Sunday, 24 July 2011


Yes, it's been too many days since my last update, but I'm sure you can imagine I've had better things to do here in France with a little bike race I've been following.  You can see where I've been and where I've ridden by checking out the links to Strava on the right of the blog (one thing Strava won't tell you is that I've climbed nearly 8,500m this month, which is more than I'd done in the previous 6 months combined!).  I'm just going to let pictures tell the story for now, some of them are bad, but that's OK, since it's all about the moment.
Col de Moissiere.  9km at 8%, but felt a whole lot harder than that
The approach to the Col du Lauteret.  Snow tunnels and glaciers!

Yes, it was that cold at the top of the Col du Lauteret.  The Col du Galibier is another 600m up, and the risk of snow and exposure meant the Gendarmes wouldn't let anyone ride up further, as if the weather turned, there was no way to get everyone to safety.

Andy Schleck leading up the Lauteret, about to hit the slopes of the Glibier.  He had a4 minute gap at the bottom to the bunch of contenders, including Cadel.

Cadel dragging the bunch up the Lauteret.  He single handedly bought the gap back to 2 minutes  on Andy Schleck by the top of the Galibier, a move that would save his Tour de France.
If this looks steep it's because it is.  The first few ramps of l'Alpe d'Huez are well over 11%, if you blow a valve here, it's  either another 11km at your limit, or failure
The 1km to go kite on l'Alpe d'Huez, just after  I cleared a pack of  knuckleheaded Luxembugers who either don't know how a door operated since they were hanging out of bars in the alpine village, or the smell of whatever it was they were cooking was forcing proprietors to kick them all back out on to the street.

Cadel gives it the beans on the bottom of l'Alpe d'Huez
Cadel about 200m off the off the start ramp at the Grenoble TT
And in the finishing straight, more beans!  On his way to tour victory
This was as close as I could get to the podium presentation in Grenoble, but I couldn't have cared less.  A truly emotional day.  I have never and may never see my football team win a grand final, but Saturday in Grenoble was special on a whole other level
Me, Champs Elessees, Arc de Triumph, Yellow

Cadel, Champs Elysees, Yellow (though he earned his jersey, mine cost me 70 euro).  The longest victory lap taken by anyone, ever, but probably the most deserved.

 I may or may not return to normal programming in the next day or so, we'll just have to see what Paris can throw at me first.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

France, Part un!

I know people are probably keen to find out how I'm doing on my tour of le Tour (hopefully somebody, somewhere cares), and it's been 3 or 4 days now, so here's the lowdown...

After arriving in Grenoble late afternoon Saturday, I laid low Saturday night to attempt to catch up on some much needed sleep and to try and get my body clock on some time zone close to where my body actually is.  My objective for Sunday had always been a solo mission up l'Alpe d'Huez, but unfortunately for me, I woke to teeming rain in Grenoble, and further research indicated it was no drier 60km away on the top of the climb, and given it sits 1600m higher than Grenoble, the rain that I was seeing outside my window was falling as sleet, hail and snow on the top of l'Alpe.  Making an ascent would have been doable, I would've suffered like a dog in the conditions, but climbing in such weather is relatively safe, descending however, would be suicide.  I wasn't that worried about binning it on the descent, what worried me was exposure on the way back down, and since I hadn't packed remotely appropriate weather gear for the conditions, I decided to give it a miss, as I'll get another shot later in the week (with vehicular support too).

I reckon 4 out of 5 buildings in the centre of Grenoble pre-date
european settlement in Australia.  If I had any idea about the French
Language, I may have even been able to describe what this building
When the rain finally stopped in Grenoble, I hit the town in search of food, and i managed to successfully buy a bunch of Bananas, a couple of apples, a loaf of bread and some chocolate biscuits with no practical knowledge of French.  The people in stores may have indeed been able to speak english, but I decided not to force my laziness on them by just greeting them with "bonjour" and handing them a larger euro bank note than what I figured the food to cost, and thanking them with a "merci" (then figuring out how much things actually cost based on what change I was given).  Thankfully, upon returning to my hotel, I ran in to my tour guides for the week in the lobby as they were bumping in all the hire bikes and other gear for the tour, so I quickly befriended them in order to obtain some local knowledge and some local lingo (or at least a translation of the menu at the hotel restaurant).

As I arrived in Grenoble a day and a half before my tour was scheduled to start, and the balance of riders weren't due to arrive until Monday afternoon in time for a "warm up" ride, I managed to invite myself on a reconnaissance ride with 3 of my tour guides, Steve (tour leader and recently retired pro), Paul (mechanic) and Ed (trainer and physical therapist, who'd also unfortunately binned it earlier in the week on a descent in the Pyrenees).  What followed may only have been a 50km ride, but with a former pro to chase up a 700m ascent, I managed to set a 2011 best 20 minute power score (298 watts).  Still not enough to break the 4watts/kg barrier that I've been chasing since last summer based on my weight when i left home, but having not weighed myself for 2 and a half weeks, maybe I did break it and I just didn't realise it.

In the afternoon, this time with the group, I did the same climb again, this time with a different descent (and nowhere near the same power).  I think I was entitled to be a little slower to the top given it was my second time up for the day, it also made me feel a bit better knowing 2 of the 3 riders who beat me to the top either get paid to ride their bikes, or have been paid to do so before.
The view from the top of Monday's unnamed cat4 climb
We woke Tuesday to dry ground but dark skies as the group readied ourselves for a bus transfer to our home for the next 2 nights, the Alpine village of Ancelle.  The threat of rain was on everybodies mind as we began our 2 hour bus ride, and the threat was realised about half an hour in as light spits and spats turned to full blooded rain, lightning and thunder.  The decision was made to dice the ride to Gap for the finish of stage 17 of le Tour (an 18km ride, all downhill), instead, we would load the bikes and us back on to the bus, head for Gap, and make the decision there.

Gap sits around 700m lower than Ancelle, and although we were greeted with wet roads in Gap, the shocking weather we were presented with in Ancelle was breaking further down the valley.  Within an hour or so, the roads had dried.  The peleton came through the township of Gap once before doing a loop around the town and up the Col de Manse, the stages only real climb of the day, and "only" a cat2.  i headed up to the lower slopes of the climb in time for the publicity caravan to pass and score plenty of free crap, I mean, "valuable, unique souvenirs".  I lobbed just beyond the 20km to go kite among a swathe of Norwegians, who all went bananas when the days breakaway came past with an insurmountable lead and containing Norwegians Thor Hushovd and Edvald Boassen Hagen, who would eventually battle it out for victory on the stage.  Once the break passed through, I started to move back down the climb to get a posy in the finishing straight, but not before seeing the main bunch pass under the 20km to go kite.
Cadel on the bottom of the Col de Manse, ably supported by George Hincape.  Where's Andy Schleck? Crying like a nancy pants at the back of the bunch and losing the tour, that's where he is.  Cadel would follow a move by Alberto Contador over the top of the Col de Manse, gapping the Schlecks, then make his own move on the descent, gaining another 3 seconds on Contador.  When you've lost the tour once before by the second narrowest margin on record, you take any time you can get.  I can't understand what the French media are saying, but the majority of the cycling press are still making out like the tour is still the Frank and Andy sideshow versus old mate Albert, but have a look at Cadel here, game face on, sipping on a bidon while the bunch suffers.  20 minutes later, he ripped Andy's heart out then showed it to Frank in a Mortal Kombat style fatality move that even scared Jens Voigt.  Contador and Samuel Sanchez couldn't even catch him with their best Spanish team time trial tactics (the butcher, like a lot of other shops in Gap, were closed for the day)
As the peleton hit the final climb, the heavens opened again causing the GC carnage described in the caption above, it also made any attempt at viewing the finale futile since the French covet their umbrellas as they do baguettes.  i struggled to a spot where I could at least see a big screen, just past the finish line, where I could also just see the riders as they came through to the scrum of photographers.  In case you missed the result of the stage, the Norwegians walked away happy on the day, with victory going to Thor Hushovd, beating out Eddie BH with the help ofGarmin Cervelo teammate Ryder Hesjedal.  The 2 Garmin riders in the break were also enough to return Garmin to the top of the teams classification, so 3 of my 4 pre-tour predictions are looking good right now (Cadel for the GC, Tom Danielson to be the surprise top 10 finisher, and Garmin winning the teams classification).  The rain broke again after the finish, giving us JUST enough of a window to ride the Col de Manse for ourselves and continue back on to the hotel in Ancelle.  A misaligned rear derailleuer after 2+ weeks of packing/unpacking my bike saved the Schleck's from further disgrace, as I didn't have a full compliment of gears to attack the climb, but I managed to trim it well enough at the top of the climb to be able to smash it back to the hotel as lightning and thunder entered the valley, it's amazing what a storm like that can do for a cyclists motivation, to get home anyway, not to leave the house...

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Planes, Trains & Automobiles

Well I seem to have gotten away with that one!

After two very long weeks traveling across the US, with sore legs and calloused feet, I have finally arrived in France.  It's taken me 2 trains, 2 planes and a bus, but I'm here in Grenoble.  I'm either very lucky, very well managed, or have a deity looking out for me because everything seems to work out alright when I expect the worst.  My journey started with getting on the New York subway to get to JFK airport, a not altogether difficult task since I've done it once before, but I remember it being awkward with a wheely bag and a small backpack, so I expected carnage trying to get a bike bag, a 70 litre backpack and my laptop/junk bag through gates and turnstiles during evening peak hour, then transferring to another train, but it all went well, and for the princely sum of $7.50, I'd managed to navigate my way to JFK not only cheaply, but about half an hour earlier than I'd anticipated.  It wasn't all good news though as I got stung by Lufthansa for carrying a bike, which wasn't unexpected, but I'd hoped I'd get away with it as one of my two allowed pieces of checked luggage, which I would have if I was able to conceal the fact there was a bike in my bike bag (which in case you haven't seen it, would be nigh on impossible since it's the oddest shaped piece of luggage you have ever seen, and in large enough lettering has the words "caution : bicycle inside" printed on both sides of the thing).

About 3 and a half painful hours later (with the exception of hearing Karla's voice for the first time since I've been away), I was waving goodbye to the USA and on my way to Frankfurt.  After a 14+ hour flight from Melbourne to LA, and my little excursion through middle America on the way to New York, a 7 hour flight through the night was nothing, and while I expected to only be transiting through Germany on the way to France, I actually had to clear EU immigration at Frankfurt, so I'm counting that as a new country I've visited!  The queue for immigration and the walk to the other end of the terminal in Frankfurt consumed most of my hour and a half layover, so before I knew it I was on another plane to Lyon.

I was pretty nervous getting on the plane to Lyon since its the first time I've been on a flight alone between 2 countries where neither one uses English as it's primary language, and I had no idea how I was to get to Grenoble once I landed.  I made a very rudimentary attempt to learn some French phrases using an app on my phone before I boarded the plane, but that was useless since the cabin crew were German, and they spoke English anyway (French too, but why bother embarrassing myself).  I don't quite know what was in the baggy that they served up as a snack on that flight, but it looked very cabbagey, and I reckon I could smell it through the wrapper, so I arrived in Lyon a little hungry.

For a smallish airport (maybe Adelaide sized if you're playing along at home), it took a decent amount of time to collect my bags.  Of course my bike came out last, and I was fortunate enough to have found that my bike arrived in one piece, but the good old Transport Safety Administration had broken a clip inside the bag when the inspected it leaving the US which made the bag a little saggy and harder to handle through traffic (it isn't terminal, but this bag is approaching the end of its life). I may have said it before, but I'll say it again, anything to do with flying in the US bites.  On the navigation front, I was fortunate enough to come across a Canadian chap who was collecting a bike from the same flight I was on and we got chatting while waiting, and it turned out he was heading into Lyon by train as I had anticipated I was to do before hopping on another train to Grenoble, so we figured we'd tackle it together, however it turned out that once we got out of the elevator on the departures level, I spotted a bus parked on the concourse with Grenoble printed on the side in big letters, so I figured I'd just try to get on that rather than tackling French trains.  Again I got lucky and the ticket agent spoke English, and 5 minutes later I was on a bus pulling away from the station.  I never even had a chance to convert my leftover US dollars to euro!

As we pulled up to the first toll toll gate on the motorway, I saw some Aussies in a camper van driving away from the airport with an Australian flag draped across their dash, and I don't know why, but that made this thing feel all the more real than the strange airports, the foreign languages and the remarkable countryside.  I'm in France, and I'm going to the freakin' tour!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

New York, New York

It's hard to fathom that I've only been in New York for a little over 48 hours.  The more I think about it, the more I think I must have been here an extra day or two, but nope, it's just been 2 full days.

I got in to the city around 9pm on Tuesday after spending the day on a plane from LA  (with a scheduled stop in Kansas City, which was news to EVERYONE on the plane other than the flight crew) and once settled in to the shoebox that is my hotel room, I headed straight for Times Square to get me some New York vibe.  To say that New York is the city that never sleeps might not be 100% accurate, but Times Square is definitely the part of town that is the last to go to bed, even if they do leave the lights on, so I got a few hours worth of people watching in before retiring for the night.

While I did have a few things I had to do while here in New York, I didn't have any specific plans laid out, so without any place to be, I tried my luck getting a ticket to see a taping of Letterman, which consisted of queuing for half an hour to fill out a form, then having to call back an hour later to find out if my application was successful, then queuing up again 4 hours later to physically get my ticket, and then one more queue half an hour later to get into the studio.  All told, I reckon I spent less time in queues in the 2 days I was at Disneyland, and the end result was more underwhelming than "Star Tours" (which was always the longest line in Disneyland).  It's not that David Letterman isn't entertaining, it just seems a little forced these days, and there isn't much "magic" left in TV after spending the last 10 years working behind the scenes.

In between queues for Letterman, I ticked off the first real box I had to tick by visiting FAO Schwartz and building my very own Muppet at their Whatnot Workshop, I managed to stave off doing laundry for one more day by buying some more cheap designer boxer shorts, and I practically inhaled a burrito bowl from Chipotle (why has it taken me 6 trips to the US to get on board with Chipotle?).  With all the excitement of Letterman behind me, and another full day ahead of me, I retired to my shoebox fairly early.

Now I'm probably entering hour number 20 or so for today as I type.  It started with item number 2 on my to do list, the NBC studio tour.  As I mentioned with Letterman, I'm not impressed by TV magic unless it makes my job easier.  I had a minimal amount of professional curiosity regarding the inner workings of the NBC studios at Rockefeller Plaza, but my main motivation was to see the service cupboard that Jim Henson decorated back in the 60's while waiting to appear on a tonight show.  Much to my disappointment (and contrary to the linked article), the pipes only make up part of the tour when Jimmy Fallon isn't in season as the cupboard is right by his office (or so that's what the NBC page told me), there was a T-shirt in the store at the end of the tour with a rendition of the pipes on it, so I now have a "I came all the way to New York to see rare and largely unseen work from one of my heroes and all I got was this lousy T-shirt" T-shirts (for those of you playing along at home, it's also only the second T-shirt I've bought on this trip, but France is still to come).

Following the NBC tour, I ticked box number 3, which cheered me up somewhat (but the details are currently classified), then proceeded with items 4 and somewhat fortuitously, 5 on the to do list.  I had to relent and finally do a load of washing, but I found a news stand that had copies of "the Onion" just outside the laundromat, so not only did I tick off an item on my list, I also had something to read while my clothes were bouncing around in the machine.  Just to add to my domestic duties for the day, I also had to visit the post office to ship home all the crap I don't want to cart with me to France (2 Muppets, a suit and miscellaneous other bits that'll only slow me down.

My final order of business for the day was to try and squeeze a ride in, which sounds easy until you see the traffic in midtown Manhattan, and the batshit crazy things other cyclists do on the roads here.  It seems as though traffic lights are merely a suggestion in New York, since cars don't pay much attention to them, cyclists hold them in an even lower regard, and why would pedestrians look at signals when they don't even look for traffic.  I started out easy with a few laps of Central Park, then I followed the Hudson River north until I came across another rider who was heading out on the same route I was intending, so I just tacked on to his interval session in order to not get lost.  I finished up with a loop of lower Manhattan just because I haven't been that far downtown on this trip, and basically finished the ride as the sun set on NYC, and an epicly long day (the ride data should show up on the top right corner somewhere)

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Congratulations Brad & Eryka!

As much as I might emphasise my trip to the tour, the real reason for this trip has been the marriage of Brad and Eryka.  A little over 12 months ago now, Brad proposed to Eryka while I was on my last holiday here in California visiting them, and while they may not realise it, I probably started planning my trip before they started to plan their wedding!

Owing to a bit of a head cold (and the fact that it's now 1.30 am) I won't provide a blow by blow description of events, but I'll leave you with a couple more photos of the happy couple.

The happy couple and their salads.  Judging by the salad here, tomato must be as rare and expensive like bananas are at home, and rocket must be plentiful, still good though (the salad, Eryka, and I guess even Brad).
I have a photo of Eryka and I like this, but at that point in the night she was a self confessed "hot mess", so for her benefit I'll leave it out.  Brad reckoned I looked like a muppet in my green shirt, I reckon I totally owned it.

I don't know who's idea it was  to have a photo booth at the wedding for guests  to take photos of themselves, but it was a good one, unless you're posing with 4 different pairs of glasses, have them laid out on the seat next to you to facilitate a quick swap between shots, then without warning 4 of your friends storm the booth and sit on them (thanks guys), no damage thankfully.
P.S:  Eryka, don't be jealous that I'm heading to France for le Tour and you're not, it's not like a Caribbean honeymoon is some sort of booby prize, but remember that this trip would probably not even be happening if it wasn't for you guys.  Mazel tov!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Sunny California

I'm not going to brag too much about how good the weather is in Southern California compared to Melbourne right now, because quite frankly, it's the least I expect from the climate here (and I expect it year round!), I will however brag about managing to get 6 hours or so in on the bike in the 4 days I've been here, which is not bad considering 1 day was spent at disneyland, and another outlet mall shopping (which is really hard when I have to adhere to pitiful european airline baggage limits during the latter part of my trip, and the exchange rate is so enticing).  Those 6 hours without arm warmers, leg warmers, tights, long sleeve jerseys or winter jackets have sharpened the tan lines to their former summer glory, and not only that, I'm also getting in some important km's before the fun really begins in a few weeks.

Today's ride was a leisurely jaunt down to La Jolla and back along the Pacific Ocean, with some gentle rolling hills and a decent climb up to Torrey Pines (home to the championship golf course of the same name).

The one thing however that always baffles me about riding in California, and I think I'm qualified to ask the question given the amount of riding I've done here, is why drivers here seem so poorly skilled, aggressive or both when you're on the road in a car, but when riding a bike, everyone seems patient, careful and courteous towards you?  Maybe it's a side effect of a litigious society, where drivers are scared to get sued for injuring a comparatively vulnerable road user? maybe drivers here are better skilled after all? maybe it's the overtly courteous society? maybe the absence of mandatory helmet laws make drivers more careful around cyclists (there's data somewhere to back that up, google it)? maybe drivers here are just accustomed to sitting in traffic and understand sitting behind a cyclist for 15 seconds waiting to pass isn't going to make them later than they already are?

What I reckon it could be, is that some of the people riding bikes here (and I won't call them cyclists, because riding a beach cruiser the wrong way down an on road bike lane does not make someone riding a bike a cyclist) are so poorly skilled at riding bikes, every cyclist gets a wide berth?  I would go so far as to say I have seen as many people riding beach cruisers the wrong way down a road than I have seen riding the right way, and it's not a trivial number either, it's a lot!  I still believe that even given Melbourne's crap roads, crap drivers and crap weather, it's still got the best cycling culture of any city I've ever visited, but is it too much to ask to import a little of this Californian patience and understanding towards cycling they've got going on over here (a bit of the weather wouldn't go astray either)?

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The first 48 (or 72, curse you international date line) hours

I'm going to try to make this a short post since it's past my bedtime if I want to eliminate this jetlag business, but we'll see how that one flies,shall we?

I'll start by asserting that working 14 hours, flying 14 hours, then spending 12 hours at Disneyland (I wish it was 14 hours), all in a 48 hour period, is not the most intelligent thing I've ever done, but it'll probably be the closest I get to ever seeing a theme park through the eyes of a drunk person (there is certainly no chance that the remaining 8 hours could be attributed to sleep, the real figure there might be 4 hours, including what I got on the plane).  I can however add to the list of places I've slept to the Haunted Mansion ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Little Mermaid ride (don't judge me, there was no line and you would've done it too), and whilst standing up watching the World of Color water and light show at California Adventure - twice (OK, maybe 3 times, but I assure you the show is spectacular, even the people without sleep deprivation induced psychosis enjoyed it).

It wouldn't be a trip to Disneyland without the obligatory posed roller coaster photos, which I've decide to use props for this time around (although props were a little thin on the ground to begin with, and didn't become more plentiful as the day wore on, but I've still got another day to go back there next week, so I'll be going back prepared).

Drink Bottle


Self Portrait
OK, so maybe I took this photo a little earlier than the photo the ride took, but you try synching the two up...

Totally running out of ideas here, upside down sunglasses, but it was worth it to ruin the shot for the girl who looked like she was posing for the photo she would've sent to casting agents around LA 

I can also thoroughly recommend riding Space Mountain (a roller coaster that runs through what is, save for a few lighting effects, total darkness) wearing sunglasses, the darker the better.  I got off it dizzier than when I got off the teacups, which might be a lie, since we totally slayed the teacups! I'm pretty sure we spun that pastel yellow sucker so fast we were generating lift.

That'll do for now.  Keep your eyes out for my ride updates in the top right corner of the blog