Thursday, 14 May 2009

Are you going to Scarborough Fai....Beach

I found a very pleasant bike route from York to Scarborough. As I had panniers I wasn't too keen to take on too many tough climbs in the North York Moors so I took what I believed to be the least hilly route - basically stay away from the seriously hilly stuff in the North York Moors and keep to the "easier" Yorkshire Wolds and the Howardian Hills.

The Vale of York was, as expected pretty flat, but the rest was surprising untaxing too. The only stiff climb I had to face before reaching Dalby Forest was the 16% gradient of Terrington Bank.

Dalby Forest is quite undulating - not surprising as it's one of the main mountain bike trail centres in Yorkshire. There are a few 15% ramps to negotiate in there. What goes up, must come down though, and I really enjoyed the speedy car free descents.

Once out of Dalby Forest I was only 10 miles from the seaside, but I couldn't see any sign of coastline or hear any sea gulls. Well, because there was a high ridge right in front of me, and all I had was a feeling of dread at the realisation that I would have to climb over that before I could reach the sea.

I made the most of the sweeping descent into Langdale End, and then tackled the succession of lumps between there and Scalby. It was pretty quad busting stuff, especially as I couldn't get out of the saddle because of the load that was on my bike.
I eventually made it to Scarborough after 60 miles and I'm not sure how many hours. Ok, so the ride hadn't been a complete breeze, but it was still the least arduous route that I could have taken - both in terms of gradient, and the quietness of the roads.

Once in Scarborough I very quickly able to enjoy the beautiful coastline with its lovely traditions - the amusement parks, the tacky souvenir shops, the all-day karaoke, the Harry Ramsdens, the donkeys...etc. I rewarded myself with chips and ice cream on the sea front at Marine Drive, before getting the train home. The ride had been pretty and I'd had wall to wall sunshine, so I couldn't complain. A very pleasant trip!

View York - Scarborough in a larger map

Related article Yorkshire biking on my mind

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

100 Years of Passion

2.53am on 13th May 1909 outside Hotel Loreto, in Milan. A crowd gathered as riders wheeled out their bikes to start the first Giro d'Italia. The race, just like the Tour de France, under the direction of Armando Cougnet who wanted to increase the circulation of the Italian sports newspaper, La Gazetta dello Sport.

More than a hundred brave souls rolled out over the start line in front of a few hundred fans, ready to face 2,448km over 8 stages. Among them were the local heroes of the day - Giovanni Rossignoli, Giovanni Gerbi (The Red Devil), the French star Lucien Petit-Breton, and the eventual winner Luigi Ganna.

The race was a real adventure for many and was a real test of survival. 127 riders began the race, but only 49 finished. In fact Giovanni Gerbi, one of the main contenders, very quickly saw his hopes dashed when a crash just 1500m into the first stage (397km from Milan to Bologna) damaged his bike. Sadly, there was no immediate mechanical support available for him so he had to hang around for 3 hours while the mechanic repaired the wheel and the frame.

Those riders who managed to stay in the race had to continue through various hazards such as racing alongside galopping horses, or having to weave around herds of cattle.

Of course the roads were a big problem too. The surface was completely churned up by rain and other adverse weather conditions, and there were many trenches that riders had to dodge around.

The stages were so long that riders would be racing through the night, with the headlights from the following car as their only guide. It was not uncommon for riders to lose their way along the course.

Furthermore, as if all this wasn't a challenge enough there were the bikes. Luigi Ganna romped through the course on a 15kg Bicci Atala bicycle which carried two large bottles in a bar bag. It was a fixed wheel bike that had 5.17 metres development. (I'm not au fait with these things but It's equivalent to riding 42 x 19on a modern bike.)

Needless to say this gearing was not enough to get over mountains. At that time the main "mountain stages" were in the foothills of the Appenines, with the biggest climbs being of around 650m high. Most riders had to walk up the climbs, and only the formidable Gerbi (The Red Devil), and the impressive Giovanni Rossignoli being the only riders to cycling up these peaks.

With all the passion and avid following that the Giro was receiving in those days the organisers still had to pay attention to safety, and on one of the stages the organisers had to move the finish line 3 times - so much was the interest from the masses.

Finally, after 8 stages and 17 days Luigi Ganna won after a thrilling final stage, ahead of Carlo Galletto in the first Giro d'Italia bike race in 1909. Had the race been based on accumulated time, as it is today, Giovanni Rossignoli would have won. However, back then the winner was decided by the racer with the lowest cumulative number of points. After Ganna crossed the finish line, when asked how he felt about the win, all he could say was - "Crikey, I've got a sore bum!"

So nowadays the format may have changed significantly, and the riders are blessed with more relibale, high tech equipment to use over much "shorter" stages.

What hasn't changed though is the sponsor of the event - Gazzetta dello Sport, the avidness of the tifosi, and of course the passion of everyone involved.