Wednesday 28 July 2010

Top 30 cyclists of all time clips

Found these on YouTube. I certainly don't agree with the compilers choice of riders or the rankings and I reckon the palmares are not all correct.

But on the other hand there's some great old footage in them. Magni pulling the bars with his teeth, Kellys dreadul hardshell helmet, Hinault riding to Liege in the snow, etc, etc, etc. And there're some inspired music choices too. Don't Stop Believing for Ullrich and Bad to the Bone for Hinault - brilliant!!


Part 1: From 30 to 21

Part 2: From 20 to 11

Part 3: The Top 10

Tuesday 27 July 2010

An Post Heritage Tour Of Meath

Today I'm weary. My legs are a bit sore and, when I cycled to the bank this afternoon, some of the areas in contact with the saddle were a bit tender! The reason for this wreckage is that yesterday I completed the 160km (or 100 mile) An Post Heritage Tour of Meath. Actually it was closer to 166km, making it the longest day in the saddle for me since I got back on the bike two years ago.

I had intended riding this event last year but back spasms intervened. Knowing what I know now it was probably just as well I didn't. I'm a lot fitter, and a bit lighter, this year but still found it tough going.

Not that the route had any big climbs or other major obstacles. It just rolled incessantly. Up and down the hillocks and drumlins of North County Meath it went, requiring constant gear changes and giving you no chance to find a rhythm. By the finish the terrain and the relatively fast pace (for me!) had me worn out.

The day started early, myself, Stephen and Kevin arriving in Trim by 7:30am. After some cross-country, Wacky Races style confusion we got our spot in the fast-filling parking field behind Trim Castle. From there it was a short walk to the Trim Castle hotel and sign on. Back in the field we met up with Kevins mate, Alan and, after the usual "what should I wear" and "will it or won't it rain" discussions we were on our way to the start line.

And what a sight it was. Hundreds of riders of all shapes and sizes, young and old, lined up under a grey sky, ready to start their 160km or 100km days. Music played (at 8am!), announcers announced and, finally, the flag dropped and we were off under the yellow An Post arch.
The four amigos ready for the off.

A sea of helmets snaking back from the yellow start/finish arch

We were starting pretty far back and, as any rider knows, it's always better to be near the front, especially when there's hills coming. So ex-sprinter Stephen used his best gap-squeezing experience and, with me on his wheel, quickly got us to closer to the front in plenty of time for the first rise at Tara. The pace was pretty high and I was on the big ring, although I couldn't help thinking I might pay for that later in the day.

The road past Bective was relatively flat. Then, a sharp left had us on the approach to Tara which, as expected, posed little problem to most of those gathered near the front. It looked like a big climb on the profile but, in reality, it's a short ramp followed by a recently resurfaced drag to the tourist site at the top. In fact, when Alan came up to me, about ten kilometres later, he didn't realise we'd already been over it.
The final drag to Tara.

After the descent off Tara we followed a mix of relatively big roads and some very minor lanes towards Slane. In fact one stretch of roughly surfaced, rolling lane, complete with grass down the middle, would have looked from the air like a stretch of Paris-Roubaix cobbles. There were two long lines of riders snaking down each side, almost in the gutter, with no-one able to ride in the middle. Short, steep ramps and descents, the fast pace and lot's of gravel-strewn corners meant there was little time to relax and chat with the others, but it was exciting riding nonetheless. The only complaint I had was that I didn't get to a toilet before the start. The bumpy roads were playing havoc with my bladder but there was no time to stop while the bunch was moving at that speed.

There were lot's of these short rises to be gotten over.

Finally, we emerged from the lanes and out on the main road before Slane. We took the long, sweeping descent to the beautiful, old Boyne bridge at speed and then it was on to the steep climb to Slane village. It's not long but it was still a relief to take the left turn at the top. Five kilometres or so of gradual drag further on an it was time for the first water stop of the day at Gormalough Cross. Although water stop was an understatement. There was no shortage of water, cereal bars and bananas being handed out by a great team of smiling volunteers and, thankfully for me, a pub whose toilets were available for our use.

After a brief stop the four of us had regrouped and were off again. Gradually we picked up more riders, making the rolling stretch to Kells a very pleasant ride at a much more sustainable pace than earlier in the day.

The first feed stop proper in Kells was upon us in no time. Entering the GAA hall, we were greeted by a mountain of sandwiches, chocolate cakes and water bottles. There was a small queue forming at the tea and coffee table, but we were near the front. The woman there was apologising profusely that the kettles weren't boiled yet as they hadn't expected so many to arrive so soon. Showing the great resourcefulness you always find when a community comes together to support an event, she even seriously suggested to a colleague that they could always knock on the doors of surrounding houses and get the kettle on in each. By the time the hot water arrived the queue was getting seriously long but she kept smiling and everyone got a friendly word.
Glad we got in ahead of that queue.

Back on the road, we rode through the centre of Kells, even getting some applause from a family looking on. We were nearly half way round now, but the climb out of the town was tougher than expected, especially as our legs were only getting warmed up again. The headwind we were now riding into didn't help.

A little down the road another small group formed, including a guy in An Post gear. Stephen came up beside me and pointed to his shoes. Or lack of them! He was riding in what looked like slippers. Stephen got in beside him to find out what was going on. Turned out he'd had a few too many the night before and, in his foggy state that morning, had left without his shoes. What a man! Not only was he riding the 100km route in his casual shoes, but he was doing it with a hangover.
Spot the SPD slippers.

After passing through several more well marshalled junctions, remembering to shout thanks to the folks standing at each one, we arrived at the point where the 160 and 100 routes split. Unfortunately for us most of the group took a left turn back to Trim, while only the four of us took the right turn towards Oldcastle. We climbed a long drag on a good road to Crossakiel, but then it was back on to the lanes. We were getting in to the more remote corners of County Meath, even nudging in to County Cavan for a short time, and the road surface was noticeably deteriorating. Gravel filled potholes were becoming the norm and the rolling hills just kept coming at us. I've read some comments on message boards today criticizing the use of such rough back roads but, for me, that's what riding in Ireland is all about. Who wants to spend the day dodging speeding traffic on long, straight, windswept main roads, smooth as they might be?

Just before Oldcastle the inevitable happened. I could hear the unmistakeable phht-phht-phht hissing from Alan in front of me. Puncture! We'd come this far together so, without having to think about it, we all pulled in to a driveway and Alan got to work while we took in the view of Loughcrew, the next hill we'd be climbing, and got a few pics of passing riders. Thankfully that turned out to the only mechanical of the day between the four of us so that was a result.
Where's the neutral service car when you need it.

Loughcrew with the ancient burial mound visible on top.

Lone riders, enjoying their day.

Clubmates from Dundalk's Oriel Wheelers keep each other company

Just after we got moving again, a chap wearing SportActive kit came up from behind with a camera in his hand. He fired off a few shots of us and called out that we'd be able to see them on his website. Job done he upped his pace and headed off to catch the next group in front. Alan very astutely wondered why he started at the back and worked his way forward taking pics. Surely starting at the front and working back would be a lot easier! You can see those pics by clicking here.
Who's shooting who?

Next stop was Oldcastle for the second, and final, feed stop of the day. This one was a lot more sparsely populated than the Kells one, with a smaller mountain of sandwiches but plenty of hot water for coffee. We had a very pleasant chat with the father of an old racing friend, talking about our times racing against (or, more accurately, behind) his son and also how his grandson is now making a name for himself in the junior ranks. Brian Arrigan is the mans name and, at the age of 70, he was happily working his way around the course at his own pace. Cycling really is a sport for life.

Coming back out we were greeted by a fine drizzle. Just what we needed! It didn't take long to get to the sharp left hand turn for the climb up to Loughcrew. This was billed as the big climb of the day and it was a deceptive one. It started up a relatively wide minor road but quickly narrowed to a "dual cabbageway" with a good growth of grass down the centre.
The first slope of the Loughcrew climb.

A bit further up the dual cabbageway.

As it got more and more overgrown the hardest thing about it was trying to avoid slipping on the grass in the centre, while keeping far enough out from the hedge to clear the massive nettles poking out from the undergrowth. It didn't look, or feel, particularly steep but I still found myself dropping down through the gears as I went up and couldn't get up out of the saddle without my rear wheel slipping on the greasy surface. Finally we emerged into a car park beside the ancient burial mounds and a short flat section led to the equally greasy, and much steeper, descent down the other side.
Riding past the burial mounds on Loughcrew.

I think Trim is this way.

Heart stopping moments on the way down

I've never been a small rider but one of the interesting things about being a bit(!) heavier now is the effect gravity has on descents. So a slippery, narrow, steep, twisty drop can be a heart stopping experience. Let's just say I took it a bit handier than normal on the way down.

We had a few more miles to do into the wind, with the by now obligatory, short, steep ramps coming thick and fast, before we finally turned towards home and got that wind behind us for the final quarter of the ride. There were the four of us and two other guys sitting on the back. Stephen decided we should be properly sharing the pace so we four started going up and over. Eventually the other two joined in, making six of us, working together to keep a fast, wind assisted pace. Every time I came through my speedo was showing 20mph plus which, after 80 odd miles, is fast enough for weekend warriors. The route profile showed that we were pretty much descending all the way to Trim but, take it from me, it was the most uphill descent I've ever ridden. To be fair the road did drop gradually most of the way but there were enough short rises to hurt our tired legs.

Coming towards Kildalkey I was showing the 160km just about done but the road signs weren't so co-operative. They were saying we had 7km to go. My legs were seriously hurting at this point so the extra kilos were not welcome to me. Coming through Kildalkey, with Trim castle in sight in the distance, a sharp left turn forced the group to slow in front of me. The resulting acceleration out of the bend by the guys did it for me. My legs had had enough. I let the wheel go and resigned myself to cruising the last few minutes to the finish. Alan was suffering too so he eased up with me and we followed a short distance behind the others.

Finally we were on the streets of Trim and through the barriers onto the closed Castle Street to take the finish. What a relief it was to pass under the yellow arch and claim the finishers medal, t-shirt and goody-bag. Kevin decided to take advantage of the free massage on offer but I was too tired and hungry to wait. I got back to the car and simply lay down on the grass until I could muster some strength to get myself changed and struggle getting my bike on the roofrack!

Overall I can't praise the organisation of the event enough. It seemed to me that a small army of volunteers were working to facilitate our adventure through Meath. Every junction was marshalled, major ones by Gardai, so we never had to stop for traffic. All of the feed stops were very well supplied so we didn't go hungry or thirsty. Sign-on and the finish area were well staffed so we didn't have any waiting around. And best of all there were some shorter "family" rides organised while we were out on the road. Those rides, and a collection of market stalls set up around the finish area, meant this was a real community event and not just a day out for a bunch of lycra clad sadists. Well done to all.

Tuesday 20 July 2010

One angry Roche

When John Gadret attacked the Contador group on the Port de Bales yesterday my first reaction was "What about Roche chasing back behind". It didn't seem to occur to Harmon and Kelly at all and then, in the excitement of the Andy Schleck chain incident, I forgot about it.

Well, it seems it'll take a while for Roche to forget it!

Read his column in todays Irish Independent here

Monday 19 July 2010

Paris to Geneva Cycle Challenge

A relative of mine, and fellow cyclist, Fionnan O'Dwyer is about to embark on a new challenge. Last year Fionnan rode with a group from Dublin to Paris to raise funds for the Irish Hospice Foundation. This year he'll continue his efforts by riding from Paris to Geneva.

The ride is due to start next Sunday, the 24th July, and it'll take Fionnan 4 days to complete the approx 500km, including a Tour De France Category 3 climb, the Col de la Faucille. From recent experience trying to sprint Fionnan to the top of Howth Head that should be no problem to him!

Last years ride raised over €500,000, of which Fionnan managed to raise approx €9,000. This year he'd love to raise even more to assist the Irish Hospice Foundation roll out a Palliative Care program for children. Fionnan's company, WML, will cover his costs so every cent raised will go to the Foundation.

Fionnan has a web portal where donations can be made. To access it click here.

I hope you can support Fionnan, and more importantly the Irish Hospice Foundation and would like to wish him, and all the riders, the best of luck from the Muse-ette.

Thursday 8 July 2010

Tour De France 2010 Stage 3 - A trip to the Pavé

I just got back from one of the best cycling related trips I've taken yet. Myself and Stephen O'Shea flew yesterday morning to Charleroi to take in one of the most anticipated Tour stages in a while. The plan was to hire a car at the airport, head to the days only KOH and then dash into France to catch the peloton on one of the days pavé sections and, hopefully, see some real action. Of course, as well as taking the chance to see the Tour, live and in the flesh, it was also an opportunity for two confirmed bike nuts to stand on some of the most hallowed roads in cycling, l'Enfer Du Nord, the Hell of the North.

And the plan worked out to perfection!

After an early start in Dublin, we landed at Charleroi and picked up our nifty little Ford Ka. Thanks to some pre-programming of my sat-nav we had the rough locations of the climb and all of the pavé sections at our fingertips. So it was an easy, ten minute drive to the village of Sombreffe, where traffic was being stopped just before the junction the riders would pass through. We knew the 4th Cat KOH line was a kilometer or two to the east, so we reset the sat-nav to bring us to the junction of the next side road in that direction. We followed the directions and, after passing through a beautiful, sleepy, Belgian village had our first taste of the cobbles as we made our way up to the route.

This part of the day was just what I imagined watching the TDF is like as it winds it's way through the by-ways of Europe. Local families, young and old, lined the roadside. Those whose houses were on the route had their chairs out and were sipping a glass of wine or just chatting among themselves.

The publicity caravan was passing now and the local kids were scrapping for the goodies being thrown from time to time from the speeding advertisements. I'll put up a gallery of the various vehicles seperately.

We set ourselves up, green t-shirts and triclolours on display, at the prime point and were very much a novelty to the locals for a bit. After a long wait, in very pleasant sunshine, the break of 7 arrived led over by Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions and Steve Cummings of Team Sky.

Just over four minutes later, the peloton came up the hill, led by the Quick Step team of race leader, Sylvain Chavanel.
Quick Step lead the peloton
Chavanel in the Maillot Jaune
White jersey leader, Tony Martin, leads Juan Manuel Garate
Defending champion, Alberto Contador leads Christophe Moreau

The bandaged Schlecks are protected by their Saxo Bank teammates
World Champion, Cadel Evans, rides ahead of Olympic Champion, Samuel Sanchez

Before leaving Dublin, Steve had tweeted Nico Roche to tell him we'd be at the KOH and to keep an eye out. Being the gent he is, Nico did just that and gave us a quick wave as he passed. If you ever do go over, and there's an Irish rider, do remember your tricolour. They do notice and Nico has said it really motivates him to think people have travelled to support him.
Nico Roche spots the tricolour.

Once the race had passed, the roads were quickly re-opened and we were on our way to join the motorway for France. This was the bit we were concerned about. We had no idea what, if any, traffic restrictions or crowds might block our way to the pavé. All we could do was get there as fast as we could and hope for the best.

We decided to go for the second last, and longest, section of pavé on the stage route. We had the village of Wandignies-Hamage, the start point for these cobbles, selected on the sat nav and, just over an hour later, we were parked up on the edge of the village, right at the barrier where the minor road we were on intersected the race route. The anticipated delays and crowds never materialised. Just a hundred meters or so to our right was the 20km to go balloon, but we needed to head left, through the village and on to the pavé.

It hadn't occurred to me that the Irish tricolour might have an added significance in France, given recent events on a football pitch, but let's just say we heard the name Thierry Henry shouted at us many, many times as we walked the kilometre or so through the village.

Eventually we took a left hand turn and there it was, the almost mythical pavé. I will admit that, after years of watching epic battles over these roads on TV, my heart leapt at the sight in front of me. The anticipation was palpable and my day was made, regardless of what may follow.

We walked on for about another kilometre to get past the crowds gathered around the start of the section. It was surprisingly hard just to walk on the very uneven surface so I could only imagine what it would be like to ride over it. A few bikes passed as we walked, rattling and shaking in a most unnatural way! I wished I'd brought mine.

Once we'd selected our spot we set about making that small section of Hell into an Irish enclave. Flags were hoisted on bushes and sticks and we were ready for action.

We didn't have too long to wait for the race traffic to arrive. Team and official cars rattled past at bone-shaking speeds, while some of the police outriders had opted, sensibly for off-road bikes, although not all.

First rider through, riding on the sandy gutter to avoid the jarring of the cobbles, was Canadian Ryder Hesjedal of Garmin-Transitions. He'd left the his break-away companions on a previous section and was now making a bid for glory on his own.

Hesjedal was holding off a very strong chasing group, led towards us by the master of the cobbles, Fabian Cancellara, winner of both Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders in the spring. Strung out behind him were the surprisingly strong Andy Schleck, Cadel Evans, Thor Hushovd and Sky team-mates Geraint Thomas and Steve Cummings.

Cancellara drives the chase after Hesjedal
The World Champion, Norwegian Champion and British Champion were all in the chase group

The question for most people then was, where are Lance and Contador? We added Nicos name to that list. Where was he?

Without a stopwatch it's hard to judge gaps but the next group came along quite soon after, led by (I think) Garmin's Johan van Summeren. This was a big group and tucked in there was Contador and, to our relief, Roche, riding really well with some of the big boys.
Johan Van Summeren heads the "main" bunch from Jurgen Roelandts
Roche powers over the pavé behind Vinokourov, Menchov and Gerdemann

"Did anyone see Lance?" was the question going around in several languages after that group passed. No one had. The main group had split! Just a bit behind came another group containing Cavendish and, near the back, Petacchi in the Green Jersey. But still no Lance!

Mark Cavendish rides in the gravel while Danilo Hondo rides the crown.
Green Jersey wearer Petacchi struggles as Sky's Boasson-Hagen loses contact

And then Lance appeared, trailing his teammate, and chief minder, Yaroslav Popovych. Lance really looked to be struggling. I only found out much later that he had been in the Contador group but had punctured just before reaching us, getting a spare wheel from teammate Gregory Rast. He was now starting what would be a long chase to the finish, trying to limit his losses, on what he later admitted was one of his toughest days on a bike.

Lance catches up with Popovych as they chase his rivals
Lance showing the effects of a tough few days on the Tour.
It's going to be a long lonely chase for the RadioShack pair

After Lance went through it was down to the survival merchants. Riders were strung over a huge distance in groups and riding solo, all trying hard to just get to the finish in one piece so they could start another day. Chief among the stragglers were Yellow Jersey, Sylvain Chavanel and Giro winner Ivan Basso, struggling on his first taste of the cobbles in competition, but there were lot's of other big names choking in the dust, way down on the leaders. Here are some of them, in the order they passed me:

French Champion Thomas Voeckler
Ivan Basso followed by Swiss Champion, Martin Elmiger
Tour of California winner Mick Rogers
Yellow Jersey, Sylvain Chavanel, twice a puncture victim
Multiple Tour podium finisher Andreas Kloden
Polka Dot Jersey Jerome Pineau chased by German Champion, Christian Knees
Young Rider Leader Tony Martin was involved in the crash that split the field
Jens Voigt was delayed tending to the injured Frank Schleck
Simon Gerrans, bloodied and bruised but still going
Former Estonian Champion Rin Taaramae leads Danish Champion Nicki Sorensen

No sooner had the last riders gone past than it was time to find some way of hearing the stage result. I managed to get an over-several-shoulders view of a very small TV screen on a car passenger seat, while Stephen was getting a running commentary from his wife on the mobile from home. She was making a great fist of it until the doorbell rang and her shower of expletives had a small crowd in fits laughing around the speaker phone. I could just about make out Hushovd take the sprint in Arenberg but know little more than that. Ruth, in Dublin, provided the rest of the lowdown, including the great news that Roche had managed to finish in the much deplted second group, moving himself up hugely on GC.

What a stage! Exciting racing, crashes galore, drama featuring most of the favourites and some surprising gainers, none more so than Andy Schleck. How will he go now that his brother is out? Maybe it'll free him from a burden of responsibility he always seem to feel towards his (slightly) less talented sibling. And what about Armstrong? He fought a great fight to limit his losses, and was surprisingly philosophical about his misfortune afterwards. But can a 39 year old get that lost time back, against the young guns, Contador and Schleck?

Anyway, enough of the race analysis. That's what the cycling websites are for. I want to try to get across what it's like to have fulfilled two childhood dreams in one day. Le Tour AND the pavé in one day! I could hardly sleep last night as my mind raced with the enormity of it!

And after the race passed it wasn't over. We drove the pavé and then got to visit the legendary Arenberg forest. But I'll post more about that later.

To finish this post off I thought I should put up some pics that might help to show why the Tour is not just a bike race. It's an event. I mean it got me and Stephen (and the nice lady in the sat nav) on planes and automobiles across two countries, old friends re-united on a mutually-obsessed quest. It gets communities out on the side of the road, neighbours enjoying their own streets in a whole new way. It gets fans from countless nations out on the side of a farm track in a backwater of northern France. It gets companies to spend their marketing budgets on hilariously innovative ways to throw tat to kids at 80kph. It is a part of France, even when it's in Belgium. It's great! I can't wait to go back.

The new flag of Flanders!

Walking home after the Tour de France

Anyone need a wheel?
Shaky baby.