We awoke to a crisp and clear morning on day 2 of our Andalucian trip. The planned route was approximately 145 kms with 3,300m of climbing. In old money, 92 miles with 11,000 feet of ascent.
Day 1, (https://stravaddict.wordpress.com/2014/02/11/the-corner-cafe-in-coripe/), allowed us to savour the hilly landscape while subconsciously measuring and noting each other’s merits.
It is important to understand that although our group are valiantly fighting middle age, part of the fun involves reverting to a competitive, boyish mentality on the bikes. I know that it is not just me, because we inevitably discuss the ride over a beer in the bar.
I would like to try and convey some of this feeling in my blog, but my mind is like jumble sale, i.e. there may be some nuggets of information in there, but they are lost in the chaos of disorganisation.
And so, having breakfasted in the Bar Pastor Pension in Coripe, courtesy of Juan and Maria, we left the cold Andalus townhouse and stepped out into the warmer air of the Sierra. It was probably about 7 degrees centigrade. We surreptitiously eyed each other’s choice of kit. Long finger gloves or mitts? Legwarmers and armwarmers or tights and long sleeve top? Overshoes? How many water bottles? All this information is taken in and sifted in the time it takes to say ‘cafe solo’.
Armed with the memory of yesterday’s respective performances, we set off up the 8 km climb in a silent state of truce. This is going to be a big day. Pete spices things up with a slow but controlled fall on an uphill hairpin bend. These things happen. Then, he and Mike clobber the potholed descent in fearless and defiant fashion, Vincenzo Nibali, both, to my Bradley Wiggins. I know that they know that they are far superior descenders to me, and I understand that it warms the cockles of their hearts to leave me in their wake. It’s a great skill to have, but there is probably more kudos to being a good climber.
We soon approach Zahara de las Sierras, which is built around a large mound surveying the Embalse de Zahara from above. The aquamarine lake lies between Montecorto and Algodonales. It is also the gateway to the climb of the Puerto de las Palomas. The climb is a Strava segment of 12.4 kms with a height gain of 814m, giving an average gradient of 7%. It is a beautiful climb. The initial 2kms skims Zahara, and then adheres to the side of the mountain for another 5 kms before winding its way to the narrow summit in classic mountain hairpin fashion.
My aim was to better the time of 59 m 40 secs from two years before. Pete and Mike let me set the pace. The sun was shining, we soon gained altitude and were rewarded with a stunning vista of the surrounding area. Mike was on a mission to test us, to test himself. After 4 kms, Pete dropped back slightly as we maintained a strong tempo. Mike pushed on, relentless Mike. After 7 km, I took a turn and he told me that I was on my own. We had already agreed that as this was a timed climb, waiting for each other was not part of the deal. We all gained the top under an hour, and I was delighted to have beaten my 2012 time by 4 minutes. You can expect to lose 1 degree of temperature for each 100m of height gain, so it was pretty chilly perched at the top.
We bombed town to pretty Grazalema for a bite to eat in the sheltered square, and to evaluate the climb. It was quite warm in the sun. The guys opted for the original, long version of the ride, so we set off along a glorious road to Villalengua, taking it in turns to shield each other from the wind, gradually climbing all the time. Villalengua has a bull ring and Pete was wearing his red jacket. Enough said, the Kiwi torero had to pay it a visit.
The route to Ubrique plunges down a gorge before briefly levelling out on the flank of a mountain, where sits the village of Benaocaz, commanding an open vista to the Sierras of the South. Pete and Mike revelled in the headlong nosedive to Ubrique with its technical switchbacks before turning towards El Bosque and the ascent of the Beast.
On the road to El Bosque, Pete had the first and only puncture of the trip, so by the time we reached the foot of the climb at 4 p.m, we had about 3 hours of daylight to return to our base at Coripe. It would be touch and go. As it turned out, it was a slower ascent than expected on the road to the summit, as we passed picturesque Benamahoma, our last glimpse of civilisation for 10 kms. Cresting the top of the col, we all needed food and drink to refuel our tired bodies. At this stage of the ride, we had completed 90 kms with about 2500m of vertical ascent.
Dropping from the viewpoint all the way down to the lake was exhilarating. Once again my limitations both physical and mental were exposed by the aerodynamic fearlessness of my two riding companions. Nevertheless, having climbed strongly, I had assumed that I would ‘boss’ them along the lakeside road. Not a bit of it. Pete dug deep and towed us majestically around the water’s edge, then, energy-depleted Mike took over and maintained the pace. It was now my duty to step up and take a turn, which I managed with great difficulty. Were these the same two guys who had suffered on the Beast of Boyar?
The pace never dropped underneath the calm gaze of Zahara. We crossed the dam, and then climbed up to the main road where finally we were be able to replenish our water bottles and devour food, chocolate, whatever was available, at the Repsol garage. It was a frenetic and noble attempt to chase the dying light on diminished reserves of energy. For this section we had ridden as a team. But by now the sun had dropped below the horizon to leave a gorgeous pastel coloured backdrop which silhouetted the grand Sierra.
Energy levels restored, we resumed the final 20kms mountain road in twilight and then darkness. There was light enough from a half-moon to enable us to negotiate the descent to the Via Verde with caution. The air was still and mild. We climbed sinuous la Tonta up to the village, shook each other’s hands and looked forward to a beer.