The cruel Collfred climb

By July 30, 2016 3 Comments

You probably haven’t heard of the Collfred climb, I hadn’t either until a friend I race with mentioned it to me as we crossed paths on our rides yesterday. He said, in Catalan “you need to try this climb, its tough man!” So I of course got up this morning and rode straight there. I met with friends to persuade them to come but nobody was up for it, always a sign of a tough circuit. Sometimes you have just got to ride on your own, this would be my solo bike adventure.

The ride out to the climb is the classic route west out of Girona through Sant Gregori, Sant Martí de Llémena and over to Les Planes. This road always makes me feel good. It’s traffic free and the gradient picks up gradually, warming you up perfectly for the harder workout to come. Then you hit the drag up towards Olot, which is not steep but hurts enough. The exciting bit starts their as you turn off the main road onto the country lanes and weave through beautiful small villages and past farmers doing their thing. Everybody waves the passing cyclist.

After 50Km comes the start of the climb. I love a climb that makes me get out of the saddle and this one certainly did, with 1Km sections boasting average gradients of nearly 13%. It ramped up almost straight away, “here we go” I thought. My core was being used like never before as I put metal to the pedal and forced my way up the steeper sections, dreaming of a compact gear setup. The only sounds were birds tweeting, the odd cricket and my heavy breathing. The sun was beating down but I was protected by the trees either side of the narrow road, what a relief. It was so green and the view just got better and better the higher I went. It flattened off a bit, I think I am there, then it ramps up again. I am forced to smile at the sheer difficulty of this. Finally there is a sign for Collfred and I drop my head in relief and celebration. Only 110Km of the ride to go.

The road is not forgiving the other end of the climb. Up and down and up again. Deeper and deeper into the hills, getting greener, hotter and the only signs of life; cattle, sheep and a few goats. I am forced to weave through cows scattered all over part of the decent into Vidrá and thank the lord there is a water fountain there. Cyclists are sprawled around it, similarly grateful for its presence.

If you always ride on smooth roads look away now. As all the other cyclists go straight on I took a right onto a pretty broken path. “This is a gamble” I thought. It’s like living on the edge a bit, at any moment the road could turn really bad and I would have a long way home. But I battle the surface and think of the training benefit. I dodge pot holes and hold onto the drops tight, but not too tight as too ruin my wrists. The road goes on for what feels like forever because its slow progress on the broken surface. Finally it ends very close to Ripoll and when I hit that smooth tarmac it was like somebody giving me a million pounds. Straight onto another climb, but this time not as steep and I know Olot is close so I keep tapping away.

In Olot I cracked and stopped for a coke, its never tasted so good. The bar lady takes one look at me and gives me a huge glass with ice and lemon, then proceeds to ram ice into my bottles. I head straight back out into the heat with temperatures now reaching 42 degrees. I can feel the heat radiating from the road, the Km’s are getting longer and longer. But the coke has helped and I battle on. I know once I get to Banyoles its just 20Km home. As we cyclists do, I set myself little targets. Next stop Banyoles, stay in the big ring on this climb. These little achievements keep us going, even after 6 hours in the saddle. As I turn for home the wind hits me head on. “Lovely”. I get aero and get on with it. I am home in no time and making a recovery smoothie.

Stats for the day: 174Km, 6:09 hrs, 2900m


  • Darren Gatehouse says:

    Nice write up, but you didn’t do the brutality of Collfred justice! If you’re having a bad day, you’ll know it immediately. The combination of the rough surface, incessant ramps and fairly benign average gradient over the total climb; oh boy it’s fantastic! But maybe that’s your method, lull others into thinking, ‘oh it doesn’t sound so bad, I’ll give it a try’. Well done.
    Maybe they’ll underestimate it like I did the first time. They will be back, we all return.

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