After a season where most of my base mileage has consisted of walking to the playground and back with the occasional ride with a passenger, I’ve now started to prepare for hill climbs. I’ve left it very late. I will be resolutely uncompetitive, but feel as though I should ride, at the very least to support the book. It is a higher purpose. In light of this, I have started panic training. it’s a time-honoured method used by most cyclists at some point in their short amateur or professional careers. I have the following small tasks to achieve:
Lose around 5 kilograms in 7 weeks. My ‘A’ goal is 7 kilos. My ‘C’ goal is 3 kilos. I look at it rationally, it’s a mere kilogram a week. I can do this by riding much more and eating much less.
In light of (1), ride much more. I have yet to do any intervals or hard efforts. I am focused on actually getting up hills without stopping. I have been getting up early and riding my bike.
There is some work to do. I am planning on riding a 1951 Ephgrave for the duration of the season. It’s a lovely bike. I shall post some pictures later this week.
I think Michael’s comments serve to highlight one of the aspects or even themes of the book; the search for a soul within cycling and how it’s becoming lost under a welter of consumerist impulses. It’s evident in the amalgamation of cars and bikes as fetish objects, something I’ve written about before at the highest end, but is also now available at a Vauxhall dealership near you…
In this vein, there was an article in the Observer this weekend that explored life at Dulwich Hamlet FC. It seemed to be trying really hard to establish a causal link between hipsters (public enemy number 1) and a grass-roots, authentic footballing experience. It failed. Nonetheless, it’s a great article that looks carefully at the slow tide against the corporate experience that is modern day professional sport. It’s well worth a read. If you like football but feel uneasy at the obscene amounts of cash involved, or love cycling but bridle at the relentless zippsworks commodification of something unerringly simple, then Dulwich Hamlet, or FC United, or any unsponsored cycling club, are the real deal, not a purloined version of authenticity with money at the heart of aspiration.
Of course, I’ve had some negative comments about the book, none more so than Sir Michael Of Hutchinson, who seems to have looked at one picture caption and formed a judgement of the whole tome:
I’m surprised. I thought he was joking at first, perhaps ‘his idea of a plug’ as another esteeemed bikewriter suggested, but he then waded in to anyone who questioned his reading (or non-reading) of the text. Either way, it was a bit of a disappointment. I don’t know if it’s a case of hopeless romanticism, by I imagined that established writers might be prepared to look at a whole text before making a snap judgement. Equally, I imagined they might be supportive of new writers, rather than publicly airing injudicious comments to their 23,000 acolytes. I can only conclude that the monstrous TT behemoth is either a touch thin-skinned or not happy that someone else has written about him, as opposed to him writing about himself. He always seemed like a reasonable chap to me when I met him at TTs (albeit in full fanboy mode), as documented on this blog. I received an articulate response from another CTT National champion:
I had to look up the word ‘sook’. It’s a good one. I will be using it forthwith at every possible opportunity.
Perhaps I’ve missed something, beyond my unconscious and cunningly concealed, snide implication that if the National Hill Climb Championship features ‘Michael Hutchinson and a drainage van, riding downhill on a time trial bike, in a hill climb’, then it might not be the most appropriate event for the discipline, given that none of these things (Michael Hutchinson, drainage van, downhill, time trial bike) feature in any other hill climbs, apart from one other atypical dragfest when it was really really flat and lasted for 17 minutes with a 20mph average speed for the winner.
As for the number of people you can please at a given moment in time; the adage remains true.
ITV4 coverage of the tour this year, the bits between the racing, not the actual racing, has been brilliant. This is chiefly down to the winning combination of Imlach, Boardman and Boulting. I’ve even warmed to the silent assassin, Matt Rendell, with his perfect french and Hitchcockian undertone of menace.
Highlights included Jen Voigt’s extended homily, questing where reality begins and ends on the Tour; “Now that I have seen both sides, who are the monkeys actually, and who are the people watching and who are the real monkeys? I can’t answer that.” This epithete appeared in the rest day programme, which also featured some terrific footage of Thevenet and Merckx on Pra Loup and an extended interview with Thevenet. It captures the moment Merckx blows up and loses his lead. You can find it on the page below:
Second up is the genius montage which tied Romain Bardet to SL2 forever; it’s a track we’ve been humming in Traumfarrhad Towers for a while now. It’s as though legions of cycling tifosi up and down the land shared the same earworm, but didn’t realise until the sound editor laid it down. He’s probably been itching for a Bardet stage win all year, waiting and waiting, and then BOOM, it drops in his lap.
It’s the best montage I’ve ever seen. Aside from musical mash-ups and vague puns, the Velon footage has been a genuine innovation this year. There is talk of getting to a point where camera footage is available live during the race. It would be quite something to be able to cut to a sprinter’s camera when he stamps on the pedals. The footage from this tour has some unusual angles, mechanic-cam is a favourite. The clip below seems to have someone groaning throughout which adds a bit of depth, as if a multi-rider smash up at 40mph wasn’t deep enough.
However, nothing comes near the action from Alpe D’Huez. As the riders head up through Dutch corner it resembles a scene from a Werner Herzog film, orange smoke drifting across a vision of an inferno; a baying and screaming mob dressed in outlandish attire. A genuinely unreal spectacle.
I had the good fortune to visit the Rapha CC in Manchester this week. Whilst there I used the facilities and discovered the most epic toilet in the world. It marked a new ‘chapter’ in my relationship with the glossy bongo brand. I’ve always been the first to comment on the epicness of some of their marketing and their target audience, but alongside a clear recognition that Rapha do a huge amount to support British Cycling. However, I never imagined I’d be on the receiving end of their largesse.
The talk was to support the recent publication of my book, ‘A Corinthian Endeavour: The Story of the National Hill Climb Championship’. I wanted to show a wobbly powerpoint and some badly scanned images in Manchester because of the longstanding connection between the championship and the Manchester Wheelers – the most successful team in the history of the event. The Wheelers were really helpful, especially Holly, and Rapha allowed us to use their shop/cafe/exhibition space for the talk.
Several legends of cycling turned up to listen to me talk at length in a slightly flustered and oblique fashion. Jim Henderson, Lynn Hamel, Peter Graham, Gareth Armitage and Graham Sydney all made the journey from various parts of the North. It was a reunion of sorts, some of them hadn’t met in 40 years, and it was great to see some animated conversations happening afterwards. Also hidden at the back was the figure of Jeff Williams. I found this a bit unnerving for a couple of simple reasons: we hadn’t met before so I had no idea of how he might feel about the book; and he he was a national road race and hill climb champion who also rode the Olympics and Commonwealth Games. In short, a legend amongst the legends.
It was a fantastic evening. I even got my copy of the book signed by lots of people. It’s starting to feel a bit like a real book tour, like what real writers do. I have another talk at Prologue Cycling in Harrogate on August 20, followed by one at Rapha CC in London on September 16.
In amongst all of this, I’m not finding much time to ride my bicycle. There is another reason besides writing about cycling, and it’s not cycling related.
The last time bike racing came to the centre of Bristol, Bradley Wiggins was riding round in short trousers and electric gear systems were the stuff of science fiction.
Despite being the famed ‘cycling city’, we’ve had to watch jealously as stage finishes and Tour Series races grazed the edge of Avon. There seems to be have been a subtle shift lately and the arrival of the Tour of Britain last summer was a high point, with both men’s world champions honking up Bridge Valley Road. I chose the picturesque views of Southmead to watch the technicolour blur.
Yesterday, Le Sportif held the inaugural Bristol Grand Prix using much of the inner city course from the 1980s. It was a short and savage 1.2km circuit with some judiciously place hay bales as a nod to the area’s agricultural and pastoral sensibilities. And to stop riders from being sliced into separate components by the right-angled corners. The event was crowfunded, with some match-funding from Bristol Council and a lot of support from local business. I’d venture to suggest it’s the crowdfunding aspect that got things rolling. they managed to raise over £16k. It’s a significant sum and in an era of local government under-funding, hints at the way forwards for costly events like this. There are always knock-on benefits, and the most obvious ones don’t come with direct revenue gains attached; namely generating a sense of bonhomie and goodwill, getting people cycling, consolidating Bristol’s social identity as a place where people can make things happen with not much more than a will and a way. It might need more corporate and council support in future to establish its place in the calendar, but for now, it is refreshingly ‘local’.
The races were fantastic; running across the range of abilities. Criterium racing is nice and spectator-friendly; you get to see the racers every few minutes and if you’re canny, you can see them twice on the course. It means you can grasp the narrative of the race, although the narrative is often as simple as ‘it looks really hard, these guys are hurting a lot, those guys aren’t hurting as much’. It was great to see so many red and gold jerseys in the pack, outnumbering the other clubs considerably and taking up podium and top ten places. There can’t be many better feelings than getting a result in your home event.
It was a fantastic afternoon of bike racing, made all the more spectacular by the fact that it took place in the centre of Bristol. Things like this happen because there are people like Pip Adkins who make it happen. Chapeau.
Rob Borek hammers it out of the Hatchet at closing time, anxious to avoid another lock-in…