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Cycling, Wine and Cultural Tours in the Dordogne, Pyrenees and Southwest of France.

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Chateau de Pitray
Chateau de Pitray

My son and I just returned from an incredible six day biking vacation in the Bordeaux region of France. We saw the trip offered in RBR newsletter in March, and it was one of the great finds of all time. After reviewing the website we answered Allan Reeves' ad, and booked the trip. The result was a feast of riding, dining and relaxing in a magnificent chateau winery; enjoying some incredible scenery and history, and making new friends who are also fellow bikers. Oh yeah, we also watched Christophe Moreau win the Criteria de Castillon, the first pro race in France after the Tour. Allan, a Californian and Frenchmen, lives and rides in the Bordeaux area for at least a month every year (visiting family). He personally took us out each day to a new part of the region, and acted as tour guide and ride support. He also included side trips to local points of interest. Thank you Allan and RBR News for a terrific vacation!

Jerry O'neill, North Tonawanda, New York

Pro Criterium de Castillon bike race - bike tours france

Contador, Vinokorov and Chavanel race up the hill at the Criterium de Castillon - 2010

The Professional Criterium de Castillon, one of France's oldest crits !

Come see some of the same pro-cyclists who raced in the Tour de France race in the professional Criterium de Castillon bike race, held on the first Tuesday of every August. This is one of the oldest and longest running professional crit races in France. 2010 was the 37th edition of the race, and it was won by Alberto Contador, the 2010 Tour de France winner. I have watched many of these races in Castillon, and enjoyed attending the VIP official pre-race lunch celebrations at my family’s Chateau (Chateau de Pitray). You too can enjoy this race and luncheon, and experience an insider’s perspective to a celebrated French cycling tradition.

Private bike tours france chateau pro criterium

Contador and Vinokorov at the Criterium lunch at Chateau Pitray, 2010.

What is a criterium? For those of you who are not familiar with criteriums, or crits as they are called, they are bicycle races on a closed track that vary in length from half mile to several miles. The Castillon crit is held on the country back-roads amongst the vineyards on the hillside above the French village of Castillon La Bataille (Castillon is famous for its historical relationship the 100 year war between the French and English during the 14th and 15th century). Here is a good description of what a crit is: “a criterium is a bike race like NASCAR -- except it is powered by legs and lungs, not gasoline engines. As a spectator you are just inches from the racers as they zoom by on the course as they reach speeds of 40 mph.” The race in Castillon lasts for a couple of hours, a total of about 30 laps on the 2 mile course.

Cycling tours france chateau

Drinks and cocktails prior to lunch.

The race itself is a major local affair, attracting a crowd of 15,000 spectators along the 2 mile course. The course is lined with decorations and speakers, the loudspeakers chattering with commentary about the race’s progress. The track, laid out on small one lane country roads between the vineyards of the Bordeaux wine country, is painted with cycling graffiti, and dotted with stands selling food, drink, cycling gear, and other trinkets. If you did not know any different you would think that you are at the Tour de France. But better than the TDF, the excitement of the cyclists passing by is repeated over and over as they lap the 2 mile course over 30 times in 2 hours of racing.

Bike tours france pro cycling

...and now for the catered lunch!

Prior to the race, which begins in the afternoon at 5 pm, the race promoters host a private gathering and lunch for 200 VIP guests at the Chateau de Pitray. Those who attend include some of the professional cyclists who will race, journalists, sponsors, local dignitaries, and other important people. Some recent pro-cyclist at lunch were Contador, Vinokorov, and Moreau. Typically there are also renowned retired cyclists, such as Raymond Poulidor who finished 2nd in the Tour de France three times, and 3rd five times. He raced in 14 Tours and completed 12 of them. All in all it is a celebration of cycling, with present and past stars of the sport. The lunch is held outside, under the canopy of 150 year old Sequoia trees with the Chateau de Pitray as the backdrop. The wines that are served are from wineries of the appellation of the Cotes de Castillon, of which Chateau de Pitray is one. Attending this luncheon requires a “back-stage” pass, and as the nephew of the Chateau owner, I am the connection that will make it happen. After lunch, which lasts several hours, off we go to attend the race, a couple of miles away from the Chateau de Pitray. ( trip information - Chateau Pitray and Criterium: July 30 to August 5 - 2011 )

Bike tours france pro cycling race

The Criterium de Castillon climb

Cycling tours france pro bike race

View of the upper part of the course as it navigates through the vineyards