At the end of September my daughter Shayne and I walked for five days north starting from Sevilla towards Santiago de Compostela on the Via de la Plata route. It was a fantastic experience and we'll be back on the trail in 2012 in the spring. We aim to do another 10 stages but this time on bikes. After the summer we'll start walking again.It was with two wheels in mind that I emailed Marbella Rent a Bike to ask about off road mountain bike training classes. I wanted to get some expert advice on what bike to buy and get some classes under my belt before setting off next year. It took no time at all to get the first session set up with trainer Hugo Gomez of Marbella Rent a Bike.
Mountain Bike Training Two: This was high tech. Hugo sorted me out with a chest heart monitor belt linked to a Garmin orienteering device on my handlebars and we set off. I've walked all the hills and mountains you can see around Marbella but on this ride when I did manage to lift my head I found us on the west side of the Istan lake on a track I had never seen before. Hugo is a master at getting his students out of their comfort zones and in no time at all I found myself back at Aloha Golf. That evening he sent me a readout of our 14km route through the hills.Extra conditioning: I went our with Hugo for an afternoon run along the Paseo Maritimo from Victor's Beach all the way to Princess Playa at the other end. Normally I would walk for a good section but there was no stopping until our turn around and we finished with a sprint over the last hundred metres. I was well pleased with my performance and discovered some new leg muscles.
Mountain Bike Training Three: Waterbottle filled with an electrolytic drink, we set off on our bikes earlier this week. My use of the 18 gears is getting better and I'm better at selecting the right gear sometime before I need it. Again our route took off uphill and I'm aiming now to find a comfortable pedalling rythmn.
Mountain Bike Training Four: I met Hugo at Manola Santana's Raquet's Club on the Istán road. Yesterday's session was on the road, all the way to Istán . In a car, you don't really notice the hills. On a bike you are constantly shifting gears. With Hugo do all rides start by going uphill straightaway? Sign up for a mountain or road bike training course and find out for yourself! I enjoyed the road bike, it reminded me of cycling 10kms to school. Each time expert bike trainer Hugo Gomes sets new goals. On this bike ride I couldn't use the granny plate (the lowest front plate gear). I managed without it. My condition is building. I was able to drink going uphill instead of waiting for a level stretch of road. For me this is progress. I couldn't have done this ride without having put in the previous three bike rides. I was impressed with the distance that overtaking cars left us on the winding road. On the way down we built up speed. I felt like Miguel Indurain on the Tour de España. In front I could see Hugo legs pumping as we hit the downhill straights and acted on the urge to catch him. (I didn't, but was pleased with myself for having the energy and desire to try.) After each route Hugo emails me my Garmin print out. I send it on to my daughter and brother. We'll all be riding together next year. Next mountain and road bike training session we are off to Benahavis.
Mountain Bike Training Five: Road bike to Benahavis. We met at 4.30pm at Los Pinos in front of Aloha Golf and hit the back roads past La Quinta golf course. Five hundred metres up the Ronda road just past the motorway we turned off to Benahavis. There are two killing hills along this leg. Dropping down to the Benahavis river was exhilarating if not scary. Hugo was in a pushing mode, stay above 10km/h, no granny plate. We rode up into the centre of Benahavis, turned around and coasted back down to the river. On the long straight to the A7 coast road we attacked a lone cyclist, sweeping past him only to be overtaken again when my legs wouldn't go as fast as my heart. Hugo explained the advantages of staying in his wind shadow. Great, if you can just keep up with him... On the A7 highway I tucked in behind him, we pushed past Guadalmina, San Pedro and detoured through Puerto Banus. My calves were just starting to sieze up. A swig of electrolyte drink and I was off again. The steep climb up from Aloha College to the top of the rise was a challenge after 34kms. I just managed it using the granny plate and my last reserves of energy. A good ride. Bring it on next week Hugo!
Mountain Bike Training Six Big mistake of mine telling Hugo last week to bring it on because today he did. Using his best carrot and stick technique he told me even before we mounted up that he had done our mountain bike route earlier in the day with a younger girl. Of course I was going to push for it after that.
We started off by going straight uphill, my concentration at first was erratic and I muffed gear changes on the first uphill stretches sometimes finding myself sideways on the road having lifted the front wheel off the ground or the rear wheel spurting gravel and not going anywhere. Hugo showed me how to hang back low over the saddle (more weight on the rear wheel) and lean forward over the front wheel (keeping it down). Yes, the road was that steep and rough. We climbed and climbed. I sucked on an energy gel supplement. I remember seeing a helicopter landing pad next to the track. I was back in the groove with the gears.
Without stopping we turned for the descent. Flying down the gravel road I found myself spending less time on the brakes. If I could just stay on the bike I would be back at the van without much more strain. Suddenly Hugo turned right. This wasn't the way home! Now we were on a track used by goats and washed out by the rain. More rocks than track and it was a steeper descent than I had ever done. On my own I would have walked down holding the bike for balance. Now I was flying downhill over rocks and gullies desperately looking for the route ahead. I found it was more manageable to go fast than slowly. We were heading straight for the river. Did I say two fingers on the hydraulic brakes in an earlier mountain bike session? This time I was pulling with five fingers trying to stay in control. Suddenly I found myself in a shady treed tunnel next to the river below El Madroñal. Hugo was carrying his bike ahead through the knee high water. I followed him through. After my long uphill strain followed by a headlong descent losing all my hard earned height in minutes and then finding myself in a strongly flowing river I had definitely moved out of my comfort zone. One more wade through a tributary of the dam in the river and we were back on the asphalt heading through La Quinta back to our starting point at Los Pinos de Aloha.
My next aim said Hugo is to get well up out of the saddle going downhill almost standing up to lessen strain on the knees. I was pleased to learn that overall, despite the wobbly start to the ride I was making progress. If you zoom in on the Garmin route you'll see the track descending towards the river, losing lots of height very quickly. Hugo if this is a "moderate" route according to the GPS, please spare me the "difficult"route until next year. Next week I´ll be adding some video here of today's mountain bike training session.
Road Bike Training Seven Today's session started out from Manolo Santana's Raquets Club. We were on road bikes. It was another warm sunny December mid afternoon. "No Granny plate up the climb up under the motorway" said Hugo "and keep the speed above 10km/h." It's a tough way to start out, one km on the level, hardly time to warm up and then a steep curving climb but I did it. Perhaps I did dip under 10km/h but after that it was a pleasure. I could remember a lot of the route from before.
It helps a lot to know when to expect the top of a climb and conserve energy or when to put the pedal down. I enjoyed the climb to Istan. This time instead of stopping short of the village we rode through and climbed up towards the polideportivo. The challenge was to keep the pedals turning up a very steep clime but I muffed a gear change and had to stop mid climb. It was a relief to turn back and push towards the coast. I found myself pedalling where I would have coasted before and enjoyed the downhill rush of wind and the pace.
Here's Hugo's comment emailed after the lesson together with today's route: "This was your best lesson so far, I felt like you were fighting to keep up, that brought you good results, your condition is improving a lot too. You had a overall time of 1.19h which is about 20 min quicker than last time." I must be getting stronger!
Mountain Bike Training Eight I knew today was going to be different, I had got an email from Hugo the day before: "Good morning Mike, today's route is short but challenging, we're going to train your speed and endurance as well as your mind!" He added some advice about what to eat before our ride.
To visualise our mountain bike training course, imagine a whip. The lash forms three loops back towards the handle. The loops are all uphill and the handle is an all too short roller coaster downhill ride on a gravelled surface. One circuit is 2.5kms and you do it again and again and again and ...... Hugo is the guy holding the whip. On the first untimed recognition lap, I could see where the mind training came in. How many times was I going to go around? I didn't like to ask.
I learned a lot, getting up out of the saddle and pedalling on rocky rises and gradients which I would have pushed my bike over a month ago. I cycled round curves rather than coasted round them. The gear changes came easily. I went wide on curves then cut in. On the downhills I put my faith in the knobbly mountain bike tyre treads and hit 44 km/h as a top speed by staying off the brakes. Hugo was in front of me, behind me, waiting round bends and laying down obstacles for me to navigate and respond to. He was cracking the whip and encouraging me in equal measures. I saw the AP7 motorway far below me, then the Istan lake, then the motorway. One minute's rest between laps. Once I was given two minutes. Filling up at the gas station on the way home I found myself unsteady on my feet. By the time I had got back, I had my route and lap times waiting on my computer. Lap 1, 8:58, Lap 2, 9:23 Lap 3 10:48, Lap 4: 9:29, Lap 5, 9:42, Lap 6: 9:15. Here's a video of my last lap. Please remember I had been around 7 times before... Overall training time 57:37. I'm very pleased with my progress.
Mountain Bike Training Nine Agility. I thought I had nothing left to learn about staying on my bike but Hugo had me back up in the hills riding over log bridges, washed out rocky stream crossing, keeping my balance on paths with deep gullies on either side. I practised braking techniques, riding at speed downhill on gravelled roads then braking sharply, maintaining a straight line and also sliding the back wheel. I did this lesson at the end of January after getting back from 6 days trekking in Patagonia. Since then I've bought my bike, from Hugo of course. It's a Scott Aspect 20 if you are interested.
Lesson 10 The last 50 km mountain and road ride with Hugo is coming up soon. Since I started my bike lessons back in October, I've been trekking in Patagonia and have been preparing to ride the Camino de Santiago with my brother starting from Sant Jean Pied de Port in France starting on 28th April. It's about 850kms. Then I'm back on the road on the Via de Plata with my daughter Shayne doing another 5 days on bikes, starting from where we left off in Monasterio. Hugo, I'll be back for Lesson Ten, hopefully a lot fitter than when we first started! Thanks for everything so far!