Roads to Ride: Blockhaus

Think of a mountain range used by the Giro and the Alps surely come to mind. The Apennines are the poorer cousins and all the more interesting for it. This central ridge, the spine of Italy, includes many good climbs and the Blockhaus is one of the hardest on Italy, not just in the Apennines but as challenging as anything in the Alps. The stats are comparable to Mont Ventoux, the reality is even more of a challenge.

This post was first put online in 2017 ahead of the Giro’s visit, it’s been updated for the 2022 return.

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The Steeper The Climb, The Easier The Race?

With the Giro d’Italia and Tour of California approaching the mountains, a moment to look at the subject of climbing.

There are names that stand out. Zoncolan. Angliru. Perhaps after the summer the Grand Colombier could join the club after the Tour de France climbs it for the first time. These are all steep climbs that are considered so hard that they are used sparingly in the big races, appearing only once every few years.

Of course there are other climbs that appear from time to time too. For example Mont Ventoux in France or the unpaved Colle delle Finestre in Italy but the climbs I’m talking about are famed for their pitch, with double-digit gradients. A ramp to the heavens, a “spaceship for the poor man” as Italian journalist Gianni Brera once wrote.

The names of these are used in whispered tones, as if some are fearful of upsetting the mountain gods. Certainly there is plenty for the riders to get angry about with relentless gradients, often well into double-digit percentages meaning these climbs are the place where three weeks of racing can be decided. They can be so steep cars are not used, instead race officials and mechanics hop onto motorbikes.

But if they are steep they are not hard. Their vertiginous gradients can be tamed by low gearing. Indeed the steepest of climbs can be the most predictable. Here’s a look at why the steepest climbs are not always the best.

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Cycling in France

Sport and transport are very different things. Think of cycling in France and maybe you ideas of the Tour de France or thoughts of a trip to the Alps. But for most people it’s a journey to work or a trip to the shops.

So time for a quick glance at regular cycling in France. And I’ll touch how this affects racing too.

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Getting the Euro look

You might have seen the Euro Cycling Rules on the internet. It’s amusing and like many internet successes it has a grain of truth along with some humour. We might mock the obsession with riding with tubs and obligatory white shoes but ultimately, who wouldn’t want to have shiny kit and the finest wheels money can buy?

I’ve ridden in several English-speaking countries and found the image of Euro-cycling was especially strong in Australia where, anecdotally, many riders fantasised about riding in Europe. Some would return from trips a little downbeat, although usually very satisfied with the whole thing.

The reason for the disappointment? They discovered that whilst the Alps, Tuscany or the Italian lakes can offer fine riding, the local riders themselves are not as elegant. Put simply, the Europeans just aren’t what many anglophones call “Euro”, a concept associated with The Rules.

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Track yourself against others

Cyclists often like to compare their rides. Almost every amateur with a powermeter will check their wattages against those of a pro and many holiday makers to the mountains like to know how they did compared to the time a race went over a nearby pass. But comparisons aren’t always easy. It’s hard to get … Read more

Man, You Look So Euro!

Perception vs. reality You might have seen the Euro Cycling Rules on the internet. It’s amusing but like many internet successes, it has a grain of truth. We might mock the obsession with riding with tubs and obligatory white shoes but ultimately, who wouldn’t want to have shiny kit and the finest wheels money can … Read more

Evans’ Rainbow Jersey to Ghisallo

Cadel Evans has gifted one of his World Champion “rainbow” jerseys to the Madonna del Ghisallo chapel near Bellagio in Italy. In an interview with La Gazzetta Dello Sport, Evans says he’s honoured to hand over the jersey but admits he’s an atheist. The chapel’s priest, Don Luigi, is apparently praying that Evans stays upright … Read more

Melting tarmac, why?

Tar fondu Life in France is great but it’s not without its problems, the relentless politicisation of every minor event, teenagers on mopeds with modified exhausts that make a vuvuzuela sound soothing and… melting roads. Picture the scene, you are descending a stunning route and suddenly round a bend to discover the road is melting, … Read more

Dogging Part II

A follow up to yesterday’s post, I got a comment asking if dogs really did run out. Of course they do! Here’s a selection from a short ride this evening. Sorry if this isn’t Cartier-Bresson but riding one handed trying to avoid a dog compromises the style… Beware of the dog signs are common. The … Read more

Dogging – Cave Canem

Waiting, just waiting. I know the local roads well, not just the routes to take but the details along the way. There are the obvious features like climbs, sharp corners and rough sections of roads. But I also I know where almost every dog lives within a 50km radius. Not only that, I know plenty … Read more