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It’s May, guys. May is here! That means we can officially start acting like it’s spring. Fish out the lightweight, short-sleeve jersey and throw them bib tights back in the drawer – we wanna see some bare knees and elbows from now on when you hit the roads, streets and trails!

May also means the first of the Grand Tours in road cycling is upon us, the Giro D’Italia. Kicking off this weekend the race will take three weeks to travel the length and breadth of Italy’s famous ‘boot’, before finishing up in Turin on the 29th.

Who’s going to win?

Well this is a hard one to call. The bookies have Vicenzo Nibali as the favourite, but we’re not too sure. He looked a little bit erratic last year – finishing his Grand Tour campaign by being kicked out of the Vuelta for hanging onto a car was a particular highlight –  with his win at the Giro de Lombardia just about saving his fairly middling season. Still, he’s the only man in the race who has won all three of the Grand Tours, so that’s got to count for something.

Also in with a very good shout are Mikel Landa of Team Sky, who managed a third place in the last edition riding in support of Astana teammate Fabio Aru, and Rafael Majka of Tinkoff. The Polish rider excels in the mountains and has been developing into a strong second GC leader (behind Alberto Contador) in the last year or so. There are a lot of time trials (three to be precise) in this year’s Giro, which could play into the hands of a specialist like Tom Dumoulin or Rigoberto Uran – both of whom are not quite as strong on the climbs as Landa and Nibali. Speaking of climbers, don’t count out Alejandro Valverde, Movistar’s old warhorse, either!

Away from the general classification battle the sprints will be contested by Marcel Kittel for Etixx, young gun Caleb Ewan from Orica-Greenedge and Andre ‘the Gorilla’ Greipel.

What’s the route like?

Starting in the Netherlands meant it was never going to be hilly from the start, but it doesn’t take long before the riders will be asked to do some serious climbing. After the initial three days in Holland, the teams have a rest day when they will travel to the southern end of Italy. A couple of low key days later and they’re heading into the first summit finish. It’s classified as a ‘medium’ mountain day, but that’s really just a testament to how tough this race is – the two major climbs, the Bocca di Selva and the finish at Roccaraso are more than 1,300 and 1,500 metres above sea level.

A couple more low-key days and then its the ITT through the Chianti region – with a fairly bumpy 40-kilometre parcours it’s guaranteed to be a stern test and a day that will definitely have some impact on the GC.

After the TT comes the second rest day and a couple more quiet medium mountain or flat days (watch out for Kittel and his fast mates hoovering up the sprint points). Then all hell breaks loose. A mega mountainous stage 14 is followed up with another individual time trial, this time a 10km uphill slog. Perhaps mercifully, the next day is the Giro’s final rest day, but then we’re right back into the swing of things with stage 16 looking to be another hilly one.

 The frankly ridiculous profile for stage 15  The frankly ridiculous profile for stage 15

If it hasn’t been decided already, stages 19 and 20 will effectively seal the race. They’re both immense mountain days in the alps and will require every last ounce of energy from the GC hopefuls.

If it’s the Giro D’Italia, why is it starting in Holland?

Well, just like the Tour de France, the Giro has a foreign start every couple of years to improve the race’s international profile. It came to the United Kingdom in 2014 when it started in Northern Ireland, and has started in the Netherlands three times. The last time it started in Dutch territory was 2010 when a certain Bradley Wiggins won the opening TT.

Who is Britain’s best hope for a victory this year?

Well.. this is a little embarrassing. Based on the provisional startlists we’ve got our grubby mitts on, there is not one single Brit involved in this year’s Giro D’Italia. You can always cheer for those lovable Aussies at Orica-Greenedge, or even better, pick a true underdog and support wildcard invitees Nippo – Vini Fantini – they’ve got a former winner of the Giro in their roster, 40-year-old Damiano Cunego so you never know!

Image Tom Owen.

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Are you excited for the craziest, most gruelling cobbled Classic ever? You should be!

The 100th edition of ‘the Ronde’, as it is known by natives of the Flanders region, is set to take place on Sunday 3 April and it’s already promising to be a truly explosive race. 

The route

This year’s route takes in more than a few of the famous Bergs that often define and decide the one-day races in Belgium. The Paterberg will be scaled twice, while the riders will have to tackle the Oude Kwaremont three different times. The race finishes, as it did last year, with an ascent of Minderbroedersstraat – and no, we don’t know how to pronounce that either. 

Oh and don’t forget the cobbles – seven sections of the beggars. Expect crashes, splashes and plenty of elbow-throwing as the big names jockey for position.

 Bradley Wiggins battling up the Oude Kwaremont in 2015. Image by  Youkeys .

Bradley Wiggins battling up the Oude Kwaremont in 2015. Image by Youkeys .

The riders

200 riders will take to the start line on 3 April, but not all of them are in with a hope, or even a chance of winning. If past editions are anything to go by, many may not even finish! But who are the heavyweights to look out for?

Alexander Kristoff

It’d be terribly rude of us not to kick off with last season’s champ. The Norwegian powerhouse will be keen to protect his title, especially after placing a lowly sixth (low by his standards at least) at Milan – San Remo.

Fabian Cancellara

 Spartacus. Credit:  Martin Thomas .  Licence .

Spartacus. Credit: Martin Thomas . Licence .

What can we say about Old Spartacus that hasn’t been said a million times? He seems to be hugely enjoying his final ‘farewell’ season and has already hoovered up a couple of one-day wins. Even in his advancing years he’s a fearsome opponent when it comes to the cobbles so expect to see him in the mix.

Peter Sagan

Now he’s finally shaved his legs and won a race in the rainbow bands, Peter Sagan should be in with a real chance of winning at Flanders. Unfortunately he’s cursed by his own brilliance and whenever he gets into a decent situation everyone immediately stops helping him. We’ll see what he can engineer out of nothing. 

Greg Van Avermaet

The Belgian will be a firm local favourite and justifiably so after he nicked a win at the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad a few weeks back. He spent much of last season coming close, but not quite winning, so we’ll see if things have fully turned around for him. His recent illness has kept him out of competition at the most recent classics – so can he recover in time?

Tom Boonen

We’re obliged to include Tom Boonen in this list, because he’s Tom Boonen. But he’s also pretty old and starting to moan a bit about racing in bad weather, which is a not very Tom Boonen thing to do. If he turns up in leg warmers at the start you can forget about him.

Luke Rowe

 A somewhat younger-looking Luke Rowe. Credit:  brassyn .  License .

A somewhat younger-looking Luke Rowe. Credit: brassyn . License .

Every time he gets on a bike Luke Rowe looks a stronger rider. Eventually that’s going to translate into a Monument win. A select break at 20km to go would suit him as he doesn’t quite have the turn of speed to win out in a bunch sprint. Probably Britain’s best hope of a win.

OUR PREDICTIONS

We love the Tour of Flanders mainly because it’s such a wild and unpredictable race to watch. The cobbled sections lend a complete wildcard factor to the eventual results, so expect to see the top teams riding high up the peloton right from the start in an effort to keep their lads out of trouble.

Here are some things that might happen:

A fight. Things tend to get tetchy on the cobbled climbs with tiny amounts of space available to the riders. If things go wrong and one rider feels it was the fault of another that he ended up on the deck it wouldn’t be unprecedented to see a few fists flying.

A really, really big flag. Lord knows, the Flemish love their flags – especially drooping them in the faces of the riders as they go uphill, only to whip them up out of the way at the last minute. The flag of Flanders is yellow with a black lion on. Just FYI.

A breakaway. This is the Classics. This is Belgium. That means breakaways, counter-attacks and spring-boarding aplenty. Often you’ll get a decent domestique sent up the road to wait for the arrival of their main guy which adds a real ‘everyone is a threat’ angle. Juicy!

Hand-waving. When they’re not coming to actual blows, cyclists love a good angry discussion with plenty of gesticulations. Peter Sagan is especially good value for this when people won’t help him in a break.

Header image, Brendan Ryan. Used here without modification. License.

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If you check up there ^^^ in the top navigation of our site you’ll spot that we’ve added a link to  our brand new online shop, which, fortunately for you uninspired gift-givers, is here right in time for Christmas.

You’ll find many of the same great brands that we stock in our London store, including CInelli, Hope Tech, Nitto, Lynskey Titanium and Brooks England – all of which have featured on our blog because of their great quality products. In fact, we only sell gear that we really believe in, both online and in the flesh.

We’ve got a selection of full handbuilt bikes, but you can also purchase frames & forks, and other bits of componentry – ideal if you’re looking to build up your own project bike.

If you’re looking for a great gift for a loved one this year, you know where to look first! Even better, send your friends and family the link to the shop and ensure you get something you actually want this year!

Lets go shopping!

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Autumn is upon us and the season is drawing to a close. The Worlds are done. Nibali nicked the final monument of the year at Lombardia. There are only a small handful of races left in the calendar, and many riders have already called it a day (or switched to track). We can now reflect on the past six months or so and pick through the highs and lows, the moments we’ll remember, and those we would rather forget.

There is always so much going on in cycling and this year has been no exception. Although some big names have been largely absent from our news feeds but for negative updates, people like Marcel Kittel and Marianne Vos, some big personalities just can’t stay out of the spotlight.

Alexander Vinokourov

The figurehead of Team Astana, Alexander Vinokourov has been embroiled in controversy for as long as anyone can remember. After the doping storm that concluded the team’s 2014 season, Astana’s credibility was shattered (again) and they had a lot to prove.

To be fair Astana have had a pretty good season, even if every time one of their light blue jerseys rides up the road mutterings can be heard across the cycling world. Perhaps most notably, Fabio Aru and Mikel Landa book-ended the podium at the Giro d’Italia, and Aru won the overall at the Vuelta, arguably the most exciting grand tour in recent history.

However, the drama between Vinokourov and Nibali at the Tour de France puts the first stain on the season for Astana. The team handed race leadership to Jakob Fuglsang after Nibali slipped down the standings, and it was subsequently reported that Vinokourov had told the Italian to find a different team for the 2016 season. “Vincenzo needs a good mechanic because something is broken in his head. The day was a disaster. We’ve decided to give Jakob [Fuglsang] freedom to ride for the classification, instead.”

The team were all over the road for the rest of the Tour with no clear direction or leader. Nibali said that Vinokourov’s words were meant to come as motivation, to “bring out some nastiness”. If that’s the case then it worked, as Nibali went clear on the Croix de Fer to claim stage 19, pissing off race leader Chris Froome in the process.

Vinokourov’s own career was peppered with scandals. Client of the infamous Dr Ferrari, he was a rider straight out of the Lance Armstrong mould. The latest news (as of 1st October 2015) is that Vinokourov and Katusha rider Alexandr Kolobnev are likely to stand trial on corruption charges under allegations that Vinokourov ‘bought’ his 2010 Liege-Bastogne-Liege victory. If found guilty the pair could face prison and a hefty fine.

Tinkov

Pretty much the whole cycling world has become wary of this guy, the Russian billionaire who is never known to hold his tongue. He is rich and big-headed enough to say what he wants, when he wants, with no regard for the consequences. He is never shy to share his often inappropriate ideas, even if they stink of racism and/or sexism. Many of his tweets make for jaw-dropping reading.

“Fresca idea: to sponsor women’s cycling team, definitely win all for this budget, plus you can chose only long leg sluts into the team :-)” – Oleg Tinkov (@olegtinkov) 15-Jul-2013

The sexist theme picked up again this summer when he commented on Froome’s poor form at the Vuelta (the Tour de France winner had actually broken his foot), tweeting that he was “riding like a girl”. This sparked a Twitter storm but it did not dent his armour.

He even thought it would be a good idea to tweet this gem to the world on April 1st. Yes, it’s April Fool’s Day but, come on!:

“Happy to annouce @lancearmstrong as @tinkoff_saxo new General Manager instead of Mr.Riis. Stay tuned…” – Oleg Tinkov (@olegtinkov) 1-Apr-2015

As for his management style, his methods don’t seem to inspire confidence. Granted, the team did have a rocky start to the 2015 season with very little success in early races and classics. Indeed, Tinkov and team manager Bjarne Riis (see above tweet) had a public altercation at the Tirreno-Adriatico where the team picked up just their second win through Sagan in mid-March. Tinkov was frustrated with the lack of results from both team leader Contador and big money signing Sagan, and he publicly acknowledged that he regretted paying Sagan such high wages and said that he wanted to reduce the Slovak’s hefty salary. Sagan will have been thanking his lucky stars for the existence of his contract.

Lizzie Armitstead

A photo posted by Lizzie (@l_armitstead) on

Apart from appearing to be a genuinely friendly, polite and humble individual, Lizzie Armitstead is also a wonderful rider of bicycles. 

I was impressed with the calmness with which the male British riders responded to attacks at the Tour de France this year as they defended the yellow jersey. I was equally in awe of the way Armitstead dealt with a fierce group of nine riders disappearing up the road at the Road World Championships. It looked like the breakaway had formed an almost irreparable gap, leaving the chances of pre-race favourites and defending champions alike in tatters. But instead of panicking as her dream looked to be slipping away from her, Lizzie almost single-handedly reeled the leaders in and eventually crossed the line in first place. It was exhausting just watching, and as she crossed the line and immediately became overwhelmed by the emotion of it all, a lump rose in my own throat as I jumped from my seat and woke up the whole building.

Her world championship victory came at the end of an almost perfect season for the British National Champion, with the Women’s World Cup added to her palmarès and now top spot in the UCI Individual rankings. 

There was of course one slight hiccup along the way when she came down after crossing the line first on Stage 1 of the Aviva Women’s Tour, both arms raised, and crashed into a group of photographers. A few weeks later, she made a point of keeping one hand firmly on the bars as she crossed the line as British National Champion in Lincoln.

Up there with the most successful athletes of 2015, Lizzie Armitstead has had a season most couldn’t even dream of and the way in which she operates on and off the bike make her most deserving. Watch out Marianne Vos!

Peter Sagan

A photo posted by Peter Sagan (@petosagan) on

Sagan’s rollercoaster season undoubtedly ended on a high at the World Champs, but this year’s plot line has been riddled with twists and turns. After a lacklustre start to 2015 at the classics, even a close overall victory at the Tour of California would not quell the desire of team owner, Oleg Tinkov to cut his wages.

Despite winning his fourth consecutive green jersey, his dearth of top step finishes at the Tour de France was clearly getting to the Slovak champion by stage 13 when he swore on live TV after being pipped to the post by Greg Van Avermaet. 

However, he was not all second-place and swearing at the Tour de France. His bottom-pinching exploits of 2013 were replaced by the slightly more PC playfulness of photobombing his fellow riders. His first victim was former Liquigas teammate Vincenzo Nibali, then it was Froome’s turn, and finally he surprised fellow fast man Andre Greipel by resting his chin on the big German’s shoulder after the final stage in Paris.

We saw a different side of Sagan’s character at the Vuelta when he had a tantrum on the roadside after being hit by a motorcycle. There is some debate as to whether his subsequent withdrawal was down to his injuries (definitely real) or in protest to the incident. The Slovak rider was fined 300 Swiss Francs for, “behaviour that damages the image of cycling”.

Sagan bounced back though and triumphed at the Road World Championships in Richmond Virginia on a course that suited him perfectly. It was a closely fought and exciting race, but one which Sagan won with a killer move after sitting quietly in the wheels for most of the race.

This captain of wheelies and banter is undoubtedly a very popular World Champ and we look forward to seeing what Sagan can achieve in the rainbow bands next season.

These are just four of a whole host of jostling personalities who could have been included here. In this time of social media and ever increasing television coverage, we can get to know the riders and management like never before. It will be interesting to see which characters animate next season. One thing is for sure though. The names on this list will always remain in the centre of attention, for better or worse.

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 The infamous Mont Ventoux has been the scene of some great cycling battles in the past, but will it play a part in this year's Tour?

The infamous Mont Ventoux has been the scene of some great cycling battles in the past, but will it play a part in this year’s Tour?

We’re already stoked for the Tour de France to kick off on 4 July and with the big names, Nibali, Contador, Froome and Quintana, all down to ride it’s set to be a true heavyweight battle. With a seriously hilly course, it looks like being a year for the pure climbers, which throws a little doubt on Chris Froome’s chances – at one stage he even claimed he mightn’t ride at all because the course didn’t suit him. 

Regardless of who makes it to the start line in Utrecht in three weeks or so, it’s doubtless going to be a fantastic month of racing. We took a quick scan of the route and picked out some key days where we think the race could be won or lost.

Stage 2: Utrecht to Zeeland

After a time trial prologue around Utrecht the race begins in earnest with this 166km slog across the barren flatlands of Belgium to Zeeland. It’s very early in the competition for anything to be outright won, apart from the inevitable sprint finish, but we might see some major time losses if the notorious Belgian weather comes into play. Flat terrain and proximity to the sea make this a likely spot for severe cross-winds, and with cross-winds come the dreaded echelons. We may well see one or two big names get caught in a second or third echelon group, at which stage it becomes pretty difficult to bring the race back together.

Stage 4: Seraing to Cambrai

It takes four days for the Tour to reach France this year, with this the stage where it finally crosses over the border with Belgium. Classics fans will be delighted as the peloton hurtles over the infamous cobbles of Paris-Roubaix, with six sectors of the ‘Hell of the North’ race featuring in the route for Stage 4. We expect Chris Froome, who has a healthy disdain for northern Europe in the spring, will be less delighted.

But why might this stage have an effect on the general classification? Well last year Vicenzo Nibali used an early cobbled stage to put more than two minutes into his nearest rivals, laying down a marker for the domination to come. Don’t be surprised to see the top guys clinging to his wheel as he nimbly navigates the ‘baby’s heads’. 

Stage 9: Vannes to Plumelec

What’s more fun to watch than a time trial? A team time trial! Only kidding, all time trials are deathly boring for spectators and quite frankly I’m sick of hearing commentators trying to liven them up with  ‘fun’ trivia about each rider out ‘on course’. Nevertheless, time trialling is integral to at least one of the big four contenders’ game plan. 

Chris ‘looking at stem’ Froome is a master of the race against the clock and his team aren’t too shabby either (despite falling apart at the Giro a little bit this year). It’s still early in the race to be hoping to defend a lead, but Froome must take time here from his nearest rivals if he’s to stand any chance of mixing it up at the business end of proceedings.

An interesting extra dimension is added by the fact that this TTT is later than usual, meaning some teams may have lost a couple for riders along the way – especially on the aforementioned cobbles. Any teams trying to tackle this three riders down could lead to some seismic shifts in the standings.

Stage 17: Digne-les-Bains to Pra Loup

Cycling history buffs will tell you that a summit finish in Pra Loup marked the end of the Age of Eddy, when the all-conquering Belgian, Merckx, was defeated by Frenchman Bernard Thévenet. The Cannibal never won his sixth tour. 

Despite the heritage, the part of the day that may well come into play for this year’s GC is not on the climb up to Pra Loup, but the huge descent from the summit of the Col d’Allos. Defending champ Vincenzo Nibali is a superb descender. It’s fair to say that after scuppering his TdF chances last year going downhill, Contador may not be quite so confident. Everyone will be watching the Italian for any attempts to get away on this slope.

Stage 20: Modane to Alpe d’Huez

 A scene on Alpe d'Huez

A scene on Alpe d’Huez

The inclusion of Alpe d’Huez on the penultimate day of the race is an aggressive move, even by  the standards of notoriously sadistic Tour organisers. Anyone whose GC hopes are still alive will be asked to tackle three horrifically big mountains in just 110km, the Telegraphe, the Galibier and then the Alpe itself – all three steeped in iconic racing history, equalled only by Ventoux in terms of their fearsome reputations. Unless we see a show of total dominance earlier in the race, akin to that of Contador at this year’s Giro or Nibali at the 2014 Tour, then this may very well be the deciding stage of the whole affair.

So there you have it, the key stages of the Tour De France 2015. Now let us know who you think is going to win it.

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Britain’s leading hand-built bike show, Bespoked 2015, is just a few days away and we’re really excited to be taking part again. Long-time Cloud 9 fans will remember we launched our awesome Street Racer at last year’s event, so you know you can expect something awesome at Stand 37 in Bristol on 17 – 19 April.

Cloud 9’s Kris has been hard at work on our builds for weeks now and while we don’t want to give too much away, what we can say is we are building the best city bike the world has ever seen! 

Here’s a few snaps of the build in process to whet your appetites!

You must Be-spoking!

For those not familiar with Bespoked, it started as an opportunity for the best British frame builders to show off their wares, but it has quickly expanded into one of the leading shows for premium bike brands and frame builders from from all over the world. In fact, we’re as excited about seeing what the other exhibitors, like our pals at Feather Cycles and Ted James Design, will bring as we are about showing off our own work.

There’s really something for everyone at Bespoked, with awards categories as diverse as ‘Best Utility’, ‘Best Road’, ‘Spirit of Cycling’ and of course, the much-coveted Constructors Challenge – which sees teams made up of builders, designers and customers exhibiting a custom-built bicycle created for a real-life task. As the Bespoked website puts it, “The [Constructor’s Challenge] will demonstrate the diversity of possible uses for this simple and adaptable machine – and that they form a viable alternative to the car for everyday work and daily life.”

If you’re interested in buying a handbuilt bike, love design and innovation, or you’re just passionate about cycling then you need to come join us at Bespoked. Get your tickets here.

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We had an amazing opportunity last week to visit Number 10 Downing Street for a meeting with none other than the Prime Minister, David Cameron, himself. It seems he was interested in having a look at some of our hand-built frames and we were only too happy to oblige.

The reason for our invite, apart from DC’s genuine interest and enthusiasm for our frames, was our involvement with a government programme called School for Startups. A few years back we applied for a loan from SFS so we could purchase the equpiment we needed to start building frames by hand. It’s hard to overstate the importance of that loan, without it we simply couldn’t do what we do! 

Believe it or not, the event wasn’t just about us. There were loads of other businesses there that have benefited from the programme, plus a host of MPs and leading business people. See if you can spot former Dragon, James Caan, in the background of the photo above!

Not only was it exciting to be invited to the PM’s place, it was great to see a genuine passion for cycling from the country’s most powerful politician and reassuring to see that he intends to support cycling more in the future – if he wins the general election of course!

We left David with a gift bag of bike-related products, including three Mini Hornits for his kids, you may remember the Hornit as the product we helped our friend Tom pitch on Dragons’ Den.

Here are the rest of the snaps from the day.

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That’s right, this weekend you’ll be able to see some of our custom-built bikes on the hit BBC2 show Dragons’ Den. We’re not asking Peter Jones and his pals for any investment though – although if any of them need a new custom-built frame we can totally help – we’re actually going to be there supporting our friends at Hornit, who are trying to get backing for their ultra-loud bike horn. 

It’s a fantastic product and one we proudly stock in our shop, so we couldn’t be more excited to help them go for the big bucks.

To back up the brand we created a couple of unique bikes, so the Dragons could see what the Hornit looks like and give it a test. More than that we can’t say until the show’s been on, but here’s a sneak peek at a one of our custom-built beauties, specially made for the programme.

To celebrate we’ve got a special discount on Hornit products and we know sales are going to soar once the show airs, so get down to our shop at 38 Store Street in London or visit our online store to grab one before the rush. The horn is specifically designed for cyclists and is ten times louder than a car horn, enabling riders to be heard by motorists, even above the revving of engines.

And don’t forget to tune in or set your Sky+ boxes to record at 9pm, 15th February, BBC2.

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