Warm winter sun, dusty trails, singletrack, technical trails and an official race hotel, the Cap Negret, right at the beach’s edge, what’s not to like? This is the Costa Blanca Bike Race, held at the end of January in Altea on the southeast coast of Spain. Utilising the surrounding coastal mountain range, it’s 4-day stage race that’s an early season test for the legs encompassing all the features that an mountain bike race should be.
Coming into its 5th edition for 2019, its Mediterranean climate and riding is popular with pros and amateurs alike with increasing numbers of riders year on year. Get yourself a speedy partner though as the spirit of the race is as a team event, with all the usual categories across Elite, mixed and up to Master 50+. Although there is an individual option, it’s an open competition with no individual categories. The CBBR has quickly become recognised for its position in the international racing calendar receiving a UCI S2 level ranking, attracting many top pro/elites heading out seeking early UCI points.
This is the Mediterranean coast and even in January, it’s the ideal escape from the gloomy skies that hang above most of Europe at this time of year. Even the clouds that do build up around the mountain tops in the late afternoon, rarely bring rain, a few meagre drops before moving on. Temperatures in late January are ideal for hard racing, hovering between 12 to 20 degrees, The 9am starts will be chilly, but the warmth rapidly arrives, with the highest temperatures just in time for the stages’ finish around lunchtime.
There are so many trails here wrapping themselves around the mountains, dipping in and out of the deep gorges, the CBBR showcasing the best of them. Flowing, sometimes technical, but being the right amount of challenging for a confident mtber to be able to ride. Not that you’ll have much time to deviate focus from the trail ahead, but many of the balcony trails have stunning vistas across to the sea! Bring tough tyres (and tubeless of course), as lightweight sidewalls won’t last long on the rocky terrain and if you have the choice, use a fully, although a hardtail with larger tyres will work just fine. A dropper post is also recommended if you have one as being able to get weight back will be advantageous on the more technically demanding and loose sections. The stages aren’t without sections of double track of course, especially on the numerous climbs, where it can get steep, allowing for overtaking. The stages are well thought out making for fully rideable routes.
To make the most of the available riding here and to reduce repeating the same initial kms each day, a couple of the stages start inland at the picturesque hillside towns of Polop and Finestrat, with routes that drop straight onto the mountain trails. Don’t underestimate the short 40-45km loops as they pack a punch with 1600m of vertical and a concomitant amount descending of course. The longest stage at 55km still has 1400m of climbing overall, but more rolling with less technical sections. It isn’t alpine here, so the climbs aren’t long, but the super steep sections will have you pushing hard in that lowest gear!
The TT stage on day 2 gives riders a lie in, with the first riders out at 10am. It may only be 16km, but save the legs for the final 2km. The first half is flat, passing alongside the beach front, but soon gets gritty as it heads into the coastal Serra Gelada National Park, just above Benidorm. The final 2km up to its highest point at the telecommunications mast is the steepest riding of the whole race, boasting the steepest continuous km section of paved road in Europe, using ‘paved’ in the loosest sense. Ramping up to around 30%, it’s nose to bar before easing off in the final 500m. The 360 degree view from sea to mountains make up for the effort! Obligatory beachfront ice cream stop on the roll back to the hotel.
The Cap Negret hotel caters well for the cyclist, with plentiful secure storage for bikes, a workshop station and 2 jet washes, although it’ll just be dust you’ll be washing off. There’s even a washing machine in the storage area. With a large pool area and a deep blue sea a mere few steps away, it’s ideal for relaxing post stage. The sea will still be indubitably cold in January, but cold immersion is recommended for recovery, right? Nutrition wise, you’ll never be left wanting at meal times as the hotel serves up wholesome food to suit all diets and there is plenty of it. Though if you have a taste for good coffee, you may want to bring your own coffee maker, such as an Aeropress!
For non racing partners and family members, there are plenty of places to visit and relax in the area, especially the old towns of Altea and Polop. The mountain top Castell de Guadalest is worth the trip inland. If you are into your wine, the nearby vineyard of Bogegas Mendoza is well worth a visit, if anything, to taste the deep variety of wines they produce.
Logistics of a stage race can sometimes put riders off, but the CBBR keeps things as simple as possible, despite the different stage start points. Altea is an hour’s drive from Alicante airport and car hire from the airport is a good option given the cost of transfer buses to/from Altea and the comparative low cost of car hire. This also gives hassle free options of traveling around in the afternoons and getting to stage 1 and 3 starts,
With cheap mid winter flights to Alicante and racing on dusty trails, the CBBR is a top option in the racing calendar. The area being family friendly and with racing done by lunchtime, it could be an ideal winter break. The trails are just what the modern xc bike is designed for, the singletracks will never disappoint and each stage includes sufficient challenge to keep the pro/elites and amateurs alike happy. The overall distance is enough for an early season opener and although it is more of a climber’s course, all those metres gained are made up for with grand vistas and descents that’ll leave you grinning from ear to ear by the end. Check it out; Costa Blanca Bike Race.