Now in its 5th edition, the Andalucia Bike Race has grown from small beginnings to over 700 entrants and 30 nationalities for this year's race. The face of the race has also changed with Shimano coming on board as sponsor and technical support, the event being know from now on as 'Andalucia Bike Race presented by Shimano'. Shimano will be offering a neutral mechanical service in the paddock HQ and at points along each days' stages. It is also the hardest edition yet.

[caption id="attachment_10747" align="alignleft" width="178"]super hot stage1 mountain side singletrack[/caption]

The race travels 420kms over 6 days with 13800m of climbing, the most climbing of all the editions. Starting in the mountainous region of Jaen, most of the climbing is done here over 3 days before moving onto the lower peaks around Mancha Real for stage 4 and finishing in the more rolling hills above Cordoba. The first 3 days are tough, accumulative metres climbed almost that of the height of Everest! Bring the climbing legs and lungs. The race starts with a real kick, 90km and over 3200m of climbing which will split riders completely apart, but not a day to go off too hard as stages 2 and 3 add up to 5200m of elevation. A 'break' for stage 4 of 53km and 2150m climbing, before a longer stage 5 of 90km, but less climbing at 2000m. The final stage 5 will be fast 54km, but a relatively paltry 1150m of climbing.

[caption id="attachment_10749" align="aligncenter" width="470"]1466159_582710305117330_1159662397_n plenty of singletrack[/caption]

Far from being a slog up mountainous peaks, all that elevation gain is worth it for the awe inspiringly fast, flowing, some technical and steep and overall fun descending. Depending on how much punishment your body likes to take, a full suspension just adds to the grin factor, even along the flatter trails, little of it smooth riding. I'll be taking my Niner Jet9 RDO, a suspension platform which climbs super well and descends beyond its 100mm credentials.

[caption id="attachment_10752" align="alignright" width="221"]541059_572211169457531_1498096842_n views are amazing[/caption]

The route is laden with cracking singletrack, up, down and hugging the edges of mountainsides. Some of it steep and technical, challenging the best of riders.

'Winter' in this part of the world usually means shorts and jersey and tan lines to show off to your riding mates, but this is the mountains. Come prepared for any weather, even snow, which the past 2 editions have experienced. For the most part though, it is warm and sunny!

[caption id="attachment_10751" align="aligncenter" width="470"]563508_4851666482419_488592137_n steep, steep. steep...[/caption]

The UK contingent heading out is huge, with riders across all categories, some in with a good chance of standing on a podium step, especially in the Male 40 category. With an unfortunate change in partner at the last minute, my 40+ body will be lining up with a rider nearly half my age in the male elite category. I am sure it'll do me good for some 'training' kms!

Take some time to stick around after the race if you can. There is so much scope for riding in this area or just relaxing and enjoying the culinary delights of the region.

If you have thought about doing the race and haven't yet, do it. It is truly superb as my newbie stage race partner from last year, Alan Colville, will vouch for.

Check it out here Andalucia bike race presented by Shimano