At the end of last summer when we first started kicking around the idea of this trip, one of Laura’s early suggestions was for me to take my bike. It always seemed likely that we would be visiting places where there would be good opportunities for some exciting and challenging rides.
Obviously this appealed to me greatly, but initially I had some major reservations, principally lugging around our journey not just a bike but all the various kit and paraphernalia that goes with it. Laura clearly knows me though. I vividly remember her telling me that if I didn’t take my bike I would probably regret it for the entire trip. And a week in, she is definitely right.
Today, after assembling my bike (we decided the best method for transit was to deconstruct it and store it under the caravan bed), I pedalled out onto Spanish roads for the first time. Despite being at the foot of the not insignificant Picos de Europa mountains, I had planned for a relatively flat cycle along the coastal road towards Llanes, a town we visited a few days ago. The reason being that I haven’t actually been on the bike for over a month, and have done very little other exercise in that time either – working long hours to get everything finished before I left (hope my boss is reading this), and all the running around and planning for the trip meant that I simply hadn’t had much time. But that’s fine – I’m away on what is effectively a long holiday so I can relax, it’s not as though I need to be fit. Except for the fact that I have signed up to do a stage of the Tour de France in just five weeks’ time!
A large part of our route planning for this trip was centred around being able to follow some of the Tour de France when it gets interesting (if you’re into that sort of thing) in the Alps. It’s not just about seeing the professional peloton race by in a blur, but the whole festival of nonsense that goes along with it (I have seen clips of giant inflatable chickens dancing around at towns that a stage merely passes through! What’s not to like about that?). Alongside that, every year the organisers of the tour open up one of the stages for members of the public to sign up to race on the same roads as the professionals, albeit a few days earlier.
So there I was, whizzing along the flat coastal road in the sunshine and thoroughly enjoying what was probably the least challenging 55 miles I have ever cycled, but what was it that was in the back of my mind nagging away? Not the 110 miles I have to cover – I’ve cycled 100+ miles countless times in my life, even managing 143 miles at last year’s Dragon Ride in South Wales (organised by the same outfit as the Tour de France). Oh yes, it’s the two bloody great alpine mountains I need to pedal myself up – all 3500+ metres of them, including an average 7.3% gradient for the last nine miles! Even the Dragon Ride ‘only’ climbed 3200m, and that was spread out over a longer distance and many more smaller hills.
All this means that over the next few weeks I need to, quite literally, ramp up my cycling if I’m going to complete this event. And anyone who knows me will know that I don’t mean just complete it, I will be pushing myself hard to do this as quick as I can. Somewhat perversely, I have always gained most satisfaction from my sporting pursuits by pushing myself as hard as possible to the point where it hurts. And I hate knowing that I could have done better. So over the next few days, I will need to veer off the lovely flat coastal road and cycle up into those Picos. It’s quite daunting looking at them from here in the bar, but again Laura is right – I will regret it if I don’t.