Archive for the Video Category
Recently, I did a day long ride in the hills from Girona to the Mediterranean and back. The route took us down to Tossa de Mar and back over Les Gavarres to Els Angels. The ride was only 120 km but 80 of it were on dirt. In total, we accumulated roughly 2500 vertical metres of climbing. It was a great day out. Other than the climbing it was similar to many rides I did as a boy on the dirt roads north of Toronto.
Like a river’s current carrying a stick, I float in the middle of the peloton. We speed through towns, over hills and across the plains. As we near the finish, our momentum becomes a torrent. I pedal almost effortlessly, as the slipstream drags me along. The eight riders on the front of the peloton of 200 riders share the workload in the wind, dragging us along like a locomotive. But even the select group at the front look for the slipstream of the cars and motorbikes ahead. The wind is the racer’s nemesis.
Winning a Classic means minimizing the amount of time spent in the wind. In the first hours of the race, a winner will rely on his team’s protection to save every watt for the key attacks during the finale. In a race where over 6,000 calories will be burned, every rider is on the limit and every watt counts. Cyclists save.
Largely invisible to the television audience, there is a motorcade of cars and motorcycles at the head of the race. They capture us on video, ensure the road is closed to traffic and referee our movements. Although the vehicles aren’t directly in front of the group, they nevertheless create a slipstream for peloton, which increases our speed, reduces our workload and, from time to time, changes the outcome of the race.
During the finale of a race, the protagonists will attack into a crowd of motorcycles. On the key pavé sectors of a Classic, or in the high mountains where the roads are narrow, the motorcyclists fight for position so their photographer-passengers can capture the pivotal moment. As they jostle for position and split the crowds of spectators, they are only meters in front of the lead riders. An attacker, a breakaway and a team who is chasing will all race for the motos’ slipstream to increase their speed. It is a part of the race we all accept. But, when drafting is prolonged rivals cry foul.
It isn’t only the motorbikes and cars, which disturb the air. The television and police helicopters, which circle above the peloton create turbulent air when then hover low altitude. Sometimes, the strength of their choppy downwash virtually brings us to a standstill and causes crashes. After the 1984 Giro d’Italia, the Frenchman Laurent Fignon protested that he had been robbed of the overall victory. Fignon felt that the organizers had manipulated the result of the dramatic and decisive final time-trial, so that his Italian rival Francesco Moser would win the overall classification. He protested that the television helicopter, which hovered directly behind Moser for the entire length of the stage, had created a down-force that literally pushed him to the finish.
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Surrounding Girona there are some fantastic climbs and descents. The views are magnificent from the local peaks as the Pyrenees tower to the north and the sea lies to the east. Between the two there are lush valleys, pastures and rolling hills. While out training the other day Dominique Rollin and I took some footage of the descent of Mare de Deu del Mont. At the summit of a climb there is a monastery, restaurant and radio towers. There are often hang-gliders jumping from the edge while hikers snap photos. The climb is roughly 30 km from Girona and towers over the town of Banyoles. Dominique Rollin rode for Cervelo last year and will ride for La Francaise des Jeux this season which is why he has a mix of clothing on. The song is Arcade Fire, No Cars Go.
Prior to the Tour de France the team rode the cobbled roads we would race over on the stage to Arenberg. Knowing the cobbles and the lead-up to the sectors makes a significant difference to our performance as we pick landmarks as reference points, note the dodgy bits of road and preview the aspects of the course that could change the outcome of the race. For some riders in the team the training session was also a learning experience as they had never ridden the rougher cobbles and asked for pointers from Juan-Antonio Flecha and the veterans. The inexperienced tend to tense up while the others let their bikes float beneath their bodies absorbing some of the shock while also limiting blisters and muscle pain. When the bike floats the chance of punctures is also decreased. A tense rider is more likely to crash as his reactions are brusque and he fails to see the flow of the race.
The Tour stage turned into a chaotic mess as soon as we were within 20 km of the cobbles as the peloton grew nervous, riders began crashing in their push toward the front of the group while others crashed because they jammed on their brakes. In the end, the stage made for some great bike racing and the best were at the front in the finale.
The video is of our training session three days prior to the start of the Tour. It gives a bit of a perspective of the roads and countryside. While training, whenever we hit the cobbled sections the team would split up as some riders– notably Wiggins and Flecha– attacked the stones with vigour while others rode over them apprehensively. The camera was placed on the hood of the teamcar.
The month prior to the Tour de France, Team Sky organized a small training camp in the Alps and Pyrenees for us to ride in the high mountains while also previewing some of the key Tour de France mountain stages. For us, Brad Wiggins, Steve Cummings and me, the camp also provided us with a good training block as we had been recovering from the Giro d’Italia and required a few good days of training to kick-start our fitness again. In the five day camp we rode roughly two or three key climbs every day. The set-up was ideal as we had a small group of riders, a support vehicle to follow us, and a camper to meet us on the mountain peaks. In the camper we could layer clothing for the descent and grab a quick coffee or tea to keep warm.
Our team coach planned the routes and organized the day while Sean Yates, our team director drove behind us. Pre-riding the climbs and breaking them down into sections is key, but it is just as important to know the run-in to the ascent and the technical aspects of the descent. Positioning before the climb is crucial while knowing the descent is also vital as time can be won or lost depending on how confident and comfortable a rider is in the corners.
Sean was known as one of the fastest descenders of his generation. When he was asked by a journalist why he became so good at descending he responded that he couldn’t climb so he learned to catch groups on the descents. He told us a story where he bridged a five-minute gap to the front group on a long Alpine descent. The Colombians he had dropped on the way down caught him ten kilometers up the next climb. To many of the guys on the team Sean is not only our directeur sportif but also a childhood idol. Since he retired he hasn’t gained an ounce and he still rides daily and looks the same on his bike as he did when he was winning in the Motorola colors in the early 90’s. His work ethic, and quality as a domestique, was remarkable. He is a hard man who simply loves to be on his bike.
The following video is of one of the numerous climbs we did during the camp. The climb is the Port de Balès, a beautiful ascent in the Pyrenees. The road leading into the climb cuts through gorges and winds its way through pastures before opening up to some of the most beautiful countryside I have ridden through. The descent is fairly technical and, as the stage will finish at the bottom, will influence the outcome of the race.
The 2010 Giro was the toughest, yet most exciting Grand Tour I have ridden, and I think from a spectator’s perspective probably one of the most thrilling in recent years. The race was a spectacle from start to finish. In the last two decades professional cycling has become formulaic and the Giro’s organization set out to create a race that cracked the formula. In recent years teams have figured out how to control the variables by eliminating the unknowns. the unknowns are what make cycling interesting, dramatic and thrilling, for both the cyclists and the audience. The courses have become predictable and the racing mundane.
Yearly, the Giro organization works to break that mold to form a spectacle. This year, they mapped a course, which was both challenging and entertaining. Daily, I knew I was racing a stage that I would one day recall fondly. Somehow, it seemed we were returning to cycling’s roots where unpredictably makes the race and provides the challenge. The unknown elements are what make a bike ride memorable.
The mountain time trial up to Plan de Corones is a ride I will forever remember. The ascent was tough but the last kilometre was the steepest bit of road I have ridden. We usually clip through the last kilometre in a minute, or less, but on the climb every pedal stroke was laboured and every meter counted. At the finish line, the views were spectacular. On the mountain peak at 2000 meters altitude we were surrounded by a wall of snow capped peaks and covered by a crystal blue sky. The descent off the peak in the cable car was equally memorable. Each of the riders sat in his own personal gondola, with his bike. The silence in the gondola was calming after the intensity of the crowds and the effort up the climb. For half an hour, I was able to reflect on the ride, the race, the Giro and absorb the beauty of the countryside.
I put together a helmet camera clip of the last 450 meters of the time trial. The camera, a Gopro HD, was mounted on the following motorcycle driver’s helmet. The music is by Paolo Conte and the song is “Bartali”–an tune about the Italian cycling icon Gino Bartali.
In preparation for the Giro d’Italia Team Time Trial we were training as a team outside to find our fluidity as a team. After a few efforts we were moving well. The key to a TTT is that the speed is consistent without any hard surges as they will split the team. The strong riders need to pull longer and progressively bring the speed up while the weaker riders must do shorter turns on the front and get off before their speed drops. It was clear Brad is flying as his turns were long and quick. As the french would say, he has a ‘sacré coup de pédale’ at the moment. He looks good in pink, as well.
The footage captures the flat fields, the windmills, and the tulips. But, it doesn’t capture the howling wind we were battling.
The Team Sky Giro roster is: Bradley Wiggins, Steve Cummings, Chris Froome, Greg Henderson, CJ Sutton, Michael Barry, Dario Cioni, Mathew Hayman and Morris Possoni. Two cameras caught the footage–a GoPro on the hood of the team car which followed us, and a Flip camera which I taped to my handlebars. Notice the impatient driver who throws a water bottle at us. He hit Wiggo with the bottle. The rest of the drivers encouraged us and even stopped to take photos.