More to come after the women’s race tomorrow – but a fine day out despite the result.
I was told by a cycling colleague here in Brussels that I am “unusual”.
He explained that he found it really rare to find someone who was working in cycling advocacy and transport cycling who was also connected to cycle racing.
I suppose this means I should apologise to my regular blog followers who had signed up to this thinking they were reading about about cycling culture and travel. Instead you have just had a series of raves and rants about British success at the Tour de France.
Actually I’m as surprised as you are!
When I started this blog I expected to put up the occasional post about racing because it is part of my world and my roots in cycling. But when Eurosport commentator David Harmon said on during Tour de France commentary on Saturday “I never expected this in my lifetime” I was with him. Despite loving the success of the British track cycling team in the last 12 years and cheering all Cavendish’s wins on the road winning the overall in the Tour is something that is almost impossible to conceive for a British fan. Amazing being in Brussels this week and getting big celebratory handshakes off an Italian and being gifted a copy of Monday’s L’Equipe with Bradley Wiggins on the cover by an American.
I don’t feel unusual, but if I look around my community I guess I am. I have used bikes for both sport, travel and transport throughout my life, but in a country with only 30,000 racing cyclists and a transport mode share of 2% you are part of a fairly exclusive community to do either cycle racing or transport. In the high transport cycling countries like the Netherlands and Denmark the racing cyclists are of course a tiny minority even if the orange jerseys are part of a continuous successful racing tradition. And in reverse in Belgium, France or Italy – here the sport is king in terms of media and profile and they are struggling to rebuild a transport culture even if the numbers of daily cyclists actually outnumber the racers.
So I hope you will forgive me. “Normal service will be resumed shortly” probably means sometime after the Olympics, because despite my moaning and groaning about the tickets I will be by the roadside on Saturday, Sunday and Wednesday with fingers crossed for the British team.
But for the moment let me enjoy my Tour de France moment. We have had to adopt almost anyone who spoke English as a champion for so many years – Irish, American, Australian and then a Canadian at the Giro d’Italia leaving the British celebrating crumbs from your table.
My Dad and I were sharing our reactions on Sunday and he immediately flashed back to his first entry into cycling in the early 50s when names like Coppi and Bartali were exotic gods read about in obscure magazines with black and white photos. Tim Hilton’s book “One more kilometre and we’re in the showers” (reviewed in the library) tells the story of being a cyclist in that period and paints the picture really well.
My own personal journey into Tour mythology starts at age 6 when I recall my dad freaking out when he was told “Simpson is dead”. I had no idea who, where or why Simpson mattered, but I still remember his response. We were of course by the roadside at a race start point at the time – it was a fixture in my childhood.
Then grainy TV coverage – just 10 minutes per week on World of Sport to cover the whole Tour for so many years, but much better to get the poster pages from Cycling magazine or Miroir du Cyclisme. I had a great picture of Merckx climbing in the classic Molteni colours on my wall for many years – British success was rare.
And the visits to the great event – Paris twice as a teenager, Alp D’Huez as a student and then two Tours in the UK were mainly exotic foreign fare. Sean Yates leading the peloton up Ditchling Beacon in 1994 was brilliant, as were the million people that came to London in 2007. But travelling hundreds of km across France to St Brieuc to watch Chris Boardman in the Tour prologue was more typical. He never even made it to our spot on the course, crashing out and fracturing his ankle on the wet road after less than 5km of a three week event.
I rode L’Etape du Tour in 2001 over the Aspin and the Tourmalet, then watched Lance destroy the field once again over the same terrain.
Other occasional heroes – Barry Hoban, Robert Millar, Sean Yates, Graham Jones, Paul Sherwen and the ANC Halfords team.
When Channel 4 started covering the Tour every evening at peak time we learned so much more about the race under the smooth tutelage of Phil Liggett and later the ramblings of David Duffield on Eurosport. I certainly would not have dreamed that I would work with Phil and David later on, nor that the occasional commentator that worked as CTC’s Mountain Bike Officer would go on to be the same David Harmon who was moved by Bradley Wiggins last week
The current generation of riders changes everything for us fans, culminating in the yellow jersey this week. It’s been a long road, so forgive me for a week or two.
In honour of one of sport’s legendary commentaries and to commemorate British success in the Tour de France. See you all on the road on #yellowsunday
“Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Bernard Hinault, Brigitte Bardot, we have beaten them all, we have beaten them all. Francois Hollande can you hear me? Francois Hollande your boys took a hell of a beating!”
Going to tweet this over to Eurosport – sadly as an international broadcaster I’m sure David Harmon is far too professional these days to yell this when Cavendish hits the front on the Champs tomorrow, but one could dream.
Bjørge Lillelien, Norwegian sports journalist and commentator made the original when he commentated on Norway’s 2-1 victory against England in a World Cup qualifier in Oslo on 9 September 1981. At the end of the match, alternating between English and Norwegian, he proclaimed (in Norwegian) “We are best in the world! We have beaten England! England, birthplace of giants”, before taunting a roll call of famous English people.
“Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana, vi har slått dem alle sammen, vi har slått dem alle sammen [we have beaten them all, we have beaten them all]. Maggie Thatcher, can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher [...] your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!”
Wikipedia has a good list of other parodies and a link to the original commentary which is brilliant. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bj%C3%B8rge_Lillelien
Read this great blog On Sunday I shall wear yellow. and thought I'd have a go. Dusted off my poetry skills, realised my kit was of pretty poor quality but thought I'd give it a go anyway.
Please comment on ideas for any alterations and amendments that might improve my rhetorical performance.
Here's my Thursday tea-time effort.
With acknowledgements to the wonderful Jenny Joseph poem “Warning, when I am old”
On Sunday I shall wear yellow,
And celebrate Wiggo even if yellow doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my money on a celebratory coffee and cake,
I will ride around and there will be no time for gardening.
I shall sit in my saddle and ride till I’m tired,
Wheel around the countryside and wave to the rest,
And know that we can shout about cycling,
And make up for the years from Anquetil to Armstrong
The challenge is on – if Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France on Sunday can we get every Sunday cyclist in the country to wear at least a dash of yellow? I have been folllowing cycle racing for over 40 years and this one has to be celebrated, even the BBC have noticed!
Can cycling’s poets come up with a better poem that starts with the opening line “On Sunday I shall wear yellow”?
The original: From “Warning” Jenny Joseph, 1961
When I an old woman I shall wear purple,
With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves.
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter,
I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,
And run my stick along the public railings,
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I was quite disappointed with the lack of resources on the web when I was researching my recent cycle tour in British Columbia. It was only a short trip in summer so the risks of getting anything significantly wrong were quite low but it was quite a frustrating process.
Putting “cycle touring” or “bicycle touring” British Columbia into search engines most of what I found was commercial tour operators or tourism sites that then provided no content or links to mountain biking centres. This may be linked to how few cyclists I actually saw. It was the height of summer and I only saw three tourists despite the amazing routes I was riding.
Half a dozen useful comments might have alleviated some angst, so for what it is worth here are the things I wish I had known before I set out, written down to help any future travellers, in particular those more used to touring in Europe. It is not at all a definitive guide, it would be great if someone in BC gave some thought to this, it would really help.
Route planning – roads
My biggest fear was the fact that the bulk of the route seemed to offer nothing but main roads including Highway 1 which in any country probably indicates a very major route.
I spend time online and looking at maps to see if there were alternatives because I was quite concerned and I really couldn’t find any advice. Certainly most of the bike routes online seemed to use main roads so I guessed I would be OK.
In reality I didn’t have much to worry about for three main reasons.
However I will give this a health warning. There were some busy sections I cycled near Kamloops and Kelowna, but in both cases there were alternatives near these larger towns. My section of Highway 1 was bypassed by an alternative new route and when the two sections recombined it was much busier. The short section of a major truck route on Highway 97 North/South just north of Cache Creek indicated that this might not have been so much fun had I chosen to follow it for a long distance. And some colleagues reported that they felt that the provision of a cycle route alongside the 4 lane highway from Vancouver to Whistler just did not look safe because of vehicle speeds, but the person who rode it didn’t complain and I felt it didn’t look too bad from the bus.
However in general I would strongly say that even these specific examples were manageable and the rest were amazingly quiet and I really don’t know why I worried.
Second health warning – I wonder what this is like nearer to winter, because I guess snow could fill the shoulders even if the road is ploughed for vehicles.
I would also flag that there were really no alternatives except dirt roads in many cases. For example I spent a lot of time looking at alternatives from Cache Creek to Kamloops to avoid Highway 1. I thought it might be possible to go to Ashcroft and follow dirt roads to Savona. But I looked at several sources on paper and on line but I never really did work out whether the road went through, and one mystery line turned out to be a railway, not a road!
From the plane on my way back to Vancouver I got a much better understanding of the wide network of dirt roads in the back country because the dry weather had dried them to a yellow sand or clay colour which contrasted to the forest well. However I would not have wanted to risk them without very good mapping and a satnav or compass, and a full mountain bike because there was not a flat section in sight.
Maps and routes
I bought a map of Southern British Columbia from Amazon before I left for some route planning and stupidly managed to lose it but it was okay for planning. (British Columbia South: ITM.113)
So in Vancouver I looked for some alternatives. It was a complete disaster. The one and only map shop in Downtown Vancouver had closed and the alternative shops had a rubbish selection of town maps or maps on a huge scale that did not give enough detail for cycling. I thought I might do better in Whistler, but for an outdoor town the selection was to my eyes still really poor.
The only maps that appeared anything like the detail I would expect were a couple of atlases calling themselves “Backroads” atlases aimed at 4 Wheel Drive vehicles or Trail motorbikes. However the atlases did not cover all of my routes and would have cost me over $50 for limited benefit.
In the end I navigated using Google Maps, Bikely and pages torn from tourist guides for each region. This was of course possible because of my first point above – I was sticking to the main roads and so very large scale maps were all I needed. And in reality the maps on sale tended to meet that need – a country where the long distances mean people need big maps just to travel between population centres, or detailed local maps for the back country trails used to get into the woods or hills. Neither of these really work for the cycle tourist, but in hindsight I was not significantly disadvantaged by a lack of maps.
Real credit must go to online bike route website Bikely. Almost every road I wanted to ride had been covered by someone who had done it before so maps and profiles were available. It occasionally took some detective work to isolate just the section of road I needed and combine it with others to get an overall profile. But other sections were a perfect match, another rider doing just the same section. The key elements I needed were the confidence that the main roads were rideable and the route elevation profiles which told me the climbing. I also found mapping site geokov map maker which was great for topography.
The other thing I didn’t really find online but I now know exist are some interesting long distance cycle routes which might well have been good to try and incorporate had I known. Simple but bonkers fact is that the Trans-Canada Trail web site does not contain the word “touring” anywhere so will never be found in a search engine looking for cycle touring routes.
In Whistler I discovered that the Sea to Sky route which comes from Vancouver is being extended beyond Whistler and is intended to go on and link up with other Trans-Canada routes which form a greenway network across Canada. The section to the East of Whistler is going to be an offroad trail running away from the main highway. However it will be much slower than the road route because it climbs more and the surface is rougher but it will be great for those looking for leisurely and scenic riding.
I also found that I was riding close to an amazing cycle route called the Kettle Valley Trail which is part of a whole network of former railway lines. The “trestles” or wooden railway bridges and tunnels have in many cases been restored and apparently provide some great cycle routes. There are published guides and histories which would have made a good pre-read and I could have aimed to include some of them in my route had I found them beforehand. Doh!
This route was in Southern British Columbia which is the relatively densely populated part of the province. Despite that there were long sections that had absolutely no services. I could easily have made some big mistakes and left myself without food and drink because these sections did include access to camp grounds and provincial park centres but unlike similar venues in other countries most of these had no public services such as shops or cafes. The ubiquitous RVs may partly be to blame, even campers travel with a week’s supplies on board.
However I am told the real reason even quite big and popular camping grounds have no services is because the season is so short and it isn’t commercially viable to open a business based on just a few weeks’ sales. Therefore I carried extra food and even put a filled a Camelback bladder with extra water in my panniers for a couple of legs.
The best guide I found was the web site Mile by Mile which actually specified what was available along a number of the roads I used but I would suggest caution because opening times can be a bit hit and miss too.
The roads I used were in excellent condition and could be tackled on almost any road bike. I only experienced a couple of dirt roads and generally they were good too, but steep, up to 13% gradients.
However I would strongly recommend consideration of a 26 inch wheeled mountain bike set up as a road tourer. The roads are steeper than continental Europe with 10-13% encountered on several occasions so the lower gears of the MTB would be useful. I was over-geared on the bike I bought, I should have got the freewheel changed as it was probably only about a 25 tooth on a road triple which wasn’t enough. But perhaps more importantly the BC mountain bike scene is vibrant and you will find spares and repairs much easier to find, even in small towns. If you are going to buy a second hand bike as I did the range of MTBs on offer is much wider too.
That doesn’t mean foregoing dropped handlebars, I have regularly adapted them on to MTBs but I used some bar ends to get a different handlebar position.
I stayed in motels booked through web sites apart from the Alta Vista chalet run by Bear Back in Whistler. No real plans to carry camping gear around or buy it in Vancouver.
The advantage of the motels were:
Alta Vista Chalet would be worth using as a base (if not booked out) even if you are passing through Whistler on tour. It is a little cycling mecca – everyone on the staff and visitors is a cyclist, there is a really good workshop in the basement and the food is of the type and quantity that we love!
Three new “songs of the rides” from my British Columbia Tour on the Music to ride Bikes by page.
I really do have very little idea how my mind works with these songs of the rides. I have six days of cycling and three of them had their own theme tunes. Each song totally different in tone and origin, one just a fragment that stuck as it passed.
But each is as much a memory of the day as the words and photos in the main blog.
I hope you are singing as you are riding.
Final proper day of the tour – 135km to meet my friends camping by Lake Okanagan just north of Kelowna’s Westside. 271miles/440km since I left Whistler, the tour is over, a glass of local wine by the beach to celebrate.
With pained memories of my previous long day just 3 days ago and the forecasts of temperatures well into the 30s all day I studied the ride and route profile assuming a day similar to day 1 – long and hard. As it was I had one of those special days on the bike where everything seemed to work out perfectly, the scenery was great and the miles just disappeared under the wheels making it a great end to my short tour.
I shall do some roundup posts about one or two subjects when I get home, but a thoroughly enjoyable four days in a stunning country. So glad I did it.
Because of the heat I was out of the motel and on the road by 6am with the intention of bowling along the valley from Kamloops to my main climb out of the valley as early as possible.
Odd bit of signposting as I left the motel, the marked bike route sent me almost immediately onto the shoulder of Highway 1 where I was to spend the next 26km despite the fact that most of the way alongside the main highway were a combination of service roads and residential roads that would make a perfectly good linear cycle network all the way along the valley.
However today it didn’t matter, it was early on a Saturday morning so the number of vehicles was minimal and there was no wind at all.
In fact the overwhelming feeling was of a day that was going to be a scorcher. The heat haze was almost mist already down the valley and in fact it never left all day, running any prospects for good photography.
The road was just gently rolling and the hard shoulder was wide and well surfaced which just invited me to get into a slightly tucked position with my forearms resting on the handlebars and my hands just gripping the cables, reminiscent of a time trial position without tri-bars. Even the knobbly tyres seemed to roll without too much drag and I polished off the first 26km to the climb really easily.
This was slow and sticky, at least at the bottom, so I just tapped my way up easily, trying to conserve energy and not get too warm. But it was only a 400m climb alongside the relatively shallow gradient of a main road so it seemed to go quite quickly. The bonus was at the top when the road crested a small rise and dropped me into a beautiful green and fertile valley, just that bit cooler than the arid valley I had left.
At first the bottom of the valley was a flat area of grasslands and reeds fed by a steam, then the attractive Monte Lake with fishermen’s boats and a spectacular railway track hugging the far shore.
After the lake the valley opened out onto a pancake flat area of farms, many of them with sprinklers going flat out and my first signs of the famous Okanagan fruit crops with cherries for sale by the road.
Once again this road was so flat and inviting I ignored all the temptations to stop and just lay gently on my handlebars while bowling along at a really good pace. In my mind’s eye I could see those days in the Tour de France when the peleton has 200km or more to ride across the baking plains of the Vendee and the teams send the “rouleurs” to the front to just eat up the kilometres at a steady pace. Nothing like the same pace on my laden steed but the feeling of just knocking off the miles quickly was enjoyment in itself.
At the end of the open valley section the surrounding hills suddenly closed in to form a narrow V and I was descending again towards my chosen mid ride break at Falkland. Nearly 50 miles/80km achieved over an hour ahead of plan so I treated myself to a breakfast and home-cooked blueberry pie just to celebrate. I chose the rather twee café which looked like an English tea room because I liked the seat on the terrace, but I don’t know anywhere at home that also has a mural of their “Stampede” on the wall, the Falkland Stampede being the town’s biggest event of the year. I guess we would understand it as a rodeo, but I gather the rodeo is just one of the events in a celebration of all things cowboy and country.
From Falkland the road then descended at varying gradients for almost another 30km until I emerged into the north end of the Okanagan valley which features a lake 135km long. The valley is the home of a busy tourism industry, British Columbia’s wine growing and fertile farming district.
My destination was ultimately Kelowna but my friends from the city were camping at Fintry, some 30km north of the city on the west side of the lake so I was able to turn down the quiet West Side Drive to complete my trip. I was feeling so pleased with myself I initially tried to slipstream two road cyclists on skinny lightweights as they came past but that idea lasted no more than a few metres of downhill before I was gasping for breath and my legs reminded me that this was day 4.
I was pleased I didn’t have to do any seriously big climbs, by now it was 1.30, the heat was stifling and the tarmac was melting on the road.
Fintry was a delight, the former property of a rich Scottish man who had inherited some wealth and used it to escape to Canada and try to build a model farm on the banks of the lake almost 100 years ago. Today the old house is a museum and the area is mostly a delightful family camping ground by the lake where I was able to relax and have an afternoon snooze after a refreshing glass of white.
I even justified carrying a can of extra strong insect spray all the way from Whistler – the only downside of the location!
I am really sorry I’m not there, but I hope everyone has a good time. Now I just have to come to your 75th, no tours to be planned.
To my blog followers – indulge me – its nice to say something about your Mum on line! Novelty silly cycling hat supplied by Velo-city organisers just for the occasion.
I think I must have been complacent after yesterday’s ride and not eaten enough breakfast because I was caught by surprise after only 25 miles when my legs went to jelly in the pleasant and sleepy lakeside township of Savona.
A big shout out to the Roadside Diner therefore, your massive Roadside Omelette with refills of coffee and sourdough toast saved me.
Traffic worries – or not?
I wasn’t sure what to expect from today. The simple facts were 85km from Cache Creek to Kamloops and only a few hundred metres of climbing. But I was quite concerned that I was now joining Canada’s Highway 1, the Trans-Canada and the many trucks seen in Cache Creek could be coming my way. Plus the forecast for Kamloops was heading for 34 degrees, so I certainly didn’t want to be out in the main heat surrounded by traffic.
I have no idea why I worried. Most of the trucks I had seen the previous day were heading north as a new link has bypassed this East-West section of Highway 1. It is amazing to see that in any country a road designated number 1 was so lowly trafficked until much later in the morning. Most of the way it had at least a 1 metre shoulder and the drivers were unfailingly courteous, pulling far wider than expected or needed as the passed me. For long periods I was alone listening to birdsong and crickets.
The only exception was as I approached Kamloops. Volumes of vehicles shot up from traffic re-joining off the alternative route and the city itself was far bigger and busier than I had imagined. I guess I had been expecting the next size up from the small towns of previous days but this is a big, bustling town, a real shock to the system.
Actually little to report. Much of the riding itself was on open arid plateau or similar wide valley, irrigated to support crops with the road visible in the hazy heat winding into the distance.
It was very hot and I am frustrated that after lavish doses of factor 30 I neglected the tops of my legs which I never need to cover at home, by June they are always well browned. But of course this has not been that sort of summer in Europe and I have a painful pink line which I won’t share.
Other reflections on the way: Savona was a sweet, sleepy place and the locals take amazing pride in their lakeside gardens and flowers, shocks of colour against the dry scrubby landscape.
But almost every other house in Savona appeared to be for sale and all the way along there were what could be dream houses for sale. The real estate collapse in Canada was very much in evidence here.
In the big town I was quite taken aback at having to battle traffic and navigation to get to my motel.