Open House: Grotty Nightclubs And Dropped Trousers With British Eurosport’s Ashley House

Bench Steely Look

I had the pleasure of meeting Ashley House at the Girona Gala last year – in a room full of small-talk, always heading for the guy you know has the best pastel-chino collection and a recently bought drink in his hand is a rule to live by and, yet again, it did not let me down. House is funny, House is ready to jump into an adlib role in a ruse at the drop of a hat, House is a regular guy who travels a lot for his work. He and I had a chat about life in the epicentre of the Grand Tour press pack as he packed his case for the chaos of the 2018 Tour de France. You can read it in full over at Always Riding here, right now. Visual character studies by Andrew Greenstreet

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“What we tend to do is keep all of the car windows open and blast out very loud techno so everyone knows we’re coming. Of course, the problem with that is because the fans are drunk as hell they start chucking stuff in through the windows – water bottles, beer, all sorts – as we’re trying to drive up! At least one Eurosport car has even had somebody piss through the windows!”

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“I told the head of production at British Eurosport at the time that my uncle had been a mechanic on the 1971 Tour de France and that my grandfather had actually ridden the tour in the 50’s! All a complete pack of lies – I’d never watched a cycle race in my entire life!”

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“He just stopped at the roadside and just started puking, his effort was so enormous that day. He just turned to me and I said “Look, it’s fine, not today” even though I’d run about two and a half kilometres for a word. Days like that are just as important for me. Hopefully next time he’ll know I’m not an arse…”

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All Hail Paris Roubaix

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“…Easter, 1984. Maybe ’85. Half-term holiday with my parents. A Spanish hotel, a TV in the corner of the bar. A bike race, but not like any bike race I’d ever seen before. Not like those sunny Grand Tours scaling the snow-capped, sun drenched peaks of the Alps; suntanned limbs and a carnival of colour. Shirtless tifosi pouring Evian over dazzlingly white-socked continentals. No, this was dark, foreboding: crushed into the dour, bleak landscape by the leaden grey skies. Gripped by and pitched into a filthy quagmire…”

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There quite simply is nothing else like Paris-Roubaix. New piece up here at the very desirable Quoc shoes site now on the most formidable bike race of the year.

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“…You see that wheelbarrow or two’s worth of red brick-ends and smashed in old masonry strewn across the inside of that corner there? That’s a repair, not a blemish…”

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You’re praying for a wet Roubaix? Been 15 or so since we had one, you say? I can tell you right now that the families, the wives and sweethearts of those boys out there with a number on their back today will be praying for anything but…

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Pics: Pieter Van Hoorebeke (Get well soon, Jonger!)

 

 

Discovering Columbus: Inside Cinelli For Always Riding

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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.

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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…”

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“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…”

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

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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”

 

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)

 

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

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