When the leisure cyclists sit down for dinner in the hotel after their rides, the mood is usually euphoric and everyone tells of the heroic deeds of the day, is pleased with his efforts. But what happens when riders of smaller professional teams like BIKE AID have to compete with the best in the world?
The difference gets already clear far off the coast of Mallorca, out on the sea.
Whoever entered a ferry in Barcelona those days before the Challenge Mallorca, thinks he is standing in the middle of the Tour de France. Big coaches and trucks of the World Tour teams are shipping tons of equipment and conveniences for the cyclists to the island. In between a small station wagon with a German license plate, fully packed. The driver: Timo Schäfer, team organizer and also rider has made his way about 1.250 kms from Sankt Wendel to Barcelona. It feels a little threatening in this place of the ferry.
Meanwhile, the other riders oft he team can make themselves comfortable on the plane, alongside the Kittels, Degenkolbs and Greipels. But this equality exists only for a short time. If you think that world-class athletes come to Mallorca in January to have an easy start into the season, you're wrong. The pros have only one goal here: to reach the limit of pain, to test how the shape is, to prove to the team bosses that they are ready for the great spring classics. And the routes are anything but easy: The Tramuntana mountains have to be criss-crossed and all the big passes are on the program.
Only the first race was a bit flatter in recent years, it usually came to a sprint. But Spain has the reigning world champion and in his honor, the finish was relocated to the legendary San Salvador climb. That world champion also wanted to clarify in advance, who should set the tone here. At his Strava-profile he powdered the best time (the so-called KOM) on the day before the race, in which not less than 30,000 cyclists have registered so far.
Also BIKE AID wanted to achieve something within the scope of its possibilities on this day, and has with Adne van Engelen a proven mountain specialist at the start. He is also a small world champion, but only the student-world champion. It would be blasphemous to compare this to the official World Champion jersey. And still, the days before the race were determined by the team discussions about the meeting of the world champions.
Everyone wanted to conquer this mountain first and so it came, as it had to come.
Nervousness, punching, the wind and a high tempo until a big mass crash 25 km from the finish. For many, the journey was over, as they found themselves in a ball of carbon and human limbs on the ground. Also Mikel Landa, fourth-placed at the Tour de France 2017. The BIKE AID riders did manage the crash without major injuries, but only reached the finish with a big gap. Disappointment for Adne van Engelen, who could not take his chance, perhaps with a place in the top 20 at least to put a small exclamation mark in the midst of the world class. But also the „big“ world champion missed the victory.
This stage was followed by two days of racing whose challenges can only be mastered by world-class athletes. Only Adne van Engelen was able to keep up at least on the stage of Andratx over the Puig Major from Soller the highest pass of the island, and reached the finish in 39th place.
Only on the last day should offer a chance for the sprinters. For BIKE AID with Aaron Grosser and Lucas Carstensen a juified hope for a top result. But even here, just before Palma, the Coll de sa Creu got in the way. But when sprinters like Marcel Kittel are maneuvered over the mountain, others benefit as well.
On the final loops, the field raced through Palma, past the cathedral and few kilometers from the finish, the Spanish television commentator speaks about Justin Wolf.
The BIKE AID newcomer has chosen exactly the right moment to show his pace from the track World Cup on the road. So he stands a few minutes in the focus of the cameras, until the field overtakes him just before the finish line and Marcel Kittel can celebrate his first victory after a long time. Only briefly behind but still on a ungrateful 21st place reached Lucas Carstensen the finish.
Last year, Lucas Carstensen had a dream start to the season when he directly won the first stage of the Tropical Amissa Bongo in Gabon. André Greipel needed six days in his debut in Gabon this year, until he was able to catch Lucas Carstensen with a stage win. With the Challenge Mallorca, BIKE AID had chosen a difficult start to the season, there was no dreaming of victories here. Nevertheless, these experiences will pay off in the next races.
Photos: Mario Stiehl