Travel Log: Chasing the Volta and the Vuelta

This year the Vuelta a España (Tour of Spain), one of the three Grand Tours, will come to Catalonia.  It doesn’t come often but it will figure large over 3 days and will take in many roads that we use for our Spring training rides.  Of course, every year la Volta a Catalunya (the tour of Catalonia) is raced over the roads we use nearly every day in the winter and spring.  Catalonia is our home and our playground and it was a fantastic gesture by the organisers to host some stages of the Tour of Spain here. 

The Tour of Catalonia has some history of course and is the 3rd oldest stage race in the world.  It is now seen as one of the traditional preparation races to the Tour de France and this year Many of the top pro-riders like Mark Cavendish, Ivan Basso, and Carlos Sastre, amongst others will be using it to hone their form.  This prestigious race has been won by some of the biggest names in the world of cycling in the past and include: Alejandro Valverde (2009), Miguel Indurain (1988, 1991, and 1992), Sean Kelly (1986), Robert Millar (1985), Francesco Moser (1978), Felice Gimondi (1972), Eddy Merckx (1968), and Jacques Anquetiel (1967).  The Tour of Catalonia has now largely superseded La Setmana Catalana (Catalan Week) which has not been run since 2005 another race which used the roads on our doorstep.

This great history of racing in Catalonia, and the fact that the Vuelta was coming so close to our doorstep, had us frantically reconnoitring more routes over the last few weeks.  Not just to cycle the roads that they use in the races but to find the hidden roads that the professional cyclists like Juan Antonio Flecha use to train on too and ones we could use for our Spring Training Camp we use out of Sitges.

This year the Vuelta a Espa?a (Tour of Spain), one of the three Grand Tours, will come to Catalonia.  It doesn’t come often but it will figure large over 3 days and will take in many roads that we use for our Spring training rides.  Of course, every year la Volta a Catalunya (the tour of Catalonia) is raced over the roads we use nearly every day in the winter and spring.  Catalonia is our home and our playground and it was a fantastic gesture by the organisers to host some stages of the Tour of Spain here.

The Tour of Catalonia has some history of course and is the 3rd oldest stage race in the world.  It is now seen as one of the traditional preparation races to the Tour de France and this year Many of the top pro-riders like Mark Cavendish, Ivan Basso, and Carlos Sastre, amongst others will be using it to hone their form.  This prestigious race has been won by some of the biggest names in the world of cycling in the past and include: Alejandro Valverde (2009), Miguel Indurain (1988, 1991, and 1992), Sean Kelly (1986), Robert Millar (1985), Francesco Moser (1978), Felice Gimondi (1972), Eddy Merckx (1968), and Jacques Anquetiel (1967).  The Tour of Catalonia has now largely superseded La Setmana Catalana (Catalan Week) which has not been run since 2005 another race which used the roads on our doorstep.

This great history of racing in Catalonia, and the fact that the Vuelta was coming so close to our doorstep, had us frantically reconnoitring more routes over the last few weeks.  Not just to cycle the roads that they use in the races but to find the hidden roads that the professional cyclists like Juan Antonio Flecha use to train on too and ones we could use for our Spring Training Camp we use out of Sitges. 

Returning from the hills after a training ride with Endura RT

This was an intriguing journey that took us on less famous roads and climbs but confirmed why so many local professionals use these roads to train for their races.  We had seen the names painted on the roads but we wanted to evaluate them more closely and to log them so that the journal could be used to follow in the cycle tracks of the professionals. This is a summary of that journey.

Location of Catalonia and the rides – most of the rides are focussed around the boundary on this map between the provinces of Tarragona and Barcelona

Each week we tried to cover as many of the local climbs that we could that either featured in any of the above races and to do this we focussed on zones.  Each of these zones is focussed on a climb, village or small town.

Week 1 Climbs
Pontons
Ventoses
Pontons
Castellet
Coll de la Creu de Sapera

La Llacuna
Font Rubi
La Llacuna
Collet de la Serra
Coll de la Barraca
Penedesburg

In the first week we covered the roads that were the most accessible and closer to the coast.  This also fitted into our training routines when we were still in recovery mode and did not want to be doing excessive distances.

There are two ways out from the Mediterranean coast to the mountains and this week we concentrated on one of those “escape roads” – the Pantano road.  Over this winding road is where we often see Juan Antonio Flecha as he heads out to train on the same roads we use.  It also has picturesque views over the castle and lake at the top.

The Pantano Road: The picturesque road up to Castellet overlooking the Foix lake

The major climbs we used this week centre on the small town of Pontons and a circular route that passes close by La Llacuna that can easily give the legs around 90 km and at least 1200 m of climbing.  The road through Pontons is also used as the descent for this years Vuelta Espa?a but this area has some great rides and the Ventoses climb is one we typically use to sharpen up our climbing and descending skills in the off season.  You can typically see the names of the professionals painted on many of these roads from previous editions of la Volta a Catalunya.
La Llacuna: A perfect training col for the climbs in the Pyrenees, Alps and Dolomites

Font Rub?: Famous names that have ridden the roads we train on

Week 2 Climbs
Pont d’Armentera
Montagut
Santes Creus
Querol

Week 2 we focussed on climbs around the small village of Pont d’Armentera in the province of Tarragona.  These roads take the cyclist further away from the Garraf coast where we are based but onto even more remote and hidden roads.  The descent into Pont d’Armentera from Querol is a gem with a very Pyrenean feel to it.  These roads are perfect for building a large training base in the winter.  The road up from Santes Creus will be used in the Vuelta in 2010 and the road commands great views back over Santes Creus and the south of Catalonia back to Mont Caro.  Loops can be incorporated in this zone which head to Santa Coloma de Queralt and are perfect long days in the saddle for training for Gran Fondos and long sportives.

Fine views over the monastery of Santes Creus

 

Week 3 Climbs
Sta Cristina
Coll de l’Arca (Matamachos)
Juncosa
Sta.Cristina
Can Ferrer – Sant Marc
Masborn?s

After the travails of week 3 we decided to stay closer to home and focus our efforts around the climb of Santa Cristina.  Although Santa Cristina itself is not a difficult climb there are some roads close by which are ideal for training the climbing legs.  There are two climbs very close: Juncosa and Matamachos, which the local professionals use a lot for training and which are perfect for the likes of Juan Antonio Flecha to prepare for the Spring Classics.

The challenging Climb of Can Ferrer

 

Week 4 Climbs
Garraf
Ratpenat
Can Grau
Begues

For the last week of our journal we focussed on the coast between Barcelona and the Garraf.  There are 3 climbs of note in this region and all are worthy of visit by bike.  The climb of Rat Penat is probably the most infamous.  It is the Catalan Anglir? and this year the Vuelta a Espa?a will take the riders over it.  Its rocky slopes rises steeply from the Mediterranean and with some of the ramps over 20% this is not for the faint hearted or cyclists with a 42×23 cassette (or both!).  But don’t relax too much because afterwards there is another short climb (Can Grau) which finishes the route off.  On the other side of the Garraf massif is the climb of Begues which from the Mediterranean side commands fantastic views over the coast and takes the cyclist over towards Sant Sadurn?, the Cava wine region, and some of the climbs in that area – but that’s a journal for another day!

References:
1:50 000 scale maps of the area can be obtained from the Insitut Cartogr?fic de Catalunya.  The area of interest is covered by the following maps: 3 (Alt Pened?s), 6 (Anoia), 11 (Baix Llobregat) and 12 (Baix Pened?s)

The infamous Rat Penat


The climb of Rat Penat



About The Author

regularly leads fully supported rides though the Alps and the Pyrenees for Thomson Bike Tours.

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