france is where a lot of us would like to be, particularly right now as the snow covers the field behind washingmachinepost cottage. the notion of riding up endless hills and the subsequent rush of gravity when down the other side. we've all watched every july, admired the scenery and figured 'if only i was ten (twenty?) years younger with a professional contract and a following team car'. unfortunately the reality is that none of us are ever going to see france in quite that way, though when you read any interviews with a formula one cyclist, it turns out that they don't actually see very much of france either. in which case, perhasp a slower, more methodical and vista filled traipse around the country might be a more practical, if sedate idea.
toiling southwards from clermont ferrand all the way to montpellier and the mediterranean, the massif central is a 700km trail much favoured by, and seemingly identified as, a mountain bike route. this is the principal edict of author alan castle, and heretofore refered to as the gtmc: the grand traverse of the massif central. you would be well within your rights to question why such a book is being reviewed on a website which has dedicated itself to the rigours of the road, leaving the muddy stuff to those on farm gates with bouncy bits, or the cross guys come winter. however, one should never judge a book by its cover; despite panniered mountain bikes on the cover, 'a traverse of the massif central, roughly following the line of the gtmc can also be made by road cyclists'. this visits all the same points as the mountain bike route, but sticks to the roads. as alan castle points out, the route is of the mix and match variety, thus if you're feeling particularly rapha continental, you can take the road bike on some of the unsurfaced sections, or if fed up being bounced around in the saddle, the mountain bike can nip onto some tarmac. i won't tell.
cicerone guides have an excellent reputation for being over-stuffed with detail, and on the basis of it's better to have and not need, rather than the converse, it becomes more a case of how it is possible to squeeze so much into such a small book. gratifyingly, it's size would not preclude popping a copy into a bar bag for the length of the trip.
700 - 800km is not the sort of distance to be knocked off before a hearty breakfast; completion of the entire route, as described by mr castle, would take a few days: between eight and twelve apparently. therefore the breaking down of the traverse into manageable chunks seems like one of the volume's best traits. this way it is possible to undertake portions rather than the whole enchilada, should time or family commitments over-rule. the book is copiously well ilustrated, both with photographs and maps, and each section is augmented with a road bike alternative clearly marked, along with road-specific maps at the back of the book.
if, like me, the author is unknown to you, it would be a lot easier to list where he hasn't ridden or walked than to tell you where he has. this is in particular evidence when it comes to describing accommodation, including camping, appropriate type of bicycle, luggage and many of the other bits and bobs that you and i would likely think of midway along the route, miles from home. each section of riding is well described and observed, though it must be said that it's unlikely to replace your more regular bedtime reading; this is purely a functional collection of pages.
that said, if french wanderlust ever takes hold, other than those you ride, we do everything else randonnees, if i am going self-sufficiently, this is the book for me. it would undoubtedly be worth all the effort to coast into montpellier and onto sete on the mediterranean coast. a very nice thought after squishing through the slush on the way home tonight.
posted wednesday 24 february 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................