I’m Back! (I think)

So it’s 4 years since my last post! Where the hell did that time go? You’ve missed out on so many of my cycling adventures…

I’ve recently (the last 12 months) found life has been getting in the way of riding the bike, which happens, and the monthly miles have been reducing at a rate directly proportional to the size of my waistband. This is not a good situation, and it needs to be sorted ASAP.

It’s the summer FFS, and prime bike riding time. The evenings a long and warm(ish) so if I’m slacking on the mileage now what am I going to like this coming winter?

So this is it, the rebirth of the blog. Now I’m not going to say I’m going to post every ride I do, but it certainly won’t be another 4 years till the next one!

On Wednesday we fly out to Malaga, with our bikes, so there’ll be no excuses….. watch this space!

A week(ish) in Spain

We flew out on the 7th of June and back on the 16th, so in reality we had 8 days.

We had decided to go back to Malaga, as we’d had a long weekend there last year and really enjoyed it. Also, this year we thought we’d take our bikes, as travelling with Monarch it’s only £30 per bike per flight, a total of £120, and when we looked you’d struggle to hire a pair of decent hardtail mountain bikes for less than £250. An additional cost we hadn’t bargained on was about £15 extra on taxi fares at each end due to the extra baggage. We hired an ‘estate’ car for the last couple of days, so there was no taxi fare back to the airport in Malaga, so I’d say the extra costs bumped up the final total to around £165, still far better than price to hire them out there. And of course there’s the advantage of riding a bike that’s set up exactly how you like it….. and doesn’t have the brakes set up ‘continental’ style, with the possibility of an OTB experience if you have to panic brake!

A couple of ride ideas were possibles, one being ride West along the coast then turning inland to explore the Guadalhorce River estuary, and then follow it inland. The other to drive inland to Lucena and ride a section of the 128km Vía Verde del Aciete towards Jaén. The Vía Verdes are 2400km of old railways around Spain converted into walking and cycling routes.  Information on Via Verdes in Spain

Arriving late on Wednesday meant unpacking and building the bikes first thing Thursday morning. The bags looked fine and the cargo inside was good, so a bit of spannering and they were built and ready to roll. A balcony on the lounge meant a convenient storage area, one with a stunning view as you can see below!

Bikes on balcony

After heading to Atarazanas market to get supplies we had brunch on the apartments roof terrace…. it was HOT, up in the mid 30’s, so we waited till late afternoon before we ventured out on the bikes. “Just a short one”, around the city and maybe to the East along the promenade of La Malagueta. Almost three and a half hours later we got back from an adventurous coastal ride to Torre de Banagalbón. The slight breeze off the sea and the evening drop in temperature a welcome relief from the heat of the city.

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With a high spirit of adventure, we set off on Friday to take the bikes on the train to Fuengirola, and explore there. What a mistake, the place is horrible, we decided to get on the coast and ride round the Punta de Callaburras, hopefully finding somewhere nice on the other side. Unfortunately the main A7 road skirts the coast and you have to ride on a gravel track separated from the oncoming traffic by a single bar Armco barrier….. we bailed, and headed back to the station only stopping for an ice cream.

The plan ‘B’ was to get the train back up the coast and get off in good old Torremolinos and ride back to Malaga from there, as we’d done it last year and it’s quite a nice chilled out route. Getting off the very busy train, we waited for the crowds to leave before heading for the exit. The automated gates were OK for me as the Superfly is a 29er and quite long so standing it up meant the bars cleared the automated gates and I could walk the bike through. Sara’s 26er however wouldn’t and so she had to turn the bars and kind of squeeze it in between, I grabbed it and pulled it through, but there was a gap between Sara and the bike….

The gates closed with her still station side, the machine returned the ticket, she put it in again, and it was promptly eaten, never to be seen again. I’m now outside the station with two bikes, while she’s inside, unable to get through the barriers. Rather than try and climb over, it was decided that she should go and find a station employee, and explain the situation.

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So I sat in the sun and waited……

Sara on the other hand tried to explain the situation to the only railway employee she could find, and just got a shrug of their shoulders. After a while another train arrived and fortunately she found someone who wanted to help, and so she walked behind the woman through the barriers, not leaving a gap. She was out, but not at the exit I was waiting at. She asked several people, probably Spanish, if the exit was the only one, but they mistook her question to be ‘Is this the only station’ to which the answer was yes. Eventually she found a taxi driver who understood and pointed her in the right direction.

“Lets get to the beach and head back”, easier said than done in Torremolinos, a complete lack of any kind of meaningful signs for the beach took us on a tour of the place. We just kept trying to head downhill, on the assumption we’d get to the beach… eventually we did, and turned East, happy to be heading back from a pretty disastrous day.

After Friday’s fun and games Sara said she’d like a day off the bike so we decided to walk up to the Castillo de Gibralfaro that sits high above the city. Now, I ride a bike, I don’t do walking, so it was a bloody long way up… but worth the views, even though a misty haze had descended from the mountains.

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One thing I also noticed while peering over the walls of the castle was singletrack on the slopes below….. singletrack that needed to be ridden….. later.

Sara relaxed in the apartment while I rode the bike through the busy pedestrian streets of old town Málaga, it was early evening and the bars and restaurants we’re rapidly filling. Soon I was on the steady Calle Mundo Nuevo road climb up. The road is closed to traffic, giving me a chance to have a good look up the slopes to the castle, and spot trails dropping down onto the road.

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First place I headed for was a viewpoint we’d stopped at when walking up earlier in the day. I’d spotted a signposted ‘Sendero’, a hiking trail, and decided that would be a good one to start on. It wasn’t bad, but only went round the hill without losing any height. I needed ‘down’, and I found it when I headed to the other side of the hill and found the trails I’d spotted from the castle walls. Over an hour I spent descending some lovely trails then riding  back up the tarmac to the top over and over. To get off the hill I decided to ride an unmarked trail that headed off the path under the viewpoint. It was stunning, with great views over the port, until it abruptly ended, at the fence of an apartment block that was in the process of being built….. Damn. I had no more drink left, my legs were feeling all the climbing, and there was a cold beer waiting on the roof terrace…

Sunday was forecast to be hot…. and it was. After a lazy morning we headed for a bar that was showing the Catalan MotoGP. Later when it had cooled a bit we headed out with really no idea where we were going. We were suprised to see the beaches still packed at 7pm, so we headed up the coast past Chimenea de los Guindos, a preserved chimney with a plumb bob inside so you can see it sway in the wind, that sits right on the coast.

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We stopped on a breakwater at Torres del Río, and watched the locals enjoy their Sunday evening. Local kids were climbing a large lump of concrete at the end of the breakwater and jumping in as jet skis flew in and out to the makeshift jetty on the beach. Fishermen sat amongst the rocks on the otherside of the breakwater, seemingly more interested in chatting amongst themselves than actually catching anything. If this is a typical Sunday then the Malagueños really have got the right idea!

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Monday, and the plan was to get up early and go out on my own…. and it worked, rather than hit the alarm off button I got up and headed inland. I’d downloaded a couple of routes I’d found on the internet to my Garmin and as one was just a cut down version of the other I’d go with the longer 32 mile route, with the option to cut it short if needed.

Even as I headed out of Malaga at 7:30 it was up at 25 degrees C! As soon as I left the city, the road steepened and I headed up. Very quickly I reached the Montes de Málaga national park, the tarmac turning to dusty fireroad. The mountain bike tyre tracks a good indication that this place was well used. As I climbed higher I could see bits of single track dropping down through the trees, but how you got to them I had no idea. I carried on, as it was a weekday I only saw a couple of walkers, and four cross country type mountain bikers, but I was certain from the tyre tracks everywhere, come here at the weekend and the local mountain bike crowd would be here in force.

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I got to the split point of the two routes, following the long route it headed straight up the mountain, but there was no sign of a track. I scrambled up a few hundred meters, in the hope that a track would appear, but no such luck. Back down at the bike I headed off on the short route, the fireroad winding it’s way up the mountain. Eventually I rounded a corner and there was a sign ‘Fin de Carril Bici’ (End of the Bike Lane) My Garmin told me to carry on, but I could see from it that in about 200 meters I’d be on a road. Looking to my left a track carried on up the mountain, and higher up I could see a red and white communications mast…. I wonder….

By now the temperature was just under 30 degrees C, and my water bottles were nearly empty, but with my ability to retrace my path back to this point using my Garmin I pressed on. There were no bike tracks on this trail, but a mountain biker came flying down the hill after about 1km, with a cheery wave and “Hola!”. Sure enough after another 20 mins of climbing I was at the mast, very nice, but the view wasn’t anywhere near as good as further down. A quick snap of the mast and I was heading back down.

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Getting back to to the sign, I checked my Garmin, the road looked very much like the A7000, with it’s two 360 degree hairpins. I’d driven it in 2016 when we’d come to Malaga for a long weekend. I’d now got no water left, so it was time to head back… but the big question was off road or on road? The decision I made gives you an idea of how much fun the A7000 is. Forks locked out, and in the big ring I hit the tarmac… wow, what a mad descent, it’s not a very busy descent, so I could just let the bike go. All too soon I was back at the apartment full of happy endorphins, and ready for another day exploring Malaga.

 

Later after a day around the city we got the bikes and headed along the coast for a steady spin. After a chill out by the see we decided to head back and stop at one of the many chiringuitos on the beach and have something to eat. We sat, ate, and watched shoals of fish break the water just a few meters behind the waves breaking on the beach, they too presumably having their evening meal.

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Tuesday and Wednesday ended up as non biking days, the first as we’d booked to walk the Caminito Del Rey. We picked up a hire car and drove up into hills to the walk. It’s not the best sign posted place and the organisation can be best described as ‘Spanish’ but it was well worth the trip. Thoroughly Recommended.

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Wednesday was planned to be a sightseeing/Biking day in the area in the La Alpujarra region, basically the place I go mountain biking every October. Sara had never been so it would be a good chance to show her round. It’s very picturesque, the villages of Capileira, Bubión & Pampaneira cling to the side of the Poqueira valley, with the high peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains as a backdrop. Unfortunately as I’ve been several times before I didn’t bother taking any photos! The plan was to head up higher and ride some of the fireroads and trails, but the temperature hitting 39 degrees C the bikes stayed firmly in the back of the car!

Thursday…… “Oh, no, we fly home tomorrow” we had a late breakfast looked at Google Maps and decided to explore further East along the coast. Having the bikes still in the back of the car was a bonus. We drove East to Torre de Mar, parked up and headed for the sea front. This really was the ‘Spanish’ seaside, probably what Torremolinos was like before it was ‘developed’, Caleta de Velez, Algarrobo, Lagos, El Morche…

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We stopped in El Morche when the coastal path ended at some fenced off football pitches, I’ve subsequently looked at Google Earth and it does carry on after, but by this time it was getting hot so we retired to the shade of the grassy Chiringuito Cacola. Quite how he managed to grow grass on the beach I’m not sure! Cold drinks and shade were needed, and enjoyed. Siesta time, watching the world go by (or not). Before we knew it time had flown by and it was around half 3, time to get back and get the bikes and our stuff packed ready for an early start.  The bikes had been in the sun, but imagine my surprise when I looked at my Garmin.

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A steady ride back with stop at a deserted beach so Sara could have a paddle in the sea. In Torres del Mar two ‘Cornettos’ tasted great sitting on the grass watching the green parrots chase each other. Then back to the car, bikes in and drive back to Malaga and an evening of packing bike bags and cases.

Our first holiday abroad (travelling by air) where we’ve taken the bikes. Would we bother again? I’m in two minds. Having your own bike is great, you know it works, and the brakes are the right way round. Cost wise it work too. But there’s the extra work of packing and unpacking the bikes, and with the best will in the world, bike bags are not the easiest thing to manoeuvre around a busy airport, or city streets. They do come in handy though for transporting clothes, that are being used as ‘impact protection’ and certainly on the way home some goodies were stashed in them. Apart from the bike bag I only took a cabin size bag and a rucksack! One thing we have subsequently discussed is the riding we did, Sara really didn’t need a mountain bike at all, the riding she did could have quite happily been done on a hired hybrid (that cost a lot less than a mountain bike) My two solo rides needed a ‘proper’ mountain bike, but other than that I’d have been fine with a hybrid too.

So would we bother to take them again….

Watch this space!

Spanish and Welsh Epics – 10th June

I’ve had enough of typing loads of stuff into this blog, I’m going to just post pictures and a bit of text for a while.

3rd June – Cambrils, Spain – La Vuelta de Serra Llaberia (72 miles, 9200ft of climbing)

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Would I do it again? Oh, yes!

9th June – Margam Park, Wales – Wiggle Dragon Ride (132 miles, 11,000ft of climbing)

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Would I do it again? Ask me in about a month….

The weather was great for both. I did enjoy the Dragon, but the extra 50 miles really does take it’s toll, as does the rough Welsh road surfaces. Add to that the fact that two of the biggest mountain climbs come at the very end of the Dragon ride, just when your legs are shot to bits. Rhigos climbs to it’s summit at 1630 ft, from Hirwaun up and over to Treherbert, Just a few miles later you turn right in Treorchy and there in front of you is Bwlych, another 1600+ ft summit that drops you into the Afan Valley. If you thought your legs hurt climbing Rhigos, just wait till you’re 3/4 of the way up this beastie.

I’m not selling the Dragon Ride very well am I?

I don’t feel like riding a bike again for a while, but I need to keep my legs spinning as I’ve got the 100k (62 mile) Peaks Epic coming up in less than two weeks!

Yes I’m a slacker…. – 29th May

Sorry, no posts for a while….

Not much to say really. Have been trying to get some big road rides in to prepare me for the Wiggle Dragon and almost every time Ive been twarted by the weather.

Went to the Peak District on Bank Holiday Monday…. that was nice.

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Great riding, big views and sunshine….. what all Bank Holidays should consist of!

And so on Friday it’s Spain, Cambrils again…. We liked it that much we decided to go back for a week! So you may see some more ‘two up in Tarragona’ type posts if me and Sara decide to hire ‘our’ tandem again.

As a birthday treat I’ve organised hiring a road bike for two days, so I’ll probably do a couple of small local rides on the Sunday to get used to the bike (and riding on the wrong side of the road). Monday will be a big adventure, riding up into the Serra de Llaberia mountains…..

Wooo Hooooo!!! One work day at work till holiday time!

Bucks Off Road Sportive – 12th May

I struggled right from the start. Originally I’d intended to try and get a really fast time on the 100k route, but as soon as we hit the first climb my legs felt heavy. So I decided to Stick with Lump and Andy, as they were going at a reasonable pace and were doing the 100k too.

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We got to the first food stop and found Den and Chris who’d set off earlier on the 132k route. Den had damaged his wheel rim and cut the sidewall off his tyre. As he was running tubeless, he’d gone to fit his spare tube, only to find it was a 29″ tube and the bike he was riding had 26″ wheels…. oh how we chuckled!

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We also found out why Lump kept losing his chain off his front chainring…. a bent tooth. This was extracted using some pliers. This helped alot and the regular stops to refit his chain became regular stops to water the scenery….

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All was well till just after the first food stop at 40 kilometers…. then my legs just died. I could plod along in a spinning gear, but as soon as I hit any kind of hill or anywhere that required me to up the power I just couldn’t do it. It felt like I was riding through glue!

For the next 40k I just about hung onto them, it was only the last 20 that my legs came back a bit, and then only for short periods. I managed to complete the course in 5h 30m, which isn’t a bad time, but I’m sure I could have done it in just over 5 hours if my legs had been OK….

In the words of Forrest Gump “That’s about all I got to say bout that.”

FNSS Rd1 – 11th May

That’s Friday Night Summer series to those not in the know….

“What’s that?” I hear you ask…. (so taken directly from the FNSS website http://fnssmtb.com/)

What’s FNSS mean?
Friday Night Summer Series, it does what it says on the tin. A summer race series for mountainbikes. Sorry no Cyclocross bikes allowed.

Why Fridays I want to go out on the beer?
Good question, could be that Public places are quieter on Fri Eve’s as most people are out doing just that. It could be the fact that you and the organisers get a chance for a good rest on Saturday if you don’t work. The real reason is that this series was started by Road Cycling clubs getting together. They already had road stuff on Tues, Weds and Thurs and nobody wants to race on Monday now do they!

OK what’s it all about then?
The Friday night Summer series is a group of races organised by individual people, in 2013 it has it’s 22nd continuous year of running. It has the same central Insurance cover and one Uber head Honcho ..Neil Holman. This ensures a proper centrally organized setup and admin to enable easier accounting. But still all races are slightly different in format as each organiser adds his/her own touch.

How far’s a race?
The basic format is that everybody races together in one mass start on a 45 minute plus one lap format.  (due to larger race entries this can now be split into two starts generally Senior/Junior then Vets/Ladies) This method means no matter what level of fitness you are you will not race for much more than an hour. This means only about 13-15 miles for even the fastest riders, and each race starts no earlier than 7.15.

What if the leaders lap me?
When the organiser works it out he’ll shout out last lap at the leader as he passes, and then at all following racers. When the race leader returns to massive applause for the win; all the following riders are deemed to have finished, No mater how many laps behind they are. All riders crossing the line receive a finishing position and some series points. Note; smart riders will have worked out that if the leader is catching you towards the end of the race, you can save having to do another lap if he passes you before you cross the line.

Can I do it – I have no flash kit or any race license?
Anyone can race, all you need is a bike and a helmet, and no special bike or kit either. All Youths and Juniors must have parental consent. Mudguards, racks, toeclips, pink Emmelles, tandems, cut off jeans, we have seen them all and they add to the event. Nobody will laugh at you here, we’ve all been there trust me. There’s no need for any licence or club membership, just you and a bike.

So there you go, there are 13 rounds in the series, and your best 6 results count towards your final place in the standings. You can race as many rounds as you like, but less than 6 and you’ll not feature in the final standings. As usual, a combination of holiday and afternoon shifts mean I can only race in 3 rounds 😦 On the positive side, I can race in round 11 on August 2nd at Delapre Abbey, Northampton. The course there is simply stunning 🙂

So round 1 was at Borough Hill, Daventry. Originally home to a BBC transmitting station, and site of the first ever practical demonstration of RADAR on 26th Feb 1935. The course is a superb mixture of open grassland, fast woodland, gravel track and steep twisty woods. The finish being below the 600′ radio mast that dominates the site.

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So, to the race…. I always struggle with the start, more in where to be in the pack…. as you just line up on a 4(ish) bike wide track. I’ve headed for the front before, but the fast guys leave you for dead, and mentally it beats you up, you almost feel like you’re going backwards. So I usually aim for mid pack. At Daventry I ended up a bit further back than I’d have liked (should have got to the start earlier!)

The seniors headed off first, and 2 minutes later so did we. Straight away I started passing people, in a tight bunch it’s not easy, and I knew I should have been 10 or 15 riders further forward at the start. Not much I could do now but get my head down and ride. Into the first lot of woods it was single file, but as it rides pretty quick  it wasn’t too bad.

Out of woods and it was onto a gravel track…. and into a headwind. On my practice lap the wind had almost stopped me dead here and I’d made a decision that on every lap I’d draft someone (ride in their slipstream) all the way along it. It worked, I hung behind a couple of slower riders all the way, and just as we were about to turn behind a hedge I accellerated past. Mental note – do that every lap if possible!

The next set of woods are quite tight and twisty and the pace slowed, with only one real line through the trees it was frustrating. All I could do was have a breather as we crawled along. The exit of the woods was a quick steep climb. We’d now  caught a couple of Senior catagory backmarkers, and they were trying and failing to ride it. Trouble was they were in the way so I had no choice but to pick the pick the bike up and run through the scrub at the side of the track.

Back on open grassland again I found myself catching two Rugby Velo Riders. Over the line, lap two. They were my target, so I pushed hard, I had to, out on the open grassland they were quick. Into the fast woods and I’d got up to them, and now heading onto the gravel I was right in behind them. Turning off the gravel I tried to overtake, but the headwind hit me hard and pushed me back. Now into the twisty woods… they were slower, but not slow enough to be able to get past. At the few overtaking points I’d spotted I could get almost level but hadn’t got enough to edge in front and take the line.

Out onto the grassland and I made my move, I was now in a Rugby Velo sandwich, but I lost my rhythm on the bumpy section on the run in to the line. Lap three, I was behind them both again. Halfway round the lap I spotted Dusty Dan a mate who was riding in the Senior class, he’d started two minutes before me, and he was catchable. I hung behind the Rubgy Velo guys, trying to gauge if we were going to catch Dan. At this rate it was possible. More position swapping with the Velo guys followed.

As we crossed the line the last lap bell rang, I could see Dan, he was close, but I was unsure if we’d catch him. I had to go now, out of a rough section I tried to be as close as possible behind the Velo guys. I was too close, they swerved to miss a mound, I hit it and was all over the place. I dropped off them…. “F**k! Agggghhhh! All that effort. “Come On!! Pedal!!!  Head down, I put every ounce of effort I could into it. On their tail again somehow, but slowly one of the Velo guys pulled away. Dan was close now, as we exited the woods he was there. I overtook the lone Velo rider and went past Dan.

Onto the gravel I had no one to draft. I pushed again hoping to drop Dan. But Velo man was there still. The bike felt weird, a puncture? I looked down and back at the rear tyre… it was OK. “It’s in your head! Push on!” As we dropped into the woods he overtook me. He was holding me up in the twisty stuff, but we were still catching and overtaking a couple of slower riders. Dan wasn’t directly behind me now, I had a buffer. Out onto the grassland for the final time, my legs were like jelly. Velo man pulled away, and a rider I’d overtaken in the woods crept past. A glance back and Dan was closing… pedal!!!!!! Another look back and he was closer PEDAL!!!!!! Across the line, chequered flag…. roll to a stop, lean over the bars and feel like I’m about to throw up!

1 hour 7 minutes 45 seconds…… Dan crossed the line 5 seconds after me! But in reality that’s 2 minutes 5 seconds 🙂

So I ended up in 38th place, not bad, my lap times were OK (15:12, 15:29, 15:20) apart from my first (21:45). It’s a longer lap due to the start straight, but everyone who finished around me had a first lap time about a minute shorter. I’m sure that was due to the traffic in the first set of woods, and if I’d started further up the pack I’d have managed a lap in the high 20s….. which would have put me up around 31/32nd…..

But I didn’t, and if I ate less and didn’t have the odd pint or two, and trained more, and had never smoked etc etc…. I’d probably win every race….

Right, next event, the Bucks Off Road Sportive…. 100k (62 miles) in the Chilterns…..

Oh, and I did have a puncture. I got home and my front was flat!

 

Dyfi Enduro Video – 9th May

For those not on Facebook (Mum and Dad) click on the Dyfi Enduro logo to see a great video of the event

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Enjoy!