Canadian Cyclist


March 14/04 12:42 pm - Diary from Spain

Posted by Editoress on 03/14/04

Travails from Spain

This is part three of Giana Roberge's journal from Spain. To check all of them out go to: under the training journal section.

The real reason why people ride their bikes

I always glamorized traveling to Spain. It was one of those things you talked about with your friends while sipping a venti skim half decaf dry cappuccino at Starbucks. "Oh, I am departing for Spain in a few days, I just don't know what to bring"

Well, right now, traveling to Europe, this part in particular, is more scary than glamorous. There are currently 11 million people protesting in the streets of Madrid, and tension is high. I assume we are isolated here in the mountains high above the ocean in our cyclist's dream retreat, however, you can see the strain of concern on the faces of the staff. I know thier thoughts are not on what athlete need a massage, or whose bike needs to be washed, or what special dinner needs to be prepared, but rather if their loved ones are safe and what the future holds for their children. The election is today, and it is everyone's hope that the tension will subside. Interestingly though, the Europeans here have told me that they are accustomed to the violence. He told me that the Europeans have a "Oklahoma City every few months or so.....It is upsetting but expected."

Enough politics. After a substantial breakfast, including eggs cooked however you would like, crepes, fruit, possibly the best muesli in the world (the Swiss know how to make it like no one else) and of course potatoes, meat and even pasta, everyone disappeared to pull on their kit for the group rides. On their way they visited the lunch bar and made themselves lunch which would go into their bags and then into the follow vehicle for the lunch stop. I make honey and bananas on fresh baked bread! Oh my goodness, it is so good. I try to stay away from all the yummy biscuits offered, but I figure by the end of this 800 kilometer week, I may be reaching for some of the kind covered in chocolate.

Out at the front of the hotel, there is a railing that has five bends in it and encircles the flowering plants in the middle. Beginning at 9 AM bikes are hung on the rails and last minute preparations are made to lunch bags, bottles and clothing. This resort has thought of virtually everything. Out front there are work stands, tools and pumps for anyone to use " doubles of everything. There is lube and cleaning supplies too. Huge vats of sport drink are available for you to fill your bottles, nearly everything has been thought of.

The rides leave at five minute increments and it is up to the athlete to pick which ride they wish to go on. The slower groups are less organized in terms of pace-lines, and go more at a touring pace " enjoying the scenery and stopping to smell the flowers and enjoy the coffee. The medium to faster groups pace-line and definitely ride to train. No stopping to smell anything"

On tap for a partly cloudy Sunday was 118 kilometers, or about 70 miles. After only two days of riding here, one thing I am certain of is that there are no flat rides. You either go up or down, but never flat. This is not nearly as bad as it sounds. It is in fact quite fun. The climbs are all graded, making them manageable because one rarely has to get out of their saddle to get up them. Plus, every Felt rental bike comes equipped with a triple, giving a myriad of gearing choices.

The 38 EuroCycler clients met me and Richard Debrot (owner of the company) outside for a meeting. Our job was to assist them in selecting the "correct" group. This is not an easy job. Many who could average 20 mph at home in WI in June were not going to managing that here in March. We had to help people find the right amount of challenge but where they could still enjoy themselves and come home and want to go out tomorrow.

The mechanics had done a professional job of getting everyone's rental bikes set up. Some people wanted road bikes with flat bars, some wanted mountain bikes with slick tires. I am sure the mechanics were spinning wrenches late, and did not get to bed until well after the disco turned down their lights. I believe they have nearly every one of their 300 rentals out this week, which means a lot of work for the mechanics all week.

I was excited to head out for a ride. After being cooped up yesterday I wanted to check myself and see how I had recovered from Friday's ride. I am just taking it day by day. I told myself that if I started out and was suffering I would just leave the group.

I wanted to ride with four of our customers from the East coast. I have breakfast and dinner with them and they are a lot of fun. They are more triathletes than cyclists, but I won't hold that against them J No, really, they are so excited to be here. I hope they like the group ride" they have done many cycling tours so they have a lot to compare us to " which is good and bad, I guess.

The morning held something else in store for me. The group size for the bunch that would average 10-12 mph was substantially larger than was initially accounted for. I was pulled from the speed group of 18-20 average and called upon to lead the slower group. As we left the hotel and hit the first climb, I realized that this would be a day where I would be challenged to ride slow. I had been given strict instructions to stay 50 meters behind the group in front of me, but they were easily averaging at least 2 mph faster than my group. Soon there were only five with me" and I panicked a bit not having looked at this route.

As a faster group came by, I chatted with the leader, "Just follow the orange arrows, very easy." Ok. How hard could that be? My followers were oblivious to everything but the sun, wind and gorgeous snow capped Pyrenees in the distance. I was focused on the road in front of me. For those of you getting the metaphor I am laying out, you can skip ahead. Everyone else should keep reading because there is a lesson in life here.

Feeling very responsible to meet the lunch vehicle on time, I shepherded my small flock, keeping them on pace. Although it was almost painfully slow for me, they were challenged by the climbs, the speed and the wind. This was their first ride outside since last fall and but you would not know it. They tried their best to keep the pace I was demanding of them. Heartily smiling at me as I rode by them giving them help with gearing and teaching how to sit on the wheel in front of them, nothing phased them.

It was not until I saw a sign indicating that we were on the outskirts of Gerona that my heart did a double flip. I knew immediately we were way, way off course. Stopping by the side of the road, a look at the map confirmed my fears. Oh God, what had I done? I had followed the orange arrows but somehow we were no where close to where we were meant to be.

The group took it well. Chris tentatively asked about how far we were from the lunch vehicle. About 20 kilometers. And how far from home? About 40 kilometers. They kept smiling, assuring me they were having a great time. They just needed a pee break and some food and we would be set.

A quick stop at the gas station took care of both needs, and the decision was made by the entire group to forego trying to catch the lunch vehicle and head back to Tossa de Mar for lunch. That meant going back up the 7 kilometer climb we had come down. They were all up for it and continued to make sure they comforted me. "We are having a terrific time " we came to Spain to ride our bikes, and that is what we are doing!" Never mind no one knew where we were, or that I was adding at least 10 miles on to the trip, and not even providing them with food or drink. It was then I realized how far I had gotten away from riding my bike. I train, I don't ride. This group of five and I were not so different not long ago. I used to ride my bike for the view, for the flowers, the smells, the sun on my face. Now I ride for the wattage, the speed, the hours. Numbers versus things that touch the senses.

They faced the climb gamely and I saw the athlete in each one of them. They were defending their own yellow jersey as the struggled up the climb. Most had never done a climb like that, and not on an empty stomach after being lead the wrong way. Not one complaint, and nothing but delighted smiles on every face when they reached the top. They had succeeded " and there was a memory they would never forget.

From there it was all down hill to Tossa " where lunch at a lovely café by the beach awaited them. I headed back up the mountain to meet Richard and let him know we were not carnage on the roadside.

I will never forget today. I will never forget the site of a 70 year old man cresting the mountain pass, smiling at his success. Or the 60 year old woman who did the entire 50 miles on a mountain bike with slicks, keeping up with the group. Or the questioning look when I gave each rider a GU and instructed them to rip off the top and suck down the chocolate. "What is this?" they asked. "It is chocolate rocket-fuel," I replied. "This is delicious," exclaimed Monique. "Thank you so much for looking after us and teaching us," she said as she began the descent. I did not have the chance to tell her, I was the student today, instructed by the wiser, older generation, how to stop and smell the flowers. This is why we ride our bikes.


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