Andalucian Cycle Training Camps

When northern Europe is still in the grip winter weather, the lure of warm weather cycling can be irresistible.

It seems like a chance to ride in shorts and get some long days in the saddle early in the season.

Previously we've headed to Lanzarote for open water swimming camps that gave plenty of free time to ride.  Warm weather couldn't be guaranteed in the Canary Islands early February but it was better than most of the northern hemisphere, and certainly better than home.

This year I waited a month and in March went on a cycle training camp in Andalucia, Spain. I wrote about why I went here, but briefly I wanted to see the city of Seville, ride somewhere different to normal, and didn't want to go to Majorca.

This piece is not an overview of cycling in Andalucia.  I did just four rides in a Spanish Province that's bigger (33,694 square miles) than Scotland (30,090 square miles) the country in which I live. Trying to summarise all the cycling opportunities would be daft and ill informed.

But I can share some information which might be useful to anyone thinking of heading to a cycle training camp there.  I found five providers and I've marked their bases on this map.  They are, Andalucian Cycling Experience,  Wheels in WheelsEpic CyclingCycle Sierra Nevada, and Custom Cycle Coaching.

Most are clustered in the east to be near the Sierra Nevada mountains.  I have no knowledge of three of these providers - they may be good or bad - but I can tell you a little about Andalucian Cycling Experience with whom I rode.  Firstly though, the weather.

Weather:  Good weather in Spain is not guaranteed in February and March.  As I write, London is warmer than Madrid.  I regularly visited the Costa Blanca for forty years and made this mad-March-mistake several times (I really should learn!).  One March I had to abandon a week-long hike through the coastal mountains because thunder and lightning storms caused serious flooding.

That's not a lake, it's a flooded field
I'd often hear folks saying "No es normal", but they're wrong.  It is.  It just doesn't feel normal when most of the year you're baked alive.  So this time I knew what to expect - make sure you do too.  The cyclists who'd visited a week earlier than me only rode for three days due to rain and dangerously high winds.  The week after me it was pretty rough too.  So if you're heading to Spain in March, take warm kit; shoes covers, longs, warmers and goretex.

So what is a 'training camp'?  There doesn't seem to be one accepted format.  The Openwater Swim Camps and Triathlon Camps I've done at Club La Santa are highly structured and pretty much ran to timetable.  A high level of coaching was mixed with fitness training, plus evening talks.  Knowledge and technique was imparted along with fitness.

I did my first Cycle Training Camp in Spain way back in 2012 and as you can read, it was not what I expected.
Denia cycle camp, 2012
The photo above shows 33 people on the Train In Spain camp and we split into three groups each day.  A support vehicle travelled between them, carrying water, food bags and kit.  There was no coaching, we just bashed out the miles.  Yet, as I wrote at the time, I learnt lots from talking to fellow riders who'd done more than me.  It was totally different to the Triathlon and Swimming camps I'd subsequently attend, yet thoroughly enjoyable.  Thirty three people is a good crowd with which to ride and socialise.

The contrast with my recent Andalucian Camp couldn't have been greater, because I was the only rider there!  I was expecting to be one of thirty again, yet I was all alone.  Two others, a couple, had booked on the 'camp' but postponed.  (Yet the owners, Ashley and Claire still charged me a single room supplement, which I felt was a little harsh).

All by myself...
Still, I had a guide to myself each day and we had lots of time to talk while riding.  I was told the maximum number their operation takes is around twenty.  This felt much more like small group guided rides than any sort of camp.  They also offer mountain biking and gentle touring on hybrid bikes of which they have a fleet.  Overall it felt a very different operation to the Train in Spain operation I'd experienced in Denia, and completely different to the Triathlon and Cycling Camps.

What about the riding?  The area in which Andalucian Cycling Experience operates offers fantastic cycling.  I've put links to my four GPS tracks below along with a link to a Relive video fly-through.

Remember, these are not the Sierra Nevada mountains.  From the base in Montecorto they can go south-west to the mountain climbs of the Sierra de Grazalema or north east to the (very steeply) rolling roads through cultivated land.  The whole place is surprisingly green, party due to the time of year and partly due to the heavy rain.  That said, this is cattle country, the home of bull-flighting.

Setenil de las Bodegas
Ronda and Setenil de las Bodegas are fascinating tourist spots to which there are coach trips from Seville.
I thoroughly enjoyed the riding and the guides were great company.  However, I missed not having other people to ride and socialise with - that had been a key part of my previous training camp experience.  I also rode well within my abilities, because there was no group dynamic pushing me to go further or faster.  Actually, that might have been a good thing...

Las Palomas climb
There are only a handful of long climbs and we tackled one of them on my last day.  It was wonderfully wiggly, like someone had spilled a plate of tarmac-spaghetti down a hillside.  A
beautiful sinuous road climb to Puerto de Las Palomas, a notch in the Sierra de Grazalema, was followed by a drop into Grazalema town for coffee and cakes.  Tucked in the rain-shadow of peaks, and close to the Atlantic, it is apparently the wettest town in Spain.

I still don't know which experience is closest to the standard Cycle Training Camp, the one I did in 2012 or the one I've just enjoyed.  Perhaps each one is different?  If you have specific needs, then make sure you ask in advance.  I hope I've given you a few thoughts to consider if you're heading to ride in this part of the world.  If you want to see the GPS tracks of the four ride, then you can find them here.

Relive 'Ride-3, Andalusia'

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