I had been eyeing an early season experience for a long time, and after settling on a stage race in Greece I couldn’t have been more anxious. An early trip overseas for the 2019 season, questionable fitness (or I should say race speed), and my first stage race ever. I came into the new year with a few goals in mind: get early season points, so those first world cups aren’t so harsh, and try to expand my racing experience. So, a stage race in Greece provided the perfect opportunity to begin ticking off those bucket list items. With a little bit of last minute school prep/cramming/bargaining and some rusty bike packing skills, I was headed off on the first race adventure of the year.
Arriving in mainland Greece, (Athens) I met up with Jerry Dufour and we began the complicated journey to Salamina Island. We finally made it onto a ferry as night fell and was saved by USAC and Bear mechanic Julien Petit on the other side. We stayed with a few other fellow teammates and USAC athletes (who had already been there a week for the first stage race) and took time Monday to get acquainted with this weirdly small island.
All three races, Salamina Epic #1, 2 and the XCO, were held on the same beach front portion of the island, so we got pretty familiar with the warm up route. We woke Tuesday jet lagged and tired as our all-too-short turnaround ended with the approach of Stage 1: the time trial.
Stage racing requires you to be ON IT every day, as your time on each stage accumulates to a total General Classification (GC), where the final results are determined. The TT, being about 25 minutes in length, was an absolute shell-shock to the system. Not having done an effort like that in months made for a rude awakening to the week. Though I was back in the 25-30 ish range, I was fortunate to not have lost a crazy amount of time since the race was so short.
However, Stage Two’s Marathon race was a different story...
Day four and Stage Three came with a good dose of fatigue after the marathon, but I only had to survive 30+ minutes of short-track racing this day. We shoveled more oatmeal, suited up, and headed back to the venue. The racing was expectedly intense, and I certainly dug myself a hole. Not able to force myself towards the front of the group meant I missed that crucial first lap selection: the critical portion of the start of the race where bottlenecks happen and groups form. Thus, I spent most of the race digging forward trying to reclaim lost spots. A little frustrated and spent, I had to collect the lessons to be learned and put all the focus on the fourth and final stage of the race: point to point.
Unsure of what I’d be capable of after my first four days of racing, I tucked all the doubt away and got stoked for the opportunity ahead. Using the same neutral start to alley-way explosion, we rode from the city hall of Salaminas to the race venue. I was positioned a bit better this time around and was able to limit some loses when the hammer was dropped. As we made our way onto the venue and headed out for one backcountry loop, I felt things starting to really tick over, but tackling every climb blind just meant I had to test myself and hope that it was short enough that I wouldn’t pop. I found some rhythm and was able to settle into a strong mental state, finally feeling that race speed I had been looking for all week.
We had one day to rest up and relax a bit on Saturday after the conclusion of the stage race. So, naturally we went off to bakery hunt for the best baklava and sight see. When it came time for tackling one more single-day XC race on Sunday to polish off the trip, I must have been stuck in second gear. The legs just didn’t want to snap around and I was pedaling squares –that was that. Not the finishing result I had hoped for, but more racing experience to tuck in my pocket.
That night, our last night in Greece, was an amazing treat. We headed into mainland and drove through Athens where we saw a glimpse of iconic pieces of history –like Acropolis and the first ever modern Olympic stadium. Following that, we were treated to some of the best Greek food around. We were seated and brought endless pitas, homemade Greek salad, and meat skewer assortments. No better way to cap off one of the most unique racing and traveling experiences I’ve had yet.