Lessons From Spain

Spinning through the lanes this morning with mud splattering my face, I was thinking Spanish spring cycling isn’t all suntans and beers. Today was one of those days that Mallorca pays homage to the Spring Classics with its own mix of rain, gravel, and side winds. It’s not always this way and whilst recollecting sun-filled days, I drifted back to my first Spanish cycling adventure.

Spring 2008, just as the economic crash devastated the Spanish construction industry, Big Em invited me out to the Costa Blanca for some sunny cycling with his mate Goose. I already knew that Spain in spring is an offer you can’t turn down, having spent some happy days climbing in various Iberian playgrounds. I jumped at the chance.

A week later, we’re at Alicante airport gingerly opening our bike cases under the penetrating gaze of two uniformed gents with machine guns.  Those were the halcyon days when as long as you could close your bike case, it didn’t really matter what you put in it. So, we’re on our knees, with quivering hands pulling out gear, tools, and clothing, neither of us too keen on pissing off our armed companions. Once every item of kit was strewn across the floor, the shorter guard mumbled, “vale,” and the pair strode off to intimidate some other innocent tourists. Welcome to Spain.

Luckily, things improved dramatically once we established our base at Goose’s house, which was perched high in the mountains that loom over the sparkling Costa. Each day would have a similar rhythm: breakfast, apply P20 (copious amounts for Em being of a ginger disposition), don our kit, and get out and ride for a few hours. Most days we hooked up with one of the local cycling clubs, and more often than not this meant eighty to a hundred miles of full-bore riding taking in many of the local climbs.

After months of predictably miserable North Wales riding, Spain was an eye-opener. We’d set off at first light, and legs, arms, and gloves seemed to offer little protection against the biting cold. But once the sun rose above the mountains, its rays would scorch our pasty, northern skin and we’d be dripping from each effort. As the rides progressed, we’d feel a spring, as if our muscles were energized, in our riding and we’d be powering up the climbs and racing the descents. It was heaven.

Predictably, after five days of riding, our muscles were aching and our bodies tiring; we were ready for a rest. So, you can imagine our joy when Goose announced that the following day we were going to have a rest day and go out for a spin with the old boys. Fantastic – it was just what we needed.

The next day, we rose, breakfasted, oiled up, and threw on some kit. We carelessly chatted as we spun our legs under the warmth of those early morning rays, and thirty minutes later we were following a service road to a petrol station - the designated meeting point. As we drew up to the adjoining café, we knew something was wrong – something was rotten in the State of Denmark.  I guess we expected an ensemble of aged aluminium and steel bikes with accompanying toe-straps and saddlebags, but no - lined up was one of the finest collections of carbon cycling technology we’d ever seen. There were wheels that cost more than our bikes and handlebars that could finance the purchase of a small car.

As we waddled into the café, we were greeted by a group of aged gentlemen sat sipping their cortados and expressos. Without fail, each rider was bronzed, perfectly kitted out, and sporting darkened Oakleys, not the Decathlon clad look we’d expected. Pleasantries and introductions made, we set off on what can only be described as a hundred-mile beasting by a group of OAPs. Yes, this is where the pro’s of yesteryear come to spend their twilight years – punishing young upstarts and club riders who think just a little too much of their abilities. 

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