by CycleChick on November 10, 2013
Here in Not Italy we do not hide from shitty weather, rather we embrace it with enthusiasm, fearlessness, and 40 layers of technical fabrics. Not Italy kind of looks like an Ivan Eyre painting this time of year.We rode along the edge of a gravel pit, a popular hangout for teenagers in the summer.Apparently, they like to jump off that thing out there. Sometimes they die.
We walked almost as much as we rode.But Cricket didn’t mind so much.Thanks Olli for a fun, dirty, badass ride on a day when most normal people were curled up in a chair with the latest copy of 50 Shades of Whatever. Your misses makes a pretty mean pot of meaty goodness. I still can’t believe she let us in the house.
by CycleChick on November 8, 2013
Photo: Augustus Farmer/Peloton Magazine
You may have been wondering (although probably not) “Hey! Where did that Winnipeg CycleChick go? Did she crash and fall off a mountain? Or run off with that sexy Italian guy?” The answer is no. I’m right here, back in Winnipeg – or, as I now like to call it, “Not Italy”. As you can imagine, the transition has been difficult. In comparison, the food here at home is crap, likely as a result of the terrible scenery, and when you ask for an ‘espresso dopio’ at the local Tim Hortons, they may or may not throw you out and threaten to call the police.
In any case, before the glorious climax of my final days with Thomason Bike Tours becomes a distant, sexy memory, here is the next instalment of The Great Winnipeg CycleChick Italian Campagnolo Adventure Experience™, a name I will be pitching to the fine folks at Thomson and Campagnolo. I think they will be all over it.
Back in 1970, a group of Italian cyclists decided to stage a bike race that would equal – or preferably crush into oblivion – a famously long and challenging one they had done that was put on by the Swiss. To do this, they picked the most difficult route they could find – a 200km traverse of nine cols in the heart of the Apennine Mountains. Legend has it that this new race, Nove Colli, or ‘nine hills’, inspired a group of Italian youngsters to take up cycling, including a certain Marco Pantani, who lived in a nearby town. Forty three years later, Nove Colli has become the biggest and most famous Italian bike race you’ve never heard of. With 13,000 participants winding their way through the narrow and undulating roads with white-knuckle switchback descents, it is likely the most exciting and terrifying as well.
While the race itself happens in May, the long and winding road it follows remains conveniently present all year long. So today, minus the 12,992 other cyclists and 50 euro entry fee, we will ride the Nove Colli. Or at least die trying.
At just under 200km and 3,800 metres (12,467 feet) of climbing, this was by far the most intimidating day on the itinerary. But unless I was to stay in Urbino forever (plausible), or ride in the van all the way to Faenza (out of the question), I was going to do it, one way or another.
The first climb starts almost immediately. As is our custom, the group spreads out, each of us plodding along at our own pace. Sharon, an oncologist from Utah and the only other woman in our group, has impressed us all with her relentless determination. She is content to ride her own pace, and never takes the van unless the guides force her to, in the interest of time and safety. She is always smiling (unless they make her take the van).Near the first summit my bike starts to feel weird. It’s a familiar feeling specific to a soft rear tyre – the ass end of the bike seems disconnected from the front, sort of like those two person horse costumes, causing a rear waggle that is most easily detected on corners or fast descents when you crash onto the pavement with your face. Thankfully I make this discovery at the summit of the climb rather than halfway down the switchback descent at 60km/h.
Normally I insist on changing my own flats, but these tyres are a total bitch to get off. Plus, it’s not often I have handsome Spaniards following me around to offer mechanical assistance whenever I need it, so I let Pablo work his magic. When I suggest he might be more comfortable in his task without his shirt on, he laughs. Must be my Canadian accent. He dutifully checks the tyre and the rim, puts in a new tube, and I am on my way down the descent.
Photo: Augustus Farmer/Peloton Magazine
This is probably a good time to mention how much I love me some Campagnolo brakes. I don’t usually get all mushy about bike parts (ok that’s a lie), but these brakes moderate my descents like the sweet lips of an angel gently caressing the rims – completely silently and with no trace of shuddering, slipping or grabbing. In other words, these brakes are The Shit.
Halfway down the dreaded waggle is back, but this time it’s dangerous. If I stop, Jordi – who is too far in front of me to hear my pitiful calls for help – will have to climb back up the col, since my one and only tube was used on the last flat. I know the Super Ban will be at the last summit for a while waiting for the last rider. So I wiggle my way down the descent – knuckles white, and angel lips fully engaged.
At the bottom, Jordi is waiting. I tell him my tyre is flat again, and he gets to work with the change. Jordi does not love these tyres. I know this from the double flat two days ago. He is muttering under his breath and I strain to hear in the hopes of learning some cool new Catalan swearwords. But I am out of luck. Apparently “fuck” is pretty universal.
The air holds until the top of the next col, but the tyre goes soft again on the next descent. At the bottom we make yet another change, and Jordi decides that we will change the tyre at lunch, which is only about half an hour away. As we start rolling again, my chain snaps.
The Super Ban arrives (of course), a quick chain repair is done, and we are on our way to lunch. By now, the rest of the group is well ahead and enjoying the incredible countryside.
By the time we get to lunch, which is at a small patio in yet another (yawn) perfecty charming little town, all the other riders are about to leave. They offer to wait, but there are tyres to be changed and paninis to be eaten, and neither should be rushed.
And so Jordi is stuck with me all afternoon as we climb, and then descend col after col. Some of them are ridiculously hard. Like 20% hard. Counting my pedal strokes isn’t cutting it anymore, so instead I follow Jordi’s wheel and match his pedal strokes. When he stands, I stand. When he sits, I sit. His cadence is smooth, and his upper body perfectly still, not like those drama queen pros who rock back and forth like drunks on a cruise ship. He admits to me he is finding this difficult. He usually likes it steeper. Yeah. Me too.
At some point I tell Jordi things would have to be really bad for me to get in the van. As long as I am physically able to ride, I’m riding. He says that’s good to know. We don’t talk much, but when we do it is about the things we know and love – our kids, food, and riding. I regale him with tales of Winnipeg winters, and try to explain how truly flat it is, finally showing him a picture I have on my phone from a training ride back home. He shakes his head and tells me if he lived there he probably wouldn’t be a cyclist. And I understand.
Photo: Augustus Farmer/Peloton Magazine
It’s getting late. We have two more cols to climb. The weather is perfect, and the sun is starting to set. This ride is breathtaking, both in the literal and figurative sense. The Super Ban follows us, stopping occasionally as Augustus spills out, scrambling to find the best vantage point to shoot us in the magical light.
Photo: Augustus Farmer/Peloton Magazine
In the end we complete eight of the nine climbs. I am disappointed, but we lost too much time with the mechanicals and now it is getting too late to be on the road. So I have no choice but to put Nove Colli on my bucket list of unfinished business.
The Hotel in Faenza is amazing, but even more amazing is the restaurant. The owner is something of a cycling buff and the walls are lined with photos, old and new, of him with pros and other cycling celebrities.One in particular stands out.
In spite of all of my mechanical issues, not to mention the sheer intensity of the riding we’ve done today, compounded with all of the other days before this, this has been my favourite day of The Great Winnipeg CycleChick Italian Campagnolo Adventure Experience™ so far. It has also been the hardest, and maybe that’s why.
I will remember this day forever.
Special thanks to Augustus Farmer (check out his great blog here) and Peloton Magazine, as well as Pablo and Thomson Bike Tours (the ones with the Campagnolo Experience logo on them) for the incredible photos. They tell the story far better than my words and crappy snapshots ever could.
by CycleChick on November 7, 2013
Lately I have received some very touching emails and assorted notes expressing concern at my whereabouts and well being. You guys are way too nice! The reality is I am back here in Winnipeg and working hard on the next post from my Amazing Italian Adventure. It’s a really good one, honest. I am just waiting for some fancy approvals to use one of Augustus Farmer’s amazing photographs that he shot for Peloton Magazine. Apparently the good people at Peloton were sleeping at 3am and unable to approve our request. As I am writing this, Augustus is likely sipping his last cuppa tea and settling into bed.
by CycleChick on October 22, 2013
Rising early, I feel like hell. Again. I am starting to get used to this sensation – part hangover, part ride fatigue, part jet lag. And I am always starving. During the day we are burning an impressive number of calories, and even eating constantly does not compensate. I know as soon as I eat something I will feel a bit better, but I am nervous about getting back on the bike again. Surely at some point my body will just refuse to do this anymore. But oddly, as soon as I get back on the saddle I feel great. Normal.
Yes, this is my new normal. A word that reminds me of a discussion with our ride leader and tour manager Sergi – a diminutive Spaniard (oops, Catalan) who bears a remarkable resemblance to every Spanish pro you’ve ever seen. Even just standing around in his helmet, glasses and kit on, his looks way more pro than you and I ever will. It’s in his blood.Back home, he rides with this guy Flecha. You might have heard of him. They talk, as ride buddies do, about everything, but there are some topics that are mutually understood to be off limits. Flecha will not discuss doping, but when someone in the peloton does something that is clearly beyond what might be considered typical, his response is clear. “It is not normal.”
Today’s ride is another long one – 195km that will bring us deeper into the Apennines. Our ride profile is a “sawtooth”, starting with a short, nasty climb, then into a series of ups and downs until we reach today’s highlight, Monte Petrona. Sergi is very excited about this one because of the white gravel road, or “strade bianchi” on the climbing side, and picturesque switchback descent. I try, truly, to share his enthusiasm, while trying equally hard not to think about the 9,678 feet of climbing we will do today.
I have a strange coping mechanism when I am climbing hard – as I grind away, trying not to judge how much further I have to go, I count my pedal strokes. I guess it’s just enough of a distraction to get me to the top. I wonder how many pedal strokes are in 9,678 feet. I guess I’ll find out.The ups and downs are not so bad. We spread out, as some of us are better at going up and some are better at going down, but we always regroup at the “Super Ban”. On the first day during our tour briefing, Sergi told us all about the “Super Ban” – a wonderful place where we would find food, clothing, shelter, and mechanical help. Sergi speaks excellent English, but with a heavy Spanish accent, so it was halfway through the meeting that I realized he was saying “support van”. I have come to enjoy passing through these little remote towns, and the townspeople are warm and welcoming, if a bit curious. One thing that each town shares is a guard of watchful old men, who sit in cafes and trattorias watching the comings and goings around them. It’s like they are waiting for something really exciting to come into town, and always seem mildly disappointed when all that turns up is a bunch of skinny foreigners in lycra.
Monte Petrano does not disappoint. Like most climbs here, you turn a corner and suddenly you are going up. It starts off paved, which is a blessing, then soon turns to the legendary white gravel. Of course this is not the strade bianchi – the real one is in Tuscany, but it is just as pretty, and likely just as punishing. I thank goodness for our gravel grinders back home, in particular the one in the Pembina Valley where we faced similar conditions, albeit with a slightly more Mennonite flavour. There are no mountains anywhere near Winnipeg, but you can drive three hours to the bottom of a valley and climb your way out – which is sort of the same thing. Not really.
At times it is so steep I am forced to stand on the pedals, which then makes the back wheel slide out if I’m not careful. I am too tired to be careful. In my head, I try to imagine myself as tiny, graceful Spanish climber – like Contador, but more well liked. And I count my pedal strokes, which are plentiful.Along the way, I meet Joe, one of the Aussies. Joe is a frame builder and refurbisher back in Brisbane. He reminds me a lot of Ben back home, both physically and by the effortless way he goes uphill. Jerk.I also ride for a spell with Jordi, one of today’s ride leaders. Both of these gentlemen are clearly impressed by how I climb with the grace and agility of a Spanish pro. Yes. Clearly.The top is another world. Cold and damp, it feels more like Scotland than Italy. I’m pretty sure I could see Canada from up here, if I’d had any idea which direction it was.
I am always overheated from the effort when I reach the top of these climbs, like I could shed every piece of clothing and still spontaneously combust. But in about thirty seconds, when my body starts to cool down, I am freezing and worried about how I can possibly navigate a steep and treacherous descent with frozen eyeballs and no feeling in my hands.At the top, Sergi informed us there had been a landslide on the road we are taking down, but that it is not a problem. After all, this is not just any tour. This is a Thomson tour.We move the barricades and a wayward boulder for the van to get through, and ride around the rocks. No problem.
When we get to the bottom, it is starting to rain and getting dark. We still have 30km to go. Todd – our strongest rider – wants to continue, and Jordi is going to go with him. And if you know me, you know that if someone else is going to ride, I’m going to ride. But we are losing light and I’m afraid I will slow them down and we will be riding in the dark. Thankfully it starts to pour and they change their minds. We ride the final 30km to the hotel in the van.
by CycleChick on October 20, 2013
In case you hadn’t heard, I’m not much of a climber. The lack of elevation where I live, combined with my not-exactly-petite stature and delicate composition make me about as suited to going uphill as an old John Deer tractor. However, under the right circumstances, being good at something has little to do with how much it can be enjoyed.
Speaking of enjoyment, I really couldn’t have picked a better group of people to be sharing this experience with. Our conversations are easy and we always seem to be laughing.We talk about everything under the sun, but I must say I get the most enjoyment from listening to the Europeans among us talk about Europeans. I have learned that while they do make exceptionally good beer, the Belgians are not to be trusted. The Italians and Spanish are half an hour late for everything, while the Germans are fifteen minutes early. Finnish women make Swedish women look like dishrags, and the Dutch are becoming more British than the British. While there is some debate about which nation boasts the worst drivers (although the Italians are favoured), there seems to be clear consensus that everyone hates the French.
Our Dutch rider, Joroen, warned me never to buy a French car. “Out of a 30 hour work week, they are on strike for 13 hours.” he explained. “They spend the next 14 hours drinking wine, and in the remaining three hours (when they are terribly drunk), they build your car.”Of course it is all in good fun, the kind of ribbing only close siblings can get away with.
With the granfondo behind us, I was looking forward to getting out of Rome for a smaller, more relaxed ride. Or as relaxed as a 190km ride with a massive amount of climbing can be. After about 100km, our major climb of the day would be Monte Terminillo, which starts at about 400 meters (1,300 feet) and rises to about 1,900 meters (6,200 feet).
The ride out of Tivoli took us into the foothills of the Apennine mountains, where we rode though countless little mountain villages intermittently perched on peaks and nestled in valleys.Every so often we would stop and regroup, fill water bottles, and stuff food into our mouths to fuel the next hour or two of riding. Finding places to pee is a bit of a challenge here, and I’m sure I have tinkled in some places that were less private than they could have been. My socks are a mess, covered with burrs, crushed wild raspberries, and mud – among other, less savoury things I’m sure.The farther we got away from the city, the prettier it became. We passed an impossibly beautiful turquoise lake, surrounded by a long and twisting road that was fast and fun to ride, especially after some slower, steep sections of climbing. The flatlanders among us were in heaven.So amazing. The road to Headingly back home will never quite look the same again.
After about 70km we stopped for lunch in Rieti, the town at the base of Terminillo. Each town we pass through seems to have a trattoria, bakery, pizzeria or café on every corner. The food (if they have any left) is always delicious and a nice change from the sickly sweet gels and energy bars we eat on the road. With lunch finished, it’s time to face the Terminator. The climb takes about an hour and a half – less time than Mount Lemmon in Tucson, and about the same in terms of grade. Of course there are some nasty little steep sections, but we won’t talk about those.You can’t see it in this picture, but my “climbing vein” – the “Y” shaped one that pops out of my forehead when I exert myself – is out in full blazing glory.
The temperature got cooler and cooler as we climbed, and at the top was downright freezing. But I didn’t care – I had made it to the top and the remainder of the ride (with the exception of one little “bump”, as Sergi likes to call them) was downhill.There was a bit of a scary moment on the descent when I hit a pothole and immediately and violently punctured both front and back tubes. Thankfully a) it was on a relatively straight section so I was able to stay upright, and b) Big Aussie Mike was with me and was able to show me how the Campy brake releases work, and c) my fabulous Spanish domestique Jordi (who magically appears every time I am in trouble) drove up with the van and quickly changed both flats.
The next 60km to Norcia was a bit of a grind after the effort of the climb – not to mention yesterday’s granfondo. A pre-shower beer and a bag of nice salty chips at the hotel bar was a perfect way to end the ride.Moments like this are as brief as they are rare. With Thomson, there is no fucking around when it comes to our schedule. It is late, and we have to clean ourselves up and get to dinner before it’s too late. There’s another move in the morning, and another big day ahead. We enjoy the walk to dinner, if not the stairs we encounter along the way. As always, there are amazing sights to be seen, followed by a recap of an unforgettable day over an unforgettable meal.A domani!
by CycleChick on October 19, 2013
I’m not sure there is a word I could use to describe what it’s like to be on the start line of an event with five thousand cyclists. If there was, it would be big. And probably Italian. The Campagnolo Granfondo Roma, now in it’s second year, had attracted cyclists from all over Italy, as well as 21 other countries from around the world. Here at the start line they formed a mad swarm, like a crazy critical mass of European roadies with immaculately shaved legs and matching jerseys. Even the women were terrifying. As special guests of Campagnolo, we had a prime spot very close to the start. Behind me was a massive, nervous army of Italians, with an obvious mastery of the art of looking casually deliberate. If they cycle anything like they drive, I was a goner.We found out yesterday the government had forced the organizers to shorten the route to just over 100km, saying they would only provide police support to shut down the roads for that distance. Needless to say, this was a complete disaster for the organizers and sponsors. But the race would go on as planned.
Today we would ride on a combination of pavement and cobbles – most notably along the Apian Way, the ancient road where we had enjoyed dinner just the night before. Perhaps at the end, someone would put my remains in a nice urn and place me in a catacomb beside a freed Roman slave in Paolo’s restaurant, where I could spend the rest of eternity infused with the fragrant scent of garlic and olive oil.
To my surprise, the start was quite civilized – we whizzed along the cobbles without incident and I was quickly part of a large and constantly changing grupetto. If I have learned anything from riding the deplorable streets of Winnipeg, it is to keep the pressure on the front wheel light. It’s also best to go as fast as possible, with the bike skipping along the top surface of the road, thus smoothing out the ride. Going slow is a sure way to feel every bump, not to mention lose water bottles, break spokes, and dislodge expensive dental work.The two Italian words I made sure to memorize before the race were “left” (sinestra) and “right” (destra), ensuring I would understand when people were coming up from behind me, or indicating an upcoming turn. I was sure to learn the appropriate swears along the way as well.The race was fast, and had two main climbs into small towns outside Rome. I don’t quite understand the Italian custom of putting towns so high up, and therefore hard to get to. A bit of a pain in the ass, if you ask me. The climbs were brutal, made worse with the incomprehensible taunts of the crowd. As beautiful a language as Italian is, “Get your fat ass up there!” sounds pretty much the same in any language.
My time was 3:29 – not spectacular for 105km, but given the climbing (about 3,200 feet) and two weeks off the bike due to illness, I’ll take it. The results are confusing, but I’m on page two of twelve pages of female finishers. I’ll take that as well.
At the end of the race I hung out at the finish just long enough to take in some fluids and check out the locals, who have definitely taken to the new trend of “high viz” cycling apparel in a fairly major way. I think there was more neon at the granfondo than at a Wham! concert.Once all of our riders came in we did a quick change and birdbath in the hotel bathroom and went to a local trattoria for some Italian recovery food – perfectly cooked pasta and a bunch of wine. Once everything was messily devoured we hopped into the van to make our way through the perpetually congested streets to our next hotel in Tivoli, north east of Rome. It was spectacular.
It was also here we were introduced to Augustus Farmer, a photographer and journalist who would be following us around for an upcoming article in Peloton Magazine. In addition to having one of the coolest names in Christendom, Gus would become a key member of our merry band of misfits, not to mention a friend.
Today was hard, and tomorrow will be harder, with 195km and 9,500 feet of climbing on the agenda. After today, I’m not sure if that scares me more or less.
by CycleChick on October 15, 2013
In the morning I was able to meet the Thomson Bike Tour crew, which consists of group leaders Sergi and Daniel, Jordi the mechanic, and Pablo, the photographer. Sergi, Jordi and Pablo are from Spain, but quick to point out they are Catalan. Catalonia is part of Spain, but they are like a divorced couple forced to share the same house. Kind of like Quebec and Canada. Daniel is from England, but speaks to the others in Italian – or rather “Spatalian”, more a mix of Italian and Spanish, not that I can tell the difference. In any case, they are all awesome, and seem to have things running things like a well-oiled machine. Speaking of well-oiled machines, my loaner Bianchi is perfectly Italian, and, as promised, came totally decked out with a Campy Record group which I will need to learn to use post haste. Jordi had everything set up and waiting for my saddle and pedals, and soon it was ready to roll.
Our group is much smaller than I expected only eight riders, compared to the 30 I was expecting. That puts our rider to staff ratio at 2:1, which is far better than most daycares, so I know we will be well taken care of. One of my biggest fears before coming was that out of 30 riders, I would be the 37th slowest. Even with only eight, our group is varied in strength and speed, but everybody is really easy going and has a great attitude about the riding ahead. All that worry for nothing!
The other riders include three Americans – Ted from Norfolk, Virginia, Sharon from Utah, and Todd from San Diego. We also have two Australians – Mike from Melbourne and Joe from Bisbane (so I know I’ll have someone to drink with). Jeroen from the Netherlands, and Joel from Manila round out the group, meaning we have all but three continent covered – two if you consider than nobody really lives in Antarctica anyway.
After a brief run through of the rules (basically, don’t ride like a dick, be safe, and be on time), we went upstairs to the hotel restaurant for a typical Italian lunch of antipasti, pasta, meat, salad, and desert. It sounds like a lot, but oddly, you can clean each and every plate and not walk away half as stuffed as after eating half a burger from Five Guys.
After lunch, we put on our sweet Thomson/Campagnolo kits, loaded up the bikes and headed to Circus Maximus, a kind of ancient Roman velodrome for chariots. Called Circo Massimo in Italian, it is a very rare example of something that sounds cooler in English than Italian. Once the playground of gladiators, popes and kings, the Circo would be the location for a trade show in conjunction with tomorrow’s granfondo.
It was here I met Valentino Campagnolo. I have to say he was extremely warm and pleasant, and laughed when I told him how jealous my friends were that I was there, and how much they would probably hate me for having met him. When Joshua (Campagnolo’s marketing director) told him I had won the contest, he looked genuinely concerned and asked it I had done any training. Then we both laughed.
To everyone’s surprise, at the last minute the granfondo had been shortened down to 100km from the traditional 165, chopping out one of the most picturesque climbs on the route. So it was decided the chopped out part would be out warmup ride. We quickly chaged into our sweet Thomson/Campagnolo kits and loaded up the van with our bikes. I was exploding with excitement!
My legs felt pretty good, but my lungs and cardio felt like hell – not a big shocker after two weeks of doing nothing but watching reruns of the Walking Dead and going through massive amounts of Kleenex. But the ride was spectacular – about 30km with a nice eight kilometre climb in the middle. And the views. Good Lord. Pictures really can’t even touch it. Well, not mine at least. I’m sure Pablo’s will be better.Everywhere in Italy the views are stupendous, the food is incredible, the women are beautiful, and there is always a bunch of old Italian dudes hanging around on the patios. I asked these guys if I could take their photo, and they enthusiastically agreed. We had a lovely conversation – them speaking Italian, and me in English – undeterred by the fact that neither understood a word of what the other was saying. Dinner that night was hosted by Campagnolo, in a great restaurant in Rome called Hostaria, located on the Via Appia Antica, which, by many accounts, is the oldest road in the world. The road is lined with catacombs filled with the ashes of freed slaves, and these catacombs can even be found inside the restaurant itself. Chef and owner Paulo proudly informs us we are eating in a graveyard. The setting and the food are sublime.Time to run! That bike is not going to ride itself!
by CycleChick on October 12, 2013
Today was a resounding reaffirmation that airplanes are flying germ canisters that put us in unacceptable proximity with other humans – complete with all of their unpleasant habits, noises, and smells. However, until teleporting becomes a reality, mass transportation will be a heinous necessity if one wishes to be anywhere far away from where they are.
Arriving in Rome is like landing on another planet. It’s big – huge even – and so packed with people they mill around each other at frightening speed and proximity, completely at ease, regardless of their mode of transport.My kamikaze shuttle driver delighted in sharing the incredible historical marvels of his great city as he repeatedly skimmed past pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles and cars on roads narrower than most North American driveways.
When I finally arrived at the Aran Mantegna Hotel – which makes up for its disappointing distance from the historic city centre in size in modern opulence – I am exhausted, filthy, and an wanting to be as far away from other humans as possible.
My room wasn’t ready, so I celebrated my arrival with a glass of prosecco from the hotel bar, which I halfheartedly drank while trying desperately to stay awake. My wait was rewarded by an upgrade to my room. I think the girls at the front desk either felt sorry for me, or were worried that my appearance was re reflecting poorly on the image of the hotel. Regardless, my room is enormous and modern, with a bathroom larger than most of the rooms in Europe I have ever stayed in.
After freshening up, I decided I should get out and explore before dark. Against my better wisdom (which is questionable at best), I decided to take the bus. Busses in Rome suck pretty much the same as busses anywhere else.I arrived at Theatro Marcello, right in the middle of the city centre. I figured it would be an easy landmark because it’s right beside this, which is pretty hard to miss.“Il Vittoriano” was built in 1911 as a tribute to Italy’s “first” King after one of the million wars in its history. Interestingly, it is not loved by the Italians, and often compared to a typewriter or wedding cake. It is seen as too “monumental” and flashy – and for the Italians to think that, you know it must be bad.
Even still, you know me and directions. It was fun to wander around with no particular agenda or knowledge of the touristy landmarks. I just wandered, and looked, trying my best to remember where I was. I found all sorts of amazing things, many presumably older than Jesus.
Everywhere I looked there was something amazing. By far the most interesting thing to look at is the people. They are everywhere. Stylish Romans and tourists by the thousands.I decided I couldn’t be in Rome without trying one of the many pizzerias lining the old cobbled streets, each one more inviting than the next. I randomly picked one with the most handsome Italian waiters, and sat down for a fantastic pizza and glass of the house wine. Magnifico!And just so you are not totally disappointed, on the way back to the bus, I may have done some shoe shopping.Amazingly, I did not get lost, and found my way back to the hotel and was in bed by 9pm. It was a fine, if exhausting first day.
Tomorrow morning I will meet the tour group for the first time. I haven’t seen anybody here at the hotel that looks like they might be a cyclist – but in my white leather pants and shiny new red stilettos, I might not look like one either.
by CycleChick on October 4, 2013
Oh House Industries, how I hate you and your elegant and beautifully executed design solutions. I’ve hated you for a while now, with your always-perfect handprinted serigraph prints, clever housewares, and, of course, amazing catalogue of typographic genius. But after seeing the incredible work you did for master frame builder Richard Sachs and his cyclocross team, I hate you even more.
I am a graphic designer. I love bikes. Do you have any idea how many people sent me messages, links, emails, Tweets and posts about this little project of yours?
Like, a million. It’s like being told over and over again how pretty your sister is.
I hate you for showing us a new way of looking at how design and cycling can come together in one brand that is contemporary and yet somehow speaks to a rich visual tradition, without feeling like yet another poor imitation. You’ve considered every detail, every angle, and somehow ensured the execution was flawless – a nearly impossible feat with something so complex and…well, fiddly.I hate you for making it look so easy.
I also hate you for giving us hope that one day, graphic design for the bike industry won’t be the macho, gaudy and unholy mess it is today. Thanks. Thanks a lot.
Oh and I see you just worked on a sweet little typographic kit for that rag The New Yorker. You’re trying to kill me right?
Damn you House. Damn you for being so good.
Photos by Carlos Alejandro. (Oh yes, Carlos. I hate you too.)
by CycleChick on September 28, 2013
In case you missed it, a while ago I entered a contest on Facebook for a dream cycling tour in Italy called The Campagnolo Experience, which I WON in a random draw. Some Bitter McBittersons out there have been insinuating that the contest was fixed, and that the tour company, Thomson Bike Tours, deliberately picked me. Of course it makes perfect sense that out of thousands of hopeful contestants, they would select a middle-aged amateur rider and hockey mom from Winnipeg who could regale all 27 of her loyal blog readers with tales of how awesome it is to get her ass kicked halfway across Italy by a bunch of retired pros. That, my friends, is some pretty sound logic.
To set the matter straight, anyone (including the McBittersons) could enter. I am not being paid to go, nor is there any obligation for me to write nice things about anybody. When I spoke to Kate from Thomson Bike Tours on the phone, she didn’t know anything about me or my blog, and was pretty relieved when I said I could ride a bike.
The tour itinerary is aggressive. And by aggressive, I mean insane. Over five main days of riding, we will cover 960 kilometres and 46,500 feet of climbing. In FIVE days. The first (and shortest) day has us riding a little warmup called the Granfondo Campagnolo Roma, which entails 160 kilometres with 8,500 feet of climbing. After that, the rest of the week gets serious, with four consecutive days of 200+ kilometres per day, and an additional 38,000 feet of climbing.
On the upside, we will be travelling in style, fully supported by qualified mechanics, professional ride leaders, SAG wagons (thank God), and a full support team to make sure everyone is safe and comfortable. The tour promises VIP treatment, appearances by pros and other cycling celebrities, and wraps up with a tour of the Campagnolo factory in Vicenza, just outside of Venice. Yes. The Campagnolo. Arguably (but barely) the manufacturers of the best bicycle components in the world. I have never had the pleasure (ie. the money) to ride Campy parts, but when I speak to friends who ride even the entry level gruppos, their eyes glaze over as they describe the beautiful sound and feel of Campy shifting as if it were a religious or sexual experience. When I imagine visiting the factory, I can’t help but think of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but with vats full of edible chain lube and a forest of cassette trees.
This tour is not about slumming it. No shitty hostels with 10pm curfews and hairy German hippies who don’t believe in soap. No sir. We will be staying in places like this.Once the reality of things sunk in and I had come off the ceiling, I realized I had just seven weeks to prepare. So how does one prepare for something that intense in such a short period of time? The real answer is, you can’t. But with some help from Coach Rick, I have been following a plan that might, at the very least, help me survive.
I have been riding as much as possible, or as much as someone with two school-age kids and a day job can train without going broke or getting a divorce. During the week, I ride early in the mornings. At this time of year there is only daylight from from seven in the morning until eight in the evening, so I’m doing lots of riding in the dark – which I figure will be an excellent simulation of the darkness I will experience in the pain cave sometime around day three of the tour.
I’ve been doing progressively longer back-to-back rides in on the weekends, out on the open Manitoba prairie, which looks about as similar to Italy as I do to Sophia Loren. I have attempted to simulate the Mediterranean conditions by putting red wine in my bidons, yelling at the cows loudly and with accompanying wild hand gestures, and listening to six hour playlists of Il Divo.
Riding 200 kilometre days is one thing, Riding 200 kilometre days in the mountains is another thing entirely. Winnipeg is in the middle of the Canadian prairie, where it’s so flat you can watch your dog run away for three days. High intensity rides will both boost my V02 max and prepare my leg muscles for the shit ton of climbing we’ll do.
What the Winnipeg area lacks in elevation it more than makes up in wind, which can be an excellent simulation for the intensity of climbing. So I get into my hardest gear, point my bike into the wind, and ride like hell.
We do have one hill here. A mad-made number affectionately known as Garbage Hill, on account of its past as the local garbage dump. At some point in our fair city’s past, the garbage was covered with dirt and transformed into a park of sorts, that serves as the only thing for miles with more elevation than a highway overpass. If you go at dusk you can catch a pretty good sunset there. If you go much later, you can catch some less desirable things, like tetanus, drug overdose, or a nasty case of the clap.
This also happens to be cyclocross season. Most cyclocross races are about 50 minutes of anaerobic hell, guaranteed to up your VO2 max by about a million percent. The downside to this is that cyclocross also happens to be a little crashy, especially for someone like me who tends to do better riding in a straight line on pavement. At this point, the aerobic benefits of cyclocross racing may be outweighed by the high likelihood of eating shit and ending up in traction.
The tour promises visits from cycling celebrities and VIPs throughout the trip. On the off chance my lifelong dream of meeting Eddy Merckx comes true, I am learning how to scream and faint in French.I have also decided to go on the pill just in case Mario Cipollini is there and we happen to make eye contact or shake hands.
One cannot exactly have The Campagnolo Experience riding Sram. It took some doing, but between Campagnolo’s Press Manager Joshua and tour manager Sergi from Thomson Bike Tours, it has been arranged that I will ride a Bianchi Sempre (naturally) all pimped out with the latest in Campy bling. I don’t know what gruppo yet, but I sure hope it rhymes with Pooper Decord.
Of utmost importance in the whole adventure is what to wear. We are talking about Italy after all, a world powerhouse of fashion. Thomson will be supplying a pretty sweet kit, and the official jersey from the Granfondo Roma is quite spectacular too, if a touch macho.As an aside, the granfondo website has assured me there is a place I can put my wife while I ride. A wife corral if you will. What a relief, we can’t have the wives running willy-nilly all over the place. Pandemonium.
The Other Stuff
Of course there are lots of things I should be been doing that I’m not. Things like strength training, which I’m not doing because a) I didn’t want to introduce anything new or different into my routine so close to the tour, and b) I don’t have bloody time.
I should also be watching what I eat and drink. Weight can mean a big difference when you are climbing. This is especially obvious when you think about all the money some people spend to save precious ounces on their bikes. Yes, even big fat people. But now is not the time for a drastic rethink of my diet, or to deprive myself of the joy I get from a lovely glass (ie. bottle) of red wine. Moderation will help to keep me at least as healthy and strong as possible.
And finally, when you train hard, you need to rest hard. I should be doing yoga and getting massages too, but there are only so many waking hours in a day, and at this point they are being spent either at this laptop or on my bike. So until I can find a therapist who will massage me in my sleep, my back might be a little achy and my IT band will remain as tight as a violin string. My recovery regime includes one full day off a week, plus some home stretching, use of the foam roller, and plenty of sleep.
Will I survive? Of course. Will it be a challenge? Yes. Will it be the trip of a lifetime? Most definitely!