tour de france, july 5th 2009. monaco to brignoles. 187km. stage winner, mark cavendish: 4:30:02. general classification: 1.cancellara; 2.contador; 3.wiggins. bald facts, accurate numbers. if you didn't watch the stage on television, those words and numbers will present the bare details. that's not the tour de france, not really, because results don't tell you what the weather was like, they don't tell you who was riding well, and who looked like death warmed up. to be fair, even the television pictures can't accomplish all of that, though they do inform more so than a results sheet. television producers work in the entertainment industry; their job relies more on keeping things moving, not dwelling on one scene or one rider for too long, and maximising exposure of the environs through which the tour circus travels. to understand what goes on all around, and to gain the insights that turn a bike race into daily life or death takes detailed observation.
'all of this i saw, because i did not have to write about the fight for first'.
the words are those of bill strickland, author of tour de lance; 300 pages following lance's comeback from retirement after becoming the first man to win seven tours de france. a comeback that coincided with the apparent rise of the next big thing to hit professional cycling: alberto contador. the script seems like that of a concocted movie or television programme. you place the old and the new in the same team, tell them to race, then sit back and see what happens. one has made a miraculous comeback from cancer, the other from a brain tumour. you couldn't make it up.
to most of you, bill strickland will need no introduction, but for those who have just dropped by, he is the erudite editor at large for america's bicycling magazine, co-wrote 'we might as well win' with armstrong's directeur sportif, johan bruyneel, as well as the autobiographical 'ten points', a book which ranks alongside matt seaton's 'the escape artist'. and he's not convinced that lance's comeback is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
having worked with bruyneel, bill had a far easier time gaining access to the astana camp during 2009 than any of the rest of us would have achieved. however, it's one thing being presented with the kernel of the comeback story on a plate (so to speak), it's an entirely nuther thing to know what to do with it. that's the point where we all take a large step backwards.
lance is a very complex man, a complexity that seems to have resulted from being regarded as one of the finest cyclists in history. having stood on the top step of the paris podium seven times, it's an accolade that is hard to deny, though that doesn't mean to say the guy is likeable. but then trying your utmost to win anything does not necessarily confer a sociable disposition; single-mindedness is possibly number one on the list of requirements to get to the very top in any walk (or pedal) of life. celebrity is a mere by-product and one that is either luxury or hurdle depending on state of mind. lance seems to find both meanings at random intervals.
'barriers are nothing. at any time i can flash the plasticised credential hanging around my neck - after all these years i get the highest-level pass obtainable - and i walk by the police and marshals on to the race course itself.
that's what it takes to be in a position to witness the intricacies of modern cycle racing, that and the wherewithal to know what to do with the information gained. this is not just a book about lance armstrong, it's just as revealing a book about bill strickland, and it's also a book that reveals a great deal about you and me. irrespective of our opinions of lance armstrong, it would be a strange bird that wouldn't want to get as close as mr strickland has to lance's professional entourage (as opposed to the celebrity version that has little or nothing to do with cycling), to sit in the back seat of the team car, to chat with ekimov, and to be handed lance's bike over the heads of an adoring crowd by a team mechanic.
i stand on the mountain roads, and i know nothing of who is winning or what the strategies are or what facts i will later have to track down and assemble into a news account and dispatch later that day, and as the racers pass i look into their eyes. i am looking for something of myself.
however, lest you become impressed that bill has an ego that approaches that of lance's, let me disavow that misapprehension immediately. when asked to assist the astana soigneur at the top of the ventoux by watching out for kloden crossing the line to hand over towel and jacket...
"way to go", i say to kloden, but he is already riding off... "way to go" i say to all the riders descending the road before me, but like klodi, none of them will hear me.
does that remind you of anyone? i remember bumping into kristian house several years ago in glasgow, and all i could mumble was something about having had a great result at the weekend. he'd won the race; of course it was a great result; he didn't need a prat like me to tell him so. but in bill strickland's case, would you not have kept quiet about saying "way to go" to anyone in a cycle jersey at the top of the ventoux? i know i would. well maybe. bill strickland is you and me.
and yet still, after accompanying lance throughout the entire 2009 season, and with only a few words exchanged apart from the telephone conversation in the epilogue, bill strickland is still not sure that lance's comeback is a good idea. and that is a refreshing lack of a conclusion, a conclusion forced by lance's complexity and the situation he has apparently entered into voluntarily. even after the current tour in radioshack colours, his avowed last, it's likely the real reason for the comeback will still verge on the vague side.
there is a hidden logic to this book, that only reveals itself as the chapters are uncovered, for chronology has been dispensed with in the arranging of chapters; or at least it sort of has. those relating to the 2009 tour are interspersed with the tour of california, the vuelta castilla y leon, the tour of the gila... you get the general notion. what bill has done is place lance's comeback against the all-defining tour de france, continuing the suspense through off piste, almost abstract distractions. it's a device that works oh so well.
despite his considerable knowledge of cycle racing, or perhaps because of it, bill strickland has not ignored the needs of those who may be lance fans, but unschooled in the ways of the peloton. references to aspects of racing life not consistent with daily existence, are patiently explained in comprehensible terms. for how will we understand the machinations of the sport's highest profile practitioner, if the inner workings of his trade remain a mystery?
the tour de lance invites us to consider what armstrong's worth might become hundreds of years from now, spurred by the blind passion exhibited by many of his fans; not directly, mind, but the idea is implicit if you don't mind reading between the lines now and again. the book is subtitled a wild ride through lance armstrong's comeback, a fact worth bearing in mind, because tour de lance is not, as i have already implied, solely about lance armstrong, making it all the more valuable amongst others that are.
"butterflies," he says... it is such a simple and direct response, it has to be an unfiltered truth'.
now for the tour 2010 where the comeback continues.
tour de lance is published in the usa by harmony publishing, and in the uk by mainstream. the only mystery is why the latter felt the need to dispense with the excellent american cover for something far more anodyne.
mainstream have kindly provided two copies of tour de lance by bill strickland to give away as prizes to the first to supply the correct answer to this question:
what is the name of lance armstrong's cancer charity?
e-mail your answers to email@example.com, and please include your full postal address, as evidence that you're bound to win.
posted thursday 1 july 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's really only so much marmalade you can eat. at least that would seem to be the case if the all-important racing weight is to be maintained. granted, there's not even an outside chance that i will be participating in any competitive cycling between now and the end of the world, but one wishes to remain a la mode, so racing weight it is.
breakfast used to consist of a plate of porage (scott's of course), a sheet of toast and marmalade, and an espresso, however, the gaggia started to lose pressure a good twelve months ago, and now stands dust-covered in the corner; i haven't the heart to throw it away, and repair would cost more than a new machine. so now it's orange juice (with bits) after the oats.
but there are those in the office who either have no time for breakfast of a morning, or simply have appetites that will encapsulate tea and toast midway through the working morn. and i have fallen into the trap of joining them. therefore, in order to remain at this totally mythical and oft varying weight, i have elected not to have toast and marmalade at home, become more sociable, and eat in the workplace. that, however, does not assist in the clearing of marmalade jars.
i can appreciate that i may, on occasion, be a little obscure in these paragraphs. this is mostly because my head has already amalgamated and substantiated any random thoughts that may be swithering, before pixel presentation occurs. in this case, you may well be wondering as to the requirement of empty marmalade jars. or not, as the case may be.
i have repeatedly represented islay as the home of impenetrable winds, more than occasional breezes that add a tactile sense of character building to almost each and every bike ride, and not just in one direction. in the grand scheme known as sod's law, had you visited the hallowed isle with bicycle at any time during the past few months, you may have wondered of which i speak; there has barely been a breath. my neighbour's anemometer atop his garden shed has had far less of a workout in the past six months than is good for its self-respect, and certainly for mine.
however, according to those who delight in foretelling doom and gloom, and seemingly supported by the online weather sites, we are not only in for a substantial water replenishment in the next forty-eight hours, but winds the like of which have not been seen since autumn last year. i cannot say that this is not a welcome relief from the sense of calm that has clothed the island since christmas, but i fear that it may simply be a blip in an otherwise peaceful year. and with last year's ride of the falling rain causing more sunburn than rust, it is a real concern that trading standards may come a calling at the beginning of next month. the only thing that may stave off the inevitable complaints of mis-selling would be a howling gale.
and that's where my cunning plan comes in.
by gathering as many empty marmalade jars as possible, office toast not withstanding, i can arrange these along the top of our defunct coal bunker and similarly the back door step, angled to collect as much of this wind as will fit. by waiting until the zenith of this albeit warm atlantic blast before slamming on the lids, i will have hopefully stored enough character building wind to set free at the start of this year's ride of the falling rain. laugh as much as you like, but i have yet to hear anyone come up with a more practical solution. look what happened at the ardbeg gourmet ride: sun all day long, resulting in more than a couple of sunburned areas where i didn't quite spread the protection well enough. it would be just my luck if the same thing happened on august 1st.
mind you, a lack of wind and rain may be the least of our worries. those of you with sufficient prescience and forethought to have booked to join us for the ride (entry forms will be posted to the site very shortly) should perhaps have a word with caledonian macbrayne if you intend bringing a motor vehicle across the water. to cut a long story short, islay is served by two boats, one of which is designated the spare boat for the west coast routes. the boat that plies the tiree and coll route further north, broke a bit of a crankshaft, sidelining it for possibly the next four weeks or more. our spare boat is now further north. thus, the islay route has only one boat at present, a situation likely to continue until the tiree boat is fixed. according to calmac, they have dropped only five trips per week out of 26, but if you're booked on one of those five trips, you could find your travel plans somewhat awry. so just for peace of mind, check your booking. if you're only taking the bike and travelling as a foot passenger, you should be fine; not only can you not reserve a space for your bicycle because bikes travel free, it is not possible to pre-book passenger only travel.
only we know this is the 21st century.
all the foregoing being equal, we'd be more than happy to invite you to join velo club d'ardbeg for a ride around the principality in whatever weather conditions transpire, leaving from debbie's at 10am on sunday 1st august, with a target of 100 miles, but enough escape routes should you prefer a bit more of a saunter instead of a grind. if this seems the sort of adventure that might start your august well, or you're looking for some welcome relief after ascending the tourmalet during the etape, please make sure you book accommodation prior to travelling. islay has a finite amount of places to stay, and july and august are what would be regarded as high season; available spaces are likely to be at a premium.
if you are intent on rain, i'll have a form on the website soon whereby you can inform us if you wish to join for munchies apres ride. currently we have a couple of ideas for trivial events on the afternoon of saturday 30 june, since many of you last year arrived the day before, and we only mingled rather than cycled. these, however, remain to be debated by the events think tank, so details only when they become more obscure.
won't that be fun?
posted wednesday 30 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
bicycles can reasonably lumped in with all sorts of machinery in that, when new, they can reasonably be expected to function in the approved of manner. when you click the gears, they should change, and when pressing down on the pedals, the bike should move in a forward direction. that, however, covers the componentry, approaching the importance of the frame, but despite luxury of replaceability, never quite equalling it; the frame is the frame, as richard sachs so eloquently put it.
it's the nature of the beast, so to speak, that bike tests/reviews occupy a very small portion of the bicycle's life. the process at thewashingmachinepost is generally a simple one: with luck, the machine stays on holidays here for two or three weeks, though i confess to having kept possession of a colnago for a whole two months last year. during this time, i have found, it is possible to gauge the mettle of most of the bicycles that come my way. some take a smidgeon longer than others to release any hidden features/secrets, but by and large, by the time we're into the second or third hundred kilometres and roughly the tenth round of cattle-grids, i have sufficient information to compose a realistic review, hopefully one that will inform and entertain.
however, that which must be borne in mind is that these are almost always brand new bicycles; at worst, perhaps a couple of folks have ridden the cycles before me, but having passed through the distributor's basecamp en-route, any minor tickle points will likely have been remedied prior to subsequent despatch. it has long been my ambition to keep a bicycle long enough to form a sustained impression; a bicycle i could think of as my own, for all practical purposes, and one that will be ridden incessantly, the way you would a favourite bicycle.
the opportunity so to do arrived in december last year courtesy of chris king precision components in portland, oregon. having ridden a pre-production version of their new cielo sportive model during a visit to the city last year, the chance to conduct a somewhat more personal and local test over an extended period of time seemed rather too good to be true. the bicycle ridden in portland had been employed almost entirely for commuting purposes, with a rapha backpack permanently affixed to my softshell gilet, containing a reasonable array of my wordly possessions at that time. the only notable exception to this was a humiliating defeat on the lower (and upper) slopes of logie's trail by three of the current rapha continental squad, and team hupster, slate olson. i believe my excuses are on record somewhere.
however, riding a bicycle on islay is a different prospect than doing so in downtown portland, or along the road to germantown; the pacific northwest bears comparison to the scottish west coast in annual rainfall, but it most certainly has road surfaces that are billiard tables to our scale models of the himalayas. as scottish coastal dwellers we are subject to the ravages of gale force atlantic winds and an all-encompassing sea-salt atmosphere. it would be unwise to underestimate the effect the latter can have on bicycles and their components, and a steel bicycle at that, so a couple of weeks was always unlikely to test to the limit.
so here we are, six months after lifting the cielo frame from its unique cardboard packaging, so cleverly implemented, that all enclosed survived international freight handlers from portland to glasgow, and the subsequent tour of scotland before arriving in bowmore. as detailed extensively elsewhere, the cielo sportive came with a full complement of chris king componentry: headset, bottom bracket and at the time, a rather unique set of wheels built with the very latest r45 road hubs. the groupset is sram rival, with the brake calipers replaced by a pair of shimanos due to the need for a 57mm drop between bolt centre and wheel rims. this, coupled with the appropriate braze-ons on front and rear forks, allowed me to fit a pair of stunning full wood fenders. not only did these transform wet winter riding in a way i'm ashamed to be discovering at this late stage in life, but they complemented the black cielo frame beautifully. i have no intention of ever removing these from the bicycle.
i believe i described my early ventures on the cielo as akin to gliding, a factor that not only paid tribute to the hubs, wheels and bottom bracket, but also to the smooth comfort of the frame. a previous steel frame on test proved to be substantially less comfortable than my carbon colnago, and while i was keen to pursue an extended review of this bicycle, i did have some misgivings over how different this was likely to be. it would have been distinctly unprofessional to have acceded to this undertaking, then back out if hands and bum doth protest too much.
that's something that has never happened. steel is not the all-encompassing panacea that it may have once been; some are better than others, but chris king and jay sycip got this so right first time, that my seven years of a high carbon fibre diet were swept away in fewer number of days. let me briefly reprise: this frame is 100% steel from the rear dropout axle stops to the steel fork's front droupots. it's a revelation that has shown no signs of diminishing in the intervening months. those dropouts are of polished stainless steel, engraved with the cielo name, along with the cap ends at the top of each seatstay. they are still pretty much as shiny as the day they left the box, despite a winter of snow and ice not normally experienced on islay.
if there is a demonstrable feature of the cielo that i feel should be brought to your attention it's the steering. chris king headsets are renowned throughout the world for their longevity and precision, and that reputation has been has been reinforced here. but i have found a tendency to understeer slightly on tight turns. this is not a criticism, for it is likely that this is a result of the frame's geometry and overall ride characteristics. of course, this depends on where you're coming from; having ridden a race ready frame for many a long year, pin-sharp precision from the steering has become the expected norm. a bit like driving a ferrari, i shouldn't wonder. that the cielo doesn't pull such a tight line out of corners has led to a relaxed confidence in this rider. the bike is not a racer, and most certainly neither is its pilot: i'm happy to think of this as a feature, not a bug; it is after all, a sportive defined frame.
to be honest, the only bit of trouble i have had in six months has been with that r45 rear hub, and i should point out at the outset, that this has turned out to be entirely due to pilot error. as with my other pair of chris king wheels (cross hubs), after a few weeks of continuous riding, the bearings and grease settle in, and a small amount of lateral play develops; it's a fact of life with virtually every hub on the market. adjustment is effected by a lockring on the non-drive side, held in place by a very small allen bolt. this lockring is threaded on to the substantial axle and applies pre-load to all four cartridge bearings, thus removing any lateral play. however, at a later date i, for no discernible reason, decided that i may have overtightened this lockring (something, it is now apparent, well nigh impossible to do), and i backed it off a quarter turn. i now have an intimate understanding of the simplicity of this hub, but at the time was unaware that a lack of sideways pressure on the bearings could (and apparently did) allow the freehub to slip outwards and away from the internal ringdrive. this resulted in audible and physical slipping when resuming pedalling after freewheeling. this resulted in threatening behaviour if caught unawares.
the mechanic in me needed to solve this problem so, despite hurried e-mails to chris king's in portland, i stripped the hub to its essentials; a remarkably easy thing to do. by unlocking and removing the lockring, the axle can be pulled out from the drive side, allowing simple removal of the cassette freehub. having cleaned out the ring-drive teeth, re-lubed and re-fitted, it was easy to recognise that the freehub had not been inserted all the way into the hubshell. completely rebuilt and adjusted, i now have my glider back. and so is that trademarked freewheel buzz.
the finest hubs it has ever been my pleasure to ride.
the dt swiss rims are reputedly coated in helicopter rotor paint, which would account for the complete lack of any signs of degradation, though the rim decals announcing make and number are starting to peel off already. the continental four seasons tyres have worn reasonably; not as well as i'd have liked, but certainly no worse than any other rubber rolled on by myself or members of the local peloton. islay's roads are abrasive.
i think i may have whimsically suggested that sram re-consider naming their groupsets other than double-tap, because simply double tapping only succeeds in dropping down even more gears. my incompetence in cabling the rear derailleur initially, didn't help too much, but like all who have succumbed to the charms of one lever to do everything, it has become second nature. granted, it is still impossible to shift down the block more than one gear at a time, but i'd respectfully suggest that few of us ever find that need. in six months, the rival gearset has worked impeccably, and i feel almost trendy to be writing that.
when studying for my a-level english literature, i enquired of the tutor as to whether it would make good sense to argue the contrary that i believed to be true, in a question regarding the metaphysical poetry of john donne. i was advised against it, but did so anyway, gaining a convincing pass in the process. so nice to prove someone wrong. in similar manner, this would have been a far more contentious and toothy article if i had had multiple moans and groans about the cielo, a fact that has had me closely monitoring each and every aspect of the ride to find flaws about which i could regale you with unstinted prose. but i have come up with nothing. absolutely nothing.
sadly, i believe that these frames are still unavailable in the uk, though there's nothing stopping you ordering one direct from portland. germany fares rather better in this respect, and if you live in the continental usa, cielo frames are readily available from ck in portland; and i'd thoroughly recommend that if you're in the market for a new frame, it would be hard to surpass steel this good.
and just a note to cd: white bar tape gets dirty, even when you clean it regularly.
the test continues. | cielo cycles
posted tuesday 29 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
take a look at the photo above. don't those four look as if they've been there for a while? a patisserie in the french pyrenees, more than a few cakes and pastries inside, and a vendor likely more than happy to create an uninterrupted supply, and probably not averse to accompanying it with a few coffees. it's what cycling is all about; we may try our very hardest to embody the 'pain and suffering we've been brought up to believe is our birthright, but who are we kidding? it's all about the apres bike ride, with no uci regulation stipulating minimum values applicable to the ride itself. pushed to its extreme, cycling from here to there before ordering a soya cappuccino is not necessarily considered beyond the pale.
i can tell that there are more than just a few of you warming to that ideal.
but human nature being what it is, some of us are made of sterner stuff, of a constitution that laughs in the face of a skinny latte, a facet of human nature that seemingly fails to diminish as the generations pass, and life becomes ever more cossetted. of course, the existence of the above photo does little to bolster my hypothesis. look at the dog on the left side of the picture; don't tell me that such a fine, well fed animal has only just arrived on the scene. a dog like that has staying power, and has undoubtedly been there for quite some time, hoping to be favoured with the excess of pastry that, even as the photographer readied his lens, is being scoffed by our four heroes. witness, if you will, the rapha clothing carelessly discarded to the left of the riders, and the fact that there are overshoes scattered to the foreground; there is not a drop of dampness to be seen, therefore one can only deduce that they have been sat there for a lot longer than they would have us believe. they don't call me stupid for nothing.
however, deaf to the pleas of the plaintiffs, take a closer look at their attire, such as it is. the words boulangerie and patisserie above the window would lend credence to the observation that they are not in aberdeen. but even at this distance, distinctive lettering can be observed on each jersey; i'll admit, we are intrigued.
were we to take mr deeker and cohorts, including the esteemed mr raeburn, at their word, they have been in the saddle since 3am that very morning, intent on re-enacting the very first tour de france stage in 1910, to traverse the pyrenees: the peyresourde, aspin, tourmalet, soulor, and aubisque. do we believe them, sat as they are with cheeks like hamsters' pouches outside what can only be termed a bakery? perhaps in this case, the sleight of hand is quicker than the eye, and the game is not, as they say, a bogey. human nature, as i have previously alluded, has the ability to conquer many an objective, the 1910 tourmalet stage being a case in point. and it is just as much a part of human nature to wish to celebrate and pay tribute to the achievements of the few, particularly when their actions all but define the boundaries within which we all, consciously or otherwise, operate.
style and substance are not necessarily estranged bedfellows. the jersey being sported by our four tributees above, being a fine example. for how else would the trials and tribulations of alphonse steines, gustave garrigou and most famously, octave lapize be celebrated in the eyes of the cycling fraternity, but through the auspices of a superbly crafted and finely decorated jersey? in the incriminating words of phil deeker 'over coffee and more pains au chocolat, we felt buoyant' words which no doubt refer to the victuals consumed, but also surely to the jerseys being worn throughout this fine, but insane venture.
even those less used to the actuality of pain and suffering will feel equally at home in this fine apparel, for not only is comfort ensured by the employ of merino-based sportwool, but unlike many of rapha's other cycle jerseys, the tourmalet is cut lower at the front to facilitate comfort and joy when paired with jeans (or alternative, non-cycling legwear). i have, on previous occasions, professed a delight in fine typography, something pandered to by the stylishly re-created tourmalet on the jersey's front. i understand the origins of this classic looking font are from a period poster for alcyon cycles, a team for which lapize rode and battled against team-mate faber in that 1910 tour de france.
under this justifiable reason for acquisition alone, are the words parfaitement passable, echoing alphonse steines' little fib to henri desgrange regarding the suitablity of the tourmalet as a practical addition to the route of the tour. the left arm bears steines' signature, while its opposite, that of the statue at the tourmalet's summit. it would be hard to disparage the colours employed on this magnificent tribute, for, as you yourself can witness, they complement that patisserie with a subtlety hard to find in the modern peloton.
the only questions remaining are just how long they stayed seated at that bakery window, and are they, indeed, still there? alternatively, they could be intent on celebrating the 100th anniversary of the voiture balai, and simply waiting for it to arrive .
rapha's tourmalet jersey is available in limted numbers for only £135 ($200) in sizes small through to xxl | rapha.cc
posted monday 28 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
imagine we're in a french chalet in the foothills of the pyrenees. it's late and it's dark. the evening meal is over, and we're all gathered in the sitting room, with a log fire burning in the hearth, and a few candles dotted about the room adding to the ambience. we all have a glass of whatever takes our fancy and our host has sat down in the comfiest armchair that all but dominates the room. the tourmalet similarly dominates the horizon, were it light enough to see, and those men with the orange wigs and green and orange flags are proximitous as the crow flies, but a literal world away by road. with no television and the wind starting to make its presence known outside, the man in the leather armchair indicates that he is about to remedy the silence...
'this is not just a biography of octave lapize, but my very personal biography of octave lapize."
of course, i paraphrase, but one of the most endearing factors about this compact volume from jean bobet is that my opening paragraph is exactly the atmosphere and setting that the book inspires.
you will either have heard, or will hear much about octave lapize between now and the end of july. 2010 is the 100th anniversary of the inclusion of the pyrenees in the tour de france, in particular, that of the col du tourmalet. lapize won that year's tour, and was the first rider over the top of the mountain. what seems less well known is that he was not the first rider to ride over the summit. lapize broached the ascent both in and out of the saddle; the iconic photograph is of a dishevelled rider wheeling his bicycle past a small crowd of onlookers, over a decidedly unsurfaced track. the first man to ride over the tourmalet was behind: gustave garrigou.
the route had been surveyed earlier in the year by one alphonse steines (whose original notebooks feature in the current rapha tourmalet exhibition), a man who lied to henri desgrange and gave his assent to the traverse in july. during that 1910 tour, lapize uttered those oft quoted phrases to the man in charge, victor breyer, after descending the tourmalet around fifteen minutes behind local rider lafourcade. 'well now, lapize, what's wrong?' lapize let fly; 'you're murderers!' that's what's wrong. you're criminals.
the rewards for effort were not as clearcut as they are today: each placement at the end of a stage of the tour gained the rider an increasing number of points as we head down the general classification. thus beating your opponent into second place by a gap of over fifteen minutes would nevertheless result in a difference of only one point. with stages well in excess of 300 kilometres bobet refers to the stage from bayonne to bordeaux was a short one at 268km...the start was set for 3:30am. how many of today's tour favourites would be so keen if those strictures were still in place? on heavy steel bikes.
in most cases, the tourmalet and those famous words amount to the sum total of most cyclists' knowledge of octave lapize, but there was a great deal more to the man than that. bobet has spoken to lapize's daughter about his trip to new york to take part in six-day racing, a spectacle that proved beyond the abilities of all the europeans invited. however, when it came to the classics, octave won paris-roubaix on three consecutive occasions: 1909, 1910, and 1911. he also won paris-brussels three times in a row (1911, 1912, 1913) and is most identified with the french tricolour jersey, having captured that from 1910 to 1912. despite an inability to beat the americans at their own game on the track in new york, he carved a successful career on the european track, occasionally forfeiting days on the road in preference to the boards.
lapize also comes across as somewhat of an unpredictable fellow; more than once, bobet's race reports list octave as abandoning, oft times for no discernible reason, or at least none that we'll ever know of now.
biographies of great riders abound on the world's cycling bookshelves, but what places this on the shelf above those, is the manner and ability of its author. in a previous volume, tomorrow we ride, a book concerning the life and career of his brother louison, we know that brother jean was no slouch on the bike, but here is a man who spent a year in his late teens teaching english to students at robert gordon's college (now robert gordon's university) in aberdeen. while the original of this book was written in french and beautifully translated by adam berry, bobet's use of language sparkles throughout the 159 pages. my opening paragraph was no idle construct; throughout the book, bobet continually considers us, his readers, as a part of the narrative: where in all this was octave lapize? what was he up to?
but let us get back to the business in hand.
such devices, in the hands of a lesser writer, would come across as either pretentious or a means of making up for deficiencies in ability. here, the almost conversational nature of the story draws the reader into that mythical sitting room with its dim light and log fire. the work has been extensively researched and could easily be the basis of academic research, should one find the necessity so to do. but in fact, the last word on octave lapize has been laid before us in a manner that educates subliminally, while seeming to be mere story telling. the literary art of a true master.
octave lapize never had the opportunity to sit back and reflect on the gargantuan achievements that have placed him well and truly in the upper echelons of cycling's great panoply of champions. on 28 july 1914, austro hungary declared war on serbia, an action backed by russia, a french ally. on 1st august, germany delared war on russia, and world war one began. despite being found unfit for active service, lapize enlisted and eventually transferred to the french airforce, arriving at n90 squadron on 24th may 1917. on 14 july, octave lapize was shot down by two boche fighter planes.
a little mood music...
posted sunday 27 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i seem to recall that when phil collins recorded the album face value, the song in the air tonight, beloved of gorillas everywhere, was bereft of any drumming, electronic or otherwise, in the opening verse. this, so the story goes, was frowned upon by the record company because it meant that when the song was played in discos and the like, nobody would want to dance to it, because they wouldn't be able to figure out where the beat was. you need only watch the assembled multitudes on the dance floor at any wedding to realise just how few folks, mostly of the male species, have any inherent sense of rhythm at all. mind you, i'm one to talk; i can play music in the most bizarre of time signatures, but i can barely toggle two dance steps together in one evening. in the case of dance tunes, blazingly obvious directions are required, which is why so called dance music these days consists of synthesiser wailings tracked over a pounding 4/4 beat.
this need for directions at its most harmless is reflected in the desire to read reviews of items prior to purchase, particularly if said purchase reaches into the o.m.g stratosphere. you can see the very same process at work along the magazine shelves in any airport, railway station or shopping centre newsagents. our time is tight (booker t and the mgs), and we need someone to do the work for us; much contemporary magazine publishing has devolved to cmyk covers bearing similar photography and illustration, now all but obliterated by a mass of explosive typography detailing just what can be found inside, and on occasion, on which page.
personally, i find this an affront to my intelligence, but also a lessening of the mystery that used to result from purchasing a magazine from any of the above outlets. i find great joy in flicking through a bought publication without reading anything specific, in order to ascertain the nature of this month's contents. it is to me, part of the aura that arrives after handing over my hard-earned cash. however, with so much competition amongst magazine publishers these days, and not just in a thematic sense, i can comprehend the need to be seen to shout louder than the magazine adjacent on the rack.
i have long moaned, and e-mailed to complain about the anodyne covers that decorate the front of the comic these past years. at one time the cover reflected the contents in pictorial form; the winner of such as milan-san remo would rightly take pride of place on the front. nowadays, they're pretending to be all things to all cyclists, and some unknown on a bike features every flipping week, irrespective of race results. couple such lack of imagination with basic cmyk, and the comic visually competes only with chat and hello rather than anything from the world of cycling.
rouleur is rouleur. it preacheth not unto the simple minded; until the current issue (no. 18) the magazine was available only from the rouleur office in perren street, either by individual copy or by subscription. the only exception to this has been its display in the rapha club, clerkenwell road, or in sympathetic cycle stores across the globe. this is principally because those of us who anxiously wait for each issue to arrive through the letterbox, twittering to rejoice if the latter, or commiserate if the doormat remains empty, know pretty much what to expect. and it's exactly what we've all been looking forward to.
and then some.
however, despite the covers being almost the perfect example of publishing minimalism, stick a copy midst the cycling monthlies in wh smith, and the besuited executive in a hurry to catch the 18:35 to glasgow central, is clueless as to the content and spends his money elsewhere.
magazine publishing is an uphill battle, maintaining a fine line between editorial, advertising and income. rouleur is close to being an art magazine whose contents happen to concern our beloved cycling heritage, with writing that could comfortably compete with that of the times literary supplement. but only we know that. therefore, with the tour de france looming closely on the horizon, there are those who awaken to the reality and joys of cycling only for the month of july. this is an opportunity not to be missed, but how to capitalise on that opportunity while maintaining one's integrity.
the photos above could easily be a spot the difference competition (now there's an idea), but in fact it's a side by side comparison (so to speak) of the subscribers' copy of rouleur 18, and the version that can be purloined by the prospective acolyte, describing in most acceptable fashion, just what nine pounds can fulfil in velocipedinal fashion on the train, plane, bus or taxi home.
this issue with writing on the front is destined to be a one-off, at least for this year, but it's several degrees of excellence above the regular fare on the magazine racks.
personally, i'd rather be speechless.
posted saturday 26 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
every year on the tour de france, poor david and sean receive the same question; 'how do the climbs in britain compare with those we're watching in the alps and pyrenees?'. yes, you can laugh, but every year there are cycling newbies, perhaps watching the tour de france for the first time, and you can sort of see why they'd want to know. i have previously recounted my own stupidity after watching millar et al climbing those very same mountains on channel four's tour coverage in the early eighties. let's face it, anyone who does something well makes it look all too easy, and that's what those grimpeurs managed on the small screen. thus i pulled my ten-speed racer from the garage and sped up the hill separating troon from dundonald. half-way up, i'd to stop at the side of the road and throw up.
years later i managed a similar feat climbing on a loaded touring bike to the foot of goat fell on arran. surely someone from the same neck of the woods as robert millar, and with hair approaching a similar length should be able to climb with the same ease?
the current explosion in the number of sportives throughout the uk seems hell bent on either creating a super-race of climbers, or putting off as many as possible from ever entering a uk sportive again. organisers all across the country vie with each other to see who can include the most accumulated metres of climbing, not always to the happiness and joy of those intent on participating. but suppose climbing hills defines just who you are on a bicycle, and aside from carefully selecting which sportives may fit the bill, where does an aspiring grimpeur turn for inspiration and the climber's equivalent of the knowledge?
if you'd asked me this last month i would have had to develop the pixel simile for shrugged shoulders. bowmore main street is quite steep, and port askaig brae at 14% is hardly the most welcoming sight a touring cyclist has been met with on arriving at islay. but there has to be more, even for those who get out a bit more than i do. simon warren is that very man.
in similar manner to the obsessive trainspotter, mr warren is an obsessive hillclimber and, on this evidence, collector and documentor of same. gathered in this perfectly formed, compact and bijou volume are 100 of the finest climbs the uk has to offer, all mapped, illustrated and rated. the latter aspect is obviously totally objective, though when it comes to the bealach na ba, i doubt many will quibble with mr warren's eleven out of ten rating. as the opening paragraph states; 'this is it: the holy grail, the toughest and wildest climb in britain. anything you have read or been told about this amazing road is likely to be true.
there are a variety of ways this book can be accepted into your lives; a simple read through can turn you into an armchair expert, able to discuss the relative hills without necessarily giving away the fact that you have never even so much as glanced at much of the vertical tarmac on display. or perhaps more interactively, employ it in i-spy book fashion. those books of yesteryear encouraged completion and sending off to big chief i-spy (no, i'm not making this up) for a feather and certificate. since the book's size allows it easily to be fitted in one of those three rear pockets, it should be a simple, if time-consuming and expensive matter, to tick off each climb as it is conquered. i am not sure, however, that big chief simon warren would be too keen on receiving ticked copies of his book arriving through the letterbox.
the one climb included in the book that i have long harboured an inclination (did you see what i did there?) to ride up, is the rest and be thankful near cairndow in argyll. the modern road is traversed on any bus or car journey to and from islay, while the rather unkempt original road as documented on page 119, is visible in hell's glen a substantial distance below. this road was at one time used for motor car hill climbs, and though flattish along its initial meanderings, it rears up rather alarmingly over the last third distance. the only downside to such aspiration is the appearance of a farm gate on its steepest part, a gate that seems to be interminably shut. if i had to stop to open the gate, it would diminish all expectations and it seems unlikely that i'd ever get going again.
100 greatest cycling climbs is one of those books that you always thought existed, but didn't. the panoply of uk cycling ephemera is greatly enhanced with its release, and while not so lavish a production as the recent road climbs of the pyrenees from rapha, it is just as necessary an addition to the bookcase. mr warren is to be applauded for his obsessive work, and the publishers congratulated for their faith.
posted friday 25 june 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................