Wednesday, 29 June 2011

The Tour de France - Bring It On!

The Tour de France begins this Saturday 2nd July, and I'm excited. I can tell others are excited too. There has been more people out on their bikes this week riding to work, the bike shops are a bit busier, and the bike blogs are a bit more frantic with talk of the tour. Truth is, I look forward to it every year, partly because of the obvious reasons, the intrigue of who will win and the enjoyment of cheering on the Aussies that have made the team selection. But also because it brightens up my winter! It may be sunny and perfect riding conditions in France and other northern hemisphere countries, but here in Melbourne it's cold in July and watching the Tour transports me to the roads of France where its sunny, there's beautiful scenery and delicious food. Watching the Tour in our winter gives me that little bit of extra motivation to get up and ride my bike in the chill of Melbourne's winter mornings.

Despite this, I do wish I was going... being there in France in July, riding the L'Etape and then following the race around is a dream that will be accomplished one day, but not this year. So watching the SBS (Australian Tour broadcaster) coverage it will have to be, and lucky for us they are showing every stage live again and will have update shows every morning and evening. Check out the coverage schedule here. The SBS Cycling Central team do a superb job every year of bringing Aussies the Tour and if I can't be in France - this is definitley the next best thing!

Here's some videos to get you in the mood

My picks for the top five

1. Alberto Contador

Trust me, I want to put Cadel in this spot but I just can't. Contador is too strong. I think he is in the form of his life and the recent Giro win wont hold him back in the slightest. To win the Tour you need to be able to attack in the mountains and no one can attack like Contador. His explosive speed on the mountains is currently matched by no one and he has the ability to obliterate the field with this weapon. In 2009 we saw this in Verbier where he attacked and took the yellow jersey from Nocentini (and Armstrong) on stage 15, we saw it on Mt Etna on stage 9 of this years Giro and we will see it again at this years Tour de France.

2. Cadel Evans

I really hope I'm wrong and Cadel does pull off the win, if I'm right this will be a heartbreaking third 2nd place in the tour General Classification (GC) for Cadel. But all the stars are aligning for him. He has had the perfect season so far, with two GC wins in smaller stage races and a second place in the Criterium du Dauphine. His team, BMC racing, is completely set up for him to get the GC win. He's got the strength and experience of George Hincapie and some really good climbers to help him in the mountains. Go Cadel!

3. Bradley Wiggins

Wiggins is looking really good to me. I think he has been threatening to take some really big wins and it seems his time has come. Like Cadel, Wiggins has had an excellent lead up to the Tour, opting to stay out of the Giro and do some altitude training instead. His win at the Dauphine shows he has got what it takes and his time trialling abilitiy concretes him as a serious Tour contender. The long time trial stage at the end of the Tour is somewhere he could take some serious time off the other Tour hopefulls.

4. Andy Schleck

Other cycling people (and people who actually know what they are talking about!) have got Andy higher up on the top five list but I just can't see him doing any better than fourth or maybe third this year. His season hasn't been the best so far, there have been no lead-up wins, like you would expect from a serious Tour contender. I know he has ability in the mountains but perhaps he lacks the strategic maturity one needs to succeed in a three week stage race. I guess I think he's a little overrated, am I wrong? Maybe.

5. Jurgen Van den Broeck

Van den Broeck is my smokey, my dark horse. I first noticed him when he was a domestique for Cadel when he rode for Silence Lotto. Jurgen showed signs back then that he was developing into a GC rider, he even rode away from Cadel at one point - putting his own desire over the teams ambitions. Love him or hate him, he is a classy rider with bucketloads of ability. He will be a force this year and for a few years yet.

So have I got it right? Comment below and let me know your top five.

Stages to watch for

Stage 2, the Team Time Trial, is going to determine the yellow jersey holder for the following few days, and the TTTs are always nail biting to watch. Expect some blistering speeds and some terrible crashes.

Stages 3-7, relatively flat stages that will be perfect for the sprint specialists, Cavendish will pick up a few wins here for sure.

Stage 12, Cugnaux - Luz-Ardiden, is the first high mountain stage, we'll
see some attacks here are the yellow jersey will possibly change hands. Will be an interesting stage for strategy - some teams may not want to take control of the yellow jersey this early - so there's a chance a mountain specialist who's no GC threat will come and take the win and the maillot jaune.

Stage 19, Modane Valfrejus - Alpe-d'Huez,
will surely be the most exciting stage of the three weeks, if you stay up to watch any stage - make it this one! The Alpe-d'Huez is famous for its role in the history of the Tour de France and for good reason - it will break some riders and there will be attacks galore.

Stage 20, Genoble Individual Time Trial, is a very long time trial, and so gives the TT specialists an opportunity to shine. If Contador doesn't have enough of a lead by this stage he could lose the yellow jersey to Evans or Wiggans - both being superior time trialists.

Let the race begin!

The Tour de France is called the 'beautiful' race for good reason. The pageantry, the passion, the sufferring, and the incredible human achievement... it makes for fantastic TV! I have been reading Bill Stricklands novel on the comeback of Lance Armstrong and he sums up the attraction of the race really well. He explains that it is such a hard race that even the last place getter is celebrated. Not for coming in last but simply for hanging in and making it to the end. He is the Lanterne Rouge, the Red Lantern, and he should be proud. Bill writes:

In the Tour de France, you can't coast into last place; you have to tear yourself apart for the honour
That's what the Tour de France is about, human endurance matched by no other sport. I can't wait.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Melbourne - don't become NYC

Reading the news the other day I came accross an article in The Age that aggressively announced 'Cyclists face fines as police get tough'. I'm not going to weigh into the whole debate of cyclists vs. cars, it's been debated to death on various websites - maybe I'll post about it one day when I'm scraping the bottom of the barrell! But not today. No, what I was struck by was the focus on police dishing out fines to cyclists, even though the issue at the centre of the article was how many cyclists are being injured because of drivers swinging open car doors! Thats like coming down on homeowners who get burgled because they have nice stuff in their house! I haven't been caught in this 'crackdown' yet - maybe it's not as bad as what The Age suggests, afterall they are known for sensationalist drivel, but I couldn't help but think of the situation in New York in recent years.

I've been reading about New York cyclists being punished by the NYPD for doing what they love for a while now. Most recently there was the case of the general manager of Dutch bike brand 'Vanmoof', maker of bikes preferred by well-adjusted hipsters everywhere, who visited New York and was pulled over by cops for riding a bike with a short skirt, saying the danger was that she may distract drivers! A similar story was reported in Bicycling magazine, a jewish community in NYC successfully lobeyed to remove a bike lane from their area because it "introduced scantily clad females cycling through their area"! Isn't that a good thing?!

Then there was the case of Casey Neistat who got fined in NYC for not riding his bike in the bike lane, being a talented amateur video guy, he protested the only way he knew how and made this video showing it is just about impossible to stay in NYC's bike lanes, considering they are blocked by parked cars, delivery vehicles, rubbish bins, pedestrians and, worst of all, police cars!

I just hope that this 'crackdown' doesn't herald a new era in Melbourne where cycling is punished, rather than encouraged. We've come a long way since that pedestrian was killed in 2006 by a Hell Ride participant who failed to stop at a pedestrian crossing. It'd be a shame to undo the good that has been done since for cycling/driver relations.

and another thing...The Melburn Roobaix

After the weekend you'd expect me to do post on the great event that is the Melburn Roobaix. This is organised by fyxomatosis and was held on Sunday the 26th. Well - I would have loved to do a big write up and post some pics but I wasn't fast enough with my entry and missed out! It's a super popular ride, that takes you down some of the cobbled streets of Melbourne. I love that an event like this exists in Melbourne and it shows the popularity of all types of cycling in this city. Next year - I'm gonna get my registration in straight away - I couldn't stand missing out again!

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

'Chasing Legends' Movie Night

I’m a big fan of the CyclingTips blog, another Melbourne based cycling blog that features some really great product reviews, interviews, pro-cycling news and best of all, some A-MA-ZING photos of the pro tour. Last Sunday night CyclingTips hosted a movie night at ACMI (Melbourne’s home of film, television and digital art in Federation Square) screening the new Rapha promotional movie “Rapha Rides the Victorian Alps” and the feature was ‘Chasing Legends’, the story of HTC Columbia’s 2009 Tour De France Campaign.

It was really a great night, it was so thrilling to see so many like-minded individuals show up late on a Sunday night to watch a movie about cycling! In fact it was so popular that many didn’t get a seat! It seems there were some dodgy people that failed to realise this was a paid event!

The first film, despite essentially being an extended ad for Rapha, showcased the Victorian Alps beautifully, whilst telling the story of a Victorian cycling stalwart, Malcolm Powell. The film exhibited a beautiful area of our great state and somehow captured a lot of what I love about cycling. The challenge, the road, the open spaces, the cold of the morning, the speed, and the bike itself – an inspiring machine.

‘Chasing Legends’, the feature, was a great watch for anyone that has a love of cycling.

I looked around the crowd – there were no sleepy eyes or distracted faces. Everyone was mesmerised from start to end. Every Tour de France has the drama and characters to equal any Italian opera or Hollywood film, and the 2009 TdF was no exception. The film focussed on the complete dominance of HTC Columbia, their ups and downs as they took Cav all the way to the Champs Elysees, and the story of him picking up six stage wins. This was also the year Armstrong made his return to the tour and the movie touched on the struggles between him, Contador and Andy Schleck. There are also some great grabs from cycling legend, Jens Voigt, who never minces his words.

In summary, top film, great night.

The SBS Cycling Central crew even made it there to do a piece. I saw the TdF number one commentator ‘in waiting’ Matthew Keenan! It was also great to meet the humble CyclingTips blogger, Wade. When he addressed the crowd he truly seemed appreciative of his readers. And CT, if you read this, thanks for putting on a great night and adding so much to the Melbourne cycling landscape.

And if you are one of those that didn’t pay for the flick – cough up!

Thursday, 16 June 2011

'The Peloton' exhibition opening

Information about the new exhibition 'The Peloton' by world renowned cycling photographer, Tim Kolln, has been doing the rounds on the interweb for the last few weeks, so I decided to head along to opening last night (16 June), afterall, what sort of Melbourne cycling blogger would I be if i didn't?

I arrived at the nondescript building, just one quiet block away from the chaos that is Chapel Street on a Thursday night. It wasn't the easiest place to find mind you - I only succeeded as a result of the menagerie of fixies attached to poles out the front, that signified that I was either in the right place, or I had somehow found my way to a Fitzroy pub.

The photos were great - I'm not an art aficionado, but these portraits had a reality to them. They showed their subjects as the humans they actually are, and not the freaks we think they are that amazingly maintain speeds of 50kph on the flat.

It didn't take long to check it all out - there were only 15 photos in total, which did seemed strange to me, all this for just 15 photos? Oh well - there was also the back room which housed some pristine classic bikes which was quite a sight for a bike lover. It's not everyday you see an Eddy Merckx original in such good condition.

The highlight of the night was definitely the crowd. I've never seen so many tattoos, tight jeans, casquettes and stretched ear lobe piercings in one room before. The underground hipster cycling scene is definitely alive and well in good ol' Melbourne town.

Catch the exhibition till the 14th July at Endless Cycling Gallery and Boutique, 6A Wilson St, South Yarra.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Two weeks off the bike

I'd like to think that I'm pretty resilient when it comes to putting up with less-than-perfect riding conditions. My bike is my primary mode of transport and that being the case, I occasionally find myself riding in extreme heat, bone-chilling cold, driving rain and, worst of all, every cyclists arch nemesis, strong winds. This is fine. My colleagues at work think I'm crazy, but it's ok, really it is. Heat just makes you sweat more, cold is not a problem - you soon heat up, rain just makes you wet - I was born wet and clothes dry quickly enough, and even wind is ok - it just makes me a stronger cyclist. But what I really can't stand it getting crook and being forced to stay off the bike. This is where I'm at at the moment, and I'm about as angry and fed up as a nerd who's had his xbox confiscated. I've had one ride in the last 15 days! And that ride was really a bad idea, my head was so congested I could have been one of those guys on the Vicks ads.

So in the last couple of weeks I have got the flu, recovered, then picked up another bug just as annoying as the first. Riding when sick is not wise, especially in winter, it'll just make things worse. So on the days I was able to drag myself out of bed and actually make it to work - I took the bus and then the train. This was not fun. No fun at all.

I live in a bayside suburb and as any Moulbourne-ite understands, you know you live in a decent suburb if you have housing commission around you - and they're all around my place! Therefore, my bus and train trips featured some 'interesting' people. And then there's the overpriced tickets, the lack of seats, and trains that are about as reliable as a teenage boy on dope. All this confirmed what I already knew... that my bike is always the best option.

And then, like a glutton for punishment, I decided to drive to work. As I sat in the car, and I crawled my way along roads nearly more congested than my nose, I slowly felt a rage build up in me. By the time I made it to work I had turned into the Hulk! There's no doubt about it, sitting in traffic makes you really angry! It's frustrating, it's slow, and you have to deal with dangerous, stupid and inconsiderate drivers! It mustn't be good for the blood preassure either. I have an instant solution to high blood preassure - don't drive to work!

Perhaps wost of all, I've simply missed throwing my leg over my bike every morning. Riding to work in the morning, and going for a ride on the weekends, starts my day on a high. Fingers crossed this is the last of this seasons colds and flus and nothing else comes along that keeps me off my bike. Feeling better now - Monday I'll be back for sure! And as I ride past the trains and the drivers stuck in traffic jams, my smile will be just a little wider!