Race Report: 37th Social de La Bisbal
Bike racing is a tumultuous and unpredictable thing. It’s not like football or tennis where the odds of winning are 50:50. It’s not like rowing where you might be up against 7 other boats. It’s not even like golf, with 60 players in a tournament. In Sunday’s 37th Social de La Bisbal there were 170 riders signed on, all eager and vying for that top step. For this reason, with just Rien Coertjens and myself representing The Service Course, we knew the win could only come as a result of using a few intelligent race tactics; we didn’t have a numerical advantage, but we did have 10 years of bike racing between us.
After nearly missing the 10am start due to a slept-through alarm, some sign-on confusion and a 9:58am toilet visit (from which I had to run outside, grab my bike and sprint to the back of the bunch from - literally weaving my way through team and official vehicles to get there), we had a long, gradual rise and 15 kilometres of relatively flat motorway riding where the usual early breaks and regroupings were to happen. People leaping off the front at 500 watts for a minute only to be brought back by those with the long-game in mind. These moves we weren’t interested in; Rien and I had spent the Thursday and Saturday before the race scouting the four race-defining climbs - two per 45 kilometre lap - and began making our way through the bunch in anticipation of the first. The plan for the day: use the climbs on lap one to split the bunch, then use the climbs on lap two to make the race ours. With only two of us in the race it didn’t make sense to have either of us waiting around in the main bunch..we both had to make the break no matter what.
Climb one came and went and all was going to plan. Rien and myself, along with a small group of other strong riders had shredded the peloton on the narrow uphill roads of Foixa. We were roughly 20 going over the top with 10 seconds on the bunch a kilometre later. A quick winding descent and right turn onto the C66 freeway further solidified the gap. Climb two was only 5 kilometres away but the pace had to be kept high on the main road so a re-form didn’t occur with the group chasing behind.
We hit climb two and immediately attacks started to fly…evidence that a group of 20 riders was too large. We followed wheels across the 100 meter cobbled section shortly after (a nice touch, but apparently “nothing compared to what features in Belgian races”, Rien - the proud Belgian - later proclaimed) and when we looked back again 5k’s later our original bunch of 20 was now 7. So this was to be the days break; two riders from Club Ciclista Palafrugell (including 2008 Olympic track cyclist and last year’s winner, Antonio Miguel), three others, and Rien and myself. Swapping off for the next 30 kilometres we got into a good rhythm and our next time check at 60k’s told us we had a minute on the peloton - it was going to stick. We hit climb three at 65k’s and kept the pace high enough to reduce the group to 6. But it was on climb four that moves were made in earnest. Daniel Cabello (Team Cicles Vic) shot off the front and I was hot on his wheel. The plan had been for Rien to go solo at the top of this climb but with Daniel laying down watts and gapping riders behind it was up to me to follow in the best way I could. Rien would then be free to sit on if the other three riders did manage to ride us back.
When we reached Madremanya (from which it was 12k’s predominantly downhill to the finish), Daniel and I had a 30 second gap on the other four. Not knowing quite what was happening behind we could only ride hard with the occasional check over our shoulders. A time check through Monells from the commissaire car said 10 seconds, but I couldn’t see anyone behind and kept burying myself anyway..I was going to make the guys behind work for it. With 5 kilometres to go I looked back and saw Rien flying across the gap, alone…no wonder the gap had been 10 seconds! He was trying to get to us by himself! If there was a perfect way to stamp some authority on this race, this was it thoug… Two of us in a group of three, with over 50 seconds on the chasing bunch and just 3 kilometres to go. A couple of one-two attacks on the long stretch into La Bisbal before a quick right-left-right and we were looking straight up the final wall - 400 meters at 12% with a maximum of 20%. A quick minute at 560 watts was enough to gap my original break-away companion and when I crossed the line I could barely unclip let alone raise my arms to salute. I did manage a congratulations to Rien though, who rolled in 2nd, 17 seconds later. After a week of restless nights, course reconnaissance, talking tactics and finally 90 kilometres of hard racing, the job was done; victory number one for The Service Course in 2018.
Photos by Arnau Linares