I am on a flight from Geneva – an easy airport for access to the northern Alps and the finish of this year’s l’Etape. I have to say that whilst the Alps are beautiful, I am really happy to be returning to my home in Girona, Catalunya.
I have been guiding groups through the Alps for 2 weeks. During the first week we stayed in Alp d’Huez, at some 1900m altitude. That made for some interesting training rides (always finishing with the 1000m ascent ‘home’). I got to know all 3 ways up it very well! The group rode the Marmotte sportive which I talked about in my previous blog “A tribute to Marmotte finishers”. The ride included 2 more beautiful climbs – the Glandon and the Galibier. It soon became apparent that there is not a lot of flat and rides of only 80Km accumulated upwards of 3000m of climbing!
In my second week we headed to the 2016 l’Etape and took on some of the cols including Columbiere and Joux Plane, my favourite. Whilst lower in altitude, these cols are challenging, often with average gradients of over 8% for upwards of 11km. Let’s say it’s possible to hurt yourself on those bad boys too. On a rest day I snook away to lake Annecy and actually found some flat road. Don’t be fooled though, there are nice cat 1 climbs all the way around the lake!
So why on earth am I looking forward to getting back to Girona?
- 15,000 people took part in L’Etape, half of that in the Marmotte. Even outside of these events the famous climbs I have mentioned are littered with cyclists. Whilst I love that cycling is so popular I am craving the quiet roads that Girona offers. Some days I see only a couple of cyclists on my training rides in Girona, it’s such a hidden gem.
- One main reason I left the UK is to escape the traffic. In Girona roads are traffic free – bliss. In France I felt like I was back to fearing for my life on some roads. Even though their drivers are relatively courteous they do not have the 1.5m law (between cyclist and passing wing mirror) that cars strictly abide by in Girona.
- Which brings me on nicely to the roads. The dodgy repairs being made for the tour (including patching up holes and leaving gravel scattered out, also tarmac so recently laid your bike sinks in it) led to crashes during l’Etape. The roads in Catalunya/Spain are ten times better because they are relaid every 10 or so years.
- Maybe it’s because I don’t speak much French, or I don’t understand the culture, but I feel that outsiders are much more welcomed in Catalunya. The Girona locals are so friendly, from the farmers at the local fresh food market to the people serving you food in restaurants. You just feel like you should be there. It’s so homely.
- I just paid €5.50 for a coffee in the airport. Granted, airports are always expensive, but I couldn’t get a Cafe au Lait for less than €3.50 at any of our Alp destinations. We pay €1.35 for a coffee at our local Banyoles spot and the view isn’t bad…
Everything from food to accommodation was significantly more expensive than Catalunya making me long for my regular Girona restaurants and cafes.
The Alps, so well known through the worlds most famous race, the Tour de France are incredible and epic and I will definitely be heading back there to tick off the famous climbs left on my bucket list. But visiting them confirmed my choice of moving to Girona and you couldn’t pay me to change my mind.