Tuesday 24 March 2020

Coronavirus Lockdown!

So, after all this talk of coronavirus firstly hitting Asia, then coming over and ravaging Northern Italy the thing just got all the more real, now that it has arrived in the UK and has claimed the first few victims.
Breeze Yoga, like other leisure places, sadly had to close
After what appeared to be a smug insouciance by many, including the UK Prime Minister, we have been forced to face the harsh reality that Coronavirus disease, Covid-19 (offically known as SARS-CoV-2) is taking hold of the country. In short, we are in deep s***.

Folks thought that it might be the capricious behaviour of certain world leaders, or even Brexit that might cause a socioeconomic meltdown. But no, all it has taken to bring the country into disarray is a tiny monster. And it is tiny. This organism of just one thousandth the size of a pinhead is causing havoc to countries across the world.

I was saddened to hear about what was happening in Asia, when the disease intially struck China, South Korea and parts of Japan.

However, I must admit I felt a certain complacency about the situation knowing they had overcome the first SARS outbreak 17 years ago, and so they would have the means to overcome this not dissimilar situation. I also perceived it has a problem that could potentially affect people in the UK, but not to any life-changing extent.

But then when I heard about the number of people killed there, it became more of a talking point. While I was in Milan, and then skiing in Courmayeur and Chamonix at the start of February coronavirus was a prominent talking point on the Italian news programmes. At that time a couple of people with the disease had been identified in Rome. But in a way people weren't so alarmed because they were folks who had returned from China, and as they were in isolation everything seemed under control.

But then one Sunday evening in late February when I was looking at the figures showing the number of coronavirus cases around the world, I was shocked to see how many people in Milan and the Lombardy region had been affected.

Once the disease had come to Italy everyone instantly knew it would be a matter of time before the scourge would arrive on UK shores.

My friend Silvia, who lives in Milan, spoke to me from her flat where she was holed up due to the government-imposed isolation measures. The thing that struck me was when she said that she did not mind being stuck there if it would help protect people, notably her elderly parents, from succumbing to the disease.

You need this when you go out in Italy during Lockdown
It was then that I first heard about the horror of people who die being left with no loved ones around them. Such is the contagious nature of the disease that sufferers can't make contact with anyone other than the hospital physicians and nurses.

Apparently some seriously patients, on realising that their days were numbered would ask to see their daughter or their husband, only to be told this wasn't allowed. I couldn't think of anything more heartbreaking and ruthless.

The other measures in place in Italy seemed equally alarming. No one in Italy is allowed to go outdoors at all unless it is to see a doctor or pharmacist, or to go to the supermarket. Even then, only one member of the family is allowed to go out and do the shopping and you can only go once a week. Furthermore, you have to go to the nearest supermarket to your home.

No outdoor exercises are permitted including cycling, but dog-walking within 200m of your home is okay.

All this was underpinned by a special form, known as an "autocertificazione". The form has your name, address, date of birth, ID number, reason you're going out and address of the place you're going to. You take the form with you every time you go outdoors, and be ready to show it to the police if you are stopped. Failure to have the form, or a breach of the rules leads to a heavy fine and potentially a prison sentence.

Italy had suddenly become a police state.

And now, given that there are over 8,000 who have tested positive with 422 deaths, including 87 in the last 24 hours the government has decreed the same measures in the UK as in other major European countries - well almost the same. We are allowed to go out and do one form of exercise - cycling or running; there is no time or distance limit, though we just have to make sure we maintain a social distance of at least 2m from others. We can do the activity alone, or just with members of our own household, but we can't do group activities.

So there you have it. We are offially in lockdown.

My first inkling that things were going wrong for us was last Tuesday when the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson announced that schools would be closing at the end of the week, and then on Friday he suddenly announced that sports centres and bars should close with immediate effect.

At that point I rushed out to get in my final class at Breeze Yoga. When I parted company with the instructors and other regulars some were optimistically seeing it as a couple of months' pause to catch up on other things. But now, given the extent of the disease I suspect that I won't be seeing the guys from Breeze at the end of May. In fact, given that so many businesses are now in trouble as a result of the enforced closure I really hope Breeze Yoga stays afloat through this difficult period.

As for me, I am just going to hope that I can stay in employment as well as remaining healthy. We have a physical and mental health lifeline in the shape of being able to go out and be active, as well as cycling. So I intend to make the most of that opportunity. Here's hoping that the Covid-19 reaches its peak soon so that we can then return to some semblance of normality as sooner rather than later. (Though sadly, it could be later.)

Tuesday 17 March 2020

52 Cycling Voices - 28: Maria Canins

For those who are into cycling history the name, Maria Canins may well be of note to you. She was one of the stand-out acts in women's cycling during the 1980s. La mamma volante (the flying mum), as she was affectionately known by her Italian compatriots, won 20 races between 1982 and 1995. Bear in mind that this was at a time when there weren't many women's international races.

Apart from the World Championships, the big international races in those days were the Tour de France, Giro Femminile (Tour of Italy), Coors Classic (Tour of Colorado), Norwegian Post Giro, and Trofeo Alfredo Binda. Maria won the Trofeo Alfredo Binda four times - a feat that has only been matched by Marianne Vos - and the women's Tour de France twice.

The modern-day calendar still includes those races (apart from the Tour de France) as well as many other international professional races. The women's Tour de France was originally held as a subsidiary race concurrently with the men's professional event, (over a short section of selected stages of the men's race) between 1984 and 1989. Thereafter the event was spun off into a separate stand-alone women's stage race under various names, most recently La Grande Boucle Feminine, until it was last held in 2009.

Now in her 70s, Maria enjoys the good life in the Italian Dolomites, where she has lived all her life. I caught up with Maria Canins recently and she reminisced about her racing days, and talked about her cycling today.

Maria Canins, 
aged 70

Lives: La Villa, Italy

Women's Tour de France Winner (1985 and 1986); Cycle tour guide in the Dolomites

I got into cycling when I was a competitive cross-country skier, and I would sometimes ride a bike as part of my training. 

What got me into cycle racing was the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics where they had the first women’s road race. 

In 1982 the Italian Cycling Federation was looking for athletes who were good enough climbers to tackle the hilly course at the upcoming Olympics. 

There was a lack of good climbers in the Italian cycle squad, so a coach came to the cross-country teams and presented the idea of trying cycle racing with a view to competing in the Olympics.  

No one in my team wanted to do it, but I was quite enthusiastic and decided to have a go – it sounded great. They sent me a training programme and a racing schedule that included a few hilly races. At my first race in June 1982 I came 7th, in my second race I came second, and I won my third race. I found I was quite strong in the hills and was able to stay with the select group, and be in the final sprint for the line with the few remaining riders. 

So based on my strength I was able to compete in the 1982 World Championships in England at Goodwood. There, I came second behind Mandy Jones. And so I became so enthusiastic about cycling and things just continued from there. 

I enjoyed cycle racing so much more than skiing because it gave me the opportunity to travel, and see lots of places. Cycling allows you to go out in the streets, look around and get to see different places.

The 1980s saw a growth in women's cycling, generally led by the Americans. The first women’s Olympic road race was held in Los Angeles, and that was of huge interest to everyone as well as the media. The race was won by Connie Carpenter, and Rebecca Twigg got silver - two American racers. 

America was always a good place to launch something new. I did the Tour of Colorado a few times, and when I did it we were treated the same as professional male cyclists, with television coverage, journalists and the public who were interested. 

The Europeans were like "wow"; they wanted to copy what the Americans were doing. This gave a boost to women's cycle racing.

I didn't do the first women's Tour de France in 1984 because I was at the Olympics, so my first one was in 1985. 
Canins on the col d'Izoard (1986) ( Rene Boulay)

The women's Tour de France was a wonderful new experience for me. I didn’t know France very well so it was great to see more of the country.

I have great memories of us racing for many days in many different places. We were constantly packing our suitcases to go to the different parts of France.

Having the Tour de France on television made it like a big party. There were loads of people in the street. We did our race before the men's – the professional race. 

When we raced it was more like a hobby as women's cycle racing wasn't professional, but we still had a lot of spectators. 

There was a lot of press and interest from the French. Around Grenoble there were many Italians fans too. They were Italian immigrants, nostalgic for their former country and so they really enjoyed watching Italian riders in the women’s race. 

There was a male Italian rider called Vesantini who was quite strong, but during the Tour de France he was a bit slow, so the Italian journalists focused more on my results than on his. I was riding well and was also a novelty in every sense - being a woman, not very young - aged 35, having my daughter, Concetta [now a journalist and lawyer] with me. I had only recently started cycle racing having done cross-country skiing and had won championships in that sport a few years before. I even made the cover of Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper.  

It was great to be on the podium with the men's winners. I shared the podium with Greg Lemond and after with Pedro Delgado, and Stephen Roche.

I retired from cycle racing because when I was at the top I didn't feel I could get any stronger. The cycle of preparing myself psychologically for a race, getting to the start line, talking to journalists got really demanding. I was no longer enjoying it and I realised it was time to get out. 

Nowadays there are international stage races of eight or ten days, but it is not like the Tour de France that we had in our day which took place at the same time as the men's race. 

I think the fact that it was possible to hold a Tour de France in the 1980s means that it would surely be possible to do that today . All that’s needed is the wish to do it, and it would be wonderful. Nowadays there are massive sponsors, so it’s only fair that there be a women’s event. They just need to allocate a bit of television time for women’s professional cycling.  

Sometimes you have stages in the men’s race where there isn't anything interesting happening. So during that time you could do a quarter of an hour of the women’s race – a type of round-up in which you show highlights of the women's race including the winner, and then return to broadcasting the men’s race. 

All that is needed is a quarter of an hour out of a three- or four-hour long men's race. This wouldn’t need to be so much extra work, in my opinion. It’s important to give more broadcasting time to women’s cycling, and also give the spectators something else to see. 

Women's Tour de France attracted a lot of public interest (Rene Boulay)
I know there are many logistics involved and the organisers mention that, but when you don’t want to do something it’s natural that you will find a reason to not do it and say that the logistics make it impossible. 

In short, the organisers have a budget for the Tour de France, but it seems that they’re not prepared to add much else, like a women's stage race, to the event.

I must say I prefer the racing from the 1980s rather than what it is today. When I raced I never had to use an earpiece. I didn't have anyone saying to me “now you have to attack” “now you have to go in the breakaway” “attack on the climb." I think this is absolutely wrong. 

In my opinion an athlete should be strong, and also be able to read the race and race intelligently. Yeah, losing out because of a tactical error is part and parcel of racing, and if you don’t win you learn something and think about how you will do better next time. I don’t understand how a person can race with an earpiece. A racer is not a machine. 

Cycle racing was a lot more raw back in those days. When you watch someone attack on a climb for 5km or 10km you don't know if they will stay ahead of the bunch or if they will get caught. This sort of thing is what makes cycling wonderful, and a great spectacle on TV. 

Yes, I sometimes I got it right - sometimes I got it wrong. It's like when playing a game of cards, and you have to decide when to play or not play an Ace or a Joker. Whatever the outcome I still enjoyed the race. 

Cycling needs moments where people can improvise and get things right or wrong. That’s what makes cycling great. Riders don’t have radios during the World Championships, but then suddenly people don’t know how to race – even those who have been racing for 20 years - because they're so used to using earpieces. How miserable is that! No, I don’t like earpieces.

Of course, sponsorship has a lot to do with the way cycling has gone. We didn't have so much sponsorship in my day. It's only fair that sponsors want something back after spending so much money. For sure, cycle racing needs money, but when there’s too much it spoils cycling – the races, the athletes, sometimes taking a psychological toll on them.  

Also women’s professional cycling is a bit strange nowadays because although there is more money, there is less coverage compared to the 1980s. People don't seem that interested in women’s cycling, unless a woman does something particularly impressive. I think that applies to all women’s sport, not just cycling. 

Women's cycling is seen very much as a minority sport with a lot fewer fans than men's professional cycling. In the area where I live, in Alta Badia there are many women cyclists who cycle as a hobby, but no women’s professional cycle racing. 

Often when I look on the internet to find out about, say the Giro Rosa (Women’s Tour of Italy) to know when or where the stage starts, who won, etc I can’t find anything so - I just don’t know what has happened in the race! Nothing is reported in the local paper unless the race starts or finishes right in that town. 

Maratona dles Dolomiti (By Maratona dles Dolomiti organisers)
It just seems like women’s professional cycling is snubbed around here. Women's professional cycling is invisible.

Nowadays I still ride - usually about four times a week. I am also a cycle tour guide and do rides during the week of the Maratona dles Dolomites

We have around 20 or 30 people in the group and we ride at a leisurely pace. I enjoy these rides, showing the people the area, talking about the local culture and history, and taking photos.

We get a lot of young women who join the rides too. They look so elegant in their chic jerseys and shorts on stylish bikes. Sometimes they worry about not being able to manage the Passo Gardena or the Passo Pordoi. But then they only need to look at me and how old I am, and they think to themselves "if she is doing it at her age then I should be capable too!" I usually ride the Maratona too, with my daughter and a friend.

With the current situation with Coronavirus things aren't going well in Italy. The tourists have left and there is no one in the streets. In this area of Alta Badia there are only a few people infected compared to other regions, but we still have to follow the measures in place.This is not the time to be selfish.

Dolomites viewed from Passo di Sella
It's not easy to stay at home all the time, but I prefer to go out as little as possible, and be safe. 

It’s a difficult situation, but we are staying calm. People aren’t panicking but they’re scared for the future.

I normally go out and do  activities like walking, cycling and skiing, but with the Coronavirus I am finding other things to do at home. People are having to learn to change their lifestyles.

At times like this I feel lucky to be blessed with beautiful countryside in Alta Badia. But I realise that life isn’t always beautiful. Life also has things that aren't so good and we have to know how to deal with that. As an old lady that's how I see things at least! 

But overall, when I look out of the window at the beautiful landscape, the animals and breathe in the clean air of the Dolomites I feel grateful to still have these lovely things to appreciate. 

Other Cycling Voices
Janet Birkmyre

Monica and Paola Santini

Jenni Gwiazdowski/Bike Kitchen

Judith Worrall

Helen Wyman

Rochelle Gilmore

Gema Fernandez Hernando

Giorgia Bronzini

Tracy Moseley

Lucy and Grace Garner

Carolyn Hewett-Maessen

Maria David

Tuesday 10 March 2020

Cycle route: South London to Westminster and Chelsea

Cycling through London need not be an experience to be endured. Many people fear riding through the streets of the capital, thinking that it is at best a test of battling through traffic negotiating unfriendly motorists, and at worst a pure daredevil activity.

On Blackfriars Bridge - from one segregated cycle path to another, along the River Thames 
As someone who has cycled around London since 2001, I must say that cycling in Central London is not so bad. Facilities for cyclists have improved a lot in recent years, particularly with the advent of the Cycle Superhighways, Quiet Ways, and the Transport for London bike sharing scheme for those who need a bike.

I have been riding the Liv Thrive E+ E-bike and found it really useful for getting around London. It's particularly good if you are new to cycling and/or you don't want to exert yourself too much when riding. As someone who lives in a hilly part of London, I know what it means to exert yourself when cycling!

So here's a loop I recommend when cycling from South London, into Central London and back again.

Entrance to Dulwich Park with the Picture Gallery opposite
Start off in Crystal Palace, where you can ride up through Crystal Palace Park, and exit the park on the East side to arrive at the top of Crystal Palace Park Road.

A bus lane and an assisted crossing can get you onto Fountain Drive, where you drop down a speedy descent through the toll road section of College Road. 

I always feel good going down the road and not having to stop to pay, unlike the motorists queuing at the barrier near Dulwich College.    

College road leads into Dulwich Village, where you can stop off at the Park, the Picture Gallery opposite, or at one of the cafes on the main street. 
It's quite a nice corner of the world.

Onwards and the road continues straight on to Red Post Hill, which on the E-bike felt effortless. On a manual push-bike the climb is not too steep, and is the last climb before reaching Central London. What goes up must come down, and true to form the road drops down to Loughborough Junction - what I call the gateway to inner London. 

From here the route goes past social housing estates at the back of Brixton and Camberwell, before crossing a quiet road that leads behind Kennington Park and eventually emerging at Elephant and Castle.

The main street through Dulwich Village, which has a few cafes
Now, this is a junction, which in the past has been a place that many cyclists have avoided. But in recent years a lot of work has been done to develop a cycle-friendly passage across the junction.

And I must say, it is very good now. There is a segregated path that runs alongside the junction and cycle specific traffic lights.

Then another paths leads towards Lambeth North and you can pick up a segregated Cycle Superhighway that goes through Southwark and all the way to Clerkenwell if you feel like heading that way.

The route I took went over Blackfriar's Bridge and then I turned immediately left to ride alongside the River Thames on another segregated Cycle Superhighway that goes past all the famous landmarks of London - The Oxo Tower, The Eye, The National Theatre, right up to Westminster and the Houses of Parliament. Still following the segregated path you go across to Parliament Square and Great George Street to reach the serenity of St James's Park and Buckingham Palace.

I felt spoiled for choice to be able to either ride up the Mall or Birdcage Walk, both of which have cycle lanes. I went on the latter (as I have ridden up the Mall loads of times in the past) and then cut in front of Buck House to then ride along the side of Green Park on, you've guessed it - another segregated cycle path.

Birdcage Walk on the way to see the Queen!
 Then it was a case of going under Wellington Arch to enter Hyde Park, along South Carriage Drive, and when I was almost level with Harrods I left the park to head into Chelsea along some quiet streets and make my way back home via Belgravia and Pimlico, and over Vauxhall Bridge to regain the depths of South London.

This was a very pleasant 22-mile loop around London, with lots of traffic-free sections and rides on traffic-light roads. I would certainly recommend this route even to a newby rider.

Of course there are various sections where you can do a shorter ride and just do the section nearest to your home. Depending on current rules you may wish to photograph the various pretty sights and landmarks you will spot along the way.

Cycle Superhighway along the River Thames towards Westminster

Here is the route as recorded on Strava.

Related posts
Bike Life with the Liv Thrive E+ E-bike

Navigli of Milan and suburban bike ride

Rapha Festive 500: Park Life Tour - East and Central London