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An Alpine Guide for Your Pocket: Cycling in the French Alps

Its nice to have friends that do cool things. But its also nice to have cool friends. Paul Henderson is one of those and his book, Cycling in the French Alps (Cicerone), is as much a testament to his extraordinary life style as it is an incredible compilation of magnificent biking routes. The routes are as varied as the roads themselves, taking you through the Savoie, Haute-Savoie, Drôme and Ventoux regions of France. Just reading the itineraries makes me breathe hard. Paul is from Durham, England (so its [pawl] not [pol]) yet has been living in Savoie, France for a long time. Over this period Paul has skied, climbed and biked just about every nook and cranny in Southeast France, most of Provence, and a good part of Italy, Corsica, Australia and other continents. His personal list of accomplishments is endless but thankfully just the French Alpine cycling routes are compiled in one book: a must for anyone who is looking to spend a week, a month or a summer biking in the Alps.

I appreciate how Paul is able to touch upon the “dreams” as well as “misconceptions” of cycling in the Alps. These are important factors that most of my guests seem to forget at times:

For most cyclists the French Alps conjure up images of the great champions of the Tour de France…Of course, mountains do not have to be snow-capped giants to provide worthwhile cycling. Many lower-areas are criss-crossed by quiet roads that meander through varied landscapes of open pastures, dark forests, deep gorges and unspoilt villages. The scenery is just as beautiful as in the high mountains…When cycling in the mountains, the amount of vertical height gain is a much better indication of the difficulty of a route than the distance covered. The circuits were planned with this in mind…

Personally having ridden most of Paul’s routes, I can attest that the views from these “minor” mountains are just as beautiful as the better-known giants. What’s even better is you’ll never find the crowds around the Col de Granier that you would find around Galibier, which makes the riding even sweeter. The book is brimming with all kinds of useful information I’d only expect from Paul Henderson: from hints on taking bikes on the trains to lodging suggestions to useful websites and spectacular photography to help you visualize the itinerary (which could sometimes bring you to some rather remote locations). The itineraries themselves are highly detailed with route directions, elevation maps, hints on getting to/coming from, when to go and climate stats, paper map suggestions, as well as where to find water, campsites, hotels, banks, bikeshops, and cafés. He’s even included useful French phrases (since the author is also a full-time translator I wouldn’t expect anything less). Having done a number of Randonnée Ski Tours with Paul, I can attest to his level of detail and dedication in the mountains. The same applies to this guide: a fundamental tool for biking legendary circuits in the French Alps.

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