The Cafe Conisseur's Guide to Ex-Pro Lodging

If there's one thing I've learned over the years, it's that nobody knows hotels like racing cyclists.   They see so many, they can be pretty critical of them too.  

Lance Armstrong's latest War?   It not against Jeff Novitsky and the FDA.  Nor is it against cancer.  This week, he declared war on French chain hotels.  C'est la Guerre!  See article here.

War is hell.  And take it from me, unless you've stayed in one, so is an Accor-hotels Formule1 on an autoroute outside Toulouse.  Particularly one without air-conditioning.  In July.     

After hundreds of nights in digs like that, it's no surprise that running hospitality establishments - from large hotels to cozy B&B's coupled with cyclotourism - is an oft-selected retirement option for ex-giants of the road.  After all, who better than an ex-cyclist to understand the nuances and frustrations of the guest?   Prototype:  Joop Zoetemelk was a Dutch rider and perrenial tour star who married a Tour executive's daughter, and they operated a large hotel in Meaux, just outside Paris.   I once read that while Joop focused on riding, his wife ran the hotel.  Many others followed the template.

In these establishments, wannabe schmoes like us can make a reservation, pull in, and end up raising a glass or two with the proprietor and listening to some great war stories first-hand.

Intrigued?   Here's eight of Flandria Cafe's top hospitality establishments.  Going to Europe?  Priceline, smishline.  Choose one of these places instead for an unforgettable experience, in an establishment run by a man of true character.   Not one under remote control 'management' by a suit in a high-rise office park.   

1. Le Pave, Horebeke, Belgium.  Ex-Classic Champion Peter van Petegem and his wife opened this high-end B&B on his retirement.  Here, you can stay in the quiet Flemish countryside, ride the cobbled hills of the Ronde, and maybe, if you can prove you're not a total Fred, even get to see his cobblestone Roubaix trophy.  De Zwarte van Brackel can also show you how to find to his supporters bar in Brackel where yours truly and his hooligan friends invaded the local patrons space.

2. Cinghiale, Tuscany.   If you're Andy Hampsten, after your '88 Giro win in a Gavia blizzard, you can waltz into any bar on the boot and never buy a drink for the rest of your life.  So who better than to organize a week of riding, eating and drinking across la bella Italia.   Andy's Cinghiale Cycling Tours take in some of the most cycling friendly stops in Italia, from Tuscany to the Dolomites.  One of our top cafesupporters, Il Bruce went with his wife a few years ago, and they said it was the experience of a lifetime.

3. Hove Malpertuus,  Riemst, Belgium.  Ex-Italian Professional and now HTC-Columbia Directeur Sportif  Valeria Piva and his Belgian wife run this well known hotel, founded by 40 years ago by ex-Belgian pro rider Yvo Molenaers.  Located just north of Liege in Riemst, the Hove Malpertuus has long been the home-base of choice for the top Italian pro teams during classics week in April.  For the rest of the year, it's a perfectly located strategic launching pad for any cyclospotive-assault on the hilly roads of Ardennes classics like Fleche Wallone, Amstel Gold and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.  You'll even get great Italian cuisine, if you ask really nice.

4. Il Borghetto, Lamporecchio, Tuscany, Italy   So what do you do for an encore after you've won Paris Roubaix and De Ronde?   Well if you're a true Tuscan, and ex-Mapei star Andrea Tafi, you do what's in your blood.  You and your wife open the Tuscan version of Le Pave.   Centered between Florence, Sienna and Pisa, Il Borhetto is the quintessential agriturismo - a painstakingly restored circa-1600 farmhouse-mill with 6 apartments, each one named after one of the major race victories of the patron himself.  Road and mountain bike rentals are available.   You can ride the hills of Tuscany, taste the olive oil made on premises, and buy the cool jersey-di-casa.,

5. Villa Flassan, Flassan, Provence, France. The 1984 Vuelta d'Espana winner, Provence's Eric Caritoux grew up in Carpentras, in the shadow of Mont Ventoux. Today, he rents a modern villa set in a cherry orchard with distant views of Mont Ventoux. Its three bedrooms sleep six. A sunny south-facing terrace has a private swimming pool, and there's a table-tennis table and boules pitch. Eric lives nearby and is happy to take visitors on rides of the local roads, and recommend the best local Cotes de Ventoux wine and specialities gourmandes. You can borrow the villa's two adult bicycles, or rent a bike in nearby Carpentras.

6. Chateau de La Roque, Hebecrevon, Normandie, France. Back in 1976, with team leader Bernard Thevenet ill and out of the Tour with Hepatitis, Peugeot's journeyman Raymond Delisle stepped up to the plate and took the Maillot Jaune off Lucien Van Impe after a great exploit in the Pyrenees. He may have lost the jersey back to Van Impe on Pla d'Adet, but hey, no worries, today he's got the Chateau de La Roque. This spectacular17th century Norman Chateaux is in a great location to explore the training grounds of Anquetil, or the Normandy beaches. Luxury digs, a spa, and war stories from one of the Peugeot stars of the seventies. We're not in the Hotel Ibis anymore, Toto!
7. Roche Marina Hotel, Villeneuve-Loubet, France.   You can't argue that Stephen Roche was always one of the most friendly and open of pro riders.  After retirement, he started the Stages Stephen Roche cycling vacations at a few Mallorca hotels.  Several close friends have done these camps, and raved about Stephen's personal attention to every guest.  Stephen now has his own hotel, just outside Nice on the Cote D'Azur.  The Roche Marina Hotel is the perfect staging area for the kind of rides you dream about on cold wet New England winter days.  The undulating coastal road to Cannes and St. Tropez is still a super ride - bright sun, brilliant blue sky and sea.  Nearby inland lie the Col de Vence, Col d'Eze, and the legendary Madone of Lance-training fame.  Do 'em all.  After, have some seafood in La Baie des Anges with a nice Rose, and ask Stephen for his version about how he took the '79 Ras from Alan McCormack. 
8. Cubino Hotel, Bejar, Spain.   Ex-professional Laudelino Cubino was a great Spanish climber of the '80's, a guy who won the toughest Pyrenees stage to Luz Ardiden in the 1988 Tour de France.   Today, Cubino runs a hotel in Bejar west of Madrid with superior climbs in the Sierra Bejar.  Bejar was hometown of multi-Tour of Spain winner Roberto Heras.   A great venue for a climbing camp, and exploration of some fantastic spanish mountains and villages.


  1. I have seen a British prison cell. I have stayed a couple of nights in French Formule1 'hotels'.
    The prison cells are roomy and comfortable in comparism. Ah well, at 25 Euros a night, not including a stale croissant, cold coffee and tasteless orange juice as a breakfast, beggars can't be choosers. Lance isn't exactly a beggar though.

  2. Awesome Malcolm! I can still see the plastic wrap on the stale croissant. As the Auld song says...

    "A hungry feeling, came o'er me stealing
    And the mice were squealing in my prison cell

    To begin the morning, the warden bawling
    Get up out of bed boy, and clean up your cell

    And the auld triangle, went jingle jangle
    All along the banks of the Royal Canal"


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