Bristol has been the testing ground for a wave of dockless hire bikes. The reaction seems to vary, but most are positive. I’m more cynical; they end up in stupid places and people who don’t ride bikes are very unlikely to be making the effort to use one of these. People who do ride bikes are very unlikely to soil themselves on one, unless it’s for a hill climb organised by Bristol’s raddest boikshop.
Instead, they get left everywhere; the scheme gets bigger and worser every day. Some Gruaniad writer the other day saw the advent of a similar project in Manchester as being the day the city goes Dutch. Lolz. A week later she was gnashing her teeth and wailing about how terrible it is.
I guess it requires a leap of faith to hope that a nation that voted Brexit and regularly commits social and financial hari-kari at the polling station would somehow act responsibly when given a job lot of free but very shit bikes.
I’ve posted about Geraint Thomas before, as far back as 2011. I remember discussing his first tour with colleagues in the staffroom at the time; he was riding for Barloworld and came second to last (lanterne rose?). There was something joyous about this young Cardiff tyro lining up with the big boys for a smash-fest round France, instead of the Gower. It might have been the same year Wiggins had a doomed 280 mile breakaway. I’m not sure.
One of the highlights of my cycling experience is being in the same race as him in 2014, at the British National Championships. I think I kept the deficit over an absurdly hilly course to a meagre 7 or so minutes. Still, it’s a long time to wait. Ergo, I was quite excited to see him win the stage yesterday. He’s always got something interesting to say and lacks the pretentiousness of some other riders. I guess if it was a popularity contest he’d win, hands down.
Today I’ve been working, and only slightly distracted by the Eurosport coverage of a flat hurtle through the German steppes. However, I made the mistake of clicking on the different moto-cams available in multiscreen. It was a bit like opening Pandora’s box. The ability to flick between 5 different moto-cams is quite awe-inspiring. It provides an unvarnished glimpse of the race unfolding in real-time, liberated from the narrative of the commentator, and subject to the vagaries and whims of the moto driver and cameraman. In short, when they stop to use the portaloo, the feed stays with them. When someone yells out as the peloton passes “Allez Pierre”, you hear it. The Tour suddenly becomes a real-time documentary. It’s an absolute time-sink. It also allows you to see the scale of the crowds and the event as you flick between the perspectives. Nice to see Cummings in his lovely new jersey too.
Finally, after years of writing this blog to a massed audience of 3 readers; it appears as if a solitary post about touring has led to an explosion of interest. I may need to revise my readership figures up by as much as 25%. Touring more popular than testing: who’da thunk it.
I have another mini-tour planned. I wonder what constitutes a mini-tour; I guess it’s anything less than a full stage-race with panniers. Over a week, full tour? Or is it over a fortnight? Less than a week is definitely mini though, so on that premise I’m not going full tour bongo any time soon.
The plan is a loose following of the Lon Las Cymru. I won’t go right out to Anglesey because they eat their young and it’s kind of primeval, but I will roll down from my starting point in Llandudno, over Snowdonia and down towards Barmouth. From there, it’ll be through Machynlleth and along the Elan Valley, stopping at several places without so much as a vowel between them, Cwmystwyth and Ysbyty leading the charge. Swyddffynnon has a solitary vowel, a gorgon sharing an o in the absence of an eye.
It’s going to be hilly. The Elan Valley has an odd pull; I keep seeing pictures of it taken by the ultranutters whilst they sleep in the outdoors, sheltering beneath the udders of a craven heifer from a swirling storm, for around 13 minutes before pressing on, on, on into the darkness, both of the night and of the soul.
I have a queue of mini-tours in my head. I want to do the ridgeway, then back on the kennet and avon canal. I’d like to do some sort of Jurassic Coast ridings, but have always been put off by a probably misplaced fear of middle England. I’d like to do the Devon sustrans coast-to-coast, it’s supposed to be almost all traffic free. I then have a queue of longer tours I fantasise about. These might require camping though, which I am diametrically, ethically, politically and morally opposed to. Chief among these is any kind of epic tour in France, crossing mountains and taking in everything the country has to offer. Maybe one day.
I went to see Kraftwerk last night. Like most men over the age of 41, they are my favourite band and I can bore people senseless with talk of how they are the foundation for contemporary music in its entirety. All of which misses the most jodrellworthy element of these Teutonic Wundergartens. They are big into cycling. The gig crowd attire was equal parts Kraftwerk t-shirts and cycling garments.
At one point a group of men entered the hall. They were rocking the fancy dress album cover look from the Man Machine. You’ll know the one; men in ties, red shirts, slim, unblemished, synchronous. They had it down.
There was a lady with them with the same outfit. She may or may not of been one of two ladies known to be present at the gig. They seemed to be several steps ahead of her at various points.
It was a warm evening, but things got way hotter once they started showing the 3D bike montage along with Aerodynamik and Tour De France. In fact, when they stuck up a line-drawing of echelons I pretty much lost myself. There’s a slightly more salacious way of putting it, but I’m unsure of the moral stance of the three readers of this blog so will leave it to your imagination.
It was a great concert. It felt good to be seeing Kraftwerk in Bristol, in addition to seeing them at all. I feel like it’s one less thing for me to do in the time remaining. I had planned on getting up to do a 100 this morning, but having seen the startsheet noticed something I’d hitherto ignored; it required a 4.30am wake-up call, otherwise known as “Fuck that o’ clock”. Ergo, I went mountain biking instead and fell off in fifty-acre wood. It was fun. Neil Blessitt passed comment on my bike. He said it was ‘old but nice’ and laughed at the cassette (it’s very small).
I felt out of place, in the deep dark wood. I wore my best DHB top and some baggy shorts from Marks and Spencer, so that I might fit in with the other men over the age of 41 on their over-engineered ego-chariots. Although after a lap of yer tiz and one of fifty acre wood, I felt very much as though my bike was under-engineered. I came off once. One second i was upright, the next i was tangled up in brambles and ragwort. I’m not sure what happened inbetween, but i suspect it was the stones. There were big chunks of stone and tree-roots everywhere. I found myself wishing the trails were somehow smoother, rolled out. More like a road, in fact.
On any given weeknight on an arterial trunk road near you there is a high likelihood that roaming packs of mishappen cyclists will be competing against the clock. In and around Bristol there are a host of club events; the Severn, Dursley, Clevedon, VC Bristol, BSCC and others all organise a midweek “10”. This week I was down to do the organising duties. In olden times, Rob Hutchinson did everything. He deserves an OBE for services to cycling (there is no punchline here, he genuinely does).
I’ve managed big open events but this was the first time I’d done a local dust-up and had to hold the watches. It’s surprisingly tense. Everything went smoothly, it didn’t rain very much, but just enough to dent the field and meant I was able to get away before it got dark. No-one crashed, which was a bonus. This year, everyone is crashing all the time. I prefaced nearly all my sentences at the sign-on with ‘when I was going well‘, or ‘when I did my 49‘, or ‘when I was in the same race as Bradley‘, just in case people didn’t know that I wasn’t always this slow.
It was an entertaining evening. I enjoyed the cameraderie and the sense of being able to do something so that other people can have a good time and ride their bikes. It’s always good fun.
Back in the days of yore I used to organise a revolting time trial in the Cotswolds. It was a genuine hellfest, one for the masochists. I remember once Rob Pears entered his wife, Gillian (so to speak), and then got really scared when he thought he might have actually entered himself instead (so to speak). Some people really liked the race, as though it filled a void in their lives left gaping since the last time they read JG Ballard’s family novel, Crash. Since the demise of the megahilly, Glyndwr Griffiths has become the keeper of the flame of horrid bike races with his Mendip version of the Megahilly. It’s a neat circuit which starts up Burrington, drops down Harptree and then goes up Blagdon, before repeating it, just in case you hadn’t had enough. Interestingly, like all really shitty time trials, the descents are arguably worse than the climbs. The drop down Harptree is horrendous. Each individual section of tarmac has been resurfaced to a different grade and at a different time. It makes for a lumpen hellfest.
There was a contingent of hardy warriors lined up at the start, including the spangly Das Rad Klub Firmanent, with their pack of hardened mercenaries, led by the freelance smasher Tavis Walker, now riding for his 27th klub in 9 years.
There was also a bagful of Bristol South, including Dan Burbridge in his first outing as the scratchman (Ski-Ba-Bop-Ba-Dop-Bop), a real privilege which came with a special and unique prize: 75 minutes of endlessly wet rain just for him. Joe from Hollyoaks was also there, mixing it up with the UOBCC shorts and the BSCC chamois, threatening the good decorum of rules and regulations, not to mention the inner turmoil that ensues from such bigamous actions.
I found the race to be a primitive experience, one of survival, and a bad idea from start to finish. I don’t quite know why, but I lack the ability to turn myself inside out anymore. I go into the time trial transporter device and expect to come out like that dog in the Fly 2. It doesn’t happen. I tend to ride to a thin line of self-preservation. I suspect it is just that, aligned with a lower level of fitness, a bit more weight and few more years. I worry about pacing myself and not blowing up, and in the process lose hours of time. I still enjoy it though, just not quite so much when some sprightly young beast hurtles past on a road bike.
It’s interesting that I’ve ridden up Blagdon faster when training in April than I did in the race today. That’s borderline inexcusable, I wasn’t going that fast in April so certainly wasn’t moving quickly today. I’ll have to review things, flagellate myself a little, dig a lot deeper and just rag it a lot more. Time trialling is a state of mind as much as anything. Getting into that mindset is the trickiest bit. Beyond that, I’m enjoying it, and it was brilliant to have a loud cheer from Penny and Elliot at the steepest part of the climb, along with some gentle words of encouragement from Belle:
“Come ON! What are you doing! YOU’RE NOT DELIVERING BREAD! It’s supposed to be a bike race!”
I’ve entered a few more races. There aren’t that many on in the district so I feel like I’ve been railroaded into entering some absolutely awful bike races. We shall see. If the next two weeks don’t kill my nascent comeback stone dead, then that will be a surprise.
It was great to see Dumoulin win the giro. Primarily because it’s always good to see someone new win a grand tour, but also because he seems like a decent human being, the sort who was always a nice person at school despite being some kind of superhuman being. Unlike Nibali, who has always struck me as but of a nasty schoolboy, unafraid of the snide comment and willing to blame everything on the race. Just because there isn’t a single question in competitive cycling that can’t be answered with the phrase “that’s bike racing”, it doesn’t mean it has to be like that. Class and emotional souplesse means knowing when to deploy the phrase and when to defer to etiquette.
The human element of this race, the Dutchman shitting in the woods, playground squabbles, the breaking of unwritten rules, all made for a fantastic race, with the narrative alive from the first minute to almost the last; pretty much the perfect grand tour.
It’s going to be interesting to see how Dumoulin develops from here. He’s a monstrous tester, with echoes of Wiggins, but more significantly, Miguel Indurain. Big Mig would ride a relentless tempo in the mountains, then blow the race to pieces in the time trial. With refinement, and a parcours that suits, it’s entirely possible dumoulin could dominate. In which case, everyone will turn against him and I’ll be writing about how boring it all is and longing for someone other than dumoulin to be the dumoulin.