Have you ever dreamt of quitting your job, selling/storing your possessions, packing your bags and moving to Girona in Spain to do not much but ride your bike? Good friend of Attaquer, Tristan Cardew did just that and whilst this is not his typical week of riding he decided to push himself over 6 days to see what his legs were capable of.
Like all good stories, this one started with a plan, and like all good plans, there was a large element of crossing my fingers, hoping for the best. On second thought, let’s not call this a plan, or a story; let’s just simply say an idea came to me one Monday.
I’d been sitting on an average of 650km per week for the previous month, so how about a really solid week of riding? Back home 500km was considered a sizeable week, so how about I double that? And back home 5000m of vert in a week is about standard, so why not triple it? Gradually the fuzzy edges of an idea began to come into focus.
One small issue though; by this point it was already Monday night, meaning my week had just been reduced to 6 days. Better get started first thing then.
Day One: Easing into the week
Day one was a classic example of how you ease into a week of riding in Girona; 127kms with just shy of 2000 meters climbing.
I’d just unpacked and put on a fresh new kit from the guys at Attaquer, downed a couple of coffees and notified Luke (head barista at Espresso Mafia) of my intention to ride a 1000km week. He wished me luck and told me I better stop sitting around at the café and get started. So out of town I head and on to my first destination: Sant Hilari.
If there’s a climb i’d recommend everybody do in the Girona region, it’s that of category 1 Santa Coloma to Sant Hilari. It winds its way up 19.1kms at a little over 3% and is really quiet; I think I got passed by a total of one car in 50 minutes of climbing. So up and over I went, down half of the 24km descent to Osor, a left turn, a quick climb (4kms at 7% is quick around these parts) and another descent, a photo stop at the dam followed by more descending and an extended loop home. Day one was ticked off.
Day Two: Dos hundred kms and dos beer stops
Day two came about as a result of the aforementioned conversation with Luke the previous morning. “Oh, you’re doing 1000kms this week? Chris (Williams, Australian from the Novo Nordisk Professional Cycling Team) and I are going out for a 200k’er tomorrow, come with us”. Perfect.
So Wednesday morning we rolled out in the opposite direction to the day before, this time heading north-east towards the French border. We stuck to the farm roads and passed village after village, Chris and Luke on the front, and me left to my own devices while I took in the scenery. After the previous day of pushing into the wind by myself, there was something pleasant about sitting on and watching the world go by at 40kms an hour and around 150 watts. Eventually we reached the first climb of the day - 5kms at 5%. Up and over and we were 90k’s in and at the seaside town of Cadaques.
A couple of lunchtime beers and a few photos snapped and it was time to roll out. Back up the hill we’d just come into town on, then down a 6km descent to the even more picturesque and less-visited Port de la Selva for a quick trip to the supermarket to gather snacks - donuts and Aquarius (the Spanish equivalent of Gatorade) were on the menu. We then got climbing again, this time it was the category 2 St. Pere de Rodes: 7.7km at 7% with plenty of 16% pinches along the way. Usually pinches of this grade would be tough, especially 100kms in and in full sun, but as we climbed and looked around, the view of the bay had me forgetting about my burning legs.
Over the top and back down, Chris showing what years in the pro-peloton does for your descending ability. We reached Vilajuiga and ran into a 35kph crosswind - nevermind, we were turning right soon, right? Nope. Not for another 40k’s. We pressed on and after a long period of feeling relatively parched and on seemingly never ending rolling terrain, we reached Lake Banyoles. Collectively deciding a proper food stop was in order, we’d now covered 170k’s and the temperature was creeping in to the mid-30’s. Pan con tomate and agua’s all round.
Back on the road and we had one final, 30km roll on familiar roads back to Girona. We pulled up at a cafe in the central square and ordered a round of beers: 203kms, 2500 meters climbed, and just under 7 hours. Day two, tick.
Day three: That bit about zero plans…
Day three started with the usual pre-ride coffee, and it wasn’t until that moment that I started to plan the day’s route. The variety of riding in Girona is both amazing and daunting.
I was at 330kms for the week and wanted to be at 500 by day’s end (the halfway mark) so over my con leche (‘with milk’) I set a rough course for Olot. Olot is a town they refer to as at ‘the base of the Pyrenees’. Olot sits at around 500 meters elevation, 50 kilometres north-west of Girona and is the last major town before you get to the ‘big’ mountains. I decided I’d add in my favourite climb on the way there, the Col du Condreu (10k’s at an incredibly consistent 5% on a buttery smooth bitumen), then keep going up to the lookout at El Far (another 5k’s on rolling roads) which would extend the ride to Olot by about 60kms.
Out to El Far, a quick photo, the beautiful descent of the Condreu and a servo-stop at Olot, then a different route home via Banyoles and back to Girona. 160kms, 2700m elevation in 5.5 hours.
My legs were exhausted but my mind motivated. It was amazing to watch the way my body adapted to the distances I was riding, 500kms in three days with another 500 in three days to go. I was starting to think I could actually do this.
Day four: About that “I could actually do this”
It was bound to happen at some point, fatigue! The accumulation of adrenaline, excitement, watts and solo kilometres had kicked in, and hard. If I was at home and living the ‘normal’ life, the boss would’ve been getting a call today. Can you have a sick day in Girona though?
As tired as I was, I wasn’t going to let a little fatigue get the better of me. I got out of bed, got caffeinated, kitted up and made my way out the front door.
I rolled to Sant Hilari in the opposite direction to Tuesday’s ride, this time taking the longer and flatter climb (23.7kms at 3%). The more I turned the pedals, the better I felt. Where I’d usually go straight, I went left, turning this 100km loop in to 130. I had just the route in mind.
The brain does some strange things when it’s tired, earlier in the day I could barely drag myself out of bed but it was now, at 8pm and 110k’s into a ride telling me that a full-gas, 7 minute effort was in order. The climb to do it on was the cat-4 Les Serres, 3kms at 5%. 376 watts (6.02w/kg) for 6 minutes and 30 seconds and I crested the top, sitting 14th overall (out of 3700 riders) on Strava, only a handful of seconds behind professionals Mike Woods, James Knox and Chad Haga.
And with that I rolled back in to Girona, done for another day. 130kms and 1500 meters climbed. Fatigue? What fatigue?
Day five: Saturday… and you know what that means?
Back home, long rides are usually reserved for the weekends. A Saturday morning bunch ride to Akuna Bay, or a ride-race-ride scenario ending with 100 plus kms. In Girona though, this is less of a tradition. There are no weekends in Girona; every day is for riding!
When I woke up feeling reasonable, or as reasonable as you’d expect after 630kms in 4 days, I decided I’d uphold the Sydney ritual and go long. Where to? There was a little hill I had in mind, the famed Mare de Deu del Mont.
So began the journey out to the climb, a 40km false flat with the berg looming on the horizon, before the road narrows and a couple of decisive yet vaguely marked turns point you up the hill.
Then it begins: steep pinch after steep pinch, often 16%, some 22% and one hairpin which reaches 30% to really sink the knife in. After a hard 30 minutes of climbing I felt myself starting to bonk, after 40 minutes and I was really feeling the effects of the previous days on my legs. “Just get to the top” was all I could tell myself. I’ve never walked my bike, but when I was crawling along in the 36/28, too tired to take off my sweat-smeared sunglasses, I was pretty bloody close. Somehow though, after 50 minutes of swearing and sweating, I rounded the last turn and was there.
The view, plus the Coke on the patio of the mountaintop café made it all worthwhile. I sat there, looked back towards Girona, took it all in and then rolled back out. If there’s one thing a cyclist knows, it’s the feeling of riding up a steep hill only to ride back down. Pointless, yet oh so rewarding.
I headed back via Banyoles and enjoyed the gradual downhill, but as I’d only completed 100kms of my planned 200 for the day, I knew i’d most likely come across another hill before the day was out. Which hill would I ride? I pointed my bike in a southeasterly direction and continued pedalling.
Remember how I said the mind does strange things when it’s tired? It was doing it again. “Efforts up Santa Pellaia?” it requested. So there I was, just like the previous day, hungry, tired, 6 hours and 175kms into the day’s ride and still 25k’s from home and I and went for it.
The cat-3 Santa Pellaia is a 5.8kms long climb averaging 4%. 350 watts (5.6w/kg) and I ended up 14th out of 9200 riders for the 12 minutes and 17 seconds it took me. Same time as Cannondale’s Brendan Canty, and a few seconds shy of Lawson Craddock, David de la Cruz and Tom Danielson. Not too bad I thought to myself, I might even be riding myself in to some form.
I’d done 199kms for the day with over 3000 meters of climbing. Not quite 200 but I didn't care, dinner and bed was all I wanted.
Day 6: Part 1. The final push - and Nick pushing it too far
Day six, the final test. 180kms to finish off the week, but how should I complete it? I decided to head out with Nick Frendo from Sommet Cycling as he’d promised to show me a little Girona secret.
We rolled out on familiar roads, and then took an unfamiliar turn. “Not many people know of this route” he told me as we climbed, descended and climbed some more. We came to a slight clearing and a view I didn’t recognise. I’d been in Girona for 8 weeks, ridden over 5000kms on what I thought was every road in the area, and was looking at a view that was as foreign to me as the first day I arrived.
“So the road turns to gravel after this turn, it’s not too gnarly though so don’t worry” he said as he let off the brakes and took a sharp left. He was right, the road did turn to gravel. Not gnarly though? I swore we’d just rode on to a mountain bike track. It would’ve been though on CX bikes let alone our 25c slicks.
Not 30 seconds later as the track straightened out, I see Nick off in the distance suddenly reduce to a cloud of dust. Shit, he’d gone down. Grabbed the brakes too hard as he crested a water-bar, and crashed pretty hard. I skidded to a stop and saw that all-too-familiar lump in his collarbone.
“Mate, you’d probably best lie down for a minute”. I didn’t want to break the news too soon. Eventually the shock subsided and Nick got back on his feet. “Your shoulder has a serious lump in it, you’ll probably need some time off the bike” I offered tentatively. “Oh yeah, don’t worry, it’s always like that. I broke it years ago and it never healed properly”. I was skeptical, but he reassured me the sickening bone protrusion was nothing to fear.
We slowly made our way along the rest of the fire road and eventually reached the town of Amer. Nick phoned our Catalan flat mate and she organised a taxi to come pick him up while I convinced the gentleman inside that apparently his shoulder does always look like that. Shaken and with some seriously bloodied fingers, it was best he didn’t ride the 30kms home.
So what was I going to do? My riding buddy had come unstuck and needed the afternoon off but I still had 150kms to ride to complete the week. I’d been going reasonably well uphill the past couple of days; why not really finish myself off with efforts to see what I was capable of? I was in the perfect place for it…
For anyone who’s ridden in Girona, or knows any of the training grounds the professionals here train on, you will most likely have heard of Sant Marti Sacalm. It’s a dead-end road with a small cafe and a farmer’s house at the top. 8km long at a super consistent 7%. The surface is buttery smooth and it’s ideal for 20 minute efforts.
So that’s what I’ll do then: multiple efforts. First at 305 watts (4.85w/kg), reasonable but nothing crazy. The heart rate stayed low. The second was tougher at an average of 325 watts (5.2w/kg) by the end of the 20 minutes. Still feeling good so the third I pushed myself, sweat and saliva flying. I was in and out of the saddle trying to eek out as many watts as possible. I hit the 20 minute mark and was at 344 watts (5.5w/kg), not professional numbers, but good enough for a new personal record.
I hadn’t quite reached the top of the official segment though, and at this pace I couldn’t ease off now. Another 4 minutes of grunting and sweating and I hit the line, 24:01, 344 watts average, 24th on Strava, within a minute of Greg Henderson and Daryl Impey, I was happy with that!
A quick check of the time and I decided i’d head home for a break. 120k’s could be followed up with a final 60km spin to complete the week. I put my feet up, watched the last 10kms of the days Tour de France stage and then headed back out…
Day 6: Part two. A damp and sunny solo roll.
You know that feeling of disappointment when you’re kitted up, step out the front door to ride, and you feel a couple of drops of rain on you? After an eventful week and an even more eventful morning, I knew this day, and this challenge wouldn't go down without a fight.
Regardless of the poor weather I decided I’d head out to one of my favourite little climbs from Montcal to Adri (2.7k’s at 5%). Up and over in spitting rain, the sky began to darken and the rain began to dump. Big, proper raindrops, the kind that soak you and everything you’re wearing immediately. The road was awash and I could barely see, but still I pushed on. With 30k’s left to go I wasn’t going home. I reached the top of the next little rise and there I watched as the clouds parted just enough to see the peak of la Barroca, a unique and imposing rock formation on the side of a nearby mountain.
I pushed on and the rain eased, clouds gave way to blue skies and sun. As I ascended my final climb of the week, Mas Lunes (2.7k’s at 3%), I stopped and looked around. In the middle of a dead silent climb, just 10km outside Girona and 990km into a 1000km week, you couldn’t wipe the smile off my face.This is certainly a week to remember. A quick riding selfie and off I went home.
The biggest week i’d done on the bike; 6 days, 7 rides, 1003km ridden, 770km of that solo, 15,800 meters climbed, 35 hours in the saddle, and all at an average speed of 28.6kph.