Thursday, 16 October 2014

Book Review: Pro Cycling on $10 a Day

Men's professional cycling: it's all about glamour. Jaguar team cars; on-demand massages; garages full of the latest super-light carbon wonderbikes; worshipful fans; exotic locales with breathtaking scenery; breathtaking podium girls; the big bucks and global recognition. But then again perhaps not and for an entertaining albeit rueful look at this Real World check out “Pro Cycling on $10 a Day” by American pro Phil Gaimon, the man with with Sad Clown Face on the cover photo. That's earning the $10, not spending it by the way...

Phil Gaimon, whose palmares not only include the Redlands Classic race but also columns in some of the bigger US cycling magazines and, putting his English degree to further use, a blog.  He seems to have been a particularly unlikely candidate to become a career bike racer. Born in Columbus, Ohio, he writes about how he grew up sedentary and obese in Atlanta until at 16 he obtained a used hybrid bike for transportation and within two years had dropped 40 pounds and saw his waist size melt from 36 to 30 inches. Compared to the typical European racer he had a very late start but worked hard to make time good. He joined the collegiate cycling club at university in Florida and slowly learned about race tactics. He began to move up the ranks, joining a team funded by a Bahamian billionaire (private jet! Caribbean training camp!) at the princely salary of $2000 (and two bikes) which was quadrupled for no apparent reason. The whims of team operators, billionaires and others, are a constant theme of the book but his Bahamas adventure is something he must look back to with longing considering what was to come.

In 2007 he joined the second in a series of seriously underfunded teams and managed to take the white jersey for Best Young Rider (and 7th overall) at the Univest Grand Prix. 2008 and on to another team, sponsored by an organic jam company and paying the still-princely sum of $2000. 2009 saw him ride with Jelly Belly, a team that also forked over $2000 (and jelly beans). And on it goes as he recounts all the races where he seemed happy just to finish, all the terrible lodgings he had to use, all the miles he put on his unglamourous Toyota Matrix and a whole lot of disappointments, a major crash or two and plenty of broken promises. Pro cycling in the United States is an outsider sport, with on-off races, laughably amateur team management, tight-fisted sponsors and little community support. You can feel the frustration as he moves further up the US pro circuit as his abilities climb too, reaching the summit with the Bissell squad and earning $45,000 after leaving a team that reneged on paying him the miserable salary it had contracted with him.

Cookie-enthusiast Phil pulls no punches when describing his messy, disorganized life, sometimes in too-detailed biological form. But in between these tales of struggle and sheer awfulness and balancing life as a university student/coach/t-shirt tycoon are many entertaining stories told with wry humour of great teammates, juvenile fraternity practical jokes and the beauty and challenges of the racing itself. He loves cycling and over his career managed to shake off everything that was extraneous to that. Of his decision to go pro he writes:
When I set my goal I knew of a lot of talented guys who'd tried to make it as bike racers and had failed or given up, and I'd gotten a later start than most of them. How could I succeed where they hadn't? Simple. I 'd have to outwork everyone around me. I'd have to be more focused, more dedicated, and more disciplined than they were. The plan was so distant it was almost abstract, but I thought I was up to it. Sometimes, I wish I could go back in time and slap myself.”
In this respect Phil Gaimon matches the old European racers, those men from Belgium or the Netherlands, who got by on grit and determination. And, in his case, many cookies. To race at the top level is the dream of every pro cyclist and in 2014, at 28, Phil Gaimon rode for World Tour team Garmin-Sharp. Sadly, the reorganization of that team means he will be returning to the US circuit again in 2015 but we can look forward to his wisecracks and positive outlook as he continues to cut a sympathetic figure in the harsh world of the pro peloton. And when he won that stage at the Tour de San Luis in Argentina (and second overall behind Giro winner Nairo Quintana) this year for Garmin-Sharp we would like to think that he was mobbed by podium girls, and not for the last time.  Enjoy Phil's Thrill Ride!

Pro Cycling on $10 a Day: From Fat Kid to Euro Pro” by Phil Gaimon
295 pp., illustrated, paperback
VeloPress 2014, suggested price US$ 18.95
ISBN 978-1-93771524-3
For more information about this and other cycling books, check out

For Phil Gaimon's own blog and the stories direct from the horse's mouth, so to speak, go to

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Alessandro Zanardi: A Tribute to the Human Spirit

Injured in a terrible accident on the Lausitzring in 2001, Alessandro Zanardi lost his legs and was told he would never race again.  Yet he came back and competed with specially-equipped cars in touring car class racing between 2003 and 2009.  Then he became a medal-winning handcyclist and took two golds and a silver at the 2012 London Paralympics after winning the handcycle class at the New York Marathon in 2011.  In 2014 he raced a BMW Z4 GT3 in touring car racing again.  Some people just don't give up!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Jens Voigt Wants to Make Cycling History: Shut up, Hour!

Ancient sort-of-retired colourful pro cyclist Jens Voigt (all of 42) will attempt to set a new Hour Record at a velodrome in Switzerland on Wednesday, September 18 at 19:00 Central European Time.  And thanks to the miracle of the Internet Age in which we live it will be possible to watch it live via Trek Bicycles website here.  This was a surprising development: everyone had expected his Trek Racing teammate Fabian Cancellara to try for the record and rumours were floating that Tony Martin and/or Bradley Wiggins would give it a try.  But only a week after his final road race, Jens announced his new goal, the final one of his long cycling career.
The Hour Record has been the purview of the greatest names in cycling.  First set on a safety bicycle by Tour de France founder Henri Desgrange in 1893 as an encouragement for competition, record holders have included Tour de France winner Lucien Petit-Breton, Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx, after which there was a lot of confusion about the technical aspects and the record was divided up into various categories, with winners including Francesco Moser, Miguel Indurain, Tony Rominger and others in the aerodynamic bike category, to say nothing of the really fast guys riding/driving those torpedo-shaped HPVs (Human Powered Vehicles) that have no rules except human power.  Some discipline was returned with Chris Boardman's record of 49.91 kms set in 2000 on a track bike similar to Merckx's, with that record standing until the current one set by Ondrej Sosenka of 49.7 kms set in Moscow in 2005.  Sosenka's history of doping, forcing his ultimate retirement from pro sports, did not add to the lustre for the Hour Record.  But Jens Voigt, one of the pro peloton's most popular riders, may change that tomorrow.  And he has a very cool bike:  check out the stopwatch disc wheels!  You can see more photos of the bike here.



Friday, 5 September 2014

Book Review: Goggles & Dust

Photography and cycling both came of age as technologies in the late 19th Century and were joined with the development of epic European road races. A new horizon was opened up for sports photography as newspapers, often sponsors of the events, demanded powerful images delivered in a timely fashion. And as photography moved forward so did the development of racing to include the elements we know today: disciplined teams; brilliant summer landscapes; high-tech equipment and superbly paved serpentine mountain roads with high-speed descents. But it was not always so and it is obvious leafing through the lovely little book “Goggles & Dust” from the Horton Collection...

Tour de France: the Peloton in 1938
Brett and Shelly Horton have over the years amassed an impressive collection of bike racing memorabilia, ranging from old bicycles to jerseys, trophies and accessories but over the course of the years have also obtained photos, originally to document and complement the other items in the collection. It must have come as something of a shock to inventory the photos and discover more than 350,000 original images. From this massive mother lode it must have been difficult to make a selection for this new book, although clearly the Hortons would have wanted to avoid duplication of the photos in their previously-released book covering racing from the 1940s through the 1960s. (refer to previous review of The Golden Age of Cycling). Their decision was to cover the first four decades of the 20th Century and the book is subtitled “Images from Cycling's Glory Days.”

Honoré Barthélemy, 1921 Tour de France, where he won 2 stages and was third overall
They may have been glory days, those early years when road racing was novel and one of the most popular sports in the world. But it certainly was not a lot of fun for the principal actors and one cannot but admire the cyclists in these photos, pioneers in the establishment of professional sport, as they are pictured grinding up mountains on their heavy bikes, dragging them through muddy ruts and, in that time before team cars, radios and quick bike changes, doing an awful lot of roadside repairs.

Réne Vietto pauses for refreshment, 1925 Tour de France
The bikes were primitive and the roads to modern eyes look dreadful. The photos do not reveal much of the joy of competition but brutal hardship. As noted in the book's introduction the 1926 Tour de France was 5,745 kms over 17 stages, compared to today's 3,400 kms or so over 21.

The riders are almost always wearing heavy long-sleeved jerseys festooned with tubulars across the shoulders and everyone wears goggles (in on case two pairs!) as protection from the relentless dust of the gravel roads. The organization of everything is so simple, whether at food stops or finish lines. And one is struck by how old many of the riders, who would have only been in their 20s or early 30s, appear to us today old and exhausted. Victor Fontan, who was 36 at the 1928 Tour, looks to be 76.

Léon Despontin, Stage 2 of the 1925 Tour de France, aged 37. Despontin, a Belgian, won the Touriste-Routier class that year but in his six appearances at the Tour managed three 7th places in the overall competition.
Most of the photos have not been previously published and while some are recognizable from a series, such as the one of Gino Bartali crossing the Casse Déserte on the Col d'Izoard in 1938, but others are quite new including the start line of a 1911 race for cyclists weighing at least 100 kg (220 lbs)! The names of those photographed include Tour de France legends Eugène Christophe, André Leducq, René Vietto, Antonin Magne and Ottavia Bottechia but others would be less familiar to today's readers. 

1927 Portrait of two-time Tour de France victor Ottavio Bottechia
The photos are consistently interesting and nicely reproduced. “Although the photos are derived from an original negative or a print made from that negative, all of the images...have undergone some degree of restoration” writes Brett Horton in the introduction and this gives the photos a welcome freshness and makes for an attractive presentation on the whole. Each photo indicates who is in the picture, what the situation is and often a few words (very few) of description. This might be the only fault of the book as an appendix with more details of the circumstances surrounding the image would have been welcome. The photos are very much close-focussed on the riders with comparatively little attention to backgrounds or scenery and a few more photos like the Izoard one would have been welcome too. 

 René Vietto on the Col du Galibier, 1938 Tour de France
Was there any other professional sport as well-documented by photographers in this period as bicycle racing? There are excellent photos of team sports such as baseball from the period, as well as boxing and tennis and the Olympic Games (well, amateurs only there!) but one is struck by the feverish activity displayed in the cycling photos, a dynamism that is not always there in the visual documentation of other sports in the early 20th Century. The photos from the 1930s are in my opinion the best in capturing the action and personalities of the racers. Antonin Magne was one slick dude with perfect hair apparently.

Antonin Magne at the 1937 Grand Prix des Nations time trial
 Goggles & Dust” is a very fine collection of black and white photos covering the formative--and brutally hard--years of road racing Leafing through this small volume makes one curious as to the photos that had to be left out for reasons of space and it is to be hoped that this is only the first in a series from the depths of the Horton Collection archives. This book will be available in September 2014.

Goggles & Dust: Images from Cycling's Glory Days”
by Shelly and Brett Horton
VeloPress 2014, hardbound 106 pp.

ISBN 978-1-937715-29-8
Suggested Retail Price: US$ 16.95
Get yours at

Monday, 11 August 2014

Tailor-Made in Tuscany: A Visit to Cicli Tommasini

With dedicated computer programs and specialized apps many cyclists today obsessively track the miles and hours spent on our machines, machines themselves usually designed and often fabricated using computers.  Most of those bicycles, generally carbon and generally black, are indistinguishable to look at and, in spite of a panoply of brand names and models, originate in one of only a handful of huge Asian factories.

There is no question that the Spezialized, Cervelos, Giants and Cannondales of the world market excellent bicycles but there are still glorious alternatives if you want to precisely match your bicycle to your riding style and strengths, your physique, your exact idea of what that two-wheeled partner in discovery, whether of new roads or athletic limits, should be.  There is growing interest in artisan steel bicycle production in North America particularly and pathfinding individual builders, such as Richard Sachs and Peter Weigle, have earned enormous respect and lengthy waiting lists, along with their counterparts at small workshops with names like Bilenky, Vanilla and Marinoni (the last celebrating 40 years in business in Montreal this year).  But sometimes a trend is not an arrow to the future but only rediscovers that the values of the past have relevance for the present.  And sometimes you can really go back to the source albeit on a road less travelled.  Or the Autostrada...

In Italy, the Promised Land of Cycling, a small group of framebuilders have never stopped providing the kind of personal attention once found in so many fields of commerce.  Even those that have grown into global presences in the racing bicycle market at least offer token recognition of their past by offering a traditional steel frame--Colnago, Cinelli and Pinarello come to mind.  But to immerse yourself in the real traditions of Italian road cycling and yet reap the benefits of what the high-technology folks refer to as “the man-machine interface” it is time to visit the beautiful province of Tuscany and the modest but impressively capable workshop of Irio Tommasini in Grosseto, close to Siena, the fabled town so beloved by all travellers.

Although not far from the coast, Grosseto probably does not draw a lot of tourists and certainly almost none of those go to the nondescript  industrial park on the outskirts of town.  Here on the Via Neapal one finds a typical large bike shop, handling a number of brands and types of bikes, and run by the founder's daughter Roberta and her husband Valfrido.  However, behind this store is found the heart and soul of the operation, the workshop (for this “factory” is a description too grandiose and yet too belittling).  The workshop and the promotion of the Tommasini brand are under the supervision of the founder's other daughter, Barbara, and her husband Alessandro.

Barbara Tommasini, inspecting some freshly-mitred tubing
Irio Tommasini was born in Grosseto 80 years ago  and  began his life as a framebuilder under the supervision of Giuseppe “the Magician” Pelà in 1948 while working at a large factory in Milan.  Pelà was a highly respected builder but as he usually built for other people his own name is seldom seen on a frame.  Tommasini worked closely with him, including on weekends, and learned to improve his own craft.  At the factory he worked in the Racing Section and turned his hand to whatever was necessary, working not only on bicycles but on the motorcycles produced by the firm.  At that time in Italy it was necessary to be in the north for this kind of exposure to manufacturing; the relocation to Grosseto would come later but he had already started to build bicycles that would be raced by champions, such as the first three-time Tour de France winner, Louison Bobet.

The Maestro himself: Irio Tommasini
Tommasini continues to come to the workshop, occasionally taking up the brazing torch.  He walks with a cane and jokes about his weight but he remains very focused on his art.  In an interview he spoke about changes in the bicycle industry he has seen since setting up on his own in 1957.  Italy was unbeatable in the quality of its production and while attempts were made to copy the work in other countries there was limited success.  Tommasini himself began exporting to the United States in 1973 and said that there was not much happening in racing bicycles there until around 1985-1990 (although he did make a positive reference to the work of Richard Sachs) when the interest in serious bicycle construction began to grow but there were also some poor designs reaching the market.  The limiting issue was in finding qualified personnel and Tommasini worked with American firms, such as Litespeed, in training technicians.  As new materials were introduced to the sector new skills were needed for a different kind of manufacturing, no longer framebuilding in the traditional sense.

Tommasini feels that the while the Italian strength was in custom building, the Americans had a better understanding of the requirements of marketing and he emphasized the difference between commercial and technical needs.  For example, in a tailored frame there are 40-50 measurements that need to be considered and precise dimensions calculated for a perfect fit whereas to reach the widest commercial market large companies simply size frames like shirts, S-XL, with approximate fit through stem and seatpost positioning.  Large companies are able to sponsor pro racing teams as a key part of their marketing, an option not available to small builders however excellent their product.  Nonetheless, in the past Irio Tommasini built bicycles for some of racing's most noted riders, including multiple World Champions such as Belgian Freddy Martens and local heroes Mario Cipollini and Paolo Bettini.

After a friendly welcome (with espresso, of course!) entering the workshop finds you in what is essentially a machine shop, a plain environment with various tools for cutting, milling, grinding and polishing.  But this is deceptive since the five man team (the most recent member of which arrived in the 1970s!) that produces around 1600 frames annually does so in a surprisingly diverse range: you can have a Tommasini in your choice of chromoly steel, stainless steel, aluminium, titanium or carbon!  There is an impressive shelving unit holding  tubing of different profiles in all of these materials, which are ordered from Columbus to Tommasini's custom specification.  Interestingly, stainless steel is considered one of the most difficult materials to work with and is priced at titanium frame levels.
Although Irio Tommasini himself claims to prefer carbon for its stiffness and lightness he notes that steel's comparative softness makes it more comfortable to say nothing of its longevity.  Around two-thirds of the firm's output is in steel, with the majority of these frames being the Tecno model made with Columbus Nemo tubing.  The workshop produces matching Columbus Air forks as well.  There is no additional charge for custom geometry for the Tecno and Tommasini said that a major percentage of the customers ordering this frame do come to the workshop in Grosseto for a personal fitting.  Tommasini ships many bicycles to Japan and is active in the UK and German markets as well as having a distributor in the United States.

The construction of a Tecno begins the client climbing the stairs to the upper floor office for a comprehensive measurement on a fitting device.  If you are fortunate Signore Tommasini will do the measuring and he is painstaking in his precision (and not above remarking on the customer's weight or  flexibility!).  Various positions are considered and all is marked down on a sheet of paper: body size, leg length, knee position, seat.  In my case, lack of flexibility called for a 115 mm stem, which is not manufactured, so an adjustment to the top tube would be made, giving it a barely perceptible slope so that a standard 110 mm stem could be used.  At no point does the expert actually ask you how you want to use the bicycle and it is apparent that in the view of Tommasini (not alone amongst custom builders) that fit is everything and that if the bike is perfectly sized it does not matter what you do with it.  You are receiving the wisdom of nearly seven decades of experience and while the benefits of a custom frame may not be apparent to a very occasional rider the more one rides such a bicycle the more one is aware of its ride qualities.

Entering the data onto a computer, the information for this Tecno makes its way to the workshop where from the shelves components are selected—top and down tubes; seat- and chainstays; headtubes; lugs; and dropouts-- and brought to the building area in shopping carts.  The lugs are made to Tommasini specifications by a firm in nearby Siena.  Tubes are precisely mitred, brazed in lead or silver, and exactingly checked for straightness during the whole process.  For the sake of efficiency the bicycles are built in same-model batches but each is unique.  There are many options that can be included, such as a chain hanger on the right rear seatstay or a traditional braze-on race number fitting for the real retro look.

Dipped in acid to remove welding material, then in calcium to be neutralized, the frame is washed and sandblasted before final details are checked and if necessary corrections made by hand with a file.  The entire frame is then chrome-plated before moving on to final finishing.

Of course, one of the great pleasures of a custom bicycle is the choice in finishes.  The Tommasini website has a number of suggestions but Paolo the painter will do anything within reason.  Colour schemes can range from sober to excessive (there is still a chance to get that 1980s Italian “net” finish!) but almost everyone wants their name on the top tube.  Delivery time from the placement of the order is generally around five to eight weeks.

Around 70 percent of the customers order only frames although complete bicycles are available.  There is a nice range of Tommasini accessories, including an engraved Cinelli quill stem, logo'ed bar tape ends, clothing and water bottles.

The upper floor not only has the fit machine and the business offices but also the packing area where frames await their shipment around the world.  The area is also like a museum dedicated to Tommasini's own history, with wonderful old photos and posters as well as Irio Tommasini's own excellent collection of vintage bicycles, including a Pelà as well as some of his own early bicycles.  There is an exceptional 1952 Bottechia with the terrifying early Campagnolo use-both-hands-and-pedal-backwards-to-shift rear derailleur as well as an aged 1928 Legnano.  Trophies and jerseys abound, including two framed ones from double World Champion Freddy Martens of the Flandria team.

In an era when sub-6 kg bicycles are no longer the stuff of fantasy why would anyone buy a steel frame built with the same kind of technology familiar to Signore Pelà in 1948?  Of course, this is not really true as the materials that Tommasini works with are the latest in steel metallurgy and will produce a bicycle of startlingly low weight undreamed-of by the old boys in Milan then.  And steel continues to offer many benefits beyond that comfortable ride such as durability (rust is not an issue with even the most basic care) and, for those unlucky enough to need it, post-crash repairability.

But forget that rational stuff.  You want a bicycle like a Tommasini, a bicycle that is the result of decades of study, experience and passion, because it will fit you perfectly and provide absolute reliability when out on the road.  Descending an alpine pass at high speed you can be confident and secure the bike will go where you point it.  Add to this the exceptional craftsmanship of those five employees and the boss himself—the engravings, the filed lugs, the enamel headtube badge, the flawless non-black paint and chrome—coupled with a price for a unique item that in an era of  big factory $3000 carbon frames being considered “mid-range” seems like a screaming bargain and you have an answer.    

My all-Campagnolo Tommasini Tecno

And, as if any real cyclist needed one, an irresistible excuse to go to Tuscany.  Viva la Bella Macchina!

For further information:
US distributor:

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Book Review: the Shattered Peloton

A hundred years ago today on Sunday, June 28, 1914, 145 cyclists rolled out of Paris for the 12th edition of the Tour de France.  The race was already an established sporting event and national icon and fans look forward to the competition, which featured seven previous winners (in addition to four future winners).  On the same day 1800 kms to the southeast in Sarajevo the heir-presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and his wife died by the hand of an assassin.  Two days after the Tour ended on July 26 back in Paris, Austro-Hungary, unsatisfied with the response to its ultimatum, launched an invasion of Serbia.  The bike race to end all bike races thus had a strange coincidental overlap with what was to become the launching of the War to End All Wars.  In his new book, “the Shattered Peloton,” Graham Healy has provided an unusual perspective during this centenary year marking the start of World War I—what was its effect on professional bike racing?

This seems like a question of laughably little consequence and the book is poorly served by its subtitle: “The Devastating Impact of World War I on the Tour de France.”  The number of professional cyclists was very small and the comparative handful who died in the war (32 Tour de France participants) pale beside the huge number of casualties, totalling an estimated 17 million military and civilian deaths and 23 million wounded.  In the cases of France, Germany and Austria-Hungary more than 4% of the total population perished. However, the book is to be recommended for telling the stories of some of those cyclists (not all of them Tour de France riders either) and their terrible experiences in battle, experiences that would have been duplicated in the thousands by soldiers from other jobs and professions and social classes.  What we really see is “The Devastating Impact of World War I on Everyone.”  The war devastated Europe (nicely described in the account of the first Paris-Roubaix after hostilities ended) but not really the Tour, which was restarted, admittedly with some difficulty,  a mere seven months after the Armistice.

June 28, 1914: the Grand Depart!
The book begins by describing that 1914 Tour in some detail and one has a good flavour of the chaotic happenings that made the race so interesting,  In the end Philippe Thys of Belgium would go on to win the overall for the second time.  Interesting details included the unspecified abuse apparently suffered by two Australian riders and an enthusiastic crowd so enamoured of Henri Pélissier that in their enthusiasm they blocked their countryman’s way and ruined any chance of him winning.  The chapter is interspersed with some diplomatic history about what was happening as political events moved forward in European capitals but these have an add-on feel, breaking the Tour narrative up.  There are a number of instances in the book where the narrative takes detours unrelated to the central subject, such as the enlistment of sportsmen who were famous for other things, such as football/rugby/tennis/piano player pilot Roland Garros or boxer Georges Carpentier.
The founder of the Tour de France, Henri Desgrange, wrote an editorial (in red ink!) in l’Auto calling, in what to us is astonishingly jingoistic language, for Frenchmen to enlist in the war to defeat “the evil imbeciles” from Germany.  Desgrange himself enlisted in 1917, at age 50, and even spent some time at the front. 

It is well-known that three Tour de France winners died in the war.  The popular 1909 victor François Faber of Luxembourg joined the Foreign Legion and died in the Battle of Artois in May 1915; Octave Lapize, winner in 1910, died in aerial combat in July 1917 and in December of the same year two-time winner (1907/08) Lucien Petit-Breton, who was serving as a military driver, was killed in a car crash.  Each of these riders receives a full chapter treatment, divided into an account of their cycling history (which in all cases is quite well-known) and their wartime exploits, unfamiliar to most cycling fans.

Lucien Petit-Breton, ready to race
Even more interesting are the accounts of the riders who rode in the Tour and did not place particularly highly or even finish.  One rider named Emile Engel, a friend of Fabre, was banned from the 1914 Tour by Desgrange, who by all accounts was a thorough martinet, for arguing with a commissionaire and was to die at the First Battle of the Marne in September that year.  Many of these riders are obscure but their fates nevertheless received compassionate treatment from the author.  It is sad to read of so many of these brave young men being chewed up by the great war machine in numbers that would seem incredible.

Emile Engel, left, and Francois Fabre
Some of the stories amply illustrate the confusion and stupidity of events.  Paul Deman, the first Tour of Flanders winner and three-time Tour de France participant, carried messages for the Belgians by bicycle during the war and was caught by the Germans.  Sentence to die, the execution was not carried out as the Armistice intervened.  British soldiers took over and unable to tell the difference between Flemish and German imagined Deman to be a German spy and planned his execution before a timely letter from Belgian authorities saved his life.

On June 29, 1919, a day after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles and five years and a day after the start of the previous race, the first post-war Tour de France took place.  The author writes:” The effect that the First World War had on professional cycling was immense.”  But the fact that it started again so soon after hostilities and that a new generation of riders  had appeared—many of those who died, such as Fabre, Lapize and Petit-Breton were already no longer competitive when the war began—belies this statement. 

This is not a book for reading about the origins of World War I in detail (“The Sleepwalkers,” a blockbuster by historian Christopher Clark is that book) and some of the general research is a bit doubtful (Roland Garros, for example, is wrongly described as the developer of tractor propellers for fighter aircraft). But as a view of the war taken from an unusual angle and focusing on the lives of those involved moving from being suddenly transformed from celebrated sports figures to common soldiers (no officers here) the book Is well worth reading in this year when we can expect a great wave of Great War-themed publications.  On that early Sunday morning in 1914 in Paris the world was a different place. The Tour de France may have been merely postponed for four years but the real and terrible effect of the war on a human scale is told here with pity and with affection.
The Shattered Peloton: The Devastating Impact of World War I on the Tour de France
By Graham Healy
221 pp., ill., paperback, Breakaway Books, 2014
ISBN 978-1-62124-011-2
Suggested price: US$14.95

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

A Ride in Upper Bavarian Ski Country

Hot, hot, hot... for an entire week Germany melted under seriously summery temperatures although it was still a week to go before the season officially started.  En route to Austria, I found myself staying with my friends in Lenggries, south of Munich, in the beautiful region of Upper Bavaria.  The area is much more notable for winter sports than for cycling but having persuaded my friend Uwe of the joys of riding a racing bike and loaned him my Basso for as long as he likes, we had clearly no choice but to go for a ride together even if it was 34C under very sunny skies.

The plan was to ride to Jachenau and then proceed to the Walchensee before turning back, perhaps a ride of 50 kms.  We rolled out onto the main road and began the 18 km stretch to Jaschau.  Beautiful clouds, no traffic to speak of and superb scenery.  And as we gently rolled along (the combined ages of our two steel bikes is 65 years, to say nothing of us) we were rapidly overtaken by a gorgeous blonde woman who hammered past us on a high-end carbon bike.  She had a fantastic tan and superb muscles, making me wonder again why more women don't ride to get fit.  I caught up to her fairly easily but stayed back as we had begun to climb and I did not want to hear my heavy breathing and get the wrong idea!

Passing through some little clusters of picturesque houses, we stopped momentarily at a bus shelter for a drink and noticed that there was going to be a butter-making demonstration the next day at a local farmhouse and Uwe thought he would take his older daughter there (the younger one is just three weeks old!).

"Make butter they way they used to..."

We reached Jachenau 19 kms into our ride.  There was a fancy hotel with lots of customers in the beer garden and the volunteer fire department across the street had a painting of St. Florian, the patron saint of firefighters, and I was to see this image many times in Bavaria and Austria.  Apparently there is a prayer that runs something like: "Oh, St. Florian, send the fire to burn down my neighbour's house and not mine.  Amen." Apparently.

St. Florian with his water bucket


We rode past a charming onion-domed village church and soon found ourselves on a pleasant descent that brought us to down to the shore of the Walchensee.  We had considered turning right to track the eastern shore but the path deteriorated immediately into dirt so we decided to continue onwards.  This turned out to be wise as we had an excellent road to enjoy.  Soon we came to the beach at the south end of the lake and stopped to enjoy the beautiful views.  The lake, one of the largest and deepest (maximum depth 193 m) in the German Alps, is a popular destination for visitors.

Our route along the western shore brought us past a little cabin where a gentleman was collecting tolls.  Bicycles were free but the road itself was private.  It was also excellent and we enjoying spinning along in the sunshine on the smooth asphalt.

We left the toll street at Einsiedel, where some of the reserves of the Reichsbank were hidden and eventually handed over to the occupying Americans (minus 100 gold bars and a lot of foreign currency!) and now rolled northwards up the first of our big climbs for the day as we came over a ridge and then quickly zoomed downhill into the village of Walchensee proper.  Time for an Eiskaffee!

We started to realize that this trip was going to take us somewhat longer than we had planned as heading back east over the mountains would require some brutal climbing, even if we had suitable roads.  The decision was made to continue north and around Bad Tölz before backtracking to Lenggries.  So having fortified ourselves with refreshment, we continued along the lakeshore until we reached Urfeld.

Here we reached the biggest climb of the trip and it brought us to around 845 m ASL before we plunging down a twisty road, hairpin turn after turn, dropping 250 m in only 6 kms until we found ourselves riding along the Kochelsee, a much smaller lake.  We passed a museum that had once been the summer home of famed Blue Rider artist Franz Marc and leaving the village of Kochelsee found ourselves on a long boring straight road and straight into a nasty headwind. 

Uwe vs. Headwind
This brought us to Benediktbeuren, where a famous abbey is located.  Established in 739 AD, the abbey is noted for being the location of the discovery of the manuscript of Carmina Burana in 1803, subsequently set to music by composer Carl Orff in 1935/36.

We soon found ourselves in the nearby village of Bichl but were confronted with some very heavy traffic on the main B472 road.  I convinced Uwe there had to be a bikepath nearby and, sure enough, the Germans did not let me down.  We headed east now, towards Bad Tölz and some little climbs and descents. We reached the spa town at Km 71 and then on the final stretch to Lenggries turned south and attacked for the big sprint finish. Uwe was starting to suffer from hunger knock but I still had enough to chase down two riders on time trial bikes but could not keep up anymore on the climbs.

Uwe's massive victory sprint
Tired but happy we pulled into the driveway at Uwe's place, having covered 79 kms in just over 3.5 hours of actual riding (minus standing on the beach and Eiskaffee time).  The surprise was that we had put in nearly 1000 m of climbing on our old bikes.

The next day was my birthday so that evening we celebrated in proper fashion with beer and pizza.  It had been an excellent adventure and I told Uwe how lucky he was to live in area like this where you could do these kind of rides just out of your front door.  He enjoyed himself and learned something about cycling longer stretches as well!