Saturday, 15 July 2017

Back in the saddle again...finally

Tom in his RSV Vagabund 13 wool jersey; me celebrated Canada Day two days late

Ruediger and I enjoying our ride along the Rhine bike paths

After more than a year's silence here at Tin Donkey, I am pleased to return to writing about my favourite subject: cycling!  It has been a busy year, albeit not so much from the riding standpoint but I retired on June 10 from my day job and am looking forward to getting back on the road on two wheels more.  I have been writing regularly for and I hope you have seen my book reviews and my recent pieces about the start of the 2017 Tour de France in Dusseldorf, Germany.

On July 3rd I was able to do a 42 km ride along the Rhine to Duisburg and Krefeld with my good friends Tom and Ruediger, using a lovely Mondonico borrowed from Tom.  It was great to ride the rural country roads on a beautiful day and now that I have returned to Canada again I am inspired to do more, much more!

You can check out our route via the wonderful Relive software here but I have also included a map of the ride.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Cycling the Etruscan Coast, Retro-Style

Our good friends at Tommasini are working with L'Etrusca, an Italian retro-tour that began in 2013. It will run April 9-10, 2016 from Bolgheri, west of Florence and the routes range from a 27 km "L'Elegante" to a robust 160 km ride with lots of gravel.  And attention, Gran Fondo overchargers: the cost for the long route is 25 Euros if you register early!  Information about the ride (mainly in Italian) can be found here.

Until then, enjoy this video!

Monday, 22 February 2016

The Tour of Sufferlandria: Where Nobody Hears You Scream

Every February there is a bicycle race that is considered the harbinger of the new season by thousands of keen riders, tired of sitting on the couch and welcoming the chance to put down the doughnuts and get fit. Not the Tour Down Under, nor the Tours of Qatar and Oman, or even the Volta ao Algarve, this race takes place in a country so obscure it appears on no atlas. A race that offers an impressive list of prizes but no actual winner; a race where all riders are encouraged to encourage each other and share the pain; a race where nobody dopes and everybody hurts. This is the Tour of Sufferlandria, and I have survived three editions.

For those unfamiliar with them, the Sufferfest training videos offer a wide range of training situations—climbing, endurance-building, sprinting, time-trialling—set against images of real races licenced from the UCI and others. On-screen legends indicate the desired cadence, percentage of power output and time in the interval. From time to time you are required to stand or spin faster in a 10 second surge. There is suitable accompanying music by bands nobody has ever heard of.

It can get pretty dull spinning for hours in the basement, watching a big fan oscillating in a vain attempt to blow away the perspiration. Maybe not as boring as that East German technique of putting your rider on rollers facing a blank concrete wall, telling him to spin for four hours and then turning out the lights, but pretty boring. What makes the Sufferfest different from other video training systems? Others also use coaches to set the program and indicate your optimal cadence or power output. Others are also available only as downloads, with no DVD alternative. What sets the Sufferfest apart, in my view, is a) the very reasonable price of the videos; b) the you-are-in-the-middle-of-the-race editing of the videos; c) the worldwide community of enthusiasts and d) the ridiculous narrative of each video. And the Tour of Sufferlandria (ToS) is the ultimate statement of that narrative, a way to train with purpose and be entertained for more than a week of intense exercise. Well, pain, really.

The Sufferfest - Introduction from The Sufferfest on Vimeo.

The ToS runs for 9 days, with an investment of around 2 hours each weekend day and an hour each weekday. Participants qualify by simply owning the necessary videos and, preferably, signing up for the special Facebook group page. This year more than 3,800 were signed up. Then you just ride the stages, make comments on Facebook if you would like, and do your best. To do good, one contributes to the Davis Phinney Foundation, established by the famed American sprinter after being diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's Disease at age 40. For each $10 donated, participants had a crack at a pretty amazing list of prizes, such as a trip to the Tour de France, a BMC Time Machine bike, various signed World Champion jerseys, books, jackets, helmets, fashionable clothing and even a 12 week personal coaching plan and consultation. The ToS raised over $111,000 for the Foundation this year.

Described as “the Greatest Stage Race of a Mythical Nation,” the Tour of Sufferlandria features you as a rider on the Sufferlandrian National Team, doing the bidding of the remarkable DS, Grunter von Agony. His idea of strategy is to cover every break, go for the KOM points and win every sprint finish. Dire threats are promised; failure is not an option. It is said that becoming a Sufferlandrian comes wish some heavy responsibilities: you shall always suffer; you will never be passed;
you will never get dropped, and if you do it will be in such a glorious explosion of Suffering that it will be seared into the minds of those around you and become a legendary tale for generations to come. Sounds easy, right? Just remember that in Sufferlandria the standard form of greeting is: “Have you suffered today?” and the correct response is “More than you.”

Like a real race in non-mythical countries, you get a start number (you print this yourself and impress others with your creativity) and there is an excellent handbook, outlining all the stages and offering helpful suggestions on nutrition, mental focus (i.e. not quitting) and equipment. I am using a time trial bike on a Kurt Kinetic Road Machine trainer stand with a Garmin ANT stick communicating to my laptop and TrainerRoad, which works as a kind of overlay to the video but with the wireless communication allows me to see heart rate, cadence and virtual power. It downloads to Strava as well so fans can enjoy the suffering too. The Sufferfest now offers an official app and there are other alternatives. But you don't have to be very high-tech at all. Some participants appear to have used gym exercise bicycles crammed into bathrooms.

As the event went on, hundreds of Facebook posts appeared each day, commenting on the difficulty of the stage and the suffering involved (with confirming photos), as well as encouraging others. The event took place in a range of time zones and the Handbook let you know when you could start and when you should have finished each stage, whether you were in Kiribati or Vancouver. Specifically.
Stage 1: Known as ISLAGIATT (“It Seemed Like A Good Idea at the Time”) this is a very very long 2 hour stage with a lot of climbing—half the stage, in fact. Climb No. 3 takes you to the top of Mt. Sufferlandria, a noted volcano. Not being very good with computers, I had some issues with the TrainerRoad interface and synchronization of the video and the power readings. The result was that my stage ended up being 2:25. I knew that this would not help me on Stage 2 much since no credit is given for getting lost on the Tour.

The Sufferfest - Trailer - It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time from The Sufferfest on Vimeo.

Stage 2: When unveiled at the Embassy of Sufferlandria in January, this is the stage that frightened everyone. “Revolver” takes 90 minutes and involves 16 one-minute intervals at high power. This hurt a lot and for the ToS participants had to do it twice. 32 one-minute intervals are much less fun than you would expect. My maximum wattage in the first set was nearly 600 but only 500 in the second. Ouch.

Stage 3: At only 48 minutes this looked at first glance to be a bit more merciful but in fact involves two segments of race simulation, with breaking away, sprinting, climbing “and generally crushing the spirits of your Sufferlandrian opponents,” in the words of the Handbook. This stage rejoices in the inappropriate name of TBTITW “The Best Thing in the World.”

Stage 4: Today was more merciful as another 90 minute video was the object of our sweat (“Sufferlandrian Holy Water”). A base training session with Michael Cotty, of the excellent Col Collective video series, it rambled through wonderful scenery in Italy and Austria. “To Get To the Other Side” was a bit more comfortable to do, which was good as I was now using a great deal of chamois cream on each ride.

Stage 5: “The Wretched” hits you with a miserable sucker punch. After going up and down for 35 minutes on three major climbs you are confronted with a final climb basically rips off your legs. I could not believe this stage was only 49 minutes.

Stage 6: A much nicer change of pace. “The Rookie” posits that you are the Sufferlandrian stagiare allowed to join the Giant-Shimano pro team. The story is that for the first third you just hang in, the second third you help your leader and in the third you are the leader. You get to drop Jens Voigt (if you can). There are three 10 minute intervals. Good stuff and it is thrilling to watch John Degenkolb's titanic acting skills, to say nothing of the beauty of Marcel Kittel's coiffure. At the end of the video when Kittel learns the team will ride the Tour of Sufferlandria next season he remarks: “This is frightening. But I am not afraid when we have the Sufferlandrian with us.” That would be you, of course. And the Handbook helpfully suggests it is time to clean your bike before it corrodes from a week of Sufferlandrian Holy Water being dripped on it.

Stage 7: “Do As You're Told” is 47 minutes and very complicated. It involves 22 high-intensity intervals that run in inverse order to recovery periods and there is a nasty sting at the end here too. This was difficult to follow as it is hard to accelerate suitably on a training stand. I did manage to hit 804 watts but felt pretty worn by the end. Seven days of this was starting to wear me down and I noticed that I was seeing a higher heart rate with lower power output. Not good.

Stage 8: Saturday and I started late after driving to and from the Montreal Salon du Velo. I would rank this the second most difficult after Stage 2. The first segment, “A Very Dark Place,” offered 10 strength intervals from three to four minutes each. This was followed by “Nine Hammers,” which I liked because it features video from the Tour of Romandie the year I was there to watch it. It involves a series of threshold-level and V02 max intervals. I completed this stage in a stage of total mindless exhaustion.

Stage 9! Valentine's Day began with the latest love note from the Sufferfest, a new video called “Power Station.” My first time seeing this and it was quite different from the usual drills, with a lot of climbing at high-power and low cadence. I enjoyed this as a pedal-masher with strong legs, no aerobic capacity and limited intelligence. The last segment was “Violator,” which clearly was not meant for me and I just had to hang on and suffer through this—64 brief sprints at full power. Although I managed to put out over 1,000W I did not have a lot of fun. I kept telling myself it was for a good cause and when the Tour of Sufferlandria ended on Sunday I felt a bit let down. But I slept very well that night.

“Cycling is suffering,” said Fausto Coppi. But it is not so bad when you do it in a great big global group. It was fascinating to follow everyone's effort on Facebook and it was disappointing that there were riders who Did Not Start—whether through illness, scheduling problems or, in one case, ending up in Intensive Care after being hit by a kangaroo—or Did Not Finish due to a swollen ankle, dental problems or a crash on a commuting ride. Everyone got encouragement, including some from Davis Phinney himself. And Micheal Cotty, notorious for always standing on the pedals, produced photographic proof that he actually does use his saddle from time to time.

My favourite postings were from a couple where he had to drop out but his wife, who had only ridden a beach cruiser for a short distance before, continued. She must have been seriously fit because after the Tour of Sufferlandria she then immediately became a Dame of Sufferlandria, which requires doing 10 videos in one day, a task that typically takes 12 hours. Fit, or compulsive/obsessive. I myself might take a crack at the Knighthood of Sufferlandria (the male equivalent) in a month or two.

I did not win any of the lovely prizes? So what did I get from the Tour of Sufferlandria? I rode 335.1 kms in 11:19, burned 8,144 kcal and produced 7,308 kilojoules of work. Maximum power output was 1,010W and I dropped three kilograms of weight (some of which has returned—aaargh). More importantly, I am made lots of virtual friends on Facebook and am highly motivated to continue my training in my Pain Cave until warmer weather and the potholed streets of Ottawa beckon.

The next Tour of Sufferlandria will be February 4-12, 2017.

A joke runs that a masochist is defined as someone who says; “Beat me! Beat me!” while a sadist says; “No.” Cyclists: we are all Sufferlandrians now. And if you dare you can find out more at:

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Book Review: Mapping Le Tour

For cycling enthusiasts one of the great joys of the sport/pastime is that if you love the Tour de France you can a) buy a bicycle similar to the one the pros use and b) go out and actually ride the same roads of “la Grande Boucle” that they do. And of course not just the roads of the next edition but pretty much all the roads since 1903. The Anjou VéloVintage event in 2013 included a section of the final stage of the 1903 Tour between Angers and Saumur, luckily making it only 90+ kms instead of the insane full 471 kms from Nantes to Paris of the original. But I thought then how nice it would be to have a book showing maps of each year's Tour so that you might be able to put together your own ride into history.

It turns out that in fact 2013 saw the publication of “Mapping Le Tour: The Unofficial History of All 100 Tour de France Races” by Ellis Bacon. This nicely-produced book is an excellent information source for Tour enthusiasts and offers a logical progression of each and every edition of the race, usually spread over two pages. The left-hand page, heading by a period photo, is where one will find the text describing the race that year, and includes some key statistics for easy reference, such as the number of starters and finishers, the distance ridden and the average speed for the winner, the longest stage and highest point as well as the podium winners. The right-hand side offers a full page map of the route with the route as a yellow line marked into stages and showing major cities.

I learned that the while the Ballon d'Alsace was credited as the first major climb of the Tour (appearing in 1905), the inaugural 1903 race included a number of climbs (with the highest point at 1161 m) but these were not seen as particularly challenging—although one would think that racers on fixed gear super-heavy bicycles with terrible brakes would find any climb challenging. It may have been fairly flat but that first race featured some crazy stage lengths, with the shortest being 268 kms while most of the rest were over 400 kms each. No wonder that of the 60 starters only 21 made it back to Paris.

While the text is concise and interesting, I enjoyed just looking at the maps even more. The Tour began as a huge circle, heading clockwise around the hexagon that is France but taking some care to avoid the Alps and the Pyrenees but rolling through major cities. By 1905 the previously-mentioned Ballon d'Alsace appeared and the winner was declared on a points system rather than time. The winner, Louis Trousselier, apparently gambled all his winnings away in a single evening in Paris playing dice. He never won another tour but seems to have set a precedent for nicknames for French cyclists, being called Trou Trou (see “Pou Pou,” “Dudu,” et al.) although Henri Desgranges christened him “the Florist” due to his family business.

By 1906 the race went outside of France for the first time into German-held Alsace and in 1907 included a section of the Paris-Roubaix course (on a stage won by Trou Trou). It was 4,488 kms spread over 14 stages, compared to 2428 kms in the first race (over only six stages). For the next few years the race seemed to more or less follow the same route but things really changed in 1910 when the Tour divided into the Pyrenees, inlcluding the Portet d'Aspet, Col du Peyresourde, Col d'Aspin, Col du Tourmalet and Col d'Aubisque for the first time. The next year the Alps showed up, providing climbing thrills on the Col du Télégraphe, Col du Lauteret and the huge Col du Galibier: seven mountain stages in a race covering (gulp) 5,344 kms. The climbs that would become legendary in Tour history were now part of the regular itinerary and in 1913 the race finally went around France counteclockwise, although it would be many years before the regular annual switch (clockwise alternating with counterclockwise, or Alps before Pyrenees and vice versa) would be instituted.
Curiously, for a good part of its history the Tour avoided the central part of France, rolling around the country's periphery and avoiding the Massif Central. The was to change in 1951 when not only did Mont Ventoux show up on the route for the first time but the race did not start in Paris but rather in Metz and the race has not started in Paris since then except in 2003. Clemont-Ferrand was on the Tour route, deep in the heart of the Massif Central and not only home to Michelin but also the centre of French bicycle manufacturing. In 1952 the Alpe d'Huez and the Puy de Dôme were added, the same year that Fausto Coppi won five stages on his way to winning the overall race by nearly 30 minutes.

The maps are very interesting but the scale is unfortunately too large to be of much use in planning a stage-specific reenactment on your own but would be a useful general guide. The photos are well-chosen and the final sections of the book provide a preview of the 2013 Tour (the 100th Edition) but also a series of chapters on “the Tour's Most Memorable Places.” These include not only the famous climbs but celebrated cycling regions such as Normandy and Brittany.

Every region in France has been covered by the Tour and more than a few foreign countries have been visited. Excursions into the Italian Alps have been pretty common (and will take place again in 2016) and the Tour has not only gone to its immediate neighbours, including Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Andorra, Spain, Luxembourg but across the Channel several times to the UK and even Ireland. The author includes the memorable Grand Départ in London in the book but also, for non-British readers, waves the Union Jack a bit too much. The inclusion of the Tom Simpson incident in the 1967 chapter is right and proper and it is nice to mention Barry Hoban, whose eight Tour stage wins were the most for a British rider before Mark Cavendish but eight wins is half as many as our somewhat obscure Trou Trou won. The worst example of Little Englandism is the remark in the 2011 chapter that “Bradley Wiggins' yellow jersey was still a year away...” but this is easy enough to overlook, along with the fact that Wiggins did not even finish the 2011 race as he crashed out in Stage 7, breaking his collarbone. There is a revised 2014 edition of the book, only in paperback, that was produced to include a preview of the 2014 course which began in Yorkshire so the publishers were probably not looking much at the global audience.

“Mapping Le Tour” is highly recommended even for those with an extensive Tour library. The geography of the race is what makes the Tour de France the great sporting event it is and this book would make pedalling backwards through time possible with a bit of effort. Maybe I will yet take down the steel Peugeot PXN-10 with its Simplex derailleurs, put on my black-and-white checkerboard team jersey and head eastwards from Nantes through Touraine on the long road to Paris...well, probably not in one day.

“Mapping Le Tour” by Ellis Bacon, with a foreward by Mark Cavendish
335 pp., hardcover, with profuse illustrations
HarperCollins Publishers, Glasgow, Scotland, 2013
Suggested Retail: ₤25.00 (seems to be available in the USA for around $30 online)
ISBN: 978-0-00-750978-2

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Book Review: Feed Zone Portables--Cuisine à la Road

Proper nourishment on a long bicycle ride is just as important as pumped-up tires, an oiled chain and comfortable shorts. Many years ago I learned this the hard way when, as a cycling neophyte, I decided to challenge Skyline Drive in Virginia without sufficient food. Climbing and descending nearly continually on the Blue Ridge on a very hot day is pretty wearing but relief eventually came. We enjoyed a brilliant descent to Luray where we dealt with our hunger pangs by indulging in foot-long submarine sandwiches. Little did we realize the climbing had only begun and as we grovelled up Massanutten Mountain in discomfort our sandwiches haunted us. The final long stretch along Fort Valley Road saw us in starvation mode and the Man with the Hammer (or the Green Witch, if you are the Continental type) was banging on us pretty hard. We arrived at our destination in bonk delirium and stopped at the first restaurant, fittingly named the Village Idiot, where we anxiously stuffed ourselves on terrible food. We could have avoided all of this “education” if only we had had something like the excellent “Feed Zone Portables” cookbook by Dr. Allen Lim and Chef Biju Thomas.

Dr. Allen Lim is well-known to pro cycling enthusiasts for his work with the Garmin Professional Cycling Team in developing new approaches to nutrition as well as anti-doping measures that eventually led to the Biological Passport. With Biju Thomas, a self-taught chef based in Denver, he launched an all-natural sports drink company in 2012. Biju has cooked for many notable cyclists, including the BMC Racing Team and together he and Dr. Lim produced “The Feed Zone Cookbook” in 2011 with 150 recipes for athletes that were light, flavourful and healthy. That cookbook included a section of recipes for food to be eaten during activity and “Feed Zone Portables” is an expansion of that idea but provides a rationale and the science behind what to eat when training and competing.

A central premise of the cookbook is that people are happier eating “real” food instead of pre-packaged gels or bars. European pros still stick to their panini, small rolls with jam, ham and cheese, as an important element of on-the-road eating. Dr. Lim believes that real food is not only tastier but will also deliver improved performance.

As the owner of several cookbooks (well, about 150), I can honestly say that I have never seen one that commences with an introduction 57 pages long. An impressive variety of topics is covered clearly and efficiently: calculating calorie deficits; electrolyte replacement; gastric emptying rates; liquid vs. solid calories; pre-packaged food nutrition facts; hydration; and ingredients. Then there is a quick run-through of what you want in your Athlete's Kitchen and a step-by-step illustrated guide to cutting paper-backed aluminum foil, a necessity for the foods you make from the recipes in this book.

Then on to the meat of the book, so to speak: the recipes. (Don't worry: there are vegetarian alternatives in many instances as well). The reason you will want to have a big stack of nicely cut foil pieces is because the foods you create from the modest list of ingredients are designed to be wrapped up and stuck into a jersey pocket or packed into an airtight box and kept cool. You will want to go riding with friends: the majority of the recipes make from 6 to 15 servings, admittedly small ones but still quite a bit. 

It is clear from the onset that Dr. Lim's scientific approach has been balanced by a chef's sensibilities in terms of colour, taste and texture. Many of the recipes in the book seem a bit strange to the normal North American palate and there is a certain fusion cooking approach with things like sticky rice (beloved at dim sum buffets) combined with Swiss cheese (beloved as fondue in the Alps). The rice cakes, which the Garmin team made famous, come in many styles, both sweet and savoury. They are joined by an entire chapter on baked eggs (use muffin pans to make these), then miniature pies, cakes and cookies, and waffles/pancakes/griddle cakes. I particularly enjoyed the chapter of “Aha! Portables” which let you take everyday foods and convert them into your training ride victuals—baked pasta, pizza rolls and, ah, blueberry kugel. And of course the celebrated panino (plural form is panini!) is present in an impressive list of variations. Dr. Lim even attempts to address the question of whether pickle juice prevents cramping on Page 245 but I will provide no spoiler for that.

This is a wonderful book, entertaining while informative, and causing you to rethink exactly what it is you are eating (and why) on or off the bike. Unlike some of the gels or bars on the market, the food you will make using these recipes is light, fresh and appealing. The authors admit several times that there is a lot more work to doing it this way rather than just buying something off the shelf (which may have been on the shelf for a very long time) but I am certain that anyone buying this book (which has excellent photographs and is finely bound) will find enjoyment in preparing these novel but pretty simple meals-for-your-time-on-wheels. So get this original and unique book, get a rice cooker and unleash your kitchen impulses—you'll feel better on those long rides and maybe faster too.

It's much better than joining the Village Idiots.

Feed Zone Portables: A Cookbook of On-the-Go Food for Athletes
by Biju Thomas and Allen Lim, with forewords by Taylor Phinney and Tim Johnson
VeloPress 2013, 272 pp., ill. hardbound
ISBN: 978-1-937715-00-7
Suggested retail price: US$ 24.95
Available at

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Book Review Soon: The Great Road Climbs of the Netherlands

I was thrilled to read today that Rapha will soon release the latest in its series of beautiful road climb books.  I have reviewed the first three, written by Graeme Fife, for and they covered the Northern Alps, Southern Alps and the Pyrenees.   I knew that sooner or later the famous climbs of Gouda country would have to be covered and I am looking forward to receiving this latest volume.  Although publication was announced today there was no release date so we will all have to be patient.  Until then, here is what Rapha tells us about this fabulous new book:

The Rapha Guide to the Great Road Climbs of the Netherlands

| Date:
With the grand opening of Cycle Club Amsterdam this month and the Tour de France setting off from Utrecht in July, Rapha are proud to introduce a new publication.

The Rapha Guide to the Great Road Climbs of the Netherlands is a uniquely unique niche cycling guide to the great cols of the Netherlands. Inspired by Admiral Francis Beaufort, the author – Edwin de Groot – combines careful meteorological research with a blustery narrative style, supported by beautiful photographic portrayals of the imposing landscapes taken by Peter Von Drinkel. It gives persuasive encouragement – if you needed any – to visit.

The Great Road Climbs of the Netherlands is not a conventional guide to the roads of Holland. Facts and guidance is offered on obscure and well-known Dutch mountains, but the gripping element is rather a highly variable scale of Beaufort. The variety and peculiarity of the wind and its direction leaves the reader with a colourful and memorable picture. As Joop Zoetemelk once said: “Headwinds are far more menacing and unpredictable then any Alpine pass.”
Climbs featured include:
  • De Afsluitdijk
  • Oosterscheldekering
  • Kanaaldijk Oost and West
  • De Vogelweg
  • Noordzeeroute
  • Oostvaardersdijk
  • Zuiderdijkweg
  • Haardijk-Banweg
  • Middenweg
Ja, dit is gewoon wat luchtig vermaak, dus wees niet beledigd. En natuurlijk, je kunt dit lezen, dus je weet wat er aan de hand is.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Book Review: Book de Tour is an Original Take on Coverage of the Tour de France

All images courtesy of Greig Leach

The capturing of a bicycle race has taken many forms. From the breathless, florid prose of the overwrought correspondents following the Tour de France writing for L'Auto, then to still photography with unwieldy cameras and on to sound with radio (and accordion accompaniment!) then film newsreels and television and now Internet sites, podcasts and fans waving cellphones. There have been attempts by painters to capture the special moments of a race: Toulouse Lautrec's 1896 poster of racers using Simpson chains; Lyonel Feininger's trapezoidal speedsters in 1912; Edward Hopper's 1937 portrait of a Six Day Racer in his cabin. But they all seem too studied, unable to depict the energy that we know and love when we watch our cycling heroes in action. But when the Road World Championships come to Richmond, Virginia this fall there is at least one man ready to try.

Greig Leach is an accomplished painter whose works have been exhibited throughout the United States. He has received formal training at the Corcoran Museum's School of Art in Washington, DC, Montgomery College in Maryland and Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. In addition, he has been Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome and is a past Fellow of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where he also served a term as Artist-in-Residence. And not only are his painterly credentials thus established but he also enjoyed bicycle racing as an amateur in the 1970s, the Precarbonian Era of American competitive cycling. And he now enjoys the title of Official Artist of the World Cycling Championships in Richmond.

Mr. Leach's affection for cycling and his understanding of the sport have allowed him to capture today's races in a colourful and exciting style. Watching the races live on television, he endeavours to paint, using watercolours and oils, in the moment. This video capture technique and a sure sense of colour and composition result in rapid-fire but fluid miniature works of original art, apparently in a postcard sized format.

I only recently became aware of Mr. Leach's work during the early Spring races in Belgium this year. He produced and displayed online wonderful pictures of the action at Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. His work is characterized by bright splashes of colour, a feeling of movement and only enough detail to sense who the riders might be. He has already moved on to Paris-Nice activity and produces around five images per stage. All of this excellent paintings may be seen at his blog, The Art of Cycling ( and under each painting there is clear explanation of what is happening: riders going over the cobbles; poor Tom Boonen crashing out.

All this admirable activity should be contained in a nice book, you say. And thanks to the miracle of crowdfunding and his own considerable initiative your desires are fulfilled. Mr. Leach felt guilt about spending so much time watching the Tour de France rather than indulge his workaholic tendencies. His wife suggested painting the racing and sharing his work on social media sites was a way to deal with this. He began his blog at the start of the 2013 Giro d'Italia and produced daily paintings of each stage. He launched a crowdfunding campaign to launch a new project in 2014: coverage of each stage of the Tour de France. The result was his first publication, Book de Tour, which was released early this year.

It is hard to believe that Mr. Leach is not actually present for the races he paints. All of the work is created from either television or internet video feeds in his living room. He has the advantage of thus seeing the entire race and is able to judge those moments best suited to his portrayals.
Book de Tour, in its 220 pages, covers each stage of the 2014 race in glorious colour. Each stage has a chapter which begins with his drawn profile of the stage, followed by around eight pages of stage incidents and concluding with a page showing the jerseys of the stage winners and the overall leaders.

It is enjoyable to relive the wonderful moments from that Tour de France. In Stage 1 we had Jens Voigt chasing down the King of the Mountains jersey on the road to Harrogate and Marcel Kittel, like some kind of monster, crossing the finish line for the win, only to slide off the back with a consolation pat from Romain Feillu during Stage 2. For Stage 5 Mr. Leach again shows his facility with rendering cobblestones for the segment when Vincenzo Nibali showed he was a real contender. Tony Martin's unexpected triumph on the hilly Stage 9 was captured in the first and last painting in the series. Less happy events, such as the abandonments by Froome and Contador, are included. And who did not feel sorry for Jack Bauer and Martin Elmiger, caught right at the finish line after leading most of Stage 15 by themselves.

Present as I was in Paris for the final stage, I particularly enjoyed reliving the experience through these paintings, including the perfectly timed moment when the peloton crossed the Seine into the city as French fighter jets provided a red-white-and-blue finish. There's Jens Voigt again! And Tony Martin having a mechanical. And Kittel once more first at the finish line.

The lively images coupled with the intelligent and concise summaries make this an unusual and very attractive that-was-the-Tour summary compared to the the photos we have seen so often in yearbooks past. Book de Tour is a charming and entertaining volume that would appeal to art lovers, cycling neophytes and hardcore fans equally. We suggest you follow Mr. Leach's blog for colour commentary in the truest sense of the word. His postcard paintings, each original artworks, can be purchased as well. Bring on the World Championships!

Book de Tour by Greig Leich
227 pp., illustrated in colour, paperbound
Dementi Milestone Publishing, Viriginia 2015
ISBN 978-0-9903687-6-2
Suggested Retail: US$29.95/22.95 Euros
Available here at

For more information about Greig Leach's art, go to

Thursday, 12 March 2015

The best poster for the Spring races?

Behold: the Man with the Hammer brought to life.  The translation is "The course knows no mercy."

Welcome to racing in Belgium!

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Cycling at 80

"Portrait of My Grandfather: 80 and still cycling" is a charming example of an Internet amateur video, a slight story warmly told.  Let's hope we can all be like Grandfather, who can roll along pretty well!

Portrait of my grandfather : 80 and still cycling from Florent Piovesan on Vimeo.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Marinoni Documentary Coming to Ottawa! April 22-25, 2015

From April 22-25 the ByTowne Cinema in Ottawa will be showing Tony Girardin's 2014 documentary about Montreal framebuilder Giuseppe Marinoni and his attempt to beat the One Hour Record in his age group in 2012.  I not only have a 1998 Marinoni Ciclo sport/touring bicycle but I had Cycles Marinoni refinish my Raleigh Team Professional and Mr. Marinoni made a new fork for that frame although he is quasi/semi-retired.  The documentary about his attempt at age 75 to beat the record on one of the steel bicycles he built himself premiered last April in Toronto and has limited distribution since.

At the April 22 screening Giuseppe Marinoni will be present for a Q&A session after the film.  Should be fun!  More information about the movie can be found here.