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A Pilgrim on Two Wheels
What is the best way to plan a trip?
My philosophy is that there are no rules, only happy coincidences.
The initial spark for my last project came from the pages of a French newspaper that mentioned the existence of Notre-Dames des Cyclistes (Our Lady of Cyclists), a chapel in Aquitaine, France dedicated by the Church to the sport. This seemingly unlikely association of church and cycling called to me. After some research, I learned that this chapel and its museum of cycling were inspired by the Madonna del Ghisallo, an Italian chapel perched at the top of a well-known pass to racers in the Giro di Lombardia. Planning a ride from one of these historic monuments to the other just seemed a natural fit. Just to give myself an idea, I quickly mapped out a bird's-eye view of the route using Route Builder, and the discovery of a third chapel in Spain transformed this pilgrimage into an ambitious project.
Desires and compromises
Just as the Tour de France consists of several contests (the general and team classifications, and the
stage and point winners), a bike trip can encompass many aspirations and different expectations.
Some will see this ride as one long test of endurance from Lombardy, Italy to the Basque Country.
Others will see it as 10 distinct challenges divided into stages.
The real work for my chapel pilgrimage began when I started mapping out the stages. For this, you
have to take into account the amount of time you have, the average number of miles you want to ride
each day, the elevation, the passes you want to take, and in which direction you want to take them.
You will also want to factor in time for sightseeing along the way. Strava facilitates this task by
allowing you to easily create and compare itineraries in the “my routes” function. Here you have the
option to duplicate an itinerary, make changes and then compare the two.
Thanks to what we learned from Strava, we decided to take a detour which would permit us to add the
Muro di Sormano to our hit list, which we compensated for the next day by taking the most direct route across the Italian flats.
Then we wanted to discover the Gorges de la Bourne and la Combe Laval which forced us to give up
the route to Gap: the most obvious way to join the Landes. This is how a descent to the south became
an ascent, and we found ourselves in the Vercors, the natural fortress of the French pre-alps, climbing
Aiding our route decisions was a Michelin road map. For the uninitiated, on
a Michelin map each road is color-coded. Cyclists can easily see and avoid the red-colored, high-traffic
roads and give preference to the quieter white and yellow roads. The scenic routes are marked in
green and offer a picturesque option to riders and motorists.
However, it is difficult and tedious with a flat map like the Michelin to calculate distance and elevation. The most
direct distance between two points is always a straight line, but that line doesn’t look the same when
you see its profile. Unexpected variations in terrain are typically not happy surprises for the long
With this in mind, I followed one of two methods for developing routes:
Either I figured out the roads and the points of interest on the paper map, then I would bring it all to
life on Strava creating several versions in order to compare elevation and distance. Or, I would first
create my itinerary on Strava and then consult the map. Why? I would frequently find two parallel
roads both taking me where I wanted to go, one with more traffic than the other. On Strava and Google,
two such roads would have seemed the same. Only on a paper map would you be able to distinguish
During the third stage, while descending the Colle Sestriere in Italy, I crossed paths with Chris Froome
who was climbing with a few of his teammates. I was not surprised that they were in the region to
suss out the queen stage of the Tour de France, but that did not explain why they were on the Italian side of the border. Then it all made sense, the stage finish must have been on top of l’Izoard. Thanks to the Flyby feature, I saw that Michal Kwiatkowski was among the riders accompanying Froome – the 2014 World Champion alongside the future four-time winner of the Tour. From Kwiatkowski's activity, I saw that Team
Sky’s reconnaissance ride included two more mountain passes to an already arduous day of training.
Independent of this episode, uploading the results of my stages is a way for me to save my memories.
I can revisit my tour and optimize my itineraries in the event that I return to the region. I can also
share my favorite stages with fellow cyclists looking for an adventure. For these reasons,
always give your activities a personal title so you can remember them! When I begin transforming this voyage into a book, these
Strava routes will serve as a precious link weaving together the strands of my narration.
Now it’s your turn
Whether you are looking to discover new routes around your house or planning your next adventure to
lands unknown, try Route Builder. It will enable you to identify the roads and paths most frequently taken by
other Strava members as well as the most popular segments.
You will also have a good idea of the
elevation gain that awaits you on your next ride. Once your itineraries are registered, you have the choice
to follow them directly from the mobile app or transfer them onto your favorite tracking device.
Give it a try: strava.com/routes