Anyone who is anyone, or who wants to be anyone in the cycling world, knows about Girona.
About fifteen years ago, professional cyclist George Hincapie of the U.S. Postal Service Professional Cycling Team, moved to the medieval walled Catalan town just north of Barcelona to train. Others, such as Lance Armstrong, followed. The word spread. Now, approximately seventy-five professional cyclists, including Canadian Michael Barry from Team Sky, call Girona home.
Our current Canadian cycling superhero, Ryder Hesjedal, lives there during the racing season and his team, Garmin-Barracuda, has a permanent base in the town. Committed amateur cyclists, such as my brother-in-law, arrive in growing numbers to take advantage of what Girona has to offer.
What is the attraction? A fine and affordable standard of living, an endless supply of gelato, spunky nightlife, mild climate, well-paved roads through stunning landscapes just five minutes out of town, the chance to rub wheels with famous riders, and a culture that honours its history. The bike routes spiral 360 degrees from the center of town and provide variety to even the pro who rides six hours a day, six days a week.
And for the armchair rider? Well, the scenery is breathtaking and the rides can be as easy or as difficult as you want, without the worry of traffic. Signs warn drivers to give cyclists a 1.5 metre birth.
When I first met my husband, Joe, he owned three blingy road bikes, dozens of bike jerseys and watched the Tour De France religiously. I enjoyed commuting on my fifteen-year-old mountain bike or going for a burn up a logging road, but the road bike scene was not for me. Too many cars, too much speed and too little protection. But when we arrived in Girona to spend time with my sister, Laura Bennion, and her bike-crazed husband, I convinced myself to try the skinny seat. Before we had even unpacked, my husband had rented me a road bike.
We were ready to explore.
Lance Armstrong once described Girona as an inspired place. I wanted to see why. The old quarter Barri Vell, twists and turns around stone churches, shaded small green spaces, hidden nooks, bakeries and cafes. With each step down the 2,000-year-old, narrow labyrinth-like streets we went back in time.
Dede Demet Barry, the American silver medalist in the 2004 Olympic time trial, met us at the foot of the ninety Baroque steps rising to the Gothic Catedral de Girona to show us around. My sister had met Dede and her husband Michael Barry in the neighbourhood and they were soon cycling together. Michael Barry invited my brother-in-law, Ian Auld, on some of his lower key rides.
My sister had to explain to me how well known they are in the cycling world.