Beautiful Italy, through the eyes of the Giro

As I've mentioned before, I think Italy is the most beautiful country in the world. I have compiled photos from the Giro D'Italia (Tour of Italy) to show not only the beauty of this country, but the beauty of this great race. I hope you enjoy.

Why we love Michael Barry!

Michael Barry is simply a class act.
On the hardest climb in the world, (Monte Zoncolan) its not the facial expression you would be expecting. Look at him ? He's smiling ? Smiling while others are displaying menacing faces from the stress of the climb. Is this not a guy who enjoys his job ?

Cycling allows fans to get this close every race

I can't think of any other sport in the world, that allows its fans to be so up close and personal day in and day out. It truly takes a lot of patience to deal with the public day after day , after day. In this video, Alberto Contador handles it like a true champion. Personally, I don't know what the point of "autographs" scribbled on some paper or napkin does for people ? For me, I prefer photo opps vs scribbles.

More Rapha Love

Rapha have truly become synonymous with cycling. They are in the official league of the Campagnolo's, Bianchi's or Colnago's of the world. This video touched upon so many things that is right with our sport. When the goal of the ride is about the experience instead of the speed, distance, watts, cadence etc. it does change everything.

This film and the other "Continental" films, take me back to my days when my two best friends (Marshall and Dennis) and I would ride for hours. We had that mix of riding, good friendship, and beautiful surroundings. They are now distant memories of which I still hang onto dearly. These films reach the very core of every competitive cyclist. The pure enjoyment of being on your bike, on open roads.

If there is one company, that I do not hesitate to say I adore and love, its Rapha. They continue to inspire, and ignite more passion into this great sport, at time when it needs it the most. Thank you Rapha.

Rapha Continental – The Movie from RAPHA on Vimeo.


The Giro vs The Tour ? Which one is more Grande ?

The Giro d'Italia vs The Tour de France, which one is better ? The debates continues into the new millenium.

The Giro vs The Tour, has been a long standing debate for many years.

I’d like to start this blog with this quote.
"The Tour is for fans of a rider. The Giro is for fans of the sport."

I have come to really understand that quote. I believe, in the past few years, the Tour has gone soft and is no longer as demanding as the Giro. The Giro has become a grand tour of more thrilling stages, more time trials and more mountain top finishes. I appreciate the diverse attempts by the Giro organizers to create a dramatic filled race right from the start. Case in point, the 2011 Giro began with a Team Time Trial. That's unheard of in France ?

Italy is by far a more beautiful country. Italy's backdrop of mountains, seacoast, vineyards, coastal villages , cathedrals, are more spectacular than that of France. I personally think Italy is the most beautiful country in the world. But that's just my personal bias. Stages taking the riders through quaint little towns and having them navigate through the narrow roads, and gaps, along the route is simply spectacular.

Italy have steeper more demanding mountain climbs. The Giro has twice the number of mountain stages and mountain top finishes this year than its 2006 edition. The Giro organizers for 2011, seemed hell bent on destroying the peloton.
Monte Zoncolan
Passo Mortirolo
Tre Cime
Passo Stelvio
The Passa Fedaia,
Colle delle Finestre

In my opinion, Italy has the most feared climb in all of Europe, the Monte Zoncolan. As well, if it was not for the death of a rider in 2011, a kamakaze descent of the Crotsis was tossed in for good measure as well. Again, another fine example of organizers trying to improve its spectacle. We always remember images of 1988 and the snow capped mountains where Andy Hampsten rode to victory. Again, I can’t remember ever seeing anything like that in the Tour ?

From the riders perspective:

better food - italian cuisine is better than french cuisine for cyclists
better and cleaner hotels - Riders remark about the hospitality better in Italy overall.

I'm actually quite tired of watching the first boring week of the tour. Its all flat sprinter stages. Tour viewers usually have to suffer 5-6 days of boring flat stages. Unlike the Giro which gives the sprinters only 2-3 days. By the time the Tour leads its riders to the Massif Central for their first taste of ‘proper’ climbing, in the same number of stages the Giro already puts four 16-20km climbs in the peloton’s way.

And then there is the Race of Truth. The Giro, however, won’t even do time trials without extra spice. The Tour places the first serious TT in between sprinter stages, a relatively safe tradition. But the Giro organizers, have got into a habit of sticking a mean TT hill-climb in between high mountain stages. Again, more hurt, more drama. Yet the tour is still the biggest race in the world, and Giro is still considered the "bridesmaid." ??? Despite ‘winning’ so many comparisons with the Tour, the Giro still remains on the second pedestal of the global podium when it comes to the “Greatest Race in the World”. The Tour still remains The Race all (non-Italian) pros want to shine in.

So what factors make the Tour bigger than the Giro ? I think the biggest factors are;

• Place on the calendar
• The Tour has a longer history of racing
• France has their trump card, a little town called Roubaix
• France borders cycling mad nations – Belgium, Spain, Switzerland, etc.
• Tour organization markets their tour and single one day classic races better.
• The UCI appears overly involved in the day to day running of the Tour.

The Tour is bigger than the Giro because of its place on the calendar. July vs May is a significant shift in work vs vacation for many Europeans. This does ultimately play a factor. So I must give kudos to the Tours’ marketing department for ensuring it stays in the “vacation month” and continues its large caravan throughout the entire month.

Much of the reason for the Giro being a “bridesmaid” was that in its formative years, the Giro was a parochial race. It was a local race for local people (and the Giro has never fully lost this feel). It started in 1909 and did not have a non-Italian winner until 1950 (and it only had 2 non-Italian podiums before then).

By contrast the Tour had 'national' teams from 1930. By 1950 it had had winners from Belgium, Luxembourg and Italy as well as podium finishers from Germany and Switzerland and KOMs from Spain. Even an Australian (Opperman) rode it in the 30s. As such its reputation and interest in it branched beyond its borders far sooner than the Giro.

I also think France borders Belgium which we all know Belgium is the land of cycling. As well, France is bordered by Spain, Italy, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, a few of these being true cycling mad countries, while Italy is mostly bordered by water.

When the Tour had started up in 1903, you already had a few established races, including Paris-Roubaix (1896), Paris Tours (1896), Bourdeaux-Paris (1891), Paris-Brussels (1893), L-B-L in Belgium (1892), were already established and had started to become yearly ran in 1900s.

However, with all of world renown status, the Tour continues to disappoint in my view.
I think the turning point for myself would be the 2007 Tour de France. I lost a lot of respect for the tour, during this time. I was disappointed in how the UCI “bullied” the Tour organizers over Michael Rasmussen. They should have held their ground and allowed him to continue. He should have won that tour.

I’ll still refer to the quote ;
"The Tour is for fans of a rider. The Giro is for fans of the sport."

So as we continue over a decade in the new millennium, the Giro continues to be by far, a more challenging route year in and year out.

But when it comes down to it, I think its Roubaix that makes the difference. The Giro doesn't have its own historical icon like France from which to draw from. In Italy, there is no one day classic that even comes to the history nor the mystique of Paris Roubaix.

So the debate goes on..

Rapha Continental Rides Tour of California Video Pt. IV

2011 Tour of California — Stage 7 from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Rapha Continental Rides Tour of California Video Pt. III

More Rapha Brilliance, PT. III

2011 Tour of California — Stage 5 from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Rapha Continental Rides Tour of California Video Pt. II

Part II of more brilliance..

2011 Tour of California — Stage 2 from RAPHA on Vimeo.

Rapha Continental Rides Tour of California Video

The Rapha Continental Team riding a few of the stages of the Tour of Calfornia. After watching this words that come to mind are brilliance, inspirational. If you're passionate about the sport you'll love these videos. Very tastefully done, and Slate, its finally good to put a face to a name. Keep up the good work.

2011 Tour of California — Intro from RAPHA on Vimeo.


Rice: The new fuel of the Peloton

For decades bike racers have lived on pasta as their primary source of carbohydrates. Over the last decade however, the sport of cycling has paid greater attention to riders’ diet and nutrition. Due to the emergence of measuring wattage outputs, (ie power meters) a rider’s performance and fitness level can me more finely tuned than ever before. Long gone are the days of heart rate monitors and “cardiac drift” , nowadays there is a wattage and it doesn’t lie. So in today’s world of cycling, the greater wattage produced , at less weight means an ideal combination for “Grand Tour” success. So bmi, dieting, and the quest to become “leaner” is a huge focus nowadays. Teams no longer just have “the team chef” but now professional Nutrionists and PHD’s in Sports Physiology accompanying them. Along with this shift in thought, certain doctors now believe and favour eating rice over pasta. The pioneer of this movement is Dr. Allen Lim formerly of Team Garmin-SlipStream. During the Tour de France, he decided to change over to rice for breakfast, rice for lunch, on the road snacks and rice for dinner. It has gained notoriety as “The Garmin Diet.”

Instead of having pasta and bread every night for dinner he asked the chef, to prepare rice. They are giving the riders rice cakes and corn cakes instead of bread. Why? He believes that the high amounts of wheat products that are normally consumed by bike racers at the Tour have an inflammatory effect in the body. He believes that most people have either an overt allergy to wheat products or at least a sub-symptomatic inflammatory response to wheat products. One of the biggest goals is to maintain as low of a state of inflammation as possible.

So, the guys are eating very little wheat products (bread, pasta) and also very little red meat (which also has a pro-inflammatory effect on the body). Most of the meals consist of oats (ie. porridge in the mornings), and in the evenings the guys are eating a lot of rice, chicken, turkey and fish. There is a little bit of variety, but the rule has been rice, oats, chicken, fish and lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

I just find it funny in that, Michael Rasmussen ate this way for many years before.

I wonder if Bradley who's now on Team Sky has infected the new team with the “The Garmin Diet” ?? From what I see in Michael Barry, he sure looks that way ?

So as the peloton says good bye to Rice, I too say good bye to my days of eating mounds of pasta, and hello to the world of rice.

I find Bradley Wiggins determination to be at the ideal "Tour de France" weight a fascinating read. He takes the approach of what many are doing now to win a "grand tour."

He says he was climbing fairly well in the 2007 Tour, but not a contender. He decided to drop his weight and lost seven kilos since then: 78 to 71. It's taken nine months, in little increments, without any sort of crash diet. He has had regular check-ups with Nigel Mitchell, his nutritionist, to make sure he's nly burning fat, not any muscle. He was at 4% body fat, which is just at the point where you begin to burn muscle because there's nothing else left. What did this mean for the 2009 Tour ?? He was carrying the equivalent of six bags of sugar less up a mountain in comparing his 2007 to 2009 Tour weight. Unfortunately the sport of cycling in Grand Tours nowadays, commands a "skeletal" lightness for doing well in the mountains. It's about muscular and cardiovascular efficiency. If you can produce the same wattage at a lower weight, you will be faster.


In Heath we Trust !

A letter of thanks to Heath Cockburn and La Bicicletta

In this day and age of big box stores, non caring employees, the hustle and bustle of parking lots, line ups, and express lines, there lies a little oasis in the city called La Bicicletta. It’s a niche bicycle shop and last year I had the pleasure of discovering it during my return to the sport of competitive cycling.

After months of saving, my wife and I finally purchased our dream bikes and couldn’t be happier not only with them , but with the entire process leading to their delivery. There was never any doubt I was not purchasing my bike from La Bicicletta. Except, I did not think the process nor the final fitting would have gone so well.

Good customer service is often difficult to find in today’s world. La Bicicletta’s Manager, Heath Cockburn is a true testament to excellent customer service. He cares about your fitting, and your overall decision. You can sense his passion for the sport. I bought my first new bicycle over a decade ago, and was surprised at how sizing and the “proper fit” has changed. Heath made sense of it all and answered all my questions and offered excellent advice. His level of customer service is like no other. His level of professionalism is unmatched. Working retail is difficult as many know, but Heath appears to thrive in this industry. He doesn’t let the 6-7 days per week affect his demeanor whatsoever. Its so rare and refreshing to see someone who truly loves their job. I have the utmost admiration for him.

I couldn’t be happier from the time of the initial discussions, emails, and fittings, with Heath, to final fitting and pick up. I want to thank you for bringing me into the modern era of cycling.

It is with great pride to be affiliated with La Bicicletta. My only regret is that it wasn’t done sooner !

Heath, we love you!

Simon Jagassar
Toronto, Canada