Ever seen pictures of riders from different teams training together? Cycling teams consists of some 25+ riders, depending on their UCI-status. Teammates can go months without seeing each other, as rosters at races usually have a limitation of the number of riders allowed to compete. This does not mean riders are all alone, they tend to gather in enclaves around Europe. Some in the south of France, some around lake Como and others in Girona, Spain. Girona has many American riders, ever since Johnny Weltz, former USPS team director set up in Girona in 1996, Hincapie, Hamilton and Vande Velde followed soon after, many have followed in their footsteps. Brent Bookwalter and Peter Stetina to mention a few.
In his book Le Métier, Canadian Michael Barry, who also resides in Girona, says that 'foreign professional cyclists who were attracted to the town for its proximity to the mountains, the Mediterranean climate, and the swelling pool of training partners.' Many riders emphasize two of these points, climate and training partners. Jonathan Vaughters and his Slipstream organization is also based in Girona. Take a second to imagine what it was like back in the beginning of the millennium, where Hincapie met up with Armstrong, Landis (Phonak), Hamilton (CSC) and Vande Velde (Liberty Seguros) for a ride. All good mates back then.
|A couple of good friends at a Girona café - socializing.|
Photo by @robhayles1, found here.
Being pro is hard work and securing a contract is demanding, both physically and mentally. Some may find it hard to move to a foreign country in early age, some don't even speak the local language. Moving to a place where other riders are makes the transition a lot easier. Back in the day, there were not many enclaves. Team Sky DS Kurt Asle Arvesen left for Italy without speaking Italian in an Italian team as the only non-Italian rider. He described the first years as very tough and emphasized the difficulties in adapting to a new culture without speaking the language properly. But humans are adaptive, as Darwin described us and Arvesen managed alright in the end.
Climate and riding
Girona is located on the northeast tip of the Iberian island, close to the French border and naturally the Pyrenees. As a small Catalan city of 100 000 or so inhabitants, cyclists do stand out in a crowd. However, the Catalans are private people and do seldom approach riders for autographs. To call the city Spanish is almost an insult to the locals. Its identity is as Catalan as it gets, which is reflected in culture, art and food.
The temperature in Girona is very nice, at least from my perspective living where I do. In winter time it drops to -5 degrees centigrades (23 F), not frightening at all. Many rides north and east of the city towards the sea as that area is relatively flat. Straight north and west of Girona the landscape is more demanding, recently Peter Stetina said in an interveiw with Peloton magazine that the climb Rocacorba is one of the highlights in the area, it is located just north of Girona.
One handy aspect with small towns is that it doesn't take long to escape urbanity and enter the quiet countryside. Passing through the outskirts of Girona and to the farmland surrounding the city will take you back in time. Small castles, churches and even a few aqueducts will be spotted. If you decide to take a trip down there, be careful. You can ride for hours without seeing cars but the roads are very narrow and the quality of the roads varies as well as the presence of pattern.
Girona is the home to many pros, especially those from the US. The climate is tempting along with the possibility to find training partners who they also socialise with on their spare time. If in doubt regarding where to go for a ride, ask a pro. I'm sure you'll find some of them in a decent café around lunchtime.