Road Bliss: Cycling in Girona, Spain 

The world's top riders live and train in this historic town surrounded by well-paved roads

click to flip through (2) PHOTO BY HARRY ZERNICKE - Spanish Spin. Riding in Girona, Spain.
  • Photo by Harry Zernicke
  • Spanish Spin. Riding in Girona, Spain.

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After a healthy helping of gelato, we made our way to a café where Dede met her husband before he headed out on his training ride. I listened to his wheels clickety-clack over the cobblestones and wondered how his body could withstand the daily punishment. Six hours on a bike sounded like an awful long time.

That afternoon, my sister loaned me her bike jersey and my husband filled my water bottle and checked my bike before we pedalled up and over Montjuich into the fertile farmland of Girona, where four rivers meet. My sister looked back every so often to make sure I was still there. We wound through fields of golden hay until we reached a stone village. The passageways were so narrow and indistinct that I thought we would have to turn back, but my sister dodged and weaved in slow motion through a narrow passageway onto another road. She turned and grinned. "That's not a route anyone would find without the help of local riders."

"No." I agreed enthusiastically. We had seen one car so far, and a tractor, had cycled 20 kilometres and I felt pretty good. Still, we were a ways from home and not turning around yet. Just when I thought the scenery could not get more beautiful we turned onto a long stretch of road lined with fields of sunflowers, and in the distance the village of Madremanya rose up, made up of light-brown stone dating back to the time of the Romans. In March, the Tour of Catalonia took this exact route. I could feel my bike carry me forward like a spirited thoroughbred, almost floating. I pumped my legs harder, felt my lungs burn a little and wondered how fast I could go. Is this the feeling? Are they all so gaga over road biking because of a sense of oneness with the bike? Being in the zone where nothing else matters? Cleaning the mental slate? I don't know. But it felt wonderful to almost fly using my own strength. The sense of freedom was exhilarating.

When we arrived back at the house, my sister announced that we had ridden 48km. Wow. My legs felt heavy and ready for a massage. My sister seemed less impressed and I realized that for people who ride regularly, 48km was just a drop in the bucket; 120km was a big day.

The next day my husband and I headed out to climb the highest peak of the city, Sant Miquel, at an altitude of 394 metres. At the bottom of the winding road, a sign pictured a car staying 1.5 metres away from a cyclist while passing. Another sign said the summit was 6km away. I wondered if I would have to get off and walk. I switched into granny gear and mentally went into diesel mode. Slow and steady. Just when I thought I might have to stop, the incline eased off. In half an hour, we stood inside the small Sant Miquel church on top of the mountain. Then we descended. For 11 km, we traversed and went down, sharing the road with just a few cars. My fingers ached from gripping the breaks. I stood up to rest my back. All the while the wind rushed passed my ears, watering my eyes and making me grin. Fast. Free. Just me. Fields, mountains and little villages as far as the eye could see.

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