- Posted by Simon Richardson
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It's fast, it's furious and it flippin' well goes on for 24 hours!
I'm at the Castelli 24 hour criterium in Feltre, northern Italy, and can't remember the last time I had this much fun on two wheels.
Between 10pm and 1.30am last night I was racing around a 1.8km circuit in front of huge crowds against the likes of Marzio Bruseghin, Andrea Noe, Michele Bartoli, Francisco Ballerini and various amateur riders, Italian industry insiders and local weekend warriors.
And I do mean racing. It's flat out, people are attacking, others are getting dropped and as I write this we're only just about to hit the halfway mark.
The peloton is made up of 100 teams, each team has 12 riders, only one of which is out on the course at any one time.
Each team member typically rides for 20-30 minutes before swinging off and letting their team mate jump in to the race - like a Madison but with not hand slings.
It actually takes a fair bit of concentration to get the change over right. When waiting in the numbered pits before going out, you have to watch out for your team mate coming by. Most teams use the system of holding fingers up to signal how many more laps they intend to do.
The real skill is riding out of the pits and jumping in to the group your team mate was just in. I got this wrong last night and chased the group all the way up the climb, only to blow and have to sit up and wait for the next one.
The course itself is great fun with a deceptively hard climb up through the start finish area, a, fast twisty descent and a long, fast flat section round the back of the circuit that finishes on a wide, sweeping cobbled left hander that brings you back to the start finish.
Get yourself in a good group and you're lapping in just under three minutes.
Things I learnt last night
Zipp 404 wheels are very, very fast
Franco Ballerini's legs are huge. Seriously, they're huge
Not to make eye contact with beautiful female commentators - they'll interview you and make you look stupid in front of lots of people
- Posted by Luke Evans
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Thursday, June 11, Valence-Mont Ventoux, 154km
David Millar is going like the TGV trains which hurtle across the Drome region - direction the Cote d'Azur - where the Dauphine has been these past two days.
We followed him briefly during yesterday's TT and he was cruising at 36mph on the flat, with a favourable wind. He often rides with his head down but his coup de pedale - literally punching of the pedals - is as sweet as can be. Third on the stage was a good result behind Evans and Grabsch.
Today we left the flat terrain, ringed with low jagged hills around Valence, and headed south through the fragrant lavender fields and bushy green vineyards of the southern Drome and Vaucluse. The warm scent of pine trees to me evokes the true south of France, and memories of holidays on the Med.
If you get a chance ride the fourth category Col de la Madeleine, do so because it's a very different prospect to its fearsome Alpine cousin. South of Malaucene, the village due west of Ventoux, it's lined with pine trees and is beautifully surfaced with perfect bends and not too steep or long. It's like a millionaire's private training col.
Ventoux, however, is what all the cyclists are here for, and there are a lot of them at this time of year, tooling up and down its great flanks. Ventoux does not look that forbidding until you spot the tiny radio tower, atop a little bald patch of cream rock. Then it dawns how far away and remote looking is the 1909 metre summit. Up close the white painted square concrete tower and mast are big.
I was expecting to see Millar's team mate Dan Martin put in a big ride on Ventoux but it was Millar himself who pedalled fluidly past us on a hairpin bend in the front group near the bottom of the climb.
He lost contact a while later but the stalemate between Evans and Contador played into his hands and on the unforgiving final ramps, where the trees are replaced by a uniform scree of bone-coloured rocks, he came back to the leading group.
I just had time to catch sight of the Simpson memorial and Millar's ride today would have met with Tom's approval. It also moved him up to fourth place overall.
Two years ago Millar and Bradley Wiggins rode past the memorial in this race a long way behind the leaders. Neither were team mates but they had plenty of time to doff their hats to Simpson as they passed the stone memorial.
Two years on it's good to see both riders (see Wiggins in the Giro), now Garmin team mates, perhaps inspiring each other (and goaded by Cavendish?) to show their true potential at the highest level on the road.
Luke Evans is a cycling journalist, author and former editor of Cycle Sport magazine. In his spare time, he pilots top cycling photographer Graham Watson at the races. Currently, he's taking Graham around the Dauphine Libere in France. You can see Graham's photos in our gallery section.
- Posted by Robert Garbutt, Editor
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Congratulations to the CTC, the national cyclists' organisation, which set a new membership record of 60,776 this week. It's further proof of the current boom in road cycling and comes in the same week that specialist bike shops are boasting sales are up at least 20 per cent.
While our politicians busy themselves fiddling their expenses, amidst the economic gloom, the nation turns to two wheels for salvation. In fact, bike demand is so high that there are shortages of key models from the top brands. Fortunately for us, the first supplies of 2010 bikes should be with us before the end of summer.
The CTC says that its membership has always been a barometer of cycling in the UK. "Last year we predicted that the credit crunch and the high costs of fuel would get more people out of their cars and onto cycles," it says. "Now our membership is up to a new high and, according to figures from Transport for London, cycling levels in the capital have increased by 16 per cent in a year.
"Cycling is a solution to obesity, to climate change and to congestion. The changes we need to make in our society must include cycling in order to succeed."
- Posted by Luke Evans
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Monday, June 8, Nancy-Dijon 228km
Got back from the Giro last Tuesday morning and had five days at home. On Sunday morning the alarm was set for 6am for the 300 mile ride to Nancy and stage one (14km TT) of the Dauphine Libere.
A short week, but a good one, with garden visit to Great Dickster (fell asleep on bench), strimmer bought, friends visited, the Twenty20 opener at Lords (beaten by Rabobank, grr), and Triumph Tiger titivated for this trip (Dauphine then Tour of Switzerland).
What a contrast the Dauphine is compared to the Giro. When I think of the Italian race it's full of colour, mostly the pink balloons and clothes worn by the endless corridor of fans. This year's race was also blessed with fab weather, with only one day when it rained.
In eastern France today it was cloudy, it was pretty fresh, and it rained towards the end of the stage when David Millar must have taken every risk on the rounbabouts into Dijon as he made a heroic attempt to outwit the sprinters.
The reception is more reserved here, partly because the race has started further north where the new owners of the Duphine Libere newspaper are located. But you also get the sense, especially on the streets of Nancy, that cycleracing is not relevant anymore, does not raise the passion, has become a curiosity.
Today we rolled through farming villages in deep countryside. Knots of spectators wore wellies and woolly jumpers but still to be enjoying a short break from the fields and workshops.
The dry stone walls and houses built with sandy coloured stone reminded me of Wiltshire as we headed south towards the great wine region of Begundy.
We are travelling with L'Equipe here. That is the photographer Fred, his driver Marco and the bagagiste Bernard, an amazing bloke of 76.
Marc was the one who repaired his shoes at the start of the Giro with a needle and thread stashed away on his motorbike. I also just heard that he got through the whole Giro with one shirt, one pair of trousers and one pair of socks. He washed them most nights. He doesnt wear pants.
Luke Evans is a cycling journalist, author and former editor of
Cycle Sport magazine. In his spare time, he pilots top cycling
photographer Graham Watson at the races. Currently, he's taking Graham
around the Dauphine Libere in France. You can see Graham's photos in
our gallery section
- Posted by Luke Evans
- comments (0)
Luke Evans is a cycling journalist, author and former editor of Cycle Sport magazine. In his spare time, he pilots top cycling photographer Graham Watson at the races. Currently, he's taking Graham around the Giro d'Italia. You can see Graham's photos in our gallery section.
This is the southernmost point of the Centennio Giro. Last night we did the craziest thing of the whole race, we drove into the centre of Italy's fourth biggest city.
In Napoli the driving is in the classic Italian style, with a hint of anarchy thrown in. Scooters come at you from all directions, girls on the back, hair streaming in the wind, talking on mobile phones.
A car without a dent is not a local and if they are not right on your back wheel, they are overtaking in the maddest places.
The streets are paved in dark, polished cobbles, with constant undulations, potholes and manhole covers. You don't ride them, you surf them. Thank god it wasn't wet.
It took half and hour to get into the centre of this Dickensian place where the crumbling facades of once fine Italian buildings are covered in graffity and strewn with litter.
Apparently they are collecting the rubbish at the moment. You would not know it. Stray dogs are all over, one was sleeping in the lobby of our hotel when we got from supper last night.
Yesterday's stage took us along the Amalfi coast and finished above the great Bay of naples on the upper slopes of Mount Vesuvius.
If you get a chance to drive this 40km route which twists and turns along the Italian equivalent of south Cornwall then take it, because it is spectacular.
The biggest crowds of the race came out as we neared Vesuvius and here the contrast between north and south was most evident. It's poorer down here and you can tell by the clothes the people wear and by the run down buildings.
It has more of a south American feel down here, and as I have never been there, what I mean is that it's like the film set for a spaghetti western by Sergio Leone.
Vesuvius is a nice climb and the observatory, where the press room was located, is halfway up and has an interesting little museum.
The last volcanic activity was a load of hot ash which surprised American bombers in 1944, the next one, explained my helpful guide (I was loitering as usual, waiting for GW to finish work), was predicted to be really big, and as I hurried towards the motorbike he did not assure me by saying he had no idea when.