Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Recovery Day!

Today was absolutely beeeeeeeeautiful. Sunny, warm and with minimal wind. Perfect for an easy spin around Girona. The pace was decidedly conversational, and there were (gasp!) no hills! Darco and I wanted to have a bit of time to walk around the city, so we went out for about an hour and a half, while the rest of the group stayed out for another hour. On the way back I played in a field:
Now this is recovery.

When we got back, we waited for the others to return by playing too cool for school at one of the local cafes:


We took a long walk around the medieval-era wall that partially surrounds Girona, and had lunch at a creperie that hid liquor in the walls! Schweet!
That night we went for our last group dinner (so sad!) at Hostal de la Granota. "Granota" means frog, and the restaurant is known for its frog legs. I don't think anyone ordered them this time, but I tried them last year. Being a somewhat-vegetarian, they didn't ring my bells. Don't taste nuthin like chicken. It was a relatively quiet dinner- people reflecting on the trip and on the epic ride we had in store for us the next day. Jaume, Bernat and Debbie gave us some wonderful souvenirs describing some legends and traditions of Girona. Argh, I'm already missing this place and I haven't even left yet!

Jaume, Debbie, Desmond and Nonnie

And because this is a short post, I'll now give up the awards for the trip! Drumroll!!!!

I'm going to start with the two guys that impressed me the most: Rich and Jack.

Most Improved: Rich Towbin

Rich has improved so much since last year he's barely recognizable as the same rider. Last year he was at the back of all the climbs and often struggled with the distances. This year he was comfortably in the middle of the pack on the hills, and easily finished every ride. He was strong in the flats and confident on the descents, in short he was a whole new man! Kudos, Rich!

Most Powerful Motor: Jack Roddy

Jack was the oldest of us, and an asthmatic so he had a tough time on some of the hills. But this man has the steadiest motor I've ever seen. He just kept chugging his way up those climbs, at his own pace until he got to the top. He never gave up and he never got ahead of himself, and he made it to the top of every hill, usually wheezing the whole way. And when he got to the top, damned if he didn't hammer away from everyone! My man Jack has got some serious power in the flats. Plus, as you can see, he can rock sport goggles with panache!

Most Inspiring/Enthusiastic: Nonnie Howard

Nonnie probably expects the sprinter's jersey, but she got it last year. And really I think this suits her role on the trip even better. Nonnie quite simply loves to ride. And she shows it. Even when we're dragging ass up a 15k climb, she's got a smile on her face and nary a thought of getting in the van. Every morning she was raring to go, excited to ride. Riding with Nonnie gives me the warm fuzzies and simultaneously makes me feel like a wussy. We were together on most of the climbs, and her attitude did so much to help me up those hills. Inspiring!

And now for jerseys...
White Jersey: Me

Well, I may have gotten this last year, but as the only rider in their 20s I'm the only one that really can. Also, I don't know what else I could give myself.

Green Jersey: Darco Lalevic

Even though Darco got his bum kicked by a some Spaniard or other on most of the sprints, this is the obvious choice for him. Ain't no jersey for descending. The man lives for sprinting, and he's pretty good at here you go! :P

Polka Dot Jersey: Desmond Slattery

Another obvious choice. At 5'10"ish and 130lbs, Desmond was the only one of us that was built remotely like a climber. So it was no suprise that he kicked everyone's ass on the hills. There's not actually that much I can say about his climbing, because I was never close enough to see it. But our guest Spaniards, Miguel and David, were impressed by his ability and that's more than good enough for me!

And now...
Yellow Jersey: Mike Hessol

Mike was definitely the strongest all-around rider. He was the only one who could keep Desmond's wheel on the climbs and he hammered every flat. The latter was actually a bit annoying as we usually tried to stay together on the flats, especially when it was windy. But there's no arguing with Mike's strength...he could gogogogo all day and he was the only one of us who rode with the aggression needed to win a yellow jersey!

That's all for today...tomorrow, the Queen Stage!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Hello all! Sorry for the delay in posting...the site we use for updates was having issues. Or perhaps I was having issues. Anyways, I am actually home in Philly now, but I promise these updates were in fact written on the days they describe!
Without further ado, I give you:

Day Three, Part Two

For dinner last night we were installed in a private dining room, which of course makes everyone in the party feel super fancy. It really had this vibe of 19th century Paris, especially with the chandeliers on the walls, the procession of dainty, well-presented food and the army of attentive waiters. I expect the conversation was easily bawdy enough to have passed in some of the less reputable salons...
Suffice it to say that the subject of chamois cream, an necessity for a trip like this, came up and stayed up. Given the body parts serviced by chamois cream, it was a ready gateway to more lurid topics. This was endlessly amusing in the tipsy atmosphere of the room. Really, the best part was the conversational crossings...everyone was speaking over each other, and mostly in euphemisms. This had the effect of no one knowing exactly what anyone else was talking about (or trying not to know), except that it was not, shall we say, polite dinner convo. *Break here for an inside joke, as per the diners' request that it be recorded for posterity- Available soon: Desmond's Patented Homemade Nunu Cream, soon available direct from his bathtub to stores near you! Nonnie tested, and doctor approved.

So there's that.

Day Four

Woke this morning, as every morning, to the sound of the cathedral bells. It is a very Old World sound and not at all unpleasant as a wake up call. It always reminds me of the Poe poem...y'know, the one about bells?

Hear the tolling of the bells-Iron Bells!
What a world of solemn thought their
monody compels!

My alarm clock.

Anyway. Today we were joined by two of Jaume's racing friends Miguel (climber extrordinaire) and David (not sure exactly what David specializes in...just know he's very strong. after riding to our hotel to meet us, his heart rate was 38. thirty. eight.). Miguel was actually with us for the last two days, helping to put the hurt into Mike and Desmond, who otherwise would be having much too easy a time.

The ride was a 100km jaunt out to the coast and back, with three climbs. The first was Els Angels. This climb, just outside Girona, is apparently the one Lance Armstrong used to test himself...he tried to get up it in 17 min. I don't have a cyclometer, so I don't know exactly how long it took us. I'm going to go with...longer. At the top of the climb is the beautiful Els Angels sanctuary, which, factoftheday, is where Salvador Dali wed his one true love Gala in 1958. There's nothing like clomping around a silent church in bike shoes and spandex to make you feel like an irreverant boob. The descent was fun and fast- DarcoDescender was sitting on the ground halfway through a powerbar by the time the rest of us rolled up.

Darco and Nonnie atop Els Angels

Next was a big ol hammerfest (thanks Miguel and David) across the relative flats to the La Ganga climb which would get us to Calonge, our lunch spot on the coast. The crosswinds here were just murder...especially as a bunch of us are riding Ksyriums or other bladed-spoke wheels which get thrown around like tumbleweeds. It's damn scary when your front wheel just hops right out from under you in a tight paceline or fast descent.

Desmond, Jack and David on the way to Romanya

After lunch it suddenly turned freeeeeezing cold and the wind picked up even more. Fortunately for us, we were but 10k away from our next climb. Yay! This one was called Romanya, and it started out at a very manageable 5%, then kicked up to 7% for the last 2k. Nonnie, David, Miguel and Desmond sprinted it out for the top. I like to think Nonnie won, but I couldn't see. There were more sprints to come as we made our way home. For some reason they were all uphill sprints...neither Nonnie nor Darco were pleased by this, but they still gave those Spaniards a run for their money.

Nonnie was so knackered after today's ride, she couldn't bring herself to get up and go inside for about 15 minutes. Musta been all them sprints.

Tomorrow is a recovery day! I will mostly be focused on doing whatever I can to help myself survive Saturday's climbs...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Hello all! This is Ashley, Breakaway's representative here in Girona for our annual spring training camp. We are now on Day 3 of riding, so bear with me a wee bit while I catch you up...
This is me. In this picture it appears that I am waxing poetic on the wonders of BikeCat and Girona. Prepare for more of the same below.
Day One

After some snow-related airport difficulties and a very pleasant day wandering Barcelona, everyone was settled in Girona and ready to ride. That is of course, until we woke up to the sound of some impressively torrential rain hitting the cobbles outside. After some pause, we decided that we were not going to let a little rain faze us and rolled out the door. Then came the thunder! Loud, jarring and moving ever closer. We pondered this development, and decided in the interest of safety to roll down the hill to one of the many cafes in Girona and wait it out with some coffee. Not a moment too soon, as it turned out, for shortly after we arrived at the cafe it began to hail. And not the piddly wee hail we get in Philly sometimes but the larger, helmet-cracking sort. Although this weather is very unusual for Girona, it refused to let up. Jaume suggested that we go off to lunch and leave the ride for the afternoon.

Waiting for the sun...with coffee!

This is what the roads looked like on the way to lunch. Crazy!

Lunch was, characteristically for the BikeCat tours, a gastronomic delight. Several courses of local Catalan dishes, served with liberal amounts of vino tinto, made us quite forget the rain outside. By the time we left I at least was stuffed to the gills and looking towards a nap more than a ride. But this is Spain, and a training camp to boot, so of course we got in the saddle for a nice warm-up spin. By this time the weather had cleared, and so, bathed in late afternoon sun we popped out for a 30ish km ride that culminated in a good little climb and a useful descending clinic.

Day Two

The first day of real riding dawned sunny, though chilly. Today is the Coast to Tossa, a ride I remember well from last year. It starts with a smooth 30k warm-up past the medieval town of Llagostera, where we hang a right for the climb up the Tossa pass. Then follows a quick descent that quite literally deposits you on a sunny Mediterranean beach. I've never experienced a post-climb reward quite so satisfying as digging my toes into warm sand and looking out on the ocean (or sea), and that goes double when you're here across the pond!

A peaceful rest in Tossa.

Unfortunately, here is where the ride starts to get difficult. While gorgeous, roads that follow sea cliffs have an energy-devouring tendency towards UpDownUpDownUpDownUpDown. Like last year, this was a tricky portion of the ride for me...each individual climb is short, though steep, and for the first 2/3 I felt plenty strong. But, like last year, I hit a point where I was dreading the next up-turn and only able to spin my lowest gear. But the beautiful thing about this camp is that whenever you hit that point (as on these climbs I often do), you have only to remember that hey, this is SPAIN. I am in SPAIN riding my BIKE. I am not home, at work. The flippin Mediterranean is right next to me. I need to stop my mental whining and get my bum up this bloody hill!

And it helps too to have Jaume riding next to you with words of encouragement and setting a pace you can handle. Unlike the average tour, these rides feel like you're out with a good friend...who just happens to know all the great rides in Girona and rolls with a van full of anything you might need. Here I must give thanks to our indefatiguable support driver, Bernat. I can think of few things less fun than driving a van at 15 mph for 5-6 hrs a day, and yet he does it with a smile. Muuuuuuuchas gracias, Bernat!

Day Three (almost caught up!)

Last night, at another incredible dinner, methinks I enjoyed the food and vino tinto a bit too much given the difficulty of yesterday's Tossa ride. Today I woke up...a bit groggy. Not hungover, I swear...but...groggy. Fortunately, I had no trouble willing myself onto the bike (see above, re: whining) and by the time we were a few kms out of Girona, both my legs and my head felt just fine. Probably this is a mental effect of being in Spain.

Today's ride took us into the Volcanos region, near the foothills of the Pyrenees. We got a view of the mountain we'll be climbing on the last day...looks cold up there at 2000+ meters. But we don't need to worry about that until Saturday.

The Volcanos ride was a manageable 115 km, featuring two long, steady climbs before lunch and rolling hills back to Girona. Although not able to hang with the strongest menfolk at the front of the climbs, my boyo Darco (a sprinter by trade, and so disinterested in pushing it on the hills) and I were able to share pacing duties with the other chica on the tour, Nonnie (another sprinter and my former teammate). It's a good group to ride with, especially as we spend most of our time in a 3-person no man's land between the Fast Climbers and the Slow Climbers.

It is truly a wonderful thing to be riding here, fast or slow. To look up from the wheel in front of you and see snow-topped mountains alternating with medieval castles and cathedrals puts you, your legs and your machine in perspective. Symbols of nature's untouchable power and humanity's incredible ability to create, both of of which will long outlive you and your riding makes you grateful to be there, to be riding, hell, to be alive (as cliche as that may be).

But before I really fall off this cliff of maudlin philosophizing and cause everyone reading this die of boredom or excessive eye-rolling, I'll happily return to my insular individuality to take a nap before dinner. My apologies for the length of this post. :)

We started the tour!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Finally, the machine is ready to roll! It took several months to have the new Campy Record. Although the brakes have not arrived yet, after placing the order 2 months ago.
I want to thank everyone at Litespeed (American Bicycle Group) and especially to Brad and Michael for the tour in the factory and the present that was awaiting at the end: This fabulous Merlin frame to be tested on the roads back in Girona.

I will be riding the bike during the tours and races this year!

It looks great!!!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Mid March, The pros have started to arrive in Girona and you can see the perfect pedaling from far away. Recognize their jerseys and ride behind...
Everything is ready! tomorrow we are leaving to Barcelona to pick up the first riders. The last few weeks have been stressing to finish up every little detail for the tours.
This year I start with more base miles than ever and expect to run the tours with more comfort.
Sunday the group will be complete and we'll arrive to Girona. next ride: Monday!
In the pictures: the climb to Santa Pellaia: Animo George !!!
Our new car is ready to support Bikecat riders!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Lorenzo and Julia during the weekend. 2 rides, 230km. The first day we went to Sant Hilari, the wind was so strong but the winding roads protected us most of the time. On Sunday the day was perfect, 25ºC in Tossa, to ride along the Costa Brava. Lots of time to talk and make new friends. Very nice to meet you Lorenzo and Julia. Ciao Ciao!

Debbie participating in the 10km loop in the Barcelona marathon

Monday, March 12, 2007

In the picture, Cherino, one of our guides for this year. This time we went to Vallter 2000, a new route for the 2007 tours. The queen stage to the Pyrenees! It is hard as it climbs 3 big hills, the last one being Vallter 2000 (over 6000 ft.) The roads are amazing and traffic almost inexistent in those valleys.

The racing season has started in Girona. The picture is from the La Bisbal race, as it passes through Madremanya.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Finally, we have sometime to update...

Many rides, many pictures to share.

First, we go back to early february when Marc and I went for a long ride. It take us north west Girona to the foot of the Mare de Déu del Mont, one of the toughest climbs in the area. That was just ther apperitive as we decided not to climb it. we'll be back later in the season.