Ranxo 2022: Ponts, much more than a 'stop and shelter' point for gravel lovers
Ponts – ‘parada i fonda’ (‘stop and shelter’) – is an expression closely linked to this Catalan village in the region of La Noguera. This saying appeared among travelers, as Ponts is the most common location to rest on the most logical route between the Catalan Pyrenees and Andorra on one hand and Barcelona and the coastal villages on the other hand.
Until a few years ago, Ponts was barely to any interest of cycling enthusiasts. Its roads, without major climbs or technical trails, made it unattractive for road or mountain bike routes.
That is now a thing of the past. The reason: gravel. Since the first gravel competitions appeared in Catalonia, Ponts turned into one of the gravel paradises in the area. This has caused the incredible transformation of a town that was formerly just an intermediate stop.
It is the day of Ranxo 2022, the Catalan gravel competition that is part of the UCI World Gravel Series. Waiting by the road leading to the town of Florejacs, I see one of the first riders approaching, at high speed. The wide jerseys, handlebar bags and other accessories that characterise gravel, have been left at the back of the wardrobe of those who come to dispute the victory. A legend of Catalan cycling, who has seen all the modalities evolve over the last 20 years, already predicted a few weeks ago in a bar conversation (well, in cycling jargon, a ‘coffee ride’ conversation), that when there is a competition, everyone looks at the aerodynamics to the millimetre.
Gravel is eminently a new discipline and this can be seen in the different setups worn by the participants, the different sizes and types of handlebars, tyres, the conversations about the most suitable pressure for today’s course, and so on. It is probably this new universe of possibilities that has so quickly attracted a large crowd to the sport of road handlebars and knobby tyres.
Also at the finish line, the atmosphere is very different to that of a race of other modalities: every- one comments on how the race went, and give their opinion on what they think what went right or what they would like to improve in the bike setups. Everyone has his own story and comments after Ranxo 2022, however, on one topic they all agree: this area of Catalonia has the potential to be one of the best playgrounds for gravel cycling in Catalonia.
Once the race is over, I go to the town of Agramunt for a coffee. I listen to the conversations of the elderly people in the village. While they talk about the weather forecast, I wonder if they are aware that it is very possible that in a short time they will be sharing a terrace with a cyclist, who has come from the other side of the world just to discover and ride along the roads in the area. Ponts, a destination that was once just a place for ‘stop and shelter’ might have found its true calling.