Christmas in Spain Part One
Each winter I look forward to escaping the cold British weather to train in Spain with Ciclo Costa Blanca. This year I took advantage of my work’s office closure over the Christmas period and booked a slightly longer stay of 2 ½ weeks. In my two-part blog I share my experiences as well as some of my rides that you can try.
As a triathlete it’s important that I stay somewhere where, as well as cycling, I can also swim and run. Benidorm, where I usually stay, or Albir, where Ciclo Costa Blanca are based, are ideal training locations for triathletes. Both towns have running tracks and nice coastal and off-road runs. There are public 25m swimming pools in both Benidorm and just outside Albir in Altea, and the sea temperatures in both resorts are warm enough for some open-water swim practise. I started my training holiday with an interval run session along the Poniente Beach in Benidorm, before collecting my hire bike from Ciclo Costa Blanca. During my stay I would be riding a Ridley Fenix Carbon 2017 Ultegra Compact, which offers the perfect mix of speed and comfort.
On my first day of riding I wanted a relatively easy route to warm up my legs and so I headed off from Benidorm to the chocolate manufacturing town of Villajoysa where the air smells of cocoa! I then turned inland to cross the Amadori reservoir and ascended the climb to the village of Relleu for a stop at a café before the fast descent back down to sea level. This is a perfect warm up ride of 50 miles with 1164m of ascent.
One of the best things about riding in the Costa Blanca is seeing the pro-teams that come here for their winter training and on my second day of riding I almost lost count of the amount of teams I spotted! I headed out to Parcent to climb the infamous Col de Rates and whilst enjoying a hot chocolate in a café the entire BMC youth team came in for their break! I had a quick chat with them and then headed up the Col. As I neared the summit some members of AG2R Mondiale were starting their descent and as I reached the top I was able to talk to some riders who were having a quick refuel before they joined their team mates on the ride down. Then whilst riding from the Col summit towards Tarbena I was overtaken by the Giant Alpecin team and again managed to have a chat with them as they refuelled in Tarbena. All of the teams were really friendly and more than happy to have a chat and pose for photos. This contact with so many teams really made it a magical day of cycling!
To maintain my triathlon fitness, for me a training holiday has to include swimming and running and on my fourth day I met up with respected swim coach Martin Hill, who lives in the region, to have a video swim analysis and some technique coaching. It was fascinating to observe my swimming on film and see what I am doing as opposed to what I think I am doing! Martin gave me advice on how to improve my swim stroke and some drills to try before we met later in the holiday. Over the next couple of days the weather turned unusually stormy so it was the ideal opportunity put into practise Martin’s advice whilst it was still fresh in my mind and so I did a couple of swim sessions at the municipal pool in Benidorm as well as some runs.
Once the storms had passed it was time to get back out on the bike. The Vuelta often passes through the Costa Blanca and it is good fun to ride some of the climbs that feature and to read names of various cycling stars painted on the roads. In 2015 the penultimate stage of the Vuelta finished at the top of the Cumbre del Sol, just north of the coastal town of Moraira and I had heard that it would also feature in the 2017 race. I therefore decided to give the climb a try and rode along the picturesque coastal road to Calpe and Moraira before heading inland to climb the short but very steep summit. Although only a 4km climb it reaches a gradient of 18.5% in parts, so I was very pleased to have been given the Ridley with compact gearing, as it made the climb a bit easier! Those that make the top are rewarded with beautiful views of the coast stretching from Albir to Denia and beyond. At the summit there is a sign marking the fact that it was a summit finish in the 2015 Vuelta, with a picture of a victorious Tom Dumoulin who took the stage victory. Cycling through Calpe on the way back to Benidorm I noticed some team vans in a car park, including those of Katusha Alpecin and An Post Chain Reaction and although the riders were still out on the road or resting in their hotel I was able to have a chat with some of the support staff.
My first week had been a good balance of cycling, swimming and running but the highlight was definitely seeing, and getting to talk to, so many of the pro-teams. This is what makes cycling in the Costa Blanca so special!
1) Benidorm>Villajoyosa>Amadori Reservoir-Relleu-Orxeta-Villajoyosa>Benidorm = 50 miles / 80km
2) Benidorm>Albir>Altea>Benissa>Xalo>Parcent>Col de Rates>Tarbena>Callosa de’n Sarria> Polop> La Nucia>Albir>Benidorm = 61 miles / 98km
3) Benidorm>Albir>Altea>Calpe>Moraira>El Poble Nou de Benitatxell>Cumbre del Sol and back along same route = 60 miles / 97km