You are currently viewing Iberica Traversa part 1, from the Pyrenees direction south

Iberica Traversa part 1, from the Pyrenees direction south

Almost exactly 2 months to the day after the start of the Transcontinental Race TCR 09, the Iberica Traversa started on Sunday, 9/24. On gravel and single trails from the Pyrenees to the southernmost point of the European continent. From Irun in the Basque Country, to Tarifa in Andalusia, about 1700 kilometers.

The trip to Irun

For me, the adventure started already on Thursday. I had caught a cheap flight, and started the journey to Irun with a big box containing my bike and all my luggage, as well as a small bag with the things for the flight. I was not really motivated. Sitting on the bike for so long again? Also, 1000 things from my job were constantly going through my head. The last weeks I had hardly ridden my bike and I hoped that my motivation would be back at the start in three days at the latest.

At the airport in Düsseldorf, the check-in was quickly completed. I still had an appointment with Ulrike Keferstein, who had surprisingly received and interviewed me as an “airport fairy” after the TCR09. More about that later here in the blog in a separate post.

The flight was unspectacular, and the bus and train ride from Bilbao to Irun also went smoothly. Only the bicycle box became too heavy for me in the long run. The almost 900 m from the train station in Irun to the hotel I pulled it more or less, and I was glad when I arrived in the room and I had assembled the bike the same evening. Friday was an almost normal working day. Not “working from home” but “working from hotel”. Outside it was 11 degrees Celsius and showery weather. My motivation, below zero.

The day prior to the start

Saturday morning I met Michael Brandstoetter at breakfast, he had registered for the same distance. After breakfast together, I decided to do a short loop to get acclimated, and to check that the bike and all the panniers were assembled correctly, over the Jakzibel. The mountain, which has often played a decisive role in the Tour of the Basque Country and the Classica San Sebastian,. Also, the weather finally played along. Only a little drizzle on top of the mountain, and down in Irun even sunshine again. Had it actually only rained the last two days, everything seemed much better now. When I arrived back at the hotel, Michael pushed his bike just through the foyer. He wanted direction sea, to eat something. I turned around on the spot, and we cycled together to the neighboring village to the sea, to treat ourselves to a small meal. Unfortunately, I had to move to another hotel on Saturday because there were no rooms available for the weekend. My new home for the night to Sunday was only 100 m away from the start. Should I miss my GoPro like at the SBA again, the way back to, hotel would be at least very short.

Registration for the Iberica Traversa in the late afternoon went quickly. In addition to the race cap, there was also a food bag and the all-important tracker. In the evening some of the participants met for dinner in a nearby bar. It was great to get to know the other colleagues better. Some of them also started at the road version on Monday. Around ten o’clock I made my way back to my hotel and tried to get as much sleep as possible.

Race day (September 24th)

On Sunday the alarm clock rang early. A short and good breakfast at the hotel, where I also met Holly Seear and Steve Davidson. They started as one of the few couples at the Iberica Traversa. The obligatory photos were taken at the start, and we were off at 8am on the spot. It was only 11 degrees Celsius, and partly the river valleys in the Pyrenees were still covered in fog. All participants took it quite easy. At least until it went up the first real mountain after about 45 kilometers on tar, I was glad that I had mounted a 40er sprocket. Then it went on single trails downhill again, where the mountain bikers overtook me easily. The surface was very slippery and muddy, and I had no desire to risk anything. It was about 90 kilometers from the start to Pamplona, the first checkpoint. I made good progress, even though my motivation and legs were not really good. I reached the checkpoint in third place at 14:12 (the leaderboard (external link) is unfortunately not correct for CP1). Elvis Forabosco and Davide Busoli had passed me on the single trail before. Part of the trail was not rideable for me. It was loamy, muddy and slippery. With my tires no chance. Through Pamplona it went on Sunday afternoon, and all of Spain was on the legs.

An impressive city, but I tried to lose as little time as possible to still get to the Bardenas Reales National Park. After a quick shopping, I continued. But that turned out to be more difficult than expected. Motivation in the cellar, legs like pudding, and I somehow couldn’t make friends with the gravel tracks. “Why didn’t you switch to the road version?”, I kept asking myself, and got no answer. The road up the next mountain was washed out after storms. It was unrideable, and that was the last straw in my motivation. I would have loved to scratch here. Down on a single trail on grass it slowly got better. In the late afternoon it went over more gravel stretches steep climbs up to a high plateau. The view there compensated for the efforts of the day, and for the first time I could bring something positive out of it.

Andy Buchs, organizer of the IT, welcomed us riders with his drone and took pictures of us. It was starting to get dark. Despite my plan and promise not to ride over gravel roads in the dark (the experience of Transcontinental Race was not good in this respect) I continued over just these. I wanted to spend the first night in a hotel with shower and not share my bed with the many mosquitoes.

In Uxue there was a drinking water well in the village, which I found after a little searching. Further it went on a downhill gravel section direction Carcastillo. It followed a small piece on asphalt, and I booked me in the nearest town, Murillo el Fruto, a room. This I reached shortly before 22 o’clock. Davide Busoli had also checked in here and we had dinner together before I fell asleep with 178 km in my legs.

Police Academy (September 25th)

In the morning of the second day I continued towards the Bardenas Reales Park. Before eight o’clock the entrance was forbidden, so I first had a leisurely breakfast in a café in Carcastillo. At 08:15 I reached the national park. Davide was about 15-20 minutes ahead while I was delayed by a large flock of sheep. Elvis caught up with me and we eventually passed the sheep to get to the second checkpoint. Morten Kjærsgaard had joined us and reached the checkpoint before Elvis and me. After the checkpoint we continued on the gravel road, at least until a police patrol and the military police refused to let us continue. Elvis discussed with the officers, and they finally made it clear that we had to ride on the cross road until we reached the main road, and not, as actually required by the regulations, to get back on the original track as soon as possible. Davide did this anyway, and struggled over some hills back to the original route.

Elvis and I continued on the road as instructed, and after a few kilometers we overtook Morten there as well. We reached the original route again after 30 kilometers. Davide was currently continuing to fight his way through the terrain. Andy Buchs called me, and after explaining the situation, it was decided that we should wait for Davide, and then give him another 20 minutes lead on the way. Elvis and I passed through a bullring in search of a pub and a supermarket, and spent the rest of the wait in the shade in a park. Morten waited a few kilometers away under a tree. After Davide had the appropriate head start again, we continued the ride. Morten left us a few minutes ahead, and the order was ok again on the leaderboard. Over the next hour we caught up with Davide. Elvis was setting a remarkable pace. I caught up with him again when he had a flat tire. But soon he was  pulling away again. The course dragged on uphill and downhill. It was almost dark when I made the decision in Gotor to climb the next mountain. It was clear that I would have to push more than ride up this hill. Elvis was a few kilometers ahead, and Davide a kilometer or two behind me. So all three of us struggled up, sometimes riding, sometimes walking. The downhill was surprisingly easy to ride, and also partially tarred.

In Aninon I tried to book a room on the Internet, but there was nothing available. I drove to the church of the village. Maybe there was a good possibility to spend the night here. Just as I was about to cycle a few more meters, I heard my name and Elvis ran after me. “Would you like to share a room with me?” He asked. He had snagged another apartment for two and was happy that I of course accepted his offer. I had a shower, and we could share the cost. Irena had already arrived at the hotel. She had gone to the national park before 8 am, was not stopped by the police, and did not have to wait 3 1/2 hours. Davide joined us afterwards. He had gotten the last room online earlier. Together with Elvis and Davide I went to dinner after a shower. The landlady made us still at midnight, it had become quite late, a delicious meal à la carte.

Welcome to Arizona? (September 26th)

IIrena was already on the road when Elvis and I struggled out of our beds around 6 o’clock. It went on over hill and dale. After sunrise, the first longer climb of the day was on the program. Around 08:30 o’clock I arrived at the top. Elvis had stopped in the village before and had breakfast, which I definitely wanted to make up for in the next village. Shortly after the highest point I reached a bizarre landscape. “Am I at the Grand Canyon here?” it popped into my head. A landscape that really reminded me of Arizona, where I had made a road trip with my oldest son in 2018. And this in Spain?

Not everything was rideable for me. Nor do I think the mountain bikers could ride everything. It was simply too dangerous for me. The landscape was fascinating, and I regretted having normal tracks under my tires again almost after an hour. Half of my Wishbone (bottle cage behind the saddle) said goodbye, and I rebuilt the bottle cage to the fork. Good to have many options for attachment to the bike. After a few kilometers I reached around 10:00 Ateca, and I treated myself with a breakfast with coffee, and bought food for the rest of the day. Slowly it became warm, or rather hot. The road stretched steadily upward to a reservoir near Carenas. A little later I passed through the Canyon del Rio Mesa (Snail River Canyon). Again a landscape that reminded me of the USA. This time it reminded me of Zion National Park. It was beautiful, even if I cursed some passages on pure sand. At the end of the valley I allowed myself in Algar de Mesa a Boccadio con Jamon and a Coke. Up to the next checkpoint it was still some distance, in particular it led as the first again over a mountain.

It was steeply uphill, and around 3:30pm, while pushing my bike up the hill, I had a short conference call. Probably the best workplace in the world right now, I thought. Later, at about 5:25 p.m., I reached the third checkpoint, Molina de Aragon. I shopped for the evening and the next morning, had a liter of orange juice and something to eat, before stopping by the local bike store to buy two bottle cages. After all by now also the bottle cage I had remounted broken by all the shaking and jolting over hill and dale. The bottle cages I mounted quickly and started at about 18:30 on the continuation of the journey. It was on a road, from which I left after about 10 kilometers on gravel. It became dark. For the next kilometers, more precisely 136 kilometers to Aragon, there should be no more overnight stays or shopping. There was also no network for the most part. I drove on until I reached a chalet. There, however, there were only large apartments for 4-6 people for appropriate payment.

About 4 kilometers before I had passed a former Refugio. It was actually only a ruin, but I drove back to be able to spend the night there at least protected from the wind. It was about 23:30 o’clock, when I moved into my bivouac. Had it been a good decision to start this long distance of more than 130 kilometers in the evening?

More in the next post …