La Vuelta de La Vuelta
After completing his 10th Vuelta a España, professional cyclist Luis Ángel Maté decided to pedal all the way home. Despite cycling over 3,000 competitive kilometres on the tour, the Euskaltel-Euskadi rider still had the energy to strap some bikepacking bags onto his bike and continue across both Portugal and Spain, on a journey he nicknamed ‘La Vuelta de La Vuelta’. Here, Luis shares some insight from the trip, while exploring the differences between elite-level racing and the freedom that bikepacking offers.
Ever since I heard that La Vuelta would be ending in Santiago de Compostela this year, an idea formed that I couldn’t stop thinking about.
The Galician capital is famous as the final destination on St James’ Way – a route that thousands of pilgrims complete every year as they travel towards Santiago de Compostela Cathedral. Although a Grand Tour is a rather different excursion, in many ways those of us competing in La Vuelta are still embarking on something similar. Our journey is also over many kilometres, during which we experience joy, pain and many other emotions as we travel in the direction of Praza do Obradoiro, as so many pilgrims have done over the centuries.
Many cyclo-tourists know the meaning and significance of Santiago de Compostela, but for myself, this destination was special for an additional reason – as the start of my next adventure. This edition of La Vuelta would be my tenth, and I wanted to take this opportunity to cycle all the way back home to Marbella after finishing the tour. I nicknamed the trip ‘La Vuelta de la Vuelta’, a play on words meaning both ‘loop’ and ‘returning’.
I’ve cycled over 200 individual stages of La Vuelta over the ten editions I’ve completed. When I counted these up, I was surprised by the totals, never having imagined that I could reach such numbers. It’s been a dream come true and I reflect upon my cycling career with real satisfaction, proud of what I have achieved on the bike. I have loved each of these many stages, but the biggest prize for me has been becoming a professional cyclist and having the opportunity to ride them in the first place.
La Vuelta is a long tour, with a total distance this year of 3,417km spread over 21 stages. To finish a three-week race and then get straight back onto the bike is a little unusual – to say the least – and most of my teammates have at least a little rest afterwards!
In a race, you ride a pre-determined route without needing to worry about which direction to turn. A DIY bikepacking trip is a rather different affair, and the first thing I had to do for this project was creating my own routes and stages. Fortunately, that was a simple task – I chose Plaza del Obradioro as the start point and my home in Marbella as the end, before selecting the number of days to complete the tour as 6 and then letting Komoot do the rest of the work. I’d ride down through Portugal, before heading south-east across the bottom of Spain towards the coast.
There were plenty of tough moments, with some stages including considerably more climbing but they were never so bad that they detracted from the reasons I was on this bikepacking trip: Enjoying the ride, pedalling without any rush and not worrying about the watts or other numbers that have invaded professional cycling. Despite just having completed a gruelling tour, when I started riding again, I was pleasantly surprised by how my body responded. We might not have been cycling that fast, but we were still pedalling more than 1,000km in total (averaging around 160km a day), which is a considerable distance.
As children, we cycled only for enjoyment. For me, that’s the essence of ‘La Vuelta de La Vuelta’. It’s about forgetting the things you can’t control: the team orders, the fight for position in the peloton, and even the physiological parameters such as weight and heart rate. I tried to forget about all that which generates stress on a bike and only worry about relishing the ride.
Nowadays the highly technical cycling that brings us champions and outstanding youngsters can be quite dangerous. I see very young cyclists living a monastic life, which is partly why I think it’s important to vindicate that old style of cycling when the most important thing was still to enjoy the riding. ‘La Vuelta de La Vuelta’ has been to claim that feeling.
Having some proper time to reflect, analyse and digest what happened during La Vuelta has been one of the best things about this adventure. Once you finish the tour, you usually go home without transitions, and you find yourself forced to return to reality quickly. The team schedules, diets, massages, daily cycling, having someone that does all your laundry… All of that suddenly ends and you become slightly useless, without knowing where things are, and that doesn’t leave much room for reflection and assimilation. Having time and space to reflect while cycling all the way home has been a great conclusion this year.
Ultimately, I race and go bikepacking for different reasons. I race to win, to cycle a stage, to fight the mountain, to place my leader in the best positions – that is why I train and compete. I go bikepacking to get away from society, to learn more about myself, to see extraordinary landscapes and to be in contact with nature.
Although these are two very different mindsets, we are still talking about the same thing: the bike. A life of cycling has made me into who I am today and has given me my personality. The day will come when I won’t be able to race, but I will still be a cyclist. Just as there are many professionals that are not cyclists, there are many cyclists who are not professionals. I will always consider myself a cyclist and whenever I can, I will be cycling.
I’m very grateful to have a team that supports me, as none of this would have been possible without the collaboration of Euskaltel-Euskadi. My team understands my relationship with bikes and shares my vision of the core values of cycling. Thanks to them, I have been able to carry out this adventure and promote these values around the essence of cycling.
After bikepacking over 1,000 kilometres, I arrived home with my swimming trucks still packed inside my saddle pack. I ate a hearty paella and went straight to the beach in Marbella for a dip. It was a beautiful moment for me, having not only finished my tenth La Vuelta but also to have pedalled all the way home. The journey ended up being something quite special; one of the most beautiful and extraordinary rides of my life.