, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Why I Guide

I started working on trips a few years ago. At first I was attracted to life on the road thinking I would be spending all day, every day riding my bike in some of Europe’s most iconic locations. My first trip was the Maratona dles Dolomites, it doesn’t get more iconic then that. The Dolomites are special, jaw dropping beauty, some of the Giro’s most epic battlefields, the people are incredible and so warm, what more could you want. What I didn’t realise was that I wouldn’t be riding at all, my role was driver, mechanic and general dogs body. Maybe I was naive, maybe mis-sold. Turns out it didn’t matter. I was in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been and more importantly I met some incredible people, who at the time were guests and soon to become firm friends.

I realised pretty quickly that guiding is about people as much as the places. The journey not the destination, how I deliver an experience or show them somewhere or something they would never have found on Strava or Google. It isn’t about the five star hotel or Michelin starred restaurants or how fast I can get them up and over a mountain, it’s local culture, food, knowledge and even that unexpected view around a corner. One of my favourite rides is Sant Hilari – Sasqueda reservoir in Girona. As you turn off the main road and head up a short sharp climb then drop down and the reservoir reveals itself, all of a sudden it stops people dead in their tracks, break out their phones and start taking loads of photos, always makes me smile.

I love to take people to Christian and Amber Meier’s Espresso Mafia and watch Christian talk to people about his passion for coffee, explain the process of roasting and watch their faces light up. Even the non coffee drinkers start enthusing and begin to understand the difference between high street and speciality or “Organized coffee”.

People often send me a few emails before the arrive asking how hard the riding is, how should their bikes be set up and what gearing, sometimes a little intimidated if it’s their first big mountain trip, or first time they’ve ridden back to back hard days. Ensuring they go home with a sense of achievement, hopefully having learnt something new about a place or culture or even learnt that they can ride harder for longer and push themselves further than they first thought is all part of the job. Creating these memories that last for people to share with their friends and family is the key to a great trip.

I’m passionate about bike stuff. I love talking about it, products, kit, brands, sharing my knowledge and beliefs, no doubt some misguided based on “The Rules”. The places I’ve been and the people I’ve been lucky enough to ride with. I can bore you to death while we’re riding or as I like to think, distract you from the challenge ahead.

All the above means many start off as guests but leave as friends. That’s WHY I GUIDE.

See you on the road.

Nick Frendo

Images courtesy of TheMusette photography.

Testimonials here

 

 

, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The big move guiding Girona with Nick

 

The big move Girona.

The draw was too strong. After three years of being a visitor and creating trips for guests and friends here in Girona I decided the time was right to make Girona home.

Co- Founder, Sommetier, friend and chief snapper Ian Walton along with Amber and Christian Meier have been an incredible help and motivation in me making the leap.

I have always felt like Girona is a very special place, not just the cycling and all the cliché culture, food etc but more importantly the atmosphere and friendships I’ve made here, it feels like I have roots already.

There is the group of locals, like Ramon, Jordi, Miqui and Nancy and Anna from The Service Course. Luke, Federico, Sara from Espresso Mafia. Levi, Patty, Jordi, Lisa and Nicky from La Fabrica. All have been a part in helping make the move, so easy, even though they probably aren’t aware. And of course Mike, Michelle and Francis at La Bruguera who’ve hosted me as I have packed my life into a car and driven to my new home.

Then there’s the group of friends who I can always rely on for coffee and rides, Tristan and Peter for when I need a good kicking and many more.

Thank you all.

Obviously the cycling is special. Every day I’m out looking for and exploring new roads, new experiences and journeys. Back in the UK I found it hard to work and ride for a decent amount time on the bike. Here I’ve found myself out riding at 19:00 onwards and putting in 70 to 100 km’s, going from struggling to fit in 10 hours to consistently riding 20 – 30 a week. My love of cycling, my fitness are at what feels like an all time high.

Now I’m guiding most days in this paradise. It appears that I’ve made the right move. Join me on the road as your local Girona cycling guide to find out why we love this place I now call home.

Nick

, , , , , , ,

Gravel de Fer, Catalunya, Spain, France

Canigó or Canigou is a mountain, just, in the South of France. To Catalan’s and Catalan culture it has a powerful sense of their being.

We have ridden in the shadow of her many times, it’s one of Fred and I’s favourite places to go riding. Often we have ridden from inside Catalan Spain into France – and former Catalunya way back when – then back into Catalunya again. Those road rides have been some of the best.

In early October we joined with Caminade bikes for a mixed terrain ride, starting under lights in the pitch black, that would finally take us up Canigó/Canigou, through 150+km and almost 4,000m; most of it rideable, most of it simply amazing.

We criss-crossed some roads we knew well. We found some new roads we will revisit. We did lots of trails we have to do again. It’s just one of the ways we recce new spots to ride as well.

A rural gîte in a rural French village set us up in the days before; a bit of a recce ride, a bit of bike prep, light charging and a little yoga. Pre-dawn to post-dusk epic ride in stunning country meeting new friends.

Thanks Caminade, cracking day out; great barbecue at the end too…We’ll be back soon.

Featuring Caminade, Vinyet (yogi/yogui), Fred ( business builder and 22 Bikes "model") and Stanley - my Frankenbike; the best type of gravel bike.
, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sommet Cycling in the Dolomites

A long read diary of a recent Sommet Fully Supported Custom journey. This will be on our 2017 calendar, get in while you can. Contact us for more information

Calcium magnesium carbonate. CaMg(CO3)2. 

This is the foundation of dreams. Dreams in the high mountains for all those who love a challenge, beauty and cultural complexity. Cycling paradise. An epic cycling holiday.

The Italian Dolomites are a geographical region of carbonate rocks shared between the provinces of Belluno, South Tyrol and Trentino. The region has been politically and culturally pulled and pushed over the centuries, never more so than in the 20th century with battle lines drawn and families and friendships within towns tested to, and beyond, limits in the highest stakes game of all. War.

Far away from the Alps of Stelvio and Gavia, we spent eight days cycling in, and getting to know, the Italian Dolomites and some of the people. There are more passes to cycle than you can shake a ski pole at but to simply go and ride Monte Grappa, Passos Sella Campolongo, Giau, Pordoi, Rolle, Valles, Falzarego, Valparola, Tre Cime di Lavaredo and the many others we rode would be to miss out on finding out a little about the stuff that make up the culture of the Dolomites.

Thus, rather than chasing from point to point, we stayed in two distinct locations. Feltre and Corvara. And from these we cycled a plenty (about  1,000km and 17,000m for those who like to tot up numbers) – ticking off all those passes and more – in the three provinces of the Dolomites, but immersed ourselves somewhat in the culture. In Italian style, we prepared for the trip by caffeine doping just outside Milan at our friends place, Rocket Espresso…more on that in another post soon.

Feltre welcomed us with blazing sunshine and temperatures around the thirties. A far cry from the history making ascent which was on our first ride. An arrival day loop taking in Croce d’Aune. The scene of Tullio Campagnolo’s, cycling history changing mechanical, when on November, 11, 1927, he couldn’t change out his wheel in a race due to frozen hands and fingers on wing nuts. There must be a better solution he thought. There was and we all benefit from it today. The quick release. Only one of us was riding Campagnolo, myself. It felt appropriate that my Campag front mech, once again, disagreed with my Rotor chainset and threw the chain just as I changed down at the very bottom of Croce d’Aune. Tullio, perhaps, doesn’t like Rotor…the others rode off.

Don’t be fooled by Feltre’s location which on the map seems to be away from the big mountains. The bigger tests. Oh no, we followed up Campag’s history with somewhat grander history of the great Monte Grappa, approaching via the brutal Monte Tomba. Grappa has too much blood on her slopes from both World Wars and a monument at the summit is a stark reminder of the waste of life we have seen too often. We simply had to ride the beast, in beautiful conditions, tasting cheese on the way up, focaccias on the way down and wonderful views all around, with small lakes and vertiginous drop offs, donkeys, hairpins and what a descent. How times have changed, how lucky we are!

With the Dolomites you often think you have topped it all. They are so awe inspiring. Then the next climb, or descent in this case, you get wowed by a road that has been cut into a wall, is technical enough to keep you awake but fun enough to fly down and the loop we stuck on the end of this big Grappa day, after some coffee and strudel, was just that. With the sun descending as gently as we did rapidly towards home, we had gone from amazing, to yells of joy and it was only day two

Another big day ahead the next day. Up to 2,000m twice this time for some of the group. Some took the option to take a shorter, still big, day and peeled off after the incredible lakeside early coffee and strudel stop (again). Blazing sunshine again. That was, until it wasn’t. Pretty soon it was golf ball size rain drops and lightning and thunder only a couple of seconds apart. This was approaching Passo Rolle and Valles and thus the wrong side of the valley to home. There is always a bailout option, for safety and comfort with us. But not today; we voted for a(nother) coffee pause and strudel and hoped for a break in the storm. 40 minutes or so later, a glimpse of blueish sky. The kind the UK sees. Grey. Pay up and off up the mountain up double figure gradients, all the while wondering if the thunder was  closer or farther away. Up and over the both very tough Passo Rolle and Valles and down the other side without a hitch, but the chill on the descent got the better of us and another stop was called. Super thick hot chocolate and a wonderfully courteous host of the bar who brought out blankets for us to warm under. It got us defrosted enough to get home on a cracking power descent to fly home.

We left Feltre with yet more tragic history and more wonderful hospitality. And the sun was back. A rolling ride out around the markets and vineyards to the engineering marvel of Passo San Boldo; built with blood and sweat of women, children and donkeys early last century. On the way stopping in on Roberta’s vineyard outlooking restaurant, with her pride in “the best bread in the world!” and her adoration for my home town of Barcelona was such a contrast to the massive riding of Grappa, Rolle and of what was to come in Corvara. Oh, and fresh pasta lunch atop San Boldo.

Corvara. This is, perhaps, what most people think of when you mention the Dolomites mountains. The beauty of having four days in Feltre and four in Corvara, is the variety of riding; tough and big mountains as well as some rolling hills, leading into 4 days of massive mountains with nary a valley to ride. Either up. Or down. Corvara is the heart of the famous Sella Ronda, starting point for Falzarego, Valparola and the Queen ride for us over to the fairy tale like, brutally steep, Tre Cime di Lavaredo and back over Passo Giau.

We were welcomed to Corvara, with clockwork precision that one expects from this part of Italy, with the biggest crack of thunder of the week as we pulled up outside the wonderful Posta Zirm hotel. And even bigger rain drops than on Passo Rolle.

The change in culture is noticeable as soon as one arrives. Ladino language spoken and on signs, preserving the language and the culture, more Germanic influences and when you speak to people with a family history here – as we did for the whole stay, with the generational family owners of our hotel – you learn of the flux of the cultures that have and go on here; from Italian, Ladino, German, Austrian and within and beyond families and friends within villages, especially in tough times of the last century. Again, how lucky we are, to simply enjoy these mountains.

So, the riding. It rained. Heavily. Thunder storms rang strong. Day one in Corvara we trimmed to only have three passes, mainly for safety, but typically it was beautiful sunshine that afternoon. Surely a good omen of the next day.

Indeed, bright sunshine at breakfast. And the first climb up Falzarego. Sadly, or perhaps not for that epic sense and for some nice photography, the heavens opened and the tough Passo Fedaia was made tougher by the rain, the sheep allowing an excuse for a respite. It stopped for lunch in the restaurant up top, then started again for the descent and for Pordoi and Campolongo. Typical.

Fair to say, the epic was put into the trip on this ride. Shooting from the van and huddled in the gutters in the rain, while prepping hot coffee as well was a joy. We all got wet – the riders far more than the support – but that epic we won’t forget. (Shooting while driving and chasing these fast riders, on mountain descents, in the wet…not recommended, but some nice results and a bit of fun).

But finally. That was the last of it. No more rain. And not too hot. Perfect to assault 150km or so to Tre Cime di Lavaredo via Cortina d’Ampezzo and back over Passo Giau and Campolongo again. Cortina is ok in comparison to Corvara, but then we love Corvara. But we wanted a coffee, so a quickie before off to the paradise of Tre Cime. An incredible, beautiful, brutally steep dead end climb. Formerly the border between Italy and Austria, now between the Italian provinces of Belluno and South Tyrol – yet more evidence of that fluxing history and why there is such a want to preserve the Ladino culture. Words, nor photographs do Tre Cime justice. You have to be there. Feel it. Maybe suffer up, it to really get it. It’s amazing.

And as before, when you think the Dolomites has thrown all it’s wow at you, you go back towards Corvara via Passo Giau. More rideable than Tre Cime, and thus you can soak up the theatre of dolomite rocks towering above you, almost like a giant natural amphitheatre. The road is the play, and you are simply a minor character in that days performance. It’s spectacular. Another long day, beautiful and long. The descent off the top, one of the best. Fast, a bit technical, but fast.

Seven hard amazing days done. Tired legs, tired bodies. How could we muster the energy to ride another 1,700m? Well it was only 50 odd km. And it was the Sella Ronda. Our closing day ride, knowing how stunning it would be, we had all the energy to spin out and enjoy one of the best 50km rides you can do.

The Dolomites are made up of more than CaMg(CO3)2. It’s the history and the people who have lived that history and create it today. To the Dolomites and the people of the areas; grazie, giulan, thank you! We will be back in 2017 with more friends to be wowed.

If you are interested in our 2017 Dolomites trip, drop us a line now. We are building our 2017 calendar and this trip is definitely in there!. domestique@sommet.cc

, , , , , , , , ,

Friends and Adventures On another Cycling Tour in Girona

Cycling tour in Girona. I’ll keep it brief. It was a fabulous, eventful, challenging, steep roads, long, fast, exhilarating, educational, friendship re-affirming, adventurous, caffeine filled, coffee bean roasting, culture nourished, hugs laden cops and robbers trip.

A Sommet Cycling holiday!

We loved Girona before. We are now infatuated with it, is riding and it’s the people; our friends.

Until next time! Thanks friends…

, , , , , ,

A Swiss Sommet Independent Cycling Adventure

Last year we ventured into Switzerland in seek of cycling adventure. What we found was more than we had dreamed of.

One of the best mountain climbs we have done, followed by one of the best climbs we have done. Then more… All in epic low rolling cloud, enveloping and caressing us up to and beyond 2,000m.

On cobbles.

It was another recce for a Sommet Independent Trip this year. Sommet Independent is one of our flagship, custom options, alongside our Fully Supported Cycling Trips; both tailor made, or bespoke if you like, handbuilt trips putting you and your dreams first from the minutes of first contact until long after the trip is finished. Both are all about you. Fully Supported is just that; we are there with you all the way, full personal, technical and vehicle support all trip long. Where Sommet Independent differs is that we deliver a trip for you which you then experience on your own. In your own company. Be that solo, or with friends, but completely free in your own space. All the details have been taken care of, no hassles of arranging airport shuttles, no worries about dodgy dowloaded GPX files taking you astray or up the wrong mountain; nor worries about hotel quality or being cycling friendly. We have got that all covered, and more, delivered to you ahead of your trip. You just go and ride.

I digress. Back to Switzerland. On awakening in our, lets say traditional, quaint, Swiss mountain hotel, with accompanying charm, it was one of those drizzly days where you might (well, I might in Barcelona) decide to pass on the ride for the day normally. But, this was the Gotthard Pass awaiting. A long, true mountain climb, which is largely all cobbled and has no access for traffic. That drizzle, in such circumstances, becomes that epic rolling cloud mentioned above. Warmers on, jacket ready, off we go.

The smooth tarmac initially out of the village at the bottom made us wonder if we were on the right road. Where are my cobbles? Cobbles to climb into the sky. Patience. An army truck or two later and a few more sweeping bends, crossing the motorway bypass – which allows for our traffic free progress – and then there it was, the end of the smooth and onto the cobble. Now, they aren’t Roubaix cobbles, but they are still cobbles. A little greasy too.

Soon after that barrier – CX dismount and vaulted (stumbled) over – which makes an already amazing climb a paradise. No cars beyond this point. Just the gentle chatter of the chain from the gentle cobbles, the beating of the heart and the heat of the breath fogging in front of the face while parting the clouds higher and higher. Other worldly. Like a throw back in time on these roads of yesteryear.

Sweeping bends and ancient bridges, hairpin bends and precipices beyond. The Gotthard has it all. I could have gone up and down all day. Popping out at the top though, we had another on the agenda. Descend into the valley for a short traverse to the Furka Pass. The descent off the Gotthard has an option of all smooth tarmac or half on cobbles then the rest on tarmac. Maybe the former was more sensible in the greasy conditions but, as mentioned, epic was the feeling of the day so cobbles it was.

Where the Gotthard shows Swiss engineering adeptness of a recently bygone era, the Furka is a more modern representation of just how to build a mountain road. Super smooth, super curvy, not a pothole or weather induced pimple in sight. Just velvet, sweeping and hairpinning (sic) up to beyond 2,000m again. What a climb. And what a descent.

Ever since that day, we have talked about going back. Weekly it gets mentioned, often several times a week. We are going back.

The point here, aside from a tale of exploring, is that with Sommet Independent, we are opening up these sufferings we have endured to discover the best bits of Europe for you to ride. And for you to go and ride them Sommet Independent or Fully Supported by us. We are giving you the choice and the opportunity to make the most of riding in Europe, and do it the way you want.

 

photography by theMUSETTE.cc except for a couple by Nick Frendo, where stated.