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Pirinexus 360 recee

The Pirinexus is a permanently way-marked trail that loops around some of the finest scenery in Catalonia and encompasses both Spain and France.

This May cyclists were able to ride it as a single stage event named the Pirinexus 360

I intend to be on the start line for the second edition to be held in 2016. As part of my preparation for this I decided to pre- ride the route as a 'leisurely' cycle tour over four days. There are minor differences between the standard Pirinexus route and that followed by the Pirinexus 360. However I chose to make use of the stage descriptions and gps tracks available on the main Pirinexus website whilst using the Pirinexus's official race hotel, the Hotel Carlemany in Girona as the start/ finish point. 

I broke the route into four days:

 

Monday Girona- Bonamati
Bonamati- Amer
Amer- Sant Feliu De Pallerols
Sant Feliu De Pallerols- Olot
Olot- Sant Joan De Les Abadesses
Sant Joan De Les Abadesses- Sant Pau De Seguries
Sant Pau De Seguries- Camprodon

Tuesday Camprodon- Col D'Ares
Col D'Ares- Prats-De-Mollo-La Preste
Prats-De-Mollo-La Preste- Arles-Sur-Tech
Arles-Sur-Tech- Arles-Sur-Tech (2)
Arles-Sur-Tech (2)- Amelie-les-Bains
Amelie-les-Bains- Ceret
Wednesday Ceret- Le Boulou
Le- Boulou- Maureillas-Las-Illas
Maureillas-Las-Illas- Col De Panissars
Col De Panissars- La Jonquera
La Jonquera- Campany
Campany- Peralada
Peralada- Peralada (2)
Peralada(2)- Castello D'Empuries
Castello D'Empuries- Sant Pere Pescador
Sant Pere Pescador- Sant Marti D'Empuries
Sant Marti D'Empuries- Bellcaire D'Emporda
Bellcaire D'Emporda- Torroella De Montgri
Thursday Torroella De Montgri- Pals
Pals- Palafrugell
Palafrugell- Palamos
Palamos- Calonge & Sant Antoni
Calonge & Sant Antoni- Sant Feliu De Guixols
Sant Feliu De Guixols- Castell D'Aro
Castell D'Aro- Llagostera
Llagostera- Llambilles
Llambilles- Girona

The aim was to allow time to enjoy the riding and ensure the trip was as much a holiday as a training experience. Prior to setting off we stayed at the official race hotel, the Hotel Carlemany. The staff were wonderful and the hotel is very nice. 

Then came the business of pedalling. After a few unexpected mishaps we commenced pedalling early Monday afternoon. Our destination Camprodon, about 105 Km's. This would encompass stages 21-27 of the Pirinexus route. Our stop off point would be the Hotel Edelweiss
 
Stage 21 leaves Girona and then follows quite, wide and mainly well surfaced tracks to Bonamati effectively shadowing the path of the River Ter.  The part within Girona itself were a little awkward to follow as the signage for the route is quite discrete and Girona is full of beautiful buildings to look at. Stage 22 continues along this greenway until reaching El Pasterall where the route picks up disused railway. A short while into this stage the surrounding mountains begin to come into clearer view giving a glimpse of what lies ahead. The stage finishes in Amer. Stage 23 is basically a long uphill drag through the woods. It includes the climb towards the Coll d'en Bas. By this point I was suffering with the heat and making hard work of the ride. At various points the fresh water fountains that are present along the route proved invaluable. 
Stage 24 took us into Olot where we paused for some food. This is my most vivid memory of this stage but I am probably doing it an injustice. I just needed food! Stage 25 begins innocently and then climbs out of Olot. I suffered on this climb in a big way. It would be easy to blame the weight of my bike, the gearing (8 speed Alfine) but the reality is I came in under trained and carrying too much personal excess baggage. The climb takes you up Coll dell Coubet and Coll Santigosa. The reward for the climb is the descent that follows, simply amazingly good fun. stage 26 and 27 are a it of a fuzzy memory for me as I didn't re-group from blowing up on the climb. However the hotel was a very welcome sight and a nice meal in a local restaurant helped. 

Day 2 .. 

The plan for the day was to follow the pit exes route from Camprodon to Ceret. This would encompass stages 28-33 of the Pirinexus. The first stage worried me after my 'performance' yesterday as it was basically an 18km climb to the col d'Ares which was described as the highest point on the route. the crest of the hill effectively markets the border between Spain and France. the climb was pretty much constant but my gearing fine and I reached the top without too much fuss. At the top we paused to take in the views. Stage 29 is basically just one huge smile filled descent. Loved it. At the end of this descent is the village of Prats de Mollo. After being declined service at two restaurants we foundation very friendly pizzeria in the square where the food was excellent and the staff super friendly. Stage 30 continues along the D 115 and is basically downhill with some more stunning views to enjoy. Stage 31 continues with this general downhill trend taking you past the Gorge de la Fou, apparently the narrowest gorge in the world. Stage 32 ends in Amelie les Bains which brought back memories of a previous gearsandtears training camp. The way out of this village felt a bit awkward but was possibly due to inattention than anything else. The final stage of the day, stage 33 included some stretches of a very well surfaced disused railway. On arrival in Ceret we sought out our accommodation at Hotel le Mas Trilles. Wow, stunning and again exceptionally helpful staff.  Among the other guests were some other riders also enjoying the Pirinexus route. 
For me the day was much more relaxed than yesterday and devoid of personal trauma. Tomorrow will be a longer day in the saddle but I'm looking forward to it. So far the route has been stunning. The bike and it's set up have proved reliable and today the legs were happier ;) 

Day 3.. 

Today's ride was intended to take in stages 34' and then 1- 11 of the pirinexus route. Taking us to Torroella de Montgri where we were due to recover at the Hotel Palau lol Mirador. This hotel, like the others was chosen on the basis of it being cyclist friendly and at, or close to desired distance mark for the day's ride. Like the other hotels we used it was to prove a good choice. But before we got there we had some Kms to cover. 
 
Stage 34 left Ceret via a fantastic old bridge. The rest of the stage was flat and easy to navigate. We then deliberately deviated from stage 2 as at our pre-ride coffee chat with Jordi, Francesc and Oriol we had been advised the official route was u suitable for laden road bikes. We therefore climbed entirely on road to Las Illas. This was a solid climb, ridden in the midday sun. My gearing proved just enough which suggests I was in a better state of hydration than when I blew up on day 1. It was a long climb though and water supplies were exhausted by the time we reached the top. We took the opportunity to lunch at the top. We then followed the 'road/ track' to La Vajol. This involved some more steep climbs but mainly on Tarmac. At times this was broken. Towards the top the route became more of a track but wasn't too technical. Tarmac returned when we crossed the border back into Spain. This road took us down toward La Vajol and then another road swept us down to to La Jonquera. This effectively meant we missed stage 3. At la Jonquera we rejoined the pirinexus trail after a short climb out of the climb. The trail was pleasant and peace was restored. (Exiting La Jonquera involved the busiest traffic we had encountered in the trip to date). The trail took us to Capmany (stage 4). The route notes advised us we had arrived on the plains but it didn't feel as flat I felt it should have! From there we wound our way to Perlada (stage 5) where we paused for more fluid and then onto Castello d'Empuries. Somewhere I had cycled to/ through in previous years. Some good memories. We had now pedalled through stages 6 and 7. Here we met the Spanish couple who had been at our previous nights accommodation and were also riding the route. This was a nice surprise. We then rode via tracks to Sant Pere Pescador. stage 9 saw us reach Sant Marti d'Empuries and the stage closed with a short ride along the cycle path along the coast. This was slightly marred by having to avoid lots of tourists unaware that bicycles existed! Stage 10 and 11 took us inland on a mix of surfaces until we reached our hotel after a long, hot, tiring, but rewarding day in the saddle. The hotel really is an impressive building.

Day 4.. 

Today took in stages 12- 20 of the Pirinexus route. We set off after a relaxed breakfast and a few minor mechanical tweaks caused by my mass forcing the saddle to slip a bit when I hit a bump at the back end of yesterday's ride. Poor technique and excess mass rather than a defective part ;) After a few short kms I managed to get us off trail. I blame polarised lenses making my gps hard to read.. Anyway a few bonus kms were pedalled before we were back on track. That was stage 12 sorted. To my annoyance I can't remember the tower that is described as a feature of stage 13?!? Perhaps I was too focussed on my gps but those kms passed pleasantly. Stage 14 took us to the coast and we dropped down to the port at Palamos for lunch. We stopped at the first restaurant we saw. This was a mistake as the service was awful. If we had been a bit more patient other options would have soon revealed themselves. After lunch the first few kms were nice and flat. However as we rode along the sea front (possibly now in stage 15) it was a bit disconcerting that we were on the gps track but some signs indicated no cycling. We cycled anyway and didn't get told off! I again lost the track for a bit in stage 16 but soon re-grouped. No further navigational hiccups occurred! Much of the remaining stages were on good quality hard packed gravel trails. It really was a great way to explore this part of Spain and definitely not a route a tourist would stumble upon. We paused for an ice cream near Llambilles and then closed off our four day of the Pirinixus. A very rewarding experience.

I will add some more technical and logistical details when I am reunited with my laptop to hopefully assist anyone contemplating a similar tour, or thinking about entering the Pirinixus 360. I will also review all the auto correct spellings my i-pad may have introduced and add hyperlinks to relevant sites to help you gain the information you need.

I have now added some hyper-links and will happily add others if any requests are received. In the meantime some technical information.

My ride..

I rode a Genesis Day One Alfine (8 speed bike). This was acquired for the trip and was a 2014 ex- demo model. I made a few modifications to the stock specification as a result of reading various reviews and forums. These included:
- upgrading the Avid mechanical disc callipers to Juin R1 mechanically operated hydraulic units. I bought these from Edge Sports. They were fantastic upgrade. I cannot recommend these highly enough.
- I replaced the shifters with a Shimano Nexus grip shift unit as these apparently provide the most consistent shifting. To achieve these I sourced a pair of Van Nicholas divisible bars. The bars performed well. I couldn't get their stem to work though. 
- I replaced the stock saddle with a Brooks Cambium C17 saddle. It was perhaps stupid to try this for the first time on such a ride but it was comfortable and I am happy I took the risk. I also used Brooks saddle bags, their Milbrook bag as a 'handlebar' bag and their Glenbrook as a conventional saddle bag. These are both quality items. To support the bags I fitted a Nitto M18 front rack and a Nitto R10 rear saddle bag support rack. I sourced both of these from hubbub.co.uk. 
- I fitted Continental 700 x 32 Touring Plus tyres. These were not my first choice but my first choice, I had wanted to try their Top Contact II tyres but I couldn't source these before I left. In fairness the Touring Plus tyres were significantly cheaper, proved robust and all for a relatively marginal weight penalty. Ali rode Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres. 
- The gps unit I used was Garmin's gps 62 unit. This has served me well for a number of years. 

Overall I was very happy with how the bike performed & the set up. I had previously intended to build a more conventional geared bike for the Pirinexus 360 but now I am looking at refining this set up. This will likely include a front dynamo. 

Ali road Scott CR1 Contessa. The widest tyres this would accept was 700x 25mm. Ali used a Topeak beam rack and matched rack pack to carry her luggage. This worked well. 





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