Monday, 25 July 2011

cyclesguff at the Tour

It is true that we make many sacrifices in the name of our sport and so it is when you get a chance to see the Tour de France. There is of course no comparison with what the riders leave on the road and that's before we can begin to talk about the efforts of Thomas Voeckler and his defence of yellow.

A bit of an annual pilgrimage for this branch of cyclesguff but this year proved more sacrifice laden than usual. We left in the middle of the first week and electronically disconnected had to rely on snippets from Dutch and Belgian cycle magazine programmes then all disconnected in Germany. All these travails served to offer the chance to see the Tour in the mountains. We chose Col de Lauteret at the junction with Col du Galibier. Camping at the bottom of L'Alpe was the ideal opportunity, despite the rain in the night, for a pre-breakfast ascent. It was busy already at around 7am Tuesday, 19 July and Dutch corner smelled of pee and a few lost souls wandered on the road. It got damper as the ascent went on and was raining at the top. The descent was freezing and made for a chittering recovery. And the rain just wouldn't stop.

                                                  damp over Bourg

A recce of the Col de Lauteret proved distressing, the unseasonal weather all over France had taken it's toll. The temperature was 3 degrees and there was snow on the Galibier. Brrr! A brief excursion to Briancon brought fleeting sunshine but on our return it was apparent that the cloud had not left our valley all day. One tent had already given up the ghost so we opted for a cuddly if slightly disturbed night. There is only so much you can pack on a long trip and we simply did not have the right equipment. The decision to leave was made with a heavy heart but needs must. We made a run west to sanctuary and an earlier than planed visit to family near Poitiers. The Galibier stage proved to be an all time classic but we were not destined to enjoy first hand. Just see and hear Phil and Paul tell us about it on TV. And make mention of the cruel weather.

Lynch mob catch a Colnago

All was not lost. There is a TGV connection to Paris that covers the 400km or so in under 2 hours. So it was that the Tour and cyclesguff were to be seen on the Champs Elysees yesterday 24 July. It was dazzlingly fast but a good position at the sprint point gave two views in quick succession and a chance to see Cavendish take a place at the sprint point prior to his record breaking 3 in a row wins. Needless to say the finish is the preserve of the corporate and the wealthy but there was a big screen in some 750m away and from where I was standing and even at that distance I could see Cav's grin lighting up Paris. A well deserved jersey and only the second British rider to win one overall. Cadel spoke in French and the Shlecks were gracious in defeat and could celebrate there own record of getting brothers on the podium. All this for a chance to see about two minutes of the spectacle, granted we saw this 17 times. A lot of effort but the thrill remains undiminished.

Niermann, Chavanell and Rui Costa have a dig 

Cadel Evans' winning margin 1m34s. 
Not much can happen in that time, Right?

Saturday, 16 July 2011

The sound of music

The brinq blokes that are currently shredding the rad in Morzine where in for a treat. A major Harley-Davidson meet was held in the wonderful alpine town, the headliner was, wait for it...Status Quo. I'm sure a few of the brinq blokes are secret fans. In fact one of them, Colin, is a fantastic choir singer. If I had his skill as a singer (and a fraction of his skill on a bike) I would singing on the chair lifts, ridges, you name it. Go on Colin, give the Quo a run for their money. The brinq blokes are a hoot to ride hitherhether it's David providing commentary of himself (read this with the appropriate accent) 'here comes David Wylie from Northern Ireland, he rides the berm superbly and now has a perfect line for the steps', Or the post ride banter over a Mutzig followed by a BBQ at Camp David, you are guaranteed a good time.

My only gravity filled frolic is the flume at the pool. The speed is on the increase, but my 5yr old daughter leaves me in her wake. I have to try her swimming ring, surely she has an unfair advantage.

The pleasure of watching Voeckler in yellow continues and all going well, the Alps look to be in for some fantastic racing. Can he hold onto Paris? Judging by the head scratching that's going on between the Schlek brothers, Evans, Basso and of course, Contador, he could be in for a tough time. Allez, Allez Voeckler,

Stay upright

Ps a sneaky triumph has made it to Morzine disguised as a Harley

Sunday, 10 July 2011

SUNday Post

A number of the cyclesguff team are currently enjoying the sun across the Globe. California, tours across France (no, we are not competing) and looking longingly at the Taurus mountains in Turkey. I've always had liking for the name of a range and that's a good one.

The wonders of modern tech mean that I can catch le tour on satellite tv, but for some reason can't watch eurosport on an iPad. Well, the fab le tour app is doing a great job at providing the updates as I attempt to understand Turkish eurosport. Human endeavour is making up for the politechs. I'm not sure if politics and tech have been merged into one word, but that's a first for me. The soon to be immortal Ray Kurzweil would no doubt have some comment on media and technological singularity. RK predicts that circa 2045, super-intelligent cyborgs will bring an end to the human era and become one with the Universe. I'm sure a few tour riders would be happy with a team car or even a motorbike with a cyborg at the controls.

Back to Le Tour. Thomas Voeckler thoroughly deserves the maillot jaune, he's ridden a blinder since the off. There is always a sense if anger in me when the guy who's put in the effort, pulled people together and had the decency to slow when mayhem was going on behind him doesn't have the glory of winning the stage. Did Sanchez put in as much effort, do Rabobank deserve the stage? Gilbert and Pharmo lotto had the run on them during the spring, so their day had to come. I just hope that Voeckler can hold on to the jersey for the French to enjoy the glory on Bastille Day.

Stay upright

Sunday, 3 July 2011

puy de dome

The Puy de Dome lies to the west of Clermont Ferrand and has been at the heart of a few classic moments in the history of the Tour de France. Fausto Coppi was first to the top on the first visit in 1952. Poulidor and Anquetil rode elbow to elbow in 1964. Poulidor beat Anquetil to the top but, by refusing to ride behind Poulidor, Anquetil had intimidated him and preserved enough of his advantage to retain his lead. It was the closest that Poulidor ever came to wearing the yellow jersey.
Eddy Merckx was punched in the kidneys on the climb in 1975 and lost his lead and the tour. He has said that he never rode with the same strength again.
In 1978 Bernard Hinault was expected to win a time trial to the top but lost to Joop Zoetemelk. In failure he was spurred to win the Tour at his first attempt.
Hinault was back again in 1986 when he made another breakaway to help(?) Greg Lemond to victory.
The Tour organisers claim that the summit at the Puy de Dome is too small to accommodate all the paraphernalia of the modern Tour so have not visited since 1988. Others suggest that they objected to spectators being charged for access. It remains an icon and the possibility of return regularly crops up around October as the Tour route is announced.

The Puy de Dome is one of 112 extinct volcanoes in the Auvergne national park. From central Clermont Ferrand to the top is 15 km. The first 9 km are on the main D941 road.
As you make your way out of town in the cool of the early morning you get glimpses of Clermont Ferrand lying in the valley below. Beyond the hairpins that twist out of the city the Puy comes into view and sits patient and intimidating. 

There is a brief if troubling respite as you turn onto the D942. It is a false flat of about 4-5% and progress is disconcertingly slow on the way to the turn onto the Puy itself and the final 600m of ascent. 

The road on the Puy is private, only open to cyclists between 7 and 9am on Wednesdays and Sundays. (There is a sportive that finishes on the top As you pass the toll booth the ranger opens the barrier letting you through for free and a small sign lets you know that there are over 4km ahead at 12%
The trees give way to reveal views over the surrounding countryside as the road corkscrews precipitously round the edge of the volcano keeping strictly to that 12% with no let up. For the most part you stand up and sit down in and out of the saddle trying to find a rhythm on the unrelenting gradient. Slowly, ever so slowly the 500m markers pass and you reach a circular car park and viewing area with detailed information about the volcano and surrounding area. The Tour stopped here but you can pass through and climb another 50m to the weather station at the very top.
There is a panoramic view of the Auvergne with an array of the other extinct volcanoes (Puys) covered in a lush verdant green. 

I have ridden the Puy de Dome three times. The first was filled with the pain that comes from not having enough gears as I weaved back and forward on the last excruciating kilometre. Second time I was better geared and my progress more direct and the last even better shortly after riding the Etape du Tour. The bike of choice, an Isaac Pascal. There is a neat connection since it is named after Blaise Pascal who experimented on the Puy when he was developing the concept of barometric pressure.Though it was his brother who was sent to the top.

The Puy de Dome has played a dramatic part in Tour history that makes riding it quite a thrill. The road is closed to traffic, you must make a special effort to get there and be on time to climb. The views from the top in the crisp early morning light are stunning, followed by 80kph+ descents and after all that you can be back in time for breakfast. 

Puy de Dome 1465m

Clermont Ferrand, Department of Puy de Dome, France.

Length 15 km, height gained 1097m

A version of this post (writen by the rider) was published in Cycling Weekly on 22 May 2008