I’ve been very fortunate riding each year in the countryside surrounding Girona. Or, as Dan Craven so succinctly puts it, the ‘capital of racers’. Beautiful weather, smooth roads and varied routes from the sea to the mountains; it would be easy to describe this region as a cycling paradise.
But whilst it’s fun to fly down to Spain to share these roads with the off-duty professionals, I try to never lose sight of the wealth of good riding we have on our own doorstep. It might often be obscured by our weather (April was a washout with thunder, lightning and stinging hailstones) but we are blessed with a rich landscape of varied beauty. With empty roads and green spaces never too far from home.
Often, I suppose, we are schooled in what we know. Whenever I’m in Girona, what always strikes me as particularly interesting is how the Catalan locals describe their riding habits. Anything less than 18°C (really a rather pleasant temperature in the UK) they claim requires cold weather clothing to combat the ‘chill’. The well-known Rocacorba climb, with sections peaking at 13%, is described by adopted local David Millar as ‘brutal’; yet UK based riders often find themselves struggling up gradients in excess of 20%. Climbs may be longer on the Continent but the British Isles has an abundance of the ‘short but sharp’ variety that often prompt interesting reactions from non-native professionals riding the Tour of Britain.
Closer to home, living on the western fringe of the Peak District affords me a wealth of routes that offer quiet roads and stunning scenery. Windswept moorland partitioned by dry-stone walling, steep-sided valleys edged with pine woodland, reservoirs mirroring the shifting clouds; the National Park offers a rich tableau of routes and vistas.
Perceived by some as rather bleak and forbidding, with experience what is revealed are the subtle changes our weather brings. The sky can dominate, often with complex layers of grey, but when the light does break through it illuminates the tones and textures of heather, gritstone and flowing water.
Mow Cop, The Cloud, Thorncliffe, Gun Hill, the Cat and Fiddle, Wincle – my local climbs, evocatively named and with gradients that trace the change from the lush pasture of dairy farms to the sparse grazing of the sheep that dot the hillsides. Circular routes with saw-toothed Strava profiles that can easily encompass 2,000m of climbing. Hard riding but offering easy access for wheeled escape and adventure.
Words and photos by Chris Hargreaves (@openautograph).