Thursday, December 18, 2014

Déjà Vu

I recently went to see a myopractic therapist to get checked out. He also just happened to be a good friend of mine so he wasn't afraid to tell me exactly how it is. Basically, I'm inflexible and need to sort out some muscle imbalances by strengthening my lower back and other stabilising muscles. 

When the only physical activity you do for months on end is ride a bike, then most other parts of the body become weak from lack of use. I've always said that when it comes to core and stability, I am in a constant state of equilibrium. But I've discovered that even the slightest breeze can throw that equilibrium out. 

The off season is a good time to re-strengthen parts of the body that haven't been used in a while. So, I dug out the old gym gear and went down to the gym to get to work. A few sit-ups, some stretching and Pilates moves may not seem like much but it is more than enough to remind the body that I haven't done it in a while. 

The first couple of times hurts. Well, it's more of an ache then anything else. Muscles around my ribs ache when I laugh, when I bend over to put shoes on and even when I get out of bed. But it gets easier. 

As I type this, I'm getting déjà vu, as I'm pretty sure I did the same thing last year. And every year, I say this time is going to be different because I'm going to keep doing it throughout the season. This time will be different, for sure. 

If anyone in the Brisbane area would like to see an excellent Remedial Massage & Myopractic Therapist, I highly recommend Simon from 
He will sort out what ails you and he is also an all round good guy. If you do go to see him, please tell him I've been doing my exercises every day. 

Sunday, November 30, 2014

A Violent Act

I have said it a hundred times before and I will say it a hundred more... Running is a violent act.

At the end of the racing season this year, the team went to Cozumel in Mexico. Outside of the usual duties of meeting new team mates, organising equipment and taking official media for next year, we were told to relax and spend some time off the bike, allowing the body a bit of R&R before we start pushing it again.

This may sound ideal to some, but for myself, I go a little stir crazy when I am just sitting around as I would rather be up and doing something. So to compensate my lack of riding, I thought that I would partake in some other activities. The week began with many of us playing around with scooters, jet skis and catamarans and pretty much any other activity that we could find. 

Despite filling the time, these activities just don't have the caloric expenditure of riding a bike for hours on end, and with the thought of putting on as little weight as possible in the off-season weighing in the back of my mind, it wasn't long before I was itching to do some exercise.

I started to spread the word around the team that in the following morning we should go for a run. A little bit of weight bearing activity to make sure our bones don't fade away to nothing. A lot of people were keen and at 6:30am the next day, 15 people had traded their cycling shoes for joggers.

I'm not sure if you have ever experienced going for a run after not doing it for over 12 months but it is extremely painful. Muscles that you forgot you even had ache within minutes and the constant impact on the feet and joints is almost immediately unbearable. Before we had even made it a kilometer down the road, several guys had already stopped and started the walk back to the hotel.

Being a highly competitive bunch, the rest of us pushed on, the pace getting faster with every kilometer. As we hit the 3km mark, I began to question just how far we were going, aware that we were going to have to run back yet. 500m later, I pulled the pin and turned back, my legs already aching.

That afternoon, I tried to spread the word again about another run in the morning. I was met with very little enthusiasm. At 6:30am the next day, only 3 other people showed up for a run. Of the others that went running the day before, one had huge blisters on his feet and another could barely walk because his ankle was so sore. I ran another 3 times during the week, ignoring my aching legs and assuring myself that it would eventually get easier. I had grand ideas of being able to go for a run with my wife when I got home and just doing something different.

Just before I left Cozumel for home, I still had an ache in my left calf muscle and when I got home, I was limping around. I went to get it checked out and I had a suspected tear in my muscle. This resulted in taking another few days easy and letting it heal, re-confirming what I have always thought about running. It is a violent act. 

Humans were given highly functioning brains for a reason. To invent other modes of transport like the bicycle and the car. Running should be reserved for when you are being chased by a lion or when you miss the ice-cream truck. Needless to say, I have not been for a run since I got home and I have no plans to.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Strava Art

Hopefully, the novelty of Strava KoM's has worn off on you by now. 

There was a period of time where it seemed like everyone was trying to one-up their mates by sprinting up every hill on their favourite rides. But now, most people have reached their terminal velocity. There is only so many times you can do your local ride full gas before... a) you can't go any faster. b) some freak takes your KoM while motor pacing and you have no chance or c) you just can't be bothered anymore. 

So what is the use of Strava now other than to give Kudos to your mates for doing the exact same ride you just did?... Strava Art. That's what. 

I was looking over some old rides recently for some inspiration on where to ride and noticed that some of them vaguely resembled a picture of something. I had to squint and view it with a very Picasso-esque outlook, but it was there. It got me wondering if I could plan out a ride to draw a picture. 

After about 0.00054sec of research on Google, I discovered that 'Strava Art' is a common thing and some people have done some amazing things. 

Here are some of the best Strava Art pictures out there...

After seeing these and sat down at the computer to attempt to plot a course to follow to make some Strava Art. It is a LOT harder than it looks. Actually, it's too damn hard for me. 

Instead, I have adopted a 'shoot first and call whatever you hit the target' approach. Just do a ride and maybe at the end, it might vaguely resemble something. 

Here are some of my best works...

This is 'horse with fire tail'

'Demented pouncing cat'

'Donald duck with backwards hat'

'Fat camel'

Get out there and give it a go! It's a lot harder than you think. Forget KoM's, they are so early 2014. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Local Training Program

The end of the year is fast approaching which means Christmas is coming which usually means some time off the bike which usually means eating too much which usually means that you have some extra work to do in pre-season training.

It is around this time that people claim that they are getting out to do 'base K's' during the holiday period in preparation for next season. Despite their best intentions, a lot of people tend to misinterpret what 'base k's' actually are. 

The Brisbane cycling scene is a thriving one with hundred's of people keen to roll a river loop every morning. However, with organised bunch rides being the order of the day, it is very easy to fall into what I call the 'Brisbane training schedule'. It looks something like this...

Monday: recovery river loop. 
Tuesday: Coot-tha's. 
Wednesday: World's. 
Thursday: Gravatt's or efforts. 
Friday: recovery river loop. 
Saturday: Muzza or Nundah Crits. 
Sunday: Zupps or another bunchie. 

This may seem like a perfectly good week of riding but if you are doing it week in, week out then you will not improve your form. A good training program should be periodised with sections of over-loading the body and then time to recover and let the body adapt. If you do the same thing all the time, you cannot expect that you will improve dramatically just by magic. 

Another downside to riding in Brisbane is the terrain. There are no real climbs and when you think about it, there is not much real 'flat' either. Most roads are rolling with short, sharps rises that you are able to punch it up. This means that a lot of people tend to accelerate hard up the hills and then get off the gas and soft-pedal down the other side. 

At the end of the day, this is just interval training. You may have a good average HR or power output at the end of the ride but more than likely, you were either riding too hard up the hills or too easy down the other side. What you think was some good 'base k's' was simply riding in the wrong zone. 

So what can you do?

Plan your training. Don't just bounce week to week doing whatever you feel like or what ever is handy. 

Ride by yourself once in a while. It's great to ride with others but you will not get quality training while wheel-sucking behind 30 other people. 

Go easy up the hills. Use your gears and don't accelerate up the hills. Take it easy and maintain a steady output. 

Pedal down the hills. Don't freewheel down hills. Keep pedalling with the same intensity. You will probably find that you will actually have a higher average speed at the end of your ride!

You don't always have to stop for coffee. Imagine if you converted the time that you are usually at the coffee shop into extra k's. Imagine!

Well that's it from me. 
See you on the road. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Summer Do's and Don'ts

Next weekend I head of for my final race of the season in China before going to the other side of the world for our end of year ‘training’ camp in Mexico. This camp is always a good one as there is less emphasis on doing bulk km’s and more on having a break and getting all of next year’s equipment ready. We receive our new bikes and kit, however, for those of us that live on the warmer side of the equator, the numerous arm warmers, thermal knicks and jackets are not much use. Pro-cycling is very much operated on the European season so the early kit is designed for those that need to do their base km’s in the cold rain and snow, not humid 40+ degree heat.  The Aussies need to make do with what summer kit we have left over from this year and save the warmer stuff for our rude intro to the European Spring next year.
With that in mind, I thought I would give my perspective on the Do’s and Don’ts of summer cycling attire. Unfortunately, these tips do not come approved by the Cycling Fashion King himself, Mario Cipollini, but I am sure he would not object.
Don’t mistake a wind-vest for a short-sleeve jersey. This may sound absurd but it is a mistake that I made in my first year on the bike. Having never seen a wind-vest before, I picked up one at the LBS summer sale thinking that it would help to keep me cool and avoid any unsightly arm tan-lines. I was wrong.
Don’t wear a visor on your helmet. You probably think that it would be a great way to keep the sun out of your eyes but then again, so is a pair of sunglasses. As well as being a road-cycling fashion no-no, a visor can also impair your vision on a road bike.  The lower, more aerodynamic positioning means that you will need a swan-like neck curve in order to raise your head high enough to see under it. Leave helmet visors for MTBers and commuters that ride more upright than I walk.
Don’t be that guy with the undershirt. You know the one. The guy that is wearing an undershirt in 40+ degree heat and claims that it keeps him cooler because it wicks away sweat. It may draw 95% of sweat away from your body, but I reckon it’s probably responsible for 95% of it too. I don’t care what people say, putting on another layer of clothing does not make you cooler. When is the last time you were really hot so decided to put a singlet on under your shirt? Exactly.
Don’t wear transparent fishnet jerseys. Some companies are producing jerseys from materials that are thin and net-like, claiming that the venting will keep you cool. They don’t tell you that you will end up with sun-burn that looks like you fell onto a BBQ grill. On top of that, no one wants to see your hairy nipples.
Don’t wear a hydration back-pack. Also a road cycling fashion no-no, wearing a back-pack is going to stop any air flow that you can get through your jersey and make you sweat more than normal. Anyway, do you really need 3L of water on you? The 1.5L in your two water bottles is enough to get you to the next tap. 
Do change your post-ride drink. Believe it or not, you don’t have to drink a hot coffee after your ride! *Shock. Why not have a cold-drip coffee, a smoothie with a shot of coffee, a 7-Eleven slushie with a shot of coffee or even one of those fancy ‘iced’ coffees?? Get your core body temp down, not up.
Do wear sun screen. Do I even need to say anything here? It’s Australia. Slip, Slop, Slap.
Do avoid the hottest part of the day. Ride earlier. It will be cooler and you will get to have more time at the coffee shop afterwards. Everybody wins (but mainly you).
Do carry two water bottles. If you are going to ride for over an hour, take two water bottles just in case. Unfortunately, this may mean that you need to break another separate cycling fashion rule and use a saddle bag for your spares.
Do drink an electrolyte drink. Sweat takes out more than just water. A electrolyte drink will hydrate you quicker and prevent things like cramps. It also tastes better. If you are worried about the extra calories, don't, there are plenty of sugar-free versions out there.

Thursday, October 9, 2014


I spend a lot of time on two wheels, and I don't mean driving a car like a crazy man. Not only do I clock up a lot of km's on my bike but I also have a scooter that I use to get around town with. 

I'll admit, it's not the manliest of motor bikes and sounds more like a lawn mower but it gets me around the city with ease and allows me to get a parking spot right in front of places where a car would not even get close to. It runs on the smell of an oily rag and requires very little maintenance. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I have it for the convenience and not for my desire to look tough a motorcycle.

A couple of weeks ago, I had to make a trip into the city during peak hour traffic so the scooter was ideal. I'm able to zip through traffic and I don't get as frustrated as I do in the car. 

I came up behind some queued traffic and stopped behind a 'keep clear' section that allowed turning cars to pass through when traffic is congested. A few cars made the turn and I also let some others turn in when I began to hear a horn tooting. 

It was muffled by my helmet covering my ears so I couldn't tell exactly where it was coming from but I looked around and couldn't see anything strange. Then I felt my scooter move underneath me. 

The man behind me had decided to nudge me forward with his car. I turned around, question his actions and explained that I thought he was a terrible human being in a very uncalm manner. He began yelling and pointing at something but I couldn't figure out what his gripe was. 

Did he want me to move forward into the 'keep clear' zone? Was he upset at the 3m of ground he had lost even though traffic ahead was at a standstill? I'll never know. 

I decided the best course of action was to ride away, satisfied that he will be stuck in traffic while I will cruise ahead on my trusty scooter. So I bid him farewell. 

He continued his indiscernible rant but as I rode away, I heard him yell 4 words very clearly that I had no response for...

'Get a real motorbike!'


Friday, September 5, 2014

10 Year Reunion

This year marks the 10th year since I graduated from University and I felt that I should celebrate. Although I have not worked in my field of study for a number of years, I still hold fond memories of my time at Uni. It’s where I discovered beer, many friends and my love of cycling. So what would be the best way to commemorate a decade of being in the alumni? Go back and experience it again for a day!

On my recovery day off the bike this week, my friend and I decided to take a trip down memory lane and spend a few hours back on campus. We donned our best ‘uni-student attire’, which is pretty much anything you want as long as you have a satchel or laptop bag over your shoulder, and head in for the day.

To me, University is supposed to be the pinnacle of research and development so I was expecting things to be drastically different. I mean, in the 10 years since I was last there, I expect  students to be riding around on Segway’s or Hoverboards and lecturers to be nothing but a hologram projection at the front of the lecture theatre from the other side of the world. I was bitterly disappointed to find that, except for a few new buildings, everything looked exactly the same.

When I was at Uni, my Nokia 3310 provided me with very little entertainment or purpose other than to make a phone call or send a text message. As fun as Snake3 was, there was only so many times you could play it before it becomes boring. Wi-fi was something that the rich and famous used and if I wanted to download lecture notes, I would pray that they would fit onto my 1.1Mb floppy disk or spend 5hrs waiting for them to download at home through the dial-up internet. Now, as we walked around the old buildings that I studied in, every single person had their face buried in their phone and walked around with ear phones in. I was surprised not to see people run into each other as no one seemed to look where they were going.

In the library, where I spent many an hour trolling through journal articles and lining up for the photocopier, there was not a single person in the actual book shelves section of the library. It seemed as though everyone was just trying to find some free wi-fi or get in line access to one of the library computers.

After a bit more walking around, my friend and I bumped into a student that I used to teach during my stint as a High School teacher. To give you an indication of how long ago that was, she had already completed one degree and was halfway through her second!! We asked her where we could find a lecture theatre that accommodates a large number of students so that we could saunter in along with them for some free learning and complete our Uni-for-a-day experience. We found a couple of large rooms, so we sat and waited for the hour to tick around to see which room would have a lecture.

At midday, a group of people began to congregate at the entry to one of the rooms so we joined them. As soon as there was a large enough number of people inside (we did not want to attend a lecture with a small number of people where we would be identified as fraudsters) we walked in as if we knew what we were doing and pulled out some paper and a pen. This did nothing to assist our guise as students as we were almost the only ones in the room that didn’t have a laptop or tablet. The lecturer came in and everyone brought up the lecture notes on their screen: ‘MGTS2607- Management and Employer Relations’. Sounds exciting.

I have to admit, it was one of the most boring lectures that I have ever attended and judging by the others in the room, they have also seen better. A few people were on Facebook for the majority of the lecture, the guy in front of us was sending Snapchat messages about how bad it was and a guy in the front row spent the entire time watching football on his laptop. No body answered any of the lecturer’s questions and people began to walk out halfway through. I felt bad, so when the lecturer asked her next question, I answered it, and to my surprise, I was correct.

Perhaps it is down to a some real-world experience or maybe we just stumbled into a really easy subject, but to me, most of the content seemed very ‘common sense’ with a bunch of University academic terminology thrown in just to make it sound official. Either way, we were pretty happy to get out of there at the end of the hour.

To top off our day back at Uni, my friend and I head to the campus pub, ‘The Red Room’. As we walked in, it was funny to see that nothing much had changed in there either. It looked like they still had the same old chairs and the same old pool tables.  And after paying for some food, I am pretty sure that the prices haven’t changed in 10 years either… $10 for a burger and wedges! Bargain.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fair play???

Cycling has had its fair share of doping scandals in the past and as a result, it is always under the eye of regulatory bodies and the media. Even the slightest, unfounded hint of foul play can attract a flurry of publicity with the majority wanting to throw those involved onto the coals. In the eye of the public, cycling is now seen as a sport tarnished by doping and is fighting to keep, or even regain, its credibility, even though, according to the World Anti-Doping Agency, there were more adverse findings last year in the sports of Bridge, Billiards and Chess!

Recently, Australian sport has had its first ever major drugs-in-sports crisis with the 2011 Cronulla Sharks rugby league team. 17 players and staff from the squad are allegedly involved in ‘unknowingly’ taking prohibited substances through the club’s supplement program. Almost 2 years after the fact, in February 2013, an investigation was opened and those involved were offered a measly 6 month ban by ASADA, which they refused. 2 months later, investigations resumed and not until this month, August 2014 (3 years since the actual event), have we heard any other repercussions.  

So what is ASADA’s punishment for those that admit to taking a prohibited substance??? They have been offered an up to 12 month ban that is BACKDATED to 21st November 2013. This means, at worst, the players will miss a handful of games remaining this season and be ready for pre-season training/matches again in November!!!

Let’s compare this to the sport of cycling… If a rider is implicated in a doping case, they are generally suspended immediately from their team and cannot participate in any races. The Cronulla Sharks have continued to play the entire time that the investigation has been going on.
If a cyclist is convicted of a doping crime, then they will usually be forbidden from racing for a period of 2 years. Even if a professional cyclist is not where they say they will be in mandatory athlete whereabouts reporting and miss 3 tests, they will receive a 2 year suspension. The Cronulla Sharks were offered 6 month bans by ASADA and they refused!!!

ASADA claims that ‘It is the organisation with prime responsibility for implementation of the World Anti-Doping Code (the Code) in Australia.’ This being, ‘…the aim of bringing consistency to anti-doping policies and regulations within sport organizations and governments right across the world.’
Cycling is always painted in such a bad light when it comes to doping, however, I can’t help but feel that there is some inconsistencies between professional cycling and other sports. Many of the Cronulla Sharks players have voiced that they are upset about missing this season’s finals but in reality, they should be counting their lucky stars because comparatively, they may have gotten off pretty lightly.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Mañana, Mañana

My Spanish team mate's have told me that there is a bit of a motto in spain... 'Mañana, Mañana'. Which means 'Tomorrow, tomorrow', or simply put... 'Later...' It reflects the relaxed attitude and lifestyle here in Spain and I have become quite accustomed to it.
In town, nothing seems to happen until around 9am when businesses begin to open and people emerge. Then, at 1pm, businesses shut their doors for siesta and people head back home to rest and have lunch with their family. At 5pm, doors re-open and it is business as usual until around 9-10pm.
Personally, I use siesta for exactly that. A quick power-nap after a long training session. Everything else has shut down so it's not like I am going to miss out on anything. And if I do want to head out to do something, its like walking onto the set of 28 Days Later. When I first arrived, I took a walk around town and the only people I saw were asleep in their cars!
One of the downsides of a 4hr gap in the middle of the day, however, is that it pushes everything else after it back as well. Dinner time is very late at around 9pm with a lot of restaurants not even opening their doors until then. If you eat lunch at a 'normal' time of around midday, then by the time restaurants open, you are starving!

What surprised me most of all, is that families would be out and about until almost midnight. You can here kids running around and playing into the late hours of the night when its well past my bedtime, never mind someone that has school in the morning!
In 2 days time, I head back to Australia to prepare for the races in Asia at the end of the season. I have one goal... to continue living on relaxed Spanish time. Not in that I am going to  stay awake when it is daytime in Europe but in that I am going to try to continue with the late starts, siesta and late finish to the day. However, I have a few things that are not going to work in my favour...
Firstly, it is still the tail end of Winter back home in Australia so the sun comes up at around 6am and sets at 5:30pm. This is okay for my planned late start to the day but doesn't help when it is cold and dark by 5:30pm and all you want to do is get home. Although its a balmy 24-25°C during the day, as soon as the sun goes down, so does the thermometer. It just doesn't have the same atmosphere as here in Spain where the sun goes down at around 9:30pm and it is still 30-odd degrees at 6pm!
Another obstacle is the fact that everyone else gets up so early. If I want to go for a ride with friends, then I need to be out of the door at 5:30am. This means putting on layers of clothing and charging the lights up because it is still dark. I'm not keen to do either of these things.
Lastly, and most likely my biggest hindrance to keeping Spanish time is the fact that my wife cannot do it. She starts work early so leaves the house at around 6am and if she is not in bed by 8pm, she has probably fallen asleep somewhere. I can't help but think that she would be a little unimpressed if I slept in while she was preparing for the day and then made her go to bed alone while I stay up late.
It's gonna be tough, but I will give it my best!


Monday, August 11, 2014

What if?..

In this year's Tour de France, Jack Bauer came painfully close to winning Stage 15. He had spent all day off the front of the race only to be caught within a few meters of the finish line. 

We were watching the stage while at training camp and I don't think there was a single person that was not glued to the TV, willing him to the line. 

After the stage, his disappointment was clear as he was left to ponder what could have been. People around the world felt for him, I mean, how could you not? He was so devastatingly close. Nobody wanted to be in his shoes. Including me. 

Stage 4 of the Tour of Denmark was relatively short with a 98km road race followed by a time trial in the afternoon. As we were preparing for the start, the wind began to pick up and the storm clouds were rolling in. The course did a slight loop on itself, which meant that at some point in the race there was going to be a tail wind, a cross wind and head wind. Not easy conditions to race in.

As soon as the gun went off, we set off at a relatively gentle pace. With the wind at our backs, the peloton assumed that any attempt at a breakaway would be crazy. Suicidal even. So I attacked. 

With the tail wind, I reached 71kph in my initial surge. I quickly made a gap on the bunch as they continued along at a more calm rate. Some doubts entered my mind as I also realised that my actions were potentially crazy. Keeping a charging peloton at bay alone into a headwind was a near impossible task. 

Thankfully, behind me, two other riders decided to jump and made their way across to me. We quickly gained an advantage of almost 4 minutes as the rain began to fall.

In the bunch, rain makes things a lot harder. Nervous riders, slippery corners and brakes that don't seem to do anything cause crashes and general mayhem. Fortunately for the three of us in the breakaway, this meant that we were able to sustain our advantage. 

I never thought that the break would stay away. I was totally expecting to be swept up well before the finish, however, with 30km to go, we still had an advantage of almost 2mins. We pushed on with everything we had in hope of possibly denying the bunch. 

The effort took it's toll on one rider and his legs gave up. This left two of us at the front and to be honest, my legs were close to giving up as well. 

The race finished with 3 laps of a 3km circuit and as we entered the loop we still had a gap of around 30 seconds. With the possibility that we could survive, I suddenly found some extra power. 

With 2 laps to go, I had no idea how close they were. The lead car was still behind us but thanks to the rain, I could barely see out of my sunglasses. As we went past my Team Director he was screaming at me to go so I knew we had a chance. 

With one lap to go, my legs were getting tired and my heart rate was the highest it had been all day. I still had no idea how close the peloton was and as we rounded the last corner into the slightly uphill finishing straight, I gave everything I had. 

The signs indicating the distance remaining seemed to take forever. 300m... 250m... 200m... Then the inevitable...

100m before the finish line the bunch swallowed us up and I crossed the line in 16th position. 

At first, I thought to myself, 'oh well, I gave it my best'. 10 mins later, the 'what if' began to set it. What if I went a little harder in the windy section? What if I wasn't so hesitant on the slippery corners? What if?...

Despite the end result, I still stood on the podium with the most aggressive rider award but I will probably dwell on what could have been for a while.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014


Bike races are hard. But there is one country in particular that like to make their races especially difficult. Every race that I have done or seen in Italy has been harder than any others. 

Each year the Giro d'talia seems to out-do itself with ridiculously long stages, ridiculous amounts of climbing and ridiculously steep roads on all kinds of surfaces. 

My first Italian race this year was GP Nobili. It was 195km long with the first 100km on dead flat roads followed by three trips up a 5km long climb. The flat start gives the sprinters a false hope of being able to make it to the finish before being crushed when the roads go upwards. 

The hills at the end mean that the non-climber's only chance is to get into the early break away. As a result, the race starts with an relentless flurry of surges and attacks. This year, we covered the first 100km in under 2hrs! This also allows the climbers to sit back and bide their time as they wait to ride away on the climbs. 

My second race in Italy was the Coppi E Bartali. It was a 4 day stage race that had 3 road races, a 4 man team time trial and finished with an individual time trial. 

It began with a double stage day that had a road race in the morning and a team time trial in the afternoon. The road race took in 2 climbs before a fast descent into town. I finished a bit down on the winner in grupetto. 

In the afternoon, the TTT was done in pouring rain and we crossed the line holding onto our helmet visors in our teeth so we could see. 

The 3rd stage was, well, there is only one way to put it: ridiculous. 165km with 5 laps of loop that contained a 10km long climb. For most of the peloton, it was a day of survival. Just get up the 3500m of climbing without being outside of time limit. I managed to get through it... Just.  

Stage 4 was, thankfully, a proper flat day. One for the sprinters. I spent most of the day in the early break away before being reeled in for the bunch sprint. My already tired legs did not appreciate it one bit. 

By this point, the overall positions had been pretty much decided and a time trial to finish the race off would not change much. But that does not stop the Italians from making it as hard as possible. The final time trial was 10km long that finished up a climb that reached gradients of 25% in dirt roads. Again, ridiculous. It was the slowest time trial I have ever done. I crept around and finished down near the bottom of the page. 

My last two races in Italy took place last weekend. It was two 200km, 1-day races with the GP Industria & Artigianto on Saturday. 

Like my first Italian race, it began with around 100km of flat roads that we covered at warp speed. I pushed to get into the break away as I knew what was to come in the 2nd half of the race but I was never able to get clear.

The final half if the race, in typical Italian fashion, contained four laps of a circuit containing a steep climb with a 1km section of around 18-20%. This was followed by a high speed descent with hair pin turns in pouring rain. At the end of the day, only 57 out of 160 starters managed to finish the race. That's 35% of the field that could complete the race. Or 65% that could not!

Sunday saw the 2nd 200km race,the Giro della Tuscana. On paper, it also had a couple of climbs in the middle of the race with the first one lasting for 20km at a relatively gentle slope. The 2nd climb however, was not as forgiving. It was 10km long with some serious pinches. It took a large chunk of the field out of the race with only 81 riders crossing the final line!

So why does Italy make their races so crazy??? Well, my team mates inform me that it is for the 'spettacolo'. They only care about making a scene. Making the race so hard that the eventual winner has to fight and battle their way through like a gladiator. Every race is a race that people will be talking about afterwards for years!

So I'm not a fan of Italian races. I'm no climber and have to do what I can for my team mates in the early, flat stages of the race. I won't be the guy that provides the 'spettacolo' but I will still be talking about the race for a while afterwards. Albeit for a very different reason. 

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The real Hunger Games

These last couple of weeks, my wife has been over visiting in Europe. During her time, she wanted to travel and check out some more 'culture' in countries such as Istanbul, Morocco and Portugal. So I jumped online and and booked a couple of tickets to Casablanca in Morocco. I was pleasantly surprised to find that they were quite cheap and I didn't think anything of it at the time...

We arrived in Casablanca two days ago and discovered that it is Ramadan. This is a period of the Islamic calendar when Muslims worldwide observe a month of fasting. During the hours between sunrise and sunset, Muslims do not eat, drink (not even water), smoke or engage in sexual relations.  In some interpretations, other behaviours that can be perceived as sinful are also given up. This includes swearing, arguing and even procrastination!

As a result of Ramadan, almost all cafés, restaurants and shops are closed all morning and only open in the afternoon. The streets feel deserted. Our hotel just happens to be in the older, more traditional area of the city so there are no supermarkets and shops. This has made getting food to eat extremely difficult. 

On our first day here, we struggled. Walking around in the blazing sun just made us thirsty and when we did find a small stall, we didn't want to offend anyone by eating and drinking in the open so we would wait until we found a more discrete location. After sunset, we found the closest restaurant and ate a three course meal! 

Today, we decided to see if we could fast ourselves and go without food. If the Muslim people can do it for a month, surely we could do it for a day. And even if I couldn't do it, it's okay because people with diabetes are exempt from Ramadan. I have a get out of jail free card. 

We had a plan... Firstly, sleep in for as long as possible to give us a good head start on the day light hours. Secondly, we allowed ourselves to drink water. There is no way I could walk around in the sun and not hydrate! Last of all, we had to keep ourselves occupied so that we wouldn't be thinking about food.

We decided to walk to the beach which was around 10km from our hotel. At first, this was a great idea but as we got closer, there were more shops for tourists and more fast food chains like McDonalds selling Ramadan children's meals.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't want a cheeseburger. But when I thought about it, I didn't want one because I was hungry. I wanted one because it was there and I knew I would like the taste. This happened a number of times as we passed cafés and restaurants at beach resorts. It made me realise just how much we eat purely because it is available to us and not because we actually need it. 

I went most of the day without any problems. At around 4:30pm, 19hrs since we ate dinner, I got hungry. I was starting to feel a little light headed if I stood up too quickly so bought a couple of pastries from a shop. By the time we got out? The hunger was gone so we soldiered on and took the pastries back to the hotel. At 6:30pm, 21hrs since dinner, I got very hungry and caved. The pastries were right there in front of me, just asking for it. 

On reflection, I realise that I eat a lot of pointless stuff out of boredom rather than necessity. Tomorrow we will have another go at Ramadan. Maybe a pre-sunrise meal will get us through the day instead of only eating once every 24hrs. Today we saw a lot of other tourists eating and realise that we can too, but 'When in Rome', as they say.