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Leah Thorvilson’s guide to Girona – on and off the bike

unnamed-2Hey everyone!

It’s been almost two months since I wrote last, just as I was getting ready to head off to team camp in Benidorm. Team camp was a mixed bag of emotions for me.

I arrived feeling excited and full of promise. I knew how much work I had put in both on and off the bike to improve my areas of weakness from last season. I remember in Mallorca just over a year ago, how anxious I was every morning to even get on a bike with the other girls….nervous about how obvious my lack of experience would be, or that I might cause a wreck. I can say happily that those everyday fears are gone. My comfort level on a bike, generally speaking, has improved exponentially.

There are still areas that need work though, and I found myself sometimes feeling stupid and extremely self conscious of my mistakes. Keep in mind that of my twelve teammates, seven are current or former national champions, one a multi-discipline world champion…. so I would say feeling self conscious was probably quite normal. Still, it was emotionally a bit frustrating to realize that despite my progress, I was still so far behind. Regardless of these feelings, I couldn’t possibly be more inspired than I am by the talents and ambitions of my team. They are so positive and so motivated, which has already been seen in the early season results (only missing a podium at two races so far).

After camp I returned to Girona, which will be my home away from home for the season. I’d been told by more people than I can remember how wonderful a place Girona was to live as a cyclist, but now it was time to form my own opinion. The rumors are true! Girona is amazing. Of all the places I have traveled, this is the first place I truly feel at home. I suppose that is an unfair assessment as this is the only place overseas that I have ever really had a base to allow me to feel at home, but it’s the first place I can imagine wanting to stay permanently. I’m sure that it also helps that I speak enough Spanish to get along comfortably, so I don’t feel alienated in every day existence.

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All biases aside though, I would highly recommend Girona as a destination for anyone looking for a cycling vacation OR for someone looking to have a Euro base during the season. So what, you might ask makes it so great? First of all, the city center makes anything you might need easily accessible with no need for a car. From our apartment, we are less than a five minute walk from: a post office, three bike shops, four grocery stores (not counting all the smaller fruit and vegetable markets), the gym, and more boutiques and coffee shops than I can count. It is a picturesque town that is already buzzing with life and sound, which I can only imagine will grow to fill the cobbled roads as the weather gets nicer. While the streets in town may be crowded, it is quite easy to make your way out of town on the bike, and within a few kilometres you can be out of the chaos and headed for the hills, the coast, the mountains… take your pick! It’s just a very easy place to live and to meet people who are like-minded and eager to help newcomers find their way.

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So I’ve enticed you to come to Girona? Great! Here’s my short list of must dos, on and off the bike.

Top three on the bike:

1. Ride to the coast. It’s truly breathtaking. Plan for about 5 hours, bring a camera (make sure your phone is charged). Plenty of places to stop for coffee or lunch passing through the coastal towns, but if you don’t like to stop a lot, I would save up my stopping for taking pictures. Best option is to do this ride during the week to avoid traffic.

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2. Climb Rocacorba. Be sure you have fresh legs for this one. 13k with an average gradient of around 7% and plenty of time spent over 10%, it’s not easy…but worth it. Best to do this one on the weekend when you will find the Rocacorba Food Truck at around the 10k mark. In a place that seems like the chances of a coffee or snack salvation are less than zero, the food truck is the perfect oasis. The day I climbed it was actually really cold and they saved me with a delicious shot of espresso, but I promise I will be back when the temperatures are up to sit and take in the ambience with friends in celebration of making it to the top (yes, I recommend going up first, and hitting this on the way down)

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3. Sant Hilari. I recommend climbing the long side and descending the short side. The long side is 25k, but the gradient is probably not much over 3% for the first 10k and probably never more than 7% the whole way. Labeled as “a sprinter’s climb” by a friend I took up it for the first time, it’s enjoyable for all riders and the descent is fun (even for someone like me who doesn’t claim to be a great descender). If you want to spend ALL DAY on the bike, you can also add on from the top and head to Rupit…. worth every minute and every aching muscle….but from Girona and back, it took me almost 7 hours ride time. So plan for that plus stops.

Top three off the bike. These will be much less descriptive, as I’ve spent far more time doing cool things ON the bike…..most of my time off the bike revolves around food and rest!

1. Visit “the wall”….I’ve heard this is also a spectacular place to watch a sunset, but I haven’t actually been there at the right time yet. This is where scenes from Game of Thrones were filmed, and you can see why. Hard to believe this is 800m from my doorstep.

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2. La Bombanera. Gelateria on the square. In my personal opinion (which is shared by both roommates/teammates, for the record) Get the dark chocolate flavor. Yes, it’s sugar free. No, that’s not why we chose it. No, it doesn’t have a funky taste, it’s A-mazing. You’re welcome!

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3. Go to a fruit and vegetable market, eat all the mangos. Trust me.

There you have it! Tips on the best of Girona from an “expert” of less than 2 months. See you on the roads!

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