When Andrew and I were planning our cyclocross season, we found an awkward period in racing where there weren’t many races happening near us, and no C1s at all, which made traveling really far sort of not worth it (we will be driving 14 hours to the Resolution Cup C2 weekend in a few days but disregard). So we thought “hey – let’s travel the freaking most far and go to another country!”
And our trip to Spain was born. We did two C2 weekends there: Manlleu and Vic the first weekend (both races about 90 minutes from Barcelona) and the third in Karrantza, a ~6hr drive up, over, and down the other side of the Pyrenees and into the Basque region.
We spent the predominant amount of time in Barcelona, with a club teammate of mine from Chicago. Y’all, it’s amazing to have true and lasting friendships. You can go abroad and stay with someone for 13 days!!! If you haven’t heard of Barcelona (you live under a rock), it’s a city in Northern Spain. They speak Catalan there on account of Barcelona being in Catalonia and pretty much everyone knew we were American before we even opened our mouths. We did make a great effort to speak Spanish. Like where we live in Asheville, crazy damn tourists are overrunning the city, and many of them speak English, so we were trying to be polite and integrate into the natural landscape.
We were also trying not to get taken advantage of, although a few cab drivers took us on some circuitous routes and one lady selling nuts from a stand charged me $20 for about 10 macadamia nuts rolled in sugar. I bought and ate them anyway.
We had hoped that the racing in Spain might be a good chance at getting European cyclocross experience without getting our teeth kicked in in Belgium or the Netherlands. We were pretty much wrong, but we had a great time. Manlleu and Vic were relatively international given that the particular part of Spain is accessible for many of the other countries in Europe. The fields were predominantly Spanish, but there were riders from France, Belgium, and the Netherlands there as well. The courses were cleverly looped into a relatively small landmass, just as they are here in the U.S. The first race in Manlleu twice crossed over a literal stream, which was unrideable as the banks of the stream turned into a sucking slop of mud. Vic as well had a bit of standing water, but the first third of the course rolled up a long climb, which made for some physically as well as technically demanding racing.
I think we got lucky in that all three races were relatively dry. We only brought one bike each and had no one in the pit. We were in Spain during the rainy season as well, or so we are told, so we are thankful that the weather worked in our favor. We only brought three sets of wheels to share, and on the second weekend pre-ride, I rolled right over a giant nail that rendered that tubular trash, so equipment-wise, I think we will have to find a way to plan differently for the next international trip.
The second weekend in Karrantza, I think Andrew and I were literally the only two non-Spanish racers in attendance at the entire race. Our boy Javier, race promoter, did help us find lodging in a 150-year old spa hotel that had healing waters and where the staff called us ‘chicos’ because it was evident that we didn’t know what the hell we were doing there and I think our Spanish got worse and worse as the week went. But, the hotel was surrounded by those dramatic, rocky mountains that were also covered in greenery – something you don’t really see in the U.S. You either have the rolling green of Appalachia or the cutting gray of the Rockies. And there was a full free bottle of wine every night at dinner, which was pretty astounding to us Americanos. Javier also provided little cups of wine and tortilla – a classic Spanish dish of eggs, onions, and potatoes, cooked up in a fat tortilla form – after the race. Our boy.
The courses in Spain were tight – they adhered to the UCI regulations but there were lots of twisty turns back to back to back, which is something I guess Andrew and I either suck at or just never practice.
The courses were also bumpy. Northern Spain has some of the most striking and beautiful vistas I have ever seen, with lots of pastoral areas, but it means that we raced through these pastoral areas. The courses weren’t in the groomed urban parks of the U.S. – they are bumpy and torn up. It was hard to find a rhythm, and you had to push a big gear to even out the bumps. And our competition was fierce! We had no clue what to expect. I got crushed by the same two girls all three races (and also by some other girls the first two races), and only afterward did I look them up to find that they were ranked 23 and 24 in the world, and the Spanish natty champ got 8th in Tabor the weekend after so that was like, cool. And Andrew got to race Diether Sweeck!
Aside from cyclocross racing, Spain was pretty much just like an awesome U.S. People drove scooters or small cars, and I didn’t feel like I was going to fucking die when I had to ride in the street. The food there is so fresh. I wouldn’t say it was better than in the U.S. because in Spain you have to go to the meat store (carniceria), bread store (panaderia), fruit store (fruteria), and cheese store (don’t know that one) to get your groceries. We have all of those great things in the U.S. but we’re lazy as shit so we just go to the supermarket and sacrifice the quality and freshness for preservatives and convenience. Food is significantly cheaper in Spain however. And people stay out late! They also walk to get places in Spain and spend lots of time outside, smoke lots of hand-rolled cigarettes, and their style is off the chain.
10/10 we would return, perhaps to live. Seems like cost of living is like any urban place in the U.S. and the racing competition is great, and the rest of European racing is super accessible. The people are incredibly friendly. And, after racing in Europe, I’ve observed that everyone speaks at least two languages, which makes me incredibly envious. Spanish is the language I have spent almost a decade studying, and it would be the easiest to pick up. They say you learn the best when you live and study somewhere you are forced to speak constantly.
Barcelona is also only about an hour from Girona, where many professional cyclists live and train for the climate, the roads, and accessibility to the rest of Europe, and the climbing.
Andrew and I are incredibly thankful that we were able to race internationally and experience the world through cycling. Our biggest thanks goes to our partners for helping us race this year and work to better ourselves in the activity that we love.
- The Pony Shop
- Bike Index
- Champion System