– Special Travel Feature By Andrew Ward of Thomson Bike Tours –
In winter and early spring, cyclists flock in their thousands to Spain’s milder climates and sunny skies. Andrew Ward of Thomson Bike Tours investigates how the Mediterranean resort of Sitges, just 40km south-west of Barcelona, is beginning to make a name for itself as a compelling alternative to Majorca and is fast developing into the next Mecca for Spring Training.
Sitges lies on the Mediterranean just 40km south of Barcelona.
Riding the spectacular Mediterranean Coast in sunshine – March 2008.
So, what does Sitges and the area south of Barcelona have to offer the sun-seeking cyclist?
• Mediterranean Climate – over 300 days of sunshine/year and mild winters allowing year-round cycling
• Challenging, traffic-free routes with all the climbing you could wish for (and more!)
• A strong local cycling community including top pros such as Rabobank’s classic specialist Juan-Antonio Flecha!
• An active triathlon community with great facilities for tri-athletes
• Easy access – only 25 minutes from Barcelona International Airport
• Activities for non-riders – downtown Barcelona is only 30 minutes by train
The view from your hotel in Sitges.
The roads around Sitges provide the perfect training ground for performance cyclists – traffic-free roads, challenging climbs, fast descents and beautiful scenery. Little wonder that the area is very popular with many Spanish Pros including Rabobank’s Juan-Antonio Flecha. Inland from the charming town of Sitges there are a series of ridges with climbs of 4 or 5 kilometres and average grades of between 3 and 4% – which get the legs nicely warmed-up for the more serious climbs that lie further inland. After crossing the Penedиs wine region, the riding really starts to get serious – the terrain gets decidedly more rugged and the gradients and elevations pick up. This is where we’ll find climbs such as “Matamachos” – literally the Macho Killer (the local riders are very poetic when it comes to naming the local challenges).
The rugged terrain inland from Sitges – climbing “Matamachos” (the Macho killer) in March 2008.
In a typical week of spring training, we will ride over 450 miles and climb about 30,000 feet. Don’t worry – shorter rides are available for those who want to take it easier! Consequently, this is a challenging cycling area with quiet roads and provides a compelling alternative to Majorca and Southern Spain as a perfect destination for early season bike training.
The “Hors-Category” Challenge (RAT-PENAT):
For those who feel up for the ultimate challenge – test your climbing skills on the 23% grades of Rat Penat! It nestles in the mountains near Sitges and rises to 600 metres from sea-level in 6 km. With grades in the teens and a couple of ramps of 23% this is the local Mortirolo. For professionals like Juan-Antonio Flecha this is an opportunity to do some serious interval training in preparation for the Spring Classics like the Tour de Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. If you’ve ever done this climb you’ll be wondering how he has enough energy to apply his brakes to control his speed on the tight hairpins on the way back down.
Climbing Rat Penat in March 2008 – the 23% grades help riders like Flecha prepare for the Spring Classics. Check out the Rat Penat profile here.
A Typical Day…
Our ride leaves every morning from the Hotel Calipolis in the center of Sitges at 8:30am. Typically we’ll shoot to ride for 4 to 5 hours returning to the hotel between 12:30am and 1:30pm. Each ride is accompanied by TBT experienced ride leaders and support van. Being Spain, lunch is served between 1:30 and 3:00pm so we have time to shower before enjoying a full Spanish lunch together in the hotel restaurant with its beautiful views overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. After lunch we’ll have a short forum to discuss tomorrows ride and answer any questions you may have. The afternoons and evenings are free to enjoy Sitges, visit Barcelona or just enjoy a relaxing afternoon at the beach or sipping a cafй con leche in one of the many beachside cafes – it is up to you.
The profile of a typical day’s ride…
Typical traffic-free roads…
The all-important factor – the weather…
Sitges enjoys a typical Mediterranean climate with hot summers and cool winters. Daily high temperatures in March and April range between 60 and 75 degrees, low temperatures rarely fall below 40 degrees and rainfall averages less than 2 inches per month. Protected by the mountains of the Garraf National Park, Sitges also enjoys its own micro-climate with over 300 sunny days per year.
Enjoy the mild Mediterranean Climate…
Access to Sitges couldn’t be easier. Sitges is just 25 minutes from Barcelona International Airport which has direct flights from cities throughout Europe and North America.
For those coming from the UK, low-cost airlines such as Easyjet have regular flights to Barcelona Airport and Ryanair has extremely cheap flights to Reus (45 minutes from Sitges) and Girona (1 hr 15min from Sitges).
Activities for non-cycling partners and families…
Few families will turn down the offer to spend a week by the Mediterranean, within a stones throw of Barcelona, Europe’s trendiest city. Barcelona needs little introduction – the Barcelona velodrome is where Chris Boardman won Olympic Gold in the Pursuit at the 1992 Olympic Games – and the center of downtown Barcelona is only 30 minutes by train from Sitges making it very easy to enjoy the afternoons exploring this fascinating city.
Sitges is recognised as one of the most charming and cosmopolitan resorts on the Mediterranean. You can relax by the beach in Sitges and enjoy the many trendy beachside cafes. Sitges also has an impressive array of first-class restaurants many situated directly on the beach-front.
Outside of Barcelona and Sitges the region has a vast choice of cultural and sporting activities. Surrounding Sitges are the vineyards of the Penedиs region and there are numerous wine-tasting opportunities to experience their up-and-coming wines. Not forgetting Tarragona just 20 miles south, the first Roman military base outside of the Italian peninsula.
If you’re still up for more exercise the Garraf National Park lies immediately inland from Sitges and offers some excellent mountain-biking opportunities.
Your next Spring Training destination…
Riding the spectacular Garraf National Park – March 2008.
Get your 2009 cycling season off to the best possible start; join Peter and the rest of the Thomson Bike Tours staff in this idyllic location for performance cyclists. Thomson Bike Tours Spring Training 2009 runs from March 29 to April 5 and April 19 to April 26.
If you need more information about this or any of our legendary trips, check out www.ThomsonBikeTours.com
for further details.