Wednesday 12 September 2012

Oktoberfest is almost here!

Celebrate with the right cycling clothing from people who know all about beer, if perhaps not fashion.  Check it out here.  I am only grateful that the name includes "MTB," suggesting you should only be seen in this while riding a mountain bike, although the photos on the website suggest otherwise.

Saturday 8 September 2012

La Conquète de la Corse: Day 3

June 26, 2012

Porto to Santo Pietro di Venaco

Leaving behind our excellent hotel in Porto, our third day in Corsica saw us leaving the coast and heading inland.  Of course the road immediately began climbing (I guess when it is so hot you don’t need a normal warm-up) and we were soon ascending steadily through a dry but, in many places, shady region, with fine views out over the valleys we passed.  Once again we saw very little traffic but as we passed seldom through any villages en route that was perhaps not so surprising.

After 12 kms or so of climbing we came into a forested reserve, the Aïtone, and I began to feel the effects of the heat and the climb quite a bit.  I eased back and watched as Greg and Tom easily cruised by me and I eventually joined up with Terry and we came to a village where the van was waiting with water and food for those who needed it, an excellent opportunity for a break.  Terry and I then set out for the push to the top of the next climb, the Col de Vergio, which is the highest pass in Corsica at 1477 m ASL. 

We arrived at the top and found a big parking lot with a few cars in it and a large statue.  It was time for photos but this time we were assisted by some passing tourists who actually knew how to take pictures.  The group photo was not entirely complete as Steve had zoomed off on his own and Bill was vanning but we were soon together again for lunch, which we reached with a rapid descent from the col and enjoyed looking out above a big reservoir.

After lunch we were back on the road and enjoying a fast descent on good roads.  Our route now took us through the Spelunca Gorge, which was dramatic and very, very hot.  As is typical with gorges, a hard wind was blowing through it and as soon as I turned the corner to enter I could feel my eyeballs dry out behind my cycling glasses.  I was beginning to have some considerable pain with my feet and was forced to stop at a spring and take off my shoes for a while.  This seemed to reduce the swelling and I dragged myself up the next climb which, in normal circumstances, would have been pretty easy.  

Everyone was waiting at the top and cheered me on as I came up to the summit.  I felt terrible and had to massage my feet for a while but after some Coke, which I normally never drink, things did not seem so bad and we had a marvellous descent into Corte, a university town.  I did not pass up the chance to stick my feet into another cool fountain, to the great merriment of the other Lost Boys, and then we stopped in town for a beer.

Ruining the drinking water in Corte
All that was left on Day 3 was a final climb to Santo Pietro di Venaco.  Although it was only 6 kms it seemed to take forever as there were some steep sections, coupled with the fact that the road was the N193, a main highway with a lot of truck and bus traffic.  I did not really enjoy this so much and by the time we pulled into our very quirky old hotel, Le Torrent, I was finished for sure.  

Basile giving us the evening briefing
We all sat outside and had some cold drinks on the terrace to recover.  Dr. Chef had already occupied the very small twin room and had done his laundry, which he hung from the window to dry.  Bill expressed the group’s disgust at the sight of Dr. Chef’s cycling gear drying on the balcony, ruining the aesthetic of our hotel, and we all had a good laugh over dinner.

Steve had heard that chestnuts were a specialty of the island and he had been nagging Basile to see that we would have some on the menu at some point.  At Le Torrent we enjoyed some excellent food (I had a mountain of pasta with fresh vegetables) and there was even a kind of chestnut pudding for dessert.

Stevie Z, content with chestnuts
We had done four climbs for the day and enjoyed an amazing 35 km long descent and a scenic gorge so I was able to forget my sore feet and collapse into bed after our fine dinner and look forward to another day coming.

Today's totals: 94 kms, 2550 m vertical.

Friday 7 September 2012

La Conquète de la Corse: Day 2

June 25, 2012: The Road to Porto

Modelling our 2012 Lost Boys jerseys, with Dave going for the Jan Ullrich look instead
According to our route notes, our second day of cycling in Corsica would actually be the easiest, with 1300 m of climbing over a mere 80 kms.  After a very modest breakfast (ah, France, where people are happy with a croissant and a coffee because they don’t need to ride anywhere), we assembled for the traditional Lost Boys group photo in our new jerseys. 

This time the motif featured the French national coat of arms on the front and on the sleeves the Moor, the rather mysterious symbol of Corsica.  Once again the jerseys looked great and made everyone easily identifiable from a distance, particularly with the bright green sleeves.  With the heat I was a bit concerned that the jerseys were predominantly black but this turned out to be the least of my problems during the trip.

The directions were straightforward as we would follow the coastal ride from Calvi, turn right at 32 kms, do a big climb and then head towards Porto and our hotel.  Easy.  And in fact it was superb, at the beginning at least.  Leaving the hotel, we were presented with a beautiful day and an amazing road, with gentle climbs and descents, along the coast.  With fine views over the blue water and a surprisingly traffic-free road we cruised southwards.  However, we soon enough discovered the reverse of the great roads of Corsica: the really terrible roads of Corsica, which Basile had mentioned during the morning briefing. 

For the next 15 kms we bounced our way through terrible potholes and craters and it was with considerable relief when we came to the little bridge at 32 kms where we did the required turn and took a short break.  A tour bus started to go down the road we had just struggled over but the driver quickly thought better of it and beat a hasty retreat. 

We began the 10 km climb to the top of the Col de Palmarella, 408 ASL.  After the usual triumphant summit photos, we began the long long descent of nearly 30 kms that brought us to a scenic spot for our daily picnic lunch.  The road was narrow and we were entertained while eating by watching a bus get stuck in a curve below and snarling traffic in both directions.  But soon enough that was cleared up, and we were back on the bikes for a fast and final descent that brought us past the Genoese tower and into the town of Porto.

Our charming hotel in Porto
Our hotel was the most attractive one we stayed in during our trip and had an excellent swimming pool to boot.  It was ostensibly air-conditioned but Dr. Chef and I learned immediately that it was not working in our room.  At least it was fairly cool.  I felt great on the ride although I was having issues with my shoes, proving the old cycling adage of never using new equipment on a big ride.  My plan to get shoes half a size larger than usual to avoid hot spots backfired completely as after only 20 kms or so my feet began to hurt.

Some local colour: the Moor with an AK-47
After checking in, Dr. Chef was exhausted but we did enjoy the pool for a while before going for a short walk to buy our favourite Magnum ice cream bars.  The little bar where we stopped only had imitation-Magnums but any port in a storm…

Dr. Chef, a'hurtin' after Day 2
We walked to the harbour and enjoyed another nice dinner, this time with a view over the water.  I was beginning to notice that Corsica is not very vegetarian-friendly as I was beginning to notice that the only thing without meat that seemed to be offered everywhere was pasta with Brocciu, a Corsican cheese that is considered the national dish.  Corsicans seem particularly fond of boar and other game.

Stevie-Z concentrating on the ladling of the soup
79.63 kms today with a mere 1410 meters of climbing.  This was an easy day, apparently.

La Conquète de la Corse: Day 1

L'aventure commence!

Piedmont Wine Country
After a slow drive through the Piedmont wine region of Northern Italy, we eventually found ourselves at the rather unattractive port city of Savona where we had some time to kill before our night ferry crossing to Corsica.  After having a pizza in a crummy restaurant, we went to the terminal, where Tom dropped us off with bikes and baggage.

View of the Med near Savona
The plan was for him to take the car to a garage about 6  kms away as there was no place to leave the car at the terminal and we had no place to leave it in Corsica.  He had prepaid a week’s storage and would ride his bike back to us at the terminal.  We had a moment of panic when Tom got to the garage to find it locked and nobody around but it turned out our contact was having dinner himself and soon everything was sorted out and Tom rejoined us.

A huge number of vehicles had assembled dockside, hours before the ferry was due to arrive.  We were supposed to leave at 23:30 and since the ferry was only scheduled to arrive at 11 pm I could not understand how all the cars on the ferry would get driven off and the newcomers shifted inside but it turned out that everyone knew what they were doing as the ferry, a huge ship, did in fact arrive and depart on time.  We walked into the multi-storey garage with our bicycles where crewmen, who actually knew how to tie things up with rope unlike us, had our bikes fastened.  We went upstairs and were quickly checked into our very comfortable cabin, which was air-conditioned and had a shower.  With only a few hours before our arrival, it was in bed and lights out immediately.

The Tarmac get correctly tied down
Our fabulous cabin!
Disembarking in Bastia.  Our ferry is to the left

June 24, 2012

At 6:00 announcements were made so it was time to get up.  Everyone was set to disembark by the time we landed an hour later and we walked our bikes and baggage off the ferry and through the very modest terminal in Bastia and found ourselves on the main square of the city where weekend flea market was taking place.  We found the tourism information office where we were to meet everyone but since it was early we looked for a café.  Tom and Rudiger were delighted that I found one that featured bacon and eggs for breakfast and I had some pastry and an excellent coffee.

Walking back to the tourism office, we spied a likely-looking suspect for our group.  This was David, an Australian living in London, who had joined the trip on his own.  All the other participants had been on other Lost Boys trips over the years and David was to blend in well with the group.

Soon after the Lost Boys began to arrive and everyone was there by 9:00, including our guide Basile, a 22-year old French national level mountain biker and regional level road racer.  It turned out that there were some issues with the rental bikes but these got sorted out in a while (and hurry up and wait is a Lost Boys byword).  Greg discovered a flat tire on his bike while we were waiting and used it as an opportunity to give Bill, fairly new to the world of road bikes, a lesson in fixing a puncture.

Greg Explains Bicycle Repair to Bill and Stevie Z
Dr. Chef and David looked over the huge map showing our route for the week, which would cover a good part of the island and, apparently, the most challenging parts.  We found it amusing that our offered route for the day was the standard one or “more hard.”  Regular hard was hard enough!

Leaving Bastia we immediately began the first climb of the day with no warmup at all.  The climb was about 10 kms and took us the to the top of the Col de Teghime, where we had a superb view of both sides of the island.  Corsica had been an important Allied base in World War 2 and was the first part of France to be liberated by the Free French.  At the top of the pass were memorials to the fighting on the island.  The inscriptions were in French and in Corsican, which looked nothing like Italian, which it is supposed to be related to.  Also we discovered for the first time that the col sign was damaged as local separatists had painted over the French part of the bilingual sign and shot bullets into it as well.  We did not see many undamaged col signs or town limit signs during our week.

It was already very hot and we continued now with a screaming downhill to the shore far below, passing some picturesque villages and Corsica’s main area of vineyards and then coming to the seaside resort of St-Florent, situated on a magnificent bay.  At this point, 26 kms into the day, everyone was doing their own ride and when I came to the roundabout just past St-Florent I looked at the direction and turned towards what I thought was Ile-Rousse.  After riding for a while (mainly uphill) it did not seem right and I turned back, riding 6 kms back to the roundabout and figuring out the correct way.  I was not the only one do do this but nobody else added 12 kms to what was turning into a long, hot ride.

Immediately another climb started and soon any sign of greenery or shade was left behind.  We were now in the Desert of Agriates, brown and dry.  300 m of climbing over the next 15 kms and I was trying to make up lost time.  After what seemed like endless chasing I found the van by the side of the road with everyone already enjoying our daily picnic lunch.   I was able to recover as the tough climb in the heat was followed by a nice descent bringing us back to the coast and some scenic views.  I passed some of the other Lost Boys as they had pulled off the road; Greg had had his second flat tire of the day. 

Our daily pique-nique

Greg doing yet More Bicycle Repair with supervision

A long flat stretch of 15 kms was followed by another 300 m climb and one final bump as we approached our goal for the day, the city of Calvi.  At this point I was riding with Terry and after 120 kms and over  2000 m of climbing in relentless heat I was starting to fade as we switched pulls.  We made our way into the city and rode through it a good speed, returning to the coast as passed the Citadel and came to our hotel.

the Citadel in Calvi

Lost Boys preparing for serious eating in at the end of Day 1
After getting cleaned up we all met in the lobby and walked into the Old Town where we celebrated a successful first day with a fine meal.  Although four of us had gone the wrong way, on Day 1 I held the record for the most lost Lost Boy with my extra 12 kms.  Total distance for the day for me was 128.48 kms, with 2188 m of climbing.

My dinner in Calvi: pasta with Brocciu cheese, a Corsican specialty aged less than a month, and a salad
Basile promised us a great ride along the coast for the second day and I went to bed happy albeit exhausted.