Monday, May 31, 2010

Balloon pizzas in Varese

OK, as promised... some food porn from Varese. Carlee, Lauren, Spratty and I went to our favourite pizza place in Varese last night to celebrate Lauren's last night before she heads home to Australia for a break. Spratty and I were on a mission to sample the retaurant's famous 'balloon' pizzas, which are like calzone but swelled up with air in the cooking process so that they are the size of a basketball when they come out. Inside is mozzarella, ricotta, ham, olives and an egg. It was delicious... not something I could eat often if I want to stay a hill climber but I could definitely smash another one soon.

In the masterchef spirit we judged the balloons 9.5 out of 10, with half a point deducted because they were not served by an Adonis-like waiter called Giordano who arrived on a golden chariot pulled by unicorns. But other than that it was pretty good.


...and after
I am not a quitter but this Ballun hit me for 6 and I had to lay down the knife and fork after a solid 40 minutes of trying. Good thing we did so much riding yesterday or I'd never have made it that far.

Sunday, May 30, 2010


Just a quick post as today's session has again left me barely able to remember my own name. I wanted to say thanks to all the people who have written comments and followed Ride Happy - it always makes my day to see a comment (apart from those offering Viagra or Nigerian bank scams)... and I realised I haven't really replied to say thanks. Sometimes I feel that blogs are a bit self-indulgent, so when I find out that Ride Happy is entertaining people other than myself, it relieves my conscience a bit.

We are going into Varese tonight for balloon pizzas (just for you Jonno L)... a big treat. Stay tuned for some pics, these things have to be seen to be believed.

Ride happy

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Training week back in Varese

Since arriving back at the AIS base after our adventures in France and Belgium, we've had a couple of recovery days and then a couple of big days on the bike. We really enjoyed our day off on Tuesday, the day after Ronde de Bourgogne - 1hr of easy riding followed by much longer sitting at the cafe having lunch and coffees in the sunshine. It's a tough life, this cycling business. But when Macca and Marv told us that we would be having Wednesday off as well, well, that got us suspicious.

Our suspicions were justified when our training program for the rest of the week was posted on the office door on Wednesday arvo. 2 days later we found ourselves flat out on the couch, unable to rouse the energy to walk further than the fridge. What happened? Where did the last 2 days go? I remember something to do with double sessions, hill attack efforts and Marv using the phrases '4hrs with mountain passes' and 'world of pain' far too close together for my liking. I feel like I am reliving my uni years at college, only this time the person passed out on the floor is me and I'm not even hungover.

What happened was this: Thursday: 1.5hrs ergo in the morning, with 20 sprint intervals. Shower. Eat. Stretch. Coffee. 2.5hrs on the bike in the arvo with 4 power hill climbs (try racing up a hill when you have to stay under 60rpm). Shower. Eat. Stretch. Bed. Friday: 3hrs in the rain climbing up Basso, a col nearby that Ivan Basso cuts his teeth on. No wonder he's so damn fast. Motorpace. SE. Home. Change. 1hr ergo with 2x15 min SE efforts. Shower. Stretch. Eat. Eat. Eat. I normally don't write about training sessions here, but this time I'm just damned impressed we made it through. Kirsty and Lauren had wisely skipped town and left Carlee, Shara, Spratty and I to fend for ourselves. Tomorrow is a recovery day (otherwise known as How-many-episodes-of-The-Wire-can-I-fit-into-a-day Day) and Sunday we do it all again. And, truth be told, it is damned fun.

This week in Varese has also given us time to spend on more important things in life, like raising our pet penguin, Iggy. My sister Cathy sent me a toy hatching egg from Australia. You put it in water and over a week or so it hatches and grows into a penguin. I think I can safely say that no hatching egg toy has ever received quite so much attention and care as Iggy... but I guess that's what happens when all you have to do all day is ride bikes.

...Did I mention important gelati research? Raising a penguin, riding bikes and eating gelati. It is a busy schedule.

That's it from me for now. Enjoy the Giro stage tomorrow - they go up the Stelvio, one of the notorious mountain climbs in Italy. We'll be tackling it in July at the Giro Donne.

Ride happy

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

La Ronde de Bourgogne - allez Australie!

Go Aussie go!

We've just returned to the AIS base in Varese after racing the Ronde de Bourgogne, a 2 day, 3 stage tour in France on Sun and Mon. It was a good tour for team Australia (comprising Amanda Spratt, Lauren Kitchen, Carlee Taylor, Kirsty Broun, Shara Gillow and myself). Lauren set the team up early with a 100km break (of 2 riders) in stage 1. The gap blew out to 8 minutes at one stage and the 2 stayed away to win the stage by almost 5 minutes. Lauren got pipped on the line in a photo finish, and ended up wearing the young rider's jersey, KOM jersey and sitting pretty at 2nd on GC with daylight 3rd.

The next morning was a TTT and it was tttough. Our aim was to bring back at least the 4 seconds needed for Lauren to claim the yellow jersey. Not satisfied that a TTT was hard enough on its own, we also rode it without TT bikes, aero bars, tt helmets, skinsuits... in fact any TT gear at all. With a strategy of aggression, we had 6 starters and 3 finishers, with 3 of us jettisoned during the 22km. Unfortunately, team Futuroscope (a French UCI team), who also had the yellow jersey in it, beat us by 10 secs. Given that Futuroscope was racing with the full aero ensemble (TT bikes, disc wheels, aero helmets, suits, shoe covers etc), we figured we had left their dignity intact by coming 2nd to them.

The 3rd and final stage saw us 14 secs down on the yellow jersey, with Spratty also now at 5th GC. Enter the kermesse, an 18-lap, 63km circuit, held 3 hrs after the team time trial. Carlee attacked early and Spratty bridged to her, forming a break of 5 riders. Kirsty, Shara and I did our best to shut down attacks from the bunch and protect Lauren. After 2 big stages, Spratty and Carlee rode like the wind to open up a 2 min gap over the bunch that was big enough for Spratty to move up to 3rd on GC. Spratty also won the stage and Carlee placed 3rd after launching well-timed attacks on the breakaway. This is Spratty's 2nd win in a week in Europe - both after early attacks. As I was sitting in the bunch trying not to fall off I thought that one day I'd like to be able to ride like that. (Incidentally, you can catch a pic of Spratty's Flying Kangaroo victory salute in Wallonia at

So, all in all, the team ended up with 2nd and 3rd on GC, young rider's jersey (Lauren), KOM jersey (Lauren), sprint jersey (Spratty), teams classification win, and a 1st, 2x2nds and a 3rd in the stages.

Personally, I enjoyed the tour but was a bit disappointed with my legs (or lack thereof). I blew a lot of cookies on Friday night in the Race That Shall Not Be Named (ok, Le Bizet) and didn't recover in time for Sunday's tour start. It was disappointing because the first stage of the tour was hilly and if I had recovered properly I could have made a more valuable contribution to the team. As it was, I discovered that if you start a tour tired, you generally don't get any less tired, regardess of how much pasta you eat.

For the Ronde de Bourgogne we stayed in Flavigny, a medieval town on top of a hill. It was a pretty stunning setting and all the buildings looked straight out of a history book (or, in Nico's words, straight out of Murder She Wrote). To our surprise we found that someone had spray painted 'Go Aussie' and 'Australia forever' on the stage 1 roads. Cycling is much more a part of European culture than in Australia and all along the route we had locals cheering us - even a group of monks working in a field all stopped and cheered as we rode past. I wish cyclists received that kind of reception in Australia.
No one could tell where the AIS team were staying

We are now back in Varese and yesterday and today are recovery days. We start ramping up again tomorrow ahead of the world cup + one day race + tour in Spain in early June.
Plenty of scenery on the 6 hr drive back to Varese

Before I sign off I wanted to share this pic. Yesterday I felt very special because I received some mail from my Mum and my sister (this is very exciting). My sister Cathy made me a necklace - how cool is that?!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Le Bizet

Last night was Le Bizet, a race on the French/Belgian border. Roughly translated, Le Bizet means 'place of pain and cross winds where Australian riders spend an hour and a half eating handlebar and sweating spinal fluid'.

It was not a successful day for the Aussies. Our race strategy backfired and we didn't place, despite working our butts off at the front of the bunch. It was a long and painful way to learn some valuable lessons.

We are now on our way to France to race Route de Bourgogne, a 2 day 3 stage tour Sun/Mon. I am hoping to pull up ok after Le Bizet as it's a hilly tour and I'm going to need my legs in good condition. I spent so many bikkies last night it's going to be a mission to recover today.

Above is a pic of us post recovery-ride in Leuven on Thurs, heading back to our apartments.

Ride happy

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lisa's Mum hits the Giro d'Italia

I've received some mail asking where Lisa's Mum has been while I've been in Belgium. To be honest, I'm not exactly sure. I stowed her in my hand luggage when I left in Melbourne, and by the time I hit Italy she was nowhere to be found.

It wasn't until I checked my credit card statement and saw several purchases made at Gucci in Milano that I realised where she was. It is no secret that Lisa's Mum has lofty ambitions for joining the SBS commentary team at Le Tour de France, and it looks like she has taken this one step further by heading to the Giro d'Italia.

Lisa's Mum was extremely excited about today's Giro stage, where a break of 56 riders caught Vinokourov and Cadel napping and rode off to a 10min lead by the day's end. Her word from the inside is that both stopped for a picnic and, while arguing about who forgot to pack the cutlery, the break slipped past unnoticed. Mum is particularly pleased that Richie Porte has kicked Vino out of the pink, mostly because Richie is a superstar but also because blue lycra suits Vino's eyes much better.
Lisa's Mum doesn't want to be greedy but does think that Australia's dominance over all the jerseys of significance in the Giro so far is reflective of Aussies' grit, determination, and ability to withstand a large number of gels without encountering gastro-intestinal difficulty. She suspects some talent may be involved too. Mum is hoping that Richie's catapultion into the maglia rosa today will also serve as inspiration to other Tasmanians that they too can leave Tasmania one day and travel further than Melbourne.*

Lisa's Mum is enjoying the Giro at the moment but she is struggling to adjust to some of the cultural differences in Italy. For example, in Carrara, home of the stage 6 finish, it is customary to appoint only extremely tall women as podium chicks.

Don't let the picture fool you, Matty Lloyd is actually 6 ft 4

However, despite the differences, Lisa's Mum has found Italians very friendly and approachable. She even got to see her idol Mario Cipollini, who was thrilled to meet her and immediately demanded a photo. Lisa's Mum is usually camera-shy, but few women are able to say no to Cipo.

Lisa's Mum pauses for a photo with Cipo

That's enough from Lisa's Mum for now. She is off to par-tay with Saxo Bank (SOMEONE has to drink all that champagne, those riders certainly can't).


*Lisa's Mum wishes to apologise in advance to any Tasmanians she may have offended with that last statement, and also to anyone she may have offended with the Tasmanian jokes she told at the stage 11 after-party. Mum wishes to emphasise that in no way did she mean that you all had 2 heads and married your sister.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

First euro race and GP de Beauraing

I had my first euro race on Saturday - a 78km kermesse in Belgium. It was fun and I didn't get dropped, and we won beer, which made it a good day all round. Actually, it was a lot more fun than I'd anticipated.  I made all the girls afterwards pose for a picture so I could prove to everyone back home that I wasn't just drinking beer and discovering spiritualism on some big adventure overseas. (Although I'd be lying if I said I didn't drop a prayer or two before race start.) What made it a top day for me was how well the girls looked out for me and and talked me through the whole race. They've all been racing overseas a lot longer than I have and have been so generous with sharing their experience. It's a big learning curve but that day just made me feel wow, it's going to be AWESOME.

Regulation 5.4.1 of the Belgian Cycling Federation race rules states that race sign on must take place in a pub and that all spectators must be able to blow at least 0.09 by race end

The next day we raced the GP de Beauraing, which also happened to be the regional championship of Wallonia, the French-speaking part of Belgium. It was the equivalent of a state championship in oz. The race was 10 laps of a 9km circuit... which actually turned out to be 9 laps when they rang the bell one lap too early, but no one was complaining. It was a tricky little course that reminded us a lot of the Australian road nationals course - a climb followed by a tight narrow descent. I lost both my bidons on some potholes in the first 2 laps and there was no feeding until the 7th lap. For the weight weenies out there (you know who you are), yes this represented a significant weight advantage when going uphill in the first part of each subsequent lap. For my part, I was quite grateful when Beth, the AIS soigneur, handed me a bidon on the 7th lap which managed to stay in the cage where I had put it.

But the best part of the GP de Beauraing was that Spratty won it. It was an amazing solo effort that saw her break away in the first third of the race (at about the point where I was chomping stem and getting yelled at in Flemish), then ride her breakaway companion off her wheel on a bike that she later discovered had its front skewer undone. Her victory salute (the Kangaroo) was pure gold and if I can track down a photo I'll post it here. Then Kirsty won the bunch sprint for 3rd. So it was a good day for team AIS.

Supercoach Dave McPartland talks race tactics

We are here in Leuven, Belgium, until Sat.Our next race is on Fri night, then on Sat we pack up and head to France for a 2-day tour on Sun/ Mon. Then back to Italy for a gelati refuel.

Above left: Race faces ON!
Above right: We painted the cars so that we knew which ones were ours

Above left: Varese by moonlight
Above right: Pizza night in Varese

Ok, that's enough from me for now. Ride happy.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cadel quotes at the Giro

The Giro isn't quite going according to plan for Cadel Evans... These soundbites just in from the man himself, recorded by TE's Stu Lindsay. (Lisa's Mum would be proud):

To quote Cadel Evans: "Where the f***'s my team?"

To quote Cadel Evans "Well they're not much use to me back there are they!"

To quote Cadel Evans "Then you'd better make sure you pick the top riders for the Tour because this Giro's gone pear-shaped already"

Enjoy the coverage.

En route to Belgium

We are currently in the early stages of a 10hr roadtrip from the AIS base in Castronno, Italy, to Leuven, Belgium. We've passed thru Mendrisio, Switzerland (home of the 2009 world road champs) and are now approaching Zurich.

As you can see, the weather is TERRIBLE! No sign of improvement over the next couple of weeks.

In Belgium we'll be racing some kermesses and then sticking around for a week before racing a 1 day in Wallonia (French-speaking Belgium) and a 2 day tour in France.

I have not pulled up well from the long-haul flight and on our first ride in Varese I got some sharp quad pain in my right leg, out of the blue when I got out of the saddle. Beth, the AIS soigneur and physio is looking after me and I'm really hoping it settles down quickly but it is proving a bit stubborn. This was not the plan to start off injured!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In Varese

Today is my first day at the AIS base in Varese, Italy. I flew in early this morning with Shara Gillow and Carlee Taylor, both of whom have returned from the Tour of Chonming Island in China. We have joined Lauren Kitchen, Amanda Spratt and Kirsty Broun who have been training up a storm here in Varese.
The AIS base is a block of apartments that is home to a variety of bike-related athletes. At the moment, it's housing the Jayco-AIS boys, women's road, and a couple of BMX chicks. The apartments are pretty well set up with a bike room, gym/ergo room and office. There are Italian lessons for the athletes, regular massages and it's opposite what I'm told is the world's best gelati shop. It's a tough life. There are around 3 athletes in each apartment and I'm sharing with Lauren and Carlee.
It is very wet here at the moment - unusual for this time of the year. After we unpacked bikes we rode for 2.5hrs in the rain and got so cold that my fingers couldn't undo my helmet strap buckle or zips when we finished. Not quite the Italian summer I was hoping for but it can only get better.
The day after tomorrow we drive to Belgium for some kermesse racing and then a short 2-day tour in France. (The rain today was probably good prep for Belgium!) I spent some time living in Brussels in 2005/6 when I worked for Linklaters and I'm looking forward to going back... it's a very cool little country. 
At the moment everything feels pretty new and there is a lot to take in but I'm looking forward to getting settled. And a good night's sleep after the 21hr transit wouldn't go astray, either!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lisa's Mum interviews Susan Boyle

Susan Boyle works the camera

Many of you would have heard the news the other week that Susan Boyle had cancelled her guest appearance at TV's night of nights, the Logies. No one was more disappointed than Alf from Summer Bay, who had hooked up a date with Susan through RSVP online and thought he was finally going to stone those flaming crows. The most famous Scottish housewife on the planet had snubbed Australia.

Or so we thought.

Little did we know that ANOTHER Susan Boyle had flown into Australia, under the radar and in the care of Cycling Australia's high performance program. She's scottish (well, Italian), weighs 8kgs and, when her chain has been lubed, she sings a treat. Until last Thursday, S.Bo had been in the care of Sarah Roy, a top Aussie cyclist based in Sydney and one of my Tour of NZ teammates. But Susan wanted to see the world and so Roy packed her up and shipped her down to Melbourne so I can take her to Italy to race with the national team.

Lisa's Mum has secured an exclusive interview with Susan Boyle before she jets off to Italy. That's right, another world exclusive! Go Mum.

Lisa's Mum: Susan Boyle, welcome to Melbourne. Have a lammington. Now tell us a bit about yourself.
Susan Boyle: Ooh, I do like lammingtons. I'm a Bianchi Carbon T-Cube Tech 928 with Dura Ace. I like long walks along the footpath at sunset (beaches scare me, I'm British) and feeling the wind through my spokes as I race down hills. Wait, you aren't Sarah Roy! What's happening? Where am I? And why is my seat different?

Lisa's Mum: Your seat was actually a chainsaw in disguise and we had to remove it. To be honest, I'm not sure how Roy survived on you for 3 months. Tell us about your relationship. And put that lammington down! You've had quite enough.
Susan Boyle: Sarah and I had something special. She looked after me and even took me to NZ with her. Together we were amazing. We met at the Tour of Qatar when Roy was racing with the national team and there was an instant connection. But when Roy heard my services were needed in Europe, we had a chat and she let me go to follow my dreams. So now I am going to hang out with Lisa instead. I hope she likes lammingtons.

Lisa's Mum: So what's Roy riding now?
Susan Boyle: I don't really know. I mean, we agreed that it was ok for her to see other bikes now, but for me I just don't like the idea of her moving on and forgetting about me.

Lisa's Mum: I think Roy is still pretty fond of you. I mean, she sent you down in amazing nick. I've never seen a used bike look so schmick. And let's not forget that she gave you up so that Lisa had a bike to ride in Europe. That's pretty cool.
Susan Boyle: I guess I just have to realise that true love is setting someone free.

Lisa's Mum: That's right. Thank you for joining us in the Ride Happy studio today Susan Boyle. Now before you go, we've been following the results of the British election here at Ride Happy. As a Brit, what's your take on it?
Susan Boyle: Well, of course Gordon Brown is Scottish and I think he's just wonderful. His sound economic management just gives me goosebumps. It doesn't look like he's going to win it though. I told him, you know, I said, 'Gordon,' I said, "you just have to dream a dream and it will come." But I don't think he made it through the first audition of Britain's Got Talent. I don't think Simon liked him.

Lisa's Mum: Ummm, I think we're talking about the wrong competition. But thanks anyway Susan, it's been a pleasure.
Susan Boyle: Charmed, I'm sure.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lisa's Mum reviews the Canberra Tour

Ok, enough of the factual race reporting, it's time for Lisa's Mum to get a look in as we review the 2010 Canberra Tour.

For those not familiar with the literary works of Lisa's Mum, she is a renegade freelance bike journalist hell-bent on earning a spot on SBS's Tour de France commentary team. Some would say she's not a real journalist. Others will say she's not even a Mum. One thing is clear though, and that is she is not to be confused with my REAL Mum, who innocently resides in Adelaide and is quite bemused that she has so many facebook fans.

Lisa's Mum started off the Canberra Tour with team VIS, as it was the only team that could afford her substantial appearance fees. Team VIS consisted of one person (one L Jacobs), which made team strategy a complicated affair. First, there was the issue of team leadership. Mum isn't one to take cheap shots but it was pretty clear that one person wanted to be the team leader and was prepared to step over anyone in her way. Mum suggested a team vote, which was later ruled invalid after it was discovered that 3 votes had been cast. In the end, the team decided to take a leaf from Lance's book and Let The Road Decide. Lisa had put her hand up on the basis that she was the most senior member of the team and also the most experienced. However, it was pointed out that she was also the youngest and least experienced and she went to the back of the queue.

The next issue was who would be team domestique to make breaks and chase down attacks. Lisa did not want to be team domestique, but on the basis that she was the youngest in the team she accepted the role on the condition that she got to be the lead sprinter too. This was ok so long as she could also do lead-out. There were some tense negotiations on whether she could really rely on her lead-out man but she put her differences aside and committed to be a team player.

As the race unfolded it became apparent that the VIS team climber was doing her job but the team domestique failed in not chasing down the decisive attack by Jo Hogan (Prime Estate) in stage 2 that won her the tour. The team dinner table was pretty tense that night as leader and domestique clashed horns and each blamed the other for the tactical error. Lisa stormed out on herself and took to posting aggressive tweets about her uncooperative teammates before coming back and apologising, and then shaking hands with herself and agreeing to move on.

All was not well in the team, however, and the final stage in the tour saw some team infighting as egos clashed. Lisa would launch an attack, only to then counter-attack and reel herself in.

In the end, the team came together but the cracks showed (mostly in Lisa's rear rim after an altercation on stage 2). It remains to be seen whether the damage can be repaired but team management is considering expanding the roster to avoid the huge ego clashes that were seen during the tour.

In the meantime, debate rages over how to split the prizemoney between the team...

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Canberra Tour wrap-up

Stage 3 is done and dusted. Today was another surprise- 3 riders made a move at 5km and stayed away. Jenny O'Brien won the stage- massive effort. I needed to make up a fair few seconds, which meant a breakaway. It didn't happen early enough and Jo had the legs to go with me, which meant a 2nd GC for me and a well-earned win for her.

Now I've got a couple of days in Canberra with Andy before I head back to Melbourne on Wed. There's a fair bit to organise before I head o/s on Monday (including the small matter of a bike), but I am really going to enjoy a relax tomorrow. And I really can't wait to head to Europe! The tour didn't quite go to plan but I'm happy with where my form is at.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Tour of Canberra: Stage 2

Bike racing is a sport full of surprises and I got one today! I've lost the yellow jersey, but couldn't have picked a more worthy recipient. Jo Hogan (STILL riding for Prime Estate not VIS, dammit) broke clear and solo'ed her way to a huge victory. She took us all by surprise but wow, what a win. By the time the bunch responded it was too late. Bron and I got clear to chase and Bron pipped me in the sprint for 2nd that went to video.

I had a pretty harrowing afternoon after someone ran into my back wheel and took 4 spokes out. I got a spare and busted a gut getting back to the front group. That's racing- lucky I didn't hit the deck. Then after the race I had an extremely frustrating encounter with ASADA. I am all for drug testing and keeping the sport clean, but to be honest if there are women in Australia cheating with drugs in domestic racing, they would certainly not be making their money back. I'm just feeling sarcastic because it took 3hrs for them to do blood+urine tests and in the middle of a tour it's a long time to be waiting around in the cold. Kevin Rudd, if you are reading this, either lower the number of athletes that have to be tested each event, or increase the funding to make more ASADA officials available to test those athletes.

Tomorrow I have my work cut out if I want that jersey back. But boy, do I want it.