Riding a country in two days

“Get away from everything and enjoy riding like never before”

Ivan Cortina is a 24-year-old professional cyclist from Gijón, Spain. In 2017, he joined Team Bahrain McLaren and made his way through the pack with victories in international races such as La Vuelta a España or Paris-Nice. Ivan, who is considered a great sprinter and cyclist for one-day races, is a cycling enthusiast above all: riding his bike gives him the freedom to explore his surroundings and have a good time with his friends in nature.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, he was confined to his home in Andorra for weeks (see "Light behind Lockdown"). It was during this time that he began to imagine and prepare, almost secretly, his next cycling projects... he called us early in May to document his first post-lockdown adventure: a journey through all the roads of a country, Andorra, in just 2 days. Let's do it !

“After many days in quarantine and not being able to go outside and feel the air on my face as I ride my bike, I have had a lot of time to reflect on how fortunate I am to be a professional cyclist and to live off what I like best, feeling free on a bicycle. I've also had time to think about new adventures and projects.

During the lockdown, I spent many hours on my computer designing all sorts of routes on Strava. A route from Andorra to Asturias in 4 days, gravel tracks in the area, and many other ideas popped into my head.

This adventure began with a simple idea : trying to ride all the roads of Andorra in 2 days. An experience which would give me the opportunity to get away from everything, enjoy riding like never before and train at the same time. I wanted to make the most of these two days and ride for hours on end to strengthen my endurance for the one-day races. We had already been training for a month, and the body was already starting to react positively to such hard workouts. Before getting into the short and explosive workouts, I really like to carry out long training sessions to build my endurance.

The moment of truth!

Tuesday 9 June

The alarm clock goes off at 6:45 AM. I think I am so excited about the challenge, that it only takes me a split second to get out of bed, which is usually a big effort. I get dressed and I go out with Nalu (my dog) to buy bread and a few sweet treats to have for breakfast.

I set off at 8:30 AM right after a good breakfast and three double espressos. Just a few miles later, it starts raining. As I climb the first mountain pass of the day, Ordino Arcalis, the weather doesn’t improve at all. On the contrary, it is zero degrees Celsius and it’s snowing when I get to the summit.

I start to descend quickly to gain impulse for the second climb. I can hardly brake as the cold air and water stiffen my fingers and feet. On top of that, I am not wearing the most suitable clothes, since we thought it would be a radiant sunny day. The weather in the mountains is very unpredictable and it may change from one second to another.

Things change after the grim beginning, and the day turns out very differently. It gradually opens up and the temperature slowly rises. On this first part of the day, I am fortunate to be accompanied by Edu Prades and Bernat Font, so I don’t feel so alone. We ride together for three hours, and halfway through the journey, we stop to refuel our energy with a coffee and a good piece of cake. After this, we go different ways.

Now alone, I continue climbing kilometers of gradient until I reach Port de Envalira, the highest mountain pass in Andorra at 2,408 meters of altitude. Of course, it’s very cold.

I descend 5 kilometers until I reach the border with France. I turn around again through the pass of Envalira into Vall d'Ransol, which together with Vall d'Incles, are the two most beautiful valleys in Andorra in my opinion.

So far, everything has been relatively easy. Except for the weather, which was not the best at the beginning. It was cold and wet, and my feet are still soaked after 6 hours on the bike. I can’t feel my toes. However, on the way to Els Cortals de Encamp, the last mountain pass of the day, I run out of energy, so I am basically in survival mode. I can’t keep a steady rhythm and I don’t have the strength to pedal. The road ahead seems endless.

Once I reach the top, everything changes. I have almost overcome the first day of this challenge. At this point, I don’t know who is more tired, me or my photographer, who is tagging along for the two days on his 125 cc scooter with his two cameras and the drone. He goes straight home. The only thing left for me to do is to descend the mountain pass, ride 5 kilometers on gravel alongside the Engolasters lake and get home, which is also uphill.

I get home around 6:30 PM. I just have an SIS recovery shake and I wait for dinner, which is definitely the best time of the day. Three pizzas and three pieces of garlic bread! Yummy! Luckily, my girlfriend is with me. She is a masseuse, and she leaves my legs as good as new for the next day.

Wednesday 10 June

It’s 7:00 AM. The alarm has been ringing for 15 minutes, but I haven’t even heard it. The body wants to rest some more, but it is not possible. The longest and hardest day, in terms of distance and gradient, is ahead of us. However, the difficulty of the first stay was “different” as most of the day was above 1,800 meters of altitude, and the lack of oxygen takes a toll.

At 8:30 AM, after another good breakfast and another coffee, I start uphill straight away towards Pal and Port de Cabus. These mountain passes aren’t too bad. But after this, comes the hardest moment of this challenge: the climb to Arinsal, which I struggle up. Then, Beixalis. The feeling of total exhaustion is overwhelming. Every time I pedal, I feel like giving up and resting. But I manage to get to the top, where I rest and regain strength. This time, I have been on the bike for over four hours.

Two huge tuna fish toasts with oil and tomato, a big piece of chocolate cake, two double espressos, and a bottle of sparkling water. All of this and a nice conversation in the sun with other cyclists and motorbikers allow me to free myself from such a horrible feeling.

So I set course for coll de la Gallina, one of the most legendary mountain passes in Andorra thanks to the cyclist Joaquim Rodríguez A.K.A. "Purito" (his favorite climb). It is 10 km at 10% gradient on average, which surprisingly I climb very quickly, and I still feel strong after the stop. From here, I set off to Os de Civis, which is the border with Spain. When I get down, I run into a group of Argentinians having a real Argentinian barbecue. So I stop to hang out with them for a while and I get to cool my legs in the river.

With my stomach now full, I get back on the bike to finish off the last part of the day: Aixas, Rabassa and Certers. Only three mountain passes, but they are hard and one of them is very long. I conquer the first one, Aixas, without a problem. As I face the second one, La Rabassa, I feel I don’t have enough strength to face the uphill. So I decide to take two energy gels that help me crown the summit. However, my mind is on the last climb of the day. It is only 5 km, but I have already been riding for 8 hours and I have very little energy left. Finally, I take on Certers, the last mountain pass of the day. Frankly, I think it’s because my mind knows that it is the end, but I start to feel euphoric. I make it to the top, and it only takes me 35 minutes to get down and get home through the city center. All the strength I didn’t have before seems to come back at full force for that final stretch.

So after almost 9 hours and 6 200 meters of climbing, I finish my challenge and I feel ecstatic.

Personally, I think these two days have been extremely rewarding and unforgettable.
Although I had company for part of the journey, I was alone for 80 % of the time. I used my headphones to listen to some music during the climbs, but I was immersed in my own thoughts for most of the day. After so many hours, you get to a point where you almost meditate.

I had never spent so many hours on the bike, especially not two days in a row. This makes me have great respect for the long distance races and competitions that have always caught my attention and which I’ve always held in high regard. It also makes me appreciate the work of masseurs and mechanics in our competitions. When we are competing, we only have to worry about giving our best and being 100% focused . But in this case, I had to prepare all the food, wash the bike, do the laundry, etc. Things we don’t value so much until we do something like this.

See you in the next adventure!"

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