Friday, November 16, 2007

El Ciclista de Antequera

In this posting you will read of some of my rides and riding in and around Antequera, joining a club, and an announcement of a big future planned ride.

It is said by some: "That two out of three ain't bad".

I don't know. I'll let you decide for yourselves.

After a delay receiving our belongings, I enthusiastically re-assembled Deb's and my mountain bikes, and my road bike. I have to say I was really looking forward to the road bike. All looked pretty good.

For my first ride on the trusty Avanti Corsa - it's red, all the fast bikes are red, I headed out of town on a pretty much flat course into the countryside and Bobadilla Pueblo. Through this quaint village, and onto the new Antequera - Santa Ana rail station (where we first arrived) waiting for the new super fast AVE trains coming in December. The batteries in my bike computer look like they have crapped out, at least that's all I am hoping it to be. So I don't have a true measure of distance ridden, just guess work from road signs. Anyway, it is suddenly becoming very cloudy and rain looks ominous. As I head to Humilladero I think the weather is turning shite, so I turn around, and at that instance it decides to bucket down on me. I ride back to Antequera in pouring rain. The first day I ride a bike, it rains for the first time since we got here. Sods law.

That's not so bad, it's only rain and it's not cold. But ... Antequera is chock full of cobblestone streets, and some short and steep hills getting to our place. The roads are now nothing short of treacherous. As I try to ride the first leg of the uphill to home the back wheel just starts to spin.

As I attempt to go up and around a corner, I'm down. Now, try to stand up on wet slippery cobblestones in cycling shoes. 'Muy dificíl' as we say in Spain. So it's shoes off, and in socks I walk/push up the hill and then ride back down to our house on the other side. One last problem. How do you stop this thing on slippery wet cobblestones going down?! But that, however, is ride one.

Ride two wasn't a real ride. I just went out to test the new batteries in the computer, and seek out some 'dry routes' for getting home, not that I needed them then. Almost as soon as I got home the previous day, the sunshine came out, yet again. Oh and one other thing. Until now, having been walking everywhere I had to pay attention to, and work out, the one-way street systems that make up this town's layout. And they are also very narrow. And yet another thing: remembering to ride on the right-hand side of the road, especially when turning from one-way streets into two-way. Something you get the hang of very quickly.

Ride three. A doozy. I head south and into the Sierra de Chimenea (the Fireplace - or chimney, both work, Mountains). Quickly into the rural, and just as quickly notice the incline. Rather ominously a roadside sign announces Carratera de Montaña. Hmmm. Does that mean highway to the mountains, through the mountains, or mountainous highway? It gets quite tough going with some pretty grunty climbs straight away. This looks bad. Pretty soon, after a couple of bends, I'm looking at this near straight piece of road that just goes on forever into the sky, heading to mountain tops. It's murder. In the year after the Ironman I only rode my bike twice; they've been packed away for eight months, I'm not ready for this! The pedals just push back through my quads. My lungs scream. I'm in small ring, lowest gear, going nowhere fast. I'm making a dick of myself here. And of course, when I reach the end of the straight - it's a false crest. Onwards.

Then the zig-zags start. Why am I doing this? What looks like the crest is coming up and a sign announces Boca del Asno - Mouth of the Donkey!

I feel like I'm kissing the other end of a donkey! It's a lookout. But the road turns sharply (another zig or was it a zag?) to the right and heads on up the ridge that dropped back down to donkey's breath. After a short recovery stop at Boca, I take off again. But this is just way too tough. And when another set of steep zig-zags start again, I cry off. Call me whimp if you want, I couldn't care - then. But the return was fanatstic. At one point I hit 73.2kph before grabbing handfuls of brake, and sweeping around a hairpin. Just quietly, I shat myself. Guess it means I broke the 40kph speed limit. Hope Deb doesn't read this post; she gets twitchy about that sort of thing. (You'll notice in the pictures the horrible blue skies we have to put up with around here.)

So there you have it. Two out of three and not quite what was planned

But in the weeks since I have quickly gone much further a field with rides of 85-95 kilometres. I have also joined Club Ciclista El Torcal de Antequera. I have only had the two club rides so far, but they seem like a good bunch. We struggle through conversations. I say "¡si!" a lot, and smile. But you don't have to talk to enjoy a ride with a bunch. There's a good number of jokers of my age (OBs - old bastards) with years of cycling behind them. It's a real lifestyle thing here. (Not so many runners though.) There's the same old banter as everywhere: "No estoy en forma - I'm not fit" as a tummy is patted, having just minced you up a hill. I've heard it all before, some things never change. But there's a handful of older jokers who really know how to spin those pedals. They mix it with the best. One, Pepé, is 72 year old! You look around, he's always there and we truly scoot along (at speeds I haven't been used to) as a pack at times. Anyway, as it turns out, Pepé lives just above us and being the cunning old shit he is, having ridden for years, he shows me the tricks for avoiding the steep cobblestones home. Good man.

There very well may be one or two among you say "Ah-haa, Mad. You've got your Spanish wrong. Wouldn't it be El Ciclisto?" But no. Spanish like all languages has its irregularities just to frustrate the learner. It's one of those words that takes the feminine form even if the one in question is male (but cyclists are in the best company as there is also el artista, el poeta, el futbolista.) So you have El Ciclista, a male cyclist, La Ciclista - a female cyclist, Los Ciclistas - group of male cyclists, Las Ciclistas - group of female cyclists, and of course Los Ciclistas for a mixed group of men and women. That's the Spanish lesson for now. Next lesson; the many and varied ways you can say 'cycling'.

I'm no quitter. And I plan another attack on Carratera de Montaña. I study some maps and figure I could go on a loop around another way. And perhaps ride out, and around the Sierra. But aware that if I am to come back down my first mountain there could very well be a climb up the other side as well - kind of logical really. Maybe it's not so bad on the other side. Maybe.

I head off out on another road, out past the Parque del Lobo - The Wolf Park(!). I turn off onto another road that will take me to La Joya. And straight away there it is again: Carratera de Montaña. And will you look at this sign. ¡Mi Dios! The zig-zags are in a warning triangle, it's 7.5km of them, and the road is only 4 metres wide. I get the feeling I'm not going to cheat the good old Sierra de Chimenea in a hurry. The sign is just up from the road junction and is at the start of a gentle climb which pretty quickly picks up in gradient and heads off up to a bend, where the road disappears out of sight. And that would be lucky to be a kilometre and a half away. What is the other six kilometres like?

Well I haven't earned the name Mad for nothing. What do you think they would be like? I have never, I repeat, not - ever, ridden anything as steep, for as long, anywhere around Wellington where I have done most of my riding. But there was, of course, the Tibet trip. But that was mountain bikes on dirt roads and it's different. Man this was something else again. Somehow I popped out up over the top, knackered. I tried to enjoy olive laden hillsides. And the village of La Joya was just drop dead gorgeous, after a nice downhill ride into it.

I rode onto Villanueva de la Concepción across a series of gentle ups and downs. Stopping for un café in the sunshine (this is the way to ride, I tell you) I couldn't help but notice the road out of town in front of me rising up through some houses, and then turning away completely out of sight. The road heads towards El Torcal, at the top of where I was trying to ride on my first assault of Carratera de Montaña. It's a National Park with a spectacular rock formation landscape. It lends its name to many enterprises in Antequera, not least my cycling club. But no surprises here: One; the road turned to the left and immediately commenced a diabolically steep climb, and Two; there was the good old Carratera de Montaña sign again.

This side of the mountain is just ... I don't know. Speechless. I didn't know whether to weep, scream out, get off my bike and throw it away, or what. But I did realise we don't own a car in Spain, so Deb couldn't come and save me. Sorry, I wasn't in the mood to photograph. Only one thing to do. Grind like crazy. You get there, you always do. I was also remembering the great ride down on the other side.

I ride across the top, trying to regain some composure. And off, down the hill. Almost immediately a set of excitement-packed zig-zags emerge. Yahoo. They are fun. When I come out the other side I recognise the spot I rode up to on the first attempt. Man, I was that close! Away, this is unreal. I just know one day I will be that bit too cocky and will come unstuck. But in the meantime ... Very quickly, I'm back into Antequera.

As I ride past, this sign always reminds me of that Paul Kelly line '... and I can order sandwiches in seven differant languages, and...' ('Every Fucking City'. Roll on Summer EP: EMI Australia). I haven't seen ice, or frost, here yet - not by a long shot. But this hill from a signpost at the bottom, to a signpost at the top is 4.5km on the button (the frost sign is part way up). I can ride it, it's kind of steep but rideable, very constant with no flattening off sections, as a good training hill in just under 20 minutes. Six repetitions, ride up - ride down, and do it again another five times gives you just under two hours hill riding. A nice workout. The downhill back is great - lot's of sweepers. Then, it's only a short ride back home.

Although not much more than 100 metres away from home, up a short, sharp hill, is the Plaza Portachuelo on which is Bar La Socorrilla (say sock-core-ree-yah) and it's outside tables and chairs sit beautifully in the sun. I have made a habit of stopping at the end of rides, calling up Deb, and having un café con leche - a coffee with milk. Life is just dandy.

But, here is the big bit of news. I have had my entry into L'Étape du Tour Mondovélo 2008 - the stage of the Tour de France that is opened for a public ride - accepted. In (July) 2008 it will be what is to be the 10th stage of the Tour, and will be the 165 kms from Pau to Hautacam. The very same route as designed for cycling's elite. The most significant point of the route will be the Col du Tourmalet (2,115m), the biggest summit of the Pyrénées with 39.5km of 1,500 metres mountain climb (average 7.5%) and the finish at Hautacam after a 15.2km (1,000m) climb at an average of 7.2%. But that means there is a 36 km downhill as well!! I believe they will again allow 9,000 entants in 2008. In 2006 of the 7,548 actual starters, only 5,477 finished within the time limit.

So ... I better get stuck into that Carratera de Montaña.

aka Mad