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Tour de France

Tour de Hoody: Andorra is high-altitude home to more than 50 WorldTour pros

Many riders call the principality home for clean living, low taxes, and high-altitude roads.

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ANDORRA (VN) — A live-in high altitude camp, low taxes, a thriving cycling community, sunny skies and some of Europe’s steepest roads — welcome to the peloton’s latest home away from home.

This mountain micro-state, sandwiched between France and Spain in the heart of the Pyrénées, was long known for smugglers, duty-free shopping, cheap gas, spectacular mountains, and winter skiing.

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About a generation ago, some of the peloton’s top names started to find this thriving mountain hamlet was also a near-ideal European home base. Ex-pros Joaquin Rodríguez and Svein Tuft were among the first to land in Andorra.

Today, there are more than 50 WorldTour-level pros living in and around the steep valleys that make up this newest cycling Mecca in the peloton.

“It’s similar to my home in Colorado,” said Sepp Kuss (Jumbo-Visma), who’s been living here for about two years. “I love the mountains. It’s fresh air, nice riding, mountain biking, everything, it’s a nice place to be.”

Andorra and Tour de France have a long history

COLL DE LA GALLINA. SANTUARIO DE CANOLICH, ANDORRA - SEPTEMBER 15: Coll De Ordino (1980m)/ Landscape / Peloton / Mountains / during the 73rd Tour of Spain 2018, Stage 20 a 97,3km stage from Escaldes-Engordany to Coll de la Gallina. Santuario de Canolich 1480m / La Vuelta / on September 15, 2018 in Coll de la Gallina. Santuario de Canolich, Andorra. (Photo by Tim de Waele/Getty Images)
The Coll de la Galina, shown here in the 2018 Vuelta a España, is one of the steeper climbs in Andorra. Photo: Tim de Waele/Getty Images

The Tour de France pedals into Andorra on Sunday and will stay overnight Monday for its second and last rest day, before opening the final week with the start of Tuesday’s stage.

Andorra is a familiar stop for many regional bike races, with the Tour, Vuelta a España, Volta a Catalunya, Midi Libre, and Setmana Catalana regularly holding stages over the decades. Tom Dumoulin won at Arcalis the last time the Tour visited Andorra in 2016.

With the principality, which is co-governed by the president of France and a bishop from Spain, being such a cycling hotbed, it’s no surprise that racers were eventually drawn to the area.

One big plus is the built-in altitude that comes with living in Andorra. Though the valley floor is 1,000m, the upper valleys can nearly reach 2000m. Robert Gesink, for example, lives along the flanks of the Grandvalira ski area, and often posts photos on his Instagram feed.

“I know the roads like the back of my hand,” said Michael Woods (Israel Start-Up Nation), who started the stage in the polka-dot jersey. “It’s going to be great to race there.”

For years, ex-pat riders were drawn to such areas Monaco and Nice along the Cote d’Azur or Girona in northern Spain.

“Many top pros choose to live here for a lot of reasons,” said Koen de Kort (Trek-Segafredo), who made the move to Andorra a few years ago. “People were living in Monaco or Girona, but now many have realized living here is good for training, and for things like permits and taxes.”

Andorra, which uses the Euro but is not formally part the European Union, has several pluses when it comes to things like residency permits, something key for riders from North America or Australia.

Taxes are also beneficial, with the top end hitting about 10 percent. There are some other financial obligations if a rider makes Andorra their “tax residence,” including the requirement for large financial deposits in Andorran banks, but riders can save a lot of money compared to paying European taxes, which regularly tax about 45 to 50 percent on wages above $70,o00.

So for riders who might have five or 10 years to make serious money, Andorra is a big attraction.

Riders also say that when it comes to housing, Andorra offers a lot more for money. A small apartment in Monaco might be $3,000 a month or more; in Andorra, riders can rent places for half that and get double the amount of space.

Many have bought homes and apartments, and even opened business.

“It’s easier for a permit, for me, it’s not for tax reasons so I have to pay US tax,” Kuss said. “I know all the roads really well, and it will have friends close to home. We will ride right past my home there. We usually train there with Robert [Gesink] and George [Bennett], and Jack Haig.”

Altitude is another big plus, and riders basically live, train and sleep at altitude any time they’re in Andorra. The principality, about 465 square miles, includes more than 20 major climbs, ranging from about 5km top up to 35km in length.

If riders want flats, they can roll down the valley to Spain, and hit the open expanses heading south of Andorra.

The downside? There’s no rail line into Andorra, and the nearest major airport is in Barcelona, nearly three hours away on small roads. For riders flying all over the world to race, that can be a real inconvenience.

Dan Martin (Israel Start-Up Nation), who moved from Girona to Andorra and lived up to his promise to ride into the breakaway Sunday, said COVID-19 health restrictions will prevent him from seeing his family.

“It’s weird seeing all the names you train on,” Martin said. “The stage passes 1.5km from my house. Unfortunately with COVID, I won’t be able to see my wife and kid. There will be a lot of friends alongside the road tomorrow. It’s going to be seriously hot [Sunday]. Knowing the course will help.”