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 Tripjourney 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…).

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.