I wonder what I can do with a 34x32. I've got a few options just outside the door here in Castelcucco.
Let's give this a try.
I wonder what I can do with a 34x32. I've got a few options just outside the door here in Castelcucco.
Let's give this a try.
For images: head to CyclingTips. These are the words to go along with the pictures.
The weather prediction had been the same for days - cold and clear Saturday, snow and rain for Sunday. It didn't seem real though - it couldn't be right. The weather has been mostly awful from southern Italy to Scotland all spring, but it didn't seem possible - it's La Primavera. This isn't Het Nieuwsblad or Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne or Nokere Koerse - it's Milano-Sanremo. Sure, there have been some terrible editions in the past, but that was then. The weather was always whiter and nastier in years gone by.
We're in the time of dusty Roubaix's - ten in a row! There might be some bad weather along the early flat roads leading to the Turchino, but once we crossed over that great dividing line, it would all be ok. The race finishes on the Riviera, a place that dwells in eternal warmth and sunshine.
So we hoped. We hoped it was wrong. Maybe they were wrong? One last look that night showed some signs of hope - 30-40% chance of precipitation for most of the day. It didn't look so bad.
The morning dawned cold and wet. We packed two bikes, a box full of food, and another with every bit of clothing we could think of - just in case. As we drove to the start in Milano from our home base in Bellagio at Il Perlo Panorama, the first snowflakes began mixing with the rain.
The last time we chased Milano-Sanremo was our first time - it was 2011. It was our first big race chase since deciding that we wanted to try to do whatever it is that we do. That day, we had the amazing privilege to chase the race with PezCyclingNews's Alessandro Federico. For us, Sanremo is a great race - a special one, but one that mainly signifies the turn of the head to the north - to the cobbles, to the races I stay up at night thinking about. For Ale, Sanremo is the race he stays up late thinking about, the day he counts down to - his is a deep and unconditional love for La Classicissima.
The more time we spend in cycling, the more it becomes apparent that we're in a sport that really is built on those oft used words like passion and love - but not just the words - really built on them, what they mean, what they stand for.
When you think about it, the money in cycling is paltry - compared to the big sports, it's almost laughable. People are in this sport - on the teams, on the staffs, in the press, on the side of the road, chasing the races - because they love it, because they dream about bikes and bike races and the men that power their steeds to unbelievable feats. Sometimes, it's hard to remember that basic fact, but this year, I've been struck continually by the degree to which this sport runs on the blood of the people who love bikes, our sport. It's special. For all its faults and blemishes, it's beautiful.
Unfortunately, we wouldn't be chasing the race with Ale in 2012, but his energy for the race ultimately proved the glue that would hold our day together.
For a rare early in the day plus and a sign that it wasn't our first time, we found the start at the Castello without problems, picked up our credentials without problems, and went to leave without problems, until two very large problems made our exit a little more difficult than we anticipated. In the fifteen or so minutes we spent walking around the start area, the team buses had arrived. Garmin parked immediately in front of us, and Argos parked right next to us. Behind were some other cars. We were boxed in. This was cause for concern.
Ashley, being the sweetheart she is, managed to coax both the MTN-Qhubeka and Argos buses back a few meters, giving us just enough room to slide out and get on our way. Concern dispatched, we set out to our first stop - only a few kilometers from the official start, which, incidentally, is almost 10k after they roll out from the Castello. Make that a 310k day. Every kilometer counts, right?
Leaving Milano isn't a pretty experience. Italy does many things well and wonderfully, but its suburban industrial areas always strike me as unpleasant. Then again, I haven't found a place yet that amazes with beautiful industry and retail.
The weather had held for a few minutes in Milano, but as we left, the rain resumed and began an earnest attempt at cloaking the roads.
The first time we chased Sanremo, the break went in Binasco, but this time, the break was already long gone. The contrast to the efforts was startling - in the break the sextet were charging hard, faces drawn, teeth gritted, effort painted over their bodies. Behind, already a couple minutes in arrears, the field smiled, joked, chatted, peed, and spun lightly - easing into a long day of work.
It's almost hard to look back at these images. I see so many faces that we'd shoot only a couple of hours later, and the contrast is appalling. I see Cavendish joking, Hunter laughing, Belletti peaceful, on and on. Even in the early, dour conditions, the going was not grim. It was going to be ok.
And then it wasn't.
We jumped in the car and headed about 40k down the road. It was in this time that it all changed. The light rain changed to moderate rain, which changed to snow. The flakes began tentatively at first, mixing in quietly with the thud of the rain, until the thudding of the water on the windshield stopped, and was replaced with the quiet of snow.
We watched in amazement from our car on the side of the road. It was snowing - not a little bit either. Visibility was a few hundred meters, the snow was falling with vigor, and the race hadn't even begun to think about the Turchino - a full 500 meters higher than the flatlands outside of Milano.
Last year, Twitter became my number one race chasing resource. Nothing is more helpful than a hashtag viewing of a race. For Sunday, #msr saved us over and over again. While waiting for the field to pass, we learned of the neutralization in Ovada, which in an instant, changed the complexion of the race - the previously slumbering field was in full flight when it passed, headed up by the teams of the favorites.
Behind, there were clumps of riders chasing back - at least a couple dozen, well off the back. The news of the neutralization in Ovada had spurred an instant response from the big teams to ensure that the break didn't get too much time. The change from relaxation to serious business, plus the snow, made for a perfect recipe for falling down cake. And so they chased at the front and off the back.
With the news of the neutralization, Ovada became an obvious stopping point.
The snow fell harder and harder, as we headed ever closer to the Apennines, ever closer to Ovada, the gateway to Sanremo's first climb - the Turchino. When we reached Ovada, the team buses were waiting for their riders, and the scene was triple take inducing. Snow. Lots of it, more falling. I still shake my head when I think about it - looking back at the images from Ovada, it doesn't seem real. The riders arrived covered in snow, ice caked to their glasses and helmets, drool dripping from their long frozen chins, hands were claws, speech was slurred.
It was appalling. It looked like the riders had gone to war against an army of snowmen and lost badly. The first riders rolled in without too much issue, but as the numbers ticked upward, their condition worsened rapidly. Cavendish plodded by, looking absolutely, for lack of a better term, fucked. It was another of those moments when you look around from the camera to make sure that it was all real, that what the foggy, wet camera was shooting was happening.
Cavendish was terrible, but it got even worse still. The next groups revealed riders that could barely hold on to their bikes. Robbie Hunter made it to the Garmin bus, his face contorted in agony - David Millar reported soon after that Hunter's eye had frozen.
Manuel Belletti arrived shaking to the point of convulsing. We, the photographers, charged forward, eager to prey on his misery, his frozen, shaking mass. It was cruel, and of course, as the ones that document the scene, we were ready, vultures circling, waiting for each rider to arrive, looking for the next victim, the next chance to catch a miserable wretch, desperately searching for a warm place, anywhere but outside.
And on Twitter, they talked of how weak the riders have become, they talked of the old days when men were hard, and how Hinault rode through a snow storm to victory in Liege-Bastogne-Liege, how only a handful made it over the Turchino in the early 20th century. They talked of flahutes, and spoiled men, and bla bla bla.
It looked a lot different on the ground. Just because it has been done before, doesn't mean it has to be done again. There's this image we as cycling fans love to cultivate - the rider as gladiator - hell, Cancellara has it painted all over his bike. It's a romantic notion - gladiators all, waging life or death war for the spectacle, our delight, a chance to enter the hall of legends, a chance to win approval on social media, and satisfy our appetite for mayhem.
In the midst of the awful, there were still some that seemed unperturbed by it all. A Focus rider flashed the sign of the horns and smiled as he headed for his bus. Edvald Boasson Hagen smiled wryly, in no hurry to get on the bus, while Geraint Thomas gave the conditions two thumbs up.
However, for every Boasson Hagen, there were a dozen who looked in agony, who were in agony.
Ashley and I joined up again at the car, blown away by what we had seen, what we were still seeing, not even sure if the race would start again. It was a massacre.
We started driving - Ashley caught a glimpse of the Turchino road below the autostrada - it was completely white. As expected, the weather changed when we passed through the Turchino tunnel, so the snow turned to rain, but only just.
We headed for a spot a few kilometers after the restart on the coast in Arenzano and waited. After the restart, the break and field continued on their grim way - pressing on as fast as possible.
It was around this point that the day began to take its toll on even us - who were spending most of the day happily protected by the warm walls of our car. It was just one of those days when it felt like nothing was going right - we were convinced the pictures weren't there, we were missing the shots we were trying to take, the cameras were balking in the driving rain…it just sucked. It had ceased being an enjoyable day chasing a race, and was 100% shit work. I know that sounds sacrilegious, but there are days when race chasing becomes a nightmare, and once the ball starts rolling down the slope of misery, it rarely stops and turns around. It just gets worse and worse.
At this point, I'd like to give a huge nod of respect to the motorbike photographers. Wow. We saw them countless times - driver putting on a brave face into the snow, whilst the photographer, head down, tried his best to hide from the elements, failing miserably. They spent most of the daylight hours exposed. Sure, they weren't racing, but they're a close second on the list for victory on that terrible Sunday. Unbelievable.
It's easy to say HTFU. It's super easy actually. I wrote that in a little over a second and laughed at that original video where it all started. It's so easy to say it, entirely different to do it.
We were driving toward what would be the first climb of the day at La Manie. The maneuvering involved would make for a tight window to beat the race, but it should work. Then we saw a lone tweet that La Manie had been cancelled. I wasn't sure if we could believe it though, so we pulled off at the exit, checked five more times, then saw the necessary confirmation. We formed a new plan and headed for the coast.
We talked about turning around and heading for home before Andora, but eventually decided to give it a go. We weren't in exactly high spirits, which meant we were mostly at each others throats, which always makes for a good time.
I pulled out the bike in hopes of making it up to the Capo Mele, which crests a few kilometers before the Ligurian town that makes the world think of the Pyrenees. I got my taste of riding bikes in the current weather with my dabble - it was wet, cold, and miserable. I don't think I had to ride my bike to find it out, but it certainly underlined it when I got back to the car soaked.
Before that though, there was a moment of eureka - the spot was fantastic! Unfortunately, the eureka moment was lost when the camera went bonkers right as the field rolled by. I cursed and swore and moaned and groaned, but looking back, it was pretty funny. The current of the day had gone bad, and at a certain point, the day can still be salvaged if you can only take a couple of steps back and laugh. Unfortunately, I was taking it all way too seriously, and the humor in the situation was completely lost on me as I raced back down to Andora, not enjoying my cold spray shower. Despite all that, there was a small part of my mind that had flashed brightly and made a check mark - I'd be back to that spot next time for a second go.
Back in the car, we talked about throwing in the towel again. Ashley was certain that nothing had worked out for her where she had shot. She was frustrated, I was frustrated and wet. See, it's funny now. A hidden camera would have made for some amusing viewing.
We went for one more spot, if only for Ale, if only to see the day through, if only to watch a great race that we had endured with come to an end. Ale's approach to the Poggio is genius, but also almost requires a sherpa to get up it. The road takes you up the other side of the ridge of the Poggio. What the normal road does in a couple of kilometers, this approach does in probably less than 1k. I am pretty sure it averages around 30%. It's hard to walk up and makes the Muro di Sormano look like a mild speed bump.
We huffed and puffed and cursed and moaned some more then parted ways - Ashley went down to the early switchbacks, and I went up toward the top. The race came and wet, the result was lackluster at best. Ashley's camera went psychotic and stopped focusing, I picked an unfortunate spot, and it was over.
We were like spoiled kids walking back to the car - in disbelief that things had gone so wrong on the picture front, in disbelief that things hadn't gone our way. Sometimes you need a kick in the ass, a day to remember that it's not all pretty pictures and smiles. Sometimes it's work, sometimes it sucks, sometimes riders do cry in the snow, and sometimes, sometimes, you wish you were somewhere else, doing anything but this.
Less than 48 hours later, we're in Oudenaarde after fifteen hours of driving. The day feels a lot different to me now, and I'm happy we had a hard go of it. I'm ready for tomorrow's Dwars door Vlaanderen, excited about another chance, ready for a good day.
Thanks for reading.
Our plan when we came back to Lecchi was simple: shoot the Strade Bianche on Saturday, then spend a week riding the white roads, and a couple of days shooting them. This area deserves our full attention, not to mention the fact that Lecchi has become one of our treasured homes.
The riding, however, has been suspect. It was no fault of the region, that's for sure, but the weather...what happened? Before this week, I think we've seen a grand total of two days of rain out of well over 30. Since Sunday, it's rained pretty much nonstop. Overall, I'm ok with the rain. I've come to grips with it, but it's much easier to deal with the rain when you're in Belgium or the UK - it's supposed to rain there. It's not supposed to be miserable in Chianti. It's paradise here. That's the problem. Expectations. Keep your expectations low, and you'll always be happy. That's my key to happiness. Write that down. Unfortunately, I let my expectations rise a bit too high, and now I'm taking a mental pummeling.
It's the same story with our new car. We spent triple what we did on our red rocket that met its quiet end at the end of last year, so we raised our expectations accordingly. We graduated to a Peugeot Partner - a little bit bigger, better for storage in the back, and extremely practical - we even got air conditioning! Unfortunately, the new steed has come with its problems - most irritatingly - a messed up speedometer and odometer. The speedometer reads 20-25kph high, and if my Garmin calculations are correct, we have to drive 117 Peugeot kilometers to go 100 Garmin kilometers. It's not the end of the world, but it's annoying. If it were our old car, I wouldn't blink. How can you complain when your car is worth less than almost every single piece of gear you carry IN the car? With all that said, we are still forever thankful for Gregg's hard work getting the car all set up for us - certainly not his fault - and apart from those niggles, we're excited about our new wheels.
Back to Chianti and our project - shoot the Strade Bianche. Shooting the race went well - the weather was perfect, the adventure excellent, the pictures lovely. After that though, things went bad quickly. The sun was replaced with clouds and rain, rain, and rain.
After a few days slogging around in the rain on my brand new, super, super awesome Focus Izalco Team SL (impressed - quantum leap forward over last year's Izalco - great bike), I said to hell with it - if we can't have nice weather for the shoot, let's do it in some nasty stuff and add a little bit of fun to the future story.
We got some fun.
Needless to say, Ashley wasn't in for the idea of riding 150 or so kilometers in the pouring rain, so I got to take on 'modeling' duties. I'm more than happy to ride in the rain for articles. How can I not be? I get to ride - guilt free - for work! It's fantastic.
The attempt to shoot the Strade Bianche ended almost soon as it started though. As we rolled out, the clouds broke a bit, the sun shone, could it be possible? Maybe?
Nope. The momentary tractor beam from the heavens was swallowed up, and the rain lashed down harder than it had all week. I donned my rain jacket and gloves, put my head down and got on with it. Ashley laughed, drove off into the distance in search of a good spot.
Unfortunately, just a little ways down, we took an ill-advised turn on to (what amounted to) a farm track. On Google Street View, it looked fine. Under normal conditions, it's a passable road - a bit rough, but nothing too nasty. It hadn't handled the recent inches of rain very well though.
While riding on the small margin of grass between the muddy field and the mud pit of a road with its feet deep ruts and slop, I watched Ashley valiantly doing battle with the slope. She made it through the worst of it, but caught a bad rut, which pushed her right, where there was unfortunately no room right - just a ditch. I watched in dismay as the car left slip sliding entertainment and entered stuck.
I pulled up to a shaky Ashley, bless her heart. I shrugged my shoulders - no worries, it happens, right? In our world, this kind of thing is bound to happen. As our friend, Bram, later pointed out, it's just another day in the life of Jered and Ashley. Ashley scowled back - this is not NORMAL! Normal people do not have to deal with this!
True. Point taken.
What are we going to do? With this, we both looked up and realized a comforting fact of Europe - you're never far from anything. On this desolate, forgotten farm track, we could see Siena, maybe 10 kilometers distant, and the rows of houses in the nearest town - maybe two kilometers away. No worries.
We tried calling a tow service in Siena, but the phone wouldn't work. We could check emails, even post the above shot to Instagram, but we couldn't make a call to a place that I might be looking at in the distant cluster of buildings.
After the first frustrated moments, like everything, the situation devolved into humor and laughter. How could it not? At one point, still clothed in my soaking kit, I was on my hands and knees digging through what we noted amusingly was perfect pottery clay. I swear, this is where they get their pottery clay. It was funny.
We tried, futilely of course, for a good long while to get the car out. There was a moment when we ALMOST got it, but of course, that fleeting second was followed by a clunk, and a new problem.
We surrendered. I changed out of my soaking kit into what was supposed to be my car ride home clothing - capped off with my house shoes, which are Adidas Superstar sandals. I call them my pillow shoes. They're the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn, but they are not really for walking, and they're certainly not for walking through mud.
We laughed at my ridiculous footwear and set off from whence we came - direction - Arbia. We stopped in the first establishment we saw - a pharmacy. A pharmacy? Ashley: "They always speak English."
Of course, the lady didn't speak a word of English and was quite satisfied with herself to point out the fact. She turned to leave us, but Ashley didn't blink and fired back in her ever improving, blessed Italian, and we were off. 30 minutes later, Alessandro showed up. We told him our story, he shrugged - you need a Jeep. Wait a minute.
15 minutes after that, a chunk of America pulled up in all of its glory - a Chevrolet Z71 jacked up and grumbling. It was beautiful. We hopped into Claudio's truck and laughed all the way back to our beached car. A minute later, our car was free, we shoved 40 euros into Claudio's happy hands, and we drove home.
Getting back to Lecchi was almost as fun as the whole incident, because then we got to show our pictures to Paolo and Wanda over a cup of hot chocolate, and then again to Anna and Morgaro over dinner. It was hilarious. They laughed. We laughed. Just another day, right?
I intentionally stayed away from doing any real writing or picture taking for the last couple months. I know working is a normal part of life, but after last year's ten months on the road, we were in a bad way. I still don't know how to quantify how we felt. I can't really describe it. It was just a basic overall feeling of tired - tired of moving, tired of being a stranger, tired of being mostly alone, tired of being tired.
-So we returned to the US, the travels continued over Christmas, then continued some more with an awesome shoot throughout California for Specialized. At that point, the tired peaked. Thankfully, it found its cure with a thirty day trip to Athens, Georgia.
I don't want to complain. We are so, so happy with what we do. It's the best. I know we've pulled an amazing card, and I don't ever want to take it for granted - but - that doesn't mean that there isn't something to be said for home, hanging out with friends, and not being a foreigner.
Our thirty days in Athens were everything we could have hoped for. It was a much needed down time in terms of work, which allowed us to play. I rode my bike more than I ever have in a thirty day period - 105 hours. Ashley took classes in tumbling and trapeze. We hung out with friends more than we ever have.
That was the amazing thing about it all though - it was really underlining that there was a place where we can go, where we feel at home, where we have friends to play with, friends to ride with, friends to have dinner with, friends to idly talk to for hours and hours and hours about everything, but in the end, absolutely nothing at all.
I remember so many times when we were hanging out with Morgan and Thomas, or Ryan and Jonathan, or Pat, or Brendan, or Reid, or on and on and on, and laughing until my stomach and cheeks hurt, laughing some more, talking until well after midnight, going to bed, waking up early, and then riding until dark, laughing all the way, eating, laughing, chatting, laughing.
It's not to say we don't have friends over here - that's not the case at all. We've made an amazing network of friends throughout Europe, but nowhere is the concentration so high.
I rode my bike 105 hours in our thirty days in Athens. I think I rode 10 of those by myself. I think I spent at least an hour most nights plotting possible routes. I think I spent a few hundred dollars gorging myself at gas stations throughout northeastern Georgia. It got to such a perfect point that I stopped eating breakfast. I knew I'd have a great store stop to look forward to somewhere between the 2 and 3 hour mark, so I'd hold off on breakfast, sleep a little later, and then bring the fury on some poor, unsuspecting gas station in the middle of nowhere - preferably with barbecue sandwiches or chicken biscuits.
I'm a talkative person. Put in the right situation, when I'm really happy, I never stop talking. Athens was the right situation. Imagine how many words I spewed in those hours on the bike. I can't imagine what Thomas must have thought at some points. Thomas is secretly talkative, but he masquerades as a quiet person.
I came to grips with the fact that I'm not going to be a bike racer again. I came to grips with it while realizing that after the end of that month of training, I'm stronger than I've ever been at this point in the year. I'm ok with it. In coming to terms with my hobbyist nature, I found out that I could love riding my bike that much more. It wasn't stressful. I had no self-induced pressure. I rode, because I wanted to ride my bike and explore as many new roads with Thomas and friends as possible. Every night, I finished a ride, and got excited about where we'd go explore next.
Nothing makes me happier than finding a new dirt road in the middle of nowhere - a dirt road that winds and twists through fields and forest.
I realized that I love riding my bike. Let me underline that - I really love riding my bike. Apart from Ashley, there's nothing in this world that makes me happier than riding my bike on awesome new roads with friends. Nothing. Nothing makes me happier than finding a new dirt road in the middle of nowhere - a dirt road that winds and twists through fields and forest. The Friday before we left, we rode from Athens to Dahlonega - the kind of ride you can't do unless you have someone waiting on the other end. We got lucky in that Ashley was helping some friends in Dahlonega, so the ride was possible. We crossed the imaginary boundary into terra incognito in Lula, and then the ride journeyed into the heavens. We hit a series of dirt roads that were absolutely perfect. I remember looking around, barely believing that this is real, happy to know that it was, happier still to know that I was there, on my bike, with friends...who could laugh at me for freaking out about the roads.
It pains me to realize how many rides and hours I spent by myself, because I was taking myself so seriously five or so years ago. I wanted to be a pro, and the only way to do that is to ride alone and do intervals, right? It kills me to think of all of the fun I missed, all of the friendships that never bloomed or only partially so, because I was too busy being too cool for school. I think of all the people I didn't talk to, because I felt threatened by them, because maybe they might be better than me. How ridiculous is that?
I learned the lesson late, but in my new career as a hobbyist, I want to seek out friends on the bike. I want to share and talk and laugh and be dumb and come home exhausted - ready for more. There's no better bar than outside, no better bar stool than my bike, and certainly no better beverage than a long, long ride.
I know this year is going to be hectic and crazy, but I want to make it a goal to get on my bike and not just ride, but explore. I've become hemmed in by my desire to ride hard, so I always ride 2-3 hours. What's the point in that? Who cares if I can ride x watts for x minutes? How much more fun could it be if I extended those rides to 4-5-6-7 hours, and just enjoyed the fact that I can do something as fantastic as spend my day outside, pedaling my bike?
Next - we pick up our new Peugeot Partner tomorrow, then drive to Asolo, Italy for a shoot with a Focus-sponsored mountain bike team for two days. The evening that finishes, we drive further south to Chianti to shoot the Strade Bianche. I'm so excited about the chance to shoot that race. I know it might sound sacrilegious, but I think that race excites me more than anything else. I think there are some special images to be found on the white roads. I hope we can get some. The Strade Bianche is Saturday, so hopefully, Sunday can be spent retracing the race's steps for my first ride in a week.
I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to this year.
I've been thinking about this for a long time now, but this is the first time I wrote anything down. It feels like I've only scraped the surface, like my words only partially accomplish what I've been thinking, but these words will have to do for now.
Thanks, Athens. Thank you to everyone that made our last month such a special one. We move around constantly, so it's a rare occasion when I can say that I miss something now, but in this case, I can wholly admit to missing all of you. Thank you for giving me something to miss.
For those that have missed my painful tweets advertising the calendar, here's a less over the top way - a blog post.
The calendar is here and ready for immediate shipping from Wiggle. It looks nice , doesn't cost too much ($18.68), and shipping is a reasonable $13, considering it's coming from the UK for you US, Canada, and far away land buyers.
I have a soft spot for this shot of Martijn Maaskant on the Muur van Geraardsbergen from back in December of 2010. It was our first ever commercial photo shoot with Castelli, our first ever commercial photo shoot, and our first ever photo shoot in general. To say that we were a little nervous would be an understatement, to say that the nerves had reached cracking point when we arrived in Belgium to find all of Flanders under a thick coat of snow is yet another understatement. BUT - it worked out. It took a little ballet work from Martijn on the Muur, but he was a champ and super patient. There was the tiniest of trails on the cobbles where he's riding that wasn't iced over - everything else was a sheet of ice. We couldn't walk on it, let alone ride it.
It's not from February, nor would you likely be able to even see a trace of this road in February, but it succeeds in portraying the coldness of the month, right? This is from the eventful shoot Ashley and I did on the Stelvio in October. We had missed utter perfection by a day, and instead, got the first major snowstorm of the 2012/2013 winter season. It changed our plans completely, but in the end, I think it made for something a lot more special than it would have been otherwise. At the time, we bemoaned our luck. Now, I'd say we got lucky. Funny how that works.
Classics time. I wanted to devote two months to the cobbles, so of course, they offered themselves up as March and April. The pictures were actually easy to select, as there were a few clear front runners, for me at least. The first is from the Dwars door Vlaanderen on the Paterberg, and the second is of Svein Tuft looking back into the dust of yet another dry Roubaix. It's hard to believe that Paris-Roubaix has been dry since 2002. This year's Roubaix missed out on wetness by about an hour - we were hit by a monster storm driving back to Oudenaarde.
Giro time! It was our first ever Grand Tour, and it will always be remembered as the time we lost everything on the first day when our car was broken into and all of Ashley's clothes, both of our computers, and all of our external hard drives were stolen. It will also be remembered as the time we traveled around most of Italy in search of pretty pictures, met lots of great people, and made it all the way to Milano. It was hard, and it was a huge learning curve, but we're proud of what we managed over our first Corsa Rosa.
It would make sense to use an image of the mountains or sun or something nice and pleasant for June, but Ashley and I are united in our love of this image from the early going of Liege-Bastogne-Liege. We had stopped in a green forest for what would have been a nice, forgettable scenic, but then the skies opened up with first rain, then lots of it, then hail. By the time the raging field arrived with the break still trying to get away, we were looking at a near white out from all of the hail. Ashley's image was perfect.
We couldn't get away with a picture of miserable weather for July, nor could we get away with something that wasn't at least race-related. Unfortunately, we still haven't gone to the Tour de France, so we had to pick a picture from the only Grand Tour we've done - the Giro. This is Domenico Pozzovivo on the attack, en route to his first ever stage win at the Giro at Lago Laceno. I love this picture - the umbrella makes it for me.
We love Innsbruck. We spent a year living there, and it's always a huge pleasure to return. We got the chance to make a quick trip back to one of my favorite climbs (Hinterhorn) above the Inn Valley during our first ever shoot with Focus. Focus had liked one of our images we took back in 2010 and wanted to more or less duplicate it. Unfortunately, the weather didn't cooperate. Instead, it made for something entirely different, and way better in my opinion. The morning had left the valley under clouds, but the upper half in bright sunshine, leaving the middle - a beautifully lit heaven. Even better? That's our friend, Christoph Kluge. He lives in Innsbruck and has showed me/dragged me around the area many times. It's fitting that it's him in the picture. I like that.
There was never any debate about this one. Joaquim Rodriguez's emotionally charged victory salute after a rain-soaked, unbelievably difficult Il Lombardia was my favorite race shot of the year. It was also a whole lot of luck. The first part: Rodriguez's celebration was already well-documented by the time he got to my point about 100m behind the first row of photographers. It was already great, but when he passed them, he completely lost it. It became a celebration of the rawest variety. He let loose with a scream, and the clenching of his fist was not intended for anyone but himself. It was beautiful. So Rodriguez was perfect, now for my part. The light was gone entirely. It was more or less dark, as Lecco was pounded by rain, thunder, and lightning. For some reason, I picked the least dependable lens in our bag for action shots - the 85 f1.8. Getting a shot of a moving subject with the 85 at 1.8 in focus is about as likely as me waking up before 8am. Getting a shot in focus in a driving rain storm in near dark? Impossible. Except it worked. Somehow. It's not perfect, but it's pretty close to it, and I'll take it.
One of my favorite days shooting this year was with my father and Ashley at Rocky Mountain National Park in July. We got up at the ungodly early hour of 4 and made it to the upper part of Old Fall River Road just in time for sunrise. It was also the first time I ever shot with a fisheye lens. I think it worked out alright.
I lied when I said only two pictures would have cobbles in them. This picture was taken about three days before the final calendar was submitted for printing. We were in the middle of a big shoot with Castelli, which spanned four different locations: Flanders, Roubaix, the Ardennes, and Girona. This one is from the old railway trestle above the cobbles of the Arenberg Forest, and the rider? That's 2011 Roubaix winner, Johan Vansummeren.
It had to be cyclocross. This was from our first ever cyclocross race, the World Cup in Plzen. We had a lot that we liked from that day, as well as from the Koppenbergcross just a few days after that, but this one of Radomir Simunek makes me happy, so that's why it's there. I like it.
So there you have it - twelve months - our first ever calendar. I hope you enjoy it. Again, if you'd like to order, head on over to Wiggle.
I love waking up at my parents' house in Colorado. It's nice. So far, living at 2500m above sea level has been a breeze, but I was just sleeping, so we'll get to the hard part later when we go for a bike ride.
About an hour before we got on the plane yesterday, I finished my article for Peloton Magazine on Exmoor. It was a hard one, but I think the final result was special. It meant a lot to me, and I finally put into words some things that I've been thinking about a lot lately, some things that Exmoor really crystallized for me. I hope it goes without saying, but I dearly love that place, and I can't wait to go back.
I took notes on the trip, so I had a lot of what felt like verbal snapshots to play with. Of course, I didn't use but half of those notes, so I have a lot of b-roll, as they say. It's not to say that the b-roll is bad - it's just that I didn't focus all that much on Exmoor the location, but more, Exmoor the feeling...which now leaves lots of space and words to talk about what makes Exmoor awesome. Without further ado!
Exmoor has climbs, so many climbs. I think Exmoor might be the lumpiest place I've ever ridden a bike. There is every type of climb, from a few hundred meters, all the way up to 8k. Some are humane, most are tough, and a good percentage are brutal. Then there's the three-headed monster of Lynmouth-Sinai-Lydiate - it's in another class entirely.
The towns of Lynmouth and Lynton, play host to some of the worst stretches of pavement I’ve ever encountered. The bad idea came about the way many bad ideas emerge - over drinks, in a warm pub, after a long, hard ride a few hours earlier. Maybe it was the euphoria of my favorite ride of 2012, which was ridden by no means in easy fashion, but left us with a 21kph average. Maybe I was just so exhausted, I wasn't thinking clearly. Either way, our Exmoor friend, Rob, told us about a terrible trifecta of ramps, with the middle part right outside our window on this dark, grim, sleeting evening.
The fun starts in the small harbor of Lynmouth. From there, you head straight up Lynmouth Hill. It’s 700 meters long and averages 18%, with a good chunk at 25+. When you crest, you get half a breath through Lynton, before starting Sinai Hill. That’s 500 meters at 21% with the final couple hundred meters way, way over 30%. That’s only 1.2k of climbing - it can’t be too bad, right? Right - wait for the kicker. A quick descent of a few gasping seconds leads to a quick left and then nearly a kilometer at 18% average. The first half is far, far north of 18. The road’s name? Lydiate Lane. It took half a second to re-christen her to Idiot.
Rob said he had done it once, but never again. Any one of those climbs was a day breaker. They require so much, so to do three? It’s an expletive rife possibility. It’s also a pedal session I wouldn’t be too interested in by myself, but with Rob interested in another ago, we decided to do a quick ride the next morning...just a little one.
Lynmouth Hill opened our ride after a two and a half minute warm-up. I was immediately jammed into my 34x28, lurching, tip of my saddle, trying to take it easy for the first of three hills. We laughed at our attempt to take it easy, as the gradient reared up to 25. Pace yourself, right? A couple of seconds later, the pacing was out the window, as we hit the yardstick straight upper part.
With a few pained pedal strokes, we were over it. It wasn't so bad. Two turns later, a quick deep breath or two, and it was on to Sinai Hill. Narrow and god it was steep, and it gets steeper. It is like the world’s worst ramp, because there’s no jump at the top. You just get slower and slower with each passing pedal stroke. The first part is crazy, and just as Rob promised, the second part after the bend was even steeper. Back and forth in the saddle, front to back, hands wrenched in place on the hoods, forearms stinging with the effort, then out of the saddle. My arms - is it possible for one’s arms to hurt so much while pedaling? As I crept over the top, my arms wailed in misery, my legs groaned, and my ragged breathing reminded me that I wished I were listening to music. For me, there's nothing worse than listening to my own gasps. I hate it.
With Sinai complete, arms sufficiently pained, legs wanting nothing but to quit entirely, and a heart rate climbing higher and higher, I slumped down and tried to recover as best I could over the 20 or seconds of descent before the hard left up Idiot, I mean, Lydiate Lane. It was more of the same, but worse. Whereas the first two had something fresh to them - Lynmouth was a fairly main road, and I was with Rob, so it went by ok - Sinai is super narrow and lined by houses, so I felt fast (or as fast as it's possible to feel when riding at a walking pace) - but Idiot, Idiot took away all that was at least partially civilized about the other two and left us with a hedge-lined path through the mud. The road’s difficulty was compounded by a thick coat of wet, rotting leaves mortared together with mud. It took about five out of the saddle seconds before my rear wheel slipped.
There’s no glory in steep climbs, there’s no pleasure. They’re not fun in any way. No matter how strong you are, they’re unpleasant masochistic acts.
Do you know what happens when you’re going just about walking pace when your rear wheel loses traction and you’re out of the saddle? You fall, so to speak. I didn’t crash, but my chest went from proudly heaving above my bars, to pressed firmly against my stem. Slammed in fact. It gives new meaning to slam that stem, no? Chastened by my attempt at self applied CPR, I reluctantly sat down and began the lurch again. There’s no glory in steep climbs, there’s no pleasure. They’re not fun in any way. No matter how strong you are, they’re unpleasant masochistic acts. Bike riding is pain, but bike riding up ultra steep roads is another level that I don’t care to engage in...often at least...a little bit is good for the soul though. It's humbling.
It was only after I finally crested that last ramp, gulped in free air - air that I didn't have to buy with every pedal stroke, every bit of effort on those walls - that I was able to look behind me. I turned around to have a look at Rob’s agony. I have to admit - I was curious - what does it look like to watch someone labor up something like that? It was with this curiosity that I went back DOWN knowing full well that I’d have to come up again, but I’m happy I did, because it was in these moments that it became memorable.
The view from Idiot Lane is divine. I didn’t get a picture of it, so you’ll have to take my word for it. Beyond the narrow, muddy, hedge-lined road is a view - a view of the Bristol Sound, Wales, the hills. It’s beautiful. There’s a catch though - as a bike rider, you never get to see it. If you’re dumb enough to ride up Idiot Lane, the only view you get is that of your bars, hands, stem, computer, your front wheel, the road, maybe a little glance up toward the next bend. There’s no looking back at the glorious amphitheater of awesome. The unfortunate part though is that you won’t descend it either. It’s muddy, it’s as slick as the ice on the moors, it’s hand paining, vice grip steep down the damn thing. So there it sits - a beautiful view - not for enjoying. It’s the perfect climbing irony and a great reason why this hill should in fact be renamed, Idiot Lane.
An amazing view the whole way up, but you can’t see it, because your nose is pressed to your stem, trying to keep your front wheel on the ground. You’d never descend it, because it’s insanely steep, so its view lives in solitude, a secret, unless you’re dumb enough to go down it. I am.