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Tag Archives: Grand Tour

You Want the TV Remote for How Long?

TdF Banner DOGO News

Photograph courtesy of DOGO News

To the uninitiated, watching a three-week long cycling Grand Tour (the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, or the Vuelta a España) would seem akin to watching paint dry.  Even Test cricket manages to reach a conclusion, albeit sometimes a draw, in five days.

For my non-cycling readers, here are some of the attractions of a Grand Tour to a cycling fan.

TdF Route.png

Firstly, consider the scale of the undertaking.  This year’s Tour de France covers 3,540km / 2,200mi, spread over 21 stages.  There are fifty three categorized climbs packed into the route. Eight rise 1,000 meters / 3,280 feet or more each.  Three tower to more than 2,000 meters / 6,560 feet each.  Those eleven climbs will require the riders to ascend a total of 19,164 meters / 62,874 feet.  That is the equivalent of riding a bicycle to the top of Mount Everest.  Twice.

TDF Muscles Pauline Ballet ASO

Photograph courtesy of Pauline Ballet / ASO

Secondly, consider the physiological stresses the riders must face to complete a Grand Tour.  These men are amongst the fittest endurance athletes on the planet.  The stage with the most climbing in this year’s Tour de France, Stage 18, has 2,642 meters / 8,668 feet of elevation.  Perhaps cruelly, the longest stage of this year’s Tour de France is Stage 19, covering 222.5km / 138mi.  The winning rider has to average about 40kph / 25mph over each of the stages, and do that day after day after day.  There are only two rest days during this year’s Tour, after Stage 9 and after Stage 15.

TdF Mental Crossfit Aevitas

Graphic courtesy of Crossfit Aevitas

Thirdly, the psychological challenges are immense.  Each stage is incredibly stressful.  The riders have to fight their way against rain, temperatures reaching 30 degrees Celsius and strong cross winds, whilst tricky surfaces including cobbles, street furniture and winding roads demanded their full attention.  The risk of crashing is ever present.  The finishing kilometers of each stage, which can last for four-to-six hours, are particularly taxing.  Riders must overcome severe mental and physical fatigue in order to maintain speeds of more than 60kph / 37mph for the last 5 to 10km / 3 to 6mi of racing, reaching speeds of 75kph / 47mph at the finish line.

TdF Peloton Eric Gaillard Reuters

Photograph courtesy of Eric Gaillard / Reuters

I don’t mean to imply that the entire duration of a Grand Tour makes for riveting television.  The riders may be suffering, but often all the viewer sees is an unchanging peloton for kilometer after kilometer.  Which forces the television commentators to give us geography and history lessons to liven things up.

There’s also the land art.

TdF Land Art

Photograph courtesy of Bicycling Magazine South Africa

And the occasional high wire cyclist to keep viewers entertained.

TdF High Wire Bryn Lennon Getty Images

Photograph courtesy of Bryn Lennon / Getty Images

Every so often though, the race bursts to life.  And you get to see what truly attracts fans to the Grand Tours.  Stage 9 of this year’s Tour de France, from Nantua to Chambery, had it all.

First there was the jagged stage profile.  Nasty, to say the least.  You might not win the Tour on this stage, but you could certainly lost it here.

TDF Stage 9 Profile

The stage profile set the scene for an incident-filled day.  The wet roads ensured that there were crashes.  Lots of them.  Only 4km / 2.5mi into the stage, Manuele Mori and Robert Gesink hit the deck, and both had to abandon the race.  Unfortunately, this was an omen of much worse to come.  Crash followed crash on the fast and wet descents.  Geraint Thomas, in second place in the General Classification standings, crashed on the descent of the Col de la Binche.  His race was over.  The same fate befell one of the pre-race favourites, Richie Porte, who had a horrific crash on the descent of the Mont du Chat.

Then there was alleged skullduggery.  On the ascent of the Mont du Chat, Chris Froome had a mechanical issue.  As he raised his right arm to signal for his team car, Fabio Aru, on his wheel, surged ahead, literally under Froome’s armpit.  This was a violation of the unwritten rule not to attack the race leader during a mechanical.

Nairo Quintana and Porte kept the pace down, and Aru’s ill-timed attack came to naught as three Sky teammates helped bring Froome back up to the group.  Aru proclaimed his innocence, saying he was unaware that Froome had a mechanical.  The polemics about Aru’s actions will rumble on for some time.

TdF Aru

Screenshot courtesy of cyclingnews

The three hors-categorie climbs on this stage probably put paid to the title aspirations of Nairo Quintana, who lost 1 minute 15 seconds to race leader Chris Froome.  Also out of the title frame is Alberto Contador, who finish 4 minutes 19 seconds behind Froome.  They now trail Froome in the General Classification by 2 minutes 13 seconds, and 5 minutes 15 seconds respectively.

Dan Martin was another pre-race who will rue this stage.  Porte took Martin down with him when he crashed.  Martin remounted and pedalled on, only to fall again a bit later on.  Incredibly Martin finished the stage in the Quintana group, but is now 1 minute 44 seconds behind Froome in the General Classification

This stage, arguably the hardest of the entire race, accounted for twelve riders leaving the tour.  Five due to crashes, and seven who did not make the time cut.

TdF Finish velonews

Photograph courtesy of velonews

The cherry on the cake was the incredibly exciting finish.  Warren Barguil led over the summit of the Mont du Chat.  Romain Bardet caught and passed Barguil at the bottom of the descent, with just under 12km / 7.5mi to the finish.

Froome, Jakob Fuglsang, Aru, and Rigoberto Urán were in the chase group.  Uran’s derailleur was damaged, and he was stuck in a big gear.  The television commentators blamed it on debris kicked up by Porte as he crashed, with Urán right behind him.  To me the video seems to show Dan Martin’s heel striking Urán’s derailleur as Martin tumbled over the unfortunate Porte.

Whatever the case, Urán muscled that big gear and stayed in the chase group.  With only 2.1km / 1.3mi to go, the group of five, now including Barguil, caught Bardet.  After 180km / 119mi and 4,600 meters / 15,092 feet of climbing, the stage came down to a bunch sprint.

Fuglsang started the sprint. First Bardet, then Urán passed him, but Barguil pulled up alongside Uran at the last second, and thought he had won.  Even the race officials gave it to Barguil, and he was led to the winner’s enclosure.  Prematurely, as it turned out.  It was a photo finish, and Uran, damaged derailleur and all, had held on for the win.

Stage 9 had everything that makes watching stage racing so addictive.  Bring on Stage 10.

TdF Minions Rest Day

Rapha Grand Tour Shoes Review

My Trek FX 7.5 had platform pedals.  I didn’t need special shoes to ride it.  My steel Alchemy would be delivered with clipless pedals.  Any shoe would no longer do.  I needed cycling shoes.  Some research on the internet pointed me toward the Sidi Genius 5-Pro Mega.  The “Mega” designation indicates that this shoe is wider than the standard Sidi Genius 5-Pro.

Sidi Genuis 5

I was guilty of showrooming with this purchase.  I tried the shoes for size at a bike store, but bought online.  A practice that does not support local retailers.  A practice that I try not to repeat.

Despite being “Mega” the Sidis are slightly narrow in the forefoot for me.  This isn’t a problem on shorter rides, but I develop “hot foot” once the ride exceeds about 60 km / 37 mi or so.  At times I have had to completely unfasten the caliper buckles and loosen the velcro straps to get some relief.

The Sidis came with me to Den Haag.  I swapped out the insoles, which helped a bit with the “hot foot” problem.  Perversely the shoes didn’t keep my feet warm enough in the Dutch winters.  There wasn’t enough room in them for thick woolen socks.  A pair of Endura neoprene  shoe covers delayed, but didn’t prevent, the onset of frozen toes.

My next cycling shoe purchase was the Shimano SH-RW80 Winter Road Shoe.  I liked those shoes so much that I wrote a review that appeared on roadbike  I took the advice of other reviewers and went two sizes larger than my Sidis.  That gave me plenty of room in the toe box for my wide feet and thick socks.


As Spring 2012 approached I saw posts in cycling blogs about a new shoe.  The Rapha Grand Tour shoe.  First John Watson posted thirty nine captioned photographs of these shoes in his excellent Prolly is Not Probably.  Soon after Wade Wallace ran a review and posted more photographs in his equally excellent Cycling Tips.

I looked at the Rapha site.  I was smitten with the version of the shoes in white.  My biker chick liked them too.  All of a sudden I needed new shoes!

Rapha Grand Tour New 2

It was my good fortune to be in the UK in April 2012.  I went into Condor, Rapha’s retail partner in London.  They had a pair in my size.  The shoes smelled soft and warm in the way that only leather does.  The perforated uppers had style.  The single black strap and the absence of large logos gave the shoes a minimalist look.

I love my Grand Tours.  I still have the Genius Pro-5s, but they are very much my back-up shoes.  The only time I wear them is when the Grand Tours are sitting in a cool airy spot, tongues flipped up and insoles removed, drying out after a wet ride.

You can read the online reviews of these shoes or go to the Rapha site to get all the technical details.  For me the winning qualities are the fit and comfort that make these shoes unnoticeable when I am riding.

I have put almost 11,000 km / 6,835 mi into these shoes in fourteen months.  They get better with age.  Like the leather in Brooks saddles, the leather in these shoes breaks in with use.  The Grand Tours have moulded to the contours of my feet.  The customizable cork / EVA footbeds have also formed themselves to the soles of my feet.  These shoes fit like gloves.

Robust gloves at that.  This is what the sole of the shoe looks like out of the box.

Rapha Grand Tour Sole 1

These are the soles of my shoes today.

Rapha Grand Tour Sole Now

The heel cups and toes are scuffed, and the soles are scratched from the times I walked on stones and gravel.  The white rubber bumpers on the heels show the most wear.  These are non-replaceable so it will be interesting to see how long it is before they wear down to the carbon soles.

Rapha Grand Tour Toe

One buckle bears evidence of a low-speed fall.

Rapha Grand Tour Buckle Now

Apart from that the shoes are holding up very well.

Rapha Grand Tour Now

Even the insoles, with their homage to Fausto Coppi on the left and Jacques Anquetil on the right, show little sign of wear.  These are the insoles before any use.

Rapha Grand Tour Insole New

These are mine now.  The images and text are still legible despite thousands of kilometers in all weathers.

Rapha Grand Tour Insole Now

The Grand Tours have not needed any special care.  Just a wipe down with a damp cloth, careful drying when they get soaked, and the application of some shoe cream once in a while has kept them looking good.   I expect to get at least another 11,000 km out of these excellent shoes.

Apart from a proper bike fit and quality bib shorts, shoes are the key to a comfortable ride.  In that regard the Rapha Grand Tour shoes are worth their weight in gold.