Tuesday 29 November 2011

Another Look at L'Eroica 2011

Here is a video showing the adventures of some goofy French cyclists. They clearly rode one of the shorter routes as they are leaving Gaoile in daylight. Sissies.

EROICA 2011 ROCK'N'ROLLIN from Julien Rideau on Vimeo.

Friday 25 November 2011

My Latest Book Review!

Read my latest book review, about the ground-breaking Team 7-Eleven, at Pezcyclingnews.com here.

Sunday 20 November 2011

Critical Dirt: A Different Kind of Ride in Germany

In the December issue of TOUR magazine, which I received yesterday, there is a superbly-written article about a kind-of race across Eastern Germany, from Göttingen across the Harz Mountains, south through Leipzig and ending in Görlitz. "Kind-of" in that it has no official status and there are no start numbers given out to the participants. The whole idea of Critical Dirt is to avoid the tangled web of regulations so characteristic of German undertakings and to have fun.

The organizers have a sense of humour. The participant's package includes a cigarette for those wanting a relaxing smoke. Riders are given a rubber stamp with a number on it which they use at the finish to check in so that the organizers know who has made it and for whom a search party needs to be organized. The route is over paved roads, dirt tracks and forest trails, covering 500 kms over four days and involving around 1,000 m of climbing each day. It is ideal for cross bikes, but participants show up on mountain bikes, touring bikes and even fixed gear ones. Riders stay in youth hostels en route and at the finish line there is no banner or awards ceremony but a welcome case of beer.

The organizers are concerned about feeding the cyclist and have a serious chef. His recipes for the ride can be found at www.criticaldirt.com, and each day at the one food stop he serves up tasty meals at the Café GoGo, a moveable feast. The whole thing sounds charming and fun and is probably the only race I have heard of where the Chief Organizer shouts out "Be good to each other!" as the racers get underway.

There was a professional-quality film made of the 2010 Critical Dirt ride, which seems to have been a different route, only travelling in Saxony and involving race numbers. The food looks impressive. Enjoy!

CRITICAL FILM from e r t z u i ° film on Vimeo.

Friday 18 November 2011

My Latest Book Review!

Pezcyclingnews is running my latest book review, which covers Andrew Ritchie's interesting (and quite massive!) book about racing's early days: "Quest for Speed." You can read the review here.

Sunday 6 November 2011

Ride of the Falling Leaves: the Ahrtal

After watching a recent episode of my favourite German travel program on television featuring the Ahr River, I checked the map and realized it was fairly close to Düsseldorf and since the weather looked like it would be good enough for cycling on Sunday, I enlisted my friend Henri to tackle another German river bike route. We both hoped it would work out better than the Sieg’s not-always-there bikepath.

Leaving the main train station at 7:02 on a slooooooooow S-Bahn train, we reached Cologne and transferred to the Eifel-Bahn, which took us west and south and brought us to Blankenheim’s station in another 90 minutes. The station is actually some distance from the town and it was a bit strange to get off and see nothing much besides the little station and some fog.

The route was well-marked, however, and we were soon swiftly rolling down the 5 kms or so to Blankenheim proper. Stopping to get our bearings in a park near the rather ugly 1950s Rathaus, we saw the impressive castle overlooking the town. It is now a youth hostel. There were signs for the Ahr bike route, including both regular ones and a big stone bike. We did not see the source of the Ahr, which apparently begins in someone’s basement, but we were soon following the tiny river eastwards.

The Ahr route is around 85 kms in length, and for the first 25 or so from Blankenheim it takes cyclists through fairly wild and unsettled countryside. Many of the trees had already shed their leaves so we took care riding the well-paved bike path. Where it was not paved, it was packed earth that allowed us to travel nearly as fasted. No ruts or holes. The Italians maintaining the bianca strada in Tuscany could learn something from German grading!

We passed around Ahrdorf and then on to Müsch, enjoying a generally downhill ride. It became apparent to us pretty soon that the Ahr bike route has been constructed on an old railway right-of-way, with very gradual grades. In one spot, the old railway retraining wall had been made into an exhibition showing the various kinds of rocks to be found in the Ahr Valley. There was also an interesting sign telling the story of a Wehrmacht supply train that got stuck here in March 1945 and how the locals cleaned it out, enjoying real butter for the first time in years.

We passed a very charming little chapel, built in 1620, near Antweiler. Soon after this our path ended and we found ourselves on the main Landstrasse. The path has a 5 km gap in it and the main road has to serve for the moment, although the speed is limited to 70 km/h for cars. Near Schuld we were back on our path, including a nice ride through a nicely-lit and -paved tunnel that brought us into Insul.

Continuing to follow the now-larger river (and getting a bit lost at one point), we made swift progress. When we arrived in Altenahr just after 1 pm we decided to find a place to eat. The weather was warm enough (just) to allow us to sit outside. We had some hearty food (pea soup for Henri, chanterelles in cream sauce with homemade spätzle for me) in this busy little town with its ruined castle high above before we rode through another short tunnel and into a gorge as the Ahr became more dramatic.

We were passing dramatic landscapes now, with hundreds of acres of vineyards all around us. There were many people as well, both cyclists and hikers, so we had to take care as we rode the bikepath.

Just before reaching Ahrweiler, we came to the massive convent, Kloster Clavarienberg. This is a huge building dominating the floodplain. Apparently founded in 1440 by a crusader who thought the hill looked like Calvary in the Holy Land, it was the site of series of chapels until the Franciscans arrived in the 17th Century and built a monastery. It had its own Stations of the Cross, which are still to be seen, and became a destination for pilgrims until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1803. After several unsuccessful attempts to operate a school there, it was taken over by Ursuline nuns in 1838, and new buildings were constructed at the end of the 19th Century. It remains a Catholic school today.

Time to take a break in Ahrweiler for a few minutes! Inhabited by the Romans (there are foundations of a large villa to be seen), the town’s existence was first recorded in the 9th Century. Ahrweiler was jammed with people on this Sunday afternoon, an unusual sight in Germany. All the stores were open and the restaurants were doing good business, primarily from senior citizens. This very charming town has an impressive gate, which was badly damaged in World War 2 during the battle that led to the famous taking of the nearby Remagen bridge. It had been walled entirely during the Middle Ages but suffered a great deal during the Thirty Years War. On May 1, 1689, the entire town was destroyed, leaving only ten buildings intact.

We had thought about having a coffee but decided to press on to Sinzig as it was getting cool and the cloud cover meant that we were not enjoying all that much light. We wanted to get the next train back as the line would take us directly to Düsseldorf. Ahrweiler marks the northern limits of the Eifel Mountains and as we passed nearby Bad Neuenahr the landscape gradually turning into a flatter, marshy environment. The signs continued to be excellent and we were soon in the rather unattractive town of Sinzig which, being directly on the Rhine, has an autobahn going right over it, and train tracks cutting it off from the river.

After buying our return tickets, we turned back to the only open establishment we saw in Sinzig, which turned out to be a most excellent café. Enjoying some homemade apple cake let us put everything into perspective. The Ahr route is beautiful and would have been better on a sunny day. I will come back to look into some of the vineyards and spend some more time in Ahrweiler and some of the other little towns. The return trip, on a rather crowded Regio train, was only 80 minutes. Although my GPS went beserk at one point and suddenly awarded us an unearned 26 kms, we did ride 85 kms, with a descent of around 500 m vertically over the route. Recommended!

Saturday 5 November 2011

Now this is a race promo...2012 Giro d'Italia

After watching this promotional video, I think I should already start planning where I want to watch this race in May!

Tuesday 1 November 2011

My First Bicycle

While going through some old photos, I came upon a series showing me with my first bicycle in the summer of 1962. I am certain it was already many-times second-hand when it came to me. It was bright red and had been repainted with a brush. I don't remember actually learning to ride it, perhaps because those balloon tires were so wide the bike would not tip over! I also remember that a few years later it was passed to a neighbour's child and it eventually simply broke in two when the steel frame had had enough.