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Ultimate Rides: Go France

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By the time ASO announces the Tour route in October, operators are in an all-out race to book rooms around the race. Photo: Trek Travel

Tours de Tannin

France is a particularly ideal “bike n’ wine” destination because its best fruit often comes from hilly areas that make for excellent cycling. From well-known meccas like Bordeaux, to sharing a bottle over lunch with a local producer in Alsace, Provence, or the Rhône Valley, these wine-tour picks will leave you thirsty for more.

ExperiencePlus Alsace: ExperiencePlus runs a 10-day “Cycling the Vineyards of Alsace” package that straddles France’s eastern border with Germany. Alsace is an up and coming cycling region that’s also gaining popularity for its unique gastronomic fusion (German and French) and for consistently producing some of the world’s best white wines. Tour Manager Jonathan Hancock says, “every meal on this tour includes local white wines, and though our primary focus is cycling from village to village, we also stop in several wineries along the route.” $$$

Cyclomundo Self-Guided Alsace: French-born Bruno Toutain from Cyclomundo knows his Alsace whites, but he wants you to discover them on your own — without a guide. His self-guided, seven-day “Alsace Tour for Avid Cyclists” spins along the region’s La Route du Vin and allows riders the freedom to go at their own cadence while following a carefully researched tour plan. Bruno will pre-book accommodations in two- and three-star properties, arrange transportation, and provide GPS support and detailed maps.

Peter and Nancy Martin had ridden with Cyclomundo for four years as of 2011: “Alsace is a wonderful opportunity to see a French region with German flavor. It was so relaxing to ride along the canals, seeing the swans, the storks, and pretty villages. Strasbourg may be our favorite city in France — not overwhelming like Paris, but with great culture and history.” $

Insider Wine Tours: Former bike tour guide John Giebler wisely states that the good news and the bad news is one and the same: “To really get a handle on wine, you’ve got to taste a lot of it. And that can be a problem for cycling.” So he founded Insider Wine Tours, a cycling-free wine tour company. His Provence and Rhône Valley trip kicks off in Lyon, the culinary capital of France, winds south through the birthplace of Syrah, and finishes in Avignon. The trip visits three to four wineries per day and lunches are with local experts. $

REI Provence Cycling: Take a recovery day from John Giebler’s wine tour and then link up with REI’s Provence Cycling trip in Avignon, and let tasting take a backseat to learning about the region’s Roman architecture and history while pedaling through limestone mountains, pine and oak forests, and fields of sunflowers. $

Wine corks & missed connections

She was French but the rear hub was Italian.

I could tell by its un-muffled clatter as she wheeled her bicycle onto the train. We were sitting next to each other on a regional coach bound for Paris with my folding bike tucked between the seats. Cycling was our icebreaker. Over a bottle of red, conversation eventually shifted to steak tartar, print versus e-books, and the decisive moment for making a perfect photo. Vibe was happening.

Somewhere in eastern France there was a mechanical failure — a hiccupping of gears. We were told to quickly change trains at the next station. Two conductors insisted on carrying her bike and luggage. She offered to stay behind and help with my panniers. I mulishly declined. “Then I will save you a seat. No?” she replied. Her legs looked like the skyscrapers of Dubai as she walked away. I gave in to fantasy. That afternoon, we would pedal to her favorite crêpe stand in Montparnasse. That evening, we would lose ourselves in Belleville’s gallery district. Later, our trans-Atlantic genetic tinkering would produce offspring the likes of whom the cycling world had never seen.

My daydream was interrupted by two substantial flights of stairs. The effort required to descend and climb was further doubled since I had to haul my bicycle and bags on separate trips. By the time I reached the departure platform, my train was already in motion. I hurried down the track. She saved me a seat in the last row of car number seven. I know because I saw her through the window there. Her left hand was pressed against the glass while her right hand waved goodbye. The train trundled on. I never even knew her name — but I still have the cork from that bottle of red. —GREGG BLEAKNEY

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