Monday, 31 December 2012

My 20.12 memorable moments of 2012

1. Breakfast with Victoria

Attending the press launch in January, of the range of women's bikes launched by Victoria Pendleton. We were at the Berkeley Hotel, Knightsbridge all sat around various tables. Victoria took a turn to chat to all of us at our tables. Through all the cakes and breakfast buns Ms Pendleton looked lovely and radiant and had alot of time for us. It was great to meet an athlete who could still remain happy and upbeat even though she was right in the thick of her preparations for various championship cycle races. And the new bikes looked good too!

2. Chamonix x2

Higg and I had missed a few years of ski-ing and snowboarding, so this year we thought we would try and catch up by going twice. Twice to Chamonix (January and March), twice to the same neighbourhood, the same bars, though we skipped Courmayeur the second time around. The France side of the Mont Blanc Tunnel still has alot to offer - especially for snowboarders and those wanting to challenge themselves.
I particularly liked Les Grands Montets, where it was possible to find some lovely fast descents with not so many people on, and the mountains in  the sunlight looked stunning.

3. Team GB Cycling in Docklands

In February I met up with my friend Arturo, who was looking after the Spanish track cycling team while they were in London for the World Cup Cycling event at the Olympic Velodrome. We went back to the hotel in Docklands where the team was staying. It turned out that it was the same place where most of the cyclists from all nations were staying. So while there, I took the opportunity to meet some of the Team GB riders. Laura Trott, Dani King, Jo Rowsell, Sir Chris Hoy, Geraint Thomas and Jason Kenny were all mingling around. I don't really do starstruck. I just thought it was a great moment to see them out of situ and chat informally - that's where you get the best interviews too!

4. Milan here I come

After my contract at my old job ended, I kept an open mind about where my next post would be. I was interviewd for a couple of jobs in the North of England and in the Midlands. When my recruitment consultant mentioned a job in Milan, I was a little surprised. I had considered the prospect of going to Geneva, where medical writing is not uncommon. However, I had not considered Milan at all. I did not even know that there was much call for English speaking medical writers in Milan. Before I knew it I had landed a post in Milan, working for an advertising agency and I was due to start in March. Exciting, though a little scary!

5. New City, New Problems

So, I arrived in Milan one Tuesday night in March with my stuff, and 12 hours later I was walking down via Vicenzo Foppa, past Parco Solari to start my first day at the comms agency. I don't like much ceremony to these things. Just jump in and get on! Initially, it was all very exciting - seeing folks in their Milan get-up, hearing a very melodic beautiful language (even if I made a pig's ear of my attempts at speaking it), and enjoying lovely spring weather.
But April came, and I realised that April showers in Milan are absolutely torrential. Milan air is more polluted than London air and it caused me to develop asthma. Summertime came and I was bitten to hell by mosquitoes. I also had to get used to slow bureacracy and the sight of graffitti everywhere. These are the things they don't mention in the guide books!

6. Mashed up on Mortirolo (and on Stelvio)

One weekend at the end of May I went to Tirano. The landscape around there is absolutely amazing. The sight of the peaks of the Valtellina and the Stelvio National Park are so wonderful you wouldn't want to be anywhere else. From there you can ride up Passo di Gavia, Passo Bernina and get to St Moritz. You can also go up other climbs to Livigno ski resort. According to the local cyclists, this is God's country - and I'm not minded to disagree! On one day I rode up to Bormio and then began the climb up to Passo dello Stelvio. It was a beautiful, dramatic and a very long climb. The snow was very much still there, and that made the ride even more surreal considering it was almost June. Lots of cyclists were out and they all willed me along and applauded when I reached the top. It's a great climb to do - all 48 hairpins! The next day I rode along the cycle path to Mazzo and tackled the Mortirolo. For me this is the toughest climb I have ever done. It was only about 10km, but it took me forever to ride up - actually, well about 2 and a half hours! The hairpins are easily 15% and the average gradient is unrelentless. I almost cried when I reached the top. Try it and you'll see what I mean.

7. Interview with an Italian Legend

In May I rode the Gran Fondo Felice Gimondi. As it was held in Bergamo, this was quite local for me, being in Milan. I was lucky enough to be granted an interview for Cycling Weekly magazine with Felice Gimondi himself. His PR spoke to me in English, but I didn't actually know what language Felice Gimondi would speak to me in. I wasn't fluent in Italian so would not be able to think on my feet. I had rehearsed my questions in Italian, just in case.
When he came through to the garden where I was waiting to interview him he immediately spoke to me in French - I'm not sure why! So suddenly, I had to try and flick the switch in my brain to French mode in order to speak to him. I was a bit rusty as I had not anticipated speaking in French, but once I got into a groove it went well. Mr Gimondi was very charming and had alot of funny stories to tell. I feel very priviledged to have been able to interview him.


8. The end of the Giro

I have seen the final day of the Tour de France in Paris on a few occasions. I had never seen the end of the Giro d'Italia. It was great to be able to just head out up the street from my flat and see proceedings at the Piazza Castello and the Piazza del Duomo. It was possible to just mingle around the various team buses and team warm-up areas quite freely, and there was a clear view of the riders. It was certainly less stuffy than the Tour de France.
Unlike the Tour de France, the final stage of the Giro was a time trial and there was alot to play for. The atmosphere in the Duomo was electric during the commentary, and the hitherto leader of the race, Rodriguez was in the process of losing his lead to Hesjedal. You could hardly hear a pin drop. I still won't forget the mighty gasp from the thousands of spectators in the Piazza when it was officially confirmed that Rodriguez had lost the Maglia Rosa. It was a day full of excitement and emotion, which I would defintely recommend.

9. Football crazy

Being in Milan you can't get away from the football frenzy. The two teams, Inter Milan and AC Milan are sworn enemies and local derby matches are avidly talked about.
The enthusiasm for international tournaments doesn't wane either. In June when Euro 2012 was on, this was a crazy time for Italian football fans (basically most Italians). The Milaneses were even more excitable given that they had a few of their players in the national side. When the Italians beat Germany and got into the final, the excitement just didn't stop. Cars were tooting all night. People were singing and dancing in the Piazza del Duomo. I hardly got any sleep through all the noise.
Thankfully, I was not there when Italy got trounced by Spain in the final.

10. My new weekend retreat

One word, Como! When I want to get away from Milan, I jump on a train from Cadorna station and it gets me to Como Nord Lago, where I can feel fresh air, ride my bike in interesting places and even go on lovely hikes if I feel like it. The first time I went there, in May, I was really struck by the beauty of the lake and the mountains around it. I didn't want to go back to the claustrophobia and greyness of Milan. But at least I know that on any weekend I like, the greenery and beauty of Lake Como is not far away.

11. Mashed up at La Marmotte

I have ridden this event 3 or 4 times now, and it seems that with each year I get slower! Life gets in the way and I can't train as much as I would like. This year I messed up though. I hadn't helped myself by riding the Vaujany cyclosportive the previous Sunday. So, for La Marmotte I rode round the 174km-course at a consistently slow speed, and consequently missed the cut-off at the foot of Alpe d'Huez. Oh dear! I got a Marmottan certificate, so my day wasn't completely wasted! I was also treated to the same beautiful scenery as those who rode the full thing. Also, as I had ridden up Alpe d'Huez earlier on the week I didn't miss out on the 21 hairp-pins either. My legs were mashed-up after my exploits but, as always I had a good week at the Bourg d'Oisans area.

12. Ladri di Biciclette

Not great. In July, somebody stole my road bike as I entered my flat in Milan. It was pretty audacious, as they saw me loading my stuff into the porch, and I saw the lowlife riding away with my bike but couldn't catch him. In fact, I have seen these lowlives since, at a dodgy playground in the neighbourhood. They actually tried to sell me a very nice Cinelli bike single speed bike randomly in the park. It was obvious that it didn't belong to the geyser, for it was too big for him. I told him I wasn't interested as I was "looking for a roadbike to race with". He replied that the Cinelli was suitable for road races like the Tour de France! On another occasion, they asked me if I was selling my folding bike. (I guess it had been a slow day for them at the office.) The local police just parade around the place, not doing anything in particular - just parading around...

13. It's all happening in London

London 2012 Olympics - a great couple of weeks to have been in London. I saw the cycle road races, athletics in the Olympic stadium, beach volleyball at Horseguards Parade, and fencing at the Excel centre, and Boris Johnson doing a very bad Mexican wave. I also saw various events at Hyde Park and Potters Field, near Tower Bridge. It was all amazing. London had a lovely atmosphere and everyone was friendly and good-natured.
Super-Saturday was something completely out of this world, both in terms of the gold medals that Team GB achieved and in terms of the atmosphere from the crowds. I got emotional when watching the Olympics then, and I still get goosebumps when I watch footage now. I thought there might be something wrong with me, but it turns out many other people get the same emotional reaction, I hear! I hope someone has bottled this stuff from August so we can use it in 2013!


14. A fun day out in Southend

I regularly do photo shoots with Higg and other photographers for the ride stories I write for Cycling Active magazine. I really enjoyed the one we did in Southend in July though, because that was with my young nephew. We hired a Zipvan and threw the bikes in, then went up the motorway to Southend. We took photos in various places - the pier, the fairground, the promenade, and then on to the more leafy suburbs and quieter beaches of the Essex coastline.
I think for a teenage boy from Yorkshire it was an exciting day for him, and a different type of activity to do during his school summer holidays. I was glad to have given him a good day out.
Picture by Higg


15. Delightful Dolomites

In August I spent a few days in Canazei. I know the area, having been there on previous occasions for walking. This time I took my bicycle and rode the Sella Ronda circuit. This is definitely one of those rides that a club cyclist can do. It's around 40 miles and there are 4 mountain passes - Pordoi, Campolungo, Gardena and Sella. They are not so difficult, and as it's only 40 miles you have all day to complete it. The best bit is the landscape. The plateau of the Sella range and the Sass Pordoi are amazing!


16. Walk to Bellagio

This walk, from Como to Bellagio is known as the Dorsale del Triangolo Lariano. It is around 16 miles long and takes 12 hours to complete if walking at average pace. It is doable in one day if you are feeling fit and looking for a challenge. But most people do it over two days to get the chance to look around at what's going on. I did the walk over two days and really enjoyed it. As the hiking trail twists and turns you see Lake Como, and other lakes from very different angles. It is also quite surprising just how many mountain peaks there are to climb. Lake Como is around 250m above sea level, and the actual walk starts from Brunate at around 700m. From there you climb steadily, and get up to around 1600m above the lake. So you get beautiful vast views over the region. I did this walk in September and loved it - even if it was on one of the hottest days of the year! I hope to do it again next year, and maybe even on a mountain bike. My lasting impression was from one of the refuges where I was able to see the promontory with Bellagio and both arms of the lake on either side of me. That alone made the walk worthwhile for me.


17. A hard day's bike

What should have been a straightforward, if long ride from Milan to Rapallo, on the Ligurian coast turned out to be a 230km-long epic. I got the profile of the ride completely wrong, and I ended up doing more climbing than anticipated - in fact, more than my body could cope with!
Although I set off at 8am from Milan, I was still riding at 10pm, snaking my way through a lonely road in the woods in pitch black. Things were not easy. I could feel myself getting colder, everything was so quiet, and any small russle or screech made me shriek thinking I'd be attacked by a wild beast! Even though I did have appropriate provisions (lights, food, high vis clothing etc) my imagination was still running wild, and I was getting rather scared in this unknown territory. Just when I thought I'd reached the coast, a local told me I still had 15km left, most of which would be on another tough climb through lonely lanes. In the end, a barman called over his mate, an off-duty taxi driver who gave me a hitch up the last climb at 1am. I was that tired, I didn't care how I got to Rapallo in the end. I was just so relieved to see my hotel. Whoops - not a mistake I should make too often! Anyway, the following day, after a short sleep I was up to enjoy the delights of the area and I must say I was glad to have made that effort to get there.


18. Run Like a Deejay

I have not taken part in many cycle events since being in Milan, but I have done a few running races. One of them was the Deejay 10 (km). It was a 10km race around the centre of Milan on closed roads, taking in the famous landmarks in the area. I got a Nike T-shirt, a kitbag, pasta party and a free massage. I moan about how in Italian amateur sports events you need to show your codice fiscale (like a National Insurance number) and get a medical certificate, but one thing I do like is the fact that the events are good value for money. I only paid about 10 euros to enter but I got a generous goodybag. I wasn't fussed about the time I took though. With around 10,000 runners, and running in the "non-competitive" class (due to no medical certificate) it was hard work getting round the walls of fun runners!


19. No cyclo cross for me!

This is the first year since 2003 that I have not done any cyclo cross racing at all - a bit of a shame. They don't do cyclo cross in Milan, so it's easier for me to do cyclo cross when I'm back in London. I even got my bicycle prepped up so I could race. I had meant to do a few London League events on my trips back, but I ended up visiting other people on the day. I got ill over the big Rapha Supercross/ Rollapalluza Muddy Hell weekend, so that put paid to anything.
So now, I am so unfit to do cross that it is a waste of money entering a race at this stage! I have cut my losses and stuck to bicycle rides with the cross bike, in a hope that by Autumn 2013 I might just be fit enough to give it another bite of the cherry.


20. Words in a new place

This year articles that I have had published appeared in Cycling Weekly and Cycling Active magazines. This year I actually had items go into another print magazine. This time it was Urban Velo. It was not a feature - just something on why I like riding in the city. I was just surprised to see the article in their November issue, as I had sent it in to the magazine 4 months before, and had not had any indication that it would be published. It was quite shocked to see the piece.

It was also a surprise for Higg who took the photo! We're not complaining though!

0.12 of a moment - Usain Bolt strking gold once again at the London 2012 Olympics - his time was just too short to call it one moment, so I have classed it as a fraction of a moment!

So, there you have it. My most memorable moments of the last twelve months (or at least as I remember them!). It's not been a bad year at all. Fingers crossed for a healthy and happy 2013.

Happy New Year!
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