Australia vs Europe: Comparing the Famous Cycling Climbs

Recreational cyclists sit glued to their TV screens watching professional cycling races such as the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. The peloton summits mountain range after mountain range leaving cycling amateurs pondering what it must be like out there climbing Tourmalet, Alpe d’Huez or the Stelvio Pass. This initial interest can quickly turn to doubt as one starts questioning whether they too could actually survive such epic climbs!

When we are fielding enquiries from prospective clients considering joining one of our European cycling tours we like to find out about their local climbs back in Australia. If you have cycled around the various states you will know that Australia also has some classic climbs. This blog sets out to compare a select group of important Australian & European climbs.

Norton Summit vs Passo Campolongo

Norton Summit is for many the gateway to the Adelaide Hills. It is Adelaide’s most popular climb on Strava and a regular feature in the Tour Down Under professional road race. Its statistics match up fairly well with the famous Passo Campolongo in the Italian Dolomites. Rising out of the Corvara ski village ‘Campolongo’ is one of the four climbs that make up the mythical Sella Ronda cycling route. If you can ride Nortons Summit, descend and do three more repeats then your training for the Sella Ronda is in pretty good shape!

Mt Kosciusko vs Col du Glandon

L’Etape Australia which is organised by the Tour de France uses the Mt Kosciusko climb in its current gran fondo event. The Snowy Mountains are an excellent cycling base and this climb up from Jindabyne resembles the French Alpes classic Col du Glandon. ‘Glandon’ is a regular Tour de France feature and its average gradient of 5% underestimates its difficulty. Two short descents create some sections with prolonged ramps around the 10% gradient. If you’re looking to prepare for Europe then why not sign up to the l’Etape Australia. Once at the summit finish line you’ll know if you are ready to take on the French Alpes!

Dargo vs Alpe d’Huez

The Stratford to Dargo was a Victorian Road Series race regular and around 2010 the ‘Dargo’ climb hit the spotlight. With an average gradient nudging 8% its statistics mirror the legendary Alpe d’Huez climb very well. Alpe d’Huez towering above Le Bourg d’Oisans is famous for its 21 switchbacks and 29 Tour de France summit stage finishes. The next time you’re on your way to the Victorian High Country for a block of cycling consider turning off to Dargo. The climb is a real surprise! Make sure to leave some in the tank though if you also have a climb up Mt Hotham planned for the subsequent days!

Mt Wellington vs Col du Tourmalet

Straight out of the Hobart CBD and climbing from sea level one finds the challenging Mt Wellington climb. Local Tassie cyclists will tell you that the Huon Road approach at 17.6km and 6.8% average gradient is a real leg zapper. This climb is the perfect training ground for simulating the mighty Col du Tourmalet in the French Pyrenees. With over 100 appearances the ‘Tourmalet’ is famous for being the col with the most Tour de France crossings.

Australia has some excellent cycling terrain for those considering Europe but wanting to first test themselves on quality local ‘cols’. We would love to know the climbs you have used to prepare for your European cycling assaults. If you are keen to tick-off some of the bucket-list European climbs then Sierra Sports & Tours can help by joining one of the following 2019 cycling tour packages:

Giro d’Italia: Dolomites from 26 May to 3 June 2019

Criterium du Dauphine: Alpes & Annecy from 5 to 13 June 2019

Dolomites in Summer: 8 to 16 July 2019

Tour de France: Provence & Alpes from 20 to 28 July 2019

Pyrenees Coast 2 Coast: Spain & France from 27 August to 5 September 2019

Author: Paul D’Andrea (Owner of Sierra Sports & Tours)

Personally I grew up in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs so I had the Dandenongs nearby to whet my appetite for some elevation gain. However, it wasn’t until venturing out to Mt Donna Buang that my training for Europe really started getting serious. Donna Buang and its 16km at a 6% average gradient gave me confidence to take my bike to Europe well before I had even contemplated creating a European cycling tour business. 20 years on and now Cycling Tips hold their annual Giro della Donna event on this climb and during 2019 they were successful in bringing Spanish grand tour champion Alberto Contador over to also ride Mt Donna Buang!

Cycling Tour: Giro d’Italia , Tour de France or Vuelta?

Europe is home to Grand Tour cycling! Yes, those crazy 3 week long races where riders brave the high mountains, ferocious sprints, at times dangerous descents, high speed crashes and often extreme weather conditions. There are also all those magical moments of live television coverage as the peloton passes chateaus, fields of sunflowers, flowing mountain rivers, sites of geographical wonder plus crazed cycling fans screaming roadside for their favourite riders. Races such as the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and La Vuelta a España are all household names for those who follow professional cycling. This level of interest grows for those who then participate in recreational cycling to the point where one also wishes to experience the thrill of it all!

When it comes to contemplating which race is best for you one should first know that the Giro spans the month of May, the Tour pedals its way through July and La Vuelta spans August and September.

Not to be outdone the Gavia Pass is a tough ride

Sierra guests at the top of Gavia Pass after climbing from Bormio

Giro d’Italia

The Giro d’Italia is considered by many as the most beautiful of the 3 races. Why? The small towns embrace the race and the cyclists (both elite and recreational) are loved. Pink balloons and streamers line the streets adding to the atmosphere. It is the only grand cycling tour (up until now) where the locals have stopped me mid-ride offering cups of red wine and even grappa on a cold climb in the Dolomites. Bars and restaurants are also extremely welcoming to foreigners on a bike! For the most part the weather is comfortable but it is still spring in Europe so expect the unexpected. Begin with cycling layers in the morning which usually get stripped back as the day unfolds. The high mountain passes in the Dolomites (2000m + altitude) and the Stelvio/Gavia Passes at 2500m + mean freezing conditions are also possible. Just a few years back we had the Stelvio Pass closed half way up and the entire Giro cycling stage was changed to accommodate the low snow line. I wouldn’t let this put you off though if the Giro d’Italia is at the top of your bucket-list but potential changes to race and tour itineraries can and do happen.

Tour de France

Le Tour is ‘numero uno’ thanks to the publicity and media frenzy which is generated around arguably the world’s biggest annual sporting event. Access to the pro riders though is more difficult as chaperones guard them from team buses to start lines, team hotels and media arrangements. It is definitely the pinnacle for a cyclist though so the biggest names front up for the chance to wear the Maillot Jaune (yellow jersey). The thousands of dramatic sporting images help to promote this mythical event year on year on year. Most Sierra clients joining us for a pro-race cycling tour experience will first choose the Tour de France. Le Tour has a huge appeal and international spectators typically outnumber the locals as Belgians, Dutch, Norwegians, Australians, British and New Zealanders line up their camper vans in the best vantage points often days in advance!

Fun times on the oversize TDF bikes on the Aubisque

Always time to have some fun at Le Tour – this time at Col d’Aubisque!

La Vuelta a España

For those of you looking for contact with the locals then the Spanish ‘La Vuelta’ race provides this in droves. English speaking can be limited but the surprise on their faces as they find out how far our guests have travelled never gets tiring! Gestures and body language will get you a long way unless you would like some translation from one of our guides. La Vuelta a España race is also now run by Amaury Sports Organisation (A.S.O.) who also roll-out the Tour de France which means the image and organisation is first class. Over the last few years many big name cyclists also find their way to La Vuelta for a final chance to hunt a late season win while others get in some important training kilometres before the world championships. When it comes to following the Vuelta race stages there is definitely a more relaxed atmosphere. The police keep the roads open longer which allows us to design excellent cycling routes with more time on the bike rather than waiting roadside during a TDF road closure. The warm weather is another major advantage for many of our southern hemisphere guests who are looking to escape the winter and get a headstart on their cycling friends back home. Secret training!

Chilling out at La Vuelta

La Vuelta allows outstanding behind the scenes access!

Whatever you decide though and all three of the grand tour cycling races will provide a cycling travel experience full of memories that will last a lifetime. Meeting the riders, being treated yourself like a pro for a week, riding critical kilometres from key race stages, making new friends, epic mountain climbs, overnight stays in old convents, castles, agriturismo and casa rural establishments, dining on local cuisine and sipping delightful wines! What more do you want?

The Final Word – Which Cycling Grand Tour Should You Select?

So what is my favourite cycling grand tour? In my humble opinion La Vuelta is my favourite because it is more exciting. Most of the stages are attacking and riders are more aggressive because it is the final grand tour of the year. At the time of La Vuelta most of the riders have ridden a similar number of competition days so form is good and they have nothing to lose.

The Giro d’Italia is a close second for me as the big mountains in the north always provide a dramatic backdrop. Scraggy limestone peaks above green meadows just never gets boring! Furthermore, at the Tour de France one is applauded for finishing in the top 15. No one rides for the top 15 in the Giro so expect surprises all the way to the finish line.

The Tour de France comes in at third place but only based on a pure cycling tour experience. It is still a simply awesome event but more patience is required as external factors like the Gendarmeria (French police) and their at times unpredictable road closures come into play. It was fifteen years ago though that I first packed my bike and headed to Europe from Australia. The Tour de France was my first stop and the allure of Le Tour still continues to attract first time cycling tour adventurers. Late nights watching the peloton wizz through gorges, around switchbacks and sprint with the Arc de Triomphe in the background will do that to you I suppose!

Author: Paul D’Andrea (Owner of Sierra Sports & Tours)

Tour de France – Assessing the Race Rumours

The Tour de France is arguably, year after year, the world’s biggest sporting event! With that attention brings constant speculation as to where the following year’s route will travel, which climbs will be featured, any new climbs to be revealed, innovations to the race structure, any gravel road finishes like recent editions of the Giro d’Italia or any narrow ‘goat-like tracks’ to lofty summits as rolled out at La Vuelta a España??

Team Sky and Geraint Thomas arriving to Carcassone at the Tour de France

When it comes to waiting for the next edition of the Tour de France most cycling enthusiasts resort to keeping an eye on the A.S.O. website (Le Tour race organizers) for the date of the following race route presentation. The 2019 TDF race edition for example was presented just a couple of weeks ago on 25 October 2018 in Paris. This approach seems the most sensible as trying to hunt-down start and finish towns over 21 cycling race stages is a somewhat ‘Mission Impossible’ task.

But surprisingly enough there are cycling fans out there whose curiousity gets the better of them. As soon as the bikes zoom around the Champs d’Elysees for the final Stage 21 sprint finish their attention must quickly turn to the next Tour de France race edition! It was not until we begun our cycling tour business Sierra Sports & Tours that we uncovered an incredible website dedicated to TDF race route rumours which tracks down information piece by piece. The website in a way takes the small pieces of information it collects to try and create the full Tour de France jigsaw puzzle well before the official presentation in Paris. The website creator is not affiliated with the A.S.O. race organisation, is not a professional or ex professional cyclist nor works for any of the pro cycling teams but just another cycling fan like you or me.

So how does the website do it?

  1. When you look at the stage by stage TDF analysis you find that they have been scrolling the local French newspapers with a fine toothcomb looking for details. The Tour de France is a magnet for national and international tourism so the towns and cities are very proud when selected to host a stage start or finish. So broadcasts to the media (print or radio) are excellent ways of finding out TDF race route information.
  2. The Tour de France is also a moving road show with the professional teams, race organizers, media circus and sponsors all requiring huge amounts of accommodation along the race route. An in-depth analysis of hotel reservations over the ‘July TDF pilgrimage period’ is another way of either finding out or confirming possible stage start or finish towns!
  3. At times social media plays a part with the A.S.O. organizers uploading a photo or comment to their feeds. Such details are often ambiguous and require further examination and if you are lucky one might uncover some further race information following these avenues.

Alpe d'Huez, Bourg d'Oissans, French Alps, French Alpes, Tour de France, European Cycling Tours

So did hit the mark with the 2019 Tour de France race route?

It wasn’t until 24 September 2018 that began to publish its possible 2019 Tour de France race route which was still one month before the official race presentation. At this time A.S.O. had already released the first two stages in Belgium. During October 2018 made additional modifications as they uncovered more information. At the end of the process it is quite remarkable that 24 hours before the official release had 41 of the 42 start and finish locations correctly reported. Only the Stage 15 start in Limoux was erroneous (they reported nearby Foix) which I think we can forgive them for!

To take the analysis back to the first 2019 TDF rumour release on 24 September 2018 and they had 10 stage start and finishes correct out of 19 possible stages (2 stages were already confirmed for the Belgium start). Another 6 stages had either the start or finish town correct which again provides very useful information for a tour operator like Sierra Sports & Tours looking at planning Tour de France cycling tour itineraries!

We would love to know the number of hours spent by as they sit and research the highly anticipated Tour de France route every year. They take what seems to be an almost ‘forensic science’ approach to revealing the TDF route for everyone. To take things full circle and you can even watch a livestream of the official TDF presentation in Paris straight from their very own webpage. If only we could find a similar webpage dedicated to Giro d’Italia and La Vuelta a España rumours and race leaks. Chapeau!!

Spanish Paella for Hungry Cyclists


Before getting your apron stained with saffron threads and prawn heads how about we kick things off with a Spanish grammar class. Why is that I hear you all say? Well the next time you say paella we want to make sure you sound as though you really know the dish! That way you will be able to impress your guests when you serve up our authentic Sierra paella recipe. So here we go with our first class in Spanish pronunciation 101! The ll in Spanish is pronounced in English like the letter y in yet. So paella when spoken by a native sounds like pah/EH/yah. Practise that a few hundred times while preparing the stock and you should have it sorted by the time you need to serve your paella!

Author: Paul D’Andrea (Owner – Sierra Sports & Tours)

Having the Sierra Sports & Tours base in food-mad Spain has meant we have had the pleasure of sampling literally hundreds of excellent paellas over the last 10 years. Paellas made by my wife, her mother, her grandmother, aunties, friends who are chefs at top-end restaurants and even cycling clubs after what has been a long day on the bike!

The thing which always amazes me though is a Spaniard, with no background in cooking whatsoever, will still know what it takes to throw a paella together in front of a crowd of masses without the slightest concern. A bit of stock, sofrito (onion, garlic, capsicum, tomato & olive oil), rice, saffron, add the meat plus seafood and Bob’s your Uncle! And the end result? It always comes out amazing. Some paellas might have more ingredients than others, others are served with a little more moisture (meloso) or some with the nice crispy layer on the bottom (socorrat). But at the end of the day it is a paella and enjoyed amongst friends and family which is the most important thing.

Now to get a few things clear! When some of our Spanish cycling tour guests arrive they have the impression that they will be feasting on paella every night. But that is far from the truth. Paella is a typical dish for that Sunday afternoon when every now and then you catch up with friends or family. It is a well loved dished but it is easy in your day to day life to go a month without enjoying this flavoursome rice dish. Perhaps it is because it takes time to prepare (often the stock is prepared days in advance to get the best effect) or perhaps because you need time to stand around the paellera (paella dish) and catch up on gossip while the rice absorbs all that goodness! When I asked my wife why the Spanish don’t eat paella more often her instant response was ‘Do you eat kangaroo every night?’ Fair point I thought. I don’t like stereotypes either and on I went looking for more Spanish paella cooking secrets.

Paella meloso – this version with squid and lobster!

Some final tips before you get stuck into the cooking!

Rice – short grain rice varieties work best for paella. Look for the Bomba, Senia, Bahia and Calasparra types in your local market.

Saffron – gives the rice its distinctive yellow color. Saffron threads are best but they need moisture to release the flavour. The best way to extract flavour from saffron is to soak the threads in a tablespoon of hot (not boiling) liquid for about 10 minutes. Then add both the saffron and the liquid to the recipe. As the saffron soaks, you’ll notice the distinctive aroma indicating that your saffron ‘tea’ is ready.

Paella is usually cooked in a round shallow pan to give the best end product. If you only have deeper pans don’t let this put you off. The paella you prepare will be more in the ‘meloso’ style!

The Sierra paella which we are pleased to now handover is our authentic family Spanish recipe. Put the BBQ aside for your next family get together and experience the satisfaction of preparing a quality paella in true Spanish style.  Even I can get this recipe to work which gives everyone hope! And take note – many paella recipes, even those of Jamie Oliver, use Chorizo sausage. Feel free to add whatever protein you like but if you are cooking for a Spaniard please do not add any Chorizo to your paella. This is a big no no! Chorizo is for cooking on the BBQ or in another typical winter breadcrumb based dish called ‘Migas’. But that’s another lesson for a rainy day!

Paella Recipe Ingredients (4 people)

1 red capsicum, chopped

1 green capsicum, chopped

3 ripe tomatoes, grated

3 cloves of garlic, chopped

250 grams of chicken thigh, bone removed, chopped

250 grams of pork fillet, chopped

1 squid, skin removed, cut into rings

12 raw prawns

1 cup of rice (short grain)

Saffron mix: (1 garlic clove, chopped; 1 handful of parsley, chopped; saffron: 4 threads and ½ tsp powder; 1 tsp of salt; 1/2 cup of prawn stock)

8 mussels (optional)

Paella Cooking Method

1. Remove the prawn heads and shells. Separate the prawn body for cooking later. Place the prawn heads and shells ONLY into a saucepan and cover with 2 ¼ cups of water and bring to the boil for 5 min. Strain the stock to remove the prawn shells (Note: when we use the prawn based stock later it must be hot).

2. Heat olive oil in a pan. Add chicken, cook both sides until brown and then remove. Add the pork to the pan and repeat as above for chicken. Leave the chicken and pork on a plate for later use.

3. In the same pan add the 3 cloves of garlic and cook for 2 min. Add the red and green capsicums until they are cooked. Then add the squid, tomatoes plus the chicken and pork meat. Mix well.

4. Add the rice, hot prawn stock and saffron mix. Mix well. Bring to the boil then simmer on low heat, uncovered for 20min.

5. 5 min before the cooking time has elapsed add the prawns on top of your rice mixture. If you like mussels you can add them now (place vertically making sure the shells are partially submerged in the rice).

6. Remove the paella from heat and leave it to rest, covered for 5 min.

2019 Giro d’Italia – A trip down memory lane!


October in Europe is always an interesting period as the Grand Tour cycling races begin to release the stage profiles for the following year. Now that the anticipation and speculation has turned into reality we are pleased to report a few of our favourite findings from the 2019 Giro d’Italia race route.

In 2019 the Tour de France will pay a special homage to Eddy Merckx with two initial stages in Belgium. The Giro d’Italia, not wanting to miss out, has also prepared a nostalgic itinerary for its 2019 race edition. Giro #102 features three legendary climbs in the final week of racing (Passo di Gavia, Mortirolo & Passo Manghen) and a Stage 21 individual time trial for Verona and its Roman Amphitheatre.

Giro 1949: Cuneo to Pinerolo – A Solo Victory for the Ages!

Going back to 1949 and Fausto Coppi rode alone for 192km as he attacked through the Alpes during Stage 17 to claim his third pink jersey! During the 2019 Giro d’Italia the race will honour the 70th Anniversary of this remarkable solo victory with the stage also starting and finishing in Cuneo and Pinerolo like all that time ago. The 2019 Giro stage in no way resembles what Coppi endured but expect a true Italian celebration as the towns are ‘dressed in pink’ for what was arguably Coppi’s finest ever victory! Check out this short video of Coppi’s great feat in 1949!


Fausto Coppi tribute on Col d’Izoard after his 1949 Giro d’Italia heroics!

Verona ITT – Sabotage at the 1984 Giro?

To continue our ‘ride down Giro memory lane’ and we go back to Stage 21 of the 1984 Giro d’Italia. It was during the Stage 21 individual time trial around Verona that Italian hero Francisco Moser finally won his only Grand Tour title over French cycling star Laurent Fignon. The entire 1984 Giro d’Italia was a battle between Moser and Fignon and they were the only two riders to actually wear the Maglia Rosa that year. Despite many stories of sabotage during the 1984 Giro (time penalities for Fignon, roadside assistance for Moser on the big Dolomites cycling climbs, removing the Stelvio Pass to Fignon’s disadvantage when in fact there was no snow …..) the most intriguing story we think surrounds the Stage 21 time trial in Verona.

Moser took more than 2 minutes over Fignon during the Stage 21 time trial to reclaim the pink jersey but it was later alleged that the official race helicopter had flown directly in front of Fignon and behind Moser creating a headwind and tailwind respectively! Whatever the case the photos of the 1984 Giro d’Italia victory for Francisco Moser inside the Verona Roman Amphitheatre are now part of Italian cycling folklore. Three second Giro d’Italia places during the late 70’s were finally rewarded with victory for Moser in 1984! Follow here for a short video from the 1984 Giro d’Italia Stage 21 time trial!


Francisco Moser celebrating his 1984 Giro d’Italia victory in Verona

Mortirolo & Giro 1994 – A legend is Born!

To finish up, Mortirolo in our opinion, would have to be in the top three climbs for difficulty when it comes to European pro cycling. Monte Zoncolan (Italy) and El Angliru (Spain) are the other beasts which have average climb gradients soaring above 10%. Relatively speaking it’s a new Giro climb as it wasn’t until 1990 that the road to Mortirolo was asphalted and included in the Giro route. 2019 marks 15 years since a young Marco Pantani came to prominence as the then ‘gregario’ executed a solitary Mortirolo escape during Stage 15 of the 1994 Giro.  The ‘Pirate’ left Miguel Indurain and Claudio Chiappucci in his wake. It was not enough to win the Giro d’Italia but he found himself second on the podium and the legend of Marco Pantani was born that very day on the Mortirolo. Stage 16 of the 2019 Giro d’Italia will again scale the summits of Mortirolo just before the finish line in Ponte di Legno so be sure to be watching as the Giro is set to be ignited yet again. A successful breakaway on the Mortirolo in 2019 is likely to deliver a career defining stage win! Here is a short video of the 1994 battle between Pantani & Indurain on the Mortirolo!

So who will win the 2019 Giro d’Italia?

25 years after Francisco Moser was crowned Giro d’Italia winner and the burning question today surrounds whether another Italian hero can claim the main prize inside the Verona Roman Amphitheatre? The 2019 Giro final stage time trial only measures 15.6km and it would have been nice to see something a bit longer, a stage closer to the 42km raced by Moser and Fignon back in 1984. Perhaps the 2019 Giro d’Italia has been prepared with Vincenzo Nibali in mind? Stage 15 of the 2019 Giro route, for example, is a replica of ‘Il Lombardia’ cycling monument race which Nibali has won twice before. It is still a long way out to make big predictions but with Chris Froome and Tom Dumoulin most likely to focus 100% on the 2019 Tour de France, Vincenzo Nibali looking for his third Giro d’Italia crown and Simon Yates fresh from his 2018 La Vuelta a España success are our two top picks right now. No point sitting on the fence though so we have Nibali ahead of Yates by a wheel length!

Cycling the Victorian High Country

Having fully established our cycling tour base here in Europe it is now almost 3 years since we have been back to Australia. But with the 2018/19 Australian summer fast approaching it got us reminiscing back to February 2016 when we spent four awesome days cycling in the Victorian High Country with Cycling-Inform. Mt Buffalo, Tawonga Gap, Falls Creek and Mt Hotham – what more do you need to say?

[Paul D’Andrea, Owner – Sierra Sports & Tours, October 2018]

Mt Hotham – rivals many of the big European cycling climbs!

During Jan/Feb 2016 we were back in Australia for a short 6 week period with a tour group to Adelaide for the Tour Down Under and many other cycling related events in Perth and Melbourne. But one thing I organised well and truly in advance was signing-up to the Cycling-Inform February Bright Boot camp. I had heard about their boot camps during the 2015 Bicycle Network 3 Peaks event and I was keen to go for some rides without having to organise anything for a change. Plus 4 days of summer cycling in the Victorian High Country I thought would be an excellent chance to get some extra quality km´s in on the rest of the Sierra Sports & Tours guides who were sleeping and eating (well hibernating) in Europe´s winter!!

The first thing that caught my attention on arriving at the camp was that with its 40 or so cycling guests there was an excellent amount of lead and support riders, vehicles and all round smiling staff and helpers on-hand. One great thing about the camp is that while the climbs are quite daunting Cycling-Inform has structured the riding so that after day one everyone is cycling in groups suited to their ability. This means you can then work the climbs at your pace rather than then being on the rivet all day. Who needs to be under undue pressure when there are Mt Buffalo, Tawonga Gap (multiple times), Falls Creek and Mount Hotham all in 4 consecutive days of cycling!

In saying that though here is Paul on the rivet climbing Tawonga Gap – haha!!

Another positive about the camp is that you are riding with friendly people with a good representation of men and women. In fact, there are many who make this trip an annual event as it helps them prepare for rides such as Audax and 3 Peaks and to prepare for bigger and better things overseas. Plus many have made friendships from multiple visits to Bright and others get away with a group of cycling mates and join the rest of us cycling diehards!

During two of the evenings there are also seminars run focusing on nutrition, training with power and heart rate, body conditioning and maintenance….  Worked into the cycling there are also interactive sessions on the road to help those looking for climbing ascending and descending tips! Some of the issues we encounter on our European cycling tours involve clients who do not know how to pace themselves on the longer 10km plus climbs, have not cycled consecutive days in the mountains before and need extra help when it comes to descending and cornering. I cannot think of a better way for our Sierra tour guests to get in some solid training and preparation for an upcoming European cycling holiday.

The Cycling-Inform guests cycling up Mt Buffalo!

I am looking forward to getting back to the Victorian High Country in the not too distant future. We will probably have to wait until Feb 2020 but all good things come to those who are patient! Cycling climbs, such as, Falls Creek and Mt Hotham actually resemble many of our favourite epic European climbs and this will be a topic for a future Blog article where we compare some of the best Australian climbs against their European counterparts!

Now getting back to the Cycling-Inform Bright Boot camp and after a long day in the saddle to top it all off if you need some post ride therapy you have your very own camp soigneur on hand for that highly anticipated massage!!

Cycling with TDF Royalty – Big Mig!

The Sierra peloton received a special treat cycling an organised 150km stage with Miguel Indurain from Urzainki to Formigal through the Spanish high country. The ride took us from the Irati Forest before finishing above Formigal, one of Spain’s most recognised ski stations in the Pyrenees, and only 5km from the Spanish/French border.

Big Mig’ stepped onto his first Tour de France podium in Paris on 28 July 1991. During the 1991 Tour de France, Miguel Indurain gained more than 7 minutes over Greg LeMond during the ‘Tourmalet’ stage to receive his first yellow jersey (Stage 12 from Jaca to Val Louron). The rest as it goes was history and he held it all the way to the Champs Elysees and started a 5 year Tour de France winning sequence through to 1995!

As our day surrounded by cycling royalty was heading to a close we arrived to the valley approaching Formigal. The final 16km climb at 4% average grade, while long, is not overly taxing unless of course you are riding with a past TDF champion! To add some interest we left the main road mid-climb to cycle the winding road which follows the reservoir through to Sallent del Gallego. Spectacular scenery with multiple 3000m+ peaks surrounding us! After leaving the town centre one is met with a sudden transition of 4 kilometres around 8%. The final ramp on the backroad to the Formigal ski resort was 25% and required one last effort.

On arrival Miguel Indurain spoke to the local newspaper that had gathered to ask him about his famous day on the Tourmalet in 1991:

“My idea was not to attack in the mountains.  When I launched my downhill attack on the Tourmalet I simply wanted to see what happened. At the outset I was not prepared. My intention had been to try and maintain my presence during the mountain stages and to arrive to the last time trial with an opportunity”. You already know the rest of this story.

The Sierra peloton continued to chatter away excitedly in the presence of an international sporting hero!

European Holiday Cycling Tips

This post is a result of an interactive webinar hosted by Cycling-Inform where Paul D’Andrea from Sierra Sports & Tours also joined the panel of presenters. The webinar topic was ‘How to Get the Best Out of Your Next European Cycling Holiday’. The focus of the webinar was to receive live questions and provide instantaneous responses!

Cycling through Flanders

1. 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!

2. How does one go about selecting a European 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 d’Italia, Tour de France or La Vuelta a España),

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 European cycling 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!

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. What does a guided cycling 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 among 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.

6. 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 European cycling tours so if you have a group of 6 or more why not ask us to design your very own customised European cycling adventure.

7. Any other tips?

  • 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.
  • Practice your descending skills! Many guests have the stamina and strength to cycle 1-2 hours uphill but then some find it difficult when descending for 30-45 minutes continuously. Practicing 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, …….. Practice 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.

Safe cycling everyone!

Mallorca: Spain´s Cycling Secret

Spain is home to ‘La Vuelta a España’, one of the three Grand Tours which shape the European cycling season. It has a rich cycling tradition and its profile as a quality cycling destination has risen rapidly over the last 15 years. The now disgraced Lance Armstrong first put Girona in northern Spain on the international cycling map when he lived and trained there, bringing along many of his former US Postal teammates. They were quickly joined by other pro-team outfits such as Garmin Cervelo. In recent years though, the trend has shifted to the Spanish islands of Mallorca, Tenerife, and Lanzarote with a huge influx of pro cycling teams looking for places to escape the winter chill of mainland Europe.

mallorca cycling

Mallorca provides the perfect base for European cyclists looking for some quality early season training. While the rest of Europe is caught in a freeze and mountain passes are buried under metres of snow, the cycling season on the Balearic Islands can begin as early as February. During February, Mallorca enjoys calm and clear weather with temperatures typically ranging between 10-15 degrees Celsius. The chance to train at this time of the year definitely gives you a head start; just ask 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins, who bought real estate on the island during 2012 and spent early 2013 training on this cycling haven.

Mallorca – is it really the new Cycling Mecca?
So why exactly have cyclists sought out Mallorca of all places? Perhaps it is the stand-alone airport bike carousel, or perhaps street vending machines that sell bike tubes rather than cans of coke. In all seriousness, the first wave of international cycling tourists arrived to Mallorca about 25 years ago due its warm temperate weather, sandy beaches, long days, excellent accommodation and fresh food. They discovered a variety of cycling terrain, lightly trafficked roads, and the chance for enjoyable loop rides combining picturesque coastal views, interior scraggy mountain rocky landscapes, and fertile green central fields and pastures.

Mallorca offers a range of cycling terrain which means the island is accessible to beginners through to professionals; anyone with an interest in pedal power. The island measures 3,640 square km and has a well organised and interconnected road network; depending on where you call home there will be door to door cycling options available. The island also opens itself to 10 to 12 unique cycling stages which will take you through the flat central sections of the island to the mountainous and remote southern and northern roads. Though “remote” might sound strange for a relatively small island, the mountain roads are exactly that. Cycling switchback after switchback, up and over its ten categorised climbs, the chances of being passed by a professional cyclist on his daily training ride is greater than being passed by a petrol fueled vehicle. Don’t let them get you down though as they speed by. For what it’s worth I prefer being overtaken by a professional cyclist than a car any day!

The Mediterranean island also boasts the spectacular World Heritage ‘Serra de Tramuntana’ mountain range to the north and west of the island. Cycling this mountain range is a treat for those looking for elevation gain. There are seven Category 1 and 2 climbs available which range between 5-14km in length and have average gradients between 5-7%. The two Category 1 climbs to ‘Puig Major’ and ‘Sa Colabra’ are a must do. Puig Major rises to Majorca´s highest point at 1445m and offers amazing island views, and the battle to ‘Sa Colabra’, with its 26 switchbacks, is a test of concentration, all the while though enjoying the beautiful landscapes.

Mallorca and its Cycling Calendar
From the 10 million tourists who visit Mallorca annually, approximately 70,000 thousand are cyclists. Almost half (40%) of this number are women, so the island is a great cycling destination for individuals, couples and families alike. There are also many events on the Mallorca cycling calendar which are attracting cyclists of all breeds: competitive, social and challenge seekers. The fact that professional and recreational cyclists return year after year speaks volumes for the royal treatment they receive and the cycling experience that awaits them at every kilometre marker.

The cycling season in Mallorca is split into two periods from January to May, and September to October. A list of some of the key events on the calendar is provided below:

1. Challenge Iberostar Mallorca
Pro tour event which is held every February.

2. Marxa Cicloturista de Femines
Cyclo-sportive event solely for female participants and held every year during late May.

3. WiW Duva International
Cyclo-sportive ride which is held during April and includes 95km & 135km options.

4. Mallorca 312
Cyclo-sportive event held during April which is a serious challenge and not for the faint hearted. Mallorca 312 takes cyclists around the entire circumference of the island (312km) and includes over 4300m of elevation gain. If you think you can beat the 14 hour time limit, then this could be the next challenge ride for you!

5. Tour of Mallorca for Masters
During October, a full week of Masters racing is available for those looking to test themselves against the best ‘veteran’ riders from Europe.

Establishing your Mallorcan cycling base?
This is in no way an exhaustive list of regions to choose from, but the most popular towns for cyclists looking to establish a cycling base include Port de Alcudia (Puerto de Alcudia), Port de Pollenca (Puerto de Pollenca) and Portocolom. These regions are all to the east of the island and far away from the capital Palma de Mallorca and its tourist masses.

Orica GreenEdge (the original Australian pro team) made their first official training visit to the island in February 2013 and called the Hotel Iberostar Playa de Muro home for a week. It is not difficult to see why this hotel has become a magnet for cyclists. With over 2000 road bikes on site for hire, one can quickly see that this hotel is prepared to satisfy the hungry demand for cycling tourists. It is obviously a hit with the tourists as 90% of their guests travel to Mallorca without their bikes. The hotel also includes resort like features with many pools, spas, sports training rooms and its own private beach. Not forgetting the cycling memorabilia that is littered throughout the hotel from pro teams including Katusha, GreenEdge, Garmin, and Omega Pharma Quickstep to name a few.

Cycling is full of tactics and Mallorca, while being a fun holiday destination, could well be your next secret training paradise.