Sunday 30 June 2019

Tiffany Cromwell's tips on training for your first 100km bike ride

For Women's 100 Rapha have a special edition jersey for the event on 14 September
Tiffany Cromwell in the Rapha Women's 100 kit (photo: @wmncyling)

Now that the weather is getting nicer we can turn our heads to fun summer events. One established event on the women’s cycling calendar is the Rapha Women’s 100 on September 14th, where women all around the world cycle 100km.

You can ride as part of an organised group, with friends, or just on your own – on your local roads, through a challenging mountain range, or out to your favourite café stop. Wherever you ride, you will be part of a global celebration of women’s cycling.

While a few women may find this distance fairly standard and can ride around it quite comfortably, many of us may find it a challenge. Professional rider Tiffany Cromwell, of Canyon//SRAM shares her tips on how to prepare to cycle 100km.

Tiffany (centre) at the Women's Tour alongside Lizzie Deignan (in blue)
Tiffany Cromwell was in the UK recently to race in the Women’s Tour alongside Hannah and Alice Barnes. Racing in the limited edition Women’s 100 kit, the team celebrated Kasia Niewiadoma’s second place finish, behind Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo).

Here are Tiffany’s top tips for those tackling their first 100km-cycle ride

1. Build up gradually to the distance.
Don’t just think you can go out and do 100km without having done anything beforehand. Riding 100km is a long way for anyone, even for us. In our pre-season training they say you need to build the foundations before you can build the house. It’s about starting with a 20km- or 30km-ride, do a few of those, build up to 50km, 80km and then you know that you are ready to ride 100km.

2. Ride indoors if the weather is too bad
These days indoor turbo trainers are much more interactive and much more easier than in old-school days when you had to do turbo sessions for one, two or three hours staring at a brick wall.  Something like Zwift is an awesome platform. Even if you only have an hour, do an hour and challenge yourself with the sprint points and high intensity, because that’s also going to help build you up to take on 100km.
If it’s really bad weather all week, then sure a few turbo sessions are good to keep things ticking over and keep your muscles working and understanding that level of loading. Then when the weather gets good again you can do your longer rides out on the road.

3. Ride indoors if you don’t have time to ride outdoors
Cycling is more about consistency than being able to do these one-off long rides. Even if you have the chance to do two sessions a day, that would help build that endurance, say if you had an hour in the morning before work. Just get on the trainer, do an easy ride and then an hour after work and maybe stretch that to two hours, and add interval training in there as well. Because you are spending time on the bike and getting your muscles used to cycling and then you’re getting on the bike day after day, it’s a way to build up strength consistently.

4. Balance long rides with short high intensity sessions
You can do 100km quite aerobically but you can also get quite fit by doing short, high-intensity efforts as well. It’s about balancing things out. I don’t actually use the trainer so much but when I do use it it’s for short specific sessions of high intensity, and short recovery. It’s always a fantastic tool to use when you want that extra little edge for racing.

5. Fuel your body correctly
That is super important. When you are training, if you have never used gels or bars I’d say get your body used to those.
During the 100km-ride ideally I would have a piece of food for every thirty minutes on the ride. I’ll start eating thirty minutes to an hour into the ride and then every thirty minutes after that. Then I drink about a bottle every hour. If it’s hot then you definitely need to take on more liquids, and a mixture of water and electrolytes.

6. Dress appropriately
Check the weather. If you know it’s going to be a sunny day all day, great! Then you need just a jersey and shorts. But if the weather’s maybe changeable, or if you’re going into the mountains where perhaps the weather can change very quickly I always throw in either a vest [gilet] or a rain jacket, because having something that can cover your chest is really important. When you get to the top of the mountain and it’s a little bit colder then you have that vest [gilet] to put on for when you’re going back down again.

7. Don’t forget the coffee shops!
I’m all for stopping and finding a good coffee shop, and having a light lunch along the way and really enjoying the ride. Don’t have anything too heavy when you have a proper food stop or it can be a bit hard on your stomach.

Tiffany (right) with her Canyon-SRAM team-mates
8. Enjoy the ride
The best thing about cycling is really enjoying being outside, enjoying the scenery, riding with friends, and having a good little rest along the way.
If you are mentally prepared for the 100km ride, you will get through it.

Check your bike is roadworthy and carry basic tools with you like a spare inner tube, tyre levers, pump and a multi-tool.

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Sunday 23 June 2019

Commuting by bicycle - Let's be careful out there!

When cycling around the city, I keep in mind that phrase that was perfectly put by Sergeant Phil Esterhaus from one of my favourite cop shows, Hill Street Blues, "Let's be careful out there!"

Commuter cyclists on Blackfriars Bridge
As someone who regularly cycles around London I am always vigilant about all other road users - just motorists, black cabs, Uber drivers, delivery vans, and of course trucks turning left. The most problematic for me though, are pedestrians - and even more so now with more and more people looking down at their phones instead of watching the road ahead of them.

These "smombies", or smartphone zombies, give cyclists even more reason to be vigilant when cycling in busy urban areas like central London. In fact a recent court ruling, much to the shock of cyclists has shown how we are even more vulnerable on the road, both physically as well as legally.

One day in July 2015, while Robert Hazeldean was riding his bike near London Bridge a pedestrian, Gemma Brushett stepped out into the road while looking at her smart phone. She had not paid any attention to what was going on around her and assumed she had right of way. She didn't, as the traffic lights were green.

Hazeldean sounded the loud air horn that was on his road bike and shouted to warn her he was approaching, at around 15 miles per hour. He swerved to try to avoid her, but at the same time Brushett looked up, and startled to see the cyclist so close to her, ran back towards the traffic island - also in the same direction that the cyclist swerved. Consequently Hazeldean knocked her down, leaving both parties unconscious, and needing hospital treatment.

Sadly, for Hazeldean that was just the beginning of his woes as Brushett sued the cyclist for injuries caused (cuts to her face, cracked teeth, and mental amnesia). The ruling has only just been made, and the case ruled that the cyclist was liable for damages.

Although the judge, Shanti Mauger, recognised that the pedestrian had not been paying attention because Brushett was looking at her phone she still ruled that there was a 50:50 blame for the accident because, in her words "cyclists should be prepared at all times for people to behave in unexpected ways". For that reason the cyclist was ordered to pay 50% of the damages and Brushett's legal bills.

This still represents up to £105,000 - over £4,000 in damages and up to £100,000 in legal fees. Hazeldean risks being left bankrupt. In addition, the case has taken its toll on the mental health of the landscape designer who has since started a new life in the South of France.

A friend of Brushett's launched an on-line crowdfunding appeal, and thanks to the generosity of the public and numerous sympathisers, £46,000 was raised in order to help him pay the legal costs.

This case sets a worrying precedent for cyclists. Effectively, people can walk down the road, taking no responsibility for their own safety, paying no attention to what is happening around them, and if they are hit by a cyclist, the latter could find themselves in hot water legally despite having taken reasonable precautionary steps like having a bell and abiding by the road traffic rules. A poll by The Sun newspaper found that more than three-quarters of the readers who voted believed that the pedestrian was to blame.

Three-quarters of respondents do not agree with the judge's ruling
One other point that this case highlights is the need for cyclists to take out third party insurance. As someone who has been a member of different cycling clubs for over 20 years, I have always had third party insurance through British Cycling (insurance from other cycling organisations like Cycling UK and London Cycling Campaign are also available). Cycling clubs generally make it a condition of joining, that cyclists have insurance, and people can explain why it is necessary.

However, ordinary cycle commuters and  leisure bike riders may not be aware of this, so are inadvertently exposing themselves to potential problems. If Hazeldean had had third party insurance the case would have cost him £6,000 and he could have had legal support to make a counter claim. Things could have been less stressful in the process.

What the public say:

Cyclists - be careful out there!

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Thursday 13 June 2019

Fortune and misfortune for Marianne Vos at the Women's Tour

This week one of the key events in women's professional cycle racing has been taking place, the OVO Energy Women's Tour. The event, which first started in 2014, has grown over its six-year history, and many professional riders have called out the Women's Tour as one of the top races on the international racing calendar.
The World's best women racers at the Cyclopark
So its good for us as it means we get the top racers gracing our shores for a week. For the first time, one of the stages was held at the Cyclopark, near Gravesend. 

Earlier this year the Cyclopark was the setting for the top cyclocross racers in the country for the National Championships, and on Tuesday it hosted the top women racers in the world.

Racing was fast - at times, in excess of 30 miles per hour. So I guess that for local fast amateur riders they're going to be a little gutted that their Strava QOMs have been annihilated!

The race was won by the most successful women's racer in history, Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv), ahead of Lizzie Deignan (Trek-Segafredo) and Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-Scott).

Although a win for Lizzie would have made a good news story for the home girl, I was so pleased to Marianne Vos's win. This win subsequently put her in the lead in the general classification.

Marianne is such a brilliant racer to watch in action, even down to the smooth slick way she effected her bike change when she got a puncture.

Marianne Vos wins Stage 2 of the Women's Tour (only to crash out on Stage 3)
As someone who has interviewed Marianne Vos several times over the last few years, I think she is such a lovely friendly woman, who is a great ambassador for women's cycling, and who always has time for the fans, and for journalists too!

Sadly, the following day Marianne crashed out of the Women's Tour following a cut to the head after a crashing heavily. The crash looked like the stuff of nightmares - the sort of thing that scares me when I used to be in a peloton.

The riders were in full speed contesting an intermediate sprint near Didcot, Oxfordshire when one of Marianne Vos's lead-out riders, Jeanne Korevaar, lost her handlebars when she went over a pot-hole.

Marianne had no where to go and crashed into a verge, and collided with a post in the process. A domino effect ensued and a massive chunk of the peloton went down, with riders scattered across the width of the road.

At the Stage 2  press conference looking to the rest of the race 
As well as Vos and her two of her team-mates being out of the race there were around 10 other DNF's among them big names like Barbara Guarischi (Virtu Cycling) and Elena Cecchini (Canyon-SRAM). 

Thankfully, Marianne was not badly injured in the crash and just needed stitches for the cuts to her head. However, she says her face looks like she's just been in a boxing match. I also imagine that her morale would have taken more of a hit than the physical wounds as the Women's Tour had been a target race for her, and she probably would have been wanting to go one better than her second place achievement last year.
The crash did put a downer on the event, especially after having had a great time at the Cyclopark the day before. I know crashes are part of cycle racing, but it's still sad to see, particularly when it's the race leader who crashes out. Lisa Brennauer (WNT-ROTOR) the new race leader at the end of the Oxfordshire stage, had mixed emotions and was not especially joyous at taking the leader's jersey in those circumstances.

Wishing all the best and speedy recovery to all the riders and looking forward to seeing them back racing soon.

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Tuesday 11 June 2019

Cyclopark welcomes world's best riders for the Women's Tour

Marianne Vos (CCC-Liv) was the winner of the 62.5km-second stage of the OVO Energy Women’s Tour yesterday, putting her into the overall lead. The race saw 96 of the world's top cyclists race in Kent for the first time, at the Mecca for cycling, the Cyclopark.

After the victory in stage one of Jolien d'Hoore, the Boels Dolmans rider automatically took the overall lead, but only by a couple of seconds from last year's winner, Coryn Rivera. Marianne Vos, the most decorated female cyclist in history, and also a previous winner of the Women's Tour was not far behind d'Hoore either.

The riders setting off for Stage 2 of the Women's Tour

Racing around the 2.5-km circuit was fast and furious, with no chance for any lasting breakaway to form, despite a gallant effort by Elena Cecchini (Canyon//SRAM Racing). Various teams contributed towards driving the high pace, notably Trek-Segafredo, Team Sunweb, Alé Cipollini, Team VIRTU Cycling, Canyon//SRAM Racing, and CCC-Liv).
Circuit map of Stage 2 of the Women's Tour
Eventually, with three laps to go, Ellen van Dijk led a well-drilled Trek-Segafredo train, to set up Lizzie Deignan for the sprint to the finish line. In the melée of various contenders hanging on, Marianne Vos managed to power past the train and take the win from Deignan and Sarah Roy (Mitchelton-SCOTT).

The peloton racing around the circuit at approximately 45km/hour

Speaking to 2wheel chick after the race a delighted Henk Vos said of his daughter’s fifth stage win at the Women’s Tour, “She [Marianne] had a problem on the road and had to change her bike when she had a flat tyre, and then to win is marvellous. We follow Marianne everywhere. I can’t find enough words to say how much we are so proud. It’s unbelievable.”
Marianne Vos wins Stage 2 of the OVO Energy Women's Tour ahead of Lizzie Deignan
Here’s how Marianne Vos recalled Stage two in the post-race conference:

"Our strategy was to stay in front as much as possibl because if you’re in the back you are doing intervals all the time so it’s better to be in front and in the race and keep that focus, but Ashleigh [Moolman-Pasio] did a great job to stay in front. I mean it’s not easy to stay in front. She had a good race and she felt comfortable, and she was there also to go with the attacks and stay in control.

"For myself, I was trying to save a little more, and the other riders were kind of delivering me to the front, so it is really good when your team mates are there in front. It really motivates you to stay there as well.

"If the bunch is doing 50 km per hour and dropping to 45 and going to 55 again there’s no option to stay away. Cecchini did a great job to try, but she’s a really good rider, and it’s so hard to stay away for a couple of laps, especially during the final when the pace was so high. On such a circuit you really need a strong breakaway with a couple of riders that can keep going.
Marianne Vos at the post-stage press conference
"There was a lot of action, in the bunch. You needed to get to the front all the time so I think from the side line it might have been a little boring, one bunch going around but in the group you were constantly trying to get a position, get to the front, stay in the front. It was actually interesting for us to do such a thing.  

"If it had rained this [race] would have been totally different. It was quite safe in the bunch I have to say. It’s a very experienced bunch, people were really good at bike handling, it’s not a really big bunch. Everybody was fighting for each centimetre, it was safe but if it’s wet….once you get into the grass then you have a big problem. Today [when on the grass] it was possible to save it and get back on the road again. That happened on nearly every corner. You didn’t see all the action, but we did!

"I had a flat tyre. I didn’t worry at all. I was like, “it happens”. Let’s change bike and see if I can get in. It happened with 11 laps to go so there was sort of plenty of time. But yeah, I’ve had less good places to have a flat tyre this year. [For example, at Paterberg, in the Tour of Flanders].

"I was quite surprised at the gap I had when I won. I saw a gap opening at 200m to go. I came from the back so I thought “okay if I don’t go now I will be late, so I will have to go and see if I can open up a gap”, and then I did, but I felt okay now the legs are going to burn so I just kept going and I saw no wheels coming, so that was of course a great feeling.

"It’s always nice to have more riders in front, and Ashleigh [Moolman-Pasio] is a great climber, so going to the next days it’s really helpful. She’s a great climber and she can do crits as well, and time trials as well. Having her in the team is very important – valuable – but not just Ashleigh. I have to say Jeanne Korevaar did a really good job today and also the other riders. So the team is going to be more important in the next days, so we are going to try our best.

"Lizzie’s [Deignan’s] form is great. No doubt. I’ve seen her in the first races coming back [after maternity leave], and of course she hasn’t won yet, but I think she’s close to her top shape and definitely she was really good in [Tour de] Yorkshire. She’s in great form, she’s always one to watch for GC and the team is strong as well. They have a very strong team. We don’t fear anyone, but Trek [-Segafredo] is one of the teams that you want to watch."

For Lizzie Deignan, who placed second in the race she was pleased with the result, considering that she had not been targeting a win in this stage. The Yorkshire-born rider said:
"On paper this is the least suited [stage] to our team. It was just about riding as a team and that’s what we did. Ellen [van Dijk] and Trixi [Worrack] did an amazing job. I really have to thank them for that."

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Thursday 6 June 2019

Italian cycling tales from towns on the Giro d'Italia route - 2

Stories from the places on the 2019 Giro d'Italia route. One thing I liked about watching the Giro d'Italia cycle race was when the route went through areas that I am familiar with - either places where I lived or stayed when on holiday, or places I cycled through.

Here are some of the stages that brought me some fond memories.

Commezzadura (Val di Sole) to Anterselva (Stage 17)

The first section of this stage is an area I am familiar with, having done an event called the Giro di Dolomiti. It's a one-week cyclosportive in stages held in late July/early August, based in Bolzano.

The novelty about this event is that the General Classification is not based on the time taken to complete each of the stages, but just the time to do the main climb of each stage. The rest of the time people ride the remaining part of the stage at a leisurely pace, enjoying the Dolomites. You are even treated to a sit-down meal at altitude somewhere along the route.

Making friends at the Giro di Dolomiti
The year I did it, in 2006, Passo Mendola was the main climb of the first stage. I remember it well because I'd been so anxious about the event, and I was not sure if I would be fit enough. Italian bike riders use cyclosportives as de facto road races, so no one seems to ride on their own at their own pace. Or at least that's how things had looked to me.

In fact, it was at this race that I learned that cyclosportives need not always be a speedfest. In particular in this cyclosportive I knew I would only need to put in a hard effort for one climb, and the rest of the time it would just be a trans-Dolomiti social with folks from various parts of Europe.

Passo Mendola, which we climbed from Bolzano (the opposite way to the riders this year) was about 10 miles long, but it had a gentle gradient. Once I had gotten that out of the way I felt fine.

It was also nice because on that day I met some guys who had come to the event from Kent, and an Australian girl, Yvette who was half Italian and half Australian and working for Pinarello. We built up a camaraderie for the rest of the week, and met other people too. That contributed to me having a really good time at the Giro di Dolomiti. I would definitely recommend this event.

The riders in this year's Giro d'Italia took the main road to get from Bolzano to Ponte Gardena. However, it is possible to do this route on a traffic-free path. Google maps doesn't show this route for bicycles, however it is there and it is quite a pleasant tarmacked path that follows the River Adige. I cycled along it to get to Bolzano from Ponte Gardena.

At the time that I rode this I had been staying in Milan as I was working there, and for the August bank holiday I spent a long weekend in Canazei, in the heart of the Dolomites. As part of my return journey (which involved a train via Bolzano and then Verona to get to Milan) I got a bus to Ortisei (or it might have been Plan de Gralba), then rode downhill to Ponte Gardena from where I picked up the cycle path.

Along the way, a local guy on a bicycle decided to ride with me. I just thought it was just your average local who just says hello, where are you from, blah blah blah, and then carries on along his way at a faster pace than me.

However, this guy was not ready to do that at all. I told him that I wouldn't be going very fast because my bike was heavily laden. But he said he didn't mind. His car was sitting in a garage in Ortisei being serviced, so he had all day to hang around and was looking for something to do! So he was all set to ride with me for the duration! Cripes!

He was pretty harmless, and just talked about life and the universe, plus Italians' other favourite subject after football - the state of the economy and corrupt politicians - so I had two hours to learn about this blokes' thoughts on Berlusconi, Beppe Grillo, the Lega Nord, and a bit of Gigi Buffon!

Thankfully, just when I felt I'd had my fill of his opinions and he was about to say, "...and another thing..." we arrived at the outskirts of Bolzano, so he wished me a good day, and went on his way back to Ortisei. I like to think he had got everything off his chest!

This trip back to Bolzano was a lot easier than my outward journey. I had taken a packed train from Milan to Verona in which I and a load of other cyclists had been packed like cattle into a carriage with our bikes on an oppressively hot day. Then I picked up an equally packed train up to Ponte Gardena, from where I had planned to ride up to Canazei with all my luggage.

Progress was very slow as I sauntered up the road on my fully laden bike. The first 20km of the 30km route was uphill, as far as the Passo di Sella. Every so often I would phone the proprietor of the B&B where I had a room reserved, to say that there would be a delay in my arrival time, especially as it was getting to evening and I still had to ride up (and then down) the Passo di Sella.

Finally at around 7.30pm, when I arrived at Selva di Val Gardena I popped into a hotel and got them to call a taxi for me. The taxi driver told me it would cost 80 euros to take me to Canazei.

Delightful Dolomiti - the Sella range of mountains
Not wanting to pay so much I told him to take me just to the summit of Passo di Sella, and then I would roll 10km down the hill to Canazei. He reluctantly agreed to do so, fearing that I would catch hyperthermia riding down from the summit (which was at 2,218m) at that time of the evening.

He was right about the descent being really cold, but I just wore every bit of clothing in my luggage. It was a beautiful descent. Although it had been a challenging day, I felt lucky to have had the chance to see the Sella Ronda and the Dolomites rocks from up close at sunset. The area looked amazing.

Lovere to Ponte di Legno (Stage 16)

As the pre-planned climb of Passo di Gavia had to be removed from this stage of the Giro d'Italia due to snow, Mortirolo became the main climb of this stage. It was quite a spectacle watching the riders climb up it from the hard side, Mazzo.

Summit of Mortirolo
This takes me back to the time when I rode up the Mortirolo a few years ago when I was based in Milan and took the train up to Tirano for a long weekend in the high Italian Alps. As Mortirolo was not so far from where I was staying I decided to ride it one Friday afternoon.

I was having a bit of trouble finding the climb so a friendly local cyclist, Giulio, showed me the way there. He got me to follow his wheel along the valley road, and we arrived at Tovo Sant'Agata near Mazzo, where he dropped me off.

A butcher by trade, Giulio only worked in the morning and would spend every afternoon riding around the local climbs - Gavia, Aprica, Ponte di Legno, Bormio, Stelvio and of course Mortirolo. So for him to take a few minutes out of his afternoon to ride with me along a valley road was probably light relief!

I held his wheel like my life depended on it as he drafted off a rather speedy tractor. By the time he dropped me off at Tovo Sant'Agata the sweat was pouring down my face and I then I contemplated this monster I had to climb. "Just take is steady," Giulio said. "You'll be fine."

I came out of the climb alive, but it was not fine at all. The climb was so steep, and I ended up having to get off my bike and walk. I felt really stupid to have chosen the Mortirolo as my first climb of the trip when I hadn't found my climbing legs.

On the way up to Mortirolo from Mazzo
It was a Friday afternoon, and I was wondering if I would get back home before dinner! Eventually I came out of the woods - metaphorically as well as physically - and I had a lovely view of the Valtellina valley area.

Then I dropped downhill to a town called Monno. This descent was quite shallow and it made me realise that this was the side I should have ridden up the Mortirolo.

The views around were so beautiful and the descent was not technical, so with a nice end to my ride it made me forget about the earlier difficulties in the afternoon.

The rest of my weekend was spent riding up to Bormio and to Stelvio. Time didn't allow me to go up the Gavia, and I made a resolution to return there to ride. My next trip to the area was to go skiing in Aprica, and I haven't returned there since. So Passo di Gavia is still on my bucket list.

Ivrea to Como (Stage 15)

Lake Como at Bellagio
Of all the stages of this year's Giro d'Italia this is the stage I am most familiar with it. I have ridden in most of the sections of this stage.

As I spent 18 months in Milan, and still visit the area regularly I always make a point of riding around Lombardy.

The immediate outskirts of Milan are industrial, and sadly they don't have any preserved green belt areas like what you get around London, so a ride from Milan city centre to the nice areas that we know and love is actually quite ugly.

You pass industrial estate after disused factory, after out-of-town retail park, so I would generally cut out these eyesores and get on a local train to Monza or Como, and ride around the Brianza and Lake Como areas. Sometimes I would go to Lecco and Bergamo too.

Madonna del Ghisallo
Arriving into Como was always a nice feeling as I would get off the train and be right next to the beautiful lake. From there I would take the road along the lake, the SP583 to get to Bellagio, and then turn right to climb up to Magreglio, the site of Madonna del Ghisallo.

There are lots of options from here. I could turn back and enjoy the ride along the same road, which is the direction in which the pros cycled along this road during their first passage into Como.

But feeling energetic last autumn I decided to go on to Sormano and then tempt the Muro di Sormano, a quiet narrow, ridiculously steep lane which is a short cut to Pian del Tivano. In hindsight I should have done like the pros and taken the longer, but more gentle Colma di Sormano.

The Muro di Sormano is THE hardest climb I have ever seen on a bike. It is even steeper than those really steep roads in the Lake District. I have yet to meet anyone (outside of elite racers) who can ride this. Apart from the first 150m I ended up walking most of the roughly mile-long (1.7km) climb, and then got on my bike for the last 30 metres.

Embarrasingly when I reached the main road near Pian del Tivano a few hikers cheered at me for having managed to do the climb! I felt it necessary to come clean with them and say I didn't ride it. But they were just impressed I had ridden any part of it at all!

Which way? Turn left for the pain of the Muro di Sormano
The descent to Nesso is hairpin central - pretty technical. At least the pros had a clear road.

I had to deal with cars in front of me, making me either work hard to overtake them safely on the narrow road, or take it handy so that I didn't run into the back of them.

Then once back on the road to Torno it was a real blast to ride along the side of the Lake to get back to Como. I really appreciated the picture postcard that was the town of Como, with its lovely landmarks, in the distance.

The pros then had the pleasure of riding up to Civiglio. I would normally do this route as a separate ride either from Lecco and Ponte Lambro, which is the easy way down, or I would start in Como and do the tough climb up towards Brunate, then turn right to Civiglio when I was two thirds up the climb.
Lake Como as seen from Brunate

This road is not visible while at Lake Como as it is a quiet road that starts at the back of the town. However, while at the lake if you look up you see a lighthouse way up above, and that is where I need to go.....

It's quite daunting, especially as the first part of the climb is quite steep - probably around 12%.  with lots of hairpins. Even driving up there is quite tricky! A few years ago I wrote an article for the former Cycling Active magazine about riding around this area. We did a photo shoot in the area, and it was quite fun.

As Italians like to chat there were quite a few people who were curious to know what we were up to during the photoshoot, and I remember a guy who was quite happy to slow down in his car, while I was riding on a steepish hairpin, and chat to me about what I was doing and shout "forza, dai". It's an Italian thing, I guess.

A well-deserved ice cream awaits in Como
Talking of Italian things, all my rides around this area would end in the main square near Como cathedral, where I would have a gelato before getting the train back to Milan. I miss those times, but I also know that it is easy enough to go back there from London - something that I have done since those days, and will continue to do.

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Sunday 2 June 2019

Italian cycling tales from towns on the Giro d'Italia route - 1

Stories from the places on the 2019 Giro d'Italia route. One thing I like about watching the Giro d'Italia cycle race is when the route goes through areas that I am familiar with - either places where I lived or stayed when on holiday, or places I cycled through. When I see the places on TV it always conjures up memories of the time I was there. In most cases I wish I could go back and ride in those areas - even if I am a little older and slower than I was a few years ago!

Verona (Stage 21)
Verona city entrance 
I love Verona. The first time I ever visited Italy I went to Venice. During that visit I also visited Vicenza, Lake Garda, and Verona.

All those places were pleasant and exciting, but my favourite place was Verona.

It didn't have quite as many tourists as Venice, and seemed a more manageable sized town.

There was also more space than the never ending narrow alleyways of Venice. In my opinion Verona looked prettier than Venice and didn't have a tired look about it from the gazillions of tourists, which I seem to notice in Venice.

I love the central central historic areas in Verona, and its Roman arena, where the Giro d'Italia finishes.

The time trial that the pros are doing for this final stage goes up the Toricelle road. I have never ridden up this road, but I have driven up it. Once, on a weekend away in the Veneto region I booked to stay at a B&B just outside the city centre, and it involved me driving up this climb. I hadn't realised that the road up to the B&B would be so twisty or that it even went uphill! So it was a bit of a test of my driving skills, especially as it was late at night, I wasn't that sure of where I was going and was stuck in among all the local drivers.

Verona Arena and City Hall at Piazza Bra
The B&B was very pleasant and we were treated to beautiful views of the city below, so going there was worth the effort.

The Toricelle climb was used in the World Race Championships in 1999, and is a regular time trial route for the locals. A nocturnal time trial takes place there every year around the end of August/early September. They call it a "cronoscalata" (hill climb). That must surely be one for the bucket list - well after a bit of training.

Feltre and Croce d'Aun (Stage 20)

The route from Feltre to Croce d'Aune is essentially the same course as the Gran Fondo Sportful Dolomiti, which takes place in a couple of weeks. This ride was previously known as the Gran Fondo Campagnolo, which is probably a more relevant name given that the guy who invented Campagnolo components was from Vicenza, not far from this area.

In fact he came up with the idea of the quick release wheel - something that is in most bikes nowadays - when a problem with his wheel on the Croce d'Aune during a cycle race in 1927, cost him the win.

I have done quite a few cyclosportives in Italy, but I have never done this one. A few years ago, we used to say that that the Gran Fondo Campagnolo (now the Gran Fondo Sportful Dolomiti) was one to avoid because the weather was always bad. The Maratona dles Dolomiti and Gran Fondo Pinarello which happen in early July both take place on very warm days. But at the Feltre event, the rain always showed up on the day, occasionally with the route having to be cut short.

So I tended to steer clear of it. Looking at recent photos of the race, it seems that the weather tends to be okay nowadays. So maybe it is time for me to consider riding it.

Treviso to San Martino di Castrozza (Stage 19)

I know Treviso from the time when I rode the Gran Fondo Pinarello - another cyclosportive that takes place at the home of the eponymous family-owned bike manufacturers.

Start line of Gran Fondo Pinarello with Yvette from Pinarello
It was more than 10 years ago when I rode it, so the route is a little different nowadays. The day I rode it, in July the weather was blisteringly hot and I rode the 200km route. We rode up Passo di San Boldo, which features in this stage.

Our route was from a slightly different side as we climbed for about 5 miles and then went over unmade roads before eventually threading in and out of a series of tunnels. The views below were spectacular. The San Boldo climb was the appetiser for a longer more arduous climb, not to San Martino di Castrozza, but to a ski area called Nevegal, which was again on unmade roads. It was a bit like doing Eroica!

Once there we turned around to do the run back in to Treviso, and passed over the Volpago di Montello, which was only about 2km long, but the gradient went to 12% - so something akin to the steep climbs I ride in the Kent or Surrey Hills. So I felt at home!

Montello climb in Gran Fondo Pinarello
During the Pinarello cyclosportive guys kept giving me tips and offering assistance to improve my ride. Some would tell me to just follow the wheel and save energy, while others would just automatically offer their wheel for me to draft off.

A bit like the equivalent of a gentleman holding a door open for a woman, when biking in these parts, guys would offer women their wheel and allow them to draft. It's not something you'd ever see in a UK cyclosportive.

In the last 20 miles of the Pinarello cyclosportive a group of local Italian guys came by and got me to ride in the group with them. They did a chain gang and told me I didn't need to take a turn on the front, so I basically got towed to within about 400m of the finish, and then they dropped back and allowed me to come through and sprint for the line! It made me feel quite important - even if I ended up finishing in 4,347th place out of 7,000 riders!

Valdaora to Santa Maria di Sala (Stage 18)

I have been to this part of Italy in the past - not for cycling, but to ski, and on one occasion for hiking. I wasn't in Valdaora but I was in nearby Dobbiaco. Although the area is part of Italy, it has a distinctly Austrian look and feel about it, and people automatically speak to you in German. Some people there don't know any Italian!

Cross country skiing around Dobbiaco
I went on a trip with Exodus Adventure Company to learn cross country skiing some years ago, so we were based in Dobbiaco (or Toblach, the German name). I had been enjoying the skiing, but deep down I felt that there was something not right about not being able to do a long downhill. Cross country skiing is hard work.

The trip took place in December, when the temperature was about minus 15 degrees C. So in those temperatures I put on about four layers under my jacket. However, within about 15 minutes of starting to ski I had to remove layers. It got to the point where I just stripped down to my cycling jersey and arm warmers. Anything more, and I was overdressed!

Cross country skiing is not that type of skiing where you can look cool as you drop down a hill at speed and then lounge around over a mulled wine enjoying the views at altitude. It's just rough and ready and you go hard at it uphill, on the flat, and even downhill! You burn more calories than cycling or running and in my case I end up a sweaty mess.

Cortina d'Ampezzo
So when I'd had my fill of working hard in the snow I left the group and caught a bus to get over to Cortina d'Ampezzo (where the riders passed through during this stage) to enjoy a bit of the gravity-assisted stuff - proper skiing.

I may have been a bit lacking in the style department, especially by Cortina's high standards, but the folks seemed to let me off!

I do hope to go to that area with my bike, and will go through Cortina, plus nearby Passo Falzarego, a well-known climb in that area which was not covered in this year's Giro (but has been included in the past).

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