Monday, April 10, 2006

Week 1 – Girona, Spain

Click here for Pictures and Video of Week 1 in Girona with Breakaway Bikes and BikeCat

After a long, miserable, sleepless set of flights I finally touched down in Girona, Spain tired, grumpy, and with a very bad attitude. How quickly things would change. The hotel owner who picked me up at the airport didn't speak English and my Spanish is weak and my Catalan non-existent so the drive to the hotel was silent. I arrive at the hotel and the owner points to someone through the glass door, "Patrick - English". Cool, I think, at least someone I can talk to and complain about the comedy of errors that occured during my travels.

Me: "How are you, I'm Kyle"
Him: "Patrick. You from the US? Cool, I can finally speak English."
Me: "Where do you live?"
Him: "Now? Here. Girona. But I'm from Dallas originally....then Austin"
Me (groggy and a little slow on the uptake): "Really? What do you do here?"
Him: "Oh, I'm a cyclist"
Me: "Cool, for what team?"
Him: "I just signed with Phonak. But the last few years I was with Postal and then Discovery"
Me: "What's your name?"
Him: "Patrick McCarty"

And that was the first person I met in Girona. (And I still don't know why he was in my hotel nor why he felt obligated to help carry my substantial luggage to my room.)

Today we went on our first real ride, 70 miles of Skyline-ish climbing through the foothills of the Pyrenees and along the Costa Brava coast of the Mediterranean. The day started slightly differently than my typical rides. We rolled out of the hotel along the narrow cobblestone alleys of Girona, and our Spanish ride leader Jaume stopped us only a few hundred yards into the ride. He pointed out Lance's pad and Tyler's across the street. We hung around a bit and someone asked what the hold up was. "We're waiting for Freddy." Sure enough, seconds later, American sprinting star Freddy Rodriguez rolled out of his house below Lance's fully decked out in his Davidamon Lotto kit.

And that was how my first ride in Girona began.

Needless to say, it is ridiculously amazing here. I'm spending this week based out of the Girona city centre on a trip arranged through Breakaway Bikes from Philadelphia. Two years ago on a trip in this region through Eurocycler I met Joe Wentzell, the owner of Breakaway Bikes, and he was so awed by the riding here that he said he was going to start organizing trips through his bike store and actually followed through with it. So, here I am. Next week I am staying in the same region but moving headquarters about 25 miles over to the coast and again doing a week with Eurocycler. Then it's off to Majorca for a week to give that cycling paradise a try. And, finally, after a week of dulling the aches of my tired legs in English pubs, it's off to Belgium for the Tour of Flanders.

So, I'm one day into this adventure and the legs are tired already. But, at least I arranged for a massage this evening by the hotel owner's daughter who came highly recommended by Jaume our ride leader. As she kneaded my shot quads I learned in broken English why. She is Lance's and George's masseuse when they are in town, and had to head over to Floyd Landis' place for an appointment when she finished with me.

My bad attitude is gone. Welcome to Girona.


Hello all. I'm long overdue for an update from my European adventure, so here goes....

I spent my first week in Girona, Spain with about 12 other riders from America at a camp organized by Breakaway Bikes in Philadelphia and BikeCat of Girona. Girona is cycling mecca and huge numbers of professional riders flock to the area to take advantage of the beautiful roads, weather, and terrain. Indeed we crossed paths with numerous professionals and even had dinner and rode one day with Freddy Rodriguez and also hopped aboard the Team TIAA-CREF train for a long while out one day. We encountered four members of Discovery Channel on the roads and crossed paths with Bobby Julich and Carlos Sastre of CSC out training. The week was absolutely fantastic. I cannot adequately describe what an amazing week it was. Joe (Breakaway Bikes) and Jaume (BikeCat) organized an incredible week and everything worked out ideally - so long as your bike wasn't lost by the airlines as a few unfortunate souls were. We stayed in the Hotel Historic in the heart of the city centre of Girona, and this hotel is the de facto cycling headquarters for Girona. The owners are cycling fans and they regularly put up visiting professionals and they have a large display case of signed jerseys from the likes of Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Floyd Landis, George Hincapie, and on and on. The hotel sits atop the city next to the ancient cathedral and we had the pleasure of finishing every ride with a sprint through the city centre on cobblestones culminating with one block up a cobbled 18%. As with all climbs throughout the week, it proved hard to beat Jaume up that one. After the rides we would walk through Girona and get some tapas for snacks, swing by Lance's place and rummage through his mail, and sit back with a cerveza and reflect on what an exhilarating ride it had been.

The rides were stunning and we were very lucky with the weather. Dry everyday and perfect cool temperatures for cycling. We sampled all terrain, long gradual climbs in the Volcanoes region, sweeping ups and downs along the coast of the Mediteranean, steep quad-buster climbs from beachside towns up the cliffs and then diving down treacherous narrow switchback descents, and of course, on the last day a long, legitimate mountain stage which paid off in a phenomenal 30 minute descent. Every day we returned to the hotel in disbelief at how great the ride was, and then the next day would find a way to top the last.

The hotel was great, the riding was great, and we ate like kings. I think Jaume, Bernat, and Debbie of BikeCat wanted to show off their city as they took us to phenomenal restaurants for dinner (and some riding lunch stops, too!) after the long day of riding. We may have been tired, but we ate well and the sangria and wine kept flowing late into the night.

The final aspect of this first week of my trip that made this easily one of the best weeks of my life was the people I met. I had met Joe (Breakaway) and Jaume (BikeCat) two years ago in this region when I did a Eurocycler trip and Joe was randomly my roommate and Jaume was a ride leader. Joe decided to organize his own trips to this region and latched on with Jaume. So, two years later I went on a wing and a prayer knowing no one other than Joe and Jaume. I had a blast and I know that I've damaged my liver and sleep deprivation is sure to take a few years off my life. But it was worth it! All told, an absolutely phenomenal week. I highly, highly, highly recommend using Breakaway Bikes and BikeCat if you are ever considering a bike trip to the Girona region. You will not regret it, and I know I will be back with them many times. My only complaint is that Jaume won all the climbs and Joe won all the sprints. Joe, Jaume, if you want to develop any customer loyalty you must let a customer win at least once!!

Week’s Tally: 7 rides, 497 miles
Trip Tally To date: 7 rides, 497 miles

Photo Highlights From Week 1
Riding With Freddy Rodriguez
Discovery Channel Train Coming Our Way
Coast Road Looking Down on Tossa de Mar
Summit of El Fur Looking Down To Mediterranean
Steep Cliffside Climbs
Steep Descents Back Down to Mediterranean
Scenic Riding
What Pros Eat
Nice Scenery
More Nice Scenery
Lunch Stop
Santa Fe Dead Ahead
Up, Up, and Away
The Crew

Video Highlights From Week 1
Descending Tossa Pass (2:33, 16.1MB)
Descent Along Costa Brava Mediterranean Coast (0:54, 5.8MB)
Climb El Fur - One Mile, 15% average grade (7:21, 46.0MB)
Steep, winding descent to Med. coastal town (1:31, 9.6MB)
Riding through some cobbled town, avoiding obstacles (0:21, 2.4MB)
Nice descent ending with a sprint into town (1:46, 11.1MB)
The climbers get tactical before sprint to summit (0:38, 4.1MB)
Working my way through the field on a climb (2:28, 15.6MB)
Narrated snippets from 75 minute Santa Fe climb (10:13, 63.7MB)
Beginning of Santa Fe descent with snow on side of road (4:34, 28.7MB)
Santa Fe descent snippet through blowing leaves (0:58, 6.1MB)
Santa Fe was a scenic, fast descent (3:16, 20.4MB)
Amazing descent - Sant Hilari - long clip taken from straight 25 minute descent. Large file but worth a watch (12:05, 75.2MB)
I'm caught unprepared for the sprint to the town sign (0:39, 4.1MB)
Race on cobblestones through Girona back to the hotel (0:58, 6.1MB)

Next: Week 2 - Eurocycler training camp – Costa Brava, Spain

Jump to: Intro Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4

Hi Kyle great blog - Gary Smith gave me the url earlier today and I 've been reading about your trip to Mallorca...fantastic! The videos are great, these are some of my favourite roads. What camcoder did you use?
It is a truly fabulous place for cycling and I will be in Tolos with Gary this time next week:-)

Your blog brought tears to my eyes from laughter. I hear the guys a OLN need some reports for the Tour and I elect you as the offical funny man reporter! I had to send your url to some friends and family b/c it was so entertaining. Keep up the great work! I love it. I'm trying to get some guys for the 2007 Giro d Italia have to go!
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