There is nothing new that Girona is one of the favourite destinations of cyclists. The small Catalan town that connects with countless routes along the coast and the interior and allow travel many roads with little traffic, incredible places, mountain passes and idyllic landscapes.
For years, northern Catalunya is full of professional cyclists who choose to reside in Girona or surroundings for their day to day, but it is now when more and more cyclists from all over the world come to discover corners hidden in this area. The city has emerged as a hub where we can find not only professional cyclists, but also passionate and love of cycling.
We met Tess (Therese Sundstrom) during the Red Hook Criterium last summer thanks to shared friendship with the guys from Warsaw Cycling. The feeling was immediate. Between a coffee and another during his lightning visit to Barcelona, we discovered a charming, friendly and very ambitious woman, personally and professionally, besides being absolutely love cycling. So, we do not hesitate to support and find a natural interest for their projects.
One of the projects that Tess wanted to accomplish was to organize a “grupeta” of friends arrived from many parts of Europe and the US to make a training camp coinciding with the famous Festive500 challenge organized by Rapha together with Strava, for the Catholic and coldest days of the year, Christmas.
What better way to celebrate the holidays to ride side by side with your friends through the amazing roads that provides the province of Girona? We knew we did not want to lose detail of this event.
On the 26th of December I get ten of my cycling friends to fly in to Barcelona and then take the bus up to Girona for a five-day long Winter challenge that will end the year in a different and unforgettable way.
Of course, we are taking advantage of the timing so that we at the same time complete the Festive500 competition that Rapha announces worldwide every year which include completing 500km on the bike between Christmas day and New Year’s Eve.
This adventure started taking form a few months ago, when I felt the urge of doing something out of the ordinary, so I sent a few emails to some friends and asked if they would be up for doing an adventure with me and a surprisingly lot of them said yes, so here we are.
I have planned for one +100km ride every day, they don’t yet know the routes and the ground rules of the rides is “social”, no one will be dropped. Many of these friends of mine has never met before, sure some of the Swedish people have met but not all of them know each other.
AND THE REAL CWC (Catalunya Winter Challenge)
Day 1. Between backpacking and the first kilometers…
(120km – 1450m – 5h6min)
So, the trip started with people arriving on the 26th, three of the boys got into town around 11am and had the time to unpack their bikes, settle into the apartment and then do a quick recovery ride before the others arrived. I was pretty much ready for them all to get there and had spent the morning preparing the first two days’ dinners because I knew I´d be too tired or have enough of other things to do to cook dinner every evening.
So, I had done all the shopping, cleaned the house, made all the beds and now I was ready for them.
The first two days was a bit longer than the three last ones to make sure we had the margin to make it to 500km and to take advantage of not being too tired and stressing the last day to finish it.
The first day we went east and down to the coast, we stopped by the cake shop in Platja d´Aro to refill on energy and then kept on going. No one in the group is new to cycling but as it always goes the group got a bit spread out especially on the climbs, but it made it possible for everyone to go per their own capacity.
“Going to Girona to the Catalunya Winter Challenge to get the base miles in while the rest of central Europa was covered in snow felt a bit like cheating. But after arriving, I found that even if the weather didn’t pose a challenge, the roads did. There were small roads, big roads, roads pointing up, roads pointing down. Roads covered in cows manure, roads covered in ice. Roads in the shadow, roads in the sun. Girona has it all, and it’s easy to get lost hunting for the next adventure. But with a guide like Therésè and the group of people she assembled, nothing can go wrong. And nothing did.” – Peter Riegersperger
Day 2. James bond roads and tough uphill’s!
(126km – 1660m – 5h47min)
Day two brought us west out of Girona, we road past Amer and then took a smaller road that lead us to the damm that looks like it would be a perfect place to record some action and explosion scenes for a typical Bond movie – you know the typical quiet and beautiful scenic view that just begs to be blown up and Daniel Craig running slightly beaten up and dusty to avoid to get shot. Oh sorry, back to our trip again. After leaving the damm we stumbled upon a surprise part of the ride, a steep climb that I hadn´t warned them about (mostly because this part of the ride was new to me to) it never seemed to end but as after most climbs comes a decent and this one was one of the best descents I have done around here. We had a bit of a food stop and headed up the 16k climb to Sant Hilari and then once again got to enjoy a sweet decent and then some flat roads back to G-town in the twilight.
As you might hear I did not rekkie all the roads we went on this week, but I was either recommended by friends of doing those parts or had Strava stalked enough people to make sure it was rideable
The third day was a bit easier – had two loops out of town planed that added up to right under 100k and three climbs. It all went according to plan until the decent of the first climb where Mikael got a flat and a big gash in his tire, we could patch it up but we needed to go back and fix it so I let the group continue, we had a local girl joining the ride so she could help with the guiding if the Garmin route wasn’t taking them the right way – I don’t know why it shouldn’t have but anyway they weren’t left all by themselves, while we road back to town on some flatter and quicker roads to fix the tire. And as we had two loops this day we met up in town an hour later, had some lunch and then continued all together on the second loop with fixed tires and coffee induced power.
DAY 4. A bit of heavy legs but the adrenaline of the group is HIGH!
(124km – 1370m – 5h50min)
“On the fourth day, we could all feel the soreness and that heaviness you get from having been on your bike a few days in a row, but the spirit of the group was high. To add here is that the group worked so well together, for most of them not knowing the others in the beginning of the trip they really got along like they´d known each other for a long time. We rode out of Girona, took small roads out to Olot and had a unplanned long lunch there, road through Besalú and when we passed Banyoles it started to get quite dark so as we rolled in to Girona it was pitch black and it was a good thin a few of us had lights on back.
I had for a long time planed on doing something extra for the last day of riding – I´d thought of treasure hunts, games, quiz challenges, orientation based exploring and a thousand other fun things to send my group of adventurers out on. In the end, I stayed up most of the night creating the route on Strava, writing a long letter to them, putting the route on their Garmins, and planning details.
“I love how cycling can bring amazing people into my life. Do you remember the feeling as a kid when you really, really, really didn’t want to leave the playground and your new friends? For a long time I haven’t felt so at ease riding a fair amount of km in such a short time, with new people adding to our group on a daily basis – in a beautiful setting, demanding at times but always in the most positive mental attitude possible.” – Mimi Kathrein
DAY 5. A little surprise before the 500k!
(52km – 520m – 2h20min)
This was what they experienced on this last and final epic day of the Catalunya winter challenge: When the alarms went off at 8am I had prepared the porridge as usual in the kitchen, their personalized cups were set on a row, coffee was fresh in the pot, Garmins laid out in front of their cups and there was a note from me telling them that I was not there – and that their mission for the day was to find me. The letter also described the first mission of riding towards Banyoles lake and take a group selfie and post it on Instagram, when the had done that I´d give them their next mission. And for the two guys who wanted to do Rocacorba, got to do Rocacorba! So when they finished their first task I sent them on another that lead to a coffee break and after that a package collection containing accessories and so on – you get the picture ;) so when they finally came home I was there baking them a cake! And the Catalunya winter challenge was accomplished with success! And also, the legendary festive 500 was completed! (I had of course gone out riding at 8am and froze my feet, ass and everything off to be able to reach my own 500km!) and then we celebrated the new year in this beautiful Catalunya city as a great end to our journey and to a great year!