2014 Tour de France and a Little Strava Story.
Thinking about going to the TdF in 2014? Good idea, it should be a ripper, and quiet, as apparently everyone (on earth) went to the 100th edition. 'Tour de France 101' coming up soon, and remember, it’s better than Christmas as it only takes 49 weeks to come around again.
PS We have some other great tours on offer also, our Tour of Corsica, May 6-16, will be a cracker.
For the uninformed or uninitiated, Strava is a website for personal/public storage of your athletic records. There are kings (KOMs) and queens (QOMs) of mountains all over the globe, ‘discovered’ by Strava users, with as little elevation change as one metre. And not only climbs, flat sections are measured as well, along with circuits and descents. There is almost something for everyone on Strava. Used by pro cyclists and amateurs alike, it is a tool that allows you a win, and bragging rights, while never having to pin a number on, and go head to head, elbow to elbow, with another human being.
Hello everyone, a quick reminder about our ride weekend, on NEXT weekend.
Please remember to RSVP if joining us for dinner at the Brewery on Saturday.
In other news our Tour de France routes are finished, contact me for an itinerary, or check the website (our Giro tour is now full for 2014). Plenty of other tours available as well as Le Tour, Corsica & the Dauphine are rippers!
Topbike Ride Weekend, 'Pan y Agua* in the Otways'
On the weekend of Nov 16 & 17 we are planning to ride two terrific loops in the Otways, starting and finishing in Forrest.
The 2014 Giro route was announced last week and our program is now set.
We follow the final 10 days of this grand tour as it twists its way around the top of Italy, through Piedmonte, Lombardia and the Dolomites, before arriving in Trieste for the final stage.
Cadel has nominated that this is his goal for the year, and if he can keep ahead of the local's hometown advantage (ie getting pushed up the hills by the italian tifosi) he will have a good chance.
We’ll ride most mornings, encompassing parts of the day's stage, and generally get right in amongst it. We have an excellent selection of Hotels and Agriturismi booked, featuring two on stage routes, and one in a stage start town. We also feature a visit to Zoncolan, a rest day ride loop, over the passes of Mortirolo and Gavia, not to mention the passes of Stelvio, Alpe Noveis, Bielmonte, Campione and Montegrappa.
La Vuelta a España (the Tour of Spain) started last weekend and Australia’s Michael Matthews (from Orica-Greenedge) won stage 5, in a sprint finish. It’s a lot of firsts for him, as it comes as his first Grand Tour win, in the first week, of his first Grand Tour. Not bad. He won the U/23 road race at the World Champs in Geelong in 2010. His twitter handle is @blingmatthews, if you’d like to follow his exploits. He loves wearing plenty of bling, and is not underly fond of himself. To quote Dave Sanders, VIS development coach, ‘the problem with Bling is that he is ALMOST as good, as he thinks he is’.
This year, just after the Tour de France finished, we ran an Italian climbs tour in the Dolomites (Mortirolo, Gavia, Zoncolan, et al). No ride days were cancelled due to bad weather, and none re-routed elsewhere. In fact it was hot, damn HOT (see above photo, taken on the Sella Ronda).
So what is my point? My point is that this year's Giro weather was un-seasonable. Just because SBS happened upon a few wet & snowy stages of this year's Giro, doesn't mean that the weather is like that every year. We've been running trips to the Giro for over ten years, and this year was the first time we have even heard of a stage being cancelled. Worst weather in 50 years in fact. SO, you can all come back to next year's Giro and remain unconcerned, unpreoccupied and unworried about inclement weather (insert smiley face here).
NEXT YEAR'S RIDES
Here's our program for 2014, featuring some new rides (TdF stages in Corsica & the Criterium du Dauphine) and the usual ol' favorites.
A couple of days ago in the Pyrenees, I was sitting in my car, on the phone, when a man approached me, and asked a question, in formal French, so not at all impolite. ‘Are you the Tour de France?’. I couldn’t reply. I probably had a look on my face akin to a guppy at feeding time, wide-eyed, mouth open.
Many times, when leaving Australia and headed to the Giro, Tour or Vuelta, I have been asked if I am racing. It’s never from a cyclist of course, but a genuine question nonetheless, from someone who knows little about cycling. It’s quaint, and of course I respond in the negative. But this question was different, and it was from a Frenchman.
Am I the Tour de France?
Well, really, do I look like the Tour de France?
Unfortunately I was on the phone to a bank in Australia, reporting the theft of credit cards, as MBW had been pick-pocketed a few minutes before, in our beloved Italy. I had been on hold for an excruciating amount of time, and shortly after our quiz master popped the question, I was put through to A REAL PERSON, and could only respond by holding up my hand.
It was a golden moment lost. Just imagine if I had have answered in the affirmative? And if the quiz master had nodded sagely, turned, and walked away, accepting that I WAS the Tour de France? How good would that have been? Pure gold.
Now, the real Tour de France report.
I feel sorry for Christopher Froome. After the likes of, not just Lance Armstrong, but a string of cheats. Pantani, Ricco, Contador, Scarponi, Basso, Millar, Vinokourov, Mayo, Ulrich et al. No one, but no one, can rate his performances credibly, including myself. And if it is true that in the 2010 Giro he was caught hanging onto the back of motorbike to get up a hill, even more so. That is a serious spike in performance in a very short time.
Golden days in my office.
I started saying it about 4 years ago, I think. Maybe after Cadel won his world title. These are golden days for Australian cycling. There are countries steeped with cycling history that would be envious of Australia’s recent successes. Even more so about our eleven starters in this year’s Tour, and what they have achieved in the first week. One second slower, in total, for stage’s 3 & 4 could have made it such a non event, but it all went OGE’s and Simon Gerrans’ way. It is nothing short of terrific.
I wrote a pre-tour story for Bicycling Australia, and while writing it, I pondered on another SKY 1-2 repeat in 2013. Yesterday I don't think I saw Froomie, or his Roomie (OUR Ritchie Porte) take a breath, as they belted out a pace that destroyed Cadel's 2013 chances. (Bastards)
Black Cavendish report:
I just love the sprinters, and how they come out of nowhere, reinventing themselves for the finale. I love the tussles, and most of all I love seeing Cavendish win. 24 TdF wins, and still only 28. At the end of week one we have Black Cav, the Gorilla (Greipel), Marcel Kittel and Peter Sagan all with wins.
French media report:
This week, on the back page of ‘L’Equipe’ (the daily sporting rag), a cartoonist had substituted all the stars on the Australian flag with the silhouette of TT cyclists. EXCEPT they had presented the landscape view, in portrait, which had it looking quite weird. While it was not quite akin to burning a flag, if they had done it to the stars & stripes, I expect it could have started another war.
In another Equipe, the humorist listed the top ten doping excuses. I’ll try and have them translated for the next mailout.
'The Sag Wagon' Podcast
Don't forget, my gorgeous former co-host, Annabella Fashionista, for six years on communtiy television has turned 'Pro', and is now steering the caboose on SBS's podcast 'The Sag Wagon'. Intuitive, erudite and incisive analysis of all the things mainstream TdF reports neglect, guaranteed. You can find a link here: SBS - The Sag Wagon
Photos above & below: Port de Pailheres in the Pyrenees, stage 8, by Gerard Hogan on tour.
And it's two days in and we've had as many riders in the yellow jersey this year, as there was in the whole of the 2012 Tour. Now that makes this tour more interesting, already.
The big news for me is that Boy Van Poppel from Holland is in 123rd place, 12+ minutes down, and Lars Boom is in 166th place, at 17+ minutes. No relevance, I just like their names. AND there are five Australians tied in 2nd place, at only 1 second off the lead. (There's also another 89 others tied there too, but who's counting...?)
Also, my gorgeous former co-host, Annabella Fashionista, for six years on communtiy television has sold out, and is now steering the caboose on SBS's podcast 'The Sag Wagon'. Intuitive, erudite and incisive analysis of all the things mainstream TdF reports neglect, guaranteed. You can find a link here
(And if you can work out how to get it on your android, please let me know, 'cause I can't)
And the Bus? Probably achieved more recognition for Australia around the world, than the whole 'where the bloody hell are you' promotion.
Photo above:Topbike riders commence the descent from Col de la Croix de Fer (the hill of the iron cross) (During this years: Preview the Climbs of the TDF)
Below: Madeleine mile-post, one to put behind you.
In the last two years we have discovered in our travels two ‘one star’ Michelin restaurants. Not by searching the restaurants out, more by finding the hotels, and dining in. Both we have frequented twice, although i’m not sure when the second one was ‘starred’, so to speak.
Last week, while chasing the Criterium du Dauphine through the French alps, we stopped in Albertville at Hotel Million. Last year we had experienced their degustation menu, and this year we opted for the same again. The attached menu (see photo below) is in French, and of course there are no choices. When our host ran through the menu in perfect English, she used the word ‘sweetbreads’. At this point my mind casually ran through liver, kidney, black pudding et al. I possibly stopped at the idea of black pudding, as I have fond childhood memories of it, and also of it featuring in the Goodies. NB I’ll come back to the Goodies later.
The scallops, prawns and duck that we ran through in the first courses were exquisite and enough to keep my mind distracted away from the idea of the sweetbreads, until the final entree arrived. ‘These are brains’ someone mentioned, or maybe exclaimed, I’m not sure which. Menu check, yes. Veal brains. I stopped eating, and thought hard about what was in my mouth. Cutlery was set back to the table on my right. No doubt, it did bring back a not too happy, albeit distant, memory of mum’s over-cooked crumbed brains, that I could never stomach.
But this tasted great.
One star restaurants are one star restaurants. When you take on the degustation menu, you surrender your right to choose, and accept what the chef recommends. You’re in France, you’re travelling, you’re here for the experience.
I munched on.
Giro wrap, Cadel pre-tour predictions, Alpentour Trophy and Dauphine Libere report
The 2013 Giro was won by Nibali, which was always on the cards, but the most surprising and indicative result was the rider, and team, in second place. Rigoberto Uran Uran from Team Sky. Before we get into why, let’s explain his name. The Spanish, and its colonies, maintain their mother’s maiden name as a second surname. That’s why Spanish riders have double banger names, usually only referred to fully on start lists. In the press its normal to refer to them by their first (paternal) surname only, ie Alejandro Valverde (Belmonte). So, Uran Uran is from Colombia, Spanish speaking of course, and I’m not sure if his father married a distant cousin (or his sister, for that matter) but definitely someone with the same surname, hence the doubling up in the double banger. All clear?
Now what is surprising here is that Team Sky elected not to send two of their GC riders, Froome and (our) Richie Porte, and relied on just current TdF champion, Wiggins. Wiggo starts, but has a bad run and is out in the first week, that makes THREE of their top GC riders out of the race, and they still land SECOND PLACE in the 2nd biggest grand tour of the year. There is not another team around that could pull that off, presently.
The Giro, two weeks in - Cadel and Nibali.
Our favourite pink sporting rag ‘La Gazetta’ likes to refer to the leading riders in the Giro as ‘I Big’. It amuses us here at Topbike, mainly because it is such a creative interpretative translation, and only amounts to not much more than three letters. Anyway, I digress. There are only two ‘I Big’ left in the race, really. Cadel and Nibali. Cadel is sitting pretty in second place, at 41’, and looking comfortably at ease, particularly when he passed us on the final little climb yesterday. As in 2011 at Le Tour, we know he only needs one day in the lead, albeit the last day, to take the win. Unfortunately he has to take the lead off Nibali, who is not about to relinquish the lead, in his national race without a decent fight.
Nibali hails from Messina, in Sicily, with a population of approx 250,000. The first time we arrived in Sicily, we drove off the ferry and into the heart of Messina. I could have sworn we drove past the whole population that evening. All on the street. One third ignoring our presence, as they crossed the road in front of us, looking the other way. One third trying to sell us stuff. And one third just watching, Maybe waiting for the opportunity to take us down, or maybe just watching. As that is a mainstay of Italian life. I’m not saying that Italians/Sicilians are thieves, but after a roadside puncture repair, I left a pump behind. I returned pretty quickly, but it was nowhere to be seen. After making a good show of looking for it, a shopkeeper called me over, and produced our pump.
He was looking after it for me.
Nibali’s nickname is ‘The Shark’. He’s from Messina, he’s in the lead, and he’s the one we have to hope falls down this week, or let’s say ‘choke’. I just can’t imagine a shark, from Messina, choking on anything. He’s probably more comfortable biting off more than he can chew, and chewing like buggery. In the first week of the race, when there were more ‘I Big’ about, we witnessed him lay his bike down on a slippery descent, racing for vital seconds near the finish. He was back on it immediately, like it was a practiced move.
Cross your fingers for Cadel, he’s going to need everything go his way this week, to take the win.
The Giro one week in - Skippy Report
It's been a cracker of a week for Skips in the breaks. Almost every stage has featured at least one. Not forgetting Cadel got a second place, picking up a time bonus and inching his way back into the race, that he looked out of, after the Team TT last weekend. While it may be easy to write Cadel off, you do it at your own peril. He can fight alright.
Adam Hansen won today's stage. He's a fantastic rider, domestique, cake-maker, break-maker, and collarbone breaker as well. It's been a long time coming for him, and as he is on our mailing list, here's to you champ! I first wrote a story about Adam Hansen riding the Crocodile Trophy in 2003, to precis, I developed a love-hate relationship with him, on one day.
The evening before a 180k stage (this is a mountainbike race, remember) the 'big' of the race decided to ride tempo for the first 100k before racing the final 80k. I'm almost sure Adam attacked from the gun. We had to chase him all day. Not that I, personally, chased him all day. It hit 47° C and I was cooked by midday. It was the last stage I started, curse him, as I did want to finish. But it was a good insight into what makes a rider. I was impressed.
The Croc Trophy is famous in europe, and all day today, the Italian commentators talked about nothing else, besides his overall wins in the following two years. The race is still going, and you can find out all about it here www.crocodile-trophy.com. It's open to all comers, but do your preparation, if you want to seriously have a crack at the hardest MTB stage race in the world.
We take a trip out to the island of Lipari, during our Tour of Sicily, and as I dropped the gang off for the midday ferry, from Milazzo, I had a few hours to kill before I could take the slow ferry, with bikes and van. I turned away from the port, and headed off into the mountains. Not too far from the coast, but enough to get away from the madness, and enjoy a peaceful lunch, with the van full of bikes parked where I could see it.
The restaurant was called 'Fort Apache Trattoria' which would normally put one off, but thought I'd give it a go. It was worth it. I ordered the house antipasto and a pasta dish. For the antipasto I received 8 plates. 8! They all looked great, so I cancelled the pasta dish immediately, and decided to eat just the antipasto. It cost EIGHT euro for the 8 dishes. Plus a little more for wine, water and bread. Not a bad saturday lunch. I did take a photo, but it didn't do the course justice.
I love sporting heckles, whether they be cutting, or just plain clever. Some of my favourites go back years. The ‘Coodabeens’ on ABC radio brought a ripper AFL one to air in ’92. It was just after the Rodney King trial in LA. I don’t know which game it was, but it came from some random scallywag in the outer, after a particularly bad onfield decision. ‘Hey Ump, they want you for jury duty. In Los Angeles.’
International soccer matches can bring out the best. Over the years, when Holland plays Germany, the original chant was ‘Bring my mother’s bike back’. As after WW2, apparently many of the German infantry made their way home on ‘borrowed’ bikes. This is now a generational chant, as it has become ‘Bring my grandmother’s bike back’.
This Saturday the Giro starts in Napoli, for the first time. I love Napoli, but it is wild and anarchic. Driving is a sport. A friend of mine from Modena always says ‘in Napoli, a red light is just an opinion’. Car theft is so problematic, that they have developed a style of steering locks I’ve witnessed nowhere else. Looking like a Ned Kelly accessory, it takes almost two people to lift them into place. It’s the home of pizza, along with many other fantastic foods, and rubbish on the streets. And rubbish on the streets, and rubbish on the streets.
Our 2013 Giro d'Italia route
[GIRO MILANO - MAY 17-27 2013] is now available.
We feature a visit to France’s Col de Galibier, a rest day ride loop over the dirt climb of Col de Finestra, not to mention the passes of Gavia and Stelvio, Giau & Tre Cime di Laveredo, and a day relaxing by Lake Garda.
We also have an excellent selection of hotels and Agriturismi (farmstays) booked, featuring three located on stage routes, and two in stage start towns (one doubles as both, on consecutive days). Read the full detail about our 2013 Giro d'Italia Route and Itinerary.
Back home now, one more european season down, and another 3 grand tours, making it 15 in a row for me, and over 25 all up (wish I'd have ridden one)
La Vuelta Report:
La Vuelta Espana finished up last week, and I can’t really believe how many articles I read explaining the performance of two formerly convicted drug cheats, Valverde and Contador, and one yet to be convicted, Rodriguez. One piece really put the anal back into analysis, after guessing the riders weights, and knowing the height of the mountain/s climbed, surmised that all three were top-fuellers, ‘cause they were putting out 395 watts*, 5 more than was possible by any mortal being. Seriously, have they never watched world championship wrestling? Contador’s performance was the equal of King Kong Bundy. Trying many times, but failing to break through on the steep ascents, before cracking Rodriguez on a long, gentle climb. He fooled me (and Rodriguez, obviously that day), and went on to take the win. It only lacked Jack Little saying ‘WOW!’
Here's a pic of Contador, Valverde and I.
*forgive me if I have these numbers wrong, you know what I mean.