Girona has become a cycling paradise; many pro cyclists have chosen to call this city home and many more recreational cyclists flock to the area for the riding and events. Klassmark is setting the standard with a huge range of events, the Traka and this weekend Girona MTB Singletrack are the highlights, neither are UCI but sometimes you must look a little harder to find the best. Singletrack lovers gathered in Girona to share three days of pure MTB fun.
The battle for the Girona MTB Singletrack was exciting in all its categories, no one wanted to miss the party that was held from Friday March 31 to Sunday April 2, the event offering everything that a racer could demand. The organization had created three tracks with the start and finish line on Parc de les Ribers del Ter, right next to the Girona Fontajau pavilion. This meant no logistical headaches, competitors could just enjoy the singletrack paradise that stretched out before them.
It had been almost four years since my last visit to this historic city in northern Catalonia. There are many races I could have chosen to begin my race season but Girona and these trails offer something special. Arriving here felt a bit like coming home, the large selection of ice cream shops only add to the smile!
The trails on stage one reminded me of the Guildford Downs on the one sunny day of the year! The climbs were a little longer than southern England but there was fun flowing singletrack all day long. The first 15 minute were on super-fast gravel roads to spread out the field, there were plenty of pointy elbows as everyone raced for position knowing the first trail was coming. I was maybe too relaxed ending up at the back of a big lead group going into a long singletrack section. Frustratingly someone let a gap open, I had to work hard to then move forwards when there was space but the top three were gone. I felt good but sensations were not as great as the race a week earlier. When in the group I was not having to work super hard, I felt aerobically I could have gone a lot harder but the legs just didn’t have the top end punch. After last weekend’s race I had a super busy week with only two days to work Monday and Tuesday, then travelling Wednesday, this meant I didn’t get to ride as much as wanted earlier in the week and didn’t get the best preparation ride done Thursday. All together this just meant the legs weren’t quite race ready. Day one I finished fifth after working with one of the Scott – Cala Bandida team riders for the second half of the stage, together we set a good tempo. He was slightly faster on the descents so I’d follow his lines and then I’d lead on the climbs and gravel roads with my extra power. We finished about 60 seconds off the podium so a good start to the three days. The pace had felt pretty similar to what we could do for a longer stage so I felt like I’d saved some matches and was looking forward to opening up the taps a bit more on stage two.
Stage two was a lot of fun but incredibly tough! The last 30 kilometres there was nothing left! I felt super strong for the first 10 to 15 kilometres, leading the race at times on the bigger climbs. Then we got to a forest which we were in for the next 40 or 50 kilometres, here we found repeated steep tight twisty descents followed by super steep climbs. I was losing a bit of time each time it got technical, then I’d chase back on the climbs. I’d gone into the forest in a lead group of five with a decent gap to sixth but then first place on GC got a gap, then one of the Scott riders got a gap, so there was three of us competing for the last spot on the podium. Up until the 50-kilometre mark I felt good and was able to quickly recatch the group if I lost any time on the descents but eventually the elastic snapped. The gap became too big and I’d burnt too many matches so I had to ease off and save some energy. About 5 kilometres later I was really suffering, the repeated descents and climbs had beaten me. I crawled around the final few trails, got to the last feed zones with 15 kilometres to go, stopped to refill both bottles and grabbed a gel. I quickly necked all that nutrition in about 15 minutes! That gave me some energy to nail the gravel road all the way back to the finish trying to keep watts as high as possible. Over the line I rolled in for another fifth place but time gaps were big on a day as tough as this.
What an amazing stage 3 was! I was pretty worried about how good I’d feel after how tough yesterday had been. Today the profile was much friendlier with lots of rolling hills and faster trails, nothing super steep like stage two. I let the lead four go pretty quickly, I knew if I went with them I’d pay for it later as I hadn’t fully recovered from the previous day. I stayed in group two where the pace was much more manageable both up and down the hills. There was one technical bit after about 35 kilometres where we descended a super steep rutted singletrack descent before riding along a very rocky dried-up stream, here I lost some time slipping from fourth to the back of the group and then out of the group. I had to do a bit of chasing but recaught the group as sprinted for fourth, ending up sixth over the line. This was enough to secure fifth in the general classification.
Over the three days Italian’s Massimo Rosa and Marta Torà became this year’s champions having stamped their authority on the race. Girona brought together mountain bikers from all corners of Spain plus a large number of foreign participants. 40% of the start list came from overseas with up to 23 different countries represented on the start line. Massimo Rosa had a tough challenge to take the victory with strong competition from Hansueli Stauffer, Francesc Guerra and Guillem Muñoz. Despite the strong competition, Rosa was the best throughout the 192 kilometres with 4,100 meters of positive elevation gain, winning two of the three stages, a mechanical prevented him from fighting for the victory in the last one. The Italian needed 8 hour 17 minutes to complete the three stages. Guerra won on the last day, but finished a minute behind the champion overall. In the women's race, Marta Torà dominated winning all three stages with a final time of 10 hours 19 minutes. However, she could not lower her guard at any time because Rotem Gafinovitz and Alba Solés both offered strong competition.
I finished happy with my performance over the three days, especially as this was my first mountain bike race of the year. I started with the objectives of finding my legs and getting used to riding the trails fast, a good result was a bonus. I do a lot of offroad workouts at home but you never push yourself like you do when you’re on the race track. The event offered three fantastic days of racing and should be the perfect preparation for the rest of the season.