Vallter 2000 Pyrenees Girona Cycling

Vallter 2000: Life in the support vehicle

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Yesterday 20 apprehensive cyclists left Girona early in the morning bound for Vallter 2000, the highest point in the whole of Catalunya. It was our 2nd Challenge Day of the year. For the first we conquered the 3 famous peaks in Girona and I wrote a blog about my personal achievement riding it too. It was my turn to go in the van for this one and I wanted to be the best damn support vehicle.

The briefing before a ride of this nature is key. To get 20 amateur riders through 220 km and 4000 m of climbing requires motivation, organisation and a heck of a lot of common sense! Safety first as many riders cycle on the other side of the road at home! But the main aim is to have riders ride at steady pace and try to stay together. This makes life in the support vehicle much easier.

We had intelligence that a storm was brewing in the mountain and just had to mention it. It’s better that things like that are not a surprise to a group. If it doesn’t happen its a bonus.

Anyone who has ever driven a support vehicle will agree with me that you have far less time than you think you should have. A peloton of cyclists moves pretty quick and before you know it they are 50 km up the road. Having loaded the van with our tools, bike stand and supplies I tore off up the road and just made it to the first food stop. There were 3 bikes with problems so I grabbed the bike stand and got to work. Off they went again.

Things started to get really interesting at the base of Vallter. The weather was good but we could see the storm coming in from the bottom. We always run these challenges with 2 vehicles; a lead car and a van at the back (to pick-up anyone needing a rest). The lead car went ahead to the top to provide nutrition and warm layers before the descent. I parked at a nice spot on the bottom and gave people the optional “if you don’t make it up come back here”. Finally I had half an hour to gather my thoughts (by that I mean answer Eat Sleep Cycle emails). Then the fun started…

A few drops of rain turned into an all out hail stone storm. It was literally hailing cats and dogs. I had 4 people at the cafe stop safe and the rest scattered up the mountain. I had to make a decision to get in the van and drive up. I quickly came across one rider repairing a puncture under a bus shelter 500 m up the road. He had another rider with him. There was a third and he looked very cold. So I put him in the van with a blanket and some food. I had to locate Louise because I knew she would be back sweeping the last rider down the mountain. Louise is the only person I know who will truly back sweep a group which is an incredible quality as a cycle guide. There was no answer from her phone…. Was she riding down in that weather?! I was a little worried. Another 5 mins passed and then a message. They had taken cover in a hostel 2 km further up the road. Louise with one rider. We now had 12 at the cafe stop, 3 with me. My A-Level maths was becoming very handy! I put these 3 riders into a neighbouring cafe and went further up the mountain searching for the rest. Visibility was really bad. I thought the hailstones would shatter the windscreen. I pulled over to clear the fog from the inside and caught glimpse of a bike under a small wooden tepee thing. I couldn’t help a small laugh and the rider smiled back. He was fine. He jumped in and we headed back up the mountain to collect Louise plus one. All riders had been located.

And then the rain and hail just stopped. It was as if somebody up there closed the “really bad weather” tap. Lucky I had ordered 20 warm bocadillos for them which they enjoyed by the fire.

Chapeau to them, the majority got back on their bikes and rode home without a complaint.

Back at Eat Sleep Cycle HQ and after a long hard day in the saddle we cracked a bottle of Cava and awarded riders for their epic efforts. There were smiles all around and all the hard work just felt worthwhile.

Here is to the next epic challenge!

Photo credit Shane Stokes @SSBike

Saturday 12th November 2016: a race, a chase & a grand opening

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It’s Sunday afternoon, the day after the 12th November – a day that will be forever etched into Eat Sleep Cycle history.

Yesterday, we opened our headquarters in Girona. It’s a little patch of cycling heaven in the centre of the Old Town, or Barri Vell. It constitutes a dream come true for myself, Lee & Brian.

The week leading up to the opening was full of painting, paperwork, packages arriving, drilling, drawing, hanging, cleaning, cava buying, ride planning, late night pizza eating & a little bit of cycling. It was busy, but we were busy dream-building and we were happy.

Saturday 12th November dawned.

Lee & Brian were up early making Pinxtos, I was up early mopping & cleaning up the shop. Set up complete, riders started arriving for the celebration ride, and the roller coaster began.

The Ride

We spun out of town in crisp sunshine. It was nothing short of gorgeous, a mix of old friends & new faces headed out together to the mighty Mare de Deu del Mont climb (1,123m). The newly wrapped Eat Sleep Cycle car, manned by Lee (driver), Shane (photographer) & Stephen (swanny aka slave), tooted it’s way past, gleaming in the morning light. It was glorious.

We re-grouped at the bottom of our mountain, re-filled bottles & prepared to take on the Eat Sleep Cycle Sufferfest Segment and earn our spots on the inaugural Mountain Leaderboard. Being cyclists, we all pretended we weren’t that bothered, and told anyone who’d listen how bad our off-season form was. But when we set off for the top, the pace was suspiciously high.

Rutger took on the pace-setting for the first flatter section, stomping out a massive gear and pushing the pace to 30 kmph. He cracked, others came to the front and maintained. Our Stigette attacked the group, forcing more legs to give in. A battle for 1st ensued. Brian (our very own Irishman) lost out to The Stig by 1 min 20 seconds. Dale rounded out the podium with a fine time of 1:02:34. Peter posted a storming effort to come 4th and win the 50+ category with a time of 1:02:57. The Stigette will also prove exceptionally hard to beat, coming in under the hour at 00:59:45. The women’s podium was completed by me (1:04:26) & Rebecca (1:29:00).

After photos at the top and a good refuel from the ESC car we headed carefully down the technical descent to Besalú. Tired legs were felt by all as minor inclines caused limbs to burn, but the sun stayed high & spirits were even higher.

The Chase

After getting back into town just in time to open the shop Mark came running up (I say running, he was more ‘hobbling quickly’ in cycling shoes) in a panic – someone had just ridden off on his bike. I’d just seen a guy go past ESC HQ on a bike that he couldn’t really ride. I knew which direction he’d gone in. I hopped on my bike and sped off after him. Bike skills I never knew I had kicked in, I weaved through the crowd on La Rambla. I felt like a bike-ninja. I could see the man on Mark’s bike ahead, crossing onto the Pont de Pedra. I sprinted up behind him and drew alongside.

We made eye contact.

I said something in Spanglish (no idea what), the weekend crowd’s head’s turned.

He replied “Es Tuya!?”

Me: “Si!!! Que hiciste??”

He got of the bike, I took it off him, heart beating, totally bemused by the audacity of the situation. Neither of us really knew what to do. By this point Mark was hobbling around the corner onto the bridge. I shouted I had the bike and pointed to the guy who’d taken it.

Mark saw red and shouted at him (pure English this time!) The man started walking off, protesting that he hadn’t taken it. Then Brian appeared around the corner on his bike. He also saw red and joined the verbal battle. The guy gave up and started running. Brian chased him on his own bike while I returned the nearly stolen bike to Mark.

An onlooker told us we shouldn’t let Brian go alone after the thief. A very good point. Mark and I set off after Brian (meanwhile it was 4:01 pm and Lee was pouring the cava in the shop) Irish-accented shouts located Brian (still in lycra & cycling shoes) carrying his bike between some cars, following a metre or so behind the thief, waving a finger in air, shouting “POLICIA!!” Neither wanted to actually come into contact with the other, so Brian and the thief were locked into a never-ending chase around the same block. I went to find a policeman. Brian kept running around in circles. Lee sent panicked messages wondering where on earth we were.

Brian tracked the guy to an apartment building where police arrived and took over. He may have missed the opening toast to his own shop, but Brian was hailed a hero on his return and sank many a glass of cava to celebrate. This bike thief messed with the wrong crew.

The Opening

Amidst the bike-thief-chase-drama guests started arriving to our little shop, and very soon it was buzzing with activity. We welcomed new friends, old friends, members of the Girona cycling community, people without who’s help we wouldn’t have got this far. It was a humbling experience to see so many supportive faces, everyone wishing us every success.

The Opening

So thank you from the bottom of our cycling hearts to everyone who has supported us to ‘do our thing’ and make it this far:

To Amy & Ryan (for interior design help), to Peter (for the drill, step-ladder & unfailing support), to Shane (for the fab pics), to Lee’s family, Lou’s family & Brian’s family (for their unconditional support of us all quitting our jobs to pursue cycling happiness), to Dave & Saskia for integrating us into Girona, Gareth & Fiona for all the great advice on getting set-up, Amber & Christian (for saying ‘do your thing’ and for very good cake), to all our first clients who took a punt on us, to those who’ve taken the time to write us reviews, to Andreu (for everything!), to Goretti for all kinds of everything, to Joan (for your patience), to Josep (for going the extra mile to help), to Rutger (for an exciting new opportunity), to Tristan (for creating a buzz about Girona-Biarritz), to Sophie & John (for keeping Lou pedalling) to everyone who’s been on a Thursday night social, to our Stig & Stigette (for suffering). Thanks to all the cyclists, amateur and pro, who have shown us awesome routes, ridden with us on epic rides and allowed us to take cool pics, especially Miquel,  David, Stephen, Paddy, Toms and Gonzalo. We have probably forgotten to mention so many people but your help has been massively appreciated and will never be forgotten.

And thank you all for your continued support.



Cycling Trans Pyrenees: The Adventure Begins

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The first Eat Sleep Cycle tour (Trans Pyrenees) rolled out of Girona heading towards the Pyrenees and the Atlantic coast. One word- Epic. The 6 riders were: Peter Gaskill, Benny Cassidy, David Conroy, David, Corinne & Tristan Cardew. The guides were: Lee, Lou & Brian. The adventure was unforgettable.

Trans Pyrenees: Day 1

And we’re off! Eat Sleep Cycle’s first bike adventure took to the road today. Six intrepid riders set off in style from La Fabrica in Girona, to cover 650km to Biarritz over 6 days. The catch? The route will take them straight over the Pyrenees, taking in classic climbs such as the Tourmalet, Peyresourde & the Aubisque.

Every day the cycling-photographer-aussie legend that is Tristan Cardew will capture the journey on camera. Here’s his take on Stage 1.

Ride stats

  • 85km
  • 1,600 meters

Stage 2: Ripoll to Sort

Just wow. We’re in Sort after a mega ride from Ripoll. The day started with an epic climb up to the Collada de Toses, and finished with an epic descent  from the Port del Cantó to a riverside camping ground.

Here’s Tristan’s 1 min glimpse of the glory:

Ride Stats:

  • Ripoll – Alp – Sort
  • 157 km
  • 3,160 m climbing
  • 2 x mountain passes

Stage 3: Sort to Luchon

With (ever so slightly) weary legs our intrepid six have made it to the pretty little town of Bagnéres-de-Luchon (yes, the place where Froomey won his stage of Le Tour this year). Whilst some opted to eat ice-cream and recover from the days exertions up the Port de la Bonaigua and the Col du Portillon, others took themselves up the Superbagnéres, including our camera man Tristan:

Ride stats:

  • 105 km (or 145 km with the Superbagnéres!)
  • 2,275 m (or 3,475 m for the nutters)
  • 2 (or 3!) mountain passes

Stage 4: The Queen Stage

A truly epic day in the saddle with ascents of the Col du Peyrsourde, Col de Val Louron Azet, Col de Aspin & the mighty Col du Tourmalet. It’s no surprise that the biggest days in the saddle offer the biggest rewards. Tristan captures 1 min of a 7 hour day:

Ride stats:

  • Bagnerés-du-Luchon – Arrens-Marsous
  • 146 km
  • 4, 300 m
  • 4 x mountain passes

Stage 5: Into Pais Vasco

Today began with a nasty sore-leg-wake-up-call courtesy of the beautiful Col d’Aubisque. The route took us up to 1,700 m before dropping down a stunning descent. Rolling country lanes for the rest of the ride made a refreshing change from all the mountains. Cold beers & an al fresco pasta feast in Arette was the riders’ reward.

Ride stats

  • 94 km
  • 2,400 m climbing
  • 1 x mountain col

Stage 6: The Atlantic Coast

An emotional day spinning through the Basque country, finishing with a champagne arrival and dip in the sea at Biarritz. It’s been epic. It’s been mega. Here’s Tristan’s last video from the trip  – thank you all!!

Ride stats

  • 116 km
  • 1,500 m of climbing
  • 1 x dip in the sea

Girona-Biarritz, a summary:

  • 6 riders
  • 6 day’s
  • 650 km
  • 16,000 m climbing
  • 11 x mountain cols (we should make that 16!?)
  • 1 x very tired and happy Eat Sleep Cycle team

This is an account of the first Eat Sleep Cycle Trans Pyrenees crossing – a ride that goes down in Eat Sleep Cycle legend. Thanks to those brave riders who signed up to the tour! This tour has evolved into our Trans Pyrenees Challenge tour – still a 6 day ride, still epic, and you’re invited. 

Why it’s time we started to warm to the running man in the yellow jersey

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(This article first appeared on the website here and is being published here with the kind permission of the author)

I’m not a Chris Froome fan; or at least I wasn’t. I’m not too sure why, but I just never took to him.

But his actions this week in racing aggressively and attacking when tradition suggested he probably shouldn’t – like on a descent or on a flat stage meant for the sprinters – and taking time from his main rivals in both instances, is starting to win me over.

Aisling called me when I was in work excitedly asking if I’d seen the Tour.

‘Of course not!’ I answered. I work much too hard to be watching cycling when I should be working. ‘What happened?’ I asked.

Froome had to run the last part of the climb without his bike, Ais went on. There was a crash or something and he had no bike and he was running up the mountain.

When I got a chance to check it out, sure enough there had been a crash with motorbikes caused by crazy spectators on the Mont Ventoux stage.

Froome was faced with a situation of having no bike, in the world’s biggest bike race.

Those he had crashed with, Richie Porte and Bauke Mollema, quickly remounted and pushed through the scrum of fans to race to the stage end less than 1 kilometre away.

But Froome’s bike was broken and impossible to ride. His Tour rested on what he did next.

The normal reaction would be to wait for a replacement but the clock was ticking and Froome’s team car was at least minutes behind him down the mountain.

I’ve seen lots of idiotic reactions to bikes letting riders down.

Tour winner in 2012, Bradley Wiggins is fairly well known for it; he fired his against a wall when it let him down a couple of years ago in the Giro del Trentino.

And on another occasion at the World Championships he flung his TT bike to the ground in disgust when he had a mechanical issue slowing, but not stopping, him.

Then he walked around looking like a spoilt kid throwing his toys out of the pram.

Chris Horner bounced his bike off the ground at the Phily Classic in the US recently and kicked it after dropping a chain.

In the Ironman World Championships Norman Stadler fired his bike into the lava fields when a mechanical put an end to his day.

Froome could have panicked and, in fairness, he probably couldn’t have been faulted for throwing a wobbly as none of the chaos was his fault.

Instead, he picked himself up and started running; yes running. At first he had his bike but then discarded the broken machine.

He stunned fans, TV commentators and the worldwide audience, with the cycling media and social media full of news stories, video and photos of the incident.

I had never seen anything like it and neither by the sounds of it had the rest of the world’s cycling fans.

I think it really highlighted his champion qualities.

He showed the desire to keep fighting and to keep moving towards the finish, either on his feet or on an ill-fitting neutral service replacement bike with pedals that wouldn’t work with his shoes.

All the while he was talking to his team on his radio, trying to get them up to him with a bike he could ride.

He kept on fighting to stay in the race; he knew he might be losing the Tour right there and then. And not because of any failing of his.

But he got right back up and did what no one expected; he did the only thing in his power. He kept on moving towards the finish line.

And at the end of the day he deservedly held on to his yellow jersey.

Our sport gets enough bad press and Froome’s actions on Thursday highlighted his champion qualities, his self control under massive pressure, his drive and fight.

And it painted a great picture of what the Tour should be; overcoming difficulties and pushing our personal limits.

I for one will try to learn from it and not have a strop the next time I puncture in the rain or if I’m afflicted with some other similar catastrophe.

You’ve gained yourself a bunch of new fans today Chris; keep on fighting.

  • The author, Rob Cummins, is a triathlete specialising in Ironman. He also owns, one of the sponsors of the ASEA-Wheelworx Irish cycling team.

Arcalis and the start of a beautiful love affair with cycling

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Brian Canty writes from Andorra and reflects on the glorious racing this small mountainous country has hosted – from Jan Ulrich in the 1997 Tour to Dan Martin ripping up the field in yesterday’s race.

Watch as Jan Ullrich rides the peloton off his wheel on stage 10 of the 1997 Tour de France. Watch him set the pace at the front, give a look back to see where his Telekom teammate Bjarne Riis is and then blow the thing apart. This clip is among my favourite cycling moments…or it was until yesterday.

There was a neat symmetry about it all this past weekend, being at Arcalis, Andorra.

It’s a climb I’ve yet to reach the summit of but I’ve watched one particular piece of Tour de France footage on it so often I feel like it’s one I know more than any other.

We all have our favourite cycling clips but for me it’s stage 10 of the 1997 Tour and that moment Jan Ullrich simply blows the field away.

Whatever he took to facilitate his performance that day is for another discussion but being back there yesterday for stage nine of the 2016 Tour was no less of an enthralling and enamouring experience.

Ullrich and co. rode a ghastly 252 kilometres there en route to the summit and for the then 23 year-old German it took an inhumane 7 hours 46 minutes.

The video appealed to me – and continues to, in so many ways; that nonchalant face of Ullrich, that glorious pedal stroke, that moment he goes back to the team car to get the word from his DS to go for the stage because team leader Riis is fucked. It was magic.

The front group was down to just a handful with Marco Pantani and French favourite Richard Virenque among those in there chasing the stage and the overall.

So too were Riis and his understudy Ullrich, the latter looking like he was out for a Sunday spin, so easy was the effort. Riis, on the other hand, was at the mercy of the young pretender who could drop him at any moment.

There was something about the video, the grainy pictures I’ve watched endless times on YouTube, the commentary I’ve listened to in at least four languages on various streams, the backdrop of screaming fans and blistering sunshine.

When on a work placement in Australia in 2007 this love affair with the video and Ullrich became particularly intense because those I was working with were Ullrich ultras.

We’d stay up until 4am to watch the Tour – always prefaced by beers and those Ullrich clips, the best of which was that magical day to Arcalis.

Those I happened to work with did a remarkable impression of the Australian commentators who were reporting on it at the time and I think, though some will disagree, my own impersonation was pretty satisfactory too after years of practice.

“He’s such an assured young maaaan….only speaks German….he had a tough upbringing and here he is tearing the Tour script to pieces….on the road to Arcalis….”

If you haven’t watched the clip, you should.

Anyway, fast-forward 19 years on and it’s an Irishman doing the inspiring; Dan Martin not exactly stomping away from the peloton like Ullrich did – and thank God for that, but no less inspiring.

“Pride drives him to the end” was how his closest follower and biggest fan put it in a text late last night.

And he wasn’t wrong, because Dan went down to the deepest, darkest recesses of what he can give and came up with just enough to save his Tour.

He might not win the race outright but one thing is certain; if there is a way Dan Martin will find it.

He’s one of the very, very few riders to have actually ridden away from the Sky train that has become all so boring and predictable in the biggest races in recent years.

The 2013 Volta A Catalunya saw Martin jump clear on the road to Port Aine – and stay clear to take stage and overall honours.

His performance yesterday was stirring at the least and inspiring for the way he fought to stay with the ‘Froome group’ that had been whittled back to five.

He was dead and buried with a couple of kilometres to go, was Martin, but he found something from somewhere to haul himself back up to the group as the rain pelted the surface and fans pleaded with him to stay in touch with Froome.

It’s too early to tell if I’ll be replaying Carlton Kirby’s commentary years from now…

Climbing Rocacorba Girona

Rocacorba: Girona’s Hidden Gem of A Climb

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Snuggled away 20 kilometres north of Girona is a monstrous climb that owes nothing to TV coverage .

You’ll hardly find it on a map and you’ll even struggle to find the road that leads up to it from the nearby town of Banyoles.

Yes, Rocacorba hasn’t the ‘bucket-list’ fame  of Alpe d’Huez or the Galibier but it’s a climb muttered in hushed tones around Girona and this stunning corner of Catalunya I am proud to call home.

“You can’t go up there,” a local man tells me when I inform him where I’m headed. “It’s impossible. There’s been rain and the road is slippery as hell. You’ll kill yourself.” They like boasting about this, I sense.

Rocacorba Climb Stats

But that last little dispatch is hard to ignore because a quick glance at the stats on this heaving mass of rock reveals;

  • An average gradient of 6.5%
  • An altitude gain of 970 metres
  • 13 kilometres of uphill torture
  • Two: Number of cyclists who have been clung by cars in recent years – just about surviving to tell the tale.

Ignorance will get me there, I tell myself and I ignore all sound advice and reason.

Getting to Rocacorba

The first problem you’ll encounter – long before you search in vain for another gear on Rocacorba, is to actually find this mound of pain.

Yes, it’s quite tricky and though it’s visible from just about anywhere in Catalunya on a fine day, the beginning of the road that snakes its way to the summit is anything but well signposted – even though it peers down from all sides.

But the people of Banyoles – famous for hosting the rowing at the 1992 Olympics – are only too glad to help those with maps and puzzled looks.

The Climb Begins

The base of the climb is gentle and undulates for about four kilometres. The road surface here is good and it is marked too – not that riders screaming against me seemed to take much notice. There’s farmland as well and more than a hint of Provence about the place. Friendly, you might say. A farmer straightens up and gives a hearty wave.

Suddenly, though 27 degrees, it darkens as trees crane in. The road worsens and a slight gust whips up, as does the road. A gentle 4% at first if you take the corners wide, 7-9% on the inside. I tell myself to take it easy and don’t race it, yet.

It’s June now and there was a heavy shower on Thursday so the road worsens gradually. Though it was fully paved in 2006, it’s broken in many parts, giving the worst sections a cobbled feel. Factor in the mud that’s washed down, the leaves that have fused into same, the grit that accumulates on corners and it augments an already steep test of ability.

It’s beginning to sting around the halfway point but there’s no let-up. Though it averages a reasonable 6%, it ramps up to 17 and 18% in parts…and that’s where I dropped it down to the small ring (haha), as my back begins to throb and chest pumps harder. My back wheel spins. My arms sting.

The beauty of Rocacorba lies in its brutality, save for two brief interludes where the road flattens.

I pass a group of mountain bikers on the road, their sun-stippled flesh and sweat-soaked faces tell something about the world of pain they must be in. I continue on.

Every kilometre you’ll be updated on your progress by modest road signs. Distance to the summit: 3k. Altitude gain: 670 metres. ‘Okay, what’s that from 980?’ I ask myself. Basic math is proving difficult. Off in the distance I can see the summit.

The wind filters through the densely-packed forest of pine trees giving this climb quite an eerie feel to it. If I crash on the descent I’ll never be found, I think to myself. I hear heavy breathing up ahead. My ears have popped but a frantic gasping for oxygen is audible above my own groans of pain. There are other lunatics here.

The steepest sections are yet to come and as my ticker snipes away at 176 beats, I calculate there’s not much more in me. I slow to 8 kph on the steepest parts and I imagine this is how I’d look on Eurosport if I was dropped. Accepting this is my level and riding at my tempo now.

The bodies up ahead are no less alive and capable. One man almost careers off the edge, only to save himself at the last moment.

Up ahead I see the sign for Rocacorba. Plain green, the letters in thick white font. But I can’t celebrate yet. It’s a rest house. Not for me. Not this close.

The Flame Rouge

The last kilometre is sheer hell as I call on myself for one last proper dig. This is where the flame rouge would be. This is where you lay down what’s left. In my case, it’s a pathetic 10-second burst before I collapse back into the saddle and haul myself up the final few leg-snapping metres. Right turn, left hairpin, right hairpin, left hairpin. Voila. There’s not even a flat section on which to freewheel at the top and I imagine more than a few have lost control here.

With my legs like jelly I make the most awkward turn imaginable at the steel gates and turn for home but not before taking in the breathtaking vista of Catalunya that yawns out before me.

There’s the glistening lake of Banyoles, miles and miles of countryside in every direction, forests and farms and castles and courtyards.

Over my shoulder I hear ‘muy bien Brian!’ It’s my car mechanic Miguel looking as fresh as I did 48 minutes ago at the bottom.

This is Girona. Warm and welcome. This is Rocacorba. A centre for suffering.

This is why we do it.

You too can suffer your way up the slopes of Rocacorba. Check out our Classic Climbs of Girona Tour to seal your fate. To find out more about this hidden gem of a climb read our latest blog on Rocacorba.