For a climb not featuring on the professional race circuit, the Rocacorba has a renown at odds with its stature. Neither the steepest or the longest, this ‘there and back’ climb winds its way up from the nearby Catalan town of Banyoles before ending at the twin telecommunication masts that stand straight against a backdrop of the plains below.
The road only starts to climb at the 10km to go mark
So what makes this a ‘must do’ ride when visiting Girona for a few days of cycling? The answer is partly down to who’s ridden it. The inspiration for David Millar’s invitation-only Velo Club Rocacorba, local cycling lore has it that Girona-based pros use the climb as a testing ground before heading off for the Tour.
The base of the climb is found near the lake at Banyoles
This is a climb easily included in a half-day rolling route out of nearby Girona or ridden hard, pre-breakfast, with the lure of coffee and pastries in the delightful setting of the Banyoles lakeside cafes. At 13.8km in length and climbing to just under a 1000m, the first section is false flat and it only starts to ramp up after the 10km to go marker. Peaking at 15% and with long stretches of gradients in excess of 10%, the road snakes a path up the mountain-side with the overhanging trees offering welcome shade from the summer heat. Best ridden in spring or autumn when the temperatures are a little kinder, gaps in the woodland allow glimpses of the countryside below as you climb rapidly on a surface that is occasionally uneven and needs caution on the descent.
Not the smoothest of road surfaces
But it does partly beg the question, ‘Why bother?’ The views as you climb could be considered rather fleeting and, although providing inspiration for the aforementioned Mr Millar, he himself describes it as ‘brutal’. Even Orica-BikeExchange’s Christian Meier, while chatting about bikes and racing at his and wife Amber’s coffee shop La Fabrica, responds with a slight grimace and, ‘I’m not going up there’, after the Rocacorba is mentioned in the context of local training routes.
A break in the tree cover
Tough as it is, you will eventually reach the summit to be presented with a view from the paragliding platform perched at the top that is quite stunning. And maybe the reason to ride this iconic climb is because it’s considered to be so difficult. To have that look of respect from local riders when they ask which routes you’ve taken.
If the stars align, as they fortunately did for me, you’ll be sitting by the Banyoles lakeside enjoying a post-climb coffee and Mr Millar will ride up to take breakfast before he tackles the Rocacorba himself. And then you’ll know for certain that you’re riding the same roads, albeit at a possibly slower pace, as the countless professional cyclists (current or ‘ex’) that call Girona home. You just might need to suggest an alternative route if you want to ride with Christian Meier.
A view well worth the climb
Photography by @openautograph