I’ve been lucky. My professional career has taken me to a lot beautiful places. I’ve met some great people and ridden some great roads.
But there are some places that are special to me, where I go again and again
Santa Cruz is a perfect place to ride. You can climb up to 800 metres on quiet, twisty roads; the gradients are challenging and the last part of the ride is always downhill, feeling the breeze off the ocean, watching the surfers as you ride back into town. They ride early out there, so I’m home for 1pm after five hours on the bike and the kids have a happy daddy for the afternoon. It’s good training. They have the ‘Harbour Ride’ on a Saturday and there are guys who can push 400 watts for five minutes, which is a good level of climbing, so I have to go hard to drop them. There’s a sprint at the end too, which I never won, so they’re fast as well. After the ride, there’s a Chinese place where I like to eat. They do rice bowls, noodle bowls, all healthy stuff. For 10 dollars you can have a really good lunch. After a long day on the bike, that’s great.
I’ve been going to Tuscany, near Lecchi, since 2012. For me, it’s what #liveslowridefast is all about. The food is incredible, the roads are incredible, the wine is incredible. You can spend a few days there and everyone is happy together; riding, eating, drinking, laughing. I usually go there to train after Strada Bianche in the spring and then again in August with the kids after the Tour for a holiday. You can do the Strada Bianche route, the white roads, and stop for coffee. And you don’t have to search all the different bars because all the coffee is good in Italy.
Truckee is remote and beautiful, high up in what they call the ‘California Alps’, so it’s tough riding. But I love to challenge myself, to push my limits by riding to 9,000 feet, because that’s a different story to riding to 3,000 feet. I had a plan to rent a little cabin up there for some Rocky Balboa-style training on my own. A friend of a friend had a place they said I could use; it turned out to have six bedrooms, a hot tub and a balcony, so it wasn’t quite how I imagined it. The people are really nice. Paco the guy who owns the local bike shop followed me in his car for eight hours one day because there was nowhere to stop for food or water. You can do the ‘Death Ride’, which starts in Markleeville, about two hours drive from Truckee. There’s one grocery store on that loop, where you can get cookies and water, but that’s it. When I rode it, in six and a half hours I saw two bears, which was pretty special, and no cars.
As a professional rider, I always said you don’t need anything more than Maastricht. For riding a bike in Holland, it’s the best. I moved there for the riding in 2001 and stayed for 15 years. I know every road in that area and the mountain biking is great as well. To me, the whole place feels a bit like Tuscany, but in Holland. There are some nice rides round there, mainly based around where we used to stop for coffee. There’s a little cafe in the Limburg hills, almost the highest point in Holland, so we’d go there and know we’d get some good climbing done. In the winter I would always go on the MTB. Two hours there, two hours back with half an hour eating pie and drinking coffee in the middle. For long rides we’d cross into Belgium, to Spa in the Ardennes, and do the climbs from Liege-Bastogne-Liege with Marc Lotz, who was at Rabobank with me; Mr GPS we called him because he knows all the roads round there. Alkmaar, where I grew up and where I live now, is pretty flat, but we have a strong training group. It’s a good set of guys to ride with and we all have that same northern Dutch sense of humour, which is nice. But I still love to go back to Maastricht to sometimes.