On Process

I handed in the manuscript at the beginning of April. Although this is the end of a big stage of stuff, it’s also the beginning of a new process; the refinement and ‘readying’ of the book from the raw first draft. However, it’s worth noting that the ‘first draft’ as submitted isn’t the first draft per se, I was probably working on version 11 or 12 of my final draft before I sent it in. This doesn’t take into account the redrafting of each chapter, multiple times. This is just the overall redrafting that I do to try and make sure it is coherent, that the chronology works – this became particularly important in the shakedown because I had a couple of different timelines jumbled together. I also try and make sure there isn’t repetition, that the reader isn’t confused by unnecessary detail and that the participants mentioned are essential to the narrative, rather than just names. This means cutting out a few names, even if I have sentimental or emotive reason for mentioning someone.

After going through the manuscript so many times you end up too close to it; in cliched terms, you can’t see the wood for the trees. It is a 300+ page document and you spend hours moving, deleting, shifting, rearranging, and scrolling up and down. Somewhat belatedly I realised if I click the middle of the mouse scroller I can move the mouse instead of rolling my finger over and over. This has transformed my life. Nevertheless, your eyes are swimming with words and names and ideas and you have to hand it over for someone else to have a look.

On submission it goes to the big editor; in my case it’s a chap called Richard Beswick. He does a sort of broad and thematic edit; reads it diligently and my perception is he starts at a high level; an overview – does the text work? – then moves in more closely. After about ten days, which was surprisingly quick, he returns it with track changes on it, and makes suggestions, along with some feedback on the overall thing. This starts a back and forth, working together to get the manuscript in the right place. For me, this involved tackling the chronology of the opening chapter along with lots of other questions and amendments. At the last gasp I had to edit out some bits that I really liked and had written a long time ago because they didn’t work. You can’t be too attached to any of it and have to be pragmatic.

Once that’s done it moves along a line. They have a project manager who leads from here onward. I had to do a lot of work which I had left until ‘later’, only to realise ‘later’ was now; this included indexing the images and tackling resolution issues. It now goes to the copy editor; I think they do all the grammatical stuff, accuracy and the rest of it. I won’t see it again until June 22, then it’s a series of quite tight deadlines. I send it back by 6 July, it goes to the typesetter at the beginning of August, then these proofs come back mid August, at which point it starts to look like a book.

Right now, I’m at a loose end. I’ve been working on this in most of my waking hours when I’m not working on the full-time work I have to do at the same time. Not working on it or thinking about it is a strange experience, as is not having control over the manuscript or not seeking to change it anymore. I find I want time to accelerate and the book to be out, in my hand. It is hard not to have dreams about people reading it and liking it, because this is what I want. I wonder about people not liking it and in my stronger moments think ‘well, fuck them’ but in my weaker moments am more conciliatory. In general, I’m excited and feel really lucky.

To fill the gap I’m trying to not to think about new projects, but any new projects are written onto post-its and stuck on the wall. There are about 4 of these at the moment. I am reading a lot of books. These are the books I have read:

Joe Brown (climber) - Alchetron, The Free Social Encyclopedia

The Hard Years by Joe Brown – a brilliant autobiography about mountaineering and climbing; moves from Stanage to the Himalayas and back again. I loved it; it has a demented honesty about it.


The Medal Factory: British Cycling and the Cost of Gold: Amazon.co ...The Medal Factory by Kenny Pryde – a methodical examination of the hidden costs of UK Cycling’s success; I like the way it approaches the subject and sets out all of the detail, but I felt disappointed by the lack of female voices, and a bit worried that when they were included they were framed in a way that the male voices weren’t; i.e “Pendleton and Varnish were probably the bullies and Shane Sutton was a bit misunderstood”. It felt a bit like a writer trying to protect his contacts book at Ineos, which might be doing him a disservice, after all the dispassionate tone in the book does work well in a field where everyone has an arsehole opinion.



Full Tilt by Dervla Murphy – it’s taken me ages to get around to this one and I really like it. It is a slightly insane account of a ride from Dunkirk to India. Murphy takes a roadster bike, stays at Persian police barracks pretending to be a chap, shoots wolves with her .25 revolver and rides through snow and ice whilst buses crash and people die. It’s a brilliant book, deserving of all the praise. It makes me want to tour again, but probably not in the way that Murphy has toured. I’m not sure it would be as easy to get a gun through customs these days.


My non-bike or strange sport reading has included Sebastian Barry, Tessa Hadley, Sally Rooney, Beryl Bainbridge and a few other bits.

Hopefully I’ll get round to posting a bit more now I have less to do.








Strange times, etc.

I am trying not to be censorious. I am keeping my bike rides to just about an hour, within the time frame of what I view as ‘appropriate exercise’. I’m not too judgemental of others doing more, unless they stray into ‘taking the living piss’ territory and do a 310km tour of Norfolk, then I hoik my judging pants right up tight. I’m  bit cagey about long rides, anything nudging above 50+ i tend to feel is a bit inconsiderate, but only because i think that whilst people would go for a walk, but they wouldn’t go for a 5 hour walk, because that is taking the piss, therefore we should probably recognise that there is a limit to this joyous thing we do in the circumstances. a bit of self-sacrifice goes a very long way.

Just to complicate things, people see what they want to see; I note chief nurse Ruth May was banging on about seeing cyclists in London, i suspect it was people trying to exercise or get to work, stuck at the lights. I’ve been out quite a lot and seen fuck all, people riding solo, the odd sunbather, families trying to maintain sanity whilst having no garden, people going to essential work or the shops.

So it goes. Anyway, wasn’t what I wanted to post about, it was this:

I finished the first draft of my manuscript about the End to End. It looks at some of the people over the years, from 1880 to the present day, who have succeeded in breaking the Land’s End to John o’ Groats record. This bit is part historical research (for the dead people) and part interview (for the living ones). I have gone for the stories I found the most compelling and not done a massive overview of everything.

There is a much bigger ‘in-between’ bit than I’ve had in previous books. I undertake the journey, not at record pace, but on most of the same roads and with some fairly big days in the saddle (210 miles from Land’s End to Bristol in 16 hours being one). I write about this in full and quite a personal way, reflecting on the nature of the journey and various other things which I was thinking and feeling at the time, some not linked to the journey or the record overtly, but in other ways that are more surprising – to me at least. I think the two narratives become symbiotic by the end.

I think if you imagine some of the writing about hill climbs, the dark and funny stuff about places (I think those bits are dark and funny) and then add in the bits at the end of the Alf book about time, people, happiness and meaning, then I think you’ll see these elements are bigger in this new book.

It is a lot more personal than previous books, which is something I was nervous about. I put a lot of me, my anxieties, thought processes and so on, into the narrative. I had more faith in my role as narrator, but there are some residual anxieties about what this means; it’s a thin line between writing about yourself and your experiences and being a narcissistic fuckwit. I think I manage, mostly, to stay on the right side of it. I really enjoyed writing about the different people I met, Eileen Sheridan, Andy Wilkinson, Janet Tebbutt, Mick Coupe, Michael Broadwith, Helen Simpson and many others. Their stories reduced me to tears of elation and melancholy.

I sent the manuscript in on deadline, which was a minor miracle, and it’s been read and annotated and is now back with me. There are a few suggestions, things to tweak, expand, narrow. There are a couple more steps to the process, it goes back and forth a bit, then has all the formal proof checks, there are some front cover decisions to take, all of that has to happen. I’m new to it many ways, having been published by Mousehold before, a brilliant independent publisher – basically Adrian Bell who specialises in cycling books. There are some gems on their roster; beautiful books, lyrical and true. Read ‘Tomorrow We Ride’ if nothing else. Or the Alf book, obvs.

The feedback from the chap at the publishers has been really positive. The editor likes it. I’m excited about the process and I’m at the point where I want people to read and enjoy it. Right now, I’m fairly sure it’s all going to happen and not some bizarre trick of the imagination. It’s quite hard to explain. I think the easiest way is to say; ‘remember when you were 16 and in band and you thought you might get signed by Alan McGee but it didn’t happen’. it’s like that, but I actually got signed by Alan McGee, or in this case, Little Brown. Nothing may come of it but that is ok. I’ll be like Arnold or Cosmic Rough Riders or any of a thousand other late 90s indie landfill bands.

I think I might do a post that explores the entire process from start to finish, i.e the idea, getting it moving, getting it published, writing it, pitfalls, the lot. I’m interested in demystifying it a bit, trying to explain how the process of writing and publication happens. It’s easy to see as some big masterstroke when it’s nothing of the sort, however, there is a logic to it. What I do know is I wanted to write, so wrote, and wrote some more, and took some chances, then some people took chances with the chances I had taken. But that’s not very helpful, so I will try and do a helpful blog.

Stay gold.


Reading C.C. and hill climb chat

Occasionally I get invited to an event to talk about things. Sometimes it’s a shindig, some kind of degenerate bike party, and other times it’s a club dinner. I might be overegging the pudding here, I think I’ve done three club dinners in 7 years, and one of those was Bristol South and wasn’t really a club dinner, it was a meeting that I hijacked for my own ends.

Anyway, the lovely people at Reading C.C. asked me to speak at their do in “the party room” at Zizzi’s. This was in the main because they are organising the national hill climb this year on Streatley and thought my ‘expertise’ might come in useful.


I’d come across Clive Pugh before, a Reading Wheeler who came third behind Alf Engers and Les West in the National 50 in 1976. He appears in a sequence of photos taken by the amazing Dave Pountney, one of which made the cover of the Alf book. I love the way he looks, so unassuming and  and so amateur, in the most brilliant way. John Woodburn also had a strong connection with the club and lived in the area for some time.

Reading C.C. is a bellwether for cycling as a whole. The town had two pre war clubs, the Wheelers and Les Bon Amis, who amalgamated in the hard times in the 1970s. After struggling through the dark years, the club now has over 200 members, with a tangible increase in female members and an inclusive approach.

I made the most of the opportunity for a longer ride, breathing in the helpful support of a humongous westerly wind to ride there on Saturday. It was a bit of a classic, I felt good, the legs were good, the wind was brilliant. I went through Avebury and was left wide-eyed by the prehistoric architecture, circles and rows of stones, ditches and banks. The area is ethereal and time seems to dissolve amongst the timeless sarsen megaliths.


I avoided the grotfest that is the Kennet and Avon canal in winter. One poor piece of mapwork had me riding through a farmer’s field but it was at least rideable. Most of it was on the A4 which is a big and old road, in some way a monument to the past, to coaching routes and journeys that took days, not hours. There are beautiful old mile markers which can be exciting or dispiriting, depending which way you look at them. It’s also the setting for lots of time trials in the past, most obviously the Bath Road 100. It is still used but like every other road everywhere, has been limited over time by rampant traffic growth and density, traffic lights and the primacy of the motor car.

The first red kite appeared at Axford, two of them drifting against the wind with a hooked talon hanging down, scaring the wood pigeons for fun. Nearer Reading and they were everywhere it seemed, gliding over housing estates, or tilting into the breeze at a junction before vying with crows for a tattered mess of roadkill. Near Marlborough I stumbled across a field of Aberdeen Angus cattle, accompanied by a flock of cattle egrets. They took to the air as one, a strobing, syncopated cloud of white wings. It was 82 lovely miles, and a quick run in to Reading. The last half is more or less downhill.

The talk seemed well-received. It is hard talking to a room of strangers, even if there is a connecting thread. It is hard to judge. I may have used the words “eyeball popping out”, “hernia” and “prolapse”, with the last one getting a collective groan of horror as people tucked into their chocolate fondant and it ruptured oozing brown liquid out of the gaping hole forced in the side.

I think I rescued it with talk of emotions and feelings and the amateur spirit, creating and taking opportunities, how life is in the doing. It’s in the decision to get up and make things happen, and in taking on this spectacular event Reading C.C. are creating the framework for people to live their very best lives, to experience what it is like to ride up a hill through a wall of people, to have their Dutch Corner on Streatley, and to experience an emotional intensity that doesn’t happen anywhere else.

I also spoke about the simplicity of the event. There is change, but the type of technological change in this event is minimal. It’s as close to the original spirit of cycling as you can get: you can’t diminish the primal force of a hill through slipperiness. It’s a diamond frame, fixed wheel, drillium, box section, round profiles, these are the weapons against time and gravity. Granville Sydney would recognise the winner’s bicycle, marvel perhaps at the lightness, but see it as a part of the same continuum; whereas Stan Higginson or Frank Southall would be baffled by a modern TT frame. Malcolm Elliot’s course record on Monsal still lingers on, as does Phil Mason’s on Catford.

The national hill climb presents an opportunity for everyone involved, a chance to live life to the very fullest, at its most intense and most vivid.

I think these sentiments went across better than “hill climbs make you shit yourself and your eye comes out”.

When is it training?

Last year wasn’t exactly fallow in cycling terms, i managed about 3000 miles with one super long ride from Land’s End to Bristol, a bit of a hike up North and some general soft-pedalling. However, one of my new year’s resolutions was to try and ride a bit more and be more disciplined about it.


There are a couple of reasons for this, but the most searingly obvious one is that I feel better when I ride more. it’s good for my mental health. It doesn’t work on its own, there is also a need to try and get things in balance and all sorts of other stuff, but on a fundamental level, a decent and regular blast on the bike has a significant impact. I also start to remember all the good things as fitness returns; the enjoyment rather than sufferance of hills, the way time passes separately to the experience, outside of it, and the crazy things and animals seen in the half-light of an early morning or the evening twilight.

Thus far in January, I’ve done 450 miles, and I’m aiming for roughly 500 a month. This has cued up several comments on the stravasphere about ‘secret training’. There is a grain of truth in this insofar as it helps having something to aim at, but on the whole I’m just working a bit harder and riding a bit further. There has been some weight loss which is also a good thing. I have fond memories of the ‘bantz’ copped at Burrington when I turned up a few kilos over my racing tonnage. I recall something Bradley Wiggins mentioned (not to me, this was in print, not when we were racing together), that people would say to him, ‘you’ve put on weight’ when the reality is he is now a normal weight and before he was at a ridiculous and unhealthy weight. Such is cycling, professionalism, eating disorders and mental health. 

I have to fit it around all the other things that happen, so it involves more long rides to work and a regular weekend ride. It was the weekend ride that had disappeared. And yes, in terms of aims, I am planning a long long ride but it is very much weather dependent and i shouldn’t be planning it for this sort of time year (i.e arctic cold and wind) and it’s not really long in comparison with the stock bun-run of the ultranutters, but it is on the cards.

The book is fast approaching completion of the first draft. I think 10 days, give or take. Then it will be rewrites all the way, redrafts, up until the deadline in April. I was in a total hole with it but have written my way out of that one. I took the advice of a fellow writer (that’s a weird phrase to write, ‘fellow writer’, because it implies I sort of see myself as a writer at the same time) who said ‘write every day’ and I did some writing every day and low and behold it started to move through and the mental quicksand ebbed away.

Lastly, someone tweeted about the hill climb book the other day. This was nice to hear. If you like a book someone has written, let them know. At the risk of sounding completely new-age and not cynical, if you like anything someone has done, book or not, just tell them.


In the Hole

It’s not an opaque reference to something freaky.

I went to see Emily Chappell talk about her new book and it was brilliant. She used a simple structure, talked about food and bike riding and spent lots of time chatting to her many fans, which was very nice. I caught up with other friendly folk like Vilas. It was definitely a room full of endurance people and I felt a bit out of my depth.

Emily asked how the book was going,  and I think I said something along the lines of ‘it’s hard right now, I’m trying to bring it all together and finish some bits and work through the themes and the really annoying bits which don’t write themselves’. She asked, really nicely, ‘are you in the hole?’ or maybe it was a gentle statement, ‘you’re in the hole’, either way, it was hole-related and it summed up the vortex.

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Essentially, it’s in my head every waking hour of the day, as though my brain is working on a puzzle. I have to stop and write things down, or pull over when driving. I now have fragments of bits of things EVERYWHERE. This is my mind. When I talk about it I get a bit stuck, sometimes even teary – and I have no idea why this is. Lots of strange, intense and inchoate emotions suddenly appear. I’m not sure what I’m tapping into with this book but I think there are definitely more than a few layers of journeys, and there are going to be some more tears. It just makes me seem weird and slightly unhinged in conversation, and I’m sure it’s why I didn’t get a job I applied for recently: because I’m going mental working on a mental book and it was self-evident.

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So tell us why you want the job?

I went to Preston on Saturday to do the last-but-one interview with Gethin Butler. I was really nervous because in my research he seemed quite guarded. It was needless, he went straight to the top of my list of lovely people to interview. I am excited to write this chapter. We had some straight up brilliant teacher-talk as well. LOLZ.


I have some super photos to put in the text. These are great. The one above isn’t one of them but does show Gethin going vollgaz on a bike that looks too small.

Lastly, this came in:




Where There’s a Will: Emily Chappell (Review)

I  have a stack of books by the side of the bed. It reminds me of an Orb song/track from my youth. Some books go in, then slip down like condensation, pooling at the bottom in a soggy mass. Some go straight in at the top, like West, by Carys Davies, or Where There’s a Will by Emily Chappell.

Image result for where there's a will emily chappell

It has to be said that quite a few cycling books plummet to the bottom, because life is too short to read shit books, and it’s way too short to read shit cycling books.

Maybe I’m in an eternal search for the transcendent cycling book. There are people who graze the stratosphere; obvious incendiary comets like Tim Krabbe who bluepencilled everything else ever with his voice and prose.

I love Max Leonard‘s books, because they’re about people and places and mutability and the sublime. And I loved Emily Chappell’s last book for similar and different reasons. When I had the good fortune to meet her and get her to sign my copy of What Goes Around I blurted out something about loving that book because it’s honest. It doesn’t varnish a truth that wasn’t a truth in the first place. It plays with the membrane between the self and the world around us, trying to work out – or not work out – where the body begins and ends and the landscape stops and starts, and these barriers dissolve like the words on the page as they seep into my brain. And I loved it. It’s beautifully written, full of emotion and nuance and it foregrounds the things that matter.

And onto this book. If you’re going touring it’s probably more suited than a biography of Nazi architecture.


Where There’s a Will explores the deranged world of the trans-continental race and a few other super-long distance events. I have enjoyed these vicariously, watching a dot from my phone whilst people do unfathomable things, all the while going to work and taking out the recycling (it explores brilliantly the dot-phenomenon, the distance and immediacy somehow combined in watching a GPS trace on a screen). As such, it’s a memoir, a reflection of how Emily got involved and then started winning super-long races, via staggeringly cold and awful mountain bike races across the ice sheets of Scotland.

When reading this book I found myself thinking about Emily whilst commuting to work, not out of any connection with the discipline, but I think out of some sort of oblique cycling kinship. Throughout the book there are references to her personal life – it’s of a piece with What Goes Around – about recovering from things, coping with break-ups, moving here and there, reacquainting with people, connections and encounters. Cycling is the ribbon that weaves in and out of the narrative, the thread that binds it together – and I know I’m stating the obvious – but there is a thread here about the type of people who cycle and the reasons why, and maybe that’s why the text spoke to me in a particular way. It can’t have been the filth – the unremitting filth of not washing and getting covered in sweat and dirt and filth and sudocrem – because that’s my worst nightmare. It must have been the way that cycling is both the metaphor for life and life the metaphor for cycling at the same time.

I ride because it makes me happy. It helps me cope with things. But… and I forget this, because of the type of insular introspective person I can be, I often cycle when I’m not happy and at those times cycling doesn’t always make me happy, it’s hard and horrid and makes me sad. When I did some LeJoggy bits earlier this year I was unhappy and I really struggled with it. I rode through, and things got better, but the mythical magic mood wand wasn’t immediately apparent. When I commute up and over Stowey Hill in the freezing cold, pedalling softly, I think about how cycling fits in and shapes my life. I draw from this book a sort of honest balance – a life shaped and to a degree governed  by cycling, but not one that is uninhibited joy the moment the pedal is turned. I like the honesty of it.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s about people who live in a space between other people and these people more often than not ride bikes, and have a commonality that speaks to others in the same interstice, and cycling isn’t the panacea for everything, even if it is a force for good. Sometimes you just need to turn around and go home, or slow down.

This book is about two other things (and many other things, but two other things that I’m going to mention). Firstly, it’s about her fellow long-distance riders; Juliana Buhring, Kristof Allegaert and Mike Hall, among a wider cast of amazing people and all the competitors. But it’s about Mike, and about loss, and it is deeply personal and deeply affecting, speaking of loss in the way that we miss a presence, through the constant reminders of absence, a gesture or a place, an echo, a constant knock on the door that we are compelled to answer, only to find an emptiness on the doorstep. It made me cry.

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, Eyes —
I wonder if It weighs like Mine —
Or has an Easier size.

The second thing – it’s about women riding bikes. This is a book about bike racing by a woman, about what’s like to be a woman bike racing, for example, what it feels like to have a fully horrible period, “like thunder on the horizon… dissolving what remained of my energy, sucking it into my womb” and how ridiculously hard that makes it. And even better, it quotes Emily Dickinson. You can never have enough Emily Dickinson (see above, and the same applies to WH Davies who she references really neatly) ever. And it’s a lovely super dashy bit:

Pain — has an Element of Blank —
It cannot recollect
When it begun — or if there were
A time when it was not —

And it appears as she tries to define a hierarchy of suffering on the bike. The second stanza isn’t referred to; but it’s worth seeking out because somehow I think the entirety of the poem pretty much nails the emotional force of this brilliant book.

It has no Future — but itself —
Its Infinite realms contain
Its Past — enlightened to perceive
New Periods — of Pain.

In that moment, in the text, it describes Emily Chappell’s attempts to define how tough things are. But it also encapsulates so many other threads in this beautiful book; when we’re in the blank, we can’t think of anything outside of it, and yet we are there so often.

So yes, I love this book. I love what it says about cycling and about everything else (did I mention calorie intake?) and about the author: “you’ve got this, Chappell”.

Indeed you have.



National 2019 Haytor

This year’s National Hill Climb was on Haytor. It’s the first big visit since Jeff Williams beat Gareth Armitage in 1979. It has been used since as a regular climb, sometimes as part of a double with either Widecombe or Mamhead. I used to love riding there, it’s a challenging climb but nice and long to it rules out all the power-hobbits. I contemplated coming out of retirement, but had another glass of wine instead.

A couple of things are worth mentioning. It was a beautiful day; the sun shone from start to finish. This has a profound effect on the levels of joy and the spectator experience. I bathed in the autumnal sun and prehistoric landscape. I stood at the side of the road with my scarf for four hours and it felt good to be alive.

It wasn’t a closed road. I don’t think it’s possible to have a closed road on a climb of this length on a road of this nature, for this long. You either don’t use these classic climbs anymore or you have them on open roads. See The Tumble, or Bwlch. The open road caused some grumbles. I didn’t see it as a particularly big problem – however, I wasn’t caught behind any vehicles. A substantial proportion of the traffic on the road was cyclists and competitors in cars. The preferred option will always be a closed road – but it isn’t the only option, and if it is then we’re going to lose a lot of courses.

This event is now seriously big. It lasted from 8am until 1pm, in racing terms. That’s a heck of a long time. It makes it an enormous logistical challenge to put on and run successfully. The MDCC did a brilliant job. I wonder if it might be worth splitting the events in the future. It’d be a shame – you’d lose the inclusive element.

In terms of the racing, the best riders won; Hayley Simmonds, Ed Laverack, Phil Stonelake and others. My mind was blown by the speed and power on show. Seeing Hayley and Joss Lowden rip up the climb was spectacular.  Joss opted for a disc wheel – and she was the only competitor. At Burrington a week before some bloke off the internet was banging on about how ‘aero’ was going to be the defining factor. I kept my counsel (unusually) because I was getting ‘expertsplained’, and because I thought it was a load of cobblers. I listened for a bit then walked off to eat some more cake.  The defining factor at Haytor was power-to-weight and coping with the steep ramps in a technical and seriously challenging course. The Comic had a small photo of both Hayley and Ed on the cover, which was great, with the caption ‘Ed and Hayley TT to the Title’ which was less great, because they didn’t TT to the top any more than Simon Yates did in 2013 when he dropped Quintana and Martin on the way.

Afterwards there was quite a regal gathering of champions; Joss Lowden, Hayley Simmonds, Marykka Semenna, Dan Evans, Richard Bussell, James Dobbin, Jim Henderson, Andrew Feather, Adam Kenway… I don’t think anyone had the foresight to get a photo.

Lastly, there isn’t any other race or type of racing which comes near to the Hill Climb for atmosphere and deranged enjoyment. There is a solidarity and an honesty to this race that can’t be found anywhere else. I love it, but I think everyone knew that already.

Josh Coyne and T-Rex (Nancarrow pic)
Dan Evans
The Man
Hannah with Mushroom
Wattage Bazooka



Haytor Vale – the National!

It’s long this year; 3.1 miles to be precise, and it’s a technical climb. It’s possible the winner might be someone unexpected. I’m tipping Phil Stonelake for the Vets. This is what I wrote for the MDCC programme:

“Yes, Dartmoor is a worthy setting. If the devil did desire to have a hand in our affairs.”

And so it goes… the championship returns to Devon and the long, undulating climb of Haytor. The clocks reverse and a deep darkness descends to a landscape unchanged since Jeff Williams crested the summit 40 years ago. The onlooking cairns and kistvaens of prehistory are soundless witnesses to our savage efforts.

“A grey, melancholy hill, with a strange jagged summit, dim in the distance like some fantastic landscape in a dream.”

Of late, the weightless roadmen and testers have been but shadows sketched onto the shorter, shiftier climbs, lurking in the gloaming of Pea Royd or Bank Road, watching the watt monsters racing into and through, rather than over the hill. But now the cleat is on the other foot. Haytor is a rhythm climb, 13 minutes with eyeballs bulging but not bloodied. It is a spiteful sibling to the Horseshoe and the Tumble, where pacing triumphs over power.

“I counsel to forbear you from crossing the moor in those dark hours when the powers of evil are exalted.”

Watch out for Hayley Simmonds taking on Joscelin Lowden, Emily Meakins and Fiona Burnie. See if Andrew Feather can ward off those reliant on the rhythm method in pursuit of ecstasy; think Laverack, Gildea and Evans.  Let’s hope for a kind day; a long climb in spiteful rain and wind is no friend to the spectator or rider. Lastly look out for the MDCC, home to Colin Lewis, Yanto Barker and Jeremy Hunt. They are the keepers of the flame, eager to see who will be spoken of alongside Williams, Webster and Boardman in the years to come.

“That which is clearly known has less terror than that which is but hinted at.”

Words by Paul Jones (with apologies to Arthur Conan-Doyle)


On Burrington

I mean to update this page more regularly; it’s an important thing for me. However, all my energies get sucked into writing whatever other thing I’m supposed to be writing and then I think that writing this thing is somehow not a good thing be to writing because I should be writing the other thing. It’s as though doing this is somehow profligate these days. I don’t think it is. I just find it hard to find the time.

Keep the faith… Cap from https://twitter.com/llcollett go get one

I rode Burrington this weekend. I choose the word ‘rode’ carefully, I can’t say I raced. I used my Bob Jackson, a 65″ gear, and it felt a bit tall. I had a laugh. Andy Legge said ‘that was shocking‘. Tejvan Pettinger commented that maybe I should “go back on the hill climb diet”. Matt Clinton said “Have you eaten a small child?”. Alice Thomson  said “I beat you”. I came 78th. I had DOMS all day yesterday and today. This is what death and old age feels like. What will survive of us is delayed onset muscle soreness.

Have you eaten a small child? 

I’m writing, writing, writing. There is no change leftover for fripperies like training. I ride to work. I drink wine. I eat a lot of chocolate. I write some more. I’d love to ride more, but I think I might even have mentioned it some time ago, that there is only enough room for three (or so) things at once, i.e marriage, children, work, that sort of thing. I’m fine. I’m mostly happy.

I miss the camaraderie of the village hall and the brotherhood of the hill climb. I’m gobsmacked by the increased level of participants, especially women. It’s brilliant. I’m going to the National Hill Climb next weekend, I wrote some programme notes and am giving out some prizes. I still feel very impostery at these kind of things. Always. I did a talk at the NEC Bike Show. It was  surreal, going on after Matt Haro. Height of imposteryness.

My deadline for the End to End book is April, I’m about 45k words in, with another 35k to go. I’m trying to find a balance right now between the different stories to ensure they are different enough, and trying to work out how much of me I can or should put in. I’ve interviewed some incredible people face to face; Eileen Sheridan, Dick Poole, Andy Wilkinson, Janet Tebbutt, Pauline Strong, Michael Broadwith, Mick Coupe. I’m sitting on the most amazing pile of transcripts. I feel beyond lucky.

Book should be out at the back end of next year.

To come: review of Max Leonard book, Higher Calling – if you haven’t read it, seek it out, it’s brilliant. He has written two books, both of which caught me off guard with their subtlety and joyousness.

I’m reading: Lady Velo by Jools Walker (we share a publisher! wow!) and Where There’s a Will, by Emily Chappell who is the loveliest writer.


Review: One Way Ticket – Nine Lives on Two Wheels, By Jonathan Vaughters

I like Jonathan Vaughters. I like how he dresses and I liked his oddly sharp sideburns back in the day. In my head I think he would be engaging company. I think I project certain things onto him, that somehow I imagine him to be quirky, cool, and committed to making things work in a different way. He’s the indie music fan’s DS of choice. I reckon he listens to the National, which I can overlook for now because lots of other interesting people have a bizarre affection for this most boring of bands. I’m sure he’d like other stuff, like early REM or perhaps Deerhunter. Maybe not. Maybe he loves Counting Crows. I doubt it though.

Image result for jonathan vaughters
Indie-styles circa early 2000s, with elements of Engers
Image result for jonathan vaughters
Chanelling Jarvis, with a side of Geography teacher

It’s a book about bike racing, so it appeals straight away. However, I was also drawn to the complex sponsorship issues which threatened to unstitch  his cycling team at various times. Lastly, there is the Lance thing. He’s an American cyclist who grew up in the same peer group, rode the same junior races and ended up at US Postal for a time. He was a protagonist in the rise and fall of Armstrong, a walking shadow; who fretted his hour upon the stage, and appears in the narrative of The Reasoned Decision.

All of which meant I was very excited when Quercus sent me a copy of his new book. I put aside my other bedtime reading and pretty much ripped through it in a day or so. It’s an easy read – as most cycling books are, and the chronology means you’re always reaching forwards to race to the bits you know, the USPS stuff, Bassons, Wiggins, what happened with Millar, the sponsorship sagas. Which is a shame, because these aren’t the  best bits in the book. The writing is linear, conversational and straightforward, meaning  this book lives or dies on the strength of the anecdote.

The first third or so is a classic tale, part American Flyers, part Breaking Away. It taps into the mythology of cycling in the US, the open spaces, huge journeys between races and sense of geographical and cultural dislocation from cycling in Europe, leading to an inferiority complex. It shows Vaughters’ determination and desire to win, even when losing heavily. All the key protagonists are there, from the Dad with his words of wisdom; “if you start something you damn well finish it…“, to the bike shop owner dispensing sage advice and fancy kit. Gradually the narrative shifts, as other key people emerge; Hincapie especially, but then Lance.

The second bit amplifies the first section, this time on the bigger canvas of continental cycling, with Vaughters, by now accustomed to winning, having to get used to losing all over again, yo-yoing off the back with Greg Lemond, wandering what the fuck was happening and experiencing a pervasive sense of disillusionment. The descent into PEDs is framed in the same way as other accounts, well, the more open of them. A sense of right and wrong being eroded, with noble choices being punished, and of institutional practices which carry a weight far greater than the individual, with a few notable exceptions. By 1997 Vaughters had cracked; “give me the damned chemicals, doctor, give me all of them.

He got quicker, he took more drugs. He felt empty when winning but felt that it was the same for everyone; “We all knew what we were up to at the  time… We were all just flawed humans trying to make the best of a short life.” He’s right, and there isn’t any point in throwing cant at the wall in the hope that some of it might stick. If, by some quirk of madness I had ridden in the peloton in the late 1990s I don’t doubt for one second that I would have ended up in a similar position. The pressure to take PEDs, the normalisation of the process, the lack of an alternative at that time, all point towards an endemic and systematic problem.

The book doesn’t break new ground in  this respect. It flags up the issues. It summarises the difficulties. It does it with candour. However, it also does it from a resolutely singular perspective. In the middle third the book shifts away from straightforward PED-memoir, into a bit of score-settling. The reader is left in no doubt of Vaughter’s role in the ‘Reasoned Decision’ case, the interviews and contributions made to tackling the mess. It’s intertwined with lots of bad blood (no pun intended) between him and Armstrong which  is never fully resolved. We find that Vaughters really doesn’t like David Millar; “…I never felt he was interested in  what was best for the team, but what was best for David. However, I’m a forgiving guy and David was a damned talented rider, so we didn’t leave him out in  the cold due to his turncoat ways“. He sticks the boot in a couple more times. He doesn’t like Wiggins, and devotes a whole chapter to the Brad-Sky debacle, “the child was once again  throwing  his toys out of the pram.” Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t like Brailsford either. There is a sense of someone who holds a grudge, often with good reason, but holds a grudge nonetheless. Some of the comments still seem sharp, even after some years. They also get a lot of words, at a point when as a reader and cycling fan I was looking forward to some joyous stories from the team car, watching Dan Martin being chased by a giant panda as he takes home a monument. Some of these are conspicuous by their absence.

The final third is devoted to the sponsorship wrangles. It’s mostly an illuminating insight, covering the current model of funding and the difficulties this causes. As with the first section, I felt admiration for Vaughters, his drive and determination. I admire him because he sticks at things. He is still there, celebrating with his riders, bringing on new ones, having faith in neo-pros, seeking to chip away at the edifice and do things his way. There is something to be said for those attributes, maybe because I feel I don’t have them.

Perhaps the most telling – and therefore bizarrely late – bit of the book is his reference to his diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. It adds an important element of context; the obsession, the failure to forgive, the determination to do one thing to the exclusion of others, and at times – the lack of empathy or awareness of social causation, but it comes so late in the book as to be almost irrelevant. Maybe this is an editorial decision, I don’t know. For me, it’s vital, and a real missed opportunity.

I liked this book in the same way I liked The Secret Race, or Racing through the Dark, or any other story of second chances. It’s not The Rider (nothing ever is) and it’s not in the top echelon of cycling autobiographies (think Fignon), but it is a story worth reading. It’s a shame the prism of Asperger’s isn’t mentioned earlier; it’s a significant part of the story, and a significant part of Vaughters. It makes him more sympathetic and his decisions, quirks and grudges more understandable.


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