As the new Cycloworld.cc administrators for Spain, you can't help but be delighted by the Spanish gran fondo calendar. This is perhaps a revelation as the Spanish programme (apart from Mallorca 312 and the Quebrantahuesos) is less well known to the international public than the fondos in France and Italy. If you take a closer look, you will see that almost every weekend a gran fondo or sportive is organized somewhere in Spain. In the province of Catalonia, you sometimes feel like a kid in a candy store: a wide variety of routes, mountains and regions. Not bad if Girona is your base!
Saturday, June 11, we are invited to participate in the 42nd edition 3 Nacions gran fondo. A unique gran fondo that crosses no less than 3 country borders and was organized for the first time in 1979. An event with enough history that it raises the question of whether a passport had to be carried in the past...? The start and finish is in the Spanish town of Puigcerda, a stone's throw from the French border.
The course has an impressive 140km and 2400 meters of climbing. This is also the only distance you can ride because the lack of exits makes a shorter course through this area impossible. You cross the Spanish Pyrenees, Andorra and the French Pyrenees. According to the website of the organization there are 3 cols on the program: Port d´Envalira, Coll de Puymorens and Tour de Carol. But ... let's be honest: it is of course mainly about the only really impressive big mountain in this round: Port d´Envalira (2408m)! The highest paved mountain pass in the Pyrenees and also the border between Andorra and France. The Port d´Envalira has been included in the Tour de France 8 times, the last of which was in 2016 (the stage following Dumoulin's victory in Andorra).
A massive 2150 participants will be at the start of this year's 3 Nacions. The size of the event is comparable to many a well-known major French GF, such as Les 3 Ballons. The start and finish area immediately shows how big this cycling event in Spain is: big sponsors have committed to the event, there is a professional start and finish street set up that many a gran fondo can envy and with the goodies in the registration package a cyclist can do something.
The start goes well and organized. In our experience, this is always the case in Spanish gran fondos. The motards, the car of the neutralization and all the traffic controllers: perfectly organized. Compliments. A good escort is also necessary because the first 50 kilometers are in descending line. Because of the good escort, it is relatively quiet in the peloton and the villages are safely crossed. But 50 kilometers is quite long to ride at high speed with such a large peloton. You notice that it takes a lot of concentration.
Photo: Pieter Frolichs (in the back) on his way to a 2nd place.
Arriving at La Seu d'Urgell (ES), the climb finally begins. Starting at 700 meters altitude, it's 49 kilometers and more than 1700 meters (!) of climbing to reach the top of the Port d´Envalira at 2408 meters. You are then almost back in France. In the meantime you have crossed Andorra via Andorra La Vella, Encamp and El Tarter. The ´official´ climb is 28 km and starts from Andorra La Vella, but make no mistake, the 20 kilometers before that are also going up (although it is mainly false flat).
As is often the case, the last mile is the hardest. Even though this climb never gets really steep and the gradients remain friendly, the last few kilometers are quite tough. Not only because of the length of the climb, you also get here above 2000 meters altitude. Breathing is more difficult and the legs fill up faster. The road through Andorra is a relatively big road, so you miss a little bit the "I've conquered a huge and idyllic mountain pass" feeling. The climb passes almost unnoticed. Nevertheless, at the top you are rewarded with a fantastic view over the peaks of Andorra.
From there, it's about a 40-kilometer descent over perfectly paved roads to the finish. The two remaining ´cols´ you pass in the process are just bumps in the road compared to the first climb. Raül Castelló is the first man to come in at 3 hours 49, followed only by a few seconds by Pieter, one of the authors of this article. Together, the number 1 and 2 went on the attack at 80 kilometers and were never caught by the peloton. Anna Noguera came in at 4 hours and 7 minutes being the first lady. Again followed by the other author of this article.
As with all other feed stations, a fine recovery meal awaits all participants at the finish. Here you can also have the finish medal engraved with your own finish time. Nice detail.
Photo: Nicolien Luijsterburg finishes 2nd with the ladies.
We don't know if the organization had in mind that the Cycloworld Spain team would take two podium spots when we were invited but in any case we had a great time. It was a race! Every gran fondo is different and has its own unique aspects. The 3 Nacions is a relatively short and fast fondo on a unique course. This gran fondo is perfectly organized, something other organizers can learn from. We enjoyed it and we are waiting for the 3 Nacions to become known to a larger international audience!
Full results here.