National Hill Climb: Pea Royd Lane

I haven’t made the annual pilgrimage to a bleak northern hillside for a few years now, so it was great to get up above Stocksbridge last weekend to see the National Hill Climb. The climb was a late substitution for a southern massif where some kind of confusion and delay doomed the event before it had even begun. There was much speculation as to the reason why, the usual armchair anarchists with their withered fingers pointing at various people in fits of incoherent rage, but as with most things, the truth is typically very simple and underwhelming.

So/Hwæt I found myself on a hillside, desolate.  Although it wasn’t that desolate because the sun shone and it felt almost balmy. I had to take my coat off at one point. I observed the following things:

  1. Large numbers of participants and spectators. The event has grown in size from a field of 120 to a full field of 300. That’s quite a leap. It makes the event last a heck of a lot longer, in fact, you are watching cyclists from 11am until 3pm. This is both good and bad.
  2. The event is in some sort of refractive meta-world, where people take amazing pictures of people doing amazing things and this makes more people want to take more photos and more people want to ride and do amazing things. The narrative of the national hill climb is gloriously simple and very photogenic.
  3. The spectactors are getting ever more visceral and gladiatorial. It has always been thus, but there is a newer sense of the mountain stage, the madness of mankinis and of demented scarves.
  4. There are a number of people riding fixed, which represents a resurgence of sorts. It’s as though they read some overly-romanticised chapter in a book and thought it would be a great idea but didn’t really see the downside until it’s too late.
  5. The community surrounding the hill climb is unlike any other. It is uniquely convivial. The only thing I’ve experienced which is close to it is, paradoxically, the 24hr and End to End bunch of nutters.

Fiona Burnie and Andrew Feather were the outright winners. Glyndwr deserves a mention for winning the vets prize. From a slightly biased point of view, it’s always a treat when the out and out climbers win this event.

Here are some amazing pictures by Martin Wilson of Rare Mags fame.

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More cowbell
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Simon Warren threatens this young lad 
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Hollyoaks 2
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Glyndwr: The Little Welsh Prince (c. Joe Norledge)
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The Northern Shandies
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Gentle encouragement

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I took a roll of film with me, keeping it nice and old school. I opted to double expose. It came out with some lively juxtapositions.

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Holdsworth and Kenway
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Calum  Brown
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Jim Henderson
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Fiona Burnie

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Downing
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Dan Robinson getting stuck into a Jaffa

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Warren writes on  the map
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James Hayward

 

Keith Bingham says I’m Like Jimi Hendrix

Hwæt!

Keith Bingham is one of the most legendary cycling journalists of the past 50 years. He wrote about everything, he followed the Tour, described and articulated what bike racing looked, sounded and felt like in the halycon days of the Comic. Since retiring he’s kept a blog. http://freedomcycle-bingers.blogspot.com/

He read my book. He said this:

“I Like Alf” is the untold story of one of the most talented, stylish and enigmatic of cycling champions ever to have dominated UK time trialling, London’s Alf Engers, winner of national titles from 1959 to the late 1970s. This is about “The King”, the man who wanted to win the Tour de France but whose destiny lay elsewhere.  Officialdom found him too controversial to their liking, this when time trialling itself was controversial, with its reliance on traffic flow to produce fast times!

There were allegations of “white lining” – riding too far out in the road and so impeding traffic when he was often going faster than the traffic – of having following cars.Two East London officials in particular did their best to have him suspended from racing for the most spurious reasons and succeeded!

Notwithstanding such problems, Engers   would come back and continue to make the headlines with breath-taking performances which saw him win the national 25 title six times and put competition record beyond reach with the first 30mph ride. He could do it all, time trial, road race, the track. He was a big draw at events.

But this book does more than merely recall how Engers came to unleash his undisputed powers on the domestic time trialling scene, taking on class rivals such as Pete Wells, Eddie Adkins, Derek Cottington, Dave Holliday, and Ian Hallam. Engers dominated like no other. It’s funny, too, with amusing stories that reveal his lighter side, with so many anecdotes about the characters among the clubs, frame builders and others of who shared in those heady days.

Chiefly this is about a man who overcame the odds stacked against him. Not the least being he worked full time in a bakery, late into the night. His triumphs on the bike brought him brief solace from his troubled memories of a father who had shown little interest in his son; and the ever present threat of disqualification from officials looking for any excuse to ban a guy who was simply different!

This is a riveting read by author Paul Jones who sensitively seeks out the darker recesses of Enger’s soul. I sensed, too, that Engers clearly found release in sharing his story, especially in revealing the unhappy moments from his youth. That should not disguise a cracking, good fun story, too, which revisits his personal triumphs still talked about today. For though his records have at last fallen, Engers exploits remain unsurpassed.

This is a joy to read. And it begs the question, is Paul Jones a pseudonym?  Here is descriptive prose worthy of the late Norman Mailer! It reminds me of noted rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s stunned disbelief upon first hearing the mesmerising guitar riffs of Jimi Hendrix.  “Well,” Becks is reported to have said to Eric Clapton, “we might as well pack it in!” Instead, of course, Hendrix’s style galvanised him.

The title of this book “I like Alf” says it all. Although cycling officials, the “Blazers” had it in for him,   riders loved this colourful character.  So did his rivals who were so often left behind in his wake! So someone produced stickers, proclaiming: “I Like Alf”.

I’ll take it. What a star.

 

 

Road Trip: Stockport and Stocksbridge (all the stocks)

It’s going to be a busy week. Tomorrow I’m interviewing an amazing chap for my new book.

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Thursday I’m off to Stockport for a book talk with the lovely people at Rare Mags

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Sunday is the National Hill Climb. I’ve been getting warmed up for this one by watching the BSCC classic at Burrington. It was a great race. However, my choice of cheer scarf hasn’t met with universal approval.

img_20181021_213120_785img_20181021_120428_948Hope to see everyone there, and hoping for vaguely clement weather. It’s not looking that promising at the moment…

Ordering Update

If you’ve ordered a book, they are all now in transit.

I have been playing “Alf signature roulette”. You might find you have an Alf signed copy.

Don’t forget: Bristol talk is THURSDAY at the Windmill in Bedminster.

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I Like Alf: Review

A nice review from Brian at The Washing Machine Post.

Brian doesn’t do capital letters.

paul jones, author of the previously reviewed mousehold press publication ‘a corinthian endeavour’ proved with that particular book that, beyond any doubt, he is possessed of inherent skills as a wordsmith. i like alf ranks alongside many of the other superb publications to come from adrian bell’s mousehold press. the latter has proved to possess an uncanny knack of publishing cycling books that have changed the face of the genre. classics such as herbie sykes ‘the eagle of the canavese’, jean bobet’s ‘tomorrow we ride’ and graeme fife’s exemplary biography of brian robinson, have now been joined by this essential publication.

the prose is intelligent, the narrative addictive and the author’s prescience in framing the life of one of british cycling’s great characters commends it to every individual who considers themselves a connoisseur or apprentice connoisseur of the sport. time-trialling and, indeed, pretty much all forms of road and track racing, have substantially changed since the time of alf engers. whether this is seen as a good thing or otherwise, probably depends a great deal on your age and nostalgic reverence, but as someone far wiser than yours truly once said, ‘in order to comprehend the present, one must first understand the past.’ buy one for yourself and a second copy as a christmas present for your best pal in the peloton.

lessons learned.

People Like I Like Alf

Dennis says:

“Book arrived a few days ago.  Looks and reads great.  Nice to see the photos of Alf.  I spotted the large-flange hubs — or “Mozzi Record Strada Flange Grandi” as it said on the Campagnolo boxes — which you rarely see now.

I used to really like those hubs.  So to celebrate I dug out and polished an old pair and then reverently placed them back in their box.”

Steve says:

“Loved the Alf book. Just a joy to read your prose and experience Alf’s story. I could have quite happily devoured another 170 pages! It was also fabulous to see Alan Lear’s name mentioned. At the time of the Alf sub-50 project, Alan might have been with Lampard RC. A few years before that though, Alan was with the Watford Roads CC. Largely moribund at the time, the club was however my ‘home’ one and I joined it as a 14 year old schoolboy racer.

Alan was recently back from France, where he’d been for several seasons with the ACBB in Paris, I think. A team British lads sometimes were invited to join to try and ‘make it’ abroad. Alan was generous with his time and introduced me to long rides into the Chiltern hills. On one such, we went to watch the Chiltern GP (or it might have have been the Archer GP in the Chilterns!). A former ACBB team mate of Alan’s was racing – none other than Regis Ovion, Amateur World Road Race Champion, resplendent in the world champs jersey. Cue starry eyed kid attempting a bit of schoolboy French. Alan was of course fluent and chatted away with the world champ.

Happy days! Thanks again. Can’t wait for your next book.”

How to buy my books…

I’ve written two books about cycling. You can get them from the usual outlets, both online and in bookshops – although you might have to order from the bookshop, I doubt they carry it in stock.

Better still, you can buy it directly from me. I get more money and so does my publisher, amazon get none. This is what works best and means I’m more likely to write more books.

I accept paypal, cheques and BACS.  Price below includes postage and packaging. If you buy multiple copies I’ll arrange a refund of excess postage fees. If you are abroad please leave a comment on this post and I’ll contact you from there to arrange postage. 

If you don’t want to paypal then leave a comment on here requesting a book and I’ll email you the details.

“A Corinthian Endeavour: The Story of the National Hill Climb Championship”

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Corinthian Endeavoour

The best hill climb book in the world ever.

£16.95

 

 

 

 

“I Like Alf: 14 Lessons from the Life of Alf Engers”.

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I Like Alf

£16.95

 

You can buy both books together for £30. (including P+P)

 

Both Books

Buy I Like Alf and ACE at a discounted price.

£30.00

 

It Follows

It’s such a ridiculous rites of passage. When you first start doing the longer rides, it’s almost as if every single ride ends in near-bonk experience, a visual foreshortening, entering the field of stars, shaking like a shitting dog type of thing. Then you get fitness and form, and learn how to avoid the bonk and it becomes a repressed and distant memory, something gone but never forgotten and something that happens to other people. But it never really goes away. One day, it lurks stage right before exploding into your field of vision, it stalks through long journeys, just like the entity in ‘it follows’, which although ostensibly about teen sex and horror and STDs, is actually one big metaphor for the knock.

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So anyway, my recent confession prompted some absolute horror stories from the gang. This one came from Madison Genesis rider Isaac Mundy:

“I once bonked so hard in Brittany I was reduced to pillaging very unripe corn from a field. And then seeing it again.”

Even the strongest of us all had a terrible story of misjudgement:

“We were out doing one of those self-consciously epic rides in the Alps, up and over various climbs, all around the place. I’d eaten all my food by about 11am. We then headed up the Sarenne and the lights went out. I resorted to scouring the side of the road, looking for a discarded gel wrapper just so I could suck out what was left in the bottom and somehow make it up to the top of the mountain.  

And then there is the pocket rocket’s tale of woe:

It was in the Alps… I blew my doors off. The other lads went on ahead. I was dead. I was actually trying to thumb a lift up the Galibier. It was game over. I would have killed someone for a cup of tea and a welsh cake. 

And Greener’s story of a ride home with just a banana and Cheddar Gorge collapsing on his head.

Feel free to add your own sorry saga to the pantheon of bonks.

Hammer of the Bonk

I’ve got quite a long commute. It’s not Cottingtonesque, but it is 17 miles each way and I can just about scrape together the energy to do it three or four times a week. It’s also quite hilly, 1500ft on the way out.

Yesterday I rode in, did a bit of work, then headed home just before lunch. I calculated that a couple of custard dreams and a bourbon would see me home.

I’m fairly well attuned to the incipient taps of the bonk hammer. I keep a couple of gels in my bag for emergencies. Or at least, I used to, until a caffeine gel exploded in my carradice all over my pants. That was a sticky day.

Anyway. I was in the middle of nowhere, also known as Clutton. No food, no money. The bonk took hold with alarming rapidity, blood sugar crashed through the floor. I thought, ‘what would Alf do?’. Then realised he’d ring Alan Shorter to come and get him. I was stuck.

I remembered seeing an honesty box of apples in a driveway a week or so back. I had a mile to go. I managed some sort of parody of what pedalling looks and feels like, only to find that the apples were gone. My mind was empty.

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Half way down the climb I saw some blackberries. I ate handfuls. They tasted beyond good, they were blackberries grown by the God of cycling, and they limited the effects, smoothed off some of the edges. A mile or so later I found some windfall apples at the side of the A37. They were very much beyond fresh and nestled up against a dead Badger. I found one  that had a section that looked edible (apple, not badger), in amongst a liquid bruise held together by skin tautened by carbon monoxide. I scrubbed it on my Lycra and it tasted good. It was my get-me-home apple. It worked.

I have now put two gels back in my carradice.

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