Ride Sierra Nevada is a guiding company based near Granada in southern Spain and is nestled on the northern slopes of the snowcapped Sierra Nevada Mountains which rise to over 3000 metres. The area is seriously blessed with miles of natural single track, perfect Enduro country.
As soon as word was out that Shaun and Csilla (owners of Ride Sierra Nevada), had organised the race, tickets were booked. The venue for the race was Güéjar Sierra, a small mountain village with a proactive council. The race format was to be held over two days; Saturday, free practice and Sunday, race day. This comprised of 3 timed stages over 37km with just over 2000m of climbing, luckily there was no deadline for each climb and if the climbing seemed a daunting prospect in the Spanish heat, it was to put to the back of my mind as I knew the stages would be awesome. For those who weren’t up for the full race a lite version was available using the first two stages only.
The weather had been glorious through the preceding weeks with temperatures in the upper twenties and sun all the way but looking at the forecast, a storm was predicted for Sunday. Being English, a bit of rain wasn’t going to put me off…or lightning! Saturday arrived, riders were arriving in town, gathering in the plaza, pulling stunts and appraising one another’s machines, the atmosphere was beginning to buzz with anticipation. It was time to hit the stages and get practicing.
Knowing the amount of climbing involved I elected for an early, casual start which gave me plenty of time to session the stages and conserve as much energy as possible. Stage 1 started under a canopy of mountain oak, jagged unforgiving rocks loomed either side that required your respect as you accelerated. After turning the first corner the switchbacks started. There’s only one way to describe this stage which is switchback heaven and for almost 2km, I was buzzing by the time I was spat out at the bottom.
Stage 2 started with a tough jeep track climb which rose to 1500m rewarding you with a fantastic view into the valley. The stage entrance peeled off the jeep track and you were straight into a high-speed single track descent with sweeping bermed corners, open woodland and a sprinkling of large shale type rocks spattered across the trail to keep your attention. Nearing the bottom you were greeted with an amazing technical section of tight, steep switchbacks. I made a mental note of where they started, if you came into this section too hot you’d never make the first switchback cleanly and I wanted to keep the flow. After 2.5km of thigh burning speed the stage was over all but with a huge grin on my face.
Stage 3’s climb took you up to 1700m. At the top you were again greeted with a spectacular view looking down into the valley and across to the highest peaks of the Sierra Nevada. The terrain on this part of the mountain was open scrub, festooned with bike breaking boulders. The opening section to the stage was fast and flowing, hugging the contour of the mountain and pumping the bike gained huge amounts of speed. Then, half way down a huge rockgarden appeared.
Finding the best line through wasn’t easy, I sessioned it several times which requiring focus due to the moon-like nature of the pot-holed rocks that seemed never ending. As a final descent there was no let-up, it was hard, physical, unforgiving but amazingly enjoyable and at 3.2km, the longest stage of the three. This stage definitely commanded your full attention and not a little reverence. Shaun and Csilla had carefully crafted a trio of amazing stages that would challenge the best riders…I was looking forward to racing!
Sunday arrived with the impending storm holding off as the riders gathered in the Plaza for the 8.30 briefing. After a few race rules, do’s and don’ts in Spanish and English the first riders were off. Hitting the first stage brought us headlong into the trail and after countless switchbacks, I was at the bottom with a rush of adrenaline. I’d made a few mistakes but was now thinking about stage two. A light rain had started on the way up and had dampened the trail which made for more grip than the previous day and gave confidence to push faster.
Supporters were along the trail and the encouragement was great, I broke into a smile at the start of a technical section as a crazy Spanish guy nearly burst an ear drum with his megaphone. A quick fuel stop at the the bottom and I was off to stage 3. This stage felt great, carrying speed well … then I wiped out. Coming into a tight left-right hand section way too fast, it was guarded by two enormous rocks either side. Clipping my bars on one rock I was spat off and entangled in the bike.
This cost precious time and a bent brake lever, fortunately it still worked so I was off again. The time spent sessioning the rockgarden paid off as I carried good speed through and all too soon the finish gates appeared. The rain had set in by the time awards were given but the mood was upbeat with a festival like atmosphere. Being a Spanish dominated race it was good to see the Swede, Dennis Dertell and Scotland’s Amie Hickman take the podium.
The day had been full of great racing and amazing fun with the organisers emphasising fair play and respect for the environment which was well observed. They had concocted three stages that are arguably world class and if this event continues, it can only get better as there’s so much more to offer on the north side of the Sierra Nevada.
Words: Mark Crofts Photos: Arturo Jiménez