Blackburn Toolmanator 16

We recently took receipt of blackburns top-of-the-range multitool, the 'Toolmanator 16' to put through its paces. Previously the only blackburn product iv used was their 'airstik' pump, which I had many happy years with until it ejected itself from my jersey pocket somewhere mid-ride. 
An everyday riding essential, a decent tool tends to last, often outliving the bikes it adjusts, and this 16 element gadget certainly does looks the part. A mini-tool represents one of those boring and seemingly needless purchases, but plumping for a decent quality model provides that peace of mind that when that rare occasion rises, you're well equipped to get back on the road.
Replacing my tired old cheapo mini-tool, the toolmanator feels like a quality product from initial handling. The tools are made from, and I quote, "hardened, forged and drawn chrome vanadium". Now, I literally have no idea what that means, but what I do know is the tool bits seemed much better quality when compared to my old lifeline budget model. My older tool heads had a habit of rounding off, or stripping the bolts.
So, what does this small package boast? 8 hex sizes, 2 torx heads, a bladed and phillips head screwdriver, 2 spoke keys, a 10-speed chain breaker and a mini shock pump. The mini shock pump is shraeder fitting only, so sadly redundant to me as a roadie. I tested the chain breaker out, and whilst it took a bit of wile to crank it round, it cleanly popped out the connecting pin without too much trouble.The fixtures are fitted into a sleek one-sided aluminium housing, helping to keep the weight down to a svelte 114g. You're certainly not going to notice this in your pocket on a ride. Also included in the package was a nice little neoprene sleeve to wrap around the device, keeping things neat and avoiding catching any of the tool-heads on stuff. 

Its around 7cm square, but only 1cm thick, so it can tuck neatly into something like an essentials case, or even into a smaller saddle bag should you not have a pocket for it. I liked how low profile it was compared with my chubby weighty old model. This desirability does come at a price though... the cheapest I found online was just a shade under £30 at ribble. Whilst some might balk at the thought of dropping that much on a tool, in its defense the toolmanator does feel like a £30 multitool should. Il be interested to see if its still in good shape with a year of all season use and drops etc, but the signs look good.  
Full specs: 1.5mm, 2mm, 2.5mm, 3mm, 4mm, 5mm, 6mm and 8mm Hex Keys, Torx T25 and T30, Schrader Valve pump, bladed and Philips #2 screwdrivers, 10 speed chain breaker and 14/15 gauge spoke wrenches. 

Womens 100 Evening & Training Ride

So with a whisker under a month to go before the second global Womens 100 event, Rapha have two events this week in the UK for ladies to attend in preparation for the big day in July. The London cycle club will host an evening with talks from guest speakers, offering advice and a great chance for southern based cyclists to mingle, whilst Rapha will again return to ther Peak District, basing a challenging training ride out of Chesterfields cycling mecca, Nonnas restaurant. 
25th June - Rapha Womens 100 night at the Cycle Club London
Guest speakers will speak on three elements of riding and preparation in order to assist with training ahead of the big day.  Topics covered will include the head, the body, and the bike, with all areas covered from nutritional advice, training plan advice and maintaining both your body & machine as you prepare to take on the 100km. Based out of Rapha's central London located Cycle Club, doors will open at 7pm sharp for wine & snacks as the evening gets under-way. Register your attendance using the link below:
29th June - Rapha Womens 100 Northern Training Ride
Rapha will once again return to the lumpy land of the beautiful Peak District to host a 60km challenging training ride through the tough northern hills of Derbyshire. With a supported feed stop and various speed groups, all ladies can look forward to a much deserved pasta party at the northern culinary hotspot for all cycling aficionados, Nonna's restaurant. You can read my write up of the 2013 edition of this training ride here.
The ride meets at Nonna's at 10am prompt for an 11am roll-out (perfect to enjoy a much needed espresso & meet other riders). Places are limited so please do register your interest on the link below:

Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist

Last night I went along to a screening of James Erskine's feature length film about the infamous rider, Marco Pantani (cheers for the hookup Boom). The film tackles one of the most complex and tragic tales within not only the world of cycling, but the greater sphere of sporting life (and in this case, death).
Most will be at least vaguely familiar with the story of Pantani, a complex narrative murkied with conflicting stories and opinions on the man. Based loosely upon the seminal biography 'The Death of Marco Pantaniby Matt Rendell (essential reading for any professional cycling enthusiast), Erskine seeks to tell the story of a troubled and tragic champion. Starting of course with Marco as a child, finding his way into a sport from which it appears he had natural gifts and talents from the outset.
Some of the earlier footage of him racing was fantastic, I had certainly never seen clips of him as an under 16 racing, and of course, winning. One particularly charming vintage clip sees a fumbling and flustering Pantani struggle to articulate an answer to a question about his trainer, humorously responding in the most basic of fashion. It was hard not to feel an affinity with this little reserved and curious looking child. The film is a fabric woven together by dialogue from many of Pantani's inner circle, amongst most significantly, his mother Tonina.
Its quite a uncomfortable and melancholic experience to watch what is essentially a grieving mother recant a story so clearly painful and visceral to her. Her closing comments really left a sad taste in the mouth, of a hopeless tragedy that perhaps on some subconscious level she lays blame with herself. Its quite a lot to stomach.
I must confess my opinion on Marco seems to be a fairly fluid one... I fall in love with the romantic swashbuckling hero, darting uphill in the drops with such ferocity, but then equally I loathe the duplicitous and dirty drug addled moron who wasted his life in such a selfish manner. Its this complexity that lends itself well to the film, with an opportunity to look through the other side of the looking glass and see Pantani in perhaps a different way. An open heart and an open mind are perhaps better accompaniments to this film than popcorn and fizzy pop.
One thing the feature absolutely nails is the race footage. They build a sense of drama and anticipation, and present those moments of racing magic in a really nice way. Obviously the big screen experience lends itself perfectly to watch the mutilation unfold (both of himself and the others) as Marco massacres the famous Galibier in '98. 
The film is indeed an interesting watch. I must confess, I did prefer the book to the film. Perhaps this is due to the intense nature of the story and the myth, with a book you can choose when to dip in and out of this brutal reality that was professional cycling in that infamous era.  I left the cinema feeling a little blue and melancholic. But such is life, quite often the happy endings don't actually work out as intended. 
Here is a link to a full list of screenings in the UK
The dvd is on sale for pre release over at amazon
Find more info at the website here

Deal of the Day

Wiggle have got the Elite Arion rollers for a whopping 40% off at an astonishing £120. Used with smooth tyres Iv found these rollers to be fairly quiet, Im just gutted I bought them at full whack last year! An ideal addition to the training bank for a rainy days training.

Hannah Barnes - UHC Pro Rider

I was very lucky to have spent a week riding last year with one of Britains most exciting young cycling talents, the very likeable (and ridiculously fast) Hannah Barnes. As famed for her bloodied-grin-yet-still-won-the-races antics as she is for her extremely down to earth nature, Hannah has had a pretty meteoric rise to the top level of ladies professional cycling. Starting the Womens Tour this week with her American based UnitedHealthcare team, the current British Criterium Champ spent last season smashing her way onto the top step of countless podiums, not withstanding a controversy-logged victory with the reversal of Laura Trotts' infamous smithfield nocturn 'win' (which she actually didn't win at all - photos came to light to show Hannah as the true & rightful first place).
I took the opportunity to catch up and ask Hannah a few questions just ahead of the inaugural Womens Tour, as her and her PRO looking team bus graced our (rather damp) shores. 
G - So! Hannah, this season saw you head over to join UnitedHealthcare over in the states! How has that been for you so far?
H - Unitedhealthcare has been great. I have enjoyed the start of the season a lot and the team have been really supportive. Being my first year on the team and being so young it was so great that they have given me the opportunity to show them what I am capable of and to also sacrifice their results for me. It always makes winning a race even more special.
G - How did that first win as part of the blue train feel when you took the win at San Luis? It must have felt quite a reassurance, to be up there on the worldwide stage and putting in a comfortable winning ride?
H - Going into San Luis I was very nervous. After such a great season in 2013 I was very apprehensive and didn’t quite know how I was going to go. Signing for a huge team like UHC you definitely feel the pressure. I had never raced in January before but in Argentina it was a great way to get into the season. The first stage was a sprinters stage and from the word go we had a team plan and wanted it to come down to bunch kick which I was really excited about. To cross the line first after the girls had done everything they could to get me in the best position for the finish. Alison did such a great job and I didn’t even have to open up my sprint until 150m to go which gave me such confidence that I had a great team around me.
G - You have since won the Novant Invitational as well in April, you seem to have a nice balance of working for a team-mate and also getting opportunities for yourself personally, which is really nice to see, especially as a relative youngster in her first year on a big team. Is this a balance you feel content with?
H - Novant Health was a great event. I didn't quite realise how big the event was until I turned up. Having the guys there with us and them having such a great season last year winning 33 out of 36 crits having them tell us how to ride the race was great. I felt so proud to watch my team ride how they did for me. It meant so much that they rode how they did for me and to celebrate with them after was special. They are giving me so many great opportunities and to be this young in the sport they have shown that they have belief that I am capable to race on the world stage. 
G - Your team-mates include Sharon Laws, who is a stalwart of the womens pro cycling scene, but also superstar and multiple national champ and winner of the giro rosa, Mara Abbot. How have you found being in a team with such big names? Especially being in the El Salvador team, working to help Mara secure overall honours?
H - Riding with Sharon and Mara is great, I have learnt a lot. Sharon isn't only my team mate she is also my house mate and we have spent a lot of time together. She is the most driven person I have ever met and I admire her for that. El Salvador was great and once in a life time experience and I loved every second of it. To be able to watch Mara race up a mountain was unreal. She is one of the best climbers in the world and to be able to watch it first hand (from the back of a car) was unbelievable. I loved working for Shaorn and Mara in the mountains just becauseI know they will do everything they can to finish it off just like I will in a bunch kick. I have learnt so much from them and hope to learn a lot more as the season goes on. I can’t wait for this years Giro and to be able to help Mara hopefully to the overall win like she did in 2010 and 2013 and for Sharon to get a great result in GC and possibly a stage win.
G - Do you like the style of US racing? Do you feel it particularly suits you?
H - My first American race was in Redlands, CA. I and no idea what to expect. I had no idea who the riders were and who I needed to look out for etc but having team mates that had raced the riders for the last forever long it was helpful. I find the races a lot harder and there is always someone trying to get up the road. There are a lot of established teams in America and they all know what they are doing and how to win the race. We have had plenty of scenarios of teams bumping into our trains and racing us to get their sprinters to the finish first.
G - The womens tour is almost upon us - how flippin excited are you? are there any particular stages you will be targeting, or is it a play-it-by-ear scenario? Will you have a dedicated #bluetrain team?
H - I am so excited about the women’s tour. Ever since we we're told that we were coming I have been so looking forward to coming home, riding the roads I train on and seeing all my friends and family that I have missed whilst I have been out in America. Stage 1 is the one that I am targeting. It finishes so close to home and have so many people coming to watch me. We have no particular scenario. All we have been told is go into it and enjoy it, take it all in and have fun. Which is good because I got myself worked up and have put a lot of pressure on myself to do well. 
G - Hannah - how tall are you? on the UHC website it states 5’7, but I remember being as tall or if not taller than you when we rode on the Rapha Cevennes photoshoot. Can you confirm if I need to purchase a new tape measure, or have you been fibbing ;) ?
H - No, I’m pretty sure I am 5’7 unless I have been using a wrong tape measure. Haven’t measured myself in a long time though so for all I know I could of shrunk! (editors note - hannah has perhaps shrunk, or in fact I need to update my vital statistics!)
G - Lets talk womens cycling... there's no doubt its beginning to be shaped for the better, and the landscape looks a little more heartening given the disparity in recent times compared to the mens peloton. How do you feel about opportunities like the upcoming ‘womens tour’ and also the ‘La Course’? (also do you think you will ride la course???!!!)
H - Women’s cycling is huge in Britain at the moment. This tour is going to be a massive event for us all and I can’t wait for it to start. The Olympics road race was the start of it. Everyone said how aggressive and exciting it was and I think that's when everyone wants to see more women’s racing in the country. I am so lucky to be in the sport and to be able to witness the growth first hand. Its such an exciting prospect and I hope it just keeps growing. La course I cannot wait for. The teams and invites haven’t been confirmed yet but I would love to take part and the team would be over in Europe for the Giro so we would just stay there if we were to ride. 
G - What would be one tangible change you think necessary to improve womens professional level cycling?
H - Women’s cycling is growing more and more and that has been helped by the sponsors coming on board. Obviously its no where near the mens peloton but its definitely getting better. UHC I think is a great team just because it has a mens and women’s team. Its great going on training camps with the guys and having their advice about racing and tactics. We also get to share the resources they have so for the TOB we will have the team bus which is going to be awesome. Will for sure make the transfers a lot nicer than being cramped up in a car.
G - ok, lets finish with a little ‘quick-fire’ section!

Socks - white or black? > White, unless its raining 
Riding - mountains or pave? > Pave!
Fave cyclists? > Cav, Boonen and Vos
Fave ride snack? > My team sponsors make the best energy bars called ERG
Marianne or Mercx? > Marianne, so its even cooler that I get to race her this week
Caps - yes or no? > Yes!
Strava - yes or no? > I haven’t used it yet but have just got an account (eds note - collective groan as everyone will have to surrender their sprint QOM's to HB!)
Aero lids - yes or no? > Yes
HR or Power > Power

Bicycle Maintenance Tracker

Feedback Sports have launched a free useful iphone app, designed to serve as a comprehensive component log for users bikes. The tracking tool records the price, weight etc of each component of the bike, and also serves as a maintenance log to remind riders when the last maintenance was carried on on their parts.
The app makes it simple to have a record of the complete maintenance history and component breakdown of multiple bikes, which might come in useful when selling or showing the bike history to the local wrench. At this moment in time there doesnt appear to be an android version (boo!) but maybe thats something Feedback will develop for future releases. Download from the itunes store here


Sunday 13th saw the welcome return for the fifth edition of Raphas 'Hell of the North' ride. A now annual occurrence on the lanes & gravel tracks of Hertfordshire, the event serves as a fitting tribute to the queen of the classics, the Paris-Roubaix race. 
The day involved navigating with a route card through a sun-soaked 70 miles consisting of gravel tracks, muddy forest trails, winding country lanes and some of Hertfordshires roughest (and smoothest in parts) tarmac.
Perhaps the most notable addition to this years event, which in my opinion has been the very best of all past routes, was the surprise at the feed station... a lap of an outdoor velodrome! With the H-Van duly parked in the centre serving a much needed caffeine kick to tired legs (not to mention those juicy oranges) riders entered the outdoor velodrome at Welwyn Garden City and could live out their daydreams of a lap around the track, in my mind it was sunny and I could hear the crowds of Roubaix! In actual reality Blandine & I just rolled round practicing out victory celebrations :)
Blandine has it dialled!
With the weather being particularly well-behaved of late we escaped any smattering of Belgian Toothpaste, in fact just a modest amount of filth compared to years previous. Admittedly I have to say, I much prefer it this way, im not one for being a mud-junkie, nice to get home with non-claggy mechs and cables! 
Anyway, the event was muchos perfect, id highly recommend downloading the gpx file above from the website and giving it a blast yourself. Of particular highlights were the lanes after Welwyn, super nice through a forest and then out into some peachy lowlands. tasty indeed. 
Ending with a well earned leffe beer & frites at a pub in the recesses of a sun-drenched Barnet is always a decent way to finish a ride. Actually, I indulged in neither, and had another 20 miles or so to get back to the dusky corners of West London, but it was so ace to see a slew of riders kicking back in the sun to watch the possibly one of the most exciting finales to Roubaix i can remember for the past few years. Bravo to our friends over in Kings Cross for putting on such a cracker of a ride. I dearly look forward to the sixth edition!
*addendum - yet again I failed to complete the whole course. A combination of a fashionably late depart from Ponds Sq, coupled with a desire to see the race unfold led to my partner in crime Blanders & I craftily traversing from Velodrome to pub via a secret shortcut. YES we know we suck, and that's the beauty of this event... iv NEVER managed the whole route as there's always an incident, be it punctures, exploding rear derailleurs, or in this case, laziness ;)

Roads To Ride - Ma1131

One of the jewels in the Mallorcan crown is a fairly quiet road, the Ma1131 that weaves its way exquisitely away from the iconic coastal road of the Ma10 linking the western town of Andratx right across the spine-like mountain region of the Serra de Tramuntana to the eastern resort of Pollensa. The Ma1131 leads down to a dead end, the picturesque Port de Valldemossa.
The 5.8km road winds the rider down a beautiful woodland descent, with each of the nine hairpins teasing a little more with each turn, revealing a progressively more seductive view of the coast each time the road opens out. Dropping down 1200ft in an exhilarating plunge towards an inevitable coffee at the one restaurant of the port,  one could be worried about the ascension back up and out of the Port as you make your way back to Valldemossa proper town. 
However the rise provides such a stunning journey from the port back up into the realms of civilisation, one cant help but be untroubled by the climb, legs wilfully turning the pedals - the very opposite of an unpleasant slog it seemed. The shallow walls of ancient stone provide guidance away from steep edges, and lush trees offer welcome shade to the sides of this narrow little peach.
This small but incredible climb is well worth a trip should you find yourself on the sunny cycling haven of Mallorca. Make a day of it and ride the coastal route of the Ma10 from Pollensa direction, tackling the Puig Major in reverse direction via Gorge Blau. Not only is it an absolute blast, you will be richly rewarded with a 14km descent before beginning a rolling climb hugging the Balearic Sea coastline as you make your way down to the Ma1131. Enjoy!

MSR 2014


Have to throw out a HUGE congratulations to my colleague and friend Bryn Lennon, who last night scooped the coveted title of 'Sports Photographer Of The Year' award, alongside the 'Specialist Portfolio Of The Year' at the annual Sports Journalist Awards for his sterling cycling work
Iv had the privilege to help edit Bryns work both on assignment and remotely, and honestly believe he is the best in the world at editorial cycling coverage, telling the story of the race as it unfolds. Each year I get to head to Paris to have cards thrown my direction on what is often an incredibly chaotic day that comes at the end of three weeks brutal graft put in by Bryn and others on the tour. To see him get win these awards is a lovely testament to the consistent quality of his output. Add into that Bryn is also a huge lover of the sport, and this definitely translates across in his work. 
You'll see a lot more from Bryn & Getty this forthcoming season, with the launch of our new aptly names 'Velo' collection, covering a whole gamut of top global bike races. The content will soon be made embeddable also, so bloggers and online media outlets look to fill your editorial with high quality free images from an award winning shooter and some other excellent photographers.
But for now, let us here at Bianchista HQ throw our cycling caps in appreciation to Bryn and his richly deserved accolades. Chapeau chap!

The Three P's

There seems to have been loads written about 'womens cycling' of late, it has without doubt become the subject matter du jour of the world wide web-o-sphere, with loads of people offering opinions and ideas, some good, some a little ott. So! I thought id throw my hat, or rather cycling cap, into the arena and throw my incredibly humble quiet opinion into the noise & hubris out there.
For me, it can be broke it down to what I like to call "The Three P's". Positivity, Participation and Playfulness! That's pretty much how I can sum up what I think works for me as my experience of being a rider of the female variety.
Keeping my riding involvement underlined by a key ethos of positivity never fails to keep me coming back for more. Its the removing (or adding if that's your bag!) of pressure... its riding with friends and sharing in their achievements or just that simple common bond of sharing time in the saddle, the ups and the downs! I cant think of a better example of this positive attitude focusing on friendship than the Les Filles Racing Team. Keeping riding lighthearted makes the miles and long slogs easy. For me its about not over analyzing things and just simply getting out there and enjoying it with other happy like-minded individuals. I believe its the best buzz there is.
 I believe events that encourage "participation" are key to enhancing the experience of cycling for females. Its not about buying the latest gear, having the latest bike or knowing the lingo or politics of the professional level of the sport... its just simple participation. From grassroots right through to serious racing. There's truly nothing better than events that welcome, encourage and cater to riders across all levels. I can think of two examples off the top of my bonce that really stood out for me last year - firstly the Rapha Womens 100, a super successful global initiative to get women across the globe to ride 100k on a set date. Using everything from strava challenges to digital media integration to build a community of female cyclists, what unfolded was a lead-up and execution of a worldwide ride that saw women from every corner of the planet come together and share a memorable day on the road. The emphasis wasn't on speed, fitness, level or any other competitive element, but simply sharing the experience of the day with the vast female community, making friends and travelling new routes with new riding companions. Of course it goes without saying, im absolutely ecstatic its back for a welcome return in 2014. Secondly I popped down to an event called the VeloJam, run by Ana Nichoola & the Mule Bar Girls team. This was an amazing day of track racing at Herne Hill velodrome, with races for every category of ride, from complete beginner through to the top tier. The racing looked amazing, but more importantly it had this amazing inclusive vibe about it. As much encouragement and entertainment was to be found with the newb races as there was with the super pacey ladies. It should be noted that the Mule Bar Girls also run regular women-only track sessions at Herne Hill, teaching skills and just genuinely trying to give something back to whats becoming a flourishing scene within the south.  
Pic © Huw Williams
Lastly I think 'playfulness' is something I hold dear to my heart. With cycling, there's an intrinsic childlike joy of being on the bike. Strip away all the training, suffering and seriousness of cycling for a second and you cant deny that at the root of it all is a sense of youthful unfeigned escapism. Its the feeling we had as a child roaring down the big hill on the estate, daring each other to see how long you can withhold from pulling the brake lever. Its zipping down a quiet country lane and screaming with sheer glee! 
The above thoughts aren't to be seen as any meaningful kind of manifest or principles, cycling shouldn't be analyzed away into such granular concepts. It should be about joy and freedom. Its a very personal thing we choose to share with others on the road. Look out for each other & do your best to encourage and help people into this amazing sport of ours. Anyway... the last 20km of Milan - San Remo are unfolding so il draw this stream of thought to a close. Happy riding all!

La Poursuivants - IWD

Happy International Womens Day! enjoy some inspiration on us to get out there and enhjoy a rare spot of sunshine that seems to have graced our skies this morning in London HQ. Also don't forget this weekend sees a welcome return of the delectable Rapha 'Festa Della Donna'. A weekend of sales across their women's products to mark the launch of the 2014 'Womens 100' incentive (more on that from me in the forthcoming week)


I find myself posting this from the MPC at the Sochi Winter Olympic games park, situated in the town called Adler, in the Krasnodar Krai region, Russia. The temperature is around 6°C, which is decidedly balmy compared to hustling on the runway in -26° as we boarded our transfer in Moscow. Speaking of transfers, I wore the rather luxe rapha merino transfer pants, and couldn't have been more comfier during the 20 hours or so spent in transit.
So, whats this place like? well, if im honest, its in a rather 'unfinished' state. Construction in the area seems to be very much in progress, with a lot of the buildings and sites probably best described as 68% complete.
Wild dogs tend to roam around the joint, situating themselves everywhere from outside the hotel, to waiting along with the media at the shuttle bus-stops.
Cash is king in this part of the world. In fact if you even attempt to broach the subject of card-based payment you will be met with a look akin to as if you had burst into someone's house and smacked their grandma in the chops. Roubles are obligatory, and its nice to carry around notes with 1000 on them, feeling like a king.
Our hotel or 'compound' looks a little like a low security prison, with checkpoints to egress in & out of site. Its about 3km from the Georgian border which is quite mental, and I look out of my windows to a beautiful Georgian mountain range which looks amazing on a clear day. So far its been super rainy and cloudy.. think Manchester in February and your not far off the Adler eco-system.
Food is 'interesting'. Mainly being meat and veg, but not the kind of meat we are accustomed to in the west, its a bit anything goes... the canteen served and ominous concoction called 'beef chicken'. Dried fish is a big thing, and a colleague at what she described as a "greasy meat filled croissant". Needless to say iv skipped brekkie thus far. On the list to get stuck into is Borscht, which my new Russian-savvy pal Harry Engels has recommended I try. Check out his blog & twitter for some cool Sochi updates.
There's not much in actual way to update regarding images, as the games don't actually start for a few days yet. We are doing lots of prepping, ensuring venues can spool content in to the media centre ops crew, and sharking for alternatives to mcdonalds to eat for the next month. Im running a little bit for the commute as I cant handle waiting in the cold for a packed out media bus! keeping the legs sharp as well as the mind hopefully on this trip...