This is a tale about a short road cycling trip in Andalucia for three days in February 2014.
On this occasion I am going to skip the details about the landscape. I want to concentrate on the camaraderie and competition between three guys who won’t see 50 again.
Where to begin? Well I suppose that despite plenty of physical evidence to the contrary, we imagine ourselves to be early to mid thirties. However, when we mount our racing bikes there is some substantiation for this train of thought. The cycling website Strava to which we upload all our ride data, puts us old wrinklies firmly in the top 20% of performers in all age groups.
Fortified by this flimsy knowledge, we tackled the hills and mountains of the Sierra de Grazalema over what turned out to be just two days of riding. The first day was 110 kms with 2300m of climbing. For those of you who don’t get these statistics, it’s a pretty hilly course.
The first climb out of the pueblo Coripe was our first chance to test each other, to find out if we had fitted ourselves out in the right gear for the conditions…. to make our excuses. MG was recovering from the flu, PD had a permanent cold, I was just worried that the pair of them would be too good for me.
So the opening move, an 8 km climb up the valley was taken at a sensible pace, the sort of pace that allowed one to hold a conversation and admire the magnificent scenery…all the while wondering who was going to be the first to add a little spice to proceedings. My compadres soon proved that they were quicker at the descending lark than me, as they both plummeted down to the valley in synchronised unison. A short sharp stinker of a climb leveled out the gaps between us and it became apparent to me that my legs were OK today, some good news pin-balling around the brain’s circuit diagram.
How did the others feel? I don’t know, but they swooped again to the next valley where the Rio Guadalporcun had ripped the tarmac into two pieces creating a deep fissure over which we had to carry our bikes. So I felt good but it was obvious to me that PD was saving himself for a long day in unknown hilly terrain. The unrelenting MG was chatting away, but as we turned onto the Carraterra de Olvera climb, 2.2 km long at 6%, the atmosphere changed. It changed because we could spy the top of the climb…up there, and the climb claimed our immediate respect. The advantage of having ridden this road before allowed me to push harder over the final 500m and put a little distance between us. Fifteen Love.
We stopped for coffee. The town stands isolated but spread out on a big, pointy hill. It is an impressive sight. Continuing through the evocatively named village of Torre Alhaquime and both descending and then climbing interminably into a rising gale, we gained Setenil de las Bodegas and Acipino after a bloody hard slog. I felt good because I had taken most of the wind off the boys on the climb, but having organised the whole shebang, I was more concerned that they appreciated the landscape which offered wonderful views of the Sierra Nevada to the East and the Sierra de Grazalema to the West.
The drop down from Acipino to Montecorto was a blast. The Andalucian zephyr tried to unsaddle us. The boys would have none of it though, and swooped off the hillside like marauding larrikins. Oh! The beauty of smooth traffic free roads with unbroken sight lines. Our lunch stop in Montecorto presented us with an opportunity to re-fuel our bodies by a crackling log fire and to assess our relative merits.
We had tested each other in silence, a subtle push on the pedals on a climb to stretch the elastic, a daring brake-free charge down a vertiginous slope; a long, strong turn on the front to show strength. All the unspoken components of a testing ride had been exhibited apart from a vulgar all out sprint.
We still had 60 kms to ride and the wind was unforgiving. For us and our mind games though, the day was over. We stuck together and rode back to Coripe, gruppo compatto, via the Embalse de Zahara and Algodonales saving our powder for the next day.
Thanks to Juan Antonio and his wife for feeding us at the Cafeteria Corner in Coripe. If you ever make it to this quiet village, be sure to stop here for a bite to eat, you will not be disappointed.