The Tale of the Happy Wanderer and the Catalan National Mountain Climb Champs

By September 3, 2015 Cycling

I’m on the Eurostar about to leave Paris and nearly at the end of the day long train marathon to Ashford. I’m heading back to England to finish off my race season and then celebrate with a ride from London to Paris as a Ride Captain for Bloodwise.

August in Girona has been a taster of what it’s going to be like living the dream as a full-time cyclist there over the coming year. I’ve been focusing on training for a stage race in Ireland called the RAS, I’m excited to see if I’ve managed to make any significant improvements in my fitness over the last month. If nothing else I at least have some mean (read, ridiculous) tan lines to scare the opposition.

I am mega excited to get back to Girona and start winter training proper. The lovely Katie Colclough of ex-Specialized Lululemon/Team GB fame has offered to coach me. She’s setting up a coaching venture with her friend and old team mate Alex and I’m going to be the guinea pig. It’s such an awesome opportunity. I’m so excited – thank you Katie!

Me and Lee also held our first dinner party with Katie and Saskia and Dave from Bike Breaks. It involved last-minute shopping trips to stock up on cheese and cutlery (yep, we didn’t have enough for five!)

We also rode in the Catalunya National Mountain Climb champs. It was madness and nothing like the short sharp efforts that characterise UK hill climbs. This was a 50 km bunch race to 2000 meters. Utterly mental.

About 250-300 people rode in a massive bunch out of this cute town in the Pyrenees called Ripoll. Being one of 20 ladies I was given a 15 km head start (along with 60-odd juniors and 30-ish vets). The idea was that we would be set off just ahead of the main bunch as they rode through and be absorbed into the main peloton, but for one reason or another we were let go just ahead of an exceptionally fast moving break. Teenage boys being teenage boys the head of our bunch did not want to let them go and so our entire peloton tried to jump on, then the road narrowed, then there was a little crash, then our group had basically blown apart and a panicked chase ensued.

It was brilliant! I got into a nice little group with some more sensible vets and they rode a nice steady ‘we’re-about-to-ride-up-a-mountain-lets-not-go-too-mental-pace’. Better. My heart rate was just starting to get a bit more sensible too when the main 200-strong bunch came along just as the climb was starting proper at around 25 km to go. I was swamped by sweaty bodies, I focused on riding in a straight line, maintaining my position at first, then gradually sinking back. Lee came along mid pack and we had a chat. I couldn’t turn my head to grin, I was slightly shell-shocked by the proximity of bodies on bikes. He gradually moved forwards and I stuck to the pace I wanted to ride to the top.

It felt like the peloton took a good 10 mins to pass, then I was at the back with the stragglers, then freeeee! And really out of breath. It was suddenly very steep and very far to the top.

There’s no glossing over the fact that the 20 km climb was a slog. I grinned once. We rounded a corner and… BOOM. A view like no other – Valter 2000 in all its glory. Imagine wisps of cloud, sunlight breaking through an overcast sky, and hairpins. It was epic.

The top!

Strava tells me the climb took me 54 mins, Roman Bardet does it in 34. Lee did it in 40-something but the organisers failed to note down his potential top-20 finish. I would say something rude in Catalan but I haven’t managed to learn any yet.

Post-Valter 2000 Climb

My lack of Catalan learning has no real excuse. I’ve read 4 books since catching the train the other way a month ago – many potential hours of Catalan learning whiled away on the sofa. Ooops! I did have one You Tube Catalan learning session. I learnt numbers (now forgotten), how to say hello at different times of the day (vague recollections) and the colours. I’m quite proud of myself on the colours front – I managed to follow a conversation between a little boy and his Dad in Catalan on the platform this morning. They were saying ‘I see an object <insert colour hear> and <insert colour here>’. The other person then has to point to the object and clap in excitement if it’s the right one. So I can now potentially play my first children’s game in Catalan. Woohoo!

Speaking of children, Lee and I found THE BEST TOY SHOP IN THE WORLD yesterday. We played in it for longer than grown-ups probably should on the premise of finding my gorgeous little nephew a present. It’s a tiny little shop rammed full of puppets, wind-up toys, clowns, games, musical instruments, jack in the boxes, hobby horses, music boxes, etc. Never has the phrase ‘I felt like a kid in a toy shop’ actually rung so true. I’m now irrationally excited to give little Ryan his pressie when I see him. We bought him a ‘Happy Wanderer’. Imagine a colourful duck-like animal made of tin sat on a tricycle. You wind him up and when you let him go he whizzes around in a giant circle, the helicopter on his head spinning into a blur and his legs pedal frantically. It’s genius! The shop has been run by the same family for 30 years. The lady who runs it now remembers playing in there as a kid and is so obviously delighted by all her toys you can’t help but leave with a massive grin on your face.

Happy Wanderer

And that pretty much sums up my new life in Girona, lots of happiness and laughter and fun. I just read a schmoozy rom com on the train to Paris and I have to say real life is way better than the predictably boring romantic happy ever after ending gifted to the characters in the book. Right now the train is speeding through the green fields of northern France, the sun is setting and I’ll see my lovely family (and my race bike) in just a couple of hours.

Freezing my face off back in England

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