: 5:44:59, Moving: 5:21:51 Dst: 120 km/3000m

 

Stage 2

 

The following stage started at the end of Stage 1. I picked up my bike and lined up at the start. We began with perhaps 15km of decent before taking a left and climbing. I didn’t feel fresh at all and ascended slowly. It wasn’t until later in the stage that my legs came right. We rode through another park, which was very pretty but in general the roads were wider than in the first stage. We descended to a refreshments station and I spotted the two guys I’d ridden with the day before. I continued and at some point their group caught me up again and I rode with them again until they dropped back to wait for another rider. It was hot. I continued riding. Eventually I arrived at another drinks station. It was centred around a fountain in a town square and there was a bit of shade. Off again and I was soon climbing up another pass in the heat. I eventually go to the top, passing through pine forest and emerging onto a very steep downhill. The road was lumpy and the descent was not enjoyable until later where the gradient flattened off a little and I was rolling around sweeping bends. I overtook a group and pedalled hard. A bunch of motorbikes passed me but then couldn’t get away and I stuck with them until near the bottom of the descent. I pushed hard along the flat as I knew I wasn’t far from the finish line. Suddenly it was there and I crossed, right, under the finish gate. Ari was at the finish line with the couple who own the Air BnB we were in.

 

https://www.strava.com/activities/7258243841

 

Orbea Cadi Challenge Stage 2

Elapsed Time: 4:46:16, Moving: 4:35:12 Dst: 118km/2200m

 

Monday was a holiday and we stayed in the area and did a couple of via ferrata routes. They were quite nice and we met Anaïs again at a restaurant for lunch. We drove back to Barcelona in the evening.

 

Tour de Kaernten 2022–Stage 6

Today was the last stage of the 2022 Tour de Kärnten. It was short and steep, a 16km hill climb time trial up the alpine road to the mountain Dobratsch. I’ve done it before. I rolled to the start line with Michael and Dana. We started in groups of 30 at five minute intervals. My legs felt pretty tired but I wasn’t too displeased with my performance and managed to get away from most riders in my group. Michael came flying past about 3/4 of the way to the top having started in the faster group behind me. The temperature dropped as we climbed and the top 3rd of the course was misty and damp.

The finish line of Stage 6 (Tour de Kaernten 2022)

Above: Quite a contrast to the previous days. The hill time trial up Dobratsch ended in mist and low temperatures.

Posing at the hill TT finish line (Tour de Kaernten 2022)

Above: The cold didn’t stop me posing.

Tour de Kärnten – Stage 6 – Mountain Time Trial Dobratsch

Gun time: 01:09:53.9  Dst: 16 km Avg: 13.8 km/h Max: 53.4km/h Ascent: 1150 m

Rank: 141 Category: M40+ Category Rank: 18

Splits 0-5km: 00:20:08.1 5-11km: 00:27:16.2 11-16km: 00:22:29.6

Overall results:

Rank: 142 Category Rank: 18/28 Total time: 16:07:42.2