“The difference between cycling in Girona and cycling elsewhere is, in a word, Girona”.
David Welsh realised this the moment he arrived in the Catalonian town, and has never left. Plenty of other cycling destinations have the great weather, spectacular landscape, leg-numbing hills, pros buzzing around, but they don’t have Girona.
“Even if you weren’t to even touch a bike, you’d fall under the spell of this place. It’s just that special. A university town, it’s got plenty of nightlife and entertainment. Catalonians take their food seriously and the restaurants, cafes and bars are sensational. Just wander the cobbled laneways, explore the old part of town and you can see why everyone wants to come here,” said Dave.
“The secret’s out, now,” he grinned.
Dave and his wife Saskia Welch-van Vuuren are partly responsible for lifting the lid on this Spanish (cycling) destination-sensation.
Having moved to London from Devonshire, Dave was working for the man when he headed over to Barcelona to catch up with Spanish friends he’d met whilst working as a bike mechanic in his earlier years. A professional downhiller at the time, Dave didn’t need any encouragement to hit the trails with his mates. A Spanish club team made him a sponsorship offer and that’s where it all started. He had planned to visit for a fortnight, he ended up staying a year and then he ended up never leaving. In his first year alone he entered and raced more than 60 events. He’d found his biking mecca.
Enter the Girona Gran Fondo here
Fast forward more than 15 years and Dave and Saskia now run one of Europe’s most successful bike hire companies, Bike Breaks Girona.
“The idea for Bike Breaks probably started right at the very beginning, when my Spanish mates introduced me to a friend who was running his own wind surf hire business on the Costa Brava. I saw what he was doing and I thought to myself, I am not doing something right with my life. The sponsorship offer was a chance to do something about that,” he said.
It was the beginning of a charmed existence - life in a van, travelling into the Alps for training and racing, earning very little but living richly in other ways... Those slices in your life story that punctuate for all the right reasons.
The Saskia and Dave love story didn’t happen for a few years to come, until they met in their workplace (a mountain bike guide business). Their time managing and operating that business made them realise they were investing all their energy into a vision that ultimately belonged to someone else, and rightly so. So it was time for them to invest back into their own ideas, vision, lifestyle...
Bike Breaks started with ten bikes to hire. The fleet now consists of more than 300, road, mountain and cyclocross. The family ‘fleet’ has expanded, also, with Dave and Saskia’s young daughter Holly adding a third element to this multi-cultural family.
But Bike Breaks was never going to be the full-stop in this family business story.
“Whereas once upon a time your keen British or Irish cyclist might head to Mallorca for spring training, these days I can vouch a lot are coming here instead. I used to go to event shows and be asked where in Italy was Girona. These days everybody knows Girona!” beamed Dave.
So Dave and Saskia decided to put all their chips in, so to speak.
“We knew that Girona was developing - fast - as an elite cycling destination. Yet despite this it had no international cycling event that showcased the best of what it had to offer. Sas and me decided to start one rather than wait for someone else to do it,” explained Dave.
With such respect for the local community and culture, and such incredible knowledge for all things cycling in the area, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more capable duo to rise to the challenge.
“Bike Breaks is not a race event company, we’re a bike hire company. So the Girona Cycling Festival and particularly the Gran Fondo is pretty much a giant bike tour, with the riding and racing just another important element on top of the week-long social activities.”
With entrants staying in the historical part of Girona, and plenty of off-the-bike activities organised, the whole idea of this Girona Cycling Festival is to create an intimate experience for like-minded locals and foreigners to get to know each other and hopefully not just meet new riding buddies, but potentially develop great friendships.
“What’s happening is locals are getting the chance to meet international guests and show them what makes Girona really so incredible. Anyone who travels knows that you get a deeper experience and appreciation through the eyes and knowledge of a local, and that’s what happens at the Girona Cycling Festival,” said Dave.
“The Girona Cycling Festival has become like a window shop into the heart of Girona” said Dave.
The Girona Federation is one of the most proactive cycling bodies in Spain, and the way they embraced the Gran Fondo was incredible. Local authorities were only too happy to get on board as well and help facilitate closure of the old town, roads around the town and even mountain closure.
“In a nutshell, this is the year’s best week of biking in Girona”.
Details at a glance:
Girona Gran Fondo, 125km loop
Hill Climb, 10.4km Els Angels
Nocturn, 1.5km circuit/ 1 hour
For more information about the Girona Cycling Festival, visit their site here