ROAD TO BENIDORM CX WC 2024 (but gravel)
Benidorm invited us to go see the CX World Cup that was held in the city on the 21st of January with “the Big Three” (Thomas Pidcock, Wout Van Aert, and Mathieu Van Der Poel), so the show was ensured. I talked with Alexandre to come with me, and he proposed to go cycling from Barcelona. At first, we laughed, but then we did a little bit of research to see how many kilometers that would be. We wanted a bit of adventure, so we decided to go by gravel through the backroads and lost gravel roads, and avoid, as much as possible, the urban areas. It turns out it was doable, but we encountered some problems…
DAY 1 – BARCELONA to REUS
The first issue was that I had a motorbike exam in Barcelona, and we had to leave at 3 pm. So, we knew we were going to ride for a lot of hours during the night. Our plan was to make it to Reus, the first stop, by 9 pm. Little did we know that we would be arriving past 12…
Neither Alex nor I knew the track, so we just followed what the route planned, understanding it as “gravel.” However, there were some parts we had to walk because we were riding through an MTB singletrack full of rocks. So, after having dinner, we decided to ride through the secondary roads to make it faster to our first sleeping point: Reus. We were 37 km away from Reus; it was 10 pm, and we decided to arrive as fast as possible at our destination. So, we took the road, and Alex started pacing really fast. Luckily, there was no wind, and we could ride fast on the flats and descents.
We arrived at Reus at 11:45 pm, and we found an open minimarket where the owners, after asking where we came from, invited us to some sandwiches. They couldn’t believe what we did, jajaja. They were really nice! We checked into the mini-apartment, took a shower, and fell asleep in 3 seconds.
DAY 2 – REUS to CASTELLÓ DE LA PLANA
By the way we planned it we knew it would be a really long day, the longest actually, but we were aware of what we were facing. We had a huge breakfast and started rolling. It was cloudy and cold, and everything was wet; the night before, it had rained a lot. However, there were no problems with gravel bikes. We rode through some lost tracks and quiet backcountry roads, which we loved – no cars, just nature and the sound of our wheels spinning.
This ride was mostly flat with gentle climbs, and we rode around lots of fields until we crossed the Ebre river and stopped in Amposta for lunchtime. We decided to stop for a proper meal at Amposta. The sun started to shine, and the temperatures rose. Before we knew it, the sun started to go down, the colors became warmer, and the sky was tinted with oranges until it was dark, and we only saw what our lights showed us.
From that moment, we changed to the “let’s arrive as soon as possible” mode. Alex was in the front, pushing hard, and I was trying to hold onto his wheel to keep up the pace. Unlike the first day, it was windy; there was a storm, and even though it was not raining, the wind made our mission more difficult.
We weren’t talking, both focused on each pedal stroke to arrive at our destination. The closer we got, the stronger the wind became. The last part was the hardest; I remember looking at the Wahoo every 10 minutes, and the kilometers left were going down very slowly.
We made it to Castelló de la Plana around 8 pm, exhausted, but we took a warm shower and went to a sushi restaurant where we ate a lot. It was exactly what our bodies needed.
DAY 3 – CASTELLÓ DE LA PLANA to ONTINYENT
Maybe it was the hardest one; we knew it was going to be a long day again, and our legs were already feeling all the kilometers from days 1 and 2. To add to that, it was a really windy day. No clouds, but it was really windy. The plan was to have lunch at Valencia, at the half of the ride. The first part was mostly flat, riding around fields full of oranges. It was amazing how strong the smell of the oranges was; it was like someone had perfumed the entire ride – I guess the wind also helped.
We reached Valencia at lunchtime. We had a long stop to eat calmly, and when we were about to start riding again, we realized I had a flat tire. I checked, and there was a puncture; it was no big deal, but the sealant wasn’t sealing 100%, and the wheel was losing a little bit of air. We decided to go to a bike store to buy more tire sealant, and on our way to the shop, Alex fell while riding on the slippery bike lane. It was a small crash, and he was okay, but it felt harder because of the tiredness. We fixed the bike, and we could continue; however, we had to stop at a pharmacy to buy some painkillers for Alex; he was a little bit sore.
After Valencia, we had 60 flat kilometers, and the last part of the ride was a climb to Ontinyent, our destination. The flat area was nice: Alex could recover with the painkillers and feel better after a couple of hours. Even though it was windy, we could ride at a decent pace. The road crossed some fruit fields that were wonderful for our sense of smell, and the sun began to come down, casting warm sunset colors during all this part. We made the last stop at Xàtiba, where we ate a sandwich and “patatas bravas,” and we started climbing. It was dark, no lights or civilization were closer, also more humid and colder than the previous days.
At that point, we knew we were going to arrive late, have a shower, and go to sleep, so we didn’t rush it. I remember talking to Alex for the last couple of hours of the ride. The track took us through some little roads where there were no cars; only a few rabbits every now and then crossed the road.
We made it to Ontinyent around 11 pm; everything was closed, and we couldn’t eat anything, so we went to sleep with our stomachs empty, even hungry, waiting for the next day’s breakfast.
DAY 4 – ONTINYENT to BENIDORM
On the last day, we woke up with some extra energy, motivated by the fact that it was the final day and we were going to reach our destination: Benidorm. However, we knew it might not be a pleasant day on the bike; the weather forecast said we were going to get some rain in the first couple of hours. As usual, we had a huge breakfast, and we started rolling. It was cold, and it had just started raining. We didn’t stop, knowing there was no chance to avoid it.
The rain began to seep into our shoes and gloves, and there was no sign it was going to stop. We reached the top of the first climb of the day, and it continued to rain. As we descended, the cold intensified, prompting us to stop at the first bar we found. We ate, warmed our bodies, and after 40 minutes, it stopped raining, so we resumed riding.
Even though everything was already wet, fortunately, it didn’t rain anymore. We tackled the last significant climb, where we could warm our bodies and then descended to Benidorm. During the descent, we started feeling the warmer temperatures, and we have to say we thoroughly enjoyed that 27 km long downhill.
We arrived in Benidorm at 3 pm and had a proper warm shower, a satisfying lunch, and a well-deserved siesta. That was everything we needed after the long journey.
RACEDAY – UCI CYCLOCROSS WORLD CUP
You could feel the World Cup ambiance throughout all of Benidorm city. The closer to the venue, the more fans you could find – some with flags, some with scarves, some with funny hats, and even some with some banners and their faces painted with their team’s colors.
Needless to say, Alex and I were amazed by how fast and powerful the riders were, both the men and women. There was a big battle for the top three spots in the women’s race, and we enjoyed that a lot. We moved to quite a few spots during the race to see the different challenges they had to overcome to win. We have to say, the skills they displayed on the bike were really impressive.
In the men’s category, even though there were the three favorites (Tom Pidcock, Wout van Aert, and Matthieu van der Poel), for the first couple of laps, they weren’t leading, and we could enjoy big fights all the time, with a lot of overtakes in different and unimaginable places on the racetrack.
By lap 3, the big three were already in the top three positions. They were overtaking each other every now and then, and it was amazing to see them fighting live. An unfortunate crash from MVDP took him out of the winning options, and Pidcock couldn’t keep up the pace of the front positions, getting passed. Even though Wout had a couple of unfortunate crashes, he managed to keep the lead and take the win
It was Alex’s and my first time watching a CX race live, and we were really amazed by how the fans live the sport – how they cheer for the riders, the great ambiance of the event, and also, we could see things you can’t experience on TV, like the paddock, how they warm up, how they interact with the fans and the kids.
It was an amazing experience, and we can only say thank you, Benidorm, for having us. I am sure we will come back very, very soon!