Mountain Biking In Spain with Sierra Cycling
(Link to video, click here)
Whatever way you look at it, four am is an ungodly hour to be getting out of a nice warm bed, especially when the temperature outside (the house, not the bed) is hovering around zero celsius. Seven hours later, regretting the extra clothing, we sweltered outside Malaga airport as our meagre luggage went into the Sierra Cycling van ready for the short drive to Fuengirola. The Terra Trailblazers first overseas trip is finally happening.
Arriving at Sierra Cycling head quarters, owner Alan greeted us and introduced us to guides Simon and Natalia before showing us our accommodation, the Garden House. Sierra Cycling have three properties in a small development built around a quadrangle containing a pool and well tended gardens. Our three storey house is cool and spacious, with TV and WiFi, a large living room and small kitchen. The fridge is stocked with beer and soft drinks, a cupboard full of snacks is to the left, bottles of spirits are available for those more dedicated to liver abuse and a wine rack is loaded with, in the words of Al Murray, “fruit based drink for the ladies.” Two bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor and the same on the second floor, we were on the first floor, in two twin rooms.
After a quick change into cycling kit, we returned to The Breakfast House for a sandwich lunch prior to being introduced to our hire bikes, Giant Trances. A little tweaking of seatposts and tyre pressures before we watched Alix demonstrate his mastery of bike Tetris, slotting half a dozen bikes into the back of a minibus. A drive to the village of Mijas, in the mountains high above Fuengirola followed, all agreed we definitely would not care to be riding the climb, although the views are spectacular. We stopped at a cafe and met the rest of the group, who were breaking for lunch after their morning ride, guides Josh and Steve, Marcus from Germany and Dave from Sussex, or Surrey, or Suffolk or somewhere so far south it is practically abroad. Natalia, who is half Polish and half Greek, was intrigued by our accents.
“What part of Scotland do you come from?” And she has just spent three years in Fort William.
One Fanta Limon and some good dollops of suncream later, we were in the saddle, ready for our first taste of Spanish riding, a bit of singletrack through trees with a testing drop at the end. The riding is rocky and loose, everything is so dry here, crumbly soil interspersed with rocks, cutting across a hillside, required more concentration than we are used to but the drop, obviously included so Josh could assess our riding, was well within our capabilities. The remainder of the ride was more open riding, still on mud-free tracks, mud-free in April, never thought I would ever be able to write that, dry and dusty, a lot more caution needs to be employed on the corners, unfamiliar bikes not making things any easier. The countryside ended and we found ourselves on the outskirts of Fuengirola, making our way through the streets to the seafront, what would maybe be called the promenade in England, where we pedalled, taking in the view, people sunning themselves on the beach under an azure sky, Sohail Castle rising above us.
Arriving back at the house, bikes parked up, basking on our verandah like contented seals, cold beer in hand, marvelling at the fact twelve hours ago we were shivering outside Newcastle airport. And now, back in England, it is snowing, we are overdosing on smugness. The Ginger One conformed to the stereotype of Brit Abroad, wandering off in search of a bar with London in the name before returning to watch snooker on TV, inordinately pleased with himself for finding a bar selling cans of John Smith’s Bitter.
Refreshed from a good sleep, we convened in the breakfast house, for (unsurprisingly) breakfast, which consisted of cereals, bread, cheese, fruit and a full English or any variation thereof. Potential routes were discussed by the guides, our unfamiliarity with the area left us at their mercy but we were assured all the riding would be within our ability. Breakfast finished, it was time for bike Tetris again as the van was loaded and we piled in for another drive into the mountains.
Disembarking in an old quarry somewhere north of Mijas, we began our ride with an ascent, which, if we were not on holiday might be classed as gruesome but the unfamiliar scenery took our minds off the pain. This is our first experience of the 10 minute climb, all climbs are 10 minute climbs, the guides’ concept of time evidently gleaned from old episodes of Dr. Who. Forty five minutes into the ten minute climb, we heard those words I have used myself so many times - “It’s all downhill from here.” Nobody believes me either although, occasionally, there may be an element of truth in there. A gratifying amount of gravity assisted pedalling followed, the majority of which has blurred into one continuous ribbon of singletrack, mainly through woods above Alhaurin, none of it too difficult but always interesting.
Lunch break was a cafe attached to a BP filling station on the outskirts of Alhaurin el Grande, not a Ginsters in sight and so inexpensive compared to England. Another “10 minute” climb followed lunch, this time on tarmac until a steep drop in signalled our return to offroad riding. A loose rock, or possibly (a slim possibility) lack of skill, saw the first Terra Trailblazer blood spilt on Spanish soil for this trip; it would not be the last. At a viewpoint, looking toward Fuengirola, a vista of tracks is spread out before us, undulating through the countryside, miles more downhill followed, varied terrain from roller-coaster hillocks to meadows of spiky plants, all heading toward the distant coast.
After a final steep downhill, we picked up a dried river bed, the Fuengirola river, which gradually began filling with water as we followed it to the sea beneath Sohail Castle, a couple of hundred metres from our house. A short time later, cold beers in hand, we lounged in the afternoon sunshine, recounting the fantastic ride we had enjoyed. All privately wondering what tomorrow might bring because, horror of horrors, the forecast is for rain; it looks as though the rain in Spain doesn’t stay mainly on the plain.
Just like in England, the Spanish weatherman he speak with forked tongue, today began like all the others, sunny and bright. At breakfast we found we had been joined by Sean, a South African living in London who was probably wondering what three blokes on the verge of middle age and a ginger bloke who was born middle aged are doing on a mountain biking holiday. In view of the incipient deluge, the riding this morning consisted of a series of loops, so we were never too far away from the transport. Mob-handed today, two van loads of eager bikers disgorged at the same start as yesterday, which meant the same ten minute climb to begin, although we did not follow the trail as high. After an awesome descent around the head of a wooded valley on what is essentially a very scenic fire road, the riders split into two groups, we opted for the advanced group, probably misunderstanding, thinking Simon meant a group for those of advanced ages. Simon wanted to push our limits and let us caress the edge of the next level of riding; we plunged off the edge of the fireroad onto a (in parts) near vertical rocky trail, which, with a large degree of coaching, was descended by us, maybe not 100% rode, but still far harder than we would tackle at home. I can only compare it to a wooded version of some of the steep and rocky trails in the Lake District and like the Lake District, our usual forgiving mattress of soft, springy heather to fall on is not here, everything is either sharp and rocky or sharp and prickly, malevolently waiting for the opportunity to draw blood. Some easier trails were ridden for the remainder of the morning still with the benefit of Simon’s enthusiastic and encouraging coaching; he had his work cut out, trying to put right twenty years of bad habits in a morning. At one point he demonstrated how to ride a steep slope with a left hand bend at the bottom, Oz reciprocated by demonstrating how to somersault sideways off the bike on the same slope and swear a lot while bleeding into some spiny brush. Miles of singletrack, weaving through trees, followed until we were completely disorientated, suddenly we were pedalling a sandy track, parallel to a road, leading to a roadside restaurant where we stopped for lunch and a jumping masterclass on the terraced forecourt.
Still no rain, if anything, it had to be the hottest day so far but just in case, the bikes were packed into the vans and we drove to Mijas to repeat Tuesday’s descent back to Fuengirola, which was more enjoyable with prior knowledge. A few miles later, we were again riding along the seafront cycletrack in the sunshine, the cerulean Mediterranean to our left, more than a little disappointed to realise a mere 24 hours from now we would be back in England, the grey North Sea to our left as we head south on the A1.
(click for larger image)