This article is a result of a fun and interactive webinar hosted by Cycling-Inform where Paul D’Andrea from Sierra Sports & Tours also joined the panel of presenters. Feel free to watch the 1 hour webinar replay at your own convenience but if you would like a summary of what was covered please read below. The focus of the webinar was to receive live questions and provide instantaneous responses!
- Where are some of the best European regions for cycling?
The Dolomites in northern Italy are a favourite destination for cycling enthusiasts. Jagged limestone mountain peaks provide an inspirational backdrop for testing yourself on some of the most mythical Giro d’Italia climbs. The Sella Ronda loop is a real gem and includes a staggering 4 categorised climbs within only 60km; Pordoi, Sella, Gardena and Campolongo!
The French Alpes are home to 4 of the 5 highest mountain passes in Europe and often play out epic Tour de France stages on Alpe d’Huez, Col du Galibier & Col d’Izoard but for pure cycling enjoyment the Sierra guides cannot go past the Pyrenees in southern France. There are many quiet linking backroads to be found in the Pyrenees where cycling through valleys and dense forests is also possible. Check out Argeles-Gazost & St Lary Soulan for an excellent base!
Andalusia in southern Spain is the sleeping giant when it comes to quality road cycling. While the Costa del Sol is packed with beachgoers the inland mountains offer a peaceful setting and incredible mixed terrain rides. Sierra de Grazalema, Sierra Cazorla and Sierra Nevada are just a few places to enjoy quality road cycling. With 300 days of sunshine per year there is no better place in Europe to just get outside and ride!
For pure drama Oudenaarde in western Belgium is the place to be during the European Spring. Cobbled classics races follow one after another and for cycling superfans the Tour of Flanders and Paris Roubaix professional races provide a once in a lifetime experience!
- How does one go about selecting a cycling tour?
There are a few things to consider here and it basically comes down to whether you want to travel alone or within a guided group, what time of the year do you plan to travel and where do your interests lie? If your plan is to cycle the big mountain passes then to be safe cross-out October to June. The majority of Europe´s high mountain passes will most likely be under metres of snow during these months! Guided cycling tours also follow different styles some of which include: a) those which follow the professional races (Giro, TDF or La Vuelta), b) those which ride all the iconic cycling destinations but away from the professional races and c) those which also include a gran fondo/sportive ride into the tour program. At Sierra Sports & Tours we find that our guests often begin by joining us on a tour such as the Giro d’Italia where the race atmosphere is a key focus. For future holidays some guests move across to the other tour types where their interests shift to wanting more time cycling and time to explore the European regions during the afternoons!
- What are the typical characteristics of a tour group?
Sierra Sports & Tours is based in Spain but its roots are from Melbourne, Australia. As such, 95% of our guests are from Australia and New Zealand. The typical age profile of a Sierra guest is between 45 to 65 years old. We have many couples joining our tours so the current male to female ratio is about 60-40%. Non-cyclists do join our tours and typically account for about 15% of our clientele. Non-cyclists receive a discount and can join the group in the support van or visit the towns where we are based. If they would like us to prepare special excursions we have experience organising local cooking classes, guided hikes, leisure bike rides, etc. For road cyclists who are keen to join but are unsure about the big mountains we also have a fleet of electric road bikes that we can make available when things get a little more challenging.
- Should I bring my own bike or hire a bike?
For many clients this generally comes down to what their pre- and post-tour travel plans look like. For guests who are travelling solely for the cycling tour we find many will bring their own bike. International airlines, such as, Emirates and Qatar provide a 32kg luggage allowance which is more than enough. For guests though with several other domestic European flights or train connections they might find it easier and cheaper to select a hire bike. For clients attending the Spring Classics we find most select hire bikes as we have them fitted with 28mm wide tyres, double handlebar tape, etc so there is already some extra comfort built-in! For a tour ranging from 8-10 days the bike hire price is typically 300 Euro.
- What does a guided tour include and what is a typical tour price?
Tours to the public generally range between 8 to 10 days. We like to spend 2 to 3 night stays in each location to provide a relaxed setting and to have time to explore each township. All of the guided tours also have at least one support van on-hand carrying your day packs, food and drink, spare bikes, parts and wheels, tool kits, etc. The Sierra guides all speak English but also have additional languages including Spanish, French and Italian. All of the accommodation and breakfasts are included. We like to select hotels with local charm, which are family owned and are welcoming to cycling tourists. About half of the dinners with beer and wine are also included. We find it is also great for clients to have the chance to explore for themselves during the free evenings. Most of the start and finish locations are international airports and all of these transfers are also included in the tour price. For each tour we also have a commemorative cycling jersey which amongst other cycling related gifts is presented during the tour briefing. And most importantly you receive our professionally guided cycling routes following breathtaking scenery on roads away from major traffic to maximise your enjoyment and safety! The typical price for a 9 day / 8 night trip is around the 3000 € price range. There are also discounts for group bookings with a starting 5% discount for a minimum group of 4.
- Who designs the cycling tours?
Paul and his team of guides have over 10 years experience cycling through Europe. We have set off on 100’s of cycling adventures through Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Norway, Slovenia, Belgium, Holland, Denmark, Sweden, Austria & Germany. Every year Sierra Sports & Tours also conducts a number of private cycling tours so if you have a group of 6 or more why not ask us to design your very own customised European cycling tour.
- Any other tips?
- Plan Ahead: If you like to plan ahead then be sure to look at the European early bird flight specials which always finish around late October / early November. Through our association with Pellegrino Travel Agency we often secure flights for our guests between $AUD 1300-1500.
- Just ride! Many guests are initially unsure if they have what it takes to join a cycling tour. Being consistent is the main thing! Get in a longer ride on the weekend but keep up the spinning during the week (a few 45 minute indoor sessions with Cycling-Inform will put you in good stead). To get the most out of a tour you do not need to be fast. Cycling on the flats (25-28km/hr) keeps the group together and then you are free to ride the climbs at your own speed (always guided support at the front and back of the group). Remember – pace your climbs! Ride within yourself, be able to talk, then if you have some more to give finish the final 2-3km with a burst! Also consider getting away pre-tour for a long weekend ride in the mountains and Cycling-Inform events, such as, the Bright Boot Camp and 7 Peaks in 7 Days are selected by a number of Sierra Sports & Tours guests to start preparing for Europe.
- Practise your descending skills! Many guests have the stamina and strength to cycle 1-2hours uphill but then some find it difficult when descending for 30-45 minutes continuously. Practising to be relaxed and in the drops helps a lot, knowing when to apply the brakes and which ones is critical, how to handle the bike in wet or dry conditions, picking your entry and exit lines, outside pedal down and pressure applied, …….. Practise will make perfect and a cycling clinic is a good place to start developing these skills.
- And the final word on Travel Insurance – there is a saying that goes ¨If you can‘t afford travel insurance, you can‘t afford to travel overseas¨. We recommend that any travel insurance purchased should also cover tour cancellation in the event you become ill, injured or other last minute family or work related matters arise. If you are travelling with an expensive bike also make sure that you have a sufficient level of cover in the event of damage.