Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Cremorne to Bondi Junction

As reporters covering the ultimate cycling job, we won't just be expected to take some decent photos of the tour - although we think we've got that covered. We won't just have to find interesting and unusual ways to light up the internet with eye-catching information about our rides either - although we think we've got that covered too.

We want to be able to paint the word-pictures which will leave you informed and entertained - and maybe a little bit jealous - as we wind our way through the beautiful regions of France.

Since we aren't in France, however, we've decided to make do with what we have here and tell you about Mark's commute to and from work.

By way of background, Mark lives in the beautiful, leafy suburb of Cremorne. Newly married, Mark lives with his lovely wife Anna, and travels by scooter (Vespa, no less ... très européenne!), from his home in Cremorne to his work in an office in Bondi Junction.

Mark and his beautiful wife on their wedding day. Mark has promised not to wear his kilt while riding in France.
The last few weeks in Sydney have been unseasonably mild, allowing the local rural fire brigades to conduct hazard reduction burns - a fine sheen of smoke haze has settled over much of Sydney most mornings, leading to some stunning colours as the sun rises, and making the evenings quite spectacular as well.

Mark's ride to work takes him across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The bridge is no less impressive up close than it appears in all the tourist brochures, with the intricacy of the metal work similar to that on the Eiffel Tower, although on very much more of a monumental scale (sorry Paris).

For all of you trivia buffs out there, you might like to know that those four pylons at the ends of the main arch of the bridge...they're there for purely aesthetic purposes. They don't actually help hold the bridge up at all. They were added to the original design to hide the fact that the entire bridge rests on just 4 load bearing pins, each of which is just over 4 metres long and just over 36 centimeters (yes, centimeters) wide. But it's ok - each of the pins has a maximum load bearing thrust of around 20,000 tonnes.

Sydney Harbour in the evening
Once over the bridge, the daily slog through traffic starts. Although Mark believes in the adage that you aren't stuck in traffic, you are the traffic, his trusty Vespa allows him to zip around the edges (using legal methods only, of course) of those stuck in their steel cages. Thankfully, he works away from the central business district of Sydney, and the traffic soon eases. Riding past the large Centennial Park that dominates Sydney's Eastern Suburbs and heading for the beach-side suburb of Bondi isn't really that bad a way to start the working day. It's a leisurely 30 minute trip to work, mostly against the traffic flow, and to his desk where one of his first tasks is to check what's been happening in the world of cycling.

As nice as Mark's daily commute is, he'd be willing to trade it all in a flash for a trip around France reporting for CyclingTips. We hope we'll get the chance to make that dream a reality.

Keep pedalling.


Monday, 2 June 2014

Now we play the waiting game...

On Friday we submitted our application for the ultimate job reporting from the Tour de France for CyclingTips. We reckon our entry was pretty good and we hope the judges think so as well.

According to the CyclingTips website, the process for selecting the winning team will be as follows:
Once entries are closed we’ll go through all the applications we've received and narrow it down to a shortlist. Then we’ll call up everyone on the shortlist for an informal interview. And finally, late next week hopefully, we’ll announce our winners.
So today we're waiting by the phone like an angsty teenager after a first date, or a newly-recruited pro cyclist hoping to get on a team for their first grand tour. It's a nervous time indeed...

"Why won't you ring already?"
Of course we must be patient, but hopefully the rainy weather in Melbourne yesterday gave the judging panel a good opportunity to sit inside and review all the entries. Time will tell whether we have made the cut.

We'll keep you posted on our progress, but in the meantime, keep pedaling.


Sunday, 1 June 2014

Cycling, TV and Australia: a happy combination.

As we explained in our blog post the other day, watching a major event like the Tour de France on television is really not the same as being there. And whilst we hope to be given the opportunity to report from Le Tour this year, and provide a taste of what it's like to be in France during the largest annual sporting event in the world, we also want to acknowledge and celebrate some of the high quality cycling coverage we already enjoy here in Australia.

Naturally we include the coverage from CyclingTips in this category, but since shameless flattery is not really our modus operandi we will refrain from gushing and fawning over their fine publication. Instead, our focus today will be on another media outlet, one whose commitment to cycling over the years has taken many of us on the journey from recreational cyclist to sleep-deprived francophile over the course of three weeks in July. The organisation we are referring to is of course SBS, who for the past 24 years have been broadcasting the Tour de France to Australian television audiences.

Over the years, SBS has added other major cycling events to their coverage, such as Paris Roubaix and the World Championships, but in 2014, for the first time ever they broadcast every single stage of the Giro d'Italia live, both on TV and over the internet. I'm sure we're not alone in thinking that's a pretty awesome thing for Australian cycling.

SBS Giro d'Italia commentators Matt Keenan and Dave McKenzie
We're also pretty pleased to see that the Australian contingent of the Giro peloton this year have stepped up to impress their home audience. Here's a brief summary of some of the results that Aussies have produced over the past few weeks in Northern Ireland, Ireland and Italy:
Stage 1: Won by Australian team Orica-GreenEDGE
Stage 2: Australian Michael Matthews (Orica-GreenEDGE) moves into the overall race lead, whilst his team leads the teams classification.
Stages 3 & 4: Matthews and his team maintain their lead in the overall and teams classifications
Stage 5: Matthews still in the Maglia Rosa, fellow Australian Cadel Evans (BMC Racing) finishes 2nd on the stage.
Stage 6: Matthews wins the stage with Evans coming in 3rd. As well as the pink and white jerseys, Matthews also moves into the lead on the King of the Mountains classification.
Stage 7: Matthews retains his lead in the pink, blue and white jerseys.
Stage 8: Matthews relinquishes the overall lead to fellow Australian, Evans.
Stages 9 & 10: Evans retains the overall lead
Stage 11: Australian Michael Rogers (Tinkoff Bank - Saxo Bank) wins his first ever Grand Tour stage, whilst Evans retains the overall lead.
Stage 20: Rogers wins his second Grand Tour stage.
For more than half the stages in the race this year, either an Australian was wearing the Maglia Rosa at the end of the day or an Australian won the stage. Or both.

Now of course we're not saying that SBS's decision to televise the Giro this year caused the Australian athletes to perform so well, but we're willing to bet that the race results have given their ratings a decent boost.

We also want to take this opportunity to strongly encourage the bigwigs at SBS to screen the Vuelta a España this year too. Sure, it probably won't be good for national productivity if Aussie cycling fans now go without sleep in May, July and September, but the long-term benefits of more people watching cycling, and then ultimately participating in cycling for sport, recreation and transport, will be immeasurable. Let's make it happen!

Keep pedalling.


Saturday, 31 May 2014

Ride Report: "A Slice of Banana Pie"

We've had a busy week this week, blogging about our plan to score the ultimate job reporting from the Tour de France for CyclingTips, so today we thought we'd reward ourselves with a Saturday morning bike ride.

Living in Sydney, we're fortunate to have a wide menu of rides open to us. There are enough bike shops, cycling clubs and other groups organising bunch rides that no matter what your cycling ability there's bound to be something out there for you. This morning we decided to join the Bike North bunch on one of their favourite routes: A Slice of Banana Pie.

No fancy Strava art this time, sorry.
The ride started in Turramurra and followed the old Pacific Highway nearly all the way to Brooklyn, stopping for coffee at "Pie in the Sky" (a cafe/bakery popular with cyclists and motorcyclists alike) before returning to Turramurra via Bobbin Head. Since the construction of the M1 motorway the old Pacify Highway doesn't see a lot of car traffic, and with gorgeous views over Muogamarra Nature Reserve the road attracts a lot of two-wheeled visitors.

The Bike North bunch has a tendency to take rather a long coffee break mid-ride, which gave us the perfect opportunity to drop down the hill to the Hawkesbury River and then climb back up to the cafe, leaving just enough time for a quick macchiato before heading off again. Apart from a bit of smoke in the air from the hazard reduction fires burning nearby, conditions were perfect.

Macchiatos at Pie in the Sky - note the technically correct usage of the cycling cap
When you're a cyclist, this is what Saturday mornings are all about. Sometimes you ride further and go harder, other times it's shorter and easier, but when the sun's shining and you're having a post-ride coffee with mates, it's hard not to have a smile on your face.

Until tomorrow, keep pedalling!


Friday, 30 May 2014

Bergerac - Racing to win

In the Tour de France, it's not uncommon for the race for overall victory to remain wide open right up until the penultimate stage time trial, which this year will start in Bergerac in south-western France. By this stage of the race the main contenders will all have a fairly good grasp of each other's form, and as one-by-one the riders descend the starting ramp to begin their solo journey towards Périgueux, the time-checks will trickle in and the Classement Général will slowly reshuffle itself into its final configuration. Late in the day, as the crowds swell, the leaders of the race will face their final test, and they will be holding nothing in reserve.

Cadel Evans rides himself into the leader's jersey on stage 20 of the 2011 Tour de France (Photo from CyclingTips)
In the competition for the ultimate job reporting at the Tour de France for CyclingTips, we face our own Race of Truth: our formal entry submission is due today, and whilst we hope that our efforts blogging, tweeting and making Strava art will put us in a good starting position, our fortunes will rest on this final test.

We intend to hold nothing in reserve.

Yesterday we got a chance to see the form that some of our competitors are in and it's clear that this will be a very close race indeed. The competition organisers have given clear instructions on what they want to see:
Be creative. We want to see you thinking outside the square. So many media outlets cover the Tour de France in so much detail that it’s often hard to find something different to say. We want your coverage to be different. Show us how you’ll do that.
So we've responded with a written submission that highlights our enthusiasm and versatility, whilst outlining our overarching theme: there's nothing quite like being there.

Watching a bike race like the Tour de France on TV and reading about it online is great fun, but a lot of the coverage we get here in Australia can make the event feel like it's happening a million miles away (or at least ten-and-a-half thousand miles away). We want to give people a taste of what it's like to stand at the side of the road yelling "Allez! Allez!" as the sprinters' grupetto grinds its way up a fifteen percent grade and a drunk Belgian tells you for the third time about the day he out-sprinted Eddy Merkx to win a kermesse race in Flanders in the 1960s. These are the stories you don't get to see on TV, but they're the ones you remember decades later.

Our formal submission to the competition, which you can download here.
Lastly, we want to thank you for reading our blog this week. We were out and about yesterday morning and we filmed this short little video in front of Sydney Harbour. It's really just a "hello" and introduction, but we wanted to share it with you and say "Thanks".

Keep Pedalling.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Fifteen feet of pure white snow

Where is Mona?
She's long gone
Where is Mary?
She's taken her along
But they haven't put their mittens on
And there's fifteen feet of pure white snow

We couldn't let it go unacknowledged on our blog that there's a bike race happening in Italy at the moment. Nor could we ignore the fact that on Tuesday, 160 riders in this bike race suffered through 139 excruciating kilometres in some of the toughest conditions the two of us have ever seen.

Three towering peaks to climb, each more than 2000m in altitude; narrow, winding descents on wet, crumbling roads; sub-zero temperatures; and snow - all that snow.

Photo by Cor Vos / CyclingTips

I waved to my neighbour
My neighbour waved to me
But my neighbour
Is my enemy
I kept waving my arms 
Till I could not see
Under fifteen feet of pure white snow

Others have written about the controversy surrounding the descent of the Stelvio, so we really don't need to. Instead, our interest lies in the experiences of the fans, the support crews and the riders themselves on a day they will all remember for a long time, albeit a day some may want to forget. 

Sitting comfortably on a warm sofa (or in Mark's case, tucked cosily into bed), we watched in awe at the images on our screens. Our stomachs tensed with the futile death-throes of riders out of the saddle, as the gradient notched up and the wheel in front edged away. We grimaced at the near misses on cliff-edge corners, with nothing but snow-drifts below. And we rejoiced in the momentous glory as the stage winner crossed the line to claim the Maglia Rosa.

It's a beautiful sport, and we are grateful for those who suffer through days like these, inspiring the rest of us to push that little bit harder and climb that little bit higher.

Is there anyone else here who doesn't know?
We're under fifteen feet of pure white snow
 - Fifteen feet of pure white snow by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The sun was back out for yesterday's stage, and the roads were flatter, but we still say chapeau to the riders, the fans and all those who make this sport great.

Keep pedalling.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Le Domestique

Cycling is a team sport.

Although it's true that only one man can wear the Maillot Jaune on the Champs-Élysées, it is never a solo journey. Behind every Tour de France champion (or, more frequently, one wheel in front of him) is a long-suffering domestique. These guys know that they will never compete for overall honours, yet they work tirelessly to give the team leader the best possible opportunity to work his magic.

On rare occasions, when the race situation permits, a lowly domestique will be given permission to join a (probably-futile) breakaway and race not for his team leader, but for his own individual glory. For me, today is one of those days.

I'm Tom, Mark's faithful teammate and the scribe of this blog:

Lover of wine, cheese and cycling
I've been a cycling fan for a number of years and over that time I've been lucky enough to spend several fun weeks touring around the countryside on a bicycle.

For the last three years in a row, in April, I've spent a week riding 1,000km through country South Australia as part of SuperCycle, a charity event that this year alone raised over $445,000 to build accommodation for rural and regional cancer patients who need to travel to Adelaide for treatment.

Leading the peloton around a corner on SuperCycle 2013
I love cycling so much I convinced my wife to spend our honeymoon cycling 900km around New Zealand's South Island.

There were some long days on the bike...
...but we weren't exactly roughing it.
As a seasoned cycle-tourist I'm very excited at the prospect that Mark and I could be covering the Tour de France for CyclingTips. It's been a pipe dream for several years to visit France in July but the stars have never aligned. Perhaps this year will be the year.

Now as the finish line draws close and the peloton bears down on today's breakaway, only time will tell whether a stage win will be mine. Until then, and always, keep pedalling!