Strava, Streams & the Serra de Bernia

Alison Dex braving the first ford.

…….and so it came to be that I found myself on a road-biking holiday in Calpe, a resort just along the coast from Benidorm. I had confessed my love of the road less traveled to the group leader (Keith the honorary Bella Velo), so he was prepared when I veered off down a bumpy track as the rest of the group sped-off on beautifully smooth tarmac.  I had planned a couple of rides before I arrived.  Here is a description of the ride I completed on the last day.

Click here for the route map

The roads out of Calpe have one thing in common; they are all up-hill.  Not particularly unusual for a coastal resort, but they do go on a bit!  Having examined various maps and overlays I worked out that the least painful way out of town for an adventure road-biker involved a ford crossing, which in normal conditions would have been nothing more than a trickle, but having had over 2 cm of rain earlier in the week, the waterways were a bit lively.  This turned out to be a recurring theme throughout the ride.  I managed to convince one of the Bella Velo ladies to join me for the first section of the ride, and here she is fording the first stream. Thanks Alison!

The weather was sunny but with a slightly Siberian bite to the wind which kept us moving.  Up the lane, along a short section of Main road and onto the Serra Bernia road.  Regardless of whether you are a pure roadie or have off-road inclinations, I think it would be difficult not to enjoy riding this road.  It quietly winds its way along the side of a hill with great views of Calpe and the coast, before turning towards a craggy mountain ridge, eventually descending into a valley which leads to the small town of Xalo. It would be wrong not to mention the 3 km ramp section with gradients of 13 to 15 %, but hey, things of beauty are often cruel!

The end of the road …..and another river crossing!

After arriving in Xalo and warming up with piece of apple cake, a cafe con leche and much hovering over a wood burner, I left my roadie friends and headed out along the road to Liber. I took a left just before the village and followed the River Xalo along a small track on the valley floor, fording the river twice as it wound it’s way down the valley.  The river crossings added to the charm and challenge of the section and I did manage to keep my feet dry!  The road was rideable apart from the first 100 metres which had been washed away, and although it wasn’t the easiest of surfaces, I cycled past pretty bamboo groves and colourful river cut cliffs, until the track eventually joined the main Gata de Gorgos road.

The main road to Xabia was long, straight and busy with a very limited hard shoulder, so I was glad I had planned an alternative route, which on any other day of the year would have been as dry as a bone.  Not today, in fact sections of a stream had chosen the road as it’s preferred route.  It made for an interesting ride and took me to the outskirts of Xabia; a coastal town and part of the continuous conurbation that makes up this part of Spains coastline.

I am morbidly fascinated by Spains coastal ‘build ups'(!), so I chose a route which took me as close to the coast as possible but kept to the suburban roads rather than the A roads.  This meant a couple of sections of ‘unknown’ to join the built-up areas.  Arenal, which was to the seaside of Xabia had a pleasant beach-side cycle path and certainly wasn’t in the Benidorm league of ‘built up’, although you certainly couldn’t describe it as quaint.  I left the sea-front and climbed the headland between Arenal and Moraira, passing large well kept houses and gardens.  I was certainly in no danger of bumping into Madge from Benidorm here.

At the top of the hill my route -finding luck ran-out and I found myself in the middle of a burned out apocalyptic landscape, made up of jagged limestone pavement and scorched trees.  The track was unrideable on the uphill sections and exhausting on the down’s, but I could see where I was trying to get to, even if it took me half an hour to get there! I couldn’t determine whether is was fire-damaged or destined for more development, but I was certainly witnessing a land in some kind of transition.  I eventually made it back to tarmac and along a mix of pretty country lanes and urban sprawl to the picturesque cove of El Portet and on to Moraira for a well deserved ‘cania de cerveza’.  Moraira has a little port and an old town and is like Calpe’s rich relative.  I sat at a restaurant overlooking the port nursing my beer and eating the salty nuts and corn thoughtfully provided.  This was the last ride of the holiday and as I rode the familiar roller-coaster road back to Calpe, it felt like an old friend and for all my mis-givings about this stretch of coast, I didn’t want to leave so soon.

Top: Via Pista, looking down on Benitachell, Left:River crossing on Gorgos de Xalo, Right: On the road to Xabia, Bottom: Coming into Gata de Gorgos

Verdict:  A very enjoyable day out. Calpe is not classic adventure road-riding country because it is mobbed with Rapha-clad roadies checking their PR’s, VO2’s and Strava segments, not to mention checking everybody else’s ‘lever length’ and ‘climbing tackle’ (nothing is sacred nowadays!).  Having said that, wherever you go there is always ‘a ride less ordinary’.

Route Map


Strava Results.

I confess to getting swept up in the world or Strava segments and couldn’t help checking my stats when I returned.  Here is what I found!

Segment name: Carrer Caravaggio, Climb 31 (aka the apocalyptic section) I was Queen of the Mountains, by virtue of being the only women to have attempted it (on Strava). 64 attempts have been made to date and I come in at number 58.  It took me 25 mins (including a photo shoot).  The fastest man did it in 10 mins and the slowest (who happens to be called Wim van Wever) did it in 52 mins.

To anybody out there who is worried about my adventure biking spirit, I joined Strava so that I could use, a piece of software that replays your days efforts in 3D.  That’s where the grooming begins ……

(Post script. I have already been cruelly stripped of my QOM …..ho hum!)

(For Ride with GPS route download please click here)

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