Travel: France At Its Finest In June
The Dauphinй-Libйrй stage race is contested over many of the same roads as the Tour de France. It runs in June under warm summer skies, and without the crowds and stress that define the TDF. It’s a cycling vacation to consider, and the folks at Vйlo Classic Tours know the right way to enjoy it…
Alpe d’Huez. The Tйlйgraphe and Galibier. The Glandon. The epic ascents of the Alps on every cyclist’s “must ride” list that have shaped hundreds of bicycle races throughout history are open for riders even less famous than Merckx, Hinault, Armstrong, to slug out their own battles and experience their own personal purgatories – or heavens. And many of these climbs feature in the Dauphinй-Libйrй.
Test yourself on the mighty Galibier – with not a gendarme in sight.
But wait – there’s still more to tempt the cyclo-fanatic: As Western Europe’s largest country, France is a complex geographic mosaic, with a diverse topography of plains; pasture lands, forests, vineyards and natural frontiers. The changing landscape provides enormous agricultural riches, and the French are envied for their variety of cheeses, wines and culinary customs. Vйlo Classic Tours’ French Alp – Dauphinй-Libйrй trip goes deep into the Rhфne-Alps and Haute-Savoie regions to offer an experience of France’s best – tradition, history, distinctive customs of the culinary arts – and tons of great rides.
Serious Cycling: the Dauphinй-Libйrй Delivers The Ultimate French Race Experience
Most of us who are considering traveling to France in the summer to see a bike race immediately think of the Tour de France. As the biggest race in the world, it comes complete massive crowds lining the road, enclosed start villages fenced off to the fans, inaccessible riders, and roads snarled with traffic. If your idea of a perfect race includes a smattering of die hard locals lining the roads, unfettered access to star riders in a relaxing start village, and the opportunity to ride the day’s course before the race comes through without a gendarmes stiff arming you and making you walk your bike – then the Dauphinй-Libйrй is for you.
If you find yourself surrounded by wispy clouds and barren landscape – you’re not in heaven – you’re on top of Mt. Ventoux.
Sounds like a fantasy huh? Guess what. It’s for real, and all part of Vйlo Classic Tours trip to see the Dauphinй-Libйrй, and ride the famous cols of the Alps.
Starting and ending in the posh mountain town of Megиve, Director Peter Easton has created an itinerary that takes in the beasts of the Alps, along with some of the most exciting road racing. Each year, the Tour de France’s top contenders test their final fitness on many of the same roads they will be suffering over in July.
A relaxed atmosphere permeates the open start villages, offering lots of opportunities to chat with and photograph your favorite riders and up and coming stars. When it’s time to see the queen stage of the event, riding the final climb of the day’s course is on tap – last year the group rode up the paint-smattered tarmac of Mont Ventoux before watching the riders drag themselves up and across the finish line of the Giant of Provence.
And what better way to end a dream vacation than riding in a professional style road race- the Megиve-Mont Blanc Classic, a timed event that covers 88, 115 or 145 kilometers and takes in the Col des Aravis, Saisies and Croix de Fry. Last year saw Mathieu Claude, Giovanni Bernardeau and Olivier Bonnaire from Bouygues Telecom at the start line, and with attentive marshalling, refilling stations, and gorgeous scenery, it’s the perfect finale to a perfect trip.
Hand-picked hotels like this one on Lake Annecy offer some pretty sweet views.
Sublime Culture: “Good Eats” French Style
Any mention of France immediately conjures thoughts of wine, cheese and the most renowned cuisine in the world. The French know a thing or two about living and there’s a reason great wines of the Rhфne and Savoie regions are part of daily life. In rural locations, like Grйsy-sur-Isиre, multi-generation establishments still thrive, where centuries old agriculture remains a primary way of life.
The surrounding villages of the region are filled with elegant shops, lively cafes, and cultural treasures dating back to Roman times. How does this affect you, you ask? How about great food and accommodations for starters? Vйlo Classic Tours’ small groups (usually between 8-16 guests) allow for more intimate experiences, with some of the country’s best chef’s preparing customized menus for you.
Smaller groups mean more personal attention.
The Chardonnet family welcomes the VCT group annually in Grйsy-sur-Isиre, offering their converted castle, which overlooks the valley below. Head of the family and head chef Gilles prepares roast duck breast with fennel and a potato puree, accompanied with wine from their friends at the local winery down the road, who made a special visit to introduce their exclusively produced Gamay Rouge.
Michelin rated chef Josй de Anacleto, a big cyclist himself, rings the guests in their rooms before dinner to ask their preference on fish or meat, finally settling on racks of baby lamb, accompanied with a vegetable soufflй, and (knowing we’re hitting the road hard the next day) some pasta aglio olio. Finished off with more local wine-Pinot Noir this night, and Beaufort and Tomme de Savoie cheeses, the accommodations and service can only be classified as first class.
The scenery in the French Alps is more than enough reward for any climb.
Exemplary Service: What The Guests Say
From the planning that goes into the trip, to the attention given to each guest, nothing is left unplanned or to chance on a VCT trip. It’s not uncommon for VCT guests to return year after year: Nick Burkinshaw from London enjoyed it so much he’s signed on again for this year’s tour. “I had a fantastic time, and can’t say how impressed I was with the organization and attention to detail put into it. It’s only really looking back on it that I realize how much preparation and thought (was) put into what seemed at the time to be an effortless exercise! I thoroughly enjoyed meeting everyone, Peter manages to attract people who have a really good balance of a serious interest in cycling without being overly competitive and who have a mutual respect for everyone’s abilities. I think he has really hit on a great concept that has no real equivalent; having said that I think the idea in itself would be worthless without their enthusiasm and passion for our sport”.
Susan Van der Walt and Leigh Durham, owners of the area’s largest bicycle shop in Durban, South Africa, and friends of Phonak pro Robbie Hunter, shared their feelings with us: “We can not stop thinking and sharing our most wonderful time with everybody walking in to the shop. As the days past and we have to get in the swing of normal life we actually realize how great the trip was. To meet such great people and to tour with Peter and Lisa will surely be, until the next trip, the highlight of our lives. For every detail and extra mile they did to make this a life experience we never had before, we say THANK YOU VERY MUCH. There are so many little things to be thankful for because all those little things made our holiday so special”.
You can’t fake these smiles: ex-pro Marcel Wust (left) will join the crew for a few days. And VCT owner Peter Easton obviously knows how to arrange a good time.
The Velo Classic Difference
If you’re thinking this is the ideal trip, how can it get any better? How about hanging and riding with a former professional- one well known sprint king Marcel Wust to be exact! Taking time from his busy schedule with German television ARD, Marcel will be joining the trip again this year, along with professional photographer Mike King, both courtesy of Procycling magazine, doing what he does best- being Marcel. And while he’s at it, he’ll even be doing a few of his bike reviews for the magazine. We caught up with Marcel in Germany before his busy season starts.
Pez: Marcel, you’re a busy man, but you still enjoy riding your bike…
Marcel: I sure do. Even if it’s to take my son Alexander to school or go to the grocery store! The bike reviews for Procycling are serious, but fun – the travel can be a bit hectic, but the scenery and locales are often fantastic.
Pez: You joined Velo Classic on their Alps trip last year, how did that go?
Marcel: Fabulous. It was great to be with a small group riding the same roads I trained on when I first started with RMO. I even visited Cycles Routens, a shop we all used to frequent, because I forgot my pedals!
Pez: Riding custom, high-end bikes through fabulous scenery, eating gourmet food and drinking panaches (a 1664 beer cut with carbonated lemonade. Ed)- sounds more like a vacation than work?
Marcel: Sure does mate! I enjoyed my time with VCT last year-the group was great, and Peter and Lisa really did a great job. It was like a vacation of sorts for me, I was sorry I only did 4 days – I’m hoping to stay on longer this year, I need the down time before the television work for the tours starts!
You’ll also be happy to know, as Marcel was, that Outside Magazine has recognized the trip as one of their Best Trips for 2006. This follows another award given the trip from the Evening Standard in London, ranking it among their Top Ten Adventure Trips for 2006. What’s left but to give it a go for yourself?
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Vйlo Classic Tours or call 212.779.9599 2006 color brochure and itineraries are available.
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