RCUK’s essential guide to road cycling in Girona
Girona is a popular base for WorldTour pros, so surely it's an ideal spot for a cycling holiday, too?
When you think of dream places to go and ride your bike, where do you think of? The Alps? The Pyrenees? Mallorca? The Canary Islands? All are popular options and we’ve covered them in previous essential guides to help get you started with your planning for your next big trip.
But what about Girona? It’s only in the past fifteen years or so that the area has become known as a cycling paradise. In fact, dozens of pros now live there, which tells you one of two things: pro cyclists are like sheep, or Girona itself genuinely has something to offer.
Even so, Girona remains somewhat off the beaten track, with pros still claiming that the area is still relatively untouched by tourism, with the benefits of quiet, smooth roads, easy going Catalan culture and a huge variety of training roads. Oh, and there's the weather.
So, instead of going to the obvious destinations, why not consider Girona as your next cycling destination? Here’s all you need to know to get started.
When should I go?
Being in the Costa Brava region of north eastern, the weather is generally relatively temperate, and as a result the surrounding country tends to be greener than the southern areas. You’ll find the lowest average temperature as two degrees in December, January and February, with the highest average readings in the same months at 13, 13, and 14 degrees respectively.
Of course, it's between spring and autumn that most visitors head to Girona - cyclists included. The average high in May is 22 degrees, rising to 30 degrees in the peak of summer, and dipping down to the mid 20s again by the time September and October roll around. Besides the pleasant temperatures, Girona is a popular base for pro cyclists because of the relative lack of rainfall year-round.
Ultimately, April, May, June, September and October are the ideal months to visit tourist for a cycling trip. The weather is ideal and you'll avoid the heat and extra tourist traffic of peak summer.
Where should I base myself?
City-centre locations have their own unique benefits, including easy access to the cultural parts of Girona as well as nightlife and plenty of restaurants. It means if you want to wander the lanes of Girona old town, you're already right in the thick of the action. Of course, the downside is on the days you do go riding - and we expect they’ll be many, of course - you’ll need to ride out of the city to get into the surrounding country.
If this doesn’t bother you, and it shouldn't because Girona has a population of less than 100,000, we recommend looking at the Barri Vell historic quarter of the city, or on the outskirts of the city closest to the areas you want to explore. Other features include the Forca Vella Roman fortress remains, Passeig Arqueològic walkway along the medieval city walls, the bisecting River Onyar, as well as a host of churches, museums and galleries. Bear in mind the mountains are to the west and north of Girona, while the coast is to the east.
Wider Province of Girona
The Province of Girona is within Catalonia and stretches from the border with France in the Pyrenees down south to the border with the Province of Barcelona. It covers a total area of nearly 6,000 square kilometres, and is home to towns like Figueres, Lloret de Mar, Palafrugell as well historically-significant locales, such as Banyoles. What's more, if you want to escape the city of Girona - perhaps to find an idyllic Spanish villa - then you should have plenty of choice.
Your base may depend on the kind of riding you want to do. If coastal riding is up your street, then to the east of the city is where you want to be based.
There are plenty of companies looking for your business when it comes to cycling holidays and training camps in the region, but if you’re going self-organised, then larger coastal resorts like Palamós, Lloret de Mar or Sant Feliu de Guíxols will offer plenty of accommodation (although you'll be joining the coastal tourist crowds in summer), or there are also any number of the other smaller resorts literally dotting the coastline.
The more mountainous terrain lies in the inland eastern region of the province, so if you’re planning a training camp to prepare for a big mountainous sportive, just want to improve your climbing, or simply want to get out and ride some hills, you can base yourself in the volcanic Garrotxa area, perhaps in the town of Olot or Ripoli, which will offer great seclusion from the tourist hoards and easiest access to quieter roads and climbs.
How to get there
Conveniently, Girona has its own airport, located about 12.5km outside of the city. It's a small airport but has flights throughout the year from most major UK airports, although in deep winter the availability of direct flights is significantly reduced.
Alternatively, if a direct flight isn’t available, you can choose to fly in to Barcelona which is served directly year-round by dozens of airlines and is 100km south of Girona. If you hire a car then it's about an hour-and-a-half drive or you can catch the train via Barcelona city. Alternatively, you could choose to base yourself somewhere between Barcelona and Girona.
Your spoilt for choice in Girona - the terrain here is heaven for cyclists, whether you head out on a rolling ride towards the coast or into the hills. There's something for everyone but here are some of the highlights.
The Rocacorba on the Puigsou mountain is something of a local landmark for cyclists and a brute of a climb that starts in the town of Banyoles.
The current Strava KOM is held by Simon Yates, no less, in a time of 28 minutes and 3 seconds over the main 9.9km portion of the climb. We suspect you’ll take a touch longer than that, because for vast swathes it’s an unrelenting climb with a seven per cent average gradient.
Rocacorba is recognised as a key training climb for riders to test their condition and is one of David Millar’s favourites. It's similar in this respect to the Col de la Madone on the French Côté d’Azur, another pro-favoured tester.
You can choose to gun it to test yourself against the best, or instead take in the magnificent views of the mountains.
Average gradient: seven per cent
Elevation gain: 737m
Els Angels is worth a look simply for its history: at the top, you’ll find the church in which renowned surrealist artist Salvador Dalí was married. It’s one of the closer climbs to Girona, and features in the eastern hills that separate the city from the Costa Brava.
It’s not the toughest climb, with a steepest grade of seven per cent and 2km flat section in the middle, but from the outskirts of Girona on the C-250 it’s a winding and twisting road that leads right up to the monastery at the top.
Be sure to turn left and arc round the holy place to finish the segment if you’re giving it the beans. Then you can choose to continue along the pass towards la Bisbal d’Empordà and the coast for a neat out and back beach ride.
Average gradient: four per cent
Elevation gain: 397m
Sant Hilari is another pro-recognised climb, although there are many roads that lead to summit depending on which way you approach it.
There are two from the Girona side. First, there's the N-141e road that starts in Anglès and winds through Osor before continuing its long ribbon toward the Sant Hilari Sacalm. Then there's the Caretera de Sant Hilari climb that tracks along the C-25 in the foothills before winding its way up too. Both are inconsistent, rocking and rolling over their considerable length all the way to the top.
Both can form part of a convenient loop from Girona, with a café at the top for a pit-stop and refresh, and it also gives a technical and challenging descent down the other way.
The third option is the GI-550 road, which is 10.2km in length from Arbúcies in the south of the region. Dutch climber Robert Gesink holds the Stava KOM on this one, incidentally.
GI-550 (from Arbúcies)
Average gradient: five per cent
Elevation gain: 534m
Mare de Deu del Mont
If you fancy a look at the Pyrenees, then you might like to try climbing the Mare de Deu de Mont. Like Sant Hilari, it’s a little way out from the city of Girona, but also has its fair share of pro ‘fans’, with the likes of Romain Bardet, Simon Yates, Tom Danielson and Lawson Craddock all having given it a crack over the years.
The segment is an 18.5km beast with an average pitch of five per cent starting near Cabanelles, rising gently to Sant Martí Sesseres. Once there, the road arcs round the left among a host of twists, turns and switchbacks and a steepening gradient of up to 11 per cent until it reaches the dead-end summit.
To give you an idea of its toughness, the fastest QOM time is set by Ashleigh Moolman Pasio in 54 minutes and 12 seconds, with the KOM held by Team Sunweb youngster Sindre Lunke in 49:27. Ouch.
It’s also a beauty, with views into the valley alongside stone outcroppings verging the road. Usefully, there is a turnoff at two thirds of the way up, so you can use this to bail and head directly back towards Banyoles and onto Girona should you need too, or as an alternative route to descend once you’ve reached the summit.
Average gradient: five per cent
Elevation gain: 919m
Package or DIY?
There are two fundamental ways to get organised for your trip: by using a tour operator or cycling holiday specialist to do the legwork for you, or by organising it yourself – and there are pros and cons to both options.
A tour operator or specialist company will take much of the hassle out of your trip and most will take care of everything once you’ve arrived, from airport transfers to hotel bookings, routes to bike hire.
You’ll find options to suit a range of options but the downside of going this way is (sometimes) the cost and that you can be largely bound by the itinerary of the trip – although cycling holiday specialists based in the region are normally happy to modify plans and cater to individual needs where desired.
Alternatively, you can arrange to visit the area yourself, using either hotels or private lets from sites like AirBnB, which can be cheaper and give much more flexibility because you’re not tied to a set itinerary – only your own plans. Want to wake up in the morning, look at a map and pick out an area to explore? Then you’re better off on a DIY trip. Bear in mind that you need to be totally self-sufficient when planning a trip like this, however – from insurance and transfers to planning your food and taking spares with you on rides.
A trip to Girona has the potential for some very varied riding, from challenging climbs to flatter coastal roads. As a result, you need to be prepared for the kind of riding you specifically have planned.
If riding around the Province of Girona for you is a main goal of your season – perhaps a holiday in which you want to enjoy everything it has to offer, then make sure you’re geared appropriately for your ability. While very strong climbers may prefer a standard double 53-39t chainset or (more likely) semi-compact 52-36t chainset, most riders will appreciate a compact 50-34t chainset paired to an 11-28t cassette. If you know if you know climbing really isn’t your strength, opting for a cassette with a 30 or 32-tooth sprocket (if your bike will accept it) will give you an extra gear or two to get out of jail.
Gearing will only get you so far. Ensuring you’re well-trained for the climbs and distances you’re going to be covering before you go will go a long way to making the trip a more enjoyable experience. A route planning tool like Strava will help you plot your routes, as well as gauge the length and severity of the climbs you’re set to take on.
Should you head out in the spring or summer, it’s wise to remember the sun is far stronger in this part of the world, even if it doesn't feel it up in the mountains. Ensure you pack plenty of high-factor sun cream, including travel-style minis that you can easily carry in a jersey pocket, and try to plan in potential stops in towns and villages for water.
Remember that in non-coastal and tourist-dense regions, the Spanish are far more likely to honour their afternoon siesta traditions – so shops, bars and cafés may not be open in the peak heat hours of the day.
You also need to ensure you’re carrying at least the spare equipment you would have for a normal ride at home, with extra spares in your luggage just in case.
This should include spare tubes, tyre levers, and a pump or CO2 canisters (subject to airline restrictions), as well as puncture repair kit, a versatile multi-tool (some may even want to bring a toolkit for larger repairs back at base), and anything you may need over the course of your trip, including chain lube and the charger for an electronic groupset, if you have one.
Did you know?
If you wanted to technically visit the Province of Girona and have prime access to the Pyrenees, then the municipality of Llívia could be a good bet. It’s a Spanish enclave within the French département of Pyrénées-Orientales, relatively close to Andorra.
Events you might want to try
- Girona Cycling Festival – The summer festival is a veritable week-long celebration of cycling, and features a gran fondo, hill climb and nocturne criterium among a host of daily group rides. You can enter all or one of the events, while there are other parties and social events organised too with different packages. It's run by the team at the Girona Cycle Centre, who otherwise organise group rides and offer bike hire.
- Terra de Remences – Held in May, the Terra de Remences is a local sportive in the north of the region with two options: a 95km short loop starting and finishing at Sant Esteve d’en Bas, and a longer 175km route that takes in the Capsacosta, Coll de Canes, Coll de Bracons and Cantonigrós climbs.
- Terra de l’Aigua – This point-to-point sportive is on the southern-most edge of the Province of Girona, but well worth a punt. The long route is 106km and finishes atop the Turó de l’Home, while the short looped route is 89km in length, finishing in the town of San Celoni. This would be a good event for riders wanting to ride a manageable local Spanish sportive without the big-event frills.
- Les Goges – Another locally-organised sportive (this time by the Banyoles Cycling Club), Les Goges is another with two routes: an 90km short ride and a 150km long route, which takes in the Mare de Deu del Mont, one of our highlighted must-do climbs.