Wednesday 21 February 2024

Operation Etape du Tour: February update

Training for the Etape du Tour has given me a greater motivation to ride my bike. I have firmer objectives when I ride, plus a stronger wish to incorporate bike riding into my travels. So this month I did some cycling in and around Barcelona.

Check out my route into the Parc Serralada Litoral on Strava

My training for the Etape du Tour is getting more and more sustained and I am finding myself more into the groove. At one point the idea of getting out on my bike regularly had been a conscious mental shift. There are moments when you almost have to remind yourself of the need to get out on the bike regularly. 

Parc Serralada Litoral, just outside Barcelona

It's not necessarily that I don't want to ride my bike or that I don't enjoy it. It's just that between working as a freelance writer and keeping those plates spinning, keeping fit for my other sports, practicing my musical instruments (flute and clarinet) to play with my different bands, and just literally keeping my house in order, it's easy for cycling to end up taking a back seat. 

When I say back seat, I don't mean not doing it all. I have ridden my bike consistently for the last 25 years, but there's a difference between training and just riding your bike - using the bike to commute around or pootling around the park, versus frequently riding the bike with a mission and hitting certain mileages or making sure you get in power and speed training.

Cycling is a time consuming activity. You can't really get a training benefit by going for a quick spin like you would when going out for a run. So it has meant the need for a mental shift in getting in at least two hours every couple of days to ride my bike. I must admit I also watch the weather forecast very closely so that those couple of hours coincide with decent weather. If I am going to be doing this much bike riding I should at least enjoy the experience! Of course in all of this I also do longer bike rides too, which also requires planning so that I can in the most useful and beneficial ride as part of my Etape du Tour training.

I recall when I prepared for the Etape du Tour in the early noughties I had fewer things on my plate than I do now as a middle-aged person with more life responsibilities. Back then, getting out on my bike at various times of the day was easily done. And so, for sure I've come to realise that fitting in lots of cycle training is easier said that done - especially for a multi-faceted person like myself.

What I also try to do is to incorporate cycling into any trips I do. The rides might not necessarily be as long as something I would do at home, but I having cycle training in my everyday life like brushing my teeth makes is what is more important when it comes to keep up the habit.

So, earlier this month when I decided to go on a birthday weekend to Barcelona it was a no-brainer to factor in some cycling. Folks tend to go to Girona a lot, and it is home to many of the professional cycle racers. With lots of hills to train on in Catalunya and a strong cycle culture and community in the centre of the town this area has become a bit of a draw. But don't forget there is Barcelona too.

It's a also lovely touristic area, so you can get in some good bike riding in the hills, get to the coast, and see lots of interesting cultural sites - the sort of way I'd want to treat myself on my birthday.

While in the Catalunyan capital I hired a road bike, a Canyon Endurace for a couple of days and did a few bike rides around the area. My first outing was a city tour which was quite flat. Then came a bit of climbing - Montjuic, and the big one in the area - Tibidabo. These rides were done during the week, and once the weekend came I decided to go further out.

Because I had to return the bike at lunchtime on Saturday, I didn't want to go too far out of the city. The ride I chose was to head out North-east from where I was staying, close to El Bon Pastor and Sant Andreu, and head for the local hills. 

By 8am I was out of the door and riding on the cycle path along the River Besos heading towards Badalona and the Catalunyan coast. Interestingly, just outside Sant Adria de Besos close to the train station, I saw groups of cyclists congregating, waiting for others before starting their group ride. It seems that this was a well-known meeting point for the various club cyclists - a bit like Crystal Palace Parade on a Saturday or Sunday morning.

I had an idea of where I would be going and followed the route I had chalked out from my map research. In these situations I tend to be flexible and do check out other new roads I see when on the  ground. So with so many cyclists out and about it was a no brainer to follow where they were going, and I found a nice quiet road, slightly inland from the coast that everyone was following. I didn't join any group, but I followed them at a distance, which was as much as I could do given my fitness level, then followed the many that also overtook me. They seemed a friendly bunch, and some gave an "hola" as they passed me. Perhaps on a future occasion after more bike rides I will properly join them.

We formed a long trail of riders along the coast and eventually joined a main road known as the N-11 which led towards Mataro and onwards to Girona. I followed in the wheel tracks as far as El Masnou and then turned inland to head towards Alella, while they all continued straight on. I don't know if they were going all the way to Girona, or if they might turn inland later on at Arenys de Mar, perhaps to tackle Montseny, one of the major climbs in the area. I wouldn't have minded continuing on and exploring the hills further along the road, but I was conscious of the need not to be late returning to the bike shop as they would be closing in the early afternoon.

My ride therefore took me up through Alella, a residential area. Then the houses became more sparse and the uphill switchbacks began as I entered into the regional area of outstanding natural beauty called the Parc de la Serralada Litoral. This was my first set of mountain-like roads since when I road up the col de Braus and col de Turini a couple of years ago.

Even though a fair bit of time had passed since that occasion, I still felt in my element taking on this climb. Many outings up the steep hills in my South London neighbourhood had set me up well to deal with uphill roads.

This road, up to Vallromanes only lasted three miles but it wasn't a neglible challenge and it properly switched on my climbing legs.

From here my ride took me to Montornes del Valles where this town seemed to be a cross-roads for cyclists riding through in various directions. I was definitely in club run territory. I could see why there'd be a lot of cyclists around as the roads were quiet, despite there being wide trunk roads nearby. My ride took me up more climbs then a another pleasant descent to Martorelles as I headed towards the Parc Serralada de Marina. 

Given that I was slightly in a rush to get through the ride and be back to Terra Bikes in central Barcelona in comfortable time, I didn't feel like stopping to take any photos. I know when I do this sort of thing it always cuts into the time. When I stop to take one photo I end up stopping five or six times and before I know it I have used up almost half an hour!

It has to be said though, that the weather was not really conducive to taking photos. Up in these Catalunyan hills it was a little bit grey and morose. The view of Barcelona and the coast in the distance looked impressive as they were bathed in sunshine, but I knew that I didn't have a good enough phone camera to properly capture that light in my snaps. So I just resolved to use my eyes as a human camera, and hopefully keep them in the views in my internal memory bank. I am sure I will be back before long and will take some actual photos on a future visit.

The final climb of the day went over La Conreria, a deserted area where there were just lots of trees a few fincas a livestock, plus a few trails. It wasn't a very well frequented road at all, and in fact when I took the left turn to go up it most of the other cyclists around went straight on. There had been no sign board indicating this climb. For a while I wondered if I was going the right way too. But after a about a kilometre a sign indicating Pomar and Tiana I knew I was going the right way. But why were there so few cyclists here? I wondered. Was there something I should have known? 

I felt pretty safe so I just carried on. There were very few cars and the views across the mini mountain range looked great, so I just focused on taking in and enjoying the landscape while I could. Soon came a very long fast descent back towards Badalona. Interestingly it was at this point that I saw more club riders - except that they were riding up the road. It seemed that riding up the road was the more common way of travelling through the area when leaving behind the semi-urban sprawl. I didn't mind going things a little differently.

This road then abruptly dumped me into a slightly industrialised area followed by the town centre in Badalona, which I picked through in order to reach the peace and tranquillity of the River Besos cycle path. I guess doing this ride in reverse would have meant getting the urbanised parts out of the way first and finishing the ride with a long ride along the coast, which probably does appear more attractive than starting on the coast and finishing with the anticlimax of a busy town centre on a Saturday lunchtime. Furthermore, I must say some of the roads through Badalona main drag were in poor condition - almost like Roman roads! I'll think twice before complaining about the misshapen surface on Anerley Hill!

Quick stop outside Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

After an enjoyable morning in the nearby hills around Barcelona it was time to bid my hire bike adios. Xavi with whom I had previously dealt with when I hired the bike from Terra Bike Tours was not in the shop, so I was served by an English guy who was quite friendly. Funnily enough we chatted to each other in Spanish for about 10 minutes before we realised we were both from Blighty! He mentioned the good rides to do in the area as well as a couple of hip cycling cafes nearby. My weekend cycling in Barcelona had been enjoyable - pity it was quite short and a little rushed. But it has given me even more reason to return to Barcelona for a more extensive cycling trip to this fantastic area. 

It has to be said that training for the Etape du Tour has given much more direction to my bike riding and I feel a renewed motivated to get out and ride in new places both in the UK and abroad. 

Related posts

Barcelona cycle ride: Part 3 - Tibidabo and Sagrada Familia

Operation Etape du Tour: January update

Barcelona cycle ride: Part 2 - Up and over Montjuic and down to Port Vell

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