I’m embarrassed to say that it’s been more than two months since my last blog post. But here we are, and there’s plenty to catch up on.
I spent most of the past eight weeks over in Europe, covering my third Tour de France for CyclingTips. But before that, I was over in Austria for the launch of Cannondale’s SuperSix Evo Hi-Mod Disc, also for CyclingTips.
It was a whirlwind, that Austria trip. After roughly 36 hours of travel from Melbourne to the expo area in Kitzbühel, the two days of riding flew by. On the first day I was part of a small group that was joined by Cannondale pros Phil Gaimon and Toms Skujins as we put the new bikes through their paces in the hills of the Tirol region.
It was my first proper experience riding a road bike with disc brakes and it certainly gave me greater confidence on the descents. In fact, it probably gave me too much confidence. There was one particular descent where I was trying to keep up with Phil and Toms and overshot a corner. Not by much, and I was able to turn into a nearby street, but it certainly reminded me of the need to ride at my own pace, and not get carried away.
That first ride was only pretty short, but it was good fun. And it was hard to complain about the scenery. I’ve been to Austria twice now and both times I’ve been blown away by the mountains.
On the second day of the launch I wanted to really see what the disc brakes were capable of so I organised with our guide Mark — a Perth lad who now lives in Austria — to head out to the Kitzbühelerhorn.
The climb is a reasonably famous one, having been part of the Tour of Austria for many years. Cadel Evans won a mountain-top finish here back in 2004 on his way to winning the race overall. And the climb is tough; really tough. In fact, with an average gradient of 13% for its 6.7km, it’s remarkably similar to Mt. Baw Baw.
Being used to a compact setup (34-tooth) with a 28-tooth cassette, the SuperSix’s 36×28 had me reaching for another couple gears on several occasions. And as expected, the climb was really challenging, with only a few short sections of flatter road in the 6.7km.
But it was the way down that ended up proving more challenging. Rain had started to fall just before we got to the summit, meaning the roads were slick as we started descending. The disc brakes were doing an impressive job of slowing me down, but on one sharp right-hander I took a bad line and paid the price.
My front wheel washed out and landed on my side, and on my face. My initial instinct was to get on and just keep going but Mark rightly suggested I take a minute to compose myself and see if I was ok.
I was. I’d taken a chunk of skin off my right-hand side and given myself a cut just above my right eye, but I wasn’t badly hurt. The most painful thing from the crash would end up being my ribs which, it turned out, I’d landed on quite hard.
Also painful was the fact I’d damaged my sunglasses and clothing, and scratched the review bike. I offered later to pay for the damage but the folks at Cannondale didn’t seem too concerned. I felt terrible though.
I made it down the rest of the descent just fine, albeit tentatively, and we made our way back to the expo area.
That afternoon, one of the event organisers from Cannondale was good enough to give me a lift up to Munich (thanks James!). I stayed there for a night then, the next morning, started the long trek up to the north of France for Le Tour. That was one big day of travel: five trains, one flight and something like 10 hours to get from Munich to Saint-Lo.
I put together a simple little vlog from those first few days of the trip — from Melbourne to Munich — which you can see below.
I arrived in Saint-Lo the day before the Tour started and from then on it was full-gas for three and a bit weeks, through to the finish in Paris. It’s a beast of an event to cover — I’ve written before about what it’s like, if you’re interested to find out more.
One of the things I’m most proud of from this year’s Tour is the vlogs that my colleagues Dave, Shane and I put together throughout the race. They’re silly, but I think they provide an interesting perspective on what life is like on the Tour. If you’re at all interested, you can find each of the five vlogs below, including #4 which documents a mishap I had on the Tour’s second rest day, requiring a three-hour visit to a Swiss hospital …
Stages 1 to 5:
Stages 6 to 9:
First rest day to Stage 14:
Stage 15 to Stage 18:
Stage 19 to the end:
The day after the Tour I said my goodbyes to Dave and Shane and took the Eurostar from Paris up to London. My youngest brother Ash lives in London — long-time readers might remember him from the trip we did to the USA back in 2012 — and I had been looking forward to spending some time with him and to winding down after Le Tour.
We spent a week just hanging out, catching up (I see him maybe once a year these days), and riding city bikes around London.
I’d read a little bit about what the riding is like in London and it was everything I expected it to be and more. In a word: chaotic.
From what I saw, there seemed to be less cycling infrastructure than we have here in Melbourne, but there are many more people on bikes than in Melbourne. And it’s a wider slice of the population that seems to ride as well — while not to the same degree as in Amsterdam, say, cycling does appear to be more widely practised in London than it is here in Australia.
One of the biggest things I noticed is that drivers generally seemed more aware of cyclists, and more comfortable driving with cyclists around. In Melbourne, many drivers simply aren’t used to having to deal with cyclists on the road, and so they tend to misjudge how much room riders need. I guess when you have more riders on the roads, you’re just more likely to expect them. And when there are more riders on the roads, chances are you know a cyclist, whether they’re a family member, a friend, a work colleague or whatever.
All that said, I found it required quite a bit of confidence to ride around London with its multitude of one-way streets, heavy traffic and lack of bike lanes. I ride through the centre of Melbourne most days on my way to work and consider myself quite confident in traffic, but this felt like another level.
Still, I was only in London for five or six days so it could be that I’ve only seen part of the picture. Either way, it was fun to spend time riding around (cycling and the tube are the fastest ways to get places) and even more fun to catch up with Ash.
Now I’m back in Melbourne and settling back into something of a routine. The weather’s starting to warm up — thankfully — and it won’t be long until the calendar starts filling up with exciting cycling events through spring and summer.
The first thing on my radar is The Redback mountainbike race in Alice Springs next week. I’m heading up there with my other brother Brendan, which will be great, but to say I’m fit and ready would just be a lie.
My two road rides in Austria and some shorts rides around London are the only cycling I’ve really done in the past six weeks. I’ve been on one short MTB ride since I got back but I’ve resigned myself to the fact that I’m going to be unfit for the race and that it’s going to be a tough slog. But that’s ok. I’ll go into it with the goal of enjoying myself and I should be just fine.
After that it’s into Hells 500’s Ol’ Dirty — one of my favourite events of the year. And then, on September 18, it’ll be DD16: the 2016 Melbourne Dirty Dozen.
I’ve created a Facebook event page for DD16 just announcing the date and I’ll have more information here on the site very soon. For now let me just say that the course is tough, but it will be a whole lot of fun …
Thanks for reading!