Photo by Neil Segel

Editor’s note: This post was written by University of Arizona  journalism student and triathlete David McErlean.

Riding the coastline of France brings one thing to the mind of cyclists in Tucson: Nothing is Flat. Winding, hilly roads hugging sheer cliffs overlook the French Riviera as far as the eyes can see.

“It’s beautiful,” Neil Segel, a University of Arizona student and competitive triathlete, said, after first arriving in Menton, France, with his Trek Madone stuffed in his luggage.

“Riding here is like going up and over Gates Pass all day,” Segel said, referring to the popular road in Tucson.

It is no secret that cycling is huge in Europe, second only to futbol (soccer), and France holds the most famous cycling race of all time: Le Tour De France. The tour is a 2,500 kilometer race across the country started by Géo Lefèvre, a journalist with L’Auto magazine.  Sponsored by the magazine’s editor, Henri Desgrange, the first race took off on July 1, 1903 with 60 riders leaving from Montgeron, France.

People grow up in Europe with cycling in their blood; cycling side by side by the professionals.

“There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see a pro on a ride, but here they’re so common that no one gives them a second glance,” Segel said.

The steep roads and heavy competition has seasoned the best of riders and made even the oldest of cyclists fierce competitors.

“I am shocked to see that on a 20 minute climb where I’ve been killing myself, these guys that are 50, 60, and even 70 years old, finish right behind me,” Segel said.

Not only did these men grow up and train along side one another, competing against one another, but they train together as a team.

In the United States, almost every cyclist rides individually. Not in Europe. Everyone is part of a team. Not only that, but every team makes a point to have the coolest of clothing and equipment, Segel said.

“It’s not uncommon to see a group of 50 to 60 year olds, all riding matching bikes and wearing amazing pro-looking uniforms,” he said.

To be able to race in Europe, either in cycling or triathlons, a rider must be part of a team and be wearing the team uniform. Joining a team is never a problem. There are so many teams and clubs in every city that its impossible not to run into one of them to join.

Bikers can ride on clean streets without having to avoid glass or trash for hours. With the new European Union, riders can cross right into neighboring counties and experience an entirely new country without having to stop and show passports.

“You see the old border stations, but its the same as crossing into another state in the U.S.,” Segel said. “Nothing more than a sign to let you know that you have entered a new country.”

If you are traveling to Europe for a week long vacation or studying abroad for an entire semester, finding a cycling club to ride in is easy.  Just ask the local bike shop.

“It took me about five minutes on Google to find a bike shop,” Segel said. “I went to the bike shop and the owner invited me to ride with him the next day.”

Every ride has 10 to 30 people, with ages ranging from 18 to 70. The group stays together the entire ride, only breaking up on the hill climbs, then regrouping at the top, Segel said.

There are also big group rides every Sunday morning, similar to the Tucson Shootout, Segel said, referring to a ride that begins on Saturday mornings from the University Boulevard Starbucks Coffee put on by Fair Wheel Bikes.

4 thoughts on “UA student experiences cycling in France”
  1. Have a look at our website – we are the ideal spot to stay for a cycling holiday in France. The other year the Tour de France went right past our door practically and if you need a real challenge Mont Ventoux is not that far away. There are some cycling photos on our site and some entries that might interest on our blog.

  2. What a great experience! I’d love to spend time on a bike there. The description of group rides there seems to differ from what is common here, where the lead riders try to drop everyone else from the start, and the ride turns into a big ego-fest. There’s not much racing here, including open races or club races, so every group ride turns into a race.

  3. I don’t believe you have given anyone the opportunity to read any of your Pulitzer Prize winning work besides this unhelpful, thoughtless critique, but expected from someone egotistical enough to have their name as Phat.

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