Bilbao to Barcelona, May 2014

A few phone calls and it’s on, we are going back to Spain.

The phone calls were with Gordon, who I met on the Raid Alpine, and ridden with many time since in the Lake District. We also persuaded his cycle buddy Neil to come along too. This was going to be a laugh.

The group gathered at Bilbao airport and were greeted by Dan and his two guides, also both English, but now established residents of Spain. It seems the place has quite an attraction for cycling ex-pats.

We get the ritual assembly out of the way and gather in the bar to get to know each other. This was the first of these trips I had done which was all male. Not sure that’s a good thing, usually a recipe for some muscle flexing.

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The day started sunny and quite warm considering the rain yesterday, and as usual it wasn’t long before the first climb of the day, only 500m and about 12k long, with steady gradients. It was a quick climb and gave me chance to catch up with a young barrister for London called Will, on his first cycle trip.

First coffee stop in a lovely but quiet town, with all the old local guys sat enjoying a brew while watching the world pass by.

We then headed out along the plateau for another 25k until we regrouped for coffee again. There was enough of a speed difference in the group to allow for regular photo stops, something that was becoming a really important part of these trips for me now, as I may never pass this way again.

The final big climb of the day took us up another, steeper 500m climb to 1030m. I stopped for a photo opportunity at the bottom and had a real good dig trying to catch up with the group. Surprised myself, I felt great.

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It started to get cold as we descended to lunch, which was up to the standard we had become accustomed to with these guys in Spain.

They really rock the picnic lunch. After lunch we continue to descend looking for a coffee stop. The bar was shut, but the lovely lady made us all drinks anyway. Where else would you get that? I love Spain.

Fast blast then for 20k to the final ramp in to town and the amazing hotel with a great views of the valley. Today’s photos were not too good, I must do better tomorrow.

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A 09:30 start and the first 56km to the coffee stop at Olite were on rolling Roman roads, very straight and undulating. Will, Neil, Dan and I worked together and really rolled it through in the wind, averaging about 30kph to Olite, a beautiful medieval town with a fairy tale castle built by the Knights Templars.

After coffee, we took a steady climb to San Martin de Unx, took a right and started the climb to 725m, which split the group a little, as we went over the top on to a wide, sweeping, well surface road we all regrouped for a spectacular lunch in a peaceful picnic area just off the road.

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After a great picnic lunch that included two steak sandwiches we started to spot a pattern and headed down to another small town for €1 coffee and sat in the 20+ degree sun. Heaven.

The other pattern we were spotting was a hilltop finish, but again, the hotel but worth the climb.

In the courtyard behind the hotel was a cool installation dedicated to a number of film directors, with 14 metal chairs, all with plaques in front of them, and one with a director sat in it.

Rain? in Spain? Isn’t that supposed to be mainly in the plain, not running down the back of my neck. It was warm rain, so not too bad.

It was a great route starting with an early climb to coffee at Neptunes Stairway in Uncastillo. Despite the rain the day was full of great views, and rolling roads. We just needed to be steady, watching the roads, as they looked a bit sketchy.

We then continued to climb to where lunch was due to be, only as it was wet, Dan decided we should push through to the town of Ayerbe, where we found a bar.

We were told it was only 8k to the hotel, so having worked up an appetite, we got stuck in to a full three courses, getting very comfortable. We eventually dragged ourselves outside to be greeted by the sun and what turned out to by 8k uphill to the hotel. I think we all struggled the get pasta and dessert up there.

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We had eaten so much, I settled for a bag of crisps late evening instead of a main meal….full!

We treated the bikes to a bit if a clean and check over in the town square, trying to work off lunch.

Nexr day we were greeted by awsome blue skies as we headed downhill for almost 30km, until we hit Huesca which, an effort which it seems deserves a coffee, can’t argue with that. There is a really nice cafe overlooking the town square.

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Leaving Huesca we climbed the main road then turned off on to great small roads, which rolled on all the way to Aguas, where we regroup.

The day continues to roll up and down some strong climbs until we cross the dam at Yaso, then take a steady climb to Bierge for a picnic lunch, joined by several thousand equally hungry ants.

It’s only 25km to Alquezar after lunch, but it’s far from flat. We take left at the junction following signs for the town, but all we can see is a 13% climb. However, as we pop over the top of the fridge we get the biggest surprise.

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All of the surrounding countryside appears to be a plateau, then the town appears and it is spectacular. Built in to the ravine and almost hidden from the surroundings, and overlooking the town is the amazing Colegiata de Santa Maria (cover shot for this page).

The town was stunning and a few if us had a good walk round before we settled for food in the main street, soaking up the evening sun.

We hit the road before 09:00 today and there was a chill in the air. I stopped half way down the descent as the front end of my bike had a wobble. When I stopped I realised the bike was fine, I had the wobble. It was so cold at that speed I was shivering enough to shake the bars.

Once in to the valley we built up speed to keep warm and managed to hit Barbastro for coffee averaging 32 kph. That did the trick. After a short coffee break, we headed off on some great twisty, undulating roads where we kept the hammer down.

We took it in turns to keep the pace high until we got to lunch, then head to the next town to get a coffee and dodge the rain shower, a real big one. We must have been there a while as Nigel fell asleep.

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It was only 30km now to the rest point for the night, a monastery at Os de Balaguar, which was such a peaceful place and beautifully appointed. Well worth a stop if you are ever in the area.

Another great day in the saddle.

Well rested and spiritually in a much better place, we start the day with a steady climb to a cafe at a view point overlooking Ager.

The only break before lunch was at the most amazing lake, where every one just stopped and got their cameras and phones out.

From there we dropped in to the valley through to the Sierra de Montsec before the big climb up through San Salvador and on to the lunch stop, a 22km climb in total and as I got there the lads decided it would be best to find cover for lunch, so we set up in an abandoned fuel station and watched as the storm come in.

We had to wait for the thunder to stop before we set off again, and this is were thing started to go a little off-piste. The plan was to drop down to the junction, left and head over to the hotel. Well we got such a lick on going downhill, we all missed the junction. By the time we realised, we had dropped 12km and 400m in elevation. U-turn! Back up to the junction and pick up where we should be, but this added two hours to the journey.

Once back on track we took a route via the reservoir over the park and descended on to Oliana.

The hotel Calpetit was owned by ex Paris-Dakar class winner Isidre Estave and the place was littered with his motocross bikes.

We rolled out of Oliana and straight into a long climb, then from the summit we descended for about 20k and stopped for coffee in Solsona.

Out of Solsona we went up for a few km, but very steep, then a left turn heading for the village of Su. The road encouraged a bit of fun and everyone started to wind the pace up until we hit Su.

We then entered the forested roads through until lunch. It was awesome riding, with beautiful climbs and descents, all tree lined, and lunch was in a church garden in the scorching sun.

After lunch we popped in to Suria for a coffee knowing the big climb was next.

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Once out of the town we climbed 10-12% for 4-5k then it levelled to about 7% at which point the head wind all the way to the top. This split the riders, so we regrouped at the junction with 9k to go, traversing the mountain to the walled city. Even though the road had a few ramps we flew up them on the big ring until we arrived at the barriers to the monastery town.

A final 800m climb took us up to the hotel inside the monastery wall. Awesome.

Dan’s true mountain biker roots came out when we set off down from Monserrat, through a beautiful twisty route with spectacular views.

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Pretty simple day with a couple of steady climbs to the picnic spot, looking down on Barcelona, followed by a steady drop down in to Barcelona city centre jumping on the cycle lanes and working our way to the sea.

A quick photo shoot, then off to the hotel.

The guides had done a great job of routing us from B to B, finding great climbs, and unique overnight stop. Awesome work.

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