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Death & London 2012

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imageThe news last month of Australian Olympic rowing medalist, Sarah Tait’s death from cancer was brought to my attention via my Twitter feed.  Whilst undoubtedly tragic, what really intrigued me was that the Tweet also stated that Tait is the 18th London 2012 athlete who has passed away.

Sure, the circle of life is the circle of life, people die, but 18 Olympians i.e. humans at the peak of their fitness less than four years ago, dead, warrants some more digging – well, it does in my head.

In cycling there is more than anecdotal evidence that the deaths of almost 30 young and “healthy” riders in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s can be attributed to doping and predominantly EPO use.

So what about the “cursed” 2012 Olympians – what are their stories and is there a similar storm front looming on the horizon? More

I’ll Make You Rich Part III – Roubaix Roubaix Roubaix

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So having struck gold in last week’s Ronde Van Vlaanderen / Tour of Flanders with a win from Peter Sagan (Tinkoff) and Alexander Kristoff (Katusha) placing 4th, I thought I would give you another opportunity to share the spoils this weekend.

Paris-Roubaix is possibly the most iconic Monument Classic, it’s certainly the most ridiculous.  Starting in Compiegne north-east of Paris, the route covers a flat 257km route, across the open countryside of northern France, finishing in the Roubaix velodrome.  But what makes this race ridiculous and yet so intriguing is the fact that the route also covers 27 individual cobbled (pave) sections totalling 53km.  These aren’t you’re modern day bumps on the road, these cobbles are verging on medieval, the only traffic these roads see is farm machinery.  A society exists (Les Amis de Paris–Roubaix or the friends of the race) to maintain some of the sections and by maintenance I mean, they manually scrape the compacted dirt OUT of the gaps in the cobbles to make sure that they are in the worst possible condition for road bikes.  Throw in some rain and you have a lottery of biblical proportions so picking a winner could be challenging. More

I’ll Make You Rich Part II – RVV

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Well after the Milan Sanremo  debacle I would not be surprised if this post receives no views.  My MSR pre-race tips were actually looking very good at 300 metres to go and then it all fell apart with Fernando Gaviria (Etixx Quickstep) taking out Cancellara, Sagan and Boasson Hagen then Bouhanni slipped his chain (although I’m sure he still thinks it was someone else’s fault) when he looked odds on to take the sprint.  But chapeau to Arnaud Demare (FDJ) for his first Monument win and to Britain’s Ben Swift (Sky)  for a tremendous second place.

So onwards to the second Monument of 2016, the 100th edition of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen (RVV) or the Tour of Flanders if you prefer.  Each Monument has its individual nuances, Milan-Sanremo has the epic distance, Paris-Roubaix has its cobbles, Liege-Bastogne-Liege has its many steep climbs and Il Lomardia sitting at the end of a gruelling season has the longer climbs.

But the Ronde Van Vlaanderen has no fewer than 18 climbs, some cobbled, some asphalt and a further 7 cobbled flat sections.  The climbs in the RVV aren’t your classic alpine slogs.  No, these are short sharp strength sappers.  They range from 400 metres to 2.5km in length and average between 4% and 12.5% average gradients but some sections are as steep as 22%.  Now throw in a distance of over 250km and you get a guaranteed afternoon of sporting excellence and endeavour and no matter who wins, it’ll be safe to say that they deserve it.

So taking this and the current performances, who is most likely going to be on the podium? More

I’ll Make You Rich Part I – MSR

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This weekend sees the first cycling Monument of 2016, the Milan-San Remo (MSR).  It’s the longest professional one-day race and consequently, the winner can be harder to predict.  So many variables enter the equation, inclement weather conditions, how the legs respond in a sprint after 7 hours of racing and being able to get over the final climb of the Cipressa without cracking, to name but a few.

What is more certain, is the likelihood that the race will finish with a sprint as the last time the winning margin was more than 10 seconds was in 1994 and more than a minute was 1974.

I’m no betting man but there are certain events where a flutter is justified and the first Monument of the season is one such occasion.  I’ve selected my favourites, a few outside chances for those who want more bang for their buck and reasoned arguments for some notable exclusions. More

CRC or Wiggle – just apply Rule #58

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The announcement last week that Northern Ireland’s very own Chain Reaction Cycles (CRC) will more than likely merge with the UK retailer Wiggle had me initially disappointed.  I like the CRC story, a small local bike shop opened in the early 1980’s, growing to become one of the UK’s great business successes.  And soon, it could disappear.

But then I started thinking like a cyclist.  Shit, what does this mean for me?  To hell with romance, I spend too much time on the CRC and Wiggle websites, trying to find that elusive deal of all deals and a merger will end that wasteful, yet oh so enjoyable quest.

How will it change things?  What exists today with the two separate companies?  And how do the current actual stock lines compare? More

How much is too much?

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The confirmation yesterday (31st January) that a bike used in this weekend’s World Cyclo-Cross Championships was fitted with a motorised device is possibly the answer to this post’s question (see Cycling News for details if you must).  The top level event in possibly the purest cycling discipline.

There have been rumours of “mechanical doping” for a while now but most of us struggled with actually believing it.

All the instances of bikes being hurried away to the privacy of the team trucks could be attributed to a number of dodgy, yet understandable reasons.  Teams may add some lead weight into the seat tube to hide the fact that the bike they have doesn’t come under the regulation minimum weight.  Individual riders may prefer certain pieces of equipment which are not their sponsors so want to avoid losing the financial support.  For example, tyre manufacturer brands are blacked out which can’t be noticed when the bikes are being ridden but can be at the finish area.

But a motor in the frame was the stuff of myths.  Surely the additional weight would offset any advantages?  Surely the increase in power available was negligible at professional levels?

Well, apparently not.  There are mainstream manufacturers out there as Matt de Neef reported last year in Cycling Tips.

Some of these products claim to provide over 100 watts of power which is a significant boost if you’re trying to maintain a gap on the peloton or struggling up the final climb in a major race.

So if one of these devices can provide an extra 100 watts of power with a 60 minute battery and if bikes are already too light then it kind of makes that apparent massive leap to the professional ranks slightly shorter.

But mechanical doping requires a significant level of subterfuge with many characters involved.  Mechanics, riders, engineers, quite possibly manufacturers and even sponsors.  It requires wholesale corruption.  If this is the case, professional cycling is well and truly broken and deserves to be thrown to the wolves. It is just frankly, beyond the pale.

So where does it leave me?  Well, I am a massive fan of professional cycling.  I’ve seen it tear itself apart with doping scandals.  I’ve seen it ridiculed with dodgy governance.  But I have remained with it because I still believe in the majority of cases it’s one man or woman on a bike riding as fast as he or she can and that’s something I can relate to.

I’ll give it another season – this season (2016) and if it becomes apparent that mechanical doping is rife, then that’ll do me.  I still can’t believe that this is the case but we have been fooled before and if it is so, I will turn my back on it and I won’t look over my shoulder.

Still riding but with a somewhat cynical grimace.

The Giant

Cycling in Vietnam – 10 Pieces of Advice

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I’m not a travel blogger but having just cycled for three days down Vietnam’s Central Coast, I felt compelled to share some thoughts.  Rather than wax lyrical about the experience, I’ve decided to give 10 pieces of advice which you may or may not find useful.

  1. Obey the Rules – just because you’re in a different country, on a different bike and maybe riding with people you’ll never see again, you remain obliged to obey The Rules.  Velominati are the Keepers of the Cog.  In so being, they also maintain the sacred text wherein lie the simple truths of cycling etiquette known as The Rules.  As cyclists, we have the responsibility of firstly adhering to The Rules and secondly applying Rule#3 – Guide the Uninitiated.  I tried to apply this when my brother-in-law decided to ride with no top on.  His reasoned argument was that being a model (I know) apparently there’s nothing worse than turning up for a photo shoot with tan lines on your arms.  I failed in my duty to adequately explain Rule#7 – Tan lines should be cultivated and kept razor sharp and off he and his single toned torso tottered.

    Blatant Breach of Rule#7

    Blatant Breach of Rule#7

  2. Remember to Talk – sounds obvious?  Well, it can be easy to just sit and ride, or just talk to who you know but you’re not going to expand your mind with that philosophy so introduce yourself and hear other experiences.  Our group of 6 comprised of yours truly and my other half, my youngest brother-in-law on my wife’s side and his wife and a couple from Sydney, Australia, Steve and Patsy.  Riding in Vietnam is a very stress-free experience, certainly the route we took.  Very little traffic, decent roads and relatively flat, so it’s ideal for chatting amongst yourselves.  I spent a good while talking with Steve and established that the third male of the group is none other than an Iron Man.  So one male model, one Iron Man and me.  It was at this point I thought I felt my rear brakes rubbing on the rim and dropped back to sob quietly and reconsider the benefits of an expanded mind.

    Shooting the Breeze

    Shooting the Breeze With the Iron Man

  3. Look Around – an error most people make when riding bikes is that they focus on the road and view in front of them but fail to even glance at the sights around them.  You never know what you could miss and you probably will never cycle the route again so make the effort to absorb as much of the sights as possible.

    Take In The Views

    Take In The Views

  4. Respect the Locals – one of the most endearing memories of the trip was how friendly the Vietnamese people were.  Our route took us through rural villages which are located in one of the poorest regions of the country but despite this, everyone offered us a smile, a wave or a two fingered salute (apparently this is a gesture similar to the Western wave although I’m not sure if our guide was having a laugh).  Every time we went through a village we heard the screams of “HELLO” from children who then scurried out to high five each of as we rode through their lives.  Whilst shouting “hello” back became a tad monotonous, we had to remind ourselves that the sight of us was extremely interesting for these kids so it was important to respond as if it was the first time we had done so.

    Life Goes On

    Life Goes On

  5. Learn Something New Each Day – I guess you could apply this to everyday life.  I live in Northern Ireland and one of its most visited attractions is the Giant’s Causeway, on the North Coast.  Now I am personally greatly underwhelmed by this jewel in Northern Ireland’s crown so imagine my horror when we arrived at a place known as Ganh Da Dia to be presented with the view below.

    The Stuff of Nightmares

    The Stuff of Nightmares

  6. Always Remember the Joy of Riding a Bike – We can all remember the freedom that riding a bike brought to us when we were kids.  But we grow up and if we’re lucky, we manage to squeeze a few hours a week of riding into our allegedly hectic lifestyles and we forget those feelings.  Well on day 3, the weather was more North Atlantic than South China Sea, slightly cooler and pretty heavy rain.  Everyone was a little bit apprehensive, we had a 70km ride coming up and no sign of the sun breaking through.  Our route started with a 4km descent on a dirt road.  Now you can approach this in two ways 1) take it easy, it’s not a race, remember healthcare costs in Vietnam or 2) ride it like a kid, almost lose control, get caked in dirt and laugh.  I selected option 2) not because I’m particularly daring but because it’s just too much of an effort to slow the bike down when you’re my weight.
  7. thumb_IMG_1404_1024Acknowledge History – My knowledge of the modern history of Vietnam is probably similar to everyone else’s – it was two countries, Communist North and Democratic South, Ho Chi Minh was a bad guy, the Americans tried to save the South from the bad guy, the Americans failed, Ho Chi Minh won, North and South were unified and Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City.  On the second day we stopped at My Lai, the scene of the 1968 massacre of a village and its inhabitants by an American Unit.  Unlike many of the war museums in Vietnam, there is no need for the Government to embellish this story.  It is a poignant reminder of the horrors of war and the lottery of where and when you are born.

    My Lai

    My Lai

  8. Eat With the Locals – On an organised trip, it’s very easy to dine at the hotel/resort that you are spending the night and that’s fine, particularly if you’re knackered.  But I would always recommend asking your tour guide where is there a good place for local food.  We did and whilst in some cases we had no idea what we were eating, we knew it was fresh, we knew it was healthy and we knew we were directly supporting the local economy with our tourist dollars.

    Not Really Convinced

    Not Really Convinced

  9. Hydration & Sunscreen – dehydration can ruin your entire day and on a 3 day tour that’s a shameful error.  Half a litre (at least) an hour is a good measure and if you’re running low, stop, wait for the support vehicle and fill up.  Your fellow riders will always ease up, you’ll catch up with them soon enough and sometimes it’s nice just riding alone in a foreign landscape.  Failure to apply and reapply sunscreen is an even greater sin and will do more than ruin your day.
  10. Make Memories – at the end of the day we’re just passing through so savour each moment and make memories.  And inadvertently advertise Saddle Skedaddle.  And bad photos.  And bad hair.  Mine, not hers.

    Just Making Memories

    Just Making Memories

Our trip was provided by the team at Vietnam Bike Tours who are based in Nha Trang and guided us there from our pick up at Hoi An and our routes can be seen in the Route Section of the site.

So there you have it, my 10 pieces of advice after a wonderful experience, cycling in a truly foreign land, absorbing the local culture and just having some good old-fashioned fun.  Take my advice or leave it but as Baz Luhrmann said – trust me on the sunscreen.

Xin Cam on

The Giant

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