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When it comes to riding bikes we all have our own reasons for doing it, be it the freedom of going out into the woods, to the adrenaline of descending steep and technical terrain or catching those air miles at the local bike park. One of the reasons that we can all agree on however, is because it is fun and no matter what mood you start your ride in, you’re almost guaranteed to finish with a smile on your face.
What’s better than combining time on two wheels with a holiday! Trouble is, with so much choice it’s hard to know where to start when looking for an MTB themed holiday. So, to help you out, we’ve teamed up with MTB Beds to put together a quick list of European mountain biking destinations you need to add to your wish list.
Morzine – France
Known by many as a seriously awesome ski resort, Morzine doesn’t go to sleep in the summer months. Situated in the French Alps just an hour from Geneva airport, Morzine is a buzzing mountain town that has become the hub of Europe’s biggest bike park, The Portes Du Soleil (PDS).The PDS is a combination of 5 bike parks; Morzine, Les Gets, Super Morzine/Avoriaz, Chatel and Champery-Morgins all connected by a chairlift network to allow maximum shredding on your holiday. With all these trails, and such a stunning landscape, it’s easy to see how it’s become a leading European mountain biking destination.
The areas stunning trails attract many of the fastest downhill and enduro racers as a base between races but don’t let this fool you, Morzine and the surrounding bike parks have a huge variety of trails for amateurs and professionals alike. There is an excellent trail grading system to ensure you can ride the trails that suit your ability and mark your progression throughout the week.
For many, riding chairlifts and shredding the bike parks in Morzine is enough. But for those with a flair for adventure and who don’t mind some pedalling, the scope for trails is massive. MTB Beds offer brilliant self catered and catered stays in the centre of town, with options for day trips across to Pila and La Thuile in the Aosta valley or Samoen at the bottom of the valley.
If the riding ever gets too much there is an abundance of outdoor activities to try your hand at, from rock climbing to white water rafting; so there is no danger of getting bored.
Finale Ligure – Italy
When people think of holidays they often picture a sandy beach with a beer in hand overlooking the sea. For a mountain biker the dream is of dusty trails and epic descents on their bike, but what if you could have both? Finale Ligure, a small town on the Italian Riviera, perfectly embodies all of these dreams to make it the perfect holiday destination for cyclists and sun seekers alike. On top of the great weather and proximity to the sea, Finale also plays home to the Enduro World Series and some of the best trails in the world, and so makes an amazing European mountain biking destination.
With warm weather in bountiful supply, the best time to visit is either Spring or Autumn. The heat is bearable and the sea is beautifully warm. Imagine staying in a fully catered chalet just 10 metres from the beach on the door step of world class trails? With an already booming trails network it would be easy for the guides and drivers to sit back and reap the rewards from these trails. However, their investment in not only maintaining and preserving the existing trails, but scoping out new areas and pushing the expansion, means Finale Ligure is a destination here to stay.
The iconic town square is an ideal place to end your days riding, and relax overlooking the beach and the mediterranean sea. Cafe San Pedro is a rider favourite,providing a great atmosphere but also a great snack selection to fill your stomach after a big day on the hills.
Finale Ligure has a stunning history dating back to the middle ages which you can experience visiting the beautiful Finalborgo town just behind Finale’s town centre. Some beautiful restaurants and shops fill the cobbled streets and offers the perfect way to spend a down day during your stay.
Madeira Island – Portugal
Madeira, a small Portuguese island situated just off the Northwest coast of Africa known for its “Madeiran” wine and cake. Madeira is an archipelago featuring 4 unique islands, each with vastly different terrain. A tropical climate and stunning views put Madeira on the map when it featured in the 2017 Enduro World Series and showed off not only a wide range of trails but also a huge variety of trail types and features. With the highest peak reaching 1862m it’s easy to see why mountain biking has flourished with many of the trails starting way above the clouds.
Madeira benefits from it’s warm climate and relatively consistent weather allowing riders to explore the trails all year round. Although there are not bike specific chairlifts in the area, there are plenty of uplift and guiding companies such as freeride Madeira and Bike Bus Madeira.
Although many of the trails in Madeira are exclusively pedal accessed, lending itself to the enduro rider, Downhill Pro’s and videographers have flocked to the island with Loic Bruni’s Gamble segment and Brendan Fairclough’s Deathgrip movie producing some of the best riding footage online at the moment.
You don’t have to leave the UK to get your fill of amazing trails. Scotland is an untapped goldmine of trails and adventures kept quiet by the hard working trail builders who leave an artist’s impression on the stunning valleys. Starting at the Borders, Ae Forest & Innerleithen have featured frequently in the National Downhill series and more recently the EWS Continental series. These forestry commissioned trails have a brilliant variety of trails to suit everything from your weekend warrior to a hardened racer. Wigwam holidays provide a unique holiday option from Glamping pods to Wigwam tents just a couple of minutes from the Innerleithen trails.
Jumping further north to the home of a certain Monster and we have Fort William. Needing little introduction, Fort Bill has been on the world cup scene since many of us started riding. Renowned for being one of the most physical races of the year, Fort William is one of the few places in the world where a downhill bike is still a clear favourite. Although there are not many official trails, if you are willing to adventure a bit there are some incredible trails to be found off the new black trail “Top Chief”. Fort William also benefits from a full gondola lift allowing you to smash out as many laps as your body will let you.
Just a short drive from Fort William is another stunning Forestry commission centre, Laggan Wolftrax. With over 20 Miles of bike specific trails, and about the same again in unofficial trails, Laggan has been home to the Scottish Enduro series toughest races. It isn’t always sunny in Scotland, but with trails like these, does it need to be?
The Aosta Valley
The Aosta valley begins on the Italian side of Mt Blanc with it’s capital Aosta situated at the based of the Valley. Founded in 25 bc the town’s history combined with a vibrant atmosphere makes this the perfect base for a week or riding.
Pila is possibly the best known side of the valley with its unique “moon dust” and Iconic switchbacks. Although mostly dubbed a downhillers paradise, if you are willing to swap travel for a dropper and gears Pila has an incredible ridge line trail that takes you to the bottom of the Valley in Pila through the Desarpa zone.
Another well known cluster of trails in the Aosta Valley is la Thuile, playing host to the EWS twice these trails mean business. Gaining a 5 star technicality rating from the EWS, these trails are not for the faint hearted. A swift chairlift allows you to maximise your descents without the pedalling.
Venturing slightly off the beaten track and high into the mountains behind the Aosta town you can find a mass of untouched single track descents lasting up to an hour top to bottom with a jaw dropping view the whole way down. Using a shuttle van to access these trails, and a bit of pedal assistance, you can find yourself completely alone overlooking the historic town ready to descend to the valley base. To find out more about this epic destination check out the MTB Beds holiday package.
This is it. The time is now. The biggest race of the year is just around the corner so it’s high time we got you all up to speed with the route, the riders to watch and which days you’re going to need to book off work to capture the best of the 2019 Tour de France.
The Tour de France is the pinnacle of the road cycling season, not just for fans of the sport but for the riders themselves. Millions of people from all around the world tune in to watch this great race, many even making it to the roadsides in France to cheer on their heroes in person. But how many of these adoring fans actually know what’s going on – we, for one, are constantly flummoxed by what we see happening in this great, but baffling race.
Just how do those jerseys work? Who is that rider giving it the beans in the mountains and why is no one else chasing him? Quite simply, what the heck is going on? Worry not, for we’ve put together this extensive guide to help decrypt and decipher this year’s Tour de France…
Why is the Tour de France so famous?
Before we dive into the route and the riders that are going to animate the 2019 edition of this race, we first need to learn why the Tour de France carries such prestige.
This could have something to do with its long, illustrious history: the race was born from a newspaper marketing scheme in 1903 when Henri Desgrange, L’Équipe’s head sports journalist, was tasked with reviving his failing newspaper. While it took a few years to catch on, the race soon boomed in popularity and quickly became the go-to event for masochists all around the world to punish themselves in. From the first winner, Maurice Garin (affectionately named ‘The Little Chimney-sweep’) to the latest winner, Geraint Thomas (carrying the much shorter nickname, ‘G’), all winners of the Tour de France have had to shed blood, sweat and tears on their way to victory.
Perhaps the Tour’s prestige comes from the fact it’s so damn tough. The 23-day long, 21-stage event (yes, the riders get two well-deserved days of downtime) crosses over some of the most fabled and feared mountain passes in the world, like the Col du Tourmalet, Alpe d’Huez and Col d’Izoard just to name a terrible three. This is no cosy weekend club ride, this is the most gruelling race on the cycling calendar and, as a result, only the strongest rider can emerge victorious. Earning the title of ‘strongest rider’ is clearly the most prestigious title one can achieve, but is it the Tour’s toughness that makes it such a prestigious and world-famous race?
Toms Skuijns, professional rider for Trek-Segafredo and wearer of the King of the Mountains jersey at the 2018 Tour de France, summed up the Tour’s prestige and ‘uniqueness’ better than we ever could during our exclusive chat with him before last year’s race.
“If there is one race that the average Joe knows, it’s the Tour de France. As a professional, until you can reply, ‘yes I have’ to their question, ‘oh, so have you ridden the Tour de France?’, you can never really feel like a proper professional cyclist.”
Who wears what?
With a speeding peloton already bursting with vibrant colours, it’s often difficult to distinguish who’s who among the bunch of 180+ riders…
Yellow jersey: the leader of the overall classification and ‘big boss’ on the road – attack him if you dare but be prepared to face the repercussions if you do. The wearer is the rider with the fastest cumulative time across all the stages – it can be won at the end of the race without its wearer ever finishing a stage first.
Green jersey: the leader of the points classification. Points are accumulated during each stage finish based on a rider’s finishing position. No, this is not Peter Sagan’s team jersey – he just happens to wear it an awful lot.
Polka-dot jersey: the king of the mountains strip is awarded to the rider who has crested the most, and largest climbs in first place, day after day – it’s also the most glamorous of the lot and very highly regarded among French fans in particular.
White jersey: like the yellow, but for the youngsters – under-25s mainly but the rule can get a little technical depending on where a rider’s birthday falls in the year – certainly one to take up with the UCI.
The key stages
The 2019 edition of the Tour de France kicks off in the Belgian capital of Brussels with a lumpy but probable sprint stage, tackling a couple of infamous Flandrian climbs – the Bosberg and ‘the Muur’ – along the way. Stage two also finishes in the Belgian capital, the riders thundering around a 27.6km-long city circuit in the race’s first and only team time trial. The race against the clock won’t decide the winner of this year’s Tour, but it will certainly create some gaps between the real yellow jersey contenders.
The rest of the first week heads down through eastern France, skirting the border with Germany as it makes its way towards the Vosges Mountains – the first real uphill test of this year’s race. The riders will hit these mountains on stage six, a hilly stage that sets off from Mulhouse and tackles six lung-busting climbs before a gruesome summit finish atop La Planches des Belles Filles. This is definitely a stage to mark off in the diary, expect to see the big names, like Egan Bernal, Nairo Quintana and Romain Bardet, rocketing up these ramps.
Instead of taking the more logical route through the Alps due south, the race opts to travel south-west towards the Pyrenees over the next few stages – cutting through the heart of the Massif Central mountain range along the way. There are no ‘big’ mountain stages in the Massif Central this year and, as a result, we’ll probably see the plucky breakaway riders snaffling most of the spoils here.
The second week of racing passes through the Pyrenees, a mountain range feared for its short, but incredibly snappy climbs. On stage 13 the riders will encounter their first and only individual time trial around the Pyrenean town of Pau. A lumpy, 27.2km-long route should make or break a few riders, ending a couple of yellow jersey campaigns early doors.
Just a day later on stage 14 the riders will face down the Col du Tourmalet, a gruelling, 19km-long climb that snakes its way to the summit at an average gradient of 7.4% – in other words, hellish. The race ceases to relent and on stage 15 the riders will be climbing again to the finish, this time up the less-known but just as tortuous, Foix Prat d’Albis.
The riders will be treated to a bit of respite over the next couple of stages as the peloton heads out of the Pyrenees and makes its way to the Alps. A trio of Alpine stages then follows, featuring the mythical climbs of the Col d’Iozard, Col du Galibier, Col de l’Iseran and Val Thorens. It’s on these climbs that the 2019 edition of the Tour de France will be decided, mark our words. Make sure you’ve got these days booked off work, you won’t want to miss the fireworks!
As it has done for the past few decades, the race will finish with a processional stage on the Champs-Élysées in Paris, giving both us and the riders a chance to re-catch our breath and process what the hell has happened over the last three weeks of racing.
This year’s edition of the Tour is making more headlines for the riders who are not attending than for those who are. Notable absences include the four-time winner, Chris Froome, and second-place finisher last year, Tom Dumoulin. Without those two stage-racing titans in the race, it looks as though we’re going to have a much more open battle for the yellow jersey – one that should produce even more fireworks than we saw last year.
Of the riders lining up on the start line in Brussels, it’s the two Team INEOS riders – Geraint Thomas and Egan Bernal – who are being tipped as the main favourites for yellow. Both are incredible climbers and strong against the clock, a perfect combination for this particularly mountainous edition of the race.
The pair will face stiff competition from two home favourites, Thibaut Pinot and Romain Bardet. These two Frenchmen are talented climbers and some of the most tactically astute riders in the peloton. Expect them to swashbuckle their way to Paris, snaffling and plundering every second they can from the other overall contenders.
Despite never finishing on a Grand Tour podium in his 13-year long professional career, the Great Dane – Jakob Fuglsang – is being touted by many as a top contender for the overall win. This comes after a strong classics campaign where he won the century-old monument, Liège–Bastogne–Liège, and finished on the podium of the other two Ardennes Classics. Only time will tell if Fuglsang can channel this aggressive, attacking style of racing into a three-week stage race.
Other big names looking to attack this race include the Movistar trio of Nairo Quintana, Mikel Landa and Alejandro Valverde. It’s a triple threat, trident attack that we’ve seen many times before – will this be the year that Movistar finally pull it off? Or will the combined approach, once again, go down like a damp squib?
The yellow jersey isn’t the only prize up for grabs this July – a fierce fight is already brewing for the sprinter’s green jersey. Peter Sagan is the main favourite, as always, and will be hell-bent on winning his seventh title, a feat never achieved by any other rider in history. He’ll face fierce competition, however, from the likes of Dylan Groenewegen, Elia Viviani and Michael Matthews, three men who have all already beaten him this year.
It’s not just the sprinters that will have eyes on the emerald prize, all-round riders like darling Frenchman, Julian Alaphilippe, and Belgian wonder kid, Wout van Aert, will also be looking to steal points here and there for a chance to don the coveted jersey.
All that Tour talk has no doubt got you excited for the upcoming race, maybe even to get out there and ride your own, make-shift Tour de France. If you are planning on a cycling holiday this summer, make sure you check out our travel insurance policies right here before you go!
You may wonder why we are publishing a blog about cycling in sub zero temperatures just as a heatwave is hitting Europe…however, at 10pm on 4th July 2019, entries open for the popular Strathpuffer 24 hour -mountain bike enduro event at it’s set to sell out fast (solo entries had all gone within 5 minutes last year!). Markus took on the event earlier this year so we’re just casting our minds back to those dark days of mid winter to hear all about what it’s like to ride your MTB for 24 hours in the snow and ice. You never know, it might help cool you down in this heat!
Suddenly I feel my front wheel sliding off to the left. Shortly afterwards I sit in a small river, my woollen gloves are wet. I am not able to move my right arm. This is certainly not the start I had envisaged. I am almost done with my opening lap of Strathpuffer, but such a massive fall wasn’t what I was hoping for.
Frequently chosen as one of the toughest mountain bike races in the world, the ‘Puffer’ is not your average race. As if 24 hour mountain bike races are not hard enough already, this one takes place in the Scottish Highlands in January, where the lack of daylight requires teams to ride 17 hours in the dark. The terrain is not for the faint-hearted either, with technical climbs and long ascents, which test most riders’ abilities to the core. To race ‘The Puffer’ you have to be quick on the course but also on the keyboard, as solo places sell out in less than five minutes when entries open in July.
I lost control on a big sheet of ice and in the subsequent fall dislocated my shoulder. As painful as it sounds, it is an old injury that had been nagging me for years. I don’t want to let it to ruin my race. I have travelled a long way from Edinburgh to Contin, north of Inverness, and not just for one lap. This time I am also not riding solo, but in a team with 14-year old Erin Wood . The last thing I wanted to do is to let down my team mate and the support crew down. After a few minutes I manage to put my shoulder back in, wait for the pain to settle a bit and grab my bike and carry on.
The Puffer started in 2005. First a one-off local event it has grown into a national event that has reached legendary status. In 2019, round the world record holder Mark Beaumont joined the line up of riders with his team mate Alex Glasgow, while in recent years names like Guy Martin, Lee Craigie and Mike Hall have joined the madness. All kinds of weather conditions have made this the most unpredictable event you can imagine, with gales strong enough to blow away the marquee, iced roads, loads of snow and temperatures down to minus 10 degrees.
If I think about type 2 fun, I think about the Puffer first. I am almost at the end of my lap, taking it much slower than before my fall. My right arm hurts, and the sheer thought that I will have to ride at least another seven laps is not settling in well. But then a cowbell stops my mind drifting away in negative thoughts. I am close to the marquee, the end of lap one. Spectators line the course and I start to fly again. On the finish line a cheery volunteer takes my dipper and I am off to climb the fire road from the marquee to our camp, where I hand the dipper over to Erin.
The Puffer follows the traditional 24 hour mountain bike race format, riding the same lap over and over again. The course has changed over the years, the current lap is about 14 km long. The race starts at 10 am on Saturday morning with a Le Mans style start. Competitors must start their last lap on Sunday by 10 am and complete it by 11 am. You can enter the event solo, as a pair, a team of four or a school team of eight. There are two safety points on the course manned by marshals, all of them volunteers.
I have done the Puffer three times before, and the last time I thought I was done. Forever. I didn’t like it at all. Shortly after returning from my round the world trip I entered the solo category in 2017, but rode home after seven laps. I was bored, stiff, tired and cold. The bed in a hostel seemed a much better option than a night in a tent.
But then, all of a sudden I found myself replying to a post in the Facebook forum, and soon agreed to team up with Erin who was looking for a ride partner. At 39 I am almost three times Erin’s age, so we both weren’t sure how this would work out for the both of us. Erin had done four laps last year and her goal was to double that. I had managed seven laps when I bailed in 2017, so matching Erin’s eight laps seemed like a reasonable target for me without any specific training for the event. I tried to change the gear ratio on my Surly Ogre, the same rigid single speed I had used for cycling around the world, but the chain ring bolts were stuck. So I kept the 32 -18 ratio which had worked so well over the years.
For the first two laps Erin matched my times. The course was very icy, but both of us had no other option than to get used to it. Tires with ice spikes are usually in high demand weeks before the Puffer, but both of us took the gamble and used normal tires instead. Under clear skies the temperature had dropped to double digits below zero on Friday night, and the mercury didn’t climb much during the day either. Perfect Puffer weather they say, as everything was solidly frozen with no mud in sight.
Just as I got bored of going around in circles in lap three I reminded myself of the positives of cycling the same course over and over again. I knew where the icy bits were, I knew where to hammer into a climb on my single speed, and I also knew I appreciated the last meters climbing before handing over to Erin. I was glad when the downhill sections were over. The rigid fork and no suspension made riding the course an enormous physical effort for me, especially with a wonky shoulder.
By 2am I gave Erin some rest and went out to do a double lap. So far we had changed after one lap, which didn’t allow either of us to get sleep. I was suffering from sleep problems the weeks before the Puffer. Handling a night without sleep wasn’t unusual to me, but Erin needed some time out. I did also have to remind myself too that she is only 14.
And it was on those two laps in the middle of the night that I remembered what the Puffer was ALL about: the amazing atmosphere. I can still remember the guys playing Tequila on their amplified trumpets at 2am in the morning at the top of the first climb. The jelly babies handed out by friendly marshals after the fire road climb shortly afterwards. The many cheers and the smell of fires as I cycled through the area where people were out supporting.
At 7.24 am I went out in the darkness for the last time. One of the most magic moments of the race is the when the sun rises after 17 hours of darkness. By now we had done 18 laps and were comfortably in front of the next mixed pair. We had beaten our own target already by two laps. I had just finished my tenth lap when Erin took over. When she came back to hand over for the last lap, I simply asked her if she wanted do go out and ride the last lap. She smiled and off she was. It was her drive and enthusiasm that was infectious and kept us both going through the race. So it was for her to finish what was not only an amazing race, but also an incredible weekend. Or to put in in the words of Howard Swindells, who composed the Puffer Song: If you pass on the chance to ride it, you’re a duffer.
We offer a variety of insurance products to triathletes, and we are the official insurance partner to the British Triathlon Federation. Why not get an instant online quote for triathlon bike insurance, and see how we could protect your bikes?
With the Giro d’Italia finished for another year and another hugely anticipated Tour de France on the horizon it can sometimes feel as though there’s nothing else going on in the bike world other than road racing. But there’s plenty of off-road action taking place too with the MTB World Cup.
The nattily titled Mercedes-Benz UCI Mountain Bike World Cup is the series for you if you enjoy your racing nobbly-tyred. Comprising of 10 rounds and attracting the world’s best in both downhill and cross-country racing, the MTB World Cup puts on some seriously exciting racing. Races take place across Europe and North America from late April until September.
But what’s the drill? It can be a little confusing separating your XCO from your XCC races and your full-suss rigs from your hardtail whips. So grab a coffee, put your feet up and we’ll take a look at this exciting series. If you like your racing gnarly and sprinkled with mud, sweat and gears this could be the race series for you.
What is the MTB World Cup then?
Folks have been getting together to race mountain bikes since way back in the late 80s and the UCI World Cup has been around since 1991. The current series focuses on downhill (also referred to as DHI) and cross-country (XC). Riders are awarded points at every round of the World Cup depending on their finishing position. The rider with the most points at the end of the series is the overall winner. For 2019 there are eight DHI events and seven XC events in elite and under-23 categories for the best guys and girls in the business.
DHI is a race against the clock and a test of a rider’s cojones as much as their speed and bike handling skills. Imagine downhill skiing but with all that nice soft, fluffy snow removed from the mountain and you get the picture. Downhill riders regularly hit speeds in excess of 80km/h, flying through rock gardens, slaying rooty singletrack and launching off huge jumps. Spectacular doesn’t even come close – DHI is one huge adrenaline rush for riders and spectators alike.
Riders are allowed a track walk and practice day during the week, with qualifying taking place on Saturday and the main event on Sunday. The race order is decided by the qualifying times. Slowest rider goes first, the fastest rider goes last. This makes for exciting viewing as riders edge ahead of their rivals, often by hundredths of a second. The current top three riders sit in the hot seat at the finish line hoping the faster riders don’t beat their time.
Bernard Kerr is one of the UK’s fastest downhill racers and has seen a big change in racing in the past few years. “Downhill racing has changed so much since I started, mainly because bikes have come so far with technology and the geometry. Along with bikes being so much better the tracks have also got so much faster with way bigger jumps!”
Race runs only take a handful of minutes to complete, but they’re flat-out, full gas for their entirety. Courses can have flat sections where riders have to pedal, pump and scrub jumps for speed, insanely technical and steep rock gardens that lose all traction in the wet and rooty forests with lines so tight it’s near-impossible to hold on. Expect the unexpected.
Cross-country races are quite different and attract a more lycra-clad field. An XCO race, which means ‘Cross Country Olympic’, is held over an undulating course with challenging climbs, technical descents, rocky paths and obstacles, usually lasting around 60-90 minutes. They’re mass start events, and on narrow forest trails and tricky climbs – it goes without saying that positioning is one of the key aspects of the race. You might be the fastest rider out there, but if you’re stuck behind 100 others on a track barely a few metres wide you’re going to struggle.
The start line for an XCO race is eight metres wide, which means eight riders per row. Your starting position can have a big impact on your chances in the race. Since 2018, at all UCI XCO events a short-track cross country race, or XCC, has been held alongside. An XCC race is a short 20-60 minute blast around a 2km-long course. It acts as a separate race contributing to overall points but also determines who occupies the front two rows of that weekend’s XCO race, a little like qualifying in Formula 1.
Put simply, XCO riders have to race XCC to have a chance at a good start spot in XCO. Positions after the top 16, the front two rows, are determined by XCO individual rankings and for the unclassified riders by drawing lots.
Clear? Well, don’t worry too much. All you really need to know is that cross-country is a smash-fest from the gun. Unlike longer road races, tactics are less important than pure power, especially in the first part of the race. The first five minutes of an XC race sees some frighteningly powerful efforts, all riders jostling to be at the front of the field.
Towards the latter stages of an XCO you’re often left with the strongest riders and that’s where you’ll see mind games and attacks happening. All condensed into an hour or so of furious racing, XC is an exciting and hugely spectator-friendly event. If you can get to a race you’ll be as up close and personal with some of the world’s finest riders as you could possibly wish to be.
OK, let’s go racing!
As we said earlier, the MTB World Cup starts in spring and lasts well into late summer and we’re exactly halfway through the 2019 series already. Beginning in Maribor in Slovenia, it has so far visited Germany, the Czech Republic, Scotland and most recently Austria with its mix of DHI and XC racing, partying and general MTB goodness. Not every venue offers both disciplines and as things stand we’re up to three rounds completed of the DHI series and two of XC racing. From now on though, through events in Andorra, France, Italy, Switzerland and until the season-ending bash in Snowshoe, USA, you’ll find both DHI and XC races. Now is a great time to get involved as the rivalries really begin to heat up.
Bernard shares his thoughts on racing for the next generation of World Cup stars: “I think you really just need to have fun, kids and all riders sometimes worry about either trying to get sponsored or certain goals. I think if you set things like that too early and you don’t achieve them it can weigh on you or even put you off.”
In DHI, experience, strength and race craft are just as important as downhill speed, and in the women’s category, we don’t have to look too far for our own favourite. The phenomenon that is Rachel Atherton of the legendary Atherton family. The British winner of the overall in every season bar one since 2012 currently sits in 2nd position behind Australian Tracey Hannah. Hannah capitalised on a crash from Atherton this weekend in Leogang and extended her lead in the overall rankings to a massive 150 points.
Do you have any advice for riders who are thinking about competing in their first race Bernard? “Get a good riding crew and just get out there and have fun!”
French riders have dominated the men’s DHI series so far with Loic Bruni (current world champion) claiming his second win of 2019 in Austria. However, he’s currently 2nd in the overall standings behind Australia’s Mr Consistent, Troy Brosnan. Yorkshire boy Danny Hart is the best of the British, currently sitting 4th overall. Danny loves steep, wet, technical trails, so if the conditions are right, don’t be surprised to see him take a win.
Our very own sponsored rider, Bernard Kerr, is currently in 28th in the World Cup standings after dropping a few spots with a 57th place in Leogang last time out.
Tracey Hannah & Loïc Bruni Winning DH Runs Leogang | UCI MTB World Cup 2019 - YouTube
The men’s cross country series has been dominated by the rivalry between current World Cup golden boy, Nino Schurter, the Swiss overall winner for the past two years, and Dutch phenomenon Mathieu van der Poel. Van der Poel, recently crowned world cyclocross champion and something of an all-around cycling superhero to his fans currently sits in top spot with Schurter in 3rd place. However, the Dutchman has expressed his wish to ride the Tour of Britain in September, and if he does he’ll miss the last round in Snowshoe. Could Nino pip him at the post?
The women’s XC series is likely to be a similarly two-way tussle between current world champion Kate Courtney of the USA and Switzerland’s Jolanda Neff. Courtney has taken top spot in both rounds so far and it’s not too much of a stretch to suggest she’ll keep doing the same all season.
Claudio Previews the Slippery and Steep Vallnord Track | UCI MTB World Cup 2017 - YouTube
The next round of this exciting series will be held in Vallnord in the high mountains of Andorra in July. With both downhill and cross country races scheduled there’ll be plenty going on. If you’ve ever been tempted by a weekend away to watch world-class mountain biking this makes a great place to do it. With practice running from Wednesday 3rd and the main racing taking place over the weekend of the 6th/7th, there’s loads going on.
Once you see a World Cup downhiller fly down the mountain or and XC mass start in full flow, you’ll be hooked – there’s no better way to watch MTB.
David Millar described it as “the most beautiful organised ride in the UK” and it’s hard to disagree.
The Vélo North sportive lets cyclists enjoy 50 or 100 miles of riding through the Durham Dales and North Pennines, from the peace and safety of closed roads. It’s every bit the North’s answer to Ride London, but through an arguably far more inspiring landscape.
We’ve partnered up with Vélo North this year as their insurance supplier, and we are happy to offer two pairs of tickets to our bicycle and travel insurance customers.
Just pop your details in the form below (and encourage your friends to do the same if you want to be their plus one) and we will announce the winner in a couple weeks.
I recently attended the opening of a new research centre for chickens. It’s the rock and roll lifestyle I lead: next week, there is a full day of presentations on compostable packaging to look forward to.
The two things are actually linked. What’s more, I think they’re relevant to the world of cycling. Bear with me for about 180 seconds – all the way to the end of this 700-word blog – and you’ll see why.
So, the poultry lab. I’m standing outside waiting for the relevant minister to turn up and officially open this thing. I’ve already been on a tour and the facilities are impressive.
(However, am more convinced than ever that eating something that lives for just four weeks is a bit uncivilised. Though if the birds live longer are they just lulled deeper into a false sense of security? Anyway, my abstinence will please vegans, maybe even those who trolled me after the dairy-free blog).
There are refreshments on offer. Chicken burgers (that smell a.m.a.z.i.n.g: if only they’d been offered before the tour) and veggie burgers (for me and, intriguingly, some of the researchers). Coffee and soft drinks are also available.
It’s only been 35 seconds. I’m getting there.
For the coffee there are compostable cups. However, for the orange juice, water, etc., there are plastic ones (you know, the type that get stuck up a whale’s nose). But – and this is where it gets really horrific – they were asking us to put both in SAME BIN.
To recap: compostable packaging, the kind made from plants for example, needs to end up in what’s called an in-vessel composter – which is an industrial unit that will result in the packaging actually composting (provided it meets certain certification standards, too). This means it needs to be collected separately from the other waste and taken to such a facility.
Compostables can also go into food waste collections but not always: again, there needs to be a dedicated collection and a site willing and able to take the food and compostables together.
So here’s the rub: these guys have paid a premium for the compostable cups and are then encouraging us to chuck them in with everything else – as a result of which it will all end up buried or burned.
Incinerating the cups isn’t ideal, but landfilling them can actually be more damaging than if they were the standard paper/plastic variety. I say ‘can’ because the answer depends on who you speak to.
Now do you see why I am so mad? Not at the events company. Not at the manager who thought compostable cups were a nice idea. No, I am mad at the ones selling this stuff to them with half the story.
These waste pushers are everywhere, selling a sustainable dream to cafés, restaurants and hospitality venues all over the country. But their products are only better if they end up in the right place once they’re done with. And I use the term ‘better’ loosely: the best option, wherever possible, is to bring your own cup. There are collapsible ones that easily fit into the back pocket of a cycle jersey.
We’ve already had Blue Planet II. And this week another series of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s War on Plastic got underway, striking further fear into any business that uses plastic packaging.
Source: BBC – Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – War on Plastic
The pressure is great. However, it’s so great that many businesses aren’t thinking things through, and their haste plays into the hands of the waste pushers.
Indeed, this year’s festivals, events and races will be awash with packaging portrayed as “eco” designed to give the festival, event or race (and the competitors) a green glow. However, few will have thought or been advised of what happens next: where do the cups (and anything else) go?
So don’t swallow any spin. Instead, do the following: carry your own cup and water bottle.
Sometimes you will forget (I do) or sometimes it’s not really practical: for example, just before the race gets underway and you need caffeine after the kids were up at 4.30am. Here, you should assume the role of concerned consumer: ask where the cups will end up.
Better still: email the race organiser.
Some races, like Croyde Ocean Triathlon, are now billed as “plastic-free”. This isn’t actually true: compostables are being used and they are plastic – just not the stuff made from fossil fuels. The good news at Croyde is that the compostables seem to be appropriately processed.
One thing confuses me though, reading through the event’s commitments. Ziplock bags for medals have been replaced with tissue paper. Ok, but how many medals are given out every year at sportives and triathlons every year? Who actually wants one? And where do they all end up? The bin.
So here’s a thought: why not just do away with medals? It’s just stuff we don’t need. This year, I’m going to make like a drug cheat and give the medal back (unless it’s gold, silver or bronze (very unlikely)). And don’t take the goodie bag either (even if it’s a paper one). Organisers will soon get the message.
David Burrows is a freelance environmental journalist. Twitter: @envirobuzz
How do you feel about the issue? Let us know in the comments below and on social media.
Did you celebrate World Bicycle Day this year? In 2018, the United Nations designated the annual holiday to promote bicycle use across the planet. Thousands of people celebrated by going for a ride and more than 800 million people will ride a bike by the end of the year.
The cause for celebration doesn’t stop there. World Bicycle Day praises the bike as a simple, affordable, clean and sustainable means of transportation, as well as promoting their broader impact. Bicycles are changing lives in huge ways, prompting charities like World Bicycle Relief to promote their global campaigns.
Empowering 5,000 people in Africa with life-changing bicycles
World Bicycle Relief’s Racing the Sun is one such campaign harnessing the power of bicycles. Running until 30 June, the mission is to raise funds to provide 5,000 bikes to people in need in rural Africa. And it’s in places like these where a bicycle goes the longest way.
For millions of people in rural developing countries, it’s a race against the sun. On foot, seemingly simple tasks like going to school or visiting the health clinic are difficult and sometimes impossible. People have to wake up before dawn, head off to school, work or the store and hope to make it home before sunset. With a bike, distance is no longer a barrier to education, healthcare and economic opportunity.
The strategy is simple: for every $147 raised, WBR donates a Buffalo Bicycle to someone like Scholastica, who used to walk for hours to get to school. With a bicycle, student attendance increases by up to 28%; academic performance increases by 59%; community healthcare volunteers make 45% more patient visits; and dairy farmers make up to 25% more deliveries.
With numbers like those, the campaign and others like it have gained a lot of speed. To date, World Bicycle Relief has delivered more than 450,000 bicycles and trained over 2,200 field mechanics in Africa, Southeast Asia and South America, supporting local economies.
Racing the Sun - YouTube
Joining the Race
In turn, a growing number of sponsors have entered the race against the sun, lead by CitizenM, Backroads, Schwalbe and Zwift. Zwift hosted charity rides every hour to promote the cause, pledging to match the first $25K in donations raised. Meanwhile, Netherlands-based hotel chain CitizenM raised enough money to distribute 124 bicycles at Magoba Primary School in Zambia, giving the power of mobility to students, teachers, community members and one lucky field mechanic.
Of course, you don’t have to be a charity or sponsor to help. Our director of marketing, Emily Conrad-Pickles, has spent the last few years raising money for Buffalo Bicycles, embarking on an unsupported ride from London to Cape Town. With nearly £30,000 raised so far, she’s provided 295 bikes, changing the lives of 295 families.
Nearly 2,500 bicycles have been distributed so far, and there’s still time to hit the goal. If you would like to support World Bicycle Relief, it’s easy to get involved. Spread the word on social media with #racingthesun, or you can sign up to fundraise. You can donate here.
Why else celebrate the bicycle?
Along with amazing campaigns like Racing the Sun, there are many more reasons to love the bicycle. After all, World Bicycle Day may have come and gone, but we believe cycling is one of the best things you can do every day. In case you needed extra excuses to get outside and ride, remember this:
They’re a healthy way to get around
Bikes have been shown to reduce stress, improve mood and boost health. According to the World Health Organization, cycling can provide a form of transport while lowering the risk of heart disease, stroke, certain cancers, diabetes and even death. This health benefit has helped the popularity of bicycles grow at a steady pace, even in developed cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen and London.
You could save money
Cycling burns calories rather than currency, to the tune of several thousand pounds per year. It’s second only to walking as the cheapest way to get to work. When you factor in the cost of trains, tubes, buses, cabs, car maintenance and petrol, it adds up to some pretty hefty savings.
No dirty footprints
Because there’s no combustion involved, riding a bike reduces greenhouse gases. Government bodies and organisations such as Cycling UK are encouraging cycling as a zero-carbon option and by reducing the need to travel. Last year, the UK government announced £2 million to support the uptake of e-cargo bikes, propelling UK companies towards a greener future.
Uber has followed suit, nearly one year after almost getting driven out of the capital by losing its taxi operating license. Last week the company announced the launch of Jump e-bikes in London, kicking off with 300 in the Islington borough, with plans to expand to more of the city’s areas in the coming months.
The list goes on, but everything points to what we knew all along: bicycles are an easy way to save the world. Whether you want to donate, cycle for a cause or simply enjoy the ride, get on your bike and start doing some good, one pedal stroke at a time.
We love the Power of Bicycles at Yellow Jersey, which is why we pledge to keep you on two wheels if something were to go wrong with your bicycle. Check out our bicycle insurance and travel insurance packages that will cover you and your bicycle for cycling in the UK, Europe and around the world.
Cycling in Switzerland is like paradise. Just picture riding through open roads, rolling meadows and the misty mountains of the Swiss Alps. Bet you can almost smell the fresh air and hear the cowbells ringing now.
Thanks to its extensive network, cycling in Switzerland is one of the best ways to explore this part of Europe. And tucked into the southwestern corner of the country, Valais beckons as a high-altitude playground for adventure seekers.
Before you pack your saddlebags, we’ve been working with Swiss Tourism to take a peek at the region’s cycling highlights, from well-marked routes and dramatic climbs to legendary passes and alpine trails – all explorable on two wheels.
Valais is full of options when it comes to cycling routes. Warm up with a leisure ride on the Rhone Route, winding its way through mountain scenery, crossing the palm-lined promenades of Lac Léman and the Lavaux vineyards, and ending at cosmopolitan Genève. The route is 320km long and covers contrasting landscapes. It runs mostly downhill, but from Brig to Geneva, the route is almost entirely flat and suitable for leisure cyclists.
Meanwhile, the Vineyard Trail stretches 82km from Martigny to Leuk with an energetic up and down on a sun-kissed southern slope. It takes you through the most uniform wine region of Valais, past small villages and historical municipalities such as Saillon. Valais is characterised by its soils and climatic zones, so along the three-hour ride, have a break in a winery and sample distinctive wines like Petite Arvine, Amigne, Cornalin and Humagne Rouge.
If you’re up for a bigger challenge, which includes 8 ascents, you could test yourself on the Trophy of the Dams. From the village of Aproz, the road climbs towards the Nendaz mountain resort before whisking you into a small valley enclosed by forests until Siviez. The more adventurous should get ready for a bumpy finish. The last kilometres leading to the summit of Cleuson Dam, at more than 2,100 m of altitude, are unpaved. Take a bike that can handle well on a dirt road.
Between the Pennine and Lepontine Alps, Simplon Pass is also worth a visit. The grade is generally steady so you can admire the view of the Rhone Valley. Pedal through Alpine meadows with the Wasenhorn and Monte Leone looming overhead. At the summit, stop off to refuel at the pass restaurant and take it all in.
For all routes, we recommend a bike in excellent working order, helmet, gloves and bell, clothing suitable for the weather (always carry a waterproof), food and drink.
RAMP UP THE DIFFICULTY
Want to crank up the difficulty? Valais has hosted three stages of the Tour de France with challenging mountain finishes.
The French cyclist Laurent Fignon triumphed at Crans-Montana in 1984. The Spaniard Alberto Contador came first in the Verbier stage in 2009. And the Russian racer Ilnur Zakarin won the Finhaut-Emosson stage with a spectacular finish at the Emosson Dam in 2016.
See how you measure up on the Tour de France routes with ascents to Verbier and Emosson and along the Crans-Montana sprint.
For a long-distance adventure, you could sign up for the Valais Cycling Tour. Designed by pro cyclist Steve Morabito, the 10-stage route stretches for 740 km over 29 major ascents.
Along with cycling routes, Valais presents many attractions to satisfy sightseers. The Aletsch Glacier, made up of 27 billion tons of ice, is the largest glacier in the Alps and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its easily accessible location makes it ideal for nature excursions, and you’re likely to spot some of the rare animal and plant species that live in the area.
Likewise, the Matterhorn in Zermatt is another can’t-miss destination. The Matterhorn is the famous mountain printed on Toblerone chocolate. On top of being one of the highest summits in the Alps, it’s surrounded by 38 summits over 4,000m high, just the thing for cyclists looking to refine their skills.
Save room in your schedule for the Grande Dixence Dam, the highest gravity dam in the world at a height of 285m. We recommend touring the dam’s interior, which you can visit on request.
You’re likely to work up an appetite during your Swiss cycling adventures, and Valais delights with a range of Gault & Millau-rated restaurants. Among the traditional local products are Raclette du Valais AOP, the quintessential Valais cheese with a recipe passed down from generations.
Pair it with robust wines bursting with mineral notes, alongside fresh local fruit such as apricots, rye bread, dried meats and rare spices. Fancy bringing some delicacies home? Just pop into one of the charming local shops peppered throughout the region.
Getting around Valais is a breeze. With more than 100 cableways and countless bus and train routes offering bike transport, you can quickly get to where you want to go.
All in all, Valais has a variety of terrain, so don’t hesitate to hire a bike. Road bikes, e-bikes, fat bikes and mountain bikes are available at sports shops across the region, together with high-quality equipment and good service.
When you’re ready to call it a night, kick up your feet at a bike hotel close to the trails such as Hotel Matthiol. Across Switzerland, hotels have been working hard to improve their facilities for cyclists including a safe place to store your bike and a workshop for repairs.
By car, the A9 motorway is the main route leading to Valais. From the north, reach Valais via the Swiss capital and then hopping on the Lötschberg railway tunnel. Starting from the south, take the Simplon Pass or Simplon railway tunnel. From the west, drive via Lausanne. And from the east, via the Furka pass or Furka railway tunnel.
When travelling by air, international flights land in Geneva, Zurich, Basel and Bern. Public transportation links are excellent from there. Direct trains to Valais run from major Swiss cities, including Basel, Bern, Zurich and Geneva. Connections are guaranteed every 30 to 60 minutes, allowing you to transport your bike and easily reach different resorts.
Conveniently, the Easy Card offers 2, 3 or 5-day options and access to public transport from Lake Geneva to the Lötschental valley. In all, you can travel on more than 1.1km of routes at no extra cost. It comes with significant discounts, including 50% off Valais cable cars, certain chairlifts, over 50 activities and attractions, and free public transport from Saint-Ginolph to Blatten and Fafleralp.
Alternatively, the ErlebnisCard grants free travel on public transport and discounts on attractions and excursions. Pick yours up for 2, 3 or 5 days.
WHEN TO VISIT
The best time to go cycling in Switzerland is from May to October. Some of the pass routes only open in June, depending on snow conditions. Before heading out, double check your itinerary and road openings.
And don’t stress if you can’t make it this year. The 2020 Road Cycling World Championships will roll into Switzerland and parts of Valais. Particularly, the districts of Martigny, along with Aigle, will welcome the world’s top cyclists.