We did the Première Manche - the first round - of A Travers riding across France from Dieppe to Marseille in the summer of 2009, and it was the original inspiration for this blog. The plan to put the 'band back together again' for another go in 2013 for the second installment fell on stoney ground, with life just getting in the way for too many of us, much to our disappointment. However, our enthusiasm for the bike remains undimmed, and so I'll keep posting my thoughts on the diverse and beautiful facets of the sport regardless. But there's bound to be another big 'adventure ride' coming soon - quite possibly in Italy - so potentially a name change too: Attraverso l'Italia in Bicicletta anyone?



Saturday, 24 September 2011

And You Thought They Had Problems With Fake Pinarellos ...

Stolen carbon moulds might be one thing, but have you ever stopped to consider if your beloved old steel frame is really made from genuine Columbus SLX, or any other tubing pukkah enough to require a sticker to prove its provenance? Look at this array of beauties you could use to pimp up a fake bike in an attempt to fool your clubmates - pic from over at milanofixed.com. We've all done it, right?


I have vague memories of carefully removing the genuine Columbus SL sticker from my own blue 1984 Pinarello Treviso and replacing it with the much-more exotic, and contrasting red, SLX decal, just to make it look a bit more flash. Indeed, before I was a man of any sort of means, my first £20 road frame with proper racing angles and clearances close enough to use Campagnolo Gran Sport, and later Nuovo Record, calipers without resorting to pathetically emasculating drop-blots, was a Falk-tubed 1981 Pearson that I performed a homespun make-over on. A dull Sutton-built hack bike no longer good enough for Chris Sherwood, complete with bent front forks, transformed lovingly into a wannabe Colnago Mexico, in hommage to Giuseppe.


Everyone after 5th September '82 was, or would be, on a Colnago. By hook or by crook. The fact that mine was washed-out blue -  rather than the gorgeous Team Del Tongo-Colnago deep wine red - was the least of its authenticity worries.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Ronde Van Vlaanderen Voor Wielertoeristen 2011, 140km

Getting the three of us to Belgium - me, Neil and Egon - and to Ninove to sign on, and then over to my mate Lode's Nokernote B&B south-east of Brussels in time to get some quality rest and relaxation before Saturday's ride had been organised with military precision. To such a degree perhaps that Neil metamorphosed into a conscientious objector the day before: instead of being with us for dinner in Nunhead at around eight as planned, he rolls up from Nottingham gone eleven. Why? His passport - I'm surprised he remembered he needed to bring it - had expired. So, instead of an easy mid-morning drive together to Folkestone to get the remarkably reasonably-priced Eurotunnel shuttle, he had to go first thing in the morning back into Central London to collect an emergency passport (£££) and then get the Eurostar to Brussels (£££) where we'd divert in and pick him up. OK - we had a Plan B, so I was convinced that I should just relax a little and think to a future time when we'd look back and chuckle about how amusing the experience had been. Except now, Neil, armed with valid passport, arrives at St. Pancras, slightly cocky with his ordeal seemingly over, treats himself to a glass of Sancerre and some pan-fried halibut (he even sends us a photo, which we pick up around Calais), and promptly misses his train. As his adopted older brother, the faux sibling that got the stress gene, I'm not best pleased. I know that scares him.

This, however, is where our luck starts to change, since he's found the Eurostar staff on a good day: they stick him on the next train for free. So, rendez-vous arranged for Brussels Eurostar terminal later that day - bless the TomTom God and installed Maps of Western Europe - and then on to sign on and collect our frame numbers in an increasingly atmospheric Ninove. We're finally starting to feel like riders, and the passion for cycling surrounding the place is palpable. Even the fact I'd forgotten my spare tubes doesn't faze me, since we find a massive cycle warehouse near Nokernote that has everything we need, and a lot more besides. I note a display copy of Cor Vos' 'Emotions' on the counter, call Neil over to look at the amazing images inside, and the shopkeeper asks me if I'm riding the Ronde the next day. I tell him yes, he asks me if I like the book - the response is obvious - and next he says I can have it. I'm perplexed. Surely a joke (it was April Fool's Day after all), but no. I walk out of the place even more excited than it's possible to be, Cheshire-cat smile and a burning desire to lock myself away somewhere quiet and pore over the iconic photos. It'll constitute a wonderful addition to my cycling book, DVD and magazine collection, as detailed in the Ride Journal article I had published last year, and eventual pride of place in the B&B we, like Lode, plan to set up, but with an emphasis on bike riding.
So, quite an eventful trip to this point, and we haven't even started the ride. Next morning saw a necessarily early start, fantastic breakfast after a good night's kip and a bit of pre-race stretching, and off to Ninove around an hour back west. The short 5km warm-up ride from where we parked on the ring road and back into town was perfect, and then it was a case of just riding through the start area and we were on our way. I just wish, with hindsight, that we'd made a note of where we parked the bloody car. Not dropping a pin in the iPhone's Map app because I'm too tight to pay 'substantial roaming charges when using email, web browsing, and other data services' abroad is not something I want to repeat. I'd probably saved around £2, but lost six months off my life for releasing the inner child later that afternoon. I'm surprised I had the energy, to be honest; I was obviously 'overly tired', a reason parents often use to pathetically excuse their badly-behaved offspring.

We'd made an agreement to wait for each other and try an ride as a group as much as possible. Well, I'd insisted that we ride like this, and I'm so glad that Neil understands what I'm driving at, despite him being race-fit and clearly wanting to mix it up a bit and test himself. I've got the competitive instinct burning within me somewhere, but there are certain times, like today, where I want to ride more sociably, taking in the surroundings and trying to soak up the history as so magnificently detailed in 'Emotions'. We're here, in Flanders, about to ride over these iconic climbs that we've seen so often in magazines and on television, and I really do want to drink it all in, rather than be chewing the bars alongside 18,000 other nutters, oblivious to everything. If I want to ride like that, I could simply go out on an Old Port's club run on a Sunday morning. 09:30 at the bottom of Corkscrew Hill, West Wickham, for those interested in silent, painful anti-social experiences (apologies to my good friend Dave Hickman, but it is true).

Home-made routecard, intended for stem,
left languishing in rear pocket. Berk.
As well as a fabulous weekend away, I really wanted to get a taste of how hard this event is, an insight into what the pros put themselves through, but I don't think it's actually possible. Here we are, for the most part enthusiasts riding along in a good-natured group whose objective is to get to the finish in one piece, over a shorter course, with none of the pressure to perform or lose our livelihoods that those in the cash ranks have to endure. The next day's event would see a pack of marauding, focussed, competitive athletes, where winning is their job, racing - really racing, with all the contact, flicking, agression and mind games that implies - moving at ridiculous speeds, jockeying for position on these narrow, muddy cobbled lanes in what amounts to a bare-knuckle fist fight on two wheels. It'd be hard enough if were just that, but past editions have additionally been run in cold, lashing rain and sleet, freezing fingers and toes into useless, cold flesh-stumps, rendering the kinderkopjes even more treacherous. Imagine that, and contrast it with our bone-dry, 23-degree-sunshine unseasonal experience. So, at the finish in the late afternoon sun, tired and emotional, I stood amongst the elongated shadows of the ugly concrete lamp posts that populate the landscape around here, and realised that I hadn't got anywhere near them. Really, really, bloody hard men, these Flandriens, proper men, in the old-fashioned sense of the word - forget the asinine comments about shaved legs - and my sporting heroes. I now respect them even more, if such a thing were possible.

After a fairly benign preamble, the Rekelberg, Kaperij and Kruisberg passed somewhat uneventfully, the apparent ease of riding in the bunch and the comparative shallowness of these first climbs tempting me to consider maybe pushing harder. Should I get into one of the faster-moving groups we'd see come up on our left shoulders every now and then, to be a racing cyclist? I was beginning to question my negative strategy of riding so much within myself, but then I quickly reminded myself of what my untrained limits would be when faced with what I knew what was coming up on the route: the next climbs of the Paterberg and Koppenberg were everything I was expecting. Massively steep, these cobbled climbs were jam-packed with Wielertoeristen, despite the police and marshalls' attempt to hold us back and set us off in groups, each one trying to pick their way through the crowd, either on foot, or even more bravely, still on the bike. I'd been mortified at the thought of trashing the C40 in a pointless fall, but that's what was happening all around me: riders desperately attempting to get up the climbs, running out of momentum or running into other riders, and falling in painful slow motion either onto the muddy banks either side of the narrow lane, or out onto the bone-jarring cobbles, further holding up progress. I resigned myself to walking up these two, disappointed at the perceived failure but trying also to convince myself that there was nothing I could really do. Neil and Egon faired marginally better, but as I've said before, their superior fitness counts for a lot. Confidence included.

A welcome respite from the cobbles
Back to my ride. Ideally this would mean hands lightly gripping the middle of the bars or on the hoods, absorbing vibrations, riding a big gear hard and fast to effectively hover over the saddle and fly over the cobbles, per the well-documented advice. It's the only way to ride on this stuff, by throwing caution to the wind, not worrying about braking, but instead picking your line and pushing on, and pushing hard. I saw groups of riders doing exactly this, seemingly floating as their bikes clattered beneath them, passing me with apparent ease. Despite knowing it was wrong, my tentative, slower, almost fearful riding was counter-productive. A real dilemma: ride hard like you should, burn more energy and have nothing left for later, or ride like I was, conserving energy, but wasting more in controlling a slower-moving bike, nervously worrying about colliding with other riders as I was jolted left and right. I didn't have the legs, or perhaps the balls, in both senses of the word. My poor old nads (apologies) took a right hammering - the bouncing bike must have highlighted my less-than-perfect outstretched position, and I was left riding in severe discomfort for the last 70km or so. Maybe Rohan is actually right: what's a 1-metre-70 bloke doing riding a 140mm stem anyway? A Moser-esque flat back may look good, but unbearable discomfort downstairs isn't going to help you ride like him.

Foot out of the pedal near the top of the Kapelmuur, but at least I wasn't
seen to be walking ( ... when the photo was taken)
To be honest, in spite of me really being aware of where I was and what was going on in the intervening kilometres, coming to write it down now is a bit of a blur. Nothing stands out particularly other than a growing sense of possible cobble-induced crytochidism, a steep tarmacked descent where a rider in front misjudged a sweeping corner and ended up doing a headstand in a muddy field, and a cobbled descent that freaked the bejeezus out of me. How could you actually race down this? Is this what they mean by mental toughness? I rode down it at about 10km/h, absolutely paranoid, being bounced around all over the road. Racing down this in the wet? Lunacy. I do remember the run in to Geraardsbergen and beyond really well still, and was motivated by two thoughts: I was getting near the finish and still felt good, and more importantly would soon be riding on the iconic Muur and the final climb of the Bosberg. Not only was my heart pounding out of my chest from the effort, I was getting wonderfully excited and emotional about the prospect of finally seeing and riding on what, to bike riders all over the world, is seriously hallowed ground. I've done the Ventoux many times, L'Alpe d'Huez and the Galibier, and always thought of myself as a climber, but today I so wanted to be a one of those riders who lives for the Northern classics. Not riding up 20-kilometre long well-surfaced 7% mountain passes, but rather big-effort pushes to the top of comparitively short 18% cobbled bastards. A different climb, for a different type of rider, one who would undoubtedly be seen riding in the Autobus come July; here they are the Kings of the Road.

Christ: the Muur and Kapelmuur; the hair is standing up on the back of my neck just thinking about it now, six months on. Loads of spectators at the sides of the road, urging us on as if we were pros, and just as I hit the steep section of the climb as the cobbled road bears right towards the final slog to the chapel, I slowly pass a parapleagic in a handcycle grimmacing with the effort to get to the top. I'm humbled, speechless, but only for a moment. As I pass I well up with emotion once again, of near self-hate and guilt for being able-bodied but pathetic, for all the rides I've done where I climbed off, where I packed, where I threw in the towel. I'm riding next to someone who would probably pay me money to be able to feel the pain I have in my legs. My voice trembles as I shout something crap like 'Come On! Keep Going!' in English. I'm sure he understood just from the tone, probably had no need whatsoever for the encouragement, but I felt like I may have contributed in some way to the sense of genuine bonhomie that had pervaded the entire event, a feeling that you wanted everyone to finish, everyone to feel proud of themselves for completing the ride. OK, it isn't just the pros that are heros - there are plenty of them out riding today.

Up over the top of the Muur with only one dab due to a faller in front of me and a struggle to get my foot back in, down a short and steep white-knuckle drop that you never really appreciate on the TV, and along the straight undulating roads towards the Bosberg, a climb I don't remember looking especially hard, and even if it was, it'd be the final one. I was going to go nuts up it I decided, really empty the legs in one last push. The cobbles on the steeper section nearer the top were preceded by road-side placards with cartoon drawings of former winners - amusing - but I was focussed on the top, which I figured was no worse than a cobbled equivalent of the top of Beddlestead Lane, regularly used in the aforementioned Old Portlians' Sunday ride. Now was the time to go, and I sat back in the saddle and churned my way up and over the top, feeling strong, feeling elated.


Full beans on the Bosberg
The run-in to the finish for me was somewhat of an anti-climax, to be honest, filtering us back into the centre of Meerbeke via several different approaches it seemed, and predictably for me I got lost and ended up performing a couple of detours around bits of the town, riding through barriers as I saw fellow finishers on adjacent roads. Eventually I was on the right path to the aankomst, and surprisingly finished ahead of Neil and Egon: they'd waited for me at the top of the Bosberg, but I'd not managed to find them amongst the masses of riders up there. That's what I told them in any case, and they believed it. So, a hard-fought win for me, as I waited beyond the line for my runner-up compatriots. They'd done well, and I congratulated them on a hard-fought battle in which I had emerged the winner.

As mentioned before, after my almighty carbo-deficiency kiddie-tantrum about not being able to find the car, we packed up and made our way back to Lode's B&B, all of us tired and hungry, bilious on energy drink and gels, but very much 'up'. A superb evening meal of Belgian-beer meat stew made by Lode, some final packing up and we were all in bed early - overly tired, exhuasted, but still buzzing - ready for the early start the next day to get back over to Oost-Vlaanderen to watch the pros.

Lunch in Oudenaarde and a chance to catch the live action on the TV, and then a short hop to the Eikenberg nearby to watch how it should be done: where we'd been twiddling up what would be the pros' twelfth helling, here they were big-ringing up it as if it wasn't there. It looked as if the race was very much on at this point, as the strung-out bunch chased down a small breakaway. Watching blokes speed by on bikes is, to the untrained eye I imagine, quite an unedifying prospect. However, I've always found that it's the mounting anticipation as much as the passing riders that always remains in my memory of events I've attended. A roadside of ambling spectators, armed with their Vlaamse Leeuw flags and crackling radios, chatting to each other in the same way that they'd do on any Sunday stroll, are transformed, as if conducted by the increasingly loud chop of the approaching TV helicopter rotors, into an integral part of the race experience. On the road, a klaxoning phalanx of support vehicles opens the way, creating a moving wall of human and mechanical noise that gets louder and louder as it snakes its way towards you, flags and banners are raised from waist height and waved frantically, and the air bursts with a cacophony of cheering voices and clapping, air horns and race radios.


video

The riders pass, we're done, the enthusiasm of the previous few minutes replaced with a post-coital awkwardness: what do we do now? Right - how do I get down of this steep bank I climbed up to get the best view? It doesn't look that steep ...I start down the bank, lose my footing, fall on my backside, and to general laughter end up at the roadside, quicker than I had intended. To bastardise two famous WW1 poems, and I apologise unreservedly, there is some corner of my jeans that is forever Flanders Fields.

Will I do it again next year? I absolutely loved it this first time - Rohan has always maintained that the first time is really special, and a massively emotional experience - but recent news that the finish is moving and the Muur and Bosberg missed out, whilst probably not making the pro racing any less exciting (indeed, repeated climbs of the viciously steep and cobbled Paterberg will be an awesome spectacle) has certainly left me with second thoughts. For me, and all the years I've watched the event, it's these last two climbs, and in particular the Kapelmuur, that have symbolised the whole race: they are certainly the ones I'll always remember most from our trip. To ride the event again and not experience the deep satisfaction of cresting the both of them just wouldn't be a true Ronde Van Vlaanderen.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Giro 2011, Stage 11 Finish at Castelfidardo

As soon as the Giro 2011 route was announced - and in a similar vein to the Tirreno-Adriatico, I'd be scouring Gazzetta dello Sport for news, any news, or even rumours for months beforehand - Kelda and I booked Ryanair flights to Ancona as usual, to stay in our caravan beside our guesthouse project in Sant'Angelo in Pontano. According to the map, the Giro was coming through our village! I could already see myself getting involved with our small 1400-person community, tying bunting between buildings, wrapping old bicycles in pink crêpe paper for display in shop windows, and making 'Forza Scarponi!' banners for local Lampre hero Michele.

Before






















So, whilst in Barcelona for work a few weeks before our trip, I bought a copy of Ciclismo a Fondo with its Guia al Giro, and on reading I'm sure they've made a mistake: now the route is the one detailed below, and there's nothing out on the web to say why there's been a change. I know that certain Giro stages had been changed (even up until the day before in the case of the stage over the Monte Crostis in 2011, and in dubious circumstances for the Stelvio in 1984), but I'm still struggling to find an explanation as to why the route suddenly changed to this:

After






















For us the big difference is that the route doesn't make the originally planned move inland towards the Sibillini Mountains and through our village, but instead tends to shadow the Adriatic coastline on its journey towards the arrivo at Castelfidardo. OK, disappointed, but it's still not that far for us to go - 40 minutes? - and see the stage finish; it would still be great day out, and the weather provided us with a gloriously hot, cloud-free day. Walking up the rise from the valley to the hill-top town centre, it was clear that this would be no easy finish: I'd say the last 3km are all uphill at around 6%, with the final 400-metre ramp to the line somewhere around 15%. We found a spot and got exactly what we were hoping for: a place at the barriers at 125m to go, opposite a bar with a toilet (never underestimate the importance of this when you have a bladder as I do), so as to provide the required relief after downing a deliciously chilled large bottle of Birra Moretti. It hadn't even had its price inflated especially for the Giro - another pleasant surprise.



The finishing area was packed with good-natured fans who'd welcome any news as to what was happening out on the road from people inside their nearby houses and bars, or those with connection to the 'net.


I'm hoping the short bit of video I took on our mobile phone captures what I believe it is that makes going to see a bike race so enthralling. Most British non-cycling friends admit to having no idea what all the fuss is about; those who, as almost accidental spectators by dint of proximity, got to see the Tour's visit in 1994 or 2007 have all said that they loved it despite not really understanding what was happening. They might know that in the Tour the leader wears the yellow jumper (thanks Ned), that Sean Yates is local to the Ashdown Forest, and that Mark Cavendish is gonna win right?, but all of them, like me, state that they also love everything that goes on around the race.

There have been occasions where I've stood on a mountainside in the Alps for hours after a seemingly endless trek up to my chosen vantage point, to be rewarded by the ephemeral passing of a blur of brightly coloured riders, yet this still has the power to give me goosebumps, for me to lose a bit of self control, bellowing all manner of stream-of-consciousness shouts of encouragement, competing with the din of like-minded fans, the passing cacophony of team and race organiser cars, motorbikes and low-flying helicopters. To spend this much time waiting could rightly be considered an utter waste of time for very little reward, but this is to ignore what bike racing is all about. It's not just the much-anticipated arrival of the race and riders, but also the whole build-up to the race passing by that I think is so attractive, and the role it plays in the communities touched by its presence. It's The Jubilee Street Party, Carnival Time and The Big Lunch, all rolled into one. The 'think-global-act-local' Zeitgeist is very much alive here, being played out for free on the public roads that pass in front of our doorways. Communities, associations and schools coming together and preparing for weeks on end, organising street parties, hanging bunting, preparing food for cooking on BBQs - to create a true celebration of their town or village, the things that makes it unique and them proud, and a chance to meet, eat, drink and chat with people one doesn't ordinarily see. I can't think of many other free events that have the power to draw such a disparate crowd of people together in such a positive way. That's what also makes cycle racing such an awesome spectacle.


video

There are more pictures, commentary and analysis of the Stage 11 finish available at the rather excellent Podium Cafe website - far better than anything I managed to grab as I tried to soak in the aforementioned atmosphere rather than focussing behind a camera.

Post Scriptum: writing an update to this post in 2012, the ensuing Contador 'tainted steak' scandal meant that the UCI banned the Spaniard and stripped him of his wins, and 'our' Scarponi is now listed in the record books as the winner of the 2011 Giro. And that's probably about as much enjoyment as he'll get from it, as do we: his name in a book and a bunch more UCI World Tour points, rather than being able to enjoy the well-deserved accolades out on the road during and in the immediate aftermath of the race. Peccato.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Exceedingly Good Writing

On the face of it Competitive Cyclist would appear to be just another one of many box-shifting big-brand evangelists with a pretty website, replete with all the 'right' logos to sell bikes. And a US one at that, which for an unrepentant Europhile makes me immediately assume that they really just don't understand racing in Europe, or anything that surrounds it. New kids on the block, surely, with a modus operandi of uninspiring lip service to the marketing departments of the various product manufacturers in their line up (for the most part, read 'copy-and-paste' from the latest press release). Next, simply pile the kit high and sell it, well, not that cheaply at all. And because it's online, you can't even get to fettle the stuff before you buy it. It's the price we pay for modernity, right?

So, after that uncharacteristic xenophobic sleight, I'm suitably embarrassed to admit that once I'd bothered to have a scratch beneath the glossy surface, I've been pleasantly delighted to find some really insightful English-language journalism on the CC pages, much better than I've ever seen on equivalent UK cycling retailer sites who might claim a stronger bond with the European scene, or at least some kind of residual kinship. Of course I'm aware that CC's writing is just part of a very persuasive marketing strategy to get me to buy into their brand, clever Roy Brooks prose to differentiate them from their rivals in very competitive market. If nothing else, I'm finding reading articles on their site an extremely enjoyable experience, which, surely is the whole point: keep me on there long enough, and who knows? I might buy something from them - and feel good about it too. It's refreshing to read something intelligent like this example, from the Willier Triestina frames page, which jibes nicely with my own opinion, and fears, on where bike companies are going within the industry, and by extrapolation, the sport itself:

The 21st Century has not been kind to the titans of Italian bicycle manufacturing. Brands that were iconic from the Gimondi era to Saronni, then from Saronni to Argentin, then from Argentin to Bartoli -- sadly, many have faded from consequence. The forces of globalization and the expectations of a new generation of cyclists (more keen on performance, less so on romance) have definitively re-set the pecking order. Prestige, desirability, and the very viability of countless Italian companies bear little resemblance to the market landscape of the 90's. No category of Italian goods has been spared: Choices are narrower than ever before for wheels, tires, bars stems, and most of all framesets.

This indictment implies that today, we - the public, the market - are no longer bothered about heritage, provenance, artistry or individuality, in a similar way that we abandoned local shops in favour of out-of-town hypermarkets and shopping malls because we were convinced that they were somehow better. Isn't it also this type of warped business logic that's responsible for the demise of 'unprofitable' classic European races like the Grand Prix des Nations, Midi Libre, and the near-loss of Paris-Nice, to name only a few? Given the trend, ultimately it's possible that the very essence of what cycling surely is, as embodied in races like these, will be diluted and lost, replaced by a dismal F1-style circus, where anonymous, indistinguishable riders, reduced to pedalling billboards in helmets and shades (there's a whole further post on that topic), will compete in cycling devoid of any sense of history and romance, of what those passionate about wine might term terroir. In its place, bite-sized consumer-friendly circuit events, requiring half-time cheer-leader style product-placement 'entertainment' to keep the fans supposedly engaged. Most of these will simply be the disinterested, yet grateful, recipients of 'corporate hospitality', for sure. Not a cheery thought. Contrex swallowed by Coke, Merlin Plage just done by Nike, Radioshack replacing Renault, Scott for Scapin. You get the picture.

It's not often that you'll finding quality writing on a site whose ultimate goal is to simply sell you stuff. I'm enthused how CC's writing succinctly sums up much of what Rohan Dubash and I have sadly witnessed and discussed over the last few years. We both love cycling, and sure, we're no doubt emotionally attached to the modern bikes we've decided to purchase, but we're certainly more that just nostalgic for the past. As the CC blog points out elsewhere, we're certainly 'unaddicted to sentimentality'. Rohan has nevertheless described the bike industry he works in today as being predominantly uninspiring and bland, devoid of emotion, with little to significantly differentiate between brands. Is this a failure of the manufacturers, removing the vital DNA from their products by, for example, outsourcing manufacture to the Far East, leaving marketing-types nothing to go on to except to enthuse over over a new logo, some fancy graphics or pointless design innovations - neigh, 'systems' - described with ridiculous TL and FLAs, with graphic applications to remind you as such? Once the very soul has been removed from a product - and that's the terroir argument again - it must be impossible to engender excitement and brand loyalty, because there's simply no credible backstory to be told. I particularly like this article about Franco bikes on CC's superbly written company blog, the Service Course, which goes some way to describing how I feel, and indeed, gives a ray of hope for the future:

Franco is a company you should get to know. Given the ever-growing and ever-darker dual shadows of Specialized and Trek, their business model is a logical next step within the bike industry. What Franco is doing has already been successfully done in fashion, in hotels, in restaurants and in other verticals: When the preponderance of product choices are both homogenous and broadly available, even if these choices are of reasonable quality and economic value, a certain segment of customers will make buying decisions based on emotional affinity instead.

So, just as we woke up and realised that there was a joy in returning to small, local, independent retailers, how we embraced the Slow Food movement and rediscovered the importance of where our food comes from and how it tastes, I sincerely hope that it's not too late for something similar to happen within cycling. Maybe the trend for retro clothing pioneered by Rapha, hand-built steel frames with reworked lugs, fork crowns and chrome and equipped with NOS components and the popularity of events like L'Eroica constitute a positive sign.