Team BULLS and the RDR Italy Leynicese Racing Team got their Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees campaigns off to winning starts in the 7-kilometre-long Prologue. Martin Frey and Simon Schneller were 8 seconds faster than the evenly matched BUFF Scott MTB and Wilier 7C Force 1 teams. In the women’s race, Sandra Mairhofer and Costanza Fasolis will take a far more commanding advantage into the first marathon stage, after winning by nearly 2 minutes on the opening day.
The Prologue of the 2021 Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees was won by Team BULLS and RDR Italy Leynicese Racing Team, as they got the four-day stage race off to the best possible start; in La Massana on Wednesday, 30 June. Martin Frey and Simon Schneller stormed through the 7-kilometre course, which included sections of the famous Vallnord Bike Park, to post a winning time of 17 minutes and 52 seconds. Sandra Mairhofer and Costanza Fasolis posted the fastest time in the women’s race.
Packing 260-metres of climbing into an undulating 7-kilometre course, the Prologue provided a taste of what is to come in the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees. Though the opening stage did not ascend beyond 1 335 metres above sea level, the route was staged in the shadow of the imposing Coma Pedrosa, Andorra’s highest peak, which ensured the teams were forewarned of the challenges which lie ahead, while racing through the spectacular trails of the opening day. The challenges of the Prologue were best conquered by Team BULLS. Boasting the 1-1 and 1-2 bike boards, of the race’s top ranked team, Frey and Schneller were last off the opening start ramp. Before them the two Wilier 7C Force and BUFF SCOTT squads posted matching times; with the teams’ nominal leaders posting the same time and the support teams also equalling one another.
BUFF Scott MTB Team’s Hans Becking and Francesc Guerra Carretero matched the 18 minutes and 1 second time set by Johnny Cattaneo and Martino Tronconi, of Wilier 7C Force 1. Initially it seemed improbable that Frey and Schneller would be able to better that mark, but somehow the all-German combination did just that. “We had a nice start to the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees” Frey allowed, after winning the opening stage. “We were aiming for a podium spot at least and maybe to go for the stage win. It worked out perfectly and I’m super happy.” “Now we can look forward to three days of awesome singletracks” he concluded with a smile.
The singletracks could prove decisive over the coming days, with the combination of racing at altitude and technical descents set to provide a uniquely Andorran challenge. The fastest teams are likely to be the most technically adept, too.
In the women’s race it was RDR Italy Leynicese Racing Team who proved to be that team on the Prologue. Mairhofer and Fasolis set an impressive time of 21 minutes and 48 seconds, having been the first Elite women’s team off the start ramp. Alice Pirard and Greete Steinburg, of MTB Pro Merchandising were second fastest on the day; while the Orbea Factory Team Women were a disappointing 3 minutes off the pace.
Ariane Lüthi and Sandra Jordá thus have an uphill task ahead of them over the next three days. Making up time should be possible due to the challenging nature of the routes in Andorra. “Today was short but brutal, as expected” MTB Pro Mechandising’s Pirard laughed. “It’s good to get going and we can’t wait to ride the next stages, we’re looking forward to it!”
The team dynamic of the Epic Series racing means that the overall strength of each squad is more important than the power of individual riders. Team cohesion is also essential, especially to maintain the momentum after early success. “It’s great to race with Costanza [Fasolis]” Mairhofer said after the opening time trial. “This was just a short Prologue, but I’m excited to see how my body will respond to the racing over the next three stages.”
A rider who is also cautiously monitoring how his body will perform in Andorra is Namibian Dan Craven. Racing alongside Daan van Meeuwen the long-time road professional is on his first visit to the Principality. “It’s my first time here, I arrived yesterday and am still feeling the thin air” Craven laughed. “But it’s amazing! We’re in the mountains, the set up and organisation is fantastic. I’m a road rider, but I come to a mountain bike race and I have buddies everywhere. People like mountain bike legends Karl Platt and Ariane Lüthi. I don’t know why I didn’t start mountain biking sooner!”
Craven will have to switch back to the road for a little race after the Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees. “The reason I’m racing mountain bikes is actually because I ride for a little German amateur team, called Embrace the World Cycling. We race in interesting places like Burkina Faso and Rwanda, but now with Covid I can’t get to any of those places to race. So, I’m mountain biking instead, because the racing is great and it’s a lot of fun too. It also requires focus, so it relaxes me by taking my mind off the Olympics. Racing in Andorra is thus great training but it’s also relaxing, compared to training.”
The 234-kilometre Olympic Road Race course may be longer than the entire Andorra MTB Classic-Pyrenees route, but Craven will undoubtedly be well prepared in terms of climbing and altitude adaptation after his mountain biking sojourn. To follow his and the Elite men’s and women’s races, on Stage 1, which features a 42-kilomere route with 1 550-metres of climbing, visit www.andorraclassicmtb.com.