We meet at 10:00 A.M. at Cafe la Strada, on Cannery Row. After a safety briefing, we introduce cyclists to their bikes and do some final check of the bike fits. Then we head out along the coast route through Pacific Grove to Pebble Beach's 17-Mile Drive, where we make our first stop to view the sea lions at Bird Rock. We continue into charming Carmel for the mid-ride feed zone, then it's inland to Carmel Valley Village.
The breakaway ride continues up-valley to ride the “Cachagua Loop” through the remote valley of the same name, with a brief but steep climb back to Carmel Valley.
Our team dinner tonight is at the Los Laureles Lodge, also our home for the next two nights.
As we do every morming, we meet for a team breakfast briefing to go over the day's stage. Today's stage heads up-valley on the very remote and quiet Carmel Valley Road. Once through the Carmel Valley Village, vehicle traffic is rare, leaving cyclists to experience the country road in almost complete solitude. The road climbs gradually for 20 miles to the summit, where we turn around for the descent back to the Village.
The breakaway continues from the summit until the road reaches its end at Arroyo Seco Road, then reverses course back to the Village. Team dinner tonight is once again at the Los Laureles Lodge.
Today we depart from Carmel Valley and head back towards the coastal town of Carmel. From there, we head south along the scenic coast road towards Big Sur, making a feed zone stop at Rocky Point, an aptly named restaurant perched over the ocean on a rocky point.
The standard route heads back to Monterey from Rocky Point. There are two breakaway options of different lengths. The shorter option continues south over Bixby Bridge to Hurricane Point, the high point on this route with amazing views. The longer option continues south to the Big Sur Lodge, in the redwoods. Both breakaways return to Rocky Point to rejoin the standard route.
Tonight's lodging is at Intercontinental The Clement, a luxury hotel on Cannery Row, literally built over the Monterey Bay. Final team dinner is at the C Restaurant, overlooking the bay.
Today's route is a shorter morning ride from Monterey into the remote hills of Fort Ord, a former Army base turned into a park. Most of the roads in the park are closed to cars, allowing cyclists to enjoy some car-free riding. The ride through Fort Ord exits onto the Monterey Bay Trail, a paved cycling path through the coastal sand dunes and along the beaches. Finally, we return to Cannery Row for the end of our 4-day experience.
My wife and I rode with another couple who we hadn't met previously and were accompanied by one guide; it was one of the best trips we have ever had.
Guide and support - It's hard to believe that UDC could have another guide as good as Susan, there was nothing more she could have done for us (guide rating = 6 stars). She has all the skills and more right down to being a paramedic (very handy for patching up some scrapes that I brought upon myself). Riding with Susan on the rest day was a highlight.
Food - quality of all meals, snacks, restaurant ambience, American regional experiences (e.g., peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, ollaliberries, and so-called biscuits), right down to the electrolyte water was excellent. Lodgings - perfectly pitched and probably all rate high on TripAdvisor (we'd give them all 4-5 stars, especially the Burton Inn in Cambria but they were all of similarly high standard).
Bikes - I ride a TDF Cannondale EVO back home and was more than satisfied with our Scott Carbon Ultegras. Perfectly set up to our specifications, brought our own saddles just to be fussy, and rode well all week. The ladies had the uber-comfort frames with thinned rear stays and the boys got more standard racing styles - perfectly pitched! They even provided a USB stick with all the routes that could be downloaded to a Garmin.
Riding in company - UDC are very skilled at managing different clients with different preferences, speeds and so on. We were fortunate to be paired with a lovely couple of cycle enthusiasts and enjoyed their company as much as the ride, learning a lot about life in America, the various nuances of language and etiquette (and snow globes!) We breathed a sigh of relief every time we rode past a different tour company with dozens of people, phew!
Countryside and routes - Lovely little maps were provided every day at nightly briefings that clipped on to the handlebars. These were apparently the work of "Terry", who's a bit like Charlie of Charlie's Angels fame - omnipresent but never seen. The daily rides were very well chosen and reflect a lot of thought and planning. The option to do top ups and extras like the Nascimento hill and loops on the rest day ensured that everyone got their fill of good riding.
Value for money - worth every penny and apparently considerably cheaper than some other companies. I would be surprised if anyone else could deliver a better experience.
Wouldn't hesitate to recommend them and wouldn't hesitate to do another ride with them, including trying to match our schedule with Susan's.
TripAdvisor September 2012