Grantham pupils take on a European cycling challenge

Cyclists from West Grantham Academy St Hugh's.
Cyclists from West Grantham Academy St Hugh's.
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Four of committed cyclists from the West Grantham Academy have returned from a European Challenge cycling experience.

The group, made up of Harrison Lee, Harry Gill, Daniel Meek and Tristen Thorpe and accompanied by Hannah Lines and Paul Bennett, were based in Girona in Northern Spain, the base of many professional Tour de France riders.

The aim of the trip was to challenge all the elements of cycling, develop life skills and experience the local culture.

Prior to the trip the students attended weeks of training to develop the specific skills and fitness needed; most of this done during the freezing conditions of the prolonged winter.

Here’s what the group got up to during their six-day trip...

Day 1:

The first day started with a 2:15am departure to Luton airport to take the flight to Girona.

Despite the early start the students were full of enthusiasm. On arrival in Girona we were collected and taken to our accommodation in the heart of the historic old town. After settling in to the accommodation we headed out for lunch at the creperie where we sampled savoury and sweet crepes.

Next came the supermarket to buy supplies; students learnt which foods offer good nutrition for heath and cycling. Following this, we were issued with our bikes and equipment and introduced to the ride guides from Bike Breaks; Dave Welch and Neil Martin. The students also received a souvenir jersey and bottle.

Finally everybody helped with the preparation and clearing up of the evening meal in the apartment; a new skill to some!

Day 2:

The day started with breakfast in the apartment; again with everybody doing their bit to help.

We then headed out on the first day of cycling on the road guided by ex-professional and Olympian Neil Martin. The route covered 30km through the beautiful Catalunya countryside and a total of 450m vertical climbing, with some sections at a 12% incline. At around half way we stopped at a café for refreshments and chat about the experiences so far!

Following the ride a substantial lunch was taken in the apartment to aid recovery for the next ride followed by some relaxing and exploring the town.

For the evening meal a local restaurant was chosen and everybody sampled tapas!

Day 3:

Today was again a road ride out to the lake at Banyoles; venue for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Here we stopped for refreshments.

We then rode to the base of the climb of Rocacorba; a climb used by the local professional riders to test themselves. The climb boasts sections of 18% gradient! At the base of the climb the students were given the option to experience the first few kilometres.

Harrison was keen to test himself on the lower slopes so set of accompanied by Mr Bennett.

A few minutes later the rest of the group set off encouraged by Tristen “Come on, I’m not sitting here waiting around for them”

During their time on Rocacorba the students were lucky enough to see Australian professional road and time trial national champion Luke Durbridge ride past and say hi!

They all rode an impressive 6-7km up the climb before heading down and back through winding lanes to Girona.

The total distance for the day was 61km and 1112m of vertical climbing (more than the height of Snowdon).

The rest of the day followed a similar routine as the previous day however the evening meal was cooked in the apartment by Tristen with Daniel assisting!

Day 4:

Today we changed to mountain bikes for a 23km off road loop into the local hills. After bike set up was complete we were briefed by our ride guide for the day, Dave, before setting out on the trails.

After a flat start along the picturesque valley the trails headed up into the forested hills. At half way we stopped for refreshments at a café overlooking Girona.

The route then climbed steeply onto a ridge and eventually to the high point at 369m, a castle, where we were able to see up to 200km; including across to Girona, the Mediterranean sea, the Pyrenees and into France!

There was then a mix of technical and fast descent back to Girona. This part was particularly fun!

The total vertical climbing for the day was 610m – some going on mountain trails!

The rest of the day again involved eating, resting, exploring, shopping and eating again!

Day 5:

The final day and the big challenge! The steep 6km climb to Els Angels at 500m altitude!

By now everybody was well into the morning routine of breakfast and preparing for the days ride! Today however there were some tired legs and bodies as we headed to Bike Breaks to meet Neil.

We headed out of the town with the sun shining and made a good pace as we made our way through the valley to the first short but steep climb of the day.

After a quick stop at the top to admire the view we descended into the next valley and made our way along the road to the base of Els Angels. From this point the road gradually climbs all the way to the base of the climb.

The climb of Els Angels is long and steep; particularly on the lower slopes where it ramps up to 15% gradient in places and averages 10% for km at a time. It is more forgiving towards the top so with that in mind the students set of to conquer the climb!

37min14sec later Daniel Meek was the first to crest the summit having ridden all the way without a foot touching the floor – a fantastic achievement. Daniel has now set the benchmark time for future trips.

Not far behind the rest of the students followed and at the top they were rewarded with amazing views and refreshments in the café; the cake is particularly nice here!

All that was left now was the 11km descent back to the outskirts of Girona; the bit everybody was looking forward too!

And that was it for the day; 43km completed with 1255m of vertical climbing! A fantastic achievement and some great memories.

Finally the day was capped with a win for Girona resident Dan Martin, son of ride guide Neil, in one of the biggest one day cycle races; Liege-Batsone-Liege. The students joined the family for a celebration that evening before saying their goodbyes.

Day 6:

Home time for some tired riders! As the plane landed back at Luton the students asked “can we just stay on the plane and go back to Girona” That says it all!

During the four days riding the students covered 157km and 3400m of vertical climbing – that is the equivalent of climbing from sea level to the top of the UK’s highest mountain Ben Nevis 2.5 times!

Throughout the entire trip the students were a credit to themselves and the school. On a personal note I would like to say how proud I was of them all and how it was amazing it was to see them develop during the trip.