Andorra - in Search of Cycling Heaven (or hell!)

Andorra - home to 43 World tour pros and some stunning climbs

Andorra - home to 43 World tour pros and some stunning climbs

Viva Velo’s Dyll Davies and Guy Apter traveled to Andora with La Vuelta in search of a climber’s Nirvana. The road to cycling heaven is bumpy . . . but well worth it.

Dyll and Guy with their local guide and ‘Mr everything Andorran cycling’, Gerard.

Dyll and Guy with their local guide and ‘Mr everything Andorran cycling’, Gerard.

Andorra is a country of contrasts and contradictions and Viva Velo’s visit, courtesy of the national tourist board, bore witness to many of them.  Blessed with towering peaks and quiet well-surfaced roads that ascend them it also boasts – if that is the right word - the urban sprawl that is Andorra La Vella.  The bustling traffic-filled streets of ‘the city’, as locals call it, seem strangely at odds with the surrounding mountains.  The largely car-less climbs of the country are often accessed initially by the busy main roads that spiral out from the city.  Fortunately Andorran drivers are creatures of habit and there are clearly defined ‘rush hours’ which can be avoided by the canny cyclist but there is no getting around it: cycling in Andorra will mean a trip along a main road at some point.  The Andorran authorities are mindful of this though and whenever a road is resurfaced or repaired a bike lane is added to smooth the way to those towering cols – or ‘ports’ as they are referred to locally.

Once you leave ‘the city’ its not long before you are alone with your thoughts among Andorra’s peaks.

Once you leave ‘the city’ its not long before you are alone with your thoughts among Andorra’s peaks.

Depending on where you stay though – we were in La Massala north of Andorra la Vella – it is often not long before you leave civilisation behind and find yourself alone with just your thoughts and the nagging pain in your legs!  For there is one thing that is certain in Andorra and that is when a local tells you a road is ‘flat’ they mean the gradient won’t exceed 6%.  Nothing is flat in Andorra!  If your idea of a bike ride is a gentle spin out to a coffee shop for cake, then forget Andorra as a destination.  Not that there isn’t plenty of coffee and cake to be had - but you’ll have to earn it first!

But it is certainly worth the effort.  Not for nothing - apart from the low rates of income tax perhaps - have 43 world tour professional cyclists taken up residency in the principality.  It is surely cycling’s best kept secret.  Mallorca and Girona have become popular as training grounds for the aspiring amateur but Andorra still remains largely untouched and we saw few other groups on the road even in the few days before La Vuelta made its entrance… although Dan Martin was definitely following us on our first day!

The stunning views provide a distraction for Dyll’s aching legs!

The stunning views provide a distraction for Dyll’s aching legs!

Our local guide, the excellent Gerard, an ex pro and ‘El Presidente’ of the Andorran Cycling Association, seemed to know everyone we met and he relished showing us the cycling delights of his country.  While he smiled gently at our discomfort as he effortlessly climbed out of the saddle on the eye-watering gradients he was attentive and encouraging throughout.  As a ride leader and guide myself it was a pleasure to have him with us and we left feeling we had made a real friend of him and our equally helpful and attentive companion from the tourist board, Jordi.

There are 23 marked climbs in Andorra and the most famous are probably those that have been used in the grand tours:  La Rabassa, which provided the finale of stage 19 in this year’s Vuelta; the ascent to the ski resort at Arcalis, used three times in the Tour de France; and the 20 kilometre ascent to Port de Cabus, which offers stunning views as it winds its way towards Spain.  These are long climbs of 17-20 kilometres with stretches of demanding gradients in excess of 8% for some of their length, but these segments are relatively short – although La Rabassa starts with 5 kilometres of such pain – and the remaining slopes are more manageable.  The climbs in the south of the principality though, while shorter, are significantly steeper with multiple kilometres of double digit or nearly double digit percentages.  For those that like a challenge the Collada de Beixallis from either side – take your pick from 6.8km at 8% average gradient or 6.3km at 7% - with their ramps of over 20% in places will sap the legs.   So too the brutish 11 kilometre ascent (at 9%) of the Collada de la Gallina via Bixessari - ridden just part way in this year’s Vuelta as the finale to the last mountain stage or its baby sister via Fontaneda which measures a kilometre more but rises at a comparatively gentle average of 8%!

The panorama that accompanies you as you reach the top of the Port de Cabus on the Spanish border.

The panorama that accompanies you as you reach the top of the Port de Cabus on the Spanish border.

Add in the altitude – I definitely took a day or two to acclimatise - and you can see that Andorra is not for the faint-hearted.  But if you want peace and quiet – once you leave Andorra La Vella – and a place to test and/or improve your climbing skills, this tiny principality wedged in between France and Spain provides it all.  But whisper it quietly or every man jack weekend warrior will be there!

Viva Velo is currently planning a new adventure to take our clients ‘in the wheel tracks of the pros’ to Girona, Andorra and France.  Watch this space for updates.

Pat Douetil, Photographer and Ride Leader, on Mallorca with Viva Velo

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Velo photographer Patrick Douetil accompanied the Viva Velo team to Mallorca for our spring training camps this year as a ride leader. Here he looks back on the experience and riding with Viva Velo.

‘Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’ – Confucius

‘Choose a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’ – Confucius

“This was my first time ride leading with Viva Velo in Mallorca. I had the pleasure of visiting the Island the previous year but self sufficiently. The first strikingly obvious benefit of the Viva Velo tour was the healthy catalog of routes that traversed the quietest and prettiest roads to the popular climbs and destinations.

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Further to this was the connections that had been set up with all the best bike hire companies, hotels, restaurants and most importantly the best cafe stops. These connections led our groups to be met by warm handshakes, good service and amazing coffee everywhere we stopped for a mid ride refuel. ‘DS’ Dyll Davies and long term employee The Matt Wallis have clearly worked very hard to find the best of the island so all that’s needed from the guests and ride leaders is a passion for cycling. I’m very much looking forward to my next adventure with the guys and girls at Viva Velo.”

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To experience Mallorca with Viva Velo yourself, you can book onto one of our Mallorca cycling camps in October. You can find out more, or book, here.

All the photos featured in this blog post are courtesy of Pat himself. You can find out more about his work and see his other projects on his website.

Digme Fitness & Dallaglio Rugby Works Record Attempt

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Viva Velo are incredibly proud to be contributing towards this fantastic Guinness 24 hour relay world record attempt.  Partnering with Digme Fitness,  the ex-England rugby player, Lawrence Dallaglio is shooting to have the most participants in a static cycling event in 24 hours with individuals cycling for 1 hour each on multiple static bikes.  The aim of the event is to raise money for Dallaglio RugbyWorks which helps to get teenagers outside of the mainstream into sustained education, employment or training through programmes based on rugby.  Dallaglio Rugby Works gives kids, who otherwise would not get a second chance, the opportunity to thrive and prosper.  The event will be taking place on December 15th and 16th at Digme Fitness in Richmond (see map).

As you may already know, Lawrence Dallaglio is a keen cyclist and organises  a three week long ‘Cycle Slam’ every other year to raise funds for his charity and it is expected that many of those who will take part in this event will come from the same core of well-known sports personalities and celebrities.

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Along with all the cycling activity there will be other ongoing attractions during the 24 hours to help raise further funds.  Viva Velo is delighted to be able to supply a couple of items to be auctioned for this great charity – namely a VIP ‘Hors Categorie’ place in the famous Tour of Flanders sportive along with two free places on a Viva Velo Mallorca Cycle Camp next spring.  For more details of these great prizes see below.

If you’d like to enter this fantastic event and become a world record holder – then read on! Places cost just £25 for one hour.  But we think we can do better than that.  It would be fantastic to field an entire Viva Velo team for the duration of the event and so we will reduce that to just £20 for you and your friends if we can find 24 people to take part!  What more could you want?  Just £20 to help give kids get a chance in life – you get to feel great afterwards both physically and spiritually!   Don’t let us down, Viva Velo family!  Simply sign up here for your discounted place.

N.B.  If you can’t make the event but would still like to donate to this great charity you can do so here:   Please leave a note with your donation saying you heard about the charity and this event through Viva Velo

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Details of those great prizes to be auctioned at the Dallaglio Rugby Works Digme Fitness event are:

  1.  A ‘Hors Categorie’ entry to the Tour of Flanders (currently costing 150 euros plus) which gives the holder a VIP entry to what will be a sold out sportive consisting of:
  • Welcome by former winners of the Tour of Flanders (Johan Museeuw, Alessandro Ballan).
  • Guaranteed participation in We Ride Flanders from Oudenaarde, distances: 74km-130km-170km
  • Reception in Tour of Flanders VIP tent next to the official finish line of the pro race, both before and after your ride.
  • A healthy Flandrien breakfast
  • Reserved parking space
  • Pasta buffet and free drinks after We Ride Flanders
  • Reserved shower and changing rooms
  • Secure bike storage
  • Massage at the finish
  • Unique Tour of Flanders gadget
  • Medal

The Tour of Flanders Sportive is very popular (they have already sold 11,000 of the 16,000 places) and this VIP package adds something special to the simple entry for what will be a sold out event.

  1. A free 5 day cycle camp in Mallorca for two with Viva Velo (from Thursday March 22nd -Monday 26th inclusive) worth £810 consisting of:
  • Four star accommodation in our hotel in Puerto Pollenca on a twin occupancy basis
  • Half board breakfast and three course dinner in all you can eat buffet
  • Free use of swimming pool, spa and sauna facilities
  • Return transfers from Palma airport to our hotel*
  • Tailored itinerary
  • Organised rides with our ride captains
  • GPX files on request

Flights, lunches and drinks and tourist taxes are not included.  *The successful bidder must ensure their flights dovetail with our transfer times.