Pure Yellow

26 01 2011

OK I never intended this blog to be race coverage but today I have to give a shout out to a mate, James Williamson. Jimmy just took out the first stage of the Tour of Wellington, one of the biggest races in NZ and with style; escaping a very select break with fellow neo pro George Bennett and out sprinting him to be first across the line. James has had some great U23 victories in the last few years and while he is still in that category it’s awesome to see him get a geniunne big win against a star studed open field. Pure Black Racing should be pretty stoked for that one and breathing with even more relaxed confidence with their upcoming Freshman season in the States to come. Very cool buddy, bravo!

James Williamson salutes the Tour of Wellington 2011 stage 1





The Bluff

22 01 2011

In Poker a bluff is a crucial tactical play where the player feigns a superior hand as a show of strength to scare off their combatants. In cycling a rider can also (to a degree) ‘bluff’ their way into the minds of the bunch in order to fool them into mistakes and panic manoeuvres. As the road turns upward this can become more difficult as the speeds drop and drafting becomes less effective. Some climbs have a league of their own and there will be no faking it.

New Zealand’s southern most township is also Bluff. Most famous in culinary circles for its Oysters, Bluff also strikes fear in the cycling community. The road peaking on the tip of Bluff Hill is as notorious as any in the country. While it may not be as steep as Dunedin’s infamous streets or long as our great mountain passes, it’s reputation as the finale to the Tour of Southlands traditional first day means that anyone approaching does so with respect. Every year a few of the nations best will be reduced to walking. While those hunting for stage glory will bring out the special occasion gears; tall dinner plates at the back and compact crank set’s at the front, and yes we’re talking seasoned professionals.

Tour of Southland 145

Of course it doesn’t have to be impossible. Local club riders simply out for a challenge will cruise out from nearby Invercargill and after a hard but short final push on the steep ramps bask in the glorious views of the mighty Southern ocean, Stewart Island and the dangerous Foveaux Straight .

However the true legend of the climb is on that first Monday in November after the heads of state in New Zealand road racing have been forcing the pace for an already exhausting 80 km. As winds howl in from the North West the peloton stretches in a single file fighting for every inch. On the approach to Bluff township they start to arc around the horseshoe bay. The final punishing slopes of the hill top finish now in plain view of the racers just across the water to their left, striking fear in the weak and further exciting the hopefuls. The gentle curve in the road gradually moves the wind off their tail and onto the shoulder. Echelons form in the hope of some reprieve but the big boys are now racing for position leading to the start of the climb and the speed remains.

Tour of Southland 149

There is a downhill run into the beginning of this beast acting to disrupt leg speed and climbing rhythm. One right hand corner away from the water though and all the gravity feeding is over.

Tour of Southland 152

Tour of Southland 155All that stands before them is a rising bitumen surface that will leave even the strongest of men grabbing for lightest gear their machine allows. The hard climbing starts immediately, though the wise know this only to be an appetiser. A slight tilt to the right brings them to the first K.O.M points line (this climb is so bad it has two K.O.M’s). Then as if sent from the heavens a downhill dip allows the weak to blissfully freewheel momentarily before the fires of hell rise up. This second part is where the game face turns to survival mode. Immediately angling at 20%, part 2 is where the strong really start to separate from themselves and the fallen resign to simply finish.

Tour of Southland 156

Tour of Southland 158

Again though this climb teases with temporary respite. While it may not be exactly another coasting downhill, the lessened angle will be welcomed by many as the front runners shift down the cassette and prepare for the main course.

Tour of Southland 159A left hand turn brings ‘the straight’ into view and every bluff up to now will come under scrutiny as rider after rider forces the pace for stage glory. It is on this straight that Tour folklore is often created. Pitching at an average of 19% for close to a kilometre this is where legend is made. Still the wise hold a little more in reserve; desert still awaits. As the straight is devoured fans pack a right hander at the top like hungry wolves. Just when you thought things were tough a wall appears.

Hero’s will be humbled, resorting to a humiliating zig zag in orderTour of Southland 162 to keep forward momentum until finally, finally rounding a long left the most beautiful finish line in domestic racing appears before them and an epic 2 km is over. The body cries for joy in relief. Satisfaction over comes pain. Vast expansive panoramas open up from the tar seal that has taken up all the previous focus. Reward of another climb conquered overwhelms.

Climbing can make you feel like a disaster. But climbing can be beautiful. The suffering has a end, and at that end is a rainbow like no other. Find your Bluff and enjoy the conquest.

Tour of Southland 166





The Slayer

13 12 2010

Barista with tweed attitude and a lesson in pre-infusing the fusion

A draft about the time I spent with a Slayer. Espresso with citrus notes. Which required another. The follow-up was raspberries. If this sounds like hogs wash to you as all you have ever tasted in your coffee is… coffee, then I’m sorry for you. Find a Slayer. Get it made properly.

Wow these are bad photos to publish, should go back to Melbourne to drink, I mean shoot some more...

There can’t be that many Slayer’s around. They will cost the cafe $40,000. The barista running the thing probably therefore knows a thing or two as well. I watched the second pour. I took him two goes, I like to think he would have thrown the first pour if even I wasn’t watching, it took too long, either way he didn’t bluff and threw it in front of me, a little embarrassed that he didn’t get it right first time. I was just happy that he wasn’t complacent and looked even more forward to my second cup. I didn’t waste their or the machine’s time with milk. Espresso with a little hot water. The initial step of  the espresso dripped like thick caramel over the back of a spoon before flowing onto the water.

The choice is yours

Now there is a reason to like Melbourne. The Sensory Lab, Little Bourke Street. I know there are more out there, next visit will be wondering the alleys and hunting them down.





Mesteren (Hushovd)

19 10 2010

My new contemporary Richard Speer from Pezcycling summed it up “If you weren’t here to see it in the flesh then you’ll have to get the DVD”. Indeed the Elite Men’s World Road Race Championship had been one of the most exciting in years. At the time I was carried away with the atmosphere and enormity of the experience, not only of the headlining act, but also the sum of the events leading up to the nerve-racking finale.

Thor Hushovd; 7 hours before that smile got a whole lot bigger

Many people say that you see ‘more’ on TV. While it’s true that you will have the event covered from start to finish with slow mo’s, replays and ‘Phil and Paul’ what do you feel? Where is the emotion?

Cadel's defence preparation

 

My live experience in Geelong a couple of weeks ago is still fresh in the memory. I’m still buoyant for the chances that I had. As an official UCI journalist representing New Zealand Endurance Magazine I was given an access all areas opportunity to not only see and feel the race, but to mingle with the stars, bit players and expert opinionists week-long. Jetting around from a Cadel Evans interview to the Italian team presentation,

Paolo Bettini; I was up next

to post race podium press conferences and everything in between was part of the build up to Sundays epic. I was there to see the genuine team comradery and joy of the Australian U23 squad immediately after Bling had crossed the line first on the Friday. The utter devastation of Marianne Vos sprawled out on the ground when she had crossed the line second on the Saturday. By the eve of the Men’s race the media center was full of seasoned cool chatter about how the big boys would come out to play. Even for the age-old writers in the room, the championship still held an anticipation beyond any other race covered during the rest of the season.

Frank Schleck about to open up a case full of custom S-Works Shoes

Sunday morning. 5:30am alarm. The Cabbie was 5 minutes early cutting my coffee time, but I didn’t care I hadn’t slept much and I was wide awake. In Geelong I jumped on a Media shuttle Melbourne bound. The rest of the bus was sleepy, if I looked it, it was only to fit in. On arrival at Federation square our media co-ordinator showed us where the team cars would line up, the riders would sign on and where the start line was. With still an hour to pass I was too nervous to sit still so I went on a search for… coffee; always helps to settle anxiety…

In 3 Hours Simon Gerrans would be turning himself inside out for Australia

Roulston soaking it up

In the space of that time Fed. Square had filled… completely. Melbourne is a city that is passionate about their sport and cycling has gone through some major growth in the last few years. Blame it on the popularity of Mountain Biking, the Tour Down Under or Lance. What ever your theory there was no mistaking that a fiercely Football oriented public was going bike mad. One of the most elite collection of road racing super stars to ever assemble in the Southern Hemisphere filled passed national team by team. The excitement grew to fever pitch yet the pro’s were tranquil and happy to smile for the camera. If these guys had butterflies in their stomachs it wasn’t showing on their faces.

So many big questions for this man, just how great will he become?

"How much Fabu?"

On the start line; the Australian team by a stroke of incredible coincidence had the defending Champion on their side and had the privelidge of front row seats in front of their beloved public. All under clear sunny skies this was a dream for the organisers, and Patty McQuaid to showcase cycling and really cement it’s place in the ‘new-world’. Crowd noise was not unlike before the first bounce at the footy, with chants and and random shouts of support for the green and gold. Soon enough that broke into a deafaning roar with the gun. The boys were off and it was back into the bus for us. Following the caravan out into the highway for the first 40 km before the race would diviate and we could bee-line it for Geelong. On the bus the atmophere had changed somewhat. From sleep deprived grump of earlier now most passengers had a conversation and in all languages. A collection of cultures that would rival the transit lounge in Dubai. Everyone had a top three to list of favorites, plus an outside hopefull; with hindsight looking back no-one picked the winner, and that’s a sad oversight. 

One minute to go - insert crowd noise here

Over the next 6.5 hours I went from my grandstand office down to the waterfront and back a few times in search of that feeling. What the crowd was receiving. After all many of these people would never have seen a road race live before, how was it treating them? Flags hung from random balconies, street posts, or simply worn as capes. Fans dressed in their favorite riders trade team jersey. Picnics enjoyed on the railing. This was more international colour than they regularly see at the Footy. Young and old, people were making a day of it. It was a carnival and bike racing had reached the masses down under.

The perfect blend? Live and Live

With 3 hours still to go however the race had turned up the heat and the heads of state were smashing each other. After plenty of atmosphere soaking I turned for my grandstand privileges and unadulterated race viewing. Breaks, splits, regrouping over and over again. It all came down to a finale of epic proportions.

How's the gas in this breakaway? Still 60km to go...

The final chapter was extraordinary and as Richard says if you haven’t seen it then you must. Thor Hushovd is now resplendent in Rainbow, a worthy Champion. Like Cadel Evans in the season just passed you know that in Thor the world has a patron willing to take on his races from the front, willing to try and fail than not try at all, and his victories will be that much more beautiful for it. It’s taken me sometime to adjust and come down from those few days. So here’s to live events. participate, witness, live them. I’ll never prefer the TV.

Next years dream Thor? "That would be Paris-Roubaix"





Somebody’s gotta win

4 10 2010

Vos looked like crying. Her 4th Silver Medal at the World Road cycling Championship in as many years was proving difficult to wear. All the attention and questioning was naturally aimed at the girl with the rainbow stripes sitting just to her right; but I felt for Marianne. I had a question for her intending to cheer her up, but she was somewhere else, and didn’t elaborate enough to realise.

Vos tried to lie down and hope that it was all just a bad dream

“Marianne, does Silver ever get easier? And how will you look to the future to rebuild and improve?”

Not again...

 

With resignation she shrugged her shoulders and simply replied “No it’s never easy… I guess there is always next year” Her voice trailed off as she realised it would be a long wait to get another opportunity; Oh would someone give the girl a hug? Hang on a second a second here Ms. Vos. The all-mighty, all-conquering female cyclist of her generation. With a deadly finish that has caused sleepless nights for many of her contemporaries, this time it didn’t fall her way.

OK, granted she had come close and we are talking about the World title, but no need to hang yourself. Maybe its cultural. It seems all the Dutch women I know, love a laugh and a good time, but once the flag drops it becomes all or nothing. This does make them great racers, but it can’t be easy to live with. The psychological side of sport has always fascinated me, and I love seeing the tension of the beginning and how the champions conduct their victories and losses. Marianne was the first place loser and it hurt to watch.

Cath Cheatley came to Melbourne with great form and confidence but in the end it just hurt too much

 

In the pit area after the finish New Zealand’s Cath Cheatley was more philosophical; despite having to resign herself to survival mode just to make the finale and the sprint for victory. After having a phenomenal season dominating the U.S pro scene, the wick had been torched one to many times for her on the finale lap, yet she still manged to put up a fight and sneak into a credible top ten position. “The last couple of K’s very pretty hard… I wanted to go up the home straight but I had no choice really!” She said with a laugh. Her reaction was one of honest reality but also content. What’s done was done. She had raced as hard as she could on the day and rolled in six steps from the podium, also matching her performance at Mendrisio last year, but still proud to be there after a tough race.

The Italians and Dutch were ranked 1st and 2nd in the World at the start line

Indeed the circuit used for the laps around Geelong had been rated very tough by all the teams upon close inspection during the build up. Yet both the Under 23 Men and Elite Womens races ended with a bigger bunch gallop than many pundits have anticipated.

Of the women the fastest was Italian Giorgia Bronzini. While we’re looking at post race reactions she had a different excuse for not hiding any emotion. While Vos lay on the road shattered, Bronzini sought out her teammates and one by one embraced them all with heartfelt thanks for a victory she openly could not have achieved by herself, “Without them… impossible… and for Franco (Ballerini the late Italian coach)”. It was then equally interesting to see her flamboyant Italian celebration toned down for the following press conference. Resplended in the unbroken bands of Blue, Red, Black, Yellow and Green she was gracious and respectful in the company of the defeated sitting either side of her; though I imagine the team would’ve painted the town Red (White and Green) later on.

Italy still on top - Champagne girls?

The World’s is unlike any other in many regards. Witnessing the top flight Women cyclist give it their all really underlines the difficulties in this great sport. At its most basic, it is one of the original endurance sports, with that an attractive mix of beauty and suffering. But in modern time it manages to respect its history, and it’s a game played with high emotion. No other race brings this out as much. Riders toss aside their commercial trade team kit and take on the pride of their National Federations. For some it is do or die. Others take honour and privilege in the uniform and for the lucky one, the celebration and prize of the day will turn into eternal greatness. How will the Men behave?





Championship Mondial pt. 1

27 09 2010

It hasn’t exactly been a day like any other. For starters there was a 4am alarm so that I could get to the airport in time for the red-eye to Melbourne… From there it was hotel check in, followed by (take a guess) Black Coffee and straight to the train station; destination Geelong. No I haven’t become some bizarre over night AFL freak, it’s the location for the World Road Cycling Championship; and they’re on this week.

We're not in Kansas anymore Toto - Melbourne looked good for race weekend

 

Off the train at the other end I bee-lined it towards the (still under construction) finish. Rumours have been starting to circulate that the pure sprinters might not have it their way as originally expected. Well, you should see the finale! If Cavendish wins here I’ll have permanent respect for him beating the odds. The final 800 or so are seriously on the rise all the way. For me this was an exciting moment. This is going to be a genuine smash festival and I think I’ve already had confirmation by the look in David Boily’s eye’s. More on that later…

That's gonna be 50 meters of ouch!

 

From the finish line I wondered downhill to Geelong’s great seaside Pier to look for Media HQ. At the base of the finishing straight is a 90 degree right hander coming off a downhill; last lap the boys will be hitting some staggering speeds through here, though I think first out of this corner will be way too early. Breaking my day-dream about the race were some riders out on the course; one in an HTC Columbia kit, and one in Cervelo, but I didn’t recognise them, and they didn’t seem to pedal like genuine proffi’s. Then I saw some boys in Australian Kit’s and Jayco shorts, ah here we go some U23’s out for a spin. Coming down the hill soon after in NZ kit with a familiar bull like posture was Gordon McCauley on his TT bike, I gave him a shout and he was his usual jovial mouthy self. Now I was beginning to get it. Spotting the wanna be’s from the Pro’s was going to be easy. The pro’s will be wearing National colours… suddenly the meaning of this one day bared it’s full weight for me to absorb, and it was heavily intoxicating. OK where is this media center? Hey there’s a couple in Great Britain, shortish kinda girl and a big fella. Hey he’s got a sweet custom Pinarrelo to match, must be Geraint Thomas from Team Sky – “Yo Geraint, good luck!” – that got a wave and a smile. Shit why haven’t I got my camera out…

No joke - but it is funny!

OK I’ll skip the formalities, but once in HQ I had my photo taken, received ‘Journo’ accreditation, joked around with the volunteers who were not yet jaded by the enormity, checked my email using the supplied UCI password and went to go find me some more random pro’s. Once outside it started raining; now that would be something, oh that’s an evil thought…

I went back up to the start finish straight, mostly because I wanted to pace it out from the bottom up, I was really quite surprised just how much it rises. Coming down in the opposite direction (on the footpath) were four Canadians lead by Dominique Rollin, they were happy enough to have their photo taken and seemed to be destined a little cafe further down. The Journo juices seemed to be leaching out of the pass in my pocket so I had to follow them and try to get a back page scoop.

Canada eh? Dominique gave the U23 boys a tour of Geelongs sidewalks.

Rollin confirmed my thoughts “Cav likes it (makes flat sweep with his hand), I think it’ll suit a rider more like ah, Gilbert”. Not exactly a revelation, the Belgium native must be odds on favorite, but cool to hear it from someone who has raced them both this year. The other three I didn’t recognise but their Argon 18 bikes outside gave me the clue that they were the Frenchy’s (Québécois) that make up the U23 squad. David Boily (I said I get back to him) had a worried look in his eye’s an also confirmed growing opinion – “It’s really hard, much harder than we thought it was going to be” – spoken almost with a tone that suggested they would have to go back and re-think their tactics; interesting. Well that was cool boys “Bonne chance!”.

Future World Champ?

Right, it was time to get back on the train to Melbourne, fizzing but tired and hungry! Camera now was always at hand. Slovenia pulled up at the lights – “Peter!” Peter Sagan turns around and waves for the camera, now there is someone who could be World Champion one day, outside hope for this Sunday even? Giddy from luck I went to cross the street to the train station and nearly got run over by a flash of Orange/Yellow – two of Spanish armada had run a red light in front of me, both on Orbea. Illegal but cool.

At first I wasn’t sure how I’d react to seeing these guys in National colours. I wondered if it’d be an anti-climax of sorts as all the famed photo’s you see them in through the year they are in trade ‘uniform’. But I have to say it is quite startling and all the more impressive to see the elite of the elite practicing for an extremely select prize, the one jersey to rule them all. The Rainbow with the unbroken bands; stay tuned for more…





A (Tarmac S-Works SL3) gets diverted

20 09 2010

Andy Schleck hurries toward Avoriaz - Specialized v Specialized

The massive ballroom was relatively empty as the conference centre staff reset for the lunch buffet. On large movie screens is stage 8 of le Tour de France streaming live and Lyno and I have snuck in during our demo of Specialized 2011 road range. As he said, “what would a road ride be without a coffee stop?”. Low and behold we had company, very exclusive company. Mike Sinyard and his team are glued to their seats. We’re talking the guys who designed the very bikes that current star’s Andy Schleck and Alberto Contador are racing on and the characters that get their autographs. As the decimated peloton headed under the red kite Schleck fired an acceleration that only Sammy Sanchez could follow and the atmosphere in the ballroom turns electric. On the finish Schleck’s Specialized Tarmac has a last final surge to take victory and the noise in the ballroom almost lifts the ceiling. “Hey Lyno how about we go ride one of them, they look alright eh?”…

Tarmac S-Works SL3 now in Outside Sports Team colours...

To help set the scene here, we had already spent an hour that morning rolling on the new SL3 Roubaix, and I’d already declared that I needed a new bike (see testing above); to replace another bike I also love. So our ride was to be an easy cruise. We heard that a few ‘miles’ down the highway out of the Keystone village was a scenic, gentle rolling road that sided a beautiful Colorado Rockies lake. Sounded like the perfect destination, so once sized up and bike underneath a-rolling we went. Meter’s later I was on a racing bike. I mean earlier I was on a racing bike – the same as the one that in the previous three April’s have one the Queen of the Classics. But now I was on a racing bike, like one that just won a mountain stage of the Tour! Across the gravel car park, everything was felt – as one. This machine moves together like nothing else I’d ever thrown a leg over; back wheel rolls over a rock you feel it at the handlebars, front wheel rolls over a crack it gets translated through the pedals; you know what this bike is doing underneath you, at all times – and I was still only doing 10k/hr…

"Looks great, you go first"

OK lets hit the road, oh yeah that’s better. Americans do build a good road. Damn this bike is stiff. Hey look a pedestrian crossing. Man this is lightning fast. I’m not a big boy so my sprint is never going to rip a bottom bracket free, but then neither could Cancellara when he twisted the throttle up the Muur or when Vinokourov flattened Roche aux Faucons. This bike has ridiculous credentials and it’s easy to see why. Accelerating on it gives you the same ‘oh my god’ reactions of joy you get when your right foot hits the floor in a Porsche 911. I swear my arms were sore from holding on as the g-forces wanted to pitch me off the back. Then after (momentarily) satisfying my new addiction we wandered the streets searching for the lakeside trail, but alas we found better, and none of you will be able to guess what happened next…

Ever heard the term “Cycling is the new Golf”. I have, it’s funny, really. But the fact is Golf is the new Cycling, you with me? Lyno was…

OK, so here’s where I add the disclaimer that we were lost. We had come to a dead-end. You know, the kind where you turn around and re-set your Garmin. However this colder-sac had a secret door to an escape route, and I suggested that we do the back 9. Don’t worry if you don’t get it; neither did Lyno. You see, (good) Golf Courses in the U.S of A have smooth bitumen cart paths that link up the entire course. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to fulfil a recent dream. So off to the 10th!

Anyone seen the highway?

Like a scene of manufactured splendor, this elevated Par 3 was our starting point. immediately into a twisty technical single track for roadies, joining onto the 11th tee and on and on. Flowing corners, sharp power climbs, open chicanes brushing close with flowering gardens, winding through manicured forest, this yellow brick road had it all. I swear probably the most entertaining ‘road’ I’ve ever, well, ever. Of course there was the bike still beneath me; oh yeah, that light weight human-powered rocket. While it’s only fault was that smashing the big dog full gas was such thrill I was getting smashed in the process, don’t apply if you like your easy spin – this bike will trick you into just one more sprint. Cornering (trust me we tested the cornering on the Keystone GC) was as solid and sure planted as they come; point and shoot.

Who wouda thunk it?

Suddenly we were coming up on the 17th green, one final climb up to the 18th and we were outta there. Talk about saving the best for last. Getting to the final hole was a 15%(+), 8 switchback climb, Lyno was loving it. One last hole. I teed off first and the shot landed right on a yard marker painted onto the path. 150 – that means sprint right? So off I go, head down flat-out for the line (where ever that was). A quick glance up and I see an electric Golf Cart coming straight for me – ah crap… I lock up the Dura-Ace stoppers, bike sliding side ways and just before impact I let go of the brakes, regain traction and steer around the mammoth in my way (they were in the wrong), arm glancing the windscreen… Oooh that got heart beating. Lyno caught up (still laughing) imagining the story I’d have to come up with if I took this S-Works back to the Demo tent in 2…

I can't show you his face, and his name has been changed to protect his family

On return it was hard to hide our giddy good times. While some had stories of climbing the epic highway pass up to 12,000″ in the other direction, we had just done our test in a mini Ardennes, landscaped to the max. I’ve still got a Roubaix on order, but that’s because I’m now mostly winning vet’s trophies (that’s right 35 baby!). If I still had the absolute desire to be on the fastest road bike in the world, it’d be pretty hard to argue against this golf cart beating weapon of the star’s.

Putting the Tarmc through it's paces - at least the bike coped fine...