I love echelons. They’re just about my favourite thing in the whole of bike racing. One minute everyone is happy and all is well. The next, chaos is come again and the desperate scramble for position begins. Lusty sidewinds at the right time in the Tour reshape the riders and the race in a matter of moments. It’s thrilling to watch.

echelonsToday was a beautiful representation of the form. Not only can you see two fully formed echelons at the bottom of the screen, each with riders desperate to make up time, but you can see riders caught in nomansland between the lead bunch and the rest. Even better still, you can glimpse  the chaos as everyone tries to stay at the front; it’s a spiralling bundle of madness, underpinned by a neat diagonal. And best of all is the string of riders on the edge of the road, the veritable coup de bordure in full force. Joyous.

Here’s Etixx QS smashing the race to bits in a crosswind…

And here’s High Road Columbia smashing the race to bits in a crosswind…


Like I said

Something cycling related happened today. Having a three year old child (or ‘the tiny dictator’ as she is sometimes named) is a strange experience. She has started using idiomatic expressions. Which means I’ve started noticing the idiomatic expressions I use, and now can’t be sure if I’m speaking in my own idiomatic idiolect, or have been reduced to a burbling recantation of a three year old’s first phrases. 

Anyway, like I said, something cycling-related happened today. On the way home I noticed a clubmate stood at the side of a main road with a clipboard. It was a strange sight. She was waiting for a tandem trike end to end record attempt to come through in her capacity as CTT observer. It was about as old school and as niche as you can get. Even more niche than hill climbs. 

At the bottom of Bridge Valley Road I bumped into the legendary George Keene, now recovered from a broken pelvis caused by a stray dog and back out on the bike, confounding the surgeon who pinned it in January that an 84 year old could recover so quickly. He was also waiting for the pair. Apparently they’d been spotted coming over Redhill at 5pm. I hazarded a guess that descending Redhill on a tandem trike would be quick. Not unlike sitting in the cab of an articulated lorry with shonky brakes. 

They came through in the end, a couple of hours down on schedule, aiming for three days. I gave the hardy trio a cheer. It looked like they needed it. It’s bonkers. 



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.

Meeting Point

IMG_20160515_075118Of late, I’ve found it really difficult to find the time to do various things and have had to stop doing the additional writing for Snowdon. There is a limit to how much you can do with the time available, and having a family and a full-time, fairly hectic job, mitigates against taking on large chunks of additional work. I’ve opted to rein things back in and instead focus on books. I have a couple of irons in the fire, but the current project is about Alf Engers. We met initially, very briefly, at the Pedal Club. He then rang me some weeks later to talk about cycling and essentially reeled off a string of anecdotes from the golden years. It was quite a surreal conversation.

Yesterday I made the trek to Engers Towers to start the process. We talked for around 3 or 4 hours about his life in cycling. I’m going to state the obvious; Alf’s life is fascinating and he is a heroic figure. For this reason, he is a complicated and intensely admirable chap. I found myself bowled over by his charisma, engaging personality and the staggering number of anecdotes.

The next step is to go through everything from the conversations, transcribe the text, add to the timeline I’ve got and begin sketching out the outline of the book. I’ll then write up sections that are full enough, and revisit Alf to get more depth and detail on gaps and thinner sections. At the end, he went through an enormous string of stories, seemingly unconnected in space and time, tales from the track at Portsmouth, on the F1, stories of characters in the trade, the works. Each of these was almost the basis of a short story in itself.

I’m going to speak with some contemporaries of Alf, including Eddie Adkins and Derek Cottington. I then need to get some additional colour on the likes of Len Thorpe, Ted Gerrard, Alan Shorter, although again, these are potentially books in themselves.

It goes without saying that I’m excited about this one.

Alf with Alan Shorter at the Herne Hill Track

The King

“I look at the sky, expecting a heavenly chorus. Instead, somewhere a dog barks.”

alf 1975Alfrecord


Alf Engers rang me up out of the blue the other day. He introduced himself over the phone by counting down from 5 to 0, like a timekeeper at the push. He’d read my book and we met very briefly at the Pedal Club when I gave a talk. Apparently he liked my sense of humour and attitude. He’s quite the raconteur and I’m optimistic that this is the start of a new project. Three phone calls in and I’m already overwhelmed by writeable stories.

He also asked me if I was still racing. Alf Engers. Asked me about my bike riding.

On Bogus Comparisons

One thing the bike industry is particularly good at is convincing people that they need new stuff. It’s even getting very good at convincing people that they need new stuff that looks very much like old stuff. It’s a sophisticated marketing dream, peddling (pun intended) a dream of escapism, reified in crabon.

I’ve paid good money for bikes before. If you dig deep enough on here you’ll find a evidence of expensiveness. I think I even wrote about it, comparing the cost per kilogramme between a Cervelo R5 and a Range Rover.

Nevertheless, amidst all of the talk of R+D, trickle down technology and assorted justifications for much expense, I came across this:


I couldn’t escape the sensation that surely, absolutely, this had to have a greater engineering provenance and cost value than his:


And that someone, somewhere, was having a laugh at the expense of golf manufacturers, mamils, and anyone seduced to such an extent by the sauciness of the bike boom that they felt compelled to spend nearly ten grand on a push bike.


Ooh la la! Chute a la derrière!

Like most people, and certainly the three readers of this blog, I have a certain affinity for Paris-Roubaix. At this point in the year you can’t move on social media without being distracted by a series of gratuitous images of men on bikes amongst monstrous boulders. It’s by some distance the best bike race there is. I’ve written about it before, and it also happens to be one of the few continental bike races I’ve made the trek to see, back in 2008. It helps that the the definitive film about cycling is “A Sunday in Hell”, by Jørgen Leth, a visionary and experimental film-maker. Joyously, the film is available in its entirety on the youtube.

It features lots of saucy shots of Merckx wrestling with saddle height, of Moser etching out a cadence of perfect circles across the crown of the cobbles, of Marc DeMeyer and Freddy Maertens, and of Roger De Vlaeminck, a Flandrian monster. It’s rich and evocative and it captures the attritional nature of the race; “one by one… they falter…” (1hr 18 onwards). They push huge gears over the cobbles, with the heavy surface favouring a big cadence.

The weather is either scorchingly dry or horrible filthy, a lethal quagmire. It’s been sunny and warm for a long time, but there are some indications it might be a bit damp this weekend, which is exciting for the spectator but not the rider.

In 2009 I was watching at Cysoing. It was a golden year for Boonen; he whittled the bunch down with unrelenting pressure and speed. It’s indisputably a race for the hardmen. The other riders buckled under the pressure, with both Flecha and Hushovd crashing in the final few miles. There is no hiding place; riders wilt. It is a completely compelling spectacle. Skip to 14 minutes in: “OOH LA LA, CHUTE A LA DERRIERE!”.

At 16 minutes in, Hushovd, he of the ridiculously good bike handling, of super fast descents (69mph on the Aubisque in the 2011 TdF), bunch sprints and world champion bands, drifts out of the corner and crashes, almost apologetically, as though resigned to the overwhelming difficulty and forcing pace of Boonen.

There’s a tonne of material on the youtube; a vortex of time and space to drift through in silent romanticism.