Aida de Heras

‘What a ride!’ is what I have been repeating to myself in a loop for the last week. Of course, that applies to the non-trivial length of Kromvojoj, a ride that originally was 1400km with 24,000m of climbing around Catalunya, but also to the huge array of emotions I felt during and after the race.

This route had a particularly special place close to my heart for many reasons:

  1. It was my first-ever ultracycling event
  2. It was also my first-ever cycling event
  3. It took place in the land that I called home until I moved to the UK 15 years ago (!)
  4. From the very first time I got in touch with the organizers, it was obvious that they would take care of all the riders.
  5. The organizers Joan, Oriol, Bernat, and Tomás are committed to getting more women involved in ultracycling and made a tremendous effort to get more of us involved, including offering a sponsorship through Sponsoreco.

I never really intended on signing up for this – at least not at this point, i.e. having never done an ultra before, as the elevation profile seemed pretty daunting. Let’s just be very clear here – I’m not a particularly strong cyclist and I don’t have the physique or ability of a climber, so this challenge seemed completely out of my league. Oriol and Joan kindly offered to have a chat with me so I could ask any questions I had and to help me finally commit to a challenge that was always going to have to be met with pure grit and determination. Being on the other side of it, I can’t thank them enough.

Anyway, so here I come, all the way from Bristol, with all my cycling gear in a big, chunky bag filled with the kit I needed to cycle around Catalunya in May. May was always my favourite month of the year for its gentleness – no harsh temperatures near the coast, fresh and sunny in the high mountains. Perfect riding conditions. Sure – it may rain a little at some point and it may be a bit chilly overnight, but you’d expect a bit of that. 5 days before the start, while at work, my phone starts buzzing. People in one of the group chats are freaking out about the weather – snow is expected in the Pyrenees and rainstorms are expected everywhere else. And there I was, equipped with my ultralight jersey and some light summer gloves. Needless to say, I spent the rest of the week freaking out and trying to get the right kit. If you have followed the race, you already know that we didn’t have a very easy ride – we started off soaking wet, rode through a very cold night and the raging winds made sections of the route very sketchy to navigate. On two different occasions, I ended up walking my bike because it was impossible to control. Following a very long and scary descent, I was ready to go home and put the bike away forever. But I’m not here to talk about the weather (I have spent a long time in Britain but not quite that long!). I’m pretty confident that we can all agree that the weather was shite, and move on.

I’m here to talk about the people who made this journey so unique and precious, starting with those back home who supported this madness in one way or another. My mum did a sterling job at helping me get my priorities straight when I was made to decide between taking a job interview or racing this event. When I met my partner three years ago, I had completely given up on cycling because I was convinced that I could not spend more than a couple of hours on a road bike without experiencing crippling pain due to saddle discomfort. He has since lifted my cycling more than anyone else ever could. My sister Olaya provided the emotional solidity that I lacked and managed to make me excited about my own race (which at some point, I wasn’t). And now, on to my journey companions – all those other riders I met during the event and who made me laugh, saw me cry and who made this adventure the perfect ride and an absolute joy. While everyone I met had a small part to play in the journey, some riders deserve a special mention:

  • Juanma Pérez, who very creatively baptized our group as the ‘Equipo Actimel’ and therefore earned himself the title role of ‘Equipo Actimel founder and CEO’.
  • Ricardo de Miguel, Equipo Actimel VP, and Strategy Advisor, was such a solid companion and the most sensible voice there until he had to abandon the event due to knee issues.
  • Àlex Lorenzo, Equipo Actimel Honorary Member, whose energetic and all-around positive demeanor did more for our spirits than any caffeine gels ever could.

Despite the beautiful route, this may have been a very grey journey without them. I owe them a big, fat thank you for bringing music and color to this experience. I sincerely hope we will cross paths again.

  • Xavier Sanjuan and Jaume Vila also made it to my top 10 for being such an inspiration on wheels and the most solid pair of cyclists I’ve ever met. May we share caffeine gels and loaded plates of pasta again?
  • All the riders at the head of the race, such as Toni Calderón, Borja Gascón, Marc Marimón, Nahuel Passerat, etc, get a shoutout too, for reminding the rest of us that we are mortal and should act accordingly. What a pleasure to meet them all.
  • Victoria Andrés, the only other female rep besides myself. Hats off to her for putting on an incredible show of strength and perseverance. Not even a double puncture during the first night, which brought her close to hypothermia, stopped her from chasing (and overtaking) my group. Serious words.
  • Last, but never least, the amazing volunteers and dot watchers who became, at different points, my favorite people in the universe for giving us the extra push when we needed it the most.

I don’t believe any of this could have been achieved without a very solid support network who believed that I could do this way more than I did. What a huge privilege that is.

It’s sad that we don’t see more women on bikes at these events. So, cyclists (and non-cyclists) out there – if you know a woman who may be on the fence about ultra cycling (or any kind of cycling, for that matter), please do your bit to lift, empower, support, and cheer
them. Help them get excited about exploring their limits, enjoying the intensity of bikepacking, and embarking on a journey that may or may not end at the finish line. In my case, the journey is still ongoing.

Results don’t matter. Making it back by the cut-off time or not doesn’t matter. What counts is the commitment to giving it your best shot, whatever that looks like. Finish or scratch, race or plod, but embrace the experience and the freedom of cycling with every part of your

Just get yourself to the start line. The rest will unfold.

PS. Anti-chafing cream is your best friend. Diamonds are seriously overrated.

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