Andy Seltzer writes…
After talking a good foreign challenge ride for the past few years 2007 I finally got round to riding one, in the shape of the Sierra Nevada Limite. I had heard about the event from Gary and Sarah Williams who have moved out to Spain and have set up Vamos Cycling, out in the Alpujarras Mountains.
The Limite is a 107 Km Mountain Bike race which starts at the Sierra Nevada Ski Station and then winds it way down to Granada before climbing back up to the Ski Station; I had it on good authority from Sarah that the final climb was capable of reducing grown men to tears.
I travelled out with my support team consisting of Lorraine and Megan a couple of days before the race, unfortunately Gary’s plan of a pre race ride was quite literally washed away by torrential rain. Things took an even more ominous turn when their friends Tim and Jenny from the Mountain Bike Company Pure Mountains called from Granada as they were picking up some clients for the race to say that it was sleeting on the drive up.
However by the time we drove up to our Hotel which was about half way up the mighty Sierra Nevada climb the weather had improved although the Ski Station was shrouded in mist. We met up with Tim, Jenny and their guests. Thanks to Jenny who had produced some very handy laminated course profile cards complete with some useful Spanish phrases on the back, I hoped not to use “I want to finish here” and perhaps “I am the champion” might be a little optimistic.
The day of the race dawned with bright blue skies although the 5°C temperature ensured arm and knee warmers were the order of the day. After final bike checks we made our way round to the start, first off the bar codes on our numbers were scanned, we then filtered into the start funnel where we were held back from the start proper. As we waited there was time to take in the surrounding “bike porn” carbon fibre seemed to be the material of choice with Gary and myself committing the fashion fop are of using riser bars, flat bars, and light weight hard tails seemed to be the weapon of choice, although to trump it all someone push his way towards the front with his bike complete with 4 spoke carbon wheels.
With a couple of minutes to go with were finally sent round to the start where 900 lined up for the off. A finally good luck hand shake with Gary and the Pure Mountains team a cheer from Lorraine Sarah and Megan and we were off. Now I thought it was all down hill to start with, how wrong I was. Everyone took off at a blinding pace as I held onto Gary’s wheel we climbed up and around the ski station what with the could air, nerves and the 2000m altitude this provided to be a lung buster. Before long we were onto the first section of single track which had caused a bit of a bottle neck as there was a turn style to negotiate before heading down. At this point I had manage to catch up with Gary although I wouldn’t see him again until the finish I had decided to ride my own race as I had been warned about the killer climb at the finish.
After the single-track descent we started to climb again this time through the snow line my cold hands reminding me that I should have worn full fingered gloves.
Soon we hit the tarmac again and this time onto your typical mountain descent which seemed to go on for several miles of sweeping bends I even managed to start making up some places. Before long I reached the first check point at 33km more gravel road descending and the first village came into view along with the first feed station whilst many blasted through I made sure to stop and refuel before heading off.
On the next climb the rider that I had been following for a while to my surprise turned to me and said “You must be one of Gary’s mates”. After a bit of a chat I commented on the fact that very few people seemed to stop at the feed, “well we have still got another 4 or 5 hours of riding still to go” came his reply. I thought we had been making good time 43km down in less than 2 hours.
By this stage the temperature had raised dramatically so it was time for a stop to remove my wind proof top and the arm, and knee warmers. After the third check point I reached the out skirts of Granada where I came across Lorraine and Sarah, a quick chat informed me that Gary was about 5 minutes ahead with Tim setting a blistering pace ahead of him.
With 60km still to go I had now reached the lowest point on the course, the only was up. As I rode into the out skirts of the city I was struck by a wonderful sight no not the Alhambra Palace but the police holding up the Saturday traffic so that a Mountain Bike race can come through. Before long the road petered out, and it was then onto a tough rocky switch back climb. This then levelled out into one of the highlights of the race. I now found by self in the middle of a long chain of riders as we worked our way steadily along a long section of open single track which traversed it’s way up the side of the mountain, the sun was now beating down and view down into the valley was spectacular. Unable to move up the group because of the narrow trail I just held station and enjoyed the view, although you still needed to keep your wits about you as we crossed a couple of the narrowest bridges known to man.
Before long I had reached the feed station at 77km stage still well within 4hours and still feeling good. It was now time to refill my Camel Bak with water plus gorge myself on the food on offer including a couple of strange jelly type energy bars.
From here it was a descent across a massive dam complex then onto a couple of villages where the 86km check point was. Still feeling fairly full from the last feed station I declined the offer of yet more food to cries of “ Animo” as I sped off.
The route descended to cross another dam, as I climbed up the other side a couple of Spanish families were standing by the road cheering the riders on “Venga Venga” I gave them a quick grin, stood up on the pedals to power past, this seemed to whip them into a frenzy “Animo Animo“ they chanted, I was starting to get used to this.
If only I knew what was coming.
With just under 20km to go I rounded the corner to begin the final climb, and what a climb it was. To start with a long gravel road that never seemed to end each corner I reach the trail just continued up. At on stage I hit the gear shift to change down only to find that I was already in bottom gear, 24×32. After that I tried a different tactic of stop being a wimp and always keep one gear in reserve. I even dared to look at my speed a shameful 3.5mph, even so I was slowly inching my way up to other riders. At one stage I passed one of the Pure Mountains guys who had stopped for a breather, I decided if I did the same I might not get going again.
After about an hour of climbing I finally reach the tarmac section of the climb. ”Right then if I can just set a pace of 10mph, okay 6 will just have to do”. With 10km to go I passed through the final check point and started climbing the road that we had descended earlier in the day. I passed one rider who was lying in the road having his legs massaged. Meanwhile if you looked up you could see riders who appeared to be way of in the distance some way further up the mountain. I just set a steady pace occasionally standing on the pedals to ease by back side, it was a tactic that seemed to work as I again made up a number of places, including Tim from Pure Mountains who had cramp in a big way. However still no sign of Gary.
Having been climbing for the best part of 2 hours something wonderful happened, the road went down. Then all of a sudden I could see the ski station and the finish. A mad dash for the line as someone powered past me, a sharp stab of pain in the back of my legs told me to let him go. I then cruised into the centre of the Ski Station and the finish, cheered on by Lorraine, Megan, Gary, and Sarah.
The man with the microphone wanted a few words, when I said “ingles” he grinned said a word of thanks and I was over to get my jersey and certificate which already had my finish time of 6hrs 33mins, and position 192nd overall , and 35th veteran. Meanwhile Gary had finished in a very respectable 6hrs 19mins and was 154th overall. All told 719 finished out of 900 starters. The winning time 4hrs 26mins, and the slowest 11hrs 41mins. Truly an epic event in which anyone who finished was a winner.
Thanks to Gary and Sarah at vamoscycling.com, and Tim and Jenny at puremountains.com.