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A Different Side of Catalunya - The Pirinexus 360 - Cycle Tour

The Pirinexus 360 – A Different Side of Catalunya

By | Cycling, Cycling in Spain, Intermediate Tours, Leisure Tours, Pyrenees | No Comments

Catalunya is well known for its road cycling pedigree by now, the droves of riders that frequent the roads around Girona are testament to that. But if you’re after a different way to explore the region then look no further than the Pirinexus 360. As the name suggests the route is a circular 360 km loop. From Girona, it heads north to Olot, Camprodon & France via the Pyrenees Mountains, before heading south and downhill to the Costa Brava, and looping back around to Girona. The route can be completed in either one monster chunk for the epic riders out there, or in smaller more leisurely rides taking in the beautiful towns and villages along the way.

The Pirinexus 360 Cycle Route

The Pirinexus route is divided into 7 stretches of distances between 22 and 73km and is designed to be completed in small segments in order to take advantage of the beautiful surroundings and tranquillity of the off-road riding. The well-signposted route crosses through some of the most beautiful landscapes and charming villages Catalunya has to offer including the coastline of the Costa Brava and charming towns in the south of France.

Starting from Girona the route is best completed at a leisurely pace over 5 – 8 days to take full advantage of the varied and richly cultured towns and villages interposed throughout. So let’s break down the Pirinexus 360 route!

Girona – Olot

The first section is a 57 km stretch that sees you head north-west from Girona to the town of Olot, passing through three ‘comarcas’ and 12 towns and taking in the valleys of the Rivers Fluvià, Brugent and Ter. The first ‘comarca’ is Girones, heading out of the city towards the industrial towns of Salt and Bescanó and Bonmatí to the town of Anglès, which is home to a walled medieval town. The medieval town of Amer is the final town in the Girones comarca before the route enters the ‘Zona Volcanica de la Garrotxa’ of which Olot is the capital, an area of astonishing natural beauty and geological interest. As you pass through Sant Feliu de Pallerols you will be able to spot volcanic rocks parallel to the route. From here both the natural and man-made spectacles are in abundance, from a 9th century castle, to natural springs and gorges, sprawling valleys and beautiful churches.

Stay in:
– La Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda, Sant Feliu de Pallerols
– Mas Rubio, Joanetes

Eat at:
– Les Cols, Olot
– La Rectoría offers a fabulous menu.

The Pirinexus 360 Cycle Tour - Girona - Olot

Olot – Camprodon

The shortness of this section of the Pirinexus 360 belies its difficulty, it is the hilliest section of the route with 900m of elevation but it is possibly the most beautiful.

From Olot the climbing begins straight away with the Coll de Coubet, a steady climb of around 9km, at the top the road plateaus to reveal fantastic views of the Pyrenees. From there the route takes a right along the rolling road to the Coll de Santigosa and beautiful comarca of El Ripollès. The route follows the road until the 12th Century Romanesque Church of Sant Pol and then crosses the Gothic bridge into Sant Joan Les Abadeses. From St Joan the tranquil lanes traverse the valley until Camprodon, a picture-postcard town populated mainly by the moneyed Barcelona second home owners and the 12th century Pont Nou bridge. Also home to the Birba biscuit factory, whose produce can be found in most shops in the area.

Stay in:
– Alberg Rural Ruta del Ferro, Sant Joan de les Abadesses
– Hotelet del Bac, Camprodon

Eat at:
– Mitic Restauraunt, Camprodon
– Ca ‘Enric Sant Joan

The Pirinexus 360 Biking Route - Olot - Camprodon

Camprodon – Ceret

It is on this section of the route that you will enter France for the first time. Leaving Camprodon, the juxtaposition of the contrasting cultures of medieval Catalunya and the low Pyrenees become apparent. The area is steeped in history with and a wealth of cultures and cuisines to sample. The views from the Coll d’Ares, which marks the border between Spain and France, are breath-taking and stopping to savour them before crossing into France is essential.

Ceret itself is known as the cherry capital and is also widely considered the home of the Cubism art movement so for art lovers a visit to the Museum of Modern art is a must.

Stay in:
– Hôtel Vidal, Céret

Eat at:
– L’Atelier de Fred Ceret

The Pirinexus 360 Cycling Tour - Camprodon - Ceret

Ceret – The Costa Brava

From Ceret the next point of interest is the communce of Le Boulou, where various remains of the old part of the village can be seen including an magnificent 832kg bell-tower, the ornately decorated Eglise Sainte-Marie and the statue ‘du petit tambour’ or little drummer boy which depicts the child mortally wounded in battle. Indeed this entire section of the route is peppered with plenty of historical interest and medieval, historical remains. The area is also known for having been at the forefront of the cork industry throughout the 20th century. Crossing the Coll de Panissars and back into Spain through La Jonquera, a town of dual interest as both a commercial and cultural centre the route eventually reaches Capmany – an integral location within the wine-making trade home to an array of cellars producing D.O Empordà wine.

Tasting Empordà wine is a must in this area, there are plenty of producers, many of whom offer tours of their vineyards and cellars with tastings. Following the river Llobregat from Capmany comes the town of Peralada which is steeped in history home to the ancient walled settlement of Ibers as well as a castle museum. A short detour from the route on this section of Pirinexus is Figueres a town perhaps most famous for being home to the Salvador Dalí museum dedicated to the surrealist painter who resided in the down. Those interested in nature will enjoy the Aiguamolls Natural Park which is home to an array of local bird life. Crossing the wooden bridge over the River Muga you will reach the coast and Empuriabrava, the largest residential marina in Europe. Following the coast down you will then reach the fishing town of L’Escala famous for its anchovies. Stop just north of the town for a luxurious evening by the Mediterranean.

Stay in:
– Hotel Spa Vilamint Garriguella,
– Hostal Empuries, L’Escala

Eat at:
– Hostal Empuries

Pirinexus 360 Bike Route - Ceret - Costa Brava

L’Escala – Girona

A large section of this segment runs parallel with the coast taking in the many towns of the Baix or ‘low’ Empordà region including Pals, where yet more medieval remains can be seen. Following on from Torrent is the area of the Gavarres Massif bordered by Palafrugell, a picturesque town characterised by an unfinished bell tower and the Modernist Tower of Can Mario, an old factory which has been converted into the Museum of Contemporary Sculpture. The coastal section comes to an end at the fishng town of Sant Feliu de Guixols, the route then heads north-west and is scattered with towns containing myriad medieval structures and remains before finally re-entering the Girones commarca. Through the corkwood forest comes the town of Lllagostera before crossing the fault lines which created the hot springs that are dotted in the area into Casa de la Selva. From the cork region comes the ceramic region and the town of Quart where a pottery museum can be accessed straight from the Via Verde before heading back to Girona.

Stay in:
– Hotel Alga****, Calella de Palafrugell
– Hotel Sant Pol, Sant Feliu de Guixols
– Hotel Ultonia, Girona
– Hotel Peninsula, Girona

Eat at:
– Calau, Palafrugell
– Massana, Girona

Pirinexus 360 Cycling Vacation - L'Escala - Girona

Tailored Pirinexus 360 Cycle Route

The Pirinexus route provides a fantastic vehicle by which to view an area rich in culture and history from the tranquillity of cycling-specific infrastructure free from traffic. Cycling the Pirinexus allows for a thorough exploration of the area which the road does not always provide and the accessibility of the roads and trails means that it can be enjoyed by riders of all abilities.

There are a myriad of ways to tailor your cycling tour of the Pirinexus like:

  • Luxury Leisure – Take as many days as you possibly can, stay in the best luxury hotels, enjoy gourmet food experiences. Enjoy the company of a private guide & the back up of a personal support vehicle.
  • Self-Guided Simplicity –Find your way along the trail at your perfect pace. Enjoy the freedom of a light bike and the luxury of luggage transfers – your bags will be waiting for you at your final destination.
  • Bikepacking Cycling Adventure – Go it alone with a GPS (or map and compass for a true adventure), and bike-pack your way to happiness. If you’re time-pressed, pack your tour into 3 or 4 days and up the pace on a lightweight bike, elegantly packed with all your gear.
  • Endurance Challenge – Did you know every year cyclists attempt to ride the whole 360 km loop in under 24 hours? Fancy it? Let us know and we’ll gladly support your valient attempt.

Tailored Pirinexus 360 Bike Route - Eat Sleep Cycle

Pirinexus 360 Cycle Tour

If you think that riding the Pirinexus route sounds like something you would like to take on then make sure to give us a call on +34 972 649 131 or contact us online for more info! We’re now accepting bookings for next season so make sure you secure your saddle now!

See more information about our Pirinexus Cycle Tour packages.

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High Mountain Cycling Tour

How to prepare for your cycling tour in the high mountains

By | Advanced Tours, Alps, Cycling, Dolomites, Epic Tours, Picos de Europa, Pyrenees | No Comments

Have you signed up to an epic cycling tour in the high mountains this summer? Use this 6-step guide to prepare for your trip.

1. Training & Recovery

When you signed up for the tour you probably had an ambitious training plan which would get you to an optimum fitness level. Often, work, family and life in general all get in the way of this.

First things first, do not worry. The most important step is acceptance of your state of fitness because it is possible to enjoy a tour in the high mountains with any fitness level.

You must travel to the tour well rested. Do not attempt to cram in last minute training because there will be no physiological benefit in this short time frame. Continue to spin the legs and do your normal social/weekend rides.
Any intense block training programs should end 1-2 weeks before the tour to allow you to recover and rest.

2. Bike set-up

The bike you use for the tour should be treated to a full race service. Although you will not be racing, conditions in the high mountains are harsh on your bike, equivalent to a race. Descending large descents wears out brake pads and heats up rims, rough roads and rain can result in punctures if your tyres and tubes are not serviced/replaced, bearings are very hard to replace remotely and you don’t want that creak for 2 hours climbing each mountain, do you?! It’s money well invested on your own bike, or go for a rental bike which will be set-up and serviced perfectly for the conditions.

3. Bike components

Gearing is the most common mistake in the high mountains. You will always want more gears, so go for the maximum: Compact crankset (50-34) and large cassette (11-32).

Carbon rims should be used only by experienced riders, who can give the rims adequate time to cool down. Disc brakes can be safer in wet conditions.

Think about your contact points: saddle and shoes. Use what has worked best for you in the past and don’t make any last minute changes or upgrades. If you rent a bike, bring your own saddle and pedals.

4. Nutrition

Related closely to training and recovery, your diet influences how you perform and your enjoyment of the tour. “You are what you eat” has never been a truer statement.

Try not to drink too much alcohol on the run-up to the tour and keep your diet consistent to what you know works well.

On the tour stick to nutrition that you have tried and tested. It’s fine to reach for a gel at a time of need but if you don’t normally use them, do not start the day with them. Eat as much normal food as possible and only reach for the sugary treats when you have to.

Straight after your ride try to take in a protein shake or snack straight away. This is when your body needs it most and is essential to effective recovery for the next day.

5. Kit

Our favorite saying is; “there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing”. Weather in the high mountains can change quickly and forecasts are not that reliable. Even if your tour takes place in the middle of summer, at the top of the Stelvio pass (2,800 m elevation) it is cold all year round.

Pack cycling kit for all conditions, including shoe covers, long fingered gloves, a buff and a very good waterproof jacket. Laundry is normally done every other night on tours so bring at least 2 of everything.

Your daily ride bag (for the support vehicle) should contain a full-set of kit which you will cherish after a downpour.

6. Know your ride

Effective pacing on a long hard ride can be the difference between finishing the day on the bike or ending it in the van. You will often see the key climbs written on the top of a professional riders crossbar so he/she knows when to get in the right position or just when the suffering will end!

If the ride involves 3 climbs then its best to leave the all-out effort to the last one. If you know your threshold power or heart-rate, you should be staying below this to ensure you do not burnout too quickly. Don´t let other riders tempt you into the red too early, know your limit and ride within it.

We hope these 6 points help you to enjoy your epic mountain cycling tour this summer!

Luchon, the Pyrenees and the start of an ESC Grand Tour ambition

By | Girona, Pyrenees | No Comments

To me, they´re the sport´s spiritual home and for us, the Pyrenees are where the Eat Sleep Cycle dream began.

It was a warm Saturday in October 2016 and we were strolling through the Old Town when we (of course) got stopped and called into a conversation ´Peter in the tattoo shop´was having with a long and lean Englishman named Paul.

Paul was friendly and polite and inquisitive and wondered about any rides going out the next day.

As it so happened, Lee and I had a spin planned with a friend named Paddy, so we invited Paul along. Little did we know what that would lead to.

Paul was in town a day early as two friends and his better half were on route from California for a trip in the Pyrenees.

They were time-pressed on it, had no real plan – only they had to be back in Girona by Thursday morning for another trip they were doing out of here. That was four days away…

So, in short, Lee and I decided to hijack their half-baked Pyrenees plans and come up with something, and QUICKLY!

We met the quartet of Jen, John, Julia and Paul in Vinil restaurant that Sunday night and following some last-minute research, we presented to them our Pyrenees adventure.

Less than a minute through our presentation John (partner of Julia) demanded ´stop, stop, stop´… “We´re in.”

So we were in: we were leaving for the Pyrenees the following morning and now all we had to do was arrange bikes, vehicles, transport, accommodation and routes. Easy.

Sunday night 11pm is few peoples idea of an ideal time to work, but fuelled by excitement and driven by a desire to deliver an amazing trip, we put some meat on the bones of a 3-night adventure.

We were going to tackle Superbagneres and the Peyreysourde, the Aspin and the Tourmalet. We were going to ride down the Allee de Etigny that bisects Luchon like Tour de France riders and feast like fat cats in L’Arbesquens and La Flamme Rouge.

We would lounge in the Etablissement Thermal Spa at the top of the town and shop for souvenirs around Avenue Carnot.

We’d fill our bellies at the breakfast table in the Alti and have the bikes spotless and hanging from the A-Frame out front when our quartet of riders came down each morning.

When I think of the Pyrenees, I think of Luchon and I think of all the riders who’ve come here to ride. If Lourdes is the pilgrimage for mass-goers, Luchon is the place where we of a different faith go.

It’s a place where bakeries and bike shops thrive, where roads fan outwards and upwards like the spokes of a wheel and if I could compare any French town to Girona, it would be Luchon.

In the same way arriving into GRO airport after being away for a while gives me that fuzzy, warm feeling, the D125 road to Luchon from the exit at Saint-Gaudens does likewise.

We’ve covered a lot of miles, literally and figuratively, in the interim with Eat Sleep Cycle but arriving into Luchon against the backdrop of a setting sun with the Pyrenees in the background that Monday in October 2016 is still one of the highlights of our short life with ESC.

The love affair has grown into a mutual thing and now we’re on first-name terms with many of the accommodation providers in town. We can call on the local Mavic dealer when we need a spoke or the owner of the aforementioned restaurant (he now has a second one) when we need a table outside.

From a time where we were politely refused a request for 8 take-away sandwiches, we can now order by Whatsapp at night and collect twice that number the following morning.

When the Eat Sleep Cycle van trundles into town with bikes and bags and trailers all kinds of accessories, we’re greeted with a ‘welcome back’ by the staff who come outside to greet us.

It’s a gateway town to a cyclist’s playground with many of the biggest climbs in professional cycling accessible from here.

And boy we cannot wait to get back there this summer!

Check out our next trip to the Pyrenees here!

Cycling in Spain Top Destinations

Top 10 Must Ride Cycling Destinations in Spain

By | Advanced Tours, Cycling, Cycling in Spain, Epic Tours, ESC Explore, Girona, Gran Canaria, Intermediate Tours, Leisure Tours, Picos de Europa, Pyrenees, South Spain | No Comments

There’s much more to cycling in mainland Spain than sunshine and smooth roads. From the highest paved road in Europe (Pico de Veleta in the Sierra Nevadas) to the green countryside of the País Vasco, Spain’s vast and diverse landscape will have you begging for new adventures. Be sure to tick off these cycling destinations from your bucket list.

1. Girona

There is no doubt that Girona is the cycling capital of Europe. Home to hundreds of professionals, the old town has a charm that is hard to not fall in love with. Riding is the perfect mix of flat, rolling countryside and some challenging climbs in the foothills of the Pyrenees. If you want character, culture and good food alongside high-quality cycling, look no further than Girona.

2. Andalucia

South Spaniards are very laid back (and who can blame them in the roasting temperatures of the Summer). But visit Andalucia from October through to May and you’ll have a spring in your pedal stroke. The rustic towns of Antequera & Ronda both provide a great base to ride from and are easily accessed from Málaga airport.

3. ‎Picos de Europa

Hugely underrated, the Picos de Europa or “Peaks of Europe” were named by Columbus for being the first mountains he saw on his return from America. They are beautiful rock formations comparable to the Dolomites. Don’t miss Lagos de Covadonga, a stunning series of lakes over 1,000 m up in the sky. Puerto de San Gloria is a hidden gem of a climb that will leave you wanting to find more “off the radar” climbs and there are plenty of those in the area.

4. ‎Cantabria

Los Machucos was the climb which sparked rider protests in the 2017 Vuelta España. It’s brutal kicks are rewarded by stunning rural views all the way up. Cantabria is home to many other feature climbs of the Vuelta such as the Peña de Carbaga and Puertos Alisas & Ason. There’s no wonder that when the Vuelta reaches Cantabria things get exciting.  Close proximity to Santander & Bilbao is helpful for logistics but you are better off avoiding the big cities and staying out in the lovely countryside.

5. ‎Sierra Nevada’s

You are just as likely to see a skier in the Sierra Nevadas as you are a cyclist. Often used for altitude training by professional cyclists, you’ll need your climbing legs on because it’s up or down with not much flat! There are plenty of authenticly Spanish places to choose to stay in the region, from the cultural hub of Granada to tiny villages in the mountains.

6. ‎Asturias

Oviedo is a bustling city with all the culture of Asturias and its wonderful food, friendly people and interesting architecture. Ride for just 5 km south and you meet what can only be described as a theme park for cyclists. Scores of short steep climbs scattered over several valleys, the Big One being the Angliru. Often stated as the hardest climb in cycling its something every cyclist should do, but just once.

7. ‎Basque country

With its own language and Spanish-Basque and French-Basque regions, the Basque country is a mixing pot of cultures which creates the best food in the world. Rolling green hills line the distance with characteristic white and red chalets. It’s a treat on the eyes and lushness that of course warrants some occasional rainfall, typical of the north Spain area. Whilst the climbs are not long, some are steep so you can easily rack up plenty of climbing metres over a days ride.

8. Costa Brava

The Costa Brava runs from France down to Blanes (a town just northeast of Barcelona). It’s one of the most unspoilt coastlines in Spain, with no billboards or high rises to distract from the jaw-dropping views. Easily accessible from Girona and coastal towns like Begur and the more popular Tossa de Mar, the winding and hilly road that hugs the coastline provides hours of sun-kissed enjoyment. Whilst traffic is never that bad, in the winter you’ll be lucky to stumble across other cyclists, let alone cars.

9. ‎Calpe

Whilst Calpe is not the most charismatic cycling location in Spain, it makes it onto the top ten list due to its popularity for training camps with professional teams. Miles in the sun on smooth roads are sometimes all people look for and this is a good place for that, with affordable hotels plentiful. Test your legs on the likes of the Cumbre del Sol and the Col de Rates.

10. Andorra

In at number 10 (because it’s technically its own country and not actually in Spain) the tax haven of Andorra is packed with slopes to delight the most hardened of cyclists. Every year Andorra hosts La Purito, the toughest sportive in Europe, and thousands flock to attempt 5,200 meters of elevation in one painful ride. Andorra is best enjoyed over 2 or 3 days (or 1 if you’re feeling sadistic). Must ride climbs are La Gallina, Collada de Beixalis, Col D’Ordino, La Rabassa and Els Cortals D’Encamp.

The rock and roll lifestyle of a bike tour guide in the Pyrenees

By | Cycling, ESC Explore, Lifestyle, Pyrenees | No Comments

I won’t thank my new editor Lee Comerford for tasking me with the most general of all assignments; ‘a blog on the last week’, or something like that, would be great. Tonight.

How can one sum up in words what it feels like to ride across the Pyrenees for work? How impossible is it to summarise 600 incredible kilometres in a few photos?

We can only try and I guess one way of doing it is retelling the words that spill out of my mouth when people enquire, ‘oh how was your trip in the Pyrenees?’.

I’ll say it was great fun. I’ll say the group were reeeealllly nice. I’ll say we had rough weather at times but we all got on great. I’ll say we’re hopeful they’ll be back again and we’re looking forward to our next trip. After that, well, do others who weren’t there reeeealllly care?

For those that do I’ll tell with passion and energy of driving almost 500 kilometres from Girona on a Monday afternoon via Perpignan, Narbonne, Toulouse and Lourdes, stopping just once for a leak and surviving on peaches and Deff Leppard’s greatest hits.

I’ll tell of reaching our start point and sourcing ride food, searching for quality and value in a tiny town where the average age must have been close to 70.

It’s basic stuff this, but it just felt right and I definitely think I brightened up the shop assistant’s day with the most over-the-top merci beaucoup she ever heard after selling 8 baguettes, 24 bananas and around 4 packets of ham.

I’ll recall the silence of that grey Monday evening in Arrens-Marsous and going for a late evening core session in a field to pass the time, washing in a freezing cold fountain for the sheer hell of it (and the guesthouse wasn’t yet open!).

I’ll never forget the tick-tacking with Lee on the road from San Sebastien after completing a trip the week before and Louise back in the control tower pulling the strings.

Lee’s buddy Chris helped us on this trip and he was in the Basque country getting a rack attached to the roof of our new van as Lee was guiding clients.

An old housemate of Lee’s who volunteered to come along, Chris sat in a bar in Tolosa on a Monday evening at 5pm while the rack was being welded on. And he looked damn happy with himself in the selfie he sent on.

Our other hired help Peter got a bit of a raw deal from Mother Nature, or at least someone with a fraction of his positivity would believe.

He guided for four days and it rained a LOT. He rode as a back-marker in hail storms and sat in the saddle for seven hours on one particular day. Afterwards, he thanked us for giving him the opportunity to do it.

All he wanted in return was enough food – which is not an easy task with this guy.

Nobody who likes money and working more than eight hours a day would do this job of a bike tour guide.

Nobody with less than a love for cycling could do it. But this week, it became very clear to us that there’s very little else we’d wanna do.

Chris and Peter have brains to burn and it’s just as well because our demands on them this week were many. Yet their only complaint by the end was the trip was over.

Maybe the reason we – and they, love it and do it is because it’s so utterly humbling to see the difference it makes to people’s lives.

We had 12 clients this week from Ireland and the UK and to say they were a pretty accomplished bunch would be unfair to them. In cycling parlance, they were hitters.

There were guys who worked in finance, medicine, insurance, property and construction and they were all very VERY good at what they did.

We had some truly woeful weather, however, no more so than on day one when we headed for the Aubisque in appalling conditions.

Yet wild horses would not have stopped the boys from reaching the top and their upbeat outlook was truly inspiring. The descent of the Tourmalet on Wednesday was similarly bad, yet they all rode down it like demons and wore wide smiles when we convened at the bottom.

As one of them put it to us one evening over dinner, “I work with people over the age of 65 years of age. I’m up at 6 most mornings getting four girls up for school and I mightn’t be back before 6 in the evening. This is my week with the lads and I’ll maximise every minute of it.”

His story was one we’ve heard over and over since we started the company so for that very reason we’ve strived to help people get the absolute best experience they can in the time they have with us.

The life of a bike tour guide is a very privileged one and it offers absolutely everything a man or woman could want in a working life…except time off, a routine and riches.

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Andorra Cycling Vuelta

Andorra: A theme park for cyclists

By | ESC Explore, Pyrenees | No Comments

Driving into Andorra late Friday evening reminded me of the first time I drove to Las Vegas. Granted, the long dark single road into Andorra is far more windy, but the suspense of arriving at a far away and strange place equaled.

Once we crossed the border (not quite knowing whether a smile, wave or poker face would avoid us getting pulled over) we entered Andorra la Vella. It was quite a shock at first, all lit up with advertisements everywhere. The main road through the valley is like a race course with several lanes and signals hung above each lane. People drive fast and don’t bother waiting for green to go.

When the sun rose the next day our jaws hit the floor. That dark valley road is actually surrounded by beautiful snow capped mountains shooting up almost vertically from each side. All around roads zig-zag up through the towns and into the sky. It’s just like the first time I went to Alton Towers or Port Aventura. I saw massive rides that both excited and scared me, knowing that it’s going to be a hell of a lot of fun and also some suffering!

Our objective for the weekend was simple, recce La Purito challenge, get to know Andorra and find our way around. We are running a challenge trip there in August, more details here.

Oh and it was also a romantic weekend away for Louise and I, which was of course more important (I love you darling).

We grabbed our bikes like excited kids and headed for breakfast. The first thing we noticed is that wonderful Spanish prices have been adopted in Andorra too. €1.40 for a coffee, €1.25 for a croissant. We were ready to ride.

Admittedly we were not that impressed to start with. We had to take the main road back down from La Massana, the place of our lodging, to Andorra la Vella. It was quite busy and not like the two abreast casual riding in Girona.

Then suddenly the Garmin said turn left and there it was. An 18% ramp into a 12 km climb into the sky; La Peguera. The contrast could not have been more extreme. From a busy, flat main road to a steep, car-less ascent into the sky. Louise took one look at me and said “see you at the top”. I was hungry for this climb and as I always have done, went off too hard!

Wow, wow and wow! The views on the way up just got better and better, the town a distant dot in my wing mirror. When it’s a battle to pedal hard and not stare at the view, I know I’m in a special place.

But this was a casual recce so we took a coffee break after that (Louise had a beer!) stopping at a restaurant nestled nicely into the bottom of the climb with a beautiful view of the valley. The restaurant, San Telmo, is Argentinian. The “asador” or chef is Argentinian and his friendly wife Swiss. We liked it so much we returned in the evening for a romantic meal and ate like kings and queens. It literally was a meat feast, the best Malbec wine I have tasted and friendly service, for unbelievable value.

P1050589

Andorra is like a hot pot of nationalities. We heard more languages spoken over the 2 days than we do in months in Girona! It’s not officially Catalunya, but many advertisements are in Catalan. It’s not officially Spanish, but everybody understands it. Then there are Swiss, German, French, Russian…. It’s hard to work out the identity of the place. I’m not sure we’d live there but its a very interesting place to visit.

The next climb, Col de la Gallina, was really hard. I was screaming for a compact, at least semi-compact already half way up! But I bloody loved it. I love a climb that forces me to get out the saddle just to get up it. The view at the top is out of this world and I enjoyed a humble moment.

P1050629

Over the 2 days we rode up each of the 5 climbs in La Purito. Yes, it took us 2 days to do what thousands do in one. It is a hell of a challenge. We now feel well informed to get a bunch of you through this challenge (get your compacts out and get your climbing practice in!)

I never forget the first time I visit a new place, climb a new climb. Those 5 climbs in Andorra hold a special place in my heart and I know its a place Eat Sleep Cycle will be visiting more regularly.

Vallter 2000 Pyrenees Girona Cycling

Vallter 2000: Life in the support vehicle

By | Cycling, Girona, Pyrenees | 2 Comments

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

Who wants to do La Purito in 2017? (5,200m climbing in 145 kilometres!)

By | Cycling, Pyrenees | No Comments

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The La Purito sportive is Andorra’s answer to the Etape du Tour and with 5,200 metres of climbing packed into 145 kilometres it’s rightly dubbed the hardest mass-participation cycling event in Europe.

The climbs are among the most iconic in professional cycling and are regular fixtures in the Tour de France and the Vuelta A Espana as well as the Volta A Catalunya.

There are six categorised climbs in total and the parcours is the same as the Queen stage of the 2015 Vuelta, a day where Mikel Landa won in a time of 4 hours 34 minutes.

Eat Sleep Cycle are proud to announce that we’re taking eight people there in August 2017….though we have no intention to try and break Landa’s time!

As part of our 2-night package you’ll stay in Andorra the night before the big day, very close to the event HQ in Sant Julia de Loria.

And as traffic exiting Andorra after the event will be mayhem we’ve decided to stay the Sunday night so you can relax, unwind, enjoy a delicious meal and toast your amazing achievement.

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We’ll look after your event registration, return transfers from Girona, dinner both nights (Sat/Sun), breakfast both mornings (Sun/Mon), ride nutrition, support on the road and your accommodation both nights. Bike rental for the weekend is an optional extra, but feel free to bring your own and we can transport it.

If interested, drop us a mail here at info@eatsleepcycle.com

What’s included?

  • 2 nights accommodation in a fabulous mountain lodge (8k downhill from the finish)
  • Your transfers to and from Girona (departing Saturday Aug 5th, 11am, return Monday morning)
  • 2 ESC support crew to offer service and food during the event
  • Event registration (getting your timing chip, installing it on your bike
  • Two comfortable air-conditioned vehicles to transport bags and bikes.
  • 2 delicious evening meals (Sat/Sun) and 2 hearty breakfasts (Sun/Mon)
  • All your ride food
  • All the booking fees/logistics/organisation/faff!!

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Pricing: €399 per person.

For more information and any question, drop us a mail at info@eatsleepcycle.com

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Cycling with Dentists: payback time

By | Cycling, Pyrenees | No Comments

Storm clouds gathered above the Palmera Hotel in Cap D’Age.

Lee & I were tucked up in bed in a luxury room, snoozing away whilst our fellow cyclists battled through the storm (aboard a plane no less) to make it to the start line of the epic ride across the Pyrenees to San Sebastian beginning in the morning.

It was an ominous beginning. As the sun rose the next morning (in a kinder looking sky) 50-odd bleary-eyed, storm-battered dentists pulled on lycra, pumped up tires and assembled on their bikes outside.

Lee and I were working on behalf of Just Pedal to help guide this merry band (all with freakishly good teeth) 750 km over the next 5 days. The dentists had been brought together by the Straumann group and were raising money for Bridge to Aid – a charity training medical staff to deliver emergency dental care in remote communities in Africa.

Conscious of my undersized lateral incisors (yes, an orthodontist helpfully pointed them out to me as a teenager), I flashed a no-teeth smile to my group for the day – Group 3 – and we headed to the beach to dip our wheels in the sea. That done, we turned our handlebars to the distant hills and started to pedal.

Day 1 was a kind day. It was pretty flat, there was barely any wind and the dentists were in good spirits. 50 km in, one rider admitted that that was the furthest she’d ever ridden a bike (having first got on a road bike 6 months previously). 100 km in, Mark, Bridge to Aid’s representative, told me about his very painful neck –  he’d fitted a bizarre near vertical stem to try and raise his bars and ease his pain which sadly didn’t seem to be helping much. 132 km down, 600 ish more to go.

Day 2 was a bit of a beast, a 162 km epic including an ascent of the Col du Port. Now in charge of Group 2, we took things a bit faster. We battered ourselves into a strong headwind before I stupidly ended up racing up the mountain. Oops. I lost in a nail-biting sprint for the sign and was not the only cyclist with very sore legs on the descent.  294 km down, several hundred more to go.

Day 3 constituted a bit more of a rest day, but the heavens opened and made the morning thoroughly miserable. The route would have been beautiful, winding alongside a river, but the rain made everything blurry (yes, even without wearing glasses).  But Group 3 maintained good spirits. There were six chaps accompanied by myself & Isobel (my fellow ride leader). Lunch was like reaching heaven. Hot plates laden with lamb stew and couscous warmed us to our cores and raised energy levels enough to complete the day’s ride. 418 km down, less than half to go!

Day 4 was the one all the dentists had been dreading and the one I had been looking forward to. I was secretly pleased to see such a large group of dentists in fear. We were headed up the Tourmalet. Another day at the office for me, was a day of torture for them. Payback time for that root canal last year! Hurrah! We set off early, just as the sun was up and headed out of Tarbes, towards the snow capped mountains (yes, snow, it was pretty cold).

We stopped for a coffee at the bottom of the climb, I added layers to my slightly chilled body whilst others took their warmers off in anticipation of the 17 km climb. The pro’s manage this climb in about 54 mins. As back-marker for the day, I was in for a significantly slower ascent. This, for many dentists, was their first ever mountain. And what  a mountain she is.

The top was lost in fog and fresh snowfall littered the slopes above. We climbed. The dentists ascended into their world of pain whilst the smile on my face got bigger the higher we went. Soon the dentists were scattered across the mountain, rolling from side to side in an effort to summit the Tourmalet. The effort was monumental. The determination was clear. Every single one of them was going to make it, the broom-wagon was not an option.

After 3 hours I rolled over the summit with the last two riders – Heidi & Graham. The sense of achievement was just incredible. The other dentists cheered them over the crest and we posed for a victory shot.

After warming ourselves with hot chocolate and cake, we wrapped up (yep, I added more layers) and we hit the descent. We got to the lunch break at 4 pm, we made it to the hotel at 7:30 pm after 12 hours and 150 km of pedaling. 568 km down, 1 day to go!

Very, very sore legs accompanied the final 182 km day. Whilst the were no mountains to climb, we were in the Basque country and it was very very hilly. I described it as a roller coaster, others described it (after the fourth quite hard climb of the morning) as ‘ridiculous’. But pedal the dentists must, and pedal the dentists did. After 160 km and with the end tantalizingly close we were treated to a 10 km climb. This time it was Steve’s turn to suffer. His body was giving up; he’d managed to pull his shoulder out of line on Day 1 and by the final climb of Day 5, sitting on a bike was excruciating for him. I found him walking 4 km from the summit. I offered to call him the van. He categorically said No, there was absolutely no way he was getting in the van. When the pain subsided enough for him to pedal, he pedaled. When the pain got too much, he walked. He rolled over the summit to a football crowd of cheers. We could see San Sebastian. The end was in sight.

After 750 km a triumphant bunch celebrated on top on Monte Igueldo, looking down on San Sebastian. It had been an incredible trip. I had witnessed people push themselves beyond what they thought they could sustain and witnessed a group, many of whom didn’t know each other at the start of the trip, unite to complete their cycling challenge and to raise a load of cash for Bridge to Aid.

So the next time I have to go to see the dentist, I’ll sit back, open wide, think of that day on the Tourmalet and apply Rule 5.

Thank you Straumann, Bridge to Aid, Just Pedal & the dentists for an awesome trip!

 

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