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Words: Carlos Verona | Photos: Brazo de Hierro

If we were to ask you for the first mountain range that comes to mind when thinking of Europe, we wouldn’t fault you for saying, “the Alps.” But although they are omnipresent, the Alps aren’t alone. Further south, the Pyrenees reign supreme. Less crowded and some would say wilder, with better weather and at least as stunning – this mountain range can certainly hold its own.

Someone who knows the Pyrenees inside and out is Mitchelton-Scott pro Carlos Verona, who takes us along on his favorite ride.

Though much of my year is spent as a cycling professional, I’m a true cycling enthusiast at heart. And today, I’m proud to introduce you to my favorite ride in my home country of Spain. My adventure mate for today is Dani Juncadella – a car racer for Mercedes Benz in DTM, SCOTT Ambassador and a good friend of mine for years. We have always been connected via our love for road cycling.

I discovered this 130km long loop around the eastern Pyrenees when I was 16 years old and living in Barcelona. I was looking for some big mountains for training, and I found out that just one hour away by car from Barcelona there was this place. I came here for the first time 10 years ago, and I immediately fell in love with the mountain passes of all lengths and difficulties, meadows, forest, water, nature and lonely roads.

I’d stumbled upon a paradise not only for training but also for cyclo-tourism.

Early autumn, 8:00 am, watching the sunrise at the Intrepid Hotel, and after one more coffee, Dani and I are ready to ride. The first rays of the sun are coming up behind La Tossa de Alp, inviting us to ride our bikes and enjoy a day of exploration in one of the nicest places that I have ever ridden. And luckily, it is very close from home.

We first go in the direction of La Callada de Toses, the first climb of the day. It is 20km long, but its easy slopes allow us to chat. It is Dani’s first ride on his SCOTT Foil, the bike that he has chosen for the 2019 season. It’s a very versatile bike that I have used extensively throughout my two years with Mitchelton–SCOTT, but for today I’ve chosen something different. We’ll be climbing close to 3,000 meters, so I’m going for the Addict RC. I have the advantage of knowing the terrain and what awaits.

At kilometer 30, we are at the top of La Callada de Toses, followed by a long and quick descent that brings us to Planoles, a small town on the south face of the Pyrenees. Once there, we start to climb the second categorized climb of the day, “Collet de Cal Climent”, a very narrow and quiet road that weaves through forest and meadows. Listen closely: this road is a secret that I’m sharing with you, as it does not appear on any maps. It is five kilometers of pure joy!

After a few flat kilometers, we start the hardest climb of the day, “El Coll de la Creueta” from the Castellar de n’Hug side. It is more than 20km uphill, and brings us to 1,992m in altitude at the top.

It’s a long climb but rather enjoyable. The first 10km takes place on a very narrow road in the forest. Once we pass the town of Castellar de n’Hug, the road widens but still carries almost no traffic. The green meadows allow us to have a phenomenal view of Catalunya, with some iconic places in the horizon – Pedraforca, Montserrat, Montseny – and on a clear day, you can even spot Barcelona with the Mediterranean Sea just behind. It’s a gift for our eyes, and today we were also fortunate to spot a few marmots!

By this point we have done more than 100km, and the hardest part of the route is behind us. Before starting the long descent towards Bellver, we stop in La Molina to put on our rain jackets, take some deep breaths, enjoy the views, share some opinions about the route and reminisce on adventures that Dani and I have shared.

Dani knew some parts of the route as he so often visits La Cerdanya; in fact, it was on these roads that we met during a training ride four years ago. Since then, we try to see each other as much as possible, and La Cerdanya, midway between Barcelona and Andorra where Dani and I live respectively, is the perfect place for us to catch up and go for a ride together.

As for me, since I discovered this mountain ten years ago, I have tried to come back as frequently as possible.

In a way, it’s because of the Tour of Catalonia that we are doing this course today, because every year we ride the queen stage up any of the climbs that we have just done. “La Volta” is the race that I like the most, and where I usually perform the best. I think that’s in large part due to the very special relationship that I have with this place.

Between laughs, chats, films and photos, sunset is already upon us. It’s time to start the descent back towards where we started. We take advantage of the first part of the downhill to chill down and recover from what’s been a very hard ride. But we cannot refuse to race a little bit in the last sharp corners just before we hit the town of Das. One drives cars and the other one rides bikes… but in the end, we are two pilots!

For the last five kilometers of the ride, we ride along an easy, narrow and beautiful road, and I start to reflect on our ride and on the metaphor of cycling in life. Sometimes we have an obsession to achieve a goal, but what really matters is to be happy during the time that we spend trying to achieve our goals.

I hope that you enjoy this route as much as we have today: you can choose if you want to do the full loop or not, but enjoying the ride is mandatory! Remember, Carlos said so.

THE ROUTE

The route starts in Bellver de Cerdanya, one of the oldest towns in Catalonia. Almost from kilometer zero the road rises slightly for the next 25km to the top of La Callada de Toses. Next comes a technical descent to Planoles, from where the road goes up again. A very narrow and quiet road leads all the way to the top of Collet de Cal Climent. After a short flat section, the main climb of the day starts: El Coll de la Creueta, 20km long and rising to 1992m. From there a long descent brings you back to the start point in Bellver de Cerdanya.

To learn more about The Escape series, head over to the Scott website.