Shop of Grappa - Franciacorte Wine Region 17 Jun 2013

Michelin One Star Restaurant Report – No Bike Zone

In the last two years we have discovered in our travels two ‘one star’ Michelin restaurants. Not by searching the restaurants out, more by finding the hotels, and dining in. Both we have frequented twice, although i’m not sure when the second one was ‘starred’, so to speak.

Last week, while chasing the Criterium du Dauphine through the French alps, we stopped in Albertville at Hotel Million. Last year we had experienced their degustation menu, and this year we opted for the same again. The attached menu (see photo below) is in French, and of course there are no choices. When our host ran through the menu in perfect English, she used the word ‘sweetbreads’. At this point my mind casually ran through liver, kidney, black pudding et al. I possibly stopped at the idea of black pudding, as I have fond childhood memories of it, and also of it featuring in the Goodies. NB I’ll come back to the Goodies later.

The scallops, prawns and duck that we ran through in the first courses were exquisite and enough to keep my mind distracted away from the idea of the sweetbreads, until the final entree arrived. ‘These are brains’ someone mentioned, or maybe exclaimed, I’m not sure which. Menu check, yes. Veal brains. I stopped eating, and thought hard about what was in my mouth. Cutlery was set back to the table on my right. No doubt, it did bring back a not too happy, albeit distant, memory of mum’s over-cooked crumbed brains, that I could never stomach.

But this tasted great.

One star restaurants are one star restaurants. When you take on the degustation menu, you surrender your right to choose, and accept what the chef recommends. You’re in France, you’re travelling, you’re here for the experience.
I munched on.

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Alpentour Trophy - 250m to go 08 Jun 2013

Giro wrap, Cadel pre-tour predictions, Alpentour Trophy and Dauphine Libere report

Giro wrap, Cadel pre-tour predictions, Alpentour Trophy and Dauphine Libere report

The 2013 Giro was won by Nibali, which was always on the cards, but the most surprising and indicative result was the rider, and team, in second place. Rigoberto Uran Uran from Team Sky. Before we get into why, let’s explain his name. The Spanish, and its colonies, maintain their mother’s maiden name as a second surname. That’s why Spanish riders have double banger names, usually only referred to fully on start lists. In the press its normal to refer to them by their first (paternal) surname only, ie Alejandro Valverde (Belmonte). So, Uran Uran is from Colombia, Spanish speaking of course, and I’m not sure if his father married a distant cousin (or his sister, for that matter) but definitely someone with the same surname, hence the doubling up in the double banger. All clear?

Now what is surprising here is that Team Sky elected not to send two of their GC riders, Froome and (our) Richie Porte, and relied on just current TdF champion, Wiggins. Wiggo starts, but has a bad run and is out in the first week, that makes THREE of their top GC riders out of the race, and they still land SECOND PLACE in the 2nd biggest grand tour of the year. There is not another team around that could pull that off, presently.

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Topbike Giro Group - 2013 18 May 2013

Barolo is my office, the Giro two weeks in

The Giro, two weeks in - Cadel and Nibali.

Our favourite pink sporting rag ‘La Gazetta’ likes to refer to the leading riders in the Giro as ‘I Big’. It amuses us here at Topbike, mainly because it is such a creative interpretative translation, and only amounts to not much more than three letters. Anyway, I digress. There are only two ‘I Big’ left in the race, really. Cadel and Nibali. Cadel is sitting pretty in second place, at 41’, and looking comfortably at ease, particularly when he passed us on the final little climb yesterday. As in 2011 at Le Tour, we know he only needs one day in the lead, albeit the last day, to take the win. Unfortunately he has to take the lead off Nibali, who is not about to relinquish the lead, in his national race without a decent fight.

Nibali hails from Messina, in Sicily, with a population of approx 250,000. The first time we arrived in Sicily, we drove off the ferry and into the heart of Messina. I could have sworn we drove past the whole population that evening. All on the street. One third ignoring our presence, as they crossed the road in front of us, looking the other way. One third trying to sell us stuff. And one third just watching, Maybe waiting for the opportunity to take us down, or maybe just watching. As that is a mainstay of Italian life. I’m not saying that Italians/Sicilians are thieves, but after a roadside puncture repair, I left a pump behind. I returned pretty quickly, but it was nowhere to be seen. After making a good show of looking for it, a shopkeeper called me over, and produced our pump.
He was looking after it for me.
Of course.

Nibali’s nickname is ‘The Shark’. He’s from Messina, he’s in the lead, and he’s the one we have to hope falls down this week, or let’s say ‘choke’. I just can’t imagine a shark, from Messina, choking on anything. He’s probably more comfortable biting off more than he can chew, and chewing like buggery. In the first week of the race, when there were more ‘I Big’ about, we witnessed him lay his bike down on a slippery descent, racing for vital seconds near the finish. He was back on it immediately, like it was a practiced move.
Cross your fingers for Cadel, he’s going to need everything go his way this week, to take the win.

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Road to Montalbano 12 May 2013

Agrigento is my office - the Giro one week in

The Giro one week in - Skippy Report

It's been a cracker of a week for Skips in the breaks. Almost every stage has featured at least one. Not forgetting Cadel got a second place, picking up a time bonus and inching his way back into the race, that he looked out of, after the Team TT last weekend. While it may be easy to write Cadel off, you do it at your own peril. He can fight alright.

Adam Hansen won today's stage. He's a fantastic rider, domestique, cake-maker, break-maker, and collarbone breaker as well. It's been a long time coming for him, and as he is on our mailing list, here's to you champ! I first wrote a story about Adam Hansen riding the Crocodile Trophy in 2003, to precis, I developed a love-hate relationship with him, on one day.

The evening before a 180k stage (this is a mountainbike race, remember) the 'big' of the race decided to ride tempo for the first 100k before racing the final 80k. I'm almost sure Adam attacked from the gun. We had to chase him all day. Not that I, personally, chased him all day. It hit 47° C and I was cooked by midday. It was the last stage I started, curse him, as I did want to finish. But it was a good insight into what makes a rider. I was impressed.

The Croc Trophy is famous in europe, and all day today, the Italian commentators talked about nothing else, besides his overall wins in the following two years. The race is still going, and you can find out all about it here www.crocodile-trophy.com. It's open to all comers, but do your preparation, if you want to seriously have a crack at the hardest MTB stage race in the world.


Cucinare Report

We take a trip out to the island of Lipari, during our Tour of Sicily, and as I dropped the gang off for the midday ferry, from Milazzo, I had a few hours to kill before I could take the slow ferry, with bikes and van. I turned away from the port, and headed off into the mountains. Not too far from the coast, but enough to get away from the madness, and enjoy a peaceful lunch, with the van full of bikes parked where I could see it.

The restaurant was called 'Fort Apache Trattoria' which would normally put one off, but thought I'd give it a go. It was worth it. I ordered the house antipasto and a pasta dish. For the antipasto I received 8 plates. 8! They all looked great, so I cancelled the pasta dish immediately, and decided to eat just the antipasto. It cost EIGHT euro for the 8 dishes. Plus a little more for wine, water and bread. Not a bad saturday lunch. I did take a photo, but it didn't do the course justice.



Sicilian Landscape - Mt Etna 10 May 2013

The Giro starts this Saturday, in Napoli

I love sporting heckles, whether they be cutting, or just plain clever. Some of my favourites go back years. The ‘Coodabeens’ on ABC radio brought a ripper AFL one to air in ’92. It was just after the Rodney King trial in LA. I don’t know which game it was, but it came from some random scallywag in the outer, after a particularly bad onfield decision. ‘Hey Ump, they want you for jury duty. In Los Angeles.’

International soccer matches can bring out the best. Over the years, when Holland plays Germany, the original chant was ‘Bring my mother’s bike back’. As after WW2, apparently many of the German infantry made their way home on ‘borrowed’ bikes. This is now a generational chant, as it has become ‘Bring my grandmother’s bike back’.

This Saturday the Giro starts in Napoli, for the first time. I love Napoli, but it is wild and anarchic. Driving is a sport. A friend of mine from Modena always says ‘in Napoli, a red light is just an opinion’. Car theft is so problematic, that they have developed a style of steering locks I’ve witnessed nowhere else. Looking like a Ned Kelly accessory, it takes almost two people to lift them into place. It’s the home of pizza, along with many other fantastic foods, and rubbish on the streets. And rubbish on the streets, and rubbish on the streets.

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Ivan Basso - Giro D'Italia 2012 25 Oct 2012

Giro Route Announced, Tour de France Routes Coming Soon

Our 2013 Giro d'Italia route
[GIRO MILANO - MAY 17-27 2013] is now available.

We feature a visit to France’s Col de Galibier, a rest day ride loop over the dirt climb of Col de Finestra, not to mention the passes of Gavia and Stelvio, Giau & Tre Cime di Laveredo, and a day relaxing by Lake Garda

We also have an excellent selection of hotels and Agriturismi (farmstays) booked, featuring three located on stage routes, and two in stage start towns (one doubles as both, on consecutive days).  Read the full detail about our 2013 Giro d'Italia Route and Itinerary.

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Topbike Riders head into town during La Vuelta 2012 20 Sep 2012

Fitzroy is my office, or 'Home is where the washing machine is'

Back home now, one more european season down, and another 3 grand tours, making it 15 in a row for me, and over 25 all up (wish I'd have ridden one)

La Vuelta Report: 

La Vuelta Espana finished up last week, and I can’t really believe how many articles I read explaining the performance of two formerly convicted drug cheats, Valverde and Contador, and one yet to be convicted, Rodriguez.  One piece really put the anal back into analysis, after guessing the riders weights, and knowing the height of the mountain/s climbed, surmised that all three were top-fuellers, ‘cause they were putting out 395 watts*, 5 more than was possible by any mortal being.  Seriously, have they never watched world championship wrestling?  Contador’s performance was the equal of King Kong Bundy.  Trying many times, but failing to break through on the steep ascents, before cracking Rodriguez on a long, gentle climb.  He fooled me (and Rodriguez, obviously that day), and went on to take the win.  It only lacked Jack Little saying ‘WOW!’   
Here's a pic of Contador, Valverde and I.
*forgive me if I have these numbers wrong, you know what I mean.  

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Stage 16 Gijón - Valgrande-Pajares (Cuitu Negru) 04 Sep 2012

Villaviciosa is my office (La Vuelta a Espana)

September 3, Stage 16: Gijón - Valgrande-Pajares (Cuitu Negru) 183.5km

Epic win for Cataldo on Cuitu Negru

Full Results

  1. Dario Cataldo (Ita) Omega Pharma-Quickstep 5:18:28
  2. Thomas De Gendt (Bel) Vacansoleil-Dcm Pro Cycling Team 0:00:07
  3. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 0:02:39
  4. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:02:41

General classification after stage 16

  1. Joaquim Rodriguez Oliver (Spa) Katusha Team 63:38:24
  2. Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa) Saxo Bank - Tinkoff Bank 0:00:28
  3. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Spa) Movistar Team 0:02:04
  4. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:04:52

In 2010 the Giro kicked arse, 2011 showed us the best TdF in 20 years and this edition of La Vuelta a Espana is proving to be the best Grand Tour of 2012. Who would have guessed that so many hilltop finishes (7 this year) would lead to such exciting racing? The past two stages have showed us Contador in a state that of which we've never seen him before. He is so desperate to win, attacking Rodriguez hard, soft, slowly, hitting him from every angle to gain an advantage, but just not getting there. All the while watching over his shoulder for Valverde, who while conquering Froome for 3rd place, will grab 2nd on the podium if Bertie cracks. The hilltop finishes have all been crackers. And still there are two to go.

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La Vuelta Girls - Tour of Spain 2012 23 Aug 2012

Heading to Spain Next Week

August 2012

3RRR FM’s radiothon is on now, and we here at Topbike are one of the major prize givers. 

If you subscribe to 3rrr this week, you go into the draw to win many prizes, including a 7 day trip to the 2013 Tour de France, with a return airfare supplied by Excell Travel.  Just for loving 3RRR.  Jump to it.  In Melbourne tune in to 102.7fm, anywhere else go to www.rrr.org.au and stream, live.

And La Vuelta a España is on, it started last Saturday in the Basque region and Australia’s Simon Clarke (Orica-GreenEdge) claimed stage 4 on Tuesday.  The race has been a little controversial, and I especially like this piece sent to me this morning, it came from Bike Snob NYC.

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TDF Paris Finish - Topbike Tours 25 Jul 2012

Paris Office signing off ...


Tour de France 2012 Thumbs up, Thumbs down, TdF regrets & rash statements.

Thumbs up 9: The Brits get the win in Paris, well done to Wiggins and co. He bettered all of my predictions by not cracking in the mountains or the press conferences, congrats again.

Thumbs down 1: Froome, he's obviously a good bike rider, but not such a good lieutenant. If your job is to help the team captain win the tour (and you're getting paid a bucket load to do it) that's what you should do. Either that or stick the knife right in to the hilt, and ride away from your captain when you can. That performance on Peyragudes, where he was making a show of beckoning to Wiggins to keep up, was unprofessional and gutless.

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Cadel Cornering - TDF 2012 20 Jul 2012

Peyresourde is my ....

Right,
... let's forget about the race for a moment and cover some background.

Yesterday climbing Tourmalet I passed a large Black Cavendish and today I passed him again on the ascent to Peyresourde, although he told me he was "Pantani" (not Ryder Hejesdal?) He also said he had every relevant race leading jersey, except the race leader from his own country, Spain. I suggested trying China, and he nodded sagely.

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TDF 2012 Beagle Boys 19 Jul 2012

Col d'Aspin is my Office

July 18, Stage 16: Pau - Bagnères-de-Luchon 197km

Voeckler solos to second Tour stage win

Results

  1. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 5:35:02
  2. Chris Anker Sörensen (Den) Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank 0:01:40
  3. Gorka Izaguirre Insausti (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:03:22

Cadel had a bad day, in fact it was so bad that at one stage, when they showed the time gaps, and they labelled one of the groups the 'Evans' group, he got dropped from his own group. You don't get much worse than that at the TdF. He is now in 7th place, more than 8 minutes behind the race leader. Top 5 at best for Cadel this year.

Ivan Basso has gone mad report:

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Chevaux at Port De Pailhere - Topbike Picinic 17 Jul 2012

Port de Pailheres is my Office

July 16, Stage 15: Samatan - Pau 158.5km

Fedrigo outsprints Vande Velde for Tour de France Stage 15 win

Results

  1. Pierrick Fedrigo (Fra) FDJ-Big Mat 3:40:15
  2. Christian Vande Velde (USA) Garmin - Sharp
  3. Thomas Voeckler (Fra) Team Europcar 0:00:12

No change to the GC, and if you ask me, today's result looked like a done deal before they got to the line.  Or maybe Vande Velde was just too flogged to sprint, you tell me...

Gossip report from yesterday's start:

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Road Signs in the Pyrenees - TDF 2012 15 Jul 2012

On the Road to Limoux

July 14, Stage 13: Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux - Le Cap d'Agde 217km

Greipel wins photo finish over Sagan in mid-Tour sprint

Results

  1. André Greipel (Ger) Lotto Belisol Team 4:57:59
  2. Peter Sagan (Svk) Liquigas-Cannondale
  3. Edvald Boasson Hagen (Nor) Sky Procycling

General classification after Stage 13 Result

  1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 59:32:32
  2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
  3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:23
  4. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:19

Tomorrow's stage, in the Pyrenees, Stage 14: Limoux - Foix 191km.
The 2nd climb is quite short, but very, very steep. Still there is a good run back into Foix, so plenty of chances for recovery.

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Topbike Rider on tomorrow's stage, outside of St Martin de Londres 14 Jul 2012

Poolside in Sommieres is my office (yes, 2 days mid TdF)

July 13, Stage 12: Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne - Annonay Davézieux 226km

Millar outsprints Peraud to win Tour de France stage 12

Results

  1. David Millar (GBr) Garmin - Sharp 5:42:46
  2. Jean-Christophe Peraud (Fra) AG2R La Mondiale
  3. Egoi Martinez De Esteban (Spa) Euskaltel - Euskadi 0:00:05

General classification after Stage 12

  1. Bradley Wiggins (GBr) Sky Procycling 54:34:33
  2. Christopher Froome (GBr) Sky Procycling 0:02:05
  3. Vincenzo Nibali (Ita) Liquigas-Cannondale 0:02:23
  4. Cadel Evans (Aus) BMC Racing Team 0:03:19
  5. Jurgen Van Den Broeck (Bel) Lotto Belisol Team 0:04:48

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An Australian company, Topbike has a fully equipped European base and its own fleet of high quality hire bikes. We specialise in quality cycling tours with small groups and are famous for looking after our clients.

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