I travelled to Girona back in 2018 for my first visit to this beautiful part of Spain for a four day cycling trip with some friends. It left such an impression on me that I knew I wanted to come back again. I didn’t think it would be this long but I am so excited to be going back in 2024.
I have teamed up with Trust Me Physiotherapist (https://trustmephysiotherapy.com/) to deliver an amazing Physio Cycling Camp and we immediately knew Girona would be the perfect location.
We will be staying in a beautiful villa in the small town of Banyoles, just outside Girona. There will be a private chef providing all of our meals while we will be learning all about cycling injuries, biomechanics, bike fit and then riding our bikes to explore the stunning scenery.
To find out more about the Physio Cycling Camp 2024 you can follow @physiocyclingcamps and also sign up to the newsletter. There are very limited spaces and tickets will be going on sale from November 12th - HERE
In the meantime, I’ve resurrected my blog from my first trip to Girona to reminisce and whet the appetite for my return.
Girona, in the north east corner of Spain is just a 90 minute drive north of Barcelona and part of the beating heart of Catalonia. Over the last decade it has become home to many pro cyclists. As a result it has started to generate a cult reputation for being one of the best ‘hidden gem’ cycling locations to visit. A group of friends and I often take the annual pilgrimage out to the Spanish island of Mallorca but this year it was time for a change. New challenges and new roads lay ahead but with the loss of our previous trusty navigation companion we had to make our own way to discover the area.
Training and Preparation
Training in the lead up to this trip had been far less than ideal due to the birth of my daughter so I knew I was going to have some hard riding in the days we were there. For the time pressed there are now a multitude of options to hone your fitness without spending hours out on the road. Spin classes have been around the longest and have developed into the virtual world as well with programmes such as Sufferfest (https://thesufferfest.com) that can also be used at home. I prefer the home trainer option where I can fit my bike onto my static turbo trainer and follow structured training programmes from the TrainerRoad app on my phone (https://www.trainerroad.com). Here you can customise training plans to your needs and time availability, I went for three sessions per week at 60mins each and followed the programme for 12 weeks. This structure allows you to measure your FTP (Functional Threshold Power, a useful training metric for the amount of power you could sustain riding at for one hour) at the start to set targets and then review as you go along to chart your progress. For those who might prefer a little more entertainment and competition you could also try Zwift which drops you into a virtual cycling world (https://zwift.com) to hone your fitness.
Getting There and Away
Girona has its own airport or you can fly into Barcelona which is about an hour and a half drive away. The latter has far more flight options so will more often than not have cheaper flights but you will need to factor in the time and cost of then getting to Girona. The most economical and efficient way is to hire a car / van depending on how many bikes you have with you. There is a bus and train option but both require you to go into Central Barcelona first, no thanks. So, we got family saloon to fit the bikes into since most of us had brought our own bikes.
Two of our gang rented bikes from Bike Breaks Girona (https://www.gironacyclecentre.com), which is a really good option if you want to avoid the hassle of packing up your own bike. It also has the added benefit of giving you an opportunity to test out a new or different bike to your own. However, a word of caution, if you do plan to do this then it’s a really good idea to have your basic bike fit measurements written down. This will allow you to select the correct frame size and then dial in your fit so you can ride in comfort without running the risk of an injury while on holidays. I tend to travel with my own bike as its tried and trusted and, after years of practice, I can rebuild it reasonably quickly from the box. Of course you can buy yourself a bike box but they can be pretty expensive unless you are traveling with your bike regularly. There are lots of different options from seemingly bomb-proof hard cases (https://bikeboxalan.com) to soft shell style cases (https://www.evocsports.com/products/bags/bike-travel-bag-pro). Alternatively you can rent a bike box for around £40-£50 for a weeks holiday. Many of the services will even offer to pack it for you at extra cost but this comes with the obvious caveat that you would need someone to re-assemble on the other side!
The drive is straightforward until you reach the old town of Girona when the roads turn into a labyrinth of narrow one-way cobbled passages. These are of course beautiful and add to the character but I wasn’t expecting my heart rate to climb that high before I had even un-packed my bike. Despite the challenges we managed to find our apartment with amazing views of the city. The next surprise was to find that we were actually sharing a bike garage with none other than Mike Woods (at the time riding for EF Education), cool! So, is Girona the home of pro cyclists? YES. Girona provides a great base for different types of riding both on and off road and it was refreshing to see so many ‘roadies’ mixing with mountain bikers.
Riding in Girona
We arrived in the mid afternoon so after a quick flurry of activity and waving of torque wrenches our bikes were built and we were ready to hit the road, or so we thought. Due to some GPS malfunctions our Garmins took us off onto a rough trail that pretty quickly overwhelmed our road bikes and their skinny tyres. So, after a quick recalibration we were off up to one of the popular local climbs of Els Angels with views back over Girona. A simple loop took us back around a few more hills on quiet roads before we called it quits for the first day, just a warm up!
On day two we were really hoping to test our legs but the weather had other ideas and severely curtailed our plans. We still managed to get out and take on the famed Rocacorba climb but with gusting winds and driving rain it was hardly the time for a real attack at the climb so my powder remained dry for another day.
I managed to get back out in the evening but this was more of a re-test of the bike having suffered a double puncture and an issue with the rear hub from the ride in the morning.
We had high hopes for day three and the weather didn’t disappoint. We set off north of Girona en route to the Pyrenees and the Mare De Deu Del Mont in particular. A good 50km of riding took us to the base of the climb before things turned upward in earnest.
The climb is somewhat of an awkward beast with a length of 18.5km and an average gradient of 4.5% that belied the challenges that lay ahead. The road quickly narrowed to a reasonably well paved single track road but continued to pitch up and down from 3% to sections at 17% with a couple of small descents thrown in for good measure. This ensured it was very difficult to get any rhythm and often required surges of effort to try and maintain forward momentum. After an hour of toiling on the undulating slopes we reached the summit and were glad to find a great restaurant serving up 360 panoramic views and some much needed refreshments. Following a thrilling descent there was still a long way home and some hard riding in a well organised pace line. By the time we got home I was ready to drop. Instead, we showered down, got changed and headed out into town to sample some of the local food and wine that the region is famed for, perfect recovery!
Though the legs hurt I still had remarkable capacity left in the tank for our final day, a lumpy 100km loop out to the stunning Costa Brava and a little town called Sant Feliu de Guixols. Sadly the weather was a little moody and we didn’t get to see the coastline at its best. Knowing we had a flight to catch that evening we kept the pace fast and hard. This earned us the bonus of some time when we got back to Girona. In the few days we were there we found no better place for lunch or coffee than La Fabrica. It was opened in 2015 by former pro cyclist Christian Meier, and his wife. Well, that explains the exceptional coffee. They also run a cool espresso bar in the old town called Espresso Mafia which is a great little location for a pre-ride caffeine boost!
On the drive back to the airport I had time to take stock on our brief visit to Girona and the highlights. It certainly is a stunning part of Spain with so many different types of ride to do and places to see. One of the charms perhaps is that the riding is less obvious and in your face. You really need to do your research to find the best routes but when you do you are rewarded with quiet roads, scenic views to beat the best and plenty keep your legs whirring. With so much more to discover I will certainly be making the trip back again in the future, hopefully with more carefully curated routes, some better fitness, and a little more time to discover more off the bike too.
I’d like to thank my riding buddies Charles, Dom, Mark, and Mike for helping to pull me along when the legs were ailing and enjoying a beer with some tapas in the evenings.