Today the Ruta del Sol race passes through the Sierra de Grazalema.
The Ruta del Sol or Route of the Sun, also known as the Vuelta a Andalucia, is a Spanish cycle race traditionally held in February around the southern tip of Spain. It was first ridden in 1925, although there was a hiatus between the late twenties and early fifties when it began again. For cycling fans all this is well known, the Ruta being a good indication of early season form, though in recent years it has seemed to become the personal fiefdom of popular Spanish rider Alejandro Valverde. He has won it five times, though is not competing this year.
In 2018 the Ruta is especially mountainous, taking in the Sierras de Tejeda, the Sierra Nevada around Granada, the Sierra Magina in Jaen and on the fourth stage, closer to home, the Sierra de Grazalema. Regular readers of this blog will recognise this as the setting for much of my third novel, though it featured too in the second, Reconquista. It is a beautiful part of Spain and I have very much enjoyed researching locations there (and writing about it, see Journey through the Pinsapar ). The pinsapar is the Iberian pine forest which cloaks the vertiginous slopes (see the altimetry of the stage, right).
The cyclists and their cortege will be passing through the mountain town of Zahara, which sits atop its a dramatic outcrop above a lake, then climb to cross the Puerto de Las Palomas (Pigeon Pass). Down the other side then up to cross the Puerto del Boyar, where I and a friend stopped recently. Unfortunately there’ll be no detour to Grazalema, (the wettest place in Spain) but the descent along the Corredor del Boyar is spectacular enough, with the distinctive peak of San Cristobal on the right hand, running along a high ridge into the summit of Torreon, and the white grey peaks of El Endrinal on the left. It’s not giving anything away to say that the heroes of my novel trek deep into the mountain fastnesses of El Endrinal in search of the bandit fortress. Until the 1920s bandits were common here, it is a wild landscape.
The race then descends into Benamahoma, pretty mountain townlet at the mouth of the Rio del Bosque and down still further to El Bosque, the town at gateway to the Sierra ( and famous for its sausages, see Country Food ). There is a noted riverside walk of about 5km between the two ( see Benamahoma to El Bosque ), but the riders won’t be taking that trail. From El Bosque the race descends to the finish at Alcalá de los Gazules.
I will be watching the Eurosport TV coverage in the UK, not, unfortunately, the Spanish coverage in Spain (though I will be returning there soon, for the Festival de Jerez). It would have been good to see what Spanish commentators, including cycling greats from the past eras, like Pedro Delgado, made of the controversy surrounding Chris Froome, the British cyclist who is riding the race, despite an abnormally high test result for a restricted drug hanging over him from last season. Froome it was who interrupted Alejandro Valverde’s string of victories, by winning the Ruta in 2015.
Nonetheless I will very much enjoy listening to Carlton and colleagues and I will be trying to catch glimpses of all the familiar landmarks in the Sierra. It’s a landscape which I, and my characters, have come to know well.