Cycling Research

I’m currently embroiled in lots of research for a project. It involves going back through archives of Cycling Weekly magazine. It’s a fairly straightforward way to lose track of time and space, but is certainly enjoyable. I find it hard not to get sidetracked by the trade adverts though…

An Extraordinary Day

I went to London today, not to see the Queen, but to meet with a chap who publishes cycling books. Incidentally, the best way to get to London is not via Newport, in case you’re wondering. for the first time in my life i got on the wrong train and found myself speeding through Patchway and into the dark and dank recesses of the Severn Tunnel, rather than alighting at Parkway for a platform hop onto the London Express. As i said, an extraordinary day.

I met the chap at the Jerusalem Tavern. It’s odd to think that i lived in London for nigh on ten years but i never discovered this pub. It’s an amazing place and I will mark it out as somewhere to visit. So anyway, the narrative is as follows: after a somewhat speculative pitch at the turn of the year based entirely on the ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’ school of thought i was surprised when he replied positively a few days later. Further communication followed and since then I’ve been fully immersed in researching and planning a book about cycling (alongside being fully immersed in some other not insignificant upcoming events in my life). This is very exciting but also a little daunting. Whilst it’s not particularly secret, i’m going to keep it close to my chest for now, apart from saying it’s focused on many of the areas explored throughout this blog.

When i got home i found a DVD of images had arrived from Peter Whitfield, he’s a cycling historian who also has access to the Bernard Thompson Archive. The images are startling and provide an evocative insight into the sport. I came across an image of Allen Janes, a life member of the Bristol South, riding his very early Argos low-pro with a crown-mounted handlebar.

technical term: "funny bike"

And to anyone who has been finding excuses not to ride of late, three days ago I met with Vic Clark. He is 92 years old and raced the Manx International in 1940. He still gets on the turbo for half an hour each day. 66 years ago he was National Hill Climb Champion. Talking to him was a moving and fascinating experience. Here’s a very brief snippet:

I hope you’re feeling suitably warm and inspired and go out and ride your bike, if not your tandem, and enjoy the unceasing happiness that cycling brings. i hope i’m able to look back on a life of cycling when I’m Vic’s age, accompanied by someone like Connie, every step of the way.

cycling through the crepuscular murk

i like the word ‘crepuscular’. i’d even go so far as to say that it’s one of my favourites. yesterday’s training ride was entirely crepuscular. i ventured out into a calm and quiet evening, eager to get a good hour and a half in with some big climbs before the scheduled club meeting. the pace was good – i felt liberated and emboldened by the absence of the bullying winds, and i slowly began the climb up and out of Bristol.

Dundry was shrouded in a dense fog, the orange lights bled a murky glow onto the hillside and the fog flowed in waves across my bike light (hope vision one, in case you’re asking, a staple of the past three winters and the perfect country lane light). i enjoyed the surreal and otherworldly glow, felt safe and secure and was riding well. still nights or mornings with fog are beautiful. sometimes in spring i can ride through the fog and see the sunrise and experience the ethereal beauty of the morning, and when i get to work all i have is the vague memory of something different; my colleagues arrive and they are unaware of the spectral beauty that i have experienced on my way to work; all traces have been expunged by the sun’s diurnal progress. i feel privileged.

i inched my way down dundry carefully, visibility was a bit restricted, but not too much. by the time i’d arrived at redhill the fog had closed in. i turned up into the woods and swifty found i couldn’t see much further than around 10 feet; car lights approached as a nebulous glow, and my headlight seemed to dissipate and bounce off the droplets in the air. it was spectacular, and daunting. i know the road well, and yet at one point the branches and trees closed in and I lost all familiar references; for a fleeting few moments my mind meandered and i felt as though i might be entering a different dimension in time and space – i thought it was the road to backwell, but it could well have been a shortcut to some fantastical land. it was quite an experience. at its thickest, the fog was sufficient for cars i met to come to a complete stop and wait for me to pass, such was its encompassing power. i dropped back down to the valley and was pleased to be able to once again recognise landmarks.

on my way back in to Bristol i came up and over the suspension bridge. i am unfailingly moved by the scale and wonder of this feature. it’s fantastic. i try to factor it into as many rides as i can, and regularly ride over it in the early mornings. it’s one of the many remarkable features of the city.

fog up on dundry, where it flows among green aits and meadows
   fog down on belmont, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of traffic
a nether sky of fog, with fog all around
the bridge

Base Miles in Winter (base on, base off)

I’ve been somehow managing to sustain the base mileage over the past two weeks. it might even be three weeks, i’m not sure. i think that base mileage is somehow akin to the seminal ‘wax-on, wax-off’ sequence in the karate kid, whereby the hapless bullied child is reduced to some sort of slave labour for an old foreign man with bad english and a bad goatee, when all he really wanted to do was learn karate. he fails to see any connection between his sub-minimum wage endeavours and the future black belt bully-slayer he wants to be. and yet, when mr miyagi comes at him with his japanese fists blazing, daniel-san knows innately how to respond.

this is how base mileage works. endless repetitive slave labour, chipping away at the coalface of cycling-drudgery, unsure of why or how it might be of any benefit. yet come the start of the season form is fast arriving and bad-goateed funny looking men in lycra are swiftly dealt with by a forearm to the chops.

this week’s double dose of sand the floor, wax on, wax off, consisted of a ride to cheltenham and a spin around the mendips, both fixed. the ride to cheltenham was a blast up and over the cotswolds, including one of my favourite climbs out of wotton-under-edge, with another lengthy ascent to painswick before the drop down to ‘nham. i learnt two things: a long ride in one direction on fixed is infinitely easy with a gift of a tailwind, and my top speed with a 68″ gear is 33mph, or a cadence of 165rpm.

interesting name, interesting people
On top of the Cotswolds, with a woman showing her ass
horseface killah

today i went out with kieran and steve. kieran is quite close to acquiring honorary membership of team douchebag. i haven’t told him this yet, but if he keeps up with the riding and the racing i see no reason why we might not confer on him such an amazing honour. he is quite strong at the moment. steve is probably quite strong too, although his form has dipped this year, and he spent much of last week getting drunk on a TGV and eating some really weird french fondue with an egg and a schnitzel on top. during today’s ride he resolutely refused to raise his heart-rate, and even said prior to Burrington that he was going to ‘twiddle his way up’. he was not joking. Steve also didn’t have any mudguards on his bike, which was pretty shocking for someone of his stature and pedigree. it’s a good job he didn’t do the club run, that’s all i can say, because he would have suffered the indignity of being tutted at by the old guard, and possibly even dropped by the lags. it was a matter of principle for him i think. he stuck to his guns. i haven’t seem him like this since his fabled ‘lardons in poland’ trip.

graham, the third doucheteer, didn’t make it out today because he went riding in wales yesterday. i use the active verb ‘riding’ with caution. he rode up the gospel pass to hay on wye, it’s around 70 miles with a shedload of climbing. he did it on a 68″ fixed wheel. then, just to compound matters, he rode back again, making it a round 135 miles for the day. (before i go any further i want to say here and now that this kind of riding is monstrous) Apparently he walked on some of the steeper sections – the minor 25%+ bits. We mocked him mercilessly for this today, along the lines of; ‘here steve, did you hear this? graham took his bike to Wales yesterday so he could go for a walk‘. my combined mileage for the weekend is some 40 miles short of what Graham, Henry (a giant of a man who rides a 25″ woodrup) and Gary did in one deranged and mental excursion. i texted him yesterday to ask if he was coming out this morning; his succinct reply was: ‘NOT fucking riding tomorrow bastard’.

today’s ride:

burrington combe, always amazing, but hard work on 68"
steve really earnt this cake. he was angling for a cake stop 20 miles in.
make sure you tick the right box when you drop the pooch off for the weekend

hill climb season

the short and brutish hill-climb season is all but here; and as i’ve loudly made it my season’s aim, it means i have to start working a lot harder and racing much more than i have been. this entails lots of hilly rides, seeking out savage climbs and riding them at pace, frequently above what might be comfortable. i kicked off my training proper (after a delightful enforced absence with belle in italy, eating pizza and ice cream) with a couple of rides into and around the mendips; these hurt a lot. it can be hard to find the motivation when other things are happening, but also when the weather is absolutely vile, as it has been for some time. i threw caution to the wind and went out in all conditions.

some of my favourite climbs near here are:

dundry – from both sides, although i prefer the longer, more subtle climb; it’s now right on  my doorstep which is a cause for much rejoicing.

blagdon – up through the village, straight on, around, and up to the top of the mendips. essentially, it climbs from the lake at the bottom, but i see the start of the climb as being the junction of the high street and the main road. this one is a total stinker, about 14%, if not more, and long.

burrington – the location for the BSCC hillclimb; it’s not overly steep but it is long and requires very careful pacing; i like this one a lot, but feel pressure when riding it because i know it’s a race hill.

wrington hill – a sort of hidden gem, it’s a wall, a complete beast, but thankfully quite short.

there are others, the mendips are littered with climbs edging up and down the escarpments; deer leap, draycott, brockley, red hill, cheddar gorge… it’s relatively easy to go out on a road ride and find you’ve done over 400o feet of climbing in an afternoon, much of it very steep; this is no mean feet, and matches the kind of height gain you’d find ascending ventoux. my friend chris has a ride he does once a year called ‘every climb in the mendips’, and unfortunately the title is literal, it takes around 8 hours.

so yes, hill climb season is pretty much here – and mine started last night with the dursley club hill climb, up stouts hill in the cotswolds. this is a short and sharp climb into a state of penury and wobbly legs, and this hill and I have a bit of previous – it featured as the last climb in the Dursley Hardriders back in April; i seem to remember limping up it in the granny ring on my way to seventh place. it was a very different experience last night; i took the fixed wheel and ran about 65″, which may have been a trifle too tall. i was hoping for a good placing – possibly even a win; being a club event it could have turned out to be a fish and chipper, especially considering the damp and miserable conditions. but really, the main aim was to wear the race number and experience the training benefits that subsequently occur.

a bit more about the conditions before i go on – riding in the rain is a tricky thing – it’s not that pleasant; but it is manageable on a winter bike with full guards. riding a lightweight hillclimb bike means a genuine soaking is on the cards; on the way back from the race i had to wait at the train station for half an hour, getting very cold indeed and feeling not unlike ian stannard. well, sort of.

however, riding up the hill, through the mist and fine rain, underneath an ever-darkening canopy of ancient deciduous woodland was an emotive and curiously uplifting experience; the sort of thing that you don’t get to do because it seems like a silly idea. on the climb the pervasive gloom bought out a genuine and unexpected ethereal beauty. i was chasing my minuteman, and he steadily emerged out of the darkness, gradually acquiring a distinct outline to distinguish him from the murk beyond, like a crespuscular being fighting a private elemental battle with the incline.  later, when on the way back through Uley i saw a flock of circling crows cast as blackened, twitching Vs against a blanket of grey fog; as distinct as stars in the cloth of night.

it was an informal affair at the startline, as befits a club event, signing on at the back of a car and so on. at first i took the wrong number, but survived my error. i knew derek from dursley would be racing, and he was the one to aim for – but then the situation changed somewhat when James Dobbin turned up. He’s a former national hillclimb champion and rider of some repute. and that was that really; thoughts of the win disappeared in the time it took him to extract his team-issue bike from the back of the car. he flew up the mile long climb, which has sections of 14%, and meanders at around 10-12%. his speed was breathtaking, and chastening. he broke the course record with a time of 4.59, derek took second in 5.45 and i got third in 5.47. doing it fixed was an experience, and a good one – but i think i lost time at the beginning where the first 200 metres are pretty flat; i was spinning out at this point. there’s another one next week and i shall try it on the gears to see if there is any difference. the weather may well be sunny – i certainly hope so, but the memory of the inclement conditions will linger for the right reasons.


I went back to Ventoux over Easter for some cycling adventures with Steve and Graham. We took the train all the way there; it felt civilised – apart from the return journey; ‘tous en greve! pour avancer arretons nous!’ it’s quite difficult to articulate the experience of cycling for 4 days around Mont Ventoux, the senses and ideas that infiltrate the imagination at any given moment are almost impossible to capture.

on the first day the weather was pretty cold and grey. we tackled a few minor cols, only up to around 900 metres, the Fantuabe and Col Des Aires. I felt strong, and excited to be cycling in France. Cars gave us inconceivable amounts of space. there were glimpses of road painting…

at all times the mountain loomed over us, and with fresh snow the night we arrived, it looked particularly daunting and other-worldly.

the second day was absolutely beautiful, sunny and clear, but quite blowy, to the extent that you could see the snow being blown off the summit of Ventoux in blindingly white curlicues, we left the planned ascent for the next day.

instead we opted for a 3up time-trial up the gorge de la nesque with our genial host Craig. it was his idea, although i’d talked myself into it by mentioning my early season time trial exploits, and he pointed out that there is an annual ‘chrono de la nesque’. it’s a steady, fairly light gradient, with a fast middle section and some steeper bits that go on, and on, and on, for around 10 miles. steve, craig and I put the collective hammer down for a ridiculously fast 35.54; only a few minutes off the course record, and a full minute and a half quicker than Craig’s personal best. i suffered for this later in the holiday, and later that day.

the return loop showed the staggering height and beauty of Ventoux, and gave us something to gaze at, awestruck, with more snow being torn from the crest by the wakening mistral.

the third day was the ascent. the weather was perfect with azure skies and a stillness. a mechanical nearly scuppered things before we got started, but i learnt the difference between french bike shops and f.w evans. Monsieur Gustave LeVelo can repair a bladed spoke with an internal nipple with no bother whatsoever, in about 30 minutes, for about £17.

the forest was hot, not stifling, but enough to be thankful that it was early april. as we climbed, the treeline gave way to snow; and lots of it.

up to five foot on either side of the road, which meant that the very top, or last km or so, was closed. and it was cold. but it was characteristically mind-blowing, we reached Chalet Reynard within the hour, which was good going. Whilst riding up the later stages i remembered a curious statistic – during last year’s penultimate Tour stage, Andy Schleck attacked 18 times on ventoux. it sounds trite, or straightforward; and yet whilst cyling, and clinging onto Steve’s wheel, it was inconceivable, so terrifyingly distant from reality.

people were tobogganing at the top, and i overtook a snowboarder. i can’t really think of what else to say, it feels like you are on the roof of the world, there is no comparable peak for miles around, the view is staggering. it felt sublime, in the truest sense of the word, a greatness with which nothing else can be compared and which is beyond all possibility of calculation, measurement or imitation, the wanderer above the sea of fog. the descent was incredible, on the wire, i was really enjoying it until a fly flew inside my ear at a combined impact speed of around 60mph. it was strange and disconcerting, a bit too cronenberg for my liking. at lunch afterwards our thoughts turned to how France seems to have been created for the sole purpose of cycling, it’s fantastic, an edenic, two-wheeled paradise.

the last day was the most demanding, cumulatively, a further 75 miles with a huge amount of climbing, including the category 2 Tour climb, col de perty, a 32km ascent culminating in a narrow pass and a glimpse of the alpine peaks some 60 miles distant. it was very cold, graham took the sensible option and went back, steve and I pressed on, and it rained – a lot. we got soaked. it felt edifying afterwards, at the time it felt bleak and miserable. by this point i was even tempted by graham’s electrolyte drink, but not steven’s embrocation rub. it’s a slippery slope.

four of the cols tackled that day were above 1000 metres. it was a brave, slightly foolhardy end to four days of riding, total distance around 250 miles, i shudder to think how much climbing we did. at one point, having ridden along a valley for about 45 minutes at race pace, before being confronted with a final, will-shattering climb, i felt as though i was a participant in some sort of visionary herzog film. i later found out that steve has only seen grizzly man so he was a bit confused by my comment at the time. i guess i was referring to aguirre,  the sort of conradian idea of sanity being slowly eroded by the surroundings, the journey deep into the subconscious, where willpower takes you somewhere you’re not quite sure you should be going.


cycling home today, calmly on account of a head-cold of mythic proportions, i was passed by a succession of incredibly glitzy and enormous cars, umpteen 4x4s with personalised number plates, roaring, throaty bmws and the guttural revving of the occasional porsche even. i’m not about to assault anyone with the inequity of such cavernously huge cars carrying one occupant, or the wastefulness of them, nothing like that, because it’s so pissingly obvious that it still seems staggering that they even exist. i was on a different sort of thought pattern; namely – where have all the old cars gone? i can’t really remember the last time i saw a car even with an old-style number plate, let alone something genuinely old. i remember being excited as a child in my uncle’s ford sierra because it was brand new, and a ‘B’ registration; so very cutting edge and inexpressibly now. but then, i seem to remember that cars were older, and new cars were rarer; maybe i’m being selective. anyway, my thoughts moved on (i was nearing clifton by this stage), and i guess some vague element of debord or baudrillard had lodged somewhere in my subconscious, and i got to pondering the car as a fetish object. in fact, as the fetish object; the ultimate accesory and pinnacle of commodification, glitzy materialism writ large.

which is all well and good, and a slightly smug and disparaging smile crept across my mouth; but it lingered only for a second. and in that instance i realised that the possession of 6 bicycles; each of varying levels of sophistication, and for different purposes, is justifiable through similar reasoning used to defend the 4×4 behemoth. i simplify, yes, but there you go. if it’s not cars, it’s shoes.

back to the title of the post – stroopwaffel is an amazing and delicious type of caramelly soft biscuit made by the hollanders. it is the high point of dutch biscuit-making and utterly tasty.

Mountains of the Mind

i knew at some point i’d get round to writing about hills, the thought and the intention has been there since i started to write these tentative pages, and today is as good a day as any, having got it right on belmont and experienced the euphoria of accelerating over the crest, knowing i judged it perfectly. i seek them out when on the bike – and feel unfulfilled if out riding with someone leading and and there is a palpable absence of ascents. i get edgy, and feel as though the day has been wasted; but become excited when hills appear, sensing from the layout of the landscape that at a key moment the terrain will shift and the battle with the contours will begin, the road rolling upwards in short shifts in the way english hills tend to do.

some of my favourite hills in the UK include: toys hill near westerham- a nasty and very steep climb i used to ride up with chums when living in london; ditchling beacon near brighton – a bit of a mecca and the nadir (paradoxically) for pootlers or bromptonauts on the annual L2B run (or chaos on bikes).

I also like burrington combe and any of the Mendip climbs – cheddar gorge, blagdon, belmont, backwell, dearleap – with their varying degrees of savagery. whilst visiting my mother up north i have tackled lots of west yorkshire beasts; these tend to be sudden and very sharp indeed – chat hill road, hebden bridge, widdop, trawden being prime suspects. the mendip climbs in particular have had an effect on others; most notably Samuel Taylor Coleridge, an early moutaineer (see robert macfarlane’s fantastic book ‘mountains of the mind‘) who wrote about the sublime, the profound feeling emerging from being on the precipice; of mountains and the effect on the soul (when not busy taking liquid opium and destroying himself). He even wrote about Brockley Coombe, a sub-mendip climb – now quite a shallow and steady road that runs up to the bristol airport, but then a stony ascent through woods.

With many a pause and oft reverted eye
I climb the Coomb’s ascent: sweet songsters near
Warble in shade their wild-wood melody:
Far off the unvarying Cuckoo soothes my ear.
Up scour the startling stragglers of the flock
That on green plots o’er precipices browse:
From the deep fissures of the naked rock
The Yew-tree bursts! Beneath its dark green boughs
(‘Mid which the May-thorn blends its blossoms white)
Where broad smooth stones jut out in mossy seats,
I rest: -and now have gained the topmost site.
Ah! what a luxury of landscape meets
My gaze! Proud towers, and Cots more dear to me,
Elm-shadowed Fields, and prospect-bounding Sea.
Deep sighs my lonely heart: I drop the tear:
Enchanting spot! O were my Sara here.

I think of Coleridge when riding up the Coombe, it’s funny to think of him ascending by foot, possibly on one of his perambulations from nether stowey to bristol. my preferred gear when riding for ‘pleasure’ is round about 72″, which is perfect for Brockley, and i regularly do training rides in and around the mendips on a fixed wheel, building stamina and leg power. this year i rode the burrington hillclimb and geared down to a 65″. i was one of four riders riding fixed in a  field of 60 and came 5th overall. the climb was won by tejvan pettinger, a slip of a boy with quite a pedigree, riding a gossamer-light bicycle.  i beat the national men’s v4 champion by 4 seconds, the national woman’s champion by over a minute (for what it’s worth, i was pleased anyway) and was the first bristol south rider across the line – gaining my first ever trophy. tejvan was a further 40 seconds ahead of me; i shall endeavour to narrow the gap for next year, at which point i will be aiming to build form solely for the nationals, which i think is in gloucestershire, and hope against hope for a top thirty finish.

this summer i spent some time in the alps, riding up mythical tour climbs which alternately blew my mind and tore my legs off. the galibier, lautaret, alpe d’huez and les deux alpes. it built a degree of strength though, and i think next year i shall aim to tackle the tourmalet and a few of the pyrenean monsters – but i am also drawn back to one particular mountain: Ventoux. i tackled it two years ago on an incredibly beautiful spring day in April with no wind at all – unusually for a mountain frequently ravaged by winds in excess of 150mph. the weekend before the mountain was closed by heavy snowfall, which left high drifts on the side near the top and added to the other-worldy beauty of the landscape.

Before it had even entered the imaginative realm of cycling, it became an eye-opener for Petrach; who climbed it in the 14th century. He had this to say:
‘the mountain, which is visible from a great distance, was ever before my eyes. It is a very steep and almost inaccessible mass of stony soil. It was a long day, the air fine. We enjoyed the advantages of vigour of mind and strength and agility of body, we had no other difficulties to face than those of the region itself… but as usually happens, fatigue quickly followed upon our excessive exertion, and we soon came to a halt at the top of a certain cliff.

At first, owing to the unaccustomed quality of the air and the effect of the great sweep of view spread out before me, I stood like one dazed. The Alps, rugged and snow-capped, seemed to rise close by, although they were really at a great distance.

I rejoiced in my progress, mourned my weaknesses, and reflected on the universal instability of human conduct. I could see with the utmost clearness, off to the right, the mountains of the region about Lyons, and to the left the bay of Marseilles and the waters that lash the shores of the mediterranear, altho’ all these places were so distant that it would require a journey of several days to reach them. Under our very eyes flowed the Rhone.

Petrarch finished by describing the revelations that came to him:

men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not. We look about us for what is to be found only within. …. How many times did I turn back that day, to glance at the summit of the mountain which seemed scarcely a cubit high compared with the range of human contemplation?”
The mountain in effect led to him to realise the real size of human imagination and our capacity to do achieve the infinite and transcend our humble origins. It opened his mind. Some 700 years later, Mont Ventoux retains its power to intoxicate, overwhelm and also destroy. It is famous now as one of the most difficult tour de france cycling climbs, and particularly as a mountain that has ended many cyclists hopes of winning the overall race. It holds a mythical place in cycling history, the Everest of bike racing. It appeared again this year for the 13th time, and is more dreaded than the fiercely steep Tourmalet, which has featured in the Tour 67 times. A common view is that whilst the Alps create drama, Ventoux creates tragedy.

In 1955 the Swiss veteran Ferdi Kubler attacked in scorching heat at the foot of the 14 mile climb. Raphael Geminiani warned him in no uncertain terms: “Beware, Ferdi, the Ventoux is not a climb like the others.” Yet Kubler, wearing a cotton racing cap, unaware of the perils of hubris, the visor turned up like a challenge, replied: ” I’m not a rider like the others.” In the stifling and heavy heat he fell like Breughel’s Icarus; the arcane and dangerous rules on water bottles no doubt sealed his downfall… the Ventoux was suffocating. Geminiani saw Kubler weaving around on his bike, heard him swear; he zigzagged, his nose dipping toward his handlebars, curled over his frame, with his cap now turned askew. At one point he accidentally went the wrong way back down the mountain; such was his mental and physical exhaustion. He left the tour that evening and never rode again.

The most famous British cyclist ever, until the current glut of worldbeaters, Tommy Simpson, rode up in 1967 in stifling heat. He was under real pressure to improve on his previous placing of 6th overall in the tour, but had been suffering in the run up with a debilitating stomach complaint. Nearing the top, past Chalet Reynard, he began to weave wildly across the road before he fell down. He was delirious and (alledgedly) asked spectators to put him back on the bike, which he rode to within a half mile of the summit before collapsing, still clipped into his pedals. Simpson was transported by helicopter to the Avignon hospital where he died that evening. There is a memorial to Simpson near the summit which has become a shrine to fans of cycling, who often leave small tokens of remembrance there. i recommend Vin Denson’s autobiography, as well as Put Me Back on My Bike, for a moving – and honest – account of his death. In 1970, even the cannibal, Eddy Merckx, the most famous cyclist of all, rode himself to the brink of collapse while winning the stage, as did Andy Hampstein.  Merckx received oxygen, recovered, and won the Tour. In 1955, it forced Rick Van Genechten and others to abandon the race and even Lance Armstrong never won on ventoux.

Even before i got to the Ventoux, it had embedded itself in my psyche, the knowledge lurking that i would be tackling the climb in a matter of weeks, then days, then hours, a knowledge underscored by the awareness that it was a possibly beyond me. I had no way of knowing until I tried. The day before I was anxious, and even on the climb itself was constantly worried that it might be too much. Knowing, after 45 minutes, and 7 miles, that I was approaching halfway and had done the easy bit did not help. I did not overdo things, and was not racing, but even in april the heat and the effort required to cycle for nearly 2 hours uphill was extreme.  I made it in 1hr 40mins – the record is about 55 minutes by Iban Mayo – and on the way back down stopped to pay my respects at the Simpson memorial, a man who paid the ultimate price for the pursuit of glory and personal achievement. David Millar, Wiggins, Wegelius and Cavendish all did the same in this year’s race.

As to why i sought out a version of burrington coombe, but 7 times longer; i’d instinctively say that i don’t know the answer – but in truth, I do. It sought me out, and was always there, waiting; a tantalising figment of my imagination and a myth to be constructed and composed in my own words, rather than the quotes of others. And when I rounded the final bend, turning past the weather station to see the top, the sense of achievement, the view, the sense of escape from everything, was entirely novel. And now, when talking to others about cycling, about rides we have done, or the tour de france, the conversation inevitably turns to Ventoux – it featured in this year’s tour for the first time in 8 years, and I casually mention that I have ridden up the mountain, the giant, and it was difficult, but incredible. And that fact that I have done it is enough – the achievement is permanent.

the video below sums up the mythic nature of the climb, through a lovely, lyrical phil liggett commentary: “for one hundred and seventy one young men, it would be the place where they would dare to ask themselves the questions of greatness“; although the idea of a contre-la-montre up ventoux seems to be the devil’s idea.

Going back to Coleridge for almost the last word; he saw hills and mountains as an escape, a way to move further away from the suffocating claustrophobia associated with family life; his passion for climbing hills and scaling mountain peaks has an imaginative link with his internal desire for escape. The panoramic view from a peak often brings moments of intense vision; the atmosphere seems thinner, distance reduced, the air itself bracingly alive. He was, in effect, climbing out of civilisation, reflecting a longing to free himself not merely from the restraints of domesticity, but from the world. We climb to escape, but also to broaden our view and open our minds.

and this is probably the central truth, i ride uphill because at some point, somewhere along the line, everything is left behind, my body and mind soars higher, far away from the everyday. the struggle becomes transcendent, the metaphor of the mountain ceases and the moment becomes all that there is, the only compassable reality, the point where you hold eternity and truth in your hands, and pedal onwards and ever upwards.

more rain

i cycled to work today. on thursdays i always cycle to work because i have no choice, so i am genuinely at the mercy of the weather. and in this case, the weather showed no clemency, it completely hurled it down for around 40 minutes and i cycled through a weather front. the skies were black and the droplets stung my face. to make matters worse my ipod packed up after three songs of bill callahan, choosing to give up the ghost and leave me alone. even neoprene overshoes were no match for the consistency of the water, my feet ended up soaked, and my bag – having never ever let me down – allowed a tell-tale trickle in along the seam. by the time i got to work an hour later it was nearly impossible to take my clothes off, the layer of moisture creating an unpleasant clinginess.

colleagues look askance at my dishevelled appearance, mouths agog, and asked if i had cycled (a strange question considering the lycra, overshoes, helmet, gloves, and so on) and i replied; ‘yes, it was great’ with all the masochistic fervour of the truly possessed. it wasn’t great, it was grim.

despite all of this, there was a radiant beam of light through the rolling storm clouds – i appear to have rediscovered some form, for which i am very happy. i did a 4 minute assault on a particularly brutish climb on the way home, accelerating up towards the top and feeling the endorphin kick. it was brilliant. just in time for a trip to newport on saturday with the club.

other projects: a diamant columbus mixte, possibly a 531 beater too. good times. i recommend dave hinde for cheap and good fixed wheelsets.

and i have been listening to cornelius…

oh, and my love of both folk music and beards has been suddenly, revoltingly violated:


Yesterday’s come dine with me featured a snake shitting at the dining table. steve and gem told me about it so i watched it on 4od. it was horrific; i’m not sure things can ever be as bad as that. although going back to work after the savagery of chaingang and rollapaluza comes close. my legs felt heavy today, but the commute was enlivened by the fog hanging silently across the tops of the hills. it was the same on the way back, my light (the hope vision, amazing thing) created an eerie beam and cars seemed to be gliding through murky pools, the grey miasma swirling in the half-light.

it’s this bit that i like, the ever-changing atmospherics, the chance to see the weather and the shifts in the seasons. i don’t like feeling tired though and neither am i a fan of the ten minutes it takes to don the winter cycling kit.

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