CYCLING THE GENTLER ROUTE

IMG_1647One of the many attractions to sport is the choice of the levels of indulgence anyone of us opt for. We are inspired by those who have achieved the pinnacle of their chosen sport and may hold some hope of attaining a vaguely similar level of performance. Although this is an admirable goal, a reality check usually confirms we will have to be content with a more realistic expectation. Normal people rarely have the single mindedness, time, finance or masochistic trait to exclude all else in their lives to commit to such an objective. This is in no way a defeatist attitude, but does allow the mind to be opened to sport for more pure enjoyment.

Cycling, (I’m talking about road cycling here, as my knowledge of any other disciplines of cycling is astoundingly ignorant), cycling is a sport that encourages a high degree of competitiveness across the spectrum of riders. Show me a cyclist that can resist trying to catch another who he sees ahead of him. Show me a cyclist who having seen another behind him does not increase his cadence and generates more wattage to put distance between him and the impertinent challenger.

Yet .. there are those who cycle without sweating and do not relish the feeling of a Lactic OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAacid burn, who can happily wave and wish good day to a passing cyclist, who more than likely, as he waves a response is thinking, that’s another one overtaken. In most, the need to perform and constantly improve is strong and is positively encouraged, you have only to look at all the Apps available to record, compare and brag about. We benchmark ourselves against our peers. This, coupled with a personal need to seek thrills, feel the adrenaline and indulge in physical exhaustion, collude to fixate us with the viewpoint that ‘if it ain’t hurting, it ain’t doing us any good’.

Yet….  there are those who cycle for pleasure. They see the countryside they travel through, they stop to admire the view and to compose their photos. They seek out excellent coffee houses and restaurants. Even spending enough time off the saddle for it to cool down while they visit a castle, historic house or medieval hill top town.

I am addicted to adrenaline, that indescribable feeling of pushing the limits. Not as OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcavalier as purposely trying to cheat death, but life without risk, without that wild emotion of needing to be excited, would for me and so many others, be like locking us in a dark room and throwing the key away. But there is a place for sedate, relaxing cycling. If we indulge in anything for long enough, however extreme that is, it becomes normalized. We need variety and opposites to ensure the drug of adrenaline continues to be effective.

Anne and I have recently returned from a cycling holiday, a distinction very apparent from a cycling training ‘camp’. Anne enjoys her cycling, her rationale on performance is, well, more rational than mine. She will stop and enjoy those views and linger over a good cup of coffee. We had booked a holiday in Provence in France. I had at this time not realised that Mont Ventoux was quite close to our base.

We are very happy to tell you about our hosts and what they provided. Neil and Natalene Cowell have built a flexible business from their lovely period French home. Called Provence Cycling Holidays (which can also be found when searching for Memories de Provence). Located near the village of Coustellet not far from Avignon, Neil has devised an ingenious method of providing numerous cycle routes in the region. The region is then divided into smaller areas containing routes ranging from easy to hard, short     to long. It is simply a great system. Provence is a beautiful region of France and to have local knowledge to not only find wonderful places but the various routes to them in invaluable. Places like L’Isle sur la Sorgue and Lacoste. Neil and Natalene are also great hosts, providing a high standard of accommodation, breakfasts to die for and a gourmet evening meal on alternate nights where a variety of wines flow freely. Eating with them and in our case four other guests on alternate nights allowed us to sample the excellent local restaurants on the remaining evenings. Our fellow guests were a couple from Chicago and a couple from Vancouver.  Terry and Sue’s choice of cycle routes very much mirrored our own and we met frequently on the bikes during the week. With friendships sealed at the end of the week over a lingering dinner. Unfortunately we also provided a substantial meal for the local mosquitoes.

We rode every day, choosing our routes the previous evening. Each day was enjoyable, certainly not ‘hard core’ riding, covering up to 40 km and 500m of elevation. This opened my eyes to the fact that relaxed riding has a valid place on the spectrum. To satisfy my craving for more extreme cycling, I was granted ‘leave of absence’ for a day to cycle up Mont Ventoux.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVentoux was a must do ride for me. Having hired a bike in Bedoin, the first ascent was from there to the summit, descending to Sault before returning to the now windy summit. Speed on the second descent was hampered by the increasing velocity of The Mistral until arriving back below the tree line where it became possible to push the limits and enjoy the run back down to Bedoin.

So will I be seen cycling gently around the countryside? Probably not very often, but certainly on more occasions than before our holiday with Neil and Natalene.

Next week Luke and I head to Wales, where we plan some 100 mile rides each with several thousand metres of elevation. On this occasion our indulgence with food and drink will be during the evenings, with our minds focusing with increasing intensity on both as the day progresses.

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