Traversing Northern Italy by bike

From by Chris Case


A JOURNEY ISN’T ONLY about where you go, but where you’re taken. The best excursions bring you back in time, across the sweep of history, and into other worlds. They take you to places you never thought possible, both physically and mentally. They add as much life to your years as they do years to your life. And, of course, at their core, they’re about exploring and understanding a bit about parts unfamiliar, those wild and scenic spots on few to-do lists.

The DuVine Dolomites Journey starts near the village of Aprica, in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, near the base of the infamous Passo Mortirolo in the Alps. We then climb over the gargantuan Passo dello Stelvio, skate through the Adige Valley to Bolzano, and climb into the heart of the Dolomites before escaping into Slovenia. Finally we zigzag across vineyards until plummeting to the edge of the Mediterranean Sea in Trieste.

Over seven days, the group, which includes guests from their mid sixties to their early thirties, from all walks of life (including one famous chef, Seamus Mullen), rides about 400 miles and gains approximately 45,000 feet in elevation. (Slight variations in skill levels lead to a few bonus miles and climbs for some; my Garmin has me at 425.1 miles and 48,841 feet.)

We cross through fundamentally different cultural enclaves, drastically different climatic conditions, through fragile ecosystems and urban landscapes, past the quaintest of villages and over some of the greatest, hardest, and most historic climbs in cycling history. Every inch of it by bike, point to point to point.

Physically, anyone of any fitness level would find the days both long and rewarding. Others even more so. The food each night? On average it’s spectacular and always plentiful. But this isn’t the Italian cuisine you’re most familiar with. The pasta is hidden by the prosciutto, the pizza margherita obscured by the piles of speck. There is a definitive Germanic influence to this part of Italy.

The characters in this story are real, though their names have been changed to protect their identities. (What happens on a DuVine trip stays on a DuVine trip.) The stories are real, and have never been embellished for effect. The places are most certainly real; you can’t improve upon what must be one of the most divine cycling arenas on Earth.

Let the journey begin.


Day 1 || Aprica > Mortirolo > Passo Gavia > Bormio || 64.4 miles and 8,930 feet

Theme: Initiation

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I just need to get warm.”

The pop of cycling cleats clicking into pedals signifies the official start of this wonderful journey. It’s a welcome note after the months of anticipating what for some is a dream come true. We are embarking into hallowed ground, dancing up and over and among some of the most famous climbs that cyclists have ever traversed, many because of their prominent roles in the history of the Giro d’Italia. Not that this means something to everyone. Most guests are here, generally, for the experience of riding through picturesque mountains in Italy. Others are here for the very specific experience of suffering on the same slopes that Coppi, Pantani, and Nibali have suffered on before.

Immediately, some of our respective cycling personas are revealed. We’re cyclists: There is a certain innate level of egoism to our sport. Maybe it lives in our bib shorts, however strange that may sound. When we don our chamois, we put on our uniform, and our character is revealed. Some have matching kits, socks, caps, and shoes. Others sport their favorite jersey from a charity ride. Some will take it easy from the gun; others can’t help but attack. In any case, we’re all here, together, riding through Italy’s majestic north, and we’re enamored with the thought.

After we reach the top of the Passo Mortirolo the group splits, with three guests (myself included) and one guide accepting the bonus challenge of the Passo di Gavia. It is a hearty one. It begins to rain as we drop down toward the town of Ponte di Legno, at the Gavia’s base. The poor weather continues to decline, which is perfectly appropriate for a spirited attack on this gruesome pass.

Cycling aficionados should be intimately familiar with what happened on this climb in 1988: Andy Hampsten’s bike sears skinny tire tracks in the snow-covered road, his face obscured by giant goggles and fluttering snowflakes. You must have seen the poster, and surely know the tale. Now it’s our turn to be like Andy.

By the time we reach the top, it’s 31.9 degrees and sleeting. The fog is thick, and scraggly rock outcroppings eerily loom on all sides. No, Andy didn’t have it this bad, we think. He had the luxury of riding in the snow, we tell ourselves. It’s all a lie, of course. We could never be like Andy. But it helps us feel tough. And hardmen never get cold.

We crack the top, snap some pics, and quickly turn our attention to getting down. I don five jackets and blaze the descent, cold to the core.

Our first day ends with supreme satisfaction, and very cold toes.


Day 2 || Bormio > Passo dello Stelvio > Rabla || 57.5 miles and 5,709 feet

Theme: Camaraderie 

Quote of the day: “I’m not attacking, I just want to get a good photo.”

We’ve bonded. We form small groups out of the gate. Today will be a milestone for many, climbing Passo dello Stelvio with the threat of snow scheduled for our arrival on top.

This climb, with its majestic switchbacks, never ceases to amaze. Never disappoints. Never seems to quit. An otherworldly vista is drawn before us, with grasses the color of seaweed surrounded by snowcapped peaks and low-hanging clouds giving the air a still, sinister quality.

I find myself riding most often with three men today: Tom is one of our DuVine guides, a veteran of 10 years leading trips around Europe, and someone who loves to look like he’s never ridden before. In his early 30s, he’s strong despite his hairy legs and droopy socks. Then there are Ricky and McGregor. We all like to hurt each other, if we can. We don’t like to lose. We punch it. I get in the habit of jumping ahead so I can stop to take photos. Then I find myself churning to regain the front of the pack. I stop again. Suddenly, I’m fairly certain I see Tom up ahead giving it gas despite the fact that I haven’t caught back on. So I go full-gas. It’s a hard chase, but eventually the small prize of a big Stelvio climb is mine.

(It’s the first sign that this week will be filled with imaginary finish lines atop summits and at town lines, dotted across our many miles.)

At the top, there are two things in abundance: camaraderie and minestrone. (Two bowls please!) As brains thaw and rider after rider enters the Albergo Tibet above the snaking scene of 48 switchbacks plummeting out of sight in the valley below, it dawns on each of us what we’ve done. And we share that sense of accomplishment with one another, hugging and connecting in many ways, tangible and not. These are the moments that we’ll say “changed our lives” when we think back on this trip. It’s not an embellishment. This place, the effort, the conditions, the history: together it takes on prominent cycling significance.


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The 10 most epic bike rides.




Let’s start at the top. Literally. This cog-busting ride across the Himalayas scales four mountain passes above 4000 metres in altitude, with the option to cycle to the top of the road claimed as the highest in the world – 5600 metres above sea level – as an encore.

The 500-kilometre ride begins in the green foothills of the Himalayas at Manali in northwestern India and crosses to the high desert of Ladakh. It’s breathtaking in every sense, with barrenly beautiful Himalayan peaks crowding the quiet highway, which is usually open for about three months of the year (July to September).



With a fearsome reputation even among 4WDers, Cape York’s challenges and rewards come in equal measures.

From Cairns it’s a 1200-kilometre ride to Australia’s northern tip if you shun the main drag for the more pleasurable Bloomfield Track and Old Telegraph Track – the latter mixes tough sections of sand with the ride’s best moments between a succession of waterfalls.

When I cycled this route, the journey took three weeks and a great toll on my bike, but it remains fixed in my mind as one of the finest bike rides I’ve undertaken. Save your legs by returning from the tip aboard the Trinity Bay cargo ship.



Cycling to the South Pole sounds improbable and likely impossible, but this December the first commercial cycling tour group will set out for the world’s icy southern apex.

Riding on fat bikes (mountain bikes with extra-wide tyres), the expedition will fly in from Punta Arenas (Chile) to Union Glacier Camp and then to the 89th parallel, from where they will cycle for nine days to cover the final 110 kilometres to the South Pole.

World firsts don’t come cheap – it costs US$70,000 to join the expedition, but you get to keep the fat bike.



One of the world’s most difficult road mountain cycling challenges, the Raid Pyreneen has been shredding thighs since the 1950s. It requires you to ride the length of the Pyrenees, but you must do so in 10 days, pedalling 800 kilometres and climbing around 16,000 metres over 28 mountain passes.

The challenge is the brainchild of the Cyclo Club Bearnais and, if you succeed, the club awards you a Raid medallion. If somehow that all sounds too easy, you can always step up a gear to the randonneur version: 720 kilometres, 18 passes and 11,000 metres of ascent in just 100 hours. It’s exhausting just writing that.

Register your attempt online at least two weeks before you begin.



The pinnacle of non-competitive long-distance riding, Paris-Brest-Paris (PBP) is one of the world’s oldest cycling events.

It was first run in 1891, 12 years before the Tour de France began, and is held every four years. The task is simple, even if the effort is not – pedal 1200 kilometres from Paris to Brest, by the western tip of Brittany, and back inside 90 hours. To ride, you must qualify through a series of other events up to 600 kilometres in length.

The next PBP will be held in 2019.



Once the most popular trekking trail in Nepal, the Annapurna Circuit has fallen into the clutches of mountain bikers. Realistically, the classic 300-kilometre circuit from Besi Sahar to Beni will take cyclists at least eight days (compared to about 15 on foot).

You’ll cycle as high as you may ever get in life – 5416 metres above sea level on Thorung La pass – and pedal through the deepest gorge on earth, beneath two of the world’s 10 highest mountains.

You won’t be pedalling it all – on the climb to Thorung La, for instance, you’ll probably be carrying your bike for up to five hours at a lung-destroying altitude.




Motorists might more commonly know it as the “Nulla-bored”, but there’s surprising diversity to Australia’s most notorious road when seen from bike speed.

The 1200-kilometre ride from Ceduna to Norseman comes with road trains and caravans for company, but traffic is typically light enough that they present few problems.

The longest stretch between the 10 roadhouses  is around 190 kilometres, so expect at least a couple of nights camped out in the middle of nowhere. The section of true Nullarbor plain is short, pinched between rolling mallee scrub and some of Australia’s most impressive cliffs tipping into the Great Australian Bight.




Every cycle tourer knows that wind is your enemy – do tailwinds even exist? – and this mostly unsealed Patagonian road between Puerto Montt and Villa O’Higgins is a journey into a true wind tunnel.

Despite that, the 1200-kilometre road, built only in the 1980s, sees a steady stream of cyclists, drawn here by the challenge and the postcard perfection of the fiords, snow-capped Andean peaks and glaciers. To get the best of the inevitable Patagonian winds, pedal it from north to south.




The world’s longest set mountain-bike route doesn’t just traverse the entire US, it continues on through the Canadian Rockies into Banff.

All up, it’s a 4400-kilometre ride from the Mexican border at Antelope Wells to Banff, zigzagging across North America’s Great Divide at least 30 times. All those zigs sure add up, with the GDMBR climbing more than 60,000 metres, about the equivalent of cycling up and down Everest twice (the only time you won’t be climbing or descending is through Wyoming’s Great Basin).

The route is remote and committing, and you’ll need to be carrying provisions at least through the New Mexico section.



Cycle the length of Africa, or just a really big chunk of it … it’s your call on the annual Tour d’Afrique.

The ride begins each January in Cairo, ending four months and 11,500 kilometres later in Africa’s other bookend, Cape Town.

If you have the time (and US$17,000) you can ride the whole thing (which includes 29 rest days); otherwise the event is broken into eight distinct sections – Cairo to Khartoum, or Victoria Falls to Windhoek, for instance. It’s no dawdle, with daily distances averaging around 130 kilometres.


Read more here.



5 Max Heartrate Training Myths


Think you know everything about max heart rate and why it’s important? Think again.


For decades, athletes have used maximum heart rate as a way to figure out which zones they should be training in. The most common wisdom was to subtract your age from 220, and—voilà!—you had your max HR, a figure representing the greatest number of beats per minute your heart can achieve. Then, from that number, you could allegedly calculate your recovery, fat-burning, lactate threshold, and anaerobic heart-rate training zones.

However, it’s a rudimentary system—like, ‘might as well use an abacus as a bike computer‘ rudimentary.

“It’s been the standard for years but there are a lot of variables” that can throw off your max HR, says Cherie Miner, MD, a sports medicine physician and age-group Ironman athlete at Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center. She adds that how fit you are, how hot it is, and how much stress you’re under can all affect your max HR at any given time.

Like the 220-minus-age rule, there are a lot of other myths surrounding max HR. Here, we debunk the worst of them.


If You Go Over Your Max HR, Your Heart Explodes

You’ve gotta admit, this would be equally horrifying and badass if true. Rest easy, though—it won’t happen.

“Your heart gets to the point where it can’t eject blood effectively enough; where it’s not productive anymore,” says Dean Golich, head performance physiologist for Carmichael Training Systems. When this happens, self-preservation kicks in and you slow down. If you’re in a race, that means you’ll either just get droppedor toss your cookies.

“Most people have 1 to 2 minutes max at their max HR; highly trained athletes may have more,” says Miner. Expect to see your performance suffer very quickly if you try and maintain your max HR for more than just a short burst.


Your Max HR Is the Same For Everyone Your Age

That’s what the old-school formulas assume, but Golich says it’s much more nuanced than that. Max HR is largely untrainable, and determined by genetics—some of us have hearts tuned like humming birds’ while others have the slow ‘n steady type.

“But it’s not an indication of performance,” Golich says. “If your max is 200 and someone else’s is 190, it doesn’t mean one of you is the better athlete.” In fact, he’s worked with numerous talented athletes at both ends of the spectrum.

It’s good to remember that everyone’s max HR does drop as they age—but again, that doesn’t mean you’re losing fitness. Regular training and good nutrition will affect performance more than the fact that your max HR is now slightly lower than it was three years ago. In reality, it’s not your max HR that determines your fitness level: Being able to hold your max HR for longer and longer sessions is what’s key.


Heart Rate Is A Measurement Of How Hard You’re Working

Heart rate is a reaction to work being done, not a measurement of actual work. For example, Golich says that if you ratchet yourself up to 200 watts for three minutes, for the first minute, your heart may tick along at 170bpm; by minute two it may be at 180; and by minute three you could be pushing 189. But you’re doing the same amount of work the whole time—200 watts.

If you were to ride for three minutes with the intention of maintaining the same heart rate, things would look different. Say you ramped up to 180bpm to start— you might ride at 200 watts for the first minute, but you’d likely have to drop your watts to sustain that heart rate for minutes two and three.

Golich himself prefers to have his clients train with power meters or using Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE)—simply, a personal appraisal of how hard you feel you’re working—rather than HR.

“There are a lot of grey areas,” with heart rate, he says, adding that being overheated, under-fueled, or even just hopped up on caffeine will throw your heart rate numbers off for the day.

Furthermore, the number displayed by your heart rate monitor or the screen on a gym treadmill may not be accurate. Sure, using a computer is certainly more accurate than the 220-age formula, but Golich adds says that since these devices take measurements every few seconds, they’re probably not dead-on. If you really want to know your true max heart rate, an EKG is the best way to go, though Golich believes it’s not an expense worth taking on.


If I’m Not Working at My Max Heart Rate, I’m Not Working Hard Enough

Here’s your license to chill. Max heart-rate workouts should be done sparingly, says Miner, since the ultra-high intensity can lead to injuries, extreme fatigue, and other symptoms of overtraining. Plus, there’s merit to working in many different heart-rate zones—from increasing your base fitness with low-intensity sessions to pushing the boundaries at your lactate threshold, and even tipping into some anaerobic work.

If you only have two speeds—hard and OMG hard—you’re doing yourself a disservice.




Pedalling the pounds away: Why cycling could be the best way to lose weight

As the Tour de France gets into gear and the world’s elite cyclists compete to conquer climbs and steer clear of skin grafts, new research reveals the true impact of the cycling boom here in the UK. Studies from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, published in a Lancet paper on Diabetes and Endocrinology, reveal that cycling is the best activity to combat the obesity epidemic, with men in particular most likely to gain from a ‘get on your bike’ approach.

Over 150,000 British adults, aged 40 and upwards were measured, weighed and surveyed about their activity levels for the study. Researchers, led by Dr Ellen Flint, discovered that for the average man, cycling to work instead of driving was associated with a weight difference of 5kg (11lbs).

For men in their thirties onwards, the need to manage weight gain and combat the associated health risks that come with it is essential. Research shows that muscle mass, aerobic capacity and flexibility in men naturally goes into decline at this age. But by maintaining exercise levels through sports such as cycling, those most at risk of ‘middle age spread’ or its deadlier form – metabolic syndrome – can put up a strong fight for a longer, healthier life.

“Two thirds of the UK population don’t achieve weekly recommended levels of physical activity,” says Dr Flint. “But our study found that those who do manage to build physical exertion into their commute tend to be less heavy and have less body fat than people who drive all the way to work.”

One such cyclist is Darren Cole, 34, from Beeston in Nottinghamshire.

“I was 20st (127kg) in 2011 when I started riding along the canal paths from home to work a couple of times a week.”

Darren concedes that at first it was breath-taking – in all the wrong ways. “I was wheezing along and it took me around 50 minutes to do six miles.”

But as he began to feel the benefit of a new meal plan too, he invested in a road bike and began riding at weekends. “Today I’m 11st 6oz (74kg) and I commute 22 miles a day as well as racing for Beeston CC. I’ve rode on 100-mile sportives, appeared in Cycling Plus magazine and this September I’m aiming to cover around 200 miles in two days in aid of the Childhood Eye Cancer Trust(supported by Vision Express).”


Read more here

N1NO – The Hunt for Glory – Chapter 11 “Building Endurance with Nino Schurter

If you race mountain bikes, you’ve learned to love to suffer. No one knows this better than World champion @nschurter. Learn more about Nino’s strategically tough interval training to get an idea of how the pro’s get their endurance training dialed. Time for a sufferfest.

Julian Alaphilippe wins the Tour of California

Julian Alaphilippe sealed his first overall stage victory as the Frenchman held off Rohan Dennis on the eighth and final stage, won by Mark Cavendish. Alaphilippe finished safely in the front group to ensure it wasn’t a repeat of last year’s race which he lost by just three seconds to Peter Sagan (Tinkoff).

Cavendish hit out in the finale of Sacramento course to record his tenth career victory at the Tour of California with Sagan notching yet another second place and stage 7 winner Alexander Kristoff third.

The 2016 race begins with an opening stage that starts and finishes in downtown San Diego on the city’s famous waterfront. The course includes one challenging climb, but the fast finish makes it a strong possibility for a sprint.

The second stage from South Pasadena to Santa Clarita will pass through the high mountains of the Angeles National Forest. Previous stage finishes in Santa Clarita have favoured the sprinters, but the course’s difficult middle section could make this a year for a breakaway or reduced peloton.

The third stage from Thousand Oaks to Gibraltar Road is 2016’s queen stage and should truly set the pecking order for the general classification fight. The fourth stage travels from Morro Bay to Monterey, where it finishes on the legendary Laguna Seca race track.

The race then begins its stage 5 ascent from Lodi to Lake Tahoe, the race’s second trip there since the area’s plans for the grand depart were cancelled by snow in 2011.

Folsom hosts the stage 6 time trial on the same course where Wiggins won in 2014 ahead of Rohan Dennis and Taylor Phinney. A stage 7 circuit that starts and finishes in Santa Rosa has a few climbs that could favour opportunists, but the final day in Sacramento will be all about the high-end speed as the race finishes for the first time in the state capitol.


Will Bike Buses Catch on with Commuters?


Innovative companies like 1Rebel and Boston’s Bike Bus are pioneering a new way to bike commute. But is it going to stick in the long term?

Want to ride a bike to work without having to worry about unsafe streets, blocked bike lanes, bad weather—or even having to brake and steer? A new London-based spin class called Ride2Rebel could be the strange solution to your particular dilemma.

Echoing the concept of Boston’s Bike Bus launched last year, Ride2Rebel bills itself as “a ride studio on wheels” for commutes into and out of the city. Right now it’s just a project in the works from fitness company 1Rebel, but if it drums up enough interest, the company would like to see the bus “taking to the roads, burning hard through the streets of London” as soon as this summer. The project already has 1,820 signups—and you too can sign up to be a test subject at

Created by married couple and certified spin instructors Eric and Seema Brodie in 2015, the idea grew out of the frustrations of Eric’s brother-in-law, who detested his Bay area commute and wished for some sort of bus-based gym to help him get in shape while passing the time, according to From there, the idea of a mobile workout room took form.

“We thought, what about doing something that we could do while the [vehicle] was moving? Maybe a bus would work, since it already has the emergency exits, it has the right weight, and it’s designed to fit a lot of people,” Eric told “We figured out that the most efficient use of the space would be to put in indoor cycling bikes.”

If you’re an avid cyclist, you may be thinking, “If people want the exercise and transportation of riding a bike, can’t they just get on a bike and, you know, ride?”

But the bike busses speak to a common concern: Many would-be cyclists appear to want to commute by bike, but aren’t comfortable enough with the safety of local roads to do so. That this is the case in Boston is no surprise. While the number of local bike commuters is on the rise, and both Boston and London are working to make things safer for them, Boston has long been known for its busy, narrow, pothole-ridden roads. And more recently, the city’s cyclists have taken heat from a Globe columnist who says bicycles don’t belong on urban roads that weren’t built to safely accommodate them.

The truth is that bike commuting in Boston remains relatively safe—safer even than riding in a car per trip, if not per mile traveled.

Bike Bus also argues that it has a niche among fitness-minded cyclists who want a climate-controlled group ride to work—that might extend beyond a typical commuter’s radius.

“Biking to and from work is right for a lot of people,” the Bike Bus FAQ reads. “But in the Boston area, it’s not always right for everyone, even more so when the weather is adverse and the days are shorter. Even though the bikes in Boston start to disappear as the last of the leaves fall from the trees, that doesn’t mean your body stops needing exercise!”

They’re not wrong—it’s just an unusual concept. As of last fall the bus only traveled from Newton, Mass., to South Station, Boston. Each 45-minute rush hour ride cost $27—which isn’t too bad considering the staggering cost of many spin classes. Currently it appears the Bike Bus can only be rented for private gatherings or custom commutes.

As for Ride2Rebel, the company plans to offer service to and from four parts of London, including Clapham Common, Angel, Kensington High St., and Stratford.

Check out both initiatives by visiting and


Chris Boardman’s top tips for tackling endurance rides and multi-day events


If you want to know how to tackle a cycling challenge such as a long distance day ride or even a multi-day event it’s worth seeking the advice of someone like Chris Boardman – a rider who’s been there and done it at the highest level. While Boardman is famous for his Olympic gold medal on the track and his time trialling prowess on the road – he also rode to good effect in numerous stage races over the course of an illustrious career as a pro. Tracy Norris caught up with him (well, at the start and finish) of the recent Etape Caledonia (link is external) for Boardman’s big ride advice.

I’m batting along a small road beside a beautiful Scottish loch, with only the sound of fast-spinning bicycle wheels around me and the rushing wind. Not a car in sight – this is a closed road event – so I can concentrate on the wheel in front of me and the occasional glance up to appreciate the stunning views of snow-topped Shiehallion – a munro who’s shoulder we will climb over before the day is done.

I’m in Perthshire, Scotland for the annual Etape Caledonia and so far, so good. The weather is fine (no minor consideration for this event that had near-hypothermic riders last year), I’m riding well and I’m catching every wheel I can to help me survive 81 miles of fast riding.

For me, this is a training ride that can be a race if I feel strong enough. My main event this year will be riding stages 17 to 20 of the Tour de France route, as part of the Tour de Force (link is external) event that I help to run. If you haven’t studied the 2016 route yet, I can tell you that these will be the Alpine stages, so I’ve got some serious work to do before I’ll be able to look up from the tarmac at those views! It won’t be my first time on tour – I rode 2 stages coming South from the Alps in 2012 and the three Corsican stages in 2013. But multiple stages in the French Alps raises the game and I’m keen to ride it as well as I can.

Riding with me today is Chris Boardman. Actually, that’s not exactly true. We both set off from the same start line at the same time, but I was left in a cloud of proverbial dust within the first few yards and I know enough not to try and stay on his wheel! Luckily I’ve already picked his brains and I plan to follow his advice to the letter:

“The equation you need to master is, number one; how far is it to go? Two; how hard am I trying and three; is it sustainable? Keep asking yourself all the time. In a race, if the answer to number 3 is ‘yes I can sustain it’, then you’re not going hard enough. If the answer’s ‘no’, then it’s already too late. So the answer you’re looking for, all the time, is ‘maybe’ … ‘I think so’”.

At this point, I’ve got an awfully long way to go, I’m trying very hard and I’m not at all convinced it’s sustainable. I’m riding with my training buddy who is already mumbling to me to go on and leave her – which makes me suspect I’m probably pushing too hard, too soon. But today is about learning as much as I can and so I decide to keep going. If I blow up, (which quite frankly, seems likely) then at least I’ll have discovered my limits and will be a step closer to knowing what is sustainable on a long distance ride.

“Never turn up and do anything different on the day that you haven’t been doing in training. Whatever you’re going to do for the event there should be no surprises … Find the right saddle, shorts and cream. Do it now – by trial and error. It’s very personal. On the upside, there’s loads of choice. There are companies that do fittings just for saddles – there are more experts involved than ever there were before. It’s trial and error. Me? I’m very robust … I could sit on the edge of a piece of wood and I’d be fine”.

I don’t know about sitting on the edge of a piece of wood, but I do know that I’ve got a great set up with my bike, my saddle is comfortable and my shorts are great. Saddle sores are something I’m determined to avoid so I’ve already taken care to get this sorted.

What else? Chris explains that for a multi-stage event, whatever I do on one stage, I need to be able to repeat day after day. It’s no good going flat out on day one, only to discover there’s nothing left in the tank for the next stages:

“You need to know how to pace yourself … staying on the wheel for the first couple of stages and learning to back off. Most of it is about not over-extending at the start and paying the price later. Most people – that’s where they make a mistake and blow up”.

Painfully aware that he could well be describing me today, I am nevertheless catching every possible wheel that flies past me. A guy pulls past with such lean, tanned legs that he must either be Italian, or have spent most of the winter training in Mallorca. Surrounded by startlingly white legs that haven’t seen the light of day since October in Scotland; his legs stand out. I decide that they look like a strong pair to follow, so I catch his wheel. 1.5 hours into the ride and I’m shoving pieces of energy bar into my mouth, remembering that Chris has told me I need to know how to feed properly. I’ve got a banana and a squished peanut butter sandwich in my back pocket, a couple of gels and a bar bag with my emergency stash of jelly snakes. It’s not gourmet, but it should cover all eventualities.

“You should know how to pace yourself because you should have tried out different pacing strategies until you know what works for you”.

It occurs to me that I don’t yet know much about pacing strategies, so I make a mental note to spend my last two months of preparation learning about and playing with pacing. Chris has assured me that I have plenty of time, as long as I’m focused with my training:

“Aim for three to four, 2-hour hard rides in a week. With a month to go, there needs to be at least one long ride of 5 hours or more each week, preferably two in order to get the muscle volume. If it’s going to be hot, over-clothe for your rides so you get a good sweat response and get used to it”.

Right now I’m luxuriating in the fact that for the first time this year I’m riding in shorts and am actually regretting packing a rain jacket in my back pockets (an unthinkable risk most days in Scotland). Over-clothing to get any sort of sweat response is more likely up here, but after the crippling 40° temperatures we had last year in France on tour, I know that Chris is speaking sense. I add to my growing list of mental notes.

I’ve been riding in a good group for 15 miles along the south side of the Lochs and I’m now heading towards the big Shiehallion climb at around the 45 mile marker. Now, I’m no climber and while this isn’t remotely on the scale of the Alps, it’s still ‘the big climb’ of the route: 3.1km long at an average 7% and 169 metres of ascent.

“The trick is don’t over-cook it at the start, be it a day like the Etape Caledonia, or multiple days, or even a single climb. If you’ve got bags of energy left and you want to go faster at the end – fine. But if you run out before you finish, it’s a horrible, miserable grind to the finish”.

Stage 18 of the Tour de France this year is a 17km time trial … uphill! So this is a good place to practice. Even though I’m not expecting to race the time trial in July, I’m intrigued to know how the pros will tackle an uphill time trial during the tour:

“The big difference with a climb is that once you blow, you blow. You can’t freewheel on a climb – you’ll come to a grinding halt quickly. In a time trial you can usually have micro-rests where you can back off for half a second or a second. You can’t afford to do that on a climb – the price is too high”.

A “horrible, miserable grind to the finish” doesn’t sound like fun today, and while I briefly consider what a micro-rest means to me, I’m not daft enough to try it on this climb. I take it steady, letting ‘Mr Italian-legs’ and the others pull ahead … except, not all of them do! And even those that pull away are soon back in my sights when I see the summit flags. To my amazement I’ve still got something left in the tank, so I click back up a couple of gears and catch them up. Before I know it, I’m accelerating past riders towards the longest downhill of the ride – an exhilarating 2 stage descent over 6kms which becomes even more exciting when I try to peel and eat the banana in my back pocket, in an attempt to stave off cramp later.


How to get more aero without spending a fortune


Aerodynamics has become the hottest word in road cycling, with deep section wheels, aero frames, and helmets a common presence not only in the professional peloton but also with amateur racers and club riders.

At higher speeds it is air resistance that consumes almost your entire power output. Travelling at about 20mph, up to 90% of your effort is used to overcome the air resistance, to push the air out of the way. You might think that only racers can benefit from improving aerodynamic efficiency, but in fact, most cyclists can benefit from a few aerodynamic tweaks.

The latest aerodynamic equipment can cost a small fortune, though. It’s even possible to book time in a wind tunnel if you’re feeling particularly flush and want to do a proper job of reducing your drag and have results to validate the improvements.


Close-fitting clothing

The cyclist causes about 80% of the air resistance (drag) so there are significant performance gains to be had by taking a closer look at your outfit. Loose and flappy clothing just catches the wind and massively increases your drag.

So close-fitting clothing is good, then. Choose a jersey and shorts that have a snug fit and in particular fit really well around the torso and shoulders. It’s not just racers that benefit from close-fitting clothing, you’ll benefit during a sportive even at lower speeds because a slower cyclist spends more time on the road so saves more time.

Most of the professional teams now wear clothing that has been developed in the wind-tunnel, with aero suits (skin suits with pockets and long zips) a common sight in the peloton. But you don’t have to drop your month’s salary on the latest aero clothing, going down a size is a simple way to achieve this.


Zip up your jersey

Riding along with your jersey or gilet unzipped and flapping in the wind might keep you cool, but it will generate loads of drag. You might as well wear a parachute. Unless you’re grinding up a steep climb below the speed at which air resistance is a factor, keep the jersey zipped up. You might be hot, but you’ll be fast.


Get your head down

As your body causes most of the drag, getting your head down is a simple way to reduce drag. You’re aiming to reduce your frontal surface area, and keep your position as sleek and low profile as possible. A dropped riding position can reduce your drag by as much as 7.8% according to a study by Engineering Sport.

The drops aren’t just for the descents you know. Get your head and back down low by using the drops on the flat roads, you’ll be surprised at the difference. If your drops are hard to reach, consider putting some spacers under the stem to raise them. The more you ride in the drops the more you’ll get used to the position as well. Additional core work can also be beneficial.

Alternatively, use the hoods to adopt an aero position by keeping your forearms straight and your elbows tucked in and at a 90-degree angle, this will reduce your frontal surface area. This position isn’t always as comfortable as riding in the drops, but it has the potential to be faster because your arms aren’t straight like they typically are in the drops.

How do you know if any changes you make have reduced drag? In an ideal world, you’d be in a wind tunnel to validate the changes, or taking to a velodrome with a power meter. A power meter can be used out on the road, but controlling the variables is tricky. A simple roll down test doesn’t cost anything and can easily be repeated with just simple cycle computer required to track changes. This provides an easy way of trying different positions.


Shave your legs
Racing cyclists are famous for their shaved legs, and as much ridicule as removing leg hair can generate, the science says that smooth legs are faster. Specialized aerodynamicists used their wind tunnel to show that shaved legs can save as much as 80 seconds over 40km. So when your other half asks why you’re shaving your legs, just tell them it’ll make you quicker.


Tape up those air vents

All those vents in a cycling helmet are designed to suck in cooling air to prevent overheating on a warm ride, but if you cover them up, you have yourself an aero road helmet without spending any dosh. An aero helmet, with no vents, could save you as much as 40 seconds over a 40km course compared to a regular vented helmet, according to wind tunnel tests by Specialized.

Take a leaf out of the British Cycling book, which in 2011 provided a helmet with a thin plastic covering, to smooth over the vents, for Mark Cavendish to ride, and win, the world championships. You could get a similar result with some cling film. It might lead to overheating in warmer weather, but what price for reduced drag?



That’s right, get on another cyclists wheel and hide in their slipstream, it’s an easy way to reduce drag. Make sure to pick a cyclist that’s bigger than you, and you could reduce your drag by as much as 40%. You may be required to do a turn at the front, though.


Get a motorbike to follow you closely

Okay, so we’re not actually advising you do this, but an interesting study recently showed that a close following motorbike can actually help to improve your drag.

– See more at:

Treat yourself to a smoother, more confident ride with a set of 28mm tires


Tires, and tire pressure, are the easiest and least expensive way to change the way your bike rides. Bigger tires are smoother, better at absorbing shock, generally more resistant to flatting, and provide more traction.

This is why, a couple of years ago, road bikes started appearing in shops with stock tires measuring 25mm instead of 23mm. Now, thanks to the wanderlust that’s taking more of us off-pavement, and our collective growing desire to ride longer and more comfortably in more conditions, 28 is starting to become the new 25. (Extra clearance on an increasing number of road frames with disc brakes means it might not be long before 30 or even 32 become popular, but for now 28mm is what fits into modern road frames with short-reach rim brakes.)

1. Vittoria Rubino G+
Rolls quickly and provides good feedback, with a smooth, damped ride.
$56, 280g, 28.1mm

2. Continental GP4000s II
Plumps out to a whopping 30mm, making for a velvety ride and great grip if you can fit it into your frame.
$70, 254g, 30mm

3. Clement Strada LGG
A steadfast performer: light, reasonably durable, provides decent grip and a relatively smooth ride.
$50, 247g, 28.3mm

4. Bontrager R3
The lightest, narrowest, and fastest-feeling of the group, with reflective sidewalls for extra visibility.
$55, 246g, 27.7mm

All tires were measured at 100 psi on rims with 17mm internal width.