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Follow here my journey and stories around the World. 


Filtering by Tag: adventure

How to go completely bonkers... Zinzin de Turini!

Ivan Blanco


Pronunciation IPA(key): /zɛ̃zɛ̃/
Adjective zinzin (plural zinzins)

1 (colloquial) bonkers,  2 (Louisiana) buttocks

The origins are unknown to me, but it may have involved your usual spur of superpower feeling of a group of cyclists after some night out in the streets of Nice… but however it was, it is among us now and here to stay. What am I talking about? Well, the one and only Zinzin de Turini Challenge! Chaperoned by the Cafe du Cycliste, it includes everything crazy that normal people say about us cyclists and… goes even beyond that!

With the Col de Turini at the heart of this adventure, the basic lunacy of this challenge is:

Climb the 1604m massif with your bike, not once, not twice, but three times from each of its sides, picture it, Strava it or stamp it with Cafe du Cycliste’s specifically created route card; provided with any Audax clothing from their collection.

Quick aside, for another “stamping” adventure, head over to my Camino de Santiago cycling adventure by clicking here; a truly life-changing experience.

Go for it like SuperPierre!

So ready to be bonkers? Well, before you say yes yes yes, like my friend Edoardo when you ask him to go to a party, have a look at the elevation map and gain; source Strava:

Write here…

Write here…

How many of those 3 yeses have dropped? If one is still alive, then here’s the picture agenda Cafe du Cycliste had ready for its most daring and most cafe-addicted riders:

07:15 - RDV Café du Cycliste
07:30 - Departure from Café du Cycliste; towards Escarène
08:30 - 1st stamp at L’Escarène and up up up to Luceram, Baisse de la Cabanette, Piëra-Cava and… 1st time Col de Turini 1604m!
11:00 - 2nd stamp at Hotel Les Trois Vallées.
Then quick quick quick down to Sospel; easy mate!
12:00 - 3rd stamp in Sospel (Café next to the fountain)
Up up up to Moulinet, or to rhyme it with French pedaling, “allez mouliner!”
14:00 - FOOD time!!! Or as it ended up being, the best ever RAVITO! Thanks Café du Cycliste!
And 4th stamp at our usual Hotel Les Trois Vallées.
Quick quick quick down to Bollène Vesubie
5th stamp somewhere… angry bartender helped out but it seemed more like a menace, kinda good since it made us get back on our pedals and leave quick quick quick
14:30 – So up up up for a 3rd time in a row!
15:30 - 6th stamp - Even the guys at Hotel Les Trois Vallées kinda had enough ;) Thanks guys!
Quick hurray and hands in the air, but not too much, angry clouds with charged lightning bolts were ready to receive us in the most spectacular way, therefore, down to Escarene for the last treat.
16:30 - FOOD time in Escarène and what a glorious finish! Big big big Kudos to Ali, William and Matt to make this, one hell of a ride and yet another unique cycling experience! Gracias Amigos!

What next? Down to Nice and time for some rest… mmm… well, what would someone really bonkers do with 175km and 3850m already on their counter....? Of course, at least round up that elevation gain!

So it was for the Spanish loco of the group, with my usual Cimiez detour up to the Matisse Museum, the deal should be sealed… but not quite, so had to add a few more kilometers and in the end, as now a truly Cafe du Cycliste Zinzin, why not round up the k’s too?

So said (aka, thought; not talking alone yet ;)) so done!
Aspremont it was and with a last rain escape !

Final count of the day:
204.80km 9h04min & 4491m!
Time to dunk that beer!

So my dear fellow weekend riders, still feeling confident?

Then find out more about the Brevet here and about the fascinating Col de Turini here.

So long amigos, until next time:
helmet, espresso, climb & wave!


For the socialnatics, it’s down here

Team ŠKODA: meeting the cycling Pros

Ivan Blanco

Allez les bleus, par ici pour vous (bientôt)
Para los amigos de Indurain, es por aquí


How the heck did I end up in Paris with two former French Pro cyclists and 19 more passionate amateurs contending to enter Team ŠKODA…?

Lazy? Then scroll down and watch the video

If we go really really way back, we could say that my Kindergarten years and my always riding everywhere would be the beginning… But this isn't an autobiography so, fast forward to July 2015, in the middle of the Tour de France, I finally got myself my long desired road bike. Some of you may know that my return to the cycling World was with my 1st ever Saint James Pilgrimage, crossing Spain with my 30 something kg bike and bags to get home and live a life-changing journey; you can read all the 15 days over here.

Further and higher!

Hang in there

With the aim of going further and higher in my cycling goals, after long hours of internet scouting, and the Tour de France making me eager to get a new bike asap, I found one 3rd hand Cannondale Carbon bike which wasn't used more than 2000 km by its previous owners and was in mint condition, what a deal! What else could I ask, well, Serge, the seller (and with coincidentally the same last name as my mother…) was quitting road cycling due to a health condition, so he also sold me his completely new cycling shoes and threw in two free jersey and bib-shorts: what a way to start my road cycling adventure!

330 kms in one day?


I didn't take long to surpass the previous owners kilometric milestones and with just two big rides almost hit a quarter of that. Following goal after goal, my work commutes started to be mostly just on my bike and weekends opened up opportunities of travel and discovery never imagined, like a Col de Turini ride topping 180 km on my Strava (GPS tracking app), to just a week after hitting my still record ride of 330 km from Nice to Hyères (south-east part of Southern France) and back in one single journey; yes, some suffering and lots of food involved and, straight 11 hours sleep.

Another even more ambitious goal was attempted, but technical circumstances postponed it for a future momento… don’t be impatient, it will it will, you will know in time.

Committed to make it my main transport method, today I ride to work 20 km each way, surpassing already the 3k mark for this year, and close to the 10k for my still very young Cannondale. You truly know you love to ride, when you hit days of non-riding and feel that something is missing… or like Remi from Café du Cycliste said: you’re screwed mate, you’ve been bitten by the road bike bug!

True that, and loving it!

Cote d'Azur commutes

So without delaying more the initial question, on the final weekend of the Paris-Nice Pro cycling race, which I talked about here in another blog entry, I went for a pint and chill after one of my best cycling weekends up to that moment. Discovering a contest in via ŠKODA, I typed in the requested info an Bio and didn’t think much about it. Some kms had to be ridden via the Strava app, where my daily commutes did fulfill the needs more than enough.

Paris-Nice Challenge sunrise

I didn’t really think much about it anymore until a few weeks later… Checking the commercial tab in my mailbox, sifting through some electronics shop emails, Groupon discounts, Rouleur stories, photo gear emails, etc. Suddenly one catches my eye with “Congratulations” and signed by ŠKODA France… At first I thought, oh my, again an email where I might have won a car but need to give my details, bank account to some Prince in Africa… or else. But surprise surprise, I was among the 40 finalists to be part of the amateur ŠKODA cycling team!!! I couldn't believe it, I had to recheck what this was all about. The final 10 will win:

  • 3 weekends of exclusive coaching from Jérôme Pineau, 13 times Tour de France rider, 2 times climber’s jersey winner, and Florian Rousseau, 10 times track cycling World Champ and 3 times Olympic Gold medallist
  • All expenses payed
  • To ride a carbon road bike
  • Team equipment
  • Take part at the Etape du Tour, the most challenging sportive with 143 kms, 4 climbs of more than 1600m, gathering 15000 participants
  • ... and boy, this was just the appetizer!

Jerome Pineau in the center

But nothing is set yet, and the first stage was a Skype call with one of the coaches and someone from the organisation, and why not, on a Saturday, the same precise day two of my best friends got married and I was to be their photographer in the lovely town of Antibes. Due to this, I was unable to make it for the first call, so we rescheduled one after lunch… Exactly when we left the restaurant and with a few rosé wine glasses more, call came in and we had one great conversation about my cycling history, motivation, gear and some football chat about Madrid or Barcelona… Yep, the coach I got to talk with was Jérôme :)

If things were to go well, one week later we would have to meet at the famous Paris-Roubaix start. On Monday we would have the results and logistics would have to be deployed or not. No news on that day, so I simply started to think on some alternative weekend ride and was glad to have a nice chat with one of the Pros… But, next day an email came in: Congratulations! I had made it into the last 20 and had to start booking my tickets with destination: Paris! Unbelievable! I didn’t really sleep much that week and during half of it my head was looking forward to one unique weekend. This, bringing our bikes and ourselves, the hotel where to go, and the time we had to meet was all the info we were revealed.

What, I’m in the last 20 out of 900?¡?!

Having to work the day of travel, Friday was a late arrival for me, building up my bike, and some late dinner available at the reception’s microwave… Intrigue, jitters and excitement mixed up with some vague attempts of self control… eventually, sleepiness took over.

Day 1 hit the agenda and as well as during my Saint James Bike Pilgrimage, I praised myself to get one fulfilling breakfast to jumpstart the ‘race’ for a spot in the first ever Skoda Cycling Team. Talking about team, my first acquaintance was Mikael and we started talking about what might expect us, our cycling marks and he also graciously lend me the key to unscrew my pedals, which ended up being the only thing we would need that day. Seeing young Antoine overhearing us, I invited him over so we could meet as well. This started to look very promising already!

Destination Compiègne, legendary starting point of the Paris-Roubaix

After a quick refresh and bag check, the first ride of the weekend was going to be… On a bus. With some very far away photos of the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre, I had enough evidence that I 'was' in Paris. We went direction Compiègne to the starting town of the Paris-Roubaix pro cycling race, also known as the Hell of the North due to its treacherous parcours, on the same day the Pro teams were to be presented. With no clue of what was expecting us, with only pedals in our hands, my dreams of a cobble ride soon vanished. We however arrived to the very cobbly center with one big production film and photo crew awaiting us right from the exit of the bus. Each of us, more or less, was a bit overwhelmed by such attention and amazed when we finally got to face our coaches Jérôme Pineau and Florian Rousseau… After... of course, a few repetitive takes :)

The agenda for the morning ended up being pretty Media oriented and among Paul Barrocas, Skoda France’s Marketing Department Chief welcoming us for the upcoming press conference, interviews, some shootings and little revelations came to light like the fact that not only would the last 10 keep their shirts but also the gorgeous looking Lapierre Carbon bicycles that stood shiny and very desirable over that other pretty looking Skoda they were on... Hmmm... if I were to make into the final 10, I’d be happy to propose some kind of trade offs…

Enough, it’s time to pedal!

However, as exciting and glamorous this day was being presented, we weren't asked to put on our cycling garments just for the looks. The more challenge relevant task was to assess our power and put the base for further improvement if we were to join the final 10. First, home trainer sessions of 2 min gaps with max bpm (heart-beats per minute) -30, then -20 and -10, to end up in a very intense 10 secs at full speed. Never having done this, I don't really know if my data is worthy or not, however, for the data addicts among you there you go: my max bpm is around 193, at -10 got almost 400W and at the 10s sprint got it up to 720 with max bpm only at 185. 

Taking the opportunity of a dream come true, I escaped over to the presentations area and got the cherry on the cake for what was already one unique cycling experience. I saw again one of my favourite riders, Peter Sagan, who was presented together with his mates from the Team Tinkoff Saxxo, and I probably met his biggest, ‘little’, fan too:

We concluded this first long journey with one delicious buffet dinner back at the hotel and some nice mingling with the rest of the contenders was on the table. The best about it? The great camaraderie atmosphere and passion for the same sport, without the competitive mode that could be expected, was among all of us and it rather seemed to be a gathering of cycling friends coming back from a long day ride and share the same table with one big smile each... we were at that moment, the Skoda family! 

¡One big family!

One last thing was another photo shoot and a very early Saturday night's sleep. The next day was heavier in cycling and my first ever Time Trial was about to happen…

That’s all for now, with episode 1 already available, you will have to wait until episode 2 to discover who will be part of the #TeamSkoda and hit the #RoadToMorzine! 

If you wish to see what this all looked like and take the opportunity to revamp your French, then watch the video below and stay tuned for our 2nd and very exciting day!

Going North: Day 5 Gernika - Portugalete

Ivan Blanco

Español aquí

Having slept in a place full of history, art and symbols as Gernika is, the persistent Northern rain was going to be my companion this new day until the hills of another remarkable city...

Starting my 5th Camino day with a new Camino friend, Camille (see day 4 of my Northern Camino), we went together for one typical morning ritual, we indulged ourselves to one great breakfast:

Cycling breakfast!

Champion's breakfast!

Still raining heavily, I took the opportunity to ask Camille to do one of my Camino photo interviews (an ongoing project of pilgrims and locals of the different St James routes) to which she happily agreed.

With yet another glorious breakfast filling up my belly and with no signs of the rain easing, with 10:30am on the clock, I covered up my bags as best as possible to retake the road to Santiago. Wishing a good and well deserved rest day to Camille, I ventured my dear Orbea to some difficult pathways, putting her to an extreme muddy and very wet test.

Misty roads

5th Camino Cycling tip: specially with the Northern Camino, be sure to bag some rain cover, very probably you will need it at some point during your journey.
— June 10th, 2015

Sometimes big changes in life lie on decisions which seem to be insignificant

We Galicians (North West region of Spain), are known for our tenacity and stubbornness, so I pushed my equally determined Basque origin bicycle to its limits; read here the beautiful and unique history of the Orbea cycling brand in words of ex-pro cyclist Pedro Horrillo for Rouleur.

Proudly with both Basque and Galician persistence, I managed a personal heroic ascension that took me and my 25kg bike+bags weight to the hills of one of the most known and biggest cities of the Basque Country: the city of Bilbao! The rain very timely stopped allowing me to calmly satisfy my wanderlust with this striking landscape:


Bilbao, mostly known for having amidst its architectural range the stunning Guggenheim Museum, has much more to offer than just that. It is the 10th city of Spain and although deeply marked by its industrial origin, it developed into a prosperous cosmopolitan style city that unites both cultural Basque heritage with a modern urban redevelopment. If you feel tempted discover more via Bilbao tourism.

Definitively, this city is well worth a visit if you travel to the Basque Country or as me, pilgrim through it. Not being a fan of too big cities and even less of big capacity pilgrim hostels they usually have, I headed forward to the next nearest Camino town, Portugalete (no, no need to ask, it has nothing to do with Portugal ;) ). Even though the Guggenheim is not all what there is, going to Bilbao without at least passing by, is like visiting Paris and miss the Eiffel Tower... Therefore, out of the established Northern route, I followed the Nervion river to reach Frank Gehry's unique architectural achievement; find out more about this unique artist, you can hear it from the man himself in this TED talk.

Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum

Quickly after a few shots of the iconic museum, a little off track from the original Northern Saint James Way, I continued by the river side with hopes of reaching a bridge... However, this didn't happen and I ended up in the middle of Bilbao's industrial area, one of the main pieces of Spain's industrial machinery:

Nevertheless, it got me up to speed and arrive to Portugalete, where, to my surprise wasn't any bridge available either, but I still made it to the other side... no no no, don't worry, I didn't test my and my bike's swimming skills nor did I ask the rowing guys for a ride. There was a rather uncommon way of bridging which I've never seen before and makes for Portugalete's most important construction, it is, the Vizcaya Bridge!

The Vizcaya Bridge!

What you see is a kind of ferry like cabin that transports cars, people, bikes and, like in my case, pilgrims over the Nervion River; it's also called the hanging bridge. Dating back to 1893, it was the idea of one of Gustave Eiffel's disciples, Alberto Palacio, who with the purpose of creating a way to cross the river, but allowing boats to pass easily and for a reasonable price, he came up with this very original idea. In fact, it's functionality and beauty make it Spain's only Industrial monument to be part of the UNESCO's World Heritage Sites.

Airport style urban transport

After this lovely river jump I went on to find the town's pilgrim hostel, only to discover that it was... closed! In addition, the nearest pension was fully booked just 10 minutes before I arrived. Nonetheless, they were very helpful to indicate me other possibilities and even called some pensions directly to ask if they had availability. They did have and this took me to my next urban surprise. They told me that I just had to go uphill and I could use the moving ramps... really? I was kinda doubtful and finally guessed they meant to say elevators... but surprise surprise, the moving ramps are real! Not bad to have one's bike being carried from time to time.

Although the place I ended up had no pilgrims around, after my shower I went to discover this charming city, search for my favourite Galician beer (see my love for it here on day 3 on my French Camino) and ending up with one the most amazing sunsets I've ever seen! I've literally spent an hour taking pictures :)

Colour explosion!

Even amid storms, rain, mud and other inconveniences, don't despair, the Saint James Way is a journey of sacrifice but with rewarding discoveries that will awaken the explorer in you!

Stay tuned to my next Going North posts on Facebook, TwitterInstagram or Pinterest for more adventures!