John, Steve, Nick and Pete teamed up again to tour from Bilbao to Valencia in Spain.
We cycled a total of 710 kilometres in six days (see statistics), our longest tour distance yet. We stopped overnight in Bilbao, Vitoria-Gasteiz, Calahorra, Calatayud, Teruel and Chelva before meeting up with Jake (unable to come cycling due to a poorly knee), Clare and baby Celia at Plaza Ayuntamiento in Valencia.
We arrived around 4pm on the Saturday afternoon at Bilbao airport. We soon got to the task of fitting the bikes together, including Steve's dismantled headset, now missing at least one bearing as it rolled off somewhere outside the airport. We set off around 5.15pm along some rather busy roads and up over quite a big hill on the short 16km to the centre of Bilbao.
The hill afforded a very good view of the city, however, and we sped down to take pictures of the Guggenheim Museum before trundling along to Hotel Vista Alegre, nestled amidst lingerie and private shops in what appeared to be a rather lively part of town. Steve seemed quite happy with his choice of hotel, and we quickly set out for a more upmarket part of town to sample some beer, tapas and "percebes" (otherwise known as Goose Barnacles).
We eagerly set about our first Spanish breakfast of the trip (time to get used to the bread and meat) and left Bilbao in cool but partly sunny weather. After a brief scoot around the old town – pretty dead on a sleepy Sunday – we headed east along the river Ibaizaba before cutting south and gently uphill through Arrigoriaga and Ugao-Miraballes. At Ugao we were overtaken by a group of local cyclists, whom we followed on a south-easterly route along quiet roads towards Artea. They lost us on an extended climb, despite our best efforts to keep up with their most elderly member.
Past Artea we headed south to Zeanuri, then on to the main N240 that wound up to our first test of the trip, the 606m col of Puerto da Barazar. Hardly a monster, but the col's warnings of steep gradients to drivers going the other way, and the fact that we saw group after group of other cyclists (seemingly taking part in some sort of event), all going the other way, kind of told us we were taking the harder route.
We stopped for some lunch and coffee at Barazar, then followed the road gently down until a turn off towards Extaguen. Here the terrain became more undulating, but we soon sped through Gopegui as the road turned south towards the main N622 to Vitoria. The N622 was a rather large dual-carriageway, which we avoided via a couple of unscheduled detours. First via a rutted track going nowhere, then we briefly turned back on ourselves before turning off to Berrikano and Etxabarri-Ibina and the road into Vitoria-Gasteiz. After passing many ugly blocks of flats on the edge of town, we were very happy to find the sun shining on a pretty square in the centre, where we paused for a celebratory beer!
A cloudy grey sky greeted us as we rolled out of Vitoria after a brief supermarket stop. We took a quiet road east and were soon climbing gently up into the mist of the Puerto de Azazeta, at 887m our high point of the day. We then sped our way south-east, the road circling the bigger hills at Santa Cruz, before heading south at Acedo and on to a lunch stop at Los Arcos. Nestled near a big motorway, it seemed more a truckers' stop, but we had an ample three-course meal washed down with some local wine and water.
We pedalled under the motorway just after Los Arcos, then continued mostly downhill passing through some of Spain's less illustrious towns, such as San Adrian (invoking memories of our ganglion-plagued comrade from our first tour to Paris). The scenery didn't improve as we approached and entered Calahorra, allegedly one of our more "interesting" stopovers of the trip. The Hostal Gala turned out to be a little gem, however, and the other side of town was much prettier, featuring a grand but weather-beaten cathedral and numerous churches. Time for a relic hunt then...
A bright, sunny, fresh start after a lovely breakfast buoyed us on what we believed would be our longest day of the trip. With flat roads and the wind mostly behind us we sped away from Calahorra, taking a tiny road next to a railway line.
We ate up the miles as we turned south towards Corella and Cintruenigo, then south-west to Fitero. The wind picked up and buffeted and chilled us a little as the sun went in, but then we turned off the main road, taking a single track road uphill past numerous allotments to our first climb of the day, 665m at Puerto los Degollados. Here we were afforded an ominous view of the rather large Sierra Moncayo in the distance. Not sure of our exact route, we didn't know if we would go round or over them in the hours to come!
Speeding down from Degollados to the main road, Pete encountered a puncture. Once fixed, we ambled through Valverde then climbed sharpy to Agreda, pausing for crisps and coke to get us through the next 10km or so before our lunch stop at Olvega, where we readied ourselves for what we believed would be our hardest climb and highest point of the tour, the 1196m col at Puerto La Carrasca.
The climb turned out to be much easier than we thought and some local Guardia Civil stopped to make fun and tell us just that. The best of the day was still ahead of us, however, as we soon turned onto back roads through Borobia and on to Pomer, towns either side of a high plateau of gorse and heather affording views of the snow-capped Moncayo, now behind us.
After Pomer, the road rolled, hairpinned and dropped sharply, with few barriers and plenty of potholes and bumps. We climbed again, dog-legging along a ridge towards Mantequilla, then dropping (Nick reaching a tour max speed of 74kmh) to the main N234. This road took us the final 35km, almost exclusively downhill in sunshine towards the beautiful town of Calatayud. We were soon enjoying a celebratory and fine meal at the Meson de la Delores after a long but very enjoyable day.
Another bright start. We headed south out of Calatayud, soon replacing the busy roads for the quieter countryside. After getting some directions from some helpful locals, we turned off the main road at Morata de Jiloca, where we immediately hit a 5km long ascent.
Over the hill the road sped us up and on to Alarba, Acered then Atea through beautiful, rolling countryside.
We steadily gained height before turning to climb up to the 1208m Puerto de Used. This was a sharp little climb with some steep ascending turns, made harder by the heat of the sun. We paused at the top, then sped rapidly down to Used, where Steve ("muy blanco") quickly paused at a shop to get some Factor 50 sun screen. The road was now mostly flat, taking us to a lunch stop in Gallocanta at a friendly cafe where we were amiably harrassed by a local cat. Once fed, we passed by the Lago da Gallocanta and rolled on to Tornos, after which we decided to take a short cut...
As ever, our shortcut got us a bit lost as we traversed a gently undulating landscape of fields, criss-crossed with dirt and gravel tracks. Eventually, we spotted a town and headed for it. We presumed it to be Torralba de los Sisones: harrassed by flies we didn't stay long enough to find out, and were soon on asphalt again, passing through more beautiful scenery as we descended to Caminreal. Here we hugged the path of a railway, passing through various pretty towns until we reached Villafranca del Campo. After chatting to some local kids, we headed to a straighter road that would shadow the motorway all the way to our stopover at Teruel.
Already late in the afternoon and with a Champions League final to watch that evening, we were dismayed to turn out of Villafranca and be greeted by a sign saying we still had another 46km to go. The road was straight and flat pretty much all the way to Teruel. All of us fading, we pushed on, pausing only for water and nuts to keep us going. We had our first, and only, downpour. The road rose up gently to 1000m and then 1013m.
Finally, we reached Teruel and Hostal Amantes, clocking up our longest recorded distance in a single day by just 1km (from yesterday!). Plenty of time to shower before the footy, a match that Pete enjoyed immensely (Man Utd winning, of course), but Nick will forever be haunted by the memory of a persistent, wild-eyed crazy Spaniard who wanted to take him home...
We left the hostal early but lounged over breakfast in Plaza Torico in Teruel's old town, Pete picking up a few Spanish papers recording Man Utd's Champions League win. Once on the road, we headed to Villaspesa before turning onto a bigger road that would take us alongside the Rio Turia, first through open valley plains, then narrower gorges, heading downhill to Ademuz. He we turned off to a minor road, still following the river through ever more beautiful and spectacular scenery. After rolling through Casas Altas, we descended and stopped for lunch at Casas Bajas.
After lunch the road twisted through a yet narrower and steeper gorge, where we were confronted by quite a brutal climb to the top of the cliffs overhanging the river. We then sped down past Santa Cruz da Moya and Las Rinconidas before crossing over to the other side of the gorge thanks to a spectacularly-placed bridge. Through a bit of stone-throwing, timing and almost-forgotten maths, John calculated the bridge to be about 200m above the river.
Over the gorge we had another climb that took us to a rolling plateau topping 1000m. Over the top, we descended quickly through Aras de los Olmos and on to Titaguas, where we paused at a petrol station for crisps and coke and a long chat with the friendly attendant. Revived, we unexpectedly had to stretch our climbing muscles once more as we topped the 800m Alto da Montalbana. We were rewarded by a fast 7% descent over 8km, taking us down to Tuejar, then briefly up again, before racing down into Chelva where we quickly found Hotel La Posada.
After changing, we had a wander about town, eventually finding a bar open so we could drinnk beers by the main road. We then dined out at the friendly Bar Neutral (about the only food stop in town!), where we were treated to non-stop bullfighting on the bar's TV.
The final day! After a leisurely breakfast in the cafe over the road from the hotel, we set off. The road took us downhill for a while, still affording great views of the gorge and valley around the Rio Turia. The terrain started to undulate and the road got busier, especially near Casinos where we could feel ourselves descending into warmer air, which, despite the dust of local industry, also had the faintest hint of the sea.
Much had changed since our maps were created. Our route after Casinos was being turned into a motorway and we had to wiggle our way alongside it on a little "Cami der servei" all the way to Lliria. There we found some more minor roads, but with major housing estate and industry development springing up everywhere as we got closer to Valencia, we managed to get lost. At L'Eliana we headed north to Betera and hopefully a more direct route into the city.
The route from Betera was much better for a while, save for John encountering his first flat of the trip, but we struggled again nearer town, floundering a little until asking locals for various directions that soon sped us (on some rather large roads at times) to Plaza Ayuntamiento and our rendez-vous with Jake, Clare and Celia. Job done!
Click here for some pictures of the gang's get-together in Valencia at the end of the trip.