Ventoux: Welcome Back 10/31/2012


A few years back I sat in a campsite near Bédoin as the sun set over Mont Ventoux and contemplated what was to be my first time over the legend of Provence the following day. It presents an intimidating presence with the radio tower on top serving as a marker for the pain to come. It turned out to be a great day, riding it with two Aussie’s, all of us “Ventoux Virgins”. Of all of the stages in next years Centennial Tour, the Ventoux finish is the one that holds the most potential for me. The idea of two times up Alp D’Huez on paper sounds amazing, but in the end will probably cancel itself out with tactics and strategy. The ASO have set up the Ventoux finish to be an explosive day, for both GC and the stage winner (although they may not be mutually exclusive). It is the perfect stage for a Bastille Day hero. A lumpy approach before the final 20.8km ascent ensures plenty of opportunities for a solo attack, and the French now have in their ranks plenty of riders capable pulling that off. The previous three days favor the sprinters giving any of the GC contenders a chance to sit in and save as much as possible for that final all out slog. And with a rest day to follow, why hold back. So we may well be treated to the spectacle of a lone French attacker being chased down by a group of favorites in the last 5km, with a whole nation screaming him up to the finale. Recognized as one of the hardest climbs in France, and that is when the wind doesn’t blow – if they get hot and windy conditions I expect this to be an epic stage worthy of a 100 year celebration. Then there will be the 3 hour camper van race across to Embrun to get your spot on what looks like being a great TT in the Écrins and the Alps to follow. Those final 8 days might be the time to book your holidays.

Categories: Races / Riders / Routes

Molls Gap, Ireland 08/18/2012


 

I would never place Irelands mountains in the same category as The Alps or The Pyrenees, but what they lack in height, they gain something back in shear remote beauty. One of the most beautiful passes you can ride there is Molls Gap, rising up out of Irelands garden near Killarney, and along the Ring Of Kerry to a narrow pass at the top blasted out of the Old Red Sandstone. The road winds its way out of Killarney on the N71 towards Muckross, a typically narrow Irish road lined with high hedges. Every now and again the hedges break, giving you a glimpse of Muckross Lake and Upper Lake before the gradient starts to lift up into the hills. Officially you would call it a Category 2 climb, which regularly gets featured in the Tour Of Ireland and the Rás, but the gradient is consistant, and the road pretty sheltered, making it feel easier than it should. Pray for good weather if you are riding it, it is just close enough to the Atlantic that if rains it will feel frigid no matter what month you are riding it, and the wind will add another couple of percent to the gradient. Probably the only way you should ride it in Ireland.

 

 

Categories: Routes

Ardennes Week 04/25/2012


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.

 

Categories: Races / Riders / Routes

Suffering Between The Hedges 11/16/2011


When asked what it was like upon completing his first Catford Hill Climb, one rider exclaimed “It was the best two minutes of suffering all season“. Traditionally held on the first Sunday in October, this uniquely British style hill climb is a chance to close out your season with an adrenaline pumping, gut busting effort, mixed with a little “Alpine” atmosphere to push you along. These time trials shouldn’t be mistaken for the European monument climbs of the Alps, or even the American icons of Mt. Washington or Mt. Evans. They are unique in their length, type of effort, and setting. Run amongst the hedgerows and country lanes of England, often no wider than the width of a car, they usually average out at around 12.5% for about 1km. They are venues to win winter bragging rights amongst the cycling clubs of your region.

It is not too hard to define what type of rider excels at these types of challenges. The effort is explosive, and the type of rider the French would call “Dynamique” has probably got what it takes. An ability to suck up the pain is undoubtedly needed, but then again what type of climbing doesn’t need that. Track riders are often seen taking to the hill on fixed gears (I mean riders who actually ride on the velodrome), and powering their way through. Road riders strip down their bikes, get in the drops, and hold it for as long as they can, often crumpling into their saddles just before the top. To take a tip out of Cancellara’s training regime for the Belgium monuments, no out-of-the-saddle climbing until March is probably a good way to prepare. Power is the key to success.

One of the oldest events in the UK, The Catford Hill Climb has roots right back to 1887, and earns the auspicious title of “The Championship Of All England”. To give you a sense of the effort, it is held on York Hill and is “707 yards” (646m) in length. The average grade is around 12.5%, with a few bursts of 25%. The record for the climb stands at an impressive 1min 47 seconds, and has stood for 19 years. One note of interest, when the ride started back in 1887 the bike weight limit was 35lbs, even back then riders were obsessed about there bike weight. Riders travel in from all over the country and make the trip worthwhile by competing in the “4 climbs” series, stretching over the Saturday and the Sunday. The UK has seen a resurgence in the format over the last few years, with the introduction of the Urban Hill Climb organized by Rollapaluza in London. Unlike New York, London actually has a few pretty decent hills, with Swains Lane in Highgate providing the course. This year they had 120 riders tackle the 800m ascent with a height gain of 71m.

These events have been occupying my thoughts in the last few months as I have been riding around the hills of Litchfield County and the Berkshires, and it made me think why the format hasn’t caught on here, or in Europe for that matter. The region certainly has the hills–Great Hill Road or Geer Mountain Road come to mind. I also think I know enough riders who would throw themselves up a gradient in search of a little glory and maybe a little prize money. So the research starts now for us to host a Fall event next year in the Berkshire hills. The “Suffer between the hedges” hill climb time trial. I will work on the route and find the prizes. You bring your legs, lungs, and the lightest bike you can muster (no weight limits here), and we will take it from there.

Categories: Classic / Races / Routes

From The Saddle: Acadia 09/02/2012


Acadia

Better late than never, a gallery of images From The Saddle in Acadia National Park, Maine. Before traveling there everyone kept warning us about the traffic, and how packed it would be. Maybe living in NYC has immunized us to congestion or maybe nothing else compares to the craziness of NYC jams, but everywhere we went up there it just seemed quiet and open. Even in the Park itself (The Park Loop is a two lane one-way system that hugs the coast) I never felt squeezed on the road. Reading one of the Kayak rental company leaflets they made a point of saying don’t be put off by low cloud or early morning fog, “it is often the best and most dramatic time to see the Park“. They weren’t wrong. Early morning in the Park is practically traffic free, the light is beautiful and you basically have one of the most stunning national parks in the world all to yourself. With good legs, blue skies, the sea on your left, climbs on your right you may just have one of your best days on a bike in there.

CLICK ON THE IMAGE ABOVE FOR THE GALLERY

Categories: Routes

The Jeremy Powers Grand Fundo For The JAM Fund 07/17/2012


Last Saturday I joined the Grand Fundo, a charity ride organized by Jeremy Powers in Southampton MA. I had really no idea what to expect other than an as advertised “not a race, on a pretty demanding course”. One swift scan of the car park on arrival pretty much sorted that out. Most riders there could have been described as “serious riders” so you know the competitive gene would emerge in some form at multiple points of the day. The ride is super well organized with quality merchandise (I am drinking from my JAM Fund pint glass as I write). The Fundo is a 64 mile loop, and what it lacked in distance, it made up for in hills and dirt, it is a nice course. Two things left big question marks floating over my helmet during the ride. The first: The ride is described as having “20 miles of maintained dirt roads…”. If that was 20 miles I will eat all of the Jelly Belly bean packets I picked up in one go. I don’t know if it was the fact I haven’t really ridden dirt that much, or the heavy legs from the 92 degree heat, but man those sections felt LONG. The second: A heads-up on Climb 3 would have been handy! The average may have only been 5% – but when you see riders zig zagging up the road in front of you, be rest assured there is a section in the “Wall” category coming. The halfway point is marked by a very special Feed Zone, The Flavor King Truck. I have never been so happy to see an ice cream truck. The heat was slaughtering me and the Strawberry Shortbread ice cream managed to stop the steam coming off my head. Overall this is a great ride, with a great vibe. And to the kids at Rest Stop 3 with the surgical towels soaked in ice water – you are angels.

 

Categories: Rides / Routes

A Mellow Ride In Austin with Super Dom Russell 03/15/2012


I just returned from my first trip to Austin Texas, and it is no coincidence that I spent at least one hour of each day I was there in Mellow Johnny’s. It might be one of the best shops I have ever been to. They have the right balance of product, space and coffee (they serve Stumptown our favorite), all rounded out with some of the best and most helpful staff you could hope for. The space is in the old warehouse district and used to be a beer warehouse if I remember right. They have rides pretty much leaving the shop every morning with a mixture of levels. We were lucky enough to have our very own personal Mellow Johnny’s guide in Russell, who may well be the tallest cyclist outside of Holland (he is 6′ 7″ and his custome Land Shark has the largest headtube I have ever seen). He took us out into the Austin farmlands onto the “Flemish Loop” on a damp and hazy moring. Sitting behind Russell on a 25mph wind in your back return leg, is like sitting behind a Vespa motorpacing. There is no wind. Nothing. Just a hole that pulls you along with minimal effort. He is a “Super Dom” of pure quality, who to quote him “loves being second in command“. I wish I could have spent more time there, the riding seems great, plus I met two riders proudly sporting Elcyclista kit. That brought a smile to my face. It is so nice to see the kit out there and meet fellow riders who love design.

Categories: Riders / Rides / Routes