Sunday, November 29, 2009

The 2009 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: Cycling the Etschtal Bike Path

Friday, August 14:  Our time in Südtirol was drawing to a close, but there was still another day of cycling in store.  Our plan for today was very straightforward: we would take the train to the end of the line at Malles/Mals and simply follow the Etsch River bikepath all the way back to Bolzano.  Today I would also wear my very chic Stelvio cycling jersey that the guys bought for me at the top of that climb as a keepsake.  There is a profile of the climb on the shirt, and on the sleeves is “2760,” the altitude.  Another plus is that it matches my black-and-red Tarmac.


The weather was beautiful yet again and although the train was insanely crowded we were not as concerned since we would not have to fight to get the bicycles out at an intermediate stop.  We were only five today as the others in the group were on their own, including Glen and Carol, who had been sick but were now taking advantage of the weather to ride the Stelvio themselves.  The train ride took about two hours but the scenery and good spirits of everyone made it go fast.


Getting out in Mals, Zeezu immediately demanded that we stop at the station café since cycling in Italy without an excellent coffee simply could not be done.  We were soon on the road and came to the walled village of Glorenza/Glurns for the second time on this trip.  We had thought of stopping for lunch here but since we had only ridden 3 kms from Mals, we thought we would still keep going.  We continued along the excellent paved bicycle path that follows the Etsch/Adige until we reached Spondigna.  Thinking that there might be a restaurant in Prato allo Stelvio, we turned right and followed the road leading to the Stelvio.  Unfortunately, there were no restaurants to be found in Prato, although there were plenty of ice cream places.



Disappointed, we headed back to the river and the bike path and continued onwards.  After several other false starts, we managed to find an open restaurant in Schlanders where we could sit outside on the patio and enjoy life in Europe to the fullest.




Riding through the endless apple orchards
 
The path, which in some places turned into gravel, led us through orchards and vineyards as it gradually descended the valley.  Just outside Merano it turned into a series of switchbacks, each curve marked like the Stelvio, as it dropped steeply.  We rode quickly through busy Merano and were soon out in the countryside again, heading for Bolzano.  The path was lost momentarily near Lana, but we soon regrouped.



Me in my new Stelvio jersey, looking like a total Guido
(photo by Dr. Chef)


I was feeling very fresh and went into time trial mode, pulling the others along the excellent path.  We were joined by two locals who sat in on the paceline.  After a while, they pulled around and passed us, and I jumped on the closest wheel.  We accelerated to a steady 40 km/h but then I looked behind and saw that I had lost everyone else in our group, so I dropped back and rode at a saner pace.  Later on, Glen and Carol, who returned from the Stelvio by train, told us that they had seen me leading our little paceline on the bikepath at an impressive speed.


We passed the castle overlooking Bolzano and caught up with the two locals.  I pulled in behind them and cleared my throat, which had exactly the effect I had hoped for: they both accelerated and we pulled in behind and had an armchair ride back to the outskirts of Bolzano, where they left.  Unfortunately, entering Bolzano on this, our last ride, there was no choice but to get totally lost again.  The bikepath signs make no sense at all, and it did not help that there was a construction detour.  A father and his son took pity on us and cycling ahead with Dr. Chef they led us back to the centre of the city and our hostel.


Another beautiful day in Südtirol: 96 kms (60.1 miles) and a surprising 860 meters (2822 feet) of climbing.  Now it was time to pack up the bikes...


Saturday, November 28, 2009

The 2009 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: the Sella Ronda



Me riding the Sella Ronda
(photo by Dr. Chef)


Thursday, August 13:  Having somewhat recovered after our “recovery” ride along the Weinstrasse, I was looking forward with great anticipation to the “Queen Stage” of our trip: the Sella Ronda.  I had read about this legendary route here at www.pezcyclingnews.com as well as getting a first-hand report on sections of it from my friend Will, who rode the Dolomite Marathon earlier in the year.

Although I had looked at a range of alternatives, including buses and trains, it was obvious that to get to the beginning fo this famous circuit we would need to charter a bus.  I arranged to do this but rather than a single large bus we had several minivans, which worked out quite well.  Of course, getting everyone out the door, group-photographed, bikes on racks and people in seats was a major undertaking.  On every trip there is always an issue of some kind and this trip was unique in that two bank cards and a credit card were lost.  On the plus side, there was only one crash, resulting in a bent handlebar, and a single flat tire during the entire trip.  Zeezu thinks we did this to him on purpose to slow him down on the Stelvio, when he discovered that European CO2 cartridges don’t necessarily work with U.S.-designed inflators...

Anyway, everyone was packed up and we headed off to our appointment with destiny on a beautiful sunny morning.  We drove up along a busy road, the S241, through the Valle d’Ega/Eggental, and it took us through several tunnels as the scenery became quite gorgeous.  My original plan had been to take the minivans up to Canazei and then after riding the Sella Ronda we would come back down this road to Bolzano, but it looked so unappealing as a cycling route that I was glad that I had gone to Plan B, which would bring us over the Nigrapass and down a very quiet secondary road back to Bolzano.

August 15 is Ferragosto, a religious holiday in Italy known in English as the Feast Day of the Assumption.  Before the Catholic Church co-opted it, the holiday was celebrated in the Roman Empire to honour the gods, particularly Diana, and mark the ripening of crops.  Italians are prone to take short holidays during Ferragosto and this was the big week for them.  Corey had explained that visitors come to Alte Adigo in huge numbers and the locals all leave then, and we were about to see this in action.

We climbed the Passo di Costalunga/Karerpass, which we would ride up from the other direction on our bikes, and I pointed out to everyone where the road branched off that would take us over the Nigrapass and back to town.  Soon we found ourselves in extremely heavy traffic, and the minivans crawled along through Vigo di Fasso, where we turned left on the road, S.48, that took us to Pozza di Fasso and Canazei.  It was only 47 kms from Bolzano to Canazei on excellent roads but it took us more than two hours for the trip.  I chatted with our driver, who had been a long-distance truck driver, and he pointed out the beautiful peaks around us.


Leaving Canazei

The traffic seemed to peter out in Canazei and our drivers let us out in a big parking lot that is used for tour buses.  The bicycles were unloaded and I got everyone together to go over the route once more since once we started climbing the group would break up and we would probably not see each other until Bolzano.  The route was simple: a big clockwise circle around the Sella group would bring us back to Canazei and then we would retrace our route over the Karerpass but then turn right on the road to the Nigrapass.  It would then be all downhill from there to Bolzano.



The first climb of the four on the Sella Ronda was the Passo di Sella.  It is 11.4 kms in length and averages 6.6 %, with a height gain of 758 m.  I found myself riding with three others from our group and we worked our way up steadily.  The road surface was good as we passed through some forest but the traffic was holiday-heavy.  Nonetheless, as we rode in single file the motorists were generally quite careful as they passed us.  We were all aiming for the summit of the Sella, which is at 2244 m ASL.  The road we were riding, the S.243, is marked as a yellow, or secondary, one and I was surprised how much traffic there was but this was obviously due to the time of year.  Without too much difficulty I rode a steady pace and we soon came to the top of the summit, which had the usual tourist kitsch shops and restaurants.  There were several big parking lots, full of visitors’ cars.  I was riding with Terry, one of our older stalwarts, and we could not find the summit sign so we just took photos in front of one of the shops.  The summit sign turned out to be a bit further down the road–at a lower altitude!




I stopped briefly in one of the parking lots to put on my windvest and arm warmers and it was here that we had our first view of the fabulous Sella massif.  The mountains are precisely what you think of when the Dolomites are mentioned.  It is a basically a large plateau and in winter you can actually ski around it using some of the ski lifts in the area.  The region is also one where Ladin, known as Romansch in Switzerland, is still spoken.

After enjoying our first unobstructed view of the Sella massif, we then dived down at high speed along the excellent roads towards our next goal, the Passo di Gardena/Grödner Joch.  I caught up to Janice at this point and we road along the quiet road carved into the edge of the massif.  The traffic had vanished; it seemed everyone wanted to just get to the top of the Passo di Sella.  It was also approaching lunchtime, something of great interest to everyone on holiday.



After descending about 400 m, we rode along a flat stretch, the Plan di Gralba, before beginning a gradual climb.  The climb is a gradual 6 kms, with an average gradient of only 4.2%.  After the obligatory summit sign photo (again, the sign was below the summit!), we rode towards the collection of buildings at the top.

We stopped for some water.  The sun was shining and we sat at a picnic table next to a restaurant.  Next to us was a young woman with a very nice Pinarello, but when I complimented her on it in Italian she looked shocked and said nothing.  Maybe my Italian was not as good as I had thought!



We rolled out and enjoyed a series of really superb hairpins.  I stopped to take some photos and Pinarello Girl rode by.  I soon followed but overtook her almost immediately. She was clearly a very cautious descender as she could not have been going more than 20 km/h downhill.  I, on the other hand, found the descent ideal and rapidly increased speed, roaring into the village of Corvara at 70 km/h and enjoying every second of it.  I caught up to Terry, Janice and Dr. Chef.  We decided to press on rather than have lunch in Corvara and headed along a new road, P.244, that took us towards the next pass, the Passo di Campolongo, which would be a climb of 307 m.


Climbing out of Corvara

This pass is also a fairly reasonable one, being 6 kms in length and averaging only 5%.  There was an initially steep part after coming out of Corvara but then it settled down to an unchanging grade so it was easy to set a rhythm.  Nearing the summit, we passed a restaurant where a group of our faster riders called out to us.  We debated staying for lunch but Dr. Chef thought we should press on up the last pass on the circuit rather than try to climb it with full stomaches.  We found the summit of the Campolongo at 1875 m ASL, but it was not terribly impressive.

What we thought was the last challenge of the Sella Ronda lay ahead: the Passo Pordoi.  Although not brutally steep, the pass, at 9.4 kms, is quite long.  The average grade is 6.8% and we would be gaining 638 m.  I rode with Terry and I began to feel tired.  The climbing we had already done and the lack of food were beginning to take their toll.  I tried to ride as steadily as possible but the road seemed to go on forever as we climbed through no less than 33 hairpins.  As I approached the summit I heard someone come from behind and Mariette, one of our better climbers, easily overtook me just before we reached the top.  It was with a sense of accomplishment that we had come to the highest point on the trip at 2289 m ASL.




Dr. Chef enjoys his reward

To celebrate, Terry, Dr. Chef, Janice and I sat down in the first restaurant and enjoyed excellent coffee before we wolfed down big slabs of pizza.  Putting on our warm gear again (cycling in the mountains is a constant put-it-on-take-it-off striptease), we rapidly rolled downhill and headed towards Canazei.  Unfortunately, the traffic had no disbursed since the morning and as we approached the town we were in stop-and-go traffic.  I noticed that a mountain biker simply rode towards the oncoming traffic and everyone shifted over a bit for him.  It looked dangerous to me but I thought as long as he was in front of us we could give it a try.  To my surprise we rapidly picked up speed and were able to get back the stopped cars pretty easily.  Nobody shook their fists at us but some motorists actually pointed out the best way we could take.  Nice to be in a cycling culture!

We rapidly reached Pozza di Fasso and began the ascent of the Passo di Costalunga.  There was some very heavy traffic as we came to Vigo di Fasso but most of it seemed to stay in the town.  The Costalunga has some nasty grades, hitting 10.4%, but after 6 kms it flattened out so that there was only 20 vertical meters in the last 4 kms before the summit at 1748 m ASL.  I had felt a bit tired on the climb but the flat part cheered me up and turning on the road towards the Passo Nigra I felt energized.  This was the last of our six passes for the day and it was actually lower than the Costalunga.  It would be followed by a 24 km drop into the valley below.


It turned out that several of the faster riders had ignored my route advice and taken the busy road back to Bolzano.  This was a real mistake.  Not only was that road quite unpleasant and, in spots, dangerous, but they missed what has to be one of the most beautiful roads I have ever cycled.


The Passo Nigra/Nigrapass is a bit odd in that it is not really a summit but another plateau.  I had expected that we would start descending immediately but in fact the road was fairly level, with some small rollers. We passed a small restaurant, where stopped to get organized, and then began the 24.4 km descent.  The first four kms average 6.8%, then it steepens noticeably.  Some long sections are over 10% as you approach the village of San Cipriano, after which the road is almost level for a while.  The scenery is absolutely stunning and there is no traffic at all.

Finally, with only seven kilometers left on the descent, it steepens up a great deal and soon you are hurtling down the road towards the river.  Turn left and you are on a bike path that sweeps you all the way back into Bolzano.


An impressive profile for a long day...


The Sella Ronda/Passo Nigra has to be one of the greatest cycling routes anywhere.  In his piece at pezcyclingnews.com, Jered Gruber said: "If I had one last ride to ride, I would ride here." and it is easy to understand why, particularly when the weather is as superb as it was for us.  Every June the Sella Ronda is closed completely to motorized traffic as everyone celebrates Bike Day.  Our own bike day was certainly worth celebration...we rode a distance of 125.7 km (78.15 miles), enjoying a climbing total of 3539 m (11,611 feet).


Friday, November 27, 2009

My Latest Book Review at Pezcyclingnews.com: Tomorrow we ride


It is rainy in Ottawa (although unseasonably warm) and the training is tapering off.  Time to dig into the library and read some great cycling literature again.  Pezcyclingnews.com has just published my my review of Jean Bobet's "Tomorrow we ride...", a memoir of his life with famous brother Louison, and you can read it here.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Case for Bicycle Commuting

There is a very good article by Michael Hartford at opensalon.com, which you can look at here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Lost Boys 2009 Tour of Europe: the Südtiroler Weinstrasse




Wednesday, August 12: After a night of violent thunderstorms (a regular occurrence in summer in this mountainous region, it appears), we had yet another gorgeous, sunny day for our next cycling adventure.  The plan was to do something a bit flatter, given our Stelvio climb of the day before and our plan to ride the Sella Ronda on Thursday.  I had worked out a route to take us along the Wine Street and the profile looked reasonable.

Of course, the profile may have looked reasonable but once again we got seriously lost on the outskirts of Bolzano as the road markings did not make much sense.  At one point we almost ended up in a very nasty tunnel on a limited-access highway but we managed to turn everybody around before we became traffic fatality statistics.  As it was, the road we followed was quite busy but eventually we were able to get off of it and turn towards the west.  After crossing a small bridge we turned south and found ourselves on the Weinstrasse, according to the signs.

This was good but to get to the Kaltern See, the lake on our route, we had to climb up and over the massive ridge parallel to the road we were on.  With Stelvio-tired legs, this was not so easy as the 3 km climb included sections that were 16 percent grade.  At the top we had great views of castle ruins, vineyards and the lake below.



Stealing grapes


A quick downhill run brought us to a restaurant on the edge of the lake, where everyone thought we should stop for coffee and the inevitable strudel.  It was quite hot by now, and it was refreshing to sit in the shade and watch people enjoying the grassy beach nearby.  I was tempted to go swimming myself but instead we got back on the bikes and headed in the direction of our goal for the day, Trento.

The road was very nice, but not really all that flat and I was beginning to feel tired between the climbing and the heat.  We passed through the villages of Tramin, Kurtatsch and Magreid and approached Mezzocorona, which seemed to be a crossroads.  We looked for a place for lunch but nothing was open so riding under the autostrada we came to San Michele all’Adige, which looked a bit bigger.  After some searching in this totally dead village we did come across a restaurant that was actually open, although the menu was limited to three kinds of spaghetti.  It was actually quite expensive compared to what we had enjoyed so far but we were all hungry.

And feeling pretty tired.  We asked about where we could find a train station and it turned out we had to return to Mezzocorona for that.  Taking a different road, we got there very quickly and soon a train arrived that took us back to Bolzano for $5 each.

Although it felt like a lot more, we had climbed 524 m for the day, riding 64.52 km in all.  We did make it quite to Trento but this was plenty for a “recovery” day.


A shower back at the hostel and a change of clothing and I felt much better.  After a restorative ice cream at the House of Infinite Choice, we walked over to a restaurant I had put on my list while still in Canada.  It was the beer hall of the Forst brewery, which is actually based in Merano.  A beer hall is not really a very good description as the inside was quite elegant and we sat in the nice garden, looking out over one of the streets of the old town.  The menu was also much better than a typical beer place and I had the opportunity to indulge my taste for chanterelles and polenta.  This was a much more refined version than what I had had at the firemen’s festival and the beer, with a full line to choose from, was probably the best in Italy.  And of course we had to have yet another ice cream on the way home...

The Lost Boys 2009 Tour of Europe: Baths and Hairpins



In every trip to Europe we calculate at least one day off the bicycle in order to have some flexibility for bad weather, sight-seeing or simply recovering (this last is a bit hard to believe, I know).  Waking up the morning after our very successful Mendelpass ride, it looked as if cycling was out of the day as it was raining heavily.  I had learned from a previous trip to always pack a folding umbrella.While in the Black Forest on previous trips, we had enjoyed European spa life and our plan for a rainy day in Südtirol was to indulge ourselves although nobody suffered much from sore muscles yet.  But first several of us decided to wander around Bolzano a bit more.



In spite of the rain, this was great fun as we went to the fruit and vegetable market in the old city and had a good time poking around the beautiful produce, as well as buying some pastry.  The hostel breakfast was fine but basic so we bought some cheese, bananas and other fruit to bring back to our rooms.  After I bought a kilo of  mirabelle plums, I was about to walk away when I spied some gorgeous peaches.  I asked the vendor if they were local and he said that they actually came from Verona.  I was overcome with the urge to try one and since the vendor said they were ripe I did not resist.  A few steps and I had bitten deep into a marvellous fruit that had clearly ripened on the tree.  We turned around and bought a bag of them...

We stopped at the Citta Hotel for a coffee under their elegant arcades and soon the rain let up.  It was late in the morning but some of the group planned to go for a ride, while others of us headed to the main station and set out for our spa journey to Meran/Merano.


Although Bolzano is the larger of the two, Merano is certainly the bigger tourist attraction.  Our train filled up rapidly and we quickly rolled through the orchards and vineyard of the Etsch Valley, arriving in Merano (which is also a transfer point for another rail line) in an hour or so.  Just before you come to the station you pass a large racecourse, an indication of the city’s role as a major entertainment/watering/social place of the Hapsburg empire prior to 1918.  It was walk of about 15-20 minutes to get from the station to the centre of town, and we passed an interesting plaque commemorating the career of the late Marco Pantani, who began to make his mark in pro cycling when he won stages of the Giro d’Italia in the region.


Merano on this day (August 10) was totally packed with visitors.  This was the week when everyone in Italy takes holidays and it seems that a good number of the country’s inhabitants come to the Dolomites–and, as Corey explained, the locals went elsewhere.  We fought our way through the charming streets, lined with solid but elegant buildings and soon came to the original casino/spa buildings, which looked exactly like the kind of place Emperor Franz Josef II would have hung out.  There was a nice garden by the river, including some in-ground palm trees. Merano has a micro-climate and it was already getting quite warm.  Today’s spa finds itself across the river housed in an ultra- modern glass-and-stone building, with a large outdoor area of green lawns and pools as well as the indoor/outdoor thermal baths and sauna areas.


We lined up, got our tickets and checked in.  I always find it interesting in Europe that the thermal spas, which seem so 19th Century in concept (“taking the waters” and all that) have computerized systems for keeping check on how much time you spend (pricing is in time blocks) and which control which areas of the establishment to which you have access.

We enjoyed the thermal pools, which included the kind of water jet massages I had enjoyed in Germany, and swam in the outdoor pools as well, which come in a range of temperatures.  The weather was spectacular but I enjoyed the spa so much I did not mind we were missing some riding for one day.  Then it was off to the sauna area.  Although it was textil-frei, as in Germany, the Italians were pretty anxious about keeping on their towels!

No matter.  Our three hours were up and feeling pretty mellow we sauntered back through the thronged streets to the train station, stopping for a slice of fresh pizza on the way, and returned to Bolzano and our hostel.  After the usual celebratory ice cream, we wandered back to the old city for an excellent dinner at an Italian restaurant, with half the crew having pizza and the other half going for pasta.


Tuesday, August 11 was meant to be a red-letter cycling day and the weather played along.  Although it was clear when we got to the Bolzano train station, the clouds began to roll in a bit as we headed back to Merano, where we transferred onto another hyper-modern little train.  Luckily this was the departure station for the train going to Mals/Malles since it rapidly got very crowded.  As we came to more stops it became even more very crowded.  It puzzled me that the railroad would only run a three-car train during what was clearly the busiest season as hikers with backpacks, cyclists with their bikes and locals with baby carriages got on board.  We were unable to sit during the two hour ride but at least we got on, unlike a number of cyclists further up the road.

Our big concern was getting through the crowd and actually getting off the train at our stop.  Luckily we had positioned ourselves to make the rapid escape we needed and soon found ourselves at the station platform in Spondigna.  Of course, before doing anything it was time for a bracing coffee in the little station restaurant, then we headed out towards our goal for the day, one of the world’s greatest ascents for a cyclist, the famed Passo dello Stelvio, known as the Stilfserjoch in German.



Of course, I immediately went the wrong way as I followed the “helpful” bikepath signs and lost everyone behind me.  It turned out that in fact I was going the right way, even if that meant riding some dirt and gravel sections of bikepath before coming into the little town of Prato allo Stelvio.  I waited a bit and eventually joined up with two others from our group and we turned to face southwest and the beginnings of the climb.


I rode this climb in 2005 when I did a week of riding in Eastern Switzerland, with this incursion into Italy.  It had thrilled me then but always wanting to see new sights I was not inclined to do it again but everyone was so keen I agreed.  As I found a different route back from the summit compared to what I did four years ago I thought this was count as undiscovered country.  But of course, to get to the undiscovered part you have to get through the first part.


The ride along the nicely-paved S38 road takes you through the hamlets of Gomagoi and Trafoi on a gentle upwards incline.  Spondigna is at 885 m ASL and by the time you reach Trafoi you have climbed to 1543 m in 27 kms.  Now the serious fun begins as you navigate 48 hairpin turns (each one marked with a sign) and head through some heavily-forested sections.  The road pitches up quite steeply in places (I had forgotten about this–ouch) and then you when you break out above the tree line you see the last dozen curves ahead stacked up in the distance almost like a ladder.  It is an extraordinary sight, both ahead of you and behind, and you will share the road with motorcyclists and sports car drivers (and even buses), as well as with like-minded cyclists wanting to partake of the Stelvio legend.


Although the weather had been somewhat overcast in Spondigna, the route up the valley was clear and it was fantastic.  I felt good and kept pace with Dr. Chef, stopping to take photos as the mood struck, and we soon caught up to a tall rider in a “Flanders” kit.  He was a young Belgian cyclist and we kept each other company all the way up to the top, although it was evident that he was more used to cycling those flatter roads back home.



Even if you have done it before, crossing the summit of the Stelvio (2760 m ASL, the highest road in Italy) gives you a terrific feeling of accomplishment.  After the obligatory pass sign photos, we tromped in to the nearest restaurant for hot chocolate/latte macchiatos/strudel.  Mariette, who speaks Dutch, could communicate with our new Belgian friend, who had very limited English, and he was delighted to accept a soft drink from us.  We seem to have done something for world understanding since he thought that Americans were not very nice but now that he had personal experience with them he found this not to be the case.  Of course, I would like to think it was also the Canadian influence.


Warmed up and, more importantly, dried off, we put on our cold-weather gear since a cold wind always blows over the summit from the Bormio direction.  But today we were not heading downhill towards Bormio, as I did in 2005.  Instead, we rode down the road a short way and turned right onto a very small road, soon passing an unoccupied border post.  We were now in Switzerland!


The 17 km road to Santa Maria, down the Passo di Forcola, has to be one of the most enchanting rides I have done to date.  There is no traffic to speak of and the scenic vistas of the Müstair Valley are exceptional.  The road is quite good until you suddenly hit a section, perhaps 3-4 kms long, of gravel.  This is not something you want on a rapid downhill with curves but all of us managed to get through.  We were then rewarded with some of the best pavement I have ridden on in a long time (Ottawa roads make anything else seem like velvet, except Quebec ones) and we rocketed down the hairpins into the village of Santa Maria.  Regrouping, we turned right onto a main road, Rt. 28, and enjoyed a fast downhill ride that brought us to the border crossing back into Italy at Tubre/Taufers.  The border post here was occupied, as Dr. Chef and Zeezu discovered when they tried to sprint for the border sign, to the extreme annoyance of the guard.  He did not think Americans were so nice, although here I did point out that I was a Canadian.


Rt. 28 turned into an Italian road, S41.  We continued downhill, passing through the walled town of Glurns and turning right to follow the bikepath along the Etsch, parallel to the S38.  Some of the group continued on past Spondigna, but three of us stopped there to take the train back to Merano and connect to Bolzano so that we would get back in time for a classical concert with an orchestra of young EU musicians.  Of course at the Spondigna station we celebrated once again with excellent coffees after figuring out how to buy tickets from the automat since there no longer are any humans representing the railroad at the station.
The loop we rode was just over 69 km long but featured over 2000 m of climbing.  My maximum speed was 70 km/h, which is not bad considering all the tight turns we had to descend.  A glorious day indeed and something I would recommend as one of the best rides in Europe.  We were fortunate as a few weeks later the road was closed to motorized traffic for Stelvio Day and the cyclists who came for that “enjoyed” a ride in pouring cold rain.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

A Cyclist's Dream

Cyclists are obviously more mainstream in France as they are deemed worthy of being fooled on television.  The host of this program has played a wonderful trick on unsuspecting riders here as they suddenly discover they have won a race they did not know they had even entered.  All the touches are here: the motorcycle with the time blackboard, the following Citroen 2CV, the Devil, the Podium Girl with the trophy, and, of course, the mandatory drug test!


Funny Tour De France Prank - Watch more Funny Videos

Monday, November 9, 2009

Mauerfalltag 2009! The Wall (and Not Wall) by Bicycle


It was on November 9, 1989 that a great moment in history took place: the opening of the Berlin Wall.  There are a lot of celebrations going on in the city today (and I really wish I was there!) and a lot of memories brought back.  The unexpectedness of the event was truly amazing and people around the world were deeply moved.

In 1988, British actress Tilda Swinton (who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress last year) starred in a short film, "Cycling the Frame," in which she rode a bicycle 160 kms around the Wall.  Now, twenty-one years later, she has done it again in "the Invisible Frame," a 60 minute film that recently was shown at the Vienna Film Festival and, paired with the first film, has made appearances at various Goethe Institutes around the world to mark the anniversary of the Wall's opening. 

Ms. Swinton had not been back to Berlin since her earlier film, a clip from which I am unable to find.  However, here is a clip from this most recent voyage of rediscovery in one of Europe's bike friendliest cities:

If you do not have Flash installed, you can go to this website for the preview.

If your German is good, you can read more about this in the Berliner Morgenpost here.