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.

Monday 2 March 2015

Book Review: Kittel's Vittles Revealed in Tour de Cuisine!


 It is said that Tour de France cyclists consume quantities of food during the event second only to sumo wrestlers in training: 11,000 calories per day for the former, 14,000 for the latter. But while sumos are famous for their vats of greasy soup, an innovative new book suggests that pro cyclists are in reality a pretty sophisticated bunch when it comes to noshing.

2015 marks the appearance of a new German UCI Pro Continental team, BORA-Argon 18. With new name sponsors it is actually the successor to the NetApp-Endura squad and like its predecessor has received a wild card invitation to the Tour de France, hoping in 2015 to match the results of last year when the team showed it deserved to be included amongst the elite of the sport.

Sponsor BORA's link to cyclesport could be found on broadcaster Eurosport's German television coverage of major European races through its regular advertisements. The company, based near Munich, is a manufacturer of high-end cooktops and extractors. Without a range hood, cooking odors are drawn out directly from the cooking surface. From one employee in 2006, the firm has grown to more than 50 today with subsidiaries in Austria and Australia and won various design awards along the way. It is a typical example of a German “Mittelstand” company, producing an innovative, high-quality (and cost!) product with a great deal of personal attention. It appears that founder Willi Bruckbauer's personal enthusiasm for cycling has expanded to encompass this pro team, whose other title sponsor is Canada's Argon 18, provider of the team's bicycles.

With German pro cycling coming back to life thanks to the performances of the likes of John Degenkolb, Tony Martin and Marcel Kittel and the return of the Tour de France to German public television after an absence of some years due to the fall-out from doping scandals, it is perhaps not a surprise that a German company would seek to maximize its exposure by sponsoring a team. What is unusual is how the sponsor aims to link the sport of pro cycling to its product by producing a very high-quality cookbook featuring favorite recipes of racers. The result is the very attractive “Tour de Cuisine,” available in several language and featuring 53 cyclists and their comfort foods.

It is probably unlikely that many of these riders are whizzes in the kitchen, given a BORA cooktop/teppan grill or not, but the book includes their comments about the various dishes, accompanied by excellent photos of the riders and a brief summary of their palmares. The contributors are not limited to Team BORA-Argon 18 but include many of the big names of the pro peloton, including the aforementioned German trio. It cannot be overlooked that some of these summaries are a bit peculiar in their sharing of information. For example, George Hincapie is described as having ridden in 17 Tours de France, completing 16 and “he acted as a helper for the likes of Alberto Contador and Cadel Evans.” For someone else as well, methinks.

Aside from this bit of historical revision, the book is more entertaining than the usual cookbook. Many of the recipes reflect a certain nationalism: Americans Peter Stetina with his Chicken Sandwich and Mr. Hincapie's T-Bone Steak. For those unfamiliar with Mitteleuropa cuisine, Michal Golaś'senthusiasm for Kaiserschmarrn or John Degenkolb's for Beef Olives (better known as Rouladen) should be no surprise. But it is notable that many riders eschew their native victuals in favour of foreign (often Italian or Asian) meals. Pole Sylwester Szmyd goes for Rice Noodles with Fried Vegetables, Jens Voigt for Moussaka, André Greipel is keen on Prawns with Green Tagliatelle and Asparagus and Golden Boy Marcel Kittel keeps up his sprinting strength with Lasagne al Forno apparently.

As is traditional, the cookbook is divided into chapters including Soups & Starters, Vegetarian Dishes, Pasta & More, Fish & Seafood, Meat & Poultry and Desserts. Cyclists representing Poland, Switzerland, Germany, the USA, Spain, Italy, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, Portugal, Slovakia, Australia, Norway and Belgium reflect the United Nations (or at least mainly European Union) make-up of the pro peloton. Truly a bunch of Feinschmeckers!

A fine book that would be at home either on your cookbook shelf or in your cycling library, “Tour de Cuisine” is an excellent effort to unite gourmet cooking and road racing, two of the great pleasures in life. And in your heart you know that when Matthias Brändle (Swiss) broke the One Hour Record on October 30, he rode those 51.850 kms powered by Cheesecake with Strawberry Granita (page 194, 1 hour preparation time coincidentally).

“Tour de Cusine” published by BORA in conjunction with Teubner Verlag
200 pp., illus, hardbound
Suggested price: 39.90 Euros
It is available as of now at in German (ISBN: 978-3-8338-4538-3), English (ISBN: 978-3-8338-4642-7), French (ISBN: 978-3-8338-4643-4), Italian (ISBN: 978-3-8338-4644-1), Spanish (ISBN: 978-3-8338-4646-5) and Dutch (ISBN: 978-3-8338-4645-8). It will also be available at fancy cooking equipment stores.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Book Review: "Fast After 50" by Joe Friel

We are indeed living in the Age of the MAMIL—Middle-Aged Men in Lycra abound. Where once bicycles were sneered at as children's toys or for those too poor to afford motorized transport we now have astonishing two-wheelers, crafted of the highest of high-tech materials in the exotic Far East and featuring electronic shifting and featherlight wheelsets for five-figure sums that would buy excellent used cars. Gran fondo events have become all the rage in North America, catching up to European counterparts, and thousands are spent on travel packages to let the well-heeled enjoy the cobbles of Paris-Roubaix or retrace the Tour de France route itself. Middle age may not just bring the wherewithal to indulge in these luxuries but also some unpleasant surprises and noted coach and author Joe Friel brings succour to those who find their bikes losing weight in inverse proportion to themselves in his latest book “Fast After 50—How To Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life.”

Joe Friel has trained endurance athletes since 1980, including national champions, world championship contenders, and Olympic athletes in triathlon, duathlon, road cycling, and mountain biking.
He is an elite-certified USA Triathlon and USA Cycling coach and holds a master’s degree in exercise science. He conducts training and racing seminars around the world and provides consulting services for corporations in the fitness industry so he knows a great deal about athletics but the book had its genesis in his sudden realization that he was about to turn 70. He writes about his milestone birthday: “My greatest concern was that it might signal the beginning of the end of my lifelong adventure as a serious athlete. I simply didn't know what to expect.”

With six months to go until the dreaded day, he delved into the scientific literature to determine what his future might hold. Since writing a previous book (“Cycling Past 50”) published in 1998, he learned that the huge baby boom generation, a cohort entering their 60s in 2005, meant a significant increase in studies on aging and the patterns he saw in them came together in this new book.
“By the time we're in our 50s, it's just starting to become apparent that things are going the wrong way. The first thing that athletes typically notice around that age is that they don't recover from a race or a hard training session as quickly as they did a few years earlier. And not only that—race times are slowing, there's a loss of power, hills seem steeper, and other performance markers are also looking worse. What can be done?”

Apparently not all is lost! We learn that there is a surprisingly low deterioration in the performance of elite athletes as they move through their race age groups. But there is a reduction and Mr. Friel forces us to look at the grim truth in Part 1 of the book, entitled “Older, Slower, Fatter?” This examines the various theories of aging (and the book is festooned with footnotes to indicate just how much serious research went into it). There is a sad list of what happens with aging: skin loses elasticity; hair thins and turns grey; high-frequency sounds become more difficult to hear; sleep quality declines; bone density is reduced; the basic metabolic rate slows down, resulting in weight gain...well, that's enough for the general population. But for athletes this means aerobic capacity declines; maximal heart rate is reduced; muscle fibres are lost and so forth. The “Big Three” aging limiters for athletes are reduced by the author to:
  1. Decreasing aerobic capacity;
  2. Increasing body fat;
  3. Shrinking muscles.
There is an inevitability to this but recognition of these three effects and the acceptance that one might not be as fast as one was in his or her 20s or 30s but that it is more important to live up to the potential fitness one might have is the heart of “Fast After 50.”

Frankly, it was disconcerting to read through this catalogue, as well-researched as it might be, and feel the cold breath of the Grim Reaper close by. The author realizes the effect and writes: “I know what you're thinking and I agree. There wasn't much in the way of good news in this chapter. Unfortunately, there's even more to the downside of aging that's been left unexplored. {In addition to the Big Three limiters}...we may also include other changes that senior athletes often experience, such as increased risk of injury and a weakened immune system that makes them more susceptible to disease.” Sigh.

Luckily, Part 2 arrives: Faster, Stronger, Leaner! This was designed to address the problems set out in the first section by noting that aging is a blend of genetics and lifestyle (in an unknown ratio) but research has shown that the process can be speeded up or reduced through something we can control. The physiology of training is no different with age although capacity may be reduced so it is by modifying our lifestyle we can truly reach the potential high performance of our athletic endeavours.

Given that the book is aimed at people who are already familiar with athletic activity, Mr. Friel does not need to go into detail about things like goal-setting but covers the importance of high-intensity training and avoiding the tendency to comfortable training levels and easier workouts that we slide into. With clear goals set we move onto periodization to avoid overtraining and then into advanced training that makes allowances for the aging athlete, including sections on strength training (not only to improve performance but to stop age-related loss of muscle mass) and on to the importance of rest and recovery. There is an entire chapter devoted to body fat and nutrition and how to deal with those shrinking Lycra jerseys. In addition to his own research, the author has called in interesting contributions from a number of noted sports figures, including the truly ageless Ned Overend of mountain bike fame.

The book ends on a hopeful note as the author believes that the baby-boomers will bring about statistical changes in the expected decline after 70. “If you count yourself among this group, then you are part of the most athletic and performance-focused generation in history. I believe you will rewrite the numbers in such a way that we may soon find that the rate of decline for athletes in their eighth decade of life is no greater than it was in the previous 10 years.”

Coach, author, competitor, septuagenarian: Joe Friel

Alas, a month after he reached 70 Mr. Friel crashed on a training ride when a strong gust of wind blew him into a curb. He broke seven bones and received a concussion and subsequently developed blood clots in his legs and lungs. He expects to be racing again on his 71st birthday and invites his readers to write to him about their experiences with the ideas and suggestions in this thoughtful, well-written and groundbreaking book. We wish him a speedy and complete recovery and look forward to “Even Faster After 80” which we anticipate will come out in 2030. We will be ready!

“Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life”
by Joe Friel
328 pp., some chart illustrations, paperback
VeloPress, Boulder, Colorado, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-937715-26-7
Suggested retail price: US$21.95
For more information about this and other VeloPress publications go to

The Rik van Steenbergen Classic

Once again Springtime approaches and with it appear the flahutes, the tough men of the Low Countries, and the fans congregate on the narrow roads beneath the leaden skies of Belgium to watch their heroes and the air is redolent with frites and beer and rain or dust or both. There are brutal climbs to conquer and nasty cobblestones that bite in these races where, unlike the famous Grand Tours, you only have a single day to become a legend. And amongst Belgium's cycling legends, near the very top, one finds the name of Rik van Steenbergen.

 Born in Arendonk in 1924 into a poor family, he worked as an errand boy and a cigar-roller and began racing at 14. During World War II he blossomed into one of Belgium's top juniors and then after turning pro in 1942 he won the Tour of Flanders in 1944 and again in 1946. His palmarès impress: three times Road World Champion; double wins at Paris-Roubaix and La Flèche Wallonne; victory at Paris-Brussels; at Milan-San Remo; 40 Six Day Races won; 15 stages wins at the Giro; four wins at the Tour de France; six stages of the Vuelta—and these are only the major victories. It is estimated that in his career, which ended in 1966, he won nearly 1,000 races. A sprinter, he was challenged by climbs but still managed a second place overall at the Giro d'Italia in 1951. It is said that if he had concentrated on stage races rather then enter every race he could find he would have had even greater success but perhaps that ignores the economic conditions of post-war Belgium and reflects the small earnings of even the best pro cyclists.

Post-retirement Rik van Steenbergen (left) with Peter Post, 1967
Life after racing was hard for the man they called “Rik I” and he adjusted poorly. Troubled by a gambling addiction and other vices he spent time in prison. At one point he even starred in an adult film before stabilizing his life with the help of his English wife. He died in Antwerp in 2003, aged 78.

To honour this great cyclist, a race was established in 1991 in the area where he grew up and trained. The GP Rik van Steenbergen, later named the Memorial Rik van Steenbergen, gained in importance and became a UCI 1.1 event in 2005. Past winners have included Mario Cipollini, Tom Steels, Andrei Tchmil, Tom Steels, Tom Boonen, and Greg Van Avermaet. Theo Bos was the last victor, taking the win in 2012 for Rabobank. Since then race organizers have been unable to raise sufficient sponsorship and the Memorial Rik van Steenbergen is in danger of becoming a mere memory itself.

A series of amateur cycling events are organized every year in Belgium by Proximus Cycling and in years past there was a Rik van Steenbergen Classic, giving riders the opportunity to ride the same roads that Rik I rode as well as retracing the path of those competing in the Memorial. It began in the same town as the Memorial, Aartselaar, located a short distance south of Antwerp and last year I was joined by my friend Bernd who was willing to drive on a scorching hot day (quite unlike what you will find at the Spring Classics!) to the start.

Bernd meets Belgian cobblestones!

Registration with Proximus is easy and inexpensive, with most events costing 8-10 Euros, and we found ourselves checking in at a big sports centre on the outskirts of town. It was no problem to find our way following the purple arrows Proximus puts up everywhere (and reuses for each event in the caldendar) and soon we were rolling through the Flemish countryside, joined from time to time by other riders but usually enjoying the trip by ourselves.

I will not exaggerate the attractiveness of the landscape. Much of Flanders is board-flat but the occasional monotony of the route was broken up by long sections alongside canals and detours through interesting and ancient small towns, with narrow cobbled streets and impressive churches. Buildings were brick and solid and everything had an intimate feel: it was if you were just cycling around your neighbourhood.  Although my neighbourhood does not offer gigantic greenhouses producing eggplant!

The route was not terribly challenging, with only 462 m of climbing during a ride of 120 kms, but that was fitting since van Steenbergen was a sprinter, after all. The road takes one south past Rumst and over the Rupel River before heading southeast towards Mechelen along the Dilje. The road continues straight and then a turn to the east takes you up the sole hill of note at Km. 54.7. Proximus offers refreshment at each 40 kms or so of the ride and we were looking forward to the next break. Gradually the loop takes you north again and at Km 98 the next refreshment stop beckoned: the Ordal mineral water plant in Ranst! After relaxing in the cool warehouse and sampling many of the company's refreshing products we only had another 20 kms of riding ahead of us to bring us back to Aartselaar.

No medals, no timekeeping, no jerseys. It was a simple enjoyable day riding in Flanders, where nobody looks at you strangely for riding a racing bicycle and wanting to pretend you are Rik I in his glory days.

Rik van Steenbergen monument in Arendonk

Proximus Cycling Challenge offers an extensive calendar of events and begins 2015 with its own version of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday, February 28, followed by Dwars door Vlaanderen on March 20 and its Gent-Wevelgem on March 27. Ride lengths are 30, 50, 80 or 110 kms and while the number of rides has gone up from 12 to 14 over seven months the Rik van Steenbergen Classic is not among them in 2015. But if you find yourself in Belgium with a bike and a yearning to be part of the legend just sign up!

Proximus Cycling Challenge can be found at