“This is the poorest weather we’ve had since I’ve been here,” our training camp ride guide in Andalucia, James Spragg, says apologetically.
Spragg, a cyclo-cross pro enjoying his off-season in Spain, has been here since the start of March but, having just arrived, we’re not complaining. Only a few whispy clouds occupy the sky ahead of our first ride. The strengthening sun is warm but a cool breeze is enough for me to put on a gilet and arm warmers. After a long, wet British winter, it feels like heaven for our nine-strong group.
Wheels and Wheels have moved to Andalucia after many years organising training camps in Majorca in search of quiet roads and more reliable early-season weather, and we’re chomping at the bit as we roll out of our villa in Bedar, a small hilltop village inland from the coastal resort of Mojacar, where the Dutch WorldTour team, Giant-Shimano, based themselves for their pre-season training camp in January. Over the next week we’ll be riding the same roads on which Bauke Mollema and Laurens Ten Dam – sixth and 13th in last year’s Tour de France – laid the foundations for their respective seasons.
Having arrived at Alicante airport late on Saturday night, a relaxed Sunday morning is a chance to rebuild bikes ahead of a shakedown spin to the beach and back. Our 40-mile loop, enough to wake the legs from their winter slumber, begins with a six-kilometre descent from Bedar to sea level on a beautifully smooth, wide and open road which will also serve as the finishing climb for many of the week’s rides. That’s the beauty (or brutality) of Andalucia, I’m told – there’s no shortage of climbing and it’s for that reason that this region of mainland Spain is an increasingly popular training camp destination.
The opening ride is a chance for the group to get to know each other. Half have met on a previous training camp and the banter is soon flowing through the bunch. The pace is kept steady, with the ride a chance to spin the legs and acclimatise ahead of a big week’s riding.
A buffeting headwind also keeps things in check as we approach the coast and we stop for coffee and cake in sight of the beach before turning for home. While the opening half of the ride was largely downhill, the second half starts by climbing gently before the main ascent to the finish. Any remaining clouds clear as we leave the cafe, the wind drops and the temperature rises, and it’s warm enough – comfortably over 20c by now – for me to remove my gilet and arm warmers.
We approach the climb back to Bedar and everyone’s keen to get stuck in. We’ve got a long week ahead of us, with many miles in the saddle and mountains to encouter, but, with fresh legs and a raw enthusiasm fuelled by sweet spring sunshine, what started as a gentle spin inevitably ends as a burn-up on the six kilometre ascent. It’s a steady climb which averages five per cent, though a handful of steeper ramps offer the opportunity to launch an attack before pressing home the advantage on the false flat before the road rises again to the finish.
And that’s where we take up position on the veranda of a local bar with a cold glass of coke. Talk soon turns to Milan-San Remo and we follow the final kilometres of Alexander Kristoff’s victory while basking in the sun.