Viva Espana!

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Picture perfect – Zuheros

Olives as far as the eyes can see

River crossing – Estepona

Pine trees everywhere – Estepona

The view from on top of the world – Estepona

Last Day Downhill – Estepona

You’ve probably noticed that Spain, and particularly Andalucia, is something of a must-visit for mountain bikers these days. This is no accident, for the region has a happy combination of incredible trails and (almost) guaranteed good weather. Not to mention a host of Brit-run holiday companies.

In a competitive world like Spanish MTB holidays, it’s all about differentiation. JoyRiders’ USP is its twin-centre trip, splitting your time between the rural village location of Cerro Macho and the more cosmopolitan Estepona. If you have a strong preference for one or the other, the company does single-centre trips too, but if you’re venturing to Spain for the first time then sampling the variety on offer would seem to be an excellent plan. That said, if you’re looking for a more traditionally Spanish cultural experience, then Cerro Macho is the one for you, with Estepona being a little more of the beach/nightlife persuasion.

Both, of course, have great riding. Both locations offer the kind of dry, hard, unforgiving ground that most UK-based riders would give a lifetime’s supply of brake pads for, and it’s shorts and short sleeves nearly all the time (except at night). We were on the two-centre trip, here’s what we found.

Cerro Macho – Rural, traditional, rough rocky trails

It’s one big happy family out here, with on-site managers Martin and George and your personal guide Jonny welcoming you to the brood. One look to the horizon and the scene is flooded with olive groves and sherry vines as far as the eye can see. In every direction the limestone uplands of Subbetica National Park offer an absolute sense of peace and serenity. You are forced to stop, breathe, and take it all in on the gruelling uphills, especially when walking your bike. This may happen – it’s pretty steep stuff.

The rides

The Cordoba city ride starts in the eponymous urban area, but quickly climbs out of the streets and on to the high trails. You could seriously impale yourself on the rocks of a particular section of downhill – shifty, dusty and annoyingly challenging. Frustration is what comes to mind when thinking back to the climbs. These babies are hours of fun for all the family – unstable, steep and a tad washed out in parts. On the other hand, the downhill makes up for the annoyance of the uphill. Some seriously challenging rocky rifts will eat you alive if you are not careful and come across a rock trap and stall. Once you get past the OMG-style technical downhill, there is some wicked singletrack, where you can relax a bit and get some serious speed behind you.

The other favourite would have to be the Cabra switchbacks. A gruelling uphill, if you’re into that sort of thing (or an easy uplift courtesy of Martin). Although my fixation with jagged rocks didn’t help my cause, after some much-needed guidance from Jonny, everything was more fluent. The ride back to civilisation wasn’t quite what the brochure suggested. As light as the Gary Fisher Hi Fi Deluxe is, resting it on my shoulder whilst clambering up a mountain of rocks did work on my core stability.

In the true spirit of saving the best until last, the Zueros Gorge was a classic. The “stegosaurus” (use your imagination) will destroy your rear mech and mash your outer chain ring! Some calculated foot work and balance and you’re sorted to finish off with fast, long, yet extremely rocky singletrack with some nice switchbacks and a pinching uphill. Before you know it you are eating chocolate cake and admiring the view.

Estepona – Cosmopolitan, modern, fast sweeping trails

In one glance you absorb the skyline of pines covering the Sierra Bermeja mountain range, falling gradually to the 23km of Blue Flag beaches. Breathtaking views wait for you on the summits of all of the rides here, no matter what elevation, there is something new and exciting to see. Cheeky pints, late night ramblings and a digestif or two are all just a hop, skip and jump away. Mark, the manager, and the guides, Nick and Scott will definitely look after all of your appetite needs.

The rides

If an uphill workout is what you’re looking for, then here is the place! The smooth and sometimes sharp climbs of the “Benahavis 8 Ball” trail will bring you a challenge or two (Mark’s shout if you conquer them in one go!), with some equally smooth and fast singletrack to descend back to Benahavis for the step challenge just before sampling the local culinary delights for lunch.

The “lollipop” ride sports an annoyingly long ascent at the end, making you appreciate the previous hours of delightfully fast singletrack and remembering what you had for lunch at Bandolero’s. With the peak of Sierra Bermeja Mountain not far away, the views are unmistakably remarkable, you are on top of the world up there! I’m not just saying this – you can see the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. This is the spot where JoyRiders start their “down2earth” ride, a non-technical gift for those who may not be totally confident off-road. A windy bitumen decent from 4000ft to sea level, it’s great for working on road cornering skills and potentially racing, and beating, Nick to the bottom.

A Tarmac uphill for the last ride offers some spectacular views, although an uplift can be provided to the most technical, scary and diverse downhill. It’s steep and fast with tight switchbacks, some natural berms, mega technical rocky sections and very few recovery spots. You can get addicted to the hair-raising feeling this trail gives you by doing it as many times as you want.

Mad skillz

The best thing about JoyRiders trails is that your ability as a rider is not an issue, there are trails to suit you (reassuring for me, as a relative novice off-road). Although full suss is nice and cushy, there is nothing stopping you from riding a good quality hardtail if that’s your thing.

There’s also plenty to do outside the cycling realm at both sites for kids or non-riding partners, even if that is just sitting around the pool working on the tan. There’s also the option for two groups to ride at the same time covering a wide range of trails, age groups and abilities – you name it and they have it.

The JoyRiders crew are good at gauging skill level and will challenge your riding without putting you in harm’s way (you crash, that’s your own fault – I learnt the hard way!). It’s all up to you in the end: attack the climbs, wear out your granny gear or just walk your bike. Hang on for dear life on the downhill or just take it slowly and surely (and possibly fall off). No one cares, although you may get laughed at if you crash on the pavement taking your gloves off!

Essential gear

  • 30+ sunscreen – Tan lines and skin cancer are not sexy.
  • Armour – Whatever you’ve got. I wore 661 Karl Straights knee pads and they were ultra comfy and lightweight, however, shin guards are recommended, even if just to prevent the local flora from ripping your legs to bits. Elbow pads are a good idea too, however mine were uncomfortable, so I ditched them most of the time and managed. Check out www.mmasports.com for all of your armour needs.
  • Your bike – depending on what you plan to ride, a dual ring option with a bashguard might be in order, my outer ring now has a few less teeth on it (but that could be my lack of bike control).
  • Accsessories – A bare minimum is glasses or goggles as the dust, or mud gets into your eyes. Full fingered gloves. Plenty of spares and the usual “rocky terrain” tool kit (including duct tape for any rips).
  • A three liter hydration pack
  • A camera! I had the Olympus 790 µ[mju:] – it handled the conditions (and jumping out of my pocket).

What you need to know about JoyRiders

Inspired? Want to jump on the next plane to Spain? Well here is what you need to know…

There are cheap flights from all over the UK to Malaga with no frills airlines. I flew easyjet from London Luton to Malaga for just over £150 return (and that was last minute) including £30 for the bike. Check out the latest deals with Easyjet.

A two center 10 night holiday is £499, including airport transfers, breakfast and the local “bar”. Non-riders on the same deal are £399. Compare on JoyRiders pricing page.

Check the JoyRiders website for FULL details.

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