Giro Reflections: Italy Full Circle

MIT has a tradition of riding to Richer on the last Saturday of the Giro D’Italia and enjoying coffees, Provenchers and TV coverage of the inevitable battle up the penultimate climb of the race.  Unlike the last day of the Tour de France with its easy parade into Paris, more often than not there is still a lot to play for on Stage 20.  This year was no exception with the top four riders separated by only a couple of minutes at the end of yesterday’s stage.  Unfortunately the race was not broadcast in Canada this year and MIT was left wanting.  Alas, Cycling TV carried the entire three weeks “On Demand” for a very reasonable price of $20.00 and so on arriving home I settled in to see if Kruijswijk could come back after his crash yesterday or if Valverde or Nibali could take the Pink Jersey from Estaban Chaves. It turned out to be an epic battle with Nibali riding to the second Giro victory of his mercurial career. The top four riders were separated by a minute and fifty seconds. Nibali doesn’t smile much but there was no doubt for any viewer that he was one very happy Italian. Contemplating the race from my easy chair I thought back to thirty years ago when I first learned about the Giro and its status as the second greatest stage race.

Scarponi putting on the hurt prior to Sharkfest 2016! Screenshot from

When I was in my early twenties and living in Edmonton I discovered Velocity Cycling, a small bike shop started in 1978 by Hungarian immigrants Joe and Kathy Zombor. Joe had left Communist Hungary behind with a dream of owning his own bike shop. After working as a printer for several years Joe bought a small shop that he renamed Velocity Cycle.


You da man, Joe!

You da man, Joe!

Joe, a successful cat.1 racer in Hungary, focused on high end road bikes.  I couldn’t have imagined that a bicycle could be worth two quid prior to seeing the rack of Bianchi, Gianna Motta and Gios bikes in the shop. Velocity Cycle did not do large volume sales, but it had a passionate and loyal clientele of young, mostly poor, racers. The shop was a place to be educated in the sport. Posters of Merckx, Moser, Hinault and Zootemelk climbing the magnificent cols of the Alps and Pyrenees were plastered on the walls.  Racks of team jerseys of the era to make one look like the pros were available for sale. Several shelves of books about cycling legends and European races were there for the browsing.  The shop carried Winning Magazine, a must purchase every month to keep up with the races in the 80’s.  Midway through the summer Joe would order in professionally made VHS tapes of the Giro D’Italia, straight from an Italian supplier. These were much in demand and though I was definitely not at the top of the pecking order in the Velocity cycling club I eventually had my turn with the video. There was no English TV coverage of the race, everything was in Italian, but it was first rate. I recall being amazed at the time trials which were filmed from above via helicopter. The 1985 race saw the arrival of a young Andy Hampsten, son of English professors from Grand Forks, who won the final stage on a monster climb. I was inspired to buy a plane ticket and travel to Europe the summer of ’86 to cycle with a friend from Quebec.

The much awaited copy of the annual Tour publication

Our plan was to ride through Provence, swing up through the Alps and into Italy, and then ride through Switzerland and back to Germany.  We did everything except ride through Italy.  Short of funds and time we got as far as an interesting ski town on the border of France and Italy called Isola 2000 before taking the train to Switzerland.  Today, thirty years later, the Giro passed from France to Italy, crossing the border at none other than Isola. Shortly after this Nibali, led out by Scarponi, launched the attack that destroyed his rivals. Thirty years of riding and I still get excited by the scenery and the history and drama of the sport.

Perhaps it is time to complete the ride through Italy.  Anyone free next summer?

The Roles we Play

On a recent ride through the center of Canada (Landmark) with the MIT we needed to stop due to a flat.  Standing back and reviewing the process that took place it is evident that we all have roles to play when a flat occurs.

Everyone, the whole ride comes to a stop and the process begins with each of us taking on a role in the tube replacement process.

  • the rider, whose tire is flat is responsible to get it changed as quickly as possible with all the distractions of the other riders and the pressure to get going again all the while remain calm and cool as the process will be criticized.  This often a tough situation and one that everyone isn’t comfortable with.  Critical factors include that the tools are used correctly, the tire and tube are removed in an orderly fashion.  Removing the old tube installing the new tube then getting the tire seated without pinching the tube.  Then getting the tire inflated with the options each of us carries from C02 cartridges to the air pump options. Nervous times!
  • the bike holder, a critical role so that the bike is safe and the chain, gear cluster and crank do not make contact with the dirt.  Usually doesn’t add much in commentary but does look around for other volunteers when his arm begins to pain.
  • the overseer, another role that is somewhat helpful but not always appreciated, usually his role is to make sure all the various tools, tube and pump are handed over in a timely fashion.  It is the ongoing directive commentary that is not always appreciated.  This role often provides the ‘backup’ to pump up the tire if the rider gets to tired.
  • the commentator, in this case with the orange vest.  His role is to provide play by play commentary as to what he sees happening in front of him.  The ongoing verbal dialog is often filled with colourful stories of past flats and from own personnel experiences.  Note, nobody is paying him any attention.
  • the bystanders, likely the second most critical role.  They keep the important discussions going regarding latest antics of our new Prime Minister along with debating the merits of the Chinese immigrants taking the English language test here instead of China or the latest riding shmertz they have used to grease their riding shorts.  It is bystanders role to take the group picture wave at the passing public and totally ignore the flat changing process.

It is important to note that the flat was changed in due process and the ride was continued.  I need to note that no commentary was provided on the air pump and the action required to make it produce the critical volume of air to fill the tire as that will be left to a future post.flat fixing

MIT Restaurant Review: The Redwing Diner on the Mississippi Flyway

redwingThe Mississipi Flyway serves as the main migration route for millions of birds moving between the Gulf Coast and the Boreal Forest of the Canadian North. At the centre of the flyway sits a little known but important stop on the migration, the lovely little town of Green Valley, aka Grunthal. One of the first birds to return to the north is the Red Winged Blackbird, and it is in Grunthal, with its cat-tail lined gravel quarries, that this water loving bird finds an ideal habitat. To commemorate the return of the birds, MIT made its first breakfast stop of the season at the appropriately named Redwing Diner.

The Redwing has a unique ambiance that sets it apart from its rivals. Stepping into its well lit sunken eating space the strategically placed coffee bar stands as a strong focal point.  The ubiquitous VLT machines are carefully hidden to insure that diners are not distracted from fully enjoying the cuisine on offer. Friendly flexible service and a unique clientelle make this little gem a full flush.

The Redwing is a second home to the salt of the earth farmers of the area.  For outsiders the rough around the edges demeanor might be a little intimidating. Comments such as “I’ve shot a man for less!” are commonly used by the locals to convey consent to a rearrangement of the furniture.  Rest assured that all is well, provided you keep your shirt on and don’t reveal your petechiae.


The Redwing offers up an assortment of fine fare. With exotics such as the Green Bean Sandwich, Popcorn Chicken, and Chicken Bacon Chowder, the dinner menu speaks for itself.  MIT’s focus is and always has been the petite dejeuner, and it is the bon oeuf that sets the Red Wing apart from such key competitors as The Big E’s 206 Grill in Landmark.  With the ability to offer a two egg, bacon and hashbrown breakfast, the Redwing sets a new standard for service in the Southeast.  img_20160521_100120-1-The skillet, delights the pallet with a fusion of egg, tomato, onion, hashbrowns avec fromage. Not that perfection was achieved in this dish, for it might have sharpened its flavour with the addition of a gerkin or two and a light salsa sauce, however it must be remembered that the Redwing does cater to those of more humble taste. Quick and numerous refills of fine grind brewed coffee, personal service from friendly staff and the patron, and a quick return of an errant cell phone get this establishment 3.5 stars (5 if I get my next meal free!).  Keep on flying Redwing, we’ll be back.



Menno SuperKlompen

Persecuted by hostile Spaniards during the inquisition, Mennonites invented the superklompen, special wooden flotation clogs which allowed them to “water skate” over the polders.  Little known to anyone outside of a small circle of superklompen researchers, it was these superklompen that allowed Dirk Willems to elude his pursuers.  After escaping the tower in which he was held prisoner, Dirk used the Superklompen to traverse the thin ice and water of the moat around the tower.  The guard pursued Dirk across the moat, however, without the superklompen he quickly broke through the ice.  Dirk took the admonition to “love your enemy” seriously and returned to save his pursuer.  Later artists depicted Dirk in regular shoes, however recent archaeological work by our own Neil Thiessen has discovered the very same superklompen that Dirk wore, buried in the bank of the moat.  (See Neil Thiessen below in Dirk’s own superklompen.)  Unfortunately, Dirk’s Christian charity resulted in his execution through burning at the stake.superklompenDirk.willems.rescue.ncs


Spartacus and the Most Interesting Man in the World

epa04165913 Trek Factory Racing team rider Swiss Fabian Cancellara (L) in action during the 112th Paris Roubaix cycling race, in Roubaix, France, 13 April 2014. EPA/NICOLAS BOUVY

While Fabian Cancellara speaks Italian, German, French, Spanish and English, the most interesting man in the world speaks every language and two that only he speaks.  While Cancellara’s bikes are worth more after he has ridden them than when they were new, the value of a car increases when the most interesting man in the world drives it off the lot. When Spartacus attacks, his rivals accuse him of using a motor. When the most interesting man in the world attacks off the back, solo, he claims victory. Spartacus will retire voluntarily at the end of the year, a gladiator of gladiators, against the wishes of the citizenry.  The most interesting man in the world was sent to Mars, never to return again, against the wishes of his legions of fans.cancellara The “most interesting man”  is finished, only surviving on youtube, but Cancellara will continue his quest to be the greatest cobbled classic rider of all time with a legendary fourth win at Paris-Roubaix, “L’enfer du Nord”, on May 10.  It should be war!solo