And they're off! But not quite. Today I met the riders for the first time and vanned down to Sitges, a charming old Catalan town on the Mediterranean Coast south of Barcelona. The self-photo below from my hotel window documents the arrival but not the charm.
We were to do a warm up ride of 50 km in the mountains around Sitges, which included the infamous Rat Panat, or Hanging Bat in English, which averages over 13% for 5 km with long stretches reaching 23%. See profile below and think 'Hanging Bat' in the middle portion.
Unfortunately, just as we were about to leave, having lusted for this moment for a year in some cases, the second of two spectacular lightning and thunder storms to strike Thomsom Tours this summer hit, and the Hanging Bat became the route less taken due to dangerous conditions there even after the storm passed. Instead we did a 38 km loop to the south with some challenging climbs but nothing greater than 18%.
The atmosphere here is pure testosterone, with 25 serious riders. Lots of bike bling, rounded shoulders and negligible body fat. The serious rider look. One guy is the reigning age group (55+) road bike champion of the state of Kansas for God's sakes! Peter Thomson who began the company in 2002 is leading the A ride, which I took today and will again tomorrow. So far, I'm hanging with them, but it's beginning to sink in that this is no ordinary ride. During his introductory comments Peter emphasized that it's a 'challenge' not a 'ride' or a typical European 'tour', since we are literally riding every inch from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic across 900 km of mountains accruing 56000 feet of elevation gain along the way. The other guys seem to be chomping at the bit at the thought of this, whereas I have to admit, the jury is still out as to whether I can do it not having done anything like it before. That is, a century a day for a week (almost). I've got the Enduralytes and will give it a try. I've also got an amazing bike: a 2009 Orbea Orca with a triple (52-39-30) and 12-27 in the back. I'll be using all of it. You know how much I love my Trek, but this bike is special. They sell them at the end of the season at a major discount.....
I've been hanging out with a bunch of docs from Cincinnatti, who basically ride all over the world with their spare time. They've been telling me grim war stories from the trenches of the American private health care system. Softening the blow was dinner at Claudius' tonight which for me included a sumptious gnocchi, buschetta and two desserts. Peter says we need about 6000 calories a day so I'm taking him at his word.
Tomorrow we do 150 km up to the Spanish Pyrenees. Til then, Adios.