Thursday, 31 January 2013

And the January Yellow Jersey goes to....

Daniel Day-Lewis!

Ok, so he's not a professional cyclist, but I have heard that Mr Day-Lewis, known for being a fiercely private individual, spends hours cycling around the mountains near his home reflecting on his roles.

Once a month I plan to feature my man, woman or object of the month - it can be for their cycling talents, and also for their talents in other places!

This month I have chosen Daniel Day-Lewis, not just because he has received multiple accolades for his role in Lincoln, or for his various films over the years. It is true that his versatility to play contrasting parts in films is excellent. From a gay punk in urban London during My Beautiful Launderette, followed by a terribly English gentleman in A Room with a View - then a severely disabled artist in My Left Foot - the list goes on.

If Daniel Day Lewis were a racing cyclist he'd probably be a champion road racer, track cyclist and mountain biker. He'd be well respected - even if he only raced as infrequently as he stars in films!

The reason why I have chosen Daniel Day-Lewis is because he's dapper and I think he's a damn handsome guy, with a lovely smooth voice. There, I've said it!
Fingers crossed you get another Oscar sweetcheeks!

Monday, 28 January 2013

A poem for those cycling challenges

As we come off the back of a weekend that included Burns Night I thought I'd follow one of the traditions of this festive Scottish evening by reciting poetry. In honour of the most famous poet from North of the border, Higg and a few of our friends read out our favourite poems after dinner. I read out a rock'n'roll poem by Murray Lachlan Young about Keith Richards. Another poem that I like is It Couldn't Be Done by Edgar Albert Guest.

I first heard the poem at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show at the end of last year.

It was a very apt poem to recite, in celebration of British athlete's outstanding achievements at the 2012 Olympics.

As a cyclist I like the way that this poem fitted perfectly with Bradley Wiggins's historic win at the Tour de France last year.

Many people thought the idea of a Briton winning the world's most famous cycle race couldn't be done, but Bradley Wiggins did it!

This poem inspires me, and it is one I will remember when I have to tackle La Marmotte, the Tour of Flanders, a ride from Milan to Rome, or any other cycling challenges. In fact, I will remember it when I tackle any challenge - on or off the bike.

It Couldn’t Be Done

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
      But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
      Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
      At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
      And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
      Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
      There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
      The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
      Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
      That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

My moment of the week - 3

Tour de Yorkshire

So the Tour de France is coming to Yorkshire in 2014. I think it's great news that once again Le Tour is coming to the UK.

I remember the wonderful day out we had when the prologue was held in London in 2007. London put on an outstanding spectacle and a warm welcome for the riders, and I am sure that Yorkshire will put on an equally outstanding show. Yorkshire has a strong reputation in cycling. Quite a few of the team GB riders are Yorkshiremen and women. The topography of Yorkshire makes for challenging cycling and athletes from there tend to be a hardy bunch!

The story goes that if Yorkshire had been a separate country in the 2012 Olympics they would have come 12th in the medals table, placing hot on the heels of Italy and Australia, and well above Spain, Switzerland and Ireland!!

As someone who grew up in Yorkshire, and who has ridden a lot in the county I look forward to watching the Tour coming through a number of roads that I've ridden on. It'll be very interesting to see how the riders deal with Tan Hill, Buttertubs Pass and Holme Moss, among other well known climbs.

The overview of the route is here.

The main local paper in the area, the Yorkshire Post gives some background information to some of the areas that the Tour will pass through.

I hope to ride around the exact route in the future and will post write-ups for those not familiar with the area.
I also imagine that as the event draws nearer we will see more and more cyclists on those lanes, just as we saw with Box Hill in the run-up to the London 2012 Olympics.

Yes, on 5th and 6th July 2014 the eyes of the world will be on Yorkshire. Eee by gum! Better mek some more Yorkshire Puddings, put more pies int' oven an' order in wads more pints o' bitter!

Friday, 18 January 2013

My moment of the week - 2

Farewell Nicole!

This week Nicole Cooke announced her retirement from professional cycle racing. I am not sure if she will do one swansong final race for her fans. I don't imagine she's likely to though. When fellow British riders Emma Pooley and Victoria Pendleton announced the end of their cycle racing careers there was a chorus of "what a shame, we're sorry to see you go." There seems to have been mixed reactions from people in the cycling community.

Some folks made general platitudes about bidding goodbye to a champion. However many people have commented about how she will not be missed from the peloton. One journalist described his interview with her as being "by far the worst ever interview of his career by country mile." It us true that she does not like being interviewed. I remember sending her some email questions for a short feature I was writing on women's cycling and she failed to answer more than half of them. Respondents generally answered most questions in those days, so it was a turn-up for the books to see lots of blank spaces!

She was not known for getting on well with her fellow team mates, and often changed teams. At one point she had no team to race in at all. There was definitely an element of self-centredness and self-importance about her that people reported - I guess that is part and parcel of becoming a champion. In no way was this egoism shown more when she fell out publicly with GB teammate, Lizzy Armitstead over which rider would be the team leader during the World Cycle Racing Championships in 2011, and even there were discussions in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics.

While other Team GB cyclists were involved in public initiatives to encourage cycling or even just making public appearances to fans Nicole Cooke, did no such thing, preferring to stay in her ivory tower, training I guess.

Even her retirement statement has been criticised. Why couldn't her statement have talked more about the positive aspects of her road racing career, including winning gold at Beijing, becoming World Champion and being ranked no.1 in the UCI rankings for a time. Instead her statement was turned into a blistering attack on drugs cheats, in which she speaks in an embittered way about how she missed out on more success (and money) due to the activities of her doping contemporaries. She also talked extensively about the plight of women's cycle racing and how a lack of funding has led to the removal of many key races from the women's racing calendar and professional female cycle racers struggle to make a living.

Such condemnation of disgraced road racers and calls for investment in women's cycling are not impertinent - on the contrary. But why did Nicole Cook not mention any of this earlier? Why wait until she's walking out of the room to say all this?

Rather than it looking like someone who has genuine concerns over the state of professional cycling, it has the appearance of being the words of an embittered, weary athlete full of angst over a lean trophy cabinet.

This does not make Nicole look good. That is a shame.

Notwithstanding the negative comments and publicity around Nicole, I'd still prefer to remember the positive things she's done.

I have a wonderful memory of Nicole Cooke crossing the finish line in front of her competitors in the pouring rain at Beijing in 2008, to win Britain's first Olympic gold medal. She then followed this up with a World Championship title in a thrilling finale that same year. I also remember the excitement at Nicole winning the biggest women's stage race in those days, the Giro Donne in 2004, as well as winning the women's Tour de France in 2006 and 2007. Even as a youngster Nicole had success where no other female had been before - being the first girl to win a national youth cycle championships, as British Cycling did not have categories for young women.

I even remember her turning out at Lancing Leisure Centre one grim November afternoon in 2003 to the spectate at a local cyclo cross race. Nicole cheered us all on as we slid around the muddy field in Sussex. These are the memories I'd like to keep of Nicole Cooke. People may not feel great warmth towards her, but it can't be denied that her succeses on the national and international stage has blazed a trail for Britsh women cyclists - and for that, we can salute her.
Thank you, and All the best, Nicole.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Nottingham Man styles up the Giro d'Italia

Being in Milan has its uses. I heard that British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith would be unveiling the leader's jersey (maglia rosa) of the Giro d'Italia in his showroom near the centre of Milan. So I was able to pop in and attend the launch event.

I hadn't known what to expect as although it was about cycling, theren wa a twist since it was being held at the main premises of a top fashion designer and a Knight of the Realm! In fact, it wasn't stuffy at all. People mingled freely and were welcoming. Sir Paul had time to say a few words to many people and he even posed for photos with us lesser mortals!

Standing with Andrea Monti, director of Gazzetta dello Sport, in his very down-to-earth style, and in a packed room, Paul Smith revealed each of the different leader's jerseys to the audience.

"It's just a jersey," he said of the maglia rosa. "There's only a limited amount you can put into designing a jersey. I've done my best, and I hope you like it!"

I like the way that he has put his signature on the collar and also his name features on the back of the jersey in very subtle print. He has also added in some of his trademark multicoloured stripes, and a splash of red, influenced by Andy Warhol's pop art. It's certainly a stylish jersey - even if it is the same colour as all the other ones in previous years!

Well, I say it's great that a British man can come along and design jerseys for a bike race in a country that is known for fashion. It wasn't Dolce & Gabbana or Giorgio Armani who got the gig this year, but Paul Smith - a bloke from Nottingham with a penchant for quirky styles and zany colours.

Mind you, let's not forget that Paul Smith is a keen cyclist himself. He was a racing cyclist in his younger days. As a boy, he was so passionate about cycling that he would keep his bicycle in his bedroom, never letting it out of his sight. And yes, he even cycles around Italy these days - apparently his favourite place is the area around Lucca and Viarreggio in Tuscany. He may not ride as fast as the racers in the Giro d'Italia, but Paul Smith will sure be bringing style to this year's Giro d'Italia!

Friday, 11 January 2013

My Moment of the Week - 1

It's nice to start the year on a good news note in cycling. Sadly, that hasn't been the case for 2013. Last Thursday the cycling community mourned the loss of Olympic mountain biker, Burry Stander who was the victim of a fatal cycling accident in his native South Africa. Stander died from injuries sustained when he was knocked down by a taxi, at Shelly Beach.

This sad event occurred not long after another tragic accident in which top Spanish moutain biker Inaki Lejarreta was knocked down and killed while out on a training ride in the Basque country just before Christmas.

I didn't know much about either of these riders, but I was still saddened by the news. It just goes to show that there is still alot of work to be done to improve cycle safety in many countries around the world. Even experienced cyclists are not safe on the roads.....Rest in Peace Burry Stander, Inaki Lejarreta and all other cyclists who have lost their lives while out on the road this year.

Stay safe in 2013 People.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Wanna do La Felice Gimondi?

Well, it won't be until 2014, now. After 17 years of holding the event, the organisers are taking a break, but they hope to have a new improved event next year.

While we wait till then, here are my quick facts on this enjoyable event which I rode in 2012.

This is a big event on the Italian cyclosportive circuit, though with a field of around 3,500 riders it's not as big as other events like the La Pina or the Maratona dles Dolomiti.

This means there is still a human dimension to the event. It has a local feel, and fortunately there are no bottlenecks on the road and no bun fights at the feed stations.

The field is largely Italian, with a smattering of participants from other European countries (UK, Germany, France, Switzerland) and a handful of folks from further afield (Australia, USA).

The ride starts from Bergamo at a large sports complex, not far from the city centre. There is usually a choice of 3 routes - 90km, 130km and 160km. However in 2012, when I rode it damaged road surfaces due to bad weather meant that the options were altered to 100km and 140km.

The area is not so well known to people outside the Lombardy area, but the surrounding mountainous areas of the Valle Brembana, Valle Taleggio and Valle Imagna are beautiful. The climbs are not too challenging, with most climbs being less than 10km long and averaging 7%. The longer route includes a 20km climb but the gradient is very gentle. The early part of the route climbs up near Lake Iseo, and there are stunning views of this loose sigma-shaped water feature. The main route goes through the Valle Brembana - a loop around a very picturesque valley.

This ride aims to incorporate the areas that local boy-turned-national-hero Felice Gimondi trained on in his heyday. In fact, the great man himself, now aged 70 makes an appearance at the event. He is at the HQ the day before the event, and he sets off with the riders on the day.

After the ride you can get showered and enjoy a hearty meal in pleasant surroundings while sharing stories with fellow participants, and making the most of the various sponsors' stands.

I'd recommend this event mainly on account of the lovely landscape, and it's accessibility to new club riders. Also, it is possible to fly straight to Bergamo if you are coming from abroad.

When I rode this event on 2012 the weather couldn't have been worse! It rained continuously the whole time, with moments when the rain was torrential. All those beautiful views I've described were invisible under the fog. (My descriptions are based on subsequent visits to the area during sunny days.) By the time I finished the cyclosportive I could barely feel my fingers and toes - even though it was May!

I've been told that the weather is usually very pleasant, though this year, and in 2011 as well the weather didn't play ball. I hope the event does return in 2014, and I certainly plan to be on the start line with Mr Gimondi ready to enjoy a good day in the saddle with many others.

You can read more about the event in this article I wrote for Cycling Weekly.