Training Rides Unpacked — Peter Thomson
Training Rides Unpacked — Peter Thomson
Our new feature, Training Rides Unpacked, will give you an insight into the cycling habits and character of our Ride Leaders through their favourite training rides. Kinging things off is our founder, Peter Thomson.
Peter set up Thomson Bike Tours in 2001 and must have covered well over 250,000km on the bike since then. His cycling journey started in 1977, or as he puts it "way too long ago". A committed road rider, Peter loves a rolling route – the smoother the tarmac, the better! Anyone who has been subjected to a 'wee bump' with Peter may be surprised to hear that he doesn't really like long climbs with steady gradients, much preferring steeper climbs with irregular gradients. The descents are worth it though.
A LOVE OF MOUNTAINS
We all have different introductions to cycling; whether inspired by the racing scene, the influence of friends and family or a desire to explore. Peter’s love of cycling originated in the Scottish Highlands in his mid-teens. Along with a group of friends, he'd spend many a weekend hiking in the Highlands and would use public transport to get to the mountains, which made the choice limited. Scotland is blessed with an incredible array of mountains, most of which were out of reach, until someone had the great idea that the group should get bikes and cycle to whichever mountain they wanted. Complete freedom!
HAMMER THE CHAIN GANG
Leaving on a Friday lunchtime, Peter’s gang of friends would stay in youth hostels over the weekend, hiking during the day, drinking at night and then cycling home in the pitch black on Sunday night. The further afield they travelled in search of mountains, the fitter they got. One evening coming back on a flat stretch of road known to locals as the Kippen Flats, equipped with heavy saddlebags and sub-standard gear, they hammered the local chain gang. A new era was born and hiking soon gave way to full-on bike racing. It’s fair to say Peter has never looked back, and still loves to hammer the chain gang!
This route has an absolute killer of a climb called Rat Penat, with gradients of up to 23%. I hate it.
Rat Penat Loop — Sitges, Catalunya
Based in Sitges, Catalunya, just down the coast from Barcelona, Peter has picked a tough local route to share with us. This route was used as the warm-up ride on the 2015 Trans Pyrenees trip and probably put the fear of god into the guests! Taking around 2 hours, this route gets you a lot of bang for your buck.
Straight from Peter’s home, the ride starts with a brilliant 12km section along the coast, all up and down with great views of the Mediterranean. Taking a turn into an innocuous residential road, home to some Barcelona FC players, you meet the start of the climb and 4.5km of pure suffering. In this short distance you climb from the coast to almost 500m above sea level, which means one thing. It’s steep!
There are many false summits, kidding first timers that they’ve conquered it, but Peter has seen it too many times to be lulled by them. From the top there’s a brilliant road through the Garraf Natural Park, with more steep ramps and narrow, twisty roads but absolutely no traffic. There’s even a fully operational Buddhist monastery if you decide to ditch the bike and become a monk for a while. This has sometimes seemed like an option!
Check out this old video from 2011 of Peter climbing Rat Penat!
HIGHLIGHTS OF THE LOOP
Peter admits to a love/hate relationship with this loop, or more specifically the Rat Penat climb. Although, the hate seems to shine through a lot more than the love!
"After the first km I often question what the hell I’m doing there, and I have turned around and descended on many occasions. But it’s a love-hate relationship, damn does it feel good when you reach the summit, especially if you’re on one of these good days and you feel like you’ve cracked it."
From the summit, there is a supremely rewarding view of the Mediterranean and the city of Barcelona in the distance. There is even a great Mexican food truck in Olivella after around 30km that can often serve as a richly deserved incentive.
SOLO OR GROUP?
Our favourite training rides can sometimes be a personal thing, a route to undertake solo with no distractions. Others might be best in a group, sharing laughs or competition along the way. We asked Peter about his Rat Penat preferences and the answer was clear.
"This is definitely a route to ride alone — you don’t want to be measuring yourself against the form of other people, it’ll only make matters worse. It’s one to suffer and triumph in silence, not one to watch some Spanish climber dance into the distance!"
Although Peter did share a story about the time he took his daughter’s boyfriend out on the route. This poor, unsuspecting young man was 20, a real show-off and Peter’s daughter was pretty much over him, so he decided to seal the young man's fate. Hailing from the Lake District in England, the plucky young cyclist claimed to be holder of several local KOM’s and wanted to bag a challenging KOM in Spain.
"This was music to my ears. I have to admit, I enjoyed the sight of him hammering it up Rat Penat in search of the top spot on the leaderboard. I may have forgotten to tell him that the Vuelta a España has been up there a couple of times, so even his best efforts were going to be completely futile. As expected, he started to fade after a couple of km and as I caught and passed him at around 3km, I gave him the full ‘Lance to Jan Ullrich look’ and waited for him at the top. Cue the end of that relationship. I never really liked him anyway."
What do you enjoy most about being a ride leader?
Sharing a really cool route with a great group of guests. I’ll never tire of introducing people to some of the best cycling they may ever experience.
Favourite trip so far
This is so difficult to choose, so many of them are fantastic and I’ve done so many! I do love Andalusia, Portugal, the Cantabrian Mountains, Colombia, Mallorca, Scotland (obviously!) and the Pyrenees.
What trips are you looking forward to coming up?
I’m hoping to be able to escape the office and ride the Gravel Morocco trip. It’s so different to anything we’ve run before with luxury camping under the stars and epic deserts. Next year I’m really looking forward to pour VIP trip to Sardinia. The recce rides were fantastic, so I know this is going to be a new favourite.
VIP EPIC Trans Sardinia