I've always been a big fan of the Tour De France. Well, I say "always", but obviously that's an exaggeration, since for many years of Le Tour, I wasn't actually born, and even when I was it didn't feature on British TV until I was in my teens (a quick check of past winners would seem to suggest I first watched it in 1983, when Channel 4 started showing it). More recently two major factors have lessened my enjoyment somewhat - the knowledge that most of the riders are on drugs, and the overshadowing of the race by the vast and obnoxious ego that is Lance Armstrong. [On a venn diagram of those two factors there is a significant overlap, allegedly]. But I still kind of get into it, despite suspecting that any results could be changed at any time in the next 6 months as someone or other gets busted.
Anyway, this weekend I was able to witness first hand professional top drawer road-race cycling. Well, maybe not top drawer, because that would be Le Tour and other major races, and probably not second drawer because that would be other races that might occasionally get a mention on Eurosport or somewhere, and maybe not even the third drawer from the top, but at least the fourth drawer down. Which on most chests of drawers is the bottom one, I guess, so bottom drawer professional road race cycling.
This was because it was the "Tour of Szeklerland" (It exists! Really! Check out the mention of it on the website of the "Union Cycliste Internationale" if you don't believe me). Pretty much every stage started and finished here right outside our apartment so it was fairly easy to keep track. There were teams from all over (well all over Eastern Europe at least - Romania, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Czech republic, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel and probably others I missed).
Professional cyclists are fast. I mean really quite ludicrously fast. Yesterday the final stage of the race involved 17 longish (5.5km each) circuits of the town, which meant they zipped by on a regular basis, while the official cars following them struggled to keep up. The first stage of the race involved a route which took them from here up to Gyergyo/Gheorgheni, across the Bucsin pass to Parajd/Praid, down to Udvarhely/Oderhei and back here. 193 kms, and a fair few serious hills including Bucsin which is 1300m high and is a right brute even in a car. If I were to set off to cycle that route, I'd take a week off work. They did it (in the pouring rain) in under 5 hours. (Report on that stage and the others - when they are posted today I presume - can be found here) And these are the fourth division journeyman pros of cycling world. Your Alberto Contadors must be just a blur when they pass.
Sadly the little guide which we got for the race which includes the stage profiles and routes and everything doesn't tell me how the hills they climbed relate to the categories that they use on Le Tour. Bucsin is listed as being category A - does that mean it would be a first category climb? I'd really like an idea of how close the hills here which I know very well are to the climbs that they do on the telly. Yesterday morning in "halfstage 3" they did a time-trial up to the Harghita ski-resort from down the bottom here. 14 kms of cycling with an ascent of slightly over 600m. The winner took 28 minutes. That's just insane. I'd struggle to get one-quarter of the way up in 28 minutes.
For the record the winner was a bloke called Vitaliy Popkov from Ukraine. Yesterday's final stage was won by a French guy (Aurelian Passeron) who rides for the local Tusnad Cycling Team who are based here. I presume that means he sort of lives here, which means that I'll have to add him to my mental list of "foreigners living in Csikszereda". He apparently has ridden in the actual Tour de France (last year it would seem, though I don't think he finished it).
It was a good event. I hope they do it again next year.
Podcast 132: Sending A Postcard To Keith Hackett
5 hours ago