Sunday, June 26, 2016

La Mitica 2016

Another Sunday in Italy, another bici d'epoca event. 

La Mitica started and finished in Castellania, famous for the brothers Coppi. During our recent visit, our friend Piero Coppi asked if we were coming back to take part in this event. We replied that our schedule wouldn't let us, but once we looked closer, Sunday was a day with nothing in particular penciled in. Our More Monferrato clients had departed (except for Don and Cindy, who stayed on to enjoy more cycling in the area) while one Vineyards to the Sea client arrived two days early.

So...why not? we often ask. Don and Cindy were up for a new experience and new arrival Jim thought it was a great idea so we asked the organizers if we could get our friends in despite their (our) bikes not being truly "epoca" if they really got into the spirit of the event along with us. Once we got the OK, we signed everyone up. 

An early morning drive over to Castellania had us searching for cappuccino which we finally found in a bar in a town close to the start. We had plenty of time to pick up our schwag bags and numbers before the 8:30 AM start. A bright, sunny day was on tap as you can see above.

More than once I heard "This is like riding in a museum"...but enough about the riders...the bikes are gorgeous and never get old, especially when they're polished and looked after like this gorgeous MASI. There were too many beautiful bikes to count, sadly no pictures came out of a wonderful FLANDRIA bike said to have been raced by Freddy Maertens. It's owner was decked out in total replica kit, just like the Belgian champion and star of "A Sunday in Hell."

Our friends rode our "standard" rental bikes with steel frame and fork while Jim (above) went a step further and mounted old-time clip-and-strap pedals to better get in the spirit. He donned an old-time wool jersey as well and seemed to enjoy the experience.

Above you see a ristoro in Tortona, complete with pizza, salami panini, fruit, water and both red and white wine plus music and dancing. Don and Cindy were called up as two of the 5 Americans registered for the event and were thanked by the organizers for coming all this way to participate!!

Of course our friend Piero Coppi was there, here you see him with Heather after the pasta party. 

BRAVI to the organizers and MILLE GRAZIE for their help in getting our friends into the event. We've said this time and time again, but the atmosphere and camaraderie at these events reminds us why we took up this sport all those years ago. Bici d'epoca events are a wonderful experience!!!

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

More Monferrato 2016

Time to catch you up with More Monferrato 2016. After a damp start (everyone came a few days early) the first official day of this tour was, well...spectacular, as you can see in the photos.

The rains cleared the skies so you could see for miles. Photos like these (more likely better ones) probably convinced the UNESCO people to grant this area World Heritage protection recently.

That's the A26 autostrada not too far from Alessandria looking down from the hills a tunnel takes the high-speed traffic through. Our route goes over the top.

Which provides a fabulous view as you can see.

Here's Larry on his way to the hilltop town of LU Monferrato on the same road.

It seems every other road is designated a Strada del Vino - the amount of surface covered with vineyards is mind-boggling!

No vines here, but a nice shot along a road near Conzano.

And it wouldn't be a CycleItalia tour without some mangia bene to go with the pedala forte!

The locals seem to like us here - a cycling cap never fails to get a smile.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Castellania- a Coppi Pilgrimage

Our dear friend Piero Coppi phoned a few weeks ago, wondering when we were going to make our annual pilgrimage to Castellania where he's the ex-mayor as well as first cousin to the the Campionissimo, Fausto Coppi.

To be frank, we weren't sure we'd be able to visit this year, but when Piero Coppi calls, you better answer!

Some emails to our clients arriving early for More Monferrato (which starts today) confirmed they were up for a visit. It's just an hour away in the van, so the plan was to load up the bikes and ride some of the famous "Strade Coppi" to the tiny town of Castellania.

As you can see above, Piero was ready-and-waiting when we arrived. We toasted with not your ordinary sparking wine - he had bottles from Francesco Moser complete with the "51.151" (his hour record distance) label...what a guy!!!

We visited the tombs and the reliquary, complete with some classic stories from Piero about his famous cousins.

And then took a look at a recent installation, a bronze of the Campionissimo created for the 1960 Rome Olympic Games.

Few seem to think this a great likeness of the Campionissimo, but it's the thought that counts, right?

Next, as usual we retreated to Piero's favorite - Osteria del Poeta Pescatore for pranzo.

After a tearful arrivederci to our friend Piero, we capped the day with a visit to the Museo dei Campionissimi in nearby Novi Ligure.

Grazie Piero!!!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Saddle sores?

Our friends at BIKERACEINFO have a great feature today about a subject nobody likes to talk ...or even think about - saddle sores. Below is the link:

Above: two keys to cycling happiness - a good "chamois" and the right cream

Below are some additional tips and comments based on our many decades of cycling:

We're not so sure saddle sores can be blamed on a bad "fit" or position on your bicycle, as the example of Tom Dumoulin would suggest otherwise. These things have happened to pros and punters alike for probably as long as bicycles have existed.

Quality shorts are a must unless you have a rear-end made of iron. Don't think those cheapo shorts will have the same fit and padded insert as the high-quality ones. If you have yet to settle on the best one for you or are having issues, experiment with some other brands. 

Launder your shorts after every ride, even "on-tour" we wash ours in the hotel sink or bidet after every ride. At home use the "hand-wash" setting on your machine with the slowest spin possible, otherwise the spin force can wrinkle the foam inside your pad in a way you can never repair. Use good detergent...products like Woolite are not strong enough for this task in our opinion. Some of the clothing makers offer their own detergents but we think a quality laundry soap made for hand-washing is just fine. Make sure the shorts are dry before you use them again. Modern pads are anti-bacterial in most cases but why take a chance?

Make sure YOU are clean too! In Europe it's easy via the bidet but if you have no access to such comforts, disposable moist-towelettes can come in handy. 

Chamois creams have their fans while some avoid them like the plague. We're fans, especially of Hibros soprasella. Back-in-the-day when the chamois was actually a deerskin (ie chamois) taking care of them was another type of pain-in-the-a__. If you weren't careful they'd dry up just like that thing you used to wipe the water spots off your car and then you'd have to soften them up with stuff that smelled awful and was more like axle grease than cream. 

Once you got the thing softened up, you had to be very careful with it until time to put the shorts on as this greasy stuff would grab anything and everything, which meant you'd be sitting on it for hours! The worst was at a race or ride when you'd be trying to quickly pull the shorts on in or behind your car and in the haste to cover your nakedness the thing would touch the floor or worse, the ground!

These days, since the synthetic pads don't get hard and crack, you can apply the cream to your rear-end instead and be free of the fear of contamination. If the pad doesn't need softening, why use cream? In our opinion the drive to "keep you dry" down there has resulted in pads that are too hydrophilic. The moisture that develops once you start exercising used to sort of glue the chamois/pad to your rear-end back-in-the day. Any friction was between the pad/shorts and the saddle rather than between you and the pad.

With modern shorts that moisture is too quickly drawn away so these days a little cream is needed to help the pad stick to you so any friction is again between the shorts and saddle. It also minimizes the damage from any friction between you and the pad. The trick is to find a cream that's thick enough to do this job, but not so thick and gooey that you can't wash it out of the shorts/pad. We've tried a lot of brands over the years, but Hibros is our current favorite - by far.

Despite all this, if you do find yourself getting an abrasion or sore down there, apply a bit of Hibros cream after your shower. In a day or two we'll bet you'll be good to go again!

Disclaimer: Nalini and Hibros are official suppliers to CycleItalia

Sunday, June 5, 2016

La Canevesana 2016 - more bici d' epoca fun

Our tours scheduled for this period didn't get enough interest to run, so Heather took the opportunity to head off to Greece to participate in some academic meetings while yours truly took the opportunity to enjoy an event we've long wanted to attend.

Especially since the ride was held less than an hour away from our Monferrato HQ!

Here, even the registration people are in period costume.

Once they get you signed up, it's time to change into cycling stuff and....

...enjoy looking at some really old bikes

Believe it or not, there were folks out here riding bikes like these on the course - all 56 kilometers of it!

And these rides are far from a "vintage bike parade" More on that below.

But first you might want to score that perfect team car for your bike race model setup at home?

Finally it was time to ride. Skies looked threatening but I hoped it wouldn't be another soggy ride like last weeks GIOS Raduno. I packed my rain jacket and put clear lenses in my glasses, just daring the sun to come out!!! It didn't work last week but why not try again?

I was warned this was a challenging course by a couple of folks last week. They weren't kidding! The unpaved sections had big rocks and gravel, sometimes a bit deep - the kind that slows you WAY down while you try to steer straight ahead. There were a lot of puddles - some too wide to avoid, so you hoped that since the folks in front of you didn't vanish into the depths, you won't either, though I do the "ratchet" pedal style (the crankarms horizontal) so my feet don't get wet when it gets that deep!

They ran us up to a castle, but not on the normal, paved road. Instead it was the old, unpaved, switchback climb, each one numbered but I had no idea (nor did anyone else close to me) how many there were or whether they counted up or down! Plenty of folks seemed to have ridden this in the past as lots of warnings were issued as we neared a sharp turn off the asphalt, then instantly into a grassy, wet passage through an old gate. 

This was a real challenge and plenty were walking right from the start. Even with low gears, you couldn't just stomp on the pedals as your wheel would instantly spin on the slick surface. A delicate balance to avoid losing momentum or spinning your wheel was the trick.There was usually only one good line as well, the others were too muddy or too grassy/slick. I managed to make up without stopping, but it wasn't easy! 

At the top was the first ristoro where I saw this gorgeous Wilier and couldn't resist snapping a quick photo.

And then, who do I see at the top of the next climb with the view of Lago Viverone? A guy who spends all day in a bike shop, including last weekend running his own raduno comes out to events like these when he has a free Sunday!!! Marco really lives the life!!! BRAVO!

Not a drop of rain fell and the sun was actually out for awhile, especially at the pasta party and awards ceremony. The organizers had special prizes for the foreigners, not that there were many of us, but it was a nice gesture. This event, just like the other epoca events we've attended, lets us remember why we took up cycling all those years ago.

Grazie tutti!!

Monday, May 30, 2016

GIOS Raduno + Giro d'Italia finale in Torino

Two for one. Doubleheader. Wonderful combination. However you want to describe it, another chapter in living the dream!

 Above: Larry posing ready to ride the GIOS bike so graciously loaned to him for the event. Not a GIOS jersey, but at least the color's right!

As most of you know, anybody in Italy still making bicycles with steel tubes brazed into lugs is a hero in our book. None more than the guys at GIOS, so close (an hour?) to us at Hotel Ariotto it's embarrassing to note how few times we've visited them. Recently, Heather decided she would like a new bike. In a way, she needed another bike and has always admired the famous blue machines from Torino. We've seen Aldo and son Marco at plenty of bici d'epoca events and they're always smiling and happy to see us despite the fact we're riding bicycles with other names on their downtubes.

 Above: the group gets ready to ride under threatening skies

We went over there a few weeks ago, Heather's current bike in the back of the van to talk about her new bike. During the measuring and general discussions about exactly what she wanted, Marco mentioned a 100 year celebration coming up soon and invited us. Heather was going to be busy with academic projects and Larry didn't have a GIOS to ride in this event limited to riders on the famous bicycles, so we said grazie and figured that was that.

When Marco heard that I would be in the area, he insisted that I join them, even offering me a bike he said was the last one his grandfather had ever ridden! This was one of those offers you can't refuse so "I'll be there!" came out pretty fast.

 Above: Uh, it was wet...and got wetter...all the way to the end.

So Sunday morning Larry was up early and on his way to Volpiano under drizzly skies. He packed all his epoca clothing since this was an epoca bike, including the rain jackets we bought at Eroica Primavera earlier in May. Just-in-case. As you can see, the jacket was needed. No big rain until after our ristoro stop - one stocked by Aldo's wife/Marco's mom with pizza, focaccia, salami, vino, acqua, frutta, etc. No mylar-wrapped energy foods here! BRAVA MAMMA!

A 10% climb greeted (or surprised, depending on how much you ate) us soon after, as did the rain, lots of it. I waited for my new friend Marco whose GIOS was having some chain skipping issues when he put the power down and somehow we ended up in the front of the whole ride when the others made a detour. Marco Gios was leading the ride in a vintage VW Beetle complete with rooftop signs exactly like the ones we'd see in the Giro later that day.

Riding side-by-side was just fine in these conditions, lots less spray from a rear wheel in front of you, but soon enough we were back with the group and eating our share as my shoes began to fill with water and my socks turned black. It wasn't cold, just WET.

 Above: Pretty much everyone got some sort of cool prize

Everyone made it safely back to the GIOS showroom where we'd started, dried off and changed into dry clothes for the prize ceremony, followed by the "pasta party" which was instead a real meal enjoyed at a place next-door. Languages from all over were heard amid plenty of lively banter and laughter - just like an epoca event! People who would come all the way out to Volpiano to ride in the rain to celebrate the 100th birthday of the GIOS founder, Tolmino, are pretty nice folks! As are the GIOS people themselves!

 Above: My prize was a bottle of wine celebrating Tolmino Gios' birth in 1916.

But things were far from over! After lunch and the prizes we loaded up on a bus for a ride into Torino to see the Giro d'Italia finale. One of the biggest headaches of doing things like this is the parking - but this way it was easy and fun.

 Above: memorial to Fausto Coppi in Torino

We piled out of the bus, everyone wearing the famous blue cycling caps we were given as part of our pacco gara (race pack) and headed off to the race circuit, one a bit more demanding than the usual flat celebratory laps. This had a pretty decent hill! But first we popped into the old velodrome to a look around.

Above: posing for photos in front of the STEEP banking. 
Paul and Shelly from the UK were "the" GIOS couple. 
We teased Paul about having GIOS underwear!

From there it was off to the course for the afternoon as the racers arrived.

 Above: Easy to see our group, everyone has something BLUE on!

Larry ran into a few Italian bike industry friends, causing some of the Italians in the group to say to Marco Gios, "You said this guy's from the USA, but he knows more people here than WE do!" which just means the bike industry world is pretty small and everybody who's anybody is going to be at the Giro finale.

 Above: The Shark in pink

We hung around until the race ended and then retired to a local bar to wait for the bus back to Volpiano. It was a long but fun day.

Grazie mille to Marco, Aldo and Mamma Gios + all the other volunteers! I met some great people who I'm sure we'll see again. Meanwhile GIOS is busy working on Heather's new bike, which should be ready by the end of June. 

Above: Damiano Cunego, winner of the Giro d'Italia in 2004 poses with some crazy man.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

La Corsa Rosa in Monferrato...well, close!

Like most good things we do, this was Heather's idea. She was paging through our copy of LA GUIDA DEL GIRO 2016 and noticed Stage 18 passed not too far from our Monferrato hotel. "You should ride out there and see them pass through the feed zone. It's not that far away." She however, would be off hobnobbing with her fellow wizards in Sicily at an academic conference, so it was up to me.

I took a day off the bike after feeling like Vincenzo Nibali on Tuesday, but this ride was pretty much all flat - so what's 45 kms out-and-back? 90 kms, that's what.

Crescentino was the destination, 107 kms into the stage for the Giro boyz, but I'd do only half that and probably at half the speed. But when you're on the flat and in the big-ring, it's tough to just dawdle along, you want to get the big gear turning and look like you know what you're doing.

I was getting tired at the entrance to Crescentino, one of those towns where they have their BENVENUTO sign 6 kms out-of-town. I guess when you're in a car blasting along at 100 kph you need plenty of warning to slow down...something I had no use for.

I started to see groups of cyclists heading the other way. I wondered where they were going? To the feed zone? I thought it was on the way out-of-town as they usually don't want the racers tossing the empty musettes and other trash in the town, but in this case I was way more interested in my own personal RIFORNIMENTO than that of the racers!

On the right I saw Bar Ristorante Giotto 68, right on the road with a shady terrace...and a few empty tables. Even better was the "PRANZO - primo, secondo, contorno, acqua, vino e caffe 10 euro" sign. I parked my bike and got a table in the corner with a perfect view of the road. A risotto with zucchini and salsciccia followed by cold roast beef replenished my gas tank, but how 'bout my legs?

As you can see, I was not the only one who thought this the perfect place to stop. First it was the photo motos, then a few of the official Honda SUV's, then the police motos and finally some of the red Hondas carrying Giro bigwigs. They ran in, slammed down an espresso, used the bathroom or grabbed an ice cream. The race was approaching!

The break was 10 minutes ahead as I was enjoying the last bit of vino bianco.

By the time I had my own espresso and paid the bill (really only 10 euros for everything!) the peloton was coming by, not exactly in hot pursuit of the breakaway riders.

Though the were rather strung out.

Followed by various cars, team cars with bikes or official cars with the race jury, etc. They drive like they're in hot pursuit!

I thought the feed zone was just down the road so I jumped out into the road as the van with the "FINE GARA CICLISTICA" sign went past. But I was soon passed by a LOT of team cars, some with bikes on the roof, but most of them without. I wondered why so many cars were following - out of the race caravan? Then it dawned on me that these were the cars from the feed zone - BEFORE the town! That's why those other cyclists were headed that way, they were going to scoop up all the musettes, bottles and other souvenirs tossed aside.

So much for souvenirs for me today!

I whipped off a U-turn and started for "home" - 45 km away and into a headwind. Sometimes these flat roads are tougher than climbs! I was hoping to get back to see the finale on TV, just in case the Maglia Rosa faltered or Vincenzo Nibali was able to attack. I made it back in plenty of time, despite a stop (for medicinal purposes only) for a can of Coke, but nothing much happened in the battle for the Maglia Rosa...but at least The Shark was up there!

Tomorrow they climb the Colle dell'Agnello, one we've done a time or two. Maybe it's a good idea to drive up to close to where it gets really steep, climb on the bike and find a good viewing spot? Hmmmm.