Saturday, 31 May 2014

Ride Report: "A Slice of Banana Pie"

We've had a busy week this week, blogging about our plan to score the ultimate job reporting from the Tour de France for CyclingTips, so today we thought we'd reward ourselves with a Saturday morning bike ride.

Living in Sydney, we're fortunate to have a wide menu of rides open to us. There are enough bike shops, cycling clubs and other groups organising bunch rides that no matter what your cycling ability there's bound to be something out there for you. This morning we decided to join the Bike North bunch on one of their favourite routes: A Slice of Banana Pie.

No fancy Strava art this time, sorry.
The ride started in Turramurra and followed the old Pacific Highway nearly all the way to Brooklyn, stopping for coffee at "Pie in the Sky" (a cafe/bakery popular with cyclists and motorcyclists alike) before returning to Turramurra via Bobbin Head. Since the construction of the M1 motorway the old Pacify Highway doesn't see a lot of car traffic, and with gorgeous views over Muogamarra Nature Reserve the road attracts a lot of two-wheeled visitors.

The Bike North bunch has a tendency to take rather a long coffee break mid-ride, which gave us the perfect opportunity to drop down the hill to the Hawkesbury River and then climb back up to the cafe, leaving just enough time for a quick macchiato before heading off again. Apart from a bit of smoke in the air from the hazard reduction fires burning nearby, conditions were perfect.

Macchiatos at Pie in the Sky - note the technically correct usage of the cycling cap
When you're a cyclist, this is what Saturday mornings are all about. Sometimes you ride further and go harder, other times it's shorter and easier, but when the sun's shining and you're having a post-ride coffee with mates, it's hard not to have a smile on your face.

Until tomorrow, keep pedalling!


Friday, 30 May 2014

Bergerac - Racing to win

In the Tour de France, it's not uncommon for the race for overall victory to remain wide open right up until the penultimate stage time trial, which this year will start in Bergerac in south-western France. By this stage of the race the main contenders will all have a fairly good grasp of each other's form, and as one-by-one the riders descend the starting ramp to begin their solo journey towards Périgueux, the time-checks will trickle in and the Classement Général will slowly reshuffle itself into its final configuration. Late in the day, as the crowds swell, the leaders of the race will face their final test, and they will be holding nothing in reserve.

Cadel Evans rides himself into the leader's jersey on stage 20 of the 2011 Tour de France (Photo from CyclingTips)
In the competition for the ultimate job reporting at the Tour de France for CyclingTips, we face our own Race of Truth: our formal entry submission is due today, and whilst we hope that our efforts blogging, tweeting and making Strava art will put us in a good starting position, our fortunes will rest on this final test.

We intend to hold nothing in reserve.

Yesterday we got a chance to see the form that some of our competitors are in and it's clear that this will be a very close race indeed. The competition organisers have given clear instructions on what they want to see:
Be creative. We want to see you thinking outside the square. So many media outlets cover the Tour de France in so much detail that it’s often hard to find something different to say. We want your coverage to be different. Show us how you’ll do that.
So we've responded with a written submission that highlights our enthusiasm and versatility, whilst outlining our overarching theme: there's nothing quite like being there.

Watching a bike race like the Tour de France on TV and reading about it online is great fun, but a lot of the coverage we get here in Australia can make the event feel like it's happening a million miles away (or at least ten-and-a-half thousand miles away). We want to give people a taste of what it's like to stand at the side of the road yelling "Allez! Allez!" as the sprinters' grupetto grinds its way up a fifteen percent grade and a drunk Belgian tells you for the third time about the day he out-sprinted Eddy Merkx to win a kermesse race in Flanders in the 1960s. These are the stories you don't get to see on TV, but they're the ones you remember decades later.

Our formal submission to the competition, which you can download here.
Lastly, we want to thank you for reading our blog this week. We were out and about yesterday morning and we filmed this short little video in front of Sydney Harbour. It's really just a "hello" and introduction, but we wanted to share it with you and say "Thanks".

Keep Pedalling.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Fifteen feet of pure white snow

Where is Mona?
She's long gone
Where is Mary?
She's taken her along
But they haven't put their mittens on
And there's fifteen feet of pure white snow

We couldn't let it go unacknowledged on our blog that there's a bike race happening in Italy at the moment. Nor could we ignore the fact that on Tuesday, 160 riders in this bike race suffered through 139 excruciating kilometres in some of the toughest conditions the two of us have ever seen.

Three towering peaks to climb, each more than 2000m in altitude; narrow, winding descents on wet, crumbling roads; sub-zero temperatures; and snow - all that snow.

Photo by Cor Vos / CyclingTips

I waved to my neighbour
My neighbour waved to me
But my neighbour
Is my enemy
I kept waving my arms 
Till I could not see
Under fifteen feet of pure white snow

Others have written about the controversy surrounding the descent of the Stelvio, so we really don't need to. Instead, our interest lies in the experiences of the fans, the support crews and the riders themselves on a day they will all remember for a long time, albeit a day some may want to forget. 

Sitting comfortably on a warm sofa (or in Mark's case, tucked cosily into bed), we watched in awe at the images on our screens. Our stomachs tensed with the futile death-throes of riders out of the saddle, as the gradient notched up and the wheel in front edged away. We grimaced at the near misses on cliff-edge corners, with nothing but snow-drifts below. And we rejoiced in the momentous glory as the stage winner crossed the line to claim the Maglia Rosa.

It's a beautiful sport, and we are grateful for those who suffer through days like these, inspiring the rest of us to push that little bit harder and climb that little bit higher.

Is there anyone else here who doesn't know?
We're under fifteen feet of pure white snow
 - Fifteen feet of pure white snow by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

The sun was back out for yesterday's stage, and the roads were flatter, but we still say chapeau to the riders, the fans and all those who make this sport great.

Keep pedalling.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Le Domestique

Cycling is a team sport.

Although it's true that only one man can wear the Maillot Jaune on the Champs-Élysées, it is never a solo journey. Behind every Tour de France champion (or, more frequently, one wheel in front of him) is a long-suffering domestique. These guys know that they will never compete for overall honours, yet they work tirelessly to give the team leader the best possible opportunity to work his magic.

On rare occasions, when the race situation permits, a lowly domestique will be given permission to join a (probably-futile) breakaway and race not for his team leader, but for his own individual glory. For me, today is one of those days.

I'm Tom, Mark's faithful teammate and the scribe of this blog:

Lover of wine, cheese and cycling
I've been a cycling fan for a number of years and over that time I've been lucky enough to spend several fun weeks touring around the countryside on a bicycle.

For the last three years in a row, in April, I've spent a week riding 1,000km through country South Australia as part of SuperCycle, a charity event that this year alone raised over $445,000 to build accommodation for rural and regional cancer patients who need to travel to Adelaide for treatment.

Leading the peloton around a corner on SuperCycle 2013
I love cycling so much I convinced my wife to spend our honeymoon cycling 900km around New Zealand's South Island.

There were some long days on the bike...
...but we weren't exactly roughing it.
As a seasoned cycle-tourist I'm very excited at the prospect that Mark and I could be covering the Tour de France for CyclingTips. It's been a pipe dream for several years to visit France in July but the stars have never aligned. Perhaps this year will be the year.

Now as the finish line draws close and the peloton bears down on today's breakaway, only time will tell whether a stage win will be mine. Until then, and always, keep pedalling!


Tuesday, 27 May 2014

On the Mark - the Nairo Quintana of the lens

As we explained yesterday, in the race for the coveted Ultimate Job with CyclingTips, doing flashy, attention-seeking publicity stunts like writing out "CyclingTips" using Strava is somewhat akin to a Mario Cipollini stage win: sure, it gets the gets the crowd excited, but if that's all you've got, you probably won't be joining the peloton in Paris.

All good cycling fans know that the Tour de France is won and lost in the mountains, and the CyclingTips competition is much the same. The big difference is that we don't need to ride up mountains quickly in order to win - we only need to photograph them. This is where Mark comes into his own. Mark, you will discover, is the Nairo Quintana of the lens, the Marco Pantani of the shutter.

Today's post is all about Mark.

Mark is a well-travelled gentleman. He spent three years taking tours all across Europe, including lots of time spent in France. He knows all the best cafes, bars, art galleries and charming little backstreets, from Calais to Perpignan.

On the bike, Mark is a man who loves the flat roads. You can count on him to lead out all the sprints, but as soon as the road turns skyward he'll be the one sitting on the back of the autobus cracking jokes and gasping for breath.

If we are successful in our campaign to cover the Tour for CyclingTips, our first full day on the bike with Bikestyle Tours will see us take on the fearsome Alpe d'Huez. This will be a challenge for Mark (although one which he claims he is looking forward to), but his pain will be for your gain because the view from the top will be superb.

Here's a quick sample of Mark's previous work from around the world, to give you a taste of what to expect:

La Tour Eiffel at night
Enjoying the splendour of a typical Swiss Alp valley
Sunset over the Nile, Egypt

You can see more of Mark's photography here at our Picasa Web Album.

We know that, at CyclingTips, the standard of photography is absolutely first rate, so even with Mark's talents it will require a huge effort to match quality of their staff photographers, but we're willing to give it a shot! (no pun intended)

Until tomorrow, keep pedalling.


Monday, 26 May 2014

A stage win on the long road to Paris

Much like the Tour de France itself, the battle for the job to cover Le Tour for CyclingTips is waged on many fronts, over many days, and is open to the best competitors from all over the world. In an endurance event such as this, it's important to measure your effort and make sure you have plenty left in the tank for a strong finish.

Of course, it's also fun to go out hard and race for a stage win once an a while, which is exactly what we did in yesterday's post.

Our efforts were rewarded when CyclingTips featured us in their Rocacorba Daily:

Our 15 seconds of fame

We are truly honoured to see our Strava Art grace the pages of such a fine publication. And whilst we're buoyed by the taste of success so early in our campaign, we must follow the lead of our cycling heroes and remain focused on the fight for overall victory. After all, just as being a hot-shot sprinter will only ever see you in the Maillot Jaune for the first week of the Tour, fancy Strava Art alone will not be enough to get us to Paris wearing yellow.

To this end, for the rest of the week we will be concentrating on the core disciplines of this contest: writing, photography, videography and, of course, knowing how to have fun on tour!

Stay tuned for another update tomorrow. Until then, keep pedalling!


Sunday, 25 May 2014

A Sketchy Sunday Ride

Hello again!

It looks like the fine folk at CyclingTips have high expectations for the quality of entries into their Ultimate Job Competition. They've already layed down the gauntlet with a pretty stylish photo of vintage bikes on a vintage car with the CyclingTips logo on it:
Naturally, we felt we could do better:
Of course, it's one thing to talk big...

In our quest for the perfect expression of our artistic genius, we looked back at the entry criteria and saw this little comment:
Be sure to demonstrate that you're able to produce awesome content (video, photography, text, Etch-A-Sketch ... whatever medium you wish)
Etch-A-Sketch eh? That's a little bit last century for us, but thankfully there happens to be a 21st century version of the Etch-A-Sketch that's perfect for nerdy cyclists such as ourselves. We are of course referring to Strava.

Those of you familiar with Strava as an art medium would know that it's a lot like drawing with a giant Etch-A-Sketch: you need to draw in one continuous line and if you make a mistake you have to start over. If you're us, that means you need to start over no less than 3 times, and of course the start just had to be halfway up a hill, didn't it?

Nevertheless, this afternoon our art project came to fruition:

For the Strava-nerds out there: you can check out the activity on our Strava Profile. It's fair to say we're pretty proud that we managed to rank 1078th on the segment called Ben's Bends.

Until tomorrow. Keep pedalling!

And don't forget to follow us on Twitter @MarkTomTDF


Saturday, 24 May 2014

We want to cover Le Tour for CyclingTips


We are Mark and Tom - two mates who like cycling, food & wine, going on tour and having fun.
Although we are both pursuing our own separate careers (which are, sadly, a far cry from the world of professional cycling), we have both recently found ourselves in a fortuitous state of temporary unemployment.

Marky Mark

Tommy Tom

What to do with such time on our hands? Obviously plenty of long bike rides, gourmet meals and trips to the Hunter Valley are on the cards. But imagine how happy we were to discover that CyclingTips is offering two people the chance to score the ultimate job: reporting from the Tour de France.

"We've found our calling!" we cried in unison.

We've created this blog to show the good people at CyclingTips that we're the guys for the job. Between the two of us we've spent over three years leading tours through Europe and many weeks cycle-touring through Australia and New Zealand. Together, we have just what it takes to show the readers of CyclingTips how much fun can be had on a cycling trip through France in July.

We'll be posting daily with photos, videos and stories about our cycling escapades here in Sydney, as well as giving you all a bit of background about ourselves, why we're the perfect people for the job and how we intend to cover Le Tour.

You can also follow us on Twitter @MarkTomTDF.

Keep pedalling!