In a city where the primary mode of transport seemed to be by bike, it takes a little effort to stand out from the crowd. In Bruges pretty much everyone was riding the typical dutch commuter, or sometimes a modern hybrid. But every so often we would spot someone on a classic Moulton folder, or a beautiful Pashley Guv’nor and wonder where they were picking them up. On one of our days off from the classics wondering around the streets I think we found the place, the wonderful bike shop Exceller. Over a cup of coffee with owner Christian he talked about how a love of design and all things well made became his way of defining what products he would sell through the shop.
He carries everything from beautifully built bikes (Pashley, schindelhauer, Cooper and Creme to name a few) to accessories, tools and the clothes you would expect to find in a quality boutique shop. But by coffee number two the good stuff started to unearth. Custom built lugged steel stems built by the same frame builder that built the original Merckx frames as executive paper weights. Handmade bells and pedals by Søren Søgreni. Custom saddles by Gilles Berthoud. But maybe my favorite of all was a box of Tressoplast cloth tape that I hadn’t seen in years. If ever you are passing through Bruges this shop is well worth a visit, especially if it is during the Tour when the stage starts in the main Square, Christian informs us there will be live coverage, sausages and beer served in the shop.
CATEGORIES: Design,The Other Stuff
Last week I went back to the races in the Ardennes as a fan. No passes and no privileges, just someone else trying to get a look at the pros, the bikes and to soak up the atmosphere. The ambient story around a race and how it changes from country-to-country is something I was hoping to capture. The more races you attend, a cadence and pattern emerges that seems to be present in all of them no matter where you are, although each will present its own unique personality. Amstel, the Dutch classic, was organized chaos from the start village to the finish. Flèche Wallonne is one of those races that make cycling such a unique sport; how we can get so much access to the stars stuns me. It is the working class race of the Ardennes, the start village sandwiched between a factory and a football stadium. Liege-Bastogne-Liege is ASO getting reading for the Tour. Planned, controlled and everyone kept at arm’s length, at least at the start village. This didn’t seem to stop the riders reaching out to fans, and the course—well that is a whole other story. I pulled a selection of the shots that I got here, but I have enough that I hope to do a book, so that is the plan. Not sure how long it will take, but it is now in the works. More to come on that; in the meantime I would love to hear what you think of the shots.
That bottom right-hand corner of Belgium has a very unique feel, very different to the rest of the country. Let me dispel any myths that Belgium is flat, bar a few bergs. The climbs of the Ardennes are hard enough to test the legs of any of the mountain goats, and the races are long and hard enough to make most race strategies go out the window. In these races, the strongest usually win—they basically wear you down. Their personality carved out of being sandwiched between France, Luxembourg and Belgium has created some not so subtle cycling rivalries. This was demonstrated best when the Nissan/Trek car containing Bruyneel got “bathed” in beer coming up La Redoute, and one drunk young fan removed a nice deep section Bontrager wheel from the roof of the car as a souvenir. Gilbert was born on La Redoute, so the local support is somewhat opinionated, especially about the two brothers from just over the border in Luxembourg.
The weather, not usually a cyclist’s friend in the Ardennes, adds a whole other dimension to riding there. Usually when the drive into a region is marked by a large number of wind turbines, it is a pretty good pointer as to what conditions to expect. This year the low temperatures added to the mix. Standing on La Redoute, the weather was changing so much I started to fear the race would get cut short. We ran into Chris Horner in Brussels airport, on his way back for the Tour of California, who described L-B-L as one of his most epic days on a bike. He abandoned with hands so frozen he couldn’t use his brakes and shifters. Chris Horner is no soft lad. Planning for the weather there is near to impossible. The starts were marked by riders signing on in the sun, then rushing back to the buses to get shells and layers before the neutral rollout. In the space of one 15-minute section at Flèche Wallonne we saw sun – rain – hail – sun. There were numerous stories of riders stranded in the hail too far from team cars on the narrow roads to get shells to cover up, leaving them wet, cold and hungry on some of the hardest parcours in Europe. The site of a cold and bonking Nibali seizing up in the last KMs of L-B-L was hard to watch.
No matter how many times I see Pro riders I am always amazed at how skinny they are. Standing in a cold and damp Markt Square in Maastricht at the start of Amstel Gold, it doesn’t take much to imagine how illness and chest infections can take hold. The young riders on the teams, this maybe their first “big” race, look scared and fiddle with their bikes much to the annoyance of their mechanics. Others (the workers) look resigned to the 265 km of pain that lies ahead. The favorites don’t reveal themselves to the last minute, and bustle their way up to sign-on with their game-faces on (apart from Chris Horner who was riding around smiling and saying hello to everyone, the gent that he is).
There were a few nice moments before the off. Seeing Thomas Dekker welcomed back amongst the Dutch fans, a young guy on a second chance and looking glad to have it. Seeing how Oscar Freire, after leaving Rabobank, is still held in the hearts of the Dutch fans. It is hard to stop cheering for a guy after he’s been doing it for 8 years, and this was before he launched himself off the front in the finale in what is probably his last time up the Cauberg. And lastly, how a shiny new bike never gets old. A Pro build with a slammed stem just looks good. Ten of them lined up against each other, looks even better.
It has been talked about before how accessible the stars of this sport are. Maybe more surprising is how accessible the tools of the trade are. Bikes are touched, lifted and left exposed until the riders throw their leg over. Yesterday we drove around a lot of the Flèche and Liege courses, my first time in this part of the racing world. The Ardennes are hilly, very hilly, and the wind blows a lot, and seems to always be in your face. One down, two to go. I am going to have a lot of photo editing to do….
I have been reading and tracking the Condor Super Acciaio frame for a while now, and hearing nothing but good things about it. So in the middle of a life simplification dilema and attempt to get my choice of rides down to two (Editor: we will see how long that lasts) one carbon and one steel, the Super Acciaio feels like the perfect choice for the steel ride. It is the perfect blend of timeless material, coupled with all Condor has learned about bike design and building frames over the years. Plus it just looks fast built up. I used to live around the corner from the shop in London and have been a fan of the brand for a long time, but never owned one (my father did though) – so I figured it was time. And with the wonders of modern communication, email, I worked with the very helpful Claire Beaumont the Condor brand manager to get the order rolling. I had a few chicken scratches down on paper for a very simple and hopefully timeless Elcyclista paint job that Claire passed on to the Condor designer Ben who created the above, which I love. They said it might be the first Acciaio in white, which I will be very proud to own. More to come….
The year that: Wouter Weylandt was born. That Hinault attacked Fignon 5 times on the way to Alp D’Huez but couldn’t drop him, then had Fignon attack to win by 3 minutes. That Scot Robert Millar took the King Of The Mountains jersey and announced he was a vegetarian. Where Moser delivered on his dream of winning the Giro. That Grewal and Carpenter took gold at the Olympics for the US. An epic year for cycling, now captured and remembered by this killer jersey from GAGE+DESOTO. Not only a homage to a great year in cycling but to some of the most loved brands of the 80s. Logo’s in the 80s were cool.
CATEGORIES: Classic Jerseys,Design
It is 7 days and counting before we head to Belgium for the Ardennes week. Watching racing, photographing racing, and drinking beer while watching racing is how I plan on spending my days. As you can see despite the lack of bike, racing still features quite highly. In honor of returning to this corner of the world where cycling rules, I dusted off my “Fabulous Exploits Of Eddy Merckx” comic book. It basically chronicles Eddy’s palmares and career in wonderfully illustrated watercolors, along with some interesting commentary.
Luis Ocaña, a rider more famous for crashing out of yellow in the 1971 Tour, after he crashed into the back of Merckx and while lying trapped under his bike had a fast approaching Joop Zoetemelk ram into him. The incident was famous because it took him out of yellow and the race, giving it to Merckx, who refused to wear yellow the next day. The picture above shows just how unfair the Tour was to him. He had four abandons, but this one was probably the worst. He was so incapacitated from the crash and streaming in blood, that two team mates had to hold him up on his bike and push and pull him to the finish. All in the hope he could start the next day, which unfortunately he didn’t.