Last month a group of 10 riders from The 5th Floor boxed up their bikes and headed to Sierra Nevada, Spain, for their annual training camp. In the four days they were there, they covered over 350km of riding and almost 8,900 metres of climbing.
But it was one ride -- one mountain -- that drew them there in the first place. 5th WMN's captain, Sophie, takes us through its ups and downs.
When Luke sent around the route links for our Sierra Nevada trip, my ears pricked at the Pico Veleta. I'd read about it in an edition of Cyclist Magazine: Europe's highest paved road. The profile was pretty much one giant triangle. One enormous Toblerone triangle with absolutely no gaps.
The route looked and sounded tough, but it wasn't until the morning of the ride that it really sunk in. What lay before us was 43km of pure uphill. We drove from our house in Gergal to Granada, about an hour and a half of smooth, winding tarmac flanked by wind and solar farms, and national parks.
We had to ban any Googling of stats on the climb as the nerves started to buzz.
Before we left the house we'd already devoured two decanters of São Judas Tadeu that we'd brought with us, but we still settled in Granada for another.
Delaying and procrastination techniques reached fever pitch.
I can't take you through all four hours of the climb. I'll leave that for your own pilgrimage to the Pico (or, in lieu of that, I'd recommend looking up the 2013 Vuelta, in which Chris Horner sung his swan song).
What I can do is pull out some of the points that will linger in my memory for some time.
The gradient in the first few kilometres edged towards 28%. Whilst the pros pushed back on their saddles and appear to power up, we danced a clunky waggle-weave up the steepest parts, avoiding each other's wheels whilst slowly ticking off the meters. The gradient eased and took us up through cherry groves and pine forest followed by an open moonscape littered with clumps of wild thyme and herbs the higher we went.
The top was higher than the highest ski lift. It's hard to remember that riders don't just ascend this mountain in the summer, but that skiers also fly down it in the winter. The rutted roads from the piste bashers of many winters were evidence of that.
Still closer to the top, the tarmac became gravel, which in turn became dark shale and we, along with a headwind, all arrived at the top. Truly breathtaking.
And then came the 43km descent. It was awesome in the original sense of the word; smooth and empty four-lane roads with sweeping turns and views of turquoise quarry pools and hamlets dusting the mountain sides.
The Pico is a one off – it’s a proper challenge. Especially when climbed the ‘other’ (tougher) way round.
That 43km time segment will remain my lifetime best. I won’t be doing it twice.
As well as their bikes, The 5th Floor also packed our BREW BUNDLE: FOR TWO for their trip to Sierra Nevada. The team are continuing to race throughout Europe and throughout the year. Their Summer Cyclocross Series is already underway and you can stay up-to-date on everything they're doing by visiting their website.