Cycling Climbs Girona #1 Sant Hilari Sacalm

Cycling Climbs of Girona: #1 Sant Hilari Sacalm

By Girona 2 Comments

My introduction to Sant Hilari couldn´t have been any worse; a freezing cold gilet-less descent on January 7th, 2012 followed by my training partner hitting the deck VERY hard and escaping the sharp edge of a steel road barrier by the width of a tyre.

He can count himself lucky he got away with a night in hospital, half a dozen stitches over his right eye and a broken bike.

Yes, that´s the first thing about Sant Hilari Sacalm: you never descend into Anglés between December and March because it´s just too dangerous.

Now, it IS possible, but how much can you enjoy a slippery descent that could wipe you out in a millisecond?

Take my advice; climb Sant Hilari Sacalm from Anglés and descend into Santa Coloma de Farners. And enjoy sun on your face for most of it.

This is a Girona Classic and is still, three years on, one of favourites because the only thing I love more about the climb is the descent. And from Santa Coloma de Farners it´s a pretty flat run home, save for the little ´kicker´in Sant Dalmai which I always use as a burial ground for my final effort of the day.

Now, back to the climb. The quickest way to get there is head west out of Girona through Salt, Bescano and Anglés, a 20-kilometre ride.

Next you take the GI-542 to Sant Hilari Sacalm and once on it you just stay riding the whole way.

From bottom to top it´s 25.4 kilometres at a very generous 2.6% average gradient.

Everybody has a gradient they´ll feel suits them best and for me, this is mine.

The gradient allows you to settle into a really comfortable, smooth rhythm without much need for changes in gear. In fact, it´s so gentle that if you´re fit you can do it in the big chainring.

The maximum gradient is ´just´ 7% and this is just after the midway point by which time you´re probably well warmed up and into your stride.

Starting at 144 metres you climb to 810, so it´s not exactly in the clouds and thus you won´t freeze at the top unless you´re completely under-prepared.

The climb is ideal for a 20-minute power-test as it´s very quiet and relatively traffic-free.

The only place where you´re likely to get held up is in Osor about 9 kilometres in.

After this, the grade is a solid 4-5% for around 6 kilometres but you´re rewarded with a flat section and some very gentle stuff at 1-2% for the rest.

You know you´re almost at the top when you see the water tanks on your right-hand side on the last few corners and when the road yawns out ahead of you with a slight rise at the end, that´s your cue to sprint!

The climb is as peaceful as they come with a river flanking the right-hand side for much of the way up before it disappears from view.

The surface is paved the entire way, though do be careful on corners as there´s often leaves and gravel. It´s very possible to crash hard going up this hill so take care and don´t push it too hard on those switchbacks.

I love the climb because it offers great peace amd you don’t have to be that fit to get up it. By that I mean there are no steep gradients that require you to get out of the saddle.

My own personal record is around 50 minutes though I haven’t really tested myself in well over a year now.

Maybe it’s time for another showdown…stay tuned!


Distance: 25.4k

Average grade: 2.6%

Max. Grade: 7%

Altitude at the top: 815m

Elevation difference from the bottom: 675m




Girona in ‘winter’ and the season of base miles

By Girona No Comments

I absolutely love this time of year in Girona; the tourists have moved on, the light at sunset is magical and the markets are exploding with colour and flavour.  We are still riding with our arms and legs out and some of the Eat Sleep Cycle team are actually improving their tan lines! But then again it is still Autumn and we are normally blessed with warm temperatures right through December with Girona’s short Winter starting in January and lasting until the end of February.

For racing and leisure cyclists, the start of November is typically the time when some form of structured training is recommenced after an October break. At Eat Sleep Cycle we are no different and for the next four months we are focusing our energies on getting the very best out of the great weather.

There seems to be a myth that it´s too cold here to base yourself in Girona for Winter training but having spent the last three winters here, I´m well-positioned to say that´s not the case at all.

This year, we had a week in February where the maximum temperature on each of the seven days of the week were as follows: 17, 19, 20, 21, 17, 15 and 17. Hardly Baltic?

January is probably the coldest month and it is chilly in the mornings if you´re planning to ride early. But wait until 11am and the Mercury will already be up into double figures.

Far from wanting to be accused of biasthe coldest temperatures it got down to on that same week were 5, 2, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 2 degrees Celsius, but these are all hit at night time when you are tucked up in bed and resting those legs after a long day in the saddle.

So, you can see the temperature range on any given day is quite wide – and the same can be said for the actual conditions. We do get wind and rain, but more of the former (especially further north towards the coast) and much less of the latter. Statistics actually show more rainfall in Girona in May, March and even April than January or February. So expect plenty of blue skies and sunshine even if it is a little cooler than the Spring months.

One question we often get asked is what to bring and how to dress appropriately for Winter in Girona. To that we say the following; be prepared for all types of weather, be it wind, rain or sunshine. We get it all, and sometimes we get it on the same day!

Always pack Winter kit (It´s worth noting that Team Sky riders flew home from Majorca last winter as the island got snow, so expect the unexpected!). Bring a good base layer as well as leg and arm warmers, and a skull cap is one of the first pieces of kit I pack wherever I go as you lose a huge amount of heat through your head. Keep your fingers and toes warm with overshoes and gloves – though expect to shed both these layers as the day progresses.

Girona is quite unique in that it is situated between the high mountains and the sea, meaning you have access to all types of riding. So even on a day where rain is forecast there is always a ride window and somewhere in the Girona Province where it is not raining. You’ll often hear a local rider telling their heroic story of escaping rain byheading in another direction!

Aside from it being a top cycling destination it doesn´t ´close up´ in Winter like so many other training destinations. Being a University town there is an amazing energy to the place with so many bars and cafes and restaurants – and more are opening by the week. 

The price of hotels and apartments is a fraction of what you will be charged in summer while you’ll also benefit from the quietest training roads.

So, ask yourself what you want out of a Winter training holiday and if it’s any or all of the above, then why not give Girona a shot this year? See more info here

Girona’s perfect season

By Girona No Comments

I’m in the perfect frame of mind to write this blog. I’ve just spent the day at the beach in a small place just outside of Begur called Taimaru. It’s a 50 minute drive from Girona. It was the most perfect day I have ever spent at the beach. The sun was warm but not too hot that it drains your energy away, the beach had atmosphere but was by no means overcrowded and the water still held the warmth from the Summer and beautiful transparency that it always seems to have. The Costa Brava is just one of the reasons why Girona is so special in the Autumn. I use Autumn casually here because today for most people would be an excellent summer’s day. The factor 30 was out in force!

Back in the old town, pros are regularly seen strolling the streets, sipping coffee in La Fabrica, or popping into our shop to say hi. It’s finally the off-season for them – the long awaited and well earned piss-up that commenced last night at the Girona Gala dinner.  If you like rubbing shoulders with the who’s who in cycling and cool cycling memorabilia (including if I remember correctly a signed jersey from the 1975 Tour de France winner) you should consider this event next year. It’s all in aid of the Qhubeka charity and organised by the Peloton Brief. The hard work and organisation really paid off on the night. This has become a landmark on the Girona calendar.

At the end of October we will see the start of Girona’s crazy 2 week festival kicked off by the Carrefoc (translated as fire festival). I will not even attempt to describe this. You have to come and see for yourself! There are fair ground rides some how (I can only presume its real magic) positions in the complicated array of huge trees in the local Devesa park. The kids legs regularly brush tree branches and this seems to add to the fun of the whole thing.

Because its now the off-season we can finally enjoy delights such as roasted chestnuts, cake made fresh at Martina’s kitchen, the best Xurros in Girona (and probably the world) right in front of our shop and cafe CON LECHE, yes with as much milk as possible. We can eat as much of these delights as we want until we start to feel really guilty and the winter training kicks in. Me, i’m just getting started with my food treats!

At Eat Sleep Cycle we run more regular club rides and smaller tours including Micro Adventures. They attract locals and are more of a cool escape from the city than working. The riding this time of year really is spectacular. As well as being the perfect temperature, the light and changing environment (including multi-coloured trees) makes for a feast for the eyes on every ride.

So here is to many happy Autumn miles in Girona!

Girona Cycling Living in Girona

20 reasons why living in Girona is awesome

By Girona 5 Comments

Since moving to Girona in September 2014 I can say with authority it’s the best place I’ve ever lived. I spent a summer in Boston at 19 and another in Sri Lanka at 20. I moved to Australia the following year and resided in Bondi for six months. I’ve spent most of my life in Ireland, either studying or working.

I had a great life where I lived in Ireland, earned good money doing what I loved, worked with amazing people, lived with or close to my best friends and family and wanted for absolutely nothing, or so I thought.

So I quit the job, packed my bags (and bikes), moved to Girona and started on a journey that has been the most exhilarating one I’ve ever been on so far. I had no idea where it would take me when I came – but it’s one I’ll not be ending any time soon.

I knew one person when I arrived. The only trouble was, she was moving to the US for work the day before I came and I was taking her apartment on a six-month lease. The key was under the mat when I found it on Carrer de la Rutlla. I opened the door to a new life in Girona 18 months ago, not knowing anyone or a single syllable of Spanish or Catalan.

Here are 20 reasons you should do the same…

1) The lifestyle

So what does that word actually mean, then? Well, to me it’s year-round sunshine and a (very) relaxed attitude to life. Life is savored and enjoyed at a slower pace here. People walk in the streets at night, stop to chat for hours, take a beer or a coffee at any hour of the day and are genuinely interested in how you are. Well-being is everyone’s business.

2) The weather

Yes, the sun shines here an awful lot and there’s no better feeling than opening the blinds in the morning and having your eyes burned by the brilliant ball in the sky. It stays there too. It sounds cliché but the weather impacts my mood. I’ve been in a good mood now for 18 months. Feel free to hate me!

3) The food

Girona is blessed with some of the best restaurants in the world and in fact, it has one that’s twice been voted the world’s best. (El Cellar de Can Roca). There are endless eateries in the city and they’re very well-priced too. You can get a superb three-course meal with wine for less than €20 while during the day, most places will serve a set menu, or Menu del Dia for under a tenner. This, by the way, is a bottle of water or wine, a bread basket, two main courses and a desert! Not bad eh?

4) The coffee

Prepare to become a coffee addict or aficionado. I’m probably the former at this stage…and I’m not seeking help for it! The place has an array of places, but the best is La Fabrica. It’s a stunning little spot in the heart of the Barri Vell and it’s where all the pros get their cortados in the morning. Amber Meier will greet you with a smile and if her husband Christain isn’t racing (with top professional team Orica-GreenEDGE), he’ll be on hand to serve you too. Coffee spots crop up every week…the trouble is keeping up!

5) The people

The people of Girona are warm-hearted and kind. They inquire about you, they hold doors open, they greet you in the street, they’re welcoming and mild-mannered. They are immensely proud of their Catalan heritage and make you feel like one of them. I’ll never forget the help I received the night I locked myself out of my apartment; free hostel stay- check, free use of phone – check; loan of money – check.

6) The cycling

Okay, so the reason I am here is to work as a cycling journalist and yes, you may or may not know this city is home to over 100 professionals. Why? Because it offers everything an aspiring pro could need….keep reading.

7) The roads & cycling routes

If cycling nirvana is what you’re after, you’ll find it here. Think endless kilometres of rolling terrain with the only sound being that of your own laboured breathing and the occasional search for an easier gear. The roads are in immaculate condition and it is a fact that I am yet to puncture here! I have what I call a ‘car counting ride with a friend where we ride for one hour hard and predict how many cars we’ll meet on the ride. The person who guesses correctly gets a free coffee from the other. Often, the winner has won by accurately predicting we would meet zero cars.

8) The climbs

There is such a variety of roads in Girona and its surroundings that you could do a different ride every day of the week if you wanted. You can be climbing for an hour and a half (on Mare de Deu del Mont) or just less than half that (Rocacorba), both of which are within an hour of the city. There are the lovely 3-4% draggy roads where you can do some strength work on or a complex maze of second and third-category roads you’ll never get bored of. There’s the popular beach loop to Tossa de Mar via Llagostera or the ever-popular Olot loop (100k). Really, there is everything you could want for a training base here.

9) The cost of living

Compared to other places in Europe, Girona is much cheaper and this has been one of the main reasons why I’ve enjoyed it so much. Simply put, you can enjoy a higher standard of living for less. You can eat out cheaply, you can fill your fridge and get change from a €50, you can get car insurance cheaper than the UK and Ireland, second-hand cars offer good value, and healthcare is free. As you won’t need to heat your house, there is a saving to me made there too.

10) The Costa Brava

Some of the best beaches in Europe are less than half an hour from here. My personal favourite is the little-known Tamariu but further north, Cadaques is a real find as well. Take a ride out from Girona to Platja d’Aro on a Saturday morning, stop for breakfast in the latter and ride home over Sant Grau. Trust us, this shit is good for the soul.

11) It’s safe

Not once have I seen a physical confrontation in the street during night or day, not once have I been woken by noisy neighbours or drama on the streets on Thursday nights when students apparently hit the town, not once have I been set upon or intimidated while walking home. I was told keep the noise down once while singing once one night…

12) It’s clean

The city prides itself on appearance and you’ll have to look hard to find rubbish, anywhere!

13) Learn the language

Okay so it is most definitely CATALAN here and don’t be one bit surprised to be answered in the ‘native’ language if your question or statement is in Spanish. The city is a real centre of Catalan idealism and the language is something they intend to hold onto. However, they all speak Spanish too and there are language schools where you can learn pretty quickly. I’m here 18 months and can definitely solve everyday issues with what I have.

14) Fiesta fiesta fiesta!!

No country has a longer life expectancy in Europe than the Spaniards and they’ll tell you it’s because of their commitment to enjoying themselves. This means partying and lots of it! Girona’s two big annual festivals are the week-long Temps de Flores in May and the festival of Sant Narcis in late October is another that draws upwards of one million into the city. There are calcotadas in February and March (huge family gatherings where spring onions are roasted and dipped in Romenesco sauce), there’s the festival of Sant Jordi in April which is like Valentine’s Day only men receive a book and women a rose. There are harvest festivals throughout the summer and autumn while Christmas is a real time of celebration here. The norm is three weeks of non-stop revelry!

15) The mountains

If you like to ski, hike, fish or snowboard, Girona is less than two hours from the Pyrenees where you can access some of the best slopes in Europe. Andorra has hundreds of kilometres of powder snow in winter and an endless amount of trails to explore in summer. The Vuelta A España and Tour de France usually make a visit to the mountains and at Eat Sleep Cycle we hope to bring you there before too long.

16) The sense of community

Girona is small and if you know nobody coming here, then you are just like me. Now, I actually feel this is my home and I’m lucky to have such a close network of people I can call on at any time. Example? Last year I cut my hand at home. With blooding streaming from it I ran to the street seeking assistance. The first woman I met was the aforementioned Amber Meier who directed me to a medical centre but as we walked towards it, I met two more women who took one look and said the pharmacist would do the needful. The pharmacist washed the wound, patched it up and didn’t even charge me. Those five people are now people I see regularly, call friends…and owe a favour to!

17) The wine

Okay, I’m no wine expert but I do love a good Rioja! Especially when it costs a euro for a glass.

18) Tapas

What better way to refuel after a hard ride than €1 tapas at night, in a packed Placa Independencia, under a dipping sun? That’ll do nicely.

19) The tourist trail

Where do we even start? Girona has a wealth of things to see and do and for my own article dedicated to this, check out a piece I did for the Irish Examiner last year.

20) The sense of community

Yesterday I motor-paced Zak Dempster. On the road home we met Ryan Mullen doing his time-trial efforts. Earlier that week I borrowed a book called Core Advantage from Aussie pro Ellen Skerritt. I must give that to a Novo Nordisk pro before Friday. When I got back to town I took a wander around the old town and met Marcel Kittel and Koen de Koert deciding where to head for a ride. Further up the bridge the ‘Scandinavian Mafia’, as we call them, were planning their day’s ride.

People help each other out. We borrow stuff from each other. The pros train hard together, they race harder against each other and drink a beer afterwards.

Girona. It’s cycling’s greatest gathering place.

Be a part of it with Eat Sleep Cycle.