The Giro, the Tour, Ghent, and more…the last 12 months have been a wonderful time to cover cycling. Five reflections on 2014 from website editor, 157
The Grande Partenza
Belfast. Midnight. Donnegal Square. The City Hall is pink, providing most of the illumination for a gang of workers hastily erecting a gantry for the following day’s Grande Partenza. The visit of the Giro d’Italia seems real for the first time. It’s a magical moment. More will follow.
Perhaps only Michael Matthews enjoyed the Grand Partenza’s visit to Belfast more than the people of the city. pic: Offside/L’Equipe
Cycling’s power to unite a historically divided city was impressive; so too, the spirit of the people, who didn’t allow trivial concerns like rain to distract them from the entertainment. They were generous in their support for all the riders – those spat from the back of their team time trial chains received the same encouragement as those who led them – and in their hospitality to visitors. The Giro’s first visit to Belfast was a success. Mine too.
The Grand Départ
Leeds station. 2pm. Saturday July 5, 2014. Thousands of people surround the station in a conga line. Thousands more gather inside. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The Grand Départ departed more than two hours ago, amid scenes closer to an open air rock concert than a bike race. I’ve soaked it up and filed my report. Now I need to leave too, for Harrogate.
We were in a rush to reach Harrogate after witnessing the Grand Départ in Leeds. So was he. pic: Offside/L’Equipe
I’m sold a ticket, reluctantly: the chap doesn’t think I’ll be able to use it. Then, a miracle. More trains to Harrogate. The conga line lurches forwards. The carriage is crowded, but has a party atmosphere. Destination: the world’s greatest bike race. This ain’t no commuter train. Time is on our side: the riders are taking a longer route. Twenty minutes and we’ll be there, an hour to spare. Summer days didn’t get better than this.
The Ghent Six
The Kuipke. Dutch: small bowl. A hundred and sixty-six metres of tightly banked circuit. This isn’t about the riders or the racing, though; not really. The Ghent Six is about the atmosphere, specifically the drunken throng in track centre: boisterous, but not aggressive, making slow progress across a sticky floor while riders pass in a blur. It’s more civilised in the stands, and the view’s better too, but it isn’t the same.
The view from the stands is better, but track centre is the place to be at the Kuipke
I’d come to see Cav, but the locals were there for Keisse. “Iljo, Iljo”. Football chants for the hometown hero, the local boy made good five times at the Zesdaagse. Mid-race entertainment came from a singing group, a sort of Belgian Nolan Sisters: quaint, no doubt, by England’s cynical standard, but enjoyed by all at the Kuipke. Add track to cobbles and ‘cross on the list of bike races enjoyed by the Belgians.
The E-bike lunch
Electric bikes? Anathema. Cheating. Cumbersome. Slow. An aid to the lazy. Not cycling. I had some definite views before talking to Cannondale’s Chris Dodman. He is an intelligent man, however, and has forgotten more about bicycle engineering than I know. He’s in large part responsible for the BB30 bottom bracket, Cannondale’s highly engineered SiSL2 chainset, and the patented developments of the Synapse chassis. He knows a lot about E-bikes, too.
Cannondale engineer Chris Dodman has some powerful arguments in favour of E-bikes
Fast. Challenging. Time-saving. Facilitating. A workout when you don’t have time for a four-hour ride. An aid to the fit who want to ride with the fittest. And definitely cycling. Dodman has steered Cannondale’s partnership with motor manufacturer Bosch, who’ve invested a cool €17m in E-bike technology, probably after an hour in his company. The next best thing to riding bikes is talking about them. Lunch that day was particularly enjoyable.
The green bike
It’s low, very long and very green. Peter Sagan’s custom Cannondale Synapse is a bike of unusual, but unmistakable beauty. It’s fast, too, even with me at the controls.
We were in a rush to reach Harrogate after witnessing the Grand Départ in Leeds. So was he. pic: Marthein Smit
Riding a bike raced at Paris-Roubaix around the warehouse of a German brewery wasn’t on my agenda when I left England, but made an excellent late addition.