Monday 9 July 2012

The 2012 Lost Boys Tour of Europe: La Conquète de la Corse

It is summertime and among other things it means the cycling world needs to prepare itself for the next installment (Number 7 and counting) of the Lost Boys Tour of Europe.  The Loyal Reader of this blog may blink in astonishment and ask, with reason:   “Where is the completion of the 2010 Tour of Europe?  And the entire 2011 Lost Boys trip to Tirol?  It remains invisible still!”

Well, yes.  I’ll get to those yet (promises, promises) but felt that having returned so recently from another exciting Lost Boys trip I would put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and report in a more timely fashion.  So let’s strike while the iron is hot!

After the usual trans-oceanic on-line discussions, we decided that the Tour would find itself back in France but on the island of Corsica, known as “l’Ile de la Beauté.”  Although the idea was originally that of Stevie Z., none of us had ever been to the Isle of Beauty so were not sure what to expect but had heard of great climbs, fine beaches, high prices, considerable heat and home-grown terrorists.  We all knew that it was the birthplace of Napoleon Bonaparte and that for the first time in its long history the Tour de France would be there in 2013, but that was about all.

We quickly learned that even getting to Corsica requires some planning, patience and money.  People flying to our jump-off point of the port city of Bastia from the United States made their way from the Charles de Gaulle Airport to Orly (with mixed success) and then flew on to the island.  It was there that we were to meet Basile, our guide from the commercial tour operator, Europe-Active, with which we had been working since October to get our plans all together.

Lost Boys Tour Minus Two
Three of us (Tom, Rudiger and myself) representing the Rhine-Ruhr component, drove down in Tom’s Ford Fiesta, leaving on Friday, June 22 from Düsseldorf with three bikes on the roof rack and a trunk packed with gear.  We drove south past the Black Forest (scene of the first Lost Boys Tour in 2006 and part of another in 2007) and into Switzerland at Basel.  Passing through the impressive Gotthard Tunnel (I had ridden over the Gotthard’s old cobbled pass road years ago) and seeing the work on the amazing AlpTransit tunnel, we soon left Heidiland and crossed into Italy.

Tom had worked out an excellent plan to reduce our driving and add another cycling adventure.  We drove through Como and then onto small busy roads to our small hotel in Civenna.  The hotel was located around 300 m below the summit of the climb that takes the Giro di Lombardia to the famed Madonna del Ghisallo chapel and we were there to ride it.  As the chapel was on our way, we stopped briefly and I showed Tom and Rudiger around a bit.  I rode to the chapel in 2003 while staying in Bellagio, and an account of this wonderful trip was an early posting in 2007 here at Tin Donkey.

One of Fausto Coppi's Bianchis in the chapel     

The chapel is full of interesting cycling memorabilia but the overflow is now housed in a very modern new museum adjacent to the 500 year old chapel.  It was just closing as we arrived but the plan was to do our ride on Saturday, get cleaned up and visit the museum and continue driving southwards so this was fine. at our hotel, we found a friendly welcome but a room of quite modest dimensions and decor.  There was a lovely swimming pool that we quickly took advantage of to cool off in after the trip.  The highlight, however, was the view from the hotel’s balcony was truly spectacular.  The restaurant served pizza from a wood burning oven and of course we celebrated our first evening with some excellent pies and suitable refreshments.  We had an excellent view not only of Lake Como and the little villages dotting it but also the impressive serpentine road below that we would enjoy climbing the next day.  As we ate, we saw single riders passing on their way to the Ghisallo cycling magnet.

The night did not go so well as we had to keep the windows open due to the heat and discovered that the road did not empty late at night as motorcyclists with loud loud exhausts constantly woke us up as the tore around the curves below the hotel.  But we managed and felt well enough to get ready for our ride early the next morning.

Lost Boys Tour Minus One

At 7:00 we were on the road, beginning with the quite difficult 9 percent grade out of the hotel driveway 300 m up to the top of the Madonna del Ghisallo climb.  Without any warm-up, we huffed and puffed our way up (at least I did as both Tom and Rudiger are climbers) and then took some more photos in front of the chapel, including the requisite comedy pictures in front of the “Triumph and Disaster” monument overlooking the lake.  Water bottles filled with holy water from the fountain near the chapel, we began the first leg of the ride, cruising rapidly downhill through Magreglio and Barni (where the locals had made way for me at the spring to refill my bottles in 2003) and then down past Lasnigo under a big arch of rock.  Down, down, down we cruised, passing Valbrona and enjoying the fabulous views and finally reaching the level of the lake at 17.5 kms into the ride. 

Riding through the lakeside town of Oliveto Lario we stopped for lots of photos of the breathtaking scenery, startling a grazing brown goat.  The views are dramatic as you look across the Lecco arm of the lake towards Mandello del Lario and the great massif behind it.  The weather was ideal, comfortably warm and although some showers had been forecast there was nothing threatening our plans in the early morning Italian sky.

We rolled into sleepy Bellagio, where very little was happening and rode into the harbour looking for some kind of breakfast and eventually found a very charming old-style café, where we enjoyed Italian coffee and some wonderful pastries to gather strength for the coming climb.

Now the fun really began.  Leaving the harbour, the 8 km climb begins pretty much immediately, although it is a while until you come to a line marked “Start” where you can time yourself if you want.

It was a strange sensation to ride this climb in reverse to how I did it nine years ago.  It begins rather steeply and then when you get near the Il Perlo Panorama Hotel you are confronted with some 14 percent brutality.  The road goes ever up and takes you through more and more turns, and past some sleepy villages.

Soon enough we entered the set of serpentines below our hotel and rather than pull back into the parking lot to end the circuit we continued again up the last 300 m to the top of the climb.  I photographed Tom as he cleared the marked finish line, and he was followed soon by other cyclists riding the famous hill.


After the Comedy Photos, we turned around and returned to the hotel to get cleaned up and pack.  The bikes on the roof of the Fiesta, we drove back up the hill one more time and parked in the big lot where several vans of cycling touring companies were already sitting.  Our plan was to spend some time in the museum, which we had only glanced into the evening before.

Although I had asked when the museum would open, it is clear that volunteers are managing the enterprise as the Saturday 9:30 opening was more like 10:30 but at least it actually did open, unlike my foiled attempt to visit the Gino Bartali Museum near Florence earlier this year when nobody actually got around to opening the place.

The confusion over the opening hours aside, the museum is an impressive piece of work, modern and airy.  The last stone (blessed by the Pope!) was put in place in May 2006 and in addition to the impressive collection of historic racing bicycles it is also the home to revolving exhibitions.  When we visited, there was an interesting display devoted to the history of the Giro d’Italia (which was supposed to have ended two weeks before we were there).  There were framed maps of Italy showing the different courses taken by the race over the years and a very fine collection of Maglie Rosa, from 1933 to the present day and worn by cycling’s greatest champions.

Plenty to look at and enjoy, and I had the chance to compare an actual Giuseppe Saronni Colnago Mexico with my own same-era Colnago Super in the identical colour.  All of the famous brands were there, from ancient Bianchis to a Cervelo Giro centennial model and historic bikes, such as the Moser and Rominger hour record bikes.  There was a series of display cases devoted to the memory of Franco Ballerini, a popular two-time winner of Paris-Roubaix and manager of the successful Italian national cycling team, who died in a rally car accident in 2010.

With a wonderful morning of riding and sated with bike racing history, we had a quick lunch at the café next to the museum and then began the long drive to Savona, where our midnight ferry trip would bring us to Corsica and the other Lost Boys...

Tuesday 3 July 2012

A Daily Tour de France Poster

There are some people much more ambitious than I am!  For the third year running, New Zealand artist and graphic designer Bruce Doscher is producing a daily poster about the Tour de France linked to that day's stage.  His work is quite good but I am amazed that he can do those so quickly.  For example, the Stage 1 poster shows the breakaway group in their correct team colours.  This stage was only the day before yesteday so it takes some fast pen-wielding.  The posters are available on archival paper for $40 each and a lot of them are clearly inspired by the cycling poster artwork of the past.

Here is the 2012 Stage 1 poster:

To check out the daily posters and for more information about Bruce Doscher and his work, go here.