One from the vaults: How’s it going?

This is one of my earliest posts from July 2009 and explains why I set up the blog.

This blog was supposed to be about training and fundraising for my Livestrong Challenge in Austin, Texas, in late October and I’m aware that I often stray into other cycling (and non-cycling) related areas. But it’s my blog and I can write about whatever, whenever.

On the training front, my spell at altitude coupled with adherence for the past four months to “The Training Plan” is at last showing dividends. My average speed (and average cadence) has increased and, more importantly, I’m finishing rides without feeling totally exhausted – so, I could go even faster! This is indeed great news and, if we then factor in my declining (albeit slowly) weight, I would anticipate further improvements by October.

This time of year, the club trips take in some of my favourites cycles in the hills around the coast and tend to be in excess of 100km. I’ve found that it’s advisable to start early to avoid finishing at hottest part of the day and to ensure I reach the concentration point before the pointage closes. Yes, once bitten, twice shy.

Two Sundays ago, we rode to Cipières, via Col de Vence, setting off early, ahead of the club. I had anticipated that my fellow club mates would catch me up on the Col but they evidently, at the last moment, elected to take another route. It was a very warm day and I ran out of water by the top of the Col and had to ride the next 25km without. Not a good move and unfortunately there was no  point where I could refill my bottle. Once at the pointage, I gratefully drank two cups of lukewarm coke, ate some broken biscuits (not one of the better pointages, definitely a “could do better”) and refilled the water bottle. I stopped in Gourdon on the way back for a reviving cold coke. I never, ever used to drink coke but when you’re really thirsty and out of energy I’ve found there’s nothing quite so reviving as a cold coke.

Last week end I rode along the valley of the Vesubié to Venanson. Again, I set off ahead of the club but, due to numerous pit stops thanks to what is euphemistically referred to in the peloton as “intestinal troubles”, managed to miss most of the groups both on the way there and on the way back. Thank goodness this is a route well populated by small villages with bars and restaurants. I lost count of the number of stops I made, well into double figures. I won’t be eating any more really spicy food ahead of any major rides, ever again. Let it not be said, that I don’t learn from my mistakes.

All my fundraising to date has been via collection boxes for coins, so I’ve no real idea how it’s going. Whenever I pop into somewhere that is kindly hosting one of my collection boxes, I do give it a bit of a shake to see how it’s faring. One or two are definitely nearing emptying point. It’s amazing how quickly all that small change adds up.

With the Tour nearing its climax, three month’s from my Livestrong Challenge, I’m launching my intensive email fundraising bombardment – you have been warned!

One from the vaults: Don’t call me, I’ll call you

My month of July is typically dominated by the Tour de France, but not this year. Here’s a real golden oldy from July 2009 where I talk about my typical daily Tour routine. This was well before I started writing about cycling for VeloVoices.

While careful planning and preparation is one of the cornerstones of winning a Grand Tour, it’s also key to watching each stage. I don’t like to miss a moment’s action, so my planning and preparation also start well in advance of Le Grand Depart.

No trips, meetings or holidays, unless they involve going to watch a stage. In which case, hotels are booked as soon as the Tour route is formally announced. No visitors, unless they’re cycling fans. No one else understands. Work commitments are rescheduled. All records, returns and invoices for the second quarter of the year are completed as soon as possible and delivered to the accountant.

Most mornings, I rise early to ride my bike, eating breakfast and collecting my newspapers (L’Equipe and Nice Matin) on the way back. Once home, I shower, throw my kit in the washing machine and clean my bike. I prepare a quick lunch, usually a salad, and eat it while dealing with that morning’s email. Next, I tackle a few things on my prioritised “To Do” List. That way I’m ready to enjoy the afternoon’s transmission on TF2.

I will have saved a few chores to do while watching the Tour unfold: tackling the ironing mountain, darning and sewing on buttons, cleaning shoes, cleaning silver, sorting out my recipes etc etc You get my drift, I like to multi-task. With the whole three weeks mapped out, I can easily tackle any unforeseen emergency without it intruding on my viewing time.

My husband knows not to expect collecting from or being taken to the airport while a stage is in progress. Close family and friends do not call me during a stage. My sisters, who are currently staying just down the road, know not to call round until after the stage ends. At a minimum, I am out of commission from 14:20 until 17:30 each day.

Thank goodness for rest days, which allow me to take a longer ride, shop for food and do anything else that needs to be done.

One from the vaults: Home sweet home

I’ve really dug deep with this one. It’s from June 2009 when we decided to take a cycling vacation in Seefeld Austria. Sadly, the weather did not co-operate! When I first started blogging, I made little or no use of my photographs. But if you want to see photos of Seefeld and the surrounding area, there are plenty of other posts on my blog.

Sunday was the final day of our vacation and it was still raining, or should I say pouring. Undeterred by the climatic conditions, we have however had a most enjoyable vacation. Most days we have waited for a lull in the precipitation before venturing forth on our bikes, muffled up like Michelin men in rain jackets, leg and arm warmers. It’s warmed up as the week has progressed, although the surrounding mountains still have a dusting of snow.

During the week, we have ascended and descended all the surrounding hills, several times, most of which are an average 10% gradient.  I foolishly made the mistake of buying my beloved husband a book on rides in the surrounding area enabling him to seek out the highest climbs. However, we have also ridden along the valley visiting some of the villages perched part-way up the hills.

Now, we’ve seen plenty of cyclists out and about in the valley but, surprisingly, have not passed any, or indeed been passed by any on the climbs. Slogging back up one of these from the valley on Thursday, I was delighted when it levelled out at 7%. Yes, I know I can’t believe I even entertained that thought, but I did. Of course, it’s been great training as most of the climbs near us are only 7% average gradient.

I have a routine when cycling with my beloved. I always carry the cash, the mobile and the keys. I reckon that the combination acts as a powerful disincentive for my husband to misplace me. Equally, I don’t trust him not to lose any one of them should I be foolish enough to entrust him with them. History greatly supports my fears.

Nonetheless, my beloved managed to lose me on Friday in nearby Mittenwald, Germany. I searched all over for him, without success and as soon as the heavens opened (once again) I headed back across the border into Austria. It was cold and wet and, having climbed back up to the valley, I time-trialled home while passing cars regarded me with considerable disbelief.  My husband trailled in over an hour later looking (or so I like to think), a bit sheepish.

I am of course questioning why on earth did we decide to have a cycling holiday in Austria? Why did we not stay at home and enjoy the warm, sunny weather so ideal for cycling? The answer is my beloved. If he takes vacation and stays at home he keep straying into the office to answer a few emails or answer the phone and several hours later he’s still in there. From time to time, I need to ensure that he has a complete break. Conversely, my holiday starts when he heads off on a business trip. Roll on Monday!

One from the vaults: Postcard from the Giro d’Italia Part II

Here’s Part II of our trip in May 2016 to watch part of the Giro d’Italia.

At the start of Tuesday’s stage, in a suburb of Florence, we caught up with staff we know at team Bardiani-CSF and evaluated their riders’ chances of a stage win. My parting comment was “I’ll keep my fingers crossed, who knows, today could be the one!” Prophetic or what? One of their promising neo-pros, Giulio Ciccone, won the stage.

Impressed by my cakes, one of the Sky boys challenged me to come up with a bar for their musettes. They gave me one prepared by the wife of one of soigneurs. It was okay but rather dry and tasteless. I promised to work on it the following week and will return to the final few stages with a much improved product, along with some of my brownies.

Go, Joe, go!
The King of Utah, Joe Dombrowski
Cannondale's chef and crew enjoying my fruit cake!
Cannondale’s chef and crew enjoying my fruit cake!

After watching the peloton depart, we headed to a town we’d never before visited. Yes, this was our maiden trip to Bologna, a town about which I had little or no expectations but it blew me away. We stayed in a delightful, modern, three-roomed bed and breakfast in the old town, just a short stroll from the main attractions. Before checking in, we had lunch in a restaurant nearby which had been in situ since 1957. If it’s lasted that long it’s got to be good – right? Absolutely! We enjoyed yet another magnificent meal in a family run neighbourhood institution. The owner had passed away in 2007 but his widow still helps out while the three children now run the restaurant.

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Much to my delight, the restaurant featured an old childhood favourite, the sweet trolley. I couldn’t indulge but my beloved had the house speciality Zuppa Inglesi. He proclaimed it “nice” but a pale imitation of my and my late mother’s rum soaked trifles. Then it was time to walk off those calories around the magnificent old town whose monuments are built almost exclusively of brick, many dating from the 14th century. Some of them are very tall, underlining how wealthy the city was in former times.  The shops are under attractive stone porticoes which have beautiful frescoed ceilings and wrought iron lights, clocks and shop signs. This is one of the most beautiful cities in northern Italy and deserves to feature more prominently on tourists’ itineraries. I shall return particularly now I know how close it is to Mugello, home to last week-end’s Italian MotoGP.

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The following day we headed directly to the Giro stage finish in Asolo, the Pearl of Veneto, where one of my dearest friends lives. A fabulous cook, she whipped up a delicious feast for lunch which we enjoyed before watching the peloton stream through Asolo’s beautiful old town in dribs and drabs. Dinner at a local restaurant followed, before we headed to our hotel for the next few days in Pordenone.

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From time to time my beloved works with a company based here. We know the town well but haven’t visited for a while so it was good to renew our acquaintance with our favourite restaurants and watering holes. Thursday’s stage hugged the Venetian coastline though Wednesday’s warm sunshine had retreated behind clouds and heavy rain. We went to the stage start but when it’s pouring down with rain, it’s difficult to do much more than wave at the riders one knows. Understandably, no one wants to spend a moment longer than necessary in the inclement conditions.

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Friday’s stage started close to Udine in a medieval border town and fared better weather wise, though the boys were looking nervous as the stage heralded a triptych in the mountains before another difficult week ahead of the finish in Turin. I promised to return in the Southern Alps with more baked goods to see them through the penultimate day of climbing.

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Saturday we headed to Trieste to meet with potential clients from Slovenia. We’d briefly visited the city when the Giro d’Italia finished there in 2014 but hadn’t time to have a good look around as we needed to get back for Cannondale’s farewell Giro party. It was great to get another opportunity to visit this fascinating town which still bears the influence of its former occupiers, the Austrians, on its buildings and cuisine. Sadly, I couldn’t find a cake shop doing vegan equivalents of any of those delicious Austrian cakes.

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It was a great trip. The Giro is a beautiful race and I love the way the Italians embrace it by decking themselves, their children, pets and shops in pink. It’s much more of an individual and not a community effort and, as you might expect, it’s generally done with great style, panache and much reverence for the Giro’s history. I consider myself fortunate to live only 45 minutes from the Italian border.

One from the vaults: Postcard from the Giro d’Italia Part I

It’s May, It’s time for the Giro d’Italia. But not this year. So I’m dragging out one of my many posts about our various trips to Italy to watch the Giro. This one’s from May 2016, part II follows later.

My beloved and I consider ourselves most fortunate to often be able to combine work with pleasure. We spent the European mid-May Bank Holiday week-end in Tuscany watching the Giro d’Italia and cycling around the beautiful Tuscan countryside. Although typical wet Bank holiday weather was forecast, it was better than anticipated, with rain falling either overnight or just in the late afternoon.

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We stayed in a hotel we had first visited back in 2005 while spending time with one of my beloved’s German clients, who has a house to die for in Chiantishire. Over several subsequent trips to the region we’ve spent time in a number of  Tuscan towns and have always been delighted (typical British understatement) with the food, wine and culture on offer. Plus the cycling, on undulating roads with little or no traffic, has always been fantastic.

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On Saturday, after a quick ride, we headed over to Arezzo, the finish town for stage 8 of the Giro d’Italia which included some of the (in)famous Strade Bianche. We made the mistake of steering clear of the motorway in preference to the country roads and found every which way was blocked by the race some 4km out of Arezzo.

Undaunted we elected to walk only to later discover that the finish line was actually 8km from where we’d left the car. Now I usually love a brisk walk but found this tougher than anticipated in the warm late afternoon sunshine. We arrived at the finish the same time as the tail-end Charlies from the stage. More significantly, we arrived at the Accreditation Centre seconds after it was supposed to close only to discover everyone had packed up early and moved on. Neither of us could face the hike back to the car so we took a taxi.

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By this point in the proceedings, and having missed lunch, my beloved and I were both famished. On the way back we stopped off in the town where we’d stayed during the 2013 World Championships. Our good humours were revived with an Aperol Spritz at a nearby bar followed by dinner at an Osteria, both of which we’d previously frequented. The owner of the Osteria, who runs front of house, remembered us and his wife duly whipped up a truly delicious meal. Sated, we could finally laugh about our afternoon of mishaps. I slept well that night.

After misfiring on Saturday, we had to collect our accreditations at the start of Sunday’s time-trial stage but this process wasn’t without its tribulations. I was fifth in the queue but none of those ahead of me had pre-registered. The convoluted process took over an hour, added to a further 30 minutes waiting for the accreditation staff to turn up. I managed to while away the time chatting to the other journos and former pro Paolo Longo Borghini, who’s now responsible for rider safety at the Giro, and part of RCS’s management team.

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Next up, and more importantly, I had to deliver my cakes to the respective teams before we headed to the finish in nearby Greve in Chianti with our wet weather gear. Yes, the sun was shining but we’d seen the weather forecast. Most of the peloton would be getting a soaking.

 

The Mighty Boz
The Mighty Boz, aka Ian Boswell

Monday’s rest day involved a recovery ride around the glorious Tuscan hills. We were fortunately back before the afternoon downpour and ate a superb meal in a nearby bar packed with locals. It was so filling we only needed an ice cream from the gelateria for dinner, where I was delighted to discover they did two flavours of vegan ice cream (coffee and raspberry) which, in the interests of research, I just had to try.

One from the vaults: Slogans

Yet another of my many posts about cycling and road hazards! This one’s from May 2014 and riding my bike daily is the one thing I’ve really missed during lockdown. Fingers crossed I’ll shortly be able to venture forth.

I saw a brilliant slogan on the back of a t-shirt in my Twitter timeline recently it said “You own a car, not the road.” So, so true and I just know I’m going to be quoting that in a variety of languages to various vehicle drivers. The other one I like is “A metre matters”. That’s exhorting drivers to leave plenty of room when overtaking cyclists. Particularly pertinent to those towing caravans or boats. They have a similar campaign in Spain which demands a metre and a half overtaking space.

But as anyone who occasionally reads my blog or who rides themselves knows, the best drivers are those that also cycle.  We need to get more people cycling. Such as the gentleman who blithely blocked the cycle path as he was waiting to exit the petrol station. To make my point, I slammed on my (new) brakes and stopped within a hair’s breadth of his car. Did he retreat? No! I was forced to wait until the road was clear to swing out and overtake the bonnet of his car. I gave him The Look and noted his number plate.

Just ten minutes later, as my riding buddy and I were cycling side by side along the deserted two-lane coastal road, we were rudely tooted at by white van man who yelled at us to get out of the road and onto the cycle path! A cycle path intended for kids and those of a nervous disposition with a 10km/h speed limit. Sadly, the sequencing of the traffic lights didn’t allow  me to advise said driver that he owned a van, not the road. But I was oh so tempted to give chase – next time.

However, it was hard to stay annoyed on such a beautiful day. I thank my lucky stars daily that I’m fortunate enough to live here. No amount of rude white van men will ever change that!

One from the vaults: Marital aid

While I love a good argument, my husband dislikes any form of confrontation, particularly one he’s likely to lose. Yes, I generally like to have the last word. So he tries very hard never to give me the satisfaction of having it. Just about the only thing we ever used to argue about was directions while driving the car.

Yes, of course, that old chestnut. Women can’t find their way out of a paper bag, read a map, nor do they have any spatial awareness. While guys never ask for directions, never check on a map beforehand, never turn around after making a wrong turn etc etc But all that ended with the advent of GPS.

Having a GPS means never having to ask for directions, never having to check the route beforehand, never, ever having to say sorry, and, of course, if you do get lost, it’s not your fault!

Yes, there’s another woman now telling my husband, and your’s, exactly what to do and when. Hard as it is to believe, he’s actually listening. Has anyone ever heard a GPS with a man’s voice – no, I thought not.  The more sophisticated versions will even find you restaurants, petrol stations, whatever you need. How many marriages has this device saved? Is anyone keeping track?

They also do similar devices for bikes, and I’m sorely tempted to get one. However, it’s rare for my husband to take me on a wild goose chase on two wheels. Not that he hasn’t tried. But, it’s more that I now know my way around the surrounding countryside so much better than he does.

What he really needs is a device which keeps track of his peripherals: glasses, wallet, keys, mobile phone, briefcase. Now I know that my husband is not alone in being regularly parted, often only temporarily, with these things. But boy, do we waste a lot of time and energy trying to find them. While this would  deny me many more after dinner stories and jokes, frankly we’ve been married so long I already have at least three book’s worth, how many more do I really need?

One from the vaults: Postcards from the Basque Country – Part II

Continuing my Basque flavoured theme this week, here’s the second-part of my post on one of my favourite stage races, Vuelta al Pais Vasco #Itzulia.

Pretty much like the riders, when you’re following a race, your days follow a very similar format. Turn up at the start 90 minutes before the race start which, weather permitting, enables you to catch up with the riders and take photographs. It’s always easier if the team buses are parked close to the sign-on which isn’t always possible in some of the smaller towns. However, once the weather deteriorated, this became a bit of a logistical nightmare with the riders, understandably, not wanting to spend a moment longer than necessary in the freezing, wet conditions. Luckily, the weather doesn’t dampen the appetite of the fervent Basque fans who line the ascents in their hundreds and thousands.

The peloton departs and we race to our car or, in this case, our rented Renault Kangoo, to drive to the finish. We head first to the press room to bag our places, set up our laptops, enjoy the plentiful buffet and chat with a few of the photographers and reporters. Then it’s time to check our email and start writing up the summary of the day’s racing as it starts to unfold on the tv screen.

When the peloton’s 10km from home, the press room empties, everyone races to the finish line and listens to the two-handed Basque-Spanish commentary team, awaiting the arrival of the riders. Race over, we drift to the podium to congratulate and photograph the winners, then it’s back to the press room to finish the day’s report, download and edit the day’s photographs.

Job done, our thoughts drift inevitably towards dinner. We were staying in a charming family-run hotel close to a national park, in a town with a couple of restaurants and bars, one of which was excellent and where we ate most evenings. We didn’t manage to work our way through the menu as we often opted for the day’s specials. A relaxing glass of Rioja and we were both tucked up in bed, fast asleep, well before most of the riders.

Towards the end of our break, we popped in to see the owners of the hotel where we stayed last year. We couldn’t stay there this year as it was fully booked! I knew I shouldn’t have written them such a glowing review. We were greeted like long-lost family members and the welcome and cooking was as warm and as fantastic as we remembered. Given the dreadful weather conditions, my beloved is suggesting we opt for the Tour of Turkey next year. I’m not so sure. I really enjoy our sojourns in the Basque country and am already looking forward to our next trip at the end of July for the Clasica.

One from the vaults: Postcards from the Basque Country – Part I

I did say that I wouldn’t recycle too many cycling posts but, frankly, I’m having severe withdrawal symptoms with there being no live racing, anywhere. Ahead of what would have been this year’s Tour of the Basque Country, I’m recycling one from April 2013 which is lacking my trademark photographs – apologies! However, my husband provided plenty from the race for VeloVoices.

I know, I’m back home and I’ve not sent my postcards! We’ve all done it, haven’t we? But, to be honest, it’s the first time I’ve had any real opportunity to write about the trip and not the race which you can read about over on VeloVoices. Well apart from the shenanigans with the Russian visa application.

First up the weather was initially much better than anticipated meaning my beloved was able to ride for the first few days and I even accompanied him despite his unerring ability to find every steep climb in the neighbourhood. Admittedly that’s not difficult in the Basque country although this time he succeeded in finding one or two of the longer, more taxing climbs.

Of course, when I say I rode with him, I meant I trailed behind him. My beloved, despite our lengthy marriage, constantly fails to appreciate that if he runs, skis or cycles with me I’ll make an effort to keep up. Disappear 500m or more up the road, leaving me to my own devices, and I’ll amble along admiring the countryside or get into conversation with other cyclists. As a result, we rarely cycle together.

The first Saturday morning dawned bright, albeit overcast, after Friday’s torrential downpour,and my beloved wasted no time in hustling me out the door though, half-way into our ride, the heavens opened again and we turned tail and fled back to the warmth of our small family-run hotel.  In the afternoon we drove into Navarre to watch the GP Miguel Indurain where conversely the weather was dry with a chilly wind. The race weaves loops around the pretty old town of Estella where, after a truly magnificent lunch, we exhorted the peloton, surprisingly split into a multitude of small groups up the final climb.

Sunday morning we opted to further explore the countryside on two wheels. The sun shone although there was still an early morning nip in the air. The scent of word-burning fires, the bright lime-green shoots on the trees, the blossoming hedgerows, the sound of dogs barking and the tinkle of bells around the necks of goats and sheep gave everything a distinctly alpine feel but then we were riding at around 600-900m and some of the hills still had traces of snow.

I love riding in the Basque country where cyclists always seem to outnumber the motorists who keep a respectable distance and toot in a friendly and encouraging fashion as you labour up yet another of those steep, sharp inclines. Sunday was no exception and we saw many groups from the local cycling clubs, I even cycled and chatted with a few of them after being abandoned by my beloved. Ride over, we settled down to a plate of tapas, a glass of red wine and, on the big screen, the rigours of racing over the cobbles in Belgium in the Tour of Flanders.

Monday dawned bright and fair, again contrary to expectations, as we headed over to Elgoibar and the start of one of my favourite races of the year: the Vuelta al Pais Vasco. Accreditation secured, we headed to the team presentation and sign-on where I was able to catch up with a number of friends who were riding in the race. There’s nothing nicer than watching and encouraging someone you know. Our early start also gave us an opportunity to catch up with friends old and new in the press corps.

This race is extremely well attended by the bike loving Basques. The biggest cheers, not unnaturally, are reserved for the “home” team of Euskaltel-Euskadi and their lead rider and defending champion Samu Sanchez who obligingly had his photograph taken with hordes of dark-haired, dark-eyed moppets: inspiring the next generation. It’s also very evident that former winner Spaniard Alberto Contador is popular with the on-lookers.

The appreciative and knowledgable crowd also welcomes “old friends” such as Jens Voigt who was awarded a plaque in recognition of his support of this race. Conversely, Sky turning up with only six riders, and failing to attend the team presentation, was seen as disrespectful. As the race progressed, they made a point of arriving more punctually for the sign-on except for their gregarious bearded Basque Xabier Zandio who was an early starter most mornings. By the time they started winning stages, they were forgiven.

I love watching the pre-start interaction with everyone milling around the team buses in the hope of catching a glimpse of one of their heroes, a souvenir or two or just checking out the bike bling. Likewise those five minutes or so before the race starts where some riders wait patiently, composing their thoughts before the day’s challenges while others chat with their compatriots on other teams, no doubt comparing their experiences of the previous day’s racing.

The Vuelta al Pais Vasco follows a similar pattern most years, with the first and last days of racing centred on one town and the four stages in between setting off from the previous day’s finish town. It all takes place within a relatively confined geographic area allowing the teams to spend most of the race based in one hotel, close to the action, thereby avoiding long transfers and early morning starts. I think this is recompense for the fact that several stages take place in the freezing cold rain. This year’s been no exception, the rain started in earnest on Thursday with the Eibar summit finish shrouded in freezing fog. Friday morning we awoke to find a blizzard blowing. Why did no one tell me the locals’ nickname for Vitoria-Gasteiz is Siberia?? (to be continued)

Itzulia: I should be there!

One of my favourite bike stage races takes place in the Spanish Basque Country, usually after Easter, sandwiched between two great Classics’ races, the Tour of Flanders and Paris-Roubaix. I saw the latter live in 2011, but for five years in succession (2012 – 2016), prior to my beloved breaking his leg, we have watched the Basque race live.

His leg is now mended but pressure of work has prevented us from attending the race for the last two years and, of course, this year’s edition has been cancelled because of you know what.

As you all know, I love the race’s location. The Basque Country is famous for its sunny beaches, scintillating modern architecture and for its feisty, cycling-mad natives. It’s also simply beautiful: bright white chalet-style homes with deep-red, blue or green shutters scattered across lush, rolling hills; the Pyrenees Mountains soaring high above the Atlantic; and surfers and sardines sharing the waves. The dazzling architecture of the major towns such as Bilbao and Vitoria-Gasteiz, plus the traditional and thriving small towns, help make the entire region colourful, fun and welcoming.

I’m going to indulge in a spot of virtual travel and bike racing by looking at what might have been in respect of this year’s race which will now be held in 2021. Fingers crossed, I’ll be there!

The details of the six-stage, 898km route of the 60th edition of the race were only revealed in late February. The individual time-trial has been pushed back to the final day of the competition but before, the riders face 18,845 metres of climbing on the preceding five stages. That’s 20 mountain passes: 4 – 1st category; 7 – 2nd category and 9 – 3rd category. Unusually, the race is front-loaded meaning the battle for the spotted mountain jersey would be fought out and decided early on while the 10 sprints to decide the green jersey are pretty evenly distributed.

Monday 6 April, Stage 1: Eibar – Arrate

The opening stage has only six summits (gulp) and will be raced around Eibar, so often the concluding town for this event. It’s a very pleasant place to potter around while the riders are cresting those climbs though much of it has been rebuilt since being destroyed in the Spanish Civil War. It was formerly known for its armaments industry, and many of whose companies, such as BH and Orbea, now manufacture bikes.

For fans of the race, we’re in very familiar territory, particularly the final steep climb leading to the Arrate Sanctuary above Eibar. Both my beloved and I have cycled up here and it’s a tough, tough climb followed by a breakneck finish.

As you can see from the map above, the start is only a few kilometres from the finish line, so the riders are taking the scenic route via a rolling section along the coast towards the Bay of Biscay before they head back to Eibar and that testing finish.

Tuesday 7 April, Stage 2: Amurrio – Ermualde

Both of these towns are (unbelievedly) new to us though I’m pretty sure we’ve probably driven through them at one time or another. Again, the start’s not too far from the finish so the riders will be riding the long way round. This part of the parcours could prove to be quite windy and provide the viewers with some exciting echelon action. The stage tops out with an unprecedented uphill climb (av 11.1%) ending at the Ermualde finish line. The final 3kms are particularly tough. But again, this is just half the story. The first kilometre is at 10.7%, the second at 15.6%, and the rest of the ascent hovers around 7%. That’s gonna hurt!

Wednesday 8 April, Stage 3: Vitoria-Gasteiz – Ibardin

The longest stage in this year’s Itzulia, 200 km through Álava and Navarre. After the last two days of climbing, the kilometres could take their toll on the riders’ legs. And, of course, there’s yet another summit finish. The final ascent is just over six kilometres with an average gradient of 5.8%. This climb last featured in the race in 2012. I can still recall eventual race winner Samuel Sánchez outgunning Joaquim Rodríguez and Chris Horner in a three-up sprint.

Thursday 9 April, Stage 4: Bera – Errenteria

This stage is spectator friendly with a number of loops around the area. The riders head south from Bera and the first loop starts near Elogorriana, taking the riders over the Belate (11km at 5.1%) and Saldias (4.4km at 4.3%). The route returns to Bera after 107km and now heads north. Two more loops follow after Irún, the second of which includes the Erlaitz climb, which also featured in last year’s Clásica de San Sebastián. The riders should fly down the Erlaitz to the finish line in Errentería.

Friday 10 April, Stage 5: Errentería to Sestao

Today’s the “flattest stage” in Itzulia and the sprinters’ last opportunity to shine. The riders battling for GC (General Classification) will appreciate being able to save their energy for tomorrow’s time-trial. Of course, in the Basque Country, there’s never an ideal stage for pure sprinters because it’s always so undulating but for those with stamina….this is where they could prevail. There are only two climbs of any note. The road to Areitio climbs for 2.3km at 5.8%, but the La Reineta climb is more likely to have an impact in terms of the stage victory. This 6.4km ascent at 5.6% is just over 22km from the finish which runs slightly uphill.

Saturday 11 April, Stage 6: Bilbao – Bilbao (21km ITT)

As in previous years, the time trial will decide this year’s Itzulia. A 21km ride between the Basilica of Begoña and Etxeberria Park. It’s a fast time trial with two uphill climbs. It’s a false flat downhill for the first couple of kilometres leading to the first climb. It’s short but there’s a double-digit ramp 300 metres before the top. The road then descends for 7km kilometres before heading onto an undulating section before a wall-like intermezzo takes centre stage. The 7km climb (av.12.8%), opens with a 17% ramp for the first kilometre. Then another false flat downhill leads to the last kilometre which starts as a gradual climb before peaking in the last few hundred metres to the line at 11%.

This is the stage which will decide who gets to wear the winner’s big, black floppy “txapela.”

Last year’s edition (summary video above) produced the first Basque winner for a while, let’s hope the tradition continues next year. Meanwhile, I’d better get cracking and book our hotel for next year!