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THE HARDEST ROUTE

ONE MAN'S MISSION TO WIN AGAINST THE ODDS IN NORTHERN SPAIN

Part 1

My name is Sergio. I´m a Spanish fancier from the north of Spain and work as a vet in a referral Small Animal Hospital.

Racing pigeons got into my veins 15 years ago when I was 15. Two years (1995) before, I “fell in love” with this special bird capable of flying from the south to the north of the Iberian Peninsula in 12 hours against the hot weather of the south and the foggy days of the north after passing through the mountains in the last part of their route.

Over this time, my enthusiasm never decreased although my results were nothing special.

My studies in the past and my work at the present time aren´t a good partner for the right preparation of racing pigeons. We need super fit pigeons for having success here.

Since 2006 I have been reading the interesting articles written on the Elimar website explaining the methods of the best marathon English fanciers. Now I´ll write some personal articles and I´ll try to translate some Spanish articles about marathon Spanish races in the future.

Today I want to explain you the development of the sport where I live.

Ribadesella is the name of a small coastline village (situated 150 miles westerly of San Sebastian). My province name is Asturias: the Spanish province with the highest amount of mountains of the country; limited northerly with the Cantabrian Sea and southerly with the Cantabrian Mountains (over 8000 feet).

A general view of Ribadesella

Traditionally, our pigeons are liberated from Spanish provinces situated southerly of the Cantabrian Mountains. This makes no sense because they find the big mountains in the last part of their flight when they´re very tired. They have to cross the mountains with bad weather in the valleys (rain/fog) and are always plagued by predators: peregrines and sparrowhawks. This incomprehensible approach is derived from our province’s dimensions: 130 miles from west to east and between 45 (west) and 15 miles (east) from the northerly sea to the southerly mountains. The more equal line of flight for competition purposes is from the south for these reasons.

   

Asturias into Spain

Spain Orography

Ribadesella in Asturias

In this part of the province, our main problem is our isolated situation far from the central areas with a big concentration of lofts. In this easterly area, we´re only 8 fanciers and we have a low number of pigeons, so the “batch effect” doesn´t exist for us. The nearest distance between the Cantabrian Mountains and the Cantabrian Sea is also here, so our pigeons never return from the south. They always return from the west (many times along the coastline after going round the Cantabrian Mountains searching for the pass for the lowest valleys situated westerly).

A general view of the east coastline of Asturias (where my loft is situated)

So a simple 150 miles race takes our pigeons between 6-7 hours. We have only real options in the last race of the year from the south of Spain: 500 miles (equivalent to a 700 miles UK race because of the abrupt orography here). But at this stage of the season, the major part of the lofts are empty.

Also the hot weather of the south route doesn´t help.

Big Portuguese batches (up to 60,000 pigeons liberated together) are of little help (they liberate their pigeons from the east of Spain to Portugal situated westerly) because our province’s batch is formed only of 350 pigeons in the largest race of the season (a similar number for your Palamos Blue Riband race).

Finally, our worst enemies: the predators. They´re killing the sport in this part of the province. We have many forests (sparrowhawks) and many cliffs (peregrines) very close to each other. Against them, we can do nothing. Only select the pigeons for flying solo against a hard orography, bad weather conditions, a big temperature contrast in the long one and also resistant birds for the predators’ attacks. A big challenge!

The peregrine - just one of the hazards we have to contend with

Three years ago I was tempted to leave the sport. But the reading of articles about long distance UK racers on this website helped me to reconsider my decision. Also, the figure of Cameron Stansfield was very important for my continuity in the sport. He gave me the light for the right development of my new project: to specialize only in long distance events. I always will be indebted to him.

Through this website, I´ll keep you informed of the development of the sport here, in this “natural paradise” for people, and “hell place” for pigeons. The countdown has started!