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Viva Espana


We haven’t died in a hedge. It has been a busy summer but the journal has been flat. It's seemed to go by in a flash with loads of bits, training rides, weekly racing other seasonal excursions keeping Thhe  Duckhouse busy. General life and other commitments meant that nothing particularly journal worthy was achieved. We were going to do the M25 again but it rained all day and we did have something lined up for a journal post mid summer but that went and clashed with the cricket world cup final so as a resut has been postponed for the winter! Sometimes that’s just the way it goes!

The long and lonely road

Either way we had something really cool lined up for September; an ascent of the highest paved road in Europe, the Valeta Pass, at the end of  weeks riding in the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain. But sometimes, as we have experienced this year, the best laid plans don’t always go, well, to plan. So this post isn’t going to either.

The Sierra Nevada’s are a mountain range in the region of Andalucía, in the province of Granada which skirts Málaga and Almería in Spain. It’s basically in the south of Spain if you don't want to reach for a map. It contains the highest point of continental Spain and the third highest in Europe, Mulhacén, at 3,479 metres (11,414 ft) above sea level and the highest road in Europe the aforementioned Valeta Pass. A few of you might immediately be referring to an encyclopaedia here, or indeed google, but it’s true. The highest road isn’t the Tourmalet, or the Stelvio or any other road dripping in cycling glory but it is indeed this one with the main climb finishing before the infamous barrier at 2500m with the option of taking the less trodden and rougher option to the very top (the Pico) another 13km up the road which willl get you to nearly 3400m. It wins.

Early morning sunshine plains

This part of the world and indeed this peak is no stranger to us. One of our very first custom customers and friend Mike at Switchbacks MTB is based in the area during the winters in the nearby mountain village of Bubion to the south of the peak. We have twice visited the peak (by vann and gondola) only to ride down the scree and single track to the coast, never up. And indeed as a result of our time here with Mike we are familiar with many of the villages and lunch stops around the region. This time we were here with skinnier tyres to explore this mountain range in all its beauty and brutality.

The coffee was ok here actually...

Now we’ve been very lucky to be able to ride around a lot of Europe and although many destinations are clearly fantastic some things can be more variable. Quality of the roads, drivers, weather, food whatever… Now we're not ones for saying that this is “the best” or this and that. We’ve been around but we’ve not been everywhere and despite various peoples efforts to convince you otherwise neither has anyone else. So you can only speak from experience right? This part of the world is right up there. The roads are exceptional. The surfaces are very good. Thye benefit from the lack of frosts and presumably a decent whack of cash from the EU. The highways take the strain between the major cities leaving the minor roads quiet. The Spanish drivers are also more courteous and in less of a hurry then their, say, Italian counterparts. OK their coffee isn’t maybe consistenly as good, but it can be very good and this is massively offset by cheap beer and tapas even in the major cities.

Away from the Valeta the climbing is relentless, long and hot with the descending the same but often on more predictable, wider and better maintained roads than other parts of Europe. Climbs such as Cañar near Orgiva being typical: beautiful tarmac winding up to a small mountain village skirting over rock fields and exposed cliffs. Climbs that are less known but which have featured in The Veulta such as the climb from Pampaneria to Capileira which featured in the 2015 edition of the race. This one could actuaally be taken further through the forest roads to the peak of the Valeta on dirt roads by mtb or gravel bike which might have to be done in the future. This part of the world has a great deal to offer a cyclist who wishes to be challenged far from the beaten track. On the road, on gravel or some quite extreme off road terrain. The Sierras is now our favourite place to ride bikes.

Years appear to have themes though and this one carried on. After a week of riding the beautifull landscapes, roads and hills between Seville and Granada and  on the eve of our assault on the Pico Valeta the previous afternoons post ride pizza took its vengeance. It seemd I was now predesposed to take a call from the porcelain telephone every half hour for the next 12hrs which would put the buffers on the highlight of the tour. The only place I would be sweating was the back of the van, not unfortunately up the length of tarmac that had dangled like the preverbal sword of Damocles at the end of the week. Every cloud and all that. We’ll be back.