The Tour starts this weekend, and it’s all of a sudden much more interesting…

I’ve only just done the maths, but this year will be the first since 2016 that I won’t be in France for at least a part of the Tour. It feels hard to believe, but I got to stand at the side of French roads and see the Yellow Jersey whizz past for five consecutive Tours. You’d think that might have started to make me a bit jaded. But no! The Tour is a gift that keeps giving, and this year that gift has surprisingly taken the form of a certain Mark Cavendish. After what seems like a few years in Tour wilderness he’s set to make what’s feeling like a redemptive comeback. That’s making this year’s Tour a whole lot more interesting. Here’s why.

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Is the Giro d’Italia better than the Tour?

To call these fans is an understatement. I don’t know who took this photo of this year’s Giro, but let me know if you do so I can give him or her credit.

The Giro d’Italia – Italy’s three week Grand Tour – has been done and dusted for over a week now. To say “this year’s Giro was a cracker” feels a bit redundant, because the Giro is always a cracker. It produces unpredictable racing (mostly), tales of heartbreak and redemption, the craziest fans, and stunning food and scenery in equal measure. While the Tour de France will always get the most attention, I’m increasingly of the view that for fans of cycling the Giro is better than the Tour. Here’s why.

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Bike lights. Awesome, and underappreciated.

Maybe not like this. But this is also awesome.

If you asked any cycling nerd to give their top picks of technology that has enriched cycling within the last maybe 20 years, depending on who you talk to that list would include things like electronic gear shifting, cheap GPS-enabled devices, power meters, disc brakes (and the radical shift in wheel design that a move away from rim brakes has enabled), and basically all those wonderful carbon fibre innovations and geejaws that now mean an entry level road bike now costs roughly 87 million dollars. But I reckon there should be a spot on any “cycling-enriching top-10 tech” list for the humble but increasingly awesome set of bike lights.  Bike lights are awesome, one of the greatest innovations in bike technology, and one that’s easy to overlook.  And waaay better than they used to be. 

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I have a bit of sympathy for the UCI, but sometimes they just seem like the fun police.

From the sidelines it’s easy to pick on administrators, managers, and people that run things. Especially in sports. They need to make up, arbitrate, and enforce the rules of the game – literally and figuratively – and sometimes those rules can seem to have little to do with actual sports, and more to do with politics. So it is with Cycling’s governing body – the UCI.

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Drafting while commuting: a modern manners minefield?

Commuting by bike can be a manners minefield. Image (of the Brompton Folding Bike World Championships) from here.

One of the (many!) things I’ve enjoyed about being back home in Wellington is the opportunity to strap on the lycra, knock out some functional commuting and ride my bike to work.  It’s been a bit of a shock to the system actually going to an office to work in this COVID-free parallel universe as, like most of the rest of the world, our life was ‘work from home’ for most of the last year. But now that we’re back in Aotearoa, ‘commuting’ means more than walking from the kitchen to the lounge.  The quick and easy commute for me is a 20 minute ferry ride across Wellington harbour. It’s a great book-end to the day, and on a good day it’s wonderful and at least once a summer we see dolphins and the odd whale).  But it’s also a 25 km cycle each way around the harbour and so as often as I can I’m riding, with Wellington’s notorious winds giving me the perfect opportunity to channel my inner Flandrian and pretend I’m riding Gent-Wevelgem.  Just with less beer.

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And we’re back! The New Zealand summer is a fickle thing, but lucky the racing’s been great!

Finn Fisher-Black, in the final stage of the NZ Cycle Classic

The long process of getting back home and set up in Aoteroa New Zealand is just about done. We’re back up and running with work, and the new school year is well under way. The only thing missing is our furniture, which we’re told isn’t too far off. Lucky I managed to squeeze my bike into our airfreight, so I’ve been able to hit the roads and reacquaint myself with the ‘delights’ of cycling in Wellington. It’s blimmin’ windy here, and even though we’re in the height of summer we’d be lucky to get a couple of days in a row with temperatures higher than about 22 degrees. The sun here is blisteringly intense and it’ll grill you to a crisp if you’re not careful. So summer is like some weird quantum state where you can be both too hot and too cold all the same time.

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Interesting things I discovered biking around Paris #5: Parc Saint Cloud, the Siege of Paris, and the birthplace of cycling.

Paris is a great place to be a bike nerd. As well as being the terminus of the most famous and awesome bike race in the history of everything, the history of cycling and the history of Paris are two threads in the same cloth. Cycling was born in Paris and it’s history is there too, if you know where to look. The first ever road race left Paris in November 1869, just around the corner from where we used to live. That was the first city-to-city road race, but legend has it that the first actual cycle race was held in the grounds of the beautiful Parc Saint-Cloud, about a 30 min bike ride from the Arc de Triomphe, on the outskirts of Paris. That in itself would be enough to land the Parc Saint Cloud a place in my heart. But its history is a fascinating window into the city’s turbulent past.

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Interesting things I’ve discovered biking around Paris #4: Ancient Rome!

Paris is chock full of history. It’s one of the greatest cities in the world, and for good reason. What’s a little bit surprising is that so much of what you see in Paris is both relatively recent, and relatively manufactured. Thanks to the fact that Paris has been built and rebuilt over the top of itself over the more than two thousand years of its habitation, including through the deliberate destruction and re-shaping of Paris in the last half of the 19th Century, there’s actually very little here that can really trace its history back to Paris’ most ancient times.  Which is why it’s rather a nice surprise to be able to find a few traces of ancient Rome history. 

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l’Alpe redux: what to do when you’ve done Alpe d’Huez. Ride up more mountains!

Bourg d’Oisans is a long way to go to just to spend 1hr 35min 25sec labouring up the side of a mountain. l’Alpe d’Huez is a great bucket-list climb for sure, but that’s not the only ride in the neighbourhood. I can vouch for the fact that doing it and nothing else would make for a very satisfying trip. But that would be a bit like going to all the way to Paris just to grab a selfie in front of the Mona Lisa or the Eiffel Tower: it’s part of why we all go there, but there’s so much more on offer. So what do you do once you’ve ridden up l’Alpe d’Huez? Go ride up some more mountains, that’s what!

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If this is the 100th post of Thousandth Fastest, does this make me the hundred-thousandth fastest? Based on my ride up l’Alpe d’Huez the answer is “Yes. Yes it does”.

In one of those weirdly symmetrical you-couldn’t-have-scripted-it life moments, this is the 100th post of my blog. It’s also the one that I describe – finally – the attainment of the feat that motivated this whole thing. Yes, after what amounts to probably years of procrastination and chickening out, I finally dragged my sorry arse the up the 1099 vertical meters and 21 famous hairpin bends of the official Tour de France course up l’Alpe d’Huez. It very nearly did me in. But by crikey it was wonderful.

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Tour de France 2020: still vital, despite everything.

It’s just too obvious a thing to say that the 2020 Tour was “different” – it’s true, and in so many ways. But now, more than a week after the riders rolled in to Paris, it’s worth taking a moment to sit back with a “crikey, did that really all just happen?” and remark on just what a wonderful thing the Tour is. It’s as vital as it’s ever been, and in both senses of that word. It’s vital because for better or worse, it’s just so fundamentally important to the sport of cycling and to France. It’s also vital in the sense that it’s vigorous, lively, and imparts an energy that’s wonderful to tap into. The fact the Tour even made it to Paris at all is something that should be celebrated. It gives us hope that if everyone pulls their weight, follows health and social distancing guidelines, then Great Things are still possible.

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Interesting things I’ve discovered biking around Paris #3: French people really do say “Oh la la!”.

Gratuitous and unrelated Eifel Tower sunrise photo. Becuase why not.

Some stereotypes are there for a reason, and that’s because they based in truth. Mostly they’re not, and a lot of the clichéd stererotypes about France would fall into that latter category. But one cliché that’s true-as is that French people really do say “Oh là là”, and it’s one of those delightful things about France that I’ve adopted with gusto.

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WWGD?* Win things. Keep it real. Wear a mask.

*What would George Bennett do?

Bennett Lombardia2

George Bennett is rapidly becoming a bit of a kiwi legend. Within the last few weeks he’s won a World Tour bike race and backed that up by doing something that no other kiwi has done. He’s finished on the podium of one of the legendary “monuments” of cycling. These tough one-day races are pillars of our sport, and success in just one of them can be a career-defining moment. He did it at the end of a stellar week for our kiwi riders in Europe as just a week earlier we all watched Dion Smith take a top-10 finish in another epic monument. ‘Our boys’ are flying, and with the Tour starting in just a couple of days it’s time to put the beers in the fridge and order up a load of popcorn. Because things are getting interesting.

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A new Elite National Road Series?

Tour of Southland 2

The iconic Tour of Southland.  Image borrowed from here

A few weeks ago, inspired by some fantastic historic photos of cycle races in New Zealand (and a small amount of Covid-lockdown daydreaming) I floated the idea that New Zealand might be ready for a new elite men’s and women’s National Road Series.  I set out some of my thinking in a blog post, and shared it quietly around.  As I’d more-or-less hoped, it sparked a bit of interest, and so a small group of us have started to kick a few ideas around to see if we can’t make it work.  We could do with a hand though, so I thought it would be worth posting an update, and see if we can get a bit of momentum behind it. Continue reading