Adam in Europe

(By: Adam Millar)

I’m currently on a cycling conquest. Three months in Europe with my bike. Not like, bike-packing or randonneurring; I’m not that resilient. But going to places I’ve always wanted to go to, just to ride my bike. The idea of doing something like this bounced around in my mind for a couple years, but it had always seemed a bit careless to me. Then I realized: not getting any younger, I ran out of reasons not to do it. 

The initial intention I had was to fly to Europe, and figure it out as I went. Turns out my type-A personality didn’t allow for that, and within a few weeks I had an itinerary mapped out. Weirdly, I didn’t really give the plan much thought — it was like I already knew where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. I gradually booked flights and accommodations, and strung it all together: Barcelona, Mallorca, Tuscany, Cote d’Azur, Costa Blanca, England. 

Whenever I type out “a day in the life,” it seems rather uninspiring. The inspiring things can’t be summarized in that way; really, it’s difficult to put them into words at all. Each day I’m here, I must think “wow that is incredible” upwards of 10 times a day. Landscapes, roads, passing through isolated villages that you could hear a pin drop in; daunting coastlines lining the seemingly infinite Mediterranean Sea; the sounds of pedalling my bike along a hillside population of grazing cows, cowbells clanging sporadically; waiting for an espresso in a bustling pasticceria full of screaming Italians at 9am; seeing my cycling idols ride past me, and exchanging friendly waves as if we’re equals. These are sights, sounds, feelings, and experiences I have dreamed about for years. Every day is like this. 

Now, time to get a little philosophical and cliché. I understand that not everybody is able to simply put life on hold and undertake a life goal, just because it feels like the right time to do it. But I have to recommend it. Nobody is going to fulfill your dreams and goals for you, so just do it and figure the rest out afterwards. Chances are you won’t regret it. Buy the ticket, take the ride. 

I’ve been here 7 weeks now - just over halfway through the trip - and these have been my five favourite rides thus far: 

  1. Chianti Vineyards

This was as peaceful as a ride gets. Nothing dramatic, but just 100 steady kilometers through the rolling vineyards of the Chianti wine region. As Tuscany is, always going either up or down a hill, never any traffic to deal with, and ever-twisting roads. It’s kinda still winter here, so there were no grapes on the vines, and most of the restaurants were still closed for the season. Otherwise I would’ve stopped for a glass of wine or 7.

  1. Sa Calobra

Sa Calobra has to be the most famous climb on the island of Mallorca, and for good reason. The climb is 9.4km at 7%, but the nature of the road is like nothing else. It was built for tourism, and is a dead-end at the bottom so you descend down the hairpins and rock-cuts, then 180° and go right back up. This ride I went from my base in Palma, out to Inca and up the Coll de sa Batalla, down and up Sa Calobra, flew down possibly my favourite descent ever Puig Major, then up and over the Coll de Sollér back to Palma - 125km and 2600m of perfection.

  1. Group Ride with Velodrom Barcelona

I spent 2 weeks in Barcelona, and very thankfully made friends with the guys at local bike boutique Velodrom. They kindly invited me to their first Saturday shop ride of 2020, with the promise that it would be quick. We left Velodrom at 9am for 150km and 2500m in the hills and valleys northwest of the city. There were no major climbs, no attacks, no sign sprints; just hard riding with a couple regroups over the 4.5 hours. It was a fantastic group ride with great people, and a big thank you to David and Javi at Velodrom for the invite.

  1. Trofeo Manacor

Former Canadian U23 Champ Ed Walsh was in Mallorca the same time as me, and he let me in on his plan to do a local race one Sunday. I was finishing up a 3 week block of volume, and figured this would either be a great way to end it, or be the absolute death of me. We kitted up and rolled out at 7:30am for the 50km ride to Manacor. Obviously made a wrong turn somewhere, took an unnecssary detour, met up with a Belgian club team also heading to the race, and made it to the start line with precisely zero time to spare. They were doing call-ups and we still hadn’t gotten our race numbers. Ed and I were only there to get the racing feel back in our legs and our nerves, not trying to do anything special, but we had both spoken about “trying something”. We coincidentally found each for a two-man bridge move up to the breakaway, and were promptly ejected from said breakaway as soon as we made it across. We rolled the rest of the race easy in the bunch, and noodled the 50km back home for a fat TSS day after 217km and 2100m.

  1. Riding the Strade Bianche 

So everyone knows about coronavirus and bike races being cancelled. It’s true that I planned to be in Siena to watch Strade Bianche, which didn’t happen. I did get to ride a large portion of the famous white gravel sectors however. I was staying around 30km from the start and finish of the race in Siena, so I rode in, then hopped onto a loop that took me across most of the gravel sectors, and all of the most decisive ones. Words, photos, videos, nothing will ever do justice to the experience of riding on these roads… but I will attempt. They are not smooth - there are potholes and rainwater ruts everywhere. There are 15% climbs and even worse, 15% descents, on a gravel surface that has you unsure about every corner at any speed. The famous sector named after 3-time winner Fabian Cancellara is over 11km long and goes up and down what felt like a hundred times. Granted, I stopped to take a few photos, but the 11km took me close to 40 minutes to ride. This terrain is absolute brutality, but indescribably beautiful at the same time. I was hopelessly counting down the kilometers back to Siena, until I made it to the (in)famous Santa Caterina climb where Strade Bianche has been won and lost so many times. I rolled into the Piazza del Campo quite unceremoniously. Tourists soaking up the sun, pigeons everywhere, no trophies or crowds or celebrations. A quick bite to eat and I tiptoed my way home. Not only was this my favourite ride of this trip, it was one of my favourite rides ever. Stats were 218km and 4055m, just over 8h30m ride time.

More Photos:

Today’s post is brought to you by Lazer helmets. We’re fortunate to be wearing two models this year; the Bullet 2.0 and the Genesis. I brought the Genesis with me to Europe because it’s light, comfortable, looks sharp, and the MIPS keeps me safe. Lazer also claims it provides 108% ventilation, meaning you’re cooler with it on your head than no helmet at all.