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Tuesday, 9 December 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (6) - TWO FRIENDS CYCLING IN ITALY, STAGE 2

May 2006

The journey to Genoa had been a long but ultimately thrilling one, with the ride around the starting location of stage 6 of the Giro and some fantastic food for good measure.
We reached the Ligurian capital in the evening. My parents' house is not far from the centre and only a stone's throw away from the football stadium. I was exhausted but thrilled to see them. Mike, my adventure companion, needed some help to make sense of our quick conversations in Italian. While recounting our journey at the kitchen table we savoured more delicious food made by mamma's own hands and some helpings of local focaccia, an amazing delicacy not found anywhere else, accompanied by a few glasses of wine.
During the conversation I learnt that next day my dad would travel to Casale Monferrato, between Milan and Turin, to play the cello for an amateur orchestra travelling there for an evening concert. He had been a professional cellist for Genoa's Teatro Carlo Felice for the good part of 30 years and since his retirement he has kept his skills sharp by playing for a small local orchestra, made up of wannabe and retired musicians.
Quick on the calculation, I came up with the idea of riding there late morning, so we'd have time to catch up with some sleep. My dad simply thought we were crazy and, not knowing how we were on the bike, he was more than concerned we wouldn't make it, thus worrying him while he had to concentrate with the task at hand.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (5) - TWO FRIENDS CYCLING IN ITALY, STAGE 1

May 2006

Given how much we had enjoyed our experience in Bath before Christmas, Mike, Sam and I agreed it was time for some serious riding and we needed mountains for that. After scouring the internet for ideas, we settled for the Granfondo delle Alpi, a relatively low key sportive in the Italian Alps, set between Bergamo and the border with Switzerland. Its patron was Gimondi and he was scheduled to ride part of it. As he is one of my childhood heroes, I relished the thought of meeting the legend so we registered.
Then disaster struck.
While playing football during a lunchtime kickabout, I was tackled hard on my right ankle and it swelled up really quickly to the size of a Zeppelin. A brisk, yet hoppy, visit to A&E revealed the break in the bone. This was six weeks before we would leave. Talking to the physiotherapist, she assured me that after resting it for a couple of weeks it would have been ok to start exercising the muscles around it and that cycling would be perfect as long as it wasn't too vigorous. What I actually heard was: "All clear, do as you like".
As we had already paid for the ferry, Mike and I decided to go after all (Sam had by then booked a different holiday). I couldn't predict how much cycling I'd be able to do and I didn't want the pressure of a timed granfondo. The best option for us would be to go to Italy and just ride.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (4) - A LOOP AROUND BATH

November 2005

I finally bought an alloy bike with carbon forks, seatstays, chainstays.
It was a Bianchi Nirone 7 with Campagnolo components, the Italian Job.
At work we kept talking of more adventurous rides, of trying something that wasn't London based.
With my colleagues Sam and Mike, we picked Bath. I knew the area as it was there I spent my first year in Britain back in 1990.
I had mixed memories of the place. I spent a year there at the Foundation Course in Design and the architecture is remarkable. But I had my interview for the College in July 1990 at the exact time that Italy was hosting the World Cup and ironically my hometown would host Brazil (of all teams) and Scotland and the stadium was a mere 10 minute walk from my house... while I was 1,600km away of course!
Back to the ride.

Monday, 24 November 2014

POLITICS, THE ITALIAN MALAISE

Affaritaliani.it : "They all drop, the only things that grow are nausea and non-voting, the only winner Matteo Salvini. And it is he, the other Matteo, the one with the earring (as opposed to Matteo Renzi, the PM), the new phenomenon of Italian politics. The day after the limited regional vote, in spite of partisan interpretations, like it or not this is the news."

I'm puzzled by this. Salvini (of the Northern League) gets 19% of the votes in Emilia Romagna region and ZERO in Calabria, however he is hailed as the new political phenomenon.

Renzi, leader of the Centre Left, receives 44.5% (49% coalition) in Emilia Romagna and 23.7% (61.4% coalition) in Calabria, yet he is the great loser.

IL VOTO MALATO

Affaritaliani.it : "Calano tutti, cresce solo la nausea e il non-voto, vince solo Matteo Salvini. Ed è lui, l'altro Matteo, quello con l'orecchino, il nuovo fenomeno politico italiano. Il giorno dopo il mini-voto regionale, ad onta di interpretazioni di parte e interessate, volenti o nolenti è questa la notizia."

Ma spiegatemi una cosa. Salvini/Lega Nord prende 19% dei voti in Emilia e ZERO in Calabria, ma viene dato come fenomeno della politica.
Renzi prende 44,5% (49% in coalizione) in Emilia e 23,7% (61,4% in coalizione) in Calabria, eppure e' il grande perdente.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (3) - REMEMBERING MY FIRST GROUP RIDE

September 2005

By this point, 4 months into it, cycling fever had hit not only me but a few of my colleagues as well, most of whom had been riding a few years already. For that reason we decided to get together and tackle our first ‘sportive’... well, charity ride, as the choice of sportives in the UK was rather poor back then.
We picked the rather tame London to Windsor Ride, starting in Richmond-upon-Thames. The course was to be around 65km, meandering through the Surrey countryside and finishing in Windsor.
We met at my place in New Malden the night before and quite obviously a few bottles of wine made the rounds. We also had a good serving of pasta as we would ‘carb up’ for next day’s feat! After going to bed rather late, of course, in the morning we prepared and faffed about with the usual rituals of finding shoes, energy bars and gels, spare tubes, etc etc.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

FRONT BREAK... LEFT OR RIGHT LEVER

Uk bikes have front brakes on the drive side lever, continental bike the other way around.
Nothing new there, cars are setup differently as well, no biggie... or is it?
As a right handed person I find feathering on the breaks easier to control with my left hand as the right arm is stronger, hence my constant use of the rear brake even on descents, which is quite wrong as the bike tends to lock and skid at speed.
I'm forcing myself to brake with the right hand now but it is weird. After so many years it feels as though my left arm is kept on a sling and my right arm is doing the steering and the breaking.

Caliper brakes are designed to have the front brake on the left lever as the cable simply sweeps down into the slot on the right of said caliper, while from the right lever, when exiting the bar tape it has to bend a lot more to drop straight down.
Conclusion, I might have to swap the cables and go 'continental'.

Questions:
1. How are pros' bikes set up by their mechanics as they might need to swap them en course?
2. Do pros from UK learn from the beginning on continental bikes?
3. Is this part of the reason why top British riders (Froome/Wiggins) are rubbish in comparisons when descending?
4. Am I simply nuts and it's just me having this problem? Should I just swap my arms through surgery?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

BOOK REVIEW - CLIMBS AND PUNISHMENT

Having followed Felix Lowe through his blog on Eurosport for years under his pseudonym Blazin' Saddles and via his humorous yet savvy twitter account, picking his book to read over the summer was an easy choice.
I was amazed to learn that, although one of the main voices in cycling in the UK, Felix had yet to turn pedals in anger prior to this adventure. This fact makes his feat, riding from Barcelona to Rome via Hannibal's Alpine route, all the more astonishing.
Add to it the fact that his "rest" days were used to climb Alpe d'Huez twice in the same day, Ventoux (only once though) and various detours from the planned route, and you have a truly outstanding story.
While other cycling books tend to be sensationalist with various doping tell-all blubber, this one is a refreshing account of a non-pro like any of us, albeit a lot taller than most of us.
We've all spent countless hours recounting tales of pain and elation at conquering mean climbs, embarrassing mishaps and legendary bad weather days, and this is the core of this tale.
Using the route taken by Hannibal and following his footsteps, or rather hoofsteps, on his march to Rome, Felix and the rest of the gang ride 2,800km through the Pyrenees, Ventoux (just for fun), the Alps, half of Italy down the Apennine spine, through Tuscany with his Chianti region.
Lowe is very erudite and witty, his sense of humour is used to portray his companions but also to show his own aloofness and inexperience as he only had less than a year to prepare for this trip.
There are tales of Hannibal and his army of elephants, tales of cycling, current and vintage, and plenty of wine choices to complement mouthwatering culinary masterpieces.
If you love cycling and history this book is certainly the best combination. Beware, the author does not hold back when writing about problems of the bowels or trying to hide his private parts from semitransparent lycra shorts. But he did write stadia as a plural for stadium, that alone deserves a 10/10.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (2) - CYCLING IN WALES

August 2005

After a few attempts at commuting to work on my mountain bike, I decided it was time to try a proper ride as I felt that surely I knew everything there was to know about cycling. So, I bought a map of Wales, yes a paper map, and plotted a course which I thought would be suitable. All on roads, of course, as I didn’t really believe there was all that difference between my steed and a road bike. I didn’t know the area and the nature of the terrain so I opted for a loop around the Elan Valley and its stunning reservoirs, which give Birmingham clean water.
I booked a B&B in Rhayader in at Gigrin Farm, which doubled up as a Red Kite feeding farm. It had the smallest room I’d ever slept in but was cosy and, although spartan in its offerings, it suited me fine. No space for my bike so it had to ‘sleep’ in the car.
I proved to be quite an amusement (i.e. ridiculous) to the hosts, not many lycra clad guys around the area, at least back then, and I could sense from their looks the many questions as to why I would entertain the idea of dressing up like that.
The plan was to head down the Valley, coasting the reservoirs, then up towards the village ominously called Devil’s Bridge Falls, then head south and across to Beulah for the final leg up to Rhayader.
Up to that point in my cycling experience I had not done any sort of climbing and this trip would surely confirm my belief that I could ride anywhere by now. Little did I know.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

GIRO, TOUR AND VUELTA TO MERGE IN 2017

July 2017

The Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana organisers met UCI officials back in September 2016 at an undisclosed location in the Swiss Alps to draw up plans for a Mega Tour.
Fabian Cancellara's house (oops) provided the perfect backdrop for this momentous get together. The former cyclist (slipped disc from lifting too many cobble trophies) proved a great host, but he was asked never to address anyone in Fabianese as their interpreters' budget was already over the limit.
The reason for this meeting was the necessity to innovate and implement drastic changes. The cause? Oleg Tinkov.
The Russian maverick fuelled by a constant flow of vodka, after losing the last three Tours, decided to up the game and disband the current cycling system by announcing a new league comprising of 7 teams, all paid for by him, where Contador would be the leader on a rotational system. He promised to pour hundreds of millions of euros, rubles and dollars into the new set up, effectively ending UCI/ASO/RCS domination.
Something needed to be done.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (1) - MY FIRST LONDON COMMUTE 10 YEARS AGO

May 2005


The bicycle has always been in my radar, whether by reading about it in the pink pages of La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, or by riding it in my childhood during my holidays visiting grandparents in Parma. In Genoa, where I’m from, cycling for leisure is not really an option as the sprawling city is built on steep terrain. My flat, for instance, would have required an elevation gain of 150 metres over 1.5 km… not exactly something for the occasional rider; so the riding was limited to the summer holidays in pan flat Parma.Therefore, while living in relatively flat London, cycling started to have a certain appeal, especially considering the ever increasing price of public transport and the constant waste of time waiting for either trains or buses.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

TOUR DE FRANCE - GREEN JERSEY

Every year there are discussions around the points classification, the green jersey.
Some argue it's the sprinters' jersey, but then sprinters win stages, a lot of them, but no jersey (Cavendish/Kittel).
Others call it the most consistent rider's gratification. But then that same rider might not win a single stage, so most consistent at what, losing (Sagan)? Also, the combativity prize already rewards panache.
One solution, and it seems pretty simple to me is to combine stage wins with points.
So stage wins come first and in case of same amount of wins, the points then sort out the classification.
That way, success is rewarded, backed up by a consistent performance.
A bit like it happens at the Olympics, where regardless of how many medals won, the GC is usually worked out ranking Gold medals first, then silver and so on.

Example from Tour 2014:

                            WINS      POINTS
1. Kittel                4             177
2. Nibali               4             149
3. Kristoff             2             217
4. T.Martin            2             76
5. Majka               2             62
6. Greipel             1             143
7. Gallopin            1             105
8. Kadri                 1             83      
9. Navardauskas     1             82
10. Rogers             1             54
11. Boom              1              50
12. Trentin           1              31
13. Sagan              0             408
14. Coquard          0             233
15. Renshaw          0             153
16. VanAvermaet   0             147
............

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A TALE OF TWO WORLDS

It seems to be the case with many World Championship races that there are two sides to the event, a positive and a negative. Positive side is an opportunity to see different teams with different dynamics from the trade teams, a race with tactical depth, a worthy winner... The negative was the venue and some riders' behaviour.

Ponferrada was not exciting in terms of the course and for the lack of support anywhere along the route. Wide nondescript drags and unattractive backdrop especially around the finish line (TT and Road races alike) and a very small presence of fans to cheer the riders. Even in the busiest section around the castle there were big gaps, which is shocking considering how many people turned up in Yorkshire for Tour de France or Belfast for the Giro. Spain is a cycling nation and their riders were amongst the favourites to win, which makes the lack of support even more difficult to understand... the bad weather? Come on, it was only a bit of rain.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

MEN'S 2014 WORLD RR CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS

These are the riders I see as having a stab at crossing the line first in Ponferrada. 
I take in consideration that there's no long run in to the circuit, it should be a selective race from the off. Also some riders have not shown great form in the last few weeks, while others like Sagan can perform all of a sudden. Saying that, the Slovak still has to win a big race. 
I don't see anyone from team GB to have a proper chance and I hope I'm wrong as cycling in UK needs morale boosting. Kennaugh and Thomas are good and at least Kennaugh is on good form but I can't see them beating the favourites at their own game.

Friday, 19 September 2014

50 YEARS TOGETHER FOR MUM AND DAD - MAMMA E PAPÀ 50 ANNI INSIEME

Fifty years of marriage is no small feat. In these times especially, it's almost a rarity and not just because of age. Few people can claim 50 years as a couple, and still less can count 50 years as happy couple.
Notwithstanding all the adversities of life, you two have always remained positive and happy within the union started in a ballroom in the countryside.
The secret is having accepted each other's weaknesses, but also recognised the strengths each of you have. You two have taken this marriage forward with wisdom and integrity and that has always been a great inspiration to us.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

LAST RIDER STANDING

Cycling was supposed to enter a new era. Cavendish was shouting that years ago, then most people started agreeing with that thought. Why not. Armstrong's era had been dealt with and a new philosophy of marginal gains and new training finesse was introduced.
Then a few have been caught doping, thanks to better testing; more riders, big and small fish, have swam right into the net of shame.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

MY 20TH ANNIVERSARY AT CHANNEL 4 NEWS

To be precise is 20 years at ITN. The first 2 and a half years spent between a variety of news on the ITV channel, World News, Powerhouse, Big Breakfast, Newschannel, you name it, I was there. Then came the much desired transfer to Channel 4 News.
When my father celebrated his 30 years at the Opera House in Genoa, I was in awe that anyone could stay in a company that long and still enjoy the job. I'm still a long way from that goal but I've never faltered in my love for my job. I still like it as much if not more than in 1994 when I was assigned the first sting on the OJ Simpson trial. Working in the news we get to stay in touch with the outside world on a daily basis, with its horrors, its disasters, but also incredible human stories, which at Channel 4 we strive and succeed to portray in their fullness, without compromise.
I've had the pleasure and the honour to work with some incredibly talended people. A newsroom is a madding crowd, a motley crew and at times a dysfunctional family but it oozes passion, tension, laughter, banter, the odd scrap and... perhaps too much lycra.
Looking forward twenty years might seem an eternity, looking back twenty years seems like yesterday.
I couldn't wish for a better group of colleagues and friends.

Friday, 11 July 2014

SOUTH SUDAN AND A VERY AFRICAN CHALLENGE

The White Nile leaves Uganda with a dramatic left turn and enters South Sudan and it proceeds to cut through the land, passing Sudan and eventually finishing its journey in Egypt. Its waters carry life and waste without discrimination. It knows no political boundaries, it is unstoppable like the history surrounding it.

Friday, 17 January 2014

WHY THE BALLAN SUSPENSION MAKES ME SO ANGRY

First, I welcome the suspension, that should be clear from the off.
The doping offence relates to 2009, for blood transfusions while riding for Lampre.
Lampre have been investigated since then, in the Mantova inquiry, and more will come out for sure as they go through case by case.
This has taken so long, and is still ongoing, because of lack of resources thrown at it. Add to it that Italian justice crawls to conclusion at best of times.