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Uncategorized > Sun, Snow and Singletrack. Biking in the Pyrenees

Sun, Snow and Singletrack. Biking in the Pyrenees

An epic day mountain biking in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees, researching new areas for future mountain bike holidays.
“What a beautiful creation the mountain bike; what else can circle so many hard to reach places within an embrace of so many kilometers.”
This Saturday we were treated to an amazingly epic mountain bike route in the southern foothills of the Pyrenees. I could claim that this was research for my Spanish Pyrenees holiday, and indeed it was, but more than that it was about riding bikes with friends. This part of Spain is famous for its rock-climbing but the mountain biking is equally good here, and the scenery is spectacular, like something out of the wild west. The area is around and hour and three-quarters from San Sebastian so is a little bit far for our San Sebastian based mountain bike holidays, but it is possible to do as a day trip or with the option of spending one night here during a weeks holiday. Read on for more pictures and a description of the route.

The first views of the Pyrenees, our mountain biking destination today!

This Saturday was an epic ride on by all measures. The forecast for the Basque country was rain, turning to snow later in the day. It didn’t sound too inviting for mountain biking. We definitely wanted to ride our bikes though so it was time to come up with an alternative plan.
Blue skies, big mountains and fantastic views on the drive down.
The beauty of this part of Spain is that we have many different climate zones within a short drive. Generally the weather either comes from the Atlantic Ocean, the North, or it comes up from the south of Spain. The Pyrenees and Basque mountains form a high wall between south and north, meaning that generally the weather systems don’t pass over. This means that fronts coming from the north will leave the south dry, whereas fronts coming from the south don’t affect the north. Throw in the fact that the drive from North, (i.e. the Basque Country), to South, (i.e. the interior of Spain) is around 45 minutes and it leaves us lots of choices for mountain biking. Much of this winter so far has been spent finding, and being shown, new routes in the interior of Spain with the idea of giving us more options to avoid any bad weather on the Basque Coast.
 Singletrack climbing towards the red cliffs.  A short carry up from the reservoir.
This Saturday we were being shown a new route near a popular climbing area called Riglos. The drive from our base was around one hour and  45 minutes. Our guide for today was my friend Antonio. Antonio has been mountain biking in these hills since before mountain bikes were mountain bikes. It’s always a pleasure to ride with him with his good humour, local knowledge and stunning routes. Antiono enjoys a type of route we call “vuelta abarcando” or “all encompassing route”, i.e. one big loop that covers a lot of different hills and valleys. This Saturday was to be no exception!
 Riding along the train tracks, it felt a bit like being in the wild west.
The group was meeting in Pamplona at 8:30am so it was early when I picked up Carlos in San Sebastian. The drive down was stunning, first of all the misty Basque mountains rolled by and then we drew closer and closer to the snow covered Pyrenees, before turning into the less snowy foothills of the Pyrenees. We arrived at a little village near Riglos around 10:15am and met the rest of the group, all getting their bikes ready. I always find it funny when I see everyone’s mountain bikes, they are all a slight variation on a theme; 150-170mm full suspension bikes, Shimano XT gears, cranks and brakes, tubeless tyres and uppy-downy seatposts. Today we had:
  • 2 x Cove G-Spots
  • 1 x Pivot Firebird
  • 1 x Pivot 5.7
  • 1 x Mondraker Dune
  • 1 x Orbea Rallon
  • 1 x Cannondale Jeckyl (the new verion)
 More singletrack, there was almost too much of it. At last some easier climbing!
Leaving the village we rode for a couple of km on a little road, taking special care over the icy patches that remained in the shaded sections. We crossed over a dam before picking up a little, rocky singletrack through the sharp bushes. The singletrack climbed and descended, but mostly climbed as we wound up the valley wall towards Riglos. There were plenty of climbing challenges and then fast swoopy descents with stunning views over a river which was coloured blue-green by the salts in its water. The valley sides were topped with pockmarked red sandstone cliffs, standing tall and proud. It was to these cliffs that we finally arrived, finding ourselves in the climbing mecca of Riglos. Here the cliffs and columns rise 500m directly over the houses, offering huge routes for adventurous climbers. The village also offered us a slightly less adventurous, but none the less welcome, coffee and soup.
 Dry, dusty contouring with a little bit of exposure.
After our soup and coffee stop we dropped down a short distance on a wider path before picking up more singletrack. This was exactly the sort of mountain biking I was looking forward to, very technical singletrack climbing. It continued for miles and miles, almost all possible but so technical that nobody managed it without a foot down. Occasionally you would hear a whoop as someone cleared a section that others had failed on. Occasionally it was me whooping but mostly it was other people whooping at me. After a long and technical way we finally arrived at another little mountain village where we stopped for food. As we ate we discussed how that climb compared to a nice technical descent. Opinion was firmly split but we eventually decided that we would rather not have to choose. Fortunately Antonio promised us that on this route such a choice wasn’t necessary!
 Carlos enjoying the warmth of the sun.  That means “Danger”!
Leaving the village behind we climbed up on yet more technical singletrack. I honestly can’t think of many routes with this much technical singletrack climbing. Even where we didn’t climb on singletrack it was very technical 1.5 track. I was absolutely loving it and I could see that several of the others were just as stoked. By this point we had covered a lot of miles, biking round 3 valleys and over 2 large mountains and I could see on one or two faces that the technical singletrack climbing was starting to take its toll. Heads were definitely down.
 Big rocky mountain views.  And some nice singletrack as well!
Ahead of us we could see a huge, plated sierra running across the horizon. If you just squinted you could make out a big W-shape cut into the rocky ridge and that was where we were heading. A few more tough ramps and all of a sudden we were riding in the shadow of this imposing rocky barrier. It seemed like mountain biking couldn’t get any more epic. And then it started to snow. Gently at first and then slightly more persistently. It was time to start loosing altitude.
 Another picture of that stunning sierra. The W we go through is about halfway along.
We dropped through the W in the rock and were immediately aware of quite a lot of air on the other side. The view was huge and seemed to start around 1000m down, immediately below our feet. We could just make out the little village where our vans were parked. It seemed like we had some pretty epic descending to do before the day was over. It’s amazing how a group of tired, almost broken mountain bikers can suddenly revive themselves when the rough hand of gravity extends a finger and insistently beckons. And beckon it did. The switchbacks became gradually less exposed, and we blasted over greasy rocks and through loamy straights. I was following Sergio, a very accomplished rider who was throwing his bike into all sorts of unlikely shapes and I was enjoying every second of it! The big Cove loves these sorts of descents, it’s lively enough to float it over the rocks and dive through the corners but burly enough so that you don’t have to worry about smaller rocks and can pick nice lines.
 Dropping down between the rocky cliffs. The light was going so the photos aren’t great.
Eventually, after several stops to let the blood back into our arms, we dropped out at the village. It was 6:15pm and we had been riding for around 8 hours. Most of the day was on singletrack and was made up of little climbs and descents. The final huge descent was the only one that we padded up for and it was fantastic. The scenery was epic, especially that last rocky sierra. It was a mountain bike route in the style which Antonio loves and after today I have to agree with him. Today I studied the map and asked some people some questions and there is a way to do the same descent but in a less epic package. It is a definite option for a day trip from the Basque Country, or on our South Pyrenees trip.

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