Far from the world of craft framebuilding, the Auvergne is currently in the spotlight thanks to a regional racer: Romain Bardet. When the third-placed rider in the 2017 Tour de France has time away from races and training camps, it’s here he comes to train, and he puts all his rides on Strava – and the last outing he posted looks tempting. Matthieu Perrusset, Victoire’s marketing & communication manager, suggests a couple of little changes and off we go. Each year, there’s one ride during which you feel that you’re truly reaching the of the season. When the wind is glacial, gloves obligatory and oversocks desirable, but something motivates you to ride – and you’re always rewarded. The trees are turning rust red, the cows resemble cuddly toys in their winter coats, and the low sun bathes this scene in a beautiful light. We climb towards the Col de la Croix-Morand. Nothing is stirring on the road, but the undulations of the ‘puys’ (the local name for these mountains, once volcanoes, now extinct) are a delight. At the col we dive into the inn to warm up with a hot chocolate. Through the window we can see hikers and trailrunners descending a footpath of black volcanic rock. Ice is forming on the summit before our eyes.. Bardet often visits this bar – not always for a blueberry tart, but to fill his bidons at least. Pierre Rolland has also fallen for the region and its perfect tarmac. The two climbers have a good reputation among local cyclists, always happy to pose for a picture. They’re not in the area today, but never mind. The day is fading and we cycle home in the drops. The tarmac here really is perfect.