Spain Training Overview: A 5-Day Andalucian Adventure!
Hola, Pascal here. As I stepped off the Malaga train, I emerged into a deeply unfamiliar world... I was suddenly surrounded by courteous drivers who respected cyclists, roads made of smooth tarmac, and there was even an odd yellow burning ball in the sky above me!
As a British cyclist, I'm used to being driven into by unlicensed moped drivers in London, recovering my bike from the bottom of the deep pot holes of the Surrey Hills, and generally being cold and wet on all winter training rides. This was apparently not on the menu in Spain. No wonder the Spanish love their cycling, conditions are terrific for them!
It wasn't through coincidence that I'd arrived here, I'd typed into Google 'where in Europe can I go cycling in December and it not be so cold that I lose all feeling in my hands and feet'. Spain kept on coming up top of the search results, so I booked my plane ticket and off I went. My plan was to complete a 5-day 700 KM multi day ride through the Sierra Nevada mountains of Andalucia in southern Spain.
With all that happened with Dan during the summer, we've both taken a bit of time away from the bikes to reset, ahead of our planned USA reattempt in March 2023 (more about that in a separate blog coming soon!). Bike fitness has dropped during this period, now is the time to build it back up. Hence this trip...
The next 5 days would consist of 3 long rides (170+ KM, as the daily distance to be covered on the USA ride), a climbing day and a one 'recovery' day of just 80 KM. The bike was 'fully loaded', with all the bike packing bags attached to the frame and full of expedition kit. Great for training, but the added weight makes the hills an absolute nightmare of endless leg pain!
Here is the route and the headline stats for those who like that sort of thing, starting in Malaga and ending in Seville.
And so looking at each of the 5 days in a little more detail, followed by a short summary of whether I now feel bike fit (I do, 'ish'):
Day 1: Malaga to El Ejido 'Coastal Cruising'. Off the train, onto the bike. Rode the first half mile on the wrong side of the road, almost got hit by a local bus...Once I switched to the correct side of the road, I then followed the coastal road east all day long. Whizzing through pretty whitewashed fishing villages and past endless olive groves, all in 20 degree heat. I could get used to this! It had a real feel of the Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) to it, for those who have taken that iconic route down the California coast. A very pleasant first day!
Day 2: El Ejido to La Calahorra, over the top of the Sierra Nevada mountains 'Climbing Carnage'. Headed inland, at which point it all got a little less pleasant! I woke up with stiff and heavy legs from the day before, uh oh. I was also at the foot of the mountain range I'd be climbing up for most of the day, double uh oh. Quite big mountains these! The day before it was dark by the time I finished my ride, which had hidden the mountains from my eyes. This morning they were hidden no more, and topped out at 11, 000 ft! For reference, that's 3 times the height of Ben Nevis...Anyway, nothing for it but to down a litre of coffee followed by several bananas, then clip my shoes into my pedals and get going. Several hours (and a little bit of swearing at an ever strengthening headwind!) later I was stood atop Puerto de La Ragua - the 6000 ft pass that marked the top of the climb. Success! Views to die for, which is apt because I thought I might actually die at various points on the never ending ride up. 5 hours of non-stop cycling uphill is a long time, it's a real battle of the mind to keep going and it felt good to have completed it. There are some similarly long climbs on the US ride, today was excellent preparation for that - we simply don't have such long climbs anywhere in the UK to practice on.
Day 3: La Calahorra to Grenada 'Sweet, Sweet Recovery'. Intentionally, this was to be only a half day (80 KM) of riding, as I wasn't sure how my legs might be after the previous day of climbing carnage! They hadn't fallen off and felt fine enough, and so I meandered further inland from the coast to arrive in Granada by early afternoon. I planned it this way to give myself time to check out the famed Moorish architecture of Granada, which didn't disappoint! The city is a really unique mix of Islamic architecture and massive churches, with old school tapas spots and palm trees filling in the gaps between. Well worth a visit, if you ever get the chance!
Day 4: Granada to Cordoba 'Big Mile Grinding, Part Uno'. Today (and the next day) were all about grinding out big distance (170+ KM each), to see how well I was able to recover overnight between rides. Again, to replicate the schedule in the US. Now that I was further inland, the temperature was quite a bit lower than on the coast (down to freezing overnight). The local club cyclists I saw on this morning all had balaclavas and thick gloves on to protect from the cold on their rides (sensible), I hadn't packed either of these things (not sensible) and so was unable feel my face or hands for the first couple of hours of my own ride. Not ideal, but then you don't pedal with your face or hands, so it wasn't all bad news! On the subject of legs, they were holding up well and 7 hours later I'd arrived in Cordoba.
Day 5: Cordoba to Seville 'Big Mile Grinding, Part Dos'. A carbon copy of the day before really. Depart pretty Andalucian city number 1, cycle for 7 hours across rural spanish farmland, curse the headwind, arrive in pretty Andalucian city number 2. Seville was another beaut of a city, so full of oranges that you can actually smell their citrus scent in the air as you sip your 'cafe con leche' on the cobbled street. By the time I'd got to Seville I could definitely feel the cumulative effect of the 700 KM completed in my legs. I went to bed at 7.30, was asleep by 8 pm (despite the aforementioned cafe con leche's!) and woke up 12 hours later. It was one of those sleeps where you feel the earned tiredness in your body as you drift off, a positive sign that some bike training value had been been gained in the past 5 days!
Summary. And so to summarise the waffle, as I sit here in Madrid Airport awaiting my flight home to the land of the endless train strike! A very revealing 5 days, I now know exactly where my bike fitness is at. I'd rate it at 7/10 at the moment, which is about where I need it to be with 10 weeks to go until I fly out to San Diego to commence the 5000KM USA ride. It was good to get in some long climbs, consecutive big distance days and to check that all my kit was in good working order - you can't really assess such things by completing daily 100 KM loops in the London area.
I have a few things to work on, which is to be expected. It's going to be a high training tempo in Jan and Feb...
Unrelated Dan update below, for all the Dan Fans!
Because we get quite a few messages asking about how he is (thank you, it is hugely appreciated!)... Dan is making really good progress through his 6 month rehab programme, all under the watchful eye of the Navy doctors. We are expecting him to have a detailed medical review in Feb, at which point we will know exactly how much riding he will be capable of doing stateside. Once we know that, we will build a plan that sees me complete the full distance and Dan complete as much as the Navy doctors are happy for him to do. It goes without saying that he is very keen to get back out there, that's just the kind of guy that he is!
Congrats if you made it this far down the blog, a longer one on this occasion! We will now aim to push out more regular blog updates, as preps for the 'Big Ride' continue to build.
As always, thank you for your mega support, we both really appreciate it!