Sportive: Saddle up, hold on, annual GiRodeo

The annual GiRodeo shows off the best of Girona’s gravel paradise

It only takes a few minutes after setting off for the gravel to start


Girona doesn’t need to be sold to cyclists anymore.

Thanks to all the pros who call it home, the city in northeast Spain has become one of Europe’s premier cycling hubs, and one the biggest beneficiaries of Girona’s booming cycling culture is The Service Course.

Set up in 2016 by former pro Christian Meier and his wife Amber (though now run by another former pro, Australian superstar Simon Gerrans), the custom-bike-shop-cum-bike-rental-service-cum-travel-company-cum-community-hub is supported by a plethora of talent including Kasia Niewiadoma, Michael Woods, Esteban Chaves, George Bennett, Tiffany Cromwell and more.

From the Girona store – alongside locations in Nice, Abu Dhabi, Mexico City and Wilmslow – The Service Course hosts a large number of ‘casual’ rides, but more recently it launched an annual weekend of gravel rides, coffee drinking and custom bike displays that it dubbed GiRodeo.

I was quick to volunteer. The first GiRodeo feels like it’s just a prefix for future editions, when they can use the tagline ‘This is not our first GiRodeo’.

Gravel even makes ugly concrete infrastructure look cool

But actually this isn’t really the first – it’s a spin-off of Enve’s Grodeo event that has taken place at the manufacturer’s Ogden, Utah home for a few years, with this essentially an excuse for the Enve team to justify an annual holiday on company money.

You can’t fault the theory.

To race or not to race?

Over the course of the GiRodeo weekend, there are several organised ‘spins’ of varying lengths, but the main event is Saturday’s big ride, which has two distances.

There’s a 104km option, but for me – and most people – it’s the 127km ‘Epic’.

The organisers emphasise that GiRodeo is meant to be a ‘fun adventure’ and not a race, but looking at the level of most of the riders lining up on the start line – including a few road, gravel and Instagram pros – it’s likely that the pace is going to be high.

We roll out of the city in a few groups to spread it out, and I stick towards the front to give myself ample sandbagging room.

We’re barely up to speed before we turn off the tarmac and onto the gravel, following the river out of the north of the city to head towards the Pyrenees.

The sun’s out and it’s all smiles in the second group, but they’ll soon encounter a sand hole that will catch many of them out

It’s not the earliest ride start, but it’s late October so the sun is yet to truly come up, and for the first few kilometres we’re riding in a thick mist.

The sun finally bursts through at the first technical section, which hides a sand hole that catches several riders unawares and sees them falling one after another.

I pause to help a rider with a mechanical issue, which is when the second big group comes flying past.

We’re soon back on the trail again and giving chase, but it’s at this point that I remember the ethos of the event and commit to the ‘fun adventure’ mindset.

I ease off the gas, look up from my bike computer and determine simply to enjoy the ride.

Since leaving Girona we’ve gained enough height to get some views through the gaps in the mist, and the gravel has been mostly hardpack so the going has been easy enough.

In fact it’s a true gravel haven – I could count the number of kilometres we’ve ridden on tarmac on one hand and still have fingers left over.

As we continue north, the mountains of the Pyrenees loom in the distance and I know we’re about to hit the main climb of the ride, a 20km ascent that rises to 890m.

There is one water crossing on the route and it’s rideable, but not everyone is brave enough

But in my commitment to having fun, I make a point of not looking at the GPS and the climb turns out to be more a series of steep pitches interspersed with flatter sections and even some downhills.

The first part is a gravel climb with some loose stones and roots to navigate, and just after the crest we reach the first feed station where there are snacks and water on offer, as well as mechanical help for anyone who needs it.

A few peanut butter and jam slices later we roll off down the twisting descent that takes us to the next section of the climb, which is a steep tarmacked backroad that cuts up through the forest of the Alta Garrotxa nature reserve and turns into gravel just after I find my rhythm.

By now I’m on my own and, with no views apart from trees, I slog upwards with the odd swear word every time I realise the climbing isn’t over. Once at the top, however, it’s absolutely worth it.

As the road swings south, the full extent of the Alta Garrotxa nature reserve comes into view, with its warren of densely forested mountains.

I don’t have much time to appreciate it though, but not because I’m rushing – I just want to get stuck into this descent.

Festival of gravel

The way back down is a mix of road and gravel and it’s super-steep, so it quickly takes me back into civilisation at the town of Besalú, out the other side and onto the next climb, which is split by another feed stop outside a church ruin.

Not long ago this spot was filled with people enjoying music blaring from a large speaker system, posh coffee, an array of food, a custom bike display and a small dog, but by the time I arrive the stands are being taken down and there are just a few people hoovering up the last of the provisions.

We form a little group and wind our way up a tree-lined gravel climb and down an exciting descent.

We have a brief foray with some smooth tarmac before the final climb of the day, a tough but not too lengthy ascent that takes us through yet more trees and onto the famous Rocacorba climb – test piece for the local pros – which we head up for about 100m before turning off onto gravel to begin our descent to the finish.

The short autumn day means the sun is beginning to set as we say goodbye to the GiRodeo / Sportive gravel and hello to a road that is as lumpy as a pump track, which adds a final bit of gnar to the route.

We roll into Girona with lights on and endorphins flowing, weaving through the crowds gathering for the Fires de Sant Narcís festival that takes over the town every year.

While locals celebrate the festival of Saint Narcissus with human towers, music, theme parks, parades and fire, we celebrate the festival of gravel cycling with pizza and beer.


It has been a big day out; my computer tells me I ticked off 136km of mostly gravel thanks to a few missed turns (maybe I should’ve checked the GPS after all).

I’m no pro, but I can already feel Girona lassoing me back for more. It may be my first GiRodeo, but I suspect it won’t be my last.

Will Strickson is deputy web editor at Cyclist, and is used to bucking trends

The details


Booking broncos

What GiRodeo
Where Girona, Spain
How far 104km/127km
Elevation 1,290m/2,240m
Next one TBC 2024
Price €90 (approx $146)
More info

The rider’s ride

Argonaut GR3,

The Argonaut GR3 is the American custom carbon bike manufacturer’s first gravel bike, launched at GiRodeo.

It is custom-built for each rider’s specifications – including switching the carbon layup to match stiffness levels to the customer – but Argonaut has a recommended GravelFirst geometry featuring three important measurements that make the GR3 ride like it does.

The 68.5° head tube angle is very slack, providing extra stability downhill; the 415mm chain stays are road-bike short for sharper handling; the 75mm bottom bracket drop leaves room for leaning and clearing obstacles.

That’s topped off with huge clearance that can accommodate tyres up to 50mm thanks to the chain stays being dropped on both sides.

The result is a gravel racing beast that holds its own against the road-adjacent bikes on lighter surfaces and flies confidently down technical descents. ‘Jack of all trades’ would be underselling it

How we did it

Starting in London, Cyclist flew to Barcelona-El Prat and took a 1h 20min taxi to Girona, but more budget-friendly direct flights to Girona airport are available too.
We stayed in an apartment in Girona Old Town through rental company Bravissimo Girona ( Apartments are available from around $110 per night and all are well located near the centre of town.
Many thanks to The Service Course ( and Enve for having us along and giving us entry to the event, and thanks to Argonaut for providing the bike.

Cyclist Australia/NZ