Last month a group of 10 riders from The 5th Floor boxed up their bikes and headed to Sierra Nevada, Spain, for their annual training camp. In the four days they were there, they covered over 350km of riding and almost 8,900 metres of climbing.
But it was one ride -- one mountain -- that drew them there in the first place. 5th WMN's captain, Sophie, takes us through its ups and downs.
When Luke sent around the route links for our Sierra Nevada trip, my ears pricked at the Pico Veleta. I'd read about it in an edition of Cyclist Magazine: Europe's highest paved road. The profile was pretty much one giant triangle. One enormous Toblerone triangle with absolutely no gaps.
The route looked and sounded tough, but it wasn't until the morning of the ride that it really sunk in. What lay before us was 43km of pure uphill. We drove from our house in Gergal to Granada, about an hour and a half of smooth, winding tarmac flanked by wind and solar farms, and national parks.
We had to ban any Googling of stats on the climb as the nerves started to buzz.
Before we left the house we'd already devoured two decanters of São Judas Tadeu that we'd brought with us, but we still settled in Granada for another.
Delaying and procrastination techniques reached fever pitch.
I can't take you through all four hours of the climb. I'll leave that for your own pilgrimage to the Pico (or, in lieu of that, I'd recommend looking up the 2013 Vuelta, in which Chris Horner sung his swan song).
What I can do is pull out some of the points that will linger in my memory for some time.
The gradient in the first few kilometres edged towards 28%. Whilst the pros pushed back on their saddles and appear to power up, we danced a clunky waggle-weave up the steepest parts, avoiding each other's wheels whilst slowly ticking off the meters. The gradient eased and took us up through cherry groves and pine forest followed by an open moonscape littered with clumps of wild thyme and herbs the higher we went.
The top was higher than the highest ski lift. It's hard to remember that riders don't just ascend this mountain in the summer, but that skiers also fly down it in the winter. The rutted roads from the piste bashers of many winters were evidence of that.
Still closer to the top, the tarmac became gravel, which in turn became dark shale and we, along with a headwind, all arrived at the top. Truly breathtaking.
And then came the 43km descent. It was awesome in the original sense of the word; smooth and empty four-lane roads with sweeping turns and views of turquoise quarry pools and hamlets dusting the mountain sides.
The Pico is a one off – it’s a proper challenge. Especially when climbed the ‘other’ (tougher) way round.
That 43km time segment will remain my lifetime best. I won’t be doing it twice.
As well as their bikes, The 5th Floor also packed our BREW BUNDLE: FOR TWO for their trip to Sierra Nevada. The team are continuing to race throughout Europe and throughout the year. Their Summer Cyclocross Series is already underway and you can stay up-to-date on everything they're doing by visiting their website.
I’m still not entirely sure how I ended up owning a tandem. A friend and I decided we would cycle to Southern France and our pub logic dictated that it would be cheaper to buy one bike than two.
Turns out it was, and we did.
Then we found there were other advantages like no splitting up or waiting at the top of a hill, always being able to chat to each other but most of all it was fun.
When somebody sees us passing on tandem, it invokes one of two emotions - sheer joy or utter confusion. The former normally from children, the latter from old men (and both are just as funny to watch).
Having been on a few solo cycling tours, and after years of promising, it was time to (literally) take my girlfriend Brooke along for the ride. Cycling for me is the only way to see a country properly. I’m not normally a ‘quoter’ but there’s one from Ernest Hemingway that says:
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
I can confirm that this is doubly true on a tandem.
Greatest of all though, cycling means you get to eat (and drink) as much as you like (it’s fuel after all) and what better place to be fuelled than Italy.
We didn’t do too much planning for the trip. We were flying into Genoa and back from Rome 15 days later. Other than that, all we had on our to-do list were a few pretty towns, gelato, cheese, pasta and vino. We couldn’t go far wrong really.
Our first destination was Cinque Terre - five colourful coastal towns surrounded by mountains and connected by a train cutting through the cliffs. Unfortunately for us, tandems weren’t allowed on the train so it was the one road in (down) and one road out (up) for us. After three of the five towns and lots of pushing, we managed to beg our way onto the ferry - much easier.
From the coast we headed inland to the heart of Tuscany; Lucca, Montecatini, Siena, San Gimignano, Chianti, each town more stunning than the last. We quickly fell into the Italian pace of life, winding our way down through the countryside, stopping for swims and gelato when we fancied.
Everything we needed, we carried. Tent, food, clothes, water, wine, beer, cheese - all the essentials. The problem with one bike between two is that it means half the bags. We therefore had to be particularly strict when it came to packing. An AeroPress, some Workshop Coffee and a Porlex grinder ended up taking priority over an pair of pants.
Lugging coffee and a grinder may seem like an unnecessary luxury (especially when in Italy), but this trip wasn’t about speed. Camping, cooking and brewing were just as much part of the experience as the pedalling.
Though the landscapes, views and roads change daily and a daily routine quickly took hold and coffee always came first.
Laying in your sleeping bag, looking out onto a new view each morning, we'd go through the AeroPress routine and it was pure perfection. Along with a breakfast of banana porridge and local honey (or if we were having a lazy morning, scrambled eggs), our coffee tasted even better outdoors.
Riding through the stunning Italian countryside, your mind would wander to all sorts of places but quickly settle on food. Cycling became the thing we did in between eating; set off: café stop with pastries; a bit of riding; lunch of fresh bread, local cheese and ripe tomatoes; a little more pedalling; gelato time.
We got used to it pretty quickly.
Italy was everything we hoped for. The Tuscan landscape was as beautiful as imagined, the gelato as smooth as promised and the wine - well, tasted of wine (I’m more of a beer man).
Doing it all on a tandem made the whole trip even more fun, for us and the locals. People would genuinely smile, laugh and point as we passed. And the answer to the question that everyone asked and you’re probably thinking: yes, I do know if she’s pedalling (or not as the case might be).
We’ve been working with Carter Donnell since he started Daily Goods as a small concession in the now closed Kinoko Cycles some two years ago. The little Soho concession we blogged about shut doors in Golden Square last June and re-opened as a much more substantial cafe across the river in Camberwell, South London. We dropped by Daily Goods to catch up with Carter and ask a few questions about the changes and what it's been like over the last year:
So how did you first get introduced into coffee? Where did you work before setting up Daily Goods?
I grew up in a small town in Idaho and like normal, small town American life there was always a pot of coffee at home - coffee was always there noon and night. I didn't think anything of it until I was watching my favourite skateboarder on a video, he was drinking a cup of coffee while waiting for a train in New York. I emulated him in every other way so I knew I had to start drinking coffee.
My first job in coffee was at Starbucks and, ironically, it was there I actually learnt that coffee could be something other than a caramel syrup-filled slushy drink! On my first day they made me cup the two coffees they were currently serving: a Colombian and an Ethiopian. When I tried the Ethiopian against the Colombian I couldn't believe that you could taste actual flavours, different flavours, from coffee without adding anything to them!
From there, using the sweet deal of being able to work at any Starbucks, I left Idaho and headed to the East Coast. Settling in Philadelphia for a year, I took every opportunity to travel to Manhattan on the bus. Discovering the guys at Ninth Street Espresso on 13th St. in New York (now Everyman Espresso) was a revelation; no syrups, no blender, no sandwiches, just great coffee! I set about convincing them I wasn't a brainwashed Starbucks barista, was willing to forget everything I was taught and learn it their way if they gave me the opportunity. I worked at Ninth St. for three years, learnt a great deal about coffee and loved that job so much!
Afterwards I moved to London and worked at some great places like Milk Bar, Store Street Espresso and Embassy East. After a while however, I knew it was time I set out to do my own thing and try to create what I missed most about working in New York, the neighbourhood feel. I wasn't able to fund anything standalone on my own so found a stepping stone in Kinoko Cycles. I rented a small corner of the cycle shop in Soho and traded there for a year.
What's it been like going from a one-man band to being the owner-operator of a whole team?
Oh man! I would be lying if I said it was easy. I had no idea how much work it would be. Trading from a small counter on my own everyday for a year was easy enough; I knew what I needed to do and how to do it and had no one to answer to or look after, except for the customers of course. Opening in Camberwell has been a rewarding challenge; I now have five employees who I have to make sure get paid, get breaks and have fun while working. That is an amazing feeling but also a lot of responsibility!
Nowadays I do a lot more managerial work but when I leave the office and see the cafe full of regulars and my crew behind the counter serving these people and knowing them on a first name basis, ultimately building more of our community in Camberwell, I can't help but be happy with what Daily Goods has become, even if I am behind the counter less myself.
Do you ever miss the little bar at Kinoko Cycles?
No, not at all. I didn't like being in someone else's space and being held to their guidelines. It was an amazing opportunity and I can't forget that, but I'm much more happy here in Camberwell.
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It’s always the greatest of pleasures to see our Wholesale Partner’s grow and develop. While some go on to open second shops or do major refurbishments, others like Daily Goods go from small establishments to being much bigger cafés that form the hub of a community.
So, if you do find yourself in Camberwell, you know where to go for a great Cult of Done Espresso or a filter coffee served from the Fetco batch brewer. We can’t wait to see what Carter and his team have planned next and look forward to helping out where we can, as Daily Goods continues to grow and develop in the coming years.
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36 Camberwell Church Street, London, SE5 8QZ
Mon to Friday – 7.30am to 6.30pm
Saturday - 9.30am to 5.30pm
Sunday - 10am to 5pm
For a year now, we've been a partner of The 5th Floor; an amateur cycling team with branches in both London and New York - in fact, you may well have seen them congregating of a morning outside our Marylebone or Fitzrovia stores.
The team is comprised of multi disciplined riders, bound together through common interests and sense of brotherhood who race and achieve results in road, track and cyclocross; all the while documenting their experiences. Alongside working full time jobs they go on some amazing rides, so we've invited their London kingpin, Rudy, to blog about one of them here. - Tim.
This Sunday, four members of The 5th Floor team (Rudy, Matt, Russ and Leo) will be doing the Rapha 'Manchester to London' challenge.
It's 220 long and arduous miles, straight down the back bone of England, starting at the Manchester velodrome and finishing at the Olympic Park in East London. It will be a very hard ride, but I know it will be an unique and exciting experience. While the distance will constitute both a physical and mental challenge it'll surely be worth the effort; the purpose of the event is to help raise funds for Ambitious About Autism.
Ambitious About Autism is a charity that provides enormous support to kids affected by autism, and to their families, working to improve services, awareness and understanding of the condition.
We are very much looking forward to this event, and contributing what we can. While it's not a race we will be timed to see how we got on. Over 12 hours in the saddle with mates and team mates alongside should prove to be a great day out.
We'll be honest -- we haven't planned how we are riding. There is no strategy. The only tactic is to take it easy and slow(ish) to save our legs and energy, so we can actually enjoy the ride and experience. Riding together will make things easier for all of us and we can help and motivate each other until the end.
We will be updating our site with a report after the event so stay tuned for that.
But before then, please head over to our pages on JustGiving and make a contribution to Ambitious about Autism: we're aiming to hit £750, but we need your help.
We would love to thank everyone who have supported us so far.