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I hope you all had an excellent long weekend and enjoyed a few good rides in this beautiful weather that nearly made up for our summer. I managed to get enough rides in to put me in the doghouse with Mrs. CT until the weekend.
Today I’m pleased to introduce a guest writer who will be contributing to CyclingTips regularly. His name is Les Clarke. Les has been covering bike racing and the people involved since 2004. A couple of trips to the Tour and several brief cycling affairs with Italy later, he now finds himself following his passion to live and work in Girona, Spain with his partner, Chloe Hosking (check out her blog here).
While he races when back home in Australia, he’ll be content to keep the old guys in Spain off his wheel when he’s riding around the roads of Spain. In his first few weeks of living in Girona, Les has painted a good picture of the vibe that surrounds this beautiful city.
Girona: A cycling city built on a legacy
By Les Clarke
As is the case for many cycling fans, it all started with Lance. The locals remind you of it, the other pros living here remind you of it and there’s an inescapable presence of the man, who for many, is the greatest cyclist ever.
In the Spanish city of Girona, Lance is regarded as one of the locals, a man who began a revolution that saw many of the world’s premier English-speaking professional cyclists move to the place that lies about an hour north of Barcelona, in the ‘nation’ of Catalunya.
My new neighbour, an old guy named Jaome who handed me a beer as a lunchtime accompaniment on our second meeting, was quick to point out that Armstrong lived close to where I find myself living with my girlfriend, Chloe.
And Xavi, the slightly rotund guy at the surf shop from which I recently bought some Adidas sneakers – and who professes to know very little about road cycling (his mates ride downhill, apparently) – even told me that Lance lived here early in our first conversation.
I’m starting to see a pattern here…
It’s quite fitting then, that my first proper ride here in Girona was on a circuit known as ‘the Armstrong loop’, taking in the Els Angels and ‘Hincapie’ climbs, a 58km round trip that’s a good starter for someone learning the ropes in the city.
The latter of those two ascents is named after another of the city’s pro cycling mainstays, George Hincapie, who now-famously uses the climb to test his form ahead of the Tour de France, much like the legend of Armstrong’s Col de la Madone ‘patronage’ before the race he made his own for seven years.
It’s not a tough climb (if I can do it and say that, it must be a like a korma curry rather than a vindaloo) but there’s a sense of being a part of something special, sharing the roads that some of the pioneers of the sport in the English-speaking world used when their mates were still in France, Belgium or Holland.
That’s the prominent sentiment amongst the professionals living in Girona; they’re part of a community – it’s reflected in Sunday afternoons watching Paris-Roubaix or Amstel Gold Race in the Irish pub where the staff speak both Catalan and English. It can be seen in the sponge and chocolate cakes Team Sky rider and my new neighbour Chris ‘CJ’ Sutton makes before inviting RadioShack’s young kiwi Jesse Sergent and girlfriend Amber around to his apartment to consume with gusto.
In fact, Molt gust (‘very happy’ in Catalan), could well sum up the general vibe in this city of about 110,000. And the aforementioned sense of community isn’t mutually exclusive; the locals are entrenched in the Catalan community, which is fiercely proud of its heritage, including a separate language – think a mix of Castillan Spanish and French as its located near the French border – and its main football team, which of course is FC Barcelona.
I was lucky enough to arrive in Girona the week before ‘El Clasico’, the showdown between bitter rivals FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, a contemptuous relationship that stretches back further than any spat between Armstrong and Landis or the UCI and grand tour organisers… But as a spectacle it always promises plenty.
It didn’t deliver much more than a few scuffles between players and a 1-1 draw, so the following afternoon’s Amstel Gold Race – and in particular the thrilling final 20km after the Eyserbosweg before Philippe Gilbert’s stunning finishing kick on the Cauberg – made up for my disappointment the previous night when Messi and co couldn’t bring home the bacon.
Aussies CJ Sutton and Garmin-Cervélo rider Alexis Rhodes, her ‘teammate’ Dan Martin, Christian Meier and a few other pros watched the race over an ale or two (or maybe I was the only one drinking), with Martin getting a glimpse of his competition for the following Wednesday’s Flèche Wallonne, to which he would travel the next day.
With the likes of Greg Henderson, Matt Wilson, Bradley Wiggins and Brett Lancaster calling Girona home, it doesn’t take long to realise that the city has quickly built upon the foundation that Armstrong and Hincapie built; while their legacy is honoured by the new locals it’s now firmly established as the place to be for English-speaking pro riders.
Although it may seem like the place is overrun by Anglophones intent on enjoying some fantastic training loops and siestas, it’s not just those who parlar Inglés who ride a bike for a living and call Girona home.
Movistar Team’s Xavier Tondo is just one of the Spanish armada that lives here while there are myriad Continental team riders who kick around the roads, resplendent in pro kit that’s unrecognizable but pretty ‘bling’ nevertheless.