The team’s newcomer has character. He turns up, takes the decisions and signs us all up for the Andalucia Bike Race, which takes place in February. February! Can you imagine? No, don’t even try, we couldn’t imagine it either.
Because once we’d gone round the Pyrenees and were headed south, the land became dryer and dryer, more and more sunny, which made a change from the clouds and rain pouring down on us. It feels good, dammit! The guy was right, it really looks like the tops. Olive trees as far as the eye can see, an ideal hilly landscape and a dream climate, not too hot, not too cold. Miles of riding in prospect, you guys.
We’d hardly arrived in Cambil, when Sophie and Fred decided to taste some churros flogged on one of the stands at las fiestas patronales del Santo Cristo del Mármol. Vin and Nico, meanwhile, licked their lips and congratulated the cook. In fact, nightfall took us by surprise, and we could only ride one hour on the eve of the ABR. But have no fear, we ate plenty of those famous churros and made sandwiches for the first long stage of 89 km with 3000m of elevation gain with a formula that’s kept secret.
The start/finish is in Jaén, a town rich in history at the foot of the mountains, but also the world capital of olive oil. But that is not the agenda! We’re here to move our pale shanks up and down in this original setting and fine sunshine. All the world’s best are there at the start line, with the famous Cape Epic in mind for many. So there won’t be much hanging about this week. Right from the start, our predictions are confirmed: all the riders pedal like mad, and there’s no time for all the pairs setting off on the race to get bored.
The route moves away from Jaén and heads up into a nature reserve with magnificent panoramas over the Sierra Nevada, it’s superb, but you still have to press down on the pedals! In this first part of the trilogy, the route is not very flat, but in some sections you can pick up speed. It’s long, but it’s a nice way to get the organism going and to retrieve your technique. It’s a strong start on the first day, and we fully deserve a slice of Turrón!
The next day, the hostilities also take place in the neighbourhood of Jaén (61 km with 2300m of elevation gain). The organisers have made sure that the route is very different to the day before, despite a similar start/finish. Everything is very well thought out. The start at 10 a.m. is also much appreciated for recovery. This time, we attack a more mountainous route, made up of two long climbs, but which are not at all monotonous, in fact. The weather is misty, but still pleasant, and we’re not at all cold wearing summer cycling shorts. Our tans will not get any darker today, but it’s only postponed. Time and again, we look down onto the town and its surroundings, riding up steeper and more entertaining paths than the day before, and finally plunge into the heart of the olive trees, before arriving at the finish, exhausted! On the classification front, the men with moustaches are moving up slowly, but surely… But doesn’t this clump of hair from another era give them divine powers? Sophie and Fred do likewise after some hard times the day before, and draw closer to the top 5. The sandwiches must play a part in this, naturally!
It’s already the third and last day in Jaén, we want to pull out all the stops and are eager to have fun under the fine blue sky. We set off from the same spot as the day before, but the fairly easy uphill section soon gives way to a very steep and tricky singletrack. According to legend, few teams have ever dared to battle it out here. We head towards the summits overlooking the town with a perfectly clear view. The highest point is at 1600m and we carry on grazing along these wonderful crests, with an ever-present breathtaking panorama. Up there, we all realise that you can do some really great mountain biking in Andalusia. We alternate between stony, tricky paths, fast, enjoyable tracks and more regular terrain. After this stage, we leave Jaen knowing that we have done the toughest part in terms of elevation. The next day, we move on towards Mancha-Real, with very different terrain in prospect…
Back in the apartment, major manoeuvres are set in motion – we’re moving on. The big challenge is to get all of Sophie’s bottles of shampoo, hair-dryers and other beauty products into the van. A challenge brilliantly achieved by the team, and we would like to thank Topeak Joe Blow Mountain for the fact that we didn’t take the compressor away with us.
The next morning, we found out that the organisers’ description was correct. Mancha-Real is a little town lost in the middle of a sea of olive trees – very impressive… On the agenda: 50 km, making this the shortest stage in the race, but with 2000m of elevation gain, all the same. You’ll notice that the race intelligently alternates between a long stage and a slightly shorter stage. But there are no restful stages, and the pace is brisk, despite all the efforts made on the previous days. This transitional stage is still an integral part of the event! The long, final climb of a dozen kilometres is the day’s crux, with a body-shaking descent to follow. Once again, the view is breathtaking. A superb stage through scenery that is still just as exotic…
And now, off to Córdoba! Fred and Sophie don’t want to leave Jaén without a visit to accident and emergency. Sophie has had problems with her wrist for the past few days, and Fred, the perfect team-mate, goes with her. Fortunately, there’s nothing broken, and the x-ray gives us the green light for the rest of the adventure.
Once at our destination and settled in a flat on the hills above the town, we soon go to bed because the series of stages is beginning to weigh on us physically. Tomorrow is the last stage but one: 85 km and 1985 m of elevation gain. The gaps should really open up at the finish.
The environment in Córdoba is clearly different from Jaén and Mancha-Real. Here, there are no olive trees, but forest, very dry land and quite a lot of stones; terrain that’s quite similar to what you find in the south-east of France, near Aix-en-Provence, for example. A lot of single tracks, short, steep climbs, it’s very playful, but very demanding physically. The kind of route that calls for quite a lot of concentration and stamina, but that’s a lot of fun. The stage takes place in magnificent sunshine and temperatures that get hotter and hotter, close to 25°C, so nobody is in a hurry to go back to France!
The result of this 5th stage, a very good day for the team, sees Sophie and Fred up to 3rd place in the mixed general classification, while Vin and Nico are drawing closer to the top 20 in the general overall classification. Performances proving that Steph, the all-terrain-guide, is taking good care of his young team and feeding them with passion.
At last, it’s the final day with « only » 56 km but we need to take care, because it would be stupid to ruin everything now. The paths are still as enjoyable as on the previous day’s stage. Once out of the town, a first trial-style climb launches the race and the two teams really go for it! We are now riding in the hills above Córdoba, in a setting that is clearly perfect for mountain biking. After a fairly fast mid-stage, the last 15 kilometres are on trickier terrain and round off this great event perfectly. Vin and Nico are well placed, but are then punished by the Moustache Gods. They also fall foul of a mechanical problem – but they manage to overcome it brilliantly and hold on to their place in the general classification: the two team-mates finished the event in 21st place! Sophie and Fred finished strongly, they were second in the stage and are on the final podium for the mixed category. The leader’s jersey for the men’s race was bitterly fought out all through the week. Finally, the Topeak duo, Ergon Alban Lakata and Kristian Hynek, won the race with a 5-minute lead over the Portuguese Tiago Oliviera and David Serralheiro. The Swiss riders Esther Suss and Milena Landtwing topped the women’s classification after opening up a big lead in the first three stages.
The stay concludes with the riders, organisers and assistants at the Sojo Ribera, a bar on the top floor of a building at the heart of Córdoba. We share a few beers in a great, friendly atmosphere. The next day, we decide to make the most of the area right to the end, and spend our free day on Saturday enjoying the warm sunshine. We visited the Andalusian city and its famous mosque-cathedral, from where we could admire Cordoba, one of Andalusia’s major cities. As we strolled through the city centre, tasting a few local specialities, we were so pleased with our week that we began to make our plans for next year’s event.
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