Enjoying Europe from the saddle | VailDaily.com

Enjoying Europe from the saddle

Veronica Whitney
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Three years ago, Linda Lomax, who isn’t an avid biker, chose a different vacation for the summer – she mounted a bike in Provence, France, and biked 20 miles a day on a guided tour.

“I did it for fun, and it’s a fabulous experience,” says Lomax of Arrowhead. “Being able to stay in these incredible places and seeing the scenery from a bike is different than from a car.”

Cycling around Europe is a dream that many people have, says Jennifer Sage, a local biker and organizer of biking trips to Europe that include the Tour de France.

“While for some people the attraction of cycling in Europe would be to do it on their own, without the obligation of being in a group, some people dream of a guided tour to luxury accommodations where the only thing they have to do is turn the pedals and choose the wine,” says Sage, owner of Viva Travels, which conducts guided, custom-guided and self-guided cycling biking tours in Europe and California. “Everything is taken care of for you.”

With her tours, bikers can have it both ways, says Sage, a Vail Valley resident of 10 years and spinning instructor in Vail.

The concierge system

Sage, 42, of Edwards, has led and organized bike tours since 1989 for several other companies and has been to Europe just about every summer. Seven years ago, when she dreamed of starting her own bicycle tour company, she chose a different twist than many of the companies out there.

“What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people who really like to cycle in this valley are more independent than those you usually see on an organized group tour,” Sage says. “They would rather go with a small group of friends, or perhaps with just a significant other, and ride without the obligations of being in a large group.”

For that purpose, Sage developed the Velo Concierge system, where she acts as a hotel concierge giving advice on where to stay, where to ride, where to eat while on the ride – this is very important, she says – dining suggestions in the evenings and other activities when not riding.

“Everything you need to know to do this on your own,” she says. “You take your own bikes, you rent a car, and you have total flexibility. I also give you the logistical, emergency, cultural and historical information about where you’re staying. You are totally on your own schedule once you get there, which is a beautiful thing to independent people.”

This type of touring is perfect for groups of mixed abilities, or when part of the group is non-cyclists, she adds.

“Bikers might start off on a ride together, and then part way out the hard-core riders can decide to take the long route, while the others return to the hotel or bed and breakfast to relax by the pool or take the car and explore a nearby village,” Sage says.

A summer in Tuscany

For this summer, Sage is putting together quite a few self-guided adventures to Provence, Corsica, Burgundy and even the Tour de France. Guided tours include the Tour de France; a Provence cooking school and cycling adventure; and Corsica, which Sage calls “The most beautiful place to ride your bike.”

“Several of the tours are for valley locals,” Sage says. “For example, the Velo Concierge style of self-guided tours are considerably less expensive than other self-guided options where a person pays one price and they carry their gear from hotel to hotel. As for the guided tours, I specialize in custom tours, designing a guided tour for a group that has specific interests and desires.

“Since I worked for several of the highest-end bike tour companies in the past, I know what kind of service is required,” Sage adds.

In addition of getting to know all the secret spots in Provence, for Lomax, having Sage as a guide also meant learning a lot of French history. Sage, who speaks French, lived a year in France in 1989.

“It’s like learning an amazing amount of history just by being there,” Lomax says. “(Sage) is very knowledgeable about the history of France and that’s invaluable.

“Also, we were able to go to charming little restaurants for dinner and we were able to look at different places you would never stop by yourself.”

This summer, one of the hottest cycling destinations as a biker, is the Tour de France with Lance Armstrong going for a record-breaking six wins this summer. Sage has three guided tours planned to the Tour de France including a two nine-day tours from the Alps to Paris (one already is sold out) and one to the Pyrenees in France.

“The Pyrenees will be a very spectacular tour. I have found a fabulous but reasonably priced chateau where we will stay for one week, and where we will be the only guests,” Sage says.

“The riding is beyond compare with some tough passes combined with rolling terrain exploring medieval villages,” she adds.

Doing the “Tour” routes

For serious independent cyclists who want to maximize stage viewing with riding the Tour de France routes, the Velo Concierge has four different self-guided packages as well.

“I know that there are strong riders out there who would like to go to the Tour de France, but just don’t know where to go or how to do it,” Sage says. ” I also know a lot of people who just go and wing it. They have a good time, but it’s very hectic there, and there are many tips that make the trip easier and more carefree.” Sage’s tips include insider tips for viewing the stages and booking bed and breakfasts and hotels nearby the routes – in some areas there are no accommodations left.

Although Sage recommends the Tour de France trip to intermediate and above bikers, most guided bike tours can accommodate all levels of cycling, she says.

“This year I have included the wine country of California. In Napa, there are similar beautiful riding opportunities through vineyards as in France. And the accommodations in Napa are really incredible,” says Sage, who used to live in the San Francisco Bay area. “The Napa Valley tour is right after the ski season ends, so it’s a perfect getaway when you’re looking for a little break from the snow.”

Lomax says she is looking forward to her next biking trip, probably to Italy.

“It was hard, we did about 20 miles a day in Provence, which is very hilly,” Lomax says. “But when you got to the top of the hill, it was well worthy.”

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454 or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.

At a glance

Pedaling Europe

Jennifer Sage offers guided and self-guided cycling tours to France and Italy from April to October. A guided trip costs about $3,200 and the self-guided adventures start at $800 per person. For more information on the bike tours and the concierge service, call Jennifer Sage at Viva Travels at 926-8986 or write to P.O. Box 434, Edwards, CO 81632.

Sage has organized a slide show to learn more about custom guided and self-guided tours to Europe at 7 p.m. April 1 at Arrowhead. Call Sage at 926-8986 for reservations and directions.


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