Sierra Nevada Cycling Holiday and Yoga

Where to start ? I have never been on a cycling holiday and never done yoga, the promise being a week of good weather cycling with great climbs and yoga to improve core strength and flexibility, this would improve and kick start my cycling into the new summer season.

How did I find myself on this? I'm not sure but it was word of mouth and like most good things the personal recommendation can be golden. So it was with this training camp set in the stunning environment of the Sierra Nevada mountain range in Southern Spain. The base was located in the quite village of Velez du Benaudalla where each morning I woke up to the sunshine lighting up the snow covered peaks and then gently gliding into the valleys a little later. A quick breakfast, a bit of banter with the flat mates and down the hill of three ramps that were so steep it would give you a nose bleed, to the bar for morning coffee with the rest of the multi ability group. A briefing by the guides who were serious cyclists and then off at 9.30 often instantly into the route.

The routes were varied and challenging to everybody in the group and with two guides, the stronger people were tested and yet nobody was left behind to fend for them selves. The guides were generous with their time and advice and happy to answer any question about preparation or skills on the bike. Often it was just being around the pros where you learnt most, it could be following a line through corners on a decent or the foods they were eating on a day out.

 
​Orwell's Steve Terry and Sorrento's Eileen descend toward a town on the coast (photograph with thanks to Cormac Keeney)

The roads were of an amazing standard, a continuous immaculate ribbon of tarmac, during the week and in hundreds of kilometres I found literally one small hole. It was that true surface and the confidence that it would be consistent that allowed me to go through corners and hairpin bends a lot faster then at home. The perfect road also allowed you to really feel the handling of the bike in a way that does not happen at home. The experience of cycling on these super roads and the light levels of traffic was worth the price of the trip alone. Yet it was the countryside the roads went through that provided the X factor. Orange groves, banana plantations, and on the hill sides were olive trees ancient and twisted by time. Cacti, streams and sleepy villages, then finally sun blasted rugged slopes higher up reaching to wind turbines and snow covered mountain tops. The scenery was as breathtaking as the climbs up to them.

Then after a day cycling - up and down mountains, the long decents, through hairpin bends folding back on themselves that would bring us back to - the Tapis bar we met in and a well earned drink, coffee and more chat and banter.

A quick shower and a walk down to the roof top terrace where we had Yoga. Another first for me and I nearly found this tougher then the climbs. I could feel the scar tissue and lack of mobility in my shoulders, a hang over from playing rugby. The general weakness of my upper body and torso was pretty obvious but after a few classes you could feel that improvements were there to be made and a little consistent attendance would improve not only my cycling but also my general physical health. It is a strong stable torso that is the anchor for the legs and lungs, a weakness there can cut litres from your lung capacity and make your peddling inefficient very quickly. A strong torso can simply keep the ribcage open allowing full expansion of the lungs and strong abdominal muscles will keep the lower back and pelvis stable giving a solid point for your quads, hamstrings and glutes to power the peddles.

Finally the fact it was a small village kept us together for meal times although the accommodation was self catering with every convenience in the kitchen we had a set menu with a restaurant. Numerous choices of starter, main dish and dessert with a small beer or glass of wine for 12.50, very good value by any measure. So we all shared the one table in the evening enjoying the stories of the day before breaking and going to our various apartments.

Our first spin was a trip to the coast and Cormac asked if we wanted to lengthen it a little, we all did and so we headed home via a 7klm climb straight up to a mountain ridge coved by windmills. It seemed endless with hairpins folding into every rocky crag on the mountain, the quite roads and mountain breezes played tricks on you from the start. At moments you could hear other riders talking as if they were beside you then you would go around a bend and it would be silent. The only sound being your own breathing or the sound of the tyres rolling on the tarmac, it could and often was that quite as the traffic was almost non existent.


Andrew on a descent (photograph with thanks to Szymonbike)

Cycling in the sunshine was such a treat too, in the last year I think I have been in summer gear about twice. The temp was in the late teens for our trip, sun cream was a must, arm warmers and summer gilets for coming down the hills or first thing in the morning but shorts and short sleeves were perfect with my base layer siting in the apartment unused for the week. I even had to wear my cap with the peak covering my neck because Luke claimed I was getting more like a Trump supporter by the day.

Yoga was at the finish and it helped to ease out tired legs helping them recover for the next day. There is something very relaxing about doing yoga with a endless blue sky above and a rooftop view of mountain tops covered in snow.

The second day started with a almost immediate 14.5 Klm climb on the far side of the valley in early morning sunshine. I though I was going to be killed as I found the first days climbs so tough but I got in to a "easy" rhythm and conversation with a companion as we glided through orange and olive groves. It was a little surreal as it felt like time had stopped, no cars, no noise, the odd dog barking, a Ola from a farmer in a field, the wheels humming as they rolled along.

From the top we went through several villages and small towns before finally turning for home and that mad nose bleed of a climb up to the apartment. Then Yoga recovery with a meal to follow. Bed, sleep, repeat.

Third day was to some heli pad on some mountain top, on a road that went God knows where. It seemed we had the mountain roads to ourselves. We came flying down a long series of hairpin bends there was a bit of a split but Eugene myself and Aine decided to get home as quickly as possible which really was two of us trying to hang onto Eugene's wheel as he timed trialed 20 km home and that nose bleed hill. More recovery yoga, meal, a beer, laughs, sleep, repeat.

Fourth day was a rest day Luke, Charlie and I took it easy and just had a small 7 K climb and a little further to a waterfall and went on a mini "non alcohol " pub crawl. Once again we all met in the evening in the restaurant and shared our day and discussed the 30K climb for the next day. I was completely intimidated by this and feeling quite anxious right up to the point the climb started. I did not sleep well, I even got up at three am to have a cup of tea then fell asleep for two hours.

Once again the road just went up through bend and ramp, hugging the mountain side for kilometre after kilometre, we were in small groups that broke and reformed and often you could see the people ahead then they would disappear around a bend and you would not see them for ages. There is a meditative quality to climbing, your head goes into some space where you are thinking without concentrating. Particularly on these roads as they had almost no traffic, in the thirty Ks one car came down the road. It was so quite you could hear the tyres rolling over the surface. I could hear Sinead and Aine chatting as if they were beside me then you would go around an outcrop or the breeze would shift and silence would return. I was on my own for ages and actually thought I had gone wrong somehow, luckily Ronan O'Flynn ( congrats on the win) went by me at a unreal pace which reassured me I was at least on the right planet and he was good enough to tell me I only had five K left to go. It was a tough five as I lost my rhythm slightly got it back again and finished a lot stronger then I would have thought. At the top is a bar and Eugene, Paul, Cormac, Eileen, Ronan and Stephen were there with a cool drink that was such a treat. We regrouped and headed down the mountain dropping through a countess number of fast sweeping corners and bends for maybe twenty K. Following Aine who just seemed to get quicker and smoother on every decent during the week. Once again it was Yoga stretches recovery and a add on of a 7K climb and return to lift Luke, Aine, Sinead Eugene and I over 140K to claim our first points for The Orwell Randonneur Medal a truly epic days cycling on St Patricks Day too. With that bloody steep hill and hairpin to the apartment to finish.


Andrew with Sinead and Aine (photograph with thanks to Szymonbike)

The final day was a easy enough day Toni and I headed off to a small village up a ten K climb. It was located at the end of the road high in the mountains over looking the coast. A small town square, of a Church, a bar, several white red tiled houses, water basin for washing clothes and goat tracks leading out onto the mountain. If you have ever seen The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, well it was like one of those villages, only missing the sound track. Yet you could see the modern world of holiday resorts all along the coast, quite a contradiction in tourism activities. Later we spun our legs down to the costal town of Motril where we sipped a drink looking at a busy high street and passing the usual McDonalds, Aldi and several other big brand stores before returning to Velez and it's sleepy siesta and the last time up that bloody effin hill to the apartment and I know I'll miss it. The next day we said our goodbyes and I returned home not tired but invigorated wanting to get on the bike as quickly as I could which I did Sunday going up Slaughter Hill and being a little disappointed it ended so soon.

Much thanks to Sinead and Cormac for a very special experience.

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