I started working on trips a few years ago. At first I was attracted to life on the road thinking I would be spending all day, every day riding my bike in some of Europe’s most iconic locations. My first trip was the Maratona dles Dolomites, it doesn’t get more iconic then that. The Dolomites are special, jaw dropping beauty, some of the Giro’s most epic battlefields, the people are incredible and so warm, what more could you want. What I didn’t realise was that I wouldn’t be riding at all, my role was driver, mechanic and general dogs body. Maybe I was naive, maybe mis-sold. Turns out it didn’t matter. I was in one of the most beautiful places I’d ever been and more importantly I met some incredible people, who at the time were guests and soon to become firm friends.
I realised pretty quickly that guiding is about people as much as the places. The journey not the destination, how I deliver an experience or show them somewhere or something they would never have found on Strava or Google. It isn’t about the five star hotel or Michelin starred restaurants or how fast I can get them up and over a mountain, it’s local culture, food, knowledge and even that unexpected view around a corner. One of my favourite rides is Sant Hilari – Sasqueda reservoir in Girona. As you turn off the main road and head up a short sharp climb then drop down and the reservoir reveals itself, all of a sudden it stops people dead in their tracks, break out their phones and start taking loads of photos, always makes me smile.
I love to take people to Christian and Amber Meier’s Espresso Mafia and watch Christian talk to people about his passion for coffee, explain the process of roasting and watch their faces light up. Even the non coffee drinkers start enthusing and begin to understand the difference between high street and speciality or “Organized coffee”.
People often send me a few emails before the arrive asking how hard the riding is, how should their bikes be set up and what gearing, sometimes a little intimidated if it’s their first big mountain trip, or first time they’ve ridden back to back hard days. Ensuring they go home with a sense of achievement, hopefully having learnt something new about a place or culture or even learnt that they can ride harder for longer and push themselves further than they first thought is all part of the job. Creating these memories that last for people to share with their friends and family is the key to a great trip.
I’m passionate about bike stuff. I love talking about it, products, kit, brands, sharing my knowledge and beliefs, no doubt some misguided based on “The Rules”. The places I’ve been and the people I’ve been lucky enough to ride with. I can bore you to death while we’re riding or as I like to think, distract you from the challenge ahead.
All the above means many start off as guests but leave as friends. That’s WHY I GUIDE.
See you on the road.
Images courtesy of TheMusette photography.
You missed out. Those of you who didn’t make it onto our collaboration tour, the collaboration with our friends at La Fábrica Girona, you missed out. There will be another chance or two in 2017, but you missed out on the inaugural collab.
We had a great week. As ever in Girona. Just with the added embrace of Amber, Christian and the La Fab team, at close quarters, over dinner, coffee roasting, sending Christian off on his retirement tour to Japan and generally chewing the fat on and off the bike.
The riding and coffee, of course, were was rather fine too.
So, you missed out. There’s plenty happening in Girona in 2017. We are there, front and centre, all year, every year, choose a trip and come explore the centre of European cycling culture.
On the way to the Dolomites cycling trip in July (our long read here) we made the most of our time in Italy by visiting Rocket Espresso, on the edge of Milan. Our hosts, Nicky and Andrew Meo – the driving forces and owners of Rocket – opened their factory doors, showed us around and took us for lunch. If Nick and I didn’t have the Dolomites on the horizon, we may never have left.
One of the things I admire in people is risk taking, a leap of faith in life. Think of those who we look at and say, “you’re so lucky!” and often behind that vision is a big decision, a sacrifice, that leap of faith. Nicky and Andrew left a financially comfortable and successful food and coffee business based lifestyle behind in New Zealand and chose a new path; followed their hearts and dreams of oft said ideas to change their lives, and upped and moved to Italy.
In New Zealand, their story was the successful Wellington restaurant, Pravda and roasting house, The Immigrant’s Son and – in as much as there is in such a line of work – a good guarantee of success and income. But restaurant life compromises family life, and there were those dreamlike thoughts of going to Italy. The stars perhaps aligned, right timing, an opportunity, the right connections but then they still had to do it. And so, in 2007, plans were made to take over (with friend and colleague Jeff Kennedy) the struggling Italian firm ECM – parent company of Rocket – and moved the family across the globe.
Condensing 9 years does an injustice to the hard work ironing out operational issues, filling long standing back orders from ECM, aligning and an invaluable partnering with Daniele Berenburch (the son of ECM co-founder), bringing in a bit of Kiwi cultural approaches and re-marketing, re-naming and modernising the whole brand. But therein, plus more, is the overnight success. A 9 year overnight success.
That Kiwi culture has brought open plan offices and open door policies and a new world coffee culture. Melding that with the traditional Italian manufacturing excellence and pride and its own long coffee history of repute has been part of the change and challenge at Rocket.
That crisp clean, bright and relaxed, open plan office area lie within Rocket’s understated factory – from the outside, just another of Milan’s understated factories. On into the Rocket factory itself, even when we were there in a quiet period, there is a gentle hum of organised activity; again, a bright and relaxed environment. I guess that management adage about setting an example from the top rings true. Organised, yet relaxed. And above the factory space is an in house R&D area – itself developing and growing – and a maintenance area; these keep aim to keep them ahead of the game and on top of the existing products.
Most who know of Rocket, know they are tied closely to cycling. My friend Christian Meier, of La Fabrica Girona and Espresso Mafia (see our special October trip), through whom I was introduced to Andrew, is the Spanish dealer for Rocket and it seems the majority of the pro peloton has a Rocket…well, you are faster with a Rocket in your kitchen #fact. Andrew still races his bike, and son – Felix – races in the younger ranks. Indeed Rocket supports various youth riders around the world. I am not sure who is the stronger cyclist of the two, though, Andrew, a self confessed jack of all trades, is probably losing the Italian language race though. Dealing with overseas clients largely (Rocket is a predominantly export firm; Germany, UK and Australasia strong markets), he has a ready made excuse. Nicky is perhaps better, while Felix, practically fluent, is at the head of this New Zealand escape group. Together, clearly, a formidable team.
I am all for taking risks and chasing a change of direction. It’s nice to know that, when I save up for a Rocket, I will know it’s a machine built on dreams, on a risk and on a philosophy of doing things the right way. Life is worth taking risks, Rocket Espresso is a success story as proof.
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!. firstname.lastname@example.org
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 foot of the mountain. Piemonte. Where the vast range of the Alps begins to yield to the rolling hills of vineyards, the great lakes and quiet rural villages.
Yet the mountains haven’t quite let go their grip. Still, there crops up a spike or two, like the 18km Mottarone to 1,500m with ramps that are enough for any Giro.
This Custom Fully Sported Cycling Trips journey we took our American friends on took in several lakes; Maggiore, Mergozzo, Orta, Viverone and Candia. Between and around these lakes we visited towns and villages of Stresa, Bella, Piverone and Viverone, Oropa Sanctuary and little old Milan. We saw fancy restaurants and local cafes, mixing with the dandies and the signore e signori on market day, getting a flavour of Italy.
Una settimana grande. Great company with our friends. Saw much we loved. Found even more places we want to explore further. And learned a lot about Italy and ourselves along the journey.
Thanks Italy and more importantly, thanks to our friends who came along for the journey. A pleasure.
Just whet the appetite for getting back on the road again; Lands End to John O’Groats next week and the Dolomites in July (still space on this one…just saying…).
We have made it. We have made it to the WWW. The start of a new year and the start of a new adventure for us and here is our window to the world
We are Sommet Cycling and we have been planning this for some time. The concept is simple really; we want to give you the best cycling experiences possible by taken you riding in amazing places that we really know. And we mean riding in places not just through and past them. Fully supported where you only have to turn up and ride and enjoy, or a cycling concierge or consultancy service to leave you more independent, you choose. We are at your service!
We started putting the pieces together for Sommet some time ago and towards the end of last year we got ourselves out into that world of social media (Instagram/Twitter/Facebook). All the while we have be tweaking our trips, adding new knowledge (it’s hell having to ride new fantastic routes with mates in fabulous places) testing coffees and cakes along the way.
But finally, once we put the cakes and the coffee down, we got around to building our fabulous website. We reckon it will get some dreams simmering and hopefully inspire some of you to come for a ride with us somewhere in the world.
We have built some off the peg trips in four key cycling heartlands. Girona, the Alps, Pyrenees and Provence. One of us lives in Catalonia so Girona is our local spot, splitting home time between there and Barcelona. Both of us feel like we have lived in the other three spots over the last few years having spent vast amounts of time there.
And then we have our Custom Cycling Trips where you choose everything; from where and when to the level of support.
We are itching to get on the road with some of you in these places and also in many other places as you can let your imagination go wild and pick a place and we will build a trip. We just want to ride with you. We’ve already put a Piemonte trip together and have a couple of other special handmade customs on the canvas.
And what would riding be without kit and goodies? Along with creating those journeys, we have designed a fantastic kit, for if we know one thing it’s not how fast you go but how good you look in a café. And our kit and accessories will look mighty fine as quite a few can already attest to as we have had to re-order it sold out so quickly! (It will make you look faster too. #fact*)
So, please go and have a roam around Sommet.cc We’re excited to finally be out there in the WWW for you to check us out. Drop us a line about anything and hopefully we will see some of you in the real world on a journey one day soon.
*this may or may not be exactly accurate. (doff of the cap to Rocket Espresso – makers of the best coffee machines going – as I tweaked their tag line here!)
All images supplied by Nick Frendo and Ian Walton