Words written by Nikki Le Brocq, cyclist blogger.
I didn’t know much about Girona when I got my invite to ride there for a week in June last year. I knew some pro teams were based there and that the old town featured heavily in the latest series of Game of Thrones(!); but that was about it. Having done my spring training in Calpe earlier in March I was excited to be going to another beautiful part of Spain (Catalonia to be precise) to conquer a few new climbs.
Transferring from Girona airport, following a direct flight from the UK was quick and straightforward although getting my bike box up the ancient narrow windy staircase leading to my apartment was less so! But to be situated right in the heart of this magical medieval old town was completely worth the effort.
Waking early the next morning for my first ride out couldn’t have been easier thanks to the chorus of bells (no chance of sleeping-in when in Girona!) reverberating around the old stone walls. Breakfast meet was La Fabrica, a coffee house and cycle café in the Barri Vell (old town) run by Amber and Christian Meier who’s mantra ‘life is too short for bad coffee’ is religiously applied to their fabulous menu of specialty grade coffee which is carefully sourced from importers who pay fair and sustainable price to the farmers.
Christian, a pro cyclist for Orica-GreenEdge together with Amber, the most wonderful hostess certainly have made it a welcoming community for cyclists, amateur and pros alike and local non cycling folk. As tempting as it is to sit in La Fabrica for the morning drinking coffee and spotting the odd ‘pro’ come and go, I don my helmet and roll out with my friends fully fuelled up and ready to explore.
There are many routes to ride in Girona, all providing different challenges and scenic backdrops. First day was very much about acclimatizing to the Catalonian heat which was going to hit mid to high 30’s that day (above average for this time of year) so we headed out to Els Angels, not far out of Girona and the location for the Hill Climb race event at the annual Girona Festival of Cycling week. It’s a nice steady 13km climb perfect to test our heat tolerance and find our legs. I personally love this climb; there are two ways to ascent, one definitely harder than the other. It stands at 484m and at the top there are spectacular views, a large al fresco area for the café and the Sanctuary Els Angels (Sanctuary of the Angels), a beautiful catholic church dating back to 1780 where the surrealist artist Salvador Dali (who was born in Catalonia) married in 1958.
Another of my favorite rides during the week was on day 4, where we rode out to a place frequented by the pros; Sant Marti Sacalm near the little town of Amer.
You can get into a lovely rhythm on this pretty 8km climb, which is why it’s a favorite of mine, with an average gradient of 7% it’s testing in places.
There isn’t a great deal at the top (a café that seemed to be eternally closed and a defibrillator unit, which I guess is handy for such a remote area.
Towards the end of the week we planned a 130km route and included the infamous mountain “Rocacorba”. It’s a beast! In fact it’s so worthy the British ex pro cyclist David Millar who now lives in Girona named his cycle club after it.
Standing at 979m, the pros are known to use Rocacorba as their fitness test before any big race. I was excited but I won’t lie, I felt a little sick with anticipation about this. At 13.8km long with parts said to be 15% I think its fair to say my anticipation was justified.
The route itself was lovely, heading out to Banyoles we stopped for coffee by the lake, which is by far the most idyllic coffee stop I’ve ever had.
Climbing the Rocacorba definitely lived up to what people had told me about it... the first 3 km’s were okay, not too steep, but officially those first few kms aren't included in the segment! It’s quite cruel, that mentally tests you in every way. The road surface is not great, the lack of shade means the heat can be unbearable on some stretches and unhelpful when you are struggling to keep your HR in the right zone. The second part is the hardest with 3km of 9% average gradient and I can still remember the feeling of despair after tackling a 10-15% section promising myself it will ease off on the next bend only to find it just doesn’t let up. Finding a rhythm, I found was impossible. Seeing the telecommunication mast provides a much needed uplift and by the time you summit and have taken a few moments to get your lungs back in the right place it becomes clear why we do this. The feeling of achievement and view is absolutely mind-blowing, totally worth every km!
Rolling back to Girona town after a morning out on the bike is always an inviting prospect, because of the fabulous and plentiful cafes, tapas and gelato bars all very bike friendly. River Café, at the bottom of the steps of the basilica of Sant Fèlix is one of my personal favourites.
Leaving this cycling paradise was really, really tough. So much so I returned in September for another 2 weeks and explored more climbs around the foothills of the Pyrenees. Although there were a few less tourists at this time, it was just as perfect for cycling and post-cycling rituals. During that second trip, I encountered a problem with my Di2 and luckily found a bike shop called Bike Breaks run by Dave and Saskia who fixed it that day. The shop is fabulous, fully stocked including a range of pro team kit and pro seconds. They are supporting the Festival of Cycling again this year and Queen of the Mountains is running a week-long cycling holiday over the festival - click here for details.
Although not covered here for the sake of word count there are fabulous coastal routes along the Costa Brava with climbs that are equally as rewarding.
Until next year Girona..... adéu !