Yesterday was a lovely mid-September’s late summer’s day with temperatures around 27˚C perfect for a bike ride, especially as this is the second rest day in the Tour de France so no need to rush back to catch the live action. The slopes of the North Downs are the closest open countryside to London’s Forest Hill. Here there are plenty of lanes to explore – some quite narrow and requiring care as this close to London there are a good number of cars on them as well. It is noticeable that with Covid-19 there has been a big increase in the number of cyclists of all abilities and sizes out of their bikes.
The Col du Skelly, Beddlestead Lane, Warlingham
Photo by Malc McDonald
A memorial to a local cyclist, Paul Skelly,
who died suddenly in 2016 aged 53.
The Downs are chalk hills that typically have a scarp slope and a more gentle dip slope. In the case of the North Downs the dip slope faces London providing a steady and fairly gentle climb up to the ridge that overlooks the Kent and Surrey countryside. After a narrow and steep descent down Hesiers Lane, the Col du Skelly (Beddlestead Lane) is a fairly steady climb of 3.16 kms at an average of 4% with a height gain of 120 metres that takes you to the ridge at the top of the North Downs dip slope. Carrying on into Kent and Surrey will take you down the steep inclines of the scarp slope. Here are found plenty of steep challenging climbs – some with up to 20% gradients and more, which will test even fit young cyclists.
It was back in the late 1970s and 1980s that I rode and managed these hills on a conventional bike now I enjoy riding up them on my electric bike, which still allows you to work hard but without expiring at the roadside.
These are short, sharp hills more akin to the famous climbs in Belgium that are a feature of the Spring Classics, such as the Tour of Flanders. Certainly nothing like the long Alpine climbs that face the remaining riders in the 2020 Tour de France this week – assuming that the race continues after all the riders and staff are tested for Covid-19 over the rest day.
Leaving aside the racing, which has been exciting this year, the Tour de France is a great advert for the beauty of the very varied French countryside – all the more so now with high definition TV pictures compared to the grainy but atmospheric black and white of the early days of television and the time of news reels. The length of stage races also allows commentators to talk about the food and wine of the regions the race passes through. Wine wise journalist and author François Thomazeau is to date the most impressive and knowledgeable without being precious or pompous. A few nameless others broadcast their ignorance and prejudices with gusto.
Along with travel guides and crime novels often set in Marseille, Thomazeau also compiles the official guide to the sights along the route of the Tour that briefs commentators allowing them to talk knowledgeably about places of interest – châteaux, churches etc. Thomazeau can be heard on the excellent daily Cycling Podcast along with Richard Moore and Lionel Birnie.
It won’t be long before we know whether Slovenia will have its first Tour de France winner and whether Irishman Sam Bennett will dethrone Peter Sagan as King of the Green Points Jersey.
Two expressions of Auslese
Clearing out a neglected storage space can produce dividends….. witness these two bottles of 1996 Auslese from same producer in the Mosel:
Although not quite from the same site, Kammer is apparently a small section within the Juffer vineyard. It was very interesting to be able to drink and enjoy an Auslese Riesling Trocken at 24 years old. It had a similar golden colour to the ‘ straight’ Auslese with a fine balance of richness and acidity with 12.5% alcohol. The ‘straight’ Auslese with just 8% alcohol was considerably sweeter but did have some freshness in the finish. Both were a treat and memorable to drink but the greater acidity gave the Trocken greater finesse and complexity.