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David Millar: The Racer

David Millar: The Racer

Now available in paperback and picking up from Millar’s previous work ‘Racing Through The Dark’, this new book places the reader firmly in the heart of the professional peloton. You can sense the nervousness, feel the exhaustion, the ever-present fear of injury as Millar guides you on an emotional journey through the 2014 World Tour.

Rather than simply a recount of races and results, this book focuses on what it means to be a professional cyclist. The training, travel and disconnection from family that characterise life on the ProTour.

Told in Millar’s intelligent and authoritative style, with a healthy smattering of expletives, the chapters chart the gradual breakdown of Millar’s relationship with his Garmin team. You can feel the anger and hurt as he describes the call confirming he wouldn’t be riding his final Tour de France; signalling the sudden end of a professional career that included national titles and 10 individual stage victories in the Grand Tours.

Poignantly, Millar includes images of the postcodes he obsessively collected as he travelled from race to race. Written to his young sons, they anchor the descriptions of a cyclist nearing retirement; simultaneously wanting that ‘one more race’ yet resenting the time away from home.

As the title suggests, this book unpicks the manners and methods of the racing cyclist; taking a glimpse inside the cocooned existence of a modern day professional. Millar’s description of avoiding a training ride during a period of inclement weather illustrating that these ‘super humans’, capable of astonishing feats on a bike, are all too often plagued by the same emotions that we all experience.

Passionate and informed, this award winning book sits you inside the team-bus; a finely observed and honest insight on the sweat, scars and sacrifices of a life spent racing.

Need or want?

Last week I ordered a new pair of cycling shoes that, after a 20% discount, cost £224. These new shoes are a similar weight to my current pair and do not offer any aerodynamic or performance gains. Rationally I simply cannot justify the purchase, save on the most basic of levels. I want them.

Superficially, I could point out the pink soles and demonstrate how they reflect direct light in a rather startling manner. But then counter by arguing that my current shoes are extremely comfortable and still in excellent condition. Can you see the problem I’m having?

My colleague, on hearing that I’d made the order, initially rolled her eyes, declared I was a marketing department’s dream before printing out a handy wallet-sized Money Mantras Card designed by Martin Lewis to ‘help you stop spending when you shouldn’t’.

But it’s not quite that straightforward. They might not satisfy the ‘need’ criteria according to the very well-meaning Mr Lewis but I can afford the expenditure, intend on wearing and using the shoes, and try to balance these occasional extravagances by making other savings.

So why do I feel the need to explain myself? Worry that this hints at a deeper insecurity rather than simply stating, ‘It’s my money, I can do what I want with it.’

And what fuels this need to accumulate more? Once equipped with all the requisite clothing and accessories needed to make cycling pleasurable –  sufficient protection from the rain is my personal priority – then surely we can focus solely on the ride. On the view out, rather than in.

It’s an accepted truism that marketing departments exist to sell. To convince a target audience that, without their product, you are fundamentally ‘less’. In purchasing my new shoes, am I subconsciously communicating that I am ‘more’?

And this need to be identified, to belong, goes hand in hand with another aspect of modern life as, increasingly, our desire for approbation needs feeding by the markers that define our online presence. I’ve started to notice a brief hiatus at the end of every club ride as individuals sit hunched over their phones; rides uploading. As if, without these telemetric ‘weights and measures’, the experience is not validated. Guilty of the same technological navel-gazing, maybe it’s time I put my own phone back in my jersey pocket and ordered a coffee?

New industries have been created (Strava and Instagram immediately spring to mind) that are fundamentally based on our deserve to be visible to, and validated by, the wider world. As humans, the need to belong is hard-wired to our sense of self. At a primitive level, we are tribal; constantly seeking the approval of those we identify with. Whether this is achieved through wearing the same football jersey, the cut of our hair or the brands we purchase at the checkout; the need to feel accepted is vital to our sense of wellbeing.

There are always the exceptions; individuals who, by strength of character or a deep-seated sense of self-worth, eschew social media and the latest trends; instead favouring to focus on the experience in its rawest sense. A ride is defined, not by the kudos received, but the feel of the road under their wheels.

Understanding and admiring this attitude, I struggle with the need to define myself as a cyclist in terms of what I ride and wear. I acknowledge that, just as a cheap supermarket lager served in a glass carrying the logo of a premium brand will taste ‘better’, cycling clothing and accessories can make you ‘feel’ faster simply by the emotional response they engender. But when do we have enough?

So where does this leave me as I consider these questions; as I wrestle with the possibility that I subconsciously make decisions based on my need to be accepted?

I’m left standing in front of a mirror, trying on my new cycling shoes.

Strava strive film campaign 2016

Strava are running a new campaign called Strive which is the definition of their name in Swedish. This is the first of a few films that hope to show that it’s not all about smashing KOMs and racing fast but giving it all you’ve got and having fun. Some of the cycling scenes are superb. Looking forward to more of these.

The Solitude Collection – Pas Normal Studios

The Solitude Collection - Pas Normal Studios

The Solitude Collection from Pas Normal Studios is beautifully simple and oozes class with an injection of colour. The collection is a small, limited drop for the High Summer. To be ridden when the days are long and the roads are ready to be explored to the fullest.

The Solitude collection features three lightweight jerseys in our High Summer definition with additional mesh sections to give you that extra breath-ability and comfort in the warmest of conditions. Our High Summer Solitude bibs are lightweight and durable and have been colour coordinated to match each of the three jerseys. Both styles are in our signature race fit, but built to seamlessly get you through the longest days in the saddle.

The Solitude Collection - Pas Normal Studios

The Solitude Collection - Pas Normal Studios

Red hook London 2016

Red hook London 2016 is on 9 July this year. The Red hook series is fast growing and is in a very special class of insane races. If you’re not familiar with the format it’s basically a criterium race on track bikes! No brakes and a fast road course calls for skills, speed and bravery. It makes for a fantastic spectator sport. So if you’re around, go see the action. Full details on the Red Hook website.

Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers

Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers

At times, cycling in the UK feels like one continuous battle with the elements. Although we rarely suffer from extremes in temperature, it’s the sheer unpredictability of our weather that causes cyclists anxiety regarding what to wear, carry or risk leaving at home.

I’m sure we’ve all been there, setting out for a ride under a cloudless sky only to return in a sodden, bedraggled state with a cyclist’s ‘tan’ of wet grit. And if there’s one aspect of cycle-specific clothing that faces the greatest challenge, it’s how to keep your feet dry.

Commuting throughout winter, I wear neoprene overshoes. They keep my feet warm, protect my shoes from road spray and are relatively user friendly. The problem I have, however, is where they fit around my ankles. On the lighter side of light-weight, I lack muscled calves of sufficient circumference to avoid the overshoes gaping and thus providing a rather inconvenient entry point for the rain as it runs down my legs.

On my short 10 mile commute, unless the rain is truly biblical there’s generally enough protection so that I arrive at work without needing to appropriate a radiator for the purpose of drying out my shoes ready for the homeward leg (my colleagues love it when I dry cycling gear in the office). On a longer club ride, however, my shoe and overshoe combination gradually gains weight as they become increasingly saturated.

Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers

Researching the other options currently available after an April of torrential downpours, it appears that Velotoze have apparently solved the problem of a snug fit and water ingress. Relatively cheap at £15 and compact enough to carry for when (not if) you’re caught in a shower, I made my purchase before waiting for the next wet ride.

This being England, May was delightful. To such an extent that I stopped carrying wet weather gear altogether; replacing it with tailored shorts that caused rather a ‘stir’ in the office. But the rain typically returned in June as we entered meteorological summer and my road test could begin.

Initially feeling rather insubstantial, after a number of trial runs fitting them over my shoes they’ve yet to tear or show any signs of wear. Available in a range of colours, I chose a conservative black as I already suffer verbal abuse riding through a certain part of the city centre when wearing my bright pink Rapha gilet. Adding matching ‘booties’ might push these casual observers to actual physical attack.

Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers

You start with your shoes off, slipping the covers onto your foot and then above the ankle. After fastening your shoes you pull, first the heel, and then the toe over the front of your foot where they fit snugly around the cleat. And ‘snugly’ is an apt description. The process doesn’t take too long but is a little more fiddly than fitting a traditional neoprene overshoe. Especially if, as with my shoes, they have protruding ratchets.

Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers

When in place, tightly encircling your ankles, the Velotoze look sleek and aerodynamic. Did they keep my feet dry? Well, yes and no. I wore them on a number of occasions in variable conditions ranging from wet roads to full-on downpours. At all times my feet ‘felt’ dry, comfortable and not, as I suspected might happen, too hot or clammy.

When removing the covers (not, it must be admitted, an easy process) my feet were largely dry with just my ankles and the heel areas of the shoe feeling damp. It appears that even though the Velotoze fit tightly around your ankle, water is still able to enter through this join.

Velotoze Tall Shoe Covers

Would I recommend their use? For a short commute, probably not. They take too long to position correctly and you need to be careful if removing the covers when wet that you dry the insides before, if possible, adding a dusting of talcum powder. I found that running my covered feet under the shower / hose-pipe and then patting them dry before removing the covers was the best technique.

Would I wear them on a long ride? Absolutely. The close-fitting nature of the covers with no flapping or gaps round the ankle certainly looks the part and my feet always felt dry and comfortable. Add in the affordability, low weight and packable size, and Velotoze are definitely worth a try.

The Bristol Grand Prix 2016

bristol-grand-prix-2016-323

On Saturday 18th June, the Bristol Grand Prix 2016 took place. Hosted by Le Sportif and One You Bristol, the Bristol Grand Prix is a day of cycle events and races to put Bristol on the sporting map. The day was packed full of breakaway successes on the 1.3km course. With plenty of spots to view the riders and many of them involving two vantage points.

There was a race for almost everyone on the day from Masters, Youth A/B, Men E1/E2/3/4 and Women 2/3/4. We have put together a gallery of images from the days events.

Bristol Grand Prix 2016 – Men E1/E2

Bristol Grand Prix 2016

Bristol Grand Prix 2016
bristol-grand-prix-2016-443

Bristol Grand Prix 2016
Bristol Grand Prix 2016

Bristol Grand Prix 2016 – Women 2/3

Bristol Grand Prix 2016

Bristol Grand Prix 2016

Bristol Grand Prix 2016 – Men 3/4

Bristol Grand Prix 2016
Bristol Grand Prix 2016

Bristol Grand Prix 2016
Bristol Grand Prix 2016

Bristol Grand Prix 2016 – Women 4

Bristol Grand Prix 2016
Bristol Grand Prix 2016
Bristol Grand Prix 2016
Bristol Grand Prix 2016

A Wheeled Weekend

Judging by the magazine articles that I read, snippets from social media and anecdotal accounts, there are certain destinations that appeal to cyclists on a number of levels. The scenery, topography and historical relevance can play a part in attracting riders of all abilities, disciplines and depth of pocket. And a few may very well be considered iconic. I imagine that Alpe d’Huez, the Flandrian cobbles and Sa Calobra feature on many a cycling ‘bucket’ list.

Actually travelling to these destinations and riding the routes does require a degree of planning and preparation but the rewards far outweigh any logistical problems and the expense of getting yourself (and bike) to the foot of the first climb. With this in mind, I’d like to share my experiences of planning the perfect ‘wheeled’ weekend away.

Deciding on a destination

Offering easy access from the UK, my friend and I chose Girona for our 3 night long-weekend as we wanted to maximise the amount of time we could spend on our bikes enjoying the Catalan countryside. We each had £500 to spend and opted for a bespoke package offered by Bikecat, a firm that I’ve ridden with previously. This included 4 star accommodation, use of their top-end bikes and 3 guided rides with lunches provided. By scaling back on your hotel and arranging your own bike hire, you could achieve a similar experience for less.

Flights

Ryanair flies to Girona from both London Stansted and Manchester with seats available from approximately £24* depending on the day you plan on travelling. We flew on a Saturday morning from Manchester and returned early on the following Tuesday for a total cost of a little over £80 per person.

It’s worth noting that Girona airport is designated ‘Barcelona (GRO)’; a fact not lost on a young couple I sat with one year on the outbound flight. After asking where they were staying, I realised from their answer (‘a city centre Barcelona hotel’) that they might have misjudged the location of the airport in relation to the Catalan capital before gently breaking the news that they would have rather a longer transfer to their accommodation than they’d previously accounted for.

Airport transfers

Girona Airport lies 12.5km to the southwest of the city centre. There is a bus service for those on a budget or, like us, you can simply jump in one of the taxis waiting directly opposite the arrivals concourse and for a fixed fee of €30 (quote the information boards posted on the pavement if a higher figure is mentioned),15 minutes later you will be arriving in the medieval heart of the old town.

Where to stay?

The usual budget chains are available charging very reasonable rates. Ibis have a hotel close to the city centre offering twin rooms without breakfast from as little as £39 per night.

If you fancy treating yourself, I can recommend the Hotel Historic; a family run hotel located a stone’s throw from the cathedral in the very heart of the medieval quarter. From the display of signed cycling jerseys and the bike boxes stored in the lobby, it’s easy to see they offer a warm welcome to all cyclists and the hearty breakfasts will set you up perfectly for a day in the saddle.

Eating out

Girona is a popular tourist destination with a wide variety of establishments ranging in style from pavement cafes to gourmet fine-dining. The city is home to one of the world’s best restaurants, an accolade awarded by Restaurant magazine in 2013 to El Celler de Can Roca, but after a day spent climbing the neighbouring mountains, a plate of pasta served al fresco with an accompanying glass of draft beer or local wine can equally hit the spot.

If spotting resident professional cyclists is your thing (Cycling Academy’s Dan Craven describes this region of Spain as the ‘capital of racers’), there are a few key destinations that you can’t afford to miss. Konig, located in the picturesque Plaça de la Independència, serves excellent American style sandwiches; one of which I enjoyed with Ryder Hesjedal sitting at a neighbouring table.

La Fabrica, the ‘Coffee Works & Cycle Cafe’ opened by Orica-GreenEDGE rider Christian Meier and his wife Amber a little over a year ago, has rapidly become a ‘must see’ destination for any cycling tourist. Try positioning yourself in the morning at one of their outside tables where you’ll witness a steady stream of professional cyclists rolling up on their team-issue bikes for a quick espresso before  they head out on a training ride.

Bike hire

Some cyclists choose to travel with their bikes; preferring the familiarity of their own ride. If this doesn’t appeal (there’s the additional flight cost and need for a bike box to consider) there’s always the option of hiring a bike for the duration of your stay. The Girona Cycle Centre offers Cannondale Synapse road bikes equipped with Shimano 105 from €35 a day with discounts available for multiple-day bookings. For a similar price, Cicloturisme can provide Orbea ORCAs; again with Shimano 105.

If you want to treat yourself to something a little special, Bikecat can also arrange bike hire, offering you a choice from either a Dura-Ace equipped Canyon Ultimate CF SLX or an ex team-issue road bike but with a requirement to combine the bike hire with a guided ride. A full day’s riding including lunch costs €90 (approximately £70) per person for a two person group but you benefit from your guide’s encyclopaedic knowledge of the local area and routes. Trust me, it’s well worth the extra expense.

Routes

OK, so over 70 professional cyclists currently call Girona home. I believe that statement alone goes a long way to suggest that you’re going to enjoy riding in the countryside that surrounds this Catalan city. The weather is good – especially in spring when it’s dry, sunny but not too warm – and the roads are generally in excellent condition. So smooth that locals will point a warning finger at a perceived imperfection that would hardly warrant a cursory glance for a UK based cyclist.

As to where you should ride, my friend and I started with the Els Angels loop that takes in two sinuous but not daunting climbs to the immediate east of the city centre. A perfect half-day ride on your arrival day.

Next, we rode our ‘queen’ stage that took in the Mare de Deu del Mont. Rising out of a wide plain of farmland, this is a ‘proper’ mountain with an 18km climb that peaks at 12% before rewarding you with simply stunning views towards the sea and the Pyrenees to the north. And that’s before you consider the 24km climb to St. Hilari, the brutal Rocacorba or a rollercoaster ride along the coast to Tossa de Mar. I guarantee you’ll spend your last evening planning next year’s trip and potential routes.**

Shopping

If, like us, the focus of your weekend is ride, eat, rest, repeat; then you will probably find the notion of setting aside an afternoon to hit the shops as rather counter-intuitive. But it might interest you to know that the Girona Cycle Centre not only offers bike hire and guided rides but also ‘re-cycles’ (pardon the pun) the spare team-issue clothing of the resident professionals. Inside the city centre shop you’ll find rack after rack of bib-shorts, jerseys, gloves, gilets and even shoes; all with a little brown label that states the provenance of each item. When I visited early this year for example, I could have easily walked out in a complete 2015 MTN-Quebeka team kit. And not replica kit – this is the real deal.

The details

We arranged our ‘group’ insurance very inexpensively through Boots Travel. Bike touring was classed as a Band 1 activity along with ballroom dancing. Band 7 included alligator wrestling (maybe next trip).

An evening meal with beer or wine, served at city centre pavement cafe, was easily available for less than €10. Many restaurants offered set menus for between €12 – €15 and I can also recommend visiting one of the many tapas bars where you can choose from a wide range of ‘plates’.

English is widely spoken but if you want to try out your Spanish, then it’s certainly appreciated. It is worth noting that, for the majority of locals, Catalan is their first language and you’re more likely to be greeted with a ‘Bon dia’ than a ‘Buenos días’.

Girona has at its heart, a picturesque network of medieval streets and alleyways that wind steeply from the banks of the River Ter up past the Cathedral to the encircling city walls. A pre-dinner walk skirting the University offers you panoramic views over the city and onwards to the nearby mountains.

Was it worth it?

Quite simply, my friend and I agreed that it was one of the best holidays we had ever enjoyed. Good weather, fine roads, spectacular scenery and the wonderful city of Girona to explore each evening; it was with heavy hearts that we climbed aboard our taxi for the return trip. And even though we were physically tired, mentally we both felt energised. The simple pattern of riding each day meant we focused solely on the most basic of necessities. The road ahead, the climbs and descents, the fuel to sustain our efforts and the sleep needed to recover for the next day. Reducing decisions down to the turn of a pedal.

*Every effort was made to ensure prices and currency conversions were accurate at the time of publication.
**As an appetiser, it’s worth taking a look at the routes devised by Rapha for their Girona based Pro-team Camp.

Rapha + Apidura Collection

Rapha x Apidura Collection

Rapha and ultralight bikepacking pioneers Apidura have partnered to create a collection of packs designed for adventure. Specifically built to attach easily to any bike, the Rapha + Apidura saddle and handlebar packs are lightweight, durable, and designed to allow cyclists to pack light and travel far.

The Rapha + Apidura packs signal a new product category for Rapha within the realm of long-distance cycling. This collaboration is a natural progression for the Brevet range, which already offers dependable, versatile apparel for long days in the saddle. Originally designed for Rapha staff to ride Paris-Brest-Paris, the Brevet collection consists of clothing which is durable, lightweight, versatile, and designed to withstand the hardiest adventures, whatever the weather. Apidura’s experience in making the best ultralight bike luggage on the market made for a natural pairing with Rapha’s Brevet collection.

Designed for accessibility and versatility, the Rapha + Apidura collection consists of a Handlebar Pack and Saddle Pack which can be attached to any bike without the need for racks. The pack material is a water resistant four-layer laminated body fabric which offers high abrasion and tear resistance and is incredibly lightweight. For visibility, reflective Rapha Brevet stripes and Apidura logos feature on the packs, and reflective yarn has been woven into all shock cords and outer webbing to provide additional visibility in low light. Anti-slip Hypalon, a synthetic rubber, has been used on all fastening points to keep the packs secure and roll-top closures allow for maximum storage capacity. The packs feature three-point attachments for security and the Saddle Pack has a bungee cord tie-down in the outer top. The Saddle Pack has a bike light attachment point. Rapha design cues feature in the Brevet stripes, hi-vis pink lining and an additional wet bag to store inside of the packs.

Rapha x Apidura Collection

Rapha x Apidura Collection

Rapha x Apidura Collection

Rapha + Apidura Handlebar Pack £85
Rapha + Apidura Saddle Pack £105

For more information visit their feature page, which includes an interview with Apidura founder Tori Fahey.

Stepping away from the buyer’s guide

Stepping away from the buyer's guide

A good friend once encouraged me to join a local camera club. Having young children at the time and a rapidly shrinking social life, I thought it would be a good idea (at least once a week) to leave baths and bedtime stories for an evening in the company of adults. I knew it was time to quit and resume fatherly duties, however, when the theme of one night’s meeting was tripods. Unfortunately confirming, as each member presented their own example for approval, that it does matter how big it is…

Now you might well be wondering what this has to do with riding a bike but when I re-discovered my love of cycling as middle age approached, I imagine I would be hard pressed to find another interest or hobby with a greater focus on accessorising. What you ride and wear says a lot about you in the cycling world.

And much as I love to ride, even commuting to work in all weathers, I must also admit to buying the magazines. The magazines that report on the racing, the general interest ones with feature rides and interviews with frame builders, and more worryingly, the publications that focus on bike reviews.

I imagine we’ve all been there, pouring over the specifications, mentally juggling whether the 100g or so you save opting for a full Dura Ace groupset outweighs the advantage of choosing an upgrade to full carbon rims. Until, eventually, you consider the £4995 asking price for a bike manufactured by a certain internet-sales-only company as quite remarkable value.

And when I have researched and bought a new bike, there’s no guarantee that it will truly satisfy and meet long-term expectations. A buyer’s guide featuring this year’s ‘Top 10’ road bikes soon becomes last year’s choices as manufacturers produce new models featuring the latest groupset, wheels and colour schemes. The enjoyment of your purchase can be transitory as you’re always playing catch-up.

I did wonder whether this was purely a personal failing but, as with all things in contemporary life, there’s always something bigger (remember the tripod), shinier, more expensive or fashionable. Whether it’s your home, car, holiday, job or even partner; we’re almost encouraged to want the new, better, improved. To be an active participant in a throwaway society.

So how did I disengage from this endless cycle (forgive the pun) of avarice and consumerism? Naturally, I bought another bike. A bike made from steel by a small company called Starley based in Altrincham, Cheshire. And even though, as with most purchases, there are compromises – the bike is marginally heavier than my now ignored carbon road bike – I’ve fallen for it. Absolutely.

In simple terms, it has a classic ‘look’ that feels almost beyond fashion. Round tubes of brushed stainless steel, beautifully brazed joints and a ride that carried me on my cycle club’s 123 mile Milan-San Remo tribute with speed and comfort. And in taking this step into a previous era of frame building, away from the buyer’s guide, I don’t need to worry if there’s a new trend for shaping aero tubes or a longer, thinner carbon fibre strand that utilises a revolutionary new resin. No need to concern myself with saving those 5 Watts and 28 seconds over 40km.

I still look at bike reviews – I can’t help myself. And there’s a place for all bikes, disciplines, budgets and colour schemes. This is part of what makes a club ride so enjoyable – the discussion, debate and expression of personal style. But what I don’t feel, something that I’m convinced the marketing departments of the major retailers want you to feel, is that nagging sense of dissatisfaction. Of the constant need to be planning the next purchase.

Time will tell. For now, however, I feel happy to ride my Starley and enjoy the view.

Stepping away from the buyer's guide

Words and photos by Chris Hargreaves (@openautograph).

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