Cycling — Yunquera to Ronda

Today, on a beautiful November Sunday morning, we packed up the car and headed out to the town of Yunquera, Spain, about an hour’s drive from Marbella. While the wife and kids did a hike in the Sierra de las Nieves, I took the opportunity to do some road cycling — from Yunquera to Ronda, and back.

The route — which is spectacularly beautiful (and, really, what isn’t around Andalucia?) — leaves Yunquera, almost at the altitude of the Puerto de las Abejas (820m), and then dives right down to the town of El Burgo.

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From there, it’s a wonderful, curvy, long mountain climb towards the Puerto del Viento (1190m). The climb passes initially through forests, with a stunning view on the left down to the Fuensanta trail and steep river valley, after which it breaks open into the rocky (and still steep) terrain leading up to the Puerto del Viento.

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From the (very windy!) Puerto del Viento, the freshly paved open road winds down into Ronda. It’s a surprising drop in altitude from the Puerto to Ronda, so take time for a coffee and rest before turning around to head back! All in all, it was a super route — about 70km in total.

Following are some additional photos from the ride:

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And below is the trip map (and downloadable GPS track) from Garmin Connect:

Cycling through the chestnut valley

It’s October, and that means it’s the season for the chestnut harvest in the nearby Valle del Genal.

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We left Marbella this morning around 10am, heading up the Carretera de Ronda where we stopped (as usual) at the Venta Navisillo for a late-morning breakfast. It was an absolutely beautiful morning — cool, crisp, sunny and blue. Perfect for a bike ride.

Continue reading Cycling through the chestnut valley

Bronze Medal at the 2011European Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championship

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Sunday, January 30, I competed for the first time as a black belt in the 2011 European Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championship, in Lisbon, Portugal. My category was light weight (under 76kg), Senior 2 division. The good news is that I received third place (bronze medal), as you can see from the podium picture above. The bad news is that I got beaten by both those other guys. Adimilson Brites (nickname ‘Juquinha’), from Gracie Humaitá Brazil won gold, and François Deniau (Team Megaton Lyon, France) won silver.

Continue reading Bronze Medal at the 2011European Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Championship

Homenaje de los 101km de Ronda.

Each year in March, “La Sufrida” organize an event in Ronda, Spain, in homage to their annual “101km of Ronda” race (which takes place in May). The March “Homenaje,” just like its big brother in May, offers three modes of participation — a 69 km mountain bike ride, a 44 km run or a 70 km duathlon (run and bike). Last weekend, Pino and I participated in the event — her doing the run (crazy, I know), and me doing the mountain bike ride.

Continue reading Homenaje de los 101km de Ronda.

Gold Medal at the 2010 European Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship

On Saturday, January 30, 2010, I traveled to Lisbon, Portugal to compete with my team-mates at Gracie-Barra Marbella in the brown-belt, lightweight, Senior 2 category of the European Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu championship. Despite an unfortunate previous evening (having eaten something obviously bad), I managed to win my category — making this the third time I’ve won gold in this competition.

Continue reading Gold Medal at the 2010 European Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship

Gold Medal at the 2008 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships

Man, I’ve been on some kind of good luck streak lately! First the brown belt a few weeks ago, and now, this past weekend, I competed and won the gold medal in the Brown Belt, Senior 1 division of the European Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championships. Woo-Hoo!

In the picture below, the guy on the right is my coach, Edson Jorge, who I believe is the best BJJ coach on the planet, in addition to being a world class competitor in BJJ and MMA. On the left is some dude we met who’s interested in signing up for some BJJ lessons with us in Marbella. 😉

Just kidding, folks! As any self-respecting BJJ aficionado will quickly note, that man on the left happens to be none other than the very best BJJ and grappling practitioner walking on the planet today — current world champion, Roger “The Man” Gracie!

Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

December 14, 2007 was a really big day for me, as I was awarded the brown belt by my brazilian jiu-jitsu teacher, Edson Jorge (of Gracie-Barra). There’s only five belts in BJJ — white, blue, purple, brown and black — so I’m only one step away from the BIG ONE. By no means do I feel like a brown belt (especially since I seem to sometimes still forget some of the very basics), so it’s going to take some getting used to I guess! In theory the brown belt represents the bridge between purple and black, where the student needs to focus on leading and teaching, so those’ll be my objectives this coming year.

On the same day I got mine, my long-time training buddy Mike Rios also got his brown belt. So all in all, it was a very special day!

Purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu

Yahoo! On Monday night, at Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu training just after returning from the European championships, instructor Edson Jorge awarded me the purple belt! After almost five years of training in this sport, it sure feels good.

This, however, is both good, and bad.

A lot of responsibility goes with the purple belt. It’s the first belt in BJJ that generally qualifies you to teach. And it’s the half-way point to black. That’s the good.

The bad, for me, is that the student are really gunning for you when rolling in class. I’d kind of decided to modify my training, to try to reduce the number of little niggling injuries that seem to have accumulated, by rolling hard only once a week. But now it seems like I’m going to be fighting for my life every time we train.

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Lance Armstrong's War

For quite some time now, my primary way to read books has been the Palm device. eBooks, as they are known, can be stored on the Palm’s external memory card, allowing me to carry around practically an entire library. The Palm eReader application lets me take notes, create bookmarks, and remembers my current position in the book.

The only real problem I’ve had with eBooks has been the fact that their publication typically lags the print version by several months. But not anymore. Today I read that a new book on Lance Armstrong, “Lance Armstrong’s War”, was recently released. I checked eReader.com, and there it was! Yahoo! Just what the doctor ordered as I prepare to watch Lance this Saturday afternoon kick-off his final bid to win the world’s greatest bicycle race, the Tour de France. If he does so, it’ll be his seventh consecutive win of the race, something that is likely to be never repeated again.

First Degree Blue Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

Since, apart from my Mom, only about two other people read this blog, I won’t consider myself too pretentious in announcing that last night I was awarded the first degree of my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Blue Belt, by Gracie-Barra black belt instructor Alexandre Albuquerque, here in Marbella, Spain. That means, two more degrees and it’ll be time for a Purple Belt.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was made famous in the mid/late 1990’s when Royce Gracie dominated the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) as an expert in this relatively unknown martial art. He was beating — not just beating, dominating — people much bigger than himself, and without hitting or kicking. He systematically took his opponent to the ground, and proceeded to choke or arm/leg-lock his opponents into surrendering.

In the years that followed, BJJ and grappling martial arts have so thoroughly dominated all No-Holds-Barred (NHB) fighting competitions, that practically every combative martial art has today incorporated ground techniques, tending towards a common discipline known as “Mixed Martial Arts.” Even having trained in BJJ for nearly four years now, it never ceases to amaze me how easy it is, through the application of just a small set of fundamental positions and moves, to utterly dominate new students who are much bigger, faster and stronger than myself.

For those with a bit of knowledge in martial arts, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu would appear to be a fusion of Judo and wrestling. Whereas in Judo and wrestling, the objective is to pin your opponent, in BJJ, the objective is to force your opponent to “submit” (give up, via tapping the ground or you). You achieve this generally via arm or leg locks, joint locks, or chokes. In BJJ sport competition, you also can win by gaining points for things such as improving your position.

The things I like so much about BJJ include the fact that it’s totally reliant on technique, as opposed to physical qualities like strength, speed or flexibility. (However, at the highest level of BJJ competition, physical qualities can certainly provide an edge.) A BJJ match is really very much like a chess match, you generally win by implementing a solid strategy and then catching your opponent in a mistake. I also like that sparring (fighting) in BJJ can be done at almost full effort, with little risk of injury. This aspect makes BJJ a great physical exercise and is one of the reasons it’s so effective as a self defence. A real fight is hardly different than training. (At least that’s what I’m told. I’ve never been in a real fight, and don’t intend to.)

Marbella Submission Fighters

For those living on the Costa del Sol (Spain) — especially in the Marbella, Puerto Banus and/or San Pedro areas — and interested in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Submission Wrestling, Vale Tudo and Mixed Martial Arts, we are proud to announce the opening of Marbella Submission Fighters.

Opening Thursday, July 1, at the Apolo Gym in San Pedro de Alcantara, we’ll be training Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights from 21:00 (9:00 pm) to 22:15 (10:15 pm). If you’re interested, drop me a line via email or in the comments below.

PS: (Shameless Business Plug) Like that poster design? We’ve got some excellent design staff in our company, who, depending on our internal load, can be made available for your design project. Drop me an email if you’re interested.

Equipo Marbellero Bate el Record!

El equipazo de Matt Henderson y Carlos Cortes, trabajando duramente y con mucha colaboracion, ha batido el record mundial de ir en bici desde Marbella hasta Benahavis y volver en el tiempo mas largo. Hoy, Domingo, 4 Enero 2004, han hecho el recorrido (entero!) en un tiempo extrordinario — 2:05.

“Hoy hemos comenzado nuestro programa de entrenamiente de 2004. Como dicen los profesionales, el primer dia hay que salir tranquilamente. (Para no tener agujetas mañana.) A nuestro ritmo, hemos disfrutado la mañana, viendo el paisaje, incluso las lagartijas subiendo la rocas.” comentó Matt Henderson, un top-ciclista de Marbella.

Photo Finish

Months of training finally produced some results today. For the first time since my injury last year, I was able to stay with the pack in the mountains. We rode from Marbella to Ojén, then to Coín, and then to the mountain-top finish at the “Parador de Juanar“. I started off slow, even dropping on the climb to Ojen, but then recovered well, felt strong, and finished just a few meters behind some of the top people in Juanar.

Top cyclist, good friend, and reliable photographer Diego was there to capture the moment — and chop off my head — with a photo finish snapshot celebrating the best day of my season. 🙂

Congratulations Lance Armstrong!

I’ve been an avid cyclist, cycling fan and Lance Armstrong fan, since, well, longer than I prefer to remember or state here. So you can bet that for a good portion of every July you’ll find me glued to the tele watching the Tour de France. (One of the benefits of living in Europe and being the company boss. 🙂

This year was a special Tour, as the American Lance Armstrong went for an amazing fifth consecutive win at the world’s largest and most important bicycle race, to join the mythic likes of Jacques Anquetil, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain as the only cyclist in history to win five Tours. When you couple this with the fact that Armstrong was near death just a few years ago suffering from cancer, his story just becomes truly epic.

The 2003 tour turned out to be a nail-biter to say the least, probably the best since 1989!

Stage 1 saw a mass sprint crash that took out American up-and-comer, Levi Leipheimer with a broken tailbone, and resulted in a fractured collarbone for the American favorite Tyler Hamilton. (The crashed was caused by the same inexperienced Team Kelme rider that took out Mario Cipollini in this year’s Giro de Italia. They need to get that guy outta there!) Even Lance himself was caught in the crash (but fortunately not hurt).

Lance appeared far from his best during the stages in the Alps, when it was learned that he came into the Tour with a bit of stomach problems (and, later revealed, a bit of hip tendonitis.) He was attacked left and right by the likes of Iban Mayo and (the surprisingly strong) rival Joseba Beloki. Tracking Beloki seem to be the best Lance could manage. Just seeing his face during the climbs, one could tell he wasn’t the same as in past years.

Then things really got bad when Armstrong, whose dominance has always been in the Individual Time Trail, lost over a minute and a half to the German powerhouse Jan Ullrich! During the stage, Armstrong lost over 6 kg (10 lbs!) due to a mysterious case of dehydration. (Later Armstrong revealed that he himself thought his tour was over at this point.)

The following stages in the Pyrenees mountains saw Armstrong struggling to just keep up with his rivals, while his body slowly recuperated from the dehydration. Smelling blood, his key rivals such as Ullrich and the Russian Vinokourov tried their best to drop the American.

Bad luck came to Joseba Beloki, trying to break a string of second-place Tour finishes, descending a mountain with Lance on his wheel. He entered a hairpin turn too fast, and locked the back wheel. Trying to compensate by braking on the front, he tossed himself over the handlebars and cracked his hip and arm in the fall. His race was over. Armstrong showed the abilities of a champion, when Beloki’s fall left nowhere to go except into a field! Reacting in an instant, Armstrong used his mountain biking skills to navigate the farmland stretch to rejoin the race course about 50 meters below. It was amazing! (The race judges agreed not to penalize him for cutting the course short. 😉

The key stage for Armstrong came during the next-to-last mountain stage, at Luz Ardiden. This mountain-top finish was the make or break section of the race for Armstrong. With only a 15 second lead over Ullrich, he needed to gain serious time on the German if he was to have any chance to win after the final individual time trial. Ullrich made a tactical mistake attacking Armstrong on the day’s penultimate climb, and gave the American the confidence he needed to launch a major attack on the final climb.

But then disaster struck!

Some fan on the side of the road, just a bit too close to the action, hooked Armstrong’s handlebars with his souvenir bag, and brought Lance crashing to the ground. Iban Mayo crashed on top of Lance, slightly cracking his (Armstrong’s) Trek bicycle frame. Both riders got up and took off… Then as Lance tried to change gear, the rear derailleur stuck (from misalignment due to the cracked bicycle frame). Lance’s foot popped out of the pedal (from force!) and he darn near crashed again!

But then one of the highlights of the entire Tour came, as Jan Ullrich and Tyler Hamilton displayed examples of true sportsmanship by waiting for Armstrong to rejoin the group. (It’s an unwritten gentleman’s rule that the racing stops when the leader crashes, until it’s determined whether he’s continue or not.)

The surge of adrenaline from his crash boosted a desperate Armstrong to launch his second, key attack on the Luz Ardiden. Ullrich couldn’t follow. Mayo tried, and failed. Lance was off once again on his way to a stage win, and another spectacular display of superiority that we were used to seeing in past years, and by the top, taking a full minute out of Ullrich. More than the gained time was the regained confidence, and possibly the blow to Ullrich’s.

And so it would all come down to the final time trail. A show-down between Lance and Jan for the rights to the Yellow Jersey the following day in Paris. Who would win? Lance lost 1:36 to Jan in the first time trial. But Lance was dehydrated. Lance was down. Now Lance was back in form, and the German knew it.

The next days leading up to the final time trail produced one of the greatest individual stage finishes in the Tour’s history. Tyler Hamilton, riding with a cracked collarbone and having suffered more than anyone could imagine during the tour, attacked on the last mountain stage, and rode over 100 km in isolation, holding off the charging pelaton, to single-handedly win the biggest stage victory of his life. It was really something to see. To do that under normal conditions would be something, but to do it with a cracked collarbone was simply incredible. Allez Tyler! The Man from Marblehead (or as my friend Niall says, “The Man with a Marble Head”!)

Well, the day of the final time trial arrived. Ullrich need to beat Lance by one minute and five seconds to win the Tour. Difficult, yes, but not impossible for the German known to end his Tours with increasing strength.

Rain and wind made for some of the most treacherous racing conditions ever. Over 40 cyclist had crashed by the time Ullrich and Armstrong left the starting blocks. After the first time check, the two were within a second of each other. By the second time check, the situation hadn’t changed. Ullrich (knowing this) then began to take some risks. At first he gained time on Lance, up to five seconds (but far from the 65 he needed), but then crashed in stunning style in a round-about. He must have slid several meters before finally hitting the hay bells (face first!) Disoriented and possibly panicked, he jumped back on the bike and nearly crashed in the next turn. He went on to finish the stage, in fourth place on the day — even losing a few seconds to Armstrong.

For Lance, he knew that he’d won the Tour. Having heard of Ullrich’s crash in the helmet radio, he slowed down to reduce the risk of crashing, and finished the day’s stage in third place. Ullrich later explained that he took the risks to win the stage, as by the second time check he knew he wasn’t going to take enough time from Lance to win the Tour.

(As a side note, Armstrong averaged about 53 km/hour in that time trial. Yesterday I was descending a mountain on my bike at 50 km/hour, thinking how unbelievable it must be to have the strength to motor oneself on the flats at 53 km/hour!)

The following day’s stage to Paris saw Lance and the US Postal boys celebrating Lance’s victory in one of the most amazing Tours in recent history. For Lance, the win — which places his name on the pages of history in the Club of Five — was especially satisfying, having overcome everything he suffered in the race this year.

As a parting note, Lance has already announced he’ll be back next year gunning for a record-breaking sixth win. It’s kind of a pity that many Americans don’t realize what that would mean, or what it means to have won five Tours! Cycling, much less popular in the United States than throughout the rest of the world, is one of the most difficult and demanding sports that exists, and in this sport Lance Armstrong is (even more than) the Michael Jordan of our generation.

Great job Lance, you did it and good luck next year!

Málaga Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Championship

Tonight was the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) championship in Malaga, Spain, in which three BJJ academies competed, Málaga, Marbella (where I train) and Granada. The good news (sorta), I finished second. The bad news, there were only three of us in my category (white belt, around 75 kg). Each fight lasted five minutes. A win was by either points, or submission.

In my first fight, I was a ball of nerves and lost on points. In the second, I got into my rhythm and submitted the opponent with a foot lock. The judges then indicated that foot locks are illegal in our category, but gave me the win anyway (since they hadn’t announced the rule beforehand.)

Finally, I had to fight the same guy again for the championship, and unfortunately lost by two points, thereby finishing second among the three of us.

Vaya Paliza!

With three cycling clubs in a small town like Marbella, you can imagine that its a fairly popular sport here. A friend of mine (Diego López Luque) and I even started a small website, MarbellaCycling.com dedicated to local scene. As you can see from the website, there’s a weekly calendar of rides.

Today, May 1st (a holiday here), was probably the hardest of the year –Peñas Blancas. This ride starts from Marbella and heads down the coast to Estepona. In Estepona, we turn right and began the monstrous 16km climb up to Peñas Blancas. When the professional tours come through this area (e.g. the Vuelta Espana), this is considered a “Category 1” climb, one of the hardest.

The first five kilometers of the climb are brutal, and that’s precisely where the attacks started. I’ve still got a long way to go in recovering my form from last year, so I didn’t even attempt to cover the attacks today. I arrived at the top in good condition, and was pleased not to have experienced any hip pain. (I think I’ve finally recovered.) Diego did very well, finishing 3rd. Palmi won the race (no big surprise), and Belga was extremely strong today, finishing 2nd.

This coming Sunday, it’s Estepona and then Istan, another climb, but not nearly as hard.

Tyler Hamilton wins at Liége-Bastogne-Liége!

In the biggest win of his career, Tyler Hamilton becomes the first American to win the Liége-Bastogne-Liége, one of Europe’s most important cycling events! Although all eyes were on fellow American Lance Armstrong to win the famous World Cup race, it was Hamilton who lauched the key solo attack with 3 km remaining for the win.

Former Armstrong teammate, Tyler Hamilton is making quite a name for himself as the leader of the Danish CSC racing team, beginning with his 2nd place finish at the 2002 Giro de Italia. CSC won’t be defending that position this year, however, as all their efforts are focused on denying Armstrong his fifth Tour de Fance victory. With riders like Hamilton, Levi Leipheimer and Jan Ullrich showing strong form, the 2003 Tour de France is shaping up to quite a battle!