Marxa 3 Nacions Pyrenees Bike Ride

Marxa 3 Nacions brought Las Chicas to Puigcerda, Spain,  for Mary’s first “cyclosportivo” ride:  Biking through the 3 nations of Spain, Andorra, France. We take the train from Barcelona, and there are 10 other bikes in our coach for a mountain bike event in the Pyrenees.

Mary picks up her race bag in the main town plaza on Saturday and notes the street where she would line up with about 700 cyclists the following morning.


This pleasant pedestrian shopping area will be filled with anxious cyclists tomorrow.

I review my race packet, find all instructions  written in Spanish or Catalan. I quickly attach frame number with zip ties. Ready for the next morning, I set aside the ankle band and timing chip, and itinerary card to keep in my pocket (just like the pros!).


Card showing town, kilometer point, altitude (in meters) and if there is”Avituallament”=snacks!

Note that the high point is 2407 meters or 7896 feet. The long climb seemed to be similar to the Mt Lemmon climb in Tucson in altitude gain and distance. So I thought, yeah, I can do Mt. Lemmon, this should be “easy.”


Now my bike is ride ready.

We had a pleasant dinner with friends from Club Ciclista de Gracia–my cycling club.

I am up at six to chow down on pre-race breakfast of muesli, hard-boiled eggs and croissant–had to bring my own breakfast because hotel didn’t start serving until 7:30 am and ride begins at 8 am. Lisa leaves early to walk the kilometer or so from our hotel to the race start.

I ride to the start, up hill! My legs feel a little stiff. Clouds threaten so my rain jacket is jammed in my pockets along with food, bike pump, new Garmin, phone, etc. I jettison my multi-tool thinking “I never use this and it’s heavy.” Is this a good decision? Read on.


Pre-ride gathering in the plaza, tower and storm clouds.


Bread served with chocolate pudding-like substance in cups as pre-race fuel. I enjoy this along with café con leche from local bar.


Some of Club Ciclista de Gracia before the start. Chrystelle in gray vest, Travis in white, Mary in blue, Victor in red.


Follow the throngs to line up for the start.

We line up in the streets, wait for the endless Catalan talking of the announcer that we can’t really hear anyway, then have a moment of silence for something, then we’re off!


Photo of start by official ride photographer.

The first 50 k are downhill and cyclists are flying fast. Groups pass me and I ride at the tail end for a few minutes. Victor and I see Travis at the end of one group and we latch on one more time. I tell Victor I need to save energy, I can’t blow it all out in the first hour of this ride. So goodbye to that train for me.


Elevation profile from ride promotional material.

But I find some others to join at a more reasonable pace. We maneuver through tunnels short and long, lit and unlit. I follow blinking red tail lights of other well-prepared locals. We cross the border into Andorra. It’s my first time here!

Usually, you must wait in car lines and show your passport here because it’s not part of the European Union. But our race numbers get us through the fast lane without stopping. Although “fast” is relative because we are now climbing steadily through unattractive ski station towns, duty-free shopping districts, and banks where people hide their money.

It starts to rain, so I stop to put on my jacket. Of course, it stops raining about two minutes later so now I’m just steaming inside my plastic rain jacket. Time to stop and take it off again.


Photo (by official ride photographer) of cyclists far ahead of me above the clouds, I am somewhere below in the drizzle of Andorra.

We arrive at last at the first avituallament for my choice of fruit, coke, water, roasted chicken, and chorizo or queso sandwiches. I stick with fruits and liquids.

Yay, Victor is here! We ride off together. He said he followed a guy who knew the route because it’s not signed very well. Some roundabouts could put you uphill in the wrong direction!  Moments later the guy passes us, he is about 65 years old.

Victor and I slog along, up through more ski outposts, and finally into the snow-capped scenery of the Pyrenees. I am in my lowest gear and having trouble getting the pedals to go around. Bells on Andorra sheep and Andorra horses tinkle from the steep hill side fields above the road. Blue white water rages in fast rivers below the road. We see beautiful waterfalls.


Victor took this picture of me during of our climb through the Pyrenees.

Another avituallament, and I consume more fruit and my Clif Bar. We go on, up and up, Victor pulls away, but remains in sight. I feel my cycling shoe cleat coming loose, and I left my tool at the hotel! I need to catch up to Victor, but I don’t want to stand up and accelerate because I could lose a screw. We come to another snack stop where I borrow his multi-tool, sit down on the pavement and tighten all screws. I stand up and realize that I sat in a wet spot! This is how tired I am. I eat some more even though my stomach is feeling queasy.

Only 8 km to go to the top!  I dread the final snack stop because of the description from ride organization (translated by google):

“to raise the port Envalira (2407 m) with a route length of 28 km If it does not rain, slush or blowing into the wind, it’s nice to stop in different aid stations that are in the harbor, where drinks and appreciated classic melon slices.”

A bit windy, but no slush or rain. Yes, classic melon slices are appreciated at the port/pass of Envalira, the ride’s highest point! Now begins the cold descent down the other side of the mountain.

The white line dividing the traffic lanes disappears because the road has been newly repaved. Scenes of Beloki’s crash in the Tour de France race through my chilly brain. I focus on the task at hand. Here comes a town–Pas de la Casa. A bunch of high-rise buildings, 20 tour buses and clueless duty-free shoppers. I see a bus turn right in front  of a cyclist in front of me–everyone is safe, thank goodness. I dodge two suicidal pedestrians, intent on those Andorra bargains, who cross right in front of me without looking left.

The remainder of the descent is uneventful, and warmer,  then we climb again. This time the climb is more gradual, and we enter France! Again, cyclists skip the line at the border.  We reach the second peak and head downhill again. Victor is a fearless descender and I tell him to go on ahead.

I put on my jacket so I won’t get cold this time. I descend through lovely hills, and pass quaint French villages. The road is rough because it’s the “old road” –the new one is a tunnel through the mountains. But I’m almost done!

Lisa took some good pictures of the French and Spanish landscapes as seen from Puigerda:

IMG_3128 IMG_3122 IMG_3111

I turn a corner, cross a river and I’m in Spain! I see our hotel, so I know it is only 1-2 km to the end. Of course, we must have one more hill to the finish. The wind blows hard and a metal barricade crashes down next to me.


I’m happy to finish!

Lisa is at the finish, so great to see her. I get my certificate of finishing in 6 hours and 19 minutes. Very official. More sandwiches, Spanish tortillas, fruit, coke, and beer is available. I consume almost everything except the beer. Victor has finished a little bit ahead of me, and is alternating beer, coke, and blue Powerade.

Everyone from our club finishes the ride, yay!

© 2014 by Lisa Howells and Mary Reynolds. All rights reserved.

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