Keen students of ‘the beautiful sport of professional bicycle racing‘ (TM Paul Sherwen) will be fully aware of the City of Girona in Northern Catalonia. The same students will only have heard of Girona post 2000 – the year in which Lance Armstrong turned up and the Girona Tourist Board hit the big time.
Why Girona? Why this relatively non-descript City about an hour away from Barcelona with its humid sub-tropical climate?
Last year, Raúl De Hoyos – born and bred in Girona – retired after 25 mostly sleepy years working for the ‘Visit Girona’ local government department. Speaking to one of the local newspapers, Raul shed some light on how Girona became an unlikely epicentre for cycling.
“Already, there were a few American cyclists in the area but early one March morning, a particularly brash rootin’ tootin’ American entered our office complaining that he was unable to find an address he had scribbled on a piece of paper. ‘Bullsh’t’ he called it. Our City layout was ‘bullsh’t’. Anyway, we took a closer look at the address he was searching for whilst we invited him to browse our extensive selection of leaflets and pamphlets. It turned out he had an address for ‘Genoa’! He’d apparently been training in Italy, enjoyed it and decided to set up a training base in Genoa – away from the French and their appalling coffee. I think his geography beyond Plano, Texas was a bit limited’.
“We explained the situation to Mr Armstrong who didn’t take it well. There was – he asserted – a mistake. WE – the tourist board – were in the wrong City. He wanted to speak to the Mayor to get the Cities’ signs corrected. He caused quite a scene. Anyway, he called his friend Johan Bruyneel to seemed to be able to calm him down and talk some sense into him. He left shortly after muttering something slightly threatening. Sounds incredible but think about it – it’s actually totally plausible. Why would you choose to live in a totally mediocre Spanish City? Anyway – the city has done well out of it if you discount the huge increase in Cyclists and Americans.”