And now, the end is near, and so we face, our final hurdle. But this time I wasn’t nervous. Not at all. This is what I had wanted to do all along. To climb a mountain. The Alto de Velefique and Tetica in this case. So no, I wasn’t nervous, I was excited. Proper bouncy excited. Probably irritatingly so. Not that anyone else seemed to be. What is it about male cyclists? They never seem that excited about what they’re about to do, or about what they’ve just done? Or maybe it’s not a gender thing, it could just as easily be just me who’s daft like that 😉
Today’s challenge was not next door, and the 200km odd round trip was probably a bit beyond us, so we would be being driven there instead of riding there. It was an earlier start too, but once more, over-sleeping wasn’t an issue, I’d left the balcony door ajar and was awoken by some sort of avian serenade rather too early! For the first time this week morning dawned grey, chilly and misty, not blue, warm and sunny. However this was not necessarily a bad thing if we were going to be slogging uphill for hours, especially considering how well I’d been coping with the very hot this week. What can I say? I’m not used to it!
Once an essential breakfast was on board, the van was loaded up with bikes and kit, and a hired MPV was loaded up with riders in many layers. It was a fairly quiet journey as sleepy and possibly nervous riders yawned their way through the drive to the official start. HQ was 18km from the start of the climb, at a nice café, so we would have some time to wake up and warm up before things really kicked off. Since the aforementioned café also had facilities, and I felt guilty for using them without paying – everyone else was irrigating the landscape outside – I also grabbed a quick espresso. Well, caffeine is a proven riding aid, and I do like good coffee 🙂
It was brightening up outside, but still pretty chilly, and everyone was donning warmers, gilets, even full gloves, and debating whether more or less was the way to go. Since we were due to stop before the start, as it were, I figured it wasn’t really too much of an issue since we’d have the chance to rectify any errors either way. For a change I was actually more than ready to go. So, shall we ride then? Please? I want to go up a mountain!
So off we went. 18km, with the sun rising behind us, cacti growing around us, temperatures rising… It was a bit hard work keeping up but once again James was keeping us all together, with Margriet at the back and Becky and Hannah were with us too, all four miked up so we could be controlled. It’s probably a bit like herding sheep. Or since one of those sheep is me, herding cats 😉 I was pretty much holding my own but it was an odd road. There were some weird optical illusions going on, probably because of the mountains looming ahead of us. They were getting bigger as we got closer, as they would. The road had ups. And bits that you would have sworn were downs, but didn’t feel like it when you were on them. Was it hard work or was it just up? I really must learn to check the Garmin…! I didn’t mind though, I was going ok, and I knew what was ahead, so if I fell off the back so be it. Energy conservation is key. My PMA was in place. I’ve been up mountains before, I know I can do it, and I wanted to get on with doing it. Maybe it’s familiarity breeding contempt or something, maybe I should have been more nervous? 😉
It was already hot enough for me to know that I was going to be taking everything non-essential off, but there was just enough breeze and chill around still to mean that I wasn’t quite over-heating as we pushed on. Besides, sunshine makes for better views, and I like to look at them while I’m pedalling for hours. As we neared the inevitable “here’s what you’re in for” sign, the van zoomed past us, to wait for us there we presumed. However it turns out that following cyclists up and down things is not all that good for vans. After 5 years of impeccable service, “Terrance” as the van is apparently called, was finally having a bad day. The fans had gone and he’d over-heated. Here’s hoping this wasn’t an omen for the rest of us! This did add the odd wrinkle to arrangements however. Rather than us all head up together as planned, James headed back on his bike to get the MPV, while we were to set off ahead. He would get the MPV, get back to the van, load it up with whatever was necessary, and then catch us up, while Graham attempted to fix things, or organise a Plan B.
So off we went, instantly spreading out. Margriet realised fluids might be an issue and went back to the van, to domestique her way back past me a while later, jersey laden with bottles of water and the like so we would be able to top up halfway up if necessary. Which left me happily pootling my way along at the back. Just because I knew I could (probably) do it, doesn’t mean I thought it was going to be easy. But honestly it was easier than I thought it would be. And, even though no-one else in our party believes me, I absolutely loved it. Even the first 4km of 10/11%…because I knew it was going to get better and I was already doing ok.
And it did get better. Even better. A total of 14km of wiggles. Views, breeze, cherry blossom…and just like the Puerto de la Virgen, enough variations in gradient that I could change gear from time to time, and didn’t feel like I was at my limit. Man, it was fabulous. And, just for once, and only because he had a cold, I actually overtook someone on the way up. Sorry Mark! I’d seen him struggling up ahead for a while, and there may have been a very small element of rabbit chasing 😉
I had a brief breather and top up with Margriet at the halfway mark, whilst small not at all scary dogs from the farm there attempted to scare us away. Quite amusing really, all bark and no bite, not that I was going to get close enough to test that theory out 😉 And then I was off again. Happy happy hairpin me 🙂 In fact I was a bit surprised when, after another 7km, I reached the top. It hadn’t taken as long as I thought it would, and suddenly there I was, and I don’t think the others had been there long. It was, apparently, a “good effort” on my behalf 😉 I was a very proud of me bunny. Time for the obligatory col photo then. Oh, and there was still snow! Which is probably because it was still bl**dy freezing up there 😉
Mark wasn’t far behind me, and James and the MPV joined us at the top very shortly. It was too cold for hanging around though, so I put on the odd layer, and headed off ahead of everyone else again. There was a flat 2km or so along the top before the final climb up to Tetica. This wasn’t a harder climb, well maybe a little bit, but it definitely got scarier, as we corkscrewed our way around the peak on a narrow tarmac road with precious little between us and a lot of unpleasant down! And the last 100m up to the hut and aerials there? On ridged concrete at about 25%. The sudden increase in effort suddenly left me unable to co-ordinate effort, breathing, and heart rate…and it all felt pretty weird and unpleasant. I’ll never know if I would have made all the way up that final bit, as Dave ahead of me had lost it and was lying on the ground next to his abandoned bike, so I had to stop so as to not hit anything. This meant walking the very last bit as I’d have never gotten back on the bike with it being that steep. But as my heart was considering leaping out of its designated location, I have to admit it worked out quite well really! 😉
If it had been cold before, it was proper cold now, even if you used the concrete shack building to shelter from the wind. Every layer went back on, and then some, which gratifyingly meant that I had now worn every item of cycling kit that I brought on the trip with me. Small things, small minds 😉 We all chilled out (ha ha!) for a while at the top, because the views were just amazing and hey, how often do you get to be at 2080m up in March without being on skis?! And I don’t ski. It was totally awesome. And we rode up there! There was some daft wordplay later. Along the lines of it having been climbatic. The peak of our achievements this week. The high point of the week. Etc 😉
‘Totally awesome’ are two words that also apply to the descent back down the way we came, after a brief stop near the top to take “that” photo. The one that shows all the wiggles and the bends and the valley, and how far you came up and how well you did all things considered. Somewhat pride inspiring. And good for bragging rights too 😉 There’s nothing like putting that on Facebook while all your mates are at work. I nearly got disowned by several friends…*grin*. Due to the chill, one of us had headed down already, but I led the way down ahead of the rest, which mean that I didn’t have an audience if I over-cooked a corner, and could relax into it. The roads were sooooo quiet – I think we literally saw two cars all day – but you could never be 100% there isn’t something coming the other way…and a couple of times it was just as well there wasn’t. I did have fun though. Oh yes. But then you knew that, right? No surprises there by now 🙂
One by one we rejoined the stricken van, and stuffed our by now superfluous layers away. Once we were all together again, basking in the sunshine, there was quite some debate as to what to do next. The plan was for us to ride back to the café, and for James to follow us down. We would then wait at the café and he would then go back and get Graham or Graham and the van if it could be persuaded to start. We left them deliberating the finer points of this plan, to have an 18km peloton blast all the way back down the valley. Because it turns out that it had been up on the way out, so now it was most definitely down. ‘Rah! Even better Becky and Hannah led the way, set the pace, and fought any wind since, let’s face it, they need the training more than us, right? 😉 Fast and fun and fabulous 🙂
Which brings us back to the café. Where we did indeed wait. Margriet opted to ride back, as room in whatever transport we might end up in might be at a premium, what with Plan B involving either hire cars or lots of shuttling. The girls might have had to ride back too, but needed to eat before they did so if they had to. But, after the rest of the party had had random food, which is what happens when the staff don’t speak English and my Spanish only goes so far, and a lot of us had had very nice cold beer, James turned up…with Graham and a functioning van! Which meant a very relieved two girls did not also have to ride home, and we could all go back just the way we arrived. Their faces were a very happy picture. Result 🙂 We “met” Margriet on the way back too and drafted her for a while, which as there was a headwind, went down pretty well. Mind you, I couldn’t go that fast even if lurking behind a van – chapeau!
It was relatively late by the time we got back to the villa. The van with all the bikes in was a little way behind us, taking it easy, but it turned up just in time for me. I wanted to get the bike back in the box before I had a shower and got presentable, not after, and it worked perfectly. Graham took the pedals off for me, not that I couldn’t have done so, and I don’t think the bike has ever gone away so quickly or so easily. I may be getting the hang of that 🙂 And now I could take a beer upstairs, pack things away, have that shower, get dressed, and sort of glow happily as I did so. Woohoo – I made it up another mountain! 😀
Cycling time: 3:25
Distance: 42.5 miles
Avg: 12.4 mph
ODO: 8386.7 miles
Dinner was as good as ever, and we were hungry. Even me! Well it was the last time we’d have a good excuse for eating like this, so we were making the most of it! Our last supper, as it were. Soup, salad, chilli con carne with rice and sweet potato wedges, meringue and fruit and cream cake and if you fancied it, caramel vodka to drizzle over things. Or just drink of course. Yum. I think I may have discovered a new vice 😉 Hey, I’d earned it right? In fact we’d all earned a few drinks in the evening too, but with early starts to get to various airports the following day, it was a fairly low key affair, and a fairly early night. All good things must come to an end, and there was some saying of farewells, a small gift for chef extraordinaire Julia, and we were all presented with a poster of the Alto de Velefique and Tetica to commemorate our achievement. You only get one if you make it up, and we all did 🙂 Wheels in Wheels training camp – done!
One week. Six rides. 21hrs. 330miles. 8,200m of climbing 🙂