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Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Tour of the Valencia Community

El Palmar, Spain

We are in the middle of the Vuelta Ciclista de la Comunidad Valencia, Valencia’s answer to the Tour de France. Ours is a modest little affair that only lasts from February 26 until March 1st. The race is five stages that show off the beauty of this area. There is daily television coverage with some of the best aerial photography that you’ll see of Valencia. I have pedaled over many of the same roads as the riders in the “Vuelta” and I have coasted past all of the beautiful landmarks televised by the race’s helicopter. I wish that all of you could see what a great place this is to ride a bike. Along with the physical beauty of the mountains and the Mediterranean, you are also treated to Roman ruins, ancient villages, and fortresses that go back to the dawn of civilization in these parts.

The weather has been as spectacular as the scenery the past few days and I have been racking up a lot of cycling miles of my own. Yesterday I went to a little village in the middle of the Albufera nature preserve called El Palmar. El Palmar is almost like an island in the middle of the vast, shallow wetland of the Albufera. There is a single narrow side road to El Palmar that branches off from the coast road. There are a few very narrow bridges along the road that stop traffic in one direction if there happens to be opposing traffic—something a bit rare during the week when Al Palmar seems practically deserted. The road is great place to bird-watch. The wetlands here attract herons, storks, cormorants, ducks, and gulls—and those are just the birds I can identify. There is lots of agriculture here, mostly rice paddies and orange trees, but the main industry of El Palmar seems to be restaurants.

During the week this place is quiet but on weekends—especially when there is good weather—it is a sort of Mecca for Valencianos looking for restaurants that serve paella. I have never had paella here. It’s an hour by bike to El Palmar. An hour return after eating paella would be a bit of a chore. I usually just ride around town, take a few pictures, drink some water, and head back. Not exactly the gourmet’s tour of the city but it is a bike connoisseur’s ride from Valencia. Because this area is so flat I think that this ride is within the capabilities of anyone who can ride a bike. The bike path takes you most of the way to El Palmar. The trail stops at El Saler beach but from there you can ride along some abandoned dirt roads that take you right up to the turn-off for El Palmar. The beach road can be very busy on weekends and holidays and should be avoided at all costs. I try to limit my exposure to automobiles as much as possible here; it’s what separates me from the animals—at least the road kill type of animals.

The big bike race will be coming through this little corner of the Valencia Community on Saturday and then finish in downtown Valencia. The race is broadcast live so I’ll have to choose whether to watch it on TV at home or stake out a section of road along the course. I get a kick out of seeing the great aerial shots of where I ride. The views of the fortresses of Sagunto and Xátiva were spectacular—almost as good as seeing them for myself.

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