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.
One of the worst things I’ve ever seen was an unkempt, drug-addled homeless person taking a shit into a carrier bag outside Old Street Somerfield at 9am on a Sunday morning. It was bleak, and unsettling. In contrast, Dumoulin’s strip-and-dump routine was a thing of beauty; function and form combined together at the crucial time.
In the video he stopped, suddenly, and wrestled with numerous garments; helmet, jersey, bibs. It reinforced how difficult it is to undertake such an event in full bongo kit.
At first I thought he had been attacked by a bee, it was beneath his collar or neck. Once the cameraman became wise to the savagery of the event he panned away pretty quickly.
What is less savoury is what happened next. Zakharin attacked, seemed to hesitate, then Nibali went off the front. Maybe I’m romanticising an era that no longer exists, but it’s clear to me that they should have waited. It’s the right thing to do in a sport governed by etiquette. It doesn’t surprise me that Nibali sought to press home his advantage, he’s a hugely overrated cyclist who won the Tour when the next best person was Jean Christophe Peraud at 8 minutes or something, and for all his reputation as a demon descender, he falls off the bike a lot. He also loses whenever he’s really up against some class. And he is graceless and unpleasant. Apart from that, he’s a legendary rider. He sought to justify his actions with this whole ‘i wouldn’t wait’ bullshit. I mean, seriously, he’s just spineless. It’s one step up from the usual self-denying ‘oh the race was on’. The race is always on. You wait or you don’t.
Dumoulin did a phenomenal ride to manage his losses and retain the jersey, riding up the final climb on his own. It was a seriously impressive effort. All that Nibali’s actions do is undermine the contest, remove the raging excitement, the battle of equals (or not), take away the spectacle and mean that the last week is enacted under a different setting. He should have waited.
For all that, the drama does count, and it needs a villain. May as well settle for Mr Nibbles, the sneaky little bastard.
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 find it odd that the names have been frenchified. There was a climb called Cote de Wigtwizzle. When I first saw it I thought someone was trying to make an obscure joke about Yorkshire that I didn’t understand. But no, it’s a real place near Sheffield, not far from Oughtibridge, and a place that always gets a laugh in our house, or at least, when I’m in the household, the amazing PENIStone. It’s not far from where my Dad lived for a bit, with his Northern bride. She is acutely aware that the town of penistone gets a giggle and sent a fridge magnet in the post recently in recognition of our southern humour. Of course, it’s not PENIS-TONE, it’s penni-stun.
The main paradox in all of this is that a recent race in France, once called the Giro Del Trentino, is now named ‘Tour of the Alps’. It seems like there is some linguistic disonnance going on here amongst the UCI and ASO people. Either way, it can’t have gone down that well with the legions of countrified brexiteers to see their anglo-saxon heritage ridden roughshod over the cobbles of prepositional reversal.
Back to the main point. The Tour De Yorkshire was a cracking race. The first two stages were mildly entertaining; a blat around various bits of an enormous county. The third stage, in contrast, was entirely revolting for the rider, and thus utterly amazing for the viewer. The highlight was Shibden Wall; a total rotter, a stinky, horrible, bully of a climb with cobbles the size of giant cobbles, lined with a baying lynch mob come to bury the foolhardy participants. My mum was at the top, armed with a cowbell made for some sort of prehistoric giant cow, such was the size of the device. She lowly did swing it like an elderly Swiss cowherdess, calling in the purple heifers so that they might be made into Milka bars.
It was cracking, riders reduced to zigzagging like drunken students trying to look sober, dribbling over the line in ones and twos. All crowned with a superlative display of team riding. With any luck the blue-blooded Gary Verity has worked out his worlds’ course already, and this is it. 12 laps of Shibden Mur for the finishing circuit.
The last day and the return leg, if you like. As the ride progressed I began to encounter more roads and places I’d been to before. It took a while though. My route out of Stratford was flat and tailwind assisted, it helped no end. In fact, things were going great and at one point I was nudging a 16mph average speed. After ten miles of blissful ignorance, I hit the northerly point of the Cotswold escarpment, heading up via Mickleton Village onto the tops and across the summit of Dover’s Hill. This is the spiritual home of hill climbing, and outside of Winnats has been used more times than any other. It was also where I first took part in the National Hill Climb, in 2010. It was won by Dan Fleeman, who previously rode for Cervelo. I remember coming 24th and getting chastised for not wearing my club jersey. I don’t think I actually had a club jersey at that point though. Maybe I did, if so it was a scratchy Kalas number that I didn’t really take to.
The banner picture of the blog was taken at Dovers and you can see both me (in the crowd) and Tejvan launching his assault, when he came 4th by a very narrow margin to Mike Smith. I imagine Matt Clinton was 3rd. Lots of people were there who I didn’t know, but later came to know very well through the book. It’s the first time I’ve been near the climb since, and didn’t realise until I recognised the turn and place where riders looped round to head back down the hill. It felt strange.
After Dover’s the road carried on rising up to the Broadway Tower, a landmark in this section of the Cotswolds. Apparently you can see for 62 miles and take sight of 16 counties. I carried on, it looked like a slightly gaudy folly, which essentially is what it is. I was content though to have avoided Chipping Camden, or anywhere with the word ‘Chipping’ in the title. For what it’s worth, the term ‘chipping’ means market square, or long market. Maybe I’m debasing such places by association, it’s the David Cameron effect. The tuneless, tootling twat lives somewhere with Chipping in the title, therefore all Chippings must be avoided at all costs.
The route straight over and across was quite arduous. I’ve done worse, but it probably wasn’t the best idea for the third day of a tour. I went up and over Cutsdean, and then intersected the course for the Cheltenham CC Hilly Time Trial. Again, it was a slightly odd experience to cut across a stretch of road I’d previously only raced along. I vaguely remember winning there once, but it might have all been a dream. At Temple Guiting the road dropped down into Kineton. Ominous signs warned of ‘deep water’ and ‘FORD’. I became fearful, the descent was long, long long. The further it descended into the bowels of the Cotswold woodland, the more I resolved to swim whatever raging torrent lurked at the bottom if I had to. It would surely be preferable to returning from whence I had come.
At the bottom the ford was intoxicating; a picture of stillness and tranquility. The only sound was the water running in rivulets over the polished pebbles and birds in the trees above. I can’t recall the last time I was in a place where the only sounds were the products of the natural environment. It felt special, utterly unusual, and deeply soothing. I would have stayed for longer, and in that moment vowed to return again one day.
I was also grateful for the ancient clapper bridge, which meant I avoided a swim.
It was a beautiful day and I lucked out with a tailwind most of the way home. It made pedalling a joy and I almost didn’t bother stopping for lunch, but a fortuitously-placed cafe in Sherston saw a last pasty smash and avoided the threat of bonk.
I got home around 2pm, 88 miles to the good, with 270 complete for the three days. I had ridden back from my Dad’s, a curious ambition I’d held for a while. Admittedly, I am not yet a fully qualified ultranutter, but I have achieved my solo saddlebag touring badge and will be sewing it onto the carradice soon.
It is the sense of adventure, the achievement in doing something like this, and the opportunity to see the countryside and patterns of people and places unfold at a sedate place, that make it such a thrilling, life-affirming activity. It’s good to go with people, but it’s equally joyous to take off and ride on your own, through the heart of the landscape, and to make good your escape for a few brief liminal moments. It makes the return a lovely experience, the reacquaintance with waiting family.
There are some salutary lessons to be taken away from the complex art of route planning. Primarily, by all means plan a 90 miler away from all conurbations and anything larger than an abandoned medieval hamlet, but don’t be surprised if you then find yourself wondering where all the shops are and panicking about what you’re going to eat.
Leicestershire is both prettier and lumpier than I anticipated. I think I ended up riding across the Wolds, a stretch of woldiness up above Loughborough. It is quaint and gently rolling. I found the remote village of Quorn, which is a pilgrimage of sorts to a vegetarian like me. I started slowly on account of some pangs of anxiety, my knee was hurting at the end of the previous day’s riding. It was fine. Once I got up around the 50 mile mark I pressed on and made up time. It’s interesting how distance changes when you embark on a long day in the saddle, or multiple long days. Once you crack the 50 mile ride there’s a ray of optimism, only 40 miles to go… It’s peculiar. You have to forget about distance and just tap along, looking at things and getting lost in the flow of the activity, the gentle pulse of the mind, ambling along in unison with the bike. It’s surprisingly easy to do long days, although I’m not sure how long a ride has to be these days to qualify as ‘long’. No sooner had I uploaded my three day epic than one of my chums spuffed out a 280km day ride just for the express purpose of shitting and giggling. These people (the Baineses, the Silvertons, all of Bristol Audax Club who thought it would be fun to ride home from Rome before tea – you know who you are) shall from this day forth be known collectively as the ‘ultranutters’.
This is the first mini-tour I’ve done on my own, so it gave plenty of time for thinking, but unfortunately yielded no profound insights. I made some observations; inane things like how counties or areas become defined by their county towns in the imagination at least, For instance, I thought Leicestershire would be a bit of a shitty midlands sprawl because that’s what I think Leicester is (even if it isn’t), but it couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s a beautiful county. Once you get out of the towns and cities, weaving a stitched line along the OS map, it’s quite startling how English everything becomes. The rural landscape, imaginative, physical, demographic and imaginative, is very much middle England, punctuated by the flag of St George, villages in thrall to a vision of the past that is at once bucolic, refreshing, but clearly at odds with the more modern subjectivity of the city dweller. The gap is more of a yawning chasm, there is nothing within the villages of Quorn or Cerney or Wymeswold or Barnetby that links even remotely (no pun in intended) to the metropolis. When you ride through it, it’s not hard to see and feel the disconnect between the city and the countryside in terms of modern identity.
The closest I came too civilisation (which now sounds like a contradiction in terms) was the outskirts of Nuneaton. It was also the only place I saw a shop, and the only place I didn’t really want to stop and leave the bike, so i pressed on. I did ride up Gun Hill though, and wondered if it was the same Gun Hill which Harold Worthern and Vic Clark used to ride up in the early 1940s.
Stratford is nice, insofar as they have kept the bits that were important and linked in some way to old Shakey. I was expecting amazing medieval hostelries, but found only Greene King pubs. Mercifully, there is a micropub there, which is one of the best drinking establishments I have ever been to. It’s called the ‘Stratford Ale House’ and occupies an old health food store. Seems apt.
By about 9pm I was absolutely cream-crackered. It took two and a half pints over three hours to wipe me out completely. Hardcore.
The weather has been kind. Touring is much more straightforward without the unwelcome involvement of pissing rain or a slapping headwind. Fortunately Thursday’s 91 miles involved neither of those things. Now that I’ve mentioned the “91”ness of the ride, i feel like i need to immediately drag this 100 mile imperial elephant into the room and kill it. I knew it was going to be a 90 mile ride. If I’d gone through the Wolds via Market Rasen, it would have been 107 miles. And i would have been a messy, leaking heap on the floor. I had no desire to pop that 100 mile marker, especially with two more big days to follow.
It did involve some lovely scenic stuff. The Humber bridge is an utter corker, curving upwards in a tensile arc like a longbow. Lincoln is beautiful and very medieval. It’s the closest I’ve seen to a French city like Dijon. I imagine it escaped wholescale bombing in the war. The joyous bit is at the top of Steep Hill (that is what it is called, on account of it being really steep). I think it’s used in the Lincoln GP. I have a new found respect for the riders.
For most of the day i was tapping along, flatter is easier. Lincolnshire is flat. Essentially, it’s flat flat flat. And straight, often on account of the Roman road and parallel road. It’s also deserted because all the traffic seems to pour over the Humber Bridge and down the main road, leaving everything else empty. The landscape is punctuated by current and mothballed RAF bases, and more than a few deserted medieval villages. (They’re more just tumps then ghost towns).
The hunger took hold at Lincoln when i rode past the walker’s crisps factory. It smelt good. I ate a banana, then stocked up on Newark for my evening meal. It was a king’s banquet of packet macaroni cheese and packet egg fried rice, with a bag of wasabi peas and two malteser bunnies. And three bottles of choice ale. I caned the lot. Just reward for a 91 mile touring schlep.