We have been anticipating the arrival of the new Giro Aether helmet for weeks, and now with the start of the Tour de France upon us, what better place to give it a test ride than in the heart of France. And while this year’s Tour may well start in the western Vendée region, no place better represents France’s heart than the historic Burgundy region.
Word/Images: James Startt
Today major autoroutes intersect the region, but they are simply a modern extension of this centuries-old crossroad. Pulling out of Paris through midweek traffic, we typed the city of Beaune into the GPS and as congestion eased on the A6, we made our way towards this historic town that is in many ways the capital of Burgundy. For some, Burgundy is the cradle of French civilization. Its colorful villages with ornate rooftops speak of its rich and bustling past during the Feudal and Medieval periods. And thanks largely to generations of great wine producers, Burgundy remains an agricultural paradise today.
But while its pristine villages and expansive wine vineyards are celebrated on photographs and post cards around the world, the terrain can be plenty challenging to cyclists.
“The winds can really pick up here,” says Olivier, a former amateur champion of Burgundy and our test rider on this day. “And these narrow little roads throughout the vineyards are steep and rugged.”
While we savored an evening meal of the region’s legendary Beouf Bourguignon on one of the town’s many outdoor terraces, we were eager to start our first ride before the early summer sun’s kicked into high gear. And it seemed only fitting to start our ride in the heart of the legendary Hospices de Beaune, a historic almshouse, or hospital for the poor dating back to the 15thcentury. Here, under its ornate rooftop, an annual wine auction served to pay the costs. And while the hospital long outgrew these medieval confines, the wine auction is still very much an institution.
Getting out of town is easy in Beaune as we opted to ride southward into the hills on our way towards the neighboring village Pommard, just one of many towns here boasting an international reputation for their wine.
It came as little surprise that we were almost instantly surrounded by a deep expanse of colorful vineyards, and Olivier was instantly at home. “Riding through the vineyards is always special,” he said. “It is just so visually stunning and diverse. The vineyards themselves offer a sort of never-ending order, but on the road, that order is constantly changing as the roads are constantly climbing and descending. They are plenty challenging as the climbs are steep and the descents are technical. Careful though! If you are looking for good roads, don’t come here! These are farm roads that are still very much in use.”
Indeed as Olivier cruised out of Beaune into the hills, it was evident that for those living here, it was very much a working day. Specially designed tractors moved constantly through the vineyards in an apparent hive of activity. Meanwhile as Olivier powered over some of the climbs, his racing days suddenly did not seem so far behind him. And he was loving his fresh Giro kit. “These Prolight Techlace shoes were simply love at first sight. And in terms of performance they are amazing. They breathe really well in this heat and are just so light and stiff that they inspire speed. And I love the new Aether helmet!. I’ve probably had over a dozen Giro helmets over the years. And the Aether definitely takes it a step further. It’s incredibly light, with huge air vents. I could really feel the air passing through. But you can also tell that it is super solid. It’s pure Giro!”
Descending out of the hillside, the Château de Pommard could soone be spotted in the distance, standing distinctively above the otherwise small village. And as we rode through the village and past the château, it was hard to escape its shadows.
And while Oliver powered over these rustic roads he was starting to think of a convenient lunch stop. “And this is making me thirsty,” he added as he neared the end of this morning’s ride. “Do you think that the château would mind if we showed up for wine tasting in our cycling togs?”