Girona Gran Fondo – A Grand Affair

Stepping out into the heart of the Catalan town in the northern region of Spain after a 2 hour direct flight from a London airport, it’s not hard to see why Girona is considered home and chosen training ground to a number of professional cyclists. Hidden in the maze of medieval buildings of buzzing restaurants and bars lies Bike Breaks Girona, a bike rental, cycling holidays and guided cycling center which quickly became my home for the week of the Girona Gran Fondo festival.

Girona Ride Neil Martin

Being lead-out into the moutains by Neil ©HayleyDavies

With three packages to choose from, there was plenty to get involved in throughout the week.  Daily rides from the shop lead by Neil Martin, ex-professional and Olympian, otherwise known as “Dan Martin’s Dad”,  welcome dinner, a nocturne, timed hill-climb, massage, pasta party and the concluding 125km Gran Fondo, the Gold group was clearly the place to be.

I can’t say Girona would have been my first cycling holiday of choice, however I was quickly shown why it should be. Within 5 -10 minutes of cycling out from the shop, we were onto quiet, pot-hole-free rolling roads into the countryside. Ask for a ‘flat ride’ and you’ll get an evil chuckle back. Nestled halfway between the Pyrenees and the beaches of the Costa Brava, flat doesn’t exist here. Not much of a climber, it took me a day or so to find my legs, but it wasn’t long before I too was enjoying the 10km climbs. I can’t thank the ride guides enough for the support throughout with local road knowledge (warnings of climbs or how long before a coffee stop), motor pacing me back on when I was dropped on climbs, and helping me make the most of the descents at speed.

On our second shop ride, we were treated to some special guests, local professional riders Marc de Maar (UHC), Sharon Laws (UHC), Lucy Martin (Estado de Mexico), Carlee Taylor (Orica-AIS) and  Loren Rowney (Specialized Lululemon) who were happy to share their training route to the coast. This wasn’t the last time we would see them either, volunteering their time to marshal the nocturne and the Gran Fondo.

 

‘You will see the angel!’

Els Angels Hill Climb

‘You will see the Angel!’ ©HayleyDavies

Unlike many cycling holidays or training camps, the festival also allowed some competitive battles. The timed hill climb on Thursday morning was a tough 11km climb up to Els Angels. The hottest day of the week so far, the ascent of 404m was tough… for those competing (yes, I chickened out!). But with a Tag Heuer watch on offer, there was a lot to compete for. Setting off in 2 minute  intervals, the men’s winner Raul Castello Garcia (Bike Esplugues) beat local favourite and bike lead Neil Martin by 32 sceonds, finishing in an astounding 22 minutes and 16 seconds. Adel Tyson-Bloor, English national rider for Mulebar-Girl Sigma Sport was pipped to gold by Katrina Grove in 26 minutes and 2 seconds. Was it worth the climb? For the pasta party at the top over-looking the Pyrenees and the coast, it certainly was.

 

The rescheduled on Thursday night nocturne (postponed on Tuesday night due to a storm – thankfully reducing the humidity), was quite possibly one of the hardest things I’ve ridden. Not your usual nocturne format, only 300m of the 2.5km course was timed. However, this 300m section also happened to have an average gradient of 7.4% (with a steeper section of 12%). And as if that wasn’t challenging enough, it was cobbled! With recovery between timed sections riders were able to take the 10 laps at their own pace, although it wasn’t long before I was lapped. This was truly a unique experience, not only for the cyclists who took part, but the locals too, who had all taken to the streets, including Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar to cheer us on, and Lucy Martin, Sharon Laws and Loren Rowney handing out water and energy products as well as words of encouragement at the top of each timed section. I don’t think I would have completed the 10 climbs if it hadn’t have been for the cheers!

Girona Gran Fondo

Enjoying the views from another false-flat ©HayleyDavies

The week came to a close on Saturday, following Friday night pre-race drinks, with the Gran Fondo. Along with 200 other cyclists all wearing the commemorative jerseys, we really were treated to a tour of the region. We were sent out into the Garrotxa region, famous for its prehistoric volcanic activity – this says it all – climbing a total of 2000m over 125km, majority of which happened in the first 60km, making it a tough start to the day. Once we’d broken the ascending barrier however, we were treated to corn and sunflower fields, panoramic views, woodlands and some fantastic winding descents, accompanied and guided by our very own police escort. Although it was a challenging route, the beauty and serenity of the area made it worth the exertion. Rolling across the finish line with two others after 5h20 in the saddle (just under 2 hours behind the fastest man, Neil Martin), we were treated to well-deserved medals, a BBQ and beers.

This had been a truly unique week. It’s not often you’re ride-guided by professionals, treated to some fun competitive events with lucrative prizes and get to meet and mingle with so many other cyclists in what is truly a beautiful area perfect for cycling. And although I write this with 500km and 7200m of climbing in my legs, I can’t wait to get back there next year.

To find out more and to keep an eye on dates for next year, check out http://www.gironagranfondo.com/ or follow @bikebreaks.

 

Our rides:

With thanks to:

BikeBox Online Windsor for rental of a BikeBox Alan

The Windsor Bike Company for loan of a Garmin bike computer

Osmo Nutrition for fueling me through the week

 

Hayley Davies

Hayley Davies

Writer

Riding since Feb 2011 Hayley is a 30 year old female who loves adventures. If she’s not on one of her many bikes or in the water on a bodyboard/surfboard, then Hayley is probably out looking for something new to keep the adrenaline pumping!
Website: www.hjdonline.co.uk

2013 Season Review

As the 2013 road cycling season ambles its way towards a conclusion and news tidbits start to dry up it feels like a good time to review the season; and what a season it has been both on and off the bike. Whilst the crashing fall of a certain Mr Armstrong has overawed the majority of the season,the racing and politics of the sport continues to provoke excitement and angst in equal measure.

 Two new Grand Tour winners, two new classic winners, some biblical weather and a change in the top tier of the sport all point to that fact that it wasn’t a bad year after all!

 

Grand Tour Deja-Vu?

American bike rider defies all the odds to win one of cycling’s biggest races for the first time. No we haven’t been transported back to the drug riddled late 1990’s; its Christopher Horner (at 41 – the oldest Grand Tour winner ever) triumphing in the Vuelta a Espana. The impossibly gaunt and skinny rider from Oregon scrawled yet another chapter in the sports chaotic relationship with drugs and rumour.

Climbing for impossibly extended moments out of the saddle, the American arguably rode the perfect race to despatch Vincenzo Nibali. Herein lies perhaps the most important motif of that Vuelta – it remains a stiff task to be competitive in more than one grand tour during the year. Ultimately this has to be a positive thing for the sustainability of the sport.

That brings us to a certain Mr Nibbles.  Safely despatching his opponents despite some biblical weather and some shortened stages – he certainly has to be classed as one of the top 3 grand tour riders at present. Admittedly a tentative Wiggins, an ageing Evans, an off colour Hesjedal and an improving Uran didn’t provide much of a challenge.

Again the Tour de France was strangled by a Sky armada, albeit in a less comprehensive fashion than 12 months previously. A precession from stage 8 for Mr Froome wouldn’t have been so enjoyable if it wasn’t for the 100th Tour which included a double ascension of Alpe D’Huez, Mount Ventoux and a dusk finish in Paris. Marcel Kittel also emerged as the top sprinter we all knew he would be, throwing down a challenge to Monseiur Cavendish. He’s certainly come a long way in a very short time since finishing third at the 2010 World Time Trial championship! Oh and who can forget the Australian bus incident!

Dan Martin powers away from an unlikely opponent

Dan Martin powers away from an unlikely opponent

 

An Irish Panda

Let’s hope MTN Quebeka’s win at Milan San Remo inspires a generation (to pinch a well-known phrase) of African cyclists. Yet, history may well remember the ice crusted helmets, blue faces, mid stage bus ride and a tottering Sky rider instead.

Whilst Fabian Cancellara doubled up at Roubaix and Flanders and Rodriguez did the double at Il Lombardia, Dan Martin ensured Irish eyes were smiling again when triumphing at thoroughly enjoyable edition of Liege Bastogne Liege with the current fall guy of cycling Hesjedal teeing his Garmin teammate to perfection.

With Messers Boonen and Cancellara nearing the epoch of their careers and the timely proliferation of a number of new classic stars, 2014 may well see a new paradigm in one day races. Certainly, Zdenk Stybar can count himself extremely unlucky this year.

Cookson comes to the fore

Arguably the most important moment of the year came when the defiant Pat McQuaid was finally wrestled from his position of UCI president by Brian Cookson. Only time will tell whether the much publicised change Cookson has promised comes to fruition. With calendar alterations a foot for 2015, next year this maybe the last season we enjoy procycling in its current format.

Below are my rider and race or stage of the year. Who or what is yours?

 

My rider of the Year – Joaquim Rodriguez

Race of the year – Stage 6 of Tirreno Adriatico

Wiggo & Cav’s Triumphant Homecoming – ToB Stage 8

Did you go? Were you there? In case you left the country for a couple of weeks, you would have struggled to avoid seeing that the Tour of Britain hit the streets of this great cycling nation, and even with the inevitable inclemency of the weather, it appeared to be a great success. Cycling Shorts were lucky enough to be invited to London by Jaguar to see how the final stage all panned out, and did we ever pick a good day to go…

The first thought that occurred, when we arrived for the Johnson Health Tech Westminster Grand Prix was how busy the circuit was, even at half ten on a Sunday morning. The sizeable crowd was treated to the spectacle of the pack trying to attack Hannah Barnes for the best part of an hour, but their efforts were fruitless, the national crit champion relentlessly driving the bunch to cover chase after chase, with a final, full-blooded effort by Lydia Boylan and Nicola Juniper failing to stick after putting a big chunk of time on the peloton. The pack was all together for the finale and there was only going to be one winner in the sprint to the line, Barnes taking the win to popular delight. Two observations occurred – firstly, even when you have a standout favourite like Barnes, the racing can still be fantastic. And secondly, if you have any questions over the popularity of women’s racing, put them to one side – this race was massively popular.

The next event was the IG Gentleman’s TT, over one lap of the full 8.8km course, where pairs consisting of a pro “pacer” and a celebrity “gentleman” teamed together with the gentleman’s time over the line being the one that counted. Honours went to Andrew Griffiths and Francis Jackson with a respectable 11:47, tonking second placed Olly Stephens and Alex Stephenson by 47 seconds, with Gavin Morton and Steve Carter Smith another 7 seconds further back in third. I’ll be honest with you – I thought it was a really cool concept, but with very few exceptions (Lee Dixon, Dermot Murnaghen, Ned Boulting), I didn’t know who the celebrities were, although that may say more about me than anything else…  A good idea, though – maybe next year get Boris and Ken to get involved, add a bit of local colour and create a budding sporting rivalry.

But the main event was always going to be the final stage of the Tour of Britain. On a pan-flat stage, no-one was likely to make a race-winning break big enough to take the gold jersey, but that didn’t mean it was a dull affair, Pete Williams and Angel Madrazo joining a six man break in a frenzied battle to take the points jersey, the Spaniard taking it to add to his mountains jersey when Williams was DQ’d from a sprint for some overly lively riding. Inevitably however, the pack hunted them down and despite a late and valiant dash for glory from Alex Dowsett, it was all about the sprint, and there was only ever going to be one winner there, Mark Cavendish rocketing to his third stage victory. With Sir Bradley following him safely home to seal the overall, Whitehall went nuts in celebration – which is not a phrase you’ll hear often!

It’s hard to see the tour in general and stage 8 in particular as anything other than an unparalleled success. Certainly, all day long the crowds were both full and vocally happy, whilst the results were what everyone wanted. But more than just being a showcase for the extraordinary talents of two of Britain’s brightest stars, riders who fly comparatively lower on the radar than Cav and Sir Brad also received rapturous welcomes, riders like Alex Dowsett, Dan Martin and Nairo Quintana. It was great to see that, not only were they recognised and their names known, people were genuinely happy to see them, regardless of nationality. A year on from the Olympics, it’s clear that cycling has as firm a place in the heart of the sporting nation as it has had for many years, and all the signs show that it’s here to stay. Happy days…

Huge thanks to Claire and all at Jaguar UK for their hospitality on a fantastic day #ToB2013 #ridelikeapro @JaguarUK

 

 

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