"Let’s get one thing straight. You’re not coming to Spain. You’re coming to Catalunya.” So began my recent cycling trip with these words from Marty Jemison. But let's take a step back first.
A few years ago, Marty placed an order with us and then followed up with a note mentioning his Dutch heritage. Through the course of an email conversation, we learned that he is a former professional cyclist having ridden for 1990s US Postal Service team. He finished the Tour de France twice and also won the 1999 US National Road Race. Marty now operates a tour company in Europe during the summer (www.jemisoncycling.com) and he’s been ordering jerseys from us for all of his riders for a few years now.
Having just come back from Colorado in August, my body yearned for more hills than the Florida flats can provide. The day after I returned, I reached out to Marty to see if he had any openings on the last few trips of his season. Lucky for me he did. He insisted on joining him on his signature Girona trip and I took him up on the offer.
Marty has been a resident of Girona (about an hour outside of Barcelona) for more than a decade now. While it is home to a gaggle of pro cyclists these days, it wasn't always so until Marty and a few pioneers put down some roots there. But it's not in Spain. It's in Cataluyna - there's a big difference. Catalans have been fighting for their independence for ages and still bristle at the thought of their imperialist neighbors. Whatever you do, don't call a Catalan a Spaniard.
I’m not much of a journal keeper but here are a few highlights from my trip that spanned from September 6 - 12th.
- People. Carolyn, Theresa, Dave, Tom - I lucked out with the most amicable riding crew you could ever hope to have on these kinds of trips. While I was the only solo traveler of the bunch, I never felt like the odd man out. And Dave always came back for me on the climbs. Pow, Marty's incredible domestique, was indefatigable and made sure we wanted for nothing.
- Food. When the tour company’s logo includes a fork, you know you’re in for some good eats. Protein bars, gels, and energy drinks? Nah. We ate real food. It works a lot better for long days in the saddle and because of its central position, Catalunya is a cornucopia of fresh fish, meat, cheese, fruits, and pastries. By the way, no matter what they say, it is possible to safely carry a chocolate croissant in the back pocket of a Road Holland jersey.
- 10am start. Thank goodness there are still civil people in this world who don’t believe in early morning starts. 10am meant plenty of time to have multiple espressos (all three hotels had the pro-grade Nespresso machine like I have at home) and take care of business.
- Cars and drivers. When your country is great at a sport, I guess it means you're liable to be nice to those who participate in it. Over six days of riding, I never had one driver cut me off or honk at me (except in an encouraging manner). They’re incredibly courteous in Catalunya and take driving and cycling with much more gravitas. It also doesn’t hurt that there are just not as many cars on the road. As Marty likes to say, “I take you on roads where there are more bikes than cars."
- Scenery. Catalunya seems to have a bit of everything that makes Europe what it is. Castles, twisty roads, vineyards, farmlands, and breathtaking vistas over the coast. You are never too far way from an old village which makes deciding when to stop for coffee almost as difficult as some of the climbs.
- The flies. I thought Florida was bad but the real manure on those picturesque farms just draws them in. They are everywhere. I dealt with it but the next time I go back, I am bringing my own citronellas.
There’s plenty more but I guess you’ll just have to take one of Marty’s tours to find out. Thanks Marty!
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