On Sunday, the strangest cycling season in history will skid to a ragged stop on the streets of Madrid. The riders will scatter to reflect on a year that began as any other, paused indefinitely in the middle, and eventually resumed with All of the Racing, All at Once.
2020 has been … quite a journey.
Over this year, the technicolour whoosh of the peloton has passed millions of fans, through hundreds of towns, past countless businesses. All of those people – the riders, the fans, the proprietors – have stories. Some of them are good stories. Some of them are decidedly not.
If a year in macrocosm is a compendium of triumph and tragedy, what happens if we zoom in with micro detail? Can anything be gleaned on that smaller scale? Can we learn something meaningful from the pizza shops, the discount butchers and the bars that played a momentary role as set dressing for the cycling season?
The Grubers have the pictures, and Google Reviews has the answers.
Soon after the season opened, the eyes of the cycling world turned to Colombia. In Boyaca, the lens of an unidentified Gruber turned to Milanes bakery, an establishment whose staff may or may not be posing out the front with some big brown boxes of cake.
But was Milanes well-placed to receive a WorldTour-sized influx of customers on that fateful February day? The reviews, dear reader, suggest not.
One client feverishly alleges that “they have not managed well the growth they have of clientele and the quality of the attention since they do not handle well the orders that are made, in particular the cakes because in flavor and value they are insurmountable but sometimes they do not manage to fill the expectations in the decoration and it has happened to me that you go to claim your cake and they take a long time to find it.”
Another concerned customer registers a grievance with the “very hard chocolate butter”, while a third alleges some sleight of hand in the cash register: “they gave me a fake bill in change”.
Overall, 4.3 stars, but skewed. If you’re in Santa Rosa de Viterbo, chalk it up as a maybe. The flavour is insurmountable.
Elsewhere in Colombia, a lady in Crocs walks past an automatic tyre mounting establishment presided over by a small dog and a weathered Turkish rug.
At time of press I was unable to locate this fine establishment on Google Maps, but on the basis of the Very Good Dog, I’m inclined to think that they’re the place to stop if your team car gets a flat mid-Tour of Colombia.
Finished a big day of Bicycle Cycling and looking for a quenching drink? Look no further than Cerveza Aguila, the leading regional beer which claims to “define the Colombian way of life … with an authentic taste that’s distinctly Colombian.”
And if you were to bottle the taste of Colombia? RateBeer commenters suggest that the distinctly Colombian taste in question is “initial unbuttered popcorn”, and “Overall: oxidized, very oxidized.”
Also, there is a sheep.
From the sun of South America the peloton transplanted itself to Belgium for Omloop Het Nieuwsblad. It will be remembered for Jasper Stuyven’s victory, but superfans know that the key moment of the race was when the race turned onto Diependale in Oudenaarde and passed Pizza Vita.
As we all know, this is an establishment with almost uniformly rave reviews. But whilst it’s widely accepted that Pizza Vita makes a mean margherita, it’s my journalistic duty to inform you that the high average on Google Reviews has been ruthlessly torpedoed by a sinister claim of “denial of service without a reason.”
Proceed with cautious optimism.
One thing Pizza Vita can’t match, however, is the goddamn unbelievable deals that Pizza Hut in Ninove was – maybe still is! – offering. And while I cannot confirm that Trek-Segafredo splashed out for the MAD TUESDAY & SATURDAY deal, the race took place on February 29 – a Saturday – so they would certainly have been eligible for a €6.95 Meat Lovers had they been so inclined.
If I know Trek-Segafredo, I think they’d agree with me that there’s no better way to celebrate a win than a thrifty chain-bought pizza.
The season soon went into COVID-induced paralysis, but stirred back to life with Strade Bianche.
There, in the narrow, ancient streets of Siena, the dusty bois of the peloton passed Forno dei Galli, a rustic bakery that is regionally renowned for its “competent and cute staff” serving up an assortment of “very good desserts but too expensive bread.”
Did the riders stop and glance a longing look at Forno dei Galli’s fine pastries, its extravagant paninis, its comely attendants? I’m certainly not ruling it out. Nor should you.
In this picture from a Spring* (*Autumn) Classic somewhere in Belgium that I can’t be bothered looking up right now, the peloton rounds the corner towards Vlees Discount Butcher in Ypres. Had they stopped, they would have enjoyed meat for which “the price … is very interesting”, and our story might have stopped there.
There is a massive red flag about Vlees Discount, however. A concerned mother has alleged in a stinging one-star review that her under-aged daughter got sent home two hours early from a shift one time.
The aspiring cyclists of the world face a tumultuous job market, and let this cautionary tale serve to show that so too do the teen deli attendants of Ypres.
From the industrial heart of Belgium to the mountains of France, Criterium du Dauphine loomed on the calendar. At the top of the famed Col de la Madeleine, the race passed this rustic establishment, which offers glorious vistas, views to Mont Blanc and a homely dining experience.
But like the peaks and valleys of the region, La Banquise has both ups and downs. One wildly bipolar review comes out swinging, labelling the place as “Bad. Onion soup without onions or taste. Not hot. Pretty expensive,” but in the next sentence concedes that there is “Very good dessert especially the walnut pie [and] Good pizza.”
Less ambiguous are multiple reports of the rough sanitary facilities on offer. One mixed review claims that “the only thing left to be desired” (and it’s a pretty big thing, if you ask me) is “water to wash your hands” in the “unwelcoming” toilet.
After some angst and under a cloud of concern about France’s worsening coronavirus situation, the Tour de France began a month late in the coastal city so nice they named it Nice. At a glance, it looks to match its name. But can this truly be the case?
Pictured, the foreshore with the famous Promenade des Anglais overlooks the lapping blue waters of the Mediterranean. From first-hand experience, I can confirm that it’s a stirring sight – but it conceals a sordid secret.
Along the beach, one reviewer notes, there are “some very useful shaded breaks … on the other hand, unless I am mistaken, no toilets! But where do all these bathers go to relieve themselves ??? Big surprise!”
I spent more time looking for this shitty Cave of Wines than I would like to admit to my superiors. I did not find it.
Let it never be said that professional cycling is a glamorous sport. EF-Education First’s Tour de France was split into ‘before’ and ‘after’ by a stay at the three-star Ibis hotel in Clermont-Ferrand.
According to one reviewer, Sergio Higuita may here be on track for a very rude surprise (“Upon exiting the lift, the corridor had a strong odour of urine!!”). Worse, once he gets to his room he won’t even be able to disinfect his nostrils safely with boiling water because “apparently there’s no kettles in any Ibis hotels.”
For the sake of The Boiz, let’s hope ASO splashes out on something a little plusher in 2021.
There’s an embarrassment of riches to choose from in this picture. There is a bed and breakfast called Fifi’s Windmill. There’s another that translates to The Swallows. There’s an old man wearing a hat advertising withered sausage nuggets.
What really has my attention, though, is the Vietnamese restaurant called simply “Le Vietnam”, a place that garners the following bruising review that I present with no further comment:
“Of all the Vietnamese restaurants I have done (and South Asian cuisine being my favorite by far and wide) this is the worst. And to taste … wow … canteen meal. Nothing nothing, nothing authentic, noticeable. The typical flavors have gone I don’t know where … really really disappointed … You might as well serve bread, just to go to the end of bad French canteen cuisine à la pseudo Vietnamese …”
YOU MIGHT AS WELL SERVE BREAD, LE VIETNAM.
In this moody black and white frame, the Grubers have artfully captured a glimpse in the life of the workers of a perfume factory in the mountains of the Riviera. They look down on us, and we, the observers, look up at them.
But we – as a proxy for the race, for the WorldTour, nay, for life itself – will go on, and they will finish their lunch break of sport-spectating and go back into the V. Mane Fils factory to continue to mix up 4.1-star scents.
A practiced eye is not distracted by the three small French boys – the kid on the right with the big inflatable hand, the patriot on the left, the one in the middle who’s saying “shwoosssssssh!” whilst chopping down in a show of unbridled aggression. A practiced eye sees the weathered sight of the Hotel Dauphin Blanc behind them, crumbled into disrepair but with a jaunty strip of green LED lighting as if to say “we’re still cool!”
Hotel Dauphin Blanc is not still cool. It is a two-star hotel near Nice that “needs renovation in the rooms especially for decoration and it will attract less spiders. The house cleaning is good, not the ceiling. The bedding is very comfortable and the insulation at the top.”
But everyone seems pretty stoked on the breakfast buffet, so it’s got that going for it.
Bourg-en-Bresse is a town that I have been to and I don’t remember anything about, although if I had met this wonderful woman with her excellent dog and bottle of miscellaneous liquor in a cooler-bag, I would have remembered at least something, at least until I blacked out.
Sadly, my attempts to find the mysterious “Association [incomplete] Le Rona[incomplete]” she’s standing in front of went unrewarded, so I will never be able to track down Bourg-en-Bresse’s #1 biggest partystarter should I ever return.
Here, we observe Tadej Pogacar, a sight in marigold, whooshing past the angular entrance to the Louvre. He is talking to Alexander Kristoff, the Stavanger Stallion. The Stallion smiles coquettishly and explains to his young companion where the magic happens. They are teammates. They are, simply,
You know who’s not mates with the Louvre? The guy who wrote this review:
“Lots of paintings but not as much as there is walking. Too many Jesus pix. A bit musty. Old.
Mona Lisa hiding behind glass but any other painting could be as interesting.
No beer? Couldn’t walk with a beer in hand … unacceptable.”
In the heart of Paris, at the hub of 12 grand boulevards, stands the imposing Arc de Triomphe. It looms over the intersection – a 50-metre-high monument to the brave soldiers of the Revolution and of the Napoleonic wars, a homage to the futility of all those lives cut short. It is a triumph of engineering, an artistic masterpiece, and one of the most recognisable constructions in the world.
When the Tour de France passes it – an act demonstrated here by up-and-coming bicyclist Tadej Pogacar and some of his closest friends – the most famous race in the world nears its denouement. Goosebumps all round.
But here are some other fun facts about the Arc de Triumphe:
“[It] is too big and it just stands there and does nothing. Total disappointment”
“It’s a huge arc in the middle of the road”
“It’s an over rated block of stone”
“A big useless stone building in the middle of a huge place constantly surrounded by motor traffic. What’s it worth?”
“Been there already so I don’t care, was a bit too big.”
“Couldn’t get under it do to the protest. Joined the yellow vests [protest movement] instead [and] had blast until riot gas was shot into the crowd.”