I hadn't shaved for nearly a week, and I was starting to get paranoid about being left with a white (ie untanned) beard, so I went for a walk to buy a pack of razors and some gel, and I was relieved that I didn't have a white beard once I'd had a shave.
I packed up my stuff, checked out, loaded up my bike and set off. I wasn't looking forward to today's stage at all, as I'd be climbing for about 20 miles, before descending for another eight. My left knee had begun playing up, as it sometimes does, so I strapped it up with the neoprene support I'd brought with me, and that seemed to do the trick. I quite often get a sore knee when cycling, so I'd done well to get this far without it bothering me.
I stopped off at a hardware shop near the hotel to buy some brown parcel tape, as I'll need to do some serious patching on my bike on Saturday. Luckily they had a roll, so I wouldn't have to worry about buying it in Cercadilla or Madrid.
By the time I'd finished sodding about, and actually made it out of Segovia, it was 11:30. On my way out, there was a cycle path following the main road. I distinctly got the impression that this road had also been upgraded since the book had been written. In the book, there were two options for today's climb: stay on the main road and go over the Puerto de Navacerrada (1,860m); or cycle through a pine forest and up a track to the Puerto de la Fuenfría (1,797m). It was my intention to cycle up the latter, given my experiences on the roads so far. Whilst I was pedalling along the path, another cyclist pulled up alongside me and we had a chat. He told me in no uncertain terms not to go over on the main road, as the road was too dangerous. He even stopped to look at my map so he could be sure I was going the right way.
The Sierra de Guadarrama from a distance
My handlebars had begun squeaking over the last day or so, and it was getting progressively worse, driving me nuts. I stopped when I could stand it no more to remove the bars and lube the bracket, which did the trick and the squeaking thankfully stopped.
Lunch was a nice big slice of tortilla and a small caña at a roadside cafe. Up until then it had been nearly all uphill, but only a gradual climb. Now the climbing began in earnest, just a couple of miles on from the lunch stop. I pulled off the main road, through a small pueblo, and then onto the road that would take me through the forest and over the Puerto de la Fuenfría. There was a locked barrier across the road, which was great as that meant no traffic. According to the signs it was forestry commission land, so there would probably be the odd vehicle, but nothing that should bother me.
The start of the climb
After a steep initial climb, it did level off a bit, and it was great cycling along in the middle of a huge forest, the silence only broken by the hum from my tyres. As I climbed higher, there were more and more insects hovering around me. For some reason I always attract insects when I go away, and I invariably end up with loads of bites, so I'd prepared for this and brought some citronella spray along with me, and it worked a treat!
The road had become a track which was metalled, but was broken in places, whilst other stretches had been recently resurfaced. There were a few forks which weren't described in the book, and I really didn't fancy getting lost in such a huge forest, so I made use of the 'my location' Google Maps feature on my GPS-enabled phone to help me turn off the path where I was supposed to. Things then became quite tricky, as the surface over last three miles up to the top was loose rocks, and it was a right bugger to steer with all the weight on my bike. I was really glad I was wearing my knobbly tyres, as the surface would have cut my slicks to ribbons. Up until now, I hadn't met anybody else all the way through the forest, but then I met a guy coming the other way and we stopped for a chat. I was so chuffed when he told me that there was only 2km to go! There was one 100 yard stretch where I had to get off and push, because the surface was so bad that it was impossible for me to gain any forward momentum. My bike is so heavy with all the gear on, it weighs a ton, and had a mind of its own on the rough surface, making it hard work to push.
Inside the final 2km
Before too long, I was at the top, and it felt fantastic. By now, my leg muscles were the tightest they've been all week, but it didn't stop me and I could probably have continued climbing all day. I'm definitely not the fastest nor the fittest of cyclists, but I've proven that I can do some serious climbing, and it feels so good. I got off at the to have a bit of a rest, enjoy the scenery and take some photos.
I had to take the descent slowly at first, as there were lots of sharp bends, and the surface was loose gravel. The scenery was fantastic, so I stopped quite a few time to take photos. Eventually the gravel covering the road gave way to tarmac and, with no traffic, I was able to build up some speed. I tucked myself in to make myself as aerodynamic as possible, and I reached 45 mph, smashing my previous record of 39.5 mph. Not bad with a fully loaded bike.
On the road down
Loving it even more!
I was soon in Cercadilla, and I found the hostal and checked in. I left my bike in the restaurant, which was closed today, and went up to my room. I was given a really big room with, a last, a proper sized bath. I ignored the notices about saving water and filled the bath right up and had a nice long soak.
Afterwards, I went for a walk to get some bananas and something for breakfast tomorrow, as I would be leaving early so I could get to the Madrid office on time. There was one shop near the station which sold water, so I got a few bottles in. As the restaurant in the hostal was closed, I went to a bar across the road for dinner. It was very quiet in there, just me and a guy with a young daughter in there. I went for the chuletas de cordero and a beer, but as soon as had I finished eating, the owner made it very clear that he wasn't going to stay open. As this was the only place in town, I bought a bottle of the red stuff, and went back to my room to spend the rest of the evening watching TV. That might not sound great, but as Cav had won today's stage of the Vuelta, they kept on showing the final sprint, and post-ride interviews on the news. I also watched The Simpsons in Spanish... part two of Who Killed Mr Burns.