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.
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!’
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!
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.
With thanks to:
The Windsor Bike Company for loan of a Garmin bike computer
Osmo Nutrition for fueling me through the week
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!
Last year, the CDNW women’s league, open only to 2nd, 3rd and 4th category riders, was thought by everybody involved to be a resounding success – an average of 40 women at each race, with 70 women registered for the league. I was approached by Victoria Hood as she loved the concept and wanted to bring something similar to the women of Yorkshire.
After numerous conversations with BC Yorkshire, it was agreed that we would try and bring the same level of racing to Yorkshire.
Organising a women’s road race has historically been a massive risk to organisers, especially when it is the sole event, so persuading some organisers to assist us in our quest was key. Pete Sutton, the Regional Events Officer for Yorkshire, has been a star, and he even spent the afternoon with Victoria and I going through all of the potential dates to ensure that there were no clashes with existing similar events in the North West.
This year, I have been trying to build a community atmosphere for women who want to have a go at racing by using the #partyontheroad hashtag. It is hopefully working – 68 women took to the start line on Sunday, at an industrial estate in Skelmersdale, with rain threatening. 64 of those women finished. The race next Sunday already has 51 entrants, with more due to enter on the day.
As the time is NOW to keep building on the momentum in women’s cycling, a lot of work has been going on behind the scenes to bring you the Yorkshire Women’s Road Race Series – these are all linked via the Series on British Cycling’s website here:https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events?series_id=380 The Series is being supported by Jadan Press, from Hull, so there will be an overall series winner – with cash!!!
It isn’t a league, like the CDNW women’s league, which means that we will need volunteers to assist at each race as there isn’t a league where you register and have to marshal (it was £92 to register the league, whereas a series is free). Any offers of assistance will be greatly appreciated, even if you bring a mate with you to watch the race! It is the #partyontheroad after all!
So without further ado, here are the details for the first three events to be included in the Yorkshire Women’s Road Race Series:
1. Sheffrec CC Spring Road Race – 13 April 2014
This race is organised by Marc Etches. Marc organises the Sheffield Grand Prix, which has been a fixture in the National Women’s Series for many years. Marc’s club, Sheffrec CC, organise a Spring Road Race, and he offered to run a women’s race in the morning, before the men’s event in the afternoon.
You can enter the race here: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/106353/Sheffrec-Spring-Road-Race#entry
This is a great starting event, being only 35 miles in length. For anyone from down South who has entered the Alexandra Tour of the Reservoir, why not enter the Sheffrec race too?
The circuit is on Strava – link here: http://app.strava.com/segments/1234074 and this video also gives you a great idea of what to expect:
Entry closes on 27 March 2014 – remember you don’t need to register for the series, you will be automatically entered into it if you ride.
2. Team Swift RR – 11 May 2014
The next event in the series is organised by Cliff Beldon, of Team Swift. You can enter the race here: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/104997/Teamswift-Road-Races#entry
The circuit is on Strava – link here: http://www.strava.com/segments/1445730 – I absolutely love this circuit, although I have only ridden around it the opposite way around!
3. Albarosa CC Road Race – 15 June 2014
Currently being finalised – I will update you when it goes live, but for now hold the date!
4. PH-Mas Road Race – 3 August 2014
The course is being fun on the Seacroft Wheelers RR circuit at Bishopwood, near Selby, and the circuit is here:
5. Selby CC Road Race
Stuart Davies is the organiser for the final round of the Yorkshire Women’s Road Race Series, and further information can be found here: https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/events/details/107690/Selby-CC-Road-Race#entry
This event is going to be held on a new circuit, which is first being used on the 15 May 2014, so I’m afraid I don’t have any segment details for you just yet!
Food for thought…
There aren’t many events where you can win hard cash for no entry fee. That and the fact that the #partyontheroad is coming to Yorkshire, why wouldn’t you want to get involved?
Hopefully I will see some of you there…
My thanks to Martin Holden Photography for use of the photos, as well as to all of the organisers of both the CDNW Women’s League and the Yorkshire Women’s Road Race Series. Without organisers, we have no races…
Simple pleasures. Maybe it’s because I’m getting on a bit now, but some of the things I most enjoy about cycling are the simple pleasures – sunshine on your face, birds in the air, rolling green vistas, chatting on the wheel with your cycling buddies. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy, say, a thundering downhill headlong charge, setting a PB on my steepest Strava segment (KoM is just never going to happen, unless I create one that goes through our house) or getting that tricky rock garden just right on the mountain bike – I do, I love them and all the myriad experiences a cyclist goes through on a good day just as much as I ever have. It’s just that, over time, I’ve gained an appreciation of the less-adrenalin-filled aspects of the sport. Maybe it’s not about getting old, as such – more a matter of growing up.
Whatever it is, I think I may have found the perfect outlet, if Sunday’s adventure in the Hoarwithy 100 was anything to go by. As part of our continuing exploration of the world of cycling, three members of the nondescript, half-baked, semi-imaginary cycling outfit that is NTG RCC dipped a first, timid toe into the welcoming waters of the Audax over the bank holiday weekend, with Jon, Luke and I assembling at a very reasonable 9:00am to get signed in. A small event, we never saw more than about twenty or so riders even for the depart (although there were more doing the 200km event), so signing on was simplicity itself, just a matter of finding the village hall and getting our brevet cards. After a pleasingly brief briefing, the keener types rolled merrily on their way, whilst NTG collectively thought they’d better ask if they needed to get their cards stamped at the start (a pointless question, in hindsight – we had arrived and collected the cards, why would they need to be stamped?). Thus, by the time we saddled up, everyone else was long gone.
Which meant that we only went about three hundred yards before the first navigational mishap, Jon and Luke’s Garmins unable to indicate “left a bit” when the road split. Somewhat worse, as we made our way over the Severn vie picturesque Hawbridge was the awareness that three had become two just a couple of miles in – Jon had gone missing, and as we got to him, the back wheel was coming out of his Genesis. A flat – that same tyre had been flat and a new tube fitted when they’d arrived barely half an hour before. This was not good.
Although the tube had gone in the same place as the one he’d changed earlier, there was absolutely no sign of the cause of the puncture – fortunately, there was a spare tyre back in the car, so I took a gentle spin back with the dead one over my shoulder, and within a couple of minutes of my return, we were on our way. It might not have been the brightest start, but we were thankfully untroubled by the puncture pixies for the remainder of the day.
And what a day. The sun was out, but there was just a smidge of cloud and the merest hint of a breeze to take the temperature out of the air, really perfect cycling conditions. As if that wasn’t enough, the route rolled us through the loveliest Gloucestershire countryside, all quiet lanes and green fields and coppices and villages – there was the occasional transit section on busier roads between lanes, but they were brief, rare and far between.
All, however, was not well. As Jon and I span merrily along, Luke was not feeling well – acid indigestion was bad, but worse he couldn’t eat and this was going to be a long day for us. Long before we hit Littledean, we were looking for shops as a source of Gaviscon but we’d clocked 26 miles before we found anywhere. After a brief respite to neck some tablets, we were all set for the off – however, if I’d known what was awaiting, I might have rested a little longer…
Right from the off, there was a stiff climb out of the village, and it sneakily went on further than you thought, straight runs to corners that hint at a flattened section for some respite, that then raise themselves to another long, straight drag with an evil laugh. What goes up, however…. The descent the other side down St White’s Road was adequate recompense, and served as a kind of gateway to the Forest of Dean. It had been all about the green and pleasant fields – now it was all about the trees.
But we needed more drama before we really got stuck into the woods. An ambulance had already come blaring past shortly before we reached Speech House, and as we crested the climb our hearts sank – a police car had evidently just pulled up, and diversion signs were in evidence. Trying not to think about what might have happened, and hoping it hadn’t happened to another cyclist, Captain Jon took out his map, but the omens weren’t good – already behind schedule, none of the obvious diversions were anything short of lengthy, but when Jon sought advice from the police officer deploying signs, she very kindly advised us to go through the section that had been closed; there was debris on the roads, so we were to take care, but we would be able to get through. It was very good of her – it would have been just as easy (easier, maybe) to tell us we had to go around, but she didn’t. Thank you ma’am!
Rolling steadily down the deserted road, you did wonder what we were going to find – a sharp, downhill right-hand bend, was the immediate answer, with the verge torn up on the outside, and a small hatchback upside down on the other side of the road. Fortunately, judging by the lack of urgency in the movements of the emergency services in attendance, and the slightly-shocked looking group of people who we presumed were giving statements, it didn’t seem likely that any serious injury had occurred, but it must have been a very lively few moments while it was all in progress.
It wasn’t long after that before we reached Symond’s Yat and the halfway mark checkpoint, signing in with minutes to spare before we ran out of time. Taking a break in the sun and getting some proper food down our necks (Luke still couldn’t eat, so I did my best to make up for him), our options were fairly limited – Luke felt ok to carry on, although understandably lacking zip, but the shortest way back was pretty much on the course, there were no train stations to hand so the only other bailout plan was to get someone to drive down and pick him up. Pluckily, Luke decided to just crack on, so after a very nice chat with the gentleman on the checkpoint, we re-kitted and headed on. Let me tell you, the vertiginous descent from Yat Rock down through Riddings Wood is quite the perfect post-lunch warm up, raising your heart rate without stressing your legs.
Once north of the A40, we were back into rolling fields territory, where even the most testing inclines ran out of steam before too long, the sun beaming down as the afternoon drew on, bouncing diamonds of light off the surface of the Wye. The second and final checkpoint was at Much Marcle, where we paused for a final brew and a chocolate biscuit at a control in front of an immaculate, curved-roof garage straight out of the Fifites and wonderfully still showing signs of everyday use – recent trophies sparkled in the front windows, whilst on the walls hung prints of Graham Hill and Jack Brabham, and the maestro, Fangio, four-wheel-drifting his Maserati through Rouen’s high-speed curves.
With Luke still unable to eat, we made our way steadily over the last fifteen miles or so into a sneaky little headwind that started off gently then began to build – taking turns on the front, by the time we drew close to Apperly the novelty of the breeze had started to wear off, so it was with an element of glee that we turned off into the village itself, another drag up a hill but sheltered, and all the better for knowing there wasn’t far to go. Rolling up to the final checkpoint invoked the sense of accomplishment that makes it all worthwhile, and we got to have a nice chat with both organisers and fellow participants. You don’t always get that at a sportive.
It had been a really good day, although I was glad I wasn’t Luke – I can’t imagine how tired he must have been feeling. The pace had necessarily been gentle given how under the weather he had been feeling, so we must have been pretty much the last back, but the whole ethos of the Audax seemed entirely non-competitive – if ever there was an event that stressed that the spirit of competition is with yourself, rather than externally, with any other person, this seemed to be it. Everyone we met had been very friendly, open and chatty, and probably the biggest surprise to me was how small the attendance was – there are just 27 finishers listed for the 100km, and 40 for the 200km. On the one hand, I’m staggered that such a well-organised, well-routed event should attract such little interest. On the other, I suspect that’s part of why they’re so great…
For more information on the Hoarwithy 100 and other Audax events visit: www.aukweb.net