I begin writing this blog lying on my bed following the final day of my 2019 preseason training camp in Sierra Nevada, Spain. 24hours, 370miles and 43,500ft of climbing over 6 days has taken its toll and I am definitely ready for a period of recovery. However, no complaining, this is the whole point of the training camp, to increase the training volume and live like a professional athlete for a week doing nothing in between.
We arrived on Sunday, fashionably late courtesy of Ryanair's ever prompt service. So late in fact that by the time I arrived at the hotel and built my bike, it was dark which put a spanner in the works for the warm up ride. It did however free up the evening to spend some time getting to know the other riders on the camp, some of which I knew already from riding and racing but there were some fresh faces to chat to. Turned out there were plenty of experienced and strong E/1/2 riders on the camp so I was in for a high paced, tough week.
Monday was the first day on the bike with 62.5 Miles and 5,843ft of elevation planned. The ride would take us across from the hotel in Orgivia to Pinos De Valle with a descent down to the coast where we would stop for lunch and coffee.
This day would be a fairly easy day, with fresh legs, high morale and no infamous climbs. I have ridden in Spain before around the Pollensa region in Majorca last year but the first thing you always notice is how good the roads are for cycling; wide verges, smooth tarmac and courteous drivers all making a for a great cycling experience. Then of course there is the weather - it’s only around 20 degrees Celsius this time of year which is relatively cold for the locals, what with their jackets, snoods and leg warmers. Us sun deprived Brits were rocking the full summer attire desperate to top up on vitamin D and boost the non-existent tan lines.
After lunch down on the coast we headed back to the hotel, via Motril up through Velez. This was predominantly uphill with a 9 mile rolling climb from Velez to Orgivia - the first real opportunity to put in an effort and kick start the trip!
Tuesday would be the first real test of the week - 82 miles and 8,250ft of elevation with a serious climb right out of the blocks. The climb was called Puerto Camacho, 7.5miles of 6.1% average, taking you from just outside Orgivia to the top of the Rubite ridge. From the top of this climb we would traverse across the ridge and descent down the La Rubita for some well-deserved lunch as we still had 50 miles to go. It would then be a short flat ride along the coast before things started to go up again, for 6.1miles at 5.3% which would be another 30 minute effort. We would then descend down to Motril and follow the same route home as Monday. It was at this point I was starting to notice the tell tail signs of bonking. I had already started to feel hungry a few miles back so finished my last bar but by this time it was too late. My limbs started to feel cold as my body tried to conserve energy and keep my core body warm. I’d been here before a few times and knew I needed to back it off so it was a steady Z2/3 ride up to hotel to end the day, quickly taking on sugar and carbs at the earliest opportunity to aid the recovery.
Wednesday was a special day; I would venture away from the training camp as I had a photoshoot for one of my sponsors Halo Wheels planned for the afternoon and into sunset.
My ride would take me from the hotel and up to Trevelez with the main group, but I would then turn around and recce one of the shoot locations - the category 2 climb up to the village of Canar and the descent back down. Following my morning's training and recce it was back to the hotel to get the bike cleaned and photo ready!
I’ve done filming and photos shoots before for mountain bike magazines and companies but this shoot was something different and the biggest one I’ve done. There were two photographers, multiple cameras and a van for taking photos on the move. This was the key difference between shoots I had done in the past, where usually the shots would be done hitting the same berm or jump over and over again whilst the photographer takes multiple different angles statically. This time most of the shooting would be done on the move, either from the van or bicycle, where I would be riding and they would be taking shots around me. It was an awesome experience chasing the van up and down the hill within inches of the rear bumper, and it was also quite funny watching the photographer getting thrown around in the back on the hairpin bends!
It wasn’t all shots from the van though- they took some photos from on foot of me riding as well as some static poses and photos of just the bike and wheels. This experience was topped off by watching the sun set over the mountains as they got their last shots.
All in all this was a great experience and I am really looking forward to seeing what the day's work has produced following the post processing has been complete.
Thursday would be a well earned rest day and after 3 heavy days it was well needed. Resting is one thing I really notice a benefit from on this trip; being able to do nothing but put your feet up and relax after a long training session is something I don’t normally get to do and it makes a big difference. Cycling full time not only allows the pros more time to train but most importantly the time and lifestyle off the bike to recover and progress which is why they are just on another level to the amateurs.
Friday would be the biggest and longest day in the saddle, covering 92.5 miles and 11,600 ft of elevation. The day would start with a repeat climb past Canar, across to Trevelez and then down the mountain to La Rubita for lunch where we stopped on Tuesday. Doesn’t sound like much to start but we had covered 60 miles by lunch time with the biggest climb still to come.
After lunch it would be a flat run down the coast in a nice peloton before turning off the main road and straight onto the climb through Popolus and onto the Rubite Ridge. This climb would be 16km, 4000ft elevation gain at an average gradient of 7% and take over an hour! To make it even tougher it was on the south side of the mountain in the baking sun. I went through 1.5 litres of water and a gel on this climb but by the time I reached the top I was done and in desperate need of some sugar. Luckily there was café at the top so I was able to grab a Fanta to top up those sugar stores as well as refill my water bottles as we still had 20 miles to go. From the top luckily It was rolling flats across the ridge and then a long descent down to the base of Orgiva before a short climb up to the hotel.
By the time we returned to the hotel and locked the bikes up it was only a hour until dinner time and very quiet it would be as everyone was knackered with most people opting for an early night ahead Saturdays ride, me included!
Saturday would be the final riding day as Sunday would be allocated to packing and travelling. Despite the early night most people were really feeling Friday’s training load as well as the fatigue from earlier in the week so it would be a fairly short final ride. We would travel across from Orgiva to Torvizcon where we went for the rest day café stop, then shortly after divert off the main road and onto the main climb of the day, The Miners Climb. The climb was 9 miles long with 2,800ft of elevation gain at an average gradient of 6%, the perfect opportunity to empty the tank with a final 40min effort of the trip. From here we would reverse the route of Friday across to Trevelez and then descend back down to the hotel past Canar. This was a really enjoyable descent, with wide open roads and good visibility made it my most enjoyable descent of the trip.
One thing this trip has taught me is that descending on the road takes skill and courage which just doesn't come across when you're watching it on TV. The speeds are quite nerve wracking when you're on board - being hunched over the drops with only v-brakes to stop, you can really comprehend how things could go very wrong very quickly if you take a corner just a little to hastily. Witnessing the sheer mountain drops on the other side of the barrier whilst taking those Instagram selfies, you really do appreciate what the consequences of getting it wrong could be. I now have a new found respect for road racers thanks to this trip and will watch the descents of the tour with awe.
Once we'd made it back to the hotel with the final days riding in the bag it was time to relax and sit down for the final night of the trip. A few more beverages and a late night were in order to celebrate a great week and reflect on everyone's experience.
I am finishing this blog sat on my sofa at home over a week after the trip. My legs have almost recovered, with the form starting to come in after an easy weeks training. The time between then and now has allowed me reflect on the trip and what I learnt and gained whilst I was out there. Aside from the physical gains, having the chance to ride with high level riders was a great experience and really pushed me out of my comfort zone and skill set on a road bike. I would recommend anyone to ride with people of a higher level as this is the best opportunity to develop and improve yourself.
To finish I would like to thank everyone on the trip for making it such a great and beneficial experience. Special thanks go to our guide for the week, Stephen Bradley, as well Tom Kirk for organising the whole experience (https://www.cyclealpujarra.com) and I cant wait to get abroad again next year!
Till next time boys....