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