It’s six o’clock on a Sunday morning and I’m soooo tired, remind me again: Just why did I agree to this? Cutting a long story short, we’re in Madrid and it’s the time of the morning when most Madrileños are on their way home from a night out, not getting ready for a day in the mountains. A shower helps, a bit, and after the fuss of piling bike, clothes, shoes, helmet etc in the car, checking no essentials left behind – front wheel, check; rear wheel, check; frame, check – we’re on our way.
The roads are quiet (no surprise there) and in the darkness we head North with the promise of singletrack fun ahead. Almost as soon as we leave the built-up suburbs of the city, the pale light of dawn starts to colour the sky and we begin to see the mountains on the horizon ahead. Our destination is La Mata de Quintanar, a tiny village to the north east of Segovia, where we’re planning to take part in a ride organised by Mammoth Mountainbike Club. Mammoth is one the best bike shops in Madrid and with the sponsorship of Specialized, they run a club that organises rides and events all year round and all over Spain.
After a few minor navigational “issues” (let’s just put it down to “alternative” road signage rather than human error) we make it to the trailhead, a family run restaurant with a superb view over the sierra. A smart move as we later find out. The place is coincidentally run by cousins of one of the ride organisers. When we arrive it’s already heaving and the sign-on queue is long. The sight of a winding trail stretching away into the distance lifts the spirits and gives a hint of what lies ahead.
After plenty of car park preparations, bikes fettled, shades on, sun cream applied (not for the locals with their perfect tans obviously), the riders start to mass for the start, a fashionable thirty minutes later than anticipated. As we gather the reason for the delay is obvious – over 150 people have turned out, way above expectations. To mark the occasion there’s an obligatory photo session and then with a motorcycle escort we’re on our way. Now this is supposed to be a leisure ride but of course all the local speed freaks are out as well. Almost immediately they start pushing the pace and within a few kilometres we’re in a National Points Series equivalent, eyeballs out, lungs heaving, muscles burning… Well, to be honest that’s not entirely true. The lungs are going a bit, the sense of speed is high, the bunch dynamic is tangible and we’re kicking up a huge cloud of dust but the truth is the pace is very manageable and we can’t quite claim World Cup glory yet.
The organisation is superb and remarkably, with the help of several stops to regroup, this diverse collection of riders stays together for nearly all of the day. There are people and bikes of all shapes and sizes, from 6,000 Euro race machines to 60 Euro supermarket bikes! At the lunch stop it’s obvious that enjoyment is not dependent on bike price. There are grins all round, although that’s probably also to do with the big bars of chocolate that are being handed out like there’s no tomorrow. It proves a tough choice – healthy fruit, huge bar of chocolate, fruit, chocolate, fruit, chocolate – as the Americans say, “you do the math” and I’m sure you’ll guess which one came out on top!
It would be next to impossible not to enjoy a ride like this. Dry, dusty trails, clear blue sky, open sections, wooded sections, climbs, descents, two river crossings (best taken at speed for maximum effect), all the “usual suspects” for a great day in the saddle. Just to give it a Spanish flavour we also encounter two herds of sheep across the trail, a ploughed field where there was once a track (yes, it happens here too) and lots of bulls. That might not normally be a problem but have you seen any bullfights recently? They really don’t mess around when they get those horns going. But we escape unscathed and ungored. The sight of all the racer boys up front, teeth gritted and muscles popping, clearly scares the bulls.
As the day progresses, the heat rises and the broom wagon starts to get some use. In general though the group has done really well. At the last stop we take in the superb view over rolling fields and fill our water bottles for a final time. With the promise of only one more climb to go we break camp. The racer boys mix it up a bit for the final honours, the rest of the pack search through the gears just to get to the top. In the end it’s not as bad as the hype and without too much pain and suffering we conquer the mountain. Well, okay, it’s a little hill, but we have ridden a long way, honestly, so it’s kind of like a mountain really, ish…
A final swoop along a wide open trail and we’re there. The sense of accomplishment for many is obvious, smiles everywhere and a mad dash for the cold drinks and sandwiches. Having the start and finish at a family restaurant makes a lot of sense! With everyone eating, relaxing in the sunshine and swapping stories, the final event of the day is a raffle. The prizes are generous and plentifu – riding gear, T shirts, even a trip to the Canary Islands on a Mammoth organised ride. A superb end to a superb day, with lots of new fans of Club Mammoth.
After a few goodbyes to friends made on the day, all that’s left is to throw everything in the car again and head back into the centre of Madrid. With Spanish driving and Madrid traffic however that’s the start of yet another adventure and an even longer story…
As always, a big thank you to Jon Skene of www.teamskene.com for all his support, and Barnaby at Specialized UK for the best bike in the world. Info on Mammoth and the club can be found at www.mammoth-mtb.com