Monthly Archives: May 2010

CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND – cycling the towpath

Along the Cam

We cyclists have often been grateful to the diggers of Europe’s canals. ‘All dug by hand,’ people keep telling us, but I bet they used spades as well. They’ve left us some wonderful places to ride the bikes. We just pedalled along the River Cam out of Cambridge, which claims to be England’s best cycling town, with cycle lanes on most roads, plenty of bike parking racks and best of all, patient drivers who probably ride bikes too.

Somebody else's problem...

The Cam is a natural waterway of course, but it’s been tamed with a system of locks and embankments to stop it spreading out over the fens and flooding people’s holiday homes. In the town, it is famous for punting, but we could quickly see that on a sunny weekend we wouldn’t have it to ourselves. On the banks we ran the gauntlet of students thrusting placards at anybody toting a camera or consulting a tourist map. ‘Finking of goin’ puntin’ while you’re here?’ (Nobody wants a toffy accent these days. Notice that Princes William and Harry speak more like rock stars than like royals of old.) We weren’t finking of puntin’, and if we had been, we would soon have been put off by the antics of the crowds of very merry young punters bumping each other into the water.

Bridge on the Cam

Instead we rented bikes and pedalled out of town. It was an easy option. Three gears were plenty. The towpath was well-maintained, simple to follow (”Just keep the river on your right””), well serviced with refreshment stops, and flat.

The waterway itself provided entertainment, in the form of narrowboats and locks, to take our minds off any discomfort in legs, lungs or rear ends. Back when barges were serious means of transport, the towpath may well have meant discomfort for those doing the towing. I remember a photo in a museum in Friesland showing a ‘skutje’ barge family at work. Mamma and the kids, ropes across their shoulders, walked the muddy towpath in the rain while Pappa did the steering from the captain’s cabin.

Those days are long gone. Now the ‘narrowboat’ barges have been converted into pleasure craft. Pubs have names like The Bridge,The Green Dragon and The Penny Ferry. Lock masters chat with skippers, and ride along with them for a while to open the next lock. Retired couples, usually with a dog perched on the deck beside them, lounge in the sun with the coffee cups. Their boat names tell the story; Croozy, The Fox, Fourth Time Lucky.

When we’ve had enough, we stop at the pub. “Waterbeach Chef and Brewer” sounds perfect. It’s a pub which seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but it’s packed with lunchtime diners and drinkers. The strollers of the mothers’ and babies’ club are choking the aisles.

The food is hearty, honest, heavy British fare. The decor is all heavy wooden beams, under which heavy honest British trenchermen tuck into heavy shepherd’s pies. We tell ourselves heavy British lasagne is just what we need, then pedal gently back to Cambridge. Recommended!

TRIP NOTES: Bike rental from Station Cycles costs GBP10 for 24 hours

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GIRO D’ITALIA SCOOP – my exclusive with Cadel

Cadel in pink, Giro Day 3

G’day from Amsterdam for the last time, Cadel.

It was great to finally meet you this morning, and I really enjoyed our little pre-race chat.

I feel that I’ve done all I can for you now, since you’re off to Italia tomorrow to continue the Giro and I can’t afford the plane ticket to come with you. But so far you’re doing very well, and I think you’ll be fine to take it on your own from here.

Yesterday the entire peloton flashed past my vantage point in Amsterdam in less than four seconds, but I quite understand. It’s hard to stop and talk when you’re in such a rush. So today I thought I’d go early to the start of the race and catch you when you had a bit more time on your hands.

It's not safe to leave your bike where any fool can touch it, Cadel.

I was shocked and surprised to arrive at Amsterdam Zuid station and find that your BMC bikes hadn’t been locked up. This is Amsterdam, Cadel, the bicycle theft capital of the universe! Nicking bikes and on-selling them is one of the city’s major economic activities. I saw you had a spare on top of a support car, but leaving your good bike unattended on the street is asking for trouble!

Here’s a picture of my anti-theft city bike. You’ll notice it has a big chain on it and a bolt lock through the rear wheel.

My bike, showing the correct way to park in Amsterdam

That Giro d’Italia souvenir bag is exactly what you need for keeping the saddle dry. It’s good value at 10 euros and you get a cap and t-shirt too. Also four Giro fridge magnets, a wrist bracelet and a ‘targa’ (not sure what that is, something Italian) – nine items in all. Did you buy yours yet, Cadel?

It was all go at the start of the Giro, stage 3. There were free pink drinks being handed out, which I think were a sort of fruit cocktail, synthetic guava juice perhaps. Quite nice anyway. Outside a special tent, people who looked more important than me were lining up for champagne and coffee.

I’m telling you all about this, Cadel, because even though you were there, you weren’t able to get out and enjoy it. You and the entire BMC team were sheltering in the big red bus, to avoid being swamped by the media I assume. It must be pretty squashy in there. No wonder they pick skinny little guys to be in the cycling team.

Lots of bald people wanted to meet you, Cadel.

But finally you all emerged, waved to the crowd in a friendly way, and when the scrum cleared to let you through we were able to have our little talk. This blog report is going out into cyberspace, where lots of avid followers of RT’s LOTR are waiting anxiously to find out what you and I chatted about. It was nothing of a particularly private or personal nature, so I hope you don’t mind my sharing it with my readers.

I took a close up shot of your pink jersey. Hope you don't mind.


The conversation started with your correspondent laying a friendly hand on C.E.’s shoulder, in the process coming into contact with the coveted pink jersey. From there, the conversation went something like…

RICHARD TULLOCH’S LIFE ON THE ROAD: Good luck, mate.

CADEL EVANS: Thank you.

And thank you too, Cadel. It means a such lot to know I’m making a difference, and that all my efforts are appreciated.

Best of luck,

Richard

STOP PRESS: Cadel had a bit of trouble with the wind in Zeeland and lost some time on Day 3. It was fun, Nederland enjoyed it and so did I. Thanks for coming. Ciao!

Arrivederci, Giro.

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GIROMANIA, AMSTERDAM – The Giro d’Italia flashes past

G’day again Cadel,

I hope you got a good night’s sleep. Amsterdam has a lot of notorious distractions available to young visitors, but your manager probably gave you guys a curfew and suggested you stick to the drugs issued by the team doctor.

It’s been busy in town while the Giro is here. You may have noticed during the time trial yesterday that lots of the streets are shut to let you have a clear run. Amsterdam’s local cyclists have to carry their bikes (some of them very heavy ones) up the footbridges when they want to cross the road.

Amsterdam has been preparing for the Giro for months. A garbage strike was carefully timed for this week so the Dutch collectors could make their case for a pay rise. Some say they left the garbage there for the Giro to make normally spotless Amsterdam look more Italian, but I doubt that.

Mevrouw Tulloch and I rode our solid city bikes to Amsterdam’s Churchilllaan to see you pass today. The atmosphere in the crowd as we waited for you to arrive was electric, as you can imagine.

Then suddenly, there you were, Cadel! At least I think you were there, unless you slept in. It all happened too fast for me to pick you out, and within three seconds you were gone again.

I did manage to get a good look at your spare bikes today, though. Gee, you’ve got a lot of them! You’ll be pleased to know the car driver was being very careful, so they probably won’t fall off before they get to Utrecht, even if he hits a bump.

Yesterday a Dutch guy next to me said, ‘Dat is Evans, de Amerikaner’, so I soon put him right on that one. Tomorrow I’ll go out to the Amsterdamse Bos to give you a wave and an ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie’ as you head down to Middelburg. Maybe you could wear some wattle on your helmet so I’ll know which one you are.

Good luck,

Your mate in cycling, Richard

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CLASSICO BORETTI – my small part in Amsterdam’s Giro d’Italia

My photo of Cadel Evans in the Apollolaan

Dear Cadel Evans,

Your 10 minutes 20 seconds was a good effort for the Giro prologue through the streets of Amsterdam today. A little Dutch boy beside me commented, ‘He’s riding even faster than the car behind him!’ You pipped my time for the course by just under 42 minutes. But you couldn’t have done it without my help…

While you were having breakfast this morning, I was contributing to grassroots Australian cycling by riding the Classico Boretti around the backblocks of Holland, trying to keep up with the Dutch amateur riders.

You’ve probably heard that elite sportsmen like you can’t develop without thousands of ordinary Richard Tullochs doing their personal bests in their chosen sports, so I hope you appreciate all l’m doing for you. It cost me 15 euros and a lot of muscle fatigue to support you today, but it was worth the money and the pain.

At around 8 am I joined some 5000 Dutch riders at the Amsterdam Velodrome.

My opposition prepares for battle

I thought the Classico Boretti would be a bit of a giggle – a few kilometres pedalling to the nearest cafe, then a quiet morning beer in the sunshine – but no, they take their cycling very seriously in Holland. Everyone but me had a smart racing bike, and serious cycling gear from their cycling club.

I was hoping to slipstream a group of riders marginally stronger than myself, but within a few minutes, lycra was whipping past me and disappearing into the middle distance. I have a perfectly decent touring bike and reasonable touring legs, but they just couldn’t mix it with the tough Dutch hard men.

So I stopped worrying about my time, and after that I found the Classico Boretti was following a particularly beautiful course, heading out from Amsterdam towards the North Sea, then through the undulating dunes and the wealthy village of Bloemendaal, famous for its extremely successful hockey team featuring some of Australia’s finest players.

At a pit stop, the Boretti people provided lunch – a currant bun, half a banana and can of Red Bull. I’m not sure if you’re allowed to drink Red Bull, Cadel, but it seemed to make some of my fellow cyclists ride even faster.

But Cadel, you know how it is when the whole of Australia is depending on your performance. I hung in there and finished the 75km course, and when I collected my goody bag at the finish, there were still other riders trickling in, so I hadn’t come last!

The organisers ensured that we all got a bowl of pasta at the finish to make us feel Italian, and we had the chance to be photographed with the ‘Giro Miss’, a charming young woman who had been selected as the most attractive cycling fan in Amsterdam. It was tempting, but I know you guys only get kissed when you finish on the podium, so I didn’t think I’d earned it.

Then Boretti offered us all a free ride in a shuttle bus to see you ride the Giro. A bus? For cyclists? How wimpy would that be??! I rode my own bike to the Giro course, thank you very much, found a spot by the Apollolaan, and took the above photo of you. Hope you like it.

Good luck for the ride to Utrecht tomorrow, Cadel.

Your bruised and battered Aussie mate,

Richard

PS If I ever do the Classico Boretti again, I think I need one of those light bikes with very thin tyres and funny handlebars. Are you happy with your one, Cadel? Could you suggest any shops that sell them at reasonable prices?

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GIRO D’ITALIA, STAGE 3 – Amsterdam to Middelburg

Start of Giro 2010 Stage 3

G’day again, Cadel,

Here I am at the beginning of the Giro stage you’ll be doing on Monday, 224kms from Amsterdam to Middelburg.

You start off at the World Trade Centre at Amsterdam Zuid (south) station. That sign above me means ‘no cycling’ because of pedestrian safety concerns, but everybody seems to ignore it and ride anyway. I advise you to do the same. If you get stopped by the police, say you’re a tourist and they’ll let you off with a warning.

Notice I’m wearing a beanie instead of a bike helmet. That’s because it’s really cold. I know helmets are compulsory in the Giro now, but maybe you should ask if you can wear a beanie underneath.

From the WTC, you turn left onto the Amstelveenseweg. This window cleaning van was blocking the cycle path when I arrived, but the guy promised me he’d be finished by Monday, so you won’t have any trouble there.

Amstelveen itself is quite a modern town, where lots of business people live. The Cobra Museum has some very interesting modern art, particularly from wild Dutch artists like Karel Appel and Corneille. I don’t know if you’re interested in modern art, Cadel, but if so it’s worth a visit next time you’re in town.

From Amstelveen, follow the signs to Schiphol Airport. The route runs right alongside it, long, boring and straight, but it gets exciting when a plane flies overhead. If any helicopters were planning to cover the Giro, perhaps you should tell them to wait till you get somewhere safer, like Italy.

This sign says the road will be closed to traffic for two hours on Monday. That seems a bit extravagant – it only took me 1 hour 7 minutes to ride that section, though I expect some riders may not be as fast as you or me, Cadel.

But out here I did happen to meet up with some of your competitors who were getting in a bit of last minute practice, so I can tell you how good they were. First a couple of Spanish guys passed me (Caisse d’Epargna) looking very fit and fast. Then four Columbia riders, and finally the whole Liquigas team. I was able to hook on the back and ride with Liquigas for nearly 200metres, so there’s one team you don’t have to worry about. That Ivan Basso is rubbish!

I pressed on to Lisse and the tulip fields. Lisse is famous for the Keukenhof gardens, but I didn’t stop to visit them and I don’t expect you will either. I thought there would be lots of tulip fields so there’d be photo opportunities all over the place, but there were only a couple that looked like this.

By the time I got here, it was raining quite heavily. Some Dutch riders like to carry an umbrella, but I don’t recommend it for you, Cadel.

It takes a lot of practice to steer with one hand, and when things get tight and cosy in the pack, some riders get very annoyed if your umbrella pokes them in the peloton.

While living in cold, wet Holland, I have picked up a couple of useful tricks for riding in the rain, though. Always carry a plastic shopping bag with you and put it over your saddle when you get off. That way you don’t get a wet backside when you get back on your bike again. In this photo it’s an Esprit bag, but any plastic bag without a hole in it will do.

It was cold, wet and uncomfortable riding today, Cadel, but I knew you needed my expert evaluation of the route, so I rode on to Leiden. It’s a really interesting town, being Rembrandt’s birthplace and having the oldest university in the Netherlands. I took a photo of this icecream and chocolate shop. I thought you’d like it, being Australian.

The rain was getting heavier, and the 179 kilometres from Leiden to Middelburg are fairly routine, so I didn’t see any need to research them for you. Delft, Rotterdam, Zeeland, it’s all plain sailing. I took the train home from Leiden station.

Oh, one more thing, Cadel…I suppose you need to get back to Schiphol airport to fly to Italy at the end of the day. There are regular trains there from Middelburg, and for 6 euros extra they’ll let you take your bike too. Make sure you have correct change for the machine, otherwise it costs 50 cents more to buy a ticket at the counter.

Good luck and I hope you win the Giro!

Your friend, Richard

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GIRO D’ITALIA’S WEIRD ROUTE – Amsterdam to Utrecht

Be careful on these narrow Dutch bridges, Cadel. There could be another bike coming the other way. Walking across is safer.

Dear Cadel Evans,

Hello again from your Netherlands-based Australian cycling consultant. I’ve checked out the route they’ve given you on this Giro Day 2 between Amsterdam to Utrecht, and it’s ridiculous! They’re sending you a very long way around. 209 kilometres?? What are they thinking of??!! I rode down to Utrecht a few weeks ago and it was only a touch over 50km!

That’s what you get for having boys from out of town doing the planning. Those Italians may know Tuscany or Sardinia like the backs of their hands, but send them to Holland and they haven’t got a clue. Any Amsterdammer could have told them there’s a nice flat cycleway with only a few tree roots alongside the Rhine Canal that takes you straight to Utrecht. A few times you have to pick up your bike and lift it over a footbridge, but that shouldn’t be any problem to people like you who have really light bikes. It’s much shorter and quicker than the crazy route they’ve set you guys.

Anyway, I hope you’ll be able to appreciate a bit of nice Dutch countryside and pretty villages. I rode out there and took the camera so I could show you what to expect.

You'll see a lot of landscape like this.


You’ll start off at Amsterdam’s Museumplein again. It could be a bit messy there because the Dutch garbagemen are on strike for a week and the big crowd from Saturday probably won’t take all their litter home with them. Speaking of which, would you tell the other riders not to throw their empty drink bottles away like they usually do when they’ve finished with them, because nobody will be cleaning them up till next Thursday at the earliest.

From the Museumplein you head out through Diemen (a bit boring) and on to Weesp.This is a very pretty town with a market, but it’s only on Wednesdays so unfortunately you’ll miss it. Probably the organisers give you free lunch on a big important ride like the Giro, but if they don’t you’ll find Weesp has a few nice cafes by the water. They’ll be busy because of all the crowds there to see the Giro, but if you say you’re famous and doing the race yourself they should find you a table and serve you fairly quickly. The coffee isn’t nearly as good as in Adelaide, Wollongong or Milan, though.

This is a bridge in Weesp. It's also fairly narrow, so take it easy and remember to ride on the right side of the road, like they do in Belgium.

After Weesp you pass close to Hilversum, the town where most Dutch television studios are based. Expect lots of ‘personalities’ jumping in front of you with cameras and trying to interview you. Ignore them. TV people always think the world revolves around them, but they don’t realise how much more important we cyclists are.

Next the route winds down to Utrecht, past lots of cows and canals. It misses Utrecht the first time, then wiggles around all over the town trying to find the Centrum, or town centre. We shouldn’t blame the organisers for that. I got lost in Utrecht myself. By Sunday I hope they’ll have put up signs with arrows pointing to the finish so you should find it okay, even if you’re out in front of the race and can’t just follow the other riders.

Utrecht is a university town so there are nice things to do there. There’s a Kathmandu store there too, so if you need any outdoor gear, a Goretex jacket or a tent to save on hotel costs, that’s the place to be. It’s been really cold here in Holland, Cadel, so you may need a fleece jacket.

If you’re at a loose end after the race, there are two interesting museums in Utrecht – the Aboriginal Art Museum (tell them you’re an Aussie and they’ll be all over you) and a museum of mechanical music which has entertaining music boxes and street organs.

Good luck, Cadel – it’s a long day’s ride but a good one.

Your cycling friend, Richard.

PS. Tomorrow I’ll try the third of the Dutch Giro legs – Amsterdam to Middelburg in Zeeland, through the tulip fields of Lisse. Then on Saturday I’ll be by the roadside watching out for you.

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GIRO D’ITALIA PROLOGUE – my insider’s tips

Me and my bike

Dear Cadel Evans,

I’m an Aussie, so I want you to win the Giro cycling race, and I’ve been living in Amsterdam for a while, so I know about riding here. I just rode the course you’ll be doing as a time trial in the Prologue on Saturday, and I have a few tips for you.

I also took some photos, because you know how when you’re riding in a real hurry you forget to look around at the sights and there are things you could miss if they’re not pointed out to you.

Some of the route is a bit tricky…

The race starts at the Museumplein, behind the Rijksmuseum

Cadel, the route starts at the Museumplein, where there are always lots of tourists. They sometimes stand around chatting, blocking the cycle path. If this happens, ring your bell loudly and yell out that you’re in a race and they usually get out of the way.

There's plenty of bike parking in Amsterdam

You probably have a pretty new bike, Cadel, so make sure you lock it up if you’re leaving it parked in the street before the race. Even old bikes get stolen a lot in Amsterdam. Carry a heavy chain with you, put it through the front wheel, the frame, the back wheel and finally anchor it to the largest public building you can find.

Heineken brewery

Soon after you start the prologue, you pass the Heineken Brewery. They used to give away free beer on their popular brewery tours, but I think they make visitors pay now. Maybe if you say you’re a world famous cyclist they’d give you a discount – it’s worth a try; if they say no, what have you lost?

Work in progress on the Vijzelgracht


From the brewery, the route goes down the Vijzelgracht, where you can see the houses on either side are being propped up to stop them falling into the hole where Amsterdam’s new metro line is supposed to go. You should be safe from falling masonry, Cadel, as long as you’re wearing your helmet. I always ride through this street as fast as I can and hope nothing goes wrong.

Stopera building

Next you’ll be crossing this bridge by the Stopera, the city opera house, over the famous Amstel River. Watch out for trams, and make sure you don’t get your front wheel stuck in the tracks. Lots of visitors who aren’t used to Amsterdam’s roads fall off this way.

Just past the Waterlooplein flea market, the route turns right into the Weesperstraat. It’s a long straight stretch, and most people can ride it really fast. I was going very well today, but then this bridge opened in front of me to let a boat go through. I certainly hope that doesn’t happen to you, Cadel, because in a time trial even losing a few minutes can be the difference between winning and coming umpteenth.

Weesperstraat bridge

The Apollolaan is one of Amsterdam’s most beautiful streets. The Hilton Hotel became famous when John Lennon and Yoko Ono spent their honeymoon in bed there. If you say you’re a famous cyclist they might let you have a quick look in the room.

Hilton Hotel, Apollolaan

The prologue finishes at the Olympic Stadium, where Amsterdam hosted the 1928 Olympic Games. You’ll probably be pretty clapped out by the time you get there, but I live close by, so give me a buzz if you want to come round for a beer when you’ve finished the media interviews.

Olympic stadium, nearly night time when I arrived.

PS. To give you some idea of the time it should take you…the prologue course is 8.4km long. I did it in less than an hour (52 minutes, 17 seconds). I think you’ll be faster if that bridge doesn’t open in front of you. Also stopping to take photos slows you down, so I’d advise you not to do that.

Sunday and Monday’s stages also start in Amsterdam, then go to Utrecht (Sunday) and Middelburg (Monday) so next I’m going to ride them too. Though they are both 209km long, so you may get there before I do, Cadel. Good luck, anyway.

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