MWCC rider Shaun Falzarano is currently spending some time in exile over in Europe as he looks to put a few kilometres in his legs. He has recently put together this blog of his recent experience in Andorra, looks like another to put on the list of must rides.
Five days to explore an entire country? Yes please! After 10 days in one of the flattest countries in the world, The Netherlands, a good friend of mine, Tom Bolton only had a few more days to spare before a week off the bike once he departed Spain. Of course, we both decided what better way to say goodbye than to spend five days in one of the hilliest countries in the world, Andorra!
Day 1– A “recovery ride” in Andorra.
After almost missing my train due to an early morning Spanish lesson, I arrived in Barcelona ready for the 3 hour bus trip to Andorra.
Upon arriving we searched on Strava for a moderately flat ride that we could commence our week with. We settled on a recovery loop ridden by Orica Scott rider Jack Haig. Little did we know this loop still involved almost 1600m of climbing within 40 kms. What a way to start our week!
What better way to start off our first proper day of riding in Andorra than finding an Australian brew shop just down the road from our hotel! We had planned a 110km loop, climbing 4000m and 5 of Andorra’s classified climbs, in the South of the country. The first classified climb of the day was the Coll de la Gallina, a 12km climb ascending 1000m. We then summited La Peguera, averaging close to 10% for the first few kilometres.
After parking up at a local cafe and smashing a bocadillo, coke and cookie we happened to meet the winner of last week’s La Purito, a sportive designed by none other the Joaquim Rodríguez. It took a few minutes to establish that he was planning on climbing the same bergs as us on the way home. As soon as we got riding with him however, we realised the mistake we had made.
He set a blistering pace up the last few climbs before the weather set in and forced us to turn around earlier than hoped. In the heat of moment neither of us thought about complaining, until we realised that could only mean more climbing later in the week!
Day 3- The queen stage!
With 4950m of climbing over 140kms, day three was by fastr the biggest day we were attempting. This ride took us up to the boarder of France and over the 9th highest road in Europe. Why we had planned such an intense week surrounding this mammoth day is still beyond me.
The categorised climbs we were climbing included Els Cortals, La Comella, Coma de Ransol, El Form, Coll d’Ordino, Port d’Envalria (both sides) and to finish off La Comella which happened to be penultimate climb of The Vuelta 6 days later.
After less than 15km we found ourselves summiting a climb of just under 2000m. With a spine tingling cold descent we were then heading straight up the valley and into France. The Port d’Envalria is a long and drawn out climb that stretched through the valley of Andorra for over 20kms with a gradient between 2-5% for close to 15 kilometers. If this wasn’t enough to get the legs burning the last 6 kilometers prior to the summit pick up to a steadier 6% average gradient. Feeling good at the altitude I thought what better way to celebrate than trying a max effort over the summit. It wasn’t for another few hours that I started to realise this was a big mistake!
We then descended the rear of the climb and found a small café to park up at and take on some fuel for the rest of the ride. We weren’t even at the half way mark yet!
After a quick detour into France, we ensured no climb was left un-summited on our descent back through the valley and all the while searching for a swimming hole to cool off in on the way home. Much to our satisfaction we found a river at 2000m and cooled off in water chillier than any ice bath I have ever experienced.
After another three solid cols, we swung past our local coffee shop to smash another two “café con leche’s” (coffee with milk) before summiting one of the climbs we missed yesterday, La Comella. As I am writing this I can confirm that it took me more than double the time of Roman Bardet’s KOM set during La Vuelta’s stage 3.
Our last full day in Andorra wasn’t going to disappoint. Climbing straight out of bed and up the Collada de Beixalís was a rude wake up call. The climb peaking three times at 17% and has a gradient of over 8%!! This ride was taking us up the opposite side of Andorra, towards the North-Western corner. Summiting four big climbs, two of which peak at over 2200m.
The next climb taking us up to the Spanish border, the Port de Cabús was not a climb to disappoint. Classified as a Hors Catégorie climb which stretches for over 14kms it wasn’t all too friendly. The decent however was much more exciting and much to our amazement once our rides were uploaded, we realised that we had both tied 5th overall on the Cabús descent! After a quick lunch break we summited the Erts d’Arinsal climb in preparation for our last climb of the day.
Adding another 1000m of climbing to our day this was the last, and possibly the hardest we summited. Being the 3rd highest road in Andorra, climbing the Port de Arcalis was a necessity of course!
Summiting on the verge of bonking, we both agreed that there was no other option than a coke and ice cream on the way down. After a 20km decent back into town, Day 4 was wrapped up.
With most Andorra climbs ticked off our list we were planned to summit the Engolasters and La Comella climbs (from Les Escaldes). As usual I couldn’t help myself and went all out over the top of La Comella to set a time equal to that of Niki Terpstra, something I won’t live down for a while.
Unfortunately, the rest of the day was not as successful and after losing three wheels off my bike bag as soon as we exited our hotel, the long (3km) walk to the bus station was made even more excruciating. After dragging the bag for what felt like all eternity, we arrived to see out bus driving down the street on route to Barcelona. Time to settle in for a two hour wait!
On the bright side, the bus station was situated atop La Valira Riu, a river running all the way down the valley through Andorra. With the added bonus of free WiFi access it was a good excuse to call my family and catch up on life in the real world.
Overall, the trip was unbeatable and, as a cyclist in Europe you are absolutely crazy if you don’t pay Andorra a visit and fill your time pushing yourself to your absolute perils atop one of the many beautiful mountain passes.