So, Chain Gang’s 2009 season is now underway – just.
We have 4 guides working for us this summer, Pete McGee and Toby King in France, and Guido Dollert and Orlando Gensmantel in Italy. This year we also have the luxury of me and my brother, Mike Dugdale, on standby, able to fill in where necessary.
I’ve liked almost all of our guides over the last 13 years, but we’ve never had a guide rosta this strong, and as our season begins I thought it was appropriate to introduce them to you. All our guides were either friends before they started working for The Chain Gang, or have become friends since (except for Mike – he’s a brother!), so I’m mindful of their privacy. If you’re lucky enough to meet any of these guys you’ll find out a lot more about them, but here’s a thumbnail sketch.
Pete is a mechanic by trade, but got rid of his garage and tyre shop a few years ago. We met, Pete and I, in French evening classes the year I started the Chain Gang, and we’ve been good friends ever since. I don’t think either of us thought we’d end up working together, and especially not on bikes! Pete is a genius mechanic – as he replied to one cyclist when he was asked “Do you know anything about brakes?”, “I know everything about brakes, what’s the problem?” And its true – bikes are childishly simple to Pete. He’s a confirmed francophone, with a house in Normandy, and by his own admission he enjoys drinking wine, rather than being a snob about it. A lot of Pete’s mates must have been a bit surprised to find how much he enjoys cycling, but luckily for me he’s grown to love it.
I met Toby through his brother, Ben. Ben has guided for us before as well, although by profession he’s a photographer. But his passion is bikes, and as a bike mechanic I don’t think I’ve met anyone as good. So when I heard that Ben’s brother wanted to work for us I was thrilled, and I haven’t been disappointed. Toby’s a keen cyclist in his early 30s who’s spent most of his working life managing night clubs. Having decided to go to University we were lucky enough that he wanted a summer pursuit. Toby’s still young enough that when he’s in France his French gets better, and when he cycles every day he gets fitter. This is very unfair on me and Pete, but there it is. Like me, Toby does like to get just a little bit arty about his wines, so be prepared to be blunt if the chit-chat is getting in the way of the glug-glug.
I’m pretty sure you will never have met anybody like Guido before. Although he’s German, Guido divides his time between Berlin and his house in Umbria. Of course he loves cycling, although he’s more into mountian biking in his own time, but the best thing about Guido is that he still has the air of delight that he managed to find somewhere as beautiful as Umbria, and he’s lucky enough to live there.
As I don’t speak Italian, I really need someone who thinks ahead of me, who treats the Italian end of our business as he would his own, so you can imagine how lucky I feel to have found Guido. Pete, Toby, Mike and I guide groups throughout France, in Burgundy, the Loire Valley, Provence, wherever, but Guido guides groups through his own back-yard, and whether you’re in the vineyards of chianti or admiring the frescoes at the Abbey of Monte Olivetto, Guido knows about it. Especially in Perugia. I love walking through Perugia with Guido, through the ancient Etruscan labyrinths, visiting Perugia’s most famous (tiny!) cafe, and if you ever manage to get him riled, please take a picture and let me know!
Another German in Italy, but Orlando has been living here since childhood, so he really is a child of Umbria. As you can imagine he’s fiercely proud of all things Umbrian, which I find fantastic. Orlando is approaching his mid-20s and studying at Perugia University. Of course, his Italian is fantastic, and he’s a super-fit cyclist, but he also has a native’s knowledge of the area and the people in it. Again, that’s really important to me when I’m so far away and don’t speak Italian. Orlando arranges impromptu visits to Enoteca, for example, when we’re in Montalcino, and he’s much better than me at ‘the real Tuscany and Umbria’. Which is how it should be. But don’t order a cappucino after midday. As a proper Italian Orlando doesn’t understand it and it upsets his rythym – he’ll think you’re ill.