To Find Europe’s Best Bike Routes, a Cycling Writer Asked the Crowd

When it came time to put together “Cycling Atlas Europe,” a new guidebook detailing 350 single-day rides across the continent, the sportswriter andcycling expert Claude Droussent, 65, knew where to turn: Strava, a fitness app that lets cyclists (and runners and hikers) record their routes with GPS and then share them with each other, and that calls itself “the largest sports community in the world.”

Having Strava users validate the routes and vouch for their safety and appeal was key to the book, whose subtitle is “The 350 Most Beautiful Cycling Trips in Europe,” Mr. Droussent said: “The Strava community was important because I didn’t know all 350 routes by myself.”

The ambitious aim of the “Atlas,” published by Rizzoli this spring: to sate both serious cyclists searching for epic conquests and the multitudes looking for saddle-top journeys of discovery in this soaring adventure travel segment.

According to a European Parliament study, 2.3 billion cycle tourism trips are taken in Europe each year. A common theme among the typically affluent travelers looking to cycle: the need for resources and information.

Mr. Droussent’s own cycling journey began in the 1960s, when as a child growing up north of Paris, he watched in awe as the titans of the day — riders like Belgium’s five-time Tour de France champion Eddy Merckx — competed in the famously cobblestone-riddled Paris-Roubaix race that passed his home. During his journalism career he covered more than 30 Tours de France. In 1981, Mr. Droussent, then a cub reporter for Le Parisien, was the first journalist to interview an American named Greg LeMond after his first professional victory in Europe (Mr. LeMond went on to win the Tour de France three times).

In 2022, the two men co-wrote the guide “Cycling Atlas North America,” which also utilizes Strava routes.

Mr. Droussent said the idea for the European “Atlas” came to him four years ago. “For years I’ve met people who want to cycle — some fast and some slow — and have the route on their GPS, but they also want to discover something, a landscape, a castle, a wine,” he said. “They want to discover.”

I reached Mr. Droussent by phone in Montpelier, France, where, rather than slowing down, he recently started a new job as a cycle tour guide with Discover France.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What was the idea behind “Cycling Atlas Europe?”

Cycling interest was first and tourism second. So sports, OK, but when you have an incredible landscape or point of view, you stop there. When you are riding with friends, after three hours you can stop for a beer or an ice cream or even taste a glass of wine if you are in vineyards. So it’s my way to cycle.

You covered Greg LeMond when he was a cyclist, but you also wrote your previous book, “Cycling Atlas North America,” with him. How did that happen?

The publisher, Rizzoli, asked me to do the book “Cycling Atlas North America.” I said I know some places but I need to have an American expert. Greg was enthusiastic. So, when I called back the publisher, I said, “I found someone who knows North America. Maybe you don’t know him, but he was a cyclist a long time ago.” When I said it was Greg LeMond, they just said “Wow.” So, Greg and I wrote the “Atlas North America” together 40 years after our first meeting.

How has cycling changed, especially with travel, during your four decades covering the sport?

Everything changed in cycling — in the way people look at bikes, look at cyclists, and we are just at the beginning of a new era of travel, of bikepacking. It’s very new in France. We saw it just a little bit before Covid. But with Covid, and after, there are a lot of people who want to spend some days on vacation on their bike alone, with friends, with kids, for sport, and for tourism — along the Loire à Vélo, for example, to see the castles and to taste the best wine on the road. There are so many different kinds of rides. But right now, it’s cycling time.

How do you feel about e-bikes?

E-bikes are a fantastic development. I’m a great supporter of e-bikes because I see them bringing people to ride who never cycled. I think it helps people who are not in good health or too old to cycle. It’s a great development here in France.

How have communities and technologies like Strava changed the way people explore the world on a bicycle?

In the first years of Strava, it was considered a way to compare yourself with others. But people have discovered that you can find the best route with Strava tools. It’s incredible because Strava is a technology, but it’s also a social media now. And, when you ask a question of three different people on Strava, two of them will answer — you are sure of that — and often all three.

How will this book help cyclists find their next epic rides?

You just have to turn the pages of the book. I try to mix mountains with coasts, plains and a lot of low mountains. I was very surprised about all the mountain ranges I did not know of before in Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, Portugal, Slovenia — there are many landscapes to challenge yourself if you want.

So, is this book about cycling or travel?

Both. But you know, it’s a problem for publishers and people in the bookshops. A lot of bookshop owners tell me they don’t know where to put my book — in sports or travel.

Why does cycling resonate so much with today’s travelers?

I think there is a relationship with Covid. There are people who discovered they can have vacations two hours from their home rather than flying for six hours. There is also a connection with nature. Maybe it’s a new way of life in the 2020s.

Of the routes you discovered but haven’t ridden, which are you most excited to cycle?

One of the smallest countries in Europe, Montenegro, has a route that climbs above Kotor with, I think, 35 switchbacks. It’s an incredible place and an incredible view when you are at the top. A friend of mine told me about it 10 years ago. “Oh, you told me about L’Alpe d’Huez,” my friend said, “but if you want to see switchbacks, you have to go to Kotor.” So, I want to go there.

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