Fifty thousand visitors attended the Sea Otter Europa cycling festival in Girona. Lance Armstrong lived there and planted the seed. Since then, a large cycling tourism business has valued an industry that includes Bed & Bike hotels, themed restaurants, and technical clothing. Tourist agencies already move stays and routes.
The connection between the American, who lost his seven Tour de France due to doping, and that festival, which has dismissed the sixth edition with more than five million euros of direct return, is Girona. The city where cyclists from all over the planet make a pilgrimage: it has attracted the best, from Armstrong himself to Chris Froome.
Armstrong arrived in 2001, from Nice, and 21 years later, the director of Sea Otter Europe, Albert Balcells, argues that he “put Girona on the map”. “Everyone wants to come here to practice cycling and it’s true about Armstrong, but there was also an environment that was already there. Now, the city is one of the international centers of this sport,” he celebrates.
Balcells saw that Girona was “a destination that is growing, fashionable and with the possibility of marrying the sports part of a fair with the industrial one”. And this last Sea Otter Europe has brought together 350 brands and 20% of the visitors came from abroad, with more than fifty nationalities represented.
The global business reaches the point of the existence of a factory like Megamo. The company limited itself to branding the products with its logo, but now it proudly stamps the Girona name on each of its bicycles.
“Armstrong helped a lot”, acknowledges one of his managers, Oriol Gil. He points to gravel – road models with studded wheels – as the trend outside the cities, because in the city the current bet is electric bicycles.
For this reason, a firm specialized in that other sector such as Youin, based in the province of Barcelona, has approached Girona this September with the ambition of making its offer known. Its executive director, Josep Maria Albert, points out the importance of the Armstrong figure, but also stresses that Girona has “an environment that is very inviting to cycling”.
Albert explains that the electric bike is linked to the field of sustainability and green energy and that hotels often offer rental of this type of vehicle to their clients.
Hotels and restaurants for cyclists
Some of these hotels are spread throughout the province, with prominent places in cycling tourism such as the Pyrenees or the Costa Brava, with chains such as Guitart in Lloret de Mar.
Some go further: the Ciutat de Girona, CMC and Carlemany hotels already offer bike stations and breakfasts adapted to the cycling experience. The first has a sports laundry service and the Costa Brava Girona Tourist Board awards a seal for specialized accommodation (bed and bike).
The triathlete Jan Frodeno, world champion, is the face of the La Comuna apartments. And there are already more than ten agencies specialized in preparing stays and outings for cyclists, with Eat Sleep Cycle as the standard-bearer: it has just opened a new headquarters due to the increase in its business volume.
There are dozens of bars and restaurants that have specialized in this cycling world, such as La Fábrica, owned by Canadians Christian (former professional cyclist) and Amber Meier, or Federal Cafè, owned by former Australian runner Rory Sutherland. And stores, as well as clothing companies such as Chapter Tree, which belongs to former professional David Millar, another adopted son.
The university studies the phenomenon
The cycling boom in Girona has reached such a dimension that its university has decided to investigate it. A report has been prepared that explains this success by its geography (between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees), its climate, which is favorable almost all year round, its connectivity (with an airport and a high-speed train station), its quality of life and the anonymity.
In the same sense, Sergi Güell, president of the Massi-Tactic UCI Women’s Team, a team based in Torroella de Montgrí (Girona) of the highest women’s world category, affirms that Girona “is an ideal place for cyclists”.
Because it treasures “pretty roads and beautiful places” and it is a “beautiful, small, welcoming city, easy for cyclists. In addition, it eats very well and is cheap for people from the United States or northern Europe.” Güell assures that “it is a fashion that Armstrong started” and “it is a ball that has been growing”.
The Israel Premier-Tech team has several cyclists in Girona and has made several pre-season stays in its province, attracted by its good roads and “its variable terrain, its low traffic and its comfortable climate”.
Zak Dempster, a former Australian cyclist and today one of the directors of Froome’s squad, highlights another attribute of Girona: “the feeling of community”. “Having a support network is what most international cyclists miss during their first years as professionals.”
“Girona provides a home for cyclists who are a long way from home at a difficult stage in their professional lives. I think the big draw is the feeling of community with other young cyclists who are going through similar things in their lives,” says Dempster. . He came to Girona in 2011 as a professional and lives in Olot, where he met his wife and has been his father.
One of the great names of the current squad that has made Girona his home is Robert Gesink, who in a video by Team Jumbo-Visma emphasized that “Girona is ideal for cyclists”.
In the video, entitled ‘The mecca of cyclists’, Gesink walked along the walls of Girona and said: “If you live here it is less hard to go out to train, because there is a lot of variety. You can go to the mountains or to the beach. Here you never you get bored.”