Definitely a labor of love. The output of our trip to the Ardennes in April is close to going off to the printers. All the images have been color corrected and cleaned, and the sequencing and editing (that took forever!) is finished. We have a nice idea for the cover which is going to make each book a one-off as we are probably going to do them in an edition. More info to come on pricing, availability and the timing. Very excited to get our first project out the door.
THE FULL KEIRIN PHOTO ESSAY IS HERE
One day I am going to get to Japan, and one of the first things I hope to do is go to a Keirin race. The track racing scene is alive and well in Japan, with annual bets getting up to ¥1,5 trillion ($15 billion). Seats are hard to come by for the bigger events, with more than 20 million Japanese attended Keirin races last year. The riders trained specifically for the 2km event have all earned the privilege of competing professionally by passing through the Japan Bicycle Racing School in Shuzenji. With school days that start at 6.30am, that include 100km road rides before lunch, schooling, cleaning chores and track training in the afternoon, it takes a dedicated rider to stick it out and survive.
Unfortunately graduating does not always guarantee you a ride, with only a percentage of the 150 graduates making it on to the track. Those that do get the “honor” of wearing the green striped shorts with seven white stars denoting “Rookie“. Top professionals can race up to 100 days per year at the 4 day events. Riders are locked down at the tracks during the events and isolated from all contact with the outside world to prevent race fixing. Top riders earn up to ¥100 million a year, a very good living, with some riders sustaining that level well into their 40s. Unfortunately for the pros at the bottom of the league life is a constant test, with each rider being accessed every 6 months. Failure to compete at a consistent level means getting demoted out of the pro ranks, a place where it is very hard to return from.
One of the enduring stars of the Keirin scene is “Tomity“. Toshihiko Tomita is a 52 year old, 29 year Keirin veteran. Yeah, read that line again and think about it for a while. For 29 years Tomity maintained the power to stay at the top of the pro ranks, despite a constant challenge and influx of new young talent. On a trip to Japan photographer Fredrik Clement was able to spend a day with Tomity training at the Seibuen velodrome before he retired. His photo essay presents the opposite atmosphere to that felt on race night. The empty stadiums where the riders train appear cold, empty and emotionless, and behind the scenes the rider facilities present a picture of a harsh and simple life. We were lucky enough for Fredrik to allow us to feature this series. Cheers mate.
THE FULL KEIRIN PHOTO ESSAY IS HERE
THE FULL PHOTO ESSAY CAN BE SEEN HERE
Emily Maye sent us these beautiful shots that she took at his years Tour Of California. She has managed to create a unique mood that we don’t usually see in cycling photography. Focusing less on the tip of the action, and more on the candid moments when riders maybe feel mostly off camera. Check out her full portfolio here.
THE NEW PHOTO ESSAY OF THE IZOARD IS HERE »
It is rated a HC climb for a reason, as all the great climbs should be. It is breath taking in its beauty, and the effort it takes to conquer it. The 14km of the climb are the roads that have made legends in our sport. Coppi, Bobet and Thevenet in the glory days of steel. Chiappucci, Van Impe, Botero, and Garzelli in the modern era of lightweight and carbon. It is a very unique place, with a harsh beauty that bakes you in the summer sun and I can only imagine would batter you in a rain storm. The day we climbed it was a blistering 93 degrees. There is no place to hide, no shade, no respite. For the few weeks around when we were in Guillestre the stunning ravine section along the Guil river just out of the village was closed for repaving (apparently there is this race called the “Tour” going through there). Instead we were treated to a steep 5km climb detour that took us up and over the ravine and dropped us down at the Barrage, which marks the start of a steady 10km climb up to the foot of the Izoard. Nobody really mentions the 12km of climbing before the 14km of climbing. That happened a lot on this trip. Just because it might be slightly easier doesn’t mean it is not climbing. It is good to mention these things when trying to convince others to ride HC climbs.
The early part of the climb did make me ask what all the fuss was about? Then again we had been spoiled already on this trip as far as scenery goes. The road after the village of Cervieres is an 8-9% drag strip up the valley into a headwind, and if you are brave enough to raise your head off your front wheel what you will see up above you is the imposing peaks looming over the Casse Deserte. When you get yourself around those hairpins that last corner before the Deserte will do one of two things to you. It is the sort of view that will stop you in your tracks and will make your heart sore, or drop it down right into your cleats. There in front of you will be one of the most desolate beautiful scenes in the Alps, and a perfect view of the last 5km 0f 9-10% of climbing through the iconic Casse Deserte to the summit. You really need to ride the Deserte twice to take it all in. It is like a huge natural amphitheater that has seen some of the greatest showdowns in cycling. They couldn’t have picked a more perfect stage for maybe this years Tour decider. I can’t imagine what this climb would have felt like if I had the Col D’Angel in my legs as well.
A special note for my wife Nina. This was her challenge of the trip, her first HC climb. We couldn’t have picked a harder day with the heat and the headwind. She made it! Did it at her speed and took it all in. Couldn’t have been prouder seeing her crest the summit next to the Coppi monument.
A NEW PHOTO ESSAY OF THE COL DE LA CAYOLLE HERE »
The Cayolle was a climb I hadn’t read much about before traveling into Barcelonnette and the Mercantour National Park. It is nestled in amongst some of the greats, The Bonnette and The Allos, and sits at 7361ft with a winding 29km to the summit from the village of Barcelonnette. It is a beautiful ride. The road surfaces were smooth and hadn’t suffered too much in the winter, but most enjoyable of all was the complete lack of traffic. It is too narrow for the campers and maybe a little too bendy for the motorbikes. The lower slopes are carved out of the gorge and hug the river in the shade in the opening KMs (the gradient fluctuates between 4-5% with one section touching 8-9%). It is a great introduction to help find your climbing legs, and really only started to test in the last 5km when it starts to average between 7-8%. The climb was last in the Tour on stage 9 of the 1973 edition, when it was positioned as a Cat 2 climb and was crested first by Vincente Lopez Carill riding for KAS. So no name marking on the road. It felt like I had found someones secret training ride. Imagine having this on your doorstep for your hill repeats.
Attending the annual swap meet at Trexlertown is like going to a history class on bike parts and kit. Parts, and in some cases brands that no longer grace the the shelves of bike shops get a second life through the swap meet. There are bargains to be had for sure, but most of the tables are populated by parts from days when you drilled them to save weight. It is a true coming together of the east coast cycling community from New York to Philadelphia. I am sure most people head home with a trunk load of kit and like myself wonder “now why did I buy that?”.
The full photo essay can be seen here »
The full Start Village photo essay is here »
There is a pace and pattern in a start village before a race that is pretty special to be a part of. I was lucky enough to get an all areas press pass for Milan San Remo (Thank you Specialized!) that gave me access to areas that, as a fan, I spent most of my time questioning what I was doing there. It is a little uncanny standing next to the current world champion and the previous one, and hearing them talk about the upcoming classics over the next few weeks. We arrived in Milan at 8.30am long before the first team bus and cars had arrived at the start area. It was already starting to buzz with Tifosi and press. Phase One of the pre-race begins with the lumbering arrival of the buses and team cars into the start area. Curtains drawn, they pull up one by one, with fans rushing to peer through the curtain cracks, hoping to get a glimpse of a rider – I actually heard one guy claim “that is Ballan’s leg!” Mechanics remove bikes from racks and the parade of bikes begins. Perfectly built and pristine, bikes are lined up for public viewing by the team buses (but no touching – the unsaid rule). This moment, maybe more than any, is the biggest sales pitch for any brand in the bike business. I wanted to buy 4 bikes after that first hour.
Then, just as the fans are distracted by the bikes, Phase two begins, and there is a mad dash to sign-on. Riders emerge from the buses and in one movement are on bikes and off. In these instances I saw some of the best bike handling skills I have ever seen. Riders track-stop and hop their way through gaps in the crowds that they have no business getting through. Some go slow, soaking up the adoration (Ballan). Others move slow, looking for people they know (all the Italians). Some are “escorted” and have their race face on (Posatto and Cancellara). Others are magnets for everything and everyone (Boonen and Thor), and some riders go sit in a car and contemplate the pain that is about to ensue.
Phase three is a general milling around, as riders wait for the call-to-line. Some use it as a time to talk with ex teammates, and some use it as a time to apologize to riders they took down in a crash the previous week (actually heard that). The more popular riders get mobbed by press or fans, or both. Some riders you want to go up and hug and tell them it will all be ok (Henrich Hausler made me cry once after losing this race by the width of a tub and then collapsing on the road in tears). Others like Greipel look like they might punch you in the face (although I told him after the race “nice ride” and he didn’t, so he is ok). Then before you know it, the general milling turns into a start line and the team cars are lined up and ready to roll. It was at this point that I found myself stuck in the middle of a very large group of riders behind 6-foot barriers. The best way out might have been to get a “backy” with George Hincapie to the end of the neutral zone, but instead I found a gap and ran for our follow car. Next thing you know I am getting nauseous in the back of car for the next 6 hours.
See the full photo essay here »
A photo essay of some of the highlights from the course is here.
This summer I got to ride on the course of the Tour Of Lombardy after nearly a 2o year wait, falling in love with it all while watching it on TV from afar. Not that the riders this weekend will be doing much sightseeing, the course has to be one of the most stunning in the world. The climbs and roads of the route have a historic and poetic ring to them, in an area that is passionate about its riding. That coupled with the cool breeze that comes off the lake as you ride, makes this race and the area one of the pros’ favorite places to turn their pedals. From the busy town of Como up towards the village of Argegno along the west shore of the lake. Past millionaires row and George Clooney’s villa. Along by the cafes and hotels of Argegno, then left up a punchy little hair-pinned climb and over the hills to Intelvi. After the village at the top, a bumpy descent down to the shore of Lake Lugano. More hills, and then down again to the beautiful village of Menaggio (where we witnessed the worst thunderstorm we have ever seen from our camper) and around the top of Lake Como. Then down the valley to Lecco, to get onto the peninsula and towards the finale. Up the east side of the peninsula on the stunning SP583, with the view of Varenna in the distance. Then the legendary Ghisallo. Not the longest or steepest of climbs, but deceptively hard. Past the shrine to cycling at the top and right over the Sormano climb, the highest point on the circuit. Down to the lake again and the finish. This is a hard course, and one for riders that have saved a little for end-of-season glory. Always animated. Always beautiful to watch.
A second essay climbing the Ghisallo is here.
The full photo essay is here
On a trip to Switzerland this year I found this beautiful book in a flea market. The book was commissioned by Editions Palais in Paris to commemorate the last days of the great Six Day races at the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Winter Velodrome). It was France’s first indoor track, and the name stuck for all covered velodromes built since that first six-day race took place on the 13th January 1913. The track was designed by Gaston Lambert, and was 253.16m round at the base. Their were two tiers of seats which towered above bankings so steep for their day that they were considered cliff-like and the space was lit with 1,253 hanging lamps. That first race set a very high bar. Included in it were the Tour de France winners Louis Trousselier and Émile Georget. Racing began at 6pm and by 9pm all 20,000 seats were sold. Among those who watched was the millionaire Henri de Rothschild who offered a prize of 600 francs. A tradition also started of electing a Queen of the Six, whose job included starting the race and giving out the prizes, the most famous being Édith Piaf.
The last six-day race at the Vel’ d’Hiv’ started on 7 November 1958. The stars of the series were Roger Rivière, Jacques Anquetil, Fausto Coppi, and André Darrigade and the race was run in teams of three. Rivière had to drop out after a crash with Anquetil in the first hours on 5th night, and Darrigade won the biggest prime ever offered at the track of one million francs. The overall winners were Anquetil and his partners, Darrigade and Terruzzi. The final night at the Vel’ d’Hiv was on the 12th May 1959. The illustrations captured in this book by French illustrator Jacques Lem are some of the most beautiful drawings I have ever seen of riders. They have captured a mood that no photographs of the period could ever convey and the personalities not just of the riders but of the spectators and workers around the track.
I created a photo essay of the best of the illustrations from the book to show them in all their glory.
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See the 1800KM photo essay here
So almost one year ago today we did our first post on the Elcyclista site. Almost as exciting was sending our first Elcyclista kit out not long after. That was to Stefan Rohner, who turned out to be an amazing and published photographer, and so our photo features began. Since then Stefan regularly drops me a note to poke fun at my riding – like I rode up the Stelvio on the wrong side (Ed: is there a right side? They both hurt you know). So it is only fitting that on this day of celebration in the Elcyclista household we are able to publish this stunning photo essay from Stefan.
He just spent three weeks with his brother riding the great and slightly lesser known climbs of the Pyrenees. The numbers speak for themselves. The longest daily ride: 168km, the shortest daily ride: 83km, the average ride: 135km. Vertical climb approximately: 36,500m, average: 2810m…. but you know what, none of that really mattered to them. No Garmin or SRM, they just figured it out after wards, choosing to ride the climbs with their thoughts, conversation, and a view. What I love about these images, is that you can literally feel the silence on the climbs, and the only sound left is your breathing and the changing of gears. The absence of people and traffic. The aftermath of the Tour (they rode them in the weeks right after the Tour had passed through). If anything ever makes you question why you ride, or commit so much of you life to sitting in a saddle, look at these pictures. You will instantly remember why.
There is also something very fitting, that on the day that we get to publish these incredibly peaceful photos, we are also able to pay tribute to Laurent Fignon who did so much to animate racing on the roads of the Pyreness, The Marie Blanque, Aubisque, Solour, Tourmalet, Larrau, Pierre St. Martin, Burdincurucheta, Baragui, Houratate, Bouezou, Sustary, Labays, Marmare, Pradel, Pailheres, Agnes, Ares, Peyresourde, Aspin,