Monday, March 28, 2011

Pro XCT #2 - Fontana, CA

Lap 1 up the monster climb

No matter how long you have been racing there is always something new happening or something new to learn.  The trip to Fontana, CA to do my first cross country race since July of last year was no exception.

As for the new experience:  That’d be the fire alarm going off at around 1am in the hotel the night before the Cross Country race.  I have never woken up from a deep slumber in such a panic while flailing around trying to figure out what that horrible sound was!   Did we exit the building?  Why no we didn’t.  Did everyone else (the ones with a brain)?  Yes.  Glad it was a false alarm!!!

And learning.  How was my body even going to respond to this first national race of the year???  I really had no expectations which can be a good and bad thing.  And I didn’t have those expectations because last season was more of a building year for me getting my fitness back after losing both my parents.  And I finally got that fitness back by the time cross season hit and found myself on the podium at the 2010 US Cyclocross Nationals in December!!  But since then everything has been “not normal” training wise. 

I was hoping to make the Cyclocross Worlds Team.  That meant I was going to be training hard until I found out in January if it was a go or not.  When I found out it wasn’t meant to be I took some time off the bike and then started training trying to build some base.  It wasn’t long after that when I headed to the 24 Hours of Old Pueblo and then immediately on to Spain to do my first ever 6 day stage race! 

After Spain I literally sat on my toosh for 2 weeks and then headed on over to this race.  Ya, you can see why I didn’t know what to expect.  No real formal training had taken place….or it had, but just in a different way. I was also trying to dial in recovery from the stage race without over or under doing it.  Yikes. Hope I read my body well!!  Better to over recover after putting in more hours in 6 days than I normally would all month long.  How would my body even respond?  NO CLUE but I was about to find out.

Pre-riding the course

Tiziana reminding us what it is like to have no fear!!

Cross Country
So there I was on the start line with my trusty Stan's NoTubes teammates, Nina, Shannon and Zephanie lining up against the nations (and worlds) best along with all the others that are in the hunt for the coveted UCI points for the upcoming 2012 Olympics.  Oh my.  This ought to be interesting.  The plan?  Go hard, have fun and see where I land.

I had uncharacteristic sluggish start.  All I remember is looking up and seeing an endless line of women in front of me.  GREAT….lot of work to do before the singletrack comes up in just a few minutes.

The terrain at this race made the “go hard” part of my plan pretty easy to do.  There was a climb called “The Elevator” that was up to a 30% grade and took you up 250+ feet in under ¼ mile.  That climb had parts in it where I needed to will myself to spin harder to just stay on the bike so that I wasn’t off and running the rest.  Oh my goodness it was not easy by any stretch but it was somewhat familiar to my legs after doing the stage race. 

The Elevator
As I did my best to pass people I had enough in me to fire off some attacks.  Some stuck others did not. But I was surprising myself with how good I felt out there.  Maybe I rested the right amount after Spain?! 

Ok I take that back.  On the second time up the brutal climb I thought I was going to die.  No really, I thought I was going to DIE or perhaps barf and curl up in a corner and then die.  That time it was pure hell but somehow I cleaned it for a 2nd time.  At that point I had to reassess what I was doing because I didn’t want to feel that way again on “The Elevator” when I came back around for the 3rd and 4th laps.   So I did a few things differently on those next laps and the climb was much more manageable…..thank heavens!

My Orbea Alma 29r glided down the stutter  bumps with ease making me feel like I was on a full suspension and my Stan’s NoTubes Crest Rims withheld the jolting from all the rocks and different terrain that was thrown at them.  Together the combo was unreal allowing my body to just race.

  It was fun too because mid race I found myself with my teammate Zephanie Blasi.  We kept each other on our toes and kept the pace high which was a great thing since we had others breathing down our necks waiting for that one mistake.  NOT an easy race with people there all the time but that is what makes it so fun!! 
When I could clearly see that I wasn’t going to win the race (try placing 13th instead - haha) I came up with other minor goals.  One of which was to clean that blasted hill on all four 4.4 mile laps.  And I did!!!!

Overall considering my pre race prep, I am happy with 13th but will be expecting a much better showing the rest of the season! 

Short Track
Oh how I love the!!!  Today I got a descent call up and was on the second row.  Not sure how that happened since its been a while that I have been at one of these races but I wasn’t going to complain!

We were off like a shot on the quick 3 minute (ish) lap for 20 minutes of FUN!!!!  And did I have fun!!!   I found a little hole after the start and was able to get right up there towards the front by the 2nd corner when just as fast as I got there, was pinched out and found myself chasing wheels to get back up. 

One moment you are there and the next you are not. I love that about this race.  I was lucky to have such a strong team presence and was able to ride wheels to get back where I needed to be.  By the time I did, the split up front had happened and we were now chasing in a group of 5.  I drilled it off the front of our group but wasn’t making headway so I had to come up with a new plan since we were now officially racing for 6th-10th. 
We all took turns pulling, attacking and trying to get a gap on each other but in the end I was able to jump around and in front of everyone on the final climb just in time to grab 6th place!  I was really pleased to finish the weekend solid.

Next up is a local race in the great state of Utah and then on to the Sea Otter Classic in Monterey, CA.

Race Notes:  A BIG thanks to Jimmy Deaton, MTB Hall of Famer who helped us with all our bikes from washing and wrenching.  Now if we can just get him out on the trail to give us some downhilling tips!!

The Stan's NoTubes Compound

Fontana has grown a lot!

Zephanie making her way up to the tippy top

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Andalucia MTB Stage Race - Final Days/Thoughts

After Jenny and I parted ways Chris and I headed to Malaga, Spain which is like the “South Beach , FL of Spain.  Malaga sits on the Mediterranean and there were beaches, restaurants and plenty of shopping although they were in the off season. This cute neighborhood was right by our hotel along with tons a wild green parrots!

Grilled Sardines seem to be all rave here and there were several places such as this grilling them whole.

Chis and I found a  Paella restaurant and became repeat offenders there getting different Paella each night!

It was so fresh that I thought it was going to crawl off the pan!

Fresh olives (I've only had canned!) were served prior to our meal. 
Thank you to the race organizers:  This was by far the best experience I have ever had on a bike.  I didn’t know what to expect as I was a first time Stage racer and I was extremely pleased with everything from the organization, the stages and the way everything was run.  The organizers were some of the nicest people you will ever meet and were EXTREMELY invested in the international athletes making sure that everything and everyone was going to be ok.  In addition, the media coverage was AMAZING.  The amount of interviews we had, footage taken and pictures snapped was unbelievable.  I could go as far as saying not a moment was missed. 

As for Jenny:  Thanks for choosing ME!!  She was there for me through thick and thin and is one of the strongest athletes both physically and mentally I have ever met.  Did I mention she climbs like a mountain goat?  The laughs we shared each night after the lights went out recounting a ridiculous situation will not be forgotten.

And my husband who somehow found his way to the various feed zones in the middle of Spain when he could.  It was so wonderful to see your smiling face while helping us out as we hammered towards the finish line.  There is nothing like a pick me up such as that just when you need it the most!!  Thanks for your endless support while you help me pursue my passion. 

And to all the people that became part of my world while I was there, through the thick and thin, THANK YOU.  The passion we share for the love of mtb racing is such an amazing thing!!!

And last but not least to my Sponsors:  ‎6 days, 313 miles, 39,000 + feet of climbing and I had NO MECHANICALS.  A HUGE thanks to Stans NoTubes for supplying me with the super sturdy 29r Crest Rims, Orbea (Alma 29r) for a smooth ride, Sixty-Five.12 out of Durango, Schwalbe Tires for getting me down the hills in one piece, Ergon for happy hands, Rotor, Genuine Innovations for PINK air, Sram for flawless shifting, Crankbrothers, and Verge for all the must needed clothing!! 

 Needless to say, you don’t even have to ask me - OF COURSE I would do this again!!

Andalucia MTB Stage Race - Stage 6

STAGE 6:  Southern Jaen
Why didn’t we catch the weather report?  Oh yeah that’s right, because every racer and their mother was clogging up the internet all week long and we gave up ages ago.  MISTAKE.  To add to the insanity of the weather to come, we were in the lead for 2nd overall BY ONLY 6 seconds (after 24 hours plus of racing) to the Spanish Esteve Team!!

Let’s get this out on the table now:  Spain does not necessarily mean sunshine and warm temps.  We can attest!!   Jenny and I lead the race today for 4 hours and 20 minutes up and over several mountain tops (where it was snowing!) and we were overall having a GREAT day on the bike.  As the rain and snow moved in the descents became brutally cold and almost excruciating.  Unfortunately Jenny and I only had our jerseys and shorts with a few other pieces like arm warmers and knee warmers.  I have never wanted to climb so badly in my life (just to stay warm)!  It was so cold as we made our way around the gorgeous dam below but yet I still found time to enjoy the view.  We endured about 30k of extreme cold and wet.  The shaking, shivering, teeth chattering was abundant as we descended through the mist.  Jenny and I didn’t speak a peep for about 2 hours as we kept moving forward toward the finish line still in first place. 

The weather and chill got so bad that I was taking mental note of where I saw a person with a car so that if we had to go back we’d know how far.  It was becoming a survival…..of the stupidest really. In my lightweight summer gloves I could not feel my hands.  They felt like stumps and I was worried.  Several things went around in my head like wondering if finishing was worth getting frostbite over?  Apparently it was because I kept going….but really, what are you supposed to do?  I was seeing the finish line as a place I would be safe and I just wanted to get there.  I forced myself to drink my sports drink to stay hydrated and to just move my hands. 

It was highly uncomfortable at this point on the bike which is what inspired me to pick up the nastiest oldest, dirtiest garbage bag and put it under my jersey for wind protection.  Moments after I did that it made a big difference.  But it was too late.  With 10k to go, getting splashed and sprayed with water from the roads we were passed by the race leaders who were clothed from head to toe.  Our fault for not being prepared.  We crossed the line in 2nd place only 2.5 minutes back and extremely close to being hypothermic. 

The good news was that we had secured 2nd Overall in the Stage Race!!

I was so hungry after 6 days of racing that I could have eaten anything!

 Notes:  Stage 6 was by far the best stage yet for us and it’s the one I was most worried about!!  We both climbed the 8000 feet like a charm and put up with some extreme conditions.  Although disappointing to take 2nd for the day, it’s good to know what are limits are.  

Award ceremony at the Discoteca

Andalucia MTB Stage Race - Stage 5

Downtown Jaen, Spain

STAGE  5:  Eastern Jaén
After the race yesterday we all got settled in our new abodes in the middle of downtown Jaen.  It was culture shock at its finest coming from a hotel that was more removed to a BIG beautiful city where there is NO parking anywhere and concrete everywhere.  The dinners and breakfasts on china plates continued as we ate like kings and queens never getting exactly full for an entire week.  Strange concept as you completely stuff your face. 

Today the race started with another longer 1hr climb this time through olive trees and Jenny and I were able to hang with the leaders again.  The Spanish Ladies team was also there and they were now officially starting to put time into our time gap for the Overall after coming in ahead of us the last couple days.  Our goal was to stay 2nd or better Overall and to try to win a stage.  The terrain was either up or down but the beauty of the scenery and the ripping singletrack that meandered along the cliff was downright breathtaking. 

On one of the fast loose descents I witnessed (right where I jumped off) 2 out of 3 men lose control and eat it hard.  One flipped over his bike in front of me and luckily ONLY broke his saddle.  Our team motto this whole time has been “Bike and Bodies” for good reason….one crash like that and you are out.  Not worth it.  But it’s hard because you are racing but you need to know when to hold back too.  That is part of it.  That said, our “Bikes and Bodies” have been great up to this point.  My Stans Crest Rims are bomb proof and my body is letting me hammer it into the ground over and over again, all for which I am grateful!

The Spanish team was clearly finding their form and was gone pretty quickly towards the top of the climb.  Jenny and I did the best we could, enjoyed the experience and the singletrack, even took a wrong turn (only a few minutes lost) and made sure to keep looking up to check out the views.  Then we were stopped at a time checkpoint….STAGE OVER.  Say what?  The race ended 10k early because of problems with the police.  I can certainly see how that might have been an issue in such a hugely populated city.  Jenny and I were 3rd again holding on to 2nd overall by the skin of our teeth now.

Note:  I cannot believe HOW LITTLE I am looking at my watch, and am just simply enjoying EVERYTHING about being on the bike for more hours than I have ever spent on a bike at one time.  I didn’t know what to expect from my body because I have never expected this much from it, even in training but I am pleasantly surprised at my attitude toward hopping on the bike every morning for another 4hours + of racing.  It’s so fun! 

View from hotel room window (note the castle on the hill)!

Andalucia MTB Stage Race - Stage 4

STAGE 4:  Priego de Córdoba-Jaén
Today’s stage was just what I needed.  It was a longer stage of 115k with a climb at the start and end with the middle section being a long flat Rail Trail.  But we didn’t get to start (what was) the 5hr and 40min stage until our 5:30am wake up call to pack all our stuff in preparation for the transfer to the new hotel and city (Jaen).

It was important to be race ready as well since the bus was dropping everyone off at the stage start in the middle of Jaen, a beautiful white city on a Mesa at the stage start.  At the beginning of the race on the 1hr + climb the top 3 Women’s teams stayed together but unfortunately we were separated from the leaders in the feed zone immediately following.  They had a feed and we had to stop to fill our bottles up. That minor separation put us in a group of 9 or so along with the Spanish Ladies Team (Esteve) who have proven that they can and will be right there when we crack or have a mishap.  They are strong and they clearly wanted 2nd again.

Priego de Cordoba, Spain
Priego de Cordoba, Spain


Downtown Priego de Cordoba, Spain
I was purely in love with the long stretch in between climbs letting my legs flush themselves while Jenny was looking for her gun. It was a bit windy on the flat section but I found a great use for all my wrappers as I stuffed them down my race jersey - wind block barrier!  This would prove to be a valuable lesson in the days ahead.

When we hit the final climb The Spanish Esteve team was off like a shot and I did my best to stay with them. I didn’t have as many matches as I had hoped for on this day but was able to climb steady until I almost cracked like an egg along with everyone else near the top.  It was like a sea of delirious people barley turning over the cranks at that point at about the 5 hour mark.  I had sweat pouring off me as I suffered up the last part of the climb at a snails pace. I was more annoyed that I was feeling that way because my mind was in it but the body was conking out of me.

That is when Josh Ibbett (Mixed Team Overall Leader with partner Cait Elliot) came to my rescue.  It was taking EVERYTHING I could do to TRY and eat.  I wanted to eat my gel blocks so bad but had no energy to do so once I finally willed myself to get them out of my pocket.  I held the package in my hand forever as they bounced out onto the ground one by one. Josh recognized the ridiculousness of the situation and grabbed my bag and literally ended up feeding me.  What a guy!  Thanks Josh!!! 

By the time I hit the top deliriousness really set in and so did the lack of balance and coordination.  It was such a terrible feeling knowing you were that tired.  But the trails were so good you wanted to truck ahead!  As we descended towards the finish we encountered a steep slope leaving you to wonder if you were really even supposed to be WALKING your bike down it. 

In the end and with a few gnarly crashes by yours truly, the Spanish team had come across the line 4.5 minutes ahead of us.  RATS!!  We took third, which we were pleased with but knew we were capable of better.

Note:  By now after all this climbing we have been doing, my mind just assumes that around the corner is a climb.  And you know what; my mind was pretty spot on!!
Spain is know for its bullfighting and Flamingo Dancing

Jenny getting settled at the new hotel

A bit of the stage:

Andalucía Bike Race. Etapa 4, parte II from Paco Portero on Vimeo.

Andalucia MTB Stage Race - Stage 3

STAGE 3:  Eastern Cordoba
What a mess.  Today after hitting the first mud puddle my rear brakes decided to work just barely.  Sweet…only 45 miles to go on unfamiliar terrain!!  UGH.  At least when I kept them dry I would get a bit more out of them.

This was the day that I knew would likely come but I didn’t know when.  I could barley turn the pedals over.  A sufferfest at its finest for me.  Luckily it was only 5600 feet of climbing on this day but that was about 5599 too much.  My body had a complete melt down and I know it was screaming “REALLY?? AGAIN???”   It was an excruciatingly painful 5 hour day of dare I say, hell. Towards the end I almost lost it completely but didn’t let my mind go there.  Told myself I HAVE to get through this because there kind of really is no choice when you don’t know where you are.  You aren’t really just going to stop.    Instead I chose to enjoy the captivating views as I slogged every foot of that stage to the very end.  And it was odd, I didn’t want to stop racing or riding I just needed to get off the bike and recover the best I could.  Oh and maybe not see another hill in a while too.  Yeah right, fat chance on that one.

Perhaps I chose the wrong kind of coffee this morning

But with Jenny pushing me around all day we came in 3rd.  Here’s to an understanding and wonderful race partner!!!  We were still sitting 2nd overall in the race too!

Note:  After the race I summoned the help of Julian Absalon’s (2 Time Olympic Gold Medalist and multi-time World Champion) mechanic for my 29r Alma Team Orbea.  They totally dialed my bike and did WAY MORE than I even asked for.  Those guys were incredible, did an amazing job and were SO NICE.  Thank you for keeping the bike purring!!!!

Olive farms can be seen forever

Andalucia MTB Stage Race - Stage 2

STAGE 2:  Western Cordoba
What a crazy way to start a race…..take 170 riders up a 10 second sprint on a dirt road and pinch them all through a 2 person wide hole in the fence which sends everyone STRAIGHT down a steep loose rocky hill.  It was tempting to ride that steep part but with all the mayhem, carnage and people slipping everywhere (on foot and on bike) I chose to think about the bike and the rest of the long 4.5 hour day we had ahead and run the sucker. 

Staging just outside our hotel Ayre

It was a good move because whatever Jenny and I did allowed us to jump on Mads and Henricks wheels (current Masters Leaders) across the flats.  They were drilling it to get a gap on their competition while Jenny and I held on strong behind them before going our own pace up the long climb.  We were doing well at this point.  So well that we were in the lead! 

The leaders caught us towards the top and we continued to put the pressure on when Jenny said “We are doing GREAT Kathy”.  And (not even kidding) a second later she says “OH NO!!”  Jenny had chain suck BAD.  So bad that she had to take the chain apart to repair.  I was calm as I didn’t want to rush the repair job.  I was confident in our ability to get back in there if we could do a solid fix.  The real thing I was worried about was what seemed to be an angry bull headed our way.  He got close but didn’t bother us (amen!).  15 minutes later we were back on the bike and riding our own tempo in 5th place now.  Such is bike racing!

It took us about an hour to catch up to the next competitors.  As we made our way through the field, fellow racers were cheering, giving us time gaps and letting us draft off them.  Pretty neat to see the excitement and enthusiasm everyone had to race a bike and help us get back up front!

Spain is hardly flat!
I think we ran into almost every kind of scenario on this day.  From the mechanical to horses merging onto the path that we needed to take, some random hike a bikes on the river (it was NICE change to get off the bike), some missed turns (discovered quickly – no time loss) and a few dropped water bottles (which must be collected in a race like this) but we found our way to back up to 2nd place and 2nd overall in the race!!

Note:  I think I am already getting as good as those competitive eaters are at powering down bananas and figs in the feed zone. What a sight!!  It’s something you’d not want to be caught doing at the dinner table!

Andalucia MTB Stage Race - Stage 1

Getting ready
The next morning we got up around 6:30am for what turned out to be an excellent buffet breakfast by the hotel.  Pretty much everything you could ask for to include the thickest black coffee ever along with salty meats and cheeses galore. Olive oil was abundant as we were in the olive oil production capital of the world. And, In case you are wondering what the current MTB World Champion, Jose Hermida, chose as his pre race food it was a fresh baked baguette with olive oil drizzled all over it.

Now it was time for the real test for me… figure out what to eat on the bike.  What was I going to want to eat?  I don’t know!!!  I rarely eat on the bike and usually only fuel with sports drink but now that we were going to be on the bike for 60 + miles I HAD to eat.  I just packed it all (gels, blocks, bars, etc) so that I had a choice.  Better off with some food that you will actually eat because what sounds good now may not sound good at race pace. I was ALREADY thinking about Stage 6 and how I could make it that far without depleting my body or getting dehydrated so I really wanted to be careful.  I also settled for carrying 2 sports bottles and no camelbak because there were going to be plenty of feed stations along the way.

Neutral Start:  CRASH
Before the race started I was on my head.  There was a neutral roll out from the hotel to downtown Cordoba before Stage 1 began.  I knew jitters were in the air and I told myself to stay out of trouble.  I purposely put myself ALONE in the extremely large pack when from out of nowhere a guy swooped in, crossing bars with mine!!  We fought it for a while and I ended up going down hard on the pavement.  Everything flew out of my pockets and no one hit me thank heavens. Jenny was luckily right there to gather everything that had launched and get us back up to the group before the stage start.

Downtown Cordoba
The bike was fine and I was fine- more just annoyed. Got the first war wound on my bike from that one.  Can’t believe everything was ok aside from what turned into a sore left arm for the rest of the week.  To think that my (our) race could have been over before it even began!!!

STAGE 1:  Córdoba–Cerro Muriano
Jenny and I rolled up to the start of the race only having a few minutes to shake off the shock of the crash.  The gun goes off and I send my body into more shock racing from downtown Cordoba towards the hills for 6400 feet of climbing.  That kind of intensity trying to get a good position in the pack made me feel like I wanted to barf for the first 2 hours of the race. Awesome feeling. 

But my mind was easily diverted as all the Andalucía Bike Racers had been started WITH a separate Marathon race that had 1000 starters.  It was flat out mayhem as Jenny and I rode with groups for the first 2.5 hours of the race. Still at that point there was only about a 10 second gap to the next person.  I even gave some poor guy begging for food as I rode by my sports bar. When you are out in the middle of nowhere like that, you are all in it together.  

We headed up paved roads, through tight singletrack, into tiny towns, and down some of the sketchiest descents that I found myself riding thanks to my Nobby Nic Schwalbe Tires!   We passed some amazing ruins during the stage too.  It was truly breathtaking out there.  But it wasn’t completely dry.  There were MANY stream crossings that were ridable but left you with a cold, wet, and frozen foot for the rest of the race.

At about the point we thought the race should be ending it just kept going and going and going.  Oops, they forgot about that last hellish 7k.  And it’s not that the last 7k was that bad but when you expect it to end and it’s not, that’s when the troubles with the head begin.  But Jenny and I kept trucking along even pushing ourselves up one hideous climb only because people were lining it screaming.  It just about cracked me.  That is what you call peer pressure and we succumbed and both decided after maybe that wasn’t the best idea in the world. 

When we finally crossed the line we were told we had come in 2nd and I really thought that they had made a mistake.  But after a few interviews for Spanish TV and a bunch of pictures, it was reality that we had indeed really come in 2nd!!  Wow, in my first stage race ever. I think I could like this stuff!  : )

There was more media coverage than can be imagined

Notes:  I am loving the international feel of this race!!  14 countries are represented and it’s a hit or miss if the person speaks English or not.  Even have some heavy hitters from the pro road arena (Heras and Beltran) mixing it up in the dirt and dust!
Cars are encouraged to park on the sidewalks to make room

Riding home from the grocery store
Many home have a sturdy door that leads to the courtyard

Andalucia MTB Stage Race - Cordoba/Jaen, Spain

Jaen, Spain
Never say never.  I should know that but I had always thought that Mountain Bike Stage racing just sounded like something I would never want to do.  Putting that many hours on a bike some of which can be grueling just had never appealed to me, that is until Jenny Smith (Alpine Orthopaedics/Giant), successful Xterra and MTB Stage Racer, called with an opportunity of a lifetime. 

A paid “vacation?”  Geez, who can say no to that really. Hotels?  Eating off china plates as though you were actually normal and civilized? Free Massages after the race?  Accommodations paid for?  Transportation and Transfers included?    Well “DUH”, of course I want to go!!!  I think?!?! 

Jenny and I made sure we were on the same page before signing up as a team.  The goal?  Get some ripping base training and mileage in. Never mind the fact that I have yet in my lifetime to put in 4.5+ hours on the bike (that may even be a stretch) let alone doing that 6 days in a row!

SLC to ATL to Paris to Malaga, Spain

Let the mishaps begin:   No luggage
Ah heck, who needs luggage anyway?  Well at least the Air France Pilate warned us to “Not smoke IN the toilet”.  That mean I can smoke outside of the toilet??? Just wondering.  : )

I probably should have been a little more alarmed than I was without luggage, being alone in Spain and hoping that my ride from the race organizers was going to be there. I don’t speak Spanish and my husband Chris (aka Pepe) who does, was flying in the next day.  Oh boy.

My luck turned around as a gal I started talking to in Paris, was native to Malaga, spoke English and Spanish and knew exactly what to do about lost luggage. She waited patiently with me at the luggage carousel to make sure my bags were indeed not there and then walked me over to the “window” to file a lost luggage claim.  This was taking time and I was sweating a little that my ride (that I hadn’t seen yet) would leave me since I was officially late for the pickup.  Ok, getting nervous.  And I couldn’t go outside and get the driver because they wouldn't let me back in!!!  So I made a few calls (that’s gonna hurt!!!) and found out that the van driver was there and would wait.  Relief.

Next mishap:  Towed van
Secretly I didn’t mind not having to lug my luggage around the airport to the van.  Only thing was that our van wasn’t there.  The driver, Pablo was, but no van.  Apparently he parked a bit too long waiting for me and the van was towed.  Oops.

In the meantime myself, Jenny who had appeared on scene from another flight, and newly formed acquaintances Thomas (Specialized), Henrick and his race partner Mads (eventual Masters Overall winners) hung out at the airport Starbucks.  Yep, Starbucks is near the Mediterranean too.

Mishap #3:  Got insurance?
Once Pablo figured out the van situation and paid the fine we packed and were off…..well until he scraped the side mirror on the concrete parking structure.  Poor Pablo!!  And once he got going again Henrick took his fist and hit the side of the van to make Pablo think he hit something else!!  Pretty funny but I think at that point Pablo was ready to abandon ship!

 I could see clearly that this was going to be quite the experience! 

Malaga to Cordoba
Spain was super green as we made our way through the hills, expansive olive groves/plantations and even some bull fighting arenas.  To make the area even more beautiful there was a dam nestled in between the mountains. Incredible area.

An olive grove
Small white cities were nestle in between olive groves as we drove

Getting settled
A couple hour drive to the beautiful hotel in Cordoba and a frantic trip to the quick mart (think 7-11) that had a BAKERY in the back of it and Jenny and I were feeling like we could start getting settled. 

Jenny at the mart with Bakery in back!
Well that was after rearranging the room, identifying that thing in the bathroom as a bidet and laughing about the hairdryer that looked like a hose vacuum.

Opening ALL my luggage
The next day my bike showed up and I got it built just in time to join Jenny for a ride.  The ride felt great after 2 days of no riding and the warmth felt exceptional. Even got a sneak peek of some of the singletrack in the area.  Hard packed smooth dirt-loving it!

Just around the corner from the hotel was a cute neighborhood