wim van heuvel

van heuvel

one of belgium's many well kept secrets, at least as far as cycling goes was that of wim van heuvel, a rouleur of particular note even in a country festooned with hard men hewn from tree-trunks, scarcely cognisant of the weather, and hell-bent on riding their bicycles through most of it. he was born in november 1929 on a farm near moerstraat, a good distance east of bruges, in the flanders region of belgium, to marianne and cedric van heuvel. with no notable accomplishments at school (though he did apparently hold the record for the most number of times a teacher had thrown a blackboard duster at one pupil in one day), he progressively spent less and less time in education, and more and more helping his father on the farm.

as is often the case, even in contemporary farming, the fields were not contiguous; with a mixture of crops and livestock, cedric van heuvel had little option but to rent fields wherever he could in order to satisfy the demands of his metier. wim's brother thomas, was a couple of years older, and the two used to cycle on heavy single-speed bicycles to and from these often distant pastures, one trying desperately to beat the other home at the end of a hard day. though wim subsequently turned out to be the better of the two, because thomas was that bit older, victories for the younger van heuvel were hard to come by.

both boys were in their teens when war broke out, and their father was considered too old to be considered of military assistance, so throughout this period of hardship, the family concentrated on scraping a meagre living from the land, wim still making every effort to snatch victory from his brother, and managing to do so more often as time went on. when the war was over, thomas left farm work and went to work in a brewery in bruges, leaving the now 'tough as old boots' wim van heuvel to aid his father on the farm.

van heuvel

by this time, he had developed into an almost inexhaustible and brutal bike rider, catching the attention of his local club evaere krekelmut sportif, who provided him with a bicycle and jersey in the hope that he would raise their profile in post war belgium. not unnaturally, the pinnacle of any flandrian's career was to participate in the ronde van vlaanderen, which after a victorious 1950 season, van heuvel was able to do for the first time in 1951, finishing fifth behind fiorenzi magni, the italian who completed his hat-trick in that year.

this should have been the first step on the ladder to success. van heuvel had a promising career ahead of him, yet managed to "lose the plot" as his father is reputed to have said at the start of the 1952 season. his brother thomas had by now, risen to a position of importance at de halve man brewery (famous for bruges zot), and was not averse to sending the more than occasional case to his brother for sharing with his team-mates for celebration of his improving palmares. however, wim van heuvel would not be the first to find belgian beer very much to his liking, and at that year's scheldeprijs, had to be push started by his mechanic almost five minutes after the official start. as the flag dropped, van heuvel had been still imbibing his favoured tipple, along with a substantial helping of mayo and frites, in front of a local cafe.

van heuvel

beer and frites may be the friends of belgian cycle fans, but they do little for the physical condition of a racing cyclist. though van heuvel's spirit was still willing at the end of the 1952 season, his body was most certainly not, an attribute his cyclocross team took exception to after he was lapped in his first two winter races, and unceremoniously dumped him from the team. though unlikely to have elicited humour in the hapless van heuvel at the time, in retrospect the scene is not lacking in humour. to signify his ejection from the team, as he rode at less than optimum speed into the pit area four laps from the end of the race to change bikes, he dismounted and handed off the bicycle to his helper. he was subsequently dismayed to find that there was no clean bike waiting; in fact there was no bike at all. he walked dejectedly to the finish line, suitably humiliated.

his affection for beer persuaded him to contact his brother with the notion of setting up their own family brewery. if you can't beat them, join them. though wim's career had been painfully short, with the money left from the sale of his father's farm (his father elected to join his two sons in this new business venture), and perhaps more winnings from cycle racing than he truly deserved, the van heuvel family opened browerij van heuvel on the outskirts of bruges. the name of the brewery was contracted to browerij heuvel in the late 1960s, when their switchboard received more than just a few calls mistaking them for a car and van hire business.

van heuvel

van heuvel never forgot those rides with his brother to the fields in moerstraat, nor to the halcyon days of his brief racing career, and was still feted for his fifth place in the ronde van vlaanderen until his death in 2003 at the age of 74. it seems he also never forgot the acquired taste for frites and mayo, having latterly to rest upon a strengthened seat when attending cyclocross races in his later years.

one of the first things the van heuvel family elected to do when the brewery became successful and financially stable was to sponsor the club in krekelmut which had been home to the youthful lad in the late forties. though the club now bears the legend brouwerij heuvel on its black and gold jerseys, the benevolence of the family saw to it that many an up and coming belgian cyclist received all the help he would need to become a credit to his country in the battle for the top step of the podium. however, always reminded of his own early demise as a potential world-beater, wim van heuvel decreed that none of the brewery's product would ever be donated to the clubhouse.

remaining true to their single-minded mission to preserve and promote jerseys of the world's cycling nations, solo of auckland, new zealand, have recently released this tribute to the story of wim van heuvel, van heuvel faithfully reproducing the black and gold, and bearing the company's legend across front and back, while incorporating the family shield in red on each sleeve. screen-printed to retain a vibrancy of colour, rather than dye sublimated, the jersey features three elasticated and capacious rear pockets augmented by a fourth, zipped security pocket. the collar and cuffs are of a hard-wearing ribbed material, the former being home to a quarter length zip.

the jersey feels and looks almost like silk and is close fitting without being restrictive. every jersey has a history of one sort of another, and though sponsored by a product that is surely anathema to the modern professional, the heritage of wim van heuvel encouragingly provides the extra power to assume the position of lead-out man and rouelur all the way to the sprint point at debbie's.

the solo brouwerij heuvel jersey is available in sizes xxs to xl at a cost of £75 and can be ordered via the solo website, or purchased from a solo stockist. solo products are distributed in the uk by paligap

solo new zealand

posted monday 27 june 2011


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wtfitaa technology

red bull formula one cars

as is customary of a sunday morning, available members of velo club d'ardbeg, honed athletes to a fault, partook of the regular permabulation of the principality, culminating in a supping of froth (apart from lord carlos who is a double-espresso man through and through. it's a metabolism thing) at debbie's. despite threatening rain, and a headwind that appeared from nowhere, predictability, i know thay name; i towed everyone down the strand, and they all left me for dead at the bruichladdich sprint. of course, i let them; it works well to my favour in a few weeks' time when they're all watching each other. brian smith taught me everything i know.

as two of us live in the village, we had a pleasant mobile conversation on the way home, i stopped off to take some photos for a future review, and it was then back to thewashingmachinepost control centre with the promise of a hearty and fulfilling lunch (a macaroni pie, since you ask). however, prior to placing the colnago carefully in its designated bikeshed slot, my neighbour appeared at his back door to announce that he was watching whatever grand prix it is that was on today, following that up with a question i did not have the answer to. "have you nay idea what d.r.s. is?" having asked in what context this devilishly obscure acronym was being used, he informed that the commentator at the grand prix kept mentioning it at various points of the race.

royal bank of scotland logo

a question such as this, directed at yours truly is surely the equivalent of asking me which is the best cut of meat to procure, or (as indeed i have been regularly asked) which particular islay single malt would i recommend. as a non-drinking vegetarian you can see my dilemma. to ask about d.r.s. from someone who has a distinct dislike of cars in the first place, let alone the world of the spoilt brat playing with fast cars, did strike me as a bit incongruous. to whet your appetite, should you be similarly ignorant of the whys and wherefores of the formula one circus, i did as he should have done, and looked it up on google.

it turns out that d.r.s. is a shorthand way of referring to the drag reduction system which is armed (their choice of words, not mine) at designated overtaking points on a circuit, allowing a driver close enough to the one in front to alter the angle of the car's rear aerofoil, effectively spliiting it horizontally and reducing the drag created. by so doing, this allows an increase in speed of anything between six and thirteen kilometres per hour. (sadly, in the process of finding this out, i also discovered that formula one cars also employ kers: kinetic energy recovery system but i'm not even going to start on that one.)

giant wheelsystem

fascinating stuff, but why not simply refer to it as the drag reduction system in the first place? it has become something of a contemporary folly, either inventing or coining acronyms for new or well-known entities. for instance, when did the royal bank of scotland become simply rbs? and more to the point, why? surely, stating the full title is no less cumbersome than its acronym? i can understand the policy behind referring to the unione cycliste internationale as the uci (even if i don't understand their internal rationale; but i'm hardly in a crowd of one when it comes to that), but this academy of acronyms has surely eased itself into the psyche for no other reason than it can.

take the so-called colnago revolution, nomenclature with which i have no argument. but as part of this revolution, colnago did what everyone else was already doing, and fitted semi-integrated headsets to their newer carbon frames. there is nothing radically different in how they went about this, yet its position as cutting edge technology is elevated by the use of chs-1 and chs-2, chs being an abbreviation of colnago headset system. it's not a system, it's a headset, just the same as their structural routing means the cables fit inside the frame. seems cambiago couldn't resist placing a decal on the top tube in a contemporary font to advertise this feature.

ridley integrated brake

it is, however, unfair to single out colnago for this incomprehensible weakness; everyone else is at it too. the following is from the specifications on the trek website for their top of the range madone (and no, i'm not making this up. check for yourself.) net molding, stepjoint, bb90, e2 asymmetric fork, advanced cable management, load path design, and duotrap. i have no idea to which the latter two refer, but i'd be willing to bet that trek's advanced cable management is exactly the same as colnago's structural routing.

and you thought you were just buying a bike.

the latter is something that now finds itself slowly sinking into the quagmire of acronymism (i just made that word up, but if it becomes trendy, remember where you read it first) and a dilemma of even greater concern. in a manner reminiscent of the zen koan where does my lap go when i stand up?, separate a bicycle into its component parts, and where exactly has that bicycle gone? as we currently understand it, if not given full recognition, a bicycle consists of a frame and everything else needed to augment it, in a way that will render it rideable. to give a more cogent example, suppose i plump for ernesto's finest and have a c59 delivered to my door. i will subsequently have a choice of groupsets from shimano, campagnolo or sram, wheels from a whole host of manufacturers, saddles, handlebars, stems, tyres; i'm sure we are now singing from the same hymnsheet.

giant wheelsystem tyre

this state of affairs could perhaps be referred to as a symbiotic realationship. as long as the world's frame manufacturers continue to produce a variety of product, those proffering the ancillaries will have bread on the table, either as original equipment manufacturers (oem) or for what i believe is referred to as the aftermarket. however, in the past week or so, two of the world's principal frame manufacturers have started to remove a few slices of the loaf for their own tables.

firstly, ridley bicycles have equipped their range-topping noah fb with a brakeset that is integrated into the frame, as indeed is the seatmast. suddenly, in one fell swoop, the big three have lost a portion of their income. where a prospective purchaser might conceivably have purchased a set of campagnolo record calipers and carbon seatpost, that money is now on its way to belgium. (admittedly, the integrated seatpost is not a starlingly new concept). but not content with fitting front and rear forks with stopping power, which look just a smidgeon like shimano v-brakes (sorry, linear-pull braking system) it has a contrived acronym from ridley's marketing department: f.a.s.t., apparently signifying future aero speed technology.

ridley integrated rear brake

giant, not to be outdone in watching potential income head in a direction other than theirs, have done a mavic and produced a four model line of wheels and their own tyres. obviously the chaps at giant are not quite as up to speed as those at ridley (excuse the pun), and could only come up with wheelsystem for their line of...well, wheels. in the age-old tradition of software marketing, this constitutes a single word with intercaps; the 'w' and the's' are capitalised (it would go against the grain to type it that way. sorry). though many a manufacturer has had badged componentry produced by a third party (in giant's case, the hub internals are by dt-swiss), how long will it be before bicycles become like modern cars, with so much integration that freedom of choice slips ever further away?

stopping progress is well nigh impossible. but looking at the ridley integrated brakes, i find myself wondering what happens if and when they break (as opposed to stopping). presumably spares will only be available from ridley dealers, and from my quick perusal of the photos, there seems no way to replace them with standard calipers should that become more convenient. the ridley noah fb frames will be ridden by vacansoleil in the tour de france, and as far as i can see from their website, they use sram componentry, though there is no mention of sponsorship for this purpose. the result is surely a reduction to simply sram levers and gear mechs; brake calipers are now surplus to requirements.

the thin end of the integrated wedge system?

ridley's fast concept

posted sunday 26 june 2011


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this man is 15km short of a brevet

rapha brevet jersey

i like new stuff. new stuff is good because, well because it's new stuff. and it's not old stuff. it will be old stuff sometime, but for now it's new stuff. new stuff comes with baggage; learning to love it if it replaces old stuff, or learning to use it if it's regarded as progress. in this case, i knew it was arriving with baggage because that was sort of implied by the nature of the beast. if i have to blame anyone, i'm aiming for pret a manger at smithfield.

sitting in the company of gem bianchista atkinson, devouring a paprika splattered sandwich and some form of smoothie, rapha's james fairbank passed by. if he'd simply said "hi" and walked on, you'd be reading none of this. so if i'm truly honest, it's really james's fault.

james, ultan and initially graeme raeburn have been riding themselves silly over distances that would scare a few motorists, training for the 90 hour, 1200km paris-brest-paris. in honour of such an undertaking, raphia have issued a rather splendidly pragmatic brevet jersey, and it is this particular item that comes under my heading of new stuff, along with its considerable baggage. for surely it would be a travesty of reviewing to spend less than a modest audax distance inhabiting said jersey? say, 200km.

rapha brevet jersey

i knew you'd agree.

the danger of not being seen on islay's roads is not entirely a problem that occupies the front and centre for the indigenous cyclist. if truth be told, there are so few of us, even when augmented by the influx of summer cyclotourists, that the act of riding a bicycle is to raise one's visible profile sufficiently enough to avoid any serious car/bicycle interface. sadly the same cannot be said about sheep; they are apparently immune to the sight of a rider clothed in fluorescent pink. however, the serious audax rider, when attempting distances considerably in excess of my rather paltry 200km, will almost certainly need to pedal through at least a few hours of darkness, and visibility is then of prime consideration.

the hi-viz vest (i prefer to think of it as a gilet; so much more refined) that accompanies the brevet jersey really ought to have a volume control. if ever you are forced to ditch in the sea, i guarantee the helicopter will find you first. though slim of fit, there is enough leeway to fasten over stuffed rear pockets, one of which contained the ever necessary rainjacket.

summer on islay.

rapha brevet jersey

way back in the early nineties, prodded by an article in bicycling magazine, i took off one sunday morning to ride one hundred miles by tea-time. it seemed like a great idea at the time, but in true adventurous fashion, i was woefully ill-prepared for such a distance. now it's called the ride of the falling rain.

i think i may have managed to repeat the mistake on thursday.

three apricot chewy bars and a bottle full of bikefood berry flavoured carbo drink now seems slightly inadequate for a 200km ride, even allowing for the fact that there would be a stop at debbie's around lunchtime. if only i'd thought of that before stepping out the back door. garmins display too many numbers for my liking, and i was never that great with maps, so i had mentally estimated distances from place to place, reckoning that ten score kilometres was do-able without scuttering about the back roads in needless fashion.

turns out i was closer than i had any right to be.

though summer be its name, and pleasant sunshine gave the rain a break for at least a day, unlike the sting album of the same name, the mercury was definitely not rising. the scary pink gilet came in very handy for those opening kilometres; each time i thought decorum would dictate its removal, the ambient temperature decided otherwise, and it remained my outer shell for at least 25km. consider the logistics: one of those three back pockets has a rainjacket, the middle has three apricot bars, and the outer one is keeping my camera safe. a rolled up, bright pink gilet is likely to overstay its welcome in the luggage compartment. now i realise that the true audax rider would never leave home without an attendant saddlebag, but my amateurish approach had not given this a second thought. there was the rapha continental seatpack of course, but that was merely for tools.

rapha brevet jersey

this is the part that gives versatility a good name, for the jersey features a large zipped pocket sited above the regular three which easily swallows the gilet, and is handily sized for a map or two into the bargain. you would laugh if it told you i needed a map to circumnavigate the globe; i didn't, and your laughter can be directed elsewhere. by the time a stop had been enforced at saligo to remove and stow the gilet, as well as scoffing the first of those three apricot bars, it had become an altogether warmer day, probably the perfect reason for a full-length zip on the jersey.

i am loathe to bore you with a blow by blow account of the subsequent kilometres as i fear they may be akin to watching paint dry. suffice it to say, i was 15km out in my estimate, arriving home with 185km on the bbb computer attached to the cielo. it gives me little pleasure to recount that it wasn't the distance that had me almost on my knees by the end, but the appalling state of islay's roads, which had effectively pummeled me into submission. it would not have been too much trouble to find those extra 15km, but i had no great wish to play the numbers game, happy to be leaning against the bike shed for support.

rapha brevet jersey

it turns out that one 500ml water bottle ireally isn't sufficient for such a distance (like that came as a surprise), and a brief pit stop at port ellen co-op for a bottle of highland spring was less of a convenience, more for basic survival. and i should have gone for that slice of carrot cake at debbie's after all.

a brevet or randonneur is the correct term for long distance cycle rides, realistically commencing at 100km and working their way through the hundreds to the 1200km of paris-brest-paris, though i believe for the truly deranged, 1400km events exist. though the courses are undesignated, it is generally a requirement that the riders pass through check-points on their way to nirvana or oblivion (delete as applicable), at which their brevet cards are stamped. rapha's jersey, designed specifically to encompass this sort of riding features a zipped pocket on the left breast, capable of storing said card. confusingly, the jersey arrives with this pocket containing three sew-on patches. neat, but confusing.

for obvious reasons, since i only thought of undertaking this insanity at the beginning of the week, there was no time to install checkpoints around the island. aside from any other consideration, they'd have been stood there for one heck of a long time. and, of course, i have no idea what a brevet card looks like. i therefore took somewhat random photographs around the island; i'm sure the metadata on each image will confirm that i got around a bit. perhaps i should upgrade to gps tagging?

rapha brevet jersey

my time for covering the 185km was eight and a quarter hours, give or take the odd minute. audax rides (the uk term for a brevet or randonneur) generally have a completion time attached; these rides are not races, so it's up to the individual whether to go slow and steady, or fast with numerous rest stops. how close i was to finishing in a respectable brevet time, i have no idea. it beggars belief that the pros race over this distance, and still have the energy to sprint at the finish. i freely offer my services as lanterne rouge.

i'm happy to say that my every other ride undertaken on islay (or anywhere else for that matter) is confined to a far shorter distance than even my thursday outing, but when duty calls, i'm right there whimpering. the rapha brevet jersey is little short of a masterpiece. the fit is superb (on me at least), the sportwool is everything we've become used to from perren street. i can see no argument against either its high visibility hoops (front and back) contrasting the navy blue of the jersey, the pink edging to the sleeves, or that brilliant (in both senses of the word) pink gilet. if you only have room for one rapha jersey in the wardrobe, this should probably be it.

rapha brevet jersey

i enjoyed the experience so much, i went out for another 80km on saturday morning. it's still james fairbank's fault. either that or pret a manger.

the rapha brevet jersey, with complementary high-visibility gilet retails at £155 ($205) in dark blue with white and fluoro pink hoops front and back. sizes are from xs to xxl. if you purchse one, be sure to have fun trying to fin the ubiquitous story label. i'd love to help you, but i'm sworn to obfuscation.

rapha brevet jersey | audax uk | randonneurs usa

posted saturday 25 june 2011


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racing through the dark - david millar. orion books softback 354pp illus. £12.99

racing through the dark

i have just finished designing and printing an a3 leaflet for one of our local primary schools, a leaflet showing, by means of the kids' drawings overlaid on photos, animals and birds that you'd find in the islay countryside and seaside. next to the name of each animal or bird is a small white circle allowing recipients of the leaflet to tick when they have spotted the wildlife in question. almost like the i-spy books of yore.

the brief was fairly laissez faire, allowing a bit of room to manoeuvre as to where items were placed on the page, though by and large, they already had it sussed how the end product was to look. however, what was specifically instructed was that the text accompanying each child's drawing (in english and gaelic) should be set in comic sans apparently because "it's easier for the children to read". that is, of course, utter hogwash. along with brush script, comic sans must be one of the most appalling typefaces known to mankind. yet for reasons best known to all four of the island's primary schools, virtually everything they commit to print has to use this font.

as someone who loves a constructive argument, i debated over the possibility of a lengthy discussion as to why i thought an alternative typeface ought to be used; but then thought better of it. in the words of lord carlos of mercian, 'the customer is always wrong'. ultimately, and particularly in cases such as this, whoever pays the graphic designer (within reason) can have what they want. i do not receive greater remuneration for educating the client as to the finer points of modern typography. so comic sans it is.

in the grand scheme of things, this is a trifling matter, for it is unlikely that unemployment would have followed from either my refusing to deal with comic sans, or even having the temerity to replace it with what i considered a more appropriate style of lettering. others, however, may not fare so well.

this, though reduced to a more superficial level, is the crux of david millar's book 'racing through the dark', subtitled 'the fall and rise of ...'. at its most bare, it is a narrative exploring and exploding the iniquities of peer pressure, something we all experience in every day life. it is the measure of an individual's character as to whether they bow to such pressure, or simply let it walk on by, though those with an unflinching stance against something so embedded in modern culture are perhaps few and far between. millar, with his privileged beginnings and teenage years seemed convinced that he would not allow any undue pressures to shape the way he went about his adopted profession.

the opening chapter of the book takes no prisoners ('scuse the pun), describing the feelings and emotions of waking up in a prison cell in biarritz. if there was ever the slightest doubt that david millar was going to plaster over the cracks and simply provide us with a manual on the art of time-trialling, this chapter is testament to the contrary.

"i am in a french prison cell, below biarritz town hall, in an empty basement. a smell of piss and disinfectant hangs in the air. a drunken man shouts relentlessly somewhere in a cell down the corridor". hardly the introduction from which dreams are made of, and a far cry from riding team gb carbon at the world's time-trial championship

millar's father was in the airforce, necessitating an almost peripatetic lifestyle for the whole family. though born in malta, his formative years were spent, quite idyllically according to millar, in north east scotland. he is nothing if not repetitive in his insistance that he considers himself to be a scot, and retains affectionate affinity for the country, despite having lived there for a mere handful of years.

"i spent a few weeks up in edinburgh, the longest time i'd spent in scotland since i'd left as a child. surprisingly, given all that had happened, it felt like home. ...i would never cease to be surprised by how every scot i met treated me as one of their own. it felt good to be scottish."

his parents eventually divorced, sister frances remaining in england with david's mother, and he opting to join his father in hong kong, who had retrained as a commercial airline pilot. by all accounts, his life in hong kong fitted neatly into the box entitled hedonistic, a state enjoyed in the company of like-minded friends. "although i was drinking and smoking a bit, i was quite evangelical about chemical drugs. i found the thought of them disgusting and fundamentally wrong." millar became, as he puts it a bike perv. during his lackadaisical school years as the privileged son of a british ex-pat living in hong kong. though the early forays in the saddle were aboard a mountain bike, two of those he rode with spent time educating him to the joys of road cycling. to use a well-worn cliche, the rest is history

i recall a conversation with my teenage son, about the perils of smoking, while sitting in euston station waiting for the sleeper to glasgow. he fully concurred with my views on the evil weed, yet only a few years later, started nipping out the back door for a sly cigarette. good old peer pressure once again. despite many a substance being on the uci's banned list, such persuasion appears to be endemic within the professional peloton, with only a few (at one time) questioning whether such preparation was truly necessary to stand atop the podium. millar, rightly or wrongly, levels much of his disillusionment at cofidis, his first professional team. not so much that they enforced a regime of doping, but that they seemed either unwilling or unable to do much about it within the team.

the constant variation in racing programme; being informed that he was to race either immediately after a long stage race or, indeed, when he was patently unwell enough to participate in any form of cycling activity, not unnaturally, began to take its toll. cycle racing is a team sport, where each rider in that team has a specifically or loosely designated job during any particular race. millar, like many a professional rider began to see his position as a professional cyclist as the job that it truly is, and less akin to the joyous obsession that is the truth for many of us. with the sponsor keen for victories, the management keen to please the sponsor, and the riders beholden to the management for their ongoing contracts, acceptance that taking epo (amongst other substances) in order to fulfil the demands of his job title.

"not once did i tell anybody about the decision i'd made. there was never any question of sharing it."

most sports have rules, and indeed so do many forms of employment. you break those rules at your own risk, exactly as david millar has admitted to doing. his realisation that he had turned his boyhood obsession into a mere job may have engendered many facets, and it is perhaps ironic that his arrest came some time after he had already decided to refrain from continuing the practice. for not only did he lose this job, he became a pariah in the eyes of many who had admired his achievements; his period of drug abuse now called into question all the results he had garnered while riding clean. and the problems did not stop there, as the french tax authorities subsequently pursued him for unpaid taxes, an amount that took him several years to repay, and meantime necessitated a move back to the uk where there was some sanctuary from the french tax demands.

millar's story could not be that of anyone else in the peloton. no other cyclist that i know of has held their hand up and said "it's a fair cop, but society is to blame.", served their sentence and returned determined to rail against the drug use that seems almost endemic in top level cycling. with the peloton being pretty much a closed shop with regard to the subject, his opposition may well be making it hard to win friends and influence people, but you have to admire the guy for trying. throughout, millar is not sparing in his praise for those who have helped him through his (self-inflicted) ordeal, keen perhaps, to point out that though he is now in the role as spokesman, he could not have achieved his return without those who gathered around him.

in particular, dave brailsford (writer of the book's foreword), who was with millar when he was arrested and who also spent several hours in police custody and questioning, is singled out for praise. considering brailsford's current position as director of both british cycling and team sky, it would surely have been a comfier ride for him to have kept well clear. additionally, millar's lifetime olympic ban is not recognised by scotland when related to competing in the commonwealth games in india last year. a gold medal in the time-trial was surely ample repayment for this morsel of faith.

"i (hadn't seen) any benefits taking time out from my pro-racing schedule to race for scotland. i regretted that, and was thankful to have the opportunity to rectify it"

of course, if i were to be cynical, he would say that, wouldn't he? it's one thing to acknowledge with disdain minor events such as the commonwealth games when you're flying high in the tours and classics, but altogether another when the options are a tad more restricted and you need to curry favour (no pun intended).

though millar has come clean in a manner that i found unexpectedly frank - there are few warts hidden from view midst the 26 chapters - he has in all honesty, continued to respect the omerta of the peloton. throughout 'racing through the dark' he euphemistically refers to the team-mate who eventually made it possible for him to dope as l'equipier. the rider remains anonymous via this alias, to the end. i think it likely that anyone who knew the inner workings of the cofidis team of the era could likely figure out to whom he was referring, but this bestowed anonymity sits ill at ease with millar's born again crusade. surely to live up to his new self-appointed credentials, he should stand up and be counted, naming names?

for those of us not directly involved, it's an easy call to make. in this case, we want our cake and we'd also like to eat it please. for despite our despising of drug use in the peloton, we seem happy to endorse it elsewhere. was it not sergeant pepper's lonely hearts club band that was lauded as possibly one of the finest albums of all time? yet 'lucy in the sky with diamonds' was most certainly not referring the transportation of jewellery by aircraft.

we're a hypocitical bunch when it comes to our entertainment.

despite arguing over what it says and does not say, and who it may have exposed from the rabble, 'racing through the dark' is a well written, well paced and addictive (appropriate n'est pas?) book. none of its 354 pages can be considered padding and though there will probably always be murky goings on in top level cycle racing when so much is at stake, david millar is to be congratulated not only on 'fessing up, and recounting every last humiliation in print, but for giving us mere mortals an inkling into the machinations of the modern peloton, both good and bad.

it would also be totally remiss of me to ignore the considerable contribution from jeremy whittle who, i believe, kept david millar's narrative to manageable proportions. he has fully understood the true meaning behind the word editor

posted friday 24 june 2011


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dropping in

in the drops

in the days when cycling weekly still held a degree of relevance to the world of cycling, they were kind enough to give away a series of booklets explaining how to do stuff. stuff such as road racing, time trialling and mountain biking. there may have been other titles, but it was along time ago and i can't be expected to remember everything. everybody's a newbie at sometime in their lives, and those booklets were most agreeable to someone like me who thought brian smith was a cyclist (just a little joke; i didn't mean it mr smith), pointing out that unless training generated an average speed of 21mph (around 35kph) there was more than an even likelihood that one would not see much of the peloton a few metres after the start.

salient advice, for it made it perfectly clear to yours truly that there was no point in flogging a dead horse. to this day, i have avoided pinning a number on any of my back pockets. however, one of the other points of wisdom (which may, or may not have been included in the booklet; i still don't rememeber much, but it's a snippet i definitely gleaned from the comic), related to riding in the drops. it's a position you don't see many riders employing these days, with the possible exception of lord carlos of mercian, who hasn't quite got the hang of riding on the hoods. the mighty dave t favours the bar tops, while i'm to be found mostly on the lever hoods unless i'm trying desperately to emulate marco by climbing in the drops.

in the drops

anyway, the proposed advice ran thus; unless you can ride in the drops for at least fifteen minutes, the bars are too low, or the saddle is too high. it's a statement highly reminiscent of graeme obree's ninety-five percent of all statistics are made up on the spot. where did those fifteen minutes come from? did someone from cycling weekly ride round richmond park with a stopwatch? why not fourteen minutes 35 seconds? or sixteen minutes?

this may also be connected to the empirical truth that if you can see the front hub in front of the bars, then the stem or top tube is too short. i cannot deny that i have employed both these pieces of wisdom as the backbone of my cycling position for the last oh so many years. in fact, when being enlightened into a more educated and comfortable position on the cycle by julian at cyclefit, i mentioned these gems of wisdom, to which he replied "they may be right".

in just the same way as the velo club heads north to port askaig brae every once in a while, just to check than we can still climb its nine percent ramp followed by a fourteen percent after the bend, part of me needs to check that i can ride in the drops for the prescribed fifteen minutes. it still works. of course, ultimately this ability is relatively unrelated to bike positioning; julian sorted all that out for me and i have the measurements to prove it. but as the ageing skeleton gets ever older, it's hard to deny that a degree of flexibility wanes every year. maybe it won't be the bike that's at fault, but my lack of bendyness.

in the drops

as to the front hub thing, i have my doubts over that bit. many of the review bicycles arriving at washingmachinepost cottage are fitted with 120mm stems (and one that only reached a miniscule 110), thus i have had many an exciting kilometre watching a series of exotic hubs spin before my eyes, few of which have seriously compromised my burgeoning ineffectiveness in the saddle.

now, to keep the ball rolling, i'm going to have to come up with a contemporary nugget of wisdom that will enter the cycling lexicon, providing fodder for earnest discussion at a coffee stop near you.

i'm working on it.

apologies for the brevity of today's trivia. a long, hard day in the saddle, and though the spirit is willing, the rest of me has gone to bed.

posted thursday 23 june 2011


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wired right?

ultegra di2

despite several months of anticipation (after a fashion), shimano have done the decent thing and admitted that, yes, di2 has trickled down to the next rung, and will be available with ultegra written on the brake levers for 2012. cost has not been seriously discussed anywhere abouts, but i have heard that it should fit the gap between ultegra standard and dura-ace standard which puts it in the thousand poundish bracket, depending on whom you purchase your groupsets from. i will refrain from asking if it seems worth the money, because that's a rhetorical question for both those who have to have it and those who don't.

campagnolo has already had professional success with its eleven-speed electronic setup, and i'd be very surprised indeed if sram weren't playing about with wires behind closed doors. the interesting factor in all of this is that shimano have been allowed so much of a lead in the electronic gearchanging market. when they invented index shifting, campag were really not that far behind, and both japan and italy have, until campag had a spinal tap moment, shadowed each other all the way from five speeds to ten.

commonly held belief would have it that, aside from the ten-eleven discrepancy forced upon themselves by vicenza, campagnolo were happy to allow shimano a bit of a head-start in this venture, while they watched from the sidelines. a logical assumption perhaps, but surely a bit of a worry in case wires became a wholesale replacement for cables in a very short space of time. that would surely leave campagnolo worrying about the descending graph in the accounts department. now that a cheaper and thus more accessible version has appeared from shimano, where does that leave campagnolo?

out in the cold, i shouldn't wonder.

i am no electrician (that's my son's job), nor do i have any real inkling regarding development time of something such as an electronic groupset. but shimano have been offering dura-ace di2 for some considerable time now, and vicenza partook in a substantial amount of testing with their ten-speed record electronic before letting it rest a while on introduction of eleven sprockets. why then, are they dilly-dallying as shimano take major strides to increase their already substantial market share at campagnolo's expense?

nope, me neither.

meanwhile, those inveterate tinkerers in japan have indulged in a bit more tweeking to ensure total incompatibility between electronic dura-ace and that of ultegra. the ultegra di2 cables are two-core as opposed to the four possessed by its big brother, and the connectors too are a smaller diameter. this means that all the frame companies who have carefully engineered their tubing to accept integrated wiring will need to offer different versions for ultegra, or simply accept that the latter's wires may experience a modicum of flapping at the entry point. it also stops the intrepid from mixing and matching.

it is, of course, entirely possible that this is as a result of continued development, and something that may trickle up to dura-ace. but the kernel of interest from the shimano press-release, and something i have queried further, is the apparent ability to connect to a computer for 'diagnosis and changing the shifting order'. i do not, as yet, know how this connection is made, nor whether it is compatible with both principal operating systems. time will tell. however, diagnosis of what exactly? as i understand it, buttons/switches simply send the requisite electronic signal to each respective derailleur at front or rear. much like an electric garden strimmer, it either works or it doesn't. it beggars belief that instead of wandering out to the bikeshed, armed with a big spanner, a set of allen keys and a tub of grease, one would now withdraw an ipad from the big pocket on the front of the mechanic's apron.

as if that were not scary enough, what is meant by 'changing the shifting order'? surely with each click of the switch, most of us would prefer that the chain nips onto a sprocket up or down the cassette, depending on which switch is the switch miss for ipswich. the thought that each subsequent click could flip the chain all over the place, seems something of a concern to the less than mathematically inclined.

i'm still of the opinion, all these years later, that electronic shifting is a solution looking for a problem. the press release quotes clear advantages for everybody who has tested it: 'changing gears becomes easier, effortless and faster. but then we all fell for the marketing that told us the aheadset was intrinsically lighter than the style it replaced. i've just returned a bicycle equipped with ultegra 6700, and the gear-changing was easy, effortless and as fast as it needed to be. that's not to say that di2 doesn't have potential advantages, some of which may have been aimed at by apple's recent cycle patent, but i find myself re-iterating my previous contention that surely electronics should and could have moved a bit further down the road by now?

while digital integrated intelligence remains stuck in the realm of simply changing gear, the word intelligence is surely being overstated.

shimano ultegra di2

posted wednesday 22 june 2011


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road holland den haag jersey

road hollland den haag jersey

art students huh? can't live with them, can't live with them. in my years of long hair and indian influenced jackets, to say nothing of the patchwork flared jeans, i lived in a guest-house whose proprietrix took pity on poor, destitute students, compelled to shelter and feed them during term-time. it was a veritable home from home, if truth be told. if memory serves correctly, there were a total of eight of us in the house, as well as the landlady's two daughters. as is the nature with student accommodation, after the first year, a couple of guys moved out, and newbies moved in, presenting the ideal opportunity to cause mischief and enjoy a bit of humour at someone else's expense.

in this particular instance, the names have been forgotten to protect the guilty (and innocent, come to that), but on the first monday of the month, we informed one of the newbies that it was customary to dress for dinner; an awkward tradition to be sure, but something our landlady had imposed upon us. he of course did as was bid, not wishing to stand out even more than his newness had already incurred.

thus dinner on that particular first monday of the month was spent midst incessant sniggering as the long-term residents sat dressed in jeans and t-shirts, while the poor hapless individual ate an excellent meal dressed in suit shirt and tie. a trivial and unnecessary attempt at humour, but hey, that's the way we rolled in them days.

road hollland den haag jersey

of course, the corollary of this story was the monday at the beginning of the following month, when the rest of us sat dressed to the nines, with the landlady's daughters wearing sparkly evening dress. our man without portfolio attended in jeans and a t-shirt.

endless mirth for all the family.

cycling can almost be seen in the same light. who hasn't been filled with fearful trepidation turning up to a collective ride with complete strangers, wondering if the dress-code in any way encompasses the particular pairing of jersey and shorts du jour? or even worse, entirely the contrary. i am no technician when it comes to space-age fabrics moulded into the shape of a cycle jersey, but as one without any pretensions towards space age cycling (i'm not even advanced enough to be a luddite), i prefer my jerseys to exhibit a modest sense of decorum. this decorum should not find me being compared to one fitted within a team gb skinsuit.

i have, therefore, on more than one occasion, celebrated the advent of sportwool; yes, it features a percentage of polyester, but that is superbly mediated by its partner in comfort; merino wool. that's our cycling heritage; itchy wool jerseys with a front pocket and a proclivity for meeting with the rear tyre when the rain comes down. only our cycling heritage has been modernised; now we can wear wool, inhabit its grandeur and look sartorially elegant even in the depths of the peloton.

road hollland den haag jersey

road holland is a new brand for me, based in florida, north america. i'd love to kid myself and impress upon those around, that i am well versed in the wherefores and whys of the world of cycling. sadly my special powers deserted me in this instance. and why on earth is it called road holland?

"As Americans, The Netherlands / Holland is really inspirational for us because it is a country where the bike is more than just something used for a Saturday morning ride.  It is a part of the culture and used for transportation and sport.  We would like nothing more for Americans to adopt a similar attitude.  And of course, as more people ride for more and more reasons in the States, they will need clothes that work in a variety of situations.  That's where we come in.  Plus, orange is the national color of the Netherlands and it's my favorite color.  It was a natural fit."

the words are those of jonathan schneider, company president of road holland. all their jerseys have eschewed the dye-sublimated polyester beloved of the really fast brigade and are fashioned from the magical sportwool. why? "We like materials that retain their performance properties no matter what you do with them.  A lot of people do not understand that the moisture wicking properties of polyester go away after 30 or 40 washes. At the end of a season, your poly jersey may look great but it's not performing.  When you think of it that way, wool is the best alternative and the best value because its wicking and thermal properties last forever. However, straight wool is just too heavy for our climate and can turn people off with its legacy of scratchyness. Blending poly and wool gives you a really soft material but one that will keep its performance qualities over time."

road hollland den haag jersey

road holland's richard grossman was kind enough to send over one of their den haag jerseys, featuring a chest hoop of white and an incredibly pale blue carrying over to both short sleeves. the main body is what i might describe as mint chocolate. (other colours are available) but what differentiates the den haag jersey from its peer group is the button up, polo shirt style collar. i had to explain to my son, its cycling heritage as opposed to being mere casual wear. that is it's cunning plan and secret weapon. flims and fripperies are, of course, precisely those, unless their profile lends a pragmatic level of je ne sais quoi during velocipedinal activities.

however, there is no getting away from my oft repeated mantra that it surely requires a substantial degree of chutzpah to bring yet another cycle jersy company to a fast becoming saturated market. "Nothing worthwhile is easy. However,  I do not think the market is saturated - at least not in the States.  When I start showing up to rides where a 1/4 of the riders look presentable, then I'll start to think about it.  And cycling is growing here, so there is a big opportunity." presentability is entirely subjective, but a valid point of view nonetheless.

the factors adding up to a modern cycle jersey have not been overlooked. the fit is comfortably loose; not flappy, but not figure hugging either. the rear scalloped pockets sit above a droptail, keeping the lower back away from the elements when in the drops. this is aided by some gloopy stuff on the hem to prevent it riding up. i cannot deny that this is the one area of the jersey i felt could have been tightened up slightly; with a digital camera in one of the outer pockets, all became a smidgeon saggier than its sartorial qualities had promised. on the bike this is of little or no consequence, but standing around outside debbie's, trying to look too cool for school with a coffee stained upper lip, my svelteness was slightly undermined.

road hollland den haag jersey

though the road holland bit offers some sort of a clue, why's it called den haag? "We name each product after a town in Holland.  The more tailored and formal nature of Den Haag reminded us of the world court.   Richard and I have some dear friends who live in the Netherlands and I've spent a lot of time there. Our Arnhem jersey is named in honor of the hometown of our friends."

who does jonathan see as the archetypal road holland customer? "Someone who is a very enthusiastic rider. They appreciate the history of biking and good fitting and looking gear.  But they're not crazy about it. They realize riding is about experience - discovery of new places and friends.   If they're on an "epic ride" and see a unique opportunity to get an ice cream on the side of the road or visit a cool shop, they're going to stop and check it out.  It's not just about hammering and suffering for them.

i cannot pretend that scotland's current weather pattern bears any resemblance to summer, though it is perhaps something we may have to get used to. low temperatures and incessant rain do not conjure up the mental picture that had me serenely floating along narrow islay lanes, sweat glistening on my bare forearms and perhaps one or two of those collar buttons loosened to ease the warm airflow across my merino baselayer. the reality involved breathable waterproof jackets and a winter-weight, long-sleeve baselayer under the den haag jersey. at least it did on day one. subsequent rides provided the grey-skied opportunity to lose the waterproof into one of those back pockets. it may add something to the colour of this narrative to point out that said jacket removal was witnessed by a large, brown highland cow.

road hollland den haag jersey

rural life at its best.

is anything missing? well, at the risk of being endlessly tedious, in this day and age, i think every jersey ought to feature a zipped security pocket midst the standard fare. sadly the den haag is bereft in this department, and i would humbly suggest to road holland that they may like to consider this as a possible upgrade. minor and relatively trivial points aside, this is a pretty funky cycle jersey, one in which any member of the road-going fraternity would be proud to be seen. and all this for the princely sum of $120 (£75).

"Admittedly, we're not the cheapest in the category but we are certainly not the most expensive by any stretch.  We think our price is in line with the quality. People know when they are getting gouged and that breeds resentment for a brand over time.
"As we are mainly internet focused, we are definitely international. We've sold a good deal in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand and see that continuing."

the road holland den haag jersey is available in sizes small, medium and large in seven different colours direct from the road holland website at a cost of $120 (£75)

road holland

posted tuesday 21 june 2011


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