Wednesday, 25 June 2014

French Revolutions....

My latest 'read' has been French Revolutions by Tim Moore - basically a self-confessed loafer who, seduced by the speed and glamour of The Tour de France, sets out to ride the entire course - all 2,256 miles of it. 

He tells the tale with humour and wit - i have to admit to be being totally enthralled by this account - it has kept me entertained for a while, I will be seeking further books by Tim - he has also ridden the 1913 route of the Giro - on a vintage bike! 

He may not be the world's most accomplished cyclist but he communicates his love of the sport and his admiration for the cycling greats - The book is dedicated to Tom Simpson and is full of references to the likes of LeMond, Hinault, Boardman, Anquetil, Merckx and Indurain to name a few. Whilst he is undertaking the ride Moore resorts to standard tactics, cheating and drugs! - it is, at times, hilarious.

French Revolutions is clever, entertaining and inspirational - it is fresh, personal and immensely enjoyable - worth a punt if you can find a copy.

Monday, 23 June 2014

L'Eroica in Derbyshire....

So, Gary gets to work and his boss says 'Hey, what's this Eroica thing, something to do with bikes - I thought it was Erotica at first glance'... In fact L'Eroica is a unique event. An Italian cycling festival held each year in Tuscany and run on ancient, bone-shaking gravel roads (strada blanche) with vintage racing bikes, woollen jerseys and fuelled by rich Italian food and wine.

This year, the three day festival has moved to Bakewell in Derbyshire, the first time the event has visited the UK - and whilst we can't offer the strada blanche, or even the chianti - there is always the Bakewell Tart to keep riders fuelled.

We made the journey on a glorious, hot and sticky Sunday - approaching Bakewell the traffic build up was noticeable and the car parks were bursting. L'Eroica is being held on the Bakewell show ground, right in the town centre, it's a free event and there's plenty for non-cyclists to enjoy as well. It's a much bigger affair than I imagined, rows of tents and displays selling all manner of vintage cycling accessories, old bikes, bits of old bikes, clothes, books - you name it. There is a myriad of food outlets, not the usual burger-bar variety though, these are considered street food stalls - everything from French Crepes through to houmous wraps. There's a Double decker bus converted into a Pimms Bar - there is a real ale beer tent, a stage with bands playing and the constant commentary as riders who have taken part in one of the three courses available complete their journey's and arrive back. There's a man dressed as a baker on an old delivery bike. There's someone in a vintage policeman's uniform, complete with flowing cape and helmet (must be boiling in this weather), there's someone who completed the course on a Raleigh Chopper - mostly though it's people with a love of old, steel bikes who have gone to the trouble of sourcing period clothing, shoes and various apparel to complete the 'look' - even the facial hair has received appropriate attention and there's a tent to get your moustache suitably trimmed and waxed.

There are cyclists from all over the world - a solid contingent from Italy of course, plus a rider from Berlin who has cycled 870 miles on a 1960s Mercier vintage bike, camping along the way, to get here. We hear of riders from Brazil, Australia and there are plenty of Americans too. It really is a fantastic, well organised showcase. The weather, of course, helped to ensure its success.

Let's hope it happens again - I almost came away with a 1960s Bianchi, then there was the 1970s Colnago - Vintage could be the new cool.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Ashby to Amsterdam - Day 3

The ferry really was very good - our room was palatial, as good as any mid-priced hotel and with the best sea view ever. By 7.00am we were on Dutch soil, not quite tiptoeing through the tulips but clipping in ready for the final stage.
Ferry cabin

It was a bad start - we couldn't get any help from the GPS and we spent 20 minutes riding round looking for a signpost or someone to ask. We found a dog walker who told us to head for The Hague and we'd pick up the Amsterdam signs from there. When we asked how to get to The Hague she just said 'Go that way' and pointed.

A bit further we saw two youngish lads on bikes - we asked them if we were on the right road for Amsterdam - they looked at us in disbelief - 'I don't know' said one 'We go to Amsterdam on the train'

Much has been said about the Dutch and cycling - how they have invested in a cycling infrastructure and how much we could learn from them. It has to be said that the cycle lanes are impressive, usually one on either side of the road, separated from traffic and with a right of way over cars. The roads aren't as busy as over here and of course it is flat. I read somewhere that of all our neighbours the Dutch seem the most like us but the country feels so different to ours so far.

We stop to photograph our bikes in front of a windmill. 150 yards further there is another one, then three in a line - soon we've lost interest. As we get to The Hague we are still having difficulty with the GPS - Gary stops, as he has on a number of occasions and rides down a street to see if we're on the right track - I pause not sure if we are on the right track and Gaz carries on. I realise he's not coming back but by then it's too late - he's up the road somewhere. A phone call 10 minutes later confirms what I already knew - Gaz has pedalled off not realising I'm not following - by the time he looks round he's covered 5 miles - he tries to explain where he went but I can't see any of the landmarks he describes. In the end he comes back and we join up after wasting a good half hour!

Through The Hague we pass into more rural countryside, the land of Erasmus and Rutger Hauer, Rembrandt and Van Gogh - a few more windmills, dykes, quiet roads, mostly new buildings. Pretty unremarkable really. We pause in a village for a coffee and a cake - we sit outside, opposite a supermarket. There is no car park for the supermarket just a big bike rack - no one seems to use a car for shopping - just an endless stream of bikes, people have panniers or baskets on the front or both, they load their shopping and they're off again - it all works so well.
more windmills

It's another steaming hot day as we edge towards our goal. And talking of goals I suddenly realise England will be making their debut in this years World Cup competition tonight - another late night then. We follow a road alongside a river for a while - there are some expensive speed boats moored alongside luxuriously appointed property on the other bank - a whole row of them. Not long after we spot our first road sign for Amsterdam and we're riding through some sort of park - lots of trees, grassy patches with children and families playing, loads of intertwining narrow paths. Soon we're lost again. The GPS and the signposts have differing opinions on which way to go - strangely we opt for the GPS. We ride alongside a river, marked out into lanes ready for a rowing match, then we approach the edge of the city, the roads grow increasingly busy, more traffic, more bikes, more buildings - the cycle lanes are filling out, there're all shapes, sizes and ages - a constant river - it must be the world's biggest peloton.

As the city sprawl grows we are faced with the alarming prospect of attempting to cross a major road junction - this is not so easy - traffic, people, bikes - all moving independently in different directions and not necessarily corresponding to the indications on the traffic light system. We just follow the person in front - straight through a red light - brushing past pedestrians, deflecting granny overtaking on her solid steel Dutch roadster with a couple of grandkids in the basket on the front of her bike.

bikes everywhere
The GPS gets us through the traffic and into the general area of our hotel. It's hard to describe just how many bikes there are on the streets of Amsterdam - it's like an ants' nest exposed to the sun, there seems to be bikes everywhere, travelling in every direction, then there's the treacherous Dutch cobbles and tyre grabbing tramlines - it looks chaotic to the casual visitor - and yet everyone seems to be acting normally - it's strange but exciting. We meet up with the girls and finally get to the Hotel - we've made it. Almost 300 miles ridden - Ashby to Amsterdam - its another one ticked off, and another tattoo to fit onto my thigh, or calf, or wherever I decide to put them. If I ever decide.

We get showered and changed and then head out into the city - we decide the best option is to keep moving, its either that or we'll drop asleep. We have a beer and while standing on a bridge over a canal with flower-decked barges and families of coots below - we decide on a boat trip around the canals, very reasonable at around €10 a head. I last about 10 minutes before nodding off as the sun streams down through the glass roof of the boat. Afterwards we find an old bar down a side street, almost pitch black inside, there's jazz music playing, a chandelier that carries the dust of the entire twentieth century and a mysterious spiral staircase in the corner leading who knows where? As our eyes adjust to the darkness and the dutch beer soothes the aches and pains we slide gently into the chilled atmosphere of Amsterdam. My mind drifts to thoughts of liberalism, the detritus of vice, the open drugs culture - everyone know what Amsterdam is famous for - it's not food or cultural destinations - it's fun, sex 'n' drugs - and in these two preoccupations you can view the Dutch dilemma - the tug of liberty against probity. The two longest queues in Amsterdam are outside Anne Frank's house and a live sex show. Anyway, time to get back to the hotel - The England/Italy match is about to start.

It's Sunday. A bad start to our World Cup campaign. We decide to visit the Van Gogh museum. This is a good choice - we spend the fastest three hours I can remember exploring the various floors - its a big space and there's enough to keep us interested. We finally emerge via the museum shop €100 lighter but contentedly humming Don McLean's 'Vincent' all the way to the next stop, conveniently situated just across the road - The Bols Museum. You may have some recollection of seeing a Bols bottle somewhere, maybe at the back of your drinks cabinets or that of your parents - But without Bols there's be no Gin - and the world would be a sadder place without Gin.

After the tour and half a dozen cocktails we were ready for anything. The Red light district is situated alongside a canal. There is a museum of eroticism, various 'erotic outlets' and girls standing in windows - at first glance they look like mannequins. It's all very open and clearly well organised. No one makes a fuss, no sign of any policemen (we never saw a policeman the whole trip). Seeing prostitutes standing in shop windows is an odd sensation - It is impossible to ignore that the girls are Asian, African, Eastern European and the clients are Italian, Spanish, German and English - Neither the girls or the clients are Dutch - they are pleased to be liberal about prostitution; they just don't want to be prostitutes - and don't want to visit them.

We decide we need to eat and turn onto a street full of restaurants - we opt for Cau-Cau - a big, loud space, black walls with silver highlights, modern furniture and high ceilings with a relentless post-modern hip-hop beat thrumming on a continuous loop. The menu is unashamedly carnivorous. Detailed descriptions of various cuts of Argentinian beef. It's not cheap but sounds good. We order.
The Steak is tasty and tender, an agreeable lump of perfectly cooked muscle - the best I've tasted in a long time. The fries come in varying thickness and there's an interesting side dish of garden peas with chilli. Afterwards, back in the hotel bar, we muse over the trip and deliberate on our next challenge - this one has worked out so well, it will be a hard act to follow.

Amsterdam is an agreeable city. It's human sized and it doesn't blind you with ostentation. It's a nice place, commodious and comfortable. I'll be going again.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Ashby to Amsterdam - Day 2

I slept comfortably - but woke fairly early - I got up and went for a walk around the village - reminded me of Suffolk, perhaps not so remarkable as it's the adjoining County. Hemingford Gray is a rambling village, served by a small general store and a couple of pubs. I wander to and fro looking at the local architecture, peeping round corners and over fences - There's an open gardens coming up at the Manor House - very splendid it looks too and the river winding through to open parkland, dotted with half a dozen cabin cruisers and a young heron on the bank. I decide there and then that I'd like to visit again.

Hemingford Gray
Back at The Willow B&B there's all the hustle and bustle of breakfast. Along with Me and Gaz there's a French couple, middle aged, he could be a banker, speaks good english - there's a family from Essex up for a wedding - Grandma and Grandpa are eating with the baby, Mom and Dad aren't up yet. Then there's the travelling salesman, a regular, on first name terms with the staff. We start with a bowl of cereal and then straight into the full English - there's really no point in doing anything else - the full English is the true measure of a B&B in England - so simple yet so difficult to find a good one. This one was good - salty bacon, eggs from chickens we saw when we parked our bikes, sausage, mushrooms, hash brown, tomatoes, toast - the sum of the parts hit the spot, and a mug of coffee rounded off a thoroughly respectable start to the day.

The river Cam
Back to the room, into the cycling gear, pay the bill and we're gone. Gary struggled with knee pain for the first 20 miles, thankfully it eased after that. We headed into Cambridge riding alongside the river for a spell before turning through the centre - there was a giant illuminated sign warning traffic that the Tour de france is coming and that all routes will be disrupted.  We headed out into open country passing through deserted villages, no shops, pubs boarded up - the prospect of finding somewhere for lunch was a depressing one. Only mad dogs and cyclists go out in the midday sun - we needed a stop, a rest and some shade. We stopped to ask an oldish woman - she was eating an apple - she didn't know where we could find a pub or a shop, she hadn't lived in the area for over 40 years and was back today only to tend to the grave of her parents. 'How much do you want for your apple' I asked.
Tour de France sign

We consulted the map and decided that Haverhill looked sizeable enough to meet our needs - and not too far away. This was to be our first disappointment on this trip. A market town but with the market long since moved on, this shabby, tired outpost demonstrates so much that is depressing about Britain today. Cheap, tacky shops, burgers and kebabs, amusement arcades, betting shops, charity shops, lager louts effing and blinding and piles of rubbish bags. We passed along the high street deciding that the first pub looked uninviting. The next one looked okay and we rolled our bikes into the small decking-clad courtyard. The tables were all taken by groups of young people, drinking and chatting - the pub was busy, people playing pool, horse racing on the TV. I ordered a couple of drinks and then asked what food they had. Unfortunately there was no food - just beer and crisps.

Buckleys Tea Room
We didn't hang around any longer than we needed to, but we still hadn't eaten anything since breakfast. We carried on, conscious that we'd wasted time. Not long afterwards we happened upon a the village of Castle Hedingham and there Buckleys Tea Room - this looked the part - and frankly even if it didn't we would have stopped. As it was, this was perfect, built in the 1500s and oozing charm and gentility. We ordered a toasted sandwich each along with coffee and another double expresso for me. We got chatting to a couple sitting opposite, they were amazed at our adventure and told us they were up for day visiting their son. Gary told then about our experience down the road in Haverhill and what an awful place it was "Ah yes, that's where our son lives" the woman replied. "But I agree with you"

We hit the road again and on a short climb up through another village, a strange noise began emanating from somewhere on my bike - Gary heard it too - we both stopped, I messed around with the bike, flipping it over and poking around at the chain and gears - whatever it was it seemed to have disappeared - we set off again, a windy, twisting road, up and down, sweeping through lanes darkened by overhanging trees, then back out into the heat of the open fields - I reached for my sunglasses... I didn't have them. I remembered taking them off when messing with the bike - I'd put them on the Church wall. These are Oakley Jawbones - I had to go back!

Six miles or so later I rejoined Gary and we pressed on. We approached a crossroads and spotted a cyclist moving quickly in the same direction as we were heading. He was on a mountain bike , but definitely no slouch. Gary decided to take chase. With hindsight this was a mistake - in fact with any sort of sight - it was clear this chap was shifting - we were moving at 20+mph and making no headway. We stepped on the gas, gradually reeling him in, 24, 25mph and still it was taking time. By the time we caught him I was totally spent - Gary chatted about he had taken some catching - I just tried to get my breath back. Then he invited us to go on. We blasted off again, me in front, pushing, pushing as hard as I could - 25, 26, 27mph, faster on the downhills - I glanced round hoping to have opened a gap - Gary was about 20 yards back and the mountain biker right behind him. I carried on a bit longer and we approached another village with a nasty looking hill - the mountain biker pulled level - he glanced over - "This is a bit of a tester" that was all he said and he was gone - dancing up the rise at more or less the same pace as he held on the flat. We gave in. It was a steep hill.

Next stop for us was East Bergholt. The name might not mean much - but I guarantee that you'd recognise the scene at Flatford Mill, hidden away in the village, the setting for John Constable's renowned painting, The Hay Wain. We pithered around the village looking for signs - none. We asked three or four people for directions, none of them seemed capable of giving us clear guidance, it seemed that Flatford Mill was East Bergholt's best kept secret.

After drifting up, down and around for what seemed like half an hour we finally found it - down in a dip and at the end of a one-way system. We were able to ride our bikes right to it - and it was worth the detour. I'd been here before, on the day Eric Morecambe died, so a while.

The place is immediately recognisable as the scene from the painting and there were plenty of people milling round (no pun intended). We climbed back up to the village and stopped for a pint of beer before setting off on the final leg to Harwich - maybe 10-15 miles away.

Those last few miles were a drag - the effort of racing mountain bike man had taken me into the red. It was a slow slog up the main drag into Harwich - but at last we were there. Meeting up with the Blonde and her wing woman at the big Brewers Fayre on the island. We were also greeted by a policeman. He wandered over to congratulate us. He lives in Ashby de la Zouch and works as a copper in Solihull - he and his mates were riding to Bruges, raising money for the Air Ambulance - they call themselves 'The Helli-Coppers". So there we are us and about 30 policeman, al dressed in lycra, with some officers of the law stripping off in the car park - there was something comical about the scene.

After a well earned fish and chip supper it was onto the ferry for the overnight crossing to the Hook of Holland. It was huge ferry, and our cabins were sumptuous, three large portholes, two TV's a complimentary mini-bar and a really good shower. We sat in the bar for a couple of drinks but bed was calling - the gentle movement of the ship rocked me to sleep in seconds.

96.5 miles covered - 7.5 hours on the bike.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Ashby to Amsterdam - Day 1

Like all of our madcap adventures, it's difficult to remember how this one came about. I like to think the alliterative qualities of the title is what swung it - or else the prospect of many miles of flat roads.

Ashby de la Zouch
We arranged to meet at our regular spot - The Oddhouse near Newton Burgoland at 9.00am. It was a warm bright morning, clear skies absolutely no chance of rain - but we made sure we had waterproofs anyway. We could have cheated at this point and headed straight for our destination for the day, but no; like true gentlemen of the road we cycled the extra miles into Ashby-de-la-Zouch to make it official. Through the town centre and up the hill before turning off and heading for ...... well, Hemingford Gray was our target, however Gary was having some technical problems with the GPS system. The sunlight made it harder and as he crouched over the handlebars, his head a few millimetres from the display, he looked, to the casual passerby, as if he was totally knackered and struggling for breath. We made slow progress via a progression of Leicestershire lanes and villages. After 30 miles I realised I was only about 8 miles from home!

Jade Tearooms - Newtown Linford
We passed through the neat and congenial village of Newtown Linford, thatched cottages, stone walls, litter free and elegantly somnolent - we were due a coffee stop and swung across to The Jade Tearooms - already bustling with the chattering classes and we struggled to find a table. We joined a woman who was waiting for her daughter - 
'Have you been far' she enquired.
'No' said Gary - 'But we're going far'
'Where to'
There was a pause and a vague look of incomprehension.
'Good gracious'

The coffee was welcome and Gary proclaimed that the cakes on display were the best he'd ever seen. We sat amongst what could have been the tea break for a Boden catalogue shoot on a blissful bright blue morning. It was a perfect stop.

And then we were off again. A bit more stop-start with the GPS and we were heading towards Leicester - in fact we very nearly passed my place of work. The traffic was quieter at this time of day but still busy enough to make us think twice before any change of direction. We cut through the traffic like London couriers as we made our way out of the city and in the vague direction of Cambridgeshire.

Before this trip someone said 'It'll be easy - it's flat all the way after Leicester' - They lied - it isn't - in fact immediately after Leicester we laboured up a number of hills, some of them dragged on-and-on... it was hot now, the midday sun was strong, streams of salty sweat stung our eyes. We were on roads that offered nothing in the way of hospitality. No pubs, no roadside cafes not even the ubiquitous mobile burger van - nothing but tarmac and grass verges. We carried on, upwards, by now we had begun consulting a map - both Gary and I had torn out pages from old map books - his was slightly larger scale than mine and offered more detail - but went over more pages. We concurred that a good plan would be to turn off and head to a town, we needed some food and a rest.

The Crown - Uppingham
So it was we rolled up in Uppingham at around lunchtime on a hot, sunny Thursday. We were tempted by the Co-op but instead opted for the The Crown Inn - hidden down a dark alley that led into the town centre. We parked our bikes and enjoyed a sandwich each, washed down with two pints of a Pale Ale the name of which I forgot to make a note of. The barman, skeletal like, came out for a chat he is a singer with a Death Metal band - at least that's what I think he said. As we finished our second pint a man and woman took up residence at the adjoining table, he that particular breed of Englishman, slightly aloof, possibly eccentric but particularly fond and familiar with a lunchtime tipple. When he heard of our plans he gave an excited shout 'Ooohhh that's an adventure...'

Off we went, back out into the sun, soon to feel the recent intake of fluids seep from our pores. We still had a long way to go, and it still wasn't particularly flat. We made steady progress through endless green fields, the great fire and brimstone, steam and grind of the industrial upheaval of the 19th century never made it here. As we laboured slowly up yet another hill I spotted a sign at the roadside - 'Gelato' - It took less than a nano-second to decide on a stop.

At the Olive Grove
This was the Olive Grove Nursery at Polebrook - a trendy, upmarket coming together of farm foods, plants and bits of old olive trees made into garden containers and dubious sculptures. Gary had two large lemonades, I opted for the guaranteed stimulus of caffeine - making sure with a double expresso and a large cappuccino. A young lad, one of the staff, came over to look at the bikes - he used to do some racing and his dad was a cyclist. He told us he'd had an accident a few years ago and hadn't ridden a bike since, his dad was still riding though. The girl who brought our drinks to us told us that we weren't far from our destination and with our thirst sated we set off. Unfortunately her geography wasn't a strong point - we rode long and far skirting Huntingdon and past an RAF base with an American jet fighter sitting on the grass outside. By now Gary's GPS seemed to have come to life, we travelled the last miles completely guided, crossing the river, turning a corner and there it was - Hemingford Gray - 104.2 miles ridden, 7 hours on the bike and a max speed of 40.6mph

We checked into The Willow B&B - fantastic choice by Gaz - more like a hotel, spotlessly clean, fully functional, modern and a friendly welcome from the owner Kate. A quick shower, some clean, dry clothes and we were off to the pub for supper - all of 20 yards away!

The Cock had some great hoppy beers and we worked our way through a couple before moving into the dining room - this is more restaurant than pub - but still retains a pubby atmosphere. The food is gastropub, sophisticated, modern and maybe a little minimal - but tasty enough after 104 miles. We finished with another pint and then bed. Long way to go again tomorrow.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Ready for Holland....

Last minute prep for the ride to Amsterdam is done. I've stripped the bike, cleaned it, oiled everything, reassembled and taken it out for a few miles to test. Everything seems to be set up perfectly. And with all the grit and crap cleaned away there's a lovely satisfying 'humming' sound as I pedal along.

All we need now is good (dry) weather and we'll be set for a challenging but ultimately rewarding few days.

Last weekend I got out on Saturday and Sunday - not massive mileage but ridden with vigour. On Saturday the weather was dodgy - the forecast was for hail and torrential rain, that never quite materialised but we did get our fair share of showers - some of them fierce. I opted for a 30 mile spin around the lanes, starting in reasonable, bright sunshine and finishing like nightfall had arrived and soaked through to boot.

To make matters worse I was overtaken on the last hill from home by a yellow jerseyed grandpa, legs and face reddened from the shot blasting downpour, he crept up and overtook me like a NATO drone with a nonchalant 'Morning' as he passed. I put on a brave face, pretending I wasn't trying, but he looked so smooth and silky as he slipped away from me - no matter how much harder I pushed he was still moving away - I was up on the pedals now in a futile effort to bridge the gap and reel him in - a desperate and suicidal move - within 20-30 yards I was a quivering jelly and he had disappeared around the corner, a relaxed almost jaunty silhouette moving below the iron clad sky. Perhaps he was an ex-pro, or one of the Sky riders in a disguise - If I could have caught him I might have found out.

Sunday was much better weather wise - dry and sunny - but a humid. One of those days when a 10 mile ride in dry conditions leaves you just as soaked as if it had been raining. I covered 38 miles,  first 15 or so at a lick, then gradually tailing off as the legs get heavier and the hills steeper. I rode the whole way in a big gear to really put my thighs under pressure - at least that worked. i could barely get the bike up the last gentle slope to home - cadence? - non existent - probably 5rpm!

That's it now - no time for any further riding at all. I know I'm not very well prepared - I know it's going to be tough anywhere north of 60 miles - but we'll make it.

Monday, 9 June 2014


Alex Dowsett is a young man with a superbright, superfast future. Already the British Time Trial Champion, Alex has set a new record for a 10 mile time trial on the E2/10 course in Cambridgeshire.

Alex Dowsett - setting off speed cameras
He covered the 10 miles in 17minutes 20 seconds at an average speed of 34.615 miles per hour beating the previous record set by Michael Hutchinson in 2012 by 25 seconds.

34.615mph - average - on a push bike. You have to sit and think about that for a minute.

Well done Alex - fantastic performance.

Wednesday, 4 June 2014


I've watched the Giro with interest and relish this year - Congatulations to Nairo Quintana - he's a phenomenal rider with great all-round ability for a, so called, climber.
I know the Giro lives in the long shadows cast by Le Tour, however it has a lot to offer the cycling fan. Fantastic scenery, sometimes impossible conditions (snow on some of the stages this year), incredible drama, the steepest climbs and all wrapped up in the passion that is always evident in anything Italian.
The story of modern Italian history could almost be entirely told by a journey through the history of the Giro d'Italia, the country's biggest annual sporting event – a cycling tour – second in importance only to the Tour de France.
Although not always by design, each year the race touches a moment, town or event that has in some way shaped the nation. The fight for the race's famous Maglia Rosa (pink jersey) – now branded "Fight For Pink" after an attempt through social media to rebrand the event – has taken place for most of the 153 years that modern Italy has existed. May is the month when even those who hold no interest in the sport tune in to their TV sets, keep their ears close to the radio and read about the Giro caravan's route across their land.
Despite the increasingly globalised nature of professional sport and the world in which it takes place, the Giro this year remembers the Battle of Montecassino. This held special interest for me because my Dad was there during the war. Stage six was the first time that the national tour has visited the site of one of the fiercest battles of World War II, a brutal, tragic and bloody event that many historians widely acknowledge as a strategic turning point in the conflict. Today it is home to 33,600 people, but was almost completely destroyed by the Allies in the spring of 1944. I remember Dad telling me about the German army who were dug in at Cassino - crack troops he said, hard men - they held on against overwhelming odds for ages. The race's passage commemorated the 70th anniversary of one of the ugliest chapters in the region's long history.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Latest reading...

If you want a good cycling read - pick up a copy of 'The Race against Time' by Edward Pickering.

When Chris Boardman first raced against Graeme Obree, in a time trial in Newtonards, Northern Ireland, in 1990, it was the start of a rivalry that captivated the British public for a decade and brought cycling on to the front pages. Boardman was the establishment figure: reserved, scientific, middle-class. Obree was the rebel: the Flying Scotsman, working-class, riding a home-made bike. Both were after one thing - to be the fastest man on two wheels.

After Boardman had won Britain's first cycling gold medal for 72 years at the Barcelona Olympics (inspiring none other than Bradley Wiggins to get on a bike), attention turned to the world hour record, the blue riband event of track cycling. Between 1993 and 1996, the pair took it in turns to smash the record, with Boardman's team breaking the boundaries of technology and the loner Obree constantly reinventing ways of building and riding bikes while battling his many demons.

The Race Against Time tells the story of how Britain first started to dominate cycling, but is also about the struggle between art and science, tradition and innovation, commercialism and individuality. It is the tale of two complex characters who redefined the sport and set in motion a new era in British cycling, the legacy of which we enjoy to this day.

I thoroughly enjoyed it - it's compelling and as close to a page turner as a cycling book could ever be!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Pretty in Pink.....

President in Pink! - Juan Manuel Santos
The Colombian Nairo Quintana’s victory in the Giro d’Italia, and his compatriot Rigoberto Uráns second-placed finish, has prompted their countrymen to embrace the race’s colour in celebration..
El Espectador, a national newspaper, printed its Sunday cover on pink-tinged newsprint, while fans in Quintana’s home province of Boyacá dyed their traditional long wool ponchos, known as ruanas, to match the 'maglia rosa' of his victory.
Quintana is the second Colombian to win a grand tour and the first to win the Giro.
“Today is a historic day for Colombia,” said the president, Juan Manuel Santos, wearing a pink button-down shirt, after joining throngs of fans to watch the last stage of the Giro on a giant television screen set up outside Quintana’s family home in the small mountain-top town of Cómbita. “We are very proud,” he said.
Quintana’s win in the Giro, the first ever for a Latin American, served as a reminder of Colombian cyclists’ glory days in international competitions during the 1980s, when the country’s extraordinary climbers were known as the escarabajos, or beetles.
That generation of cyclists spurred a nationwide passion for the sport, especially at weekends and during holidays, when thousands of Colombians took to the country’s steep and winding Andean mountain roads.
That passion was seen again in Bogotá on Sunday when cyclists stopped pedalling so they could crowd around giant televisions set up along the city’s cycle routes, known as ciclovías, to watch two of their countrymen take the winners’ podium in Trieste. A third Colombian, Julián Arredondo, took the blue jersey for the mountain classification.
“For Colombia this is just as great as when Lucho Herrera was riding,” said recreational cyclist Carlos Alberto Torres, waving a pink balloon. Herrera won the Vuelta a España in 1987, becoming the first South American to win a Grand Tour race. “Things dropped off since then but they’re taking off again.”
For many Colombians, the Giro offered welcome respite from a tense presidential election campaign tainted by scandal and mud-slinging. “With election burnout, the country received with joy the feats of Nairo Quintana and other Colombian cyclists,” Semana, a news magazine, wrote on its cover, alongside a picture of Quintana decked out in pink from helmet to boots.
News presenters, dressed in pink, gushed about the new “glory” of Colombia, calling Sunday the “most important day in Colombian cycling”. One newscast dedicated 40 minutes of its one-hour programme to the results of the Giro, profiling the Colombian riders and interviewing fans and family members.
Many fans hope that alongside Colombian cycling’s resurgence there may also be success for the country’s footballers at this summer’s World Cup, the first time they will have taken part in the tournament since 1998.
“This [the Giro] is the best preamble that we could have wished for the World Cup,” said Carlos Camacho, a cyclist on the ciclovía, wearing the yellow jersey of the Colombian national team.

Going backwards?....

After a rainy week and no opportunity to get out I was looking forward to a long ride on Saturday - it looked fine enough and I set out with a plan to ride 100 miles. This time I had designed a 33 mile loop starting from home and taking me through familiar lanes - I would be always fairly close to home and planned to stop off for refreshment each time I passed. Seemed a good plan?

I set off without breakfast and felt good - it was perfect riding conditions, dry, no wind but not too warm. I quickly dropped into a rhythm and eat up the initial miles, my average speed was high, I felt strong and pushed on through to Upton and back through to Market Bosworth - maintaining a decent speed even uphill. I passed a few cyclists which spurred me on to up the pace even more. After 25 miles I was still feeling fresh, the last ten miles of the first loop passed quickly and I rode up the hill from Congerstone to Barton in the Beans in a big gear, pushing all the way, feeling the strain but also rationalising that it would be doing me good.

I arrived home and decided to eat. A couple of rounds of beans on toast and a strong coffee whilst catching up with the Giro d'Italia (inspiration?). I watched with wonder as the pro's dug into some massive climbs - then it was time to set off on loop 2. I'd been off the bike for about 40 minutes, I'd cooled down - immediately, getting going again seemed a struggle - what had happened? - I'd had a rest, taken on some food and now I felt sluggish. I decided to take things slowly, let myself 'warm up' - after 5 miles I felt a little better but nowhere near as comfortable or as strong as earlier. I pushed where I felt I could and managed a couple of reasonable stints - but generally I felt like poo.

The final part of loop 2 was a sheer struggle, by now my legs felt heavy, there was a slight ache, also some twinges in the lower back. I carried on to the final climb, again up from Congerstone - it had seemed so easy before, now I was struggling, spinning the easiest gear I had and getting nowhere. On the the final few hundred yards I heard voices behind - cyclists approaching - I didn't look round, I stood on the pedals in an effort to make the top before they caught me - I managed it and they turned in a different direction at the junction - avoiding the overtake! The effort left me feeling even worse! -  the last half mile was a struggle, I felt like I was going backwards at times - I limped home feeling drained and deflated. I sat for 15 minutes before trying again - but no good. The mood had changed, the moment had passed - I felt totally knackered - I managed 73 miles - well short of the target and I'm feeling like I need to go to bed. It doesn't bode well for the ride to Amsterdam which is hurtling towards us!