With three major cycling events, the last weekend of September is packed in Spain. First, Sea Otter Europe: a bike fair with a MTB race, a gravel event and La Ciclobrava in Girona. In addition, the postponed gran fondo Quebrantahuesos and finally the GF Alberto Contador in Oliva. Where many riders have concluded their season after the UCI World Championships in Trento last weekend, this is the icing on the cake for us.
No rain and the first falling leaves of autumn: in Oliva, 20km north of Calpe, the sun is still shining in full this weekend and the temperature is heading towards 30 degrees. In short, the summer is prolonged in Spain with a wonderful event on the program. The route of the GF Alberto Contador runs along the famous training roads in the mountains southwest of Oliva. This is the area where almost all pros make their kilometers every winter during the training camps in preparation for the new season. Besides the well-known microclimate in this area, which makes for pleasant weather to train in winter, the roads are of excellent quality and the climbs are generally friendly.
The gran fondo is nearly 170km and 2900 meters of climbing whilst the mediofondo hass 120km long with 1900m+. The difference between the gran fondo and medio fondo is caused by the Alt de Miserat, but more on that later. It is organized by the same organization as the Mallorca 312, so they have the necessary experience. As in the Mallorca 312, the roads are car-free, which remains a delight for any amateur! The start of both distances is at the same time. And as it is more often in Spain, there is a lot less stress involved than you sometimes see in GF'S in other countries. Tranquilo applies here, however, with a good pace we ride the first 17 flat kilometers to the first climb of the day. It's a nice beginning: almost 5 km at an average gradient of 4%. Ideal to ride up in the middle of the group. After a short descent it is time for the most famous climb of the area: Coll de Rates. The test mountain of the pros. We will not ride the KOM today (by the way, you can find a nice video of the KOM attack here) and also a PR is not in the cards, it goes up slowly.
There are some Spanish standoffs, and the Belgians in the group are doing a determine tactics among themselves. A kilometer and a half before the summit, the attacking begins and 25 or so of us ride away. Not much happens over the next 35 kilometers. But this gives us time to enjoy the surroundings. I have been here several times during March, when the blossoms are in bloom, but late September is different. Spain has had an unprecedented dry and hot summer and the area has been ravaged by forest fires. Unfortunately, the scars of these are still clearly visible in the landscape. However, this does not take away from the beauty of the area. It's so nice to ride here. And how special it is that there is no other traffic on the roads on this Saturday morning. There is finally the opportunity to tackle the descents as well.
After 80km, there's something happening at the front of the breakaway. The motards of the Guardia Civil let us slow down and get into a discussion with the front row of Spanish riders. Suddenly the Guardia Civil ride on again, but the pace in the group slows down. The moment for some Belgians to attack and to my surprise, the Spanish let it happen. But as it turnes out: The Guardia Civil will make the leading group stop at the next supply, something the Belgians don't know (yet). Nobody knows exactly why but apparently the time difference between the first group and the last group is too big. And yes, 7 kilometers further on everyone is summoned to use the feed station. The Belgians who escaped are a bit baffled. In the 15 minutes that we have to wait, the group of riders at the feeding station gets bigger and bigger and grows to about 80 to 100 people. With sponsors such as 4Gold (sports drinks, bars and gels) and Coca Cola, the supplies are excellent (bananas, cookies, etc. are also available). After the Guardia Civil has also eaten a bocadillo (sandwich) we may continue.
The legs have cooled, it's going straight uphill and not everyone is digesting this equally well. Practically the same group has formed into a leading group again, only with about 10 men less. What follows is a slightly downhill -2.5% descent of almost 25km, time to sit back in the group and relax the legs a bit. And to mentally prepare for the final climb. This is also why there hasn't really been any hard riding anywhere so far.
Alt de Miserat: I had never heard of it before, and perhaps that was for the best. And if I'd already knew it, I certainly wouldn't have ridden it before. The discoverer of this horror climb does not deserve a statue. On Strava, the Vuelta winner and 2022 world champion has the KOM: 18.9km/h average over 19:32 minutes on a climb of just over 6 kilometers. What the climb looks like is anyone's guess: steep! The 8.7% average says nothing, the profile below tells the whole story.
Even in the first group, riders have to set foot and walk sections. Suffering is spelled with capital letters here, and I myself feel like I'm still pedaling smoothly at a cadence of 40. Turning around, descending and then a DNF plays through my head more than once. At the top the music is loud, men dressed as a roosters and bears give the riders a final push over the top. After this, it's recovering and descending slowly, and another recharge before the final 3-kilometer climb to Col d´Ebo.
The view from Col d´Ebo toward the coast and the flat area near Pego is one of the most beautiful in the area. Looking down you can see the climb winding uphill. This is the last descent and one I have climbed many times, as this side of Col d´Ebo is one of my favorite climbs in this area. After the descent, a final flat 15 kilometers remain back to Oliva. The legs are done with it, my clothes are like a salt deposit and I long for food and drink. In the end, I roll over the finish line in 10th place. More importantly, I enjoyed the ride immensely.
A gran fondo over fantastic roads in a beautiful cycling area and where summer continues through the end of September. The entry price between EUR 55 and EUR 70 is absolutely reasonable for an event on closed roads, including cool jersey from Gobik, good supplies and fine pasta party. Definitely a gran fondo for riders looking for another autumn goal in a sunny destination. And Alberto Contador? He is still a demigod in Spain, still cycling, handing out autographs and happy to have his picture taken with you. Kudos to Alberto and the organization.