Friday, 29 July 2016

...bit further

Progress so far - the peloton will begin emerging soon!

Thursday, 28 July 2016

I'm doing the Tour de France.....

..... format.

Its amazing the bargains that can be found in the hidden corners of your local 'The Works' - check it out.....

Ok - let's get going....

So far so good - not too many hills either. Further reports to follow!


Monday, 25 July 2016

Chris Froome - one of the greats?....

As Chris Froome crossed the line arm-in-arm with his Team Sky teammates to confirm his victory in the 2016 Tour de France he joins a small, elite group of cyclists and becomes Britain's first ever three-time winner.

Froome becomes only the eighth man to win three or more Tours - and will now have his sights set on the record jointly held by Jaques Anquetil, Miguel Indurain, Bernard Hinault and Eddy Merckx - All five-time winners of sports most grueling prize.

Eddy Merckx sent out a stark message to the rest of the cycling world last week. He does not see anyone capable of beating Chris for the next few years. He added that he was impressed by Froome - but not by his rivals.

"Chris Froome is a very great champion" said the Belgian legend " I think he can win more Tours. If you look at the guys who are behind him, I don't see anyone who can beat him in the next years. He's complete; a good time-triallist, good at ascents, he's overall, he's the best of the moment - even his teammates are as strong as his rivals"

The last point is perhaps the bone of contention that has emerged this year as far as Froome and Sky are concerned. With speculation regarding the legitimacy of Froome's performances far less pronounced than in 2013 and 2015 - largely because of the way he built his lead this year - on descents and time trials and flat stages - attention has turned to the power of the Sky team, with bitter rivals complaining that Sky have bought up an army of potential grand-tour winners and got them all working for the three-time champion.

There is a truth to it. Sky's .'pain-train' at the front of the peloton keeps the pace high - even on climbs - daring anyone to have a go and put themselves in the red - and then shutting them down if they do. Sky undoubtably have the numbers and talent to control things - with four riders in the top 20 of the general classification.

None of this is a concern for Sky though - quite right! - It is up to others to come up with a plan to stop them. No other team, seemingly, came with a game plan even to try?. As Chris Froome pointed out - no other team have eight riders working with the sole purpose of getting their team leader to Paris in as quick a time as possible.

Geraint Thomas added - "Maybe its boring? - but we don't get paid to make it an exciting  - we get paid to win the race"

Whatever - there'll be teams working on a strategy to break down Sky's dominance - and that will make things more exciting - but I'm hoping Sky will hold out - Chris Froome is one of cycling greats and I'd love to see him become a five-time winner.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

What would it be like to ride a stage of the Tour?...

As Gary and I hunt around for future cycling challenges it suddenly occurred to me - riding an official stage of the Tour de France - a day or so before the professionals - that would be one to remember.

The chance to feel part of it, to ride the same routes under the same conditions, the roads closed, spectators cheering us on.... it might be worth thinking about?

You'll get the idea here.....

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Tales from the Tour.....

As this years Tour heads gently towards an ignonimious, Cav-Free finale, I wonder whether it's all become a bit banal? - where's the drama? Apart from the farcical day on the Ventoux there's not been a great deal of spectacle so far? There's been a few minor crashes but nothing like the usual skin lacerating affairs. I suppose it makes a change. Since the race started in 1903 there has been hardly a year where riders (or their supporters) haven't resorted to dubious methods to ensure success.

The second tour, in 1904, was one of the most scandalous. Riders were punished for skulduggery including taking shortcuts and using cars and trains. Others, such as race favourite Maurice Garin, were beaten up by their rivals' supporters. The following year saw nails being strewn on the course, a practice that continued for several more Tours.

Tales of riders seeking chemical assistance began to make the news in the 1920s when brothers Francis and Henri Pélissier (the 1923 Tour winner) boasted to a journalist that they had...

 "cocaine to go in our eyes, chloroform for our gums, and do you want to see the pills? We keep going on dynamite. In the evenings we dance around our rooms instead of sleeping."

 Needless to say, the Pélissier brothers were French cycling heroes. While not all competitors relied on "dynamite", it was common practice for Tour cyclists to drink alcohol during the race until the 1960s, when the French passed a law forbidding the use of stimulants in sport. However, the British rider Tom Simpson reportedly drank brandy before his death on Mont Ventoux during the 1967 Tour.

Stories of other methods of assistance, especially in the mountain stages, regularly crop up. A 1938 article described how a former champion was praised for making a miraculous recovery – only for it to be later revealed that he was hanging on to the back of a car. In 1955 the Guardian reported a long list of riders who had been fined for receiving an "unsolicited push" from spectators.

Meanwhile, in 1950, the French government had to apologise to Italy when drunk spectators blocked the road in the Pyrenees and threatened favourite Gino Bartali, forcing the Italian team to withdraw. Even more extreme was the case of the "fan" who punched five-times Tour winner Eddy Merckx in the kidneys during the 1975 race. Merckx finished the stage, but his attempt to win a sixth Tour was fatally damaged.

Doping tests were introduced in the mid-60s and so began a long history of riders trying to fool the doctors. One infamous case was that of Michel Pollentier who was disqualified in 1978, after it was discovered that he had an elaborate system of tubes running from his armpit to his penis containing clean urine.

Recent drug scandals have included cases of riders using testosterone. Perhaps they should have taken note of Italian cyclist Mario Cipollini who used a more natural method to boost his supply of the male hormone – taping a picture of Pamela Anderson to his handlebars.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Mont Ventoux - A higher hell

Standing alone above Provençal fields, Mont Ventoux has a history of triumph and tragedy in the Tour and on Bastille Day will again ask questions of riders like no other

“Physically, the Ventoux is dreadful,” wrote Roland Barthes, the French philosopher and cycling fan who sought in Mythologies to capture the cruel spirit of the mountain. “it is much more an essence of climate than a geographic place – a damned terrain, a testing place for heroes, something like a higher hell.”             
The limestone giant that is Mont Ventoux stands 1,912 metres above the lavender-filled fields of Provence. With an average gradient of 7.2%, stands alone, bleak and awesome, “God’s tomb” adrift in the massif des Cèdres – your eyeline forced to adjust radically from its foothills to the observatory at its peak. It thrusts its way out of the plain like a great tumescent white whale. It is the Moby Dick of cycling.

The Tour uses it sparingly and always as the dominant climb, the main protagonist of a day’s racing – this year, on Bastille Day, the Ventoux will again host the queen stage of the Grand Boucle. The winds that rake its slopes are ferocious, especially when the Mistral blows - and today, with winds at the top in excess of 100kph the stage has been cut short, ending at the Chalet Reynard some 6km shy of the summit.

On the ascent, as the road climbs out of the tree line it is completely exposed – a thin black ribbon winding precariously across the blinding white scree. If you’re strong enough, or crazy enough, you can tackle all three routes to the top. If you can ride them in 24 hours you earn membership of the Club des Cinglés du Mont-Ventoux and join the other lunatics who have fallen in love with the Bald Mountain.

The houses of Bédoin nestle into the slopes of the surrounding hills, dwarfed by the spire of the church that echoes the tower of the observatory high above. The mountain lowers over the village and it is from its medieval streets that the classic route to the summit begins. Up through the cool depths of the forest, the road rises through gradients of more than 12% to the ski station at Chalet Reynard. Here is the bar where generations of riders (Me and Gary included!) have taken a little nip of brandy or a glass of beer (expressos with 6 sugars!) before the final assault on the summit.

Up here the road bursts from shadow into bright, white light. If you’re lucky, (we weren't) the wind will ride your back and you’ll fly over the final seven kilometres to the observatory. But if the evil god of the Ventoux demands a sacrifice, you’ll battle your way over the final kilometres against the kind of headwind that threatens to blow you off your bike.

Mont Ventoux is the proving ground of giants, the mountain every champion aspires to conquer, yet it is a relative newcomer to the Tour. It was first used by the race in 1951 and the elfin climber Charly Gaul became the first rider to win at the summit seven years later, crushing the hopes of Federico Bahamontes, Jacques Anquetil and Louison Bobet as the “Angel of the Mountains” flew to a time trial victory. That year the Luxembourg rider would win his only Tour. Gaul returned to his mountain for the final time in 1993, climbing its brutal slopes with his daughter at his side.

His polar opposite, the Italian domestique Eros Poli, was the first man over the summit in 1994. The tallest man in the race, he hauled his mighty carcass over the Géant de Provence. Slowly, painfully, the huge Italian ground almost to a standstill, his 25-minute advantage tumbling with every pedal stroke. But he held on, descending into Carpentras to claim a famous victory.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the French can claim supremacy on the Ventoux. Raymond Poulidor, “the eternal second”, and Bernard Thévenet, both stood atop the podium in the shadow of the observatory. Bobet added the Ventoux to his palmarès in 1955 on the way to the last of his three consecutive Tour de France wins. Richard Virenque, France’s tainted chouchou, scored a sentimental victory there in 2002 to deny Lance Armstrong on a mountain he could never conquer
The now disgraced American came closest in 2000, racing head-to-head with Marco Pantani, the most gifted climber of his generation and the spiritual inheritor of Gaul, his friend and mentor. The lanky Texan marked every attack by the slight Italian magician before launching his own brutal offensive. Inch by inexorable inch, the Italian clawed his way back to the American as he bulleted towards the finish. Finally Pantani threw his bike towards the line to snatch victory, leaving Armstrong to sulk that he had gifted Pantani the win. “No gifts” would become the American’s raison d’être. Pantani would win one last time, a stage to the ski station at Courchevel that was to be his final professional victory. But for the wizard of the pedale, the rest was tragedy.

Jean-François Bernard is one of only three riders to conquer the Ventoux in the maillot jaune. In 1970 it was Merckx’s turn. Clad in the fabled Golden Fleece, he ascended into the dazzling whiteness, the observatory winking in and out of his eyeline. He passed the Tom Simpson memorial with a tip of his casquette to his fallen former teammate. But even Merckx was not immune to the mountain. His pedal stroke became jerkier, his thighs seemed about to explode. When he crossed the finish line and made his way to the podium, his legs gave way. He spoke of his fear during the ascent – the fear of ending like Simpson, a victim in 1967 of pride and desperation and a lethal cocktail of drugs, alcohol and dehydration, like an ecstasy death at 6,000 feet. Merckx himself was taken away in an ambulance after being administered oxygen, but he recovered and went on to win the Tour.

Mont Ventoux is inextricably linked in the imagination with Simpson’s Calvary. He is the mountain’s only victim but others have come close to joining him. In an eerie foreshadowing of Simpson’s fate, 12 years earlier Jean Malléjac had begun to pedal erratically – one leg spinning like an automaton before the rider fell at the side of the road, his eyes rolled back in his skull, his face a waxen effigy. The race doctor, Pierre Dumas, managed to revive the stricken Frenchman, who began to cry out for his bike, desperate to finish the stage. In 1965 Dumas was instrumental in drafting the first real anti‑doping law. He would spend the rest of his career trying to protect the young riders in his care. In Simpson’s case he was not so lucky

Simpson’s memorial stands between the Chalet and summit on Mont Ventoux, paid for by the subscriptions of thousands of British riders for whom the first Briton to wear the yellow jersey remains a hero. It marks the spot where Simpson fell, tantalisingly close to the finish line that he would never cross, the Tour’s great tragedy etched in stone.

Today the crowds scrambling for a foothold along the route will be immense – an estimated 300,000 gather whenever the Tour attacks Ventoux – the tricolore flying boldly for Bastille Day, the sun-beaten crowds hoping for another French victory on this most evocative of summit finishes. But it is always Mont Ventoux, that most pitiless of mountains, that will decide.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Sagan does Grease!!!

Ha - found it now - check this out! 

Sagan Skills...

Did anyone see the clips of Peter Sagan re-enacting scenes from the movie 'Grease' shown on the Tour de France highlights the other day? - I can't find them on the web right now - but I did find this clip - some skilful riding!!

Monday, 4 July 2016

Stop Press.... Win 28 for Cav!

Amazing - Cav's done it again - stage win 28 for the Manx Missile - only Eddy Merckx has won more!

Tour 2016....

The world's biggest annual sporting event is underway once again. The 103rd Tour de France started on Saturday.....and what a start for Mark Cavendish!

Between The Tour and the Rio Olympics Cav faces an intense summer - but he got off to the perfect start on stage one. Victory and the chance to wear the coveted yellow jersey for the first time in his long and illustrious career As the riders raced parallel to the vast strand of Utah Beach, Cav timed his sprint to perfection to leave arch rival Marcel Kittel trailing a bike length behind. Brilliant!

This year's Tour is a hard one - 56 categorized climbs, including the iconic Mont Ventoux and the Col de Tourmalet. Chris Froome returns to defend his yellow jersey and become the first rider in twenty years to win consecutive tours. But there's a long way to go (3,500km) and a host riders (Quintana, Pinot, Aru et al) eager to topple the Team Sky rider.

The final week should be exciting - stages 17, 18, 19 and 20 for anyone trying to make up time or increase their lead these will be deciding stages.

It's unlikely that we'll see Cav hauling himself up those slopes. By then his work will be done and he will be concentrating on an Olympic Gold. But that sprint on Saturday brings his total Tour stage wins to 27 - a record for a sprinter and third in the overall stage winners list.If he can sneak another before he drops out he will be level with Bernard Hinault. and only 6 behind the great Eddy Merckx who, naturally, sits at the top of the pile.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Is it too late to register for the Olympics?

I've been meaning to add this to the blog.

A while back, me, Gary, David, Baz and Gary's boss Jason enjoyed an outing to the new Derby Velodrome. We booked in for a beginners 'taster' session early one Saturday morning.

This new facility was designed by Velotrack - a specialist German track building company. 26 miles of Siberian spruce was used to create the track, taking six weeks to install using 265,000 hand-driven nails.

At the time we went I'd just about recovered from a bad case of man-flu - I hadn't been out on my bike for a couple of months so I was feeling a bit apprehensive.

The facility is excellent, brand new, clean and spacious. We booked in and were shown where to go. We were already wearing our cycling gear so no need to get changed - we were each given a track bike for the session - single speed, fixed wheel - so no freewheeling! - and no brakes.

Once we got going it all felt great - I'd ridden a 'fixie' many years ago so didn't have too much trouble getting used to it. We started off simply riding round at a comfortable tempo, but soon we had to wind up the speed to enable us to climb the banked track. At ground level the banking looks intimidating, scary even - much steeper than it appears on tv and the initial thought is of sliding down or falling over - but as long as a reasonable speed is maintained all is well! - as the instructor kept yelling at us "Speed is your friend"

Gradually the intensity of the session builds up - for me it was hard after the first 20 minutes - the long lay-off and lack of any fitness was soon brought to bear. It was difficult to keep up the momentum and soon I felt I was dropping off the back. We all enjoyed the experience though - certainly i'd like to have another go. The programme to gain track accreditation means completing a three stage training programme comprising of at least three track sessions with tuition but for most riders I suspect it would probably take five or six.

Here's a short clip of our session.