prendas ciclismo: omloop van vlaanderen

omloop van vlaanderen

before the internet became organised, there was a certain 'thrill of the chase' frisson to early season weekends when trying the various feed options expounded by or in the early days, any thoughts of 'geo-restricting had yet to be formed, and it often became a case of opting for whichever feed provided the largest on-screen picture. and though it cannot be described as anything other than an affectation, there was a certain satisfaction to be gained from watching race footage accompanied by flemish commentary.

omloop van vlaanderen

granted, my grasp of belgian is every bit as non -existent as my grasp of quantum mechanics, but somehow, watching belgian racing with native commentators letting out the occasional aye, aye, aye, aye interspersed with the word 'omloop' was the closest to authenticity that could be had, without spilling frites and mayo over the laptop keyboard.

the world has now changed, and not necessarily for the better. eurosport, have, in mitigation, improved their coverage of many of the european, early season classics, but it was always the more obscure events that offered the opportunity to acquire badges of honour, bragging to the less-than-interested office staff of a monday morning, that an obscure omloop had seen victory from gerben de knecht or bram de groot. the self-satisfaction was almost palpable, even if totally incomprehensibe to the civilian population.

omloop van vlaanderen

the union cycliste internationale's onward march to globalisation, has not been without its casualties. cycling may arguably offer an excellent return on investment for its myriad sponsors, but those sponsors form a finite pool of money, much of it subordinated to regional demands. thus, a belgian fork lift manufacturer is perhaps unlikely to see the benefits of having their jerseys witnessed by substantial crowds in eastern australia. and, as new races have appeared in countries with no notable cycling heritage, long-running european events have had to close their parcours, unable to equate start-line quality with sponsors' demands.

omloop van vlaanderen

one belgian event that has not succumbed to the rigours of mondialisation, is that of omloop van vlaanderen, first run in 1945, starting and finishing in ghent. though framed as a part of prendas ciclismo's 'forgotten races' series, in essence, it's only the name that has changed for this event, one that still continues today, and one of only a handful of events that took place in 2020 before european lockdown was instigated. it was initiated by the the flemish newspaper, het volk in opposition to het nieuwsblad's ronde van vlaanderen, two event titles that, to all intents and purposes, mean precisely the same thing. the belgian cycling federation subsequently dictated that the newspaper re-name the event, at which point, it became omloop het volk.

omloop van vlaanderen

financial considerations in 2009 brought the necessity for the two newspapers to merge, at which point, the much-loved omloop het volk, became omloop het nieuwsblad, the banner under which it still appears in today's race calendar.

on the basis that you can tell a great deal about a cyclist from their socks, prendas kindly bestowed a pair of their orange, lion of flanders styled footwear in order that i might improve the weekend's average speed. you know, the reading on my garmin, that i continually protest, holds no personal interest. it may be coincidence, it may be serendipity, it may be a shovelful of bullsh*t, but on saturday, i returned home with an average speed some 2kph faster than the previous weekends. and it would be hard to deny their efficacy in assisting my grimpeurship during the first half of my attempt on rapha's #26challenge on sunday.

this has left me wondering just how much faster i might have proceeded had i opted for the long or short sleeve omloop van vlaanderen jersey, or simply the matching cap. the jerseys are available in a colossal range of sizes, ranging from small to 8xl at a price of £66.99 for the short-sleeve and £82.99 for the long-sleeve edition. the cap, a garment for which prendas are renowned, is £8.99, oversocks are similarly priced, and the speed-inducing socks, as worn by yours truly, retail at a mere £7.99 and available in five sizes.

and now that you know the lineage of the event, any combination of the above can be worn with confidence.

omloop van vlaanderen - forgotten races collection

monday 27 april 2020

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we ride it, so you don't have to - rainspotting

the point at which i removed self and family from scotland to this island civilisation, i would have considered myself as verging on identifying as a touring cyclist. i owned one of the original, white muddy fox couriers, purchased originally as a means of commuting to work, and subsequently employed in similar manner in the hebrides, where work was of an entirely different order. drawing and painting constituted the daily travail, with the bicycle festooned with rear panniers containing the tools of my aspirant trade. the touring part became ever more real, when i opted to use the selfsame bicycle to ride from islay, via kintyre and arran, to reach my parents' house on scotland's west coast. - rainspotting

by that time, i had managed to make the archetypal newbie tourer mistake of augmenting the courier with both front and rear panniers, and a bar bag affixed to the alloy drop bars, the latter held in place by a tall, short, stainless steel quill-stem. the cycle luggage was, as you might expect from an innocent, packed with all manner of items i had little need of while riding, or on arrival. so far, so predictable.

the organisation currently known as cycling uk, were, at the time, still recognised as the cyclists' touring club, offering a quarterly magazine full of 'pannier' style features. however, with a never-ending series of heated discussions over whether triple chainsets were preferable to touring doubles, i left all that behind and adopted the way of bendy bars and skinny wheels; that's still the case today. - rainspotting

of course, in the meantime, cycle touring has experienced something of a revolution, exchanging dawes galaxies for gravel bikes with oddly shaped bags fastened to pretty much every available nook and double-diamond cranny. and it's no longer referred to as 'cycle-touring' but 'bike-packing'. i am of an age where bike-packing not only holds few attractions, but seems to me to be an offence against velocipedinal aesthetics; definitely a triumph of function over style. probably as it should be, but i prefer to think of cycle-touring in the same light as sting's lyric from 'an englishman in new york', to wit: 'a gentleman walks, but never runs'. the ideal of a lugged steel touring bike with a pair of cotton-duck panniers astride the rear wheel still finds favour on the croft. - rainspotting

but, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, it's bike-packing that rules the roost, even at the contradictorily named founder, stefan amato, can be seen pictured under the about us section of the website, posing with a brother, gravel-style bike, almost concealed 'neath a phalanx of bike bags. always late to the party, i only recently came across their march-released movie, rainspotting, where amato, accompanied by a few other intrepid bike-packers, took a caledonian sleeper to the grampian region last november, having to ride through thick(ish) snow right from the start. - rainspotting

'rainspotting' is, to be honest, a really entertaining film, particularly from a scotsman's point of view, listening to southerners being unable to properly pronounce the words 'loch' and 'rannoch' (regional disparagement at its very worst, i admit). however, my long-winded point is simply to highlight the possible attractions of cycle-touring in any of its present-day formats. i appreciate that, at present, outdoor cycling of any kind is either non-existent, or highly restricted, but i've always figured the best time to plan ahead, is when it's not entirely necessary. - rainspotting

when lockdown recedes, as surely it must at some point in the future, many of us will harbour the desire to get away from it all. and though there will undoubtedly be many a training camp welcoming the intrepid roadie with open arms, perhaps the road less-travelled might hold greater attraction than a foreign chain-gang. yes, 'rainspotting' appears to feature a tad more walking and grovelling through muddy hinterlands than aspiring peter sagans or egan bernals might prefer, but don't knock it 'til you've tried it. like every adventurous prospect at the moment, pannier are attempting to re-schedule many of this year's planned trips due to current covid-19 restrictions, but that doesn't mean they wouldn't welcome your interest.

it might not be the road-cycling you're used to; in fact, some of their trips seem inclined to avoid roads altogether, but just remember how much we're used to pain and suffering, even if it features bike bags all over it.

but watch the movie first. - rainspotting

sunday 26 april 2020

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who knew?

glen road, islay

i am fortunate for the present, to still have some paid work to occupy the day to day, and keep the bank account topped up with cash. quite how much longer that will continue, it's hard to say, a situation that is very much dependent on how soon and how easily the country exits the current lockdown. however, there is little point in concerning myself with matters over which i have no control, so having completed proceedings of urgency for this week, and given that islay is currently blessed with wall to wall sunshine and cosy temperatures, i opted to play hooky for a few hours and exercise my right to take exercise.

the past few weekends have seen a noticeable rise in the average speed that i tell everyone, is of no earthly interest to me. that's true to a certain extent, but when i check my garmin display for the time and/or distance, it's very hard to avoid noticing the average speed reading. as far as i know, effort is still being spared on these solo weekend rides, so this increase in speed has come as something of an unexpected surprise. however, before you think i doth protest too much in similar manner to those school chums who aced each exam, after claiming they had not revised at all, there may be a more acceptable explanation.

three years past, having accepted an invitation to participate in the hot chillee london to paris ride, i thought it prudent to ride the average daily l2p distance of 100 miles in a day. just to prove the old fart could still do so. such an undertaking across the highways and byways of the island not only took a tad longer than hoped for, but at a lower average speed than specified and, worst of all, left me more fatigued than i'd hoped.

yet, those three days, wending from the uk's capital city to that of france's capital city, were far less onerous than my brief foray into the hebridean wilderness would have had me believe. granted, the islay pedalling had been completed alone, while the london-paris ride was as a member of a sizeable peloton, but there was one other factor that, i believe, had made all the difference.

traffic. or, to be more specific, a lack thereof.

hot chillee's organisation provides not only a lead car to set the pace for the day, but an escort of motorcycle outriders to keep the peloton safe. and it achieves this by simply stopping any traffic that might hinder forward progress. therefore, other than the occasional stop for a natural break and a swig of water, as well as the defined lunch break, once started in early morning, there's no need to stop riding until the day's destination is reached. under these circumstances, achieving the desired average speed for the day is not as hard as it had appeared during my island-bound practice run.

but, on lovely days such as those we have been fortunate to experience this past week, particularly following a week's hard graft (as defined by yours truly), where, precisely, is the need to go for it, hammer and tongs? where's the harm in taking a leaf out of jack thurston's lost lanes series, and enjoying a modest perambulation of the estates without getting out of breath? it's a state of affairs i have not experienced for many a long year, frequently claiming that any turn of speed has been at the behest of the bicycle, and certainly not promulgated by the rider. i think i may have even come to believe it myself.

so, having arrived home a few hours earlier than normal, it took the ritchey from the bike shed and set off round a few lost lanes of my own. due to prevailing climate in the hebrides, few of those lanes are edged with leafy, green, overhanging trees and neatly trimmed hedges. if i'm honest, the majority feature dry-stone walls with more than just a few missing stones, or wire fences where the walls have all but disappeared. our landscapes are a touch more open than the archetypal leafy lane, but that's no excuse to look as if i'm following an exacting training programme designed for speed.

therefore, the set restriction for the afternoon was never to ride hard enough that breathing became laboured, apart, of course, when the length or steepness of an incline dictated otherwise. and that's just what i did for 25km, arriving home, suprisingly enough, with an average speed only a few kph less than my weekend bouts of untrammeled speed and effort (a guy can dream, can't he?) i need hardly report that the bike ride was highly enjoyable, particularly under the current conditions that have seen a dramatic reduction in motor traffic. once on the single track roads that criss-cross most of the island, that motorised traffic is often conspicuous by its complete absence.

do not misunderstand; i have no wish to drive home the fact that i have a velocipedinal freedom that many of you will be currently missing. i well know that i am very fortunate in such matters. however, the next time you descend into your turbo assisted zwift pain cave, why not, for an hour or so, pretend that you're jack thurston, and enjoy the ride, the sounds and the abundant nature that proliferates in watopia.

oh, wait...

saturday 25 april 2020

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basso might have a point

overcome with basso bikes

it's the age old mantra, espoused by many, that cycling (for roadies at least) is subject to 'pain and suffering', and though that statement will ring more true for some than for others, ultimately it's probably applicable to most of us, whether we realise it or not. such adversity, does not, however, necessarily appertain solely to the art of pedalling a tad harder than sense would advise. for, particularly in the winter months recently receded, riding in horizontal rain, galeforce winds and sub-zero temperatures, can easily equate with the 'suffering' part of the equation. and if you've ever ridden through a fifteen minute hailstorm, you'll be well aware of just how much pain can be imparted by the weather.

but, over and above the heroic part of the sport, are the hidden extras about which nobody warns you prior to going for that first bike ride. i seriously doubt that there's any corner of the united kingdom that does not sport a proliferation of wheel destroying potholes on its roads, into which you may have no option but to ride, subject to traffic congestion removing any notable escape route. according to a recent communication from argyll and bute council, they have ceased even emergency road repairs for the present, in order to better apportion their apparently meagre resources. to where, i know not.

this must ultimately mean that what is currently an insignificant pothole, could potentially be the size of a meteor crater by the time the world has returned to some semblance of 'normal'. still, it'll offer plenty of opportunities for reprisals at sometime in the future. sooner, i hope, rather than later.

aberrations in the road surface are the very blighters that encourage punctures, yet another of cycling's potential adversities, about which the man/woman in the bike shop was probably remiss in informing you. unless, of course, he or she had attempted to sell a saddle pack replete with inner tube, tyre lever and inner tube. if i might pause for a brief moment; should the above scenario involve substituting a repair kit for the inner tube, bear in mind the iniquities of attempting to find the puncture and patch it at the side of the road, as the heavens attempt to drench and freeze you both at the same time. if you've yet to discover, repair patches are highly reluctant to stick under such conditions.

i realise that i have probably succeeded in portraying the velocipedinal lifestyle as one fraught with difficulties, potentially off-putting for the aspirant 'newbie'. fortunately, i think we know one another well enough by now, that we've all experienced a pot pourri of the above and are at least conversant with the potential pitfalls of admitting to the epithet of 'cyclist'. i daresay a confident number amongst you will cheerfully wear the 'pain and suffering' badge upon your armwarmer, and to be honest, that's probably the way to go.

at least, that's the basis of the message currently promoted by basso bikes.

it is their contention, to which many of us will happily subscribe, that, as cyclists, no matter at what level we pedal, we are trained to overcome. and while you may think this to be the beginnings of unbearable self-righteousness, there's insurmountable evidence that there's more than a smidgeon of truth in their contention. for instance, only a matter of days ago, i introduced you to the rapha #26challenge, whereby we might augment our pain and suffering quotient, by riding uphill a total of twenty-six times in the space of a week. granted, there are charitably financial benefits, but already there are colleagues who have seriously questioned my sanity in advance of potential grimpeurship.

if might quote from basso's website, to wit...

"...cycling is not a sport for the faint of heart. Every rider must stare the different faces of adversity in the eye and, time after time, overcome the obstacle they represent. Doing so leaves every rider not only physically more fit, but also stronger mentally..."

there may be one or two subtleties that have been lost in translation, but essentially they're not entirely wrong. and why are they promoting this particular message at present? well, basso contend that the hitherto unrealised benefits of identifying as a cyclist, means that we are ostensibly better prepared to survive the social, practical and mental implications of the current covid-19 crisis. granted, this altruistic message is accompanied by an invitation to choose which particular basso bicycle you will choose to help you with this overcoming, but having happily ridden their disc-equipped, carbon-framed diamante, for a generous amount of time, it would be hard to deny them their moment in the sun.

especially when they're right.

overcome with basso bikes

friday 24 april 2020

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the hidden cost of electrons

orbiting electrons

many years ago, i was contacted by one of two cyclists visiting the island, not specifically for social reasons, but more because his rear gear cable had broken. for those who have not suffered this particular velocipedinal ailment, the lack of any pulling power at the rear (so to speak) lets the rear mech roll down the sprockets, till it reaches the smallest sprocket. if you're peter sagan or fernando gaviria, that's probably not much of a problem; but for you me and this particular fellow...

thankfully, the cost of a rear gear cable is pretty minimal; even less if you choose to fit it yourself, which, of course, this hapless individual was unable to do. during said fitting of said cable, i discovered that the two cyclists were on the third leg of a cycle tour which had commenced about a month earlier in ireland. i'm sure the continual dropping of my lower jaw during the replacement process raised a number of questions in the mind of my customer, and well they should have. quite why anyone in their right mind would set off to ride for several months, without so much as a spare gear cable, is quite beyond my ken. but in the course of my ministrations, i have met those with spare inner tubes of a differing size to their tyres, folks with no bicycle pump, and all too many with no replacement gear or brake cables, or with replacements but no earthly idea of how to fit them.

however, these are, dare i say it, relatively trivial problems in the face of never ending technological development. for nowadays, many a bicycle arrives replete with hydraulic disc brakes, possibly electronic gear changing or, to provide the ultimate challenge, e-bikes featuring both. granted, i'd think few owners of the latter would choose to set off on lengthy bike tours, but you just never know.

though i have ridden one or two models of e-bike, my mechanical experience of such machinery is limited. however, the current proffered indication is that they are fairly robust and reliable. but i wonder if they have been around long enough to tell, and given that the genre is still in development, there's plenty of room for unforeseen problems to arise. lest you figure i am guilty of scaremongering, a friend of mine, who owns a well-known make of e-bike, has just had the machine returned from a warranty claim, under which the battery had to be replaced. she was fortunate that the warranty was still in force, for a new battery costs in excess of £700, to say nothing of the higher costs of servicing.

consider the mechanical alternative; should your standard transmission fail to operate in a forward trajectory, the likely cause would be a broken or damaged chain. even a campagnolo super record, twelve-speed chain costs a little over £50, some £600 less than an e-bike battery. and taking a closer look at the disparity between electronic and mechanical shifting, a shimano ultegra groupset retails at around £550, while its electronic equivalent adds about £450 to that, simply to avoid pushing levers as opposed to pushing buttons. however, leaving aside my opinion of electrons used in this manner, it's not as simple to replace a broken di2 cable as it is threading in a new piece of wire.

as another friend of mine has recently discovered.

i well know the purported advantages of the e-bike, particularly for those who are less athletic than the honed physiques of the cognoscenti. and on the basis that the professionals pretty much all ride electronic gear systems and an increasing number are switching to hydraulic discs, i can see the attraction for both wannabes and mamils. however, the professional class are not responsible for maintenance or the costs thereof, should their machinery malfunction. you, me and the great unwashed most certainly are.

i will agree with you that such is the nature of modern life, with often little choice to opt out, but my rather laboured point is that the costs of electronic ownership are not always apparent at the time of purchase. my colleague with the warrantied e-bike displayed a sharp intake of breath on discovering the cost of a replacement battery, while another is quickly learning of the prices associated with tracing and replacing a faulty di2 cable in his road bike.

sometimes being a luddite has distinct, and more obvious, economic advantages.

thursday 23 april 2020

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climbing for charity

26 climbs challenge

though i'm hardly the first person you'd turn to for economic advice, it is plain to see that, in a country currently suffering lockdown, many employees 'furloughed', and those of us who are self-employed either experiencing a severe downturn in income, or about to, there is little by way of what might be termed 'spare money'.

under more normal circumstances, that 'spare money' might more accurately be described as 'disposable income', but that has become something of a vacuous term at present. since none of us know for how long this situation might endure, those with even the smallest degree of perspective, are quite likely inclined to hang onto whatever they can get hold of. yes, there might be enough in the pot to place an order for a new chain or a pair of tyres, but assuming, the existing ones might conceivably last just a wee bit longer, it's probably more prudent to keep it in the bank, or spend it on necessities.

yes indeed, velominati might maintain, via their rule #11, that family does not come first. the bike does.. however, if push came to shove, i think we all know how that would end.

26 climbs challenge

but, a tangible result of this newly adopted, if eminently pragmatic, niggardly attitude, is a distinct lack of money heading in the direction of britain's charities. there have been several high-profile fundraising activities to, quite rightly, benefit the national health service. these include captain tom moore's colossal £27 million raised by walking round his garden on the approach to his 100th birthday, and geraint thomas's commendable 1200 kilometres on zwift last week, raising over £300,000. these are only the cream of the crop, but the downside to raising funds for a service that ought surely to have been funded the government in the first place, is a dearth of spare cash available to other charities.

britain has long suffered (if that's the correct term) from a veritable surfeit of cyclo- sportives, many of which encourage participants to attract sponsorship for either their own chosen charity, or one nominated by the event itself. unfortunately, many of these events have been either cancelled, or postponed. the etape loch ness, in which i participated last year, has been tentatively re-scheduled for 13 september, while the etape caledonia has been cancelled for this year entirely. the former event favours macmillan cancer, while the latter has long-adopted the marie curie charity as its financial benificiary.

rapha's ceo, simon mottram, has favoured ambitious about autism for many years, a charity that has immeasurably aided his autistic son. amongst other rapha-related fundraising activities for aaa has been a ride from london to manchester, held each september. depending on how circumstances pan out, that's an event that might still go ahead, but in far closer proximity is rapha's recently announced #26climbschallenge.

26 climbs challenge

jolanta lasota, chief executive of ambitious about autism, said: "Like many other charities we've been deeply affected by the cancellation or postponement on many fundraising events due to the coronavirus pandemic, at a time when we need to provide urgent help and support to families living with autism. Rapha has supported our work tirelessly for many years and once again, at our hour of need, they are pulling out all the stops to support children and young people with autism. I'd urge as many cyclists as possible to take part in this brilliant 26 reps challenge and help us transform the lives of some of the UK's most vulnerable families during this time of crisis."

this challenges riders to pop along to their local climb, or, if unable to ride out of doors, find a climb on zwift, and ride to the top, a total of 26 times, either as a solo effort, split between a socially distancing team or one comprised of family members. the time-frame for undertaking this challenge is anytime between sunday 26 april and sunday 3 may. those who have accepted this slap on the face with a leather gauntlet, can either setup a justgiving page, or donate £26 and nominate other riders to take on the challenge themselves.

now, where did i put my rapha climber's shoes?

2.6 challenge strava page | ambitious about autism

lower two photos: dan glasser.

wednesday 22 april 2020

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the lockdown tour de islay

brevet card

at the end of may each year, since the turn of this particular century, the long-running fèis ile, the islay festival, has been augmented by the addition of islay and jura's distilleries. depending on your prejudices, this is either referred to as the 'festival of malt and music', or the 'festival of music and malt'. either way, it's the one week of the year when islay's roads are paved with amber, and the ferries struggle to cope with the influx of visitors. much as the island depends on tourism, for those of us who live here, there's a tendency to feel slightly at odds with the many languages heard spoken in main street and in the local averagemarket; suddenly the island no longer feels like ours.

thankfully, this huge dollop of visitors lasts solely for those eight or nine days, and during the following weeks it is actually possible to find a parking space in school street, and the chances of meeting oncoming traffic on the wrong side of the road are considerably lessened. this year, however, is going to be a lot different.

while the fèis ile committe have revealed plans to attempt an online festival, there's no doubting that this will feature none of the reality of visiting a 'real' distillery, and i wouldn't imagine too many folks dancing jigs and reels in their sitting room to music blaring from laptop speakers. the traditional monday night whisky tasting ceilidh where participants are asked to identify a range of anonymous drams, might also suffer in the quest for a pixelated verisimilitude of the original.

last year, on the occasion of lagavulin distillery's open day, and essentially the first day of the whisky part of the festival, scotch malt whisky association writer and cyclist, richard goslan, along with a few invited accomplices and yours truly, undertook the second ever 'tour de islay'. this was no less than a velocipedinal extravaganza, whereby we rode our bicycles to visit each and every one of islay's ten (at the time) working distilleries over the course of a single day. at each of the distilleries, we had our brevet cards stamped in turn, with the specially created, smwa rubber stamps.

commencing at ardbeg, islay's most southerly distillery, we proceeded to lagavulin and laphroaig, before exiting port ellen village by way of the high road, then turning north along the single track glen road to ballygrant and on to caol ila distillery near port askaig. 'tis but a short hop to the nearby bunnahabhain road, where we continued our quest in pouring rain and appreciable wind, to the distillery of the same name, stopping at ardnahoe distillery on the return trip, for lunch and some much-needed coffee. it was, quite literally, downhill from there to foreland, where we took a right turn in the direction of kilchoman distillery for more coffee and cake, before a quick visit to bruichladdich, where manager alan logan was sweeping rainwater off the stage, set for the following day's revels.

departure from the self-styled rebels of the whisky industry, meant only 14 kilometres to bowmore, where our quest ended and i could return to the croft for my tea, while the others returned to their accommodation or the ferry back to kennacraig. at that point, we looked forward to repeating the exercise this year. this would undoubtedly have seen a larger peloton, a fact almost assured following requests to join in, after i regaled all and sundry in these very pixels, with our tales of derring-do.

subsequent events, rather obviously, have rendered that null and void. with the cancellation of the 2020 festival, and no guarantees that the lockdown and social-distancing will have been lifted by saturday, may 23, there remain no guarantees that the distilleries will be any more welcoming of visitors than they are today. however, to paraphrase comedian, vic reeves, i will not let it lie.

i am planning, therefore, to undertake the 2020 tour de islay on my own, or with any velo club colleagues that government and health advice might allow to accompany, but obviously only if restrictions allow. however, rather than do so purely for the sake of it, i plan to explore the possibilities of sponsorship, with all proceeds donated to islay's nhs medical services at islay hospital. i'd welcome contributions from anyone who feels moved to support this tour of the distilleries, by a rider who hasn't touched a drop of alcohol in his adult life. i admit i haven't looked into any of the logistics surrounding collective sponsorship, but in true islay fashion, i'll get round to it soon enough.


tuesday 21 april 2020

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