Tour Report: Madrid to Loja Express!

Madrid to Loja on a Road Bike: 510 km, 5500m of Climbing, 2.5 Days

Once upon a time in spring, Fatima went on holiday to Sicily and I found myself with a week at home alone. No-one was able to get away from work to accompany me on a cycle tour, so I decided to do a solo route from Madrid to Loja (my home town), in as few days as possible – without pushing so hard that I would need a week to recover afterwards.

After careful consideration, I decided to “convert” my trusty old aluminium road bike into a touring bike by turning the stem upside down, fitting Fatima’s suspension seat post with the saddle off my mountain bike, and borrowing the Thule Tour Rack from my good friend Julio (which is designed for bikes that have no attachment points for luggage racks). I was only carrying a racktop bag and a handlebar bag, but was still concerned about overloading the bike, especially when adding in the three rear lights and the two batteries for the front light to the load that the 23mm Gatorskin tyres would have to bear. I needn’t have worried, the bike handled it all brilliantly.

Day 1: Madrid – Ciudad Real, 211 km

At 0200 on a Monday morning, I boarded the night bus from Granada to Madrid and settled in for 4 hours of power-snoozing. To take the bike on the bus, I had to do no more than take the wheels off, so, on arrival at Madrid Sur bus station, I quickly had everything ready to go and I sat back to enjoy a couple of bananas until there was enough light to set off without having to use the bike lights. I reasoned that the 15-20 minutes of time I could gain by leaving early would best be saved as battery power in the bank in case of emergencies later in the tour.

On leaving the bus station, I was quickly onto a cycle path that took me down alongside the River Manzanares. The usual twists and turns of a cycle path designed by an architect thinking of leisure rather than travel were exacerbated by a closure that resulted in a bit of head-scratching and doubling back. However, they were more than compensated for by the unexpected tranquillity and beauty of stretches of the riverside path in the capital city at that time of the morning.

Due to path closures (I think), I eventually ended up on the M301 trunk road heading south out of town. However, I soon picked up an excellent cycle path that ran alongside the road all the way to San Martin de la Vega – nearly 30 km into the day’s ride. From there on it was back onto roads, but the traffic was never particularly heavy and the road surfaces were generally either good or very, very good.

The towns and villages whizzed by in quick succession. I was enjoying the freedom of the light bike and minimal luggage, savouring every view in passing, and only stopping when necessary to apply sunscreen, buy provisions or answer calls of nature. (This is such a contrast to our normal cycle-touring style, when Fatima and our friends stop to photograph every view or building in enough detail to produce a capsule to be buried by Blue Peter.)

For day one, I had decided that I wanted to do 200 km. That meant reaching Ciudad Real, a city that I had never before visited. In planning the route, I had mainly relied on using Wikiloc and Google Maps, switching between bike routes and car routes (avoiding motorways). It worked brilliantly, until the Ermita Del Cristo Del Valle (km 107), from where, a short, sharp climb up a loose-surface track was followed by nearly 5 km of rough track that left me really concerned for my skinny tyres. This was stage 1 of the “Route of Don Quixote” – and not a windmill to be seen!

Thereafter, the off-road sections cropped-up with worrying regularity. The bike (and the tyres) coped admirably; my nerves not so much. In the end, I decided to ignore Google and to follow the obvious roads for the last 27 km.

The Hotel Navarro in Ciudad Real was a great place to spend the night. Clean, comfortable, with a good restaurant/cafeteria and within easy walking distance of the city centre and the Mercadona supermarket. What more could a touring cyclist ask for?

Day 2: Ciudad Real – Cabra, 229 km

Feeling fit and strong after a great night’s sleep and a good breakfast, I headed out of Ciudad Real on the N420. I had already decided that today was going to be a big day, so I stayed on this old main road for the next 150 km. What a road! For a lightly-equipped cyclist it was a dream come true! Long stretches of tarmac in great condition and with little traffic; long climbs and swooping descents. (Shame about the headwind!) All the time I was thinking that Fatima and the majority of our cycling buddies would love some of the views and all of the descents on the N420, but would hate the long straights and the long, long climbs. Good job I was on my own!

At the 164 km point I decided that the town of Cabra would be my destination for the day. It was only another 65 km, so I figured a comfortable 3 hours would get me there. I had forgotten that I was now in Andalucía, where the hills hang around the countryside in gangs. Enjoying the climbs was now becoming a challenge. A stop at a bakery for a massive pastry and a cola recharged my personal batteries enough to allow me to enjoy the last 20 km and to give me the chance to use some of that battery power I had so judiciously guarded since Madrid.

The Hotel Villa Maria in Cabra was a lucky find. Central location, recently refurbished, and really friendly staff. Another great night’s sleep.

Day 3: Cabra – Loja, 73 km

After a hearty breakfast, it was time for the short ride home to Loja, via Rute & Iznajar. The best views and the toughest climbs of the entire trip – and all right on my doorstep. Sometimes I wonder why I ever leave Andalucía!

You can check out the routes on Wikiloc (search for melrfh1). Take care with the off-road sections on Days 1 & 2:

  • Day 1: KM107 to KM112 & KM180 to KM183.
  • Day 2: KM34 to KM36.