Yeah. That’s a warm, sunny beach. In February. In Spain. Jealous?
So I’m not sure where I got the good idea. Maybe it came after watching years of my friends go off to “team camp.” Maybe it came with this internal viewing of myself as training like a pro. Maybe I just craved warmer riding weather. Maybe it was the influence of seeing two of my favorite pros and the advice of a third to go smash it in Mojácar. Who knows, it was probably a mix of almost any reason I could think of. But before you could say “vamos a la playa,” I was off to Mojácar, Spain for a bit of training.
In the late winter comes a time where my morale needs a little boost. Here in Belgium, February seems to mark a turning point where the sun finally stays out longer and the air becomes a touch less cold. I’m jinxing it, but we’ve had a few enjoyable days here. Spain, however, came with perfect timing. My week off of classes after a stressful examenperiode was filled with sunshine (for tan lines), mountain passes (for training and views), and buttery smooth tarmac (for pleasure.)
Mojácar is in the middle of nowhere (200km from the nearest big airport) on the Mediterranean coast of Spain, a big tourist beach destination in the summer. But in the winter, it only gets up to 20ºC and isn’t really beach weather. Although the whole coast turns into a series of ghost towns for the “offseason,” the tourism still finds a way to work a different clientele: off-season cyclists. The mountains, quiet roads, warm air, sunshine, and lack of precipitation lead to what end up being a heaven for a training camp.
I was lucky to receive the suggestion from Matt Green and Ryan Aitcheson, two friends from Astellas Pro Racing last year, now racing for First Internet Bank. They had been in Mojácar since the turn of the new year, and they led me to a sweet hotel, both inexpensive AND included 3-meal buffet (more on that later).
I arrived at the airport to see 8 other bikes loaded off the same flight. At the hotel, I saw the team van of Baguet – MIBA Poorten, a Belgian Pro U23 squad, and saw two other elite team kits floating in the parking lot. I had confidence that I was in the right place to do some serious riding.
I quickly hit buffet for a solid lunch, then rebuilt my bike and jumped for a short spin. I followed the beach south, and hit my first categorized climb of the trip: Macenas El Sopalmo – 4.5km @ 4%. Climbing is weird, but it was relatively short and bearable. Everything is right in the world when the water is on your left side southbound, and on your right side northbound. I went to bed pretty early, and got ready for the next day.
I woke up to not only having missed breakfast, but also saw reports of “high winds” on the day. I rolled over to the local café, Masko, and devoured bacon, eggs, a coffee, and some little pastries before heading off for “the Bedar loop.” The ride is supposed to start by heading westbound through the Mojácar Pueblo, and up a category 2 climb: Bedar – 7.6km @ 6%, then ride north along the mountain ridge, before turning back south to come down another mountain, and finish flat along the beach.
I realized very quickly: I screwed up. I had no idea how I was supposed to climb, and kept getting blown around by the wind. Two or three times I felt the front wheel start to wiggle out of my control, and I was getting nervous of falling off a very sharp cliff at the edge of the road. Right around the top of Bedar, I was at the top of the ridge, in the open, and decided to turn around after being forced to dismount in the face of 100km/h gusts. I gently descended back down, hands on drops and body low, trying my best again to maintain control with the wind. I was extremely thankful for leaving the 50mm carbon Mercury S5’s at home, or I would’ve become Pepe; the Human Windsail. At the beach, I chose to go back up and over “Macenas El Sopalmo” the same climb as the day before, continuing down to the bottom on the other side, then riding back to the hotel for dinner after three hours of training.
Rules about dinner… 1) Beat the Belgian teams to the buffet. Or else you have to wait a seriously on time for some pasta. 2) Don’t wear your favorite World Bicycle Relief t-shirt and SRAM snapback to dinner unless you want some strange looks from these Belgian teams as they slowly try to figure out where exactly you’re from, if you belong to one of the teams, etc.
The next day, I hooked up with Von for a little company while training. Von was one of the riders also staying in the house with Matt and Ryan. He’s basically my Canadian doppelgänger. He is two days younger, within 1kg of weight, an few cm taller than I am. However, he is two categories above me, and one hell of a powerhouse. Our day started as a little spin about 15km to the next town over to grab inner tubes, then a quick coffee with Ryan and Matt. After eating a pizza, Von felt the need to do some training. So again, we went for the Bedar loop. With lighter wind and more experience under my belt, as well as a great distraction in someone to chat with, we climbed up Bedar in no time at all. On nearly every descent, my conservative attitude let Von fly further and further ahead. However, he was kind enough to wait, and we met back up on the mountain ridge, and came back down the “bailout road:” a freshly paved bit of mostly straight tarmac with one minor flaw.
The road ends in a riverbed. For about 300m, one has to ride technically through a river to catch the other side of the road. Spain tried to build a rail system a while back, but ran out of money, so our little heavenly pavement was supposed to be a train track, and the riverbed was supposed to be crossed with a bridge. However, it made for a pretty decent photo.
That night, I got some quality Jamón for dinner, and another good night’s rest after nearly four and a half hours in the saddle.
The third day was my last in Mojácar. I had planned a short trip, just in case it was a total bust, I wouldn’t start feeling awful about staying too long. Next year, I’m going for a week, or more. Von had drawn up a route for the last day, and after two back-to-back days that happened to be 2 of my 3 hardest ever, I had planned to just sit on his wheel the whole ride.
After an hour, I felt cracked. We started doing sprints, and I had to start clinging to his wheel. A quick shot of caffeine from a “speed on top” shot kept me going until our coffee stop, then over the final climb of the day, back over “Macenas El Sopalmo” for the last time.
I ended my time in Spain with some quality dinner before heading back to rainy, cold Belgium. I’m now in the process of final preparations to kick off my season with Interbikes Cycling Team on the 5th of March for a local race, then many more adventures to come. Be sure to follow along on strava & instagram, as well as my blog!
(This article was originally published to www.jwronasullivan.wixsite.com)
Joe “Pepe” Sullivan is Higher Gear’s very own European correspondent based out of Leuven, Belgium where he attends university. Pepe is testing his mettle in the European racing circuit – in both road (riding his Specialized Venge named “El Diablo Dos”) and cyclocross (on his Specialized Crux) – as well as enjoying the famed cobbled streets that make European cycling so challenging.