It's always a thrill when you get to visit somewhere as amazing as the Azores, the island of Sao Miguel has hosted a round of the UCI World Marathon Series since 2015. There is so much support for the event from the local community, these islands put a lot of effort into attracting tourists and making sure those tourists will be back year after year. Sao Miguel is the biggest and most populated of the 9 major Azores islands which are situated mid Atlantic. The islands landscape creates some immensely beautiful scenery and is also a great place for a bike race.
The weekend of racing begins on Friday evening with a prologue race around a park in Ponta Delgada. It's a fun way to get the weekend underway, it brings the race to the locals, get the locals out on the streets supporting the event. For us racers we get to ride some trails flat out for 10 minutes, or a little less if you're the European Marathon Champion Tiago Ferreira!
Sunday's marathon saw a strong line-up, under sunny skies Team DMT were out in force with with Tiago, Jiri Novak and Ilias Periklis. Biggest competion would be Belgian rider Frans Claes who last year was a close 2nd, could he take his maiden UCI World Marathon Series win? The race was finally going to be run under decent weather conditions, the last 2 years rain and heavy winds have battered the competitors. The organisers had been busy building new trails including some great singletrack with the idea being to minimise tarmac or gravel roads. Each year they add to the trail network on the island.
As the race got underway we sped out of Ponta Delgada heading west, I feel comfortable, this is good. We reach the first proper climb, oh I don't feel good, legs where are you? Seems like I'm moving backwards whilst everyone else races on into the distance, they might just be 30 seconds ahead and just round the corner but in my mind it seems like if the organiser was to make this a 2 lap race I'd get lapped fairly soon! Finally at the top of that climb which felt like the biggest mountain in the world but actually is just a 700 metre high hill. Downhill and those riders are suddenly back in sight, thought they would have finished by now! Second big climb, suffer suffer suffer but finally latch onto a group. At the top I make a break for it on the descent, gapping the group apart from 1 rider. I push a little too hard and burn the very limited number of matches I have, I'm a mess, I drop my sunglasses so have to turn around to collect them, I have no feed support so have to stop at feed zones, oh no there's still half the race to go. Come on, remember the plan, enjoy yourself and don't think of it as a race, remember you were laid up in hospital almost losing a kidney 4 weeks ago! The group I dropped catch me and I sit on the back enjoying the slipstream effect and taking in the many spectacular views. Well this isn't so bad! Nearing the finish and I’m on the front powering away from the group, I’m actually racing! Much to my surprise I end up in 14th place, a long way off my previous best of 4th but I met my more realistic goal of the top 20 I needed for worlds qualification. I’m more than happy with that after being hospitalised and not training for 4 weeks.
The last twisty singletrack down to the seafront and finish made sure everyone finished with a big smile on their face. Tiago takes the win with Frans in second at 1 minute 12 seconds. Jose Dias concludes the podium. In the women’s race Susana Alonso takes the win after a close battle with British rider Charlotte Davies. Meier Maaris was third. With this result Charlotte took the overall victory in the Portugese Marathon Series, this event was the 6th and final round.
I love visiting the Azores and judging on the number of cruise liners coming into the island I'm not the only one. Friday on the island was pretty funny because the latest cruise liner to dock had dropped off 2000 Brit's, you then get that weird thing where you hear someone talking your language when abroad! There was just 2 Brit's racing at this year’s Azores MTB Marathon, with the date for 2018 already being announced as 7th October why not start your planning now and make this a trip you won't forget. I hope to be back next year and plan on extending my stay so I can see more of the island, whilst me and most of the racers have seen the western side of the island it would be great to have a day or 2 to visit the east as a tourist, maybe actually sit on the beach eating a gelato or visit the natural thermal baths.