sat down for a beer and some lunch, having had a morning's riding at the Grand Valira Bike Park in Andorra. I decided to rub things in a little bit for the boys back home, so texted Mr Paul my whereabouts and current situation. To immense joy and delight, his swift reply was thus: Currently pushing up Aston Hill (a mountain bike spot near London) with Muir and Rhys. Rhys says you're a ****. I agree. I laughed like a tit for a full minute.
The Grand Valira is the name given to the largest ski-lift network in the Pyrannees. For years it was split into two halves, as the two biggest resorts, Soldeu and Pas de la Casa, argued over which was the biggest and best. Fortunately, they have settled any differences they had and have now joined their lift systems. They have also invested in a bike park for the summer and created 11 downhill mountain bike trails and a myriad of cross-country trails, so they can draw tourists into the area in the 'off'-season, in an attempt to copy the success of other areas such as the Portes du Soleil in the French/Swiss alps. This of course means that bikers can take chairlifts and gondolas to the top of the mountain, and ride all the way down. It goes without saying that this is GOOD.
To be honest, though, I was left a little underwhelmed. To put it bluntly the trails just aren't as good as those in the Portes du Soleil. With a few notable exceptions, the construction feels a little lazy; many trails are just taped off sections of hill that have no flow and betray a lack of thought. I had a great day but left the tiniest bit disappointed - although I should also point out that I didn't get the time to ride all of the trails, so a repeat visit is certainly warranted.
So, after a night in Soldeu, we headed back across the hills to La Molina, to the second of Catalunya's three bike parks, and completely different to the Grand Valira. There is only one gondola here open in the summer, but the place could not be a bigger contrast to its Andorran cousin. The lift takes you up 800m and dumps you right at the top of a 2,500m mountain, so all the trails are very, very long - twice the length of those in Andorra. The biggest difference though, is the quality of the trails. The blue run is, without a shadow of a doubt, THE best trail I have ever ridden. Perhaps it is slightly more 'enduro' than a proper balls-out DH trail, but it is simply awesome. It weaves it's way down the hill along seemingly endless narrow technical singletrack, never too steep but never too slow. About halfway down it dawned on me that this was the best experience I'd ever had on a mountain bike, and it just kept coming and getting better and better. After who-know-how-long it dumps you out at the bottom, where a kilometre of easy fireroad takes you back to the lift station, but not before you hit a north-shore section, with a variety of drops and wall-rides. The whole place has obviously been designed by somebody who really knows what they are on about, and I simply can't wait to go there again. In fact, on my way down I had ridden the first third of the red run and then switched to the blue. The red was bollock-steep, bollock-rocky and bollock-hard. I don't know whether to be happy or scared at the prospect of the black!
The only shame was that we only had one ride up on the gondola, and then only just. Thunderstorms were around and by the time we'd reached the bottom again the lift was shut. Bollocks. Still, we had a time for a piss-about on the shore and it means there is more to come back to.
The best news, of course, is that less than two hours after leaving I was unpacking the car outside my flat. You lot (and you know who you are), you really do need to get out here...
A video, taken by some friendly Catalan chap, and the rest of the pics.