When my dad dies, the only thing I’ll inherit from him are his tools. He inherited many of these tools from his father and has added some of his own; I’m sure I’ll add some Park Tools to the collection and pass it on to my son as well. My dad also inherited some money from his father, but I won’t be getting any of that because dad spent most of it on a trip of a lifetime to England with my mother, to see where his family came from and to visit the relatives he’d always heard about but could never meet.
So what does this have to do with cycling? Two things. Firstly, my dad was the one who got me back into cycling as an adult, though having two “cardiac episodes” is a fairly drastic message to send to get your son off his backside. Secondly, he was told by his father that he should look for experiences and not “things”, so while I’d like to buy a bike that won’t set off a metal detector, I’d rather spend that money to ride up Alpe d’Huez or along the road to Roubaix, or both.
Sure, there are experiences I can have at home, such as the Red Kite Sea 2 Summit or Fitz’s Challenge, or experiences very close by, like the Lake Taupo Challenge, but I’ve always wanted to visit the mother/father lands – my wife and I are both second generation post-WW2 mongrel Aussies. I want to visit Europe, I want to watch races, and I want to ride my bike. Not much to ask for, is it?
This gives me two options. Actually, it gives me lots of options because Europe is the home of cycle racing and it’s hard not to find a great event to watch or route to ride, but the Vuelta and Giro don’t really do it for me. What does do it for me are the spring classics and the Tour de France. The spring classics is a term that represents a number of unconnected one day races through Belgium, France and the Netherlands while the Tour de France is the Tour de France (it doesn’t need an explanation, does it?). In more practical terms, watching the spring classics means I would have to take all of April off of work, while watching the Tour would mean all of July; both of these options match “safe” times at work, so either would be good.
L’Etape du Tour allows everyone to ride a stage of the Tour de France, but is quickly booked out.
Watching these big races is good, but riding these routes will be better, and there are plenty of options available to me. Just search for “gran fondo” or “mass participation ride” and you’ll get hits like L’Etape du Tour, which goes along many of the stages of the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix/Ronde de Vlaanderen/Liege-Bastogne-Liege Classics which go along the routes of the respective monuments, and Marmotte Granfondo, which goes up Alpe d’Huez and various other cols.
The Marmotte Granfondo takes cyclists up the legendary Alpe d’Huez
The Quebrantahuesos is a renowned Cycling Sportive in Spain
If you do the research I did, you’ll also notice that these rides often get sold out almost immediately after they’re open for entry. There are slightly smaller mass participation rides which you might have a better chance of joining like the Wiggle Dragon Ride or Etape Caledonia, if you want to head to the UK, or the Gran Fondo Quebrantahuesos – no, I can’t pronounce it either, but it’s in the Spanish and French Pyrenees. Then there is Le Tour de Wensleydale, which I really want to do, not because the Tour goes through there this year, but because of the Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch. Of course, these events would have to be run when I’m actually close enough to do them, and I don’t want them to interfere with the races I want to watch.
There are three main options when it comes to planning a trip: planning it yourself, buying a package tour, and having a specialist tour company plan it for you. Planning it yourself means you can (in theory) fine tune your trip exactly the way you want it, and it’s sometimes the cheaper option. There are plenty of people who do this and blog about it, and seem to have fun in the planning. I started down this path, but the further I went, the more I wanted to do. It got to the point where I had enough tabs open in my browser to eat up all of my computer’s memory, and I was starting to understand Flemish (Ik moet nederlands oefenen). It very quickly got too much for me.
The traditional route when going overseas is to head to the local travel agent and buy a trip or a package tour. I have friends who have done these sorts of tours, indeed when my parents when overseas they started off with this sort of package, and they are generally positive about them. You can combine one of these off-the-shelf packages with a bit of leg work of your own, as my parents did, and you have a package tour with the exact flavour you want. I looked at this option too, and think it would be good for a standard get-away type holiday. But I want a cycling holiday, and that makes it a bit more of a challenge to prepare.
Off the beaten track, cycling in Flanders, Belgium
I know I’ll sound like a spoiled brat, but I want it all done for me. I want to pick where, when, and what, and then I want someone to wave their magic wand and make it happen. Someone who speaks English. I want guaranteed entry into organised rides or permission on routes. I have a Cycling Australia license which covers me insurance wise while riding in Australia, I want the same when I ride overseas. I want a bike, a good one that fits, waiting for me when I arrive somewhere. When I am watching an event, I want to have a good position that I don’t have to camp out the week before to obtain. I want transport too and from events. I want a good hotel to stay in at night, and I want something other than cycling to do while I’m there – there is a world outside of two wheels, and I don’t want to miss seeing some of the most beautiful cities in the world with the person that I love (and if all I did was cycling related, I soon wouldn’t have a wife).
I want, I want, I want…I told you I sounded spoiled, but then again, I work hard, raise kids, and do plenty of volunteer work; I’m paying for this trip, so why not expect something for my hard earned money? I’ll be much more motivated grading exams when I know they’ll get me to the top of Mont Ventoux.
So now I have, sort of, a plan. I’ve narrowed it down to one of two big trips, or possibly both, but not in the same year (and if the kids keep needing braces, not in the same decade). That’s a big plus for this whole endeavour, and my next step is to work out how to actually make it all happen. If you have any suggestions, let me know. Now that I’ve had my say, how about you? What is your dream? Where do you want to go? How do you want to do it?
 Quebrantahuesos (composition) – original © mikelo
 L’Etape du Tour © Peter Cowley
 Marmotte Granfondo © Quality Vintage Bikes
 Quebrantahuesos © mikelo
 Flanders Cycling © Visit Flanders