“We need a climber, but someone who is a fast climber in the final.”
As a winter’s day begins its descent into night up high on Els Angels, the most popular climb that rests only a few kilometers outside of Girona, the snow-capped mountains of the Pyrenees are just visible. Sweeping back down round open bends into the city, within minutes you’re transported into medieval Catalan streets. A spidery network of narrow stone walls that intermittently reveal ancient facades, they’re a part of this region’s towering grandeur that history won’t let you forget. This is Girona, this is Catalunya, this is our second home. And racing is coming home as the 99th edition of the Volta a Catalunya starts next week.
Some 10-15 years ago there were only a handful of American pro-cyclists resident in Girona. Now is seems like nearly half the pro peloton lives there. The area has since exploded and become the European cycling mecca it is today. It’s a land of tantalizing cuisine, rugged coastlines and wayward architecture, straight out of the genius minds of artists like Antoni Gaudi and Salvador Dali.
“The locals, they make riding here so easy, there’s no traffic and if there is, people are so respectful of cyclists it’s incredible. The only time they honk at you is when they want to wave at you,” says Mike Woods, a Canadian who now calls Girona home during the season.
, who, like Woods, has ridden numerous Voltas agrees wholeheartedly. Tejay van Garderen
“There is such varied terrain [in Catalunya] from rolling roads to big monster climbs like Rocacorba. Travel is easy from Barcelona airport, the cost of living is more than affordable and the scenery is beautiful,” Van Garderen says. “Catalunya is also famous for its cuisine and, as cyclists, we love to eat.”
This area has made an impression on both American and Canadian riders, so much so many have chosen to remain even post their cycling careers.
As our team service course is based just outside of Girona it feels very much like these are familiar roads. Woods mentions that his recent training has involved him riding from his front door and covering much of the terrain that will be raced during the seven stages next week.
“Taylor Phinney and I did a huge ride recently where we rode up to Vallter 2000 which is where one of the mountain top stages finishes,” Woods says.
With no time trial, this race is particularly suited to climbers, but that also sets the race up to require fast finishers, as our sport director Juanma Garate explains: “We need a climber, but someone who is a fast climber in the final. With two uphill finishes, with no time trial, with the time bonuses on the finish line, you need to race this race perfectly to win. We can’t wait until the last 100 meters to make the attack to make the difference.”
Taking the above into consideration, Garate is pleased with how his race roster is shaping up. Joe Dombrowski and Hugh Carthy have been training at altitude in the weeks leading to the race. Woods and van Garderen have a lot of experience, so even with the unfortunate loss of Rigoberto Urán, sidelined with a broken collarbone, the potential of this team is strong. Even if Woods does voice some reservations.
“For me it always feels like I’m merging onto the freeway with a moped when I do this race, because I always take time off before, and everyone else is race sharp because they’ve done Paris-Nice and Tirreno or some Classic prior to Catalunya.”
Van Garderen, having placed third on general classification previously in this race, is also fresh off the back of a solid performance in Paris-Nice, and is ready to take on the mountaintop finishes of stages three and four.
“It’s always a race that I’m able to perform in so hopefully that trend continues this year and I can take something out of the race,” van Garderen says.
“It’s a very chaotic stage and a bit dangerous as well, it’s like a mini Ardennes Classic, that’s why I love it,”
Stage three is seen as the queen stage of the race finishing up at Vallter 2000, a well-known Catalan ski resort. The following day is again another mountaintop finish into La Molina, a regular feature in this race. Last year as skiers flicked back and forth descending the piste, bike racers swaying side-to-side climbed the mountain, much to the skiers bemusement. Like a meeting between fresh and saltwater there was a beauty to witnessing this unusual encounter between two sports of opposing seasons.
After the second mountaintop finish at La Molina the race returns back towards the coast for undulating stages that will likely suit the sprinters. The last stage will conclude, as it usually does, in Barcelona on a circuit course around Mont Juïc,
“It’s a very chaotic stage and a bit dangerous as well, it’s like a mini Ardennes Classic, that’s why I love it,” Woods explains.
This race rarely fails to draw a high calibre of rider. As one of the oldest stage races on the calendar along with its varied terrain, it obviously has a lot to offer; as does our team of riders heading into the weekend.
“I heard this quote from a Hall of Fame basketball player,” van Garderen recounts. “He said, ‘The championships are won in the locker room and on the bus,’ and I definitely feel that on this team, the layout of the bus, everyone is facing each other, everyone is always interacting and joking. We have music on, it’s a little bit different to what I have experienced in the past, where people would put their headphones on or read a book or something. It just feels really easy to integrate and to get to know your teammates and just have fun.”
Woods feels the same and is proud of what has been achieved by this team already this season. “When you look the part, you’ll act the part, and that’s what’s happening right now,” he says.
As the WorldTour heads to our European home race, the team is full of the energy that we have seen so much of already this season. The team is looking forward to racing in a corner of the world that is very special to us.
“It’s like our local race,” said Garate. “We are an American team, but we’re a team that has grown up in Girona.”
Molta sort a tots!
Mon 25th March Calella – Calella 164km flat finish
Tues 26th March Mataró – Sant Feliu de Guíxols 179.6km flat finish
Wed 27th March Sant Feliu de Guíxols – Vallter 2000 179km mountain finish
Thur 28th March Llanars (Vall de Camprodon) – La Molina 150.3km mountain finish
Fri 29th March Puigcerdà – Sant Cugat del Vallès 188.1km flat finish
Sat 30th March Valls – Vila-seca 174.3km flat finish
Sun 31st March Barcelona – Barcelona 143.1km hilly finish
Tejay van Garderen
If you’re planning on visiting Catalyuna checkout these all-time favourite rides of Mike Woods and Tejay van Garderen.
Van Garderen’s favourite ride
Woods’ eight-hour epic
Woods’ all-time favorite