xavier lopez and bike basque

bike basque

valentine's day for the majority of islanders was postponed until thursday 15 february. galeforce winds forced the cancellation of the morning's first two ferry sailings meaning, aside from no newspapers and no morning rolls, neither was there any mail delivery. though it seems hard to explain or justify, any mail posted on islay is transported to glasgow for sorting and franking before returning to the isle, hopefully by next day. so even those with romantic good intentions and who had posted their valentine's cards in time, no ferry meant no mail and thus a delay in heartfelt wishes and heavily decorated envelopes.

bike basque

it is therefore of little wonder that more than just a few hebrideans spend their winter evenings huddling over laptop computers, able to bask in the warm glow of foreign and sunnier parts. this is the time of year when the ad breaks on television are often filled with the enticement of package holidays abroad, river cruises in the far east and attractive air fare prices to america's west coast and southern antipodean delights. even those of us who subscribe to the flandrian ideal can be seen wistfully eyeing up early season training camps, or simply the opportunity to cycle regions that offer a modest degree of purgatory coupled with the need to apply sun tan lotion.

assuming an obviated need to travel long distances to fulfil such wishes, the european mainland is often seen as the more obvious of choices and for those with grimpeur pretensions, the basque region of northern spain would appear to tick the majority of boxes. rather than cram the bicycle into a box or bag before booking flights in that direction, those of us who would prefer their iberian jaunt to be a tad less rudimentary might like to further explore the biarritz based, guided tours offered by former national level racing cyclist, xavier lopez at bike basque.

lopez started bike basque almost five years ago, having always enjoyed organising training camps and cycletours for his team-mates. while living in london for a couple of years from 2010, he noted that cav's world championship victory and sir bradley's tour victory had dramatically increased britain's appreciation of road cycling and thought the time right to put his cycling and organisational skills to commercial use.

bike basque

the bike basque website provides links to several different organised tours, ranging in price from €1600 for the climbs of the pyrenees, to €2600 for a luxury tour of the bordeaux region across the border in france, as well as a more open-ended custom option. having perused each of these while trying hard not to drool on the keyboard, i confess i'd be very hard-pressed to choose one over another, so i asked xavier if there was one that had proved more popular than its peers?

"The company is called Bike Basque, so many people naturally contact us for cycling tours in the Basque Country. Our 'In the Basque Country' option is quite sportive in format, with rides of around 100km and ascending some of the more difficult climbs the region has to offer.
"On the other hand, the 'Luxury Basque Tour' is more about quality hotels, visits and most importantly, the food. The Basque country is one of the most Michelin starred regions in the world, with more than 25 Michelin stars across ten restaurants.
"However, in 2014 we also launched the 'Raid Pyrenees' and every year this guided tour becomes more and more popular. Many cyclists from around the globe love to challenge themselves on the classic climbs of the Tourmalet, the Aubisque, etc., and also enjoy cycling from the Atlantic coast to that of the Mediterranean."

bike basque

cyclists may be one of the few niche groups where relaxing pool side with cocktail in hand and a good book is total anathema. the velocipedinal set are more inclined to set forth with heart-rate monitor in place and training manual stuffed in a back pocket, ready to do battle with whatever adversities the basque country might be prepared to offer. however, even within this elite group of sadly misguided individuals, are many with a better grasp on reality, well aware that there is such a thing as a gradient too far. with this in mind, are bike basque's tours geared more towards the fit recreational rider, or could they conceivably be considered as training camps?

"Our 'Luxury Tours, in the Basque Country, along with the Burgundy and Bordeaux regions of France are more recreational tours. The food and wine in the latter two, are considered to be almost as important as the cycling.
"The 'Sportive Tours', in the Pyrennees, Basque Country and the Alps are definitely geared towards the more serious cyclist. They are a real challenge."

bike basque

but if you're more like me than the latter, you'd perhaps be hoping to enjoy as much of an unfettered cycling holiday as it's possible to manage. and given the proclivity of airport baggage handlers to redesign even the strongest piece of carbon fibre, travelling with your own bicycle might be a less than attractive proposition. for those who'd prefer to arrive in the basque country as lightly laden as possible, can xavier supply the option of a quality rental bicycle?

"Yes. In 2016 we invested in a fleet of nine good quality, Shimano Ultegra equipped carbon bikes. These can of course be rented during our tours, but we can also deliver them free of charge around Biarritz where we are based. For other cities in the Basque Country (like San Sebastian, Bilbao etc.) we generally charge a fee, depending on the distance we have to drive to deliver."

sven thiele's annual hot chillee london-paris ride defines inclusion within each group by a required average speed, sadly one that is not always met by participants many of whom overestimate their abilities. as already discussed with xavier above, the basque country and pyrenees are hardly what might be described as pan-flat, so it would surely be incumbent on those keen to engage the services of bike basque to ensure a certain level of equitable fitness. does this match with xavier's expectations, or could even the timid enjoy one of his tours?

bike basque

"Bike Basque always provides an accompanying car or van to support our clients, along with food, water etc. For those who find the going harder than they'd expected, it's always possible to jump in and enjoy the countryside on four wheels. (I can promise that our staff always select the best music, while they're driving)."

as previously mentioned, the bike basque website offers a current total of seven guided tours, along with the custom option, allowing potential customers or groups to specify just where they think they'd like to ride their bikes. however, i'd be inclined to think that the seven curated options offer more than ideal solutions for the intrepid cycling holidaymaker. I asked xavier, therefore, if there was much demand for the eighth option? for instance, how realistic would it be to create a custom tour when it seems likely that the customer may be less than familiar with the region?

"Actually yes. Almost 50% of our requests are for custom tours; to fit specific dates, a specific duration or asking for particular routes not listed on our website. Those tours are also very exciting to organise. After speaking to the clients and enquiring after their wishes, we try to create exactly what they want."

bike basque

the prospect of each guided tour being accompanied by vehicular support is a comforting one. though for most of us the lack of a professional contract is surely simply an administrative oversight, there's always just the teeniest, tiniest possibility that we're not as good as we think we are (present company excluded, of course). but were our egos for one minute to be placed under suitable restraint, it's just possible that not only might we learn much about the region in which we cycle, but possibly even about the art of riding a bicycle in more stressful conditions than the average brit is used to. in order for that to become a reality, not only would it be necessary to feature experienced guides, but an appropriate number of them.

how many guides usually accompany a tour and is there a maximum number of riders allowed on each?

bike basque

"We're working with a ratio of one guide per four riders (for the Sportive Tours), and one guide per three clients (for the Luxury Tours). This is a slightly higher ratio than many other cycle travel companies, but we really want our customers to feel well catered for. As we work most of the time with authentic boutique-hotels, the number of rooms is often limited, so we therefore try to keep the number of riders in a group to under 14. But if a larger group (like an entire cycle club, for instance) want a specific tour just for them, we can cater for that too."

though cycle sales may well be on the decrease in the united kingdom accompanied with a concomitant loss of cycle shops across the country, there's little evidence to support that those of us who venture forth each and every sunday morning are any less enthusiastic about our metier. it's quite possible, therefore, that there will be increasingly greater numbers of us ever keen to explore the nooks and crannies of regions such as southern france, the pyrenees and the basque country. in a year or two, xavier might have his hands full. with this in mind, does he have any plans to expand bike basque, or is he quite happy with the way things are at present?

"Initially we organised rides solely in the Basque Country and then in the Pyrenees, Burgundy,etc. I even received a request from an ex- pat group of ten Australians in Italy; therefore, I think we can continue to expand as long as the requests keep rolling in. In truth, we love exploring new regions and finding the best gems for our clients.
"But the most important factor for us is to retain the same Bike Basque 'spirit' we currently have. It's important to offer a very good atmosphere, hotels, restaurants and friendly staff. As long as we can maintain those, then Bike Basque will continue to expand in line with demand."

xavier lopez and bike basque will be at the london bike show in the excel centre in london's docklands from 23-25 february. if you're attending, drop by and say hello.

bike basque

bike basque

friday 16 february 2018

twmp ..........................................................................................................................................................................................................