La Vuelta a España is undoubtedly one of the toughest cycling races in the world. Coming hot on the pedals of the Tour de France, it criss-crosses Spain in August and September, as the mercury tops 40C and the mountains rear up from the plain.
The sinewy legs of professional riders tear along each stage of the three-week race: smooth, flat tarmac slipping by beneath their wheels. So why would anyone even consider joining their ranks? Is it not too hard; too hot?
Not by half.
One of the best ways to discover the real Spain is by bike: far from the crowds, along fast-flowing rivers and on green forest trails.
La Vuelta has had five official starts (Grand Departs) from Alicante province to date, most recently in 2011 from Benidorm, although there have also been 54 stage starts and 49 stage finishes in the province.
Now is the perfect time to book a cycling break before the race returns in 2019. Torrevieja hosts the official start of the 74th edition, its natural salt deposits and pink lagoons providing a surreal backdrop to the action. Two further stages will sweep along the familiar coastal roads and lesser known peaks inland. Try the likes of Castalla, just north of Alicante, where you can attempt the fearsome climb of Xorret de Catí. Or start form the beach at Calpe and tackle the Sierra de Bernia and Cumbre del Sol.
Mountain-bike trails provide a thrilling alternative to the road: no less of a physical challenge, but with exhilarating descents though dense greenery and dusty rock and scrub.
There are 31 mapped and graded routes, designed specifically for mountain bikers, road cyclists or recreational family riders, so planning your own cycling break to the Costa Blanca is easy.
For mountain biking, it helps to have a guide, as some of the trails have technically demanding sections. La Nucia, Finestrat and Banyeres de Mariola, just inland from Benidorm, are definitely worth discovering this way. These foothills are a local hub for the sport and regularly play host to races and events – but the scenery will certainly vie for your attention with the trail ahead.
Further inland, Biar is popular with both roadies and mountain bikers; the latter ride out through the pine forests around Barranc de Fontalbres, then onwards and up to Cerro de La Cruz for incredible views.
For youngsters in particular, the Costa Blanca provides a wonderful introduction to cycling, with 300 days of sunshine per year and an average temperature of 18C. Alcoy is home to well-trodden hiking trails, popular with cyclists too – and the views across the natural parks of Font Roja and Sierra de Mariola are well worth the ride. Closer to Alicante, Agost has one of the classic routes for families, easily accessible from the city and providing a full day’s ride.
Further south, near Orihuela, there is an excellent route for mountain bikers through the Vega Baja del Segura, and this green corridor of the Segura river also offers some of the best family riding in the region.
Local bike shops can provide rentals by the day or by the week, making a cycling break an easy addition to a beach holiday, or the focus of the trip altogether. Whatever you choose, you will be in good company: Team Sky and Trek-Segafredo are just two of the pro teams that train on the Costa Blanca, drawn in by the reliable sunshine and mix of terrain. The pros are easy to spot: they will be the ones far off in the distance before you have time to wave. But recreational riders have the last laugh – they are the ones who can enjoy an ice cream afterwards, and generous glass of wine.
Find out more
Find out more about cycling in the Costa Blanca, and for more on Costa Blanca, visit costablanca.org