As a bloke approaching my 40's, the thought of not having had a proper day in the mountains on a bike was hitting me hard.
The 20th anniversary of my first race had gone and past a few weeks ago, it had been a 2-up time trial with my first and current club Fenland Clarion.
So the chance of a day's guided riding and coaching with Girona based Bikecat, whilst on holiday, was too good a birthday treat to miss!!
Bikecat is a travel and touring firm with a difference. Being based in Girona the company has taken the innovative step of lashing out for old Team Garmin Felt and Cervelo bikes and then renting them to people as their ride.
Tim Duggan, now of Liquigas, had the dubious honour of me riding his 2010 issue Felt with dura-ace and all the hi tech stuff you would expect from a bike that had seen action in the professional peloton.
I had sent my measurements and gearing requirements in advance so when I met company co-owner Jaume the machine was ready to ride. A nice touch was the filled bottles and energy gels he handed me before we clipped in the pedals and rode off.
Here is a link to my data from the day. you can see that we enjoyed a steadyish start before hitting some proper mountains.
One of the interesting points Jaume made is that a lot of people head to the high Pyrenees or Alps for their first mountain experience which could put them off as there is a lot of suffering to be endured.
The mountains we rode saw about 45 mins of climbing over 11km and 6km ascents. So a much more balanced introduction to the art of getting up hills.
"You know that feeling when you put your finger in the fire and it burns? climbing is like that but all over your body" - Robert Millar at the 1989 Tour of Britain.
The first 'proper' climb came after a 12% hill that didnt count !!! it was a road used by the likes of Michael Barry, George Hincapie and Bradley Wiggins. In fact locally, I believe, it is known as Hincapie Hill. The road was marked with countdowns "GPM (King of the Mountains Point) 6km" and surprisingly on this climb it acted as motivation.
The pros get up on the big ring, I got one hairpin up just to say I could do it.
I felt ok to be honest, it never felt like I wasn't going to get to the top and as we stopped for an apple and to take in the view back to the Costa Brava's rocky coastline I felt an ambition I had harboured since being a boy was coming to fruition.
As we rocketed down the descent the Garmin team bike handled absolutely flawlessly. Which was handy as a bloke in full Sky kit and helmet zoomed past with a top Garmin professionals wife following closely.
We rode back towards Girona and chatted before they peeled off and the main event of the day came into focus.
The Alto des Els Angels has been an obsession for me since I drove up it in 2009 and saw the names of great cycling champions written on the road. I rode it in 2010 from the steeper Monells side and you may remember my blog at the time saying how I had zigzagged up the steepest bits barely able to keep forward motion.
Whether it was deliberate or not Jaume had kept the white weather station at the top in our line of vision for about 10 miles as we approached. The stories of the local professionals riding up it are legend and most use it as a barometer of form.
I tugged the water out of my second bottle and shoved one of the gels down before we settled in for the 11km ascent from the Girona side.
And then the inevitable happened and the bloke whose main training ride starts at -1 metre below sea level on the edge of the fens, blew up big time!!
Thankfully I was coached all the way up the mountain with a mixture of encouragement and conversation to take my mind of the jelly feeling in my legs.
There was a couple of points I thought about stopping for a break but I had an obsession with getting up and not failing. As I got out of the final bend after what felt like three hours of going uphill I felt amazing.
The view back over to the city was brilliant and we came down the steep side with great care before I got to see the first bit of flat road of the day... I felt obliged to pull on the front only for us to peel off the main road and hit a final, brutal half mile climb... ouch!
The lunch and first can of coke back at the cars didn't touch the side and when I met up with the family I couldnt wait to tell them about my ride in extreme detail.
I have now ridden in this area twice and can't wait to make it a third time. There is nothing bad about the roads around Girona, I even found the other motorists showed you courtesy!
Riding with Bikecat is a brilliant way to do it as you can add the glamour of riding a former pro-cyclists bike which adds to the special feelings.
Jaume knows the area like the back of his hand and will go into every detail to ensure you get the most out of your ride. The only thing he didnt do for me was pedal the bike
So if you are interested in a trip to somewhere Ryanair fly to but where they wont have to handle your bike, this is the trip for you my friends!
One of the best days I have had on a bike, amazing!