VeloLife – VeloNews.com http://www.velonews.com Competitive Cycling News, Race Results and Bike Reviews Sun, 11 Dec 2016 13:16:11 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://www.velonews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/cropped-Velonews_favicon-2-32x32.png VeloLife – VeloNews.com http://www.velonews.com 32 32 Dolomiti dreaming: Traversing Northern Italy by bike http://www.velonews.com/2016/10/feature/dolomiti-dreaming-traversing-north-italy-duvine-dolomites-journey_421787 Mon, 03 Oct 2016 11:00:21 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=421787 Chris Case recounts seven days of beautiful riding in Italy's Dolomites, from the Stelvio to the Zoncolon and beyond.

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VeloNews managing editor Chris Case would like to thank DuVine Cycling and Adventure Company for inviting him to join their Dolomites Journey, a seven-day cycling experience across Northern Italy, through the Alps and Dolomites mountains, into Slovenia, to the Mediterranean Sea and Trieste. Learn more at duvine.com.

A JOURNEY ISN’T ONLY about where you go, but where you’re taken. The best excursions bring you back in time, across the sweep of history, and into other worlds. They take you to places you never thought possible, both physically and mentally. They add as much life to your years as they do years to your life. And, of course, at their core, they’re about exploring and understanding a bit about parts unfamiliar, those wild and scenic spots on few to-do lists.

The DuVine Dolomites Journey starts near the village of Aprica, in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, near the base of the infamous Passo Mortirolo in the Alps. We then climb over the gargantuan Passo dello Stelvio, skate through the Adige Valley to Bolzano, and climb into the heart of the Dolomites before escaping into Slovenia. Finally we zigzag across vineyards until plummeting to the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in Trieste.

Over seven days, the group, which includes guests from their mid sixties to their early thirties, from all walks of life (including one famous chef, Seamus Mullen), rides about 400 miles and gains approximately 45,000 feet in elevation. (Slight variations in skill levels lead to a few bonus miles and climbs for some; my Garmin has me at 425.1 miles and 48,841 feet.)

We cross through fundamentally different cultural enclaves, drastically different climatic conditions, through fragile ecosystems and urban landscapes, past the quaintest of villages and over some of the greatest, hardest, and most historic climbs in cycling history. Every inch of it by bike, point to point to point.

Physically, anyone of any fitness level would find the days both long and rewarding. Others even more so. The food each night? On average it’s spectacular and always plentiful. But this isn’t the Italian cuisine you’re most familiar with. The pasta is hidden by the prosciutto, the pizza margherita obscured by the piles of speck. There is a definitive Germanic influence to this part of Italy.

The characters in this story are real, though their names have been changed to protect their identities. (What happens on a DuVine trip stays on a DuVine trip.) The stories are real, and have never been embellished for effect. The places are most certainly real; you can’t improve upon what must be one of the most divine cycling arenas on Earth.

Let the journey begin.

Gavia
Gruesome weather on the Passo di Gavia. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

Day 1 || Aprica > Mortirolo > Passo Gavia > Bormio || 64.4 miles and 8,930 feet

Theme: Initiation

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I just need to get warm.”

The pop of cycling cleats clicking into pedals signifies the official start of this wonderful journey. It’s a welcome note after the months of anticipating what for some is a dream come true. We are embarking into hallowed ground, dancing up and over and among some of the most famous climbs that cyclists have ever traversed, many because of their prominent roles in the history of the Giro d’Italia. Not that this means something to everyone. Most guests are here, generally, for the experience of riding through picturesque mountains in Italy. Others are here for the very specific experience of suffering on the same slopes that Coppi, Pantani, and Nibali have suffered on before.

Immediately, some of our respective cycling personas are revealed. We’re cyclists: There is a certain innate level of egoism to our sport. Maybe it lives in our bib shorts, however strange that may sound. When we don our chamois, we put on our uniform, and our character is revealed. Some have matching kits, socks, caps, and shoes. Others sport their favorite jersey from a charity ride. Some will take it easy from the gun; others can’t help but attack. In any case, we’re all here, together, riding through Italy’s majestic north, and we’re enamored with the thought.

After we reach the top of the Passo Mortirolo the group splits, with three guests (myself included) and one guide accepting the bonus challenge of the Passo di Gavia. It is a hearty one. It begins to rain as we drop down toward the town of Ponte di Legno, at the Gavia’s base. The poor weather continues to decline, which is perfectly appropriate for a spirited attack on this gruesome pass.

Cycling aficionados should be intimately familiar with what happened on this climb in 1988: Andy Hampsten’s bike sears skinny tire tracks in the snow-covered road, his face obscured by giant goggles and fluttering snowflakes. You must have seen the poster, and surely know the tale. Now it’s our turn to be like Andy.

By the time we reach the top, it’s 31.9 degrees and sleeting. The fog is thick, and scraggly rock outcroppings eerily loom on all sides. No, Andy didn’t have it this bad, we think. He had the luxury of riding in the snow, we tell ourselves. It’s all a lie, of course. We could never be like Andy. But it helps us feel tough. And hardmen never get cold.

We crack the top, snap some pics, and quickly turn our attention to getting down. I don five jackets and blaze the descent, cold to the core.

Our first day ends with supreme satisfaction, and very cold toes.

Food item of the day: Dinner by Chef Seamus including vegetables and more vegetables, fresh from the garden, and steak, fresh from the grassy fields.

 

The Stelvio never disappoints, and never seems to quit. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com
The Stelvio never disappoints, and never seems to quit. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

Day 2 || Bormio > Passo dello Stelvio > Rabla || 57.5 miles and 5,709 feet

Theme: Camaraderie

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I just want to get a good photo.”

We’ve bonded. We form small groups out of the gate. Today will be a milestone for many, climbing Passo dello Stelvio with the threat of snow scheduled for our arrival on top.

This climb, with its majestic switchbacks, never ceases to amaze. Never disappoints. Never seems to quit. An otherworldly vista is drawn before us, with grasses the color of seaweed surrounded by snowcapped peaks and low-hanging clouds giving the air a still, sinister quality.

I find myself riding most often with three men today: Tom is one of our DuVine guides, a veteran of 10 years leading trips around Europe, and someone who loves to look like he’s never ridden before. In his early 30s, he’s strong despite his hairy legs and droopy socks. Then there are Ricky and McGregor. We all like to hurt each other, if we can. We don’t like to lose. We punch it. I get in the habit of jumping ahead so I can stop to take photos. Then I find myself churning to regain the front of the pack. I stop again. Suddenly, I’m fairly certain I see Tom up ahead giving it gas despite the fact that I haven’t caught back on. So I go full-gas. It’s a hard chase, but eventually the small prize of a big Stelvio climb is mine.

(It’s the first sign that this week will be filled with imaginary finish lines atop summits and at town lines, dotted across our many miles.)

At the top, there are two things in abundance: camaraderie and minestrone. (Two bowls please!) As brains thaw and rider after rider enters the Albergo Tibet above the snaking scene of 48 switchbacks plummeting out of sight in the valley below, it dawns on each of us what we’ve done. And we share that sense of accomplishment with one another, hugging and connecting in many ways, tangible and not. These are the moments that we’ll say “changed our lives” when we think back on this trip. It’s not an embellishment. This place, the effort, the conditions, the history: together it takes on prominent cycling significance.

Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com
Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

The terrain and temperature slowly transform as we descend to the Adige Valley. In the village of Prato dello Stelvio, we hop onto a bike path that Chef Seamus declares the most beautiful in the world. Wild mountains on every side, we flash through endless orchards of fresh orbs of ruddy red and fleshy green fruit. The eponymous river babbles nearby, and the apples are plucked from the trees and placed in our mouths as we ride by.

The path turns to dirt and, like clockwork, the antics ensue. Suddenly, Seamus and his brother (we’ll call him Rowdy Roddy Piper) go darting off like they are kids again. Around a bend, a tractor appears. Piper isn’t prepared to budge. Nor is the tractor. Inside him there is surely a desire to tackle the tractor to see what damage he can inflict, but Piper finally locks up his rear brake, skids some 40 feet before blowing a tire, and cackles his way to a stop. The man is slightly insane. Like Rowdy Roddy Piper.

We cruise just slightly slower to our day’s end in Rabla.

Food item of the day: Two bowls of salty minestrone while warming up atop the Stelvio

 

Our first glimpse of the heart of the Dolomites. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com
Our first glimpse of the heart of the Dolomites. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

Day 3 || Rabla > Unnamed Big Climb > Bolzano > Unnamed Steep Climb > Ganischgerhof || 60.0 miles and 10,512 feet

Theme: Grinta

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I’m just in the wrong gear.”

It’s amazing what a man can do to push himself. In this case, the man is Chef Seamus, our guest dignitary. On a giant crawl, in a lesser-known area of big, steep climbs around Bolzano, Seamus proves he has grinta, that quality reserved for cyclists (typically Italian, though not exclusively) who cannot and will not stop. Can’t. Won’t. Call it grit, determination, stubbornness. It is all of those things and more. Hopefully you know someone with grinta because the inspirational effect is contagious.

Why such fight? His story is long and winding, like this journey. Serious health issues, including rheumatoid arthritis, saw him nearly bedridden and depressed only six years ago. Painkillers were his nutrition of choice. Flash forward to today and he is supremely healthier, happier, and 65 pounds lighter. He rides as if he is a product of romance between Alberto Contador and Robert Förstemann, the proud owner of gigantic 74-centimeter thighs who you may have seen make toast by riding a trainer at 700 watts.

Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com
Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

He churns and churns until he is toast, this chef. And then he comes back for more. It is electric.

We cross through Bolzano, scurrying through town squares, shops filled with glittering window displays and past café goers. Then we climb straight up into nowhere. This climb doesn’t have a name that I’m aware of. And it goes on. And it gets steep. And there aren’t many cars but there are plenty of smiles. We round a bend and it suddenly hits us.

Our first sighting of the Dolomites! Stunning, magical, otherworldly. It’s best to see their drama from a distance, to understand the scope of their relief before plunging into them tomorrow.

Food item of the day: Roadside picnic of chocolate cake, speck and potato, and Gazzosa lemon soda

 

The Karersee, not far from Bolzano. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com
The Karersee, not far from Bolzano. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

Day 4 || Ganischgerhof > Passo Costalunga > Passo Pordoi > Passo Falzarego > Cortina d’Ampezzo || 60.7 miles and 8,110 feet

Theme: Time

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I just can’t get into my small ring.”

For enthusiasts of the history of professional cycling, a ride through the heart of the Dolomites can be an emotional voyage. These roads are the stadiums of our sport. We don’t have a Fenway. There is no Wrigley Field. Instead, our sport’s history is, literally, written on the road. We have the Pordoi, the Falzarego, and other sinuous strips of buttery smooth pavement snaking into the mountains of Italy. They’re strewn with the names of champions and, sometimes, unrepeatable Italian phrases. And, yes, there are countless tributes to Il Pirata, the late and still revered Marco Pantani.

Passo Pordoi. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com
Passo Pordoi. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

But that’s just one facet of the long and winding history of this place. South Tyrol (Südtirol in German or Alto Adige in Italian), to simplify, came to be in 1918 after the Italians annexed the province from the Austro-Hungarian Empire at the end of World War I. The region is a time capsule.

Beside the white paint on the road that reads “Dai Dai Aru!” there is a memorial to Il Campionnisimo, Fausto Coppi. Above that are the remnants of tunnels blasted and carved into these jagged peaks, reminders of the battles that killed thousands of men during times of war.

Even if you didn’t know any of that, this place could still bring tears to your eyes: The spectacular scenery seems a creation of Hollywood. The peaks’ jagged spires defy what you know a mountain to be. Mist shrouded vertical columns of pink and grey stop us in our pedal strokes, repeatedly. While climbs take a while, the descents take a while longer. With every corner comes a better view, a more majestic view, a more ridiculous, jaw-gaping, stupefying view. Usually it’s followed by a “holy shit,” or some such description.

Food item of the day: A perfect, rustic margherita pizza amid the glitz of Cortina

 

While we occassionally rode hard and bombed descents, there were many moments when the scenery stopped us in our tracks. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com
While we occasionally rode hard and bombed descents, there were many moments when the scenery stopped us in our tracks. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

Day 5 || Cortina d’Ampezzo > Passo Tre Croci > Sella Ciampigotto > Ovaro || 55.8 miles and 5,610 feet

Theme: Solitude

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I just have to pee.”

A convoluted ribbon of grey snakes upward out of sight, one white line to either side. Here there’s no need for a center stripe, or lines of different color, or, god forbid, raised reflectors. And the switchbacks. Mmm. How I love them so.

I don’t love pavement, mind you. A broiling hot parking lot on a summer’s day is a wretched place to be. But if you have to make a road, make it like they do in the Dolomites. And if you can, make it with as many stylish switchbacks as possible. Make it like Sella Ciampigotto.

Like a sailor tacking his way across the sea, a switchback gives a cyclist a second (and third, and fourth…) chance to see where they’ve just been. It takes her higher with a strategy of efficiency rather than an assault of angle. Hairpins are beautiful from above, practical from below, and elegant in their engineering. Dare I say seductive. They cry, “Go faster, ride harder, corner to your heart’s content.” They are where fans gather, when there are racers throwing down.

The seductive curves of Sella Ciampigotto. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com
The seductive curves of Sella Ciampigotto. Photo: Chris Case | VeloNews.com

But there’s no racing today. The Eastern Dolomites are wilder and more remote than the heart of the range. The climbs on tap, the Tre Croci and Ciampigotto, are not on anyone’s top-10 must-do lists (unlike the Stelvio and Gavia, Pordoi and Falzarego, for example.) But they are special for that very reason. We’re here because someone with intimate knowledge of this web of roads knows better than us or the Internet. They did their homework, and we’re the benefactor.

Places like this always have me asking: What is life like here? What do people do here? How quiet must life be in this old part of the world? It makes me a bit sad to realize I’ll never know.

Food item of the day: That cold, crisp German beer enjoyed at our lodge in Ovaro while sitting in the warm sun, daydreaming about riding Monte Zoncolan in the morning.

 

The author attacking Monte Zoncolan. Photo: Richard Banfield
The author attacking Monte Zoncolan. Photo: Richard Banfield

Day 6 || Ovaro > Monte Zoncolan > Medana, Slovenia || 77.2 miles and 6,660 feet

Theme: Rewards

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I just want to go faster.”

If it isn’t the Mortirolo, than the hardest climb in Italy surely is Monte Zoncolan. With only 10 minutes spinning the legs before hitting its slopes, the few who have chosen this bonus climb soon understand why. The stats: 10 kilometers at an average gradient of 11.5 percent, or thereabouts. (The last 8K average over 15 percent.) Sustained pitches of 18 percent. A maximum gradient of 22 percent. Numbers: They never do justice to a climb.

Twice a winner on its slopes, Gilberto Simoni perfectly described the torture: “It’s like a slow execution; the easiest part of the Zoncolan is harder than the most difficult at the Tour.”

While other climbs eventually relent, Zoncolan only gets steeper. While rounding a bend on other roads often brings relief, every switchback on Zoncolan brings turmoil. Unceasing, unrelenting. Vicious even. But more rewarding because of it.

The roadside is dotted with signs featuring famous cyclists, from Moser to Saronni, Hinault to Indurain. I play a game: Who will be next? If I die upon its slopes, will I too get a sign? Anything to distract me from this satisfying pain.

We all reach the top, scattered between 45 minutes to an hour and a half. All the fearful talk the previous day vanishes like the evaporating sweat on our brows. First to the top, I snap photos of my compatriots’ pain faces then drop down the mountain to the last sign before the top: Fausto Coppi. I call out his name, “Fausto!” Thank you for your inspiration today.

Our ride today is bifurcated. Zoncolan is falling away behind us, and the rolling terrain leading to Slovenia before us. But between here and there is a surprise treat.

One of our group suffers a puncture on the precipitous descent. It takes a while to change the tube, and in that time we discover we’re waiting beside a child’s playland high on the shoulder of Zoncolan. And, yes, you guessed it: There is a slip-and-slide.

Chef Seamus getting aero on Monte Zoncolan. Photo: Andy Wong
Chef Seamus getting aero on Monte Zoncolan. Photo: Andy Wong

The fake grass surface and inner tubes are there for the taking. We take them. We slide. We laugh. We practice our aero tuck. And then the moment is over. We remount our bikes and descend from paradise in the mountain sun.

As we enter the hill country of northeast Italy, near the border with Slovenia, it becomes apparent that the group has some snap left in its legs. And like that, we enter a new dimension of this journey. We’re repeatedly smashing each other. Some begin to race Piaggio Ape, three-wheeled glorified golf carts with moped engines.

For 50 miles, our eyes scan the horizon for that next town line, the next prize. Is it a sustainable pace? Absolutely, for there’s another town line up there in the distance.

Food item of the day: The 18-course meal (or thereabouts) at Aleks Klinec’s restaurant is more a festival. The owner and chef was born Yugoslavian, his father Italian, his grandfather Austro-Hungarian. Yet each grew up and lived in the same house.

 

Day 7 || Medana, Slovenia > Trieste, Italy || 49.0 miles and 3,310 feet of gain

Theme: Boundaries

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, you’re just getting tired.”

We gather outside our hotel (which is actually a sort of castle which dates from 1774) more quietly this morning. It could be that fatigue is settling over the group. I suspect instead that people are a bit sad at the realization that this journey has an end, and it comes after our short ride today. We set off together, with Trieste as our final destination, and three coveted international borders as the prizes along the way.

It doesn’t take long for the group to get feisty — and for new players to come to the fore on this rolling terrain. We’ll call him Doc. He shoots off ahead of the group, not because he sees a town line or an international border, but because he smells one. I rocket out of the group to join him. There’s a split in the road. Doc and I go left. I hear the yells from behind as the group continues to the right. “Doc!” I scream. Doc is now bombing down a hill cackling at the top of his lungs, loving every minute of his move, his mistake, and at missing his chance for glory.

We’re now a bit lost, so Doc mischievously laughs some more. We spend the next few minutes trying to be found. Or is it trying to stay lost, far from home? In any case, our digression is too short and we’re back together again. The group is now on red alert.

No one wants it to end. When would we see each other again? Maybe never. Perhaps someday. But would it be as good? We’re now cruising in formation like a WorldTour team. Well, maybe a development team at best. Still, the routine was just becoming comfortable and now it will all soon be lost.

One more long sweeping descent from the plateau above Trieste and we’re back to bustling civilization. Weaving through cars and pedestrians is a foreign feeling, and shocking after so many serene days. The fairy tale ends on the wharf, by the sea and the monolithic cruise ships scattered in the port. There’s a small table, a tablecloth covered in bright yellow lemons, 12 wine glasses, and one bottle of Prosecco.

So this is how our journey ends.

Food item of the day: The Prosecco on the Trieste wharf was perfection, mostly for the moment. But the cone filled with extra dark chocolate and mint chocolate chip gelato that evening ranks among the best I’ve ever had. We’ll call it a tie.

For more information on DuVine’s Journeys, visit here.

 

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The can’t-miss Colorado cycling tour http://www.velonews.com/2016/06/velolife/five-perfect-days-of-riding-and-dining-in-colorado_405167 Wed, 01 Jun 2016 12:56:34 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=405167 Join VeloNews editors in Boulder, Colorado for the ultimate riding and dining experience, organized by Cognoscenti tours.

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Photo: Kevin Batchelor
Photo: Kevin Batchelor

It’s time to plan that summer cycling trip you’ve always dreamed about. Cognoscenti tours is once again teaming up with VeloNews to offer the ultimate Boulder experience — five days of the area’s best climbs, roads, and restaurants.

You’ll ride like a pro but eat much better, then sleep, beautifully tired, at the most luxurious hotel in town, the St. Julien Hotel & Spa. Every day, guests will be treated to pro-level logistical support and professional riders as tour guides with our editors’ local knowledge and behind-the-scenes access. It is an unmatched, thoroughly Colorado experience.

In addition to the VeloNews staff, former U.S. national champion Timmy Duggan will join the tour. Former pros and Boulder-area food and wine experts Will Frischkorn and Craig Lewis will also join the tour, as will Jelly Belly pro rider Angus Morton.

Space is limited, book your summer dream trip soon >>

When
August 19-23

Cost
$4,950; Add a non-riding guest for $2,950

Ride
The itinerary takes in the best climbs in Boulder, including hidden roads and loops known only to locals and an optional day to the top of the 14,000-foot Mount Evans, the highest paved road in North America. Each ride is led by professional riders and VeloNews staffers.

Eat
Lunches are either catered by Cured, a gourmet shop owned by former Tour de France pro Will Frischkorn, or hosted at Salto, which sits about 3,000 feet above Boulder. Dinners take place at the restaurants that have led to Boulder being named America’s foodiest town by outlets like Bon Appetit. Those include the James Beard Award-winning Frasca. Rides are further supplied by Boulder-based Skratch Labs.

Stay
The St. Julien Hotel & Spa is Boulder’s finest hotel.

Get
– Full Cognoscenti kit, worth $500, packed in a custom rain bag
– Full, professional sag support on every ride
– A professional photographer to document your time in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains
- Evening education sessions with cycling luminaries

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Haute Route coming to Colorado in 2017 http://www.velonews.com/2016/04/news/haute-route-coming-to-colorado-in-2017_403857 Thu, 28 Apr 2016 13:58:25 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=403857 The Haute Route is coming to America in 2017, announcing registration for the Mavic Haute Route Rockies in Colorado.

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The Haute Route is bringing its European-style, multi-day gran fondo series to the United States in 2017, opening registration for the Mavic Haute Route Rockies on Thursday. Starting in Boulder, Colorado, on June 24, 2017, the yet-to-be-revealed route runs seven days and finishes in Colorado Springs.

Organizers have run an event in the Alps for six years, and also have week-long rides in the Pyrénées and Dolomites. Next year’s Colorado event will also be a seven-day event, but it will be slightly longer — 875 kilometers, while both the Pyrénéan and Alpine runs are about 800km; the Haute Route Dolomites is 900km. This reflects Colorado’s terrain and geography, which is not compact like most of Europe. Haute Route Rockies will have slightly less climbing as well, 16,000 meters (52,500 feet), while its three European predecessors climb over 20,000 meters (65,617 feet).

Riders will be treated to a convoy of safety vehicles and mechanical support, stage timing and ranking, feed stations, and Mavic apparel. The event will also offer daily massages, hot food at the stage finish, daily stage briefings, and transfer of luggage to accommodation between stages.

Ride the Rockies is a similar tour of Colorado for amateur cyclists. However, it is less race-oriented and runs six days. That route is 649km with about 9,078 meters of climbing (29,782 feet). The entry fee for Ride the Rockies is $495, and about 3,000 people participated in 2015.

The Mavic Haute Route Rockies will be a much smaller event, offering only 600 entries at the price of $2,400 per person. Currently, organizers are offering a discounted early registration price of $2,200.

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Viking cycling: Unexpected paradise http://www.velonews.com/2016/04/velolife/viking-cycling-unexpected-paradise_396260 Tue, 12 Apr 2016 17:24:08 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=396260 White sand beaches, jagged peaks, lush archipelagos? This is Northern Norway, an unexpected cycling paradise.

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It’s stage 1 of the Arctic Race of Norway, and I have a decision to make. I could sit in the pressroom in the small town of Harstad, on the island of Hinnøya and watch the early goings of the race, or I could take a quick trip into the wilderness, and be back for the finish in time. Trondenes Church, the world’s northernmost surviving medieval church, is just a 20-minute walk from the pressroom. And based on what I’m seeing on TV, that’s just the start of what’s on offer.

Sheer, 4,000-foot peaks shoot up right out of translucent turquoise water along the coast, and around every bend in the road, the peloton rides past another scene straight out of a fantasy novel. At a little over 210 kilometers, it’s a relatively long stage, and after watching the opening 30km, my mind is made up. I live and breathe professional bike racing, but this is Viking territory, and who knows when I’ll be back?

Trondenes Church sits just feet from the ocean, a short hike away from Norse burial mounds in a cove that faces east toward more islands and, beyond them, the mainland. The church’s whitewashed stonewalls and red roof pop against the deep green, verdant surroundings.

While Norway’s scenic beauty may not be breaking news, the climate here defies expectation. Thanks to the unusual moderating effects of ocean currents in the North Atlantic, winter isn’t actually all that chilly here compared to the northern United States. At midnight in the dead of winter, it is often colder in Chicago than in Tromsø, Norway, the largest city in the region.

Spared the blistering cold in the wintertime (and with a healthy dose of precipitation year-round), the landscape of Northern Norway is lush in the summertime, with abundant vegetation providing a stark contrast to the perennially snow-white groundcover one might expect at this latitude. On this August day, the weather outside the pressroom is balmy.

Two hours after my walking tour, I’m hustling back to the finish in time to see Alexander Kristoff edge out fellow Norwegian Edvald Boasson Hagen for the win. It’s an impressive sight, watching these two stars go head-to-head in front of a crowd of jubilant home fans, but I have to admit that I can’t stop thinking about that trek through the Norwegian hinterland, and the wonder of discovering it all alone without another living soul in sight.

Northern Norway, officially comprising the country’s three northernmost counties of Nordland, Troms, and Finnmark, offers a setting that stands out even in a country known for its natural beauty. The region is roughly the size of Ohio but with a population of less than half a million spread amongst the mainland and several coastal islands. Much of the area is untouched wilderness, and the mountains and fjords that dominate the sparse landscape offer perhaps the most spectacular scenery in Scandinavia.

“Everything is a bit bigger there than what you’re used to,” says August Jensen, two-time King of the Mountains in the Arctic Race. Jensen hails from Bodø, one of Northern Norway’s largest towns with a population of around 50,000.

Most of the region sits above the Arctic Circle. With the right timing (visit between May and July), you can enjoy 24 hours of sunlight. Even in August, when a contingent of cycling pros drops by to ride the Arctic Race, the sky never gets all that dark at night.

“It’s quite fun because people that visit Northern Norway tend to not want to sleep, because it’s so beautiful and the sun is up all night,” says Haaken Michael Christensen, a tourism specialist for Innovation Norway, a government-owned company tasked with, among other things, promoting travel to the country. That’s an accurate characterization of my own experience in the region. It isn’t easy to close the hotel blinds and force yourself to sleep when the sky is painted with orange-red light at 2 a.m.

Given the landscape and perpetual summertime daylight, Northern Norway seems like an obvious haven for adventure tourism, but things are only just starting to take off here. “I remember in about 2008, ’09, when I was riding as an amateur up there, there were not a lot of races,” Jensen says. “Not a lot of culture for bike riding. I was the only youth doing it. I think with the Tour de France on TV2, the national channel, it’s getting more and more popular. We have riders like Alexander Kristoff and Edvald [Boasson Hagen], which helps a lot, and Thor Hushovd, when he won the world championship.”

Indeed, so many fans line the roads at the Arctic Race, it’s easy to forget just how relatively undiscovered the area really is. But as the Arctic Race broadcasts images of some of cycling’s top names riding through the Norwegian hinterland, a wider audience is getting exposed to the region’s potential.

“The impression that people have of Northern Norway — that it’s cold, it’s icy, it’s snowy, you have polar bears walking around — will be changed when people see the pictures of white beaches, green forests, and high mountains,” Christensen says.

Given how seemingly remote Northern Norway is, those who do decide to make the trip will find it all surprisingly easy. While none of the towns are big, they’re plentiful and welcoming, and the islands are connected by bridges and robust ferry service, making for ideal bike touring. Norway is among the world’s most highly developed countries, meaning even out in the country, the roads are in relatively good condition.

As such, there are numerous places to stop and eat the local cuisine (salmon, wild sheep, and reindeer are popular) and also to stay the night. Riders can plan to start their journey in one of the larger “cities” — Tromsø, Bodø, Harstad, or Narvik, for instance — and then take it day by day, pedaling from town to town.

Fully loaded touring is certainly a possibility, and there are indeed many places to spend the night under the stars in a tent. But camping out is not a necessity.

“It’s just the last couple of years really that we started to develop infrastructure — the hotels and restaurants — to be able to accommodate riders in a proper way,” Christensen says. “So you could say that it’s still an unexploited beauty. For people who want to explore and feel that they are doing something new, something that not so many others have done before, Norway is the place to go now, before too many people get their eyes opened to it.”

After four days of following the peloton, I have only 24 hours left before I board a flight back to the States. One final day to explore.

I rent a bike in the town of Svolvær and head out to explore the Lofoten archipelago, a string of islands that looks like a finger pointing westward toward Iceland. Svolvær serves as a hub for excursions in Lofoten and, in some ways, reminds me of a (very) small resort town in New England, with stores, restaurants, and a few hotels. There are numerous smaller villages every few miles along the coast.

A cycling path runs parallel to the main road in this part of Lofoten, a welcome feature as the roads themselves are not particularly wide. It’s nice to be able to ride without worrying about cars when so much of my focus is directed at taking in the sights. Still, compared to what I’m used to back in the States, car traffic isn’t so bad.

Further contributing to the pleasure of the experience is the easy terrain in Lofoten. The relatively flat main roads along the coast bisect the water and the mountains instead of actually ascending the climbs. Therefore, this is one of many places in Northern Norway where the less alpine-inclined cyclist can experience a breathtaking new vista around every corner without having to face any tough gradients.

It’s one of the most memorable takeaways from my cycling experience in the area. Being able to enjoy the view without having to earn it is a guilty pleasure unlike any other I’ve experienced on a bike, and for the traveler more interested in scenery than suffering, there are miles and miles of flatter coastal roads that still offer staggering views. A particularly useful amenity for those looking for a relaxed coastal trip is the Hurtigruten transport service, which offers riders the freedom to island hop on passenger ships, making travel from one fishing village to the next even easier.

That’s not to say there aren’t mountains to climb. The diverse topography means that most riders will be able to find something that suits their style in Northern Norway. While long alpine ascents are hard to come by, there are many places where the road rises skyward.

Whatever you’re after, a willingness to go it alone comes in handy in this part of the world. Given the nascent tourism scene, it is the sort of place that caters to those who prefer self-guided rides.

“You have reindeer running along the roads; you can go a hundred kilometers without seeing a house,” Jensen says. “It seems like the only place that people have even touched the ground is the road you’re riding on.”

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The 27 Strava sectors of Paris-Roubaix http://www.velonews.com/2016/04/news/road/the-27-sectors-of-paris-roubaix_401656 Sun, 10 Apr 2016 07:02:44 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=401656 Paris-Roubaix 2016 tackles 27 sectors of cobblestones, and we did a little digging on Strava to find each and every corresponding KOM.

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The first man across the line in the velodrome surely won’t be chasing Strava segments along the way, but still, it is fun to see how fast they ride the Arenberg Forest. If you’re fortunate enough to be over in northern France, perhaps you can have a go at a lesser-known segment to see how you stack up. But to do all 27 segments in a 257.5km day? Well, that just sounds hellish.

The 27 cobbled sectors of Paris–Roubaix

27. Troisvilles (98.5km – 2,200m) +++
26. Viesly (105km – 1,800m) +++
25. Quievy (107.5km – 3,700m) ++++
24. Saint-Python (112.5km – 1,500m) ++
23. Vertain (120.5km – 2,300m) +++
22. Capelle (127km – 1,700m) +++
21. Quérénaing – Maing (137.5km – 2,500m) +++
20. Monchaux-sur-Ecaillon (141km – 1,600m) +++
19. Haveluy (154km – 2,500m) ++++
18. Trouée d’Arenberg (162km – 2,400m) +++++
17. Wallers – Hélesmes (a.k.a. Pont Gibus) (168km – 1,600m) +++
16. Hornaing (175km – 3,700m) ++++
15. Warlaing – Brillon (182.5km – 2,400m) +++
14. Tilloy – Sars-et-Rosières (186km – 2,400m) ++++
13. Beuvry-la-Forêt – Orchies (192.5km – 1,400m) +++
12. Orchies (197.5km – 1,700m) +++
11. Auchy-lez-Orchies – Bersée (203.5km – 2,700m) ++++
10. Mons-en-Pévèle (209km – 3,000m) +++++
9. Mérignies – Avelin (215km – 700m) ++
8. Pont-Thibaut (218km – 1,400m) +++
7. Templeuve – Moulin de Vertain (224.5km – 500m) ++
6. Cysoing – Bourghelles (231km – 1,300m) +++ / Bourghelles – Wannehain (233.5km – 1,100m) +++
5. Camphin-en-Pévèle (238km – 1,800m) ++++
4. Le Carrefour de l’Arbre (240.5km – 2,100m) +++++
3. Gruson (243km – 1,100m) ++
2. Hem (249.5km – 1,400m) ++
1. Roubaix (256.5km – 300m) +

(+ denotes difficulty on a scale of one to five stars, five being the hardest. Each sector links to the related Strava segment.)

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Travel Guide: Ride with VeloNews in Boulder http://www.velonews.com/2016/03/news/road/travel-guide-ride-with-velonews-in-boulder_391675 Sat, 19 Mar 2016 13:32:07 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=391675 The VeloNews tour, organized by Cognoscenti, is the ultimate way to experience Boulder, Colorado's perfect riding and great restaurants.

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We have 2 spots left! Come ride with VeloNews editors and current and former pro’s including; Timmy Duggan, Craig Lewis, Lachlan Morton, Gus Morton, Lucas Euser, and Will Frischkorn.

You know these roads from old photos of the Coors Classic, or current shots of pros like Taylor Phinney and Peter Sagan out on training rides, or from simply reading about them over the years. You start a mile above sea level and point your bike up, past old Rocky Mountain mining outposts and small towns where you can stop for a slice of pie and views of the Continental Divide. You’ll ride like a pro but eat much better, then sleep, beautifully tired, at the most luxurious hotel in town.

Each of the Colorado-based tours run by Cognoscenti showcases the cultural contrasts of the area in and around Boulder, home to VeloNews’s world headquarters. It’s a city that is both one of the premier culinary locales in the United States and one of the foremost riding destinations on the planet. It sits on the edge of the American West, its borders marked by canyons and gold mines and its interior flush with flavor and refinement.

Each August, Cognoscenti partners with VeloNews for one trip that combines pro-level logistical support and professional riders as tour guides with our editors’ local knowledge and behind-the-scenes access. It is an unmatched, thoroughly Colorado experience.

More information on the VeloNews tour >>

When
August 19-23

Cost
$4,950 ($4,700 early bird pricing before February 29) Add a non-riding guest for $2,950

Ride
The itinerary takes in the best climbs in Boulder, including hidden roads and loops known only to locals and an optional day to the top of the 14,000-foot Mount Evans, the highest paved road in North America. Each ride is led by professional riders and VeloNews staffers.

Eat
Lunches are either catered by Cured, a gourmet shop owned by former Tour de France pro Will Frischkorn, or hosted at Salto, which sits about 3,000 feet above Boulder. Dinners take place at the restaurants that have led to Boulder being named America’s foodiest town by outlets like Bon Appetit. Those include the James Beard Award-winning Frasca. Rides are further supplied by Boulder-based Skratch Labs.

Stay
The St. Julien Hotel & Spa is Boulder’s finest hotel.

Get
– Full Cognoscenti kit, worth $500, packed in a custom rain bag
– Full, professional sag support on every ride
– A professional photographer to document your time in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains
- Evening education sessions with cycling luminaries

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The teaching toe strap http://www.velonews.com/2016/03/news/road/the-toe-strap_397431 Thu, 17 Mar 2016 15:41:23 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=397431 Caley Fretz explains how a simple toe strap and tube sock, attached to his father's bike, led him to a life of cycling.

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My dad always stuffed a spare tube and five bucks in a white cotton sock and fastened it under his saddle with a tattered old toe strap. It was his version of a saddle bag, something he’d done for a few decades before I came along, first with tubulars and then with tubes. It was aesthetically pleasing on his old steel Ciocc in the unique way that ugly things can be beautiful in their pragmatism.

“It’s easy to be retro when you’re retro,” he likes to say.

The sock and strap sat right in front of my face for the better part of a decade. I chased them and him first through the flat northern suburbs of Chicago and then, after we moved, over the steep hills of Burlington, Vermont. We often rode side by side, but the pull home to beat the thunderstorm or to set the dinner table on time was always his pull. And so the sock and its strap became my carrot. An overarching visual memory: My dad’s backside, pulling me along inside its wake, and the tube sock with the tattered grey strap.

Dark grey, actually. “Christophe” printed in silver, lengthways. He tucked the pointed tail in and around to prevent it flapping, and when the leg burn crept in I often wondered if I could grab it. It teased me. Sometimes I’d try, when clouds crossed the sun and hid my reaching shadow.

When I was about 15, I began to draw level with my dad. Now we traded pulls as we fled a thunderstorm or rushed home to set the dinner table on time. Races up Irish Hill were always close. Road lessons moved beyond drafting and into the teaching of a sport’s whole nuance: No gliding; point at objects in the road; ride predictably; pull off into the wind; pull through without accelerating; close the gap; find the draft with your ears; shoulders still, flat back, pull over the top of the stroke. He stopped my halfwheeling by grabbing my jersey pocket and pulling me back in line. He taught me to attack when I’m tired.

He took me to the Earl’s shop ride, and pulled me back to the group when I got dropped. Then he took me to Tuesday Worlds, and pulled me back to the group when I got dropped. Then I stopped getting dropped.

I turned into a mountain bike racer, and gained a whole new skillset. I went to college, and turned back into a road racer. I started working, and suddenly understood the power of old miles and how, through craft and necessity, my dad always rode better than his fitness should have allowed.

I have a black nylon roll from Rapha under my saddle now. It’s held on with a shiny white leather toe strap, also from Rapha. It’s a bit pretentious. It has two tubes, a tire lever, and 10 euros in it, which is even more pretentious. The pristine leather strap never has and never will see a toe. But the aesthetic is the same. It’s a modern ode to the sock, I like to think.

A year ago, my dad came to Belgium to follow along and be a fan and drink Belgian beer while I worked the classics. We rode the Ronde van Vlaanderen sportive together in pissing rain. It was a miserable, perfect day. He rode a carbon bike, as he has since just before I left for college, but the sock was still there, fastened with the same tattered old toe strap that taught me how to ride. Late in the day, as we both began to tire, I almost reached out and grabbed it.

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Four ways Strava can improve your vacations http://www.velonews.com/2016/03/news/heat-seeking-travel-using-strava-to-find-great-rides_395680 Thu, 03 Mar 2016 16:40:51 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=395680 Strava is using its massive user base to find the best rides for everyone, whether you're in your hometown or abroad.

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Lost is so last century. Modern GPS-enabled cycling computers and mapping software mean there’s no reason to blunder around a foreign land, missing the best rides, stuck on some highway and unable to find your hotel.

Strava has a suite of tools perfect for the traveling rider, making the service far more than just a way to race against the Internet. Leaning on its deep database of millions of user-generated routes, Strava now allows travelers to see which roads are popular in a given area, select good mid-ride stops, and export a custom route to a GPS device of their choice. All that’s left is to follow the directions and enjoy the ride.

Global Heatmap

The source of Strava’s power is the Global Heatmap, which overlays a gradient of color to roads and trails ridden by its users, based on the frequency of their use.

When picking a vacation spot or your next ride, start with a broad look at the Heatmap, targeting areas that seem to be ridden frequently, particularly those curvy, smaller roads that see lots of bike traffic.

This doesn’t mean you should immediately select the darkest routes. Often, a road sees lots of bike traffic simply because it connects areas of better riding. The Heatmap is frequently more useful in its medium hues — those roads and trails ridden frequently but not too much so.

Route builder

When opening Strava’s Route Builder, which allows users to design custom routes, immediately turn on the Heatmap option. From there, simply point and click away.

The Route Builder does have a few quirks. It sticks to roads, for example, meaning you can’t build in a hike-a-bike link. And it sometimes won’t let you create routes through tunnels. To get around these, switch to manual mode until the route is past the obstacle.

Distance, elevation, and an estimated ride time are all tallied as you build your route. When finished, simply save and export.

Get local

Strava Local, part of the company’s experimental Labs, uses Heatmap data, popular segments, and destinations with similar activities from its pool of millions of users, then distills that data to provide a guide to major cities. This is currently available in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, Milan, Barcelona, Sydney, Melbourne, Sao Paulo, New York, Denver, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

It also matches activities to points of interest, “Top stops” — a coffee shop, a beautiful overlook, a bike shop — and plots them, noting the type of location and the amount of time riders usually spend stopped there. It then connects these stops to Foursquare, where users can add photos and reviews.

GPX to editable route

Saw a buddy’s sweet ride, and now you want to do a similar one? GPX files, such as those created by a Garmin, can now be uploaded to Strava and then edited inside their Route Builder.

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Eroica series expands with three new events http://www.velonews.com/2016/02/news/eroica-series-expands-with-three-new-events_396479 Wed, 24 Feb 2016 23:16:37 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=396479 L'Eroica series of vintage bike rides expands with new rides in Uruguay, South Africa and the Netherlands.

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The increasingly popular L’Eroica series of vintage bike events is expanding with three new rides in 2016, taking the show to Uruguay, South Africa, and the Netherlands for a total of eight rides this year.

Twenty years ago, the original Italian ride took place in Gaole in Chianti. Organizers have gradually grown the calendar to include stops around the world.

Read Chris Case’s account of his ride in Eroica California last year >>

L’Eroica cycling series 2016 calendar:

April 10: Eroica California – Paso Robles, United States
April 23: Eroica South Africa – Montagu
May 1: Eroica Primavera – Buonconvento, Italy
May 15: Eroica Japan – Eiyu
June 5: Eroica Hispania – Cenicero, Spain
June 19: Eroica Britannia – Bakewell, United Kingdom
July 3: Eroica Limburg – Netherlands
December 4-6: Eroica Punta del Este – Uruguay

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Girona’s gathering place for coffee and cycling http://www.velonews.com/2016/02/news/road/gironas-gathering-place-for-cycling_395338 Sat, 13 Feb 2016 13:00:45 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=395338 In Girona, Spain, specifically at the coffee shop called La Fabrica, one steps into the lives of pro cyclists. This is home for them.

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To rub shoulders with the pros on your next vacation, head to Girona, Spain, and make your way to the old Jewish quarter on the East side of the Onyar River. Find Carrer de la Ciutadans and look for a stone-lined alleyway shooting off to the east, called Carrer de la Llebre. Follow it for 200 feet, to an unassuming terrace with six small wooden tables. A 500-year-old staircase climbs the hill to the right, toward the medieval abbey and its 40-foot-thick stone walls. An unremarkable door to the left of the stairs drops into a cavernous, garden-level space, lit pale yellow by vintage filament bulbs. Just inside sits a well-used Scott Foil in the colors of Orica-GreenEdge.

Further down the stairs, past the 12-seat communal table covered in cycling magazines, there’s a wooden counter where cups clink and good coffee wafts. Order a cortado, the best in Girona, from the beaming Canadian couple behind the bar, then head back outside. You’ll see riders in pro kits — the black and white of Giant-Alpecin, the greens of Cannondale-Garmin and Europcar, the red and gray of Velocio-SRAM — gathered around the tables and on the medieval steps. They’re not fans. They’re actual pros, fueling, chatting, and waiting to ride.

In Girona, specifically at the coffee shop called La Fabrica, one steps into the lives of pro cyclists. This is home for them. They glide through that tight alley each morning, clicking freehubs echoing off its walls, and settle into their morning haunt and meeting place. The shop, owned by Orica pro Christian Meier and his wife, Amber, is the hub of Girona’s cycling world, a daily focal point for the small Catalan city’s 90-plus professional cyclists and the countless riders who mingle with them.

Girona is set 30 kilometers inland from the Costa Brava, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Pyrenees and conveniently situated on a high-speed rail line that runs from Paris to Barcelona, just an hour south. It’s an affluent city, easy to access, with warm weather and hundreds of miles of quiet, well-paved roads — the kind of place pro cyclists can easily make into a home away from home.

It is, without question, the most popular city on earth for English-speaking pro cyclists. Cannondale-Garmin is based here, and most of the team’s riders have an apartment in the city. Alex Howes lives around the corner from La Fabrica. Dan Martin, now with Etixx – Quick-Step, has a home nearby and owns a number of luxury rental apartments here. Cannondale’s mechanics have a service course just outside town.

It’s a Tuesday in early August, just days after the end of the Tour de France, and Meier is standing behind the counter at La Fabrica, his hands moving in rehearsed patterns around a Rocket espresso machine. Texans Lawson Craddock and Caleb Fairly each order a cappuccino, standing cleat-footed and smiling in their Giant-Alpecin kits. “It’s the little things,” Fairly says. “We know we can come here and find others and just relax. It is important.”

La Fabrica is a coffee shop in the American style — meaning seats and tables and people with laptops — a type of establishment that is only beginning to catch on in Europe, and it serves drinks that will please even the haughtiest connoisseur. For Meier, who balances the shop business with his life as a pro, the coffee takes precedent.

“At first, I didn’t want to do anything cycling related,” he says. “I wanted to make the best coffee, and that was the motivation. But we realized we had this whole market riding around the city and that I could tap into it. We could really become a place that could pull all these people together.”

In 2014, seven years after first leaving his native Canada to ride as a stagiaire for what was then Garmin-Slipstream, Meier raced his first Tour de France. It was the culmination of a lifelong dream, and one that forced him to ask a difficult question: What’s next?

“I’m not going to win the Tour, so what was the next goal? It quickly became this place,” he says.

Meier caught the coffee bug less than five years ago. Yet today he is an authority, selecting, roasting, and brewing beans as fine as anything in Europe — the same single-minded focus that took him to the top of his sport now driving him to similar levels in the coffee world.

Amber shows equal dedication. She’s a gifted and charming hostess, and the space, at once comforting and modern, is her vision. Many of the pastries and snacks come from her oven.

Meier splits his time between the shop and his bike, a balance he says benefits both parts of his life. “I just go out and do the work on the bike, get it done, and then come back and do this other thing I love,” he says. “It’s made me more efficient — less sitting around all day wondering when I should head out. I just go do it.”

The idyllic surroundings and happy, approachable pros make it easy to forget Girona’s recent, darker connection to pro cycling. Fifteen or so years ago, as France began to pass increasingly strict anti-doping laws, the riders of the U.S. Postal team fled Nice, where many of them were based, in favor of Spain and its (then) more lax attitudes about doping. Lance Armstrong, Tyler Hamilton, Jonathan Vaughters, George Hincapie, Levi Leipheimer, Tom Danielson, and Floyd Landis all made Girona home. Spanish doctors Pedro Celaya and Luis García Del Moral were brought to the team, and an organized doping program flourished.

The syringe-filled trashcans and shadowy doctors are gone (we hope), but the warm weather and welcoming culture that made Girona attractive then remain. The Postal riders may have done much to hurt the sport, but they also established Girona as a base for English-speaking riders. Life in a foreign country can be lonely and difficult, and there is logic in seeking a place where a community that understands those challenges already exists. The vast network of beautiful, quiet roads — part of what made the region so attractive for Postal riders — is still there. The nearby airport is still there.

The riders here today don’t think about why their predecessors came. This city is slowly molding itself in their image, becoming a locus of high athletics attractive to more than just cyclists. Triathletes and runners are turning up in bigger numbers every year.

Meier pulls shot after shot as pros in groups of three or four filter in throughout the morning, taking their time to catch up and to caffeinate. He looks over at his Scott leaning near La Fabrica’s entrance, waiting for the afternoon hours he has set aside for today’s training ride. When they come, he puts on his Orica kit and heads out the door with Namibian Dan Craven of Europcar. On tap today is one of his favorite rides, the coastal loop.

“If we’re feeling spicy, we’ll add Els Angels at the end,” he says, referring to the steep test climb outside of town, as he clips in and freewheels down the narrow stone alleyway, out of sight.

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Sitting in with Rapha founder Simon Mottram http://www.velonews.com/2016/01/velolife/sitting-in-with-rapha-founder-simon-mottram_393155 Mon, 25 Jan 2016 13:20:48 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=393155 How did Rapha get its stripe? John Bradley talks to the founder of one of cycling's most distinctive clothing brands.

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Before Simon Mottram launched Rapha in 2003, cycling’s aesthetic was one of loud colors, team-inspired graphics, and sublimated printing run amok. But just as Arc’teryx had succeeded in making highly technical winter sports outerwear that was at home on the streets of New York or Tokyo, Rapha proved that cyclists were hungry for sleeker designs — and willing to pay a premium for it.

Fast forward 12 years, and the British company’s minimalist designs and moody photos of riders alone on misty mountainsides have become dominant themes in cycling. If the Mapei kit and Mario Cipollini were the avatars of cycling fashion in the 1990s, now it is Sky and Jacques Anquetil. (The name “Rapha” is a nod to Anquetil’s old St. Raphaël team.)

We spoke with Mottram recently to find out how he settled on the designs and imagery that changed expectations of how cycling could look.

VeloNews: When people think about Rapha, the first image they see in their mind is that stripe. What was the genesis of that?
Simon Mottram: I’m not sure if we’ve ever spoken about this, but way back about 12 years ago, we were sitting down in my kitchen and looking at what could these products look like. We must have gone through dozens. We knew we wanted them to be pared back and clean looking. We also wanted to have some kind of easy-to-see identity without using a big logo. If I’m not on a bike, I wouldn’t wear things that have logos all across them. So, on a bike, I wasn’t going to either. But you still want to have a distinguishing feature that people can instantly get: “Yeah, I can see that’s a Rapha thing.”

We looked at lots of stripes and art and colors, but when I saw the single arm stripe, I thought, “That’s got to be it.” The asymmetry was so arresting, so easy to recognize and difficult to forget. It just seemed completely right.

VN: It wasn’t so much the stripe as it was the asymmetry?
SM: A combination, really. The stripe’s about as simple as it gets, isn’t it? We could’ve put a crest or some kind of different graphic, but the simple stripe went back to the way we wanted the clothing to look.

Back in the late ’90s, early 2000s, it was still a pretty terrible look for cycling. There were far too many jerseys with pictures or swirly graphics and mad combinations of color. My burning question was, “Why should I have to sacrifice looking decent while I’m wearing performance gear?”

We looked back to where things were at an earlier time, when you couldn’t create a day-glow jersey with a thousand logos just by clicking a mouse. If you wanted to put a logo on a jersey you had to stitch it up, embroider it, put an extra panel in. So designers had to use very simple graphical language to try to get these brands across. And it just worked. They were arresting. That was our inspiration.

VN: How about the marketing look — the sans-serif fonts and the black-and-white imagery? Was that all part of the same initial process?
SM: It was all part of the same discovery process, really — me spending a lot of time in my kitchen at night, poring over books. I was given a book as a present in 1997, a French book called “Le Tour de France Intime.” What was fascinating about it was that there were virtually no shots of people on bikes. All these photos were of these riders as human beings, shaving their legs, eating, in the bath, reading newspapers, smoking a cigarette on a train.

That made me realize that cycling, fundamentally, is a very human sport. The machines are beautiful, but they’re actually quite simple, as well. Ultimately it’s just you, your head, your legs, and your heart trying to get across the finish line or up the mountain. That was the way that I wanted our brand to connect with the audience: “We know why you love cycling. We love it, too, for the same reason.” So we don’t go to market by saying, “We make great jerseys.” We go to market by saying, “Road cycling is absolutely amazing.”

For the first few years that stood out dramatically because nobody else was even trying to do it. But these days, a lot of people are. It’s certainly a much more interesting sport now to look at than it was 10 or 11 years ago.

VN: Did it help that your background was not in the bike industry?
SM: Yeah, I had zero cycling industry experience, aside from over 30 years of experience as a customer. I was a brands guy, so I just knew about developing brands. But the key thing was I was a bit of an obsessive cyclist. I had taught myself quite a lot about the sport, and learned and read a lot. That combination of having some knowledge and also having the outsider’s customer view definitely helped, I think.

VN: You’re no longer outsiders. And as Rapha has grown, it has become polarizing.
SM: Brands stand for something, don’t they? And if you want to mean something to somebody, the chances are some people are not going to like it. We were always really prepared to be polarizing. I’ve always said I’d much rather people loved us or hated us than if everybody just sat on the fence. Obviously you’d rather everybody loved you, but that’s not how the world works. So I’ve always been happy to be polarizing.

Ultimately I think more and more people will want quality and will want stories and content that connects them to the sport, and more and more people will trade up. Cycling’s too important to wear a scratchy jersey with a terrible zip.

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Video: Tasmania’s remote, beautiful roads http://www.velonews.com/2015/12/video/video-tasmanias-remote-beautiful-roads_391718 Wed, 23 Dec 2015 19:21:38 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=391718 If you're seeking a wild and different cycling destination, Tasmania looks like a great place to explore on a bike.

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Suffer no more http://www.velonews.com/2015/10/news/road/suffer-no-more_388379 Sat, 31 Oct 2015 13:08:06 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=388379 Cycling is hard, painful, challenging. But to be alive and riding has nothing to do with suffering, writes Ryan Newill.

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the November 2015 issue of Velo magazine.

“Suffering:” The word is etched in cycling’s lexicon, deeper, it seems, with each passing race and ride. The sport’s relationship with suffering — the word and the state of being — predates the internet. But in the social media era, when carefully filtered images of abrasions, mud-streaked legs, and faces lined by fatigue can and must be dramatically captioned, its use as a descriptor of life on two wheels has exploded.

And why not? The word has always fit cycling’s hardscrabble identity, one forged in the operatic newspaper coverage of those early Tours de France and Giri d’Italia. It fit perfectly into the narrative of “les forçats de la route,” the convicts of the road, grimly enduring all manner of hardships to escape the farm or factory life.

A hundred years later, it still applies. How else can you describe what Fabian Cancellara has undergone this season? One of the last great season-long campaigners, he cracked two vertebrae in a crash at E3 Harelbeke in March, then another two while wearing yellow at the Tour de France. He clawed back again to start the Vuelta a España, only to be felled by a virus. Spartacus called it a season in August, having struggled, endured, and, yes, suffered.

And what do you call Peter Stetina’s experience since hitting an unprotected traffic bollard in a sprint at the Vuelta a País Vasco, where he shattered his leg, kneecap, and three ribs? On the bike, the 28-year-old helped his BMC Racing teammates win stages at August’s USA Pro Challenge, his comeback race. Off the bike, he walked with a cane. You call that “suffering.”

Those are extremes. But this sport definitely has a baseline level of individual affliction, the routine suffering we deliver to — and accept from — our rivals or force upon ourselves. The burning legs and searing lungs, the churning gut, the tunnel vision — all the manifold symptoms of the body running out of the materials it needs to do what the brain asks it to. In cycling, these discomforts are somehow a reward.

“I cannot sprint against the fastest, and sometimes I struggle on the bergs at Flanders, but Roubaix is perfect for me,” Belgian brawler Stijn Vandenbergh said before this spring’s Paris-Roubiax, perhaps the race most closely associated with physical torment. “I like to suffer and make others suffer.”

In most contexts, that sentiment would mark Vandenbergh as a sociopath. In cycling, it’s a testament to his dedication to his job. Indeed, if the sport’s assorted gods assembled their own set of commandments, somewhere between Eddy Merckx’s “ride lots” and Major Taylor’s “don’t eat cheap candies” would lie Udo Bolts’ admonishment to Jan Ullrich as he struggled with a moment of weakness en route to his 1997 Tour victory. The hardened domestique’s advice to his young charge offered neither tact nor tenderness: “Quäl dich, du sau!”

Suffer, you swine.

Bolts was nails — ask anyone — and while most of us won’t stoically drag more fancied riders through 12 trips around France, there is a little bit of him in all of us. We are comforted by the fact that for all the affronts to our rights on the road, the hurled insults about Lycra and sexuality and more than a few hurled beer cans, the bad weather and popped collarbones and all of the other indignities of thousands of miles on the road, we are tougher than other people.

We suffer it all and smile. We smile because cycling, lest we forget, is not the way of the cross. To focus solely on the pain and grimaces and raw, bleeding knees in all their romantic, sepia glory is to ignore cycling’s inherent yin and yang, one that guarantees equal portions of not suffering — generous helpings of beauty, reward, and fun.

There is no other sport with such a refined balance, which offers so detailed a receipt of the physical currency spent and later refunded. Each leg-sapping ascent comes back to us on the downhill. Every too-hard pull on the front finds its counterweight in those seemingly impossible moments being sucked along at the back, spun out and effortless at the same time. Even the most relentless coastal headwind vanishes at the turnaround. (There are no tailwinds in cycling, as the saying goes. There’s either a headwind, or you’re having a great day.)

It isn’t always that simple. Rewards for the harder moments aren’t necessarily immediate. Winds that promised to pay us back on the ride back home can shift or die, and mountaintop finishes can deny the gravitational dividend. On every group ride and in every race, someone is stuck paying the bigger part of the peloton’s collective tab. But over the years, it all evens out.

For all the howling winds and cold rains or, worse, winters spent in basements hunched over warped rollers, there are the bluebird days that can’t be captured with a lens or improved with a filter. Terrible city streets and urban sprawl give way to smooth, rolling farm roads and high mountain passes. Every dizzying Wednesday interval session has its counterpart in a chatty Monday recovery ride.

And for all those intervals and other slights against our bodies — the fatigue; the rebellions of joints and muscles and organs; the failures of talent and genetics and, if we’re honest, commitment — there are those moments when it all comes together. Sometimes through careful planning, sometimes almost by accident, we occasionally fall into that state of grace where gaps close by magic, hills flatten out, and competitors seem slower. No matter how much the speed and effort might still hurt, in those moments, we’re not suffering.

Nor are we suffering after our rides, when we sit in the sun with friends we’ve made over the years or on a single ride — whom we have alternately vanquished and been vanquished by, attacked and nursed home. We drink coffee or beer and laugh at ourselves and our lives. We enjoy the still, satisfying fatigue that stems from the effort we just completed, of having emptied the tank and found out where the limit was.

It is the opposite of suffering.

There is true suffering in cycling, the kind that can’t be relieved by simply letting up or putting a foot down, resting, and recovering. You can see it in the sad journeys of the sport’s troubled souls, men like Marco Pantani, José María Jiménez, and Frank Vandenbrouke, and in the anguish of the families of Nicole Reinhart, Andrei Kivilev, Wouter Weylandt, Fabio Casartelli and all the others who went out one morning to race bicycles and didn’t come back. It is there in abbreviated careers of men like Mauricio Soler. But that suffering — that of lives profoundly changed or lost — is the suffering of humanity. Cycling is only the setting. The kind of suffering cyclists talk of when we recount how the road pitched up or the big attacks went down? That isn’t suffering at all. It is discomfort, pain, or an investment that pays off later, in the next race, on the other side of the hill, on the ride back home, or in a warm coffee shop after a cold January ride.

Call the sport “hard” or “challenging” or “painful.” It is all of those things. But don’t ever describe being alive and able to ride a bicycle as “suffering.”

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Gallery: 2015 l’Eroica Gaiole vintage bike event http://www.velonews.com/2015/10/news/road/gallery-2015-leroica-gaiole-vintage-bike-event_387190 Mon, 05 Oct 2015 18:08:05 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=387190 Classic Italian event showcases vintage bicycles and beautiful Tuscan countryside with rugged gravel roads.

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2015 l'Eroica: Vintage marketplace 2015 l'Eroica: Cycling in his blood 2015 l'Eroica: De Vlaeminck 2015 l'Eroica: Mechanic to the stars 2015 l'Eroica: Straight block 2015 l'Eroica: Very vintage 2015 l'Eroica: Shopping for parts 2015 l'Eroica: Vintage kid's bike 2015 l'Eroica: Moser head tube 2015 l'Eroica: Rough ride 2015 l'Eroica: Wooden fenders 2015 l'Eroica: Beautiful Bianchi 2015 l'Eroica: Certified 2015 l'Eroica: Bianchi head tube 2015 l'Eroica: Bike check 2015 l'Eroica: Bike inscription 2015 l'Eroica: 1930s Bianchi 2015 l'Eroica: Vintage tandem 2015 l'Eroica: Dark start 2015 l'Eroica: Heavy gearing 2015 l'Eroica: Wet roads 2015 l'Eroica: Mud bath 2015 l'Eroica: Rest stop 2015 l'Eroica: Tough climbs 2015 l'Eroica: Monte Sante Marie 2015 l'Eroica: Time to push 2015 l'Eroica: Beautiful Tuscany

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Behind the scenes at Le Tour with Manual for Speed http://www.velonews.com/2015/07/news/road/behind-the-scenes-at-le-tour-with-manual-for-speed_379047 Wed, 22 Jul 2015 01:47:38 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=379047 The Tour de France is so much more than just a race. Manual for Speed captures all of the festivities and atmosphere of the Grande Boucle.

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Ride with VeloNews and Cognoscenti this August http://www.velonews.com/2015/07/news/road/ride-with-velonews-and-cognoscenti-this-august_374169 Fri, 17 Jul 2015 20:00:46 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=374169 Come ride some of Colorado's best roads, dine at Boulder's top restaurants, and experience the USA Pro Challenge up close and personal

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Video: Ride hard, eat well with Cognoscenti tours http://www.velonews.com/2015/05/video/video-ride-hard-eat-well-with-cognoscenti-tours_369900 Fri, 29 May 2015 19:31:49 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=369900 With top pros as ride leaders and the best restaurants to refuel afterward, Cognoscenti offers a perfect tour experience

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VeloNews is teaming up with Cognoscenti for the ultimate Boulder tour, in conjunction with the USA Pro Challenge race. Space is available but limited. Sign up now.

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A Case for Suffering: The Heroic http://www.velonews.com/2015/04/a-case-for-suffering/a-case-for-suffering-the-heroic_366801 Fri, 17 Apr 2015 12:29:46 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=366801 Chris Case takes on the challenging terrain of Eroica California, and learns something of what it was to ride in the golden age of cycling

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Editor’s note: Velo managing editor Chris Case is on a quest to ride and race the most fascinating and challenging cycling events around the world. Follow his journey on Instagram and Twitter: @chrisjustincase. Questions or concerns for his well-being? Send him a note.

The light was flickering like an antique cinema projector, hazy shafts of sun casting down upon the dirt double track, through the thick canopy of a hollow, secluded canyon.

Light. Shadow. Light. Shadow. Flick, flick, flick.

This was my vision, out of focus in the noontime light, but there nonetheless: Coppi, climbing, crouched into a coil of potential energy, his long nose guiding him like an unstoppable ship.

This was what flashed before my eyes and through my mind while climbing Cypress Canyon — far from Gaiole in Chianti, or the Strade Bianche, the birthplace of the original L’Eroica — inside this perforated tunnel of trees near the Central Coast of California.

This was Eroica California. Part Italy. Part America. A Civil War reenactment for cycling, brought to the shores of the Pacific Ocean.

Find yourself a bike, and be sure it was made before 1987, complete with downtube shifters, toe clips, and external cable routing into the hoods. Find yourself a jersey, make sure it’s wool, and preferably plastered with an Italian surname. Get your black shorts, your bright white socks, and a “hairnet” helmet if you can. You’re ready for Eroica (the events outside of Gaiole, of which there are now four, one each in California, Japan, England, and Spain, all go by the title Eroica, and the original remains L’Eroica, or “The Heroic”).

The day before I had been handed a Crayola orange De Rosa, the bottom bracket recently returned to a state of function, the tubular glue still wafting through the air as I re-familiarized myself with the art of kicking into a set of toe clips. For period-correct footwear, there are a few options to choose from, assuming you don’t have 25-year-old shoes decaying in your closet. I chose a classic black pair from Vittoria’s Line 1976 — Italian-made leather which I wore with pleasure, both because of the yesteryear styling and the out-of-the-box comfort.

The bike harkened back to an era of racing that predates my birth; luckily, it fit like Ugo De Rosa made it himself to my specifications. And, authentic to the epoch, the tubulars were narrow (22mm), the gearing constrained (53-42 in front, a six-speed, 12-26 cassette in the rear, which offered a wider range than the original equipment would have), and the braking rather grim.

It was time to conjure the spirit of Coppi and Bartali, Géminiani, and Merckx.

We set off in the Champagne air of a Paso Robles morning, perched upon antique steel before the sun had had a chance to rise. If you squinted, you could take yourself back to another time, the darkness aiding in the imagining of a bygone bicycling script. Hunched, rocking bodies atop clicking-clacking machines. Old cables, friction shifters, cold fingers. The hypnotic silhouettes of symmetric, contouring combs of vines.

If you wanted to be in Italy, you were.

By sunrise, we had reached the first checkpoint — if you were heroic enough to take on the 127-mile route, this was the first of five checkpoints where you received a stamp confirming your arrival — amid the olive trees of Olea Farm. Breakfast would be nothing other than Belgian fries cooked in luscious olive oil, sprinkled with Himalayan salt. Ketchup and salsa for your pleasure. Big bowls of olive oil and spices lined long tables beside sliced baguettes.

A glorious day was upon us. Until it wasn’t. Pfft, pfft, pfft. Air, under pressure, evacuating through a tiny hole, intermittently interrupted by the revolutions of the wheel. Mile 40.

If, like me, you aren’t a part of the generation that rode “sew-ups” to train on, puncturing a tubular far from anywhere is a requirement for understanding the spirit of L’Eroica, a ride back through time when hard was harder and long was longer.

This is when my new friend and riding mate Chuck Teixeira became my impromptu guide to the essence of 1974. It isn’t that changing a tubular on the side of the road is difficult, but there is comfort in having someone who has done it hundreds of times beside you, if only to convince you that riding for another 90 miles isn’t suicidal.

No glue? Use that rear brake to heat up the rim, melt some fumes, and get one percent more adhesion through the magic of thermal dynamics. Or so he told me.

Given the ramshackle state of the spare tire that was affixed beneath my saddle, (something I didn’t realize until it was too late), I could only cling to the paradoxical premise that an old tire that was beat to hell but still kicking was a sturdy tire that had put up with a lot of shit and was ready for more.

It can be done, trust me, said Chuck’s poise. I was less alarmed at the insanity of riding glueless as I was incredulous at the adoption of clincher technology. So what if you died around the next bend, changing tubulars was efficient. Rip one off, slide one on. Just try not to turn that much.

This is when Chuck told me about the first time he rode tubulars. At the mid-point in this particular out-and-back century, he pulled into the parking lot to turn around and head home. It had been straight roads all day, until now. In front of the gathered crowd, he turned, both the tires slid off, and he crumpled to the ground. He rode gingerly back the 50 miles to the finish, bloody and embarrassed. But he always remembered to glue his tubulars to his rims after that.

We set off down the winding roads, my front tire cozily bonded, my shoddy rear spare, complete with cuts in the sidewall and tumors beneath the tread, merely lounging around a whirling hoop, ready and waiting to drift off.

The roads eventually led us to our next checkpoint, amid the forest on the lower slopes of Cypress Mountain. From here, we were headed over the Coast Range on a rustic back road, complete with 20 percent grades, and, ultimately, paradisiac views of the Pacific Ocean.

But paradise would have to wait a while. Tubular eruption number two. Mile 60.

Things just got a bit more difficult. I had no more tires. But I had Chuck, who insisted I take his spare.

“No way! I’ll figure something out. I can’t take that from you,” I said.

“Yes, come on, take it. It’s a long walk out and it’s good karma for me,” he said. Then he set off on his immaculate Teledyne Titan, all 16 pounds of early titanium technology and “Drillium” trimmings, up the climb, knowing I’d likely catch him by the top.

While I sat there in the sun, peeling another tubular off and tossing another on, the flies buzzing and the soil parched, absorbing the scenery and the circumstances, I could only think of one thing: bike racers from long ago. Eugène Christophe and the Pyrenean blacksmith shop, forging forks to ride on. The absurd number of miles and the frequency of mechanical misadventures that defined the early years of racing. All alone; figure it out; ride on.

I rode on. And 200 meters up the road, I was standing next to Chuck again.

This time, it was Chuck who had punctured. “I’m going to need that tire back, Chris.”

We laughed; it was not our day. We considered the options; it seemed my day was about to get a bit longer, a bit harder. The only way out of this jam was to walk or ride my way up the steepest climb of the day, with one good tire and a very small cluster of gears. I leaned my bike against the edge of a dilapidated bridge and took a photo of its knackered state.

“That’s it, make the most of it, Chris,” Chuck said as he drifted away into the distance.

This was a bike ride; I was riding this bike. And it was going to get me to at least the top of this climb, maybe farther. Then, I’d figure something out.

Riding on a flat tire on dirt isn’t too hard; you just have to mind the off-camber switchbacks that can peel the tire from the rim and into your brakes. And try not to hit every rock since this isn’t your bike. True to the spirit of the golden age of cycling, steep just became steeper.

Though I held out hope that I would eventually find a solution to carry on with two intact tires, I also reasoned there was a good chance I was nearing the end of my inaugural Eroica. I drilled it. I passed a lonely figure who grumbled at my rate of ascension. “I’m lighter since I have less air in my tires than you…” I yelled when I was already past him, trying to be gentlemanly about it all.

And then I saw it. The vaporous haze of Pacific Ocean views. A water station. People. Cars. Not a tubular in sight, and 13 sinuous miles of catastrophic tarmac between me and the town of Cambria.

Hero status would have to wait until next time.

The gathered support staff snapped photos of me. Maybe I looked as depleted as Octave Lapize as he crested the Tourmalet in 1910 and famously screamed “Murderers!” to the gathered officials. Or, I’d like to think, maybe I struck as handsome a figure as Anquetil after a fifth Tour victory.

In any case, I was offered a ride down the mountain. My riding time was through.

Jim was the proud owner of the most appropriate sag wagon there could be for this day: a 1969 Alfa Romeo Giulia 1300 TI, adorned with a checkered flag racing stripe, lowered and stiffened for racing, with one roof-rack tray and red vinyl seats.

I saluted the fine folks gathered at the aid station as I bid them arrivederci, and was promptly swooshed down the hill toward the sea, by a piece of historic Italian machinery.

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Knaven’s Roubaix winner: A bike too good to wash http://www.velonews.com/2015/04/velolife/knavens-roubaix-winner-a-bike-too-good-to-wash_365829 Wed, 08 Apr 2015 14:46:26 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=365829 Mechanics never washed the mud off of Servais Knaven's winning bike from the 2001 Paris-Roubaix. It's on display at Rapha's new Dutch store

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SCHOTEN, Belgium (VN) — The mud of Paris-Roubaix is eternal. And in the case of Servais Knaven and his winning Eddy Merckx frame, he’s hoping it stays that way.

Moments after crossing the line victorious in the 2001 Paris-Roubaix, a euphoric Knaven passed off his bike to Domo-Farm Frites mechanics, and was swept up in a media hurricane.

Hours later, back at the team hotel for a post-victory celebration, a mechanic pulled Knaven aside, pointed to the Eddy Merckx frame propped up against the wall. The mechanic, veteran wrench Chris van Roosbroeck, didn’t wash it, and nearly 15 years later, the same mud and grime from Knaven’s greatest professional moment remains caked onto the frame.

“It was the mechanics who chose not to wash it. After the podium, the bikes are always washed, but I am thankful they didn’t clean it,” Knaven told VeloNews. “I didn’t even think about the bike. Moments after winning Roubaix, my mind was elsewhere.”

Flash forward 14 years, and Knaven’s muddy Roubaix bike is now hanging on the wall at Rapha’s concept store in the heart of Amsterdam’s trendy “Nine Streets” district.

The 44-year-old is now the lead sport director for Team Sky at the spring classics, but back in 2001, he was a cog in Domo-Farm Frites cobblestone wheel. Superstar Johan Museeuw was leading the team, yet Knaven took advantage of a numbers game, attacking with about 10km to go out an elite group to take the most important victory of his 17-year racing career that spanned from 1994 to 2010. Horrendous conditions, with driving rain, mud, and wind, made that year’s Roubaix one to remember.

“Winning Roubaix, that was the highlight of my career, of course,” Knaven explained. “It was raining from the start. It was really muddy, and there were many crashes on the first sectors. The group kept getting smaller and smaller, and in the end, I think there were 30 of us left. It was a huge day.”

Domo-Farm Frites swept the podium, with Museeuw and Romans Vainsteins second and third, respectively. George Hincapie was fourth, and Wilfried Peeters, another Domo rider, was fifth.

Knaven’s muddy bike became something of celebrity in the months following Roubaix. Racing legend Eddy Merckx, whose name is emblazoned on the frame, displayed it in Compiegne to celebrate the centenary of the “Hell of the North,” and later had it on display at the company’s headquarters in Belgium. After about a year, Merckx gave the bike back to Knaven.

“It was a special bike for me. I only rode it twice; once in the recon, and then in the race,” Knaven recalled. “I kept it in the basement, where the kids played, but the mud stayed on the frame. It was nice to look at. You can still see where the water sprayed up on the frame. You can also see where I had a puncture, and they had to change the wheel in neutral support. It brings back the memories of that day.”

Of course, historic bikes hanging on the walls of museums and bike shops are nothing new. Belgium is chock full of such places. Oudenaarde has a museum dedicated to the Tour of Flanders while Roeselare hosts the Wieler Museum, dedicated to all things on two wheels.

Knaven’s bike ended up in the Rapha’s new Amsterdam store, which opened two weeks ago, at the behest of the UK-apparel company.

“Rapha is a sponsor of the [Sky] team, and they asked me if I would put the bike in the new café in Amsterdam,” Knaven said. “I said sure, so long as you protect the bike, and if no one can touch it.”

The bike hangs securely on the wall, along with Knaven’s winning jersey, also still muddied from the wild day across the pavé.

“It’s my lucky bike,” Knaven said. “Now that I have stopped racing, it’s nice to see people’s reaction when they see the bike. I am glad the mechanics never washed off the mud!”

Rapha Cycle Club Amsterdam
Wolvenstraat 10, 1016 EP Amsterdam, Netherlands
+31 (0) 20 341 5082

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A Case for Suffering: Made in Taiwan http://www.velonews.com/2014/11/velolife/case-suffering-made-taiwan_354025 Wed, 26 Nov 2014 12:00:48 +0000 http://www.velonews.com/?p=354025 Managing editor Chris Case describes the agony and ecstasy of taking on the incomparable Taiwan KOM Challenge.

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Editor’s note: Velo managing editor Chris Case has raced enough criteriums to know there are far more enjoyable ways to spend time on a bike. He has set out to find pain and pleasure at the most unique, challenging, and captivating competitions. Follow along with his experiment to ride the best and most difficult courses, the most punishing and most promising races, on- and off-road, on Instagram and Twitter, @chrisjustincase. Questions or concerns for his health? Send him a note at ccase@competitorgroup.com.

It was pissing rain.

It was the type of day that gave you a simple choice: sulk, or smile. I’ve learned a lesson from years of racing in inclement weather: it’s always advantageous to stick with the grins; pouting only makes you colder.

We were in Taiwan, far from home, in an exotic landscape that I had quickly fallen in love with, about to race bikes up one of the longest hill climbs in the world. The choice was made for me.

I embraced the dreary, soggy conditions, absorbing the wet, the cold, the foul soup of mist and misery and turning it on its head.

I made a case for suffering.

It would have been easy to mope and complain. But a simple flip of the switch in my brain and it was just as easy to tell myself, ‘This is the weather that only the hard thrive in; these are the conditions that make for great stories; these are the days when pain is my friend, and the harder I shake its hand, the more pleasure will come my way.’ I shook vigorously.

It’s not as if it would have been an easy day even if the weather had been tropical. Today, I, along with 472 other intrepid and/or insane cyclists, set out to ride to the top of Taiwan, in the KOM Challenge, all 62-miles of climbing, with its 17 percent average gradient over the last 8 kilometers. The route was famously picturesque, a warped canyon of ancient marble accented by clinging carpets of green, known as Taroko Gorge. You couldn’t imagine a more beautiful route for a race, and on this day that’s exactly how you had to experience the Jurassic decor, since the folds of fog had settled deep into the cut.

We, invited cycling journalists, had been in Taiwan for a week, tasting the flavors of a country rich in sustenance. There had been glorious jungle climbs, through thick, ripe foliage on ribbons of chalkboard black tarmac. Each night we were fed heaps of food, platter upon platter of things we could not necessarily identify, and which we knew we could not finish, but which were offered to us by a people bursting with generosity. We ate heartily. Shrines and temples dotted the hillsides, and stinky tofu stands peppered the curbsides of many a town and city corner.

But now the royal treatment was over; the Taiwan Travel Bureau had invited us here to experience the nation, its culture, this devilish race, and had pampered us in so many ways, but they forgot to talk to the rain gods about our final mission.

The KOM Challenge is, arguably, the hardest hill climb race in the entire world. From zero to 3,275 meters to the summit of Hehuanshan mountain. One road. One direction: Up.

We rolled out to the click of nearly 1,000 pedals popping with the sound of cycling.

The rain, it continued to drop. My teeth chattered; I looked over at Will Routley, an invited professional who claimed the KOM competition at the 2014 Tour of California, whose lips were a pale shade of not-right. We had 18km of neutral rollout, and that was 20km too much. We wanted to race, to generate fury and warmth and spirit. But we had to wait. It was best just to think ahead, to know that it was all about to detonate.

Once we turned into the mouth of the gorge, it was immediate. The racing became racing, and a universally familiar feeling washed over the peloton. We’d all done this before; find your home and settle in for the long climb into the heavens.

There were small rocks scattered on the edges of the gleaming darkness of asphalt from the incessant rains. You notice these things when you’re following unfamiliar wheels; you hope the others notice too and kindly indicate which side to take warning. You notice all these things, and hope.

Then it came. The singular sound of a cycling crash. The shriek of frightened voices and the noise of impact instantaneously register a warning. Sometimes the speed with which your brain can process the information is helpful; you slither by. Other times, you have no choice. Down.

My brain helped me now, and only a slight dab was required to avoid the chaos. But I looked to my right as I tiptoed to safety, and I saw the pained face of a fallen friend, a fellow journalist and professional rider. Down.

To stop, or not to stop? As quickly as your brain can process myriad tactical sensations, it can bog down with moral dilemmas. Conflicting thoughts. I wanted to stop and see if she was okay. She’d probably want me to press on. She could use my help and encouragement if she was able to return to the race. She’s in good hands here; someone will stop to help.

I was swept up the road, allowing myself to be taken farther from a place of decision. It pained me to press on. But I did, knowing that there were only people as hard as diamonds in this race. She would have some story to tell, one way or another. She would come back stronger.

I patiently made my way back through the field, to the pointy end of the race, settling in and finding a rhythm amongst the gathered tribe. This was elite company: small bikes, small people, big engines. I felt like Stijn Vandenbergh among a fleet of Rigoberto Uráns.

We pierced through the floating waters of the atmosphere, concentrated air that combined with the falling rains to create a mobile sweat lodge. We smoothly flowed slowly upward, losing riders one by one, until a finite group of 20 coalesced. And, then, we pedaled on, waiting for the moves to come. I drifted off the front, more so to spawn warmth than to elicit counterattacks. Will tried to bridge to me to make a North American tag-team. His team-issued orange helmet would go nowhere without passengers.

We pressed on. For hours. Only up.

I dangled at the tail of the snake. I sensed the dawning of the drop; any lift in pace, after three and a half hours of climbing and I would drift away, behind and beyond. Sometimes the solo effort is a more comfortable place to be, and so a small part of me was eager for the fall.

And then, nonchalantly, it came. They floated away, softly, silently, and I searched for signs that would help me understand just how much longer I would have to endure this growing ache. Eleven kilometers. Maybe 20 minutes of torture? Deep sighs. Eleven kilometers of torture.

The closing eight kilometers are touted as the hardest of the race, but when you’re numb, or dumb from the bonk, it’s easy to consider them impossible. Unnecessary. Contrary to sane.

But if you’re lucky, inspiration comes to you, and you push on. I received a gift in the shape of small cyclists emerging from the fog, just up the road from me. They were going slower. I knew I was going to catch them. I was better than them at this moment. Momentum. Mental momentum. I rode it.

I had become so cold that my hands no longer functioned. They were catatonic. Hands, in fact, are important for riding a bike. They allow you to shift, and brake, and steer — and also eat. You might call them essential. And when you lose the ability to tear open a wrapper to feed your starving cells, and fear shifting to a harder gear knowing that you may never be able to downshift when the road tilts skyward, you know it is time to hurry home. Grip and ride. Hold on tight. Turn the legs. Churn skyward.

Then, sometimes inspiration comes on a grand scale, such as the sight of a bright orange helmet and yellow socks, the distinctive kit of an Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies professional cyclist named Will. He’s moving so slowly. I’m very much catching him. He is paper-boying so bad that I think I could be hallucinating. ‘I’m going to drop his ass.’ Giddy with the thought. And then, in painful, grinding, slow motion, I passed the pro who was colder than me, only 500 meters from the line.

I know my brain function was compromised at the summit. Some form of hypothermia-meets-fatigue syndrome. I say that now. Then, I was delirious, crawling around looking for warmth, seeing familiar faces but not saying much. Did I smile? I’m smiling now, thinking back, but then I was a shell. Will came across the line moments later; we tried to embrace, the sheer camaraderie almost overwhelming us. But it didn’t go so well. We were pathetic. We were done. Our arms wouldn’t rise for the occasion and we bumbled around and uttered only guttural sounds.

There are times in life when everything blends to perfection like a spritely, summer cocktail: the right people, a captivating place, and profound, collective enjoyment are the only necessary ingredients. This was far from summer, but the satisfying taste of success was effervescent in the whirlwind chaos of a mist-shrouded summit on the other side of the world.

This cocktail, on this day, was made in Taiwan.

Editor’s note: Chris participated in the Taiwan KOM Challenge as a guest of the organizers and had his flights, food, and accommodation paid for. VeloNews would like to thank the organizers for the invitation and their hospitality. A full list of the 252 successful finishers can be seen here.

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