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

Lancashire Hills with Lucy Martin

Lucy Martin Reaching Summit of Shayley Brow Training for 2012 Lotto-Decca Tour – © Paul Francis Cooper

 

On the first Sunday of the London Olympic Games, years of anticipation, hope and preparation came to fruition for Lucy Martin. As a member of Great Britain’s Women’s Olympic Road Race team, with Emma Pooley and Nicole Cooke, she gave her all on a treacherous, rain soaked, Box Hill Circuit, delivering a well orchestrated plan to help the team’s fourth member, Lizzie Armitstead, to take silver on the Mall and Great Britain’s first medal of the Games.

 

In so doing, she became the second cycling Olympian from her hometown of Widnes, Cheshire, since John Geddes secured bronze on the Melbourne track as part of a GB team pursuit team, which included Mike Gambrill, Don Burgess and nineteen-year old Tom Simpson in the 1956 Olympics.

 

Representing her country in the home Olympics marks the highest point so far in Martin’s cycling career, which started when she was fifteen years old, her potential spotted by British Cycling’s talent identification team on a visit to her secondary school. Although she had competed as a club swimmer and school runner, she had never before been involved in cycling, and, doubting that she could meet British Cycling requirements, almost missed the vital assessment session because of a timetable clash with another subject.

 

Recruited into the junior talent development team, she joined the Olympic Development Programme after winning the National Junior Road Race Championship in 2008.

 

Now an established professional women’s road racer based in Girona, Spain, with what she describes as the dream-like experience of taking part in the home Olympics behind her, she is very aware that the time is right to focus on new athletic and career targets.

Image © Paul Francis Cooper

 

I joined her on Lancashire’s lanes whilst she was out on a training ride in preparation for last weekend’s Belgian three-day stage race, the Lotto-Decca Tour. And she told me. “My three-weeks in the Olympic village were amazing – I had to pinch myself as I rubbed shoulders with the world’s greatest, like Usain Bolt. The crowds and excitement of the road race, and Lizzie winning the medal will stay with me forever. But coming home to my family in Widnes has been a really welcome chance to calm down and plan for the future.”

 

The third stage of the Lotto-Decca Tour involves two ascents of the Kapelmur Cobble, infamous as a regular feature in the Tour of Flanders. And Lucy’s training session took in an impressively fast ascent of Billinge’s Shayley Brow, which, with its 14% maximum gradient, is also a regular lung-tester for St Helens pro-rider Jonny McEvoy (Endura Racing) and Liverpool’s Mark McNally (An Post Sean-Kelly), regular winter training partners of Lucy when the three friends are home from racing and training abroad.

 

And her work on Shayley Brow went to good use in the tough final stage of the Lotto-Decca on Monday. Chasing an early break, she pulled hard at the front of the bunch for much of the stage, providing strong support for her team’s sprinter, Holland’s Kirsten Wild, who narrowly missed a podium placing with a bravely contested, but frustrating, fourth general classification position.

 

In career terms, Lucy’s next major target is to negotiate a new professional contract, having learned recently that her current team, AA Drinks-Leontein.nl, (which also includes  Lizzie Armitstead, Emma Pooley and GB National Road Race winner, Sharon Laws on its team-list) will lose its sponsor at the end of the season.

 

Eyeing a number of options for 2013, she is hoping for greater interest in women’s cycling and the personal opportunity to switch from her current, mainly support, position to a team role in which she will be able to chase her own podium places more regularly.

 

 

 

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