A year on the bike: George Scott’s most memorable rides of 2017

Clip-in for a whirlwind tour of Norway, Girona and Arizona

With the turn of the year, RCUK’s team of writers have been recounting their most memorable rides of the past 12 months. Tom Owen and Ashley Quinlan have already shared their rides, now it’s the turn of RCUK editor George. It’s time to clip-in for a whirlwind tour of Norway, Girona and Arizona.

Day two, Haute Route Norway

As the ferry leaves Stavanger the rain begins to fall, setting the tone for the next five hours. As well as being one of the most beautiful rides of 2017, day two of the Haute Route Norway would turn out to be the wettest – by a long stretch.

But that should be expected when you come to Norway, even in the middle of summer. Water is everywhere – it defines the country, whether it’s the 25,000km of coastline, majestic fjords, raging rivers or glacial lakes.

The Haute Route Norway will take place in 2018 – but we got to sample the spectacular ride earlier this year (Pic: Haute Route)

Water defines the Haute Route Norway, too, and in August I rode the test event for the three-day sportive, which will take place in 2018. Two of the weekend’s three rides start with a ferry trip out of Stavanger, providing an opportunity to see Norway both from the bike and the ocean. This is part sportive, part bucket list tourist trip.

Having ticked off 127 breathtaking kilometres on the first day of riding, day two starts with a 90-minute ferry from Stavanger, taking us deep into Lysefjord, a 25km fjord lined with granite cliffs which rise more than 1,000m from the water. Norway’s iconic Pulpit Rock towers above – or so were told. Today it’s shrouded in an eerie mist which only adds to the fjord’s majesty.

We’re here to ride, of course, and once the ferry docks in the village of Lysebotn, there’s only one way out of the fjord. After less than a kilometre to spin the legs, the road begins to scale the mountainside via 27 spectacular hairpins. It’s a tough start to the ride, with an average gradient of ten per cent for 10km, but when the scenery is this jaw-droppingly beautiful it’s easy to find inspiration.

The climb of Lysebotn rises dramatically from Lysefjord (Pic: Haute Route)

After reaching the summit of the climb, the road plateaus and weaves its way through a series of small mountain lakes surrounded by rocky outcrops. Every pedal stroke provides a postcard-worthy view and the rest of the 120km route is no different. After dropping off the plateau, we follow an arrow-straight valley past fierce waterfalls reinvigorated by the fresh rainfall, through a vast boulder field created by ice age rockfalls, and beneath mountains covered in a thick bed of lush vegetation so green it looks like someone has been tinkering with Photoshop. All that rain is put to good use.

The Norway test event concludes a day later with a punchy 19km time trial on the outskirts of Stavanger. It’s raining once again (August 2017 would turn out to be one of the wettest in recent memory, Stavanger locals say) but we fly out of the city that evening with tired legs and fond memories of one of the most beautiful riding destinations in Europe. When the Haute Route Norway takes place for good in 2018, it won’t be one to miss. Just take a good jacket.

A year on the bike, Haute Route Norway

Girona coastal loop

Girona has long been on my hit list of cycling destinations and this year I finally made the trip with a friend for a week of end-of-season riding. In truth, any of the four rides we completed that week could have made this list – with a seemingly endless network of perfect roads, stunning scenery and warm sunshine on tap, it’s easy to understand why so may pros choose to make this slice of Catalan cycling paradise their home.

But Girona’s famed coastal loop tops the billing. Having left a rain-soaked Britain less than 24 hours earlier, we roll out for our first day of riding with the Spanish sun quickly warming the morning air. I needn’t have bothered with the gilet in my jersey pocket and by the time we stop for lunch on the seafront, the temperature has risen to 25 degrees. Not bad for the end of October.

The Mediterranean provides a stunning backdrop to Girona’s coastal loop (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The 122km loop provides a taste of everything Girona has to offer. Leaving the cobbled streets of the old town, we quickly navigate through the suburbs and find ourselves on rolling country roads before climbing towards the coast on a gentle five-mile ascent. Upon reaching the summit we know the sea must be close, but still the azure water of the Mediterranean comes as a surprise as we round a tight hairpin and start to plummet towards the ocean.

The snaking, sinuous descent is one of the most beautiful roads I’ve ridden; one that leaves me beaming from ear to ear. The tarmac tumbles steeply towards the glistening water as the road doubles back on itself through a series of hairpins, each providing a new vantage point to drink in the view.

It’s easy to understand why so many pros call Girona home (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

Now a stone’s throw from the water, we follow the coast as the road rises and falls, revealing hidden coves and deserted beaches. After lunch we turn back inland and climb once again, looping back to Girona on a network of blissful back roads. Credit to pro cyclist Dan Craven, whose website, Our Girona, provided the route. We couldn’t have asked for a better start to the week.

Mt. Lemmon, Arizona

November took me to Tucson to spend five days with Alberto Contador’s Polartec-Kometa development team. The training camp gave the squad – a mix of junior and under-23 riders all with the dream of turning pro – the opportunity to get some winter miles in their legs with mentors Contador and Ivan Basso, the latter of whom has joined his former team-mate’s retirement project as directeur sportif.

I was among a handful of media to join Contador and co under the ever-present blue sky of the Arizona desert and in turn ticked off the longest and highest climb of my riding career to doubt – Mount Lemmon.

Mount Lemmon (Pic: Polartec)
Mount Lemmon (Pic: Polartec)
Watch out, there's bears about (Pic: Polartec)

It’s an ascent typical of climbs in the United States, with a steady average gradient of five per cent for the vast majority of the 46km rise, only steepening to eight per cent for the final five kilometres to the oxygen-deprived summit. It’s one hell of a climb and tops out at 2,791m at the Mount Lemmon Observatory, which comes with panoramic views back down to the desert floor.

Little can prepare you both physically and mentally for climbing for three-and-a-half hours – riding almost continuously uphill for 46km is one hell of a challenge, even if the gradient is relatively mellow – but Mount Lemmon’s dramatic and varied scenery provides all the entertainment required for the long slog to the summit.

Mount Lemmon, Arizona, Windy Point (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Mount Lemmon, Arizona, Windy Point (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

The climb begins in the bone-dry desert, surrounded by thousands of saguaro cacti, which can grow to more than 40 feet tall, before heading into dense mountain woodland with chipmunks darting across the road. The landscape then changes once again as the road weaves through astonishingly beautiful rock formations and hoodoos, and finally passes the Mount Lemmon ski station as the summit approaches. We may be in Arizona but at this altitude they still get snow in the winter.

Even during my ride, which starts in 30-degree heat at the base of the climb, there’s a real chill in the air at the summit so I pull on a jacket and begin the descent, where the shallow gradient and wide, sweeping bends mean I barely have to touch the brakes from top to bottom. What a ride, what a year. Bring on 2018.


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