Monday, January 11, 2021

Gravel cycling in Montseny mountain (Barcelona) - 1

Gravel cycling in Montseny

Montseny mountain is simply a paradise for cycling. So close to Barcelona (hardly 45 km) and you have a big range of mountains to explore and enjoy.

Being road cycling or gravel cycling, the options are endless. Let's focus today on gravel cycling. And specially in a quite popular place for locals, which is Pla de la Calma. This is a relatively flat zone at about 1100 mts height that you can reach from several places, and specially from the top of Coll Formic climb. Coll Formic is probably the best known road in Montseny (together with the climb to Santa Fe del Montseny). Your reach Coll Formic at 1145 mts height either from Palautordera (26 km ascent from C-35 road), either from Seva (shorter climb about 9 km long. The views from Pla de la Calma are amazing, specially to the Pyrenees on the north side, but also to the Mediterranean sea to the south. Of course the views to Montserrat and its rounded shapes, are also possible, not being far away.

Tagamanent by bike (Montseny)

But there are some other ways to reach Pla de la Calma. A very interesting way to reach it is from Tagamanent. This is an asphalted road, very demanding at some parts. The road leads to the etnologic park of Tagamanent and afterwards to the old Tagamanent Castle. The asphalted road ends at about 1000 mts (see profile attached) and then the path keeps going to about 1300 mts. This way you get the whole Pla de la Calma, from Tagamanent to Coll Formic, about 10 km long with stunnig views, always above 1100 mts.

A second very interesting way (probably my favourite) is a gravel path starting at Piscines del Montseny (a little before Montseny village). This is a path in quite good condition climbing for 10 km at about 9% gradient, reaching 1300 mts close to the highest point of Pla de la Calma, which is Puig Drau at 1345 mts. It is difficult to name this side of Pla de la Calma, but the best indication is to get to El Molar, an isolated house (Masia in catalan language) on the way up, about half way. In  my wet dreams, this climb could be included in a professional road cycling race (such as Volta a Catalunya or Vuelta a España), and then descent on the road via Coll Formic. That would be our "Coll delle Finestre".

But the gravel bikes allow a much higher number of new places to reach inside the Montseny mountains. One of my favourite places is Ermita de Sant Elies. This is an old church at 999 mts height. The highlight of this climb is the final 5 km stretch at about 10% in a gravel path in quite good condition. Very demanding part though. Considering the whole climb from the Refugis del Montseny, including an asphalted part at the beginning, you get 6,35 km at 10,3% average. Not bad.

On top of the plateau where the church is, you can get a little higher to the firemen observation area with amazing views over the Valles region and even over the Mediterranean sea. Fantastic place, worth a stop.

There is another nice summit you can get nearby which is Turó de la Cova, at 1100 mts height, and you can see one from the other (Sant Elies and Turó de la Cova). The condition of the path is similar to Sant Elies. The characteristic of Turó de la Cova is a bench on top of the climb, which you can sit at, together with a catalan flag. Picture compulsory there. From Turó de la Cova you can descend to Piscines del Montseny, but the path is very rough, and being on the north side it can be frozen and icy in winter.

There are many other options in the Montseny mountains. I'll keep digging, but I am sure this is a good start point. Enjoy!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Top 10 roads for cycling in Spain

Cycling Costa Brava

Same as we did a few weeks ago with France, here we go with a list of the best roads for cycling in Spain. Same as in that post about France, let me remind that this is a subjective list. 

Following roads are amazing, that's for sure, but I have no doubts that there are other similar ones and maybe better.

This is my choice:

  1. Desfiladero/Cañón de Añisclo (Huesca). This road was included in last Vuelta a España 2020 for the first time (5th stage). This is part of the spanish Pyrenees.
  2. Jaizkibel (Guipúzcoa). One of the most iconic climbs in all of the Basque Country, part of the route of Clásica de San Sebastián. The road, linking San Sebastián with Hondarribia is a fantastic balcony over the Cantabric sea. Also, steep and challenging climb!
  3. Coll de la Creueta
    Coll de la Creueta. This is the first of 3 following roads being in Catalonia. Coll de la Creueta is an amazing road reaching almost 2000 mts.
  4. Costa Brava (Tossa-Sant Feliu de Guixols). 25 km of amazing coastal road, with very scarce traffic and very smooth surface. Also, very good weather all year long. This is part of the charm.
  5. Montserrat (Barcelona). This is an iconic mountain in Catalonia. Its unique shape has a magic touch, as the rounded forms suggest the mountain was under the sea for milions of years. The roads surrounding the mountain give different views depending on the angle. Fantastic.
  6. Sa Calobra (Mallorca). Possibly one of the most famous roads in Mallorca and the target of all the cyclists arriving to the spanish island. The odd thing about this terrific climb is that you have to descend to the coast to climb it opposite direction.
  7. Far de Formentor (Mallorca). Another iconic destination in Mallorca island. The road heading to the Lighthouse (meaning for Far) is just stunning.
  8. Portillo de Lunada
    Portillo de Lunada (Cantabria).This is a very long and scenic climb in Cantabria province (just beside Basque country). The perfect loop in the area includes Alisas, Ason and Lunada in hardly 100 km and 2300 mts elevation.

  9. Desfiladero de la Hermida (Cantabria) This road 21 km long is also located in Cantabria and it is the longest gorge in Spain. You get there from the twisty road N-621. The vertical walls get at some points 600 mts. Amazing.
  10. El Torcal de Antequera. This place in Malaga province was declared World Heritage site by UNESCO. It was included in Vuelta a España route in 2017.  

Sure there are other great roads for cycling in Spain, as this is cycling paradise. 

Which roads would you include in the list?

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Olot, a great destination for cycling in Catalonia

Climbing Coll de Bracons
Climbing Coll de Bracons

Olot is one of the biggest destinations for cycling in Catalan Pyrenees.

Olot is the capital of the vulcanic region of La Garrotxa, an amazing destination with old vulcanoes, very known for local tourism, but not so many for foreigners. But it is absolutely worth to visit.

The choices are so many. The most popular granfondo (sportive) in Catalonia, takes place in a little village close to Olot: Sant Esteve de'n Bas. It is called "Terra de Remences", honoring an historical fact in history of Catalonia.

The double loop in Terra de Remences is fantastic: first loop including Coll de Capsacosta and Coll de Canes, and second loop including Coll de Bracons (steep!) and Coll de Condreu. From Coll de Condreu (a solitaire not-very-steep climb) you can reach Santuari del Far, an amazing place with stunning views. Worth a visit!

100% Tondo elevation profile

But it is not only these clouple of amazing loops that you can do from Olot.There is another granfondo, called 100% Tondo (honouring the catalan cyclist Xavier Tondo who died in a very young age while being professional rider), that starts at Sant Joan Les Fonts (very close to Olot). The final climb of this Granfondo is Vallter 2000, a 1st category climb, included several times in Volta a Catalunya.

Terrific climb to Collfred
Terrific climb: Collfred!

From Olot you can also reach a couple of very steep climbs such as Collfred (starting at Sant Privat de'n Bas), which profile you can see attached, and another big (but short climb) is Falgars de'n Bas, with the road in quite bad shape, but also big numbers, very steep climb.

Really close to Olot you can lead to Castellfollit de la Roca, the place to start a couple of very nice (and very steep for some parts) climbs, they are the climb to Oix and Beget (a couple of little villages) through a very nice and quiet road, and the second climb is Colldecarrera, a road through Vall de Bac (Bac valley), with some concrete and supersteep parts. Again, an amazing solitaire road.

Regarding places to stay close to Olot, my favourite place is called El Ferres, a house in Joanetes (starting point of Coll de Bracons). All of our customers love it, and they also love Carme, the lovely lady managing the house, the mum of all the visitors!

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Top 10 best roads for cycling in France

The scary Parpaillon Tunnel! Long, unlit, wet, it has it all!

We cyclists are always dreaming of the best roads for cycling. Usually big mountains but not only them. Also other kind of roads with personality, with something special that makes most of us be willing to ride them and get another road ticked in our personal list.

The following is my personal list of best 10 roads in France. Did not ride all of them but I did most. And of course I am open to include other roads if they are proven to be better!

  1. Combe de Laval. When there is a list of the best gorges in France, this road in Combe du Laval comes always to the top. Please visit
  2. Col de la Loze : This is the brand new road only for cyclists linking the high ski resorts of Meribel and Courchevel. Opened in May 2019, and is the seventh-highest mountain pass in France. The ascent featured in the 2019 Tour de l'Avenir, and will also feature in the 2020 Tour de France. See video on top of the list.
  3. Gorges du Verdon. One of the nicest Gorges in France, amazing place for cycling close to the mediterranean coast. A couple of amazing cycling loops to discover the region:
  4. Voie Fignon (Tourmalet). Tourmalet is the most important climb in cycling history, linked to Tour de France. And a part of it is dedicated just to cyclists. Can you imagine that amazing spot without any car and amazing views? Voie Fignon, that's it.
  5. Ventoux/Gorges de la Nesque. That's the best and the most classic loop when you visit the big mountain in the Provence. The right thing to do would be climbing from Bedoin side (the steepest), then Simpson monument and the top. Back same way to Chalet Reynard and then direction to Sault and Gorge de la Nesque to Bedoin again.
  6. Lacets de Montvernier. Included in the Tour de France for the first time in 2015 (and also later in 2018), there are very few roads as scenic as the Lacets de Montvernier, stunning. The Lacets are in the Alps, close to the famous Col de la Madeleine.
  7. Cirque de Navacelles. Little unknown place southern France, but fantastic spot.
  8. Cirque du Litor. One of the key places in the Pyrenees on the way to Col d'Aubisque from Col de Soulor. You are lucky if you get it on claer day witout mist, with amazing views.
  9. Passage de Gois. Another little road discovered by the Tour de France in 1999. This road is covered with mud as it is under the sea 12 hours a day (high tide). And then, when the low tide you can ride it. Weird feeling riding there.
  10. Tunel de Parpaillon. This a scary no lit tunnel over 1 km long at 2300 mts height, one of the highest in the Alps. Very special place. Last half of the ascent is not asphalted, then MTB or gravel bike needed.
France has plenty of amazing roads, a dream for every cyclist. But this top 10 list is hard to beat. Do you agree? Any other road that should be on the list. Comment below!

Saturday, June 13, 2020

10 Hardest stages ever in Grand Tours

Coppi in Cuneo Pinerolo
Coppi in Cuneo Pinerolo
It is difficult to make a list of the hardest stages in Grand Tours ever. After doing some research, you can read this list of 10 stages showing some of the most epic stages in history. Distance and elevation make those stages very special, and some of them will be, no doubt, in cycling History forever.

I've chosen 4 for Tour de France, 4 for Giro d'Italia and 2 from La Vuelta a España.

- Stage Luchon-Bayonne in Tour de France. Classic stage 326 km long including Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet, Aubisque and the much smaller Osquich. This stage was in the Tour de france route years1910, 1911 and 1912, and opposite direction Bayonne-Luchon (possibly harder as the big climbs are at the end of the stage) was in the years 1913, 1914 and 191 to 1929.
One of the most famous Tour de France stages, if not the most
- Tour de France 1983 stage Bourg d'Oisans-Morzine with 247 km and 7200 mts elevation including Col du Glandon, La Madeleine, Aravis, Colombiere, Chatillon and Joux Plane. The winner was Jacques Michaud in an amazing stage with 7 hours 45' 25". In this stage Laurent Fignon gave a big step to the final overall win.
Bourg d'Oisans Morzine, epic stage Tour de France 1983

- Tour de France 1992, stage Saint Gervais-Sestriere, 254 km long and 6500 mts elevation, including Col de Saisies, Cormet de Roselend, Iseran, Mont Cenis and Sestriere. Claudio Chiappucci was the winner in an amazing breakaway from km 28, wearing the polka dot jersey. It took 7 hours 44 minutes 51 seconds. Miguel Indurain bonked a few km to the finish line.
Epic stage ending in Sestriere, Tour de France 1992
- Tour de France 1996. Stage Argeles Gazost-Pamplona, 262 km including  Aubisque, Marie Blanque Soudet and Larrau (and still 100 km to go to Pamplona). The winner was the swiss Laurent Dufaux in 7 hours 7 minutes. Indurain said to be the hardest stage in his carrer. No need to say any more.
The stage should have been a tribute to Indurain.
- Giro d'Italia 1914. It is said to be the hardest big tour ever with 5 stages over 400 km long. Stage 1 Milano-Cuneo was 420 km long including the climb to Sestriere (this was the hardest stage ever in Giro d'Italia history as per La Gazzetta dello Sport), but according to other souces, stage 6 Bari-L'Acquila was the hardest, with many riders forced to retire.

- Giro d'Italia 1949. The epic stage Cuneo-Pinerolo won by Fausto Coppi is one of the most dramatic wins in cycling history, including the climbs to Maddalena, Vars, Izoard, Mongenevre and Sestriere. Coppi won in 9 hours, 19 min 55 sec.

One of the most famous stages ever. Cuneo-Pinerolo
- Giro d'Italia 2011 Conegliano-Gardeccia Val di Fassa, 229 km with the climbs to Piancavallo, Forcella Cibiana, Passo Giau, Passo Fedaia and Gardeccia. The winner was the basque Mikel Nieve in 7 hours 27 minutes.
Conegliano-Gardeccia Val di Fassa, Giro d'Italia 2011
- Giro d'Italia 2012: Caldes-Passo dello Stelvio: 218 km and total elevation 5900 mts, including Passo del Tonale, Aprica, Mortirolo and Stelvio. The winner was Thomas de Gendt in 6hr 54 min 51 sec.
Queen stage ending at Passo dello Stelvio
- Vuelta a España 1992 Viella - Luz Ardiden, a stage 144 km long including Portillon, Peyresourde, Aspin, Tourmalet and Luz Ardiden. Total elevation 4500 mts. The winner was Laudelino Cubino in 4 h 52' 36". It is said to be one of the hardes stages in La Vuelta history.

- Vuelta a España 2015, Andorra la Vella-Cortals d'Encamp 145 km with Collada de Beixalis, Ordino, La Rabassa, Collada de la Gallina, and finish at Cortals d'Encamp at 2005 mts height. About 5000 mts elevation. Stage winner was Mikel Landa in 4hours 34 min 54 sec.
Stage in Andorra, not a single flat kilometer

This is my list of hardest stages ever in Grand Tours.
Do you agree? Feel free to share and comment below.

Sunday, June 7, 2020

Top 10 best cycling climbs in the Pyrenees

Col du Tourmalet, the king of Pyrenees passes
It is always a hard job to choose the best climbs in a mountain range. Specially a very big one as the Pyrenees, with over 600 km of mountains, being the border between France and Spain..

There are many different criteria to keep in mind to make a list like this one. I chose 2 main criteria: landscape beauty and steepness. I also had in mind other points as traffic conditions. These are my favourite climbs in the Pyrenees:
  1. Port de Bales: This solitaire pass was asphalted recently and first included in Tour de France year 2007. Often into the rain and mist, if you get to the top in a clear sunny day you will have one of your best experiences upon a bike. And also challenging: on the Mauleon side they are 20 km and over 1200 mts elevation.
  2. Port de Pailheres: This climb has been included several times in Tour de France since 2003. Not one of the historical passes, but no doubt one of the most beautiful. The right side to climb is from Mijanes. There are a couple of very nice loops including Pailheres: With Col de Chioula and Col de Pradel. Both about 80 km and 3000 mts elevation the whole loop.
  3. Col du Tourmalet: The king of all the climbs in the Pyrenees. Possibly the most famous in the Pyrenees. Not the steepest, not the longest, but full of cycling history, first climbed in Tour de france 1910. The Geant at the top, the souvenir shop, the restaurant with the bikes hanging from the ceiling... A must for every cyclist to get up there!
  4. Col d'Aubisque. The second most important climb in the Pyrenees. Only being neighbors with Tourmalet makes it a little less important. The Laruns side (Gourette ski station) is the steepest, but the Soulor side is simply beautiful with the iconic Cirque du Litor. Aubisque was first included in Tour de France in 1910 as well.
  5. Hourquette d'Ancizan. This is an alternative climb to the classic Col d'Aspin. First used in Tour de France in 2011, Hourquette d'Ancizan is a tiny narrow road with spectacular landscape. Not a hidden gem since it was already included in TdF, but definitely not one of the most famous.
  6. Coll d'Ordino (Also known as Collet de Montaup). In Andorra, it is not specially high nor steep, but it is a beautiful one. Worth to mention a spectacular viewpoint called Mirador del Roc del Quer on the Canillo side. Nearby you can find the climb to Ordino-Arcalís, which is also beautiful, and the iconic big O at the top.
  7. Amazing views at La Creueta.
  8. Collada de la Gallina. Also in Andorra, which has become recently a kind of cycling paradise. Recently (2015) asphalted the side from Fontaneda. Terribly steep climb which has already some cycling history as Vuelta a España included Collada de la Gallina in 2012, 2013 and 2018. The Godfather of this climb is the former professional cyclist Joaquim "Purito" Rodríguez, who lives in Andorra.
  9. La Creueta. Not very known pass in the spanish (catalan) Pyrenees, close to La Molina ski station. The right side to climb is from La Pobla de Lillet (also from Gombren). Scenic climb with amazing views. Solitaire one, which makes it an additional reason to be included in the list.
  10. Port de Larrau. Border pass in the basque Pyrenees, one of the steepest all over the Pyrenees on the french side. It was discovered to the world of cycling on Tour de France 1996, in a monster stage which was the end of Miguel Indurain era, the day thet the Tour de France ended at his doorstep.
  11. Cirque du Troumouse/Col des Tentes/Boucharo. In fact they are 2 different roads starting at Gedre, a little south Luz St Sauveur (starting point of west side of Col du Tourmalet). At Gedre there are 2 roads, one heading to the beautiful Cirque de Gavarnie (the road follows to Col des Tentes/Boucharo already in Spain) and the second one is a toll road to Cirque du Trumouse, fantastic solitaire road. Both are dead end roads. A must.
Recently, the Cyclist Magazine from UK released a top 100 cycling climbs all over the world, and there were 13 climbs from the Pyrenees: 7 of them are in the list here (missing the spanish and Andorra ones) and the nice climbs missing in our list are Soulor (which makes part of Aubisque), Lac de Cap de Long, Aspin, Peyresourde, Superbagneres and Hautacam. 

Sure there are many other nice roads in the Pyrenees, I specially want to mention the small basque mountains (Izpegi is one of my favourites), but it is always hard to make a top 10 ranking. I hope you agree with me! If not, comment below!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Cycling the Pyrenees border passes

Cycling Coll de Banyuls
Col de Banyuls, close to the mediterranean coast
The Pyrenees is the natural border between France and Spain. There are a lot of asphalted passes in the Pyrenees, some in the french side, some in the spanish side, but only some of them are exactly with the border at the top, having one side from France and one side from Spain.

Usually the french side is longer, steeper and colder, being on the north face. Worth to know this information when planning a cycling tour in the Pyrenees.

Let's have a quick list of all of them, starting from east to west, from the catalan Pyrenees to the Basque Pyrenees.
  1. Coll de Banyuls (355 M) This is the most eastern proper mountain pass in the Pyrenees linking the coastal french Banyuls sur Mer with the little known village in Girona called Espolla. Very steep french side, longer, milder and nicer the catalan side.
  2. Col de Pertus (290 mts). This is a historical pass, the lowest point to cross the Pyrenees. The main road is filled with cars and traffic, totally avoidable. Nevertheless in the Pirinexus route goes through this easy pass avoiding the road in a gravel path.
  3. Costoja (830 mts) Little unknown pass in Girona province, even if it is a wide nice road. The starting point in Spain is the village called Tapis, and on the french side there is a village close to the top called Costoja, (Coustouge in french).
  4. Coll de Manrella (637 m) Even smaller and less known pass than the previous Costoja. There is a monument dedicated to the people who exiliated to France through this tiny pass after the Civil war in Spain. Solitaire road, in fact there is about 1 km gravel path on the french side.
  5. Coll d'Ares (1513 mts). Possibly the most known border pass in Girona province. Again, the french side is much more demanding. 32 km long from Arles sur Tech, or 14 km from Prats de Molló. On the way to Coll d'Ares you can collect other cols as Col de la Seille (1185 m) and Col de la Guille (1194). Interesting for the climbs collectors, type Club des cent Cols.
  6. Monument at Portillon (spanish side)
  7. Col de Portillon (1293 mts). As usual, the french side from Bagneres de Luchon is much steeper than the spanish one from Bossost. The spanish side has some milestones remembering the spanish winners in the Tour de France, and there is a monument dedicated to them at a viewpoint half climb.
  8. Tunnel de Bielsa (1820 mts). This tunnel was opened in 1976 and is 3 km long. The tunnel connects the Lleida spanish province with St Lary Soulan and Fabian, on the french side, starting points of big climbs as Lac d'Aumar, St Lary Soulan or Pla d'Adet.
  9. Puerto de Somport (1650 mts) This pass has a couple of remarkable characteristics: 1) It is a very old historical pass and there was a train line crossing Spain-France, the Canfranc train station is huge and now with no use, just the touristic visits 2) there is a tunnel to get through the mountain which we cyclists should avoid to reach to the top. 3) There is a very known ski station on the spanish side called Candanchú.
  10. Portalet (1794 mts) Same as Somport, bot climbs are included in the "Quebrantahuesos", the most famous sportive (Granfondo) in all of Spain. The starting point of Portalet on the french side is the same as the almighty Aubisque, in a crossroad a little after Laruns.
  11. Larrau (1573 mts) This climb was included in Tour de France 1996 for the first time. Such a discovery and such a climb especially, again, from the french side. Terribly steep.
  12. Pierre St Martin (1760 mts) Pierre St Martin is the highest road in Basque Pyrenees. In fact there are 7 sides of this monster climb, just one from Nafarroa and other six in France. Included in Tour de France 2015 with big show and victory of Chris Froome. Click on link to learn more about the seven sides. 
    Cycling Izpegi
    Col d'Izpegi, beautiful
  13. Izpegi (690 mts). Simply beautiful. An amazing pass specially the side from Saint Etienne de Baigorry in France. This pass is often included in the Transpyrenees trips, and also makes part of the famous "Route des Cols" in the Pyrenees.
  14. Ibardin (316 mts) This little climb has been included in Itzulia (Vuelta al Pais Vasco) several years ago. 
  15. Lizuniaga (219 m) Little pass from Bera de Bidasoa with a Hotel on top.
 Now there is no police control on every border pass, but there was a time when it was, not so long ago...