Coffee + Cols: Cycling in the Southern Alps

Posted by Claire Pepper on

The UK has some great cycling for sure, but there's one thing we lack, and that's mountains. Proper mountains. There comes a time in every cyclist's life where it is time to get on an Easyjet to Mallorca, Italy, or in this case, the Alps, in search of some big climbs.

A friend's wedding in Menton, near Nice, provided the necessary justification for this trip. We stayed at Giovanna's apartment, about 1km from the Italian border. The precious bikes survived their ordeal with the French baggage handlers*, were stuffed into the back of the Smallest Hire Car Ever, one supermarket stop later and we had all we needed: bikes, beer, and a rooftop pool. 

A recce on the Col de la Madone

Seeing as this was my (Claire) first time riding actual mountains, we started with a short evening trip up the nearest one. The Col de la Madone starts in Menton, and is a famous climb reputed to have been a favourite training route for Lance Armstrong. The route heads out of town and starts switching back as the houses become more sparse and the road narrows. The gradient is manageable and consistent, the views are beautiful, and the top slightly underwhelming. Col number one: done. Time for a hand numbing twisty decent and a celebratory dinner of camembert and wine.

Col de Madone          Col de Madone from menton 

If you want to follow the Col de la Madone out of Menton, here's a strava route to follow:

(stop following it when you get back into Menton, we rode around a bit looking for a beer...)

It's a fun short ride by itself or you can of course go down the other side and continue exploring.

Breakfast in Italy

Menton is just 1km away from the Italian border (no, you don't need passports... we did wonder...), so on the second day we headed along the coast in the busy morning traffic (lots of scooters) to have an espresso in San Remo before heading up into the beautiful Italian hills. It was a scorching hot day, but as we started climbing we soon went into the clouds that had been gathering overhead and by the time we reached the the highest point of San Romolo, it was starting to rain. (tip number two: always bring a gilet or waterproof! Even on a super hot day) We were getting a big wet, so we carried on past our planned lunch stop in the town of Perinaldo to find a bit of sunshine in the valley. As we were heading back down out of the clouds, we went through the stunning little town of Apricale, and decided to make that our pit stop instead. The beautiful Apricus Osteria was practically empty, but it had an outdoor terrace where we stored our bikes and proceeded to experience one of the most wonderful, simple meals ever. Fresh peaches and barrata, followed by fresh ravioli with a classic Italian tomato sauce, and a coffee of course. Eaten looking out over the farmlands and tiny buildings perched precariously on the edge of the steep hills, and for a price that was a fraction of the cost of the touristy restaurants back in Menton. By the time we had finished the sun was well and truly out and it was time to roll (literally) the rest of the way into the valley... and then start climbing again.

Cycling to Apricale

If you follow this route, it won't take you to any particular peak (most are not accessible by road) but you will pass around the edges Monte Bignone, Monte Mera, Monte Belgestro, Monte Armetta, Cima d'Aurin, Monte Barracone, and Monte Carbonne, along roads that can be quite small in places (take care to stay on the right side of the road as scooter and motorbikes sometimes come around quite fast) but with beautiful views, stillness and wilderness as much as you could expect to find being only 20km or so from a big town. You sweep back down into Ventimiglia and home along the coast.

Cafe ride

Our third ride was much more chilled, as we wanted to explore the area a bit more. We headed out along the coast in a westerly direction this time and started with breakfast at this excellent place. We then just followed the coast, to check out Monaco. It is a funny place and worth passing through to spot some super cars. Out of Monaco follow signs to Cap d'Ail to stay on the coast, and I recommend following our route for a little detour down towards the lighthouse in Saint-John-Cap-Ferrat to spy on some of the biggest mansions I have ever seen in my life, complete with huge phallic topiary lining their lush front gardens. We stopped for another coffee in East Nice, just by the port. Caffeinated, it was time to tackle the Col d'Eze. This iconic climb is the decisive final stage of the Paris-Nice stage race and has been included in The Tour on a couple of occasions. It's a 10k climb and a good test as a time trial, if that's your thing (me: no, Jonathan: yes)

OMNIUM cycling in france  OMNIUM on EZE

The sweeping decent back through the village of La Turbie offered amazing views over Monaco, and our final stop was for some fresh seafood on the beach here.

 Cycling over Monaco Hills and Yonder jersey in Monaco

The Big One

Rest/party/hangover days over, and it was time for our big day out. This 140km route is certainly a full day out as it takes in 3000 metres of climbing, it demands a fairly restrained pace.

The first Col is Castillon. Warming us up with 15km of gentle climbing (around 4%) and leaving the towns behind. On the decent that becomes quite gravelly as you get into the gorgeous little town of Sospel we were passed by a couple of pro riders in Astana kit, the first of many we saw throughout the day. Quick coffee in Sospel and then we started the ascent of the Col de Turini. Made famous by the Monte Carlo Rally, the Col de Turini has also featured 3 times in the Tour de France. 24km long, and reaching a height of 1,260m with an average gradient of 5.1%.

Col de Turini OMNIUM  Queen of the Mountains on Col de Turini

The road is cut into the side of the mountain and as it winds it's way up through a series of hairpins, the valley views open out below you and you can see your path snaking behind you through the trees. Every now and then you see an old crumbling building, part of a disused railway line or some sign of life, but generally it's very quiet and still, just the sound of your breath and your wheels turning as you go up, and up, and up. Towards the top there are steeper sections, and it starts to feel hard. You start to forget a time when you weren't climbing this mountain, it feel like forever. And then, painted on the road, "2KM" and soon, "500M". And then, that's it! The top is a crossroads that feels like a very small ski town... in summer. There are quite a few choices for food, although all we really wanted was a pizza or a big plate of pasta and ended up with some slices of melon and ham... After the sweaty climb, we were actually quite cold once we stopped. The altitude really makes a difference, and I was grateful for my jacket, especially once we started to descend. This climb felt like a real achievement. But we were only halfway through the ride...

Col de Turini top  Queen of the Mountains Turini

The decent down Turini is beautiful and takes you round hair-raising hairpins and through tunnels cut into the rock. The views across the Alps are spectacular, watch the road but don't forget to look up too! As you come into the valley you can see a gorgeous deep blue river snaking around below you. The village of Duranus is very quiet but beautiful, a good place to take five. The next part of the ride feels reasonably undulating but much less epic after the Turini. There are two more climbs of significance, the Col de Chateauneuf (5km, up to 620m high) and the climb into the town of La Turbie. La Turbie is another one worth a late stop if you need a break, it's a very pretty, lively village. Then it's all downhill from there! Back into Menton and straight into the pool. 

What we wore

Spektrum jerseys by Angeles Creative

Lightweight fabrics and mesh panelling make these jerseys ideal for hot weather. The sweat gets wicked away through the fine fabric extremely quickly, so when you stop you don't feel cold and clammy.

Spektrum jersey on OMNIUM  Angeles Creative jersey on OMNIUM

Queen of the Mountains Race shorts and jersey

The shorts have an extremely high quality pad designed for 4+ hours of riding, and the jersey provides SPF 30 protection in the sun, and generous pockets for storing a jacket and lots of food. 

Queen of the Mountains cycling

Hills and Yonder Which way jersey

Also provides SPF 30 and is made from Coolblack fabric, which doesn't heat up in the sun. 

Which way jersey in the alps

*For some great tips on flying with your bike, we can recommend this great article by Queen of the Mile

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OMNIUM x Athlete Lab

Posted by Claire Pepper on

Last year we discovered Athlete Lab - a studio in central London that offers indoor cycling training on real bikes. It's a really great combination of the motivation and camaraderie that you get in a spin class but with the cycling-specific training benefits of working on a real bike, like training on a turbo trainer.

Athlete Lab use Adjustabikes, which replicate a real road bike with proper groupsets, cranks and thus replicating your correct riding position, and no flywheel distorting your pedal stroke like you get on spin bikes. You also get a LOT of information fed back during and after the workout; truly a stat geeks dream. It's a lot more fun and motivational than slogging it out on your turbo trainer at home, and the staff are absolutely wonderful, supportive, knowledgeable and encouraging.

The workouts are based around your own FTP score, devised for professional cyclists, and they are tough!

The standard of cyclists in the Lab is high, and each year a team goes out to ride the Haute Route. There are a number of sessions arranged in the run up to this that are open to all Lab members and we are happy to be sponsoring this series, to help everyone get kitted out!

We'll be at Athlete Lab for the Haute Route training sessions on the following dates:

Thursday 14th July

Tuesday 19th July

Thursday 28th July

Thursday 11th August

All riders will receive an OMNIUM goody bag consisting of a musette, OMNIUM bidon, a free shipping code, and a snack kindly provided by Max's Protein bars.

We'll have some kit with us so you can try things on and buy directly from us, including the chance to preview our new top secret brand that's launching on the site next week!

If you haven't been to Athlete Lab before, all the info you need is here

We hope to see you there!


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Introducing... Good Cycling

Posted by Claire Pepper on

Here at OMNIUM we have enjoyed getting to know the people behind the brands, as most of them have really interesting stories to tell and experiences to share. And Good Cycling are no exception.
Based in Utrecht, in The Netherlands, the guys behind the brand, Joost and Tobias, first met each other at a 24 hour race. Both avid endurance riders, they have taken on such challenges as Styrkeproven and Paris Brest Paris, and many 24 hour races. A conversation ensued about how hard - indeed impossible - it was to find bib shorts that could withstand the demands of riding continuously for 24 hours. Thankfully they have spared us the gory details, but the outcome was a decision to set about changing this, which they have done with success in the form of Good Cycling.
good cycling founders OMNIUM blogJoost and Tobias
The brand's inspiration is drawn from their experiences on the bike. Tobias says "We noticed that a place is always better, more beautiful, more interesting when you are on the bike. We want to be on our bike as long as possible. So we want to have good gear, that looks good as well." It was this mindset that gave them their brand's tagline: "It is not the same without your bike"
These guys spend a lot of time riding. Tobias owns 2 cycling messenger companies in Utrecht and Amsterdam, and puts in the hours on the bike there. Joost loves the Alps, and spends all the time he can making his escape the the mountains. Crap kit is not an option!
The design of the Good Cycling kit is therefore extremely well-considered, featuring innovative combinations of fabric and tried-and tested cuts. The Good Cycling design team are Floris and Maurits. Both cyclists, ex Cycle messengers and artists. They bring the vision of Joost and Tobais to life, as well as contributing their own experiences.
Furthermore, the kit is tested by the Good Cycling athletes, Carlijn and Ingrid; avid cyclists, Jaime; a track racer and Thomas; a fixed gear rider.
good cycling athletes wearing the kit OMNIUM
The Good Cycling athletes
A community is growing around the guys at Good Cycling, reaching beyond the cycle messengers and involving cyclist from all over Utrecht. They organise weekly rides in the city and occasional races. Check out the events section of their website if you are in that part of the world and join them!
Good cycling rides and races
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The OMNIUM Summer Edit

Posted by Claire Pepper on

Summer is finally here. You've spent the winter grimacing on the turbo, cycling in more layers than you could count and dreaming of sun on your face and bare arms... or maybe you haven't and now is the time to dust off that bike that's been neglected since October.
Either way, let's get out there and soak up every precious minute... it's time for long rides out to somewhere new, and getting the train home, or travelling light and riding back the next day. It's time to take your bike on a budget airline, fretting about it the whole way, but you know it will be worth it to spend every day for a week ascending beautiful mountains whilst the sleepy locals look at you like you are mad. Time to set yourself a big challenge, push yourself, really make the most of the weather so you remember that it's worth it when you are back to winter training.
A good quality, lightweight wicking jersey is an absolute must for a hot day. As you sweat, you want your jersey to be wicking the sweat away from your skin instantly, and you want that sweat to disappear before it starts to smell! You also don't want any moisture to stay on your body by the time you start your descent, or stop for a coffee in the shade. Even on a warm day, being damp will make you feel cold very quickly, with that accompanying clammy feeling. It doesn't do your muscles any favours either. 
The Women's Race jersey from Queen of the Mountains (also in Coral) dries faster than swimwear, so the sweat has evaporated before you've even noticed it's there.
Similarly the Men's Spektrum Jersey by Angeles Creative is made from a super lightweight waffle-type fabric that is extremely light, so the moisture is transferred into the air instantly. The Women's Spektrum Jersey is also a very light but slightly different fabric, with a similar effect.
Another good option is the Marker Jersey by Good Cycling (also in Women's) This jersey has the same waffle-type fabric under the arms and it also has anti-bacterial properties, for extra stink-protection! At the end of the day, you can rinse these jerseys out and you know they will be dry and ready to wear again the next morning.
Summer rides are often long rides. Why not be out on the bike all day after all?! It's really worth investing in a good pair of shorts with a longer-performing pad for these days, as it will make the world of difference in terms of comfort. The Queen of the Mountains Race shorts have an extremely high quality Cytech pad that is suitable for 4+ hours of riding. It's worth noting not all shorts can boast this, and it really is noticeable on a long ride. They are also made from LycraPower® fabric that reduce muscle vibrations, therefore reducing muscle fatigue, so you can get up and do it all again the next day. They also come as an option with a Coral trim for a pop of summery colour.
A cap will also make a real difference on a sunny day. The brim shields your eyes from the sun and it will also stop sweat streaming into your eyes. We recommend The Climb #1 cap from The Wonderful Socks, made from a cotton-polyester mix fabric called gabardine which dries super fast. It has a sweat wicking, antibacterial tape running around the inside to keep your head nice and fresh! Rinse it out at the end of the day and hang it up to dry, there's a little ring inside. The caps by God & Famous are also designed with hot weather in mind, as anyone who has ever tried to cycle around New York City in the heat will probably appreciate. There is a sweatband at the front and a breathable mesh panel at the back.  
And then... socks. The Wonderful Socks know what it's like to cycle in the warmest weather, being as they are from Italy, they actually get to enjoy a proper summer rather than the rather hit-and-miss unpredictable affair we get in the UK. Their socks are constructed in Polypropylene and Resistex Carbon; high performance fibres that are breathable, lightweight, soft, and antibacterial. The wicking properties keep your feet cool, dry, and as a result you can be pleasantly surprised by how little your feet smell at the end of the day. Useful if you have packed light and are recycling...
And finally... don't forget to hydrate! It's good to have too bottles, one for water and one for water+electrolytes.
We love our squeezy OMNIUM bidons but this one by Twinsix is also pretty cool.
Enjoy your summer riding! 
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Father's Day gift ideas for cyclist Dads!

Posted by Claire Pepper on

Dads... They are hard to buy for. But it's worth making the effort, because who taught you to ride a bike in the first place, eh?! 
Here are a few suggestions for Dads that cycle, and a few for those that don't...
FOR THE HARDCORE CYCLING DAD... The Climb #1 cap and matching socks from The Wonderful Socks
If your Dad is heading to the Alps this summer, ripping up his local race circuit, or maintaining a healthy pace with his mates on the weekly club ride, we reckon he would love this cap, with or without the matching socks! It's an extremely high quality cotton cap, with little embroidered details on the outside and lined seams on the inside. The sort of thing that will become an old favourite.
gifts for cyclists  
If your Dad only dusts his bike off in the summer, he might have forgotten the importance of hydration on his first ride this year. Give him the OMNIUM Bidon for a gentle reminder (his old one is probably a bit mouldy by now, anyway.)
The Wonderful Socks design socks inspired by cycling legends, and even if the names "Marco" or "Arenberg" mean little to you, your cycling-fan Dad will get it, trust us! These socks are great for cycling but also work just as well peeping out from underneath a suit trouser.
gifts for cyclists  gifts for cyclists  gifts for cyclists
A super handy, lightweight bag, perfect for a lunch box and a wallet for a gentle commute.
You know it's probably for the best!
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FORWARD godandfamous goodcycling QOM twinsix tws