Month: October 2014

October Trip post 2

For my second ride of the week, and a non-car assisted one at that, I wanted to check out a road I had heard about and seen from above on a previous trip whilst walking! The closest mountain to my home in Sorbas is the Puerto de la Virgen. Usually tackled from Uleila del Campo and is a favourite of mine, and also many previous guests. However on a recent trip Lisa and I walked from the ‘puerto’ to the summit and the Ermita perched precariously on top. Taking in the stunning 360˚ views I couldn’t help but notice a narrow strip of tarmac snaking its way up towards us from the village of Benizalon in the next valley. I, of course, made a mental note to give it a bash at some stage before April 2015.

The Ermita de Virgen de la Cabeza atop the Sierra de las Filabres
The Ermita de Virgen de la Cabeza atop the Sierra de las Filabres

This meant that for my ride I had to head from Sorbas north to Uleila then, rather than scale the Puerto de la Virgen, head back south to the base of the climb up into the Sierra de las Filabres to the village of Benizalon. This climb has been missing from our itinerary since 2013 as we found the road surface had gotten too broken and rough (please remember that this in the context of Almeria roads!) However since our last visit in March 2013 the Diputacion de Almeria (local government) had been out with one of their fantastic road building teams and the result is yet another super smooth strip of new tarmac winding its way sinuously up the mountain side. The climb up to Benizalon is quite a tough one in itself, just under 8km from the junction to the summit – the first 2 km are flattish – then it ramps up from 659m to 1020m in 5km (7%). In the 26˚ midday October sun it was pretty tough going even with a silky smooth road under my wheels.
A quick downhill blast brought me into Benizalon, and I nipped into the always busy, Bar Leonora y Jaca for a coke. Even by their standards it was particularly busy today! Then navigating a maze of tiny streets I found the narrow road out of the village towards the Ermita Virgen de la Cabeza, a distant white precipice atop a towering peak looking out over the whole locale. The track, tarmacked beautifully of course, is primarily used for an annual Easter procession, on foot, from Benizalon to the Ermita, carrying a statue of the lady Virgen herself. It is however a great road for us cyclists, After giving up trying to work out where ahead of me it went next, I just carried on climbing, suddenly rounding a bend and finding myself crossing a ridge on the southern edge of the sierra, a sharp drop down to my right but with stunning views over Uleila and extending to Sorbas and even the coast in the heat-hazed distance. The road suddenly darted back round the northern side of the ridge and there was the white pinnacle, the Ermita, ahead once more. I was reminded of Ventoux and how the tower their seems so near and yet so far, seemingly moving with each bend in the road, disappearing from view then suddenly there like some mystical genie of the mountains! A series of hairpins followed and the gradient leapt into double-digit figures maxing out at 14% for a short while! Then under the literal nose of Ermita itself, about 1km from the summit, a travesty! The sudden end of the glorious smooth tarmac, replaced by loose shale-like gravel. Despite my best efforts it was virtually impossible to get any real traction on a road bike, certainly it would be ridiculously difficult to safely descend back down. So, slightly dejected, I turned and headed back down to Benizalon, skimming round the hairpins and then hurtled down the sensational, ribbon-like descent down the mountain, no cars passed me on the way up, I don’t think any came towards me on the way down. Then back to Uleila and home to Sorbas.
Such a shame that the tarmac ends preventing road bikes reaching the white Ermita itself, leaving the rider stranded almost within touching distance of what hundreds of Easter pilgrims reach on foot each spring! Still, like most climbs in Almeria, it is worth it all the same.

October trip Post 1

Great day out on the virtually traffic- free roads of Almeria. Asked Lisa very nicely to go for a day out in the car, checking a few potential new climbs for the April 2015 trips.

We headed past the place we will be staying near Tabernas, on to Gador and along the road we used last year to get to the foot of Calar Alto.

Rather than climb up through Alboloduy, we headed west towards Canjayar where the first of the climbs was. So bike out of car and after a quick whizz back down 2km to the junction with the ‘main road’ I turned and began the climb up to the white village of Ohanes, clinging to the mountain slopes @ 969m up. So I figured it out 8km with about 450m vertical difference. Add in the fact I had just got out the car plus it was 26° – and I realised I was in for a good 35 minutes of hard work.

It was a good one, perfect surface, no traffic, lots of great little switchbacks and some breathtaking scenery. The only negative about the comes just before 2km up, a very smelly chicken farm that fills the senses for about 250m. A few bends further up I passed Lisa sat in the sun by the car, music on, surfing away online, no stopping just a ‘see you in bit’ between increasingly heavy breaths. Then I settled into a nice rhythm as the next 3km were 5-7% with those switchbacks we cyclists love, the ones where you can see the next few above you as you climb. Resisting the urge to stop and take photos, I pressed on still managing to push on at a decent pace on the big ring! Then at about 6.5km I came round a tight bend and the tarmac straightened out in front of me for a good 300 metres and it looks a bit steeper than all I had already done. A quick look down at the computer showed 13% and this was followed by an equally quick shift down on to the 34 and the struggle was lessened. Then the beautiful sight of Ohanes appeared a few bends ahead and after 36 minutes of climbing I reached the village, turned round and punctuated the brilliant descent with those photos I resisted on the way up.

Back at the foot of Ohanes we continued west past the bigger town of Canyajar and onto Bieres to check out the other climb up to Ohanes, or what could be a possible descent. Like the first this had spectacular vistas, a decent road surface but was a more rustic, narrow and much rougher road. Much less fun to descend than the smooth tarmac I had plunged down a few minutes earlier. Most likely any future climb and descent will use the first road. So in 2015 the Alto de Ohanes looks like making its debut on bici-almeria trips in at least one of the weeks, I can’t wait to get back there and climb it again.

Alto de Ohanes ... wow!
Alto de Ohanes … wow!