Nic Dougall: El Salvador of St Hilari!

Nic Dougall may delight in ripping the legs of the peloton to ragged sinew and flesh but, once the dossard has been cast asunder, is not a man to pass the opportunity up to pet a cute, fluffy four-legged friend. Especially if that cute, fluffy four-legged friend is in mortal danger on the flanks of a Catalunyan mountainside! And so it was that Nic ‘El Salvador’ Dougall came to the rescue of Bunny Dougall whilst out with the usual motley crew of Gironisti pedaleurs whilst training…

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“They were riding up the St Hilari climb and they saw a fluffy thing on the side of the road. They pedaled on by for a few meters and then Nic was like “Nah – I’m gonna go see what that was…” So he rides back down the road, goes over and just picks it up! It was a rabbit – it was fine, but obviously not a wild rabbit.

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He put it in his jersey (wrapped in Lotto NL Jumbo’s Alexey Vermeulen’s jersey) and rode to the top of the climb. Whence (sic, Brooke Gillot) he got to the top he was going to palm it off to somebody but was, by that time, already in love with it… So, he buys a backpack and rides 45km back to Girona with the bunny on his back!”

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Hero status is thusly truly conferred, but let us not forget the capricious whims of the hands of fate in the life of both of our protagonists: It was only a few short days ago that El Salvador was forced to relinquish his place, mid-race, on Team Dimension Data’s ill-fated Vuelta squad. A cruel blow after so much sacrifice and training for this Grand Tour appointment and the organisers soon saw viewing figures plummet.

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But all these things happen for a reason – and nobody knows this more so than our cuddly, floppy gaited new friend! One can only shudder at the thought of what may have become of him if Nic was still locked in combat at La Vuelta and it was left to Ride-Captain Chris Williams to decide poor Bunnie’s fate…

 

Pics & the inside line courtesy of Brooke Gillott, stolen from Team Novo Nordisk’s Chris Williams (who is a thoroughly nice chap in reality and would never leave a bunny in peril)

 

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DS Eye’s View: Team Novo Nordisk’s Pavel Cherkasov From Behind The Team Car Wheel.

Team Novo Nordisk have been fighting their mid-season American campaign under the guidance and watchful eye of DS Pavel Cherkasov. Pavel is an ex-Road & Mountain bike pro with ten years racing under his belt and boasts a world title to his name in the TTT for Russia as a junior and signed his first pro-contract after victory in the Giro Delle Regioni (beating Laurent Roux & Oscar Camenzind in the process) back in ‘93. Ciclissimo! caught up with the world’s first all-diabetes pro-cycling team’s Russian DS at the Colorado Classic to get a view on life from the other side of the race-dossard amidst a fortnight of fast, aggressive racing through America’s Mountain States of Utah and Colorado.

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Ciclissimo! When would the race planning for an event like this start? Are we talking days or weeks in advance?
Pavel Cherkasov It’s all starts with our roster and the goals we are trying to achieve at that race. This actually starts months in advance so training plans can be designed with coaches to help prepare a rider for a race.  Then we look at profiles, competitors, weather conditions etc. We start putting together the actual race strategy usually a day before the start.  
 
C! What would that involve as far as ‘the big picture’? I mean, the riders only have to worry about training hard enough and making sure not to miss the flight to arrive at the race sign-on!
PC The first part of the logistics plan that we focus on is getting all the equipment dialed in. The support staff sits down and coordinates all the logistical needs (vehicles, transfers, etc) that need to happen during a race. The ultimate goal for everyone is for the riders to have the best support possible throughout a race so their only focus is performing. 
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We determine our roster based on their race season goals, their fitness condition and how that particular race fits into their overall goal for the season. We absolutely do route recon—recon is absolutely crucial for a successful race strategy.
 
C! On the day: What’s running through your head as far as prepping for the stage and making sure the team is ready physically and tactically?
 
PC Heading into Stage 3, my main thoughts were how to keep morale high, continue to have the guys motivated to perform after racing at altitude and climbing for 10 straight race days, ways to get the best recovery.
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C! The flag drops: Did the stage pan out as hoped? What did you encounter on the day?
 
PC There are always adjustments along the way. Sometimes it is dealing with a mechanical issue, extreme weather or simply responding to an unexpected race scenario where you have to redefine your strategy on the fly. For Stage 3, it was weather, which has been true all race. It was very hot, so we had to make sure we had enough bottles to keep the riders hydrated. Then very strong storms rolled in, so we had to ensure everyone stayed safe. Luckily it was still hot, so clothing wasn’t an issue. The final sections of today’s climb had a dirt sector so we worried about mechanical issues but the guys made it through fine—just extra dirty bikes for the mechanics!
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C! How does the car work as an ‘office’? 
 
PC The main communication happens between the team car and the riders via two-way radio and when they drop back to speak directly with the car. In the car, we typically have a director, doctor and mechanic. Along the race route, we have staff members who provide support, such as water, food and wheels. We also receive constant updates from Radio Tour (race radio), which is the race channel and they let teams know time splits, if a rider needs attention and any other important details happening within the race.  In the car, we always have spare wheels and a full tool box along with spare bikes on the roof. In the back is a cooler full of water bottles—with water and Nuun. Throughout the stage, there is always interaction between team cars; it tends to be playful. On more intense days (like Stage 3), there is less interaction and everyone is simply focused on their riders.
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C! After the finale, what sort of debrief and evening schedule do you have?
 
PC We have a team meeting every day where we debrief and talk about what worked and what didn’t work. Then we discuss strategies for the next day and go over logistics and the daily schedule.
 
C! What time is lights finally out for a DS?!
PC Sometimes very early because if the next stage starts early, the staff always needs to be awake before the riders. I aim to be as well rested as possible during a race.
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Photo Credits: @VeloImages

Lambeke

In 2016, Mansfield’s Ross Lamb was the first-season icing on a very pleasing cake for Bryan Steel’s fledgling youth development squad, the Godfrey Bikewear Race Team sponsored by Vision Express. Relatively new to cycling after coming to the sport as part of a rehab program after a footballing injury with Notts County FC, Ross stormed through the squad’s race program with a host of domestic scene wins and podiums. Ross seamlessly translated these UK performances into foreign prize money with more of the same when the team ventured across the Channel to the cycling heartlands of France and Belgium. The boy was turning heads. The result was a contract with United Cycling Team for the 2017 campaign, Dave Rayner funding and a degree of head-scratching for Mr Steel when it came to how he was going to tackle that second-season difficult second album – minus Ross.
Ciclissimo! caught up with Ross ahead of the Ronde Van Oost Vlaanderen stage race to talk about how things are panning out over in Flanders. Many have made the trip and many have seen hopes and dreams mercilessly dashed against the grey granite walls of the village churches the Flemish love to Kermesse around: Not so Ross. Whilst collating his palmares-to-date in order to get this article together he was having to send weekly updates of further placings and podiums. This has been far from a case of a Lamb to the slaughter…
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Photo Credits: Roland Pipeleers courtesy of Ross Lamb

Ciclissimo! You were the dream start to the Bryan Steel development team project – he stated from day-one that the aim was to see a rider get over to Europe and embark on a career: That rider turned out to be you in the squad’s first season!

Ross Lamb It was a great year and I pay a lot of thanks to Bryan Steel and Mick Padley who helped put it all together. Before last season had begun I’d sat down with Mick and we both basically looked at each other and said I need to get over to Belgium again because that was, and still is, the only chance I’d have really of making cycling my life. We had seen what other people of my age were doing and realised that I needed to get over there and give myself a chance. It all happened pretty rapido when I was in Belgium – from one day winning a race to the next being asked if I wanted to join the team I’m riding for now. Undoubtedly, the results I got made people ask who am I sort of thing, 1st through to 5th I think I managed, which made a couple of teams ask what I was doing contract-wise. Ingrid Sels (Soigneur for Norwegian National squad on many occasions – Ed), one of the kind ladies we met, basically sorted the ride out for me. She mentioned my name and results to Team Manager Johan Remels and it was as easy as that.

C! The team being…?

RL I’ll be riding for United Cycling Team. They’re a Topcompetition level team based out of Sint Truiden

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C! So, the deal is sorted, you’re moving from North Notts over to Flanders to race in one of, if not the, most fabled school of bike racing hard-knocks – was there a moment when you sat there and thought “Shit Just Got Real…”

RL  I wouldn’t say there was a particular moment that made me think ‘shit just got real’ but training all winter with Sam Smith made sure I never forgot of how hard it was going to be! The guy never stops talking! (laughs!) No, I mean from my previous trips to Belgium I’d only ever experienced the highs of summer and 35 degrees so I guess my first team race was a bit of an eye opener – though not unexpected. It was my first ever race in the wet, I eventually got taken out on a cobbled climb… My time in Belgium opened up my eyes to what I can see myself doing for a long time not only because of the riding but also the place where I stay too, Cafe sur Place, there’s a little community that I’d never even thought existed.

C! How was it settling in to a new country?

RL First feelings where like I’d not really left from my previous time here the season before – properly excited though, I’d been waiting since the end of last season to come back. Plus my new Ridley Fenix SL & Bioracer kit was waiting! I knew before that this was exactly where I should be and I couldn’t have found a better place to be staying. There wasn’t much time to bed in though: After arriving late in Flanders on the 18th there was a race the very next day so I was quickly into it again with no time to think. I guess I just got on with it. I attacked literally off the line ‘cos my mate Adam Lewis was like “Quick, Ross – attack as a joke!” – little did he know that he wouldn’t see the front group again, good laugh! First race, 4th; I was thinking “Yeah this ain’t too bad…” Took time after that one to get it right again though…

C! And there is the other side of settling in – what about the household chores when bicycle practice is done for the day? Can you even cook?

RL With the cooking its pretty good, there’s five of us living here from the Dave Rayner fund and we have a rota going so whoever cooks and then everyone else cleans up after. Regarding everyday cleaning it’s just a free for all – whoever is in the mood I guess!

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C! You’ve swapped the grippy old roads of Nottinghamshire for the concrete slabs and cobbles of Flanders – what are the favourite routes?

RL I’m living in a town called Veerle-Laakdaal, not too far away from Aarschot which hosts the start of Dwars Door Het Hageland, and I’ve just used most of the roads around there – mostly without knowing! Since I’ve been here I’ve not really had to train that much, it’s been more a case of filling in the gaps between races. Oh, and the odd visit to the old Albert Kanaal as and when it’s needed…

C! Albert Kanaal – I’m not sure if that’s some coarse-handed, gravely, Gauloise-voiced old Flemish Swanny or a towpath…

RL Yeah, it’s a canal path – like whenever Van Aert goes on the TT rig he’s there, you always see a few pros knocking about, Van Bilsen and the others. My favorite rides, although they will never suit me, have been the ones in the Ardennes at the beginning of the year. It reminds me so much of being at home in the Peak District. Incredibly hilly. I did the Triptyque Ardennais earlier in the year and Wow! The team only sent me looking for form because I was never going to do anything! (Laughs!) It’s on the border of Germany and Luxembourg, wicked scenery… Actually, that was probably my hardest moment so far for me, the Triptyque Ardennais. My team manager wanted to send me there to ‘finish off my form’ – add that little extra – and for sure it did but the pain during the race on some of the climbs was just… yeh something else.

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C! How about we contrast that with your best moment?

RL My best moment so far for sure has been the 3rd place at the Memorial Van Coningsloo, a UCI 1.2 Europe Tour event dedicated to the memory of a local amateur cyclist, Philippe Van Coningsloo, who suffered a heart attack and died during a cycling race back in 1992. I was agonizingly close to winning. It just felt mega being involved throughout a race like that.

C! How does the racing over in Belgium compare so far to the stuff you were doing in the UK?

RL That’s a difficult one that – because, after all, its just riding your bike as hard as you can when you need to and saving your energy when you can. But I’d say, in terms of tactics in the kermesses over here, it’s just being vigilant and waiting for the right guys otherwise it’ll never go. Back home, depending on the level, its more organised – or at least the Prems are – and teams will chase and stuff: Kermesses are just every man for themselves, teammates after each other all the time! I change gear and five others do too straight away sort of thing!

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C! That’ll probably be why that Lotto-Soudal guy in the pics here is watching you like a hawk! Have you seen him in? That one in the pics there?

RL The guy without glasses on? Gerban Thijssen – won Sint-Niklaas the other month, next Andre Greipel: You heard it here first!

Ross Lamb Palmares

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2016 – Godfrey Bikewear Race Team sponsored by Vision Express

1st Haasdonk
1st Fenland Clarion rr
1st Peterborough CC  rr
1st Bole Hill rr
2nd East Midlads Championship rr
2nd Danum Trophy rr
2nd De Klinge
3rd Zutendaal
4th Puurs
4th Coalville Wheelers rr
5th Hoeleden
6th GA Bennett
7th Darley Moor
2017 – United Cycling Team
1st Denderwindeke
2nd Zandhoven
2nd Booischot
2nd Huldenberg
2nd Linden-Lubeek
3rd Halen
3rd Memorial Philippe Van Coningsloo UCI 1.2
4th Heusden-Zolder
8th Betekom
9th Herne
10th Geel
11th Circuit de Wallonie UCI 1.2
13th GP Stad Sint-Niklaas UCI 1.2
Series/ Stage Races
7th Overall Topcompetitie
10 Overall GC Vlaams Brabant (7th St.1, 5th st.3)

Il Futuro, Il Bel Paese: Ciclissimo! At The Baby Giro With Axeon Hagens Berman Cycling Team

All words & pictures by Andrew Peat/ AP Sports Photo

In 1992 a 22-year old Marco Pantani, not yet a pirate or an elefantino, won an Italian amateur stage race riding in the yellow colours of the Emilia-Romagna region. His victory was sealed on the 20-odd mile climb to Campo Imperatore in the Marche region (find Rome in the atlas, then head right towards the Adriatic and stop halfway). Within two years, he was riding in the less appealing mock denim of Carrera and won two stages of the Giro.

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Fast forwarding twenty five years to June 2017, the Giro Ciclistico d’Italia, aka the Baby Giro, was set to return to Campo Imperatore for the finale of seven days of top level under-23 racing. Absent from the calendar since 2012, the race’s list of winners includes from the early 1991 to 1995 runs “Casagrande, Pantani, Simoni, Piepoli, Di Grande”, and this was a much awaited and welcome return for what was once Italy’s second biggest stage race (sorry Tirreno).

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Imola – Imola

Temperatures were already above 30°C as Axeon Hagens Berman’s resident Irishman Eddie Dunbar applied his third layer of suncream on the morning of stage one, in a glass-strewn car park near Imola’s moated castle. Unfortunately for Ambre Solaire shareholders, they were to be his last layers of the race as a series of crashes in the last 10km of the opening stage did for the under-23 Flanders winner and his teammate, Logan Owen.

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It was another Axeon rider, Neilson Powless, who announced the team’s arrival in Italy by escaping the wreckage to finish 9 seconds clear of the bunch and claiming the first maglia rosa of the week.

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Castellarano – Castellarano

When Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon – TV’s Alan Partridge and Uncle Bryn in private life – toured Italian eateries for a film and TV series in 2014, the recurring soundtrack to their journey was Alanis Morrisette’s 1995  classic, “Jagged Little Pill”. Rumour has it that it was a sophisticated nod to the under-23 age restriction to the event, but for one reason or another the organisers of the Baby Giro appear to have chosen Adele’s “21” to fill the same role on this trip to Italy.

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It’s unclear whether the hilltop monastery at the finish of stage two already owned a copy of 21 to go with the europop that it had been playing for most of stage two, or if it was shipped in for the occasion, but I’m sure the riders enjoyed Rolling In The Deep of their own lactic as they sprinted up the final climb.

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Bagnara di Romagna – Forli 

It was once said that Switzerland is a Venn diagram of smokers and people who wear acid-washed denim. Taking photos at bike races is an equally inexact science combining light, location and luck. In the brutal light of a midsummer’s afternoon, location is the dominant factor. Sometimes you can plan it (but then it’s a racing certainty that someone will stand in the shot in hi-vis) and other times it just happens.

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Neilson – still being announced as “Nelson Pauwels” by the PA system commentator – suffered on the last climb and lost time to the lead group, losing his maglia rosa to BMC’s Pavel Sivakov, but retaining the maglia rossa of the points leader.

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Forli – Gabicce Mare

A transition stage as the race moved south from the Imola area towards the coast. I got zero racing shots of the team today, other than one of crash victim Michael Rice having just crossed the line – but technically the race was over by then so it doesn’t really count. So I now have a story about how I went to a race and came away with no images of the race…

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Four days of hard racing and Italian cornering was taking its toll on the riders, not least Ivo Oliveira, who was sporting a heavily taped shoulder following a crash the previous day.

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Senigallia – Osimo

A 06:15 breakfast for the riders before a 45 minute transfer and 09:15 rollout was the payoff for having last night’s hotel 100m from the finish line. For all we know, Il Principe of Gabicce Mare had agreed to close his town centre in return for a race’s worth of hotel bookings, so whilst it makes more sense to an outsider to have transferred to Senigallia last night, the outsider – like the opposition party in government – isn’t the one who actually has to deliver.

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The big story of the day was the stage win by Dimension Data’s Joseph Areruya, in a Strade Bianche type finish up a big hill through a cobbled old town then downhill to the line.

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The afternoon’s time trial didn’t do much to disturb the race overall but it was past 8pm by the time we got to the hotel. Sadly Axeon rider Will Barta was a DNS, having thrown up over his bike in the morning and spent a short period of time in an ambulance. Four were down to three.

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Francavilla al Mare – Casalincontrada

Palm trees and Adriatic beach loungers at the partenza, and it was the first day where the riders stayed hidden in the air-conditioned rental camper.

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This pretty much sums up the day:

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They’re doing this left handed because Ivo, on the left, finished the stage with a broken arm:

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Down to two.

Francavilla al Mare – Campo Imperatore

The morning’s signing-on appointment was down at the end of Francavilla pier and the survivors were now greeted by a podium “miss” each. I obviously wanted to explain to Mirea and Sara that podium girls are an anachronism with no place in modern society, but in the same way that “gemütlichkeit” has no adequate English translation, that combination of words simply doesn’t exist in Italian.

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Stories about foreigners who naively follow their SatNav down roads that don’t really exist then end up driving through grossly inappropriate conditions are amusing in the local press and, most importantly, when it happens to someone else. I’m still traumatised by my own decision to turn left onto a Strada Biancha (the word ‘strada’ being generous, it was just a load of rocks) so am not yet ready to relay it more fully here. Eventually – but not before I’d privately decided to forget about the race and just make it out safely – the track led back to an actual paved road which happened to be on the race route, so the game was back on.

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BMC Development Team’s Pavel Sivakov – well thought of by everyone I spoke to and surely set for a pro contract next season – had been in pink at the start of the day and was only a few seconds behind Aussie duo Jai Hindley and Lucas Hamilton up the 30km climb of Campo Imperatore, enough to retain the jersey and take overall victory.

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Bentornato, Baby Giro.

Travels In Flanders By Bike: Acts I – IV

Pictures courtesy of AP Sports Photo at Driedaagse De Panne-Koksijde and Pieter Van Hoorebeke at Ronde Van Vlaanderen

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Thursday – Gent by Sunlight: The late afternoon riverside teeming with the sun-kissed, newly beautiful; shoals of bicycles brushing lightly through the lumbering, hobbled cars and rattling trams. The wrinkled weariness of the working-day-ended gazes press up against their windows and out upon the elegance and sprezzatura of those who’ve already escaped into easy idleness.

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Gent: A lived in and gothic splendour under the snapping canvas of proud regional flags, whipped by the breeze atop turrets and towers. We retreat from marktplein table into darkwood interior as the sun sets and plan our immersion in De Ronde.

The Three Days of De Panne-Koksijde at De Panne, Belgium.AP Sports Beach Scene

Friday –  We ditch the car at Oudenaarde’s Delhaize and follow the course of the Schelde by bike until the lonely church spire of Kwaremont beckons us from upon high to our left. Alongside that barbed wire fence, shimmying down cut-throughs to evade police road blocks that have sprung up to enable the corporate machine to spew out its VIP enclaves. Those that live and pay their taxes beside these cart-track-cum-legends hammer at their makeshift garden stadia – all pallets, nails and 2×4’s – along the roadsides.

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The party will soon follow but for now we follow our noses, losing ourselves in the Flemish Ardenne, hopping from windmill to windmill across the kasseien & slab-paving, past bored horses and the barking of hidden, courtyard-bound hounds, under warming sun and squalling showers. We have no plan and the whole playground to ourselves. Just. A. Perfect. Day.

The Three Days of De Panne-Koksijde at De Panne, Belgium.

Saturday –  Driveway brusherers and garage potterers turn and watch as we spin by. A studied gaze. Tiegemberg, Nokereberg, Doorn: All sit silently awaiting the storm that will, alas, merely pass them by for this year. De Ronde’s fury will be vented upon the white-tented villages of the corporate circuits, after a charge, once more, through the eastern outpost of Geraardsbergen, leaving this sleepy corner of Flanders to unfurl banners lamenting the race’s absence and issuing a plea for its return.

The Three Days of De Panne-Koksijde at De Panne, Belgium.

Home along the Schelde, towards the iconic cooling towers that besmirch every Paterberg landscape shot; ‘They’re coming down – blowing them up’ I am informed by a Jupiler fuelled 30-something in worn, faded stonewash jeans and last year’s ubiquitous Het Neuiwsblad publicity casquette. He’s weaving around on an immaculate Colnago Master museum piece. Borrowed from a neighbour.

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He insists he is a Dutchman, to the snorts and giggles of his fellow bon viveurs, and wants to race me along the towpath towards Avelgem. It would be neither wise nor dignified so I let him pedal off like a spark spat from the embers of a fire. “We love our wives and families – but on Ronde weekend there are other priorities”. The party has already started. One more sleep…

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Sunday – Phil has been on the rampage for days, devouring this Classics campaign with all the swagger of a bloated monarch. Ham hock in one hand, teeth tearing at the meat on the bone, stained napkin clutched in the other to dab at his lips with; crown perched juantily on his head, shoes kicked off, feet on the table. It is imperious. A violent finesse. He flings his wine-filled goblet across the banqueting hall with 55km to go and leaves the scrambling courtiers, clowns and prat-fallers in his wake, carving through Flanders and giving the baying crowds exactly what they want, barking at his page boys. This is days-of-yore stuff. One man, alone and in command. They’ll be talking about this one for a long time to come. A hell of a long time…

PVH RVV Phil

All life and Flemish history is here in this bar with its walls full of sun-bleached race posters & signed jerseys and a battalion of little die-cast model tractors on the spirits shelf behind the bar: The octogenarian dandy, the faded songstress, the jaded old boy who has rolled his eyes at far cleverer fools than any you’ll find amongst this crowd in his time. “A Belgian victory!” toasts one of the bar-flys in my direction. “A Walloon victory” I offer, sensing the wind is not fully in his sails and taking the chance to tease him with the nuances.

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“Same time next year?”

“Same time as every year” we promise and set off  back along the N8, sweeping down the Edelareberg, brake fingers sufficiently loosened by the Ename Blonds to let the speed rush greedily over me as I tilt into fast, carefree arcs on the deserted road and head for the WorldTour soup and bacchanalia that is Oudenaarde central.

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Definitely Happy: Toms Skujiņš On A Life Argyle

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“I actually didn’t watch much cycling when I started: I got into it just for the love of riding a bike, so never really had guys I’ve dreamt of being like – which is kinda good, if you know what I mean…”

I caught up with Cannondale Drapac Pro Cycling Team’s Toms Skujiņš  to talk about his career to date and the upward trajectory that has just seen him lower the curtain on a solid WorldTour debut season. Click Here for the full article over at Always Riding

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La Pomme Marseilles, 2011/ 2012: “It was a more of a sink or swim philosophy. And I did both. I had good results in the first year and then a pretty bad second year, so they let me go. Which was really good for me. I was too young for it and racing UCI .1 level races every weekend when you’re 19/20 is super hard”

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Hincapie Sportswear Development Team, 2014/ 2015: “As for ATOC it just showed the world how good Team Hincapie is. It wasn’t just my win, the whole team won with the way they defended my lead the next days and as soon as it came back to me to defend it -in the ITT – I lost it… which was a bummer and I felt real bad about it after the way guys rode for me the previous days…”

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Cannondale Drapac Pro Cycling Team, 2016 – : “I saw all the directors and they told me what races I’d be doing then it kind of hit me and I thought I was dreaming”

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“From Riggo I learnt that eating bananas is key in doing well in Grand Tours”

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“I can, and have been, winning races where you need some panache, guts and a brain, not just legs”

“I could smell beer on people’s breath while riding up the Kwaremont the final time. The faster you ride the cobbles the better, it’s like a band-aid: You just need to get over it quick. So as you get more fatigued the climbs hurt more and more…”

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“That hunger for the win, that feeling when everything goes fast and smooth like a well-oiled fat dude down the water slide!”

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Photo Credits: Laura Fletcher/ Cassette Media

Pinarello

Pina Mech

“What size?”

Soothing, gravelly Tuscan – though, in reality, I could discount the intonation that suggested a question mark. The mind was made up already, the eye had calculated my position and limits from the doorway as I entered the shop. It’s an ice-breaker more than a question. It’s me who will learn from the exchange, not he. The dismissive look, almost – so very almost – veiled as he turns and locates the bike I will ride.

Pina Maglia

I know that look now. Years later I’ve heard countless preposterous estimates & received wisdoms as to frame size. I look forward to it even – sometimes daring a sideways glance towards Il Maestro as he turns on his heels to locate a bike. The correct bike.

“It’s the English… always the English…”. The eyes roll.

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A 47cm Pinarello is placed in front of me. I take hold of the bars and suppress the accusation of a joke at my expense. The saddle is raised, the bars adjusted deftly by practised hands. I swing a leg politely over the frame: I’ll humour him for now, for a minute or two with this child’s bike, before I declare it far too small. A 47?! Pfff…

Pina Shoe Bidon

On Corso Garibaldi I realised I’d mis-spent my life on bedstead-like bikes. This was fluidity, responsiveness – darting forwards at the merest suggestion, weaving through the early evening passeggini with ease.

Pina Bidon

I fell in love with that bike that first week in Lucca, holiday romance as we took to the hills. I return every few months to re-kindle the affair, to give in to the exotic. I’d love to take her home with me. So very nearly have at times. But maybe it is on those roads that her beauty lies: Would wrenching her away risk seeing the spark die as we began a humdrum life of  post-holiday laundry and bills-to-pay on the workaday lanes back home?

Pina Giornali

Why ruin the magic? Like never-tasted-before local booze or customary dress item, maybe that Pinarello is best left where she belongs, on the effortlessly fast Camaiore road and the twisting, ribbon-like pilgrimages to the sleepy mountain top hamlets?

Pina Mig

But then again – I just know we could make it work…

Pina frontage

Images: Joyce Jason Ghijs

Luc.

LC4

This is Luc. He’s a family friend of the Devenyns. He’d made his way to the quiet meadow lane that leads onto the Oude Kwaremont, just down the road from his home, when my friend, Pieter, came upon him on the morning of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne.

I always eye the rickety barbed wire fence that sways rustily along at the side of the single slab farm track whenever I ride past this spot; all those guys, full gas – fighting like crazy for position before the cobbles start & the lane pitches up- and that rusty barbed wire fence…

LC5

Pieter was on his way to the bar half way up the Oude Kwaremont to find some nice shots from the day: The bar is alive with character and cheer on race day. But it was only the two of them on the lane through the meadow at that time in the morning, so Pieter stopped to say good morning and share a word. Dries Devenyns would be racing through here in a couple of hours time and Luc wanted to greet him with a message of support on his way to the foot of the climb. Luc is fond of the lad, proud of him.

LC1I don’t know if Luc has ever been to Marseilles. Dries won his first race since 2009 there in February. It’s a nice race to win, the European season curtain call. Maybe Luc has been, I don’t know- perhaps he hasn’t and never will. Dries races on these roads too, pretty much outside Luc’s front door, and that’s good enough for Luc. He knows these lanes: Has seen races run through them all of his life. That’s fine for Luc. He’ll carry on with preparing the road for when Dries comes by. Same as he does each year.

LC3

Images courtesy of Pieter Van Hoorebeke

April 2001

Servais Knaven Roubaix 2001
Servais Knaven, Winner Paris-Roubaix 2001. Pic; Paul Ward

This is the bike upon which Servais Knaven slipped under the radar, over the mud covered cobbles of northern France and away from the field to take the 2001 Paris Roubaix. The mud remains unwashed from the bike, shrouding it for ever more in the very essence and history of that fabled race and of that classic edition. It is this mud from which the true Paris Roubaix vintage is derived, for which every devotee cannot help but pray for in the days that preceed the running and which fizz with anticipation at the meerest rumour of rain..

This picture was taken by my friend on a trip to Amsterdam and posted to his timeline. That it was one of two possible bikes was immediately apparent, the clues quickly assessed and deciphered to discern for certain which one. And then came the flood of memories: of the warmth seeping back into my thighs and fingers as I settled into the sofa to watch the race, warm tea in hand, the outer layers of kit having been discarded after three hours in the Vale of Belvoir with Mapperley CC; a cafe stop at the beloved and now long gone Margaret’s Cafe, the guy with the Spinergy wheels and Peugeot frame in Festina colours. The picture of the bike brought that day back, the memories vivid – so vivid that for a moment, paused looking into the image, that mud was, for me, still yet to dry..

Volo della Vespa: The Fine Art Of Motor Pacing Team Sky’s Andy Fenn

Pacing 2Team Sky. Underpinning the gutsy Classics Puncheurs and the somewhat spiky Grand Tour Specialists is the soul-crushing engine room of the Sky Train. It needs no introduction here. Love them or loathe them, the formidable sight of the black-clad machine at full gas is one of the most evocative sights of the modern World Tour. But these merciless displays of power do not happen by accident. Before attempts at resistance are wrung out of the peloton for the greater good of the Brailsford vision, the very life is sucked up and spat out of innocent and unsuspecting two-strokes. And believe me: The chances of the Vespa ever coming out on top are the preserve of the long-odds punter when Andy Fenn is fine tuning his devastating engine room form..

Ciclissimo!- First things first, Tim- let’s have a rundown of the essential equipment: Machine and sunglasses- make and model.

Tim Lindley – For motor pacing it’s better to use a modern automatic scooter around 125cc. The automatic gearbox gives you seamless acceleration and makes the bike very easy to control. It needs to have enough power to pull away from the rider when sprinting at 70-80 kph. Seeing as we’re in Italy it’s got to be a Vespa equipped with windshield. The windshield is integral. You want to be punching a hole in the air that’s big enough for the rider to slot into, recreating the conditions of riding in a bunch at sustained speed. Two wing mirrors are essential, enabling me to keep an eye on the riders position at all times. Always check the tyre pressure before starting, it constantly fluctuates in humid places on small two wheelers.

For the sessions with Andy I’ve been using a Vespa 125L auto.  Because I’m a ponce from Yorkshire the attire also has to fit the bill. Persol Steve McQueen shades, Barbour Steve McQueen wax jacket and a vintage Bell Jet helmet with original World War Two pilots goggles.

C!. Now- the piloting: What are you needing to do and what are the golden rules?

TL. The scooter pilot needs to be alert at all times. It’s probably the most important aspect of pacing. The rider trusts you not only to control the speed but also the position on the road. You need to choose the lines early avoiding as many potholes, grates and bumps as you can. Using both mirrors maximises the view you have of the rider and plays a big part of the communication between you. Ideally the pilot is an experienced handler of motorbikes/scooters but also a cyclist who understands how speeds vary according to road surface and gradient. If you’re doing a two hour session at 50-55kph with a couple of short rises and descents you should be aware enough to ease off when you go up and speed up as you go down. All the time keeping those twelve inches between yourselves.

Generally the schedule is agreed upon before you start so you know when the intervals are coming and you know when to keep the speed constant. Maintaining an even speed is another important factor, the whole session needs to be as smooth as possible. The pilot must be able to keep the distance from wheel to wheel the same at all times. You have to trust each other as roads undulate, red lights appear and traffic remains unpredictable. If you’re approaching a red light, accelerate away and towards the side of the road rather than into the middle, give the rider space and it will also serve as a signal for what’s coming up ahead.

Most cyclists will be aware of the numerous hand signals employed when avoiding obstacles, changing position, slowing down etc..these are also used in motor pacing to the same effect.

Don’t try and race with the cyclist. Don’t change the pre arranged schedule in any way. Don’t run red lights, jump stop signs or pull wheelies. Don’t stand on the seat and bare your arse at the Italian ladies. Don’t forget the cyclist is behind you.

Pacing 3 riding

C!. How does the communication work?

TL. A nod. A wink and a flick of the wrist.

Communication is key. As I’ve mentioned above the schedule is discussed and agreed prior to starting. Before the rider is going to break with the scooter there’ll be a look in the mirror, maybe a pull alongside and a quick word  then a shout and he’s gone. Stay put until he’s away. Then ease off and stay behind the rider out of the way. They’ll let you know when you’re wanted again. This will depend on the  length of the interval. Stay alert and aware of traffic around you, a flick of the wrist will mean you’re back on. You need to ease in front of the rider so that they don’t break their rhythm and slot back into the slipstream without expending more effort. This is where handling and experience can be key. If a rider wants to sprint behind the scooter like a lead out you accelerate smoothly, not in bursts and not aggressively. He’ll pull off when he’s ready. Don’t try and stay with him, let him go.

Roundabouts, junctions and traffic lights must all be approached and conducted with care. This is where your actions do the communicating. You need to follow the rules of the road as much as any other vehicle. The rider can look after himself and will see the deviations approaching. For the pilot it’s vital to be aware of the riders position at all times and getting out of his way is your main concern at moments like this. A clear roundabout and the rider will generally stay close to the scooter unless the curves are particularly severe. Green lights are a no brainer.

C!. What are Andy’s roads of choice for motorpacing around Lucca?

TL. The route we’ve been using is the mainly flat SS439 around the base of the Monte Pisani whose peaks include Monte Serra. It’s a 90-100km route and rises and falls in places but for the most part it’s wide, flat with some long straight sections once you get away from Lucca. You have a clear view of oncoming traffic lights and junctions and not many one way systems to negotiate. Another good road is the Freddana SP1 Camaiore road. It has a constant 2-3% incline for close to 20km then kicks up at the end. It’s a different kind of session to the previous one and can be heavily affected by the wind from mountain or sea but its pretty as a picture and makes me feel like a playboy.

Pacing 1

C!. Give us a rundown of the session

TL. This afternoon after we hammered 100km in 35 degree heat. Andy has been doing two hours with 5 intervals, some sprints and a couple of solo stretches of around ten minutes. Andy will take off at around 50/60kph and hammer his solo blocks- when this happens you need to be out of his way without moving- he was sprinting in the 70’s and I couldn’t catch him at full throttle on a 50cc Vespa. Don’t forget the rider is the reason and beneficiary of what your doing and why your doing it. They dictate the session and set the numbers. The pilot simply must adhere to the program and keep the speed and the scooter where it needs to be.

However I will say this, when Andy goes..he really goes. The scooter can’t quite catch him at first. Which is why you need the 125cc. Being on a Vespa getting dropped by a cyclist does not work wonders for your street cred. Even if it is a hot young sky rider.Sky Train

C!. Do chicks dig the pilot or the corridori more out on the road?

TL. I suppose it’s the equivalent of two supermodels blazing in tandem across the Tuscan countryside……if I say that often enough I may convince myself! Andy is built like a Grecian statue and rides like the wind. Any female adoration is undoubtedly his although I do get some waves from pensioners at the zebra crossings.

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If you fancy being towed around Tuscany by Tim Lindley, either via combustion engine or, more sensibly, pedal power, get in touch at iguideride@gmail.com or via the iGuideRide website http://www.iguideride.com/#!about/c1c32 . Tim runs guided rides for all abilities, be it groups or individuals, around the Lucca area. His local knowledge of people and places is second to none, ensuring you will enjoy some simply stunning days out on the bike. He might even play you a song with his Ghee-Tar..

(Andy Fenn, on the other hand, will simply break you into pieces)

Photo credits: iGuideRide & Nikki Dobson

Discovering Columbus: Inside Cinelli For Always Riding

supercorsa

Cinelli, for me, represents a golden-age of cycling. My first ‘real’ racing bike was equipped with one of Cinelli’s classic, beautifully curved quill stems and their signature alloy bars. That the winged ‘C’ had leapt from the pages of the cycling magazines’ coverage of the great races and riders to adorn my bike’s cockpit was a matter of no small excitement and pride for that younger self. So getting the opportunity to travel to Milano and spend the day with Gruppo S.r.L’s (The group name for the business marriage of Cinelli & Columbus tubing) Vice-President, Fabrizio Aghito, for the Always Riding folk was a bit of a dream come true.

frames

The full article is right here, complete with the great camera work of the Grande-Tifoso himself, Angelo Giangregario. I’ve popped a couple of pics I took on the day, along with a few snippets of the story, here.

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“Downing our espressi, we hop on a passing yellow tram at Porta Ticinese and rattle down Via Torino towards the city’s dead-centre. Through the morning Milanese rush hour rain, the iconic old streetcar’s dinging bell gently nudges through the commuters as they themselves weave in and out of cafes and tabacs, intent on their own requisite morning espresso, always imbibed in one, stood with that easy Italian elegance of attire and poise at high counters whilst scanning the day’s headlines on pink or white broadsheet…”

lavoro

“The welcome is warm, a sign thoughtfully hung by the doorway heralds our arrival and ushers us into the office’s family atmosphere; the faceless urban hinterland is left behind at the threshold.

“Coffee?” Fabrizio offers
“Please – espresso?” I enquire
“We only have espresso…” Fabrizio smiles, humouring the out-of-towners…”

machines

“Cinelli always wanted to put art into the sport. That has been one of the targets of Mr Antonio Colombo, Angelo’s son who now runs the company. Also to support rider’s communities, such as messengers. To push not only the bicycle as a sport but also the grass roots usage, the culture, the everyday usage. We aim to have our bicycle culture here at Cinelli not just coming down from the top of the sport but also to come up from the communities that ride our bikes”

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Cino

From Where I Ride: 2017 ToB, Stage 4 – Mansfield – Newark-on-Trent

wheels

There’s something really fun about seeing the pros race along your local roads. Not just the ‘within general local area’ roads, but barreling specifically down your beloved, unassuming and deserted little country lanes. The ones that you can take inch-perfect mental fly-bys through while plotting your weekend rides from the confines of the dragging, desk-bound afternoons in the office.

Cav

The ones that may as well be on the moon for 95% of the town’s population who, despite it being a mere 20km from their front door, will never swoop down that lightening quick false flat and know the exact point to then click deftly through the gears as you corner into the short, sharp rise that lies hidden behind that 90 degree hedgerow trap like a jack-in-the-box waiting to pounce on those still in the big-ring…

Tony

Watching with an expert’s eye as World Champ stripes and flouro exotica dodge bedevilling potholes and gravel pile wash-out spots that you can avoid with your eyes closed. The chain-rattling broken surfaces that claim an uninitiated victim under the mocking glare of soaring cathedral towers on the off-camber market-town twitches.

blue line

orange

Shouting at the TV screen for them to take that obvious right turn down a hidden, to-die-for country-mile gem that you know they’d just love, despairing at the Race Director’s criminal ignorance of what you know would make for the perfect race moment.

pen

The joy as Mssr Director redeems himself – What a Masterstroke! Taking them off of the mainstream, A-road route and down past that fantastic little whistle-stop pub and into the heart of your weekend playground.

Chat

Ah yes – these everyday landmarks will now forever be the ‘Corner in S’th’ell Where the An-Post Guy Stacked It’, the ‘Criminally Overlooked Greaves Lane’ and ‘That Great Stretch of Big-Ring Burn-Up Towards Kirklington that Mark McNally Powered Along in the Break’ during the 4th stage of the 2017 Tour of Britain

MarkMc

Andrew Greenstreet got his mustard yellow Fiat 500 fired up and his race-chase mojo on and stalked the peloton as it snaked around our rolling North Notts roads. Pics and below account are used with his kind permissions.

roll out

“September sees the Tour of Britain speeding through the length of the country and, on a gloomy looking Wednesday morning, the Nottinghamshire countryside held host to the race. Starting off in the old market town of Mansfield, the team’s echelons packed the tight confines of the market square giving the fans an up close experience you rarely get in professional sport.

G.

With the excited crowds bustling for a view and maybe an autograph from a Mark Cavandish, Geraint Thomas or a Tony Martin, to name but a few of the cycling stars on show, the atmosphere was electric. Honking air horns, clacker boards and bang-bang sticks rose to a crescendo, greeting the riders like gladiators as they signed on and were introduced to the crowd.

krist

With riders, bikes and teams ready, the expectant throng was primed for the flag to be dropped and then off we raced. The Tour was winding its way down towards Newstead Abbey then up through Worksop to Retford and down again to the final destination of today’s stage, the Historic Civil War Town of Newark-on-Trent. With best laid plans off we set, the route and timings set for where we’d meet the peloton. First stop was the village of Edingley: fully decked out with a yellow bikes at every lamp post, colourful bunting hanging off every hedge and a good gathering along the roadside.

yellobike

An early breakaway was met by local cyclists waving their pie and pints outside The Old Reindeer pub as the race dashed on towards their first watering station in Southwell. Now this is where plans and cycle races fall foul as we jumped back into car to head for the first of the intermediate sprints. It was always going to be a push to get there, cutting through the narrow lanes, but the rolling road block stopped us in our tracks. With luck, however, seemingly on our side, it turned out to be a good spot; on a slight incline as the sky’s briefly opened to remind everyone this was Britain. The chasing cycle club crowd’s spirits, now emboldened with pastry and beer, were not even slightly dampened, shouting and whooping as riders pulled on rain capes.

clubs

Looking at the timings on the schedule and gauging the speed of the peloton the decision was made to head straight the King of the Mountain segment on Eaton Wood. The gathering of people there was amazing: all the way up the hill with cow bells and clackers – anything to make a royal racket as the race passed by. With police sirens approaching from the distance, the furore was palpable from the hundreds of assembled spectators. The four man break still had a reasonable lead going up the hill but the main peloton was hot on its heels as we headed towards the finish. This is where the luck ran out. The schedule had be blown apart by a bike race determined to beat me to the line and, despite my sprinting the last one and a half kilometres, the Tour of Britain Stage Four was over with me 100 metres short. The fat lady in my head was in full voice.

Glum Italians

With presentations done (seeing the jersey swapping hands for the next stage) we are left feeling satisfied that our county Nottinghamshire and its people have done us proud”

 

You Break Our Hearts.

Josh

“Damn…this sport of ciclismo sure is hard on fans.

I woke up to the most dumbfounding news this morning, that my dear Samu has been nabbed for an irregular drug test. The optimist in me still hopes that this was some mistake given the absurdity of a 39-year-old with his foot out the door into retirement, a legacy and a career well intact, couldn’t possibly be that dumb?

But, then again, Cycling will always rip your heart out.

Of course it’s dumb to think of sports figures as “heroes”… the only cyclist worthy of such a label was Bartali. But, can’t we as fans just try to enjoy the entirety of our favourite’s career without the lurking anxiety of cheating and disgrace?

I was very much looking towards this Vuelta and the swan song of two Spanish Greats – AC & Samu, riding off into the sunset with once last bromance romp – for they have moulded my personality as a cyclist, an Iberian and Euro aficionado, and a fan beyond measure.

But, then again…Cycling will always rip your heart out.

This sucks, Samuel Sanchez”

The above words are from my friend, Josh. He posted this on his social media a few hours after the news broke here in Euroland due to the time difference out to New Mexico, Josh’s home. It struck a chord. It echoed sentiments – the upset, the disbelief, the sense of utter betrayal – that I’d been mulling over in my mind for a post at some point; the way this sport continually breaks your heart.

I’ve had mine broken in the past. Athletes – people – that caught my imagination and brought joy to my life with their endeavours and elegant panache, both on and off the bike: David Millar, Marco Pantani, Ivan Basso – take a bow. I even threw the clothes out onto the lawn and swore ‘Never Again’ at one point. That only lasted a couple of years, though. I’d lost my heart to Cycling for good – for better or worse – long, long before that. I know it’s stupid. I’m sure it’s way different from the other side of the fan barriers; this sport grinds down and has no misty-eyed soul of whimsy at the hard centre of commercial reality. But you really do break our hearts…

And, just like any hopelessly smitten soul who wants to believe that their true love can and will change, we take them back. We take Cycling back. This cruel mistress. With promises of change and an end to such foolish infidelities, we so willingly give our hearts again. Place our heartless lover back upon a pedestal. Yet the sheen and endless sunny days in the park of new-found love eventually dulls and each time the heart is just a little more jaded; ready for the next time.

But you really do break our hearts.

 

 

Photo Credits: Josh’s FB Feed

 

 

 

Stagiaire! In The Middle Of America: Team Novo Nordisk’s Sam Brand At The Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah

Ciclissimo! is back on the road with Team Novo Nordisk, the world’s first all-diabetes pro cycling team, at the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah. We’ve be following the fortunes of  their new stagiaire, 25 year old Isle of Man native, Sam Brand. Sam had been making waves – most probably in the swim leg – on the National and European triathlon circuit (ignore my flippancy, silver in the 2015 British Championships is no joke) before switching solely to cycling for 2016. Already on the TNN radar after his strong tri’ results, Sam secured himself a place on their development squad and continued to impress. A mid-season call up to a hard fought, seven-day mountainous stage race debut with the Team Novo Nordisk full pro-squad was his reward. Ciclissimo! got the inside line each day from Sam throughout his journey through the Hollywood-Western ‘big country’ vistas of America’s mountain belt.

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Stage 7: Salt Lake City, 118km

Nippo-Vini Fantini’s Marco Canola caught Caja Rural – Seguros RGA’s constantly race-animating Benito napping and slipped through the inside in a wily yet textbook move on the final corner. Canola had followed Benito’s line-hunting solo foray from the final group that had formed after a typically pacey and attack laden crit’ finale around a rollercoaster of a Salt Lake City circuit. Canola kept the power on up the rise to the line and took the stage win in the State capitol with Rob Britton of Rally Cycling running out deserved GC victor after a staunch defence of the jersey since claiming it at the mid-race TT. Sam crossed the line with the needle pretty much on empty but with a smile on his face, deservedly so also, after a successful pro-race debut in a very testing arena indeed.

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Sam’s View

Ciclissimo! You just finished your first professional stage race and an incredibly hard one at that. How does it feel?

Sam Brand It feels amazing. I’m very, very happy; that was a tough day.

C! How did the day play out?

SB You could tell early on that it wasn’t going to be easy. There was no just sitting on. It took about three or four laps to start to go easier. I knew I was in it for a whole day of suffering, so I put my head down and ground it out.

C! What was the climb like?

SB Most of the time, it wasn’t neutral, but we started easy and you could go up with the group. As the race went on, it got harder and harder. Once I had noticeably less energy than at the start, it really started to feel harder each time.

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C! What were the final few laps like?

SB I was constantly trying to fight to move up, stay in my own rhythm and not let myself get distracted by everyone else. I knew as it got towards the second to the last lap that I had to stay in the group, but I really started to struggle. I got to the start of the final lap and just held on, held on, held on. On the final lap, I started to fall back and couldn’t hold on anymore.

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C! You start the Colorado Classic on Thursday. Being able to finish this race—does it give you more confidence than when you started Utah?

SB Absolutely. I’m just on a high that I get to do this as a job. I’m over the moon that I’ve had this opportunity. I’m going into every race with a smile on my face and excited to inspire, educate and empower everyone affected by diabetes!

All Photo Credits: VeloImages