Sometimes I think I’ve done an epic ride and I sit back, smug at the 70 miler I’ve casually spuffed out. I then check on strava to see how it measures up against my peers, only to be confronted by some slab of degenerate madness.
And I think, well, at around the 70 mile mark when I was limping home through Whitchurch, legs like rotting pieces of whale blubber quivering on the shoreline, old Spinky and Gesink had another 137 miles to go and were just getting warmed up.
I’ve never ridden 137 miles in one go in my life, let alone 207. I have ridden 100 miles or more on two occasions. Once in a time trial, and once on tour. I have no plans to repeat either event. Maybe I’m just jealous.
I went out for a ride yesterday, the last hurrah. I had plans to go big, do hills, make a statement ahead of the new year. I ended up doing one of those odd loops when you don’t stick to your pre-planned route and don’t really know what you want to do, and it’s raining and not raining at the same time. The roads were full of cyclists, doubtless with the same noble intentions, get one more in. Or they were fighting some sort of losing battle with the festive 500 and slogging themselves into the ground in a futile attempt to ride really far without hating themselves and the bike and the weather, and then posting it on the internet with lots and lots of hashtags and new acronyms.
I rode up Clarken Coombe, then across and round the back of Ashton Court. Up ahead, I could see someone out of the gloaming, sporting Team Sky kit in all their noobmamil glory. For some reason, I was feeling polite, amiable. Maybe it was a New Year’s Eve sentiment, each to his own, that sort of thing. As he approached I gave a cheery nod and a wave, which was reciprocated in kind. At which point I realised it was Geraint Thomas, and nearly wet myself. The three longstanding readers of this blog who have put up with silence of late, to the extent that there are now only two, one of whom is my mother and the other is my father-in-law, will recognise that he is a favourite at Traumfahrrad Towers.
Luckily, the Olympic, Commonwealth, World and National Champion, not to mention winner of Paris Nice, E3 Harelbeke, Volta ao Algarve and lots of other stuff, was held up at the lights so I was able to get on without having a double hernia and brutal prolapse from the effort. I asked him for a photo and he was really friendly and engaging. I later retold the whole encounter to my comrades in the South. By later, I mean seconds later, as soon as I physically could. My ride was ruined anyway, my head completely scrambled.
I also said “I raced against you once… actually… let me rephrase that… I was in the same race that you were in once, the National Championships at Celtic Manor in 2014”. He laughed a bit, just a little. We talked about Bristol City and Cardiff City being rivals; he’s a big Blues fan and was heading to the game later that day. Other titbits – he’s not doing Tour of Catalunya because he doesn’t like it and bad stuff happens there. We rode back into town and across the Suspension Bridge, which he liked a lot. People rode past the other way and I waved at them whilst I was out riding with Geraint Thomas. It was simultaneously amazing and really bizarre. Although I think people might have thought one of us was a bearded old guy in DHB kit and the other a full-on PKW, so maybe it went straight over their heads.
In amongst the instagram fraternity, the response oscillated between outright wonder and amazement, and outright anger at the lack of mudguards. I put the ride on strava where is also got a lot of attention. Some chums checked the heart-rate trace and identified a spike right at the point where our paths crossed.
It shot through the roof; an utter palpitating explosion of excitement.
Lastly; it was the perfect end to the year, and it’s easy and also quite romantic to see it as a sign of a brighter time. This year has been tough. It’s been tough to write, to do things that are important and to keep things in balance. I feel like there is a way forwards, and I’m perfectly happy to artificially place Geraint Thomas as the key to it, the meeting at the crossroads, a guiding and utterly serendipitous presence, saying that everything is going to be OK.
Let’s hope so anyway, because the last Team Sky rider I met on Beggars’ Bush Lane had a bit of a rum time in the ensuing months.
I like the Dauphiné. It’s a compressed Tour, with punches thrown and some indications of form ahead of the Grand Boucle, but nothing that nails it down with certainty. It’s also a race that has had more than its fair share of British winners; Wiggins and Froome have carved up 5 of the last 6. Robert Millar won in 1990, and Brian Robinson in 1961. One of the other reasons I like the Dauphiné is because my subscription to Eurosport has lapsed and it’s available on ITV4. Hurrah.
I like it because it uses some of the high Mountains; it’s the first chance to see the peloton get blown to smithereens over the course of 40 or 50 minutes of relentless uphill; the slow and steady grind as riders get shelled out of the back.
This year it opened with a savage uphill time trial, much closer in spirit to a longer British hill climb than anything particularly continental. It was a shakedown and had everyone salivating over the form of ‘el pistolero’. It’s easy to say in hindsight, but I didn’t see the time gap as all that relevant. It showed he had some form, but it isn’t a definitive statement; you can misjudge a time trial or simply be a bit cold, or rusty, or not quite on the rivet, and I had a feeling that Froome’s ride wasn’t all that worrying. Later in the week he replicated the narrative from last year’s Tour. Smash everyone on an early mountain stage with a brutal, uncompromising attack, take the lead and defend it, job done.
There are a couple of other warm-up races, the main one being the Tour de Suisse. After that, it’s heads down for the Tour.
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.
Geraint Thomas managed to pick himself up out of a drainage ditch to take third place, whilst Etixx Quick Step played their usual tactical masterstroke by letting Luca Paolini ride away to take the win.
And here’s the Kiserlovski under the truck Ooh La La classic wet-weather Paris-Nice action…
It would be a shame if the extreme weather protocol meant an end to the unpredictable madness of early season bike races.
In recent years there have been a number of bike/car mash-ups. I seem to remember Ferrari and Colnago (the Ferralnago) producing something utterly revolting fairly recently. The genre plumbed the depths with the ‘land rover’ range of bicycle-shaped objects; marketed under the noms-de-plume of the ‘Blenheim’, the ‘Ascot’, and the ‘Windsor’. I’m not sure my irony filter could cope with the experience of riding a land rover bike whilst being shouted at by a barbour jacket in a Discovery 4×4.
It looks OK. It costs quite a bit of money. It wouldn’t pass the ‘I found it in a skip’ test, coming in at a shade under 17,000 Euros. I also don’t think it takes mudguards or has rack bosses. The AudiWeight Urgelstadt has no purpose beyond advertising two key attributes: disposal income and rank stupidity. It is an object devoid of purpose, at odds with what it purports to be, unraceable and unrideable. It’s a simulacra of a bicycle up there with almost anything by Storck, but especially the proposed new Storcklaren Supercike, the ‘Culture Storck’. However, any of these bikes would be suitable for the ‘race the world‘.
If you see someone riding one, you have permission to dole out the Team Cinzano pump-in-the-spokes trick.
It took about 9 hours to get from Bristol to Bradford on Friday. We left at 3pm and crept into the crepuscular northern town after 10pm. The next day we headed out towards Addingham to catch the first day of Le Tour, whilst the rest of the family staked out a spot in Skipton. The ride up towards the route was an unnerving affair; hordes of people heading in the same direction, on foot or by bike, legions, rows, waves, a steady flight of ridiculously excited people.
The caravan was very exciting; we scrabbled in the dust and asphalt for prized bits of swag. Mike just missed out on a polka dot cap after it landed too near another fellow and he wasn’t prepared to fight for it. I would have pushed the chap into the drystone wall, grabbed the swag and legged it.
On the second day we were on Oxenhope Moor, where upwards of 40,000 spectators were kept in check by the diligent efforts of one policeman.
Luckily the Carrefour Swagman was hurling out caps with metronomic efficiency and we managed to score a couple. The hillside was covered with people; I was in awe of the sheer numbers of spectators. It was far more than were at the last big race I’ve seen; Paris-Roubaix. Beyond that, what made it special was the sense that it had captured the imagination of the whole of Yorkshire. Support for the tour was discernible in every village, every shop, street and establishment, even many miles from the route. There was a regional pride and complete determination to somehow combine the cultural force of the Tour with the innate and captivating identity of Yorkshire, both in terms of the awe-inspiring scenery, and in terms of the people that live there. It became a festival of many things and it was incredible. Belle mentioned this morning how it all seems like a dream; a technicolour riot of movement and sound. There’s not much more I can say or write, it was a brilliant weekend; a sentiment shared by everyone who went. I’m still reeling from the excitement.
Lastly, according to Strava, my time up Holme Moss was 36 seconds quicker than Laurens Ten Dam, Lars Boom, Ted King and the others managed in yesterday’s race. This is quite reassuring. I’ll ignore the fact that i rode it as a double hill climb, whereas they rode it as one of 9 classified climbs in a 124 mile stage. Marcus Burghardt was 3 seconds up. I’ll let him have that one.