Last week I was lucky enough to attend Single Speed European Championships in Spain. I went there with Greg. For him it was his first time, and for me my third. The first time I went was in 2007, held in Piolenti, France. Then, after a five-year absence, Tyler and I attended last year when it was in Floressas, France.
SSEC has now become an event not to be missed for me. The single speed events I have been to have almost all been great, because they’ve tended to not take themselves too seriously. Single speeding as a discipline is about fun rather than competition, and the single speed “races” I have been to have not often veered away from this rule.
This year, SSEC was held in the village of St. Gregori, near Girona in the autonomous community of Catalonia. Flying into Barcelona, you can get there in about an hour and a half via automobile. Greg and I were picked up by David, partner and owner of Espai Bici bike shop in Barcelona. He and his partners also own a sister company that distributes Surly products throughout Spain, so we were lucky to be able to combine a business trip with the fun of attending SSEC.
I have traveled to Europe many times but never to Spain. The first thing I noticed when we arrived was the bright, warm Barcelona sun shining down upon us. This was much welcomed in contrast to the blizzard we had left behind us in Minneapolis. We soon realized that we stood out as tourists in our short-sleeved t-shirts and shorts. The locals were still wearing winter coats even though the temps were in the upper 60’s. One thing was for sure, we had arrived to simply perfect riding weather, and it remained like this for our entire one-week stay.
After arriving in St. Gregori, the other Gregory and I took brief naps to shake off some jet lag, and then rode our bikes down to the camping area to see what was shaking. We found that many of our friends from France, Belgium, The Netherlands, The U.K., Northern Ireland and Spain were already there. The Belgians brought with them a truckload of their finest beers, making them instant best friends of all of us.
We went to a party and a single speed race broke out.
There was no planned dinner on Thursday night so a bunch of us pitched in some cash to make a grocery run so that the local Catalans could prepare us their traditional Catalan style supper. Fresh baguettes rubbed with the pulp of fresh tomatoes and garlic, local sausage and cheese, olives and garbanzo beans, and cheese pot made by Toby from the NL.
On Friday, David, Greg and I went for a ride on the sweet local trails. After about an hour of climbing we finally made it to the top. The descent was well worth the climbing.
On Saturday the race began at 10:00 a.m. A group of about 300 of us rolled out behind the organizers car, about a mile down the road where we were told to leave our bikes and hike up the hill to the courtyard of a local church.
You all know the drill. A classic Lemans start requires shenanigans, and this year the organizers did not disappoint. Usually I can find my bike pretty quickly at these races, but this time it took me about 10 minutes because someone placed it in a ditch about 50 yards down the road from the lot where I had left it. No big deal though, I had no aspirations of doing any actual racing, and by the time I got on the bike and started riding I was soon stuck in the bottleneck of the entry to the singletrack.
Once we got rolling we were treated to some really sweet trails. The terrain was varied between twisty single track through forested hills, to mountain fire roads, to stream crossings and finally roads crossing scenic farmland of St. Gregori. There was plenty of climbing and some really steep descents. The old saying, “Single Speeders Get Off More” was never more true than on this course. There were many long, steep climbs that forced even the strongest riders to get off and push their bikes. Each lap was about 5 miles, and the first rider to finish five laps was the winner. I have no idea who won, and none of the people I asked knew either. I call that a success. The majority of folks who attended had the right attitude about what a single speed event should be, and this contributed to one of the best events I have ever attended.
When the race was done we were escorted back to the campground. I took a nap and after I woke up I groggily made my way over to where a crowd had gathered for feats of strength. The main event was a bike toss.
When the bike toss was done, the competition between Northern Ireland, The Netherlands and Italy was held to determine who would be hosting SSEC 2014. I could tell you the dirty details but I’d prefer to keep that a special little secret for those who were there in person to tell you at their discretion. Go ahead and google the word swaffle to get an idea and picture in your mind a Moonlander with a permanently soiled to tube. In the end it was decided that Northern Ireland was the victor.
Needless to say we had the times of our lives and cannot wait until next year. Special and heartfelt thanks to Carolina and Marcal, who organized this great event, and to Narcis for building such incredible trails for us to ride.
Many many others also deserve thanks. We made a ton of new friends and created great memories and stories to share. Thanks to all of you who played a part in this. You know who you are.
Here is a smattering of other pictures I took during the week.