Running in the 'Meda: The Tour de France

Running in the 'Meda: The Tour de France

Marty Beene

Photo by Cameron Beene.

This year, there is another noteworthy event starting on July 4 besides the Alameda R.A.C.E.: the Tour de France. While this year's Tour begins in Belgium, two of the key stages near the end of the competition will occur right where my son Cameron and I cycled two summers ago. Our trip was spectacular - I highly recommend something similar for anyone who uses strenuous cycling for exercise and wants to build in an element of exercise into their vacation. People often ask me: How do you plan a trip like that?

Overall planning

We started planning the trip about six months before we went, in mid-June. We talked about the general type of cycling we wanted to do and started looking at maps using Google Earth. The first thing we did was to think of famous mountain passes that we knew about from watching the Tour de France on T.V. Once we mapped those out, we got a feel for where we could go to hit as many of those as possible. We also did not want to have to rent a car, so we looked for areas that had rail service.

It turned out that the small town of St. Jean de Maurienne was well located to use as a base, as it was close to the famous climbs of the Galibier, Madeleine and Croix de Fer; is within a manageable distance of Alpe d'Huez; and has its own train station. Score!

The area around St. Jean de Maurienne is largely oriented toward skiing during winter months, so it has a reasonable number of lodging options. Knowing that the basics of lodging and transportation existed, our next steps involved figuring out details of those parts of the trip.

Transportation

Flights to France were easy enough to figure out. There were some hoops to jump through to get our mileage points (from a credit card) applied to the fares, but it was not difficult to navigate that.

Rail travel was next, and that turned out to be straightforward, although somewhat tedious because of the multitude of options. The Rail Europe website has all of the information you need, and using it to plan a trip is relatively easy to figure out. Since we had decided to rent our bikes in France (there are companies that rent top quality bikes, just like the ones we ride here - we used Bike Rental France), we had to plan our connections to meet up with the bike rental company on our way to the mountains. Again, it merely required some patience to pore over schedules to figure that out.

Lodging

I tried booking the most popular cycling-oriented hotel in St. Jean, but it was already full for June when I contacted them in February. Our second choice - Hotel du Nord - had rooms available, but none with two beds. The rooms were surprisingly inexpensive, however, so I simply booked two rooms, each with a double bed.

Packing

This was a bit of an issue for us because we would be spending two more weeks in Europe following our cycling trip. But our experience helped us to know what we really needed and didn't need, and we were able to pack everything - including our cycling clothes, shoes, and pedals - into one small and one medium roller bag. It was essential to get everything into two bags, know that we'd be schlepping everything (including the bikes) on and off of trains.

Language

Like in any foreign country, make an effort to learn a few key words and phrases (especially "hello," "please" and "thank you"), and use them while smiling a lot. Even in the rare occasion when a hotel or restaurant person doesn't speak English, you can both figure out what the other is saying with a little patience.

Food

It's France. They have pretty good food there.

I would be happy to answer any questions about details of how we planned the trip - just ask!

In other news, Alameda High School alum Zach Perkins came in second place in the 1,500-meter final at the NCAA Division I Championship track meet last weekend up in Eugene, Ore. Zach is the last Hornet to have qualified for the high school state meet, which he did as a senior back in 2010. It was an exciting race, as he positioned himself perfectly through the first few laps. At the end, with all of the runners sprinting madly for the line, Zach passed several runners, missing a victory by 12 hundredths of a second. Curiously, despite having done almost the exact same thing two years ago in the same event and also finishing second that time, the ESPN announcers had no idea who he was until some minutes after the race was over. Congrats to Zach!

Marty Beene, a USA Track & Field certified coach and NASM-certified personal trainer, is owner of Be The Runner; he coaches adults from beginners to veterans individually and in groups, and loves both travel and cycling. He can be reached at marty@BeTheRunner.com.