Ride report - El repte del Ter
Last saturday I took part in a long distance mtb/gravel event following the river Ter in Catalonia. I couldn't train enough to do the full 200k version (studies and work do take a toll), so I decided to go for the "for mortals" version, which consists of a rather decent 126 km (78.30 mi) trek.
I toured this route a few years ago, and it's every bit as beautiful as I remembered, a real shame that I missed the first kilometres, on the Pyrenees, but then, as you'll see there is plenty of stunning views and quite a lot of V.
So, it's 9 am in the town of Manlleu. Kickoff is at the sports hall near the river at 10. I get there, install the "race" number on the bike and meet a mate with whom, in theory, I would be riding that day. My bike starts getting looks and comments: a steel rigid mtb with an alt bar (misfit fme bar, the one with a bit of drop). I'm surrounded by 29ers, the odd 27.5, a 26er or two, even some full suspension stuff... Still, I remember the route well enough that I think that suspension is on the "nice-to-have" area. Crass mistake, as we will see.
Two minutes before kickoff a guy rushes through, he's the first one from the 200k route and has covered the first 76 km in less than three hours. Whoah. So, siren blows and off we go. We run in a pack on gravel and minor tarmac roads for the first 5-6 km, and then, I have to stop to retrieve my tool saddle bag, that has fallen from its place. I pop it into my pack (and my nice friend has left me on my own) and, of course, I get lost. I may have lost only 10-15 minutes, but still, it's a pain. Off we go to the only serious climb of the day: 9 km on a tarmac road, with about 400 m gain. Not much, but not a piece of cake either, and the heat starts to beat. I meet two girls that started in the same place that I did, they are already walking, pushing their bike and think to myself "I hope I'm wrong, but this smells like dnf like hell". Soon enough I meet my colleague, turns out that his great shape was rather a great ability to exagerate. I try getting at his pace but he's really slow, so we agree that I'll wait at the top of the climb, at our first control. I get there, and a glass of sports drink later, there he comes.
The view from the top. The Sau reservoir.
Then the tough part of the route starts, on maybe the wildest part of my country outside of the Pyrenees. Two enormous reservoirs in a deep valley, with only a couple of cottages. We cycle relatively close to the water on a cement paved road (god forbid I should fall here, I think, we'd be in for some nice, nice rash) and, after a wicked descent, a leg breaker starts: up, down, up, down, up, down... and that's for 20 km or so until we get to the second control right on the dam, where a guy also takes pictures. Here I agree with my friend that it's better if every one follows his own rythm and we'll meet at the end. I eat a bit of bread with nutella, a couple slices of orange and off we go.
My photo at the dam.
If I should think of a way to define the next 30 km I'd say gloriously nightmarish: stunning views, jaw-chattering rocky track-roads (suspension! My kingdom for suspension!) or full of of loose sand (I even decided to throw myself against the side of the road: rather have a controlled crash - I didn't even fall from my bike - than wiping off downhill) and what begins to be scorching heat. Midday approaches and we're in the middle of a heat wave. The nice morning fog has disappeared and now it's raw sun. After 15 km or so, right as I remembered there's a small mountain creek. I dunk my head there and wash my arms and legs. A wet bandana later, it looks like I'll be able to make it without getting a heat stroke. Definitely, getting a water bladder was a great idea, I almost have drunk 2 or 3 litres by now. I finally get to the dam, and it's only 10 km downhill until the next control, where I plan to eat and have a nice rest. However, it isn't so easy. There's a nice face wind and it's hot as hell. I finally get to the control at around 13:30, 55 km after the beginning of the race, and the first thing I do is getting to a water fountain and put my head under the faucet until this "burning ring" sensation fades. Then I take care of food: a nutella sandwich, a few pieces of hard sausage, half a banana and an orange slice or two.
Susqueda reservoir: wild, beautiful and hellish
The pleasure to dunk your head in ice-cold water
Dam of Susqueda
At the control
I wait until around 14 when I finally whatsapp my mate, who still has some time to get there. We agree to meet at the end, so off I go. Here, although it has zero technical difficulties (an essentially flat gravel path) starts the toughest part of the day: heat becomes unbearable (someone says we hit 44ºC/111ºF under the sun) and I start feeling rather sick. I get passed by quite a lot of faster riders, doing the 200k challenge and I decide to stop at a shadow to rest and evaluate my situation. I consider quitting, but I'm too crazy for that, so, another wash under a fountain, an energy gel (I don't usually use them, but I keep one for emergencies, and damned if this is not one), and a short muttering of "Rule V, b*stard, rule V" and suddenly, most of my problems disappear, I catch up with a few groups that passed me earlier on and start cycling with a group of riders from a club, some nice, middle-aged people that carry a just-right-for-me rythm. I loose them at a junction, where they decide to take an alternative route, and end up with a local couple, where we get to the next control. I leave this couple behind and start cycling again with this group first, and then, I'm left behind and join a group of 4, with two riders wearing a jersey from another event and two loners like me. Road is still flat, but it becomes sandy and sometimes incredibly muddy, as we pass corn fields that are being watered (creating a tropical rainforest effect, which was everything but nice). But still we get on. We get to a river and have a dip, shoes and all (but careful not to wet our bibs, chafing is the last thing we need). A short climb later, we arrive to the next control at around 17:30, near a small dam. One of the guys at this group starts throwing up, so we stay there for a while until he recovers, which he fully does. The heat becomes a lot more bearable and we start pedaling faster: only 30 odd km to go. Another control and then, for some reason, I start getting behind. At the last control, I take a longer break, and the group splits, one fellow stays with me and I just suck wheel for 5 km or so. The last 5 km are rather anti-climatic: the end proves difficult to find and we have to cross a seaside touristic village, so there we are, running under 10 kph and ringing our bells. We finally get to the end, with a nice short but steep climb until the end where we make a final push (his argument is that if his wife sees him beaten by a guy on a rigid steel mtb when he just bought an almost 3,000 euro bike, he'll be in deep trouble). It's 19:20. Maybe not an impressive time, but I've managed to survive the heat, the rocks and make it to the end, which is more than enough for me. Now, cold shower and beer with my newly acquired mates, until my colleague gets there an hour and a half after. And those two girls I saw pushing a bike after 10 km? They finished. Slowly but got there: my full respect to them.
Flat dirt roads.
The Montgrí (Grey Mountain) castle. The end is right below).
So, although last day I had a huge crash at the late afternoon, on Monday I was right as rain again and ready to get on the bike again, which I'll be doing shortly!
Last edited by pedalsimotxilla; 07-07-15 at 09:49 AM.
Gorgeous scenery and it sounds like a great ride. I'm adding Catalonia to my places to visit list.