Bicycles, bells and bottles of wine

Bicycles, bells and bottles of wine

by Hugh Thompson

I’ve been to plenty of wine tastings, but none that made me feel this nervous. And definitely none where I’ve been squeezed into lycra cycling shorts and a “Powered by Pinot” cycling top.

I was at the futuristic Lee Valley VeloPark (the Olympic cycletrack), with other journalists and wine writers, to help Chilean winery Cono Sur launch their sponsorship of the Tour de France which starts next week. But it wasn’t just any wine tasting. Before cracking open any bottles of pinot noir we were to work up a thirst by cycling around the amazing track alongside (well, trailing behind) a special guest of honour, the two-time Tour de France winner Bernard Thévenet, the man who beat Eddie Merckx in 1975.

What was making me uncomfortable was the 20-ft high, 42 degree banked wooden cycletrack looming above me – it was hard not to think of the Wall of Death act I’d once see at Battersea Funfair as a kid. Dad said it was physics that kept the bikes up. I was scared for the performers then, and I was worried for myself now.

It didn’t help my confidence that, unlike my more usual ride – a solid fat-wheeled ‘Boris Bike’,  the bike I was perched on has wheels as thin as dinner plates and smooth, slippy-looking tyres, no brakes, no gears and my feet were locked into the pedals. Under instruction, we started tentatively on the inside of the track on a blue flat area (it’s called the Côte d’Azure for some reason). The slightest move of my head sent the bike shooting off to the side.

We whirled round and round the track in single file, getting faster and faster, obeying our instructor’s calls to go higher and higher around the banking (thank heavens for physics). Satisfied we were safe on the track, our instructor got us ready for a one-lap race against the clock and each other.

Suddenly the bell went and it was my turn. That was when I realised why Chris Hoy has thighs like two great Christmas hams. Power. My rashers of streaky bacon struggled to propel me round at speed, no matter how hard I tried pumping them. I was a long way off beating Bernard – even if he was 67, he was still pretty fast. It was all over in 20 seconds.

For me the hard was bit over, now it was time to tuck into the Cono Sur wine. My standout Bicicleta favourites were the peachy viognier and smooth, juicy pinot noir, of which the executive director and chief winemaker Adolfo Hurtado was especially proud: they have the oldest pinot noir vineyards in Chile – and the most expertise.

Tour de France, Lee Valley VeloPark, Bicicleta wines – why are bicycles so important to Cono Sur? Adolfo explained that it’s “a symbol that honours our employees who travel on bikes to the vineyards. Without them we would have no wine.” To further mark their sponsorship of the 102nd Tour de France, 102 thousand bottles of Cono Sur Bicicleta wine will have a golden bicycle bell attached to the neck, as a prominent visual reminder – wine that rings a bell…

To find out which type of wine to have with your roast dinners, see wine editor Susy Atkins’ recommendations.

Cono Sur Bicicleta wines are widely available in UK wine shops and supermarkets. For more information visit

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