I travelled a very long way to do this ride, and I wouldn’t have committed to see it through if I had felt that organisation and support were not going to be there. From the very first contact, Alex from Karma Sports provided all the convincing I needed – he was quick to respond to my emails, friendly, and reassured me that I could ask as many questions as necessary. Closer to the date, Alex would offer good advice about preparation for the event – ignore this at your own peril (I found out the hard way). He also offered the optional service of collecting me upon arrival at the airport and delivering me to my hotel, for a much lower fee than a normal taxi would charge. Being greeted by him was more like being met by a friend than a stranger – it was a perfect way to arrive in Athens.
The event organisers did a great job too – things went smoothly, and the many volunteer marshals ensured that the ride was trouble free. Police presence during the event was very reassuring (for those who think that Greece’s traffic can be quite scary) and the entire route was well covered.
The event itself was difficult, and the support from Alex and his business partner George, was excellent. If you had a problem, all you had to do was call them and they would turn up promptly to help. After crossing the finish line, they were there to celebrate, take the customary pictures and provide you with any post ride nourishment you needed. In the evening, we all met and went to the award ceremony together, followed by a meal at a taverna that was also pre-arranged by them. Once again, it was all very much like being in the company of old friends, and most enjoyable.
The following morning, Alex and George led a small group of us on a bike ride up the famous (historically speaking) Mount Taygetos – a beautiful way for a cyclist to celebrate being in Sparta. They delivered us back to Athens in the early afternoon, via a quick road-side stop to buy honey from a local bee keeper – sensational honey that I won’t share with my kids!
A few words about the actual ride. It is very iconic and a celebration of Greece. To start in front of the ancient stadium and ride around the historic Athenian landmarks is very special. The weather started off perfectly, with a gorgeous Autumn morning that followed us to Corinth, where we crossed the canal (blink and you miss it) to our first controlled stop. After Corinth, the race became open and things got tougher. It was a hot day, on an undulating course. At the 155km mark approximately, the main climb started – I’ve heard people play this climb down, but on the day, it really hurt. I was aware that there were some stunning views to be had here – I just didn’t get to see them! As we were approaching the peak here, we were met by a head wind, that unfortunately lasted a fair while. As if all of this wasn’t enough, the gods threw one last test at us in the early afternoon – the skies opened up and there was a deluge of rain. This slowed some down (though personally I welcomed it) and made more interesting the fast descent into Sparta – about 20km of it – before arriving in the city itself, where after a few twists and turns, we crossed the finish under the watchful eye of King Leonidas and the cheering of the wonderful locals! Of course, the weather isn’t always like it was this year, and I heard later that it was the hardest ever Spartakiada because of it. Fine by me, as I wanted it to be hard. In summary, it was for me a fantastic ride, and I was thrilled to have done it.
Thank you, Alex and George – you helped make the Spartakiada a most enjoyable and memorable event, one that I will do again soon.