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.