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The Golden Tour: A five-day sportive in sunny Spain

23 Jan 2019

Riders are starting to want more than your usual one-day sportive events as more and more look to emulate the pros. This means that multi-day sportive events are all the rage at the moment.

You only have to look at market leaders Haute Route to see the meteoric rise. As of 2018, the Haute Route series will have grown to 13 events across the world from Italy and France to more far-flung destinations such as Oman and Mexico, giving amateurs the chance to ride iconic and challenging routes over a series of days.

It's a chance to saddle up for more than a day, pushing your body to a limit you are unlikely to in your regular sportive or cycling holiday, as you subconsciously watch the clock from start to finish while also riding across some of the world's most interesting yet challenging terrain.

It's become such a success that others are trying to get in on the act.

One of those is the Golden Tour, a five-day sportive centring itself in the beach town of Cambrils before rolling around the Priorat Hills of southern Catalonia. 

Around the corner from Salou, this area has a reputation for cheap all-inclusive deals and drunk university students but it's desperately trying to shake that, attempting to become a hub for cycling to rival more popular destinations like Girona or the Sierra Nevada mountains. 

Using the El Dorado resort as its base, all riders will be provided with a week's worth of accommodation for the event including breakfasts and dinners before the five stages.

Accommodation is also guaranteed for family members with the resort closed to those outside of the event. 

Each of the five stages takes off from the resort which will also provide maintenance and post-ride recovery although that's not the real attraction of the event. Instead, it's the rugged terrain of the local hills that lay host to some of Spain's most respected wineries. 

The Golden Tour invited Cyclist to the Costa Daurada for a taste of what will be in store later this year.

Wine ride taster

I'll be straight with you. I never had much interest in visiting Spain before working for Cyclist. I was partially interested in the Basque County but the rest of the country held little appeal for me.  

What used to come to my mind first when thinking about Spain was cheap, all-inclusive holidays on the Costa Blanca. British sunseekers escaping home for two weeks in summer for the sunny climates of towns like Benidorm but taking all their home comforts with them.

Streets would be filled with cafes serving all-day English breakfasts intertwined with Irish bars named after Kelly that served pints of Stella and five shots for €5. Head out at night and a scene no different to a Friday night in Newcastle is laid before you. 

Thankfully, my naive opinion of this Iberian beauty has been shifted this summer with three separate trips in two months, but it's in large part thanks to the taster ride I participated on to promote the Golden Tour.

The Golden Tour takes advantage of the Priorat hills that rear up from the Costa Daurada coastline. Our day's ride starts in the small coastal town of Cambrils.

From the hotels and beach bars of the coast, it's only five minutes of riding before we are on the first climb of the day, a 'mise en jambe' climbing for a steady 15km without putting us in trouble, averaging just 4%. 

This climb is typical of the area, winding constantly through the hillside with a constant overhang of tree cover keeping you away from the direct, beating sun. After 40 minutes of steady climbing and brazen discussion about Catalonian football, we reach the summit to a picture worthy of a postcard.

Small in stature, with only summits few peaking over 1,000m, the Priorat mountains hardly lack beauty thanks to region's greatest export, wine. 

An area of 1,700 hectares of vineyards has transformed the hillside into a rippled flow of rows that give depth and character to an area that would otherwise be scorched and yellow.

The steep hillsides and permanent sunshine make the area perfect for the growing of grapes and with particular attention for winemakers in the last decade, Priorat has become internationally recognised for its powerful reds.  

We begin our descent into the heart of the vineyards towards the small village of Porrera but before long find ourselves stopping roadside. 

It's September, grape picking season, meaning that the vines are spoiled with plump, ripe fruit, a perfect mid-ride snack. I pick off a small bunch and tuck in. They're sweeter than expected but delicious, exploding with juice as you bite down. 

I end up eating 15 or so before remounting the bike and rolling down the valley towards Porrera. 

We reach Porrera at around midday prompting an order of coffee and colas at a local cafe frequented by the town's ageing population. Relaxing on plastic tables and chairs outside, they are in no rush and sit quietly reading the newspaper or just watching the world pass by. 

Sipping the coffee, my eye is caught by a large set of doors open wide from which comes a large thudding noise. Poking my head around, I see it's a winery, sorting the day's collection of grapes through an industrial machine which an American student, whose spending her summer grape picking, explains is the very beginning of the winemaking process.

She gives me a few more grapes to enjoy and I'm back on the bike. 

The grapes and coffee help for the next leg of the ride, 7km of exposed hillside that accounts for the day's last climb. It's only 4% like the previous climb but the heat adds a few degrees to the gradient making it a slower, more measured slog to the summit. 

I sit back on the climb with Bernat Manzano, a Spanish colleague working for Volata magazine. A Catalonian by birth and residence, he explains the difficulties the area has faced in the past year, the complexities surrounding the calls for independence and criticised actions of the Spanish government that followed.

Honestly, it's too complex to try to explain here but from speaking to Bernat and many of the area's local residents, you are shown just a glimpse of how important an issue this is for Catalonia and how it's so far from an agreeable conclusion.  

Bernat's words give me plenty to ponder as we crest the climb and begin the final descent back into Cambrils and to the town's harbour.

Our arrival coincides with the town's fisherman who are just docking after a day at sea. They unload crate after crate of fish from the trawler into polystyrene cases that are then filled with ice to keep the catch from turning.  

There's everything from squid to prawns, sea bass to octopus, proving just how fruitful the surrounding Mediterranian sea is. The fish is immediately whisked away from under our noses and into auction where local restauranteurs buy the evening's specials.

Later that night I find myself tucking into some squid and whitebait that was sold at that auction just hours earlier, chatting Barcelona football club and drinking a few glasses of wine. 

My experience was just the one day but for those there for the Golden Tour, that will be the evening's plan for the entire week.

For information on how to enter the Golden Tour, visit the official website here