We did the Première Manche - the first round - of A Travers riding across France from Dieppe to Marseille in the summer of 2009, and it was the original inspiration for this blog. The plan to put the 'band back together again' for another go in 2013 for the second installment fell on stoney ground, with life just getting in the way for too many of us, much to our disappointment. However, our enthusiasm for the bike remains undimmed, and so I'll keep posting my thoughts on the diverse and beautiful facets of the sport regardless. But there's bound to be another big 'adventure ride' coming soon - quite possibly in Italy - so potentially a name change too: Attraverso l'Italia in Bicicletta anyone?

Thursday, 21 June 2012

One To Treasure: Autographed Livre d'Or 1987

Even the man's signature shows his fun-loving side:

Right - Get that on eBay, pronto!!
I met Roche in Valloire in July 1996, in a blowing gale and single-digit temperatures as riders were ferried to an alternative start for the shortened stage to Sestrieres. His signature with the doodle of the bike was the same back then, and is a humourous indicator of how much he still loves cycling. You only have to chat with him for a moment to realise that he's not only a true professional who was one of the best in the world at his chosen sport, but that it was always so much more than just a job for him. His continued affection for cycling is obvious, and I'm delighted to report, highly contagious.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Stephen Roche - Born To Be A Rider

From Wikipedia:
Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit. Those who mix with Irish folk have many examples of it in their everyday experience.
And so it was that two leading proponents of the genre - owner & compere Frank Beechinor and cycling hero Stephen Roche - came to provide us with a masterclass in the art, in an evening at Cadence Performance in Crystal Palace, one of a number of venues Roche has visited on a tour to promote his new autobiography, Born To Ride. I'm still buzzing about how much fun this was.

Remind me. Who is the book about?
I know the title of this post isn't exactly that of the book - which incidentally was going to be the darker and more interesting "Angels and Demons" - but it's my take on it. It's entirely intentional: Anquetil was clearly born to ride, as were Kelly and Cavendish. But Roche really was born to be a rider, in the completest sense of the word. As a fan, and undoubtedly for any sponsor, he's exactly the type of successful yet eloquent modern athlete I'd not only enjoy witnessing winning, as so often he did, but I'd also want to listen to and be representing my brand. He's effortlessly engaging, a marketing man's dream, with a commercial value beyond being a fast-moving logo-plastered sandwich board for a multitude of corporate backers. A prolific, stylish winner on the bike, you could always rely on Roche for a brilliant quote once off it. Gift of the gab, yes. Irish Blarney, if you like.

I always cringe when sportsman are asked to, for example, 'talk us through that second goal'. There's very little point, really. Do we simply expect too much from our sporting heroes? I admit it's far too easy to criticise footballers in particular for their banality, in no small part due to the ubiquity of the sport's coverage, and I'm unreservedly grateful that cycling is getting more of a look-in in the UK given the success of the British contingent on Team Sky. However, I'm nevertheless hard-pushed to find Cav's constant thanks for his team-mates particularly edifying. He's undoubtedly accurate and being genuine, minding his 'P's and 'Q's, but in my opinion he's not engaging anyone other than a very narrow audience of previously converted geeky followers. I'd like the real Mark Cavendish to stand up please, warts and all. Fortunately Wiggo has a tendency to be a bit more of a loose canon, prone to inadvertently saying something that - heaven forbid - doesn't fit in with strictly moderated sponsor 'messaging'. It's so much more interesting when he goes off-script. But when we talk about Roche, well, Roche is in a different league.

Some of the evening's anecdotes surrounding his exploits and antics are better known than others. On the 1987 La Plagne stage collapse - Liggett's memorable commentary maître d'œuvre - and so exhausted that he's unable to talk, he describes his communicating with the Tour doctor by blinking as 'not a great conversation'. The audience is in stitches. This alongside the much-publicised gem of a response to a TV interviewer as he lies prostrate in the ambulance, and 'not ready for a woman just yet'. From the Stephen Roche Story DVD, asked for the secret of his first stage-race success in the 1981 Paris Nice, a young Roche, already showing an excellent command of the language, reveals "Chez nous on mange beaucoup de patates" - in our house we eat a lot of potatoes. It's media-savvy, instantly endearing genius. Tonight perhaps only he could have got away with his highly amusing impression of Sean Kelly because he's a fellow Irishman and friend. I failed in an attempt to stifle my laughter, the flimsy urge for political correctness brushed aside by something simple, peurile, and most of all, fun. It was spot on.

It didn't matter that there was much talk about aspects of the book that as fans we were, for the most part, well aware of already. It was all there: his violent persecution by the Italian tifosi as 'a traitor' for taking the race to incumbent Giro winner and 1987 team-mate Roberto Visentini in what photographer Graham Watson describes as the 'best stage race he's ever seen'.

Visentini in his usual spot: on Roche's rear wheel.
On strategy for winning the Tour, he gave us revealing insights into the tactical nous for which he's held in particularly high esteem: the constant on-the-road observation and decision making, the evening planning for the days ahead, potential alliances with other teams, and the analysis of his rivals' state of both body and mind. And who thought bike racing was just about riding fast?

Make mine a Triple.
Similarly the revelation that he might not have won The Triple if it hadn't been for the weather. The 1987 Giro witnessed unseasonally cold conditions in the normally cauldron-like south, the Tour had hot days interspersed with the sort of colder, wetter weather Roche thrived in, and the World professional road race was run off in low temperatures and early-morning rain. I'd helped out with the supporting video presentation for the evening, and the clip that was shown of his rainbow-jersey winning ride - again, not widely broadcast in the UK, if at all, at the time - was met with a virtual standing ovation from the 100-plus guests. His move through a gap barely wide enough for his Benotto-taped Cinelli 64's was the epitome of audicity, the toothy smile breaking across the grubby face of a World Champion who'd earned his title competing in the rain and cold for 7 hours. The hair stood up on the back of my neck, because here we were standing next to the man that did that.

When asked to compare racing from then with now, the pressure on today's pros is something that Roche unsurprisingly has opinions on, not least I expect because it's the place where his son Nicholas plies his trade. For someone wrestling with the predictability of modern racing, I'm particularly interested in his views. Roche bemoans that fact the today's riders are too willing to ride for second place, for UCI World Tour points, to defend their 'interests' rather than seizing an opportunity to win. The result is that the radio-controlled racing has become formulaic and predictable, with Roche repeating his Carrera DS Davide Boifava's mantra 'to win you have to be prepared to lose'. His view that today's riders - still living in Armstrong 'era of the robots' - don't seem to enjoy the sport as much as they did in the past also chimes well with Laurent Fignon's Nous Etions Jeunes / We Were Young And Carefree - another recommended read. Whilst multilingual Roche may well have found the PR side of his work easy - and enjoyable - compared with most, he obviously still had to deal with the uncertainty and contractual wrangles brought about by his recurring struggles with injury. The overall tone is that modern cycling appears to have lost its sense of fun, that it's no longer anything like a game. Gone is respect, tradition and character, replaced with the modern-day practice of building riders up, pushing them as prodcuts, expecting so much on a sporting and commercial level, and then abandoning them when they fail - the fear of which means no one is prepared to take any risks. You can see this change slowly yet inexorably creeping in, and for me it's not a positive development.

Peter Cossins has done a fine job of bringing everything together in a highly enjoyable read. Despite being a massive fan of cycling from this era in particular - for reasons outlined in the paragraph above - it doesn't matter one iota that I was already aware of most of what has been written in the book. As The Washing Machine Post so eloquently points out, you knew what was coming, because you'd been interested all along:
Biographies and autobiographies suffer from the same intrinsic problem; most of the intended readership already know that the butler did it. the destination is often already well kent; the motivation for purchase is more about the journey.
Un champion du monde peut en cacher un autre ...
Now imagine being treated to a book - and career - review with the man himself. Roche augments the whole experience with has insights, amusing anecdotes, banter and witticisms. All in all, a wonderfully enjoyable evening, and enough to make me want to jump aboard that old steel bike, ditch the helmet and feel the wind in my greying hair, to go and ride with all the enthusiasm of the 20-year-old carefree young man I was back when Roche was astounding us all with his 1987 'annus mirabilis'

I'm well known as a died-in-the-wool Hinaultista, but I'm quickly gravitating towards Roche after this evening. My wife Kelda and I hung around to the end of the event to get him to autograph a multitude of my 1987 copies of Miroir, Vélo and Bicisport, and he seemed to genuinely enjoy looking back at the images. He surely wouldn't be human if there was no lingering nostalgia for the pro rider he once was, and I'd guess that it's undoubtedly the case. Plans are underway, through Frank's various contacts, to get Le Blaireau up to Cadence for a similar evening, but he's really gonna have to go some to match the Irishman's charm, to be sure.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Will We Be Dancing On The Alpe in 2013?

Here's me showing the boys how to let their sweat-sodden, salt-encrusted hair down in Carry-Le-Rouet, after we'd all completed the end of the final stage of A Travers in July 2009. If I hadn't taken up cycling, I'd probably have been a dancer. I'm not referred to as 'Mincer' for no reason, riding around (and walking, come to that) looking like the unholy bastard (and admittedly miraculous) lovechild of and Alan Carr and Graham Norton.

There's clearly the heady mix of relief and euphoria, the plentiful cheap alcohol carried by hyper-oxygenated red blood cells to flood my brain, causing me to show some uncharacteristic joie de vivre. Because underneath I'm absolutely seething: as documented elsewhere in the blog, I was pipped to the finish down on the Med coast by Jamesy, yet a-bloody-gain.The man has no class. Can't he let me win? Just once? Can we just not be racing each other all the time?

So, come the Alpe in 2013 (he's never ridden it, despite my repeated attempts to get him to do it over the years, so I have the advantage of familiarity) I promise that for once there'll be no more nice guy, none of my usual 'won't it be nostalgic and sentimental to ride up together' and finish like a couple of 1986 hand-in-hand Greg & Bernards. Instead I'm gonna behave just like him, the competitive sod, and even though it's not a race and it doesn't really matter, I'm gonna get to the top before him. Whatever it takes. I might even get an accomplice to stand along the route taking photos near the top.

Whooh! Hark at me! Call me Macho, rather than Mincing, Mike Curtis, clearly trying the shake off the effeminate tag (it's probably the one I left attached to the collar of the delightful chiffon blouse I just bought myself).

Monday, 7 May 2012

Electric Gears - Energy Saving? Illegal?

I'm no luddite, but ... isn't electric gear changing via an external power source an artificial aid, and as such shouldn't be permitted? There's a battery strapped to the downtube, in case you were unsure. So where do you draw the line? Electrically aided gear changing is OK, but it's obvious that Fabian Cancellara's motorised bike isn't.

As Fabian himself puts it about this 'doped' bike "It's so stupid I'm speechless," he said. "I've never had batteries on my bike." Never used Di2 then, Fabian? I'd dispute that.

I'm all for technology bringing benefits to bike riders, but surely the whole point in racing is that the person who wins - whether a TT or road race - is the one with the most energy left for racing their bike in the final, as Sean Kelly might say. And that should mean everything on the bike - including gear shifts - being powered by the rider alone.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Something Missing?

It's probably a fair statement to say that the majority of bikes at the top-end of the market are assembled piecemeal from individually-purchased components, carefully selected by the discerning bikie after long hours of deliberation and research; it's a process that can easily descend into near obsession and the topic of often-heated conversations on many a club run. Cutting-edge composite technology and metal engineering and their influence on our component choices are an integral part of the racing cycling experience, and an aspect that makes the sport even more engaging, certainly for a poseur and geek like me. Alongside training miles, race results and clothing choices, everything about the dream bike's build is a pored-over choice, discussed and debated, and not only for what are supposedly the extremely personal 'contact' points like saddle, bars and ... pedals. Yeah, pedals. Kinda vital on a bike, wouldn't you say?

Given the role they play, what I'm finding difficult to understand is why bike manufacturers are increasingly viewing this component as somehow optional in their advertising. Surely their omission renders the bike incomplete, unrideable, useless, in the same vein as advertising a Ferrari without its Pirelli P Zeroes might be. Look through bike mags and sites and you'll note the trend to include bike weights quoted excluding pedals, as if this unsung component were somehow simply an optional extra. Marvel over expensively lit studio shots of the top-of-the-range machine in question, nothing left to chance in the attempt to engender unbridled desire for their product, and the very means of propulsion are missing. If it were a refreshing bottle of lager, it would've had the complete food-stylist treatment and be sprayed with droplets of condensation, to reach out and whisper 'chilled' and 'thirst quenching'. On bikes the ten-past-two wristwatch-marketing equivalent has always been displaying the bike in the big ring and smallest sprocket, since 53x12 shouts speed (but only when you're using our bike, obviously). But including pedals, surely.

I've already mentioned the wonderful advertising that Ten Speed Drive Imports used to place in Winning Magazine in the 1980s in this blog - it was teenage desire-affirming hard-core bike porn, not seen anything like it since, more's the pity - and the pedals were always on there. Why wouldn't they be?

Image by steel-is-real
Perhaps back in the day it was a given that if you'd selected a Campag gruppo for your bike, then the pedals would also be from Vicenza - and no doubt matched with their alloy toe-clips and Alfredo Binda Extra toestraps. The same would be true of a Shimano or Stronglight/Spidel equipped bike: all the advertisements would include a pedal, out of - dare I venture - completeness. So, was it simply because in the past there was less choice, and so less scope for upsetting a potential punter's sensibilities with the inclusion of what might not be their preferred pedal? Best not try and influence their thinking, heh?
Today, the bars, the saddle, the groupset, wheels and tyres are all still there - unsurprisingly to me - but frame manufacturers appear to baulk at going as far as including pedals. The only reason I can think for their exclusion is that the multitude of providers, styles and engagement mechanisms preclude them from being displayed, as if the frame manufacturer is avoiding the endorsement of a particular brand or mechanism through fear of causing some kind of offence - we're all so easily offended these days after all - leaving this gaping hole in the complete picture to be filled by the consumer's personal whim. Show them a pedal option they don't like, and they might pass on the bike as a whole. Then again, surely any component selection is only about personal taste, and we can mix and match as much as we like (although it's not something I'd do - I'm unashamedly Italian when it comes to what I choose for my bikes)?

So what is it with pedals? Check out these top-flight 'hero' bikes on these manufacturers' sites, and you'll note that there's not a pedal to be seen:

I don't get it. I've already touched on contact points (yep, pun intended), but surely tyre choice is just as personal, with a potentially broader gamut available depending on intended usage. The modern trend for factory-built wheelsets would also undermine this reasoning - high-profile or low, ceramic bearings or not, tubulars or clinchers. Or even the latest road-tubeless innovations. So, does anyone out there have any ideas? What is it about poor old pedals that makes them persona non-grata in bike advertsing?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Why? Because I'm Worth It.

I'd been in Frankfurt for over three weeks last September, working every day at the the IAA - the Motorshow - and on the only afternoon I had off I tracked down the wonderful Assos 'Nucleo' shop in town, apparently the only one of its kind in Europe. There's not even one in the trendy commercial centres like Milan, Paris or Barcelona, nor their HQ in San Pietro di Stabio in Switzerland. This was going to be an interesting bit of time away from the office ... and potentially expensive.

I've always loved Assos kit, somewhat weakly suckered in by their slick marketing long before Rapha jumped on the bandwagon. To be fair, it's always been excellent quality gear, reassuringly expensive, it's associated heavily with the European professional scene, and unsurprisingly the Nucleo shop embodies everything that you'd expect from such a premium brand. Shopping becomes an experience, over and above the clothing. It's slickly-opening spotless drawers containing crisply-arranged products, it's the flooring, the lighting, the Assos-branded cups I'm sipping a complimentary espresso from as I perch on the edge of a piece of angular, modern leather furniture. The shop staff were never going to have to try hard that day: I wanted the Assos Limited Edition (see - it's got me already) Federazione Italiana Heritage Jersey as soon as I was aware of its release, and I was standing there with some cash burning a hole in my pocket, rainy-day money that had been there for quite a while. I felt justified in a warped way, since unlike profligate Western governments, Kelda and I have been saving hard for the next stages of The Italy Project since we bought our place in Le Marche back at the end of 2007. At that moment I felt that after such a long stint away from home and such a thrifty existence for the last few years, the ordinarily crazy act of spending over £100 on a cycling jersey was justified. I simply deserved it.

Did I mention that the Heritage Pack also includes a pair of white Assos socks, and the
matching casquette shown in the image above? That makes it worth the expense.
Whilst I know I'm going to love mincing around on the C40 in the summer sunshine wearing this jersey, I have to admit that it's actually an inferior substitute for another Italian National Squad jersey I've wanted for over 25 years. Still made by Assos, it's the jersey used by the Italian team both in 1986 at Colorado Springs when Moreno Argentin won, and again the next year when he lost the maglia iridata to Stephen Roche in Villach.

Tony Mills at Dauphin Sport sowed the seed in my head way back then, pointing out at the time that not having the jersey made by one of the big Italian brands such as Castelli or Santini would mean that the association wouldn't last long, and that this would end up a rarity. I'm certain that my desire to obtain one started right there. Remember though: these were pre-Internet days, and to get hold of one of these you'd probably have to live in Italy and be related to one of the riders lucky enough to have made it into the squadra azzurra with a jersey to spare. Assos Italian blue with vertical green, white and red tricolore bands. Rudy Projects, no helmet. Über cool.

Note Charlie Mottet crying in the background because he's been riding around for 7 hours in a shitty Adidas top
In fact Argentin has been a style icon responsible for not only one, but two of the best jerseys I've ever seen, as well a bike I've always dreamed of owning (I had a stab at it in the early 90s with a replica bike even my main man Doctor D thought was desirable). Not only did he get to sport the best national jersey ever devised, he also spent a season in the best Worlds jersey too: Castelli's own take on the rainbow bands, and the first to provide matching shorts. Divides opinion this, I know, but I love it. There are some additional factors at play here though - it's the whole package.

Sheer class, in every respect
Look at that 1987 team-issue Bianchi for starters. Columbus SLX, chromed head tube, forks and rear stays with black lacquer overlay, fork crown and rear brake bridge picked out to match the frame main tubes. Campagnolo Colbalto brake calipers (utterly gorgeous), celeste colour-coded Almarc leather bar covering and matching bottle cages, long before this type of attention to detail was the norm (although Bianchi clearly benefit from having a simple colour associated with its brand; I can only think of Wilier Triestina's copper-coloured frames as another example). Add in the white lever hoods, off-white wheel guides on those Campag brake shoes and the similar-coloured rubber doughnut on the cable adjuster and you've got a bike being ridden by just about the most stylish rider that ever turned a 170mm Record Corsa crank in anger.

With his olive skin, quintessential latin looks, he was the pro I wanted to look like (I'm a blue-eyed blonde and prone to sunburn). Yeah sure, strive to ride like Hinault, with a bike position like Hinault (can't do this either ...), but give me the dress sense and style of the Italian from San Dona di Piave any day of the week. He even made those grey Brancales look good, that when shod to Lemond's well-documented troublesome plates only managed to remind us of something you'd see worn by a clown at a Billy Smart's circus reunion. I'd also take the liberty of pointing out the matching Swatch watch  ...

OK, OK, I'm labouring the point about pro style for sure, to the degree that this might seem like I'm indulging in man-love, but talking about it does bring me around to the sartorial elegance apparently lacking in one of our favourite sons. I'm afraid that Bradley - who I think comes across as an awesome bloke as well as great rider - really did look like Worzel Gummidge on the top step of the podium at the Tour of Romandie at the weekend. Brad: take a style tip out of Moreno's book: raz that bloody 'trendy' hair off for a proper, smart cropped Mod style, change those black socks for white ones, and cut them down by about six inches. Please. Ken and Doreen (you know them from your boyhood racing days alongside OPCC roadman Ian Jeffery) have been chewing my ears off about it all bloody weekend!!

Sincere apologies Brad. Just win the Tour and I'll take it all back and buy you several beers. It'd be an absolute pleasure. And also: I love the fact you do interviews in French.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The Collector

It's a couple of years since I last did some writing for Phil Diprose at The Ride Journal, and we're presently having a discussion about my submitting something new for the next issue. Below is my piece entitled "The Collector" which appeared in Issue 3, the result of a conversation I had with him explaining why I've got a loft crammed full of cycling magazines from all over Europe, going back over nearly 40 years.
I'd argue that this apparent compulsive hoarding is in no way a sign of mental illness (I think he doth protest too much), but rather no more than a harmless extension of Obsessive Compulsive Cycling Disorder - a book I'm currently reading by Dave Barter. It's a much-valued accumulation over the years of a wide variety of printed matter, chronicling my love for this beautiful sport. No-one in their right mind would throw out family photographs, and these items are similarly capable of engendering a deep emotional response in me.


It ran like this: if you wanted to be a pro, you’d need to go and live and race abroad and speak the language. We’d all heard the numerous broken-dream stories of talented Brits in France who’d returned early, simply unable to cope. I don’t know which came first for me – the love of the language or my boyish cycling dreams – but whichever it was, when my French teacher urged us to listen to French radio, read novels and newspapers like Le Monde, I had a plan. In the mind of a 15-year-old Francophile, tuning in to long-wave radio to catch the results of a Dauphiné Libéré stage was a brilliant idea, and Baudelaire, Balzac or dreary business journalism could quite reasonably be substituted with magazines like Vélo, Miroir and Sprint. Here was stuff I actually wanted to read.

This was an era when Cycling Weekly was our only access to the ‘continental scene’, the occasionally inspiring cover removed and blu-tacked to the bedroom wall, the perfunctory journalism inside simply skim-read and discarded. This novel French reading matter from Charing Cross Road was different. Out of habit I similarly defaced my first copy of Miroir – a picture of Hinault in yellow – and regretted it the moment I did it. What had I done? Transformed into something to cherish, the evocative photographs and poetic writing meant that there was no way further acquisitions could be mutilated like this. The Collector was born.

I was transported into a world of cycling wonderment:
Le Coq Sportif yellow and Chocolat Poulain-sponsored polka-dot jerseys, Gitane bikes and Merlin Plage banners, red Peugeot commissaire’s cars blasting out their distinctive klaxons and flashing their headlights as the winner crossed the line. The voice in my head as I read is Daniel Mangeas, Le Speaker du Tour.

These first copies are my favourites, with riders unsullied by sponsors sunglasses and logo-plastered helmets, displaying instead an almost quaint parochial amateurism, of minimal sponsorship and commercial interests, where quintessentially French characteristics stand out. There’s a much-missed simplicity where the honest, human emotions of the riders are centre-stage: the intensity of effort, the unyielding focus on victory - la rage de vaincre - and the contrasting joy and disappointment of winner and losers alike.

As time has passed so the collection has grown, carefully stored in the loft and removed for occasional reminiscing. More than just a record of how cycling has changed over the years, they’ve become a poignant reference to moments in my own life: of exciting foreign adventures where they were purchased and poured over, of new places and people, of growing up, and like the fading images of the riders inside, of inevitably growing older.

I remember where I was when I bought a specific issue, what I was doing, who I was with. Pascal Simon grimacing up Le Puy-de-Dôme with a broken shoulder blade when perhaps I should have been revising harder. First-kiss butterflies of a new relationship, whilst Jean-Francois Bernard hauled himself to the top of the Ventoux faster than everyone else. Cowering inside a rain-sodden bar at Les Deux Alpes reading about that day’s stage in L’Equipe, whilst outside Marco simply rode away from everybody. 

Whilst deep-down I had no real hopes of becoming a pro, language study took me to University with a year in southern France, and a chance at the very least to pretend to be a rider. The irony of getting my name into
Vélo in 1988 simply for being a coureur Britannique riding in a French team, obviously the next Stephen Roche, was not lost on me. My personal triplé for the season consisted only of a nut-brown cyclist’s tan, French now spoken with a Pagnolesque Provençal twang, and a sizeable overdraft. 

These riders were my boyhood companions, people I identified with, sartorially imitated on the bike and somehow wanted to be. Flicking through the magazines is like looking back at a family photo album you wish you were somehow in. Then they were daredevil uncles, today energetic young nephews, but both heroically competing in the hardest sport in the world, a sport I had neither the ability nor courage to pursue to their level, on the only stage that’s ever counted for me: Europe. The images and words captured inside are a celebration of this honesty, depicting la noble incertitude du sport - the magnificent uncertainty of sport. Sport is surely a metaphor for life, and this prized collection of magazines additionally represents a valued narrative of my own existence.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Or rather our Dave Stoller impression ...

Mike James just contacted me to reveal the true significance of the music used in that last post. Nothing to do with not choosing Gimme Shelter and going for something a little more sensible that reflects his (OK, our) advancing years, but rather the scene from Breaking Away, where Dave Stoller drafts the Cinzano truck along the highway.
Now I get it. Sometimes I think I'm the sentimental old fool and he's the dispassionate hard-nosed realist, but this all makes sense: an accident-induced softer side to him now re-revealed, something I haven't seen since the early 80s. I compare us to real racers at Roubaix, he's alluding to some rose-tinted fantasy world where riding bikes fast and making out you can speak Italian would mean you got the girl.
Get well soon Jamesy - that hip will be as good as new in no time.

Here's our Tom Boonen & Niki Terpstra Impression

Nearly three years prior to Tomekke and his Dutch lieutenant Niki doing this very same thing at Roubaix, Jamesy and I were rehearsing the perfect 'just too strong' imperceptible escape from the lead group as we rode across Northern France. Clearly not the Hell of the North though, with its muddy cobbled farm tracks, but instead well-tarmacked smooth straight roads across extremely flat and sheltered farmland further west on Day Three of our 2009 A Travers La France trip. So straight in fact that there was absolutely no danger in (a) us riding close up behind the van, then overtaking it, and (b) Steve sitting on the roof and then inside the the van filming it. The link above already has a bit of footage, but here's a compilation courtesy of Jamesy which extends the clip and adds some music. Given our shared history, I'm surprised it wasn't Gimme Shelter by the Stones, but then again a bunch of 40-something has-beens poncing around on expensive bikes in gorgeous sunshine doesn't really jibe with "Ooo, storm is threatening, my very life today ..."

So, absolutely 100% just like the winning move in Paris-Roubaix 2012 then, eh? We can dream, can't we? And isn't great how a bit of fake tan can make you look just a little bit pro ...

Monday, 16 April 2012

Robert Millar, World Professional Road Race Championships, Sallanches 1980

I already mentioned Robert Millar's fantastic ride at the World Championships on the last day in August 1980 in my earlier post, and then decided to re-read the relevant section in  Richard Moore's excellent book "In Search of Robert Millar". To quote Millar from it:

"It was just untrue the way I felt when they droppped me" ... "For this race I just tried to ride my bike like in any other one, but it does something to you when you see riders like [that year's Tour de France winner Joop] Zoetemelk crack and you're sitting there comfortably. I'm not too disappointed. There was a time when I really thought I might get the bronze - not before the race of course. With a lap to go I felt all right, but then everything went."

Fifteen finishers from 107 starters - and Millar is still there on lap seventeen of  twenty of the Sallanches circuit
Britain may well have a World Champion for 2011/12 in Mark Cavendish, but I'm of the opinion that Millar's 1980 result is far more impressive. When kids initially get into cycling, what do they ask? Firstly they'll want to know about your bike: how many gears has it got? Can you lift it up with one finger? Then talk will progress on to the stuff that we all find challenging on a bike: riding up hills, and the ones in the neighbourhood you have to get off and walk up. The Domancy climb looks like one big hill to me, and Millar will have been riding it on a 20-pounds-plus steel Peugeot bike, with, I'm guessing, a six-speed block ... heck, perhaps even a seven. Rohan will no doubt know for sure, but more than likely a Maillard Compact 700 'Super', driven by a Sedis Pro chain. Over to you on that one, Doctor D.

Millar achieved this eleventh place, over a murderously hilly 268km course, on his own - as with seemingly everything in his career - rather than with the aid of a well-drilled dedicated GB squad, supported during the season by a multi-million pound commercial outfit and various development programs. I'm not knocking Cav at all, since his is almost a different discipline to this type of riding, but Millar's finish was one achieved in a race where there would be no hiding places and little point in a 'train' to deliver you to the final 200 metres.

In Search of Robert Millar, by Richard Moore. Published by Harper Sport. ISBN: 978-0-00-723501-8

Sunday, 18 March 2012

I've been waiting for over 30 years ...

... to find some decent footage of Hinault winning the World's at Sallanches in the Alps in 1980.

Starting at 56 seconds into this first YouTube clip - I actually own this on VHS but no-one will transfer it to DVD for me because of copyright - you get Hinault talking about how he attacked Gianbattista Baronchelli on the Côte de Domancy. Noting that they changed gears at roughly the same time each lap on the climb, on the final time up Hinault waits until the Italian sits down to change gear, and instead of doing the same launches his attack to drop 'Gibi' and win the title in front of his home fans. Having abandoned the 1980 Tour in yellow due to tendinitis and berated in the French press as a result, Hinault gets his revenge by marshallsing Les Tricolores to destroy the field over what's considered the hardest course ever used for a World Championship. Demi-God status rightfully restored.

However, it's this new clip I've found that gives me goosebumps. Hinault's celebrated rage de vaincre certainly comes across in this video - at times his whole demeanour seems quasi-demonic - and it's at 22:39 in that we arrive at the chapter on his Worlds win. You'll hear the word consignes repeatedly - race orders - and it's Hinault that's giving them. A simple tactic: ride hard from the start, destroy the field on such a hard course, leave the rest to le patron. The slow-motion footage of Hinault cresting the climb with only the Italian for company is awesome. The soundtrack is just right, the images superb: Hinault's legs, powerful, tanned, glistening and affutées after 268km and seven-and-a-half hours of ferocious bike racing, capture everything that was great about this ride.

I'd take this opportunity to point out that whereas most of the field abandoned, a young neo-pro named Robert Millar stayed with Hinault until the final lap, eventually finishing 11th, exhausted. Is it just me or does this ride - hanging on to the Blaireau's coat-tails as he unleashes that summer's pent-up aggression to decimate the entire field in his chef d'œuvre - never seem to get the credit it deserves? That was real grinta from the then 21-year-old Scot, and should be far more widely publicised. If you're reading this Robert - I take my hat off to you. Clearly Hinault was on a mission that day - and Millar alludes to what a hard bastard the Breton was in the opening seconds of his own documentary 'The High Life'. Great ride, but no-one was going to best the Frenchman with a score to settle.