Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Adventures in Coffee - Part 1

La Fabrica Girona, Spain- the perfect recovery after a long day out in the saddle.
This has been the Fall/Winter of what I call the “coffee rides.” It is kind of a new thing for both Liam and me.  Liam now attends a French lycée (the US equivalent to 10th through 12th grades of high school).  He lives at school from Monday through Friday.  Academically, it is a very demanding program.  It has it’s perks though. Apparently, Liam has a teacher that occasionally incorporates coffee into the lecture as the class goes over the finer points of physics and chemistry.  Yes, it is all very civilized, and well, French over here.

Liam with a mid-ride coffee and cake.
As for me, I had quit drinking coffee after University. I had always enjoyed coffee, but for whatever reason I just kind of walked away from the aromatic bean juice.  I think that after four years of late-night caffeine fueled study sessions, I was done. All that changed a few years ago when Liam and I met up with Jasper Stuyven for a ride out to the Cappuccino King in Monsummano Terme, Italy.  We biked out to this wonderful little coffee bar, and at first I wasn’t going to have a coffee. I hadn’t had a cup in over 20 years, but I was, after all, in Tuscany at the Cappuccino King…  The first one I had was a decaf.  It was good, but like gluten-free bread -- it lacked something.  A few days later, in the middle of an epic ride, Liam and I went back for a stop at the famous coffee bar.  This time I had the full leaded version.  That cup of cappuccino – that really, really good cup of cappuccino re-kindled the flame.  It didn’t start immediately, but slowly over time I reincorporated coffee into my daily routine – especially on big ride days.

Truly great Coffee from Ben and Alex at Mana Espresso in Aix en Provence
These days I am constantly on the lookout for a good coffee bar.  You would be surprised, but in France good ones are few and far between. Mostly, the French drink a quick shot of espresso straight up from the instant machines.  I prefer the the old school cappuccino maker with freshly ground beans and steam-frothed milk.  I like to sit down with a coffee and have the moment last for a little while.  I like to write, or read an old fashioned paper, or simply stare out into space while I drink my coffee.  I have found some pretty good coffee bars, and we have had some very cool adventures on the bike in the process. 

It is ideal to find a coffee bar that you can hit at about 80k to 90k into a 130k base, endurance ride.  This is the type of “civilized” riding that the avid cyclist does in the Fall and Winter.  The riding is relaxed and the goal is to spend time in the saddle at a moderate pace to prepare the body for the harder training and racing in the Spring and Summer.  You don’t loose anything by stopping for a few minutes to enjoy a coffee.  As I get older, I enjoy this type of riding more and more. 

I will end this rave about coffee rides by sharing a few of the adventures that Liam and I have had together in the last few months.

Italian Coffee:

This epic 170k ride (over 2000 meters of climbing from the Cote D'Azur through Nice and Monaco, up into the Maritime Alps, and a screaming descent dropping down into the Italian Riviera for a cup of Cappuccino) was the Queen stage of this year's Festive 500. Our friend Rich joined us for this true adventure in cycling and coffee. The ride was part of a Strava challenge of riding 500 kilometers between Christmas and New Year's Eve -- the fourth year in a row for us completing the challenge! Unfortunately, the Cappuccino that we had in Ventimiglia was a bit of a disappointment. The ride, however, is spectacular.  I have heard that in Bordighera, the next town down the coast, there is bar serving excellent cappuccino.  It will be a future coffee adventure for sure!

Rich and Liam at the French/Italian Border in the Maritime Alps
Coffee In Aix:

There is a truly great spot in Aix en Provence called Mana Espresso.  From our house in Auriol, we can put together loops ranging from 100k to 150k which incorporate a mid-ride stop for a cappuccino and cake at this great coffee bar. Ben and Alex run Mana with amazing attention to detail.  A visit here in the center of Aix really feels like you are a guest in their home. This 115k version of the ride passes through Vauvenargues, the home of Pablo Picasso, a quick coffee stop at Mana, and then through Le Tholonet, the home of Paul Cézanne as you make your way around the beautiful massif Sainte Victoire.

Sainte Victoire - just as Paul Cézanne painted it
Girona Beans - Visca Catalunya:

This is a great ride from Girona, Spain.  We rode part of this loop with Peter Stetina. Pete showed us a really cool sparkling water spring (more about our ride with Pete in part 2 of our adventures in coffee). The circuit takes you out into the Spanish countryside with a nice side climb into the foothills of the Pyrenees.  Girona has quickly become an epicenter of winter cycling with several protour riders calling the city in Northern Spain/Catalunya home. Last year when we were there, we never really found a spot for great coffee.  All that has changed, however, with the opening of La Fabrica last March. Professional cyclist Christian Meier and his wife Amber have opened this coffee, desert, and cycling oasis is in the historic old city of Girona.  A lot of thought and effort has gone into both the presentation of the beautiful space, and the coffee and food that is served.  I think that we hit La Fabrica everyday that we were in Girona during our Winter training camp last week.  It wasn't so much a trip out to the coffee, but rather that the wonderful bar became the hub of our week's adventure in Spain.

Liam on the Amer Climb in the foothills of the Pyrenees 

To be continued...

Be well and Train Safe!

This is Bill and Liam signing out.

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