Saturday, June 19, 2010

Best and Worst of Times in Girona & Mt Ventoux

I am finally back from a 3 1/2 week training period in Girona.  It was the most dreamy trip - aside from the tiny detail of being robbed. One week into our holiday, while traveling between campings, we stopped off in the little town of Angles (just west of Girona center) and parked our van square in front of the entrance to the sports center while we took off for a three-hour ride.  When we returned wet and frozen from an 18km descent in the rain, we found that the passenger-side window of our van was broken. My heart sunk.  Then it sunk even further when Jonas tried the doors and they were all unlocked.

We opened the doors to find that everything had been ransacked. They had gone through everything of ours and took a bunch of stuff like BOTH our laptops, our new fancy camera with both lenses (and all hookups, accessories, toys that went with all these electronics). All my articles including a super important one to me on women in cycling (that took 12 interviews and a bunch of research to complete and was in its final editing phase),  my book that i've been writing, and a bunch of other stuff that had not been backed up is all lost forever. Also, all our photos that we've collected over the years are lost. Jonas took a major hit as well with his Garmin stuff, saved favorites and a bunch of other stuff.  They even took my passport and my favorite pair of sunglasses. bugger. 

There is absolutely no way they will catch the thieves. When the cop asked around the sports center if anyone saw anything suspicious or even heard our car alarm blaring for a couple of hours, nobody saw nor heard anything. No surprise. Further reality is that when you're robbed, don't expect the CSI treatment. They take no fingerprints and do absolutey nothing to find the culprits. Nothing.

Sadly we probably could have avoided it by telling each other that we felt unsafe in the area BEFORE we left the van alone to go for a bike ride.  But neither one of us wanted to appear to be a "racist." Damn. From now on, we promised each other to express our concerns to each other no matter how insensitive it makes us look. I tried to ignore my instinct by replacing it with thoughts that i was just being a racist for thinking that way and that people who exercise are well-adjusted and don't steal.  That experience really made us feel like the naive tourists that we were - vulnerable and violated are horrible feelings to have.

Immediately after we opened the van doors, I sprinted the few meters to the police station and fell as i tried to dismount in sand and got bruised all over to add insult to injury! I tried to immediately open the door to the station to talk to the guy sitting just behind the desk but the door was LOCKED!  Even more strange was when he told me that nothing like that ever happens in Angles - then why was the door to his station locked, i asked.  And all this was said in Catalan.  The guy spoke NOT EVEN ONE WORD of Spanish. 

After Jonas and i attempted to file a police report in the neighboring town of Santa Coloma we drove to the nearest major store parking lot with shops like Media Markt, Decathlon and McDonalds to sit for the night. With a broken window on a Friday night we were not able to leave the van until Monday. Every time a slight wind would rattle the thin piece of plastic we taped over the absent window, the two of us would jump out of our chairs while adrenaline pumped through our veins.

By the next morning we were so shot.  No riding.  Instead we went to a luxury camp site in Platja d'Aro on the coast and layed out on the beach all day with our bottles of Sangria and Port. We spent almost the rest of our time in Spain at this campsite where you can get fresh bread daily and the support staff actually speaks Spanish. By the time we left, I was starting to get ever so slightly better in communicating in Spanish.  Catalan remained way out of my reach.

It took us quite a few days to get back into a routine after the robbery. Our riding definitely suffered
which is why we took a whole 3 1/2 weeks to get the training done - almost a full week longer than our intended trip...and it felt good to be under the warm sun the whole time! (Coincidentally, the only day it rained was when we were robbed) Most days it was almost 30°C and sunny - a real treat for me after having spent months and months in dark, dreary Belgium - aside of course for our mini stint in Cyprus for Tour of Cyprus which was also an amazing trip.

Once back into solid riding mode, we continued to conquor the mountains.  We traveled over all the famous roads such as Els Angels - Lance's favorite road, Puig d'en Carreres, Romanya de la Selva, Coll de la Ganga, through the Baix Emporda tiny medieval towns like Madremanya, and along the coast from Platja d'Aro to Tossa de Mar. Although Els Angels is gorgeous, I'd have to say my favorite of all the climbs was the one Sant Grau one from the coast to Llagostera.  Another ride that was spectactular was in the Montseny area where you can climb from 250m to over 1700m in one shot.

As for the food, I expect the flavors are fabulous but Spain doesn't exactly cater to vegetarians - except for one spot we found.  We celebrated Jonas' 37th birthday in B-12 Cafe, a full organic vegan restaurant in Girona. We dined on a collection of tapas, salads, wines and beers that were all exceptional - absolutely divine. Surprisingly the restaurant is co-owned by a Southern California native so they spoke perfect English - a rarity in Girona.  The only other restaurant we visited was Subway oddly enough.  Aside from B-12 it was the only place we could find vegan food.  The owners were British and were so sweet to us, especially after they heard our horror story of being robbed.  When she told me she knew what it felt like, at first i was sceptical...until she told me her story.  While she and her husband left with their two babies to attend her uncle's funeral, a couple of moving trucks completely cleared her house out.  The neighbors didnt think anything of it since the couple being robbed had just moved in a week ago.

But back to the food, the one item we couldnt get enough of was Allioli - literally translated to "garlic and oil".  They have a jarred vegan version made without eggs. It was so tasty that we ate a jar of it every day on fresh bread. As long as both Jonas and I BOTH ate it, all was OK.

To cut our thirteen-hour drive back home to Belgium, we spent a few days in a tiny town called Bedoin, located at the base of the infamous Tour de France climb of Mt. Ventoux.  When i checked out the town the evening we arrived, I was instantly in love.  All the cafes were filled with cyclists from all over the world. In a span of ten minutes, I heard accents from USA, UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Germany, and of course France. Bikes everywhere. By the look of it, people rode just about anything up the mountain from clunker mountain bikes to fancy road bikes more tricked out than i knew were possible.

After a good night sleep, we had our coffee, pasta, fresh bread and allioli, then headed up the hill.  I was so incredibly excited to ascend it for the very first time. Unfortunately my ass and lower back didnt share in my enthusiasm. They finally hit their limit of mountain climbing. I found this out 300m into the 22.7km climb with over 1600m altitude. Jonas rode ahead so i could suffer in peace. Every few meters I had to manually shake the knots out of my lower back and ass so I could pedal a few more strokes before repeating the whole process.  I can't even tell you how long it took because I dared not to time it.  Once i got to the Chalet Reynard where you are emptied out of the woods and onto the white limestone section, I knew i had 6km to go to the top.

I didnt know at the time what it was - maybe the view of the limestone landscape, spotting the swarm of cyclists congregating at the cafe, not wanting Jonas to wait too long at the top for me, or possibly wanting to firmly hold onto my somewhat tenuous track record thus far of not being passed by anyone  - but i started flying up the hill. A surge of energy perhaps from some unknown source not questioned by me pushed me straight up to the top like a rocket.  Just as I am approaching the final turn only a handful of meters from the top, a guy jumps out at me from the side of the road yelling profusely, "Stop, pas op, attention, gevaarlijk!" I thanked him for his support - not - and continued on my way, writing him off as one of those crazies who doesn't believe a woman should be allowed to ride her bike to the top. Whatever.  So i turned the corner and was nailed by winds of over 200kph. Damn.  I forced the pedals to turn against the sidewind but didn't get very far before I was a centimeter from the wall.  Luckily I was able to get off the bike safely.

The wind was so intense that I couldnt help but laugh at myself as i tried to bring my bike back down around the bend.  My laughing while holding the bike by the top tube as the wheels hung in the sky must have been such a sight because a couple came over to help me safely down the hill. It was so incredibly strong even around the turn that if you didnt sit on the ground you'd be taking a chance that you'd be whisked off the mountain.  While sitting on the ground trying to put on my windbreaker/kite, I then realized how i flew up the hill for those last kilometers. 

Getting down was a whole other project not taken lightly. Jonas rode the first few of kilometers with both feet clipped out, while i felt safer clipped into both pedals so i could put more pressure on the bike to keep it on the ground. Most were not so brave, we realized as we weaved in and out of the cyclists walking their bikes down the hill.  Shortly after we departed, the top was closed down to the public.  We found this out while sitting at a cafe in Bedoin, eavesdropping on all the war stories of other cyclists who dared to conquer nature's obstacle. Bikes were blown around, helmets broken, skin scraped.  Of one group of eight cyclists, only a single soul made it to the top. The stories go on and on.

The next day we instead rode Gorges de la Nesque - a gorgeous road that weaves in and out of a very deep valley.  From there we continued on to Sault and ascended the mountain once more.  My ass and back were feeling better so I was able to fully focus on the scenery. If i lived in Bedoin, I can see myself riding the Gorges every day.

Inspired by the Provence flair, as soon as Jonas and I returned to Belgium we quickly got to work on transforming our backyard to match the Provence theme.  We got the paints already - the Provence creme and the Provence blue. Once the painting projects are complete, we will work on our lavendar, oleander, olive, grape garden.  If we get a new camera, I'll be sure to take lots of photos.

Now that my week of easy recovery riding is complete, it is back to training next week. At this point, it looks like I should be back to the racing scene first part of July. Now if the weather here in Belgium can do a better job of mimicking that of Southern France - sans the floods.

Thanks for reading - this was a long one!