On Friday 27th May Big E, Susan, Liz and I flew to Malaga for a holiday with Sierra Cycling in Spain. This was the third time Liz and I have stayed with Sierra and we had the usual plan of boys play on bikes while girls tan and chill etc before beers for all each evening :-) Sierra have the perfect setup for this with accomodation yards from the beach and some great trails in the hills behind Fuengirola and beyond.
Travel plans went smoothly and after a couple of beers Big E and I soon had our bikes unpacked and built. Unfortunately my shiny new Ibis had sustained a minor bit of paintwork damage during transit despite my careful packing!
There was a largish group of people going home on the evening of our arrival leaving only us and one other rider who introduced himself as Jon and said he was holidaying alone and would be staying until Wednesday. One of the two guides: Dave had had a fall and hurt his shoulder. This meant it would be Big E, Jon, Ant the guide and me ridng. I met Ant on my last trip out to Spain in October. It was going to be a nice small group with everyone of similar abilities.
On Saturday morning we were joined by local rider Adam. I have ridden with him on my previous two visits so it was good to catch up. After breakfast we got uplifted in the minibus to what the uneducated eye would have thought was near the top of "Telecom Hill". Having been here before I knew there was still a 7Km fire road climb to go; steep at first then steady to the start of our first trail: "Lady Garden". This was "in at the deep end" for Big E as it's about as technically hard a trail as they come around Fuengirola! It's very rocky. Ant led with me following and Adam, Jon and Big E behind. We soon got strung out and stopped for a re-group where the trail eased off a little. Everyone was buzzing and sharing tales of near misses and in Jon's case a crash. We continued down and then on through Alhaurin woods. Not as technical as the first trail but still challenging singletrack. There is one gulley which has both a super steep entrance and exit. Ant cleaned it for the first time after 8 months practice! He was well happy with that. Obviously with a lot less practice the rest of us were pushing! After lunch in The Boma (South African) restaurant and a celebration beer for Ant we had a very hot road climb before we did the Voltacado descent back to town. This was a new one for me and was enjoyed by all.
After a leisurely start with a few severe hangovers kicking around we had a 15 minute drive along the coast to Benalmadena on Sunday. Here we bought day tickets for the cable car. Yes! Cable car lifted down hill on the coast! :-) Things are not quite as sorted as the Alps though. The bubbles are pretty small and take one person with their bike with the front wheel removed (or in Big E's case both wheels removed!). A bit of a faff but worth it. The down hill course starts off really loose with lots of rocks and sand. On the first run it seemed well dodgy but once you realised it was actually easy if you let the bike go it was great fun. Kind of like surfing on a bike? Further down things firm up with rocky and earth sections and some jumps and drops. All apart from one massive step down were easily doable on our five inch machines. After the first run we met up with Adam again at the top. Ant was feeling proper ill now and halfway down had to stop and throw up. Obviously he got no sympathy from us! A lunch stop perked him up a bit but it didn't seem to help Jon who looked worse. Around 5 ish we knocked it on the head and headed off for a beer with our wives in a beach front bar back in Fuengirola.
On Monday we had a longer drive to start. We headed inland to El Chorro. This is a kind of national park type of place with lots of reservoirs and dams. The scenery is stunning. I had not done any riding round there previously and had requested we do it. Susan accompanied us in the minibus which was driven by Dave (now diagnosed with a seperated shoulder) and the two of them headed off for a short walk while the rest of us rode the first trail. This was the easiest of the day but had stunning scenery and led to an old dam where we messed about getting some photos riding across the concrete dam top. After a coffee break it was off in the van to "El Moab". Yep another slickrock trail named after the famous American ride venue. It was a great trail with some steep sections and a few don't fall left moments. Next up we shuttled two runs of "The Hippo Trail": fast and furious singletrack. After another brief shuttle it was time for "Bobastro". This was a big rocky descent to a lunch stop opposite the railway station in El Chorro. Full on technical and steep in places, fast with switchbacks in others. After eating it was a drive about half way back before we stopped to climb up to "The Holy Trail". There was a fair old climb up to the statue of Jesus that gives the trail it's name and it was done in some severe (for me) heat. I had to stop at one point as I thought my head was cooking! Having ridden this trail before I knew it was worth it though as after a rest admiring the stunning views the descent was great. An epic day out with some great riding.
After the previous three days being full on we decided to have a more leisurely day on Tuesday. We went up to Mijas in the minibus and did "Mijas Down" followed by the "La Cala Loop". Still quite a bit of riding (about 27Km) but it was all fairly local to our base and we finished early afternoon for beers.
A day off! I lounged on the beach all day. Jon left for England. Nice to meet you mate.
As usual we started Thursday with a minibus uplift before then climbing futher by bike and foot to do "Anna's trail". This is a nice contouring piece of singletrack with some tricky switchbacks and short steep ups. It seemed to take me a while to get my eye in and after we had done Alhaurin woods again I was glad of a coffee and sandwich break. This was Big E's last day so we played it by ear a little, keeping an eye on the clock. First Dave took us up in the minibus to do the "Steve Peat" down hill. This is a down hill course but by using chicken runs round a couple of big features it is well good fun on a five inch bike. Dave had waited at the bottom but Big E decided he had enough time to do the descent back to town so we headed down the "San Anton" descent. I had ridden this quite a few times on previous visits but it had been eroded by water in places and was different to how I remembered. A bit harder maybe? Not far from town Ant took us to "Dave's drop". This was a new drop off that Ant and Dave had only recently discovered and ridden for the first time. I was the first guest to give it a go. It was a typical "easy if you just let it go" thing with the mental challenge of "just letting it go" being the hard part. I'm pleased to say I did it first attempt. It being the last day of his holiday and nearly home time Big E decided to give it a miss.
Just Ant and me on Friday! We started with an old favorite of mine from previous visits: "Issimo". This is another rocky technical trail with lots of switchbacks. I had a dab on the steep loose entrance but was happy enough cleaning the rest. We then climbed to Mijas where I had an over the bars hitting a post with my pedal despite seeing it from miles away! No damage done, we did the tarmac climb up to do "Half Telecom". This is another technical, rocky trail - do you detect a theme here??!!! ;-) Near the start I clouted a large lump of bedrock with my MRP XCG bash. A while further on I changed down to climb and discovered I had moved the bash right round up to the chain stay. It didn't stop me riding but I had to avoid the granny ring to be on the safe side. We had lunch in Mijas then did the "San Anton" descent again followed by the short but sweet "Bunny run" and finished the day's riding by doing Dave's drop again. Back at base I adjusted my bash and helped Ant drop the lowers off his forks for a clean and re-lube.
On my last day Adam joined us again and Ant showed the two of us a new trail called "Desperate Dan". Dan is an English guy who has made it his mission to restore lots of old paths in the area. He is doing a great job and had cleared miles of fast switchbacking trail on the trail the guides had named after him. More guests were due to join us at lunch time so next we did a couple of runs of the lower part of the "Steve Peat down hill". No shuttling though. Pedal power to get to the top each time. After Ant's chain had fallen apart twice we retired to Mijas for lunch, repairs and to await the others! About seven riders and Dave - back on the bike for the first time joined us for a fast descent of "San Anton", "The Bunny Run" and a final roll of Dave's drop. Adam was umming and arring over the drop but I managed to talk him into it and he was well happy when he did it. Non of the new guests fancied the drop on the first day of their holiday though!
Back at the digs I had time to pack my bike and watch the football on telly before our late flight home. Again the travel all went pretty smoothly.
A cracking week all round. I didn't want to come home! There's a full gallery of photographs here. I've lots of video footage to sort at some point too.