Morcuera and more... (2017, Sierra de Guadarrama)
Madrid is not where you go for hills. In fact, it was pretty far down the list of places I thought of, when I thought about hills and mountains. So when a close friend who lives there suggested I come over for some great road cycling, I was surprised when he told me about a mountain range to the north of Madrid.
The city sits on a high plateau in the middle of the country, which is what lent the impression of flat terrain, and it’s from this plateau that the Sierra de Guadarrama range rises to the north. Less than an hour by train or car from the centre of Madrid, the Sierras are a range of low mountains, with towns and villages inset into them. They mix jagged, rust and sand coloured rock formations with forested slopes.
As it turns out, they’re a perfect spot for road cycling, with a range of ‘up and over’ circular routes or destination rides – for instance, you can cycle over them to get to the historic city of Segovia, only 70km away.
On this occasion, Jim and I were travelling with Luis, a Madrid native and good friend of Jim’s, whose bike I had borrowed. Early on a Saturday morning, we drove north, through the flat landscape leading up to the hills. We wound upwards through historic established towns like Colmenar and Miraflores, where when many Madridistas have summer homes.
I’d spent the previous two days in Girona, two great days riding covering over 160km. After that, an early start and an hour in the car, my legs were far from fresh. They were more like a rusted chain that needed careful decoupling. So when we eventually we parked in Miraflores at the bottom of the Morcuera climb, I stumbled out of the car and tried a few hamstring stretches in vain. When I say at the bottom of the climb, I mean the very bottom of the climb, a 9km climb that averages 7%.
We set off, my legs groaning but working, and immediately found ourselves on long winding climbs up the west side of the mountain, with sweeping vistas to the east and south behind us. The early morning temperatures, some cloud cover and the shade of the mountain favoured us as the gradient began to steadily increase as we approached the summit.
Along with a handful of other cyclists, we took a few photos by the Morcuera summit sign (1796 metres) and then headed off down the backside of the mountain. The descent was winding and rapid, with many of the turns visible from a distance as the valley stretched out below and to our right. Some turns though, appeared from nowhere, tight hairpins that needed an extra dab of the brakes and a lean into the hill - particularly when you could hear the growl of the occasional motorbike coming up valley.
We reached the bottom of the valley at Rascafria, sweeping along it for a couple of kilometres before stopping in a small stone village, Lozoya, for a classic Spanish cafe stop: pan con tomate, plenty of olive oil and a couple of strong coffees.
Feeling in our groove now, we carried on along the pancake flat valley floor before turning south to head back up the mountain, this time heading towards Canencia. This climb was shorter but sharper, a series of switchbacks through a forest, the canopy providing almost total cover over the road. It was a reminiscent of a Surrey hill or Ditching Beacon, except for the humidity which occasionally gave way to a few spots of rain.
The thickly wooded slopes offered no views other than dense greenery, so it was down to mind, body and bike. Climb and turn, climb and turn. Every cyclist knows this pattern. After forty-five minutes or so, the road began to flatten out and the peak appeared, an overcast sky sitting behind it at the brow of the hill.
As I got my breath back and admired the view south back towards Madrid, I knew I’d be back to explore more of the Guadarrama range, yet another reason to return to the centre of the country.
Go find your pocket: The Morcuera climb & other routes: https://www.cyclefiesta.com/multimedia/climbs/madrid/morcuera-miraflores.htm