Published: 4 April 2013
Report: Lorna Johnston
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Spring - the season of rebirth. It conjures up images of new lambs skipping across sun soaked fields, carpets of daffodils standing proud and a general feeling of optimism as the darkness of winter beats a hasty retreat for another year.
Apparently today is the first day of Spring and last Sunday was the opening of the Spring Classics - as they say in Scotland ‘aye, right!’ Here we are with further snow disruption and footage of the pros suffering in similar style to us mere mortals at Milan-San Remo.
Getting some early season miles at this time of year is not always the easiest and I, along with three club mates, opted for an ‘Andalucian Cycling Experience’ training camp in the hope of riding on nice smooth roads in decent weather in preparation for my sportive season.
The forecast didn’t bode well - Montecorto had its first snowfall in 25 years the day before we departed and the infamous Los Palomas time trial was abandoned half way up as the road was closed with snow. Thankfully it lifted in time for our arrival and we had a mixed bag of conditions for the week.
Ashley and Claire have been running winter training camps for many years and have the practice down to a fine art. They cater for cyclists of all abilities and their camps are especially popular with triathletes. There is a choice of distance on a daily basis and the option to do as little or as much as you want.
We had at least four guides available to ride with us and as such we all rode the same distance but at varying speeds. We set out on our first day to tackle the infamous ‘Beast of el Bayor’ which is a 15km Cat 1 climb and one which I was determined to get a good time on as my Garmin battery had died when I was there in August.
We stopped for coffee just prior to the Strava line and having switched my trusty device off couldn’t get it to switch back on again until we were already 4 minutes into the climb. So once again The Beast has proved to be my Garmin nemesis and I still don’t have a time for the ascent!
I felt good, my legs were working well and I felt much more confident climbing out of the saddle. In August I had hired a bike from Ashley’s impressive fleet but I opted to take my own this time and definitely felt the benefit of it on those hills.
We rode between 60km and 90km per day with several thousand feet of climbing and I had plenty of opportunities to practice my cornering on the long, sweeping descents. The area surrounding Montecorto is beautiful, traditionally Spanish and the roads are so quiet that you virtually have them to yourself.
We covered different roads every day to vary the riding, scenery and cafe stops and the only territory we revisited was the initial few kms along the lakeside just out of Montecorto which is a road I would gladly ride every day in life - I would be a happy person if that was my commute! Detailed local weather forecasts proved to be accurate and we managed to work round the rain only getting a soaking on a couple of occasions. Thursday was the worst weather-wise and as designated rest day we headed as a group to Seville for a spot of culture - a city I knew little about and was grateful to have the opportunity to see it, although I’m not altogether sure that climbing the tower at the Cathedral was the best idea on tired legs!
Friday was our final day of riding and that could only mean one thing - a time trial up Los Palomas. The morning started crisp and bright and after our warm up ride to the base of the climb we were able to shed the arm warmers and ride in short sleeves. Palomas is a 12km ascent rising to 1150m above sea level and winds its way up the mountain with wide open panoramic views the whole way. I’ll not lie to you, I found it very hard going. My legs were aching and when I reached half way and realised I was not going to achieve my goal of completing it in under an hour I nearly gave up. I had to muster all my strength to battle on into the relentless headwind and was at breaking point when I passed Stuart who was on the roadside in the guise of official photographer. I could have kissed him when he said there was only 2km to go - so with heart pumping and legs screaming I rounded the last bend to see an assembled throng on the finish line. I managed to find the push for a sprint in the last 50m to finish in 1hr6min and 55seconds. That only means that I have to go back and try again next year!
To summarise it was a great trip. I am going to into my season with a lot more miles in my legs, some great climbing practice and all done in a beautiful location with a great group of people. There are many places to ride in Southern Europe but this sleepy little hollow in Andalucia strikes a chord with me and I recommend it if you’re looking for something just that little bit off the beaten track.