Virginie Palermo:
Change of Pace

Knowing nothing but my flight itinerary and the small group of friends involved in the trip. I had no expectations of what was in store for the next 13 days. So when I got the call from Seb about ending the 2022 year and starting 2023 at Le Bike Stop with a group of friends riding some Spanish mountains. I knew I had to go.  


As an elementary school teacher, finding a break during the school year is always hard. And as the days get colder and darker, the urge to ride outdoors and explore new roads really kicks in while sitting in my basement on Zwift or riding out in the same cold, wet streets. Thankfully the school holiday break obliged and lined up ideally this year. Being able to spend Christmas with family & friends and catching a flight to Barcelona right after. The stars aligned.  

Female cyclist riding on the road
Factor road bike against a wall
Group of cyclists chatting

Being able to pack up my bike and fly over to Europe to see some of my most incredible friends, make new ones and shut my brain off from reality is truly something I cherish. Being in Canada during the winter, it takes effort to stay motivated. Having a trip booked in my mind is always the most significant motivation boost I can find. Zwift becomes easier. My coach Bruno L put me to work to get the winter season training started, knowing the hard work would be rewarded with some sunny climbing in the future.  


After a redeye flight outta Toronto, 16 hours of travel, a 6-hour time change and a 30-minute cab ride. I finally arrived at Le Bike stop in Sitges. A cycling hotel run by my good friend Joe and his lovely mom Helen. Greeted by two welcoming little staffy dogs, I quickly began to unpack my bike after lots of love from the doggos. After a month of strictly indoor zwift rides, the urge to let those wheels touch the outdoor roads in 20-degree weather was strong. A feeling that feels like riding a bike for the first time again. I couldn't resist a quick spin even in a jetlag state of mind. Trying to navigate Joe’s route backwards to meet up with the group already out on a long ride in a city I’ve never visited before was more of a struggle than I initially anticipated. Getting off course onto some MTB tracks due to one-way roads was the final draw. I was giving up, turning around and heading back home to wait (And hopefully have a nap) before everyone returned after their ride. The jetlag had finally won.  

Cyclist riding in the dark
Pair of Hunt Wheels in an apartment
Cyclist walking their bike away

Knowing Joe’s history of riding and pushing everyone. His itinerary for the two weeks was sure to be nothing but challenging and beautiful, especially with some winter off-season fitness. But there’s something special about suffering on the bike and sharing it with friends. You become vulnerable, and friendships become stronger. And with a group of friends coming from Spain, Denmark, Sweden, Austria and Switzerland with one similar passion, riding bikes. We quickly warmed up and became closer than before  


Day 1 came, and we got straight to it. Thankfully after a shocking 10 hours plus of sleep.. Might have been a personal record. My whoop even confirmed it. We set off for a warm-up “Chill” ride to start the trip. 100 km, 1,800m in the glorious clear blue sky day. The short jerseys were out, and moods were high. That was until Joe mentioned our next upcoming climb while sitting at a cafe 60km into the ride… A 6.4km climb known as “Rat Penat”, that soon woke everyone up and really tested our winter legs. With multi stretches of 20% and areas hitting 23%. I quickly realized our cycling vacation was actually a winter training camp with coach Joe leading the charge.  

Group of cyclists riding together
Cyclists riding in the sunset
Side profile of cyclist
Cyclist racing along a road

Every day ran on a similar schedule. Just how coach Joe liked it. 8:00 am coffee and oat spread and a 9:30 am rollout. The most challenging choice in the morning was scrambling at the last minute to figure out what layers were needed. Short sleeve jersey or long sleeve? It was an everyday dilemma for the first week. But as long as I didn't have to wear bib tights, overshoes and gloves, I was more than happy gal! Every ride had laughs, chats, silence, climbs, sprints and, of course, my favourite, curvy descents. The roads of Spain were a smooth pleasure to ride, and each time I visit Spain, I wonder why I live in flat Toronto.  


The queen stage was a planned 202 km ride. But with winter light keeping our schedule tight. It was a little trickier than expected. On our first attempt, an hour of waiting for “veggie” sandwiches at a cafe in a little town derailed our original plans. We realized our daylight was running short and today was not our day. Who would’ve thought ordering 10 vegetable sandwiches could be so tricky. Thankfully the sandwiches hit the spot, and who doesn't like a long cafe stop, not? But we learned our lesson then. Our final riding day had us set off once again on an attempt to ride 202 km and 3600 height meters before the sun went down. This time we came with experience, only stopping at local grocery stores for fresh baked bread and snacks.  

VIrginie out of the saddle climbing up a hill
Cyclist leaning on his handlebars

The trip was challenging, with long days, lots of climbing, cold mornings and windy days. Being a cyclist from Canada and not having the best winter weather to ride through, I really couldn’t complain. I struggle with motivation in January, knowing that winter has only begun and I still have many weeks and months left of indoor training. Getting away and enjoying two weeks of friends, bikes, warmer weather, climbing, and descents has helped motivate me to be ready for spring riding.  


Spain is like an amusement park for all cyclists. It's always warm, no matter what time of year it is. Maybe not for the locals... but for us Candian's, it's perfect. You can find steep climbs, big descents and beautiful coastal roads. Being my third winter escaping to the Spanish roads, I'm always left with so much love and passion for riding my bike. Cycling has given me adventure, escape, passion and some of the most incredible friendships I feel so lucky to have. As I sadly say my goodbyes, call a cab, check into my flight and wait at my gate, I find my head lost in the mountains and my thumb scrolling through all the pictures and videos from the past two weeks. Leaving Europe is always a bittersweet moment. But I’m happy to know I'll be back soon to ride bikes in the mountains with good friends once again.  

What they're riding

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February 01, 2023 — James Finch
Tags: Road