Doris has been staying with us for a few weeks to train in Girona away from the cold temperatures of her home in Switzerland. She has been racing for 4 years in the professional women’s peloton and is something of a climber and TT specialist. On the morning of her flight home we went for a last ride together and I thought I’d show her a beautiful route taking in a 20km climb up to Sant Hilari Sacalm and a spectacular hidden road hugging the Pantá de Susqueda dam and the Riu Ter.
For the last 3 weeks Doris has been nailing 24 hours’ worth of training every week (making my 18 hours look a bit lame!) so I was hoping she’d be tired enough that I could keep up. Trouble is that I was also very tired at the end of a big block of training before a break over Christmas. This, despite the beautiful scenery, was a ride for me to endure and to get out of the way.
Riding out of Girona everything already hurt: bum, legs, back, neck, and knees. Yep, this 110km was going to be a slog. I was determined not to wheel-suck my way around and so I stuck myself next to Doris – perfect for a natter about cycling! The ride started with a gentle climb out of Girona through Aiguaviva, before a fast downhill with beautiful views of the mountains we were heading towards a sharp right hander off the main road (when I say ‘main’, I spotted as many cyclists as cars) which set us on a little winding lane to the village of Brunyola. The lane turns into a steep, hairpin climb up to the castle at the top, before a sweeping descent took us onto the main road to Santa Coloma de Farners. This town marks the bottom of a 22km climb up to Sant Hilari. Yikes. We rode at what for me was a steady to ‘bit out of breath now’ pace for me and a steady to ‘super chilled’ pace for Doris. On the way up we got chatting about how she started out in cycling.
Doris first rode a road bike when she was around 18 and a couple of months later won the first race that she entered (she said she had no idea what was going on, she just rode ‘full-gas’ and dropped the field on a mountain climb). She was hooked and carried on racing. Doris soon found out she was good at TT’s (although these are definitely not her favourite) when she came in 2nd at the Swiss National Champs (which she went into without aero wheels and with the main aim of not coming last). And so her cycling career was born.
Going pro in 2013 she won her first race with the Astana Be Pink team at Stage 1 of the Tour of Brittany. She said she was so angry at the bad luck she’d had at the Giro she just really wanted to win. As an unknown rider she was allowed to get away with 60k’s to go. The breakaway weren’t really helping so off she went solo. Now that’s inspirational.
The conversation turned to doping. I was gutted but not so surprised to hear that some riders in the women’s pro peloton have tested positive. Safe to say it’s not driven by teams, but undertaken by individuals looking to cheat their way to the top. Doris says it makes her angry – she trains super hard (as I have been a witness to for the past few weeks), spends loads of time away from her boyfriend and family in order to race and build a cycling career, and has to ride against people who’ve chosen to cheat. I want to believe doping is not an issue in this beautiful sport I want to work in, but sadly (although rarely), it is.
I told Doris about the first time I rode this loop – in super-hot summer temperatures of 35ish degrees with my ex-boss Olly from The Velo House and Ian, an uber-cool cyclist photographer type living in Barcelona. She casually trumped this with tales of racing the Giro (her favourite race) in temperatures of 45 degrees! 45 degrees! She said how ridiculous it was – the organisers insist on starting each stage at midday, and only relaxed the ‘no feed in the first 50k rule’ (ie. no water!) after a letter of complaint was written – there were silly amounts of crashes as riders were finding it hard to concentrate in the heat with a lack of water. Either you could handle it or you couldn’t. Luckily, Doris is good in the heat and on climbs so the Giro suits her perfectly – I’m going to be following her Giro closely in 2016 and will be rooting for her to make it into pink!
We finally made it up the climb and were now 2 hours into the ride – my favourite bit was just down the epic descent from Sant Hilari and up another, shorter, steeper climb form Osor. My lack of confidence descending turned into another embarrassing ‘dropped on the downhill’ moment – to be fair it was pretty wet and slippery but Doris was going pretty slow as it was. Descending is top of the list of skills for me to improve before the race season.
Anyway, on the steep climb out of Osor I could keep up (thanks to emergency cramming of a rye bread jam sarnie!) but I was by now beyond the art of conversation. Another sketchy wet, leafy downhill later and we were cruising on the bumpy road that clings to the edge of the mountain above the man-made lake of Pantá de Susqueda. After crossing the massive dam we were on what felt like the home-strait – mostly downhill home, hurrah! At this point, surrounded by the beautiful trees, rocks and following the road along the path of the Riu Ter down the valley, Doris says ‘I think I will cancel my flight and stay here’. Yep, I think she has caught the Girona bug!
We finished the ride spinning along nicely through Angles, and up the final small climb to Mas de LLemena. A headwind battle back into Girona later and we were back – time for Doris to pack up her bike and head back to Switzerland for Chirstmas. I have a funny feeling she’ll be back soon and hope to ride with her again!