Sunday 3 July
Awaking to a beautiful sunny morning (OK, they're always like that here, but it's still a pleasant surprise) we ate a leisurely breakfast before setting out on the first ride of the trip. After filling our camelbaks at the spring, the off-road started at the end of the street and continued up the mountain behind the villa. The loose, dusty conditions took a little getting used to: we're more accustomed to our rocks being held together with mud! The cacti along the trailside were a surprise, too.
Up and up we went, along a track which apparently would continue all the way to the summit of the Pico Veleta (a daunting 3392m high). Fortunately our guides, Simon and Ryan, had no intention of taking us that far today, and we soon turned off down a descent which started out as double track but quickly became a loose, stony track through an olive grove. There were plenty of hair-raising moments, and Howard discovered that olive trees are no less forgiving than Thetford's pines.
After crossing a hidden valley we started on a long singletrack traverse, and what a trail it was. Clinging to the side of the mountain and forever threatening to dump us over the handlebars on rocks or over the edge on off-camber bends, it had us all whooping for joy. The air was filled with the scent of rosemary as we brushed against the bushes lining the trail. Unfortunately Tom came to grief and managed to spatter blood on to his shiny titanium frame, but was soon bandaged up and on his way again. A final dusty, rutted downhill took us into the village of Lecrín for a café stop and a sandwich kindly delivered by Emma.
After lunch we had an entertaining freewheeling race down the road to Béznar, which I lost spectacularly. Reducing my tyre pressures to 20psi gave me great grip in the loose off-road stuff but made the bike wallow and rumble its way along the tarmac very slowly. A long climb past the wind farm took us to the start of a stony track opposite the Lanjarón water-bottling plant - the town is famous for its spring water. Climbing further we came to an abandoned tin mine and a short, steep, section of rocky trail which defeated all of us in spite of multiple attempts.
The loose and stony track continued further up the hill and was a real test of our endurance, especially as we were starting to feel the effects of the hot sun by this point in the afternoon. Eventually we all made it, puffing and panting, and it was time to begin the final descent. We recognised the track we'd joined as being the same as the one we'd started the day with this morning, so we knew what we were in for - fast, drifty doubletrack. What we hadn't banked on were the little sections of steep singletrack expertly found by our guides which really tested our downhilling skills to, and beyond, their limits! Nobody came to grief but many of us got the chance to hone our bailing-out technique.
We returned hot, dusty and happy to the villa for a shower and a dip in the pool of the Hotel Andalucia before dinner.
Tom fills his water bottle from the handy spring behind the villa
Stopping for a rest on the first climb of the day
Howard tackles a drop in the olive grove
Pausing to regroup above Lecrín
Passing the abandoned tin mine above Lanjarón