Lords of the ring road

The 64km cycle route around Madrid offers a chance to discover its outskirts

A moment along the way on the Madrid circular cycle route.
A moment along the way on the Madrid circular cycle route.CRISTÓBAL MANUEL

The dossier for Madrid's 2020 Olympic bid claims the city is ringed by a 64-kilometer cycle path. But how accurate is the claim? EL PAÍS recently brought together four cyclists of varying abilities -- one journalist, one photographer, plus Pablo A, who cycles to work every day, and Pablo L, who races in teams and goes mountain biking - to test it.

Setting off from the Puente de Segovia at 8am on a Saturday morning, you immediately hit the prettiest stretch of the route, the Casa de Campo. But after leaving its leafy shade and duck ponds behind and crossing the A-6 freeway, comes the first confusing choice. The route crosses another path heading to Dehesa de la Villa -- a situation that is oft-repeated. Fortunately the photographer knows the way and directs the group toward Arroyo del Fresno. There the path merges with the sidewalk and you find yourself having to dismount at seven consecutive sets of traffic lights - more or less every 50 meters. "It's better to go along the road, even if you are among the cars," complains Pablo A.

It's then you begin heading up alongside the Parque Regional de la Cuenca Alta del Manzanares, continuing to the Colmenar Viejo highway where the descent begins. Once behind the Fuencarral cemetery, there are several points where it is easy to get lost, especially when the path simply disappears at the end of Monasterio de Arlanza street and you have to use your sense of direction and head in the opposite way toward the towers of Plaza de Castilla. If you don't get confused, you'll arrive at Las Tablas, the official starting point of the route, although there isn't even a good map there - just a lot of potholes. Until now the path has been mostly male-dominated territory but in Canillejas it starts to take on a more family feel with women, couples and children who have only just learnt to ride without training wheels.

More activity means more traffic lights and sudden stops, however. It highlights Pablo L's complaint that the route is no good for exercise because it is impossible to get up any speed. Neither is it much good for transport as it is circular, with no connections. The sight of La Peineta stadium marks the end of this stage and, if you don't get lost again, you head into Vallecas, one of the most pleasant stretches, above all because of the long section through the Parque Lineal del Palomares, which mixes a bit of activity with greenery and no traffic lights

We go on through Entrevías and after 50 kms and six hours, a fork in the road by the Caja Mágica sports complex presents an opportunity for a shortcut: instead of continuing through Carabanchel -- all uphill -- why not just head along Madrid Río back to the Puente de Segovia? Without giving ourselves time to think again, we set out along the river, celebrating our triumph on a nice terrace bar.

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