Monday, 31 October 2011

Girona cycling enclave - off season


Downloaded here.
The 2011 cycling season is over. Right now riders are scattered all over the globe, relaxing in their hometowns or on vacation, evidence that that cycling too has been exposed to globalization. Some are enjoying the time off, resting with a sense of fulfillment, knowing that their season was literally off the charts. Others are feeling the pressure already, even before 2012 has begun. So how long time off does a professional rider take? Of course as many answers as riders. Some take two weeks, others a month. This depends a bit on next years goals too, being in top shape at tour down under or Milan-San Remo means some riders probably have started 2012 already.

Why enclave
Ever seen pictures of riders from different teams training together? Cycling teams consists of some 25+ riders, depending on their UCI-status. Teammates can go months without seeing each other, as rosters at races usually have a limitation of the number of riders allowed to compete. This does not mean riders are all alone, they tend to gather in enclaves around Europe. Some in the south of France, some around lake Como and others in Girona, Spain. Girona has many American riders, ever since Johnny Weltz, former USPS team director set up in Girona in 1996, Hincapie, Hamilton and Vande Velde followed soon after, many have followed in their footsteps. Brent Bookwalter and Peter Stetina to mention a few.

In his book Le Métier, Canadian Michael Barry, who also resides in Girona, says that 'foreign professional cyclists who were attracted to the town for its proximity to the mountains, the Mediterranean climate, and the swelling pool of training partners.' Many riders emphasize two of these points, climate and training partners. Jonathan Vaughters and his Slipstream organization is also based in Girona. Take a second to imagine what it was like back in the beginning of the millennium, where Hincapie met up with Armstrong, Landis (Phonak), Hamilton (CSC) and Vande Velde (Liberty Seguros) for a ride. All good mates back then.

A couple of good friends at a Girona café - socializing.

Photo by @robhayles1, found here

Being pro is hard work and securing a contract is demanding, both physically and mentally. Some may find it hard to move to a foreign country in early age, some don't even speak the local language. Moving to a place where other riders are makes the transition a lot easier. Back in the day, there were not many enclaves. Team Sky DS Kurt Asle Arvesen left for Italy without speaking Italian in an Italian team as the only non-Italian rider. He described the first years as very tough and emphasized the difficulties in adapting to a new culture without speaking the language properly. But humans are adaptive, as Darwin described us and Arvesen managed alright in the end.

Climate and riding
Girona is located on the northeast tip of the Iberian island, close to the French border and naturally the Pyrenees. As a small Catalan city of 100 000 or so inhabitants, cyclists do stand out in a crowd. However, the Catalans are private people and do seldom approach riders for autographs. To call the city Spanish is almost an insult to the locals. Its identity is as Catalan as it gets, which is reflected in culture, art and food.
The temperature in Girona is very nice, at least from my perspective living where I do. In winter time it drops to -5 degrees centigrades (23 F), not frightening at all. Many rides north and east of the city towards the sea as that area is relatively flat. Straight north and west of Girona the landscape is more demanding, recently Peter Stetina said in an interveiw with Peloton magazine that the climb Rocacorba is one of the highlights in the area, it is located just north of Girona.

One handy aspect with small towns is that it doesn't take long to escape urbanity and enter the quiet countryside. Passing through the outskirts of Girona and to the farmland surrounding the city will take you back in time. Small castles, churches and even a few aqueducts will be spotted. If you decide to take a trip down there, be careful. You can ride for hours without seeing cars but the roads are very narrow and the quality of the roads varies as well as the presence of pattern.

Girona is the home to many pros, especially those from the US. The climate is tempting along with the possibility to find training partners who they also socialise with on their spare time. If in doubt regarding where to go for a ride, ask a pro. I'm sure you'll find some of them in a decent café around lunchtime.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Gilbert focusing on the details - video

The famous date is closing up on us, the "final" Giro di Lombardia is soon here. There are several riders who can make it this weekend, albeit many seem to have settled down with Gilbert as the winner already, or at least the man to beat. I don't disagree with that he's the man to beat, but I'm brought up with a nice ability to take nothing for granted. In this, I will never settle for one man to win, this is racing and anything can happen. Above all, the Lombardia is a classic, where mental toughness, intense preparation succeed over fear and the fact that Gilbert is the only man who can nail it.

Top athletes need a certain ability to focus on the important details. Professionalism in every possible way, every step is examined, tested and developed further. Some of course, get scraped on the way, but that is all about prioritising. Winners don't feel they miss out on something by living like they do, they just prioritise differently, in that specific time of their life. In this video, which of course is a promo, Gilbert says that success "is 50% training, the rest is all the other small things."

This attitude is transferable to our daily life or business too. Imagine how many who exaggerate their ability to achieve massive goals in a relative short period of time? I'm sure you recognize this, either from your life or someone you know. At the same time, people tend to misinterpret their ability to achieve goals over longer periods.

Winners, top performers or whatever you call them are not interested in reaching their goals, they are committed.  When you feel it, you'll know the difference. They will never loose sight of their goal, their level of persistence is unbelievable.

Let's have a moment to see the great rider Gilbert talking about the little details. Sadly, I will be in the US as the Lombardia takes place, but I hope the race will be exciting. And for picking the winner? I don't know, but I'll you this; nobody is unbeatable, even Gilbert.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Giro di Lombardia and Franciacorta - the Lombardian version of champagne

The classic Giro di Lombardia, also known as la classica delle foglie morte (the classic of the fallen leaves), takes place on the 15th of October. This is one of the five "monuments" in cycling, well deserved if I may add. I wrote on twitter some time ago that I have mixed emotions regarding this race. For one, it is the most beautiful one-day race in the entire calendar. Secondly, it marks the end of the cycling season. That duality gives me mixed emotions.
The 2011 Giro di Lombardia course

Photo by RCS - downloaded on their site.
Short history
The race origins back to 1905, then by the name Milan-Milan, but got it's original name already in 1907. The route has been known to change several times, strangely enough without the big commotion like they had in Belgium this year when the Flanders route changed. One very famous climb to most cyclists is the Madonna del Ghisallo. Being named the patronnes of cyclists by priest Vigano, later approved by Pope Pius the XII, the Madonna de Ghisallo today contains a museum (an old chapel from 1632) of different cycling artefacts. The museum is well worth a visit, and you can also pay your respect to the cyclists that have died by the eternal flame that burns there.

The profile

Downloaded on the Lombardia homepage.

It's hard to point out exactly why I feel this is the most beautiful one-day race. It could be the fantastic scenery with the hills surrounding lake Como, the magnificent three-four climbs always in the race, or the all-or-nothing mentality we find in the classics. Despite the expectation one could have that the riders are worn out after a long and tiresome season, the Lombardia always seem to deliver the goods, always plenty of fine racing. After all, true champions never let an opportunity to win go away easy.

Wine to the masses
Regardless of taste, you can find anything in Northern Italy. Shopping in Milano, hiking in the Dolomites or if you're interested in politics, you probably know about Lega Nord, the separatist party. If not, try to remember the finish line, haven't you noticed the 'cannabis flags'? Anyway, this post is not about that, it is about Lombardia and wine.

If prosecco is the Italian cousin of champagne, how will you describe franciacorta? I will definitely name it as the Italian brother to champagne. It is much older, wiser drink than prosecco, more refined if you like. The reason for this is that the producers of franciacorta use the very same technique as the producers of champagne; a second fermentation while bottled. The wine taste of peach, honey and orange flower. The grapes, normally chardonnay and pinot nero, will be handpicked by the end of August.
Franciacorta wineyard

Downloaded here.

The Italians claim that the reason their product is so good is due to the unique soil, warm climate and the cool, moist breeze from the Alps that caress the grapes, giving them perfect content of sugar while holding the level of sourness down. Despite the fact that franciacorta, unlike its French brother, is just some 50 years old, the future is looking bright.    

The most beautiful one-day race of the season is almost here, giving you plenty of time to walk to the nearest wine shop and buy a nice bottle of franciacorta, to enjoy while the 25 teams and riders of the peloton determines the hero of the day.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Assos Zegho - eye candy or simply dandy?

I don't know the exact number but I'd say the majority of the pros use Oakleys. Some, like Aberto Contador, use Giro, others swear to Rudy. I remember seeing Ulrich in Rudy glasses, of course he had to choose an Italian brand, after all he was riding Bianchi. Briko was very popular when Mario Cipollini was around, not only to cyclists but skiers too.

Riders argue they need glasses against the merciless sun in southern Europe, or its magnificent ability to block wind and road dirt. It also helps to  avoid bee and wasp stings, something Jonathan Vaughters experienced back in the day, read that here. Nowadays, glasses are a normal part of the outfit. When riders like Cavendish lead the points classification during the tour, Oakley is faster draw than most when it comes to equip the rider with a matching green pair of Jawbone, Fast Jacket or Radars.

R&D by Assos
In search for a new pair of bibs I logged on to Assos and suddenly found myself staring at a pair of glasses I haven't seen before.

I'm talking about the Assos Zegho.

Eye candy or simply dandy?

This is a joint venture between Carl Zeiss Vision and Assos, produced exclusively for cyclists, with the apparently ground-breaking ability to ensure no optical distortion. Which is quite good since the lens is curved to fit the face. With a 180 degree field of vision, it is easy to check surroundings. According to Bicycle Haus, where you read more about them, the weight is 27,5 grams and the nose piece is adjustable to each individual nose, something many will appreciate. Prices varies between €299-349.

You will not find the glasses in shops just yet, the release date is the 13th of November.

If you want to check out the Asso promo video, click the link beneath and you will be able to see it. Sorry for that, my technical expertise came to a halt, if anyone have a solution, I'll be happy to learn how to get that into blogger.

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Cold as ice

In 1977, the British-American band Foreigner had a great tune called "Cold as ice". Now, even though I wasn't old enough to even listen to the song back then, I have of course heard the hit during my youth, as everyone brought up in the eighties would have.

Stage 20 of the 2012 Giro

Too hard or too soon
RCS gave us a taste of the giro yesterday, with what is supposed to be stage 20. It is a monstrous stage, 218 km long, total elevation of 5900 meters (!), over Mortirolo and up the mighty Stelvio from Bormio. A monster, no doubt about that. On top of this, the stage was chosen by fans, as the organisers of the Giro, the RCS, conducted a poll where fans could vote for their favourite climb. Earlier, I wrote a post of the way RCS keeps evolving and keep challenging traditional organisation structures, using social media, more about that here.

Yesterday, David Millar and Jakob Fuglsang, let out some steam regarding the penultimate stage of next year's giro. Fuglsang criticised the fact that the stage is too extreme coming too late in the giro and Millar that the organisers hadn't learnt nothing of last year, making the race too hard. The debate continued on twitter throughout the day.

I don't disagree with the fact that this stage is hard, and that it is extreme. But, how can anyone say the Giro as a whole race is too hard, the complete Giro will be released in two weeks from now, maybe we'll all be surprised? The organisers of the Giro, the RCS in general and former Giro general Zomegnan in particular, got criticised last year for too long transfers and too hard stages, making the race too hard. How do we know this hasn't been accounted for and dealt with? When an organisation like the RCS receives criticism, like last year, I expect them to make a change. After all, the noise surrounding the 2011 Giro lead to one man loosing his job, as you all know, race director Zomegnan got fired officially in August, allthough rumoured some time earlier. I'm sure the RCS took this matter seriously.  

The current Race Director, Michele Aquarone, wrote this on twitter:

This gives an indication that things will be better than last year, and that we should be careful to judge before we have the entire scope in front of us. And yes, we can face riders saving themselves for the final stage all three weeks, something I don't believe, or we can see a blistering giro full of racing. I don't know yet, neither do you. 

One aspect I'm worried about is the tendency too increasingly making races harder. With the fight against doping going the right direction (average speed decreases on climbs, riders more tired etc), races don't need to be that extreme any longer. It is possible to get entertaining racing with stages shorter than the "normal" 200 km. This is an aspect race organisers should pay attention to, in my opinion. 
That said, I do like the idea of making one monster stage, with classical climbs, it's has the possibility for entertainment and safeguards the history of the race, its heart and soul. 

It is too early to conclude whether the 2012 Giro is too extreme. Lets wait and keep our cool until the 16th of October to find out. You can even sit ringside to check yourself, the event will be streamed live over the internet.