I’ve never done a panel talk before. It vaguely exciting, like a poor man’s question time. The topic of this one was pain and suffering. Most of my contributions were based around the narrative of pain, versus actual pain, among with some reflections on authenticity and masculinity. Basically, life was easier for grandparents because they worked really hard (therefore it was immeasurably harder). Nowadays work is not often physically demanding, therefore we displace our desire to be tested onto other things. Endurance or short distance cycling is a useful and vicarious proxy. It can actually hurt though, and watching it hurt other people is a lot of fun. There were some other esteemed people on the panel, Pip Adkins, who organises the Bristol Grand Prix, Martin Hurcombe who is an academic and interested in cycling and culture, and Jason Yon, who works for the secret squirrel thing and is an engineer. It was nice to be involved and I really enjoyed it.
I’m participating in a symposium (a new one on me) this weekend as part of Bristol University’s “Feel It” festival. The small bit I’m involved in is called “Show me your scars: the cult of suffering in cycling” and promises to be a discussion of the metaphorical cult of suffering. At least, that’s what I’m hoping. Certainly I don’t actually want to show any scars to anyone. I have an appendix scar. I have some road rash, if that counts, a nice weal on my shoulder from an argument with a car. That sort of thing.
I’m not really sure why I was asked, possibly because I’m the only person stupid enough to try and write a book about a really horrible but scenic event. Further details here:
In the spirit of the event, here are some people experiencing literal pain on bikes. Be warned, some of these have a baroque splendour to them, especially the ‘ooof the tree… followed up with a rock to the chops’ variant. What a corker. The old ‘rag-doll drop over the last ramp’, that’s a beaut as well.
The big event is this weekend in Matlock Bank. The Startsheet is out, and it’s a total mess. There’s not a lot else I can add to it. I’ve seen more sense in a sheepdog’s breakfast. Setting out a hill climb field is an Artform, not a Science. I’m surprised that Matlock CC and the CTT chose to turn their back on the way that things are done in favour of a methodology plainly unsuited to the discipline. This video recently surfaced of the complex field placing and selection meeting held by the CTT:
Nevertheless, I’m sure it will be a great day. I’m picking Joe Clarke for the win, followed by Bussell and then Evans. Lou Bates for the ladies, followed by Fiona Burnie and then Maryka Semenna. It will be a cracking few hours in the centre of Matlock.
This year’s National is on Bank Road. Last time it was held in Matlock Matt Clinton took the honours, riding fixed. This year, the big hitters have begun creeping out of the woodwork, most looking very ill, very pale and very thin.
Adam Kenway: serial nearly man in the event and Metaltek Kuota firebrand. Came scorching out of the blocks to win on the Cat and Fiddle and at the Bolsover event – a modish smashfest up a closed road at night-time. Kenway took bronze on Pea Royd in 2014; this year is a similar climb and he looks in good form.
Joe Clarke: kept his powder dry but emerged off the back of a successful road season, winning his last race and confirming his Elite licence. Won on Pea Royd today (25 Sept), charging round the first corner at a ridiculous speed.
Richard Bussell: the man to beat, by all accounts. Armed with a fixed wheel weapon and determined to lose 5 kilos in 5 weeks. Came third behind Dan Evans and Ed Laverack on Porlock this morning.
James Gullen: some unbelievable time trialling this season; clearly going faster than ever before. Came second on the Stang by a couple of seconds to Tevjan Pettinger in 2013; looks in ominous shape.
Dan Evans: picked up the win at Stoke Hill near Exeter on Saturday, second to Laverack on Porlock. Going by his win on Pea Royd in 2014, Matlock should suit. On his day, phenomenal strength and power output make him very difficult to beat. The same could be said for Bussell though.
This year’s edition lived up to the hyperbole, it has been the best one ever. Some of the stages have been outright sufferfests; the one over the Struggle in particular somehow packed in 4000m of climbing. It was brutal. Apart from the obvious highlight of a double stage in Bristol, I enjoyed watching Ian Stannard ride away from Graham Briggs on the Cat and Fiddle, like an angry Dad dropping his precocious but weak son on a character-building ride one Sunday morning. It was savage. Briggs looked like he was sprinting, Stannard like he was popping to the shops.
Saturday’s time trial was a thrilling opportunity to catch sight of the finest riders in the sport at very close quarters. Tony Martin, Tom Dumoulin, Rohan Dennis, Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Steve Cummings and lots of other super big hitters. Wiggins looked like he wasn’t taking it very seriously. In later interviews he did point out how hard it is to train for a 4 minute event on the track and then ride a lumpen shit-fest round the more scenic bits of the UK for 7 days. Nevertheless, he was in full soft-pedal mode.
It made it much easier to catch a glimpse of the greatest UK cyclist ever in his last race on the road. It felt significant and I was pleased to be there. in contrast, Dumoulin looked super fast.
The afternoon stage coincided with a friend’s stag do. I’m too old for the mad shenanigans which happen on these sorts of days, the complex rules and the fast and loose imbibing of horrific alcoholic drinks. We gathered on the Downs, replete with banner, and cheered on Tom Dumoulin, for some strange reason. It made the Tour of Britain twitter feed as one of the moments of the day.
We lost out in the public vote to Mark Cavendish looking at some children sat on a chair.If you zoom right in on the banner you can see the full glory of the masks, as well as my puny arm struggling to lift it.
Everyone was excited by my watermarked face, and the strange reflection of the Vuelta in my sunglasses. It made for a strangely otherworldly experience. The sunglasses helped with the eye holes, unlike one of the masks above where you can just see an eye beadily poking through.
It was a brilliant day. I love bike racing. But I think everyone knew this already. In other news, Marcin Bialoblocki managed to scrape 50 seconds from Alex Dowsett’s ten mile record with a 16.35. That’s 36mph. Try holding that on the flat for 10 metres, people. He repeated the feat the next day with a 44.04 for 25 miles. Quite a weekend.
I have been riding more lately. It’s not been easy. It involves a painfully slow pace and a horrid experience, a sense that I’m not in the easiest cog when I have been for ages and it’s still only a false flat. In summary, i find it an undignified experience.
I rode towards the Mendips on Sunday. Imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a sportive. It was like I’d never been away. All I can say is if you’re struggling to ride and carting a few extra pounds around the midriff, then mixing it with the sportivistes on Blagdon Hill does wonders for the self-esteem. Even at a staggeringly low speed I managed a healthy dose of chopper-drops. My increase in confidence was dented slightly by a failure to get away from a really big chap who clung on up Rhodyate. At least he was wearing club kit.
My avowed intention to do more cycling is continually undercut by other things. However, yesterday I made it out on the bike for a round trip to the Ethicurean near Wrington, with Will, an erstwhile touring partner. Will went full Mercian whereas I rode the mountain bike on account of having errands to run in the morning prior. It was good training.
The Ethicurean is a walled-garden and restaurant set in gently rolling countryside with a view of the Mendips. It’s a splendid place and the setting is bucolic and tranquil. It was the nicest way to spend an afternoon.
Will and I made grandiose plans to arrange a tour that only takes in high-end eateries. It could work.