2021 edition – done and dusted

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The greatest bike race in the world concluded on Sunday just past and it was an unusual one. The race was dominated by one rider; Tadej Pogacar for UAE Emirates who, once the force of nature that is Alpecin-Fenix’s Dutchman Mathieu Van Der Poel had ceded ownership of the yellow jersey at the end of the first week of the race, to leave his premiere Tour de France to prepare for his quest to win the Olympic mountain bike gold medal in Tokyo, Pogacar, the wily young Slovenian proceeded to decimate the competition. Building an unassailable lead of minutes that would last through the time trial, over the mountains, even our home stage with the double Ventoux challenge and all the way to Paris and the finish line on the Champs Elysees.  

Multi-time Tour winners Ineos Grenadiers failed to impress, but there were notable rides from riders who don’t often or have ever seen the front end of a Tour stage. AG2R Citroen’s Aussie Ben O’Connor’s amazing solo ride on Stage 9 and Bora-Hansgroe’s Nils Politt’s break on Stage 12 stand out. 

Who can deny the clear talent and multi-role threat that is Belgian Wout Van Aert riding for Jumbo Visma. While the rest of his team worked hard, suffering some really bad luck in a crash-filled first two weeks, losing team leader Primoz Roglic, the watt monster that is Tony Martin, and the climbing specialist Steven Kruijswijk, it was down to Wout and his equally green tour newbie Jonas Vingegaard, who rose from a domestique, to wear the best young rider jersey and as the weeks wore on, one of the strongest riders in high mountains. His career as a dangerman in the mountains is just beginning. 

Mark Cavendish was supposed to be retired already. Years of illness and consequential poor form should have been the end. But in a story that even Disney would shelve as being too much of a fairy-tale, he rode brilliantly in the early season Tour of Turkey and through a Sam bennet injury, got a late call for the Deceuninck QuickStep team. His job, to try and win a sprint stage. Nothing more. 

Cav did more than that, mopping up green jersey points with frightening ease and grasping every chance to ride off teammate Morkov’s wheel to snatch sprint stage wins. The number of wins climbed ever closer to the magic number of 33 the number he needs to equal that of the most successful Tour de France rider ever the great Eddy Merckx. He achieved this goal on stage 10 into Valence. Embraced by Eddy and told to go and claim his 34th stage win to become the most successful Tour rider in history, a win on the Champs Elysees – regarded as the sprinter’s World Championships would seal a story that would live forever. 

Cycling is a beautiful sport, but a cruel one too. Cav’s challenge for a record-breaking 34th Stage win was extinguished by Wout Van Aert who unleashed a perfect sprint to fellow Belgian beat Jasper Philipsen and Cav to the win. 

Holding three fingers aloft, Wout indicated his third stage win and what a three. He won the double Ventoux stage with a masterful attack, crushing the field, he won the tricky time trial again with a shape and form that is something very special indeed and then to win the hardest sprint of the year in Paris just proved what a total all-rounder Wout Van Aert is. 

While the Eddy Merckx’s stage eating record may be eclipsed by Cav in 2022, it is Wout, Eddy’s young Belgian compatriot who is really set to take the crown of ‘Cannibal’ from the king!

Cycling is truly in a great place right now. 

Beware of the (under) dog! (Méfiez du chien sous!)

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The drama of a race like the Tour de France is what keeps us entertained and coming back year after year for more. One of the key factors for this is that over three weeks strange things can happen. No matter how well organised a team plan is, no matter how researched or prepared they are, or the amounts of marginal gains they’ve accrued on paper when the rubber hits the road the whole thing can grind to a halt in moments. 

A cross-wind, a well-timed counter-attack, a wet descent, the alliance among your competitors, a crash, puncture, or mechanical happen and any and all of these, separately or in combination, can pull the loose thread on a team’s plan and unravel it so fast that they’re left exposed and rudderless. 

Then there is another factor. The underdog. The rider nobody had on their ‘risk radars’ when the race kicked off. It might be that the rider is young, or old, with no palmares, or just a reputation for blowing hot and cold. 

The underdog throws a spanner in the well-oiled works of the plans and strategies laid by the race favourites. Remember Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, with his iconic jutting chin and swaying climbing style? He stepped up from being a strong second-stringer to being a multi-stage winning, yellow jersey-wearing hero. He found his mojo from nowhere and a ‘just won’t quit’ ability to suffer and attack over and over again in the 2017 edition. 

Sometimes whole teams are underdogs. Take the have-a-go heroes of the smaller budget teams like Androni Geocattoli-Sidermec and CSF-Bardiani – each packed with up-and-coming talent and always hungry to disrupt the peloton’s status quo, to make a break that might just stick, or launch a kamikaze attack against all the odds. We love these little guys because they keep the big teams – with their clever, scientific plans and megastar riders, on their mettle. 

Then we have a new breed of underdog – and we’re talking about Mathieu Van Der Poel (Alpecin Fenix). Surely, he’s not an underdog, being about the most talented rider ever to pedal bike in the history of the sport? Well, we think he is. See, Mathieu’s team is good, strong even those Italian outfits we’ve mentioned, but without throwing shade on the rest of the Alpecin-Fenix squad, he’s head and shoulders better than they are. 

Consequently, MVDP often has to ‘freelance’ his way through the peloton, finding his own shelter from the wind, stealing fast wheels to move up the road and generally relying upon his own race-craft to put himself in prime position to cause maximum havoc. But does that really make him an underdog? Well, MVDP also has another habit. 

He likes to occasionally throw a grenade and just launch an attack that makes no sense to the outside world. He’s previously said of these sudden attacks that they were not planned and done on a whim. Asked what prompted the spur-of-the-moment decision he’s said ‘I was getting cold waiting for something to happen’, or famously, ‘I got bored..’. When you’re a prodigiously physically talented as he is, you can burn precious watts, literally, for fun.

It’s MVDP’s exact refusal to be normal, but to roll the dice and do something completely unexpected that makes him an underdog. Decisions like launching a sprint at 400m, instead of 75 like tradition and convention dictates, or to believe he can pull back a multi-rider break that’s minutes up the road with single-digit kilometers remaining to go – all on his own, and make it against all odds to take the win. That’s also what being an underdog, albeit one that lives in plain sight, in white shorts, is all about. 

One thing’s for sure, you can’t afford to take your eyes off of the Tour de France, not for a second, because somebody is always trying something to upset the odds. And it’s usually an underdog and we’re down with that!

The Tour de France – It’s all in the details…

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Stages of the Tour de France (and every other pro-level road race for that matter) seem to the untrained eye like a free-for-all, a hundred and sixty riders divided into N teams all going full blast, for to the line is the winner. Technically that is true, every day is all about getting over the line first. Stages matter. Sponsors love stage wins. But the grand plan – the General Classement or GC as it’s usually referred to is what wins the race on the last day, for the Tour de France that’s the final stage into Paris. 

The teams with an eye on overall victory sometimes forgo a stage to protect a long-game strategy for the bigger GC prize. To do this successfully for a three-week Grand Tour like the Tour de France is a massively complicated procedure. Over the last decade or so we’ve seen the level of planning undertaken by the teams go to extremes to safeguard their plans for overall victory. Big teams, like perennial Tour de France GC favorites Ineos Grenadiers, for example, plan their races and daily strategies with a level of detail that makes the word meticulous seem unworthy. 

Take food, for example, Ineos plan the energy intake and expenditure of each rider to the single-digit Kilojoules, they look at the stage route, the role expected of the individual riders are they a leader sitting in, a domestique taking the wind and ferrying bidons and jackets and pacing toilet breaks back to the peloton, or a lieutenant covering attacks, going on an attack, or riding hard tempo, is there a headwind, crosswind, and hundred of other empirical variables. Everything is calculated, given a value, and planned for.

Then they work out how much food you’ll need at every given kilometer of the stage, and tailor your musettes contents to match your need. More than that, they actually try to keep riders on the cusp of being marginally under-fuelled. Because unburned calories are weight and power to weight ratios are a central tenant of overall performance. Rider’s bodies are on the edge of devouring themselves, but, by the width of a dietician’s hair, not quite.

It’s easy to scoff at this sort of micro-management of food as taking things a bit too far, but the fact is that the ‘marginal gains’ the giving close detailed attention to every-single-aspect of the race, a practice first used and popularised by the Ineos team (formerly Team Sky) leader David Brailsford. He called it ‘marginal gains’. Six wins by Team Sky and one for Ineos prove that taking the forensic approach to each and every detail can uncover individual, sometimes tiny advantages. Taken separately none are enough to beat the competition, but add four, five, maybe twenty, fifty or a hundred of these tiny ‘marginal gain’ advantages together and you have an empirically measurable informational and weapon with which wage war on the peloton – and history shows that if used correctly you’re statistically likely to win. 

Some argue that this approach treats rider, who are human beings let’s not forget, like robots; to be programmed, fuelled, and directed via an earpiece and that, this takes the unpredictability and romance from the race. 

Others say that it’s making the racing faster, more exciting, with teams employing more structured tactics and that this in itself forces other teams to respond in kind. 

Who is right? Who knows. The fans are still enjoying every pedal stroke, packing the roadside at every opportunity, and the racing is still incredible, the teams and riders are superhuman in their efforts to make bike racing even more exciting and enthralling. 

Here at CCS, we know that we’re in love with our sport more now than ever. 

(Bad) Luck and judgment

The 2021 Tour de France kicked off on Saturday in Brittany with a road stage rather than the traditional Prologue Time Trial. The teams lined up at the start hoping that the first few days would pass under the tyres without too much drama, after all the Tour is a three-week marathon not a one-day sprint. 

The beautiful Breton countryside looks green and benign with white sandy beaches and lush green fields, but it is notoriously tough for racing cyclists, with constant small climbs and descents, narrow, grippy roads, wind coming from all directions at once and thousands of passionate Breton bike racing fans, the opening stages were always going to focus the collective attention of the peloton.

The Tour is built upon tradition and to honour the fact that Alpecin-Fenix rider Mathieu Van Der Poel was starting his first Tour de France he and his team were given special dispensation from the UCI to switch their kits to match those worn by Mathieu’s grandfather the great Raymond Poulidor – the best French rider to never win the Tour de France or wear the races famous Yellow Jersey. Poulidor or ‘Pou-pou’ as he was known gained the additional nickname of the ‘eternal second’ because he was in his prime alongside race-winning machines Eddy Merckx and Jacques Anquetil. 

The Alpecin team did their level best to make the dream come true of a rookie stage win and yellow jersey for MVDP, but the stage didn’t go to plan. And not just for the Alpecin team either…

The Tour de France has its entire route lined with raucous and passionate cycling fans, literally millions of people wait patiently by the roadside to cheer their favourites as the peloton rips by at eye-watering speed. Sadly some people forget their responsibilities to themselves and others. One young lady stepping into the path of the approaching peloton with a homemade cardboard placard in an attempt to get her message and face on the tv, clipped Jumbo Visma’s Tony Martin and as he fell the ensuing accident brought down more than half of the peloton. Bikes and bodies were broken, a massive set-back for the teams and riders and this was just day one. 

But it was to get worse as, once the race had regrouped, the speed increased to over 70kph, then as the road narrowed, as it does so often, funneling the peloton like piping icing onto a cake, there was a touch of wheels and down the peloton went for a second time. This one was even more brutal and only a precious few evaded the need to sleep on top of the sheet that night or make trips to doctors or hospitals. 

Bike racing is tough.

The stage was won, in typically flamboyant style by sports effervescent current world Champion Julian Alaphilippe for Deceuninck–Quick-Step.

Another day, a new hope

Stage 2 dawned with unforgiving Breton roads. The route culminated with a long climb, the Mur de Bretagne which the peloton would ride twice as part of a finishing loop. Coming into the climb with 18kms to go, Mathieu Van Der Poel, now in his regular blue Alpecin-Fenix kit moved up the lead group to shadow the leaders. Then with his characteristic application of immense power he surged off the front. Many, we included, thought this was his bid to strike out alone for the finish. At this distance, it would be suicidal for a rider to do this, but MVDP isn’t any rider… 

Mathieu crossed the KOM line in the lead and picked up an 8 second bonus. Everyone expected him to press on for the finish line. Quickly though, he was checking behind, not a normal tactic for him, something was up. Maybe Mathieu’s fitness was off, did he want a companion? 

The peloton absorbed MVDP, and for the next ten kilometers, he sat in the wheels, near the front, but never with his nose in the wind. The entire cast of team leaders was at the front as the race began the ascent of the Mur de Bretagne for the second time. About halfway up the long straight climb, MVDP crept up the left side of the road, stalking the lead wheels, quietly assessing and judging where the real energy and intent was in the legs of his competitors.  

Then, almost casually, he drifted inside, nearer the center of the road, just as the brow came into sight, sensing a momentary second of indecision among the other riders, he lit the burners. The sheer power and acceleration of Mathieu Van Der Poel is, frankly, astonishing. It’s like two riders inside the body of one. It’s an F1 car against sports cars. He was gone. Up-The-Road. 

That first climb look back by MVDP was a calculated move! He was mopping up time and figuring out if it was the right spot to ‘go large’ on the second ascent. Clearly, he thought it was!

Julian Alaphilippe tried to lead the charge to close, but they never got near enough to read the sponsor’s name on the back of MVDP’s jersey. He crossed the line, pointing at the sky, to honour his grandfather, a day later than his plan, and claim his first Tour stage win. Because of the time gap he’d created over the chasers and the ten-second time bonus on the line, added to the eight seconds for his KOM, the coveted yellow jersey was his, the first of his career – a feat his grandad Pou-pou Poulidor never managed. 

Collapsing, over the line, physically spent, the emotion of the moment was clear for all to see and the peloton, led by the stage 1 yellow Jersey Alaphilippe, paused to congratulate this incredible champion elect to the newest part of his career – Tour Stage winner and yellow jersey holder. He cried during his press interview and we’re not ashamed to say that we cried with him. 

Bike racing is beautiful.

Can MVDP retain the jersey? We think he will hold it until the race reached the first mountains later in the week – we will see though. The Tour is never straightforward, but it is always compelling.  

Allez Mathieu!

Mont Ventoux – A legendary mountain

There was only ever one place for Coffee Cycle Society to lay down its roots. 

After all, our goal, metaphorically, is to inspire, to challenge, to enable cyclists to greater achieve greater heights. So, when we were searching for our perfect first location, one steeped in cycling history, myology, and folklore, as well as swathed in natural beauty, that our search quickly zeroed into a short-list of one. 

The mighty Mont Ventoux. 

Unlike most alpine mountains that are often somewhat hidden, shielded from view until you are literally upon their lower slopes, the Ventoux stands alone. A great polished white beacon beaming its dominance across many hundreds of square miles. There aren’t many places in Provence where you can see ‘the Giant’ there, off in the distance, that is unless the cloud is in – but all mountains love to play that game of hide and seek and the Ventoux is no different in that respect. 

The weather station at the summit, with its tall red and white painted tower reminds us of a lighthouse, warning passing ships of dangerous currents, treacherous reefs, and rocky shore. In a way the Ventoux weather tower is doing the same for cyclists. From the casual visitor keen to make it to the top for the best panoramic selfie in France, to the club riders looking to challenge themselves against the legendary gradient and exposure the road to the summit possesses, to the real gladiators, the professionals who earn their living from pitting every fiber of their bodies to claiming that King of the Mountain title – the Ventoux is issuing a warning – 

“Don’t mess with me! I am the Ventoux, I choose who climbs, who wins and who, occasionally loses the challenge I set”. 

Many riders of course complete the long and arduous ride to the summit, without exception all leave something on the road to the top. Of course, there’s the sweat, that goes without saying. But there’s more. To climb Ventoux, even at a pedestrian pace, requires a physical sacrifice that can’t be asked, only given. It’s the mental game that’s the real battle riders must search their legs, lungs, and mind in equal measure to find the ingredients required to succeed. 

Can I get out of the saddle again? Can I hold this cadence? Can I make it through this next patch of blazing sunshine before I reach the shade? Why won’t the top show itself to me? The Ventoux sets the questions that appear in your mind as you climb it.

Sometimes the mountain bites. The word fearsome is often used when describing the Ventoux. Sure, everyone likes to build the reputation of a climb – it’s good for business, but with Ventoux, there’s the chill, mortuary coldness of truth about it. People do fail to conquer this toughest of peaks. Sometimes in the most tragic fashion. 

None more famously than the British professional cyclist and 1965 Word Road Race Champion Tom Simpson, who collapsed and died during the 1967 Tour de France Stage to the summit of the Ventoux. His is a sorry tale that we’ll tell another time, but the granite memorial for him, as the very spot where he turned his last gasping pedal on the barren windswept roadside, with the summit in sight up ahead, is a perpetual shrine for cyclists. They stop to leave club caps, bidons, and other mementos, to pay homage to Tommy, but also as offerings to the mountain itself. The Ventoux swallowed Tommy that fateful day and he will ride the mountain forever. By their offerings, the visitors hope to assuage the temper of the Giant. 

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The Tour de France returns to Mont Ventoux in 2021, with a double ascent and descent of the mountain on the same stage. It will, hopefully, be full of drama, but of the safe sporting kind, but when the Ventoux is challenged, there are no rock-solid certainties. 

That’s why this mountain is a true cycling legend and the natural home for Cycling Coffee Society. Join us at the roadside in July, and stay with us this summer.

Grab a coffee, it’s a long story…

Coffee and cycling. You hear them mentioned a lot together. And not just by us here at Cycle Coffee Society either as we make another perfect brew with our Il Magistrale Cycling Coffee beans. A quick look around the sport of cycling, at the mainstream cycling media, and especially cycling social media and you see endless mentions, comments, and posts about ‘coffee this’ and ‘coffee that’… 

But why? Where did it start, why has this love affair between the hardest and most beautiful sport in the world and a bitter-tasting hot drink endured the way it has?

It does seem rather odd that a hot beverage, that requires some skill and, in many cases some fairly clever machinery to produce should become the favourite drink of cyclists, you’d think we’d collectively champion something easier to make and convenient to consume, given our penchant for being outdoors. 

Well, let’s look at the history books…

Back in the early days of competitive cycling, when rules were a loose collection of ideals, rather than strict sporting laws, races were incredibly long and tough. Deliberately so, because cycling was a spectacle more than a sport, the public wanted to see men suffer, like really suffer, so only the fittest, maddest and fewest reached the finish. Even the ‘father of the Tour de France’ Henri Desgrange wanted it that way – a race so unimaginably tough that only one person would finish… Along with stages that would be almost 500 kilometers (300+miles) in length, he even stipulated rules like riders had to finish with the same clothes they started with. Given many stages had to begin in the dead of night, such was their length, riders would often need extra jerseys, heavy woolen overcoats, and raincoats – remember there was no Gore Shakedry or Castelli Gabba…

To get themselves through brutal stages that were double in length to what we see now, on heavy bikes with tall gears  – if you were lucky enough to have gears – and on roads that little more than gravel tracks and pave farm lanes the riders would use drugs. Proper, hardcore drugs. Mostly, very unprescribed amphetamine, swallowed on the go, often by the handful. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed the ‘warmed up’ riders could charge along in warped oblivion at average speeds that aren’t so far from those we see today.

Clearly, that was wrong. Kids, drugs are bad. From physical, ethical, and humanitarian standpoints. It took a while to clean the sport up, but we’re pretty much there in 2021. That said, pro racers and amateur riders alike still like a little stimulus for their blood – to widen the eyes and make those muscles twitch and a healthy dose of caffeine is just the ticket – and there’s no better tasting delivery method for caffeine than our long-term love, coffee. 

Get to a stage race about an hour before the start, and you’ll find small huddles of riders in the VIP zones sipping small espresso from the sponsor marquees. It’s a chance to mingle with mates from other teams, shoot the breeze, put the world to rights, talk about family, holidays, pay, or where you’ll be moving to in next the transfer window ( odd as it might appear, pro racers don’t often chit-chat about the nitty-gritty of racing, with each other. Five hours a day going full-gas on the pedals, cheek by jowl, soon extinguishes that need). 

Once on the bikes and in the race, hot coffee isn’t a very easy or useful drink for a racing cyclist to use. Though a hot (actually warm) tea is sometimes dispensed by the team cars on very wet and cold stages. But the need for the stimulation benefits of caffeine remains. So teams sponsored by energy food companies have taken to adding caffeine to their energy gel recipes. Riders can now easily whip a caffeine-enhanced gel from their jersey pocket, tear the top off with their teeth and blast the giddy goodness straight into their stomachs and onwards quickly into their bloodstreams. 

There are rules of course about how much caffeine (and therefore the number of pre-race espressos) is permissible in the bloodstream of a rider – before it constitutes blood-doping. But for non-racers and wanna-be racers, like you and me, it’s not a problem, two espressos before the ride, stop for a cake and a Capuccino (or two) mid-morning, and after a hot ride, a chilled Frappe to finish is the perfect coffee-fuelled ride. Never mind another after dinner…

So, it’s a long-burn love affair, steeped in history. We’re glad to be a part of it. So glad, we named ourselves Cycle Coffee Society. 

The Cima Coppi

The Giro’s highest accolade

The Cima Coppi is the name given each year to the highest point of the Giro d’Italia route. Named after the late, great Campionissimo the champion of champions, Fausto Coppi. Fausto Coppi was winner of his home grand tour no less than five times (1940, 47, 49, 52 and 53). Which would be remarkable enough. But in between times he also won another little race called the Tour de France twice (like you do) in 1949 and 52. The World Championships in 1953, add in five Giri d’Lombardia, three Milan-San Remo titles, a Paris, Roubaix and a La Flèche Wallonne. Oh, and the world hour record in 1942. It was famously said that watching Coppi pedal his bike, was like watching water being poured from a glass, he was that smooth. 

His was an effortlessly stylish pedalling action, almost lazy and languid to watch – his long relatively thin levers belied the power he could deliver to the pedals. It was a fluid style that was forged as a child. Besotted with bikes as an often poorly youngster, he began to ride a heavy butchers delivery bike on the steep roads around his home in Castellania. Cycling quickly became Fausto’s passion. The family wasn’t well off, so Fausto’s father made him a set of wooden rollers for training. Every day from the age of 13, the young Coppi would pull them out from under the family stairs, into the dark narrow tiled space between the kitchen and the sitting room, open the front door to let in some air, light and the view across the rolling Piedmont hills and proceed to do four hours on the home-made rollers. Every. Single. Day.

Coppi never lost his love and innate ability to climb mountains, with a flair and panache that would be recognised and celebrated with his own Giro prize. – to celebrate the rider who crossed the highest point of the Giro – the Cima Coppi. 

This year the Cima Coppi will be on the summit of the Passo Pordoi (2239m). The Pordoi has been a regular climb of the Giro d’Italia since 1937. In fact, the 22-hairpin ascent that tests the mettle of every rider, the Pordoi was the very climb, dominated by Coppi – first to cross it on five occasions – that led to the Cima Coppi being created. The Pordoi is the ancestral home of the Cima Coppi.

Who will claim the Cima Coppi for the 2021 Giro d’Italia? Hard to say, but the slight, bird-like figure of Ineos Grenadier Columbian Egan Bernal could well be in the hot seat. His win on the dirt slopes of Stage 9 showed that he may be coming back to peak form and the sort of power that saw him win the 2019 Tour de France.

As a side note, if you want to know more about Fausto Coppi, read the book Fallen Angel by William Fotheringham. A fascinating clear-eyed look at the life and times of a true cycling legend. 

If you visit his home village of Castellania (and you really should make the pilgrimage), then you can, if you’re lucky, get a personal tour of the Coppi Family home – the house where he grew up. It has been left as a time capsule and to be in his house, his kitchen and bedroom, so see the rollers under the stairs, his bikes and all the private things in his life, is truly something special. 

One funny thing, is in the sitting room. In pride of place on the sideboard is a small black and white TV that Fausto had won. He gave to his aging parents, despite the fact their house had neither electricity or any television signal to watch it. 

photo; Cycling Media Agency

Ciao Giro!

2021 will herald the 104th Tour of Italy – or the Giro D’Italia, to use its proper name. Only six years younger than the Tour de France, it’s every bit as tough, unpredictable and beautiful as it’s French cousin. The challenge of wearing the Maglia Rosa the leader’s jersey of the Giro, and the honour of lifting the winner’s golden spiral trophy aloft, at the traditional finish in Milan, is just as great. 


The Giro is just hard because of the distance and the challenging terrain, the race is prone to bouts of very unpredictable weather, thanks to its May slot in the calendar. The riders in the Giro peloton have to expect stages that can range from the blazing heat of the southern regions, to ice-cold hail and snowstorms, as the race takes in Italy’s northern alpine regions. To win this Grand Tour, you have to be tough and resilient, as well as fast.

Continue reading “Ciao Giro!”