There is so much information, recommendation and imagination out there about cycling tours in Europe. So rather than look at details, ride plans, itineraries (which are all important at some point), I thought it best to drill down into the lived experience and come up with a (my) list of the best things about a cycling tour in the mountains of Europe. I hope you like it.
1. The scenery. This may seem obvious, but the scenery is everything you think it is going to be and then a whole lot more. I think it is mostly because of the sheer scale of the surroundings that it takes a few days to really tune in. There is something a little bit “other-worldly” about standing at a summit, some 2500m+ above sea level and still gazing up at peaks and glaciers that tower above you another 1000m higher. The size and incredible power of the mountains is something that can only be appreciated face to face, even then you may need to pinch yourself s few times.
2. You are better than you thought you were. Many head to Europe with large question marks over their ability to handle the demands of the climbs they face. Firstly, it is an absolute imperative that significant training be completed. Prior to departure. However, the thing that surprises most is just how well they progress whilst cycling day in day out in the mountains. The constant load experienced during long climbs seems to draw new strength out of both mind and body. What seemed improbable from home, soon feels “normal”, doable, even comfortable. One thing is certain, there will be a new level of physical capacity and with it new belief in just how strong a bike rider you are.
3. You can back up like a pro. Without the “other” demands on your time, life becomes (temporarily) about cycling, resting, eating, sleeping, repeat. After a few days, one grows to realise just how much energy “life” takes up and that with a more singular focus, cycling becomes less tiring, lighter, softer, smoother. Just for a moment in time, life can centre around riding and it helps to power your performance day after day allowing you to squeeze the most out of every ride. It can feel like a little self-indulgent fantasy camp, just what a holiday should be like…………….for cyclists.
4. The food. There really is nothing quite like European food culture, meals bursting with flavour and freshness, served without emotional baggage and perfectly aligned with the European attitude of quality before quantity. It is food for taste and guilt-free indulgence, eaten consciously and never in a rush, time to appreciate both the flavours of each mouthful and enjoy the company of friends. Add to it, the perfect compliment of local wine and your dining experiences will be every bit the match for the cycling ones. The best bit? Eat ‘til your hearts are content, tomorrow you ride, no time or need for your body to store calories. A cycling life in perfect balance.
5. Getting to know yourself again. A few days into the cycling adventure most will pause for while and ponder, before it hits, there are now quiet moments in the day where you have choice. Less burdened by technology, no TV (unless it’s the Tour telecast), fewer emails. It can kind of feel like life used to be back in a time you can barely remember. An afternoon sitting on the balcony, savouring local cheese and sipping on a light Chianti, everything quiet. Say hello to yourself, get acquainted again, it has probably been a while. There is something quite unique about the “quality” of relaxation that has been both earned and enhanced by a day spent riding in the mountains, at times it feels like perfection.
So there you have it, sounds pretty good ha? Well it is. Those that have been already, know it and cannot wait to go back. Whilst hopefully those still in contemplation are now one step closer to joining the club,
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Brian "Bubba" Cooke
Lifelong (almost) cyclist, exercise physiologist and above-all-else just love riding my bike. Been lucky enough to ride some of the world's most epic roads and now live on the beautiful Gold Coast, hidden gem of Australian cycling.