(Mr MC posting)
Posted on the basis many here recommend them, and Alan uses the forum to promote his business and has a right to reply.
Managed to identify Alan lurking in the airport despite not wearing his SC baseball cap, and making no effort to approach what was obviously a bunch of cyclists looking for their host. If we hadn't been his clients than a friendly intro might have promoted further business.
Unpacking the bikes in what is effectively the rear yard of the house we stayed in, a woman walked in the front, through the house passing most of our group, to the rear. Stood watching me, unloaded a washing machine, then turned and walked out, not saying a word to any of us. Turns out this is Mary, Alan's partner and our host. Putting aside personalities, an introduction would have been professional and common courtesy.
Sunday our group of 9 headed out in one van with our single guide. We completed what was planned to fill the whole morning in an hour, so our guide Dave invited us to go ride the loop again, whilst he sat in a cafe. So no medical support, no guiding, no "here's an emergency number" etc etc.
For most of the week, our group of 9 had one guide. The other group of no more than 5 clients had 2 guides (Alan and Salvo).
In the afternoon one of our group got lost. The guide was the last one to realise (we all know each other) and the last one to respond and try do something about it. Luckily one of our group who was a really strong rider and a repeat visitor followed the most likely "wrong" route (road descent), and did eventually find our missing rider. Not that the guide would have known, as no effort was made to ensure he had been found safe and well.
Monday we were joined by a day-client on a rental bike. So now our group numbers 10. Still with one guide, who as he is ill is more accurately an uplift driver. We cram our bikes into the back of one van (MC's new Fox forks getting trashed in the process),to discover the other van with half as many people (which left from the same place) is at the same site, so we could have more efficiently split the loads. The day's riding is actually guided by our repeat visitor friends.
Apparently the website advertises that they will look after you, including fixing punctures and mechanicals (which is not something I would ask for or expect). The day client suffered a puncture, and the "guide" was forced to borrow one of our pumps to fix it as neither he nor the van had any kit.
The rest of the week followed in a similar fashion. A van broke down mid week, and our guide was ill. Neither of which should impact on me the paying client; Alan could hire another van, keep the one van in use doing multiple runs, or cram as many people in as possible and do as little as possible. He chose the latter option. At one point we had 10 people in a 9 seater minibus, so likely to be insurance issues there.
One of the best days riding is El Chorro. Except most of it is in a national park where it is illegal to ride. Alan usually guides there on a Sunday when the rangers don't work (we were caught and turfed out). Whatever the reason for banning cycling, be it environmental sensitivity or just a blanket policy, I am not impressed at a professional outfit using illegal trails. I also know my travel insurance covers mountain biking "on designated trails". Whilst I haven't tested this definition I am sure it would exclude trials where cycling is prohibited.
The day guest described the set up as chaotic which is accurate if charitable. They have the feel of a new start up with teething troubles, not someone in their 20th year. Alan obviously has enough custom to keep in business, but in 14yrs of annual foreign riding trips this was the worst. Limited riding, poor or none-existent guiding, no-expense-spent bike transportation (the back of a van, old sheets and fingers crossed = the only time any of our bikes have ever been damaged in transit). Our repeat visitors had a far better experience last time with a different guide so much may be down to the quality of the staff. When the 2 groups merged we got to meet Salvo, the Spanish guide who's total lack of English is offset by his enthusiasm, charm and attention and I am glad to hear Alan is looking to keep him on.
We were a group of 9 of mixed abilities from nervous to former Commonwealth competitor and are happy to accommodate each other, which is just as well as with one guide there is no way SC could accomodate different needs. If you are going to push it and run such a big group with one guide then surely asking one of the group to play sweeper would have been sense (something we usually do on non-guided holidays anyway).
This is only the second time we've had a guided/supported holiday so we're not high maintenance molly-coddled types, but the difference between SC and Cycleactive (and Rich Barnard) couldn't be more stark. Rich and Hassan in Morocco added to our experience and it's only from riding with SC I've appreciated just how able they were.
I expect happy clients to step to Alan's defence, but I can't recommend either Sierra Cycling or the region itself. Apparently Alan commented to one of our group as he left for the airport that we didnt seem happy, which seemed a little late to show an interest.