Athens Divide - Race Report

Only analogue here...

When you stand up high on one of the mountains that surrounds Athens, the city looks like it’s a huge urban swash pushing up from the Aegean, lapping the bottom of the mountains surrounding the city. It feels like if you could stand there long enough, you’d be able to watch it recede back to the depths. This silvery concrete wash wraps around a mountainous spine, that pierces through and upwards from the middle of the city, with its jagged profile. Known by different names to different folks, some call them the Wolf Mountains, some Turkish Hills, others simply as Damaria, meaning quarry. As a lot of Athens was built from material removed from this area.

Climbing up towards CP.3 through the 'Meadow of the Gods'

It's an incredible landscape to have in the middle of a city, with much of it left unmanaged, allowing people to make for it what they will. Some areas people have dug trails, old quarry buildings have been reclaimed and used by homeless, people raise their goats there. It's a little piece of wild right in the centre, with the balance of neglect and beauty, very Greek. It's up and along this ridge we would be racing, but nobody knew that yet, as the route was a tightly guarded secret. No one would know until they were handed the analogue route map and the clock is ticking.

 Riders gathering

 Local cafe, Kick, kindly supplying cold brew for all the starters...

This was the first time such an event had been held in Athens and we didn’t give too much away, many people didn’t really know what they were letting themselves in for. Athens Divide is a "micro adventure race”, making adventure racing accessible to all. The route had all you would expect from an epic. Brutal climbs, fading sunlight, mixed terrain, hike a bike, check points and all of it condensed into 90mins of racing. The only things missing were the expensive flights and transfers, sleepless nights and needing to find the time to train for months beforehand!

Tentatively making first moves...

So, as we handed over the route map, we received a lot of bewildered looks and after a tentative start for many, the racers started to get their head around it as they caught their breath after the first brutal climb. This took them to the top of the ridge and what would be the first check point. The views here dwarfed the normal tourist view points, you could look over Lycabettus Hill, across the Acropolis, out to sea and almost catch a glimpse of the Cycladic islands. All this from the edge of a village within a city, as farm animals wandered around and the whiff of wood smoke could be smelled.

CP.2 tucked amongst the abandoned buildings of the disused quarry.

Now racers were getting into the swing of it. After the steep concrete and gravel climb to CP1, the fast road decent to CP2 was a welcome breather. This is where peoples map reading skills came into play. Those that didn’t pay close attention, missed the entrance to where CP2 was tucked away and some lost a lot of time here. From here on out the race was mostly on gravel and single track. The climb to CP3 took riders through what is known as the Meadow of the Gods (sorry, tried to keep this with no ancient god references!), with the long golden late summer grass swaying in the breeze, as riders climbed up the steep chunky gravel, surrounded by the jagged rocks of the old quarry. We had a really diverse mix of riders and bikes; this is where the MTB’s started to gain time back on the gravel machines. The road bikes at this point, their only option was to push and carry.

Epic scale

As the racers edged their way towards the finish, 1hr 8 mins passed and Dimitris K was the first over the line. He’d mistakenly dropped below the old quarry shelf that the finish line was perched on. Once he’d realised his mistake, he headed direct to the finish and with his bike over his shoulder he scrambled up through the long grass that covered the steep slopes, to get in just 20secs ahead of 2nd place finisher Chrysostomos rolling in on the transfer from the final gravel descent!

A little hint on route

Urban single track

As riders gathered at the finish, the sun was setting and we got to look out over Athens, the pink sky turned to night and the city lights started to twinkle in the heat haze. Local brewery 608 had supported with something cold and bitter and the riders hung out exchanging tales of adventure. Brooks England and Albion had supported with generous prizes and as we were shaking hands with the fastest racers of the day, someone noticed the flashing of head torches up above us at CP5. People were still coming in 3hrs later! It was a perfect end, watching them pick their way down the rocky hike a bike and come in to earn themselves the 'Spirit of Adventure' award. Other prizes were ‘Most Dog Shit on Tire', this is a urban race after all, ‘Biggest Mechanical But Still Made It Over The Line'. The winner of this came across the finish with his bike over his shoulder and rear wheel in his hand. 3rd place female didn’t make the cut off, we didn’t know at the time, but she was still out on course, so naturally we had a wheelie competition do decide who would get an excellent Albion goody bag.

Post race chills

Some late finishers...

Fastest female happy with her winnings!
There was a serious side to this too. The backdrop to the race was the city and standing behind that was Parnitha, the tallest mountain of the four that surround Athens. This is an incredible natural habitat to have on the edge of a city, that has unfortunately been hit by multiple wildfires over recent years. Athens Divide was a charity race and we were raising money to help Save Your Hood, with their forest management projects. One of which was the collection of seeds from the mountain, to help replenish the depleted wild tree nurseries. Once restocked, these trees would be used to help regenerate areas affected by fire and other damaging events.
Gradually riders flicked their lights on, said their goodbyes and started dropping down off the ridge, making their way home or heading on else where for the evening. Everybody wants to do it again too, so maybe we’ll make this into an annual event. Let's face it, the forests are going to need as much help as they can get. 
Thanks to Kick for supplying some excellent cold brew for the starters and 608 for the beers for the finishers. Albion, Brooks England and The Thing About Greece for their generous prizes. Thanks to Nikos Maliakos for the photos and of course thanks to everyone that helped make it happen and everyone that came to ride/race and make it something special.
1st: Dimitris Koutsoumanis 1h 8mins 35secs
2nd: Chrysostomos 1h 8mins 55secs
3rd: Thiseas Printezis 1h 9mins 25secs
1st: Danai Koufopantelis  1h 24mins 15secs
2nd: Emily 
3rd: Hilary Ramadan 2h 57mins 00secs