Thursday, April 28, 2011

Helping hand

Is everyone in Munich an avid cycling fan? I'm beginning to think so. And what makes me think this?... Well, the fact that almost everyone on a scooter is willing to motorpace a complete stranger on a bike in Lycra. 

In Australia, if you pull up beside someone on a scooter or motorbike, they would just laugh at you and take off as fast as they can. Most of the population wouldn't even know what motorpacing is. However, here in Munich, when I pull up behind a scooter at traffic lights, they adjust the mirror and when the light turns green, they motorpace me for as long as they can. No idea who I am and no idea where I am going. 

I know what you are thinking- I'm exaggerating. Surely, not every person with a scooter would do it. But honestly, we have had a 100% strike rate! It sure beats jumping behind trucks and is faster way to get around. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Can't go back.

When I am sitting at the gate waiting to catch a flight, I always wonder why some people get their names called out and have to go to the counter for a 'message'. Did they do something wrong? Are they on the wrong flight? Today, I found out why.

I was getting ready to board my flight to Dubai, when my name was called over the loud speaker. I went up to the counter and said my name was just called out for a message. 'You have receieved a free upgrade to business class, Sir.' Aaaahhhh, finally. I have heard people speak of this mythical free upgrade and have walked past business class several times but I have never had the privilege.


So what is different? Well, for starters you get to sit in your own booth with a chair that folds out completely flat so that you essentially have a bed and can go to sleep comfortably. Even when sitting upright I still had as much legroom as an emergency exit seat in economy. The hostesses wait on you hand and foot to bring drinks, magazines and nibblies. At meal time, they come and take your order from a far more extensive menu and bring it to you course by course on actual plates rather than a plastic tray. Then you can sit back in your massage chair and relax or freshen up with your complimentary toiletries bag. You even get a better blanket than economy and the headphones for the bigger television screen are noise cancelling. Upon arrival at Dubai, you don't have kankles from sitting in a chair for 9 hours and you get fast tracked through immigration.

To top off a great flight, I just managed to reach my silver status on the frequent flyer reward program so I am currently sitting in the Emirates lounge, eating breakfast after a refreshing hot shower.

What is the downside to this??? Well, I am currently waiting for my next flight to Munich, where I have to go back to cattle class and lose all of the luxuries of business class. I don't think I can do it.

Self control

After crashing out of the Tour of Korea on stage 3, I was left to help with daily jobs and the tedious task of transferring to a different hotel everyday. This meant a lot of sitting in a car and waiting for the riders to arrive at the finish line. Due to my bike and leg suffering so damage, it also meant that I could not ride for the remainder of the tour either.

When I don't get to ride, generally, I feel fat and lazy and get a little grumpy (my wife will confirm this). In fact, I'm a bit concerned about when I do stop riding because I'm sure my weight will blow out within a month. The problem with being unable to ride whilst following a tour is the food.

Every meal is an all you can eat buffet style with all the carbs you can imagine. Normally, riders stuff themselves with all the food they can so that they have enough fuel for the next stage. The most energy I will be expending over the next week is raising my arm to press the elevator button so during meals I have had to control myself. I have been eating a lot of salad and failing in every possible way to stay away from the dessert section. I just can't help myself.

So as my food baby enters the second trimester, I am looking forward to getting back to Germany, fixing my bike and burning off some of these extra calories.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Sufferfest

Whenever you do a race, you always learn something. Something that you will do differently next time. Something that you will need to bring next time.
Something that you will need to buy next time. This might be food, equipment of clothing for every type of weather condition. Today was one of those days where you learn a lot.
 
Stage 7 was a 200km stage through some very mountainous terrain. From kilometer zero, the race went straight uphill so those more climbing challenged will have a difficult day. But this is not the worst part. In the mountains it is a little cold. In fact, it was 5 degrees celcius at the start of the stage. Normally, this is not a problem- you simply put on a million layers to block out the wind. The thing is, we woke to a cold and wet day.
 
 
Rain fell consistently all morning before the start. Outside you could barely see 50m into the distance as a thick fog covered the mountains and the wet, slippery roads were going to be a nightmare for the riders on the tricky descents. Standing in a full tracksuit, beanie and second jumper, I was freezing, nevermind riding in it. With the wind chill factor, it was going to be like sitting in a freezer with a fan on in wet clothes.
 
Before the start, riders did everything they could to keep out the wind and water. Heating oils, glad wrapped limbs and bodies, taped up helmets and socks, surgical gloves, plastic bags on feet and for some, taped up dishwashing gloves for extra grip and warmth.
 
 
102 riders started the stage and it was clear that not everyone was going to be able to suffer through it. By the 80km mark, around 20 riders had already climbed aboard the broom wagon, with some literally only able to crawl on their hands and knees. By the end of the race, this had grown into the 30's.
 
 
As riders crossed the finish line, they were caught by their trainers with grimace on the faces, trembling bodies and crab claws for hands as they were unable to feel their fingers. They were rushed off to the team cars to warm up before hypothermia set in. This meant dry clothes, hot coffee and even vodka to get the blood flowing. It was a true day of suffering.
 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Overrated???

I have managed to go for 29 years of my life without seeing snow. Coming from Queensland and going to a school that did not embrace the annual ‘ski trip’, meant I had very few opportunities to even get close to snow. Family holidays were always had at the beach or in national parks so the closest thing I have seen to snow is the ice you scrape off the sides of your freezer when you have not defrosted it for three years and you are sure there is an Icey-pole buried in the back somewhere.

Today saw us arrive at O2 Resort in Taebaek, for stage 7 of the Tour of Korea. O2 Resort is a multi-season resort that has amazing ski fields in Winter and an international golf course and leisure park in Summer. We arrived at the end of the skiing season, just as things are becoming greener for the warmer months. In previous editions of the Tour of Korea, there have been bouts of snow in this area so I was hoping that I may get a chance to witness this. (This is only due to the fact that my crash means I don’t have to ride in it, otherwise I would be praying for the exact opposite!)

On the slopes of the ski fields, I was able to see the remnants of the ski season with left over snow at the top. On television, snow looks so enjoyable. Soft, white, fluffy fun. People frolic in it so care free. I took a stroll to the ski slopes to see what all the fuss is about and what I found was... well... the stuff you scrape off the side of your freezer when you haven’t defrosted it for three years. That, and bitter disappointment.


People have assured me that this is not a true representation of snow but just the dregs that are left over and I need to see fresh snow as it falls from the sky. So, the wait continues.

Overcautious

After traveling to a few countries and seeing how they operate, I have concluded that Australia has a strange obsession with over-precaution and safety. We have so many rules and regulations for absolutely every situation and are continually on the look out for more. Anyone that has had anything to do with workplace health and safety will know exactly what I'm talking about. Safe working procedures, hazard identification etc etc etc. 

It seems that we no longer take responsibility for our own actions anymore. If someone injures themselves doing something stupid, all they have to do is scream negligence and it's no longer their fault. You hear about ridiculous law suits all the time- Child sues school for not educating him...  Or for some other fantastic examples, check out the 'Stella Awards' http://www.stellaawards.com/2006.html for some other crazy lawsuits. 

Have we really become a bunch of unaccountable children not liable to be called to account by a higher authority? It certainly seems that way. 

Other countries, however, still seem to value common sense. If there is a train line nearby, there is no need for a 10ft barrier with spikes on top, just don't play on the tracks. If a truck is loading pallets of goods, they don't need to fence off the area, just don't go near it. If you buy a hot coffee, it doesn't need 'caution hot' plastered all over it, it's a freakin HOT coffee! If a box is really heavy, it doesn't need do not lift signs on it, just don't try to lift it. I could go on forever. 

No extensive lists of safety regulations just to avoid liability. No ridiculous hazard identifications and protocols. No high insurance premiums and endless paperwork. Just plain simple common sense. 

Last week I was riding through a forest when I came up behind a truck loading logs onto it's trailer with a crane. No witches hats, no traffic control, no exclusion zone. I stopped. They stopped work and let me go by. No problems. 

It is so bizarre that we have now set the precedence to no longer be responsible for our own stupidity.

Why am I having this rant? Well I just discovered the MASSIVE difference between Australian and European travel insurance premiums! Not just a few hundred dollars but over $1000!!! It is almost unbelievable. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Emasculated beer

In Australia, the very thought of watering down beer is almost criminal. In fact, bring a six pack of lights to a party or BBQ and you are bound to raise a few questions about your masculinity and attract some mockery. 

One such drink is the 'shandy' or put more bluntly, beer watered down with lemonade. It has the reputation of being a drink for the ladies, more of a cocktail than beer. If you were looking for it in a bottle shop, it would be right between WestCoast Coolers and Strongbow. If you went to dinner with your partner and ordered a shandy, the waiter would almost always place it in front of the female.

In Germany, however, the shandy has quite a different reputation and quite a different name.  Known as a 'radler', the drink's reputation  has a more historic origin with the story being that a group of cyclists stopped at a small pub for some beer. The pub began to run low on beer so they decided to dilute the beer down with lemonade. Instead of telling the cyclists that they were running out, they told them that they made this special drink so that they would not get too drunk before their ride. And this is how the radler was born... Or so a tour guide says anyways. 
In germany, a radler is not about emasculating beer but simply enjoying a drink. However, it seems that the entire beer culture in Germany is entirely different to Australia so this may have something to do with it.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Tour of Korea: Bad times, Good times.

I arrived for the Tour of Korea already exhausted after traveling for 30 odd hours across several time zones. After a day to prepare, I was still adjusting to the change.

On paper, stage 1 was a relatively short 100km with a small climb at 40km and another bigger KOM at 60km. In real life, it was a hard race. Everyone had fresh legs and because of the short distance, the pace was high. I held onto the bunch over the first climb which was more brutal than what we first thought, as Jaan and George lost contact. I dropped off at the second climb as 4km at 8.1% was a little too much.. On the descent, I found myself in a small group of around 8 riders. The final 40km was a kick in the groin as we had to ride through head and cross winds all the way to the finish. We picked up a few others along the way and Jaan and George caught up to us to cross the line 13 minutes behind the leaders.

Stage 2 was a daunting 213km with a 5.5km climb after 35mk. Fortunately, it was only an average of 4.3% with a long descent afterward so it was easy to stay with the bunch. A small group broke free at the top of the climb but it was suicidal.The ever-strong team Tabriz controlled the pace and eventually everything came back together with 35km remaining.

The pace went up for the final sprint and with 20km to go I punctured. The peleton was moving at full speed and I had to chase hard for 10km through the cars before catching the back of the peleton again and this is where I finished. Meanwhile, at teh front, Jaan took advantage of the Korean team's lead out train and took a solid 3rd place for teh stage!

Stage 3 was another 203km stage with two small but steepish climbs. At kilometre 2, I found myself in a breakaway of around 10 riders. We opened up a gap of up to 3.30min but it quickly came down a many refused to work. After 70km I was caught at the top of the 1st KOM. For the next 80km I sat in the bunch and hid as best i could from the winds. At 150km, we arrived at the second KOM. I lost contact with the group but was confident of catching them in the long descent. I caught a few riders in the first few corners before coming up behind team mate, Simon, who had suffered the dame fate up the climb. We came into a sharp right hand turn and had a little too much speed. Simon locked up his brakes and skidded toward the outside of the corner. I was just on his outside and was left with no where to go but into the barrier. I locked up my brakes and layed the bike down before sliding under the guard rail. My chainring slammed into a pole, shearing off teeth and bending the chain. I held onto the guard rail until a motorbike marshall helped me back up. My race was over.

Meanwhile, poor Simon was forced to take the last 40km alone into some brutal head winds. He finished 29minutes behind the leader but within the time limit.

Considering the dropp off that was on the other side of the rail, I am pretty lucky. I currently have a nice haemetoma on my leg and am missing some skin. Sleeping was uncomfortable, but the worst part is how bad it stings in the shower!!

On a more positive note... Today I watched stage 4 from the sidelines. It was a shorter 138km stage and with only small climbs, a bunch finish was inevitable. The conditions suited Jaan and we suspected a strong finish from him. We were not wrong!



He lead out from around 300m to go and crossed in first place to take the stage win!!!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Back to the future...

Before I travelled overseas the closest I had gotten to experiencing anything like jet lag was travelling to another state that had daylight savings and watching the news an hour earlier than normal. Sure, it messed with your mind but not in the way that real jet lag is supposed to.

I had learnt all the theory at University; circadian rhythms that require external zeitgebers to trigger the release of certain hormaones at the appropriate time. But I never truly understood the practicalities of this. What exactly are the rhythms??? Does waking up and needing to go to the toilet at the same time everyday count?

After arriving in Germany, I got a real taste of what jet lag is. Being 8hrs behind Australia, Germany was almost opposite Australia. For the first couple of days, it is like having an all weekend party; you stay up until you are extremely exhausted, then you have no choice but to sleep. After this, you get into the rhythm and begin to notice a few things...

Waking up at 1am and being wide awake, unable to get back to sleep. Waking up at 7am and being so tired you can barely open your eyes. Getting strangely hungry at odd times of the day (but I suspect this one may not be entirely due to jet lag). Feeling suddenly exhausted without warning. Being easily able to lay on the couch ALL day. And yes, the struggles of altering the times of daily bowel movements.

After two weeks, I was beginning to get over the effects of the jet lag and was getting back to some sort of normality. However, just as it was getting better, I had to travel to Korea for a race and do the same thing all over again. With only two days in Korea before the start of the race, I am a little worried about getting over the jet lag. The best thing is, after 13 days in Korea, I go back to Germany to do it again!!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Subtle differences

I have spent just over a week here in München and in this time I have noticed some small, but significant differences from my home town, Brisbane in Australia. So here is a few to give you some sort of perspective on life here in Germany...

You drive on the right hand side of the road: Okay, so this is an obvious one, but I had to start somewhere. The very first time I rode around a round about in an anti-clockwise direction was a wierd feeling and I am still confused as to which way to look at intersections.

You can drive literally as fast as you want on the highway: The Autobahn is like a speedway, but it sure makes the journey go faster.

Beer is the standard beverage, no matter where you are: If it is at one of the many, MANY beer gardens, or at a cafe, or at a pub or if you just want to have a drink while you walk around in the park, beer is the standard drink. No matter the time of day; breakfast, lunch or dinner. And there is no small 'pot' or 'schooner' of beer either. The smallest serving you will find is half a litre! Maybe it has something to do with that little beer festival they have here each year... Oktoberfest or something?

Mercedes and BMW are the Ford and Holden of Germany: Every second car is a BMW or Mercedes. Evenn the taxi's! In Brisbane, these are considered more of a luxury vehicle reserved for those that can afford them, but in Germany, every second person has one. Also, there does not seem to be any old cars in München. In Australia, it is typical to see a car from the 80's spewing smoke as it struggles aloing, but here I struggle to see a car more than a few years old.

Spring actually causes a physically change in the environment: In Brisbane, spring means it gets a little but warmer and a little bit greener, that's about it. In the space of a week, here in München, tuplips are sprouting out of the ground, skeleton trees are growing foliage and rivers are flowing!

When the sun is shining and its warm outside, people head to the river to get naked and sunbake: When I consider it barely warm enough to put on a singlet, half the population of München shed their clothes and sunbake on the banks of the river. There would be less naked people on a nudist beach in Australia!

No matter what the temperature or the time of day, it is always a ggod time for ice cream in Bavaria. Even when I have just finished breakfast and am shivering from the cold, people are sitting down to meal-sized serves of ice-cream at one of the MANY ice-cream shops.

Public toilets are not free: Whether you have to tip the toilet attendant, buy something to get a pin number to unlock the toilet door or simply pay to enter, it is extremely rare to find a free public toilets here in München. When you are busting to use one, this can cause some problems! Equally as hard to find is a public tap. Finding somewhere to fill a water bottle during a ride is impossible.

München is a long pants city: Personally, I am not much of a long pants guy but almost no one wears shorts. I find this a little bizarre as everyone here also rides a bike and if you have ever done so in long pants, it can have dire consequences.

Men wear scarves, aviator sunnies and leather satchels: And they don't get mocked for it. Wear this in Brisbane and everyone will pay you out for dressing like a male model in a Ralph Lauren show. Here, it is just 'euro'.

There are about 675 different types of salami but its almost impossible to find a steak: I can't pronounce any of the names, but the salamis are all delicous. Perhaps the reason I cannot find a steak anywhere is that in almost 1000km of riding, I have not seen a single cow, sheep or any other livestock!

All the houses look like they were painted yesterday: Most of the villages look like something out of an episode of noddy. Perfectly groomed buildings painted in bright colours and not a dirty window in sight!

Almost every second shop in München is a bakery. In Brisbane, you have to look high and low to find a decent bakery but here you just have to turn around. Despite this, it is extremely difficult to find a normal loaf of bread!

Nordic walking in fluorescent parachute tracksuits is still cool in München: In Brisbane, most people think twice about using a bush walking stick, never mind breaking out the ski poles, but here nordic walking is done with pride in tracksuits that look like they came directly from a 1980's ski resort advertisement.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Bicycle culture

The cycling culture here in Munich is slightly different to what I am used to back home. In my time here so far, I have only seen a hand full of road cyclists. Perhaps it is the cold weather or perhaps it is because I am riding at the wrong time of the day, but I have seen very few lyrca clad racers. This does not mean that there are no bikes in Munich, in fact, it is the extreme opposite.

Cycling is embraced everywhere. People use bikes as the main form of transport as a extensive network of bike paths allow you to get anywhere you need to. Almost every tree and pole has a bike chained to it as there is no need for bicycle lockers or storage sheds. Simply park you bike on the path and it will be there at the end of the day. Even at your home, bikes are not stored inside but just parked on the footpath. If you did this in Australia, you would generally come out the next day to find your bike missing, broken or lacking in several components. In Munich, it is like there is some sort of unwritten agreement; a mutual respect for the fact that the bicycle is an accepted way of life rather than a physical luxury possession. Everyone from children to the elderly, from students to professionals in suits ride a bike to get around. And the fantastic thing is... due to the flat terrain, the bicyles are brilliant single speed cruisers and dutchie bikes. The kind that you imagine your grandma rode when she was young. The only time you see these kinds of bikes in Australia is at the front of a cafe or boutique when they are trying to make it look 'Euro'.

Last night we ventured out for dinner and of course, we road our bikes. Despite what seems to be an extremely low occurence of theft in Munich, I was reluctant to chain my road bike up outside a restaurant. So instead, it was decided that I would double my wife on her bike; the good old 'dink'. There were no stunt pegs to stand on and a basket on the front meant that she couldn't perch on the handlebars, so the onlyu option was to sit on the rear pannier rack. We cruised down the road, blissfully unaware of whether what we were doing was actually legal or not.


 
Dinner was at a local pub, where, as usual, beer was the standard beverage and served by the litre. After a few drinks and several attempts to get going on the way home, it was decided that it would be much easier and safer to walk home.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Tap water...

In Australia, we are fortunate enough to have clean drinking water directly from the tap. In my recent time in Asia, I have developed a greater appreciation for this as drinking from the tap in Asia can be a gamble with your health. Fortunately, bottled water is around 20cents per litre and much less if you buy in bulk, so it is still easily accessible. It just means that you need to stop at a shop to top up your water bottle during a ride, rather than pulling over at a park water fountain.

Upon my return to Australia, I was shocked to taste Brisbane water. I'm sure at some stage you have visited another town and the water from the tap has tasted 'funny'. As every town sources their water from different locations and goes through different filtering processes, there can be slight differences in the taste from town to town. When visiting, my nieces and nephews have always claimed that Brisbane water tastes 'muddy' but I have always shrugged this off as a figment of their imagination. However, after drinking so much bottled water in Asia, I returned home and found out what they meant. Perhaps it was because of the recent flooding or a dirty glass, but the Brisbane water did taste 'muddy'.

After a two week stay in Hong Kong and consequently, two weeks of bottled water, I arrived in Munich to the pleasure of drinking tap water again. This time, however, it is even better than usual as not only is the water ice cold due to the weather, but it comes from the Alps not to far off in the distance.

In Australia, we pay an absolute fortune for water the comes from a mountain spring in the Alps, which seems slightly pompous to me. Here, the Alpine water flows freely. The river that passes through Munich is the Isar, the 4th longest river in Bavaria that extends 295km from its source in the Alps. The water is ice cold and crystal clear. In a beer garden in the middle of Munich, Viktualienmarkt, there are water fountains at which you can fill your water bottle up with ice cold water fresh from the Alps. I took an Evian water bottle and filled it with water that is more genuine than the water that originally came in it.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Das autobhan

When driving in Australia, generally, the fastest you will get to go is 110kph unless you are driving across the Nullarbor or in one of those areas that tests the 120kph limit.
Consequently, having a fast car is generally a pointless endeavor as you will never get to use your car to it's full potential. I've always wondered what is the point of having a car with a speedo that goes to 240kph when, legally, it can never do it.

Yesterday, I got my first experience on the German autobahn. I was a passenger in a small Kia hatch that is more like something you would purchase to drive around the city. As we entered the autobahn, 5th gear stretched out to 5500rpm as we neared 160kph. Most traffic was doing the same speed as we flew along.

It was a bizarre feeling to be driving so fast on the open highway with no concern for being stopped by police. And just when I thought we were going fast enough, an Audi in the left lane goes flying by at around 200+kph! Perfectly legal.

Imagine if this was okay in Australia. You could get to the gold coast or the sunshine coast in 30mins! Instead we battle endless traffic, potholes and poorly maintained roads. The other problem is that half of the cars in Australia are incapable of doing these kinds of speed. Even at 100kph, they bellow smoke and sound like their 1980's engine is going to explode.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Coldest ride EVER.

With the title sponsor of the team, Champion System, being a custom cycling clothing manufacturing company, they were keen to ensure that we were well equipped for the season ahead. Each rider received a bag full of clothing for every situation imaginable; rain, hail or shine. Or snow even.

As I opened up each piece of clothing, there were a few that I was sure I would never need to use... Thermal winter gloves, long fleece leg warmers, thermal jacket, beanie etc etc. I thought they would be more useful to someone attempting a trip to the North Pole rather than riding in the weather conditions that I was used to. Turns out I was extremely wrong.

My first ride in Munich was an early one. Due to a few jobs that had to be done during the day, we left at 6.30am, which is not uncommon back home in Australia. I put on leg warmers, an undershirt, fleece long sleeved jersey, long fingered gloves and a beanie. I thought this was more than enough!

After only 30 minutes of riding, my feet had turned to blocks of ice, I could not feel the gear levers on my bike and I was pretty sure my nose and lips had fallen off. My friend said to look out for ice on the road and I scoffed at him, 'It's not that cold!'. A few kilometres up the road, I stopped to take a photo, using it as an excuse to try to get some feeling back in my hands and feet.

I continued on, but was keen to get back home to some warmth. After arriving home, I checked my Garmin file... We were riding a zero degrees celcius for a lot of the ride!!! Lets just say that I no longer do early morning rides and I put on as many layers as I can now!!