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Wednesday, 8 June 2016

BREMAIN, BREXIT AND THE UGLY

Democracy, that Ancient Greek invention, the reason for millions of deaths all over the world, is taken for granted, ridiculed and ignored. We're reminded we fought for it; we protest against dictatorships; we laugh at the single-choice vote in Kazakhstan or North Korea, Belarus or Russia.
But when it comes to voting, we simply don't want to know. We rely on others to support our own apathy, our laziness to engage with current political topics. The very word 'politics' turns us off.
In 1950, 84% of eligible voters did the deed; last year it was 66%, rising slightly from the lowest point of 59% in 2001. In 2015, 15 million of the registered voters did not go to the polling stations, and 4 million did not even register in the first place. EU elections' average turnout is even lower, around 34%. The EU referendum is perhaps a bigger concern to most people so I expect the turnout to be somewhere around the 50% mark. Poor.
We vote within social media, we moan, argue, debate, comment, like, poke, swipe, emoji the hell out of the millions of posts on the very same issues we're supposed to simply write a cross on a choice once every few years. Is the voting system to blame? Are we expecting too much from people? Should we engage more with politics and have more interesting politicians?
Ironically, any answer to those questions could be resolved at the ballot box. Change only comes to those who have a say.
We think it doesn't affect us, yet we give them our money to be spent as they wish. We think we have no say in the matter, yet we are vocal when we don't like what politicians do.
The EU referendum is looming upon us... It's not really, we've talked about little else in the past few months. We have been part of the EU since the 70s, it shouldn't be possible for people to be still undecided on the issue. It's not a new thing we need to join, we are in it, we have been in it, we have discussed it ad nauseam.
There was a registration deadline for new voters advertised for months, and yet at the last minute we managed to be outraged when the system crashed, effectively impeding some people to register. Of course it shouldn't happen, but technical faults on overloaded systems do happen. The problem lies on the late surge. Almost as if people were daring, treating the registration as a plunge in the high seas, a jump from the balcony into one of Ibiza hotel's swimming pools after a drinking session, "Yeah, let's do it, fuck it!".
How deplorable it is to know that such an important subject has been reduced to a war of headlines, of party in-fighting, of silly and imagined financial projections, of scaremongering and crass statements from both sides.
Blaming others is used to mask our failings. Non-voting does that. We don't want to be responsible. We are the generation of watchers. We watch on YouTube, on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram; we observe a fracas or an accident on the road but don't do anything, just point and comment, someone will sort it out. It's the Bystander Effect: we see something happening, we should do something but don't move, just observe in the assumption that someone will surely sort it out. The more people do that, the less likely we are to intervene, so nobody does and we're then displeased or shocked by the outcome.
Media is to blame as well. The narrative is always the same because if something works, gets the clicks and the necessary viewing, it is exploited to the max. No point talking about the technicalities and the realities of leaving the EU or the positive engagement of European policies, much easier to talk about the maverick and quirky figures in both camps.
Maybe I will be proven wrong and lots of people will vote on the day. But I know a proper debate has been wanting, the vote will nevertheless be skewed by fickle arguments.
Bremain, Brexit....and the ugly? Not going to vote.

Friday, 3 June 2016

THE CAPITALIST TRAP

BHS, Woolworths, Austin Reed, Blockbuster, Comet, JJB Sports, to name a few. But not only retail: steel, coal, banking. Big companies come and go, file for bankruptcy, fold. Jobs, thousands of them are lost in the name of capitalism, an old-fashioned capitalism.
The type where managers/owners/entrepreneurs simply use companies to inflate their portfolios, to seek short term gains, unashamedly steal the cash and drop the consequences to others.

There is undoubtedly a pattern in terms of the type of companies that fold. Most are simply not meeting the demands of a fast changing market or the implementation of technological advances.
But they are also kept that way by investors whose sole aim is to make big money fast and run. No need to upgrade stores, train staff, research markets. Companies are bought, money is appropriated, then those same companies are sold, dismissed and good luck to the next owner. It's happening in the name of freedom, free market, individual pursuit for happiness.
 
We need a system that allows freedom but has a cap on greed. Companies that employ, say, five hundred plus employees should be under the scrutiny of independent bodies, a bit like Ofcom for broadcasters or Ofsted for schools.
It shouldn't happen that a company as big as Tata Steel suddenly closes, leaving not just unemployed people but whole cities and regions destitute of commerce as a consequence of that closure. It should not be a surprise. Companies shut down because they start to lose money. That should flag up. Over time, if the business is on steady decline, there should be a system of employment redistribution, talks within the region and with the government about generating jobs, finding ways to persuade other companies to allocate their business in that area. It's all done too late. It takes years, while people are on the dole and/or on benefit and whole generations of people lose self-respect because of the continuous struggle.

It follows this culture of cuts to inflate the coffers in the short run but no investment for the long term. Because the old fashioned managerial style it is embedded in politics and in the financial world. We have Big Data, we have the numbers and information is available for entrepreneurs to secure the best possible scenarios. It takes willpower and compassion, not easily associated with greed. It takes a different kind of regulation and willingness to do the right thing not just for the individual but for society as a whole.
A happy and balanced society would respond to markets much more readily than one that resents the wealthy and the powerful.

Economists tend to make predictions based on trends and historical financial events. With the help of sociologists those predictions would be more objective and equitable. Their involvement would procure a more realistic picture for financial forecasts. This forced separation of concepts only helps the artful dodgers of the markets. Crying wolf is not acceptable anymore. We know what is wrong, change should be demanded.



Monday, 30 May 2016

TO BE OR NOT TO BE - THE NIBALI HYPOTHESIS

Nibali won his second Giro d'Italia in what has been hailed as one of the best last minute surges since... well, probably Flandis at the Tour. Or was it?
The element of suspicion for any winner is high. Social media are quick to analyse a victory in every detail and from any stance. Years of cheaters draw inevitable conclusions from many sides.
Nibali, up until stage 17, was apparently under the weather, thus under-performing. This brought on speculation on the negative effects of changing crank length so close to a GT and so late in a career. But Merckx did the same, although I believe he went for shorter cranks rather than longer ones like Nibali's. Then the Italian was taken to see team doctors and after that he started performing at his best. Astana does come with a heavy baggage of doping offences, including its own manager Vinokourov, so it was easy enough to finger point to a darker side of that sudden burst of energy.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

THE CYCLING CONJECTURE

Cycling is passion, history, grit, determination, but also innovation and... conjecture.
Although rivalries have always been part of the sport, social media have now given dualism of opinions a loud platform.
In the past we saw discord between the two major groupset companies (Campagnolo vs Shimano), or between riders, (Coppi vs Bartali). Books have been written about it, and plenty of banter has been dished out over the years.
The immediacy and exponential reach of social media has escalated the debates surrounding certain topics, as more people are inclined to share their own views based on personal experiences.
It can be about the effectiveness of helmets, the use of cycle lanes, the introduction of disc brakes in the peloton or the veracity of doping suspicions and yes, Team Sky!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

TOMMEKE VS SPARTACUS

The similarities between “Tommeke” Tom Boonen and “Spartacus” Fabian Cancellara are uncanny. To choose who is the best rider of the two would be like choosing between two of your own siblings. Different characteristics have produced comparable results. Boonen is the sprinter of the two (or at least he was at the height of his career), while Cancellara has the better tactical sense, mostly.

Monday, 21 March 2016

MILANO-SANREMO - THE DEMARE DEMARCATION

Demarcation is a dividing line. While it is also a pun on the rider's name, it highlights the thin line between glory and infamy.
As soon as the Frenchman crossed the line ahead of a marauding gang of sprinters, I punched a fist into the air to celebrate. A new rider was winning a classic, let alone a Monument, which is always a good thing for the sport. It's exciting to see young talent finally coming through the ranks, and Demare is an inspiring young man. I first noticed him at London 2012 when, soon after finishing, he stood right next to me at the 300-metre mark to watch the rest of the riders come through and soak up the atmosphere with his girlfriend. I didn't know at first who he was, but I noticed the world champion stripes in his shoes (he was reigning under-23 World champion).

Friday, 18 March 2016

IT'S THE ECONOMY, STUPID... OSBORNE

Mr Osborne's Budget is taking aim at a very specific target audience, the Tory voters. It is nor surprising neither dissimilar to behaviour from past Chancellors from any party and budgets all over the world. However, this one is particularly cynical in its address. Clinical even.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

UMBERTO ECO AND THE POWER OF READING

It all started with seeing my mum every night going to bed with a book or a magazine (my father never read books, just lost in classical music). My mum only finished primary school, back then, in rural Italy, they needed people to work rather than study. But I was always proud that she had this passion for books and was better for it.
Then I would look at those books, turn them over and read the blurb. Taking up reading became a linear consequence of that curiosity.

Sunday, 10 January 2016

CYCLING AND THE PASSION FOR THE MOUNTAINS

Climbs tend to become legendary, both in pro and amateur cycling. Waxing lyrical about a particular col, cima, pico, pass, is at the heart of most conversations between two-wheeled colleagues. And unless you live at the top of a mountain, descents are variables of the same equation. Both climbs and descents create an experience that is unique to cycling, a free rollercoaster of pain and elation.

Saturday, 9 January 2016

THE WEST AND THE REST

Is there such a thing as Western culture, Western society, philosophy?
While listening to a podcast on African Philosophy, I couldn't help but think that it seemed ludicrous to talk about "African" in the context of one big bundle of ideas and values from over 50 countries, each with its own identity and history.
Is there a case for being sceptical about a Western ideal as well? There are clear connections amongst countries belonging to certain geographical and colonial areas. Historical and cultural ties are undeniable, however, those ties were borne out of proximity or conquest rather than natural equivalence.

Saturday, 12 December 2015

THE COGNITIVE SELF

20th century philosopher Michel Foucault was particularly unusual in his methodology. Rather than concentrate on one subject he sought to gather wisdom from the study of, well, everything. History and more specifically Genealogy were his means to find answers to the concept of the self and the direction of knowledge, which can be structured by the diversification of themes:
"... [Genealogy examines] the constitution of the subject across history which has led us up to the modern concept of the self."
He viewed genealogy as an inquiry into the seemingly not important, but eventually crucial, parts that constitute a subject and not into the timeless condition of being. Each of these elements are indivisible from the fabric weaved into the current self.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

THE PROGRAM... A NON-ENHANCING PERFORMANCE

Too soon or too late, but it's definitely an odd time to come out with this movie as the story has saturated the sport and some riders are still around, which makes it difficult from a legal and sporting point of view.
I had the best seat, front row, just off the stage where later Frears, Walsh and the impeccable host Rebecca Charlton would hold a Q&A session.
As cyclists we tend to have an inherent passion about our sport, we debate, argue, shout, cheer, and mimic our greatest heroes and ride in the same parcours. So when a director who has not a clue or is not remotely interested in cycling, is given the job of unravelling one of the most controversial stories in the history of cycling, nothing too good can come out of it.
The film is the visual representation of 'Seven Deadly Sins', a book written by journalist David Walsh and his pursuit to unmask Armstrong's doping and the various types surrounding a systemic doping that had its pinnacle at the turn of the century (by no means over now, and very present in the past as well).
Whatever people's opinion on Walsh, he was part, if not the major act in the unveiling of the doping culture. He is by no means the only reason Lance admitted to doping, but thanks to his investigations he moved enough opinions to keep the case above the surface.
Actor Chris O'Dowd plays Walsh and he's the only good note in this sketchy film.
The story unravels with snippets of episodes, the acting is marred by the strange impersonations of too many well known riders/coaches/managers etc.
The 'cycling' in the film doesn't come across as important and it shows. It seems to be told by someone who has been told about cycling but has not being involved.
Armstrong's notorious chasing down of Simeoni was a laughable affair of 30 metres, which made no sense in tactical terms. That was a crucial moment because not only Armstrong threatened him but by chasing him down himself while wearing the yellow jersey he basically killed any ambitions the Italian rider might have had. That didn't come across.
But Frears admitted during the Q&A after the screening that he was only interested in the criminal side of the story. He seemed confused and unimpressed by an audience that was more focused on the nuances of the sport. But those nuances are important. At the heart of all the doping there was yes greed, fraud, threats, bullying but also a chase for glory, fame, sporting immortality.
Ben Foster, Lance in the movie, had a passable performance but the general feel was one of a 'B' movie, something that would come up in the afternoon on Channel 5. Hurried, fragmentary, at times ridiculous.
And let's forget the title sequence... as a designer I cringed. Bad type, bad editing.
It confirmed was I thought the film would be like and I only went because I hoped the Q&A would bring light to the making of the movie. But with a reluctant director, it wasn't going to happen.
A friend suggested they should've made a film about a story like Armstrong's but with fictional characters. That would've freed the legal headaches and the silly make ups. Or stick with a well edited documentary (but that's been done).
However, I was in good company and a night out is a night out.

4/10

Friday, 9 October 2015

2015 SEASON - GREAT EXPECTATIONS

Jakob Fuglsang 
Astana Pro Team
No wins from him since 2012 (apart from a TTT at the 2013 Vuelta)

Mark Cavendish
Etixx-Quick Step
All in perspective given his status as one of the fastest sprinters in history. Lots of wins but only one in the World Tour at the Tour. Outpaced by several sprinters when it mattered, this has been his worst season to date, although other riders would give their right hand to have his 2015 results. Contract not renewed

Michal Kwiatkowski
Etixx-Quick Step
Often in the thick of it, he won the Amstel Gold Race but nowhere near his previous season. The rainbow jersey's curse strikes again

Rigoberto Uran
Etixx-Quick Step
The Colombian was outperformed in the Grand Tours and was never a real threat all year. His form was coming on just before the Worlds, too late

Heinrich Haussler
IAM Cycling
Winning the National championship was a good start but since then Heinrich has all but disappeared from the top tier

Roberto Ferrari
Lampre Merida
Nothing since 2012, the step up hasn't happened

Filippo Pozzato
Lampre Merida
His lack of wins is in sharp contrast with his enormous support he gets from the fans. He might not find a World Tour contract for 2016

Nairo Quintana
Movistar
Tirreno Adriatico, then 2nd at the Tour with a couple of impressive stages, but all too late. However, he looked all year as though his top end was lacking in power when it counted

Ryder Hesjedal
Cannondale-Garmin
For a Grand Tour winner, Ryder has not followed on his 2012 form. Although aggressive on some stages, he hasn't managed a win since Vuelta 2014

Dan Martin
Cannondale-Garmin
A year to forget for the Irish champion. His talent was lost in the Cannondale merger. No results in 2015

Moreno Moser
Cannondale-Garmin
The Italian rider clearly has talent and he's developing into a strong time triallist. He needs focus and attention and a stricter team in terms of management/coaching

Andrew Talansky
Cannondale-Garmin
Like many from that team, he disappeared after promising so much in 2014

Marcel Kittel
Giant-Alpecin
Illness perhaps, problems in the head more probable. He struggled to finish races, let alone winning them. Not the Kittel who outsprinted Cav in Paris. A change of team will hopefully give him a clean slate

Ben Swift
Team Sky
As a designated sprinter in one of the top teams, Swift has not shown the potential his management seem to believe in

Julian Arredondo
Trek Factory Racing
He was meant to be the next Colombian sensation but often fails to make a mark for himself

Bauke Mollema
Trek Factory Racing
Perhaps his ambitions for Grand Tour podium are too much. He would be a great lieutenant for a proper GT contender









OUTSIDE WORLD TOUR:

Bardiani team
After being protagonists in most races last year with growing talent, this year they has been very subdued grabbing only one stage at the Giro but also having a spat with MPCC over the participation of a rider with high cortisol levels prior to the Giro

Theo Bos, Tyler Farrar, Matthew Goss, failed to convert any effort in results all from an otherwise impeccable MTN-Qhubeka


Sunday, 26 July 2015

TOUR DE FRANCE 2015 - WEEK 3

 Stage 17 
The Alps. The last hope for some, the last struggle for others.
The rest day, as per script, became a stress day, with doping allegations, data crunching, numerology and mythology having their 15 minutes of fame.
Then, like at the opera after the instruments are tuned up with a well rehearsed cacophony, all was ready and quiet. Well, if 50km/h and a few mountain passes can be considered quiet!
A few riders tried to ride through illness and fatigue, some of those eventually had to give up. Notably, Kwiatkowski, who coincidentally has been told his contract won't be renewed by Etixx-QuickStep. But the biggest surprise was the retirement of BMC leader Tejay van Garderen, leaving the race in 3rd place. The American struggled from the start and was repeatedly dropped until he eventually threw in the towel, unable to keep up with the pace. That opened up the race for the podium.

Monday, 20 July 2015

TOUR DE FRANCE 2015 - WEEK 2

 Stage 10 
The first week is always very unpredictable, as the GC guys normally just ride through it and form is not at its peak. For those reasons many riders have been caught out by the pace and hard parcours. The Pyrenees would be a better test for many riders and stage 10 became a nuclear test!
Nothing happened much until the final climb of the day, a 20km climb with over 1,200 metres of altitude gain. By the time Froome attacked with his trademark Speedy Gonzales impression on the pedals, Nibali and Contador had started to lose ground in a very unlikely fashion. Froome would go on to win by a big margin over teammate Porte and rival Quintana. Geraint Thomas proved once more to be an invaluable domestique and showed much improved climbing prowess.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

TOUR DE FRANCE 2015 - WEEK 1

 Stage 1 
Controversy started even before a single rider had stepped down the ramp of the opening individual time trial. Lars Boom had shown abnormally low level of cortisol, which could mean poor health or doping. Under the MPCC rules (Mouvement pour un cyclisme credible), a voluntary organisation for professional teams with a clean-cycling ethos, Boom should have been suspended for racing for 8 days, but Astana wouldn't have it and the rider took to the start. Astana was therefore suspended by MPCC, which is like hitting someone with a foam baton.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

GIRO D'ITALIA 2015 REFLECTIONS


THE CROWDS
Cycling is a sport that allows the fans to be in close proximity, for free, to its stars and heroes. That has the side effect of gathering distracted, ignorant (or potentially mean) people, alongside the vast majority of fervent supporters. So it happens that an idiot enters the course with a fixie bike and the peloton crashes to a halt, losing some of its best pieces, and almost stopping the eventual winner on day two. Then there were the idiots taking photos by leaning into the path of the oncoming peloton, causing more crashes.
But, as I witnessed in person, there are no better fans than cycling fans, and Giro spectators are awesome. Everywhere there was enthusiasm (still not sure about Milan and puncturegate) and excitement, people

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

SIMON JENKINS DOES A U-TURN

Dear Mr Jenkins,
I am glad you've finally turned around to the idea that cyclists are not pests but human beings like everybody else.
I applaud that during this last year you've taken up to cycling and it has contributed to your change of mind.
What saddens me is when people of your culture have to act out a part before understanding it.
It is akin to say it's ok to be racists if you don't know anyone of different ethnicity or you're not one yourself; it's ok to ignore pay inequality unless you dress and behave like a woman for a year;
it's ok to inflict on the poor if one mingles exclusively with the rich.
Perhaps respect and understanding should be exercised by reason and intellect.
I'm a cyclist but I'm no hero, it's just what I do and should be allowed to do without the aggression and rage thrown at me on a daily basis in the streets of London.
I shouldn't have to wait for every Londoner to get on a bike for a year before they understand what it's like and why they shouldn't kill me.
Please keep on cycling, Mr Jenkins, but it's not an exclusive club you've entered, you said it yourself:
"this morning's cyclist is this afternoon's pedestrian and this evening's motorist..."
you could/should have worked that one out sooner.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (6) - TWO FRIENDS CYCLING IN ITALY, STAGE 2

May 2006

The journey to Genoa had been a long but ultimately thrilling one, with the ride around the starting location of stage 6 of the Giro and some fantastic food for good measure.
We reached the Ligurian capital in the evening. My parents' house is not far from the centre and only a stone's throw away from the football stadium. I was exhausted but thrilled to see them. Mike, my adventure companion, needed some help to make sense of our quick conversations in Italian. While recounting our journey at the kitchen table we savoured more delicious food made by mamma's own hands and some helpings of local focaccia, an amazing delicacy not found anywhere else, accompanied by a few glasses of wine.
During the conversation I learnt that next day my dad would travel to Casale Monferrato, between Milan and Turin, to play the cello for an amateur orchestra travelling there for an evening concert. He had been a professional cellist for Genoa's Teatro Carlo Felice for the good part of 30 years and since his retirement he has kept his skills sharp by playing for a small local orchestra, made up of wannabe and retired musicians.
Quick on the calculation, I came up with the idea of riding there late morning, so we'd have time to catch up with some sleep. My dad simply thought we were crazy and, not knowing how we were on the bike, he was more than concerned we wouldn't make it, thus worrying him while he had to concentrate with the task at hand.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (5) - TWO FRIENDS CYCLING IN ITALY, STAGE 1

May 2006

Given how much we had enjoyed our experience in Bath before Christmas, Mike, Sam and I agreed it was time for some serious riding and we needed mountains for that. After scouring the internet for ideas, we settled for the Granfondo delle Alpi, a relatively low key sportive in the Italian Alps, set between Bergamo and the border with Switzerland. Its patron was Gimondi and he was scheduled to ride part of it. As he is one of my childhood heroes, I relished the thought of meeting the legend so we registered.
Then disaster struck.
While playing football during a lunchtime kickabout, I was tackled hard on my right ankle and it swelled up really quickly to the size of a Zeppelin. A brisk, yet hoppy, visit to A&E revealed the break in the bone. This was six weeks before we would leave. Talking to the physiotherapist, she assured me that after resting it for a couple of weeks it would have been ok to start exercising the muscles around it and that cycling would be perfect as long as it wasn't too vigorous. What I actually heard was: "All clear, do as you like".
As we had already paid for the ferry, Mike and I decided to go after all (Sam had by then booked a different holiday). I couldn't predict how much cycling I'd be able to do and I didn't want the pressure of a timed granfondo. The best option for us would be to go to Italy and just ride.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (4) - A LOOP AROUND BATH

November 2005

I finally bought an alloy bike with carbon forks, seatstays, chainstays.
It was a Bianchi Nirone 7 with Campagnolo components, the Italian Job.
At work we kept talking of more adventurous rides, of trying something that wasn't London based.
With my colleagues Sam and Mike, we picked Bath. I knew the area as it was there I spent my first year in Britain back in 1990.
I had mixed memories of the place. I spent a year there at the Foundation Course in Design and the architecture is remarkable. But I had my interview for the College in July 1990 at the exact time that Italy was hosting the World Cup and ironically my hometown would host Brazil (of all teams) and Scotland and the stadium was a mere 10 minute walk from my house... while I was 1,600km away of course!
Back to the ride.

Monday, 24 November 2014

POLITICS, THE ITALIAN MALAISE

Affaritaliani.it : "They all drop, the only things that grow are nausea and non-voting, the only winner Matteo Salvini. And it is he, the other Matteo, the one with the earring (as opposed to Matteo Renzi, the PM), the new phenomenon of Italian politics. The day after the limited regional vote, in spite of partisan interpretations, like it or not this is the news."

I'm puzzled by this. Salvini (of the Northern League) gets 19% of the votes in Emilia Romagna region and ZERO in Calabria, however he is hailed as the new political phenomenon.

Renzi, leader of the Centre Left, receives 44.5% (49% coalition) in Emilia Romagna and 23.7% (61.4% coalition) in Calabria, yet he is the great loser.

IL VOTO MALATO

Affaritaliani.it : "Calano tutti, cresce solo la nausea e il non-voto, vince solo Matteo Salvini. Ed è lui, l'altro Matteo, quello con l'orecchino, il nuovo fenomeno politico italiano. Il giorno dopo il mini-voto regionale, ad onta di interpretazioni di parte e interessate, volenti o nolenti è questa la notizia."

Ma spiegatemi una cosa. Salvini/Lega Nord prende 19% dei voti in Emilia e ZERO in Calabria, ma viene dato come fenomeno della politica.
Renzi prende 44,5% (49% in coalizione) in Emilia e 23,7% (61,4% in coalizione) in Calabria, eppure e' il grande perdente.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (3) - REMEMBERING MY FIRST GROUP RIDE

September 2005

By this point, 4 months into it, cycling fever had hit not only me but a few of my colleagues as well, most of whom had been riding a few years already. For that reason we decided to get together and tackle our first ‘sportive’... well, charity ride, as the choice of sportives in the UK was rather poor back then.
We picked the rather tame London to Windsor Ride, starting in Richmond-upon-Thames. The course was to be around 65km, meandering through the Surrey countryside and finishing in Windsor.
We met at my place in New Malden the night before and quite obviously a few bottles of wine made the rounds. We also had a good serving of pasta as we would ‘carb up’ for next day’s feat! After going to bed rather late, of course, in the morning we prepared and faffed about with the usual rituals of finding shoes, energy bars and gels, spare tubes, etc etc.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

FRONT BREAK... LEFT OR RIGHT LEVER

Uk bikes have front brakes on the drive side lever, continental bike the other way around.
Nothing new there, cars are setup differently as well, no biggie... or is it?
As a right handed person I find feathering on the breaks easier to control with my left hand as the right arm is stronger, hence my constant use of the rear brake even on descents, which is quite wrong as the bike tends to lock and skid at speed.
I'm forcing myself to brake with the right hand now but it is weird. After so many years it feels as though my left arm is kept on a sling and my right arm is doing the steering and the breaking.

Caliper brakes are designed to have the front brake on the left lever as the cable simply sweeps down into the slot on the right of said caliper, while from the right lever, when exiting the bar tape it has to bend a lot more to drop straight down.
Conclusion, I might have to swap the cables and go 'continental'.

Questions:
1. How are pros' bikes set up by their mechanics as they might need to swap them en course?
2. Do pros from UK learn from the beginning on continental bikes?
3. Is this part of the reason why top British riders (Froome/Wiggins) are rubbish in comparisons when descending?
4. Am I simply nuts and it's just me having this problem? Should I just swap my arms through surgery?

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

BOOK REVIEW - CLIMBS AND PUNISHMENT

Having followed Felix Lowe through his blog on Eurosport for years under his pseudonym Blazin' Saddles and via his humorous yet savvy twitter account, picking his book to read over the summer was an easy choice.
I was amazed to learn that, although one of the main voices in cycling in the UK, Felix had yet to turn pedals in anger prior to this adventure. This fact makes his feat, riding from Barcelona to Rome via Hannibal's Alpine route, all the more astonishing.
Add to it the fact that his "rest" days were used to climb Alpe d'Huez twice in the same day, Ventoux (only once though) and various detours from the planned route, and you have a truly outstanding story.
While other cycling books tend to be sensationalist with various doping tell-all blubber, this one is a refreshing account of a non-pro like any of us, albeit a lot taller than most of us.
We've all spent countless hours recounting tales of pain and elation at conquering mean climbs, embarrassing mishaps and legendary bad weather days, and this is the core of this tale.
Using the route taken by Hannibal and following his footsteps, or rather hoofsteps, on his march to Rome, Felix and the rest of the gang ride 2,800km through the Pyrenees, Ventoux (just for fun), the Alps, half of Italy down the Apennine spine, through Tuscany with his Chianti region.
Lowe is very erudite and witty, his sense of humour is used to portray his companions but also to show his own aloofness and inexperience as he only had less than a year to prepare for this trip.
There are tales of Hannibal and his army of elephants, tales of cycling, current and vintage, and plenty of wine choices to complement mouthwatering culinary masterpieces.
If you love cycling and history this book is certainly the best combination. Beware, the author does not hold back when writing about problems of the bowels or trying to hide his private parts from semitransparent lycra shorts. But he did write stadia as a plural for stadium, that alone deserves a 10/10.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (2) - CYCLING IN WALES

August 2005

After a few attempts at commuting to work on my mountain bike, I decided it was time to try a proper ride as I felt that surely I knew everything there was to know about cycling. So, I bought a map of Wales, yes a paper map, and plotted a course which I thought would be suitable. All on roads, of course, as I didn’t really believe there was all that difference between my steed and a road bike. I didn’t know the area and the nature of the terrain so I opted for a loop around the Elan Valley and its stunning reservoirs, which give Birmingham clean water.
I booked a B&B in Rhayader in at Gigrin Farm, which doubled up as a Red Kite feeding farm. It had the smallest room I’d ever slept in but was cosy and, although spartan in its offerings, it suited me fine. No space for my bike so it had to ‘sleep’ in the car.
I proved to be quite an amusement (i.e. ridiculous) to the hosts, not many lycra clad guys around the area, at least back then, and I could sense from their looks the many questions as to why I would entertain the idea of dressing up like that.
The plan was to head down the Valley, coasting the reservoirs, then up towards the village ominously called Devil’s Bridge Falls, then head south and across to Beulah for the final leg up to Rhayader.
Up to that point in my cycling experience I had not done any sort of climbing and this trip would surely confirm my belief that I could ride anywhere by now. Little did I know.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

GIRO, TOUR AND VUELTA TO MERGE IN 2017

July 2017

The Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana organisers met UCI officials back in September 2016 at an undisclosed location in the Swiss Alps to draw up plans for a Mega Tour.
Fabian Cancellara's house (oops) provided the perfect backdrop for this momentous get together. The former cyclist (slipped disc from lifting too many cobble trophies) proved a great host, but he was asked never to address anyone in Fabianese as their interpreters' budget was already over the limit.
The reason for this meeting was the necessity to innovate and implement drastic changes. The cause? Oleg Tinkov.
The Russian maverick fuelled by a constant flow of vodka, after losing the last three Tours, decided to up the game and disband the current cycling system by announcing a new league comprising of 7 teams, all paid for by him, where Contador would be the leader on a rotational system. He promised to pour hundreds of millions of euros, rubles and dollars into the new set up, effectively ending UCI/ASO/RCS domination.
Something needed to be done.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

EVERYDAY CYCLIST (1) - MY FIRST LONDON COMMUTE 10 YEARS AGO

May 2005


The bicycle has always been in my radar, whether by reading about it in the pink pages of La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, or by riding it in my childhood during my holidays visiting grandparents in Parma. In Genoa, where I’m from, cycling for leisure is not really an option as the sprawling city is built on steep terrain. My flat, for instance, would have required an elevation gain of 150 metres over 1.5 km… not exactly something for the occasional rider; so the riding was limited to the summer holidays in pan flat Parma.Therefore, while living in relatively flat London, cycling started to have a certain appeal, especially considering the ever increasing price of public transport and the constant waste of time waiting for either trains or buses.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

TOUR DE FRANCE - GREEN JERSEY

Every year there are discussions around the points classification, the green jersey.
Some argue it's the sprinters' jersey, but then sprinters win stages, a lot of them, but no jersey (Cavendish/Kittel).
Others call it the most consistent rider's gratification. But then that same rider might not win a single stage, so most consistent at what, losing (Sagan)? Also, the combativity prize already rewards panache.
One solution, and it seems pretty simple to me is to combine stage wins with points.
So stage wins come first and in case of same amount of wins, the points then sort out the classification.
That way, success is rewarded, backed up by a consistent performance.
A bit like it happens at the Olympics, where regardless of how many medals won, the GC is usually worked out ranking Gold medals first, then silver and so on.

Example from Tour 2014:

                            WINS      POINTS
1. Kittel                4             177
2. Nibali               4             149
3. Kristoff             2             217
4. T.Martin            2             76
5. Majka               2             62
6. Greipel             1             143
7. Gallopin            1             105
8. Kadri                 1             83      
9. Navardauskas     1             82
10. Rogers             1             54
11. Boom              1              50
12. Trentin           1              31
13. Sagan              0             408
14. Coquard          0             233
15. Renshaw          0             153
16. VanAvermaet   0             147
............

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A TALE OF TWO WORLDS

It seems to be the case with many World Championship races that there are two sides to the event, a positive and a negative. Positive side is an opportunity to see different teams with different dynamics from the trade teams, a race with tactical depth, a worthy winner... The negative was the venue and some riders' behaviour.

Ponferrada was not exciting in terms of the course and for the lack of support anywhere along the route. Wide nondescript drags and unattractive backdrop especially around the finish line (TT and Road races alike) and a very small presence of fans to cheer the riders. Even in the busiest section around the castle there were big gaps, which is shocking considering how many people turned up in Yorkshire for Tour de France or Belfast for the Giro. Spain is a cycling nation and their riders were amongst the favourites to win, which makes the lack of support even more difficult to understand... the bad weather? Come on, it was only a bit of rain.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

MEN'S 2014 WORLD RR CHAMPIONSHIP PREDICTIONS

These are the riders I see as having a stab at crossing the line first in Ponferrada. 
I take in consideration that there's no long run in to the circuit, it should be a selective race from the off. Also some riders have not shown great form in the last few weeks, while others like Sagan can perform all of a sudden. Saying that, the Slovak still has to win a big race. 
I don't see anyone from team GB to have a proper chance and I hope I'm wrong as cycling in UK needs morale boosting. Kennaugh and Thomas are good and at least Kennaugh is on good form but I can't see them beating the favourites at their own game.

Friday, 19 September 2014

50 YEARS TOGETHER FOR MUM AND DAD - MAMMA E PAPÀ 50 ANNI INSIEME

Fifty years of marriage is no small feat. In these times especially, it's almost a rarity and not just because of age. Few people can claim 50 years as a couple, and still less can count 50 years as happy couple.
Notwithstanding all the adversities of life, you two have always remained positive and happy within the union started in a ballroom in the countryside.
The secret is having accepted each other's weaknesses, but also recognised the strengths each of you have. You two have taken this marriage forward with wisdom and integrity and that has always been a great inspiration to us.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

LAST RIDER STANDING

Cycling was supposed to enter a new era. Cavendish was shouting that years ago, then most people started agreeing with that thought. Why not. Armstrong's era had been dealt with and a new philosophy of marginal gains and new training finesse was introduced.
Then a few have been caught doping, thanks to better testing; more riders, big and small fish, have swam right into the net of shame.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

MY 20TH ANNIVERSARY AT CHANNEL 4 NEWS

To be precise is 20 years at ITN. The first 2 and a half years spent between a variety of news on the ITV channel, World News, Powerhouse, Big Breakfast, Newschannel, you name it, I was there. Then came the much desired transfer to Channel 4 News.
When my father celebrated his 30 years at the Opera House in Genoa, I was in awe that anyone could stay in a company that long and still enjoy the job. I'm still a long way from that goal but I've never faltered in my love for my job. I still like it as much if not more than in 1994 when I was assigned the first sting on the OJ Simpson trial. Working in the news we get to stay in touch with the outside world on a daily basis, with its horrors, its disasters, but also incredible human stories, which at Channel 4 we strive and succeed to portray in their fullness, without compromise.
I've had the pleasure and the honour to work with some incredibly talended people. A newsroom is a madding crowd, a motley crew and at times a dysfunctional family but it oozes passion, tension, laughter, banter, the odd scrap and... perhaps too much lycra.
Looking forward twenty years might seem an eternity, looking back twenty years seems like yesterday.
I couldn't wish for a better group of colleagues and friends.

Friday, 11 July 2014

SOUTH SUDAN AND A VERY AFRICAN CHALLENGE

The White Nile leaves Uganda with a dramatic left turn and enters South Sudan and it proceeds to cut through the land, passing Sudan and eventually finishing its journey in Egypt. Its waters carry life and waste without discrimination. It knows no political boundaries, it is unstoppable like the history surrounding it.

Friday, 17 January 2014

WHY THE BALLAN SUSPENSION MAKES ME SO ANGRY

First, I welcome the suspension, that should be clear from the off.
The doping offence relates to 2009, for blood transfusions while riding for Lampre.
Lampre have been investigated since then, in the Mantova inquiry, and more will come out for sure as they go through case by case.
This has taken so long, and is still ongoing, because of lack of resources thrown at it. Add to it that Italian justice crawls to conclusion at best of times.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

PETER KENNAUGH & AN UNDERSTANDABLE FRUSTRATION



Peter Kennaugh's tweet on the injustices of how teams deal with dopers and clean riders, shows the type of frustration that permeates the world of cycling. He wrote:
@Peterkennaugh Seeldraeyers can't get a contract yet Astana more than happy to sign mpcc banned rider pellizotti

Pellizotti was suspended for two years on a doping charge. Teams adhering to the MPCC (Mouvement pour un cyclisme crédible) agree not to hire riders for a further 2 years after the suspension. Astana, a recent signatory to this Movement, have hired Pellizotti for the 2014 season but he won't race until May, when the two years after the suspension are up.
All this is within the MPCC rules, however he will be training with the team and with their kit, presumably he will be paid a salary as well.
And here comes the frustration. Many good riders, due to teams folding or rosters already fulfilled, have yet to find a contract for next season.
From the same team, Astana, an extremely good rider, Kevin Seeldraeyers, has come to the end of his contract and he's still looking for a job for 2014.
So, former doper in, clean rider out.
Kennaugh points him out, but the list is quite alarmingly big.
Now, when a horde of former dopers have a contract, feed their families, have a bright future ahead, while many clean riders have not, there lies a big moral dilemma: although rules are not broken, these guys (and I'm not particularly referring to Pellizotti, there are plenty of convicted dopers in the peloton) have a future in the sport built on their cheating; teams don't seem to see that and keep on hiring them. They get a second chance while clean riders don't even get one proper chance.

It's all good to have a group like the MPCC, but when the loopholes make a mockery of the clean riders, something needs to change.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

BOOKED! JOIN THE (FREE) BOOKCLUB

In the words of @kittyfondue, BOOKED! is a bookclub "for people who are passionately involved with books and are willing to talk about it."
The appeal of a bookclub is the challenge for people to read beyond their natural choices and discover new horizons and ideas while in this literary journey.

It's free, there are no commitments but discussion is encouraged. It is amongst friends so anything goes, no literary award will be given on the prose of the review!
One book per month.
Each member will have the chance to choose a book.
Starting on the 1st day of each month, the discussion will then be set up as a new book is decided. First book is "Instructions for a Heatwave" by Maggie O'Farrell.
If you are not able to finish a book, no problem, you can always skip the next.

The link to the club is:
https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/117123-booked

So join goodreads.com and once a member, join the club.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

ENGLAND & WALES PRISONS - MYTHS AND FACTS

Figures from the International Centre for Prison Studies show England & Wales have a combined prison population of 84,430 inmates. That is the highest in Europe, just beating Poland to the top post. When taken in consideration the rate per 100,000 citizens, England/Wales still have the highest figures in Western Europe, 148, only 4 countries from the East fare worse, Poland (217), Hungary (186), Romania (155), and Czech Republic (154).

UCI, SUBSTANTIAL CHANGES

According to cicloweb.it (http://goo.gl/dWE1Dx), the UCI has finally been at work to change the formats of rankings and various levels of professional cycling. The changes will be discussed next January 2014 so the new format should be in place for 2015 to 2020.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

ANTHILL WORLD

Scenario 1: The whole population of North, Central and South America moves to Asia.
Scenario 2: The whole of China moves to Africa
Scenario 3: The United States' population moves to Nigeria

These are the nightmare scenarios equivalent to what will happen to the World  if growing population trends continue at the current state.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

TELEGRAPH, BAD WRITING AND THE IGNORANCE AROUND CYCLING

When I read the Telegraph's article http://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/recreational-cycling/10323653/War-declared-on-the-Lycra-louts-on-wheels.html , I let it go. I simply regarded it as yet another example of pretentious journalism, with a cheap sensationalist headline.
But this morning something happened on my commute to work and I hold journalism like that responsible for it.

Friday, 20 September 2013

MEN'S CYCLING WORLD ROAD RACE PREDICTIONS

Soon it will be another round of World Championships racing. It's the most unpredictable race of the calendar. It comes at the end of a long season and unless a rider specifically targets it and prepares for it, no chance. Team work is only partially important, mainly for the first phase, after that, legs do the talking. Although, if the team is particularly strong, it can wreak havoc and be crucial in the result (see Italy's win in 2008 and to some extent GB's win in Copenhagen in 2011).

Monday, 27 May 2013

NIBALI'S KNOCK OUT GIRO

It was always going to be a fight between Nibali and Wiggins. It didn't happen. Others tried but were too late to do something about it (Uran Uran), too unwell (Hesjedal) or simply not strong enough (Evans).

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

MY FAVOURITE ONE-DAY RACES

Top of my list it has to be Strade Bianche. It has drama, early season unpredictability, a spectacular finish set in medieval town of Siena. Pave', dust, gravel, stinging little climbs followed by dangerous descents. The winner is usually the type of rider I admire the most: Gilbert, Cancellara, Moser.



Giro di Lombardia is another race I love watching. Its hilly course and stunning views contribute to the mystique of this end-of-season monument. The Ghisallo climb is iconic in this course often mired by foul weather which adds to the epic efforts of past winners.



Brabantse Pijl is the opener for the Ardenne Classics. I believe its course is actually better than Amstel or Liege, offering a bit of all types of terrain. Even in the wet it's an exciting race to watch. Winding, cobbles, sharp climbs.



Thursday, 18 April 2013

ITALIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

This picture of Alfano (Pdl) and Bersani (PD) speaks volume.
Right and Left, hand in hand, sharing the spoils of a deal in the Presidential elections in Italy.
But whatever the outcome, the losers are PD (Democratic Party). They have demonstrated a lack of much sought-after transparency by keeping their candidate secret, they have been playing a game of musical chairs with Berlusconi's Pdl, Bersani has shown to be a very weak and ineffective leader and the party is split even before a government is formed.
By the way, that has been almost forgotten. No government as yet, not even remotely in the distance.
Grillo's M5S has shown at least a clarity of choice and will gather more votes in an early election.
Berlusconi has still managed to be in charge of ceremonies in the Italian Parliament.

More in-depth analysis here by +Cr Lloyd :
http://thesecondshot.blogspot.co.uk/2013/04/italy-choses-president-today.html

Friday, 1 February 2013

LEONARDO'S GENIUS

Leonardo's paintings, frescos, architecture and even warfare inventions were all incredible feats of engineering, skill and flare. His meticulous observations and thirst for knowledge based on first hand study, allowed him to find techniques never seen before and hardly seen after.
Studying anatomy by dissecting corpses, he was able to translate his knowledge into his paintings and frescos, in the way limbs folded and muscles had to be shaded.
His studies in nature gave him inspirations for many inventions and architectural designs.
However, all the masterpieces of art and architecture and also all the inventions he put to practice are not for me what defined him as a genius. Outstanding and unique as all those things were, they were made and were delivered by an artist/architect/engineer of special talent. But because they were made they simply were beautiful, innovative yes, probably only possible by Leonardo alone.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

TEAMS REVIEW 2013 - MOVERS AND SHAKERS

 AG2R LA MONDIALE 
Last year's poor showing has called for some injection of talent in the shape of Apollonio, Betancur, Hutarovich and most of all Pozzovivo who will boost their chances at stage wins. Still lacking strength in the Classics department, they will certainly concentrate in performances at the Grand Tours. Belletti, Gadret, Mondory, Nocentini are confirmed. They lose Roche, Hinault and Casper (the latter has retired). Always present in the breaks but rarely on the podium, it's a team that makes you feel a change in tactics or coaching is needed.

 ASTANA PRO TEAM 
One of the most active teams in the riders' market, their strength and depth is impressive. The post-Vino era will hopefully shrug off the many suspicions about their ethics. New riders are former teammates Agnoli and Vanotti in support for new super-signing Nibali in the quest for Grand Tour glory, Fuglsang who was incredibly sidelined at Radioshack and has great potential of GC, sprinter Guardini who had a great season at FarneseVini. These riders will join an established roster: Brajkovic, Gasparotto, Gavazzi, Guarnieri, Iglinskiy, Kashechkin, Kessiakoff, Muravyev, Ponzi, Tiralongo...all capable to grab classics or stages. Kreuziger is revamping is career at SaxoTinkoff, while Kiserlovski at Radioshack.

Monday, 21 January 2013

ARMSTRONG: CONFESSION A LA CARTE

Since his first win of a Tour de France I had the suspicion that something was amiss. It seemed impossible at the time as we just had come through the Festina scandals and Pantani's downfall, surely nobody would be able to fool controls.
Then, like many, I read Armstrong's book It's not about the bike and the first bells started to ring. He was one of the first cancer patients to try EPO to recover from therapies. Cinically I thought that if he had tested first hand the benefits of this drug, it would only be logical to assume his climbing prowess came from further use of it. He hadn't simply improved his climbing, he was one of the best.
That's when I started to be suspicious.
His confession was therefore long overdue as far as I was concerned.
I was still surprised when it came though, I never thought he would ever admit to doping.
The first minute or so of Oprah's interview was all I needed. I simply wanted to hear him say Yes I doped. Everything else that followed was just mumbo jumbo of no relevance. A mixture of PR and legal censoring. He was clearly taking people for a ride when admitting to doping up until 2005 and no further, when clearly his biological passport is showing otherwise. This in turns implicates the UCI even further as cover-ups were needed to carry on racing.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

CADEL EVANS GOES MOURINHO

“Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European champion and I think I’m a special one.” (Jose Mourinho)
"There will be one leader, and that will be me because I have the experience and the results to back up that I can win the Tour." (Cadel Evans)


Cadel Evans' latest interview at BMC's presentation in Belgium was interesting mainly for two factors: his underlined cry for leadership at the Tour and the veiled accusation of wrongdoing by TeamSky, in particular Wiggins. 
The overall impression is that of a worried rider but one eager to show his best. 
Last year's lacklustre performance has been blamed on a virus contracted while visiting his adopted son in Ethiopia. His age also must be a worrying factor for him too as not many 36-year-olds have managed to win a Tour.