The French Experience
I am a very lucky man. Why I hear you ask, well I will tell you. I am a lucky man because I am fortunate enough to have a parent that lives in one of the greatest cycling countries in the world, France.
My Dad, who I'm sure won't mind me telling you is 76 years old and one of the coolest men I know. He is also very handy on a bike & spends a great deal of time out on the roads in southern Provence. This means that I have access to this cycling paradise as well. If money and time allows, once a year I load up my van with my bikes. My Trek Madone and a trek hybrid for days when I want to toddle along to coastal towns for a look around and a coffee. It is very difficult for me to sum up the experience of cycling in a country where most of the population are true fans of the sport.
In Provence, up in the hills in June, the sun is out and the air is filled with the scent of pine trees. This tends to put you in a good mood instantly and because you are on holiday your not under any pressure to get back home to cut the grass or do the food shopping. A typical Sunday morning ride will see me leave the beautiful village of Claviers where my Dad lives and drop down into the valley below. Initially you are smiling until you get to the bottom where the first climb of the day see's your heart race at the steepness of the road. Combine this with the temperature already into the 80's at 8.00 am and it's a bit of a wake up call. However you soon settle down into a rhythm and you can start to enjoy the scenery around you. The roads round here are fairly narrow, but mostly super smooth mixed with the odd bunch of rocks that you find on the edges that have fallen from the steep banks. They twist and turn through the hillside linking small villages together.
On a Sunday morning you will find lots of cyclists as well as cycling clubs out on the road, the atmosphere is friendly and on passing each other we wave and exchange the odd greeting. Where I live in Suffolk, it's mostly flat so here in The Var is a different world. I often stop when I get into a village at a fountain where I can fill my bottles with fresh water that comes straight off the mountains. There is usually one or two other riders pulling up to do the same thing. I am fortunate to speak enough French to strike up a conversation although limiting, about where I have been and and how lovely it all is.
The climbs here are a bit of an eye opener if your not used to them, but personally speaking I love hill climbing so am in my element with the thought of a 10 km climb.It's very easy at this point to pretend you are in the peleton on a hot mountain stage in the Tour De France. Of coarse I don't have that kind of ability but hey, nothing wrong with dreaming. As I pass an old man on my way through the next village he shouts an encouraging allez, allez, at me. This reinforces my day dream. Then there is the descent on the road back to the start. It is steep and winds through the tree lined hillside. The speed you can achieve is incredible and if your not careful you can get into an awful lot of trouble if you don't know the road layout. I wear glasses normally but on the bike I just wear the bike shades, so my vision isn't very good at picking out potholes or stones.
This slows me up quite a lot which to be honest is a blessing as I think I might be off the edge otherwise.Finally I arrive back in the village square where I started. Just in time for a sneaky ice cold beer at the bar before going back for a shower. This pattern is then repeated over the next week or so, finding new roads, all with the added bonus of the most spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. If you get the chance to experience this part of the world on a bike I would highly recommend it. The weather is usually great and the people very tolerant of bike riders which makes a welcome change.