Do you know where we’re going? Yes?! Ok cool. I’ll download the course map. There’s a shortcut route?? Yeah I’ll download that too. Ok so where are we meeting and when? Wait, we’re meeting before 6? I thought that’s when I would be waking up!! Ok no worries, see you then…
Super early Saturday morning starts are never ideal, especially in a party city like Barcelona where you have to dodge drunken revellers and wonder who on earth are they shouting at that loudly at 5.40 am. Miscreants aside, today is the On Y Va Honor Race! So who cares, I’ll sleep when I’m dead. An early start at a glamorous neon orange petrol station followed by an effortless link up with the other van in our convoy and the route is set for the race start point deep in Tarragona.
The first thing to note is that it’s windy, seriously windy! The trees look about as drunk and sideways as the revellers back in the city. Dust skims over the queue of cars waiting to get into the car park. The Honor Race now in its second year has attracted 260 riders of varying abilities, ages, and even one admirable gent with a prosthetic leg. As you would expect from On Y Va, there is a strong offering of food and coffee ahead of the start. The spectacular location of Mas de les Gralles is enticing but enjoying it will have to wait as everyone eagerly gets ready to set off on the 140km route.
The race starts a little frantically and without much order but the second you hit the initial half km gravel section, your body is alert and ready for what’s to come. First point of confusion, is it left or right on the main road?? The ever reliable Garmin map decides not to show direction so it’s a guess in favour of heavy tail winds. Ten effortless kilometres later and it’s apparent the wrong decision was made, so it’s a struggle back into the 25 km/h wind to the start point. Still no idea… Alright, if all else fails tag in with another strong group who seem to know where they’re going. Done! We’re on the correct path.
As the road begins to wind up gradually, dipping in and out of the mountain side, you are spoilt by views out over Catalunya. You keep getting sneak previews of where the road is headed next and as you descend down into the next valley you are met by row after row of vineyards seemingly stretching off into eternity. The road surface is smooth, the weather is gorgeous, the company is superb, here’s to the next hundred odd kilometres!
For a ride of this length including the multitude of climbs, preparation is key. Trying to test out a new cleat alignment on a new pair of shoes is not the smartest move you can make. Cramps are quite possibly the worst thing you could hope for, especially across both legs from knee to hip. As so much time had already been wasted going the wrong way, there was no time for a proper rest stop and a coffee so isotonics and a magnesium shot would have to suffice. It also helps having a phenomenal group of people riding with you who are prepared to assist you with a push on each remaining climb.
With checkpoints placed off the main route, the guys at On Y Va really know how to make the most of the region. The stops took in a variety of stunning monasteries atop hills looking out over Tarragona. The climbs also served as fitting motivation and camaraderie between estranged riders on the day.
Crossing the finishing line after one final slog over the gravel path, entering into the grounds of the Mas de les Gralles makes every cramp fuelled kilometre worth it. There are crates of sweets, savoury biscuits, fruit slices, coffee, juice, burgers and of course beer, what more could you ask for. Wary riders surround the pool cooling off their wary legs in the cold water with a pumping soundtrack of euro-trance and conversation. On Y Va sure know how to organise an event. Next year can’t come soon enough.
To find out more about the Honor Race series head to thehonorrace.com
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Words & Photos: Charles Nicholson