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Badlands: My First Bikepacking Adventure

By Cycling, Cycling in Spain, Girona, South Spain, Spain, Women's Cycling No Comments

This year local Girona trio Rocket, Cristina, and Laura from Over & Out took on Badlands, by Transiberica. A 750km gravel race, crossing two deserts in Andalusia, with 16,000m of climbing. This was the first ultra-cycling race for all three, and for Rocket, her first ever bikepacking adventure…What a way to start. Read on to find out about how they prepared for this event, and how it went.

Where It Began

Laura and Cristina (Cris) had been preparing for Badlands for a year, whereas I had heard about it through them and decided it would be cool to challenge myself in a new way. Coming from road racing, I’ve been keen to get myself on a gravel, and what a way to kick things off with gravel racing, 750km in Andalusia? Yes please.

I’ll be honest, Badlands was not intended to be my first ever bikepacking adventure, but a series of unfortunate events, and a busy work schedule, meant that it happened that way. 10/10 would not recommend turning up never having backpacked before, but go big or go home, right?

As Laura and Cris were already riding as a pair, I entered solo with all of us repping our Over & Out squad.

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Badlands Preparation

Laura applied her knowledge as a cycling coach and director sportif to look at the route and split it into days. Listing out the climbs, technical sections, villages where we could find water, and hotels along the way. Naively, we split the route into four days, thinking five would be the maximum number of days it would take. I say naively because there’s a huge difference between what’s on paper, and the reality of the route which we quickly discovered during the event…

Training wise I had an event earlier in the Summer, a multi-day stage race in Andorra on the road, and so this was my first focus. I had a large base block prior to this event, some rest after the event, and then began to work back up. Unfortunately, due to work my training began to take a dip a few weeks prior to the event which wasn’t optimal, it meant I began tapering early. With guidance from Laura and Ciaran O’Grady, they helped make sure I was in the best position I could be in the circumstances.

With our route split completed, and training underway, we then needed to think about what we’re packing, which bike bags, and the equipment we’ll need along the way. As both Laura and Cris had some experience with this, they were able to help me with items I would need, and those I wouldn’t. I also reached out to other adventure seeking fanatics who had experience with ultra-riding or multi-day bikepacking adventures for advice.

Kit Choice

I decided to use Restrap bike bags, I’d used them before and was really impressed, they’d also been recommended to me multiple times as the best to use for this type of event. Having reached out to them, Restrap sponsored my bike bags for the event. I settled on the race collection saddle bag, frame bag, top tube bag, and then a canister bag. This was the perfect set up, I was able to fit everything I wanted to pack including having some extra room for food along the way. I also took a camelbak to ensure I could carry even more water, this was vital.

Kit wise, Universal Colours, a British sustainable and ethical focused clothing brand sponsored Over & Out. The kit was perfect, particularly the Chroma cycling jersey which was lightweight and comfortable. I wore the Mono bibshorts in a size up which were perfect for the heat.

For my shoes I opted to wear the Quoc Gran Tourer (which were gifted) over my S-Works MTB shoes, as they are much more supple and wider which meant when my feet were swelling in the heat, I still had room and felt no pressure points.

I refined my kit list with the help Laura, Cris, and Sami Sauri, and have to say I was happy with everything I brought.

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Bike Set Up

With the help of Willem from Eat Sleep Cycle, and input from Daan who did Badlands last year, we built up my brand-new RS Cycles Brusca gravel frame with Shimano GRX from my old cross bike.

We went with a 38t front chainring, and 46t cassette. While this worked well, there were times I wished for the 50t…

My tyres were Rene Herse Oracle Ridge 700C x 48 tubeless. I suffered with not one puncture, at all, and felt secure on the entire route. Never having ridden Rene Herse before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I am beyond impressed with these tyres!

Race Countdown

We flew to Granada a few days prior to the event, giving us time to sort out last minute situations, as well as having time to recce the first few km of the start of the race, particularly the first climb and technical descent.

The Race

At the start line the nerves were real. I still had no idea what to expect, but we hung at the back knowing we wanted to take things slow.

Day one was epic. It is possibly one of my favourite days I’ve ever had on the bike, it was long, hard, with more climbing in one ride than I’ve ever done. There were some long climbs, one in particular which was all on the road and I was able to keep a strong cadence and spin up to the top. The first 40km were brutal, as we were told to expect, with some technical gravel and sharp gravel climbs. We made our way through, yoyoing with a few other riders with whom we got to know a little along the way.

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We stopped once for an early supper, and then carried on, our eyes set on Gorafe being the town just outside the first desert. Our initial plan was to ride through the desert at night, but arriving late to Gorafe and struggling to find some food without meat, we decided to hit the sack for a few hours.

This was the first time I’d ever slept out with no tent, in a random location, not including those as a child sleeping under the trampoline in my backgarden. We found a number of other rides sleeping outside in front of the only BnB in the town (which was fully booked) and decided the safest thing to do was to crash there also. I use the term sleep loosely, it was mostly drift in an out of consciousness over the course of a few hours. We slept on roll mats, in only bivvy bags, wearing leggings and a puffer jacket for warmth.

At 4:15am we started to pack up and find water getting ready to start the day in the desert. By 5am we were on the “road” hitting the first climb out of Gorafe. We rode for a few hours in the dark, and as the sun began to rise we hit the first village, finding a few of our friends at a café drinking coffee. We sat down to join them and caught up on the previous day. They’d ridden the 30km late last night and had crashed in the village square, having dealt with puncture after puncture for hours on end into the early hours of the day.

After a few cups of coffee, we carried on, enjoying a beautifully paved road to the next town, and last water stop (little did we know). As the day went on we took on some more technical sections of sand, long climbs, rocky sections, steep climbs, and as the day got hotter and hotter, the lack of water, food, and sleep started to become an issue.

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Laura’s ongoing tooth infection was becoming more and more unbearable, taking its toll on her body. We’d booked our hotel earlier in the day, knowing we’d need a bed for the night and this became out motivation to keep moving. With 30km to go before leaving the desert, we decided I would ride on, get to the hotel, and find food for us. During this 30km I had some of my darkest moments, I received word that Cris had crashed and hit her head and was struggling with dizziness. I’d nearly fainted in 49 degrees climbing up the final climb, forcing myself to get off and sit under the shade for a moment. With only 500ml of water left, and still the distance from the edge of the desert to Gor to go, not knowing where the water was, alone, a little scared, unable to keep food in my stomach having been sick, I wondered what the hell I was doing here. Seeing some other riders towards the top of climb lifted my spirits and I kept going.

Those final few kms to the hotel were the hardest of my life, alone, with no water, dehydrated, suffering with head stoke, it took everything to keep the pedals turning. I remember feeling so defeated, shaking feeling cold but hot, and delirious, having exited the desert there was still a way to go to Gor to our hotel and it felt insurmountable.

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That first glass of water at the hotel I will remember for the rest life. Badlands is like this; it pushes you beyond the limits of what you thought you were capable of. Having showered, taken a brief rest, and chugged my weight in water, I changed into the only non-cycling clothes I had and made my way back to the village to find a supermarket to find some food to cook for when Laura and Cris made it back. Another 6km I thought would be impossible, and yet I rode on.

When they arrived later that night, we were broken, hurting, exhausted, dehydrated, suffering with heat stroke but happy to have somewhere to sleep. With Laura in pain, Cris in no state to get on a bike, and with my struggling to get food in my stomach we went to bed planning to have a team meeting the following morning to check in before we decided on the day. The next section of the race was going to be a brutal section over 100km with no food stops, an 18km climb to start (which a friend of ours took 5hrs to get up as it was mostly hike-a-bike), and little water security.

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That following morning, after a long chat, we made the decision to pull the plug on this adventure. I was heartbroken for Laura and Cris who had been prepping and planning for this adventure for so long, but in our current states, we didn’t want to take the potential risks.

Badlands Reflection

Badlands was one of the best and worst rides of my life. Riding on the gravel with two of my best friends for so long, on a completely new adventure, was epic. Seeing them both accomplish things they’d never done before and seeing how strong they had come into this race was beyond awesome. Challenging myself and pushing myself out of my comfort zone to my growth zone was equally as awesome.

However, the lack of water, and water security, the heat, and the issues along the way made this one of the worst experiences I’d ever had on the bike. I suppose that’s the type 2 fun, it was horrible, but I look back and think how epic it was to make it through that.

Badlands challenges every essence of your being, and for those finishers, all of you, whether you completed it in two days or six, my hat is off to you! What a feat! For those who started and pulled the plug whether it was km 60 or 650, kudos to you, starting Badlands is not for fainthearted, and those who take to start do so with courage. You’re epic. And Badlands, perhaps I’ll be back for a re-match…

A huge thank you to Eat Sleep Cycle, Restrap, Universal Colours, and Quoc for your support.

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10 Essential Tips for Cycling in Gran Canaria in Winter

By Gran Canaria, Spain No Comments

Gran Canaria is establishing itself as one of the go-to destinations for cyclists seeking sun in the cold winter months. The island is located off the west coast of Africa and is subject to warm weather, sunshine and very little rain all year around. We asked Eat Sleep Cycle founders Lee & Louise to compile a list of tips for cyclists after they visited the island last week.

1. Winter Cycling Paradise in Gran Canaria

Gran Canaria is one of the best destinations in the world to enjoy in January & February. Don’t bother packing leg warmers – our friend Normando, who is from the north of the island, doesn’t own a pair and rides every day. Make sure you cover your legs in sun-cream instead as UV is very high. Factor 50 is best, and you’ll still get tan lines!

2. Pace Yourself

Pace yourself & prepare yourself for some tough climbing, the island does not contain a single flat road. There are two particularly challenging climbs on the island – the legendary Valley of the Tears & the climb up to Pico de Nieves via the village of La Pasadilla. Do not start out too fast on Day 1 when your legs are fresh – the roads to not let up and you’ll be off the bike by Day 3 if you hit the climbs too fast.

3. Tranquilo Traffic

Traffic is generally very respectful of cyclists and it’s quiet on the mountain roads. The coast road should be avoided at busy times of the day but it does have beautiful sections which are well worth riding, particularly in the north and west of the island.

4. Go Local

Locals ride in the north, visitors ride in the south – both are amazing and it’s well worth exploring the north of the island if you can. The north of the island offers greener landscapes with plenty of Eucalyptus trees and a friendly cycling culture (there are so many cyclists in the south it’s more difficult to keep up the enthusiastic greetings!) 

5. Be Prepared & Know Your Roads

Do your homework – roads on Gran Canaria are in a constant state of flux with frequent closures & resurfacing. There are two key sections of the coast road which are falling away. One section has been closed for 3 years and the other has just been blocked off in the name of safety – ask around when you arrive on the island for the latest updates. Whilst roads generally have a great surface they deteriorate quickly so prepare yourself for some bumpy rides on roads which are due for resurfacing – some roads are fairly dangerous to descend but enjoyable to climb.

6. Perfect Planning

Plan to your ride up to Pico de Nieves on the clearest day of your trip so you can enjoy the otherworldly view of Mont Teide on Tenerife. Sometimes the wind blows a fine layer of dust over from Africa, blocking the view and making all the effort not so worthwhile – the dust is not likely to last more than a couple of days so it’s worth planning your ascent carefully 

7. Ride Nutrition for Epic Days

Food in supermarkets is relatively expensive but there are some great value bars & restaurants. In local bars off the tourist bus route coffee hovers around the €1 mark. If you’re bonked and in need of some serious sustenance order a ‘leche leche’ and you’ll fly up the next climb. A ‘leche leche’ is a cafe bonbon on steroids. A cafe bonbon is an espresso served with deliciously sweet condensed milk. Both drinks are €1 in the best places – make sure you carry cash, cards tend not to be welcome in these areas.

It’s also well worth carrying a stash of food in your pockets and stopping at every opportunity for water. It’s easy to run out of both if you’re on a big day & some rides take you to some fairly remote places.

8. Look Up! It’s Beautiful.

If you’re expecting to ride on a brown volcanic island, think again. Gran Canaria is full of green, lots of cacti, Eucalyptus, banana plants and there are some incredible rock formations in varying colours. Make sure you look up from the the wheel in front of you and take time to appreciate the incredible landscape.

9. Enjoy the Friendly, Welcoming Vibe

The local language is Spanish but it’s very easy to get by with English as the island’s economy is centered around tourism. It’s hard to find a menu in a cafe which has not been translated into several languages.

10. Think Pantani

Legendary Italian climber Pantani trained in Gran Canaria & every ride contains 2,000 m of climbing unless you choose not to venture off the coast road. Just something to be aware of when planning your rides!

Planning to Cycle in Gran Canaria?

If you’re planning to cycle on Gran Canaria check out our blog outlining some of the best Gran Canaria Cycle Routes & the best places to stay. Or why not sign up to our Gran Canaria Ride Camp or ultimate Gran Canaria Experience and save yourself the hassle!

Guide to Cycling in Majorca - Eat Sleep Cycle

Guide to Cycling in Majorca

By Cycling in Spain, Spain No Comments

Majorca (or Mallorca as they say in Spanish) is arguably one of cycling’s most popular winter cycling destinations for getaways and is synonymous with pre-season training camps as teams escape to catch some early-season sun and take advantage of the smooth, well-maintained roads. The best times to visit the island are spring and autumn when the weather is not too hot but is warm enough to get those cyclist tan-lines going.

The Mallorca 312

The island even hosts its very own sportive the hugely popular Mallorca 312 – the course of which originally traversed the entire 312km lap of the island but now maintains the same distance but varies in terms of parcours year-on-year.

Majorca Cycling Highlights

Because so many cyclists have been coming to the island for such a long time the locals are accustomed to them frequenting the roads and as such give them due respect, which makes enjoying some of the fantastic cycling in Mallorca even more enjoyable. Here are some of the standout rides that Mallorca has to offer!

Majorca Cycling Tour Highlights - Eat Sleep Cycle

Sa Calobra
Stats: 9.4km at 7%
Sa Calobra is the most well-known climb on the island and one of the most well-known roads in Europe, famous for its spaghetti-like switchbacks the road was designed by Italian engineer Antonio Parietti and built manually in 1932.

Cap de Formentor
Stats: 17km at 2.8%
From Pollenca this climb is more of a series of kickers than one long climb, however gradients remain mostly low making it a steady ride with spectacular views up to the iconic lighthouse. It is the Northernmost point of the island and is known as ‘the meeting point of the winds’ and the wind can indeed get quite strong at the top.

Col de Soller
Stats: North 7.4km at 6%, South 5km at 5%
The Southern side of Col de Soller from Bunyola is the most popular and easier side to climb with a gentle and consistent gradient owing to the many hairpins, no longer the main road to Soller since a tunnel was built in the 1990s the road is usually empty of cars barring a few.

The Northern side of the climb is slightly harder although still not hugely challenging once again thanks to numerous hairpins of which there are more than Alpe d’Huez!

Puig Major
Stats: 14km at 5.9%
The only thing which could make this climb challenging is its length. Highest climb in Mallorca, located within the Tramuntana mountains and as such is largely sheltered within woodlands.

Off The Beaten Track Riding in Mallorca

The next set of spots for cycling in Mallorca are a bit more off the beaten track than the previous ones but are still worth the ride.

Valldemossa
Stats: 5km at 7%
If you want to take the road less pedalled whilst still experiencing what’s best about Mallorca then Valldemossa is the place to go. Steeper than the majority of other climbs but also much quieter so in our opinion it’s worth it!

Tramuntana Coastal Road
Through the Tramuntana mountains along the Southern coastline from the town of Esporles to Andratx is the rolling route of the Tramuntana coastal road. As you ride along this road the Mediterranean sea is visible on your right and the Galatzo peak is on your let making for stunning views. The road surface is high-quality and there is very little traffic making this one of the most enjoyable routes on the island.

Els Vergers/Sobremunt
Stats: 7km at 10%
Crowned by the GCN show as the ‘hardest climb on the island’ this rough stretch of road ramps up to a maximum gradient of 25% and averages 10% – with downhill sections included. At the top is a restaurant which gives the climb it’s name and is well off the regular cyclist trail.

Mallorcan Culture

We believe that a huge part of taking a cycling vacation is discovering a new culture, cuisine, architecture and unique character of each place. So many European destinations are steeped in history just waiting to be discovered and Mallorca is no exception and there are lots of spots worth visiting whilst there.

  • Palma
    Head to Palma on a rest day for a spot of shopping or to dip in and out of the numerous cafes and tapas bars. La Seu cathedral is a must-see the Gothic building is the focal piece of architecture in the city and is truly stunning to see.
  • Alfàbia Gardens
    Go for a stroll in these multiculturally influenced gardens in Bunyola in the North of the island and therefore within a close distance of the most popular places for cyclists to stay. The gardens contain exotic plants as well as orange and lemon trees.
  • Deià
    We would recommend staying in this picturesque village if you can, but if that’s not an option then a visit is certainly needed anyway just to see how stunning it is. Whilst there, visit the house of Robert Graves – the British poet and author of I,Claudius who lived in the village, which is now a museum.

Mallorcan Culture - Majorca Cylce Tour - Eat Sleep Cycle

Mallorcan Food

To go with the Mallorcan culture there is also the Mallocan cuisine which has to be tasted to be believed. There are a number of Michelin Star restaurants dotted around the island, a sign of the refined palettes that frequent the island and worth visiting if you can.

Where To Stay in Mallorca

Most cyclist visitors to Mallorca stay in the North of the island, far removed from cities like Magaluf to the South which are renowned more for partying than pedalling. In the North Port de Pollença and Alcudia are most popular as these areas are on the coast and close to the UNESCO World Heritage site Tramuntana Mountains – the highest point of which is the tip of Puig Major. The versatility of flat riding along the coast and the challenge of the  mountains are what makes the area attractive.

Hotels:
The number of cyclists that visit the island each year (in the hundreds of thousands) means that most hotels are bike friendly with many offering places to store bikes.

In the Cycling Hub:
If you want to be around more cyclists than just regular tourists then the cycling hub of Hotel Hoposa Bahía in Pollenca should be considered.

For Something Different:
And for those of you who would like something a little bit different you should check out Hotel Des Puig in Deia.

Where To Stay In Majorca - Cycling Tour - Eat Sleep Cycle

When (and how) to Travel to Mallorca

The best times to visit the island are spring and autumn when the weather is not too hot but is warm enough to get those cyclist tan-lines going! You can fly into Palma airport – the island’ capital of Palma hosts the island’s main airport. You can also get a ferry from mainland Spain (although beware that this could take up to 8 hours).

Cycling in Majorca

If the above has piqued your interest for a trip to one of the de facto cycling Meccas of Europe then we’ve got the perfect tour for you. Check out our Majorca Experience to really discover the island or take a look at our Mallorca Ride Camp to rack up those quality miles. If interested give us a call now on +34 972 649 131 or contact us online and we’ll be happy to give you more info about it!

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