Bike Road Trip
2020 is a strange year! Covid-19 has strike us and I don’t think anybody could foresee this. Earlier this year we were in Costa Rica, when the lock down was entered in Belgium. Luckily we came back via Holland and we still had a flight. What followed was a very strange period and we cancelled some travel plans and decided to wait to see what future would bring; We concluded quickly that we would not take a plane for the rest of the year, as our experience with the empty airport in Costa Rica, and seeing stranded people, was too impressive. We started thinking of and old fashioned road trip.
Since 2017 we didn’t do a bike trip and the Pyrenees were still a blank spot on our palmares that started to shout louder and louder. We concluded that biking alone on some cols, outside the holiday season should one of the safest options available. That was clearly the correct assumption. Never we have seen less people during our trips than during this one. Nevertheless we had to stay flexible as the Belgian government kept on changing the colors of the departments and regions. We had to drop Andorra and Monaco from our initial plan, but with the Pyrenees, Mont Ventoux & Toscany we had some great challenges. To address our hunger for new countries, we added San Marino and Liechtenstein to the list. Like this we create an impressive road trip through Europe but still kept the driving hours small. Except the first and last day.
After a weekend of biking with friends in the Belgian Ardennes we left towards the Pyrenees for our holiday. The distance of approximatly 1200 kilometers was too much for 1 day after such an intensive weekend. We decided to split the trip in 2 and selected Cognac for a one night stay. We found a great AirBnB hosted by Alain and Michèle. The room is very spacious, sparkless clean, has a great bed and bathroom. There were plenty of ameneties like candies, sweets and water. We didn’t had time to use the pool in the cosy garden.
We were surprised by Cognac. It was completly different than we expected. It was a cosy city centre, but very quiet as it was a Sunday, so shops were closed. From on the bridge we could overlook the city with the impressive Hennesy building. Due to the limited time, we had no time to visit a place where they make Cognac, we’ll have to plan that another time. Dinner we had along side the river in L’atelier des quais, the number 9 of restaurants according to TripAdvisor. Correctly prices, good service and tasteful food. A perfect place to celebrate the start of our holiday.
At last, after a couple of trips to the Alps it was finally time to bike in the famous Pyrenees. We selected Argelès-Gazost as this town is perfectly located to get immediate access to some world famous climbs. Some of them even start in the town itself. For other you have to choose yourself if you go by bike or by car. During our stay we were blessed with perfect biking weather, which made this an unforgetable biking experience.
AirBnB in city centre: we stayed a week in this appartment which was perfectly located. Close to shops, restaurants and the market square. All was present to have a great stay. There is an individual locked storage in the basement where you can store your racing bikes safely. This together with the washer makes it a perfect location for a biking holiday. The host was also very flexible, and allowed us to reschedule our stay last minute due to changed covid regulations.
- Hautacam / Tramassel (41.9 km – 1285 altitude meters)
- Col du Soulor – Col d’Aubisque – Col d’Aubisque (95.4 km – 2845 altitude meters)
- Col de Peyresourde – Col d’Aspin – Col d’Aspin (88.7 km – 2371 altitude meters)
- Col du Tourmalet – Col du Tourmalet (71.6 km – 2688 altitude metres)
- Pont d’Espagne – Cauterets Cambasque (62.0 km – 1576 altitude meters)
- Luz Ardiden – Cirque de Troumouse (82.8 km – 2590 altitude meters)
Only 10 km away from Argelès-Gazost you have the pilgrimage site of Lourdes. We parked our car on the free parking on Esplanade du Paradis. From there it’s a small walk to the sanctuary. Walking through the village shows a lot of faded glory. Big hotels which used to be fancy, but which degraded over the years. you also have hundreds of shops selling exactly the same things. It all shows that this must have been an incredible place many years ago.
Once at the sanctuary I had mixed feelings as you see a lot of misery. People that come to pray for miracles because they are ill or are heavily injured. You see a mix of people who believe and real tourists which don’t always respect the place. They make a lot of noise, and explore this place like a flee market. I think that wheter you believe or not, people should respect the place. Conclusion is that still I’m happy that we visited this place.
Tour de France
During our stay in the Pyrenees the world-famous Tour de France passed close to Argèles-Gazost. We spend a day to experience what it’s all about. The article “Un jour dans le Tour (de France)” tells you all about our adventure.
Le Mont Ventoux
After a great week we left the Pyrenees behind us and headed to a second mythical biking location; the Mont Ventoux. For us it was going back to where it all started 10 years ago, Le Mont Ventoux. In 2010 I started to bike under impulse of Marie-Claire and some other friends that wanted to conquer this mountain. In 2011 we went back and Tom achieved to become Cingle du Ventoux. As we had a great biking condition due to Corona, I challenged Marie-Claire to achieve the same!
Tom’s story: I decided to not repeat what I did in 2011, but decided to go for a fast time on the route from Bedoin. I made it in 1:38:26 and I’m very proud of that time! Certainly as I’m +40 years and have a weight of 83 kg. We started the day by bike from our AirBnB which is close to both Bedoin and Malaucène. Warming up over the col de La Madeleine towards the village. Just after the round about you have the copper start line. I started with a firm tempo and was tempted to ride just above my ftp. I overtook one after another, which brings extra motivation to me. But still, when you ride longer time above FTP you know you will pay for it. For me it was after 1 hour and 15 minutes. There I started to feel that my legs were getting empty. The last kilometers I really suffered and lost a little of time. I think I could have made it maybe 2 – 3 minutes faster, but in the end, that doesn’t make such a difference. I had a great climb and I’m proud of what I achieved.
I made the descend to Malaucène, had a Coca-Cola and then went back up back to the summit. I really suffered the entire ride, but that was to be expected by giving all my best on the first climb. Still the time was acceptible for me: 1:57:18. I headed back down to Malaucène before heading back to the AirBnb. Friends of me know I like speed, but always keep it safe. While going down I reached 85.7 km/h. After that I took a well deserved shower while I awaited Marie-Claire to finish her insane battle with the Mont Ventoux.
Cingle du Ventoux: Maire-Claire’s official number is: 15355
There is a known saying: “Crazy is not the one that is going up the Ventoux, but the one that comes back”. The first climb starting from Bedoin took 1:46:55 which is a very good time. Could have been faster but obviously she had to save herself, because still 2 others climbs were waiting… The climb from Malaucène was riden in 2:09:22 and Sault took 1:45:09. This makes the total distance 155 km and moving time of 8:16:33. Total elevation was 4758 meters according to Strava. Cyclists will know this is a heroic performance!
From the Mont Ventoux to Tuscany it was too far to make that in 1 day, as we don’t want to sit all day long in the car. That’s why Sanremo was the ideal intermediate stop to ride yet another Monument: Milan – Sanremo. The city itself is nothing special according to us. We walked a little bit around, had some pizza in the evening and had one of the best ice creams in our lives 🙂
For the biking race itself, we decided to focus on the final of the race and ride the last 30 kilometers which covers the Cipressa and the Poggio. Until this part the race is boring anyway. And the day after our performance at the Mont Ventoux, the legs were screaming for some rest anyway. You can read all the details on this page: Milan Sanremo.
Cliches in Pisa
We only foresee a quick stop over in Pisa, to take the traditional tower pictures and eat a pizza in Pisa. We parked our car just outside the city and took our bikes to explore the site. The buildings themselves are magnificient and the rumors are correct, the tower is way smaller than you would think. As there were more people on this location we didn’t explore it too detailed. We didn’t want to take any risk with Covid.r
We reserved a couple of days to enjoy Tuscany. We found an isolated property which was perfect to enjoy ourselves. The first day we explored the region with our bikes. This region is not flat! We also decided to take a bit of rest at the swimming pool before we would ride the famous Strade Bianche.
Great AirBnB location in Tuscany: This small appartment was good for a short stay. It has a big swimming pool and a brand new tennis court. Only downside is that the airco unit is a mobile airco, and not one with fixed external unit. These type of airco’s make a lot of noise. But with some ear plugs we still had a good night rest. Make sure you bring sprays against mosquito’s as the Tiger variant is extremely hostile. The views from the terrace are magnificient.
You can read all about our Strade Bianche adventure on this dedicated page: Strade Bianche. This was probably one of the heaviest ride we did in our lives. The combination of the warm weather, the altitude meters and riding on “white streets” did it’s work. We also decided to ride with a backpack with extra water, which is not convenient if you are not used to do so. Towards the end Tom started to suffer with his back. The climb to Sienna was less difficult than expected, but we were very happy to reach the finish.
San Marino is a mountainous microstate surrounded by north-central Italy. Among the world’s oldest republics, it retains much of its historic architecture. The country is around 61 square kilometers small and several websites state it’s the 5th smalles country in the world. The capital is also called San Marino and is located on the Monte Titano. The hunger for new countries and the satisfaction of adding another pin in the meters big world map in our house made us come here.
Marie-Claire had the great idea to bike around the country and I was immediate convinced. During Covid-19 some people bikes around Flanders or Belgium, but that is too far. However, riding around San Marino is quite manageable. San Marino isn’t too big, but it is really a biking paradise. You can go up and down the Monte Titano from all angles and the average grade of the climb is mostly around 6 to 7%, which is still comfortable for me.
The signs with warnings about the steepness are certainly very accurate. Where we can’t believe the signs were correct during our Strade Bianche, we are sure these were. We came across a decent of 20% and it for sure was 20% as Tom reached a speed of above 80 km/h.
Strava gpx track: 62.6 km with 1400 altitude meters
After cooling down in the marvelous swimming pool of our AirBnB we took our car and drove to the old city of San Marino. You can either go with the cable car or drive higher up the mountain where you have 10 parkings. We took parking number 9 as all have their advantages. If you want to explore the entire city you have to go up and down anyway. However, they have elevators that bring you quickly where you want to be. The parking was not that expensive. We paid a few euros to park a couple of hours.
The capital of San Marino is a very beautiful and cozy city. It is a tangle of small streets with shops. We can advise you to go by end of the day as then the day tourists are leaving the city and it becomes way more calm. We had read this tip somewhere on the internet and we are glad we did so. Certainly in Covid-19 times. Most streets and squares were empty. From the center we went up the hill to take a look at the three iconic towers. Certainly tower number two you must have seen on one of the many pictures of San Marino. We think that 2 to 4 hours are enough to explore most of the city. If you have some drinks on a terrace it will take you longer. When you have a clear day like we had, you have endless views over the city and the surroundings. Make sure you don’t miss these views where the cable car arrives.
By the end of the day we went for dinner in the number 2 of restaurants of San Marino (according to TripAdvisor). This restaurant has a terrace with a wonderful view on the mountains and the Palazzo Pubblico. The food was very tasteful and to Belgian standars it was very affordable. We took the 4 course gourmet menu. I advice to make a reservation as the restaurant is mosly full and ask to sit at the window, so you sit with your back to the rest of the people. When you are in the middle of the restaurant, it loses much of its charm. There were a bit of clouds so we did not have the best sunset, but still we got plenty of nice colour shades.
Valbrona - Tour of Lombardy
While weather and biking condition were still great we decided to go to the Como region and to ride our 5th and last one-day biking Monument. We found a nice AirBnB in Valbrona which was near the track of the race The Tour of Lombardy. We had a newly renovated appartment for ourselves. The property also had a big swimming pool and a brand new tennis court. So when you are looking for a nice place to stay, make sure to check if this place is available. You won’t regret it, as both the living room and bedroom have views directly on the lake, which is very nice in the evening with the light on the other side of the lake.
From our property we could descend to the Lake of Como and we were immediate on the official track. The detailed information about the Tour of Lombardy you can read here. Make sure to check out our adventure about Madonna del Ghisallo, Muro di Sormano and Civiglio. A great experience.
The day after our Tour of Lombardy we reserved some time to visit the museo del ciclismo on the top of Madonna del Ghisallo. During our ride itself we focussed on the church, but we learnt on the internet that the museum was also worth a visit. That is fully correct. We spend about 1 hour and a half in the museum. When you like cycling you will not borred. There is a huge collection of bikes, shirts and other cycling related items. The entrance fee was 5 € per person and that is really a fair price. Don’t forget to visit this museum when you are around.
Let’s be honest, if you travel often, after some time, the virus or hunger of adding more and more countries to your list will hit you. This road trip was perfect for adding Liechtenstein to our list, which is a German-speaking 25km long principality between Austria and Switzerland.It’s known for its medieval castles, alpine landscapes and villages linked by a network of trails.
After checking out we went for a city walk in Vaduz. It’s not that big, but the main shopping street has some charm and we enjoyed it. Liechtenstein is not big, and if you are not there for skiing or hiking, I would not plan too much time to explore. A half or full day will give you already a nice impression. Anyway, we are glad we spend the night and a day in Liechtenstein.
Before heading back to Belgium we spend the night in Zug. We didn’t know this town but were very much impressed by it. You can’t count the number of Lamborghini, Ferrari and McLarens you see within 1 hour on your both hands. We saw fancy shops, nice restaurants and enjoyed an evening walk at the lake. The only thing you need to take into account are the prices. For Belgian standards it’s very, very expensive.
City Hotel: We stayed in this hotel which is located, as it’s name says, located in the centre. The room was very nice and the breakfast was extensive and tasteful.