On minor success

I’ve been writing some bits and pieces lately for Snowdon Sports. They are a big sports and media news agency. It came about after Graham Snowdon, venerable cycling reporter for the Daily Telegraph, posted about reading my book on Fazbk, saying positive things.

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He then suggested I do few bits for them. Thus far it has included some newsdesk shifts. You can do these from home, it involves chasing up results and writing up a report. It’s quite exciting, insofar as it’s about as close to journalism as I’ve ever got. More exciting that that, I get to see my written words in Cycling Weekly every couple of weeks, shifts dependent. I did the results write-up a few weeks ago and have also done the copy for this Thursday’s edition.

It’s quite an odd experience. You have to write according to a particular style, keeping it fairly dry and making sure you don’t include extraneous detail. I quite like the challenge, even if it’s a million miles away from the fluid prose sections of ACE and the ramblings on here. Snowdons also supply race reports and details to British Cycling and the CTT. I’ve had two interviews up recently, one today featuring Adam Topham. He came across very well when I spoke to him; reflective and self-aware.

The highlight of all of this so far is ringing people up randomly and dropping the CW bomb: “Hello. It’s Paul Jones ringing for Cycling Weekly.” It’s worth it just for that.

 

 

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Road buzz vs vigorelli and the cracked rib challenge

One of the definitive tests used these days in the high-end consumerist world of bike sales is the amount of ‘road buzz’. The only thing that rates higher in the semantic spuff stakes of a bike review is ‘lateral compliance’, a phrase full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

On Monday I added a new framework to the lexicon of bike testing; the broken rib road buzz challenge. I made the brave utterly stupid decision to ride my bike home. This is because I knew that taking the bus would take about three days and if i did so I wouldn’t make it home in time to see my small children. My bike was still at work following on from Friday’s shenanigans.

 

The Bob Jackson Vigorelli is a 631 Reynolds steel frame. It’s lovingly made and is a pliant frame, in the way that only high end steel can be pliant. When you really push through the pedal stroke you can feel the frame flex under the power and force. This wasn’t something I fully exploited on Monday. Generally, the frame smoothed out the road surface to a degree, especially in combination with Vittoria 25mm tyres. However, it didn’t prevent every striation and undulation in every chip of gravel from travelling up through the frame and ending up in a shaking incision of pain in my upper left ribs. Speedbumps and road mess left me wincing in pain.

I can confirm that the Bob Jackson Vigorelli has failed to successfully smooth out road buzz when put through the broken rib challenge. I will try the Orange C16 Clockwork at some point soon and will update all 3 readers of the differences.

 

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On being Off

I got knocked off my bike again on Friday. I say again because I got knocked off about 2 years ago – on that occasion I was unceremoniously rear-ended. I got knocked off about a year or so before that by some chumps pulling in without checking.

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On this occasion a small red car pulled out from a side road onto the main road. The lady saw a gap and went for it, hard and fast. The only issue was my untimely presence on the stretch of road. I got absolutely mullered by the car. I had about a second or so to protest loudly before making contact with the side of the car and going flying. I’m not sure where the bike ended up; I ended up in a heap on the road. It was a big smash and I was a bit freaked out by it; I felt very nauseous and had a lot of pain in my ribs. I could breathe though and wasn’t concussed. It’s that strange feeling of being pootling along, excited to be out on the bike, to being ‘oh shit no oh STOP…’ to being on the floor. The lady got out of the car – stopped across the middle of the road – and was screaming and crying. I think it’s quite a terrifying thing to drive into an invisible cyclist. Essentially, I decloaked at the wrong time.

I remember saying something along the lines ‘calm down lady, I need to get out of the road’. I was confused; as shocking as it must be to experience a cyclist at such close quarters, the reaction of the lady seemed disproportionate to mine. I was sat there for a bit because I wasn’t sure what the damage was and was in a bit of shock. Some friendly passers-by helped out and I ended up sat on a bench for a bit. The difference between bike vs car and car vs car is that in the former the car driver becomes suddenly and forcibly aware of the vulnerability of the cyclist. I wish it didn’t need a crash for this to be evident.

Perceived wisdom in these circumstances is to call an ambulance and the police. It’s a road traffic accident (although someone once told me there is no such thing as an accident, they are incidents, and I’m inclined to agree) and it’s best to have the experts on hand just in case. Being English and terribly reserved, I sat for a bit, told people not to call the ambulance and waited it out. I spoke to the lady, got a bit ranty, but in a very passive aggressive manner. It’s not like culpability was in question. I also warned her that the cost of a replacement wheel (should it need replacing) might be considerably more than she might think, but that’s life, and she should choose her crash-victims more carefully.

After about 20 minutes I got back on my bike and went to work, it was only 5 minutes up the road. This was a matter of practicality rather than stupidity; at work I could have a cup of tea and see where I was. Colleagues were friendly and supportive, the universal panacea of tea with sugar was provided and I began an in-tray exercise so that I could free up time to head to A+E later if I needed to. I did need to, and headed off to the BRI at lunchtime.

The A+E department at the BRI is quite bleak. I’m not sure that I was expecting a bijou residence, some kind of chi-chi post-modern, televisual set-up, or even some sort of post-Holby City shiny palace of care, but it doesn’t really measure up to those kind of expectations. It’s a grimy triage unit, and grimly effective. The staff are focused, rapid and fantastically effective. I was triaged after about 90 minutes; it involved a detailed examination of my ribs, locating two fractured ones through the time-worn process of the prod-and-poke = patient scream. They can’t do anything about ribs. The advice was as follows:

“They are fractured. I’m going to give you some really strong painkillers and a leaflet called ‘managing your rib injury’. They might make you go a bit funny (the painkillers). If they do, don’t drive, because it’s a drug and drive drug. The pain will get worse before it gets better. You’ll be constipated. You’ll probably need more drugs than this what I am giving you. Rest and don’t lift stuff. If you cough up blood or weird sputum, come back at once”.

And thus my weekend has been fairly restful. Those fortunate enough to have had a rib injury will know it’s a particularly nasty thing, making it hard to breathe much above a shallow sort of emphysemic intake, and sneezing/coughing is like being stabbed with knitting needles. At the same time though, it’s not completely debilitating and as long as I keep stacked up on the prescription medicine, it’s manageable. The A+E lady said I might need a re-up in a few days. The only thing I find troubling about the saga is that it’s the third accident I’ve had in Bristol in 8 years, and on each occasion the car driver has been resolutely at fault. Which means it doesn’t matter what I do, how safely I ride, how many lights I stop at, how deferential I am to motor vehicles, how many lights or flourescent items I use, at some point I will get whacked by a car. On average, once every 2.6 years. I don’t like this. I guess it’s not as random as that. However, experience of my fellow cyclists and commuters – even people at work – would suggest that there’s an empirical truth and it’s not a nice one. If there is ever an argument for segregated cycling facilities, dutch style, then this is it.

I have had to rethink my training plans for this year and may come in under my planned monthly mileage for January, reducing it from 200 to 150 miles. Epic.

 

 

On Vic Clark (RIP)

Vic Clark died last week at the age of 96. He was National Hill Climb Champion in 1946, ’47 and ’48, writing his name into the early history of the event. His wins were preceded by victories from Harold Worthern and Bob Maitland.

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Vic riding in a Coventry RC “25” in the early 1940s.
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Vic winning on Catford, i think in 1948

I had the good fortune to meet Vic about 4 years ago. Once I’d decided to write a book about the National Hill Climb I set about tracking down as many of the early winners as I could. Vic was good friends and a mentor to Lyn Hamel and we met in Lyn’s parents’ house in Kendal. Vic regaled me with anecdotes and details of his career, sharing his experiences over a cup of a tea and biscuit. It was a moving encounter and it made me realise that the book would work; that people like Vic had stories worth retelling, sharing with other people, and that it made for a compelling and rich narrative.

When I struggled with the middle sections of the book, in amongst the pressures of family life, work, cycling and so on, it was thoughts of Vic that got me back to it. In short, and without trying to be too blunt, I wanted him to see it before he died. He had given generously of his time and I wanted him to know that outside of the cognoscenti other people would be aware of this kind, taciturn but fiercely talented and athletic individual. I like to think I succeeded. His presence is missed.Capture

 

I am currently sorting through audio from the encounter and it looks like I might be working with Jack Thurston on a bikeshow piece. I’ll keep all four of you avid readers posted as to how and when it happens.

Below is some audio I played during book talks. One of the highlights amongst many is his gentle correction of my assumption that he rode a 69″ gear. I chuckle even now.

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The dog ate it

The genteel backwater of timetrialling has been rocked by a spate of doping positives of late. Well, three cases, and a fourth a little while back. Two of them were on the same road racing team back in 2012 and had been subjected to targeted testing. One of them was a junior who travelled to France and bought EPO, and the most recent was a veteran and 12 hour national champion. I feel a minor vested interest in the last one because on Saturday night I presented him with his award at the CTT dinner, along with his team-mates for various prizes in prestigious events like the BBAR. I feel conflicted in that the rider in question must have been aware of his impending four year ban and yet turned up to collect his trophy. I’m not implying anything beyond that there seems to be a lack of integrity, regardless of at what point the sanction kicked in, and in this case it was after the National title win. It’s the cloud of suspicion and the lack of personal responsibility that irks.

Of the four cases, the junior has been the only one to accept fully responsibility – or guilt, perhaps more importantly – for their predicament. The others have sought to blame others. I can’t comment on truth here, all I know is that a recent theme of an assembly I gave to children is that whilst you can attempt to pull the wool over a lot of other people’s eyes, you can’t lie to yourself. I find it interesting comparing the rationality of doping to the mindset of a 14 year old, because there are clear parallels, insofar as one of the key definitions of maturity is the willingness to see and accept the link between cause and effect, and thus avoid certain situations in the first place.

Of the other three, the reasons given have ranged quite widely, but they all sit very neatly within the curious sub-genre that is ‘doping excuses’.

  1. Andy Hastings: I used someone else’s (who I didn’t know but also attended Monster Gym) syringe because it didn’t look like it had blood in it so should have been fine but happened to be contaminated.
  2. Rob Townsend: Someone with a longstanding personal vendetta switched my bottle whilst I left it unattended before a race
  3. Gilberto Simeoni: My  aunt gave me cough sweets from Argentina but she hadn’t checked the ingredients and they had cocaine in them
  4. Tyler Hamilton: I happen to be a chimera, therefore the autologous blood is actually mine because I have got two sets of genetic material including one from a twin that I absorbed when in my mother’s uterus
  5. Floyd Landis: I drank too much whiskey, hence my Tour-winning 11 minute breakaway
  6. Alberto Contador: I ate steak which a friend bought specially for me from Spain to France, but it was full of steroids
  7. Mauro Santambroglio: I took testosterone for my erectile dysfunction
  8. Franck Vandembroucke: The EPO and clenbuterol was for my ill dog

As someone pointed out somewhere else on the internet, it has the unexpected side-effect of making time trials seem quite a lot more interesting and subversive than they actually are.

 

 

 

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You brought me fame and fortune and everything that goes with it… I thank you all

This weekend we made the trek en famille to the wilds of Heythrop Park in the deepest darkest Cotswolds in order to attend the annual beanfeast that is also known as the”CTT Champions’ Dinner”. It was ridiculously exciting and my first all-expenses paid trip anywhere as an author. For a few brief moments I almost felt like I was an actual author. My duties included standing on stage for around 90 minutes to give out prizes with Sheila Hardy,  the lovely chair of the CTT, followed by a speech to the 300 or so in the audience, and then a hearty dinner with some toasting and drinks. The compere was Michael Hutchinson – the Michael Hutchinson, singularly the most decorated time triallist in CTT history. He was a consummate professional and a delight to speak to. I say this with utmost sincerity; I couldn’t have had a better time. I look back on the evening with slightly frayed memories, a surreal blur of dream-like encounters where cycling legends like Andy Wilkinson appeared in and out of focus, sharing stories and chatting like old friends. It seems scarcely comprehensible to me. I had the opportunity to ask Andy about what it was like to ride from Lands End to John O Groats in 41 hours in a recumbent whilst catheterised. It’s worth noting that Andy has also ridden 541 miles in 24 hours, which is further than most people would want to drive. Skip to the end of the video below to see what it does to you.

In my speech I attempted to articulate why i think amateur sport is important, by speaking about the significance of the club and the reasons why people ride, the links between people and places and the history of clubs like Bristol South CC. I think I got it just about right, certainly people were very complimentary afterwards, with one chap saying it was amongst the best speeches he had heard. Another chap said he really wasn’t sure at all at first, but warmed to it and came away feeling really engaged by the ideas. On the whole, a good few minutes work. It’s rare to have the opportunity to speak from the heart in matters such as these, about cycling, the amateur ethos and life in general. Not being a successful cyclist at a level that might get me a ticket to the ball again, I felt a profound sense of achievement that I had been asked to speak. It’s not something that will ever happen again.

I am incredibly grateful to all at the CTT; Paul Thomson, Keith Lawton, Roger Wakeling, David Barry, Sue Bowler, but especially Sheila Hardy. These are people committed to doing service for the enjoyment of other people, for the good of cycling, people who make the world a better place.

If you are interested and couldn’t make it, this is what I said:

Thank you Sheila and the CTT for the invitation. not being one to turn down a free lunch, it’s a pleasure to accept. I’d like to start by acknowledging vic Clark, national hill climb champion three times in a row in the very early years of the championship, later an organiser on dovers. He was 96, and when I met him three or four years ago he was still getting the bike for half an hour each day. Thoughts with friends and family at this point. In an oblique way I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for vic, he was the first person I interviewed for the book and his fascinating presence and incredible stories of cycling kick started the book and later formed the opening chapter in its entirety. Chapeau.

Ostensibly I’m here because I wrote a book about cycling. I’d like to think it’s because of my cycling prowess, However, when i cycled I was never hugely fast, even if i wasn’t massively slow. perhaps one day I thought I might get so damned fast that I actually won something other than a fish and chipper in North Devon. In the end though, i think it struck me quite forcibly that i wasn’t going to get a ticket to the champions dinner on the back of a win in the Minehead CC hilly when I was the only one on a time trial bike and everyone else was very very slow or Rob Pears was on holiday. after about 5 years of effort I thought it that there had to be a simpler way, so spent three years travelling up and down the country, tracking down long lost people and writing up hours upon hours of audio and putting it in a book. The book is about hillclimbing, so i suspect only three of you here have read it – Matt, maybe Richard, possible Marykka. And that might be because I gave each of them a copy. I have 997 other copies to shift and will be selling them at a reduced price, with an added message for no extra cost.

Congratulations to all the prize winners. I am a cyclist, although not so much right now due to the debilitating and overwhelming power of a 6 month old and a 3 year old. But I am a racing cyclist through and through and will probably always be one. and i know the extent of the commitment involved, the early hours before work and the quizzical look of the non-cyclist and the confusion at the absurd mileages. i know how much effort and time it took me to get 2 seconds under 50 minutes. Maybe that’s the paradox, it took me 5 years to find 2 seconds. I salute you. You have worked incredibly hard, and then somehow found time when not working incredibly hard to ride your bike to an extent which many people would classify as work, and then found yourself at the top of elite amateur sport. Hats off indeed. People think we’re bonkers and i suspect you wouldn’t have it any other way.

it’s a privilege and honour to be here. My club, Bristol South, has some past glories, but not many. Dave Keene is celebrated for his tricycle feats, just shaving the 4hr mark for a 100. He also entered the ‘world tricycle champs’, a massed-start tricycle road race and tt. It’s like Ben-Hur, marginally less violent. Within our club archive there is a black and white picture of the club turning out en masse at temple meads station to wave off Jeff Fry, Chris Holloway and John Kempe as they make their way to the Royal Albert Hall in 1961. They won the team prize in the BBAR, with Chris Holloway 3rd. Within it you see a snapshot of what cycling means to communities and its significance to Bristol. each person is holding up a large letter spelling out ‘Bristol South CC’. People like Ernie Janes, who worked for Thanet and in the bike trade, stood centre, His son Allen rode one of the first low-profile bikes with a crown-mounted handlebar in 1979, built by Arthur Needham of Argos Cycles, who with son Gary made bikes for Dave Lloyd and Stuart Dangerfield. John Kempe is there, his son and grandson are still racing for the club. It’s the link between place and people that seems so important and is integral the sport of time trials, where bike clubs emerge and get their character from the landscape and races, the places and courses used. the club started in 1893, emerging from the leisure movement where suddenly the bicycle became a machine of escapism and empowerment – from the tobacco factories and mines of South Bristol to the docks in the centre of the city in this case. these are the past glories of the club, and outside of the parameters of victories, it goes from strength to strength. I touch on this in my book, both Vic Clark and Gareth Armitage making full use of the empowering capacity of the bicycle, through touring in Gareth’s case, and in Vic’s case, as a means to keep a courtship going by cycling from coventry to Kendal every Friday night. and at its simplest, an evening like tonight is a celebration of the limitless potentiality of the bicycle as a force for good.

I used to dream about getting an invite to the Champions’ Dinner; poring over old clippings and programmes, The 1961 programme for the event attended by the BSCC team features an impossibly glamorous and high-end line-up, Jacques Anquetil presenting the prizes and being interviewed by Jean Bobet. Lower down the list was Lyn Perrie, then a singing star, later Ivy in Coronation Street. Tommy Trinder was the headliner, ‘welcoming you lucky people’, with a strong supporting line-up featuring ‘sensational european jugglers’ and the ‘kuban cossack dancers’. I think we may have missed a trick this evening. If not in terms of the Tour stars, then certainly the sensational jugglers. In the interviews I did for the book a common thread was the sense of intense pride and disbelief at being invited to the Champions Dinner, from Eric Wilson and his prize of a propelling pencil (which he still uses), through Jeff Williams, to Jim Henderson meeting Eddy Merckx.

Times have changed. So much so that it seems faintly remiss for me to be here. It wasn’t so long ago that Eddy Merckx was stood up here. So for not being Eddy Merckx, or Jacques Anquetil, or Stephen Roche, or David Millar, or Brian Robinson, or Lynn Perrie or a dancing cossack juggler, I apologise. But it is hard work that got me here, just as it got each of you here, and i’ve learned to not underestimate the extent of the sacrifice involved or to apologise for that. Writing is just like cycling: there is no money in it, it’s a labour of love. i work full time at the same time. at one point i rode my bike, read books about cycling and wrote about cycling. it was quite tough to find time to do other things, work and family being two of them.. writing requires the constant pursuit of marginal gains, making sentences more aerodynamic, stripping them down, finessing, finding souplesse, what flows beautifully and the simplicity of the aesthetic. it takes time, and effort, every single day, chiselling away at the chalkface, and it’s difficult to see the gains, but over time they happen. And I’d like to think that in some small way I’m here to represent anyone who has taken an interest in the idiosyncratic sport of cycling in the UK, of time trials, but also of obscure framebuilders, of Raleigh Lentons, Major Nichols, Ephgrave, Stan Pike, Chas Roberts, the names that speak of britishness and uniquely british cycling, and of our topography, from the Mendips to the Peak District, the climbs and landscapes through which we ride in hushed reverence.

As i’ve already said, and will say again to anyone who wants to listen me talk again later, It’s an honour. In the book I write clearly about the soul of cycling, and particularly British Cycling; the traditions and the spirit that has shaped the sport we know and love. It’s sometimes seen as anachronistic in this modern world; where the imperative is money, sponsorship, teams and so on. Within this framework, we need cycling time trials, the amateur spirit – the corinthian endeavour – more than ever. It’s a way of reminding ourselves of the importance of goodwill and of grassroots efforts, of the fact that sometimes some things transcend monetary gain. It’s heartening to see the hill climb championship won on fixed, and I laud Richard Bussell’s efforts on his cheaper bike in the National ten. I see a lineation back through the garage inventors, the quirky pursuit of marginal gains by the eccentric individual, like Alf Engers, with every item drilled like Emmental. a million porous holes and a nose inches above the stem.

We are justly proud of cycling’s success, the crest of the wave, where ubiquity is everything and UCI stage races within the UK are becoming the norm, and UK world champions are almost expected. But the wave will break, and what will be left is the institutions with longevity and we have to stick true to what we know, the values and ideals of amateur sport, the ethos and the strength of the community and the places in which we live. We have to uphold the strength and endeavour of people like Pete Longbottom, Ryedale surveyor and olympian. Of Michael Hutchinson, driven by a personal desire to succeed and a love of the sport and even the more complicated people in our fraternity, like Daryl Webster, outspoken but true to himself, opposed to certain things.

It’s easy to sound like a luddite or someone trapped in the past, but the importance of the club is the glue that binds people together. Grass roots sport, run by amateurs, is worth valorising, celebrating, and defending. and in this respect, it’s an honour to stand with you and be a part of the celebration of your efforts and to see you add your names in fine-etched filigree to the lists of people from the past who make us misty-eyed with nostalgia. Thank you.

 

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