I rode the club 10 this weekend. It was a riot. The wind was up on the way out, spiriting the riders along to the turn with a sense of wellbeing and rapidity. The way back was a runny grobble of a ride, cue copious chewing of stem and gnarface.
I bit the bullet and purchased one of those newfangled skinsuits with a shiny number pocket. I had to cover myself in butter to get into it. It’s quite the contortionist’s dream. By the time I had finished swearing at my velotoze shoe covers I was just about ready to roll.
I managed a steady 22.29 for the ten, which I wouldn’t have settled for prior to the event, but was perfectly happy with afterwards. I lost time on the way back; I haven’t got the legs to power through the wind, and suspect I’m not as aerodynamic as I used to be. It was good enough for 6th place on a slow course, where the winner handed in a 21 dead. A few more seconds would have seen a few more placings, so I feel relatively optimistic, given the absence of any racing form.
I won the battle of the wretchedly old people, taking home the cash for first V4. I have to say, I think I could make more money this season by being slower than I used to. It’s an interesting phenomenon, failure as a mark of success. Not unlike this government’s approach to GCSE curriculum change and the lives of young people.
We won the team prize. Although it was quite a chastening experience because I wasn’t actually fast enough to be in the team. Instead it was three horribly young and fast people. The super-young Josh Griffiths, who has yet to be derailed by drink, drugs or women, but hopefully it won’t be too long, was fastest. Next up was Nick Livermore, who has legs like pistons, forged in the crucible of industrial Britain, each thigh bulging with monstrous girth, taut and terrifying, like rippling hawsers holding back an aircraft hangar on the launch ramp prior to a maiden voyage. He also rides a road bike with clip-on tribars, which is embarrassing, to be honest. At least he could make out he cares when smashing everyone out of sight, and buy an honest-to-god piece of bongo weaponry. I asked him this and he said he needed to get furniture. Some people have their priorities all wrong. The last member of the triumvirate was Joe, who looks like he’s just walked off the set of Hollyoaks.
The times are indeed a changing.
I spent some of today doing some family cycling. It’s a beautiful thing, in cliched terms. You go riding with your children and they love it. It’s also chronically terrifying. A 4 year old on a Frog bike, amazing, but terrifying; such speed, fearlessness and joy.
I’d been looking forward to today’s race. After the my first race two weeks ago I had a sense that it was a case of forwards and faster. The gaps were small and the Bath Hilly is deserving of the title with quite a bit of climbing. I had this feeling I was going to be flying and back where I where I once was. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out like that.
At the starting line I contrived to pull my wheel over in the dropouts. It’s a schoolboy error. There are a couple of grub screws but I hadn’t set them properly. Clearly way too much power. What with my skewer being an allen key fitment (seemed like a good idea at the time) I had to return to the start to get an allen key to fix it. I lost over a minute there and then. I was OK with this. I thought, well, I’ll just have to ride a minute quicker than i was going to. Which would have been fine, if instead I hadn’t chosen to ride about two minutes slower. I’m not sure it was that bad, it just wasn’t that good.
Looking at the strava thing I can see that I’m climbing ok, but I’m just not riding fast enough all the way round. This i guess is the problem with time trials. Other people ride faster. Finding the secret to riding faster takes a bit of effort. I haven’t put the effort in just yet. Well, I have, but within a short period of time, and during that time within the confines of a busy job and family life. It’s hard graft. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the day, which is what I set out to do, it just happens to be more enjoyable if you beat more people, because that’s bike racing, and anyone who tells you otherwise is a cyclo-tourist. I came 11th, one place down on last week, although the missing minute puts me 8th, hypothetically…
We were discussing ‘Zwift’ the other day. It’s all the rage in the same way that strava was all the rage a few years back, and as such it’s also polarising opinion quite quickly. Far be it for me to have strong opinions about these things. The general consensus is that anything that makes the turbo a better experience is a good thing. However, nothing makes the turbo a better experience than not using the fucking thing in the first place, so I don’t quite get the sudden virtual seduction of otherwise hardy winter cyclists. Anyway, that’s another blog for another day, with multiple layers of reality just waiting to be virtually explored, all undertaken whilst staying in the same place.
The discussion of zwift saw a ‘friend of a friend’ link to these chaps:
He knew what he was doing. “Hey, PJ, have you seen these guys?” he typed, with a coquettish smile and a flirty emoji.
I love a good pre-vetting. Is that an extra layer of vetting? How many layers of vetting does a collective need these days? I always thought that the word ‘collective’ was quite benign, soviet farming notwithstanding, but it’s acquiring increasingly sinister undertones. I’d go so far as to argue that it’s undergoing pejoration.
“The EC1 Collective was founded on strong principles that seek to advocate the interests of its members before all else. We’re not a cycling club in the traditional sense but rather a community of like-minded bike enthusiasts whose propensity to enjoy the finer things is maximised through an aggregated representation. Our aim is to move past the current marketing model of the UK cycling industry where manufacturers & retailers define the value exchange. Instead, our high-net-worth members have empowered themselves under a collective voice, the EC1 Collective, that see’s them dictate the value and experiences they want.”
I’m unsure of these ‘strong principles’. When I was very small I remember my Mum took me to church one Christmas. The Vicar pulled out all the stops on the sermon and gave it some welly about how hell is so terrible because you get everything you want and yet you still want more, you do your bidding, and it’s riven by insatiable avarice and personal desire. I remember at the time thinking that it didn’t sound all that bad. He then said Heaven was much better because you did what Jesus wanted all the time, you did his bidding. It seemed complicated, but to my 7 year old self it made heaven seem like an elaborate hell for Jesus, riven by his insatiable avarice and personal desire, which I didn’t think was the intention. Either way, this dualistic vision of the inferno seems to have several undercurrents with the EC1 “philosophy”, a social model predicated entirely on exchange value and net-worth. It’s the apotheosis of the current wave of materialism and has to be the most loathsome combination of high-capitalism and cycling I’ve yet seen.
“Through this reverse marketing model they are driven directly to the most relevant sources of trade. Our data driven model enables this granular matching up process.”
“Say hello to our community founder Mike and plan your next corporate ride out into the hills. With our industry connections we can piece together a ride or social occasion that’ll knock the cycling socks off your clients. We’ve also piece together many team building days / weekends based on varying abilities. Challenge your team to a ride out that’ll stir the sensing and leave them pumped & positive for the year ahead.”
I’d like to say hello to Mike, but I’m not sure that the granular matching up process would lead me within a hundred miles of him and his stooges, out on their triple-bongo winter bikes, which isn’t to say i don’t want my sensing stirred, it’s just that maximising my aggregated representation isn’t probably the way to do it. Maybe I’m just adrift of the times. Unlike the current POTUS who seems very much in tune with this model.
I have a go-to bike, and it’s my Bob Jackson Vigorelli track frame. It’s not really a track frame, at least not out-and-out; the angles are perfect, slightly relaxed, and it takes full mudguards. I ride it most winters (and summers) and never deviate from a 68″ gear. For those of you living in a metric world, all you crazed audaxers especially, and Matt Clinton who only speaks in ratios, it’s 39:15. In my experience you can get up and down anything in this gear and tack along on the flat at around 19mph without a care in the world. Apart from Draycott. I once went up Birdlip on Boxing Day, I think there’s a blog on here somewhere about it. I won’t ever be doing that again.
I have a pair of flopped and chopped cinelli bars; probably criteriums. They were really scratched and abused so I didn’t feel too bad about hacking them down. The curve is just right; I’ve tried various other set-ups but this is by far the most comfortable. In the early days I ran with a Dirty Harry lever mounted on the tops but this has been replaced by a single TT lever on the widest point, it makes for easier braking and control when riding at speed; your hands are wider and it’s better, especially when your ass is bouncing around from the effect of a 180rpm cadence.
For some time I ran with a double campagnolo chainset, but with the single ring, this made things lighter. I’ve since reverted back to a Miche Primato; it has a better chainline, less faffage and the Q-Factor is good. I also use the Miche sprocket and carrier system, this is a remnant of hill climb days when you could remove a sprocket very quickly without a chainwhip. Some people sneer a bit at this system, as though somehow it’s not reliable. This is total bollocks. They are sturdy and utterly secure.
Wheels are a set of Mavic Open Pro; the front is laced radially to a Phil Wood hub; it’s very tasty. I have a ceramic rim on the rear, just for shits and giggles because I don’t use a caliper brake. In other words, it’s a pointless addition. It makes people laugh when they see it. I went through the rim of an open pro whilst descending Bridge Valley Road. I nearly shat myself. It exploded. There is a lesson: don’t ride on concave rims.
I love this bike; it’s light enough, but not super light, frame and fork come in at 1.4kg; which is pretty heavy. For a winter bike though, without the addition of a groupset and other stuff, it comes in light. It rides beautifully. I have a carradice on the back to keep my school books off of my back. Saddle is a Brooks Cambium – I’ve tried various saddles. I think the trick is with fixed riding for any length of time is to go a tiny tiny bit lower on saddle height; your ass is moving around a lot more, you need a bit of give.
I’ve had it resprayed by Argos, it’s now orange. It used to be blue. I recommend having your bike re-enamelled every 8 to 10 years; it’s worth it. It used to be a royal blue colour. I also had some additional bosses put on, including secret mudguard ones. The bike was stolen about 9 years ago from outside a pub in Bristol. I got it back a year later almost to the day when it was listed on ebay and an eagle-eyed chum, Rob Mortlock, spotted it. I got knocked off by a car last year and broke two ribs. The bike was fine.
A couple of weeks ago Dave Braidley put on the 6th Annual BSCC road race. It’s by some distance the best road race in the area and a savage test for the innocent and hapless 3/4s who line up with all the unbesmirched joie de vivre of the spring lambs gambolling in the nearby Mendip pastures. All it takes is once around the block, the first ascent of Stowey, for things to come unstuck. With a further eight to go, it’s a war of attrition. There is no break per se, just riders rolling on out the back as the bunch reduces lap on lap.
This year, in light of not organising any races, I took on marshalling duties from a scenic roundabout on the A37. It gave me a perfect viewpoint to see things unfold, the attempts to get away and the subtle changes that shape the narrative of the race. Two things stood out; firstly the doomed early attempts to ride away from everyone else which can result only in la fringale, even if you do get a few precious seconds of exposure for the sponsors. The second was the superb race from the uber-jazzy and post-hipster outfit, Das Rad Klub, who managed to win and come third, with Rob Borek, once of this parish, remaining steadfastly invisible until the last few moments. Kieran Ellis, still of the South, rode an incredible race. His was a classic case of the returning second cat with legs of steel, bullying the nervy neo-fourths, but nonetheless, he animated a breakaway and then somehow managed to bag second place after being swept up by the rampaging chaos of a 3/4 peloton on the a formless hurtle through Bishop Sutton.
I guess if you’re going to crash in a bike race, you may as well get points for it by scraping across the line on your collar bone. It reminds me of a chap in Lynton near where I grew up. He smashed it down the hill on his Chopper, before having a bit of a speed wobble which ended with him sliding down the hill on his front teeth. As far as I’m aware his friends and family still call him ‘Sparks’. You can’t beat a good face plant.
I nearly got hit by a deer yesterday morning. It vaulted the wall on Belmont Hill in a serene arc with legs tucked up, getting about 4 feet of air, then skittered across the tarmac, inches away from my front wheel. A car behind had been waiting patiently before overtaking. I’m glad. I wouldn’t have wanted to go to work wearing bits of deer. It was very exciting and transient.
I shared the experience with my BSCC bike chums but they refused to believe it happened on account of it being solely a narrative account of lived experience, with no verifiable features; no strava log, go pro footage or still photography. In short, it didn’t actually happen because it wasn’t a digitised experience. Virtual life is real life, real life is unverifiable nonsense.
Here’s a previous encounter with a deer that did the rounds some time ago:
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…
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.
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.