Vuelta a Espana

So! Bertie seems back to his incroyable former self… although todays climb of Fuente De suited him down to a T, with smaller steady average gradients, not the ball busting 20%+ summit finishes of stages past. He stamped his authority over the pack and asserted his climbing prowess, collecting not only the stage win but also claiming 2:38 seconds on little Purito, catapulting him into the ‘camiseta roja’. Purito drops down to third place underneath Valverde. Its kind of game over with a mere two flattish stages remaining, so it looks like Contador is back with fire in his tail. Riis did state at the beginning that AC simply had to win, I can see this as paying some form of thanks to Saxo-Tinkoff for indeed standing by their man during his ‘pequeñas vacaciones’ of recent months (WHICH i still think is bullsh*t but il explain that when you next see me on the road). Seems whatever Bjarne said on the rest day helped Bertie….

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The Finish Line

I wait aside the finish line in Paris. The 2012 tour is a mere twenty minutes away from completion, its 99th incarnation capturing the hearts of many a hardened fan, and also enticing those with merely a scrap of interest. Bradley Wiggins sealed a historic first in British cycling folklore, sealing the tour in exemplary fashion. Never looking in trouble throughout the three weeks, Sky’s air of control never wavered.
A thunderous roar erupts around the finish line of the Champs-Elysees stage as Mark Cavendish holds aloft four fingers as he seals yet another dynamite win on the famed central parisienne cobbles. And with that ultimate display of power, the tour over for another year, and thus our lives bereft of daily antics on ‘les routes françaises‘. Riders roll across the final white line to close the curtains on our french adventures. 
How odd a feeling it must be for these riders, for the race to be over. I think about the spectrum of emotions they must be experiencing today, and I can read each and every one on the various faces of the peloton as they meander around the technical zone.

It must be strange that after living so closely with eight other riders, and a nucleated support staff for the three weeks, the riders will leave this environment and return to some semblance of reality, whatever that may actually entail for a professional rider. I see happy faces, a Cofidis rider beams at me proudly on a backstreet as he rides to his hotel. I spy Mick Rogers, as he congratulates several riders ahead of the processional laps. He looks across and I offer him my broadest smile, as if telepathically thanking him and the peloton for their feats that fed my passion as a cycling fan this summer. I don’t doubt I just looked like a grinning loon, but my respect for these gents is fortified every time I see their suffering in real and tangible sphere. They are but humans, with emotions, pain, a willingness to push their own boundaries of suffering. 

A day before in Chartres, I find myself mingling with fans as Alexandr Vinokourov rolls through. A loud cheer erupts in recognition for what will certainly be his last tour. A chequered past foreshadows him, sure, but the respect shown from the fans is palpable and deafening. Every story needs hero’s and villains, and the tour is a theatre not exempt from this. 

I see faces that display the realisation dawning on them of their endeavours. I see pride, relief and I sense determination. I think I see faces that are already thinking to the next goal. The next hit of this circus.

The finish line is always such a melancholy place for me, tinged with sadness that its over for the next year. Sure enough, there’s the Vuelta, and a slurry of late season races (Lombardia in particular is a fave) but it just seems like nothing can quite capture the magic of pro cycling like the Tour can. I remember 5 years ago being laughed out of the office for asking to watch the tour at my workplace, this year I walked in to pretty much every flatscreen dialled onto the live coverage daily. Oh how times change! Here’s to the 100th Tour de France in 2013… I know I will be ensconced in your bubble yet again

A Few Good Rolls

And its back in business. Neglecting the bike over the first few months of 2012 in order to complete a charity half marathon, these past few weeks its been ‘All about the bike’ again. And what a welcome return it was! I enjoyed a handful of really good riding, catching up with friends and feeling a world more comfortable pushing it, thanks in no small part to going and getting my feet sorted out at Cyclefit. 

 A nice hilly tarmac chase in Surrey to ease me back in the game with the sartorial guru 
We took an undiscovered turning and found a peach of a climb on a SMCC roll
Which then turned into a sick 2k bridleway/gravel track. Perfect for a Flanders day ride!
At the weekend I rode my 3rd HOTN with Rowlandi. Great fun, read about it here
And i spent some time sucking this guys wheel in RePk apres work – I dont actually know him but he looked pretty damned pro. So thanks for the cheeky draft I was getting 😉

Bespokery

This past weekend I visited the very lovely ‘Bespoked’ handmade bicycle show in Bristol. Making a day of it I set out with a very good chum for a wonderfully sunny daytrip, taking an early morning train out from London. The exhibition showcased some great UK framebuilders complimented by different stands encompassing the many different spheres of the current cycling scene. 
There’s no denying that cycling has become more popular than ever, with many different builders popping up over the last couple of years. One only has to browse the internet for proof of such a burgeoning scene, and on a daily basis im consistently amazed at some of the beautiful and lust-worthy bikes and kit popping up all over the place. Bespoked, making its maiden voyage into the world of bike lust with a roaring success of a show last year, returned bigger and better, with a whole host of exhibitors showcasing some delish bikes & fodder.

First to greet visitors at the top of the entrance staircase was a collection of extremely anticipated builds. This year marks the efforts of Rapha to globalize their unique ‘Continental’ programme, and at Bespoked were 4 of the frames to be used in the UK continental rides. Ricky Feathers bike, that Max Leonard will throw his legs over for the uk rides also won the ‘Best Road Bike’ category for the show, and its really not hard to see why! Lush detailing, and as you’d expect from the Perrn St mob, that timeless black with a dash of pink componentry.

The three other frames garnered much attention, with Donhou building a disc braked steel beauty, complete with wound up forks, Brian Rourke crafting a beautifully proportioned frame for the towering rider Graham, (and curiously unlike most large frame sized it actually looks fabulous) and the Robin Mather displayed, with its funky decal. 

The UK continental project will see six talented riders undertake a series of quintessential rides across the British isles, documenting the landscape and weather fluctuations of our country in the typically rapha-esque aesthetic. Watch their website for more information as the rides are undertaken.

James points out that only one bike used any pink on the framework, in a small and eloquent tribute to a sufferer of breast cancer. Unfortunately I blurred the detailing of this meaningful gesture.

The Brian Rourke stand contained a lot of lovely frames, and their race ready beast built up was one mean machine! My friend James is collecting his custom rourke this weekend, and having kept us in the dark for 6 months about the colour scheme, we couldn’t help but wonder if his frame was sat perched upon the wall, staring back at us.

The show had loads of race bikes built using steel, it seems the material has truly made a resurgence, and some of the builds were light indeed.

It was also great to meet Richard, the man behind the Urban Hunter webstore. Iv always been a fan of their, as they seem to stock some really cute trinkets and lines that are exclusive to them (I think they are the only people to be punting those super euro Salice glasses). 

They had some nice things on display at their stand, with some nice racey Italian bits to some serious courier bags for the fixie dudes.

Rowland and I had our hearts stolen by a custom brand called Legend, creating by the man who was the brains behind the Viner bikes. I lusted after a scarlet matted carbon peach, whereas Si fell for a cheeky Ti number…

A Running Interlude

Apologies for breaking normal wheel-based service here on bianchista, just wanted to give a quick mention to a challenge il be undertaking in March. As some of you know, as well as ramping up my riding these past few months, iv been doing quite a bit of pounding the tarmac with my feet, with the aim of completing the 2012 bath half marathon in aid of a very worthy cause, Parkinsons UK. 

Dad & I shortly after our first 5k parkrun – shattered!
In New Zealand when away on assignment I became the butt of many jokes, after appearing very fit, I was literally in pieces after a tiny 2k run! I walked like John Wayne and could only manage a shuffle along the floor for days after. However, sticking with the suffering and forcing myself to run, i have slowly been able to increase my mileage and hopefully pitch myself to rise to the occasion of a suitably epic challenge for a complete novice runner like myself. 
Never employ the services of your mother as official race photographer
My dad and I have trained religiously (I ran into work on new years day in the pouring rain, rocky eat your heart out!) for what we believe to be a really worthwhile cause, and something very close to our hearts (my grandfather is a parkinsons sufferer). 
Getting to meet & run with Mo Farah recently and get some tips! (avoid fried food mainly!)
If any readers feel like chipping a pound my way to sponsor what I can assure you will be a gruelling physical and mental test (sadly my body is used to years of cycling and it growing to hate me, the pressure im putting on it by taking up running!) then it would mean so much, not only to me and my old man, but to anyone touched by Parkinsons. I also promise that if we reach our really modest target of £200 we will sign up and run a marathon! so think of it as an investment into my pain and discomfort!
Chilling with Mo
Please head over to my just giving page, and throw a loose coin my way. No worries if not, even an encouraging message via twitter would be awesome! Thanks so much and again, apologies for this non cycling interlude… I assure you normal service will now resume!