A long read diary of a recent Sommet Fully Supported Custom journey. This will be on our 2017 calendar, get in while you can. Contact us for more information

Calcium magnesium carbonate. CaMg(CO3)2. 

This is the foundation of dreams. Dreams in the high mountains for all those who love a challenge, beauty and cultural complexity. Cycling paradise. An epic cycling holiday.

The Italian Dolomites are a geographical region of carbonate rocks shared between the provinces of Belluno, South Tyrol and Trentino. The region has been politically and culturally pulled and pushed over the centuries, never more so than in the 20th century with battle lines drawn and families and friendships within towns tested to, and beyond, limits in the highest stakes game of all. War.

Far away from the Alps of Stelvio and Gavia, we spent eight days cycling in, and getting to know, the Italian Dolomites and some of the people. There are more passes to cycle than you can shake a ski pole at but to simply go and ride Monte Grappa, Passos Sella Campolongo, Giau, Pordoi, Rolle, Valles, Falzarego, Valparola, Tre Cime di Lavaredo and the many others we rode would be to miss out on finding out a little about the stuff that make up the culture of the Dolomites.

Thus, rather than chasing from point to point, we stayed in two distinct locations. Feltre and Corvara. And from these we cycled a plenty (about  1,000km and 17,000m for those who like to tot up numbers) – ticking off all those passes and more – in the three provinces of the Dolomites, but immersed ourselves somewhat in the culture. In Italian style, we prepared for the trip by caffeine doping just outside Milan at our friends place, Rocket Espresso…more on that in another post soon.

Feltre welcomed us with blazing sunshine and temperatures around the thirties. A far cry from the history making ascent which was on our first ride. An arrival day loop taking in Croce d’Aune. The scene of Tullio Campagnolo’s, cycling history changing mechanical, when on November, 11, 1927, he couldn’t change out his wheel in a race due to frozen hands and fingers on wing nuts. There must be a better solution he thought. There was and we all benefit from it today. The quick release. Only one of us was riding Campagnolo, myself. It felt appropriate that my Campag front mech, once again, disagreed with my Rotor chainset and threw the chain just as I changed down at the very bottom of Croce d’Aune. Tullio, perhaps, doesn’t like Rotor…the others rode off.

Don’t be fooled by Feltre’s location which on the map seems to be away from the big mountains. The bigger tests. Oh no, we followed up Campag’s history with somewhat grander history of the great Monte Grappa, approaching via the brutal Monte Tomba. Grappa has too much blood on her slopes from both World Wars and a monument at the summit is a stark reminder of the waste of life we have seen too often. We simply had to ride the beast, in beautiful conditions, tasting cheese on the way up, focaccias on the way down and wonderful views all around, with small lakes and vertiginous drop offs, donkeys, hairpins and what a descent. How times have changed, how lucky we are!

With the Dolomites you often think you have topped it all. They are so awe inspiring. Then the next climb, or descent in this case, you get wowed by a road that has been cut into a wall, is technical enough to keep you awake but fun enough to fly down and the loop we stuck on the end of this big Grappa day, after some coffee and strudel, was just that. With the sun descending as gently as we did rapidly towards home, we had gone from amazing, to yells of joy and it was only day two

Another big day ahead the next day. Up to 2,000m twice this time for some of the group. Some took the option to take a shorter, still big, day and peeled off after the incredible lakeside early coffee and strudel stop (again). Blazing sunshine again. That was, until it wasn’t. Pretty soon it was golf ball size rain drops and lightning and thunder only a couple of seconds apart. This was approaching Passo Rolle and Valles and thus the wrong side of the valley to home. There is always a bailout option, for safety and comfort with us. But not today; we voted for a(nother) coffee pause and strudel and hoped for a break in the storm. 40 minutes or so later, a glimpse of blueish sky. The kind the UK sees. Grey. Pay up and off up the mountain up double figure gradients, all the while wondering if the thunder was  closer or farther away. Up and over the both very tough Passo Rolle and Valles and down the other side without a hitch, but the chill on the descent got the better of us and another stop was called. Super thick hot chocolate and a wonderfully courteous host of the bar who brought out blankets for us to warm under. It got us defrosted enough to get home on a cracking power descent to fly home.

We left Feltre with yet more tragic history and more wonderful hospitality. And the sun was back. A rolling ride out around the markets and vineyards to the engineering marvel of Passo San Boldo; built with blood and sweat of women, children and donkeys early last century. On the way stopping in on Roberta’s vineyard outlooking restaurant, with her pride in “the best bread in the world!” and her adoration for my home town of Barcelona was such a contrast to the massive riding of Grappa, Rolle and of what was to come in Corvara. Oh, and fresh pasta lunch atop San Boldo.

Corvara. This is, perhaps, what most people think of when you mention the Dolomites mountains. The beauty of having four days in Feltre and four in Corvara, is the variety of riding; tough and big mountains as well as some rolling hills, leading into 4 days of massive mountains with nary a valley to ride. Either up. Or down. Corvara is the heart of the famous Sella Ronda, starting point for Falzarego, Valparola and the Queen ride for us over to the fairy tale like, brutally steep, Tre Cime di Lavaredo and back over Passo Giau.

We were welcomed to Corvara, with clockwork precision that one expects from this part of Italy, with the biggest crack of thunder of the week as we pulled up outside the wonderful Posta Zirm hotel. And even bigger rain drops than on Passo Rolle.

The change in culture is noticeable as soon as one arrives. Ladino language spoken and on signs, preserving the language and the culture, more Germanic influences and when you speak to people with a family history here – as we did for the whole stay, with the generational family owners of our hotel – you learn of the flux of the cultures that have and go on here; from Italian, Ladino, German, Austrian and within and beyond families and friends within villages, especially in tough times of the last century. Again, how lucky we are, to simply enjoy these mountains.

So, the riding. It rained. Heavily. Thunder storms rang strong. Day one in Corvara we trimmed to only have three passes, mainly for safety, but typically it was beautiful sunshine that afternoon. Surely a good omen of the next day.

Indeed, bright sunshine at breakfast. And the first climb up Falzarego. Sadly, or perhaps not for that epic sense and for some nice photography, the heavens opened and the tough Passo Fedaia was made tougher by the rain, the sheep allowing an excuse for a respite. It stopped for lunch in the restaurant up top, then started again for the descent and for Pordoi and Campolongo. Typical.

Fair to say, the epic was put into the trip on this ride. Shooting from the van and huddled in the gutters in the rain, while prepping hot coffee as well was a joy. We all got wet – the riders far more than the support – but that epic we won’t forget. (Shooting while driving and chasing these fast riders, on mountain descents, in the wet…not recommended, but some nice results and a bit of fun).

But finally. That was the last of it. No more rain. And not too hot. Perfect to assault 150km or so to Tre Cime di Lavaredo via Cortina d’Ampezzo and back over Passo Giau and Campolongo again. Cortina is ok in comparison to Corvara, but then we love Corvara. But we wanted a coffee, so a quickie before off to the paradise of Tre Cime. An incredible, beautiful, brutally steep dead end climb. Formerly the border between Italy and Austria, now between the Italian provinces of Belluno and South Tyrol – yet more evidence of that fluxing history and why there is such a want to preserve the Ladino culture. Words, nor photographs do Tre Cime justice. You have to be there. Feel it. Maybe suffer up, it to really get it. It’s amazing.

And as before, when you think the Dolomites has thrown all it’s wow at you, you go back towards Corvara via Passo Giau. More rideable than Tre Cime, and thus you can soak up the theatre of dolomite rocks towering above you, almost like a giant natural amphitheatre. The road is the play, and you are simply a minor character in that days performance. It’s spectacular. Another long day, beautiful and long. The descent off the top, one of the best. Fast, a bit technical, but fast.

Seven hard amazing days done. Tired legs, tired bodies. How could we muster the energy to ride another 1,700m? Well it was only 50 odd km. And it was the Sella Ronda. Our closing day ride, knowing how stunning it would be, we had all the energy to spin out and enjoy one of the best 50km rides you can do.

The Dolomites are made up of more than CaMg(CO3)2. It’s the history and the people who have lived that history and create it today. To the Dolomites and the people of the areas; grazie, giulan, thank you! We will be back in 2017 with more friends to be wowed.

If you are interested in our 2017 Dolomites trip, drop us a line now. We are building our 2017 calendar and this trip is definitely in there!. domestique@sommet.cc

Four friends set themselves a challenge of cycling Britain. From Lands End to John O’Groats. They chose twelve days, for various reasons. Along the way, birthdays were celebrated, rain was battled in true British summer fashion, but natural beauty, a sense of accomplishment and the joy of riding with friends were constant companions.

We were delighted to support Alastair, Mark, Dan and James from toe to tip, cycling Britain.

Here are a few snippets of the ride. The guys will be enjoying a full set of personal images from their journey. All part of the Sommet Journey.

The Honor Race. A brevet style cycling event with five or six checkpoints (I wasn’t counting, though we thought we had missed the last one) leading teams to wend their way through the beautiful vineyards of the Penedès, half an hour south of Barcelona.

Run by On Y Va Sports Culture, a mob driven as we are to enjoy all there is to be enjoyed on a bike and share that with as many people as possible. Through events like The Honor Race, the cycle journals and diaries and now their cycle cafe in the heart of Barcelona.

We jumped on board The Honor Race as soon as Ferran (Señor On Y Va) and I spoke about it. The brevet style leaving some creativity in route creation open to us, which could only mean fun, a bit of risk and a bit of adventure. Definitely not a race, an event to share laughs, share part of your created route and share a bottle of Cava or two at the end.


The Penedès makes for great terrain, and most importantly for our idea, great gravel options. And mud. Thanks to that rare thing here, rain the few days before and on the morning. We were four boys riding – all wanting dirt – with two wonderful girls in support. That ratio changed from 4:2 to 3:3 to 2:3 as the day went on. Dirt, as much as realistically possible, chopping a few k’s here and there off the likely road route (On Y Va, wisely, published a route of about 135km on the road for those who just wanted to ride) to try and get us to the finish before all the Cava was gone. With the checkpoints announced a couple of days before the event, I got on the job of creating a route that was as dirty as possible, while cutting those corners. Then Fred sanity checked it and we were good to go. In theory, about 30km off that road route. Most bits we knew, within reason, but there were a few bits that were a leap of faith; and they were at the highest and furthest points from home. Of course.

©Vinyet Noguera      

Raining as we left home. Drizzling by the time we arrived was an improvement (which would become the standard, warm, toasty sun in short time). Warm, happy, Honor Race crew, the friendliest fellow riders I have come across, great coffee from Cafe de Fincas and fresh croissants and juices as we mingled at Blancher winery, before the staggered start (start times, not due to breakfast Cava) made everything just dandy. Refreshingly the girls riding to boys riding ratio was rather good; more yin to the yang, at an event already tailored to be fun, only helped the vibe; the event was just bubbling like a fine Cava; nicely balanced, not too much ego.

And off we went. It was quite eventful for us – we expected as much with such a route. Perhaps sooner and more so than we thought though. A puncture before we started – tubeless sealant all over before a pedal turned – then a broken rear derailleur after 9km; the heavy mud reducing us to the 3:3 balance as Jordi jumped off the broken bike and into the trusty support van.

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

Checkpoint 2, a quick catch up with other riders, a bit of dis-robing, then another puncture immediately after leaving the village  – during which repair saw Fred blow up an inner tube with the CO2 inflator, me waste a second CO2 canister (I swear, Fred, the PDW Ninja Pump/CO2 adapter hybrid was set to ‘closed’…but it being open is the only reason it could have fizzed it’s way into the air…oh dear), before we finally got there with the third attempt and had a freshly inflated Challenge Grifo.

©Vinyet Noguera      ©theMUSETTE

On to Checkpoint 3. The furthest point, but before the really hilly stuff and the leaps of faith into the couple of dirty, rocky, shortcuts we weren’t sure about. With looming family commitments, we were reduced to our final equilibrium; 2:3 as Rafa (only Rafa with an f in our team) reluctantly had to bail, so he could make a prior family commitment. Chapeau for still coming along. Over a fresh, warm bocadillo de tortilla francesa and coffee, thanks again to the support team, we relaxed in the sun, making plans to return as a four and complete it all together another day. Told you it wasn’t a race.

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

©Vinyet Noguera      ©Vinyet Noguera

The short cuts worked. They were damned steep, quite rocky as feared (I love my WTB 40mm Nanos!), technical, but lopped off kilometres. Brilliant. Sadly we couldn’t avoid the heavy road slog up to Font Rubi checkpoint (still love the Nanos here, just my legs didn’t like Font Rubi…).

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

©theMUSETTE      ©theMUSETTE

Then it was all downhill all the way. More or less. Rockier than expected made 10 of the 25km downhill to the finish quite the test when we had been ready to roll on home. The rest were  fabulous vineyards tracks to fly down to finish with a smile. Fred even had time to throw in a pirouette within 10km and plant himself on his back. At least the bike was fine, the Sommet kit stood up to the fall, though his bruise wouldn’t help his long haul flight to the States the next day I don’ think. Just quietly, I was cooked; half of Fred’s cream cheese and quince sandwich en route got me over the line I reckon. One of those, could have kept going, but was really quite glad to see the Blancher winery and smell the barbecue…

      ©Vinyet Noguera

©Vinyet Noguera      ©Vinyet Noguera

Last but not least. Thanks. to our Sommet support. My missus, Vinyet (Catalan for little vineyard…) and Yolanda, Jordi’s good lady. They followed us in the trusty old van from the start, to every checkpoint, to the finish. And to the joining Jordi after his rear mech exploded, was such a shame for him and us, but together they added to our fuel stocks, the fun and Vinyet snapping many of the images here. It just made an already cracking day that much better.

  ©Vinyet Noguera

 

This debut event was outstanding fun. Well done On Y Va; you were all faultless. The most fun I have had in an organise one day event, punto. Friends (in our team, fellow riders and On Y Va crew), bikes and Cava. Exito! On Y Va!

 

Just a few quick snaps form the sign on of La Volta a Catalunya in Calella. The habitual start town of recent years is a bit of a classic down beat Spanish seaside town, but once the cycle race leaves the town it is into some of the most beautiful scenery you could wish to ride through. I squeezed in a few heavenly hours from early doors today covering a good chunk of today’s stage, before heading to the sign on to see a few old mates and spot a few of the big hitters.

The array of talent on show at this year’s La Volta is better than ever, and each year it has been more and more star studded – GC wise. It’s a cracking week of racing. No TT to ruin real racing and a parcours to really test early season legs. It’s a bit of a combination of a few days of Classics style stages, maybe a (power) sprint or two, with a couple of snow bound genuine mountain top finishes and a final day of almost criterium chaos around Barcelona’s Olympic Montjuïc park. It makes it a brilliant entertaining week for spectators and tough for the riders. Recommended!

Even better, come and ride here…just saying.

I will try and bring some more imagery and waffle during the week if I can.

Now the cycling season is really underway it’s nice for me to reflect on a very nice pre-season. In January I was shooting Orica Greenedge at their training camp down here in Spain. I was there for Craft Sportswear initially and then with Etixx Nutrition, thanks to an introduction by my mate Christian Meier.

It was great to see the pro’s in their environment from a photographic and also a cycling point of view, but also from an organisational point of view for Sommet. With my creative eye on the shots, I had a little project mind on the organisation; what they do, how they do and how we can develop and bring anything to what we do at Sommet.

In many respects we do much of what they do. The riders need to think about little but ride, supported by the DS and mechanic in the car and recover – and put up with a photographer loitering. That’s exactly what we do at Sommet (I might even loiter and shoot some shots too!). You turn up and we deal with everything else. Arguably we do it that bit more as you turn off at the airport and we arrange it from there; the Pro’s have to make it to the hotel.

Pre-season is a bit like Christmas too; they get their new kit. So do you on a Sommet trip. So we provide Christmas all year round, whenever you choose to join us.

Evening meals are a chance to debrief and prep for the next day, mechanics prepping, tweaking the bikes again for a fresh start, laundry done when needed and even separate groups for separate needs. That’s the Pro’s and Sommet. While we ride the same routes in a whole group generally, where there is a need we always have it up our sleeve to accommodate a different route if needed for parts of a group. As the Pro’s do, we make the rider – you – the priority.

Where we differ is that our trips aren’t a training camp in the strictest sense. We can tailor trips to be as hard and beneficial as needed, or as relaxing and recharging as needed. We can throw in the 5 sets of 20 minutes climbs at less than 60 rpm over a 250km 5,000m ride like they did if you want. Or we can just ride and have some nice food and coffees en route. Our focus is usually on the balance of that tough rewarding riding, with immersion in a beautiful area. The Pro’s turn up, ride, relax, eat (healthy and nutritious fuel, but not restaurants we want so share with you), have fun with each other and ride again. We do all that, but we make sure the cuisine element and the accommodation element has a certain local high quality and charm. And we seek out good coffee sadly lacking at their hotel – I was lucky to be able to pop to Christian (and roomie, Bling)’s room for a decent Aeropress while I was down there. Experimental bean blends tested over a lazy afternoon…otherwise…capsules…oh dear. The hot chocolate machine was good though.

And Bling brings me to MSR. Milan San Remo is this weekend. The real racing has just about started with Strade Bianche and now the first Monument of the season. I am not really into predictions, especially when it is wide open. But while having those Aeropress’ with my mate, there was a potential winner in the background on his X-Box. Someone who has had a yellow jersey on his back already this year, is in rich form and perhaps it is just his year. Someone who is just a nice bloke too. I don’t do flag waving of nations, I like riders (people in general) for who they are in person. There are plenty of possibles, but for obvious reasons, I wouldn’t mind seeing this Aussie pinch MSR this year. Good luck Bling!

Thanks Orica, Craft and Etixx for the time back in January. It was a joy.

I was in Girona for a cycling long weekend, this weekend just gone. Invited along for a friends landmark birthday with a group of friends – the majority who knew each other, though there were a few new connections across the group. I was happy to be riding with mates and happy to show off Girona’s cycling.

For a change, it was beautiful country house (a great find!) – rather than a hotel in the city – and we all had turns on the stove as we were all keen cooks/chefs and it was part of the fun of the weekend.

My pancakes and coffee making went down ok I think, but I certainly learnt a hell of a lot more in the kitchen area than I provided – I am not rubbish, but my friends are geniuses in cuisine (there were many – fresh fish dishes, lamb, barbecued pineapple – but the onion jam recipe is one I will be chasing up with gusty and using on all sorts. Devine!).

The riding was typical of Girona. Amazing. We have written all about what Girona can offer on our Girona Trip page, and the routes we put together for this weekend were just as we suggest. Outstanding. We took a few new routes in which we scoped out to explore different areas and they went down a treat. Just further confirmation that Girona is simply a cycling paradise.

Thanks to my friends for asking me along in the first place and for making the weekend such fun. Also thanks for the gifts of thanks you gave us; the Musette will be used endlessly and the book I have already made a big dent into. Girona, cycling and mates, a great way to spend a long weekend.

Can’t wait for the next rides in Girona. That’ll be tomorrow and Friday then… Coffee trip!