Monday, July 23, 2012

Andy Hampsten: About Touring by Bike in Italy

Source: New York Times, full article here.

Putting a Spin on Touring

ANDY HAMPSTEN, 50, may be best remembered by cycling fans for overcoming a blizzard on a steep climb in the 1988 Giro d’Italia.

After retiring from professional cycling in 1997, Mr. Hampsten founded the Tuscan-based cycling tour company Cinghiale. But riders who join him, he said, need not brace for “a hammer session with an ex-pro.”

“I like to stop in a village,” Mr. Hampsten said, “grab something to eat, drink incredible wine and then get back on our bikes.”

Below are edited excerpts from a conversation with Mr. Hampsten about touring by bike in Italy.

Q: Why is Italy your favorite country for cycling?
A: There are so many gorgeous regions to choose from — Tuscany, Barolo, the Dolomites, Piedmont — and all of the secondary roads are safe and not congested. They incline at a 6 percent grade, which is perfect for riding. And motorists are never irritated by cyclists the way they are in the States. If they can’t pass you, they wait. Italy, as well as France, has a great culture of hospitality for cyclists. There’s a government program called agriturismo, which gives loans to farmers to restore their historic homes and rent out rooms. They’re reasonably priced and absolutely charming. Some have Web sites, but a better way to find them is by checking out the province’s tourism board.

Q: How physically fit must you be for a cycling tour?
A: If you don’t ride at all, you’ll want to start riding three to four times a week for three months before the trip. Most of our trips are 380 miles, so that’s 30 to 60 miles every day, about four hours each morning. But for people who race for recreation, our tour will be an easy week of fun riding.

Q: Any recommendations for cyclists who want to go on their own?
A: Instead of going to a bunch of famous cities that are 50 miles apart — whose routes will be jammed with traffic — I say pick a base in a beautiful region and get a map to find the sinuous secondary roads. The Touring Club of Italy publishes excellent maps, as does Michelin for France. A group called Erickson provides you with itineraries for all across Europe. Hard-core riders love them because they cover huge distances.

Q: Do you encourage people to bring their own bikes or rent them?
A: Bring your own bike because few rentals have good racing bikes. But check out airlines’ policies before booking because some charge absurd fees. Delta, for example, charges you $300 for each bike round trip, whereas British Airways lets you check it in like baggage.

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  1. Nice piece about Hampsten, thanks. We'll argue about rental bikes, at least in the case of our rental fleet which Larry takes care of personally - flying bikes on the airlines gets more costly every day. Spend your money on good wine instead...or join us for a CycleItalia guided tour where we pay for the wine! No matter who you go with or how you go (guided or self-guided) ITALY is simply the best place on earth to be a cyclist - ride there at least once in your cycling life, you'll be glad you did.

  2. Yes, nice piece about Hampsten -- my cycling hero.

    Erickson, as mentioned, has great itineraries too. And Larry and Heather at CycleItalia have it down to all the magic. Larry has given me ride-routes that still are some of my favorite rides ever. And, of course, they do all the classic big-climb stuff too. And food. And wine. And ... dancing girls. Well, after a lot of wine. Never mind ...