Another 5 months on since the team’s last race at the Mont Ventoux Denivele Challenge in August 2020, the newly renamed Canyon dhb SunGod were fortunate enough to participate in Europe’s 2021 season opener, the UCI 1.2 Classica Comunitat Valenciana, held on the Spanish Costa Blanca on Sunday, 24th January.
The Classica Comunitat Valenciana has a rich heritage since first being held in 1969 sporting such winners as Bernard Hinault, Sean Kelly, Mario Cipollini and Erik Zabel, names that reflect this is definitely one for the sprinters. However, after an unbroken run until 2005 the race has only just been resurrected for 2021.
With a shrinking number of races due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the race attracted a strong field with eight UCI Pro Teams competing including Arkea Samsic, Bardiani-CSF-Faizane, Caja Rural-Seguros RGA, EOLO-Kometa, Euskaltel-Euskadi, and Total Direct Energie, as well as five UCI Continental level teams including Canyon dhb SunGod and the Spanish U23 National team.
The planned 150km route northwards from La Nucia featured a challenging climb over the twin peaks of Tarbena and Coll de Rates starting just 10km into the race, followed by the descent through the foothills and a 100km long stretch up the coast. This had to be reduced by 52km due to a Covid-19 lockdown protest taking place in the streets of Valencia where the race was due to finish, so had to be moved to the town of Tavernes de la Valdigna instead. The shortened distance was to be a recipe for a frantic race spiced up by the early climb and the likelihood of coastal crosswinds.
The Canyon dhb SunGod riders competing were a mix of the new and the old with Damien Clayton, Reece Wood and 18 year-old Euan Macleod making their race debuts for the team, with big brother Callum Macleod in his 3rd season along with the two longest serving members, Max Stedman (8th season) and Rory Townsend (9th season). Directeur Sportif was Simon Holt who had been staying out in Spain since December.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the team members each had to produce negative Covid-19 swab tests prior to travel and 2 days before the race.
The early season meant that new bikes and equipment from Canyon, Hunt, etc. had yet to be received, but the team were sporting new sunglasses from new-name sponsor SunGod. Fortunately the sponsor bikes and equipment used from previous seasons performed pretty much faultlessly.
The race plan was to cover any significant breakaway on the 7km climb (at an average rise of 5.4%) and keep as many riders as possible in contention for the following long drag up the coast. Euan Macleod illustrated his determination by leading the peloton on the lower slopes of the climb to Tarbena though Clayton was losing contact with the peloton at the same point. At the mid-point of the climb Elie Gesbert (Arkea Samsic) and Filippo Zana (Bardiani-CSF-Faizane) took off and were looking threatening for a while as they sustained their lead over Tarbena and through the KOM point on the Coll de Rates. Euan Macleod became adrift further on up the climb to Tarbena and brother Callum was also distanced before the KOM point but he worked well with a group of Caja Rural-Seguros RGA riders and Chris Lawless (who recently moved from Team Ineos to Total Direct Energie) to regain the peloton.
Gesbert and Zana were caught on the long descent down from the Coll de Rates and as the peloton reached the foothills it had been to reduced to about 70 riders, largely arranged in team order with the Pro Teams on the front pushing the pace. The remaining four Canyon dhb SunGod riders were positioned towards the rear of the peloton which can be a risky place to occupy if the crosswinds blow. This shortened peloton made its way across to the flatlands and onwards up the coast.
With 35km remaining as the peloton skirted the town of Pego the whole of the Arkea Samsic team hit the front coming out of a right-hand turn and shredded the peloton into 3 groups with Wood and Townsend in the second group and Callum Macleod and Stedman in the third. The lead group of 19 riders established a lead of over 30 seconds and it looked like this group would contest the sprint finish in Tavernes de la Valdigna. However, fortunately for Townsend and Wood, EOLO-Kometa and Bardiani-CSF-Faizane worked solidly for 15km to bring their sprinters back into contention from the second group and closed the gap back to the first group with just under 20km remaining.
In the final 6km Wood worked extremely well continually bringing Townsend up towards the front of the peloton in preparation for the sprint. With no obvious wheel to follow, Townsend tracked Lawless towards the finishing line but it was another Total Direct Energie rider Lorrenzo Manzin who took a very close win from Mikel Aristi (Euskaltel-Euskadi) and Amaury Capiot (Arkea Samsic). As the majority of the leading sprinters kept to the right-hand side of the road, Townsend swept over to the left for a clear sprinting line and captured a creditable 9th place against some strong competition.
In summary it was an impressive performance from Wood on his debut with Townsend showing good sprinting form. Callum Macleod and Stedman were ruing their decision to ride towards the rear of the peloton and being caught out when the crosswinds blew. Euan Macleod should be pleased with his first ride at senior level and showing himself on the front. Clayton was missed where no doubt he would have demonstrated his strength against the coastal crosswinds.
9th Townsend @st as winner
45th Wood @11sec
64th Stedman @5min 02sec
68th C. Macleod @st
79th E. Macleod @17min 15sec
85th Clayton @18min 55sec
Here’s hoping there will be another race, Covid-19 permitting, in the not-too-distant future.
Following the race, Rory Townsend commented…
“It was a great feeling to have numbers on again, and being on roads we know from numerous training camps was surreal.
The race had everything, big climbs, hectic splits in the cross winds, into a full bunch sprint.
Reece and I were keeping ourselves out of trouble near to the front, as we approached the last turn at 2km to go Reece hit the front to pick up the tailwind to the line.
I was surfing the wheels towards the finish but picked the wrong wheel and had a long way to come back. Finishing and feeling there was still more in the tank is slightly disappointing, but a top ten softens the blow, and good day out with the boys.”
Callum Macleod mused:
“Mistakes made and lessons learned.”
1, 2, 3, 5 = @1969_cv
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