On the incessant growth of the sportive market

Longstanding readers of this blog, of whom there are three, my wife and mother notwithstanding, may recall various posts in which i question the sportive ‘juggernaut’. It’s one of the dominant tropes of the current bike boom; in short, a commercial reaction to the legions of new consumers. I’ve highlighted the consequences of the exponential growth in an unregulated sector; both in terms of the cultural effects of overwhelming country lanes with thousands of cyclists, and the way some events have ridden roughshod (no pun intended) over longstanding bike races which happened to be on the same roads many years previously. I’ve also mentioned the positive effects; namely more people cycling is a good thing, but ultimately it’s not hard to see where I’m leaning. The sportive market is one symptom of the voracious consumerism of cycling. Sometimes I even find myself feeling sympathy for the New Forest dwellers. This doesn’t last that long though.

Few things in life are certain, death and taxes being the hoary cliché (is hoary cliché a cliché?). You can be assured that the current bike boom will peak and then subside, and with it the waves of neo-choppers will ebb and flow back out with the tide to resume other sports and pursuits. What lies beneath this ephemeral world is a dedicated amateur racing scene; led, developed and fostered by cycling clubs. I am fearful of the damage being done to the bedrock of cycling by the rapacious sportive market, something encapsulated by the current problems being faced by the Bec hill climb. Speaking from experience, club events are designed to break even, there is no profit or loss, no-one takes a cut and everything is voluntary. This is in marked contrast to most sportives. There is a salutary article by Garry Beckett here that is well worth ten minutes of your time.

Hitting up the Bun Run

In days of yore by now I’d now be well into the winter base work. This winter has been a bit different; I’ve canned pretty much all cycling with the exception of the 6 miles to work and back every day. Once a week, give or take, I’ve ridden the long way to work. I think a couple of seasons ago i did something similar, heading out just before christmas to card an 11mph average on a flattish route. Hardcore.

For most of my peers winter tends to be the time to pile on the mileage, re-establish the base and endurance, and enjoy some steady group rides and good conversation. There isn’t any pressing need to be doing absurd distances before January; too much winter training can lead to a mid-season burn-out and diminishing returns from there on in.

My main aim at the moment is to keep the weight down enough so I can still fit into my clothes; i’m a 30″ waist, this doesn’t leave much margin for error, and keep fit enough so i can avoid that palsied sensation of out of breathness and muscular atrophy. I’m also flying under the radar, no garmin or recording devices – there’s not really anything worth recording.

Ravitaillement, sous-radar.

I joined the club run this morning for the first time in a very long time. It now consists of three groups of different paces. This is primarily because of the numbers now riding; the bike boom has led to increased numbers for the club, now hovering at around 120. I went for the medium group and decided to cling on in.

It was a decent day for cycling, a balmy 6 degrees with dry roads. There was a headwind on the way out, i realised this when on the front, so slipped surreptitiously to the back of the group and hid amongst the bigger chaps. After about 20 miles i peeled off and headed for home, discretion being the better part of valour. It was my longest effort since August. I didn’t fancy putting in an early bid for the bonk hammer, best off leaving that one to the professionals.

Retro signage

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When I soar to worlds unknown

Superfast

My last race of the season was at Burrington Combe. Tejvan returned for the first time in a few years and the field was full of rapid people. It was great to see the Champion’s jersey in full flight. I came 11th out of 100.  It was as well as i’d hoped after a 3 week lay off and a lack of motivation. I managed to get under 8 minutes, which is always a bonus.

Thom Heald made a short film about the discipline with some shots of this year’s event. I’m just visible in the background of one shot. the rest of it is wall to wall Rob Borek trying to articulate the desperate excitement of a first full hill climb season. He does a good job. Rob is a new young tyro for the South. Rob’s known for his exploits in club colours, getting up at 4am to “smash it”, powered only by gin and the reckless swagger of youth. He’ll go far.

So come the storms of winter and then the birds in spring again. I have no fear of time.

It’s not been a deliberate silence or a wanton act. I haven’t actively sought to disenfranchise the three readers of this page by a wilful silence.

Time elasticates, at which point days become weeks and then months.

I have been busy, riding my bike, but also not riding my bike. I watched more bike racing. It has been a vintage season of spectating. the Tour of Britain came to Bristol; it seems somehow unreal that the current world champions for both disciplines rode along the Portway and up Bridge Valley Road. They failed to dislodge Andy Legge from the leaderboard.

He came to Southmead. The World Champion. He wanted to renew our rivalry after the legendary ‘battle of Newport’.

 

The rest of the time I have been hanging out with family, DNSing at hill climbs (I rode a few) and finishing a longstanding project. It’s this last bit that has killed the blog; it’s quite hard to keep up with a regular bit of writing when you’re trying to finish a 75,000 word book about cycling. This is now done, insofar as it’s sitting with the editor and I’m waiting nervously to see just how much of an overhaul is needed to make it acceptable to the wider reading public. It has taken 3 years so far. I was unmarried and childless when i started.

Hup Hup Hup!

Other significant events include the shocking and demented purchase of a set of 28mm tyres. Things are changing at traumfahrrad towers.

 

Le Tour

It took about 9 hours to get from Bristol to Bradford on Friday. We left at 3pm and crept into the crepuscular northern town after 10pm. The next day we headed out towards Addingham to catch the first day of Le Tour, whilst the rest of the family staked out a spot in Skipton. The ride up towards the route was an unnerving affair; hordes of people heading in the same direction, on foot or by bike, legions, rows, waves, a steady flight of ridiculously excited people.

The caravan was very exciting; we scrabbled in the dust and asphalt for prized bits of swag. Mike just missed out on a polka dot cap after it landed too near another fellow and he wasn’t prepared to fight for it. I would have pushed the chap into the drystone wall, grabbed the swag and legged it.

the roll-out; depart fictif

Penny tells the fans to stay back, no selfies

Jens: “I enjoyed the first few minutes and then I thought what was I thinking! I needed to go long and make it hard for everyone but I paid a hard price and I didn’t know how I was going to finish”

G and Alejandro share a little joke

Rui Costa, Frank Schleck

Close-up

Mike moonlights for the South

Contador and Rogers

On the second day we were on Oxenhope Moor, where upwards of 40,000 spectators were kept in check by the diligent efforts of one policeman.

In all seriousness, we were prepared to stand in the middle of the road and unleash a heist on the Carrefour Camion. Luckily we didn’t need to.

 

Luckily the Carrefour Swagman was hurling out caps with metronomic efficiency and we managed to score a couple. The hillside was covered with people; I was in awe of the sheer numbers of spectators. It was far more than were at the last big race I’ve seen; Paris-Roubaix. Beyond that, what made it special was the sense that it had captured the imagination of the whole of Yorkshire. Support for the tour was discernible in every village, every shop, street and establishment, even many miles from the route. There was a regional pride and complete determination to somehow combine the cultural force of the Tour with the innate and captivating identity of Yorkshire, both in terms of the awe-inspiring scenery, and in terms of the people that live there. It became a festival of many things and it was incredible. Belle mentioned this morning how it all seems like a dream; a technicolour riot of movement and sound. There’s not much more I can say or write, it was a brilliant weekend; a sentiment shared by everyone who went. I’m still reeling from the excitement.

There is a peloton in there somewhere (pic: liverpool echo)

Lastly, according to Strava, my time up Holme Moss was 36 seconds quicker than Laurens Ten Dam, Lars Boom, Ted King and the others managed in yesterday’s race. This is quite reassuring. I’ll ignore the fact that i rode it as a double hill climb, whereas they rode it as one of 9 classified climbs in a 124 mile stage. Marcus Burghardt was 3 seconds up. I’ll let him have that one.

Vive le Tour!

A friend recently asked the lady wife ‘why are you going to Yorkshire this weekend?’. We guffawed at her innocence, living in a world where cycling is merely a very occasional metaphor for life, rather than the opposite, where life is a thinly veiled masquerade, belying the fundamental truth of cycling.

Anyhow, this weekend sees the Grand Depart visit these shores for the first time since London in 2007. I went to that one, it was quite exciting, but as Ned Boulting recently commented, outside of Hyde Park and the circuit it was less of a success. The exponential rise in cycling since that point means that this is going to be a big one.

I’m looking forward to seeing the riders, grabbing a few tawdry but essential French commercial trinkets lobbed out by the caravan, and enjoying the spectacle of the greatest show on earth.

The mother lives near Bradford. We are descending en famille, with the addition of Steve Douchebag. He sent me a salutary warning this morning:

He’ll have to wear leg warmers and ride at the back.

Meanwhile, a clubmate is warming up for the tour by attempting to ride as many stages and mountains and hills in as short a time as possible.

Looking at the stats makes me feel nauseous. This kind of extreme riding is terrifying. I’ve heard they sleep in muddy fields for 30 minutes at a time, ride through darkness, sleepride, the works.

On enhancing the National TT Championships with the spurious and wanton addition of the rock horns

I was trying to explain to someone recently what it means to ride in the BC National Championships. This involved the use of a clumsy analogy involving what it might be like for a very good club tennis player, or even district big-hitter, to take on Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon. It was as close as I could manage; Thursday’s race included the Olympic Time Trial Champion and The Commonwealth Games time trial champion and the winner of the Tour de France. They were the thick end of a very thick wedge of absurdly quick riders. Somewhere in amongst it all could be found a gentle sprinkling of club riders, whilst over there, looking confused and nervous and a small bundle of shivers growing afraid of it all and beginning to cry, was PJ.

I spent at least some of the pre-race period sat on a sofa at Celtic Manor in my skinsuit talking to Matt Le Tissier. i didn’t know he was Matt Le Tissier until someone else came up and asked for a selfie to send their Southampton-loving chum. He looked a lot like Phil Tufnell. He seemed very friendly and not daunted by the lycra. He was aware that a race was going on. Bradley Wiggins then walked nonchalantly through and everyone stopped and stared.

I took my rollers. This is unusual for me, but it seemed unlikely that there would be anywhere to warm-up, and the possibility of wet weather posed distinct problems. I was very glad i did, i managed to find a quiet spot to set up. What with Celtic Manor being a Ryder Cup location, it seemed entirely appropriate that Colin Montgomerie was able to offer a helping hand.

After 4 weeks of beautiful weather, the heavens opened in time for the Elite race at 6pm. The roads were greasy and grubby. It made for some technical and hair-raising sections on the 12 mile lap. The start ramp was chronically exciting, as was the Hugh Porter commentary; at first. Hugh Porter is a legend of the sport, but his best years of commentary appear to be behind him. At times he seemed to have been switched with a confused dementia patient reading out some bingo numbers.

The bike passed the offical bike check, which is more than can be said for some. My complex home measuring system involving a tape measure, door frame and sharpie was identical to the rig used by the scrutineers. Several other riders fell foul of the bike checks. It left me wondering why people push it when they know the rules. Perhaps it’s easier when you’re not pushing the envelope; I didn’t particularly worry about it. The extensions needed to be pulled in by nearly 5cm and the saddle pushed back a bit, i erred on the side of caution – a metaphor for the race. And so it goes…

Race face on

Rolling down the ramp, taking Courtney Rowe’s advice to ‘freewheel just in case’

I didn’t go full gas on some of the sketchy bits, it was too sketchy. Apparently Wiggins was fully committed and asked where the nearest hospital was prior to starting. I eschewed this approach in favour of a slightly lower key ride. Fortune favoured the brave, and i wasn’t that brave. At the end of the lap loomed the horrifying spectre of a steep and savage climb. There’s no way to describe the brutality of climbing up a 25% wall on a slightly overgeared time trial bike. I had the 42:23 on, I didn’t have anything else. This was fine; I am used to climbing on fixed so can turn bigger gears over when going uphill. It was hard and i had to stay out of the saddle all the way up. I could have done with something a bit lighter, but it didn’t make a huge amount of difference, the climb was vile. It’s worth noting for information purposes that it is harder than any hill climb i’ve done over the past 4 years. The saving grace was the smörgåsbord of red and gold; a cheering, baying mob of the Bristol tifosi, screaming encouragement. It took my mind off the climb.

There are some other notable features that made this event the best race I have ever been involved in, notwithstanding the presence of several riders who I tend to idolise. It utilised a full road closure; not some rolling stoppages, but a full, barriered closure from start to finish. If you’re not used to riding on full closures it’s a weird experience. It takes a long time to get out of the habit of hanging to the left hand side of the road, rather than choosing the racing line through the long and sweeping bends. When you finally do get to taking the racing line through sharp right handers, it’s accompanied by a nagging fear, ‘i do hope the road really is fully closed and there won’t be any nasty surprises’. On the first lap I was led out by a motorbike outrider from the NEG group. This was an amazing experience; he signalled all of the slippery drain covers and hazards. After the first lap it was a free for all, there were more riders and more following cars.

Such was my excitement at being in the biggest race of my life that I took every opportunity to throw out the rock horns, both on the first and second lap. I think that some spectators saw this a potentially foolhardy, or perhaps a sign that I wasn’t treating the race with due diligence. Ultimately I wasn’t taking it hugely seriously, I wasn’t in it to win, I was there to do my best, to represent the club and to enjoy it. I didn’t want to come to last. Essentially these were my goals for the race. And to throw some shapes wherever possible.

Horns on the hill

@traumradfahren givin it the 'horns' #25% #settingthestandard #nationalttchamps

A video posted by @samevans100 on

Sir Brad did not give the horns

I came 28th out of 60. Wiggins’ time was stratospherically fast; he is the reigning Olympic the trial champion. Outside of the continental riders, the bulk of competitors were within 4 minutes of each other; i was within this block, just. I came in 9 minutes behind Wiggins. I just kept it to within 10 minutes, which is how i imagined it would be. Getting to ride the event in the first place was a success, staying on the bike and making it round was even better, finishing within the top 30 at the National Championships, ergo, all of the country, and not being significantly adrift of the non Grand Tour stage winners, was the best of all. I was chastened and humbled by the level of support; Mum, nephew, wife and child, in-laws, club-mates, random strangers asking questions, the tweets and likes, everything.

I raced yesterday on the Somerset levels. It wasn’t quite the same.