you will think much the less of me for the admission that i saw not one kilometre of the tour of britain. not because i think it unworthy of paying attention to; in some ways racing at this level has a greater degree of competition and raw energy than the so-called grand tours. the race is more 'real' if you see what i mean; aside from a distinct difference between the french climate and our own, it's hard to imagine a stage of the tour being cancelled due to high winds. however, the true reason that i missed out on watching any of the race was the itv4 coverage. a statement that implies no criticism of the broadcaster.
since our area switched over to digital tv, and the wee telly in the bedroom gained a whole new lease of life, the one part of that life that is mysteriously missing is any access to said digital itv channel. i could, of course, have comandeered the big picture downstairs, but then mrs washingmachinepost would be bereft of her beloved soaps. there is no wrath equal to mrs twmp without coronation street. and having more than peeked at the classics, the giro and le tour, i feel there may be a finite limit to domestic tolerance. couple that with three days of jazz festival, where i get to hang out with the dudes, and it's plainly obvious that the tour of britain is simply being raced at the wrong time of year.
for me at least.
i did thoroughly appreciate the interminable race updates from several sources on twitter, but it was very hard to assimilate and relate less than 140 characters to a hard fought competition for the gold jersey. there is little doubt that a picture is worth a thousand tweets.
and that brings me to my subject for today. at the tail end of last year, 'i'm not a cycling photographer' scott mitchell was invited by best pal bradley wiggins to join him on the tour de france and take 'i'm not a cycling photographer' pictures of his trials and tribulations as a sky team rider in the 2010 tour. no doubt the impetus was his fourth place while still with garmin in 2009 and had all gone according to plan, scott would surely have been ideally placed to record the podium, champagne and cuddly lions.
history records that the plan went somewhat awry for wiggins, but substantially less so for scott mitchell, as his images from the race bear repeated viewing whenever the opportunity presents itself. of course, it may well behove photographers to heed the salient words of buddy rich, though his were more accurately directed at those who batter bits of plastic with wooden sticks. buddy decried any notion of specialisation; surely it was more professional and pragmatic to be a drummer plain and simple, rather than append specific adjectives such as pop, rock, jazz, country, hip-hop et al?
same goes for photographers. it would be nice to think that ben ingham or graham watson could just as easily offer a top notch wedding portfolio. for aside from the particular formalities of the genre, a quality image is a quality image. thus, mr mitchell's protestations that he is not a cycling photographer, in this case, fell on deliberately averted ears. if you have purchased the book, or seen his exhibtion in ronde in edinburgh, your ears will hopefully be similarly deaf. this is perhaps why we are currently greatly favoured with regards to imagery related to our sport, particularly in comparison to others with a similar level of activity and dramatic content. because beauty is in the eye of the photographer, whether he/she knows their double-tap from their egropower.
up until now, viewing scott mitchell's expertise was an open book entitled on tour, or perhaps the aforesaid exhibition. and if aileen has had time to hammer in a picture hook at debbie's, you can see a masterful portrait of brad on the wall near the coffee machine. or you could peruse a selection on scott's website. but one of the finest and simplest way of appreciating the photographers' art is by way of the all but ubiquitous flickr, and it is on here that scott has posted some quite incredible images of the race i never saw. i have interspersed my barely adequate words with a small selection of images on offer (quite literally. i'm pretty sure scott would be more than happy to offer amenable terms for prospective purchasers).
click the link below to either view for the first time like me, or to relive moments that itv4 didn't capture. if ever there was a sport that presented a multitude of facets to its adoring public, cycling is it.
all images copyright scott mitchell 2011. reproduced with permission.
posted monday 19 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
my sincere apologies for no post on sunday. this weekend played host to the lagavulin islay jazz festival, and after my gig at ardbeg on sunday, my trio dragged me kicking and screaming to the evening gig in bruichladdich. of course, i protested that i had cycling responsibilities and that these would need to be taken care of, but they cared not one whit for such obligation, and i was forced very much against my will to listen and applaud politely until well after the witching hour.
it was freakin' awesome.
posted early monday 19 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
memories are wonderful things, but often only on behalf of themselves. for i have hazy recollections of a transition period between summer and autumn, one that truly muddied the distinction between them both. of course, those same memories incorporate an actual summer, one that lasted several weeks if not months at a time. summer nowadays, and i blame the european union and rogue traders for this, lasts only a matter of days, interspersed with stodgy days of cloud, wind and rain. in these times of regulations, health and safety and unarguable standards, surely 'tis not too much to define a summer as lasting from july 1st to august 31st, followed by a transition period that lasts until at least september 12th (an arbitrary choice i'll admit)? then at least we'd all know where we stand.
for those south of the equator, these can be simply reversed.
thus, when the first cycling publications of the new year arrive at news-stand or drop on the welcome mat, the inevitable free calendar with graham watson's photographs of sunflowers and pelotons could have specific days marked when mudguards/fenders should be removed, and subsequently re-fitted. it would surely save the pelotonese of a sunday morning, throwing their hands dramatically in the air, thinking 'if only i hadn't removed the mudguards yesterday'. you can perhaps see the attraction.
those of us who inhabit a style all of our own making, and who own a very fine set of full wood fenders are, of course happy to have them remain in situ for all twelve months of the year. and such has been the erraticity of the hebridean weather this past year, those pete tomkins road racers have found a more or less permanent home on the colnago master; more molteni, less muddy. cyclocross is a somewhat different animal, one which i have added a rather conspicuous looking white tailfin from the crudguard stable, because style has no truck with a brown stripe up the back of that rapha jersey.
which brings me to an interesting if likely irrelevant point. irrelevant in respect of cyclocross riders having any meritorious style in the first place. well, actually, the first place is pretty much they only place style can be seen. for the minute the flag drops, those precious grams saved by shiny bits and bobs are rendered null and void by an ever increasing coating of mud. given that many wear apparel decorated with at least one sponsor's name, you'd figure that it would be in someone's interest to ensure those logos are still visible on the finish line. unless, of course you're last, in which case, none of this applies.
it was made plain to me in the course of natural conversation, that mudguards/fenders are disallowed for 'cross competition by the uci, and by implication, the same applies to those involved in road-racing. never one to accept that a hod's as good as a sink to a blind norse, i took it upon myself to investigate further, though i will demur if you push on the definition of the word investigate. i found an online document purporting, through the heading on the front page, to be technical regulations for bicycles: a practical guide to implementation. and despite several cursory glances (i occasionally have better things to do with my time), i could find no regulation stipulating that mudguards/fenders were expressly forbidden.
therefore, i think it only fair that we start to lobby the uci and the pro tour teams to have this position clarified on two counts. i would like to receive an e-mail from pat mcquaid (i'm sure he's reading) stating whether the likes of thomas voeckler or sven nys et al are permitted to fit a set of full wood fenders to their colnagos; sven for the whole shebang, tommy for the spring and autumn classics.
it would at the very least mean an unmuddying of the waters, and add another question for interviewers stuck in a rut of same old, same old. "tell me mr cavendish, do you intend fitting 'guards for paris-tours or milan sanremo?" it would also perhaps mark the start of a revolution by the great unwashed; everything we currently ride has been pressed upon us from on high, by those wishing to find an outlet and financial recompense for their research and development. it is time the tables were turned. an increased and professional market that could easily result in burl maple for those full wood fenders.
i fully expect, now i've published, that someone (or several someones) to flood my inbox quoting the precise paragraph and subsection of uci regulations that expressly forbids the fitting of mudguards to a bicycle involved in sanctioned competition.
but i shall ignore them. i'm right and you're wrong
posted saturday 17 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
those of you with experience of playing or watching football (soccer if you're across the pond, though the following is the same for either game) will perhaps forgive me any transgressions in my description or comprehension of the processes involved. if we can accept that, at the start of any given match after the coin has been tossed, those who have been fortunate to garner possession of the football immediately set out to place it in the goal of their opposition. imagine if the opposition simply stood about on the centreline until the ball was pretty much in the penalty box (have i got that right?) before making a wild scramble en masse to catch the blighters before the poor goalkeeper faced certain annihilation.
to any self-respecting football fan, the above would be considered just the wrong side of bizarre, and in all honesty, despite my misgivings over the iniquities of the game, i would find myself in total agreement. in any ball game of this nature, the minute the opposition has possession, their opponents do everything to relieve them of this encumbrance.
why doesn't cycling work that way?
if you find yourself with the time to watch start to finish coverage of any particular cycle race, it quickly becomes apparent that life in the peloton has a certain retarded logic about it. those with little chance of upsetting the overall standings, fire themselves off the front towards almost inevitable martyrdom in small groups, until one individual or group manages to stay away. and then begins the thankless task of building as much of a gap to the inseguitori as is humanly possible.
the laws of physics and physical laws have, at this point, already started; we have all been made perfectly aware that a large group of cyclists expends less energy than a small one, thus allowing for greater speeds. but at some point, a fine balancing act comes into play where a deteriorating break becomes cannon fodder for either a stagnant peloton, or one intent on increasing its collective speed. does the peloton allow this situation to occur because that's simply the way things work, or are they, in aggregate, artificially creating tension that will justify a 120km romp through foreign countryside?
my money's on the former; unless the cameraman has his lens in someone's face, i doubt the pros pay much attention to the tv coverage, unless they've been directed to gain some. and that latter fact, oft mentioned by many a commentary team, may point to the bulk of any specific stage being somewhat contrived.
few races benefit from start to finish television coverage day after day after day; there is a set time at which the host broadcaster flicks the switch in the editing suite. the smaller teams, bereft of an overall contender, have greater need of such publicity than those who are in contention, and the only way they're going to achieve that is to win a stage, or go up in a puff of smoke while trying. we therefore have a probable sense of arrogance within the peloton; a class system if you will, where the principal protagonists allow their lesser counterparts a brief moment of glory that reflects well on both parties.
unlike post tour criteriums, it would be a tad difficult to fix a stage win, but it does look like as though majority of teams are complicit in this charade till at least the last ten or fifteen kilometres. like all schemes of which human effort plays a substantial part, plans gang aft a gley as robert burns would have said if he'd been a cycling fan, and somebody wins who wasn't really supposed to. but then, that's why we all watch on the edge of our seats, because it's nice to see this implicit arrogance turned on its head once in a while. david and goliath.
but would it not serve similar purposes of excitement and tv exposure if they just raced each other?
posted friday 16 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"the heroes are campy dudes, sram fellows and shimano devotees."
i think most of us are aware of the protagonism that 'america and britain are two countries divided by a common language'. it's a truism that has brought much frustration to bear on the modern brit using essentially american software and very little command of grammar or spelling. those little dotted red lines under blatantly correct spelling are a constant source of doubt and annoyance; even more so for pedants such as myself who despair that this north american dictionary has turned anglophiles into dudes. the worst part is that, for all my protestations and proofing marks, nobody really gives a fig. and the real world dictionary is of no assist whatsoever, by sitting on the fence and allowing either usage.
did harold really lose an eye at the battle of hastings for this?
however, my ire is not promulgated, but perchance bemused by the north american abbreviation of campagnolo to that of campy, as opposed to our own self-important and obviously correct use of 'campag'. i await its first use in the script of coronation street to discover how much attention is paid to those red dotted underlines in wordpad or text edit. it is also of perhaps greater interest that, though arguably more ingrained in the american psyche than that of vicenza, there seems no likewise colloquialism for shimano; 'shimmy' doesn't quite cut the mustard.
these digressions and indeed, the opening quote come from something many of us aspired to in our heyday; ten speed hero. the fact that campagnolo currently offers a maximum of twenty-two gears does not for one minute conjure up the same mental picture of pedalling bravado and and the parallel universe where the bicycle reigns supreme. it has all become far too technical and dare i say it, serious, for that to be the case. even taking into account the measly ten sprockets on offer from sram and shimmy, does no more to encourage heroism on a scale more becoming the ordinary man/dude in the peloton. you can understand why nostalgia is such big business on ebay.
and it's at this point that i segue almost seamlessly into the subject of today's attention. for tenspeedhero concerns itself with matters pertaining to 50th anniversary campagnolo groupsets on the auction website, but not in any spotlight on the subject kind of way, more as the introduction to a story worthy of discussion. an example of this lusted after groupset for sale in willow creek, california. if this strikes you as a form of eccentricity not practised on many cornucopias of cycling, you would not find me in disagreement. but then cycling isn't all about the tour de france, paris roubaix and mario cipollini's skinsuits.
it should, more correctly, contain itself with the square taper bottom bracket.
for we have lost so much in the quest for unstoppable gain. cycling is not simply an activity, but a house in which we live, with our favourite rooms and wallpaper that went out of fashion years ago. surely those are more worthy of consideration than nano fibres?
662 grams of campagnolo crankset, admittedly of ten speed flavour, but in the days when campagnolo had not sold their soul to carbon. and if life is to follow an alternative but slightly faded path, it will be bolted to an italian threaded square taper bottom bracket. i apologise not one whit for such an oblique method of presenting the works of others; i believe that such tenuous eccentricity on the part of one you know, will ease you more readily into pixels that seem so at odds with modernism, yet unaccountably familiar to those with more than the comic at the centre of their news-stand.
if i may be so bold as to quote directly from the about page of the website: "its contributors did not cut their teeth in the world of sports journalism but are visual artists, library scientists, graphic designers, physicists, mechanics, photographers, and cat 4 phenoms who happen to revel in the non-sequitur and things often related to cycling."
those who delight in the non-direct approach to what we have self-centeredly categorised as the word of cycling, will find much to reinforce an alternative to velonews or the crassly named bikeradar. those are the sites that, by their ubiquity, make any deviation look like deviancy; tenspeedhero offers a comfortable and less brightly lit corner in which to take refuge when the eleven-speeds seem singularly reticent to index correctly. tenspeedhero, by its own admission, hopes to "build an implausibe empire of content", an ambition which is not only to be admired, but to be roundly applauded with polite clapping.
if ever there was a corner of the web that demanded photographs of a classic alloy campagnolo super-record crankset photographed against a backdrop of tropical plants, this is it. perhaps the strangest thing about tenspeedhero is that its demonstrable strangeness, quark and charm is not strange at all.
then again, that perhaps says more about me than is seemly in polite company.
posted thursday 15 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i'm not accurately sure of which comic the series appeared in, though i have a notion it may have been the eagle (does anyone else remember that publication?) where a group of kids on raleigh rsw 16s (which was apparently an acronym for raleigh small wheel) were not only keen to do so, but probably managed to save the world several times over? at least, that's how an ageing memory would have it played out. being young and unschooled in the ways of the world, i totally missed the fact that those uncannily accurate drawings of the bicycles were almost without doubt a marketing ploy for what was at the time, the largest cycle company in britain; and probably several other parts of the world too.
those small, sixteen inch wheels ran on balloon type white tyres, while the chromed rear rack held a tartan shopping bag. you can probably garner from my description, this raleigh was not aimed at the performance market. in fact the weight of the whole machine was probably only marginally lighter than sky's team bus. yet despite these hindrances to forward traction, this gang of school age kids were able to hurl themselves across terrain that the army would find questionable for tank training.
yet i don't ever recall anyone competing in, let alone winning a cyclocross event on a raleigh rsw16. with steel wheels, less than serious braking and a sturmey archer three-speed gear, you can perhaps understand why. as a number of my friends and i would have swapped a week's lucky bags for one of those raleighs, marketing obviously had more effect than some of us are/were willing to admit. however, in reality, most bicycles will manage to accomplish a great deal more than their marketing hype would have you believe. witness the rapha continental, who have succeeded in riding across trails that would formerly have been the province of the real offroad community.
and to be honest, that's just how it should be; it's only us human types that insist on pigeon-holing. the bicycles have no idea what it is that is expected of them. which brings me in particularly contrived fashion to the subject of wheels which, of course, weren't under discussion at all. except they sort of were, being common appendages on the majority of bicycles.
many a wheel producer nowadays has, almost of necessity, classified their wheelsets to better aid the purchaser. there would be little satisfaction gained from either party were you to attempt to fit a pair of disk-enabled mountain bike wheels on that colnago time-trial bike. even if you could get them to fit, the uci would have something to say about it. and so it is with cole wheels. having previously reviewed the cole c24 lites attached to a colnago master, it seemed like an uncannily brilliant idea to put a pair of continental speed king cyclocross tyres on their rims and slot them into the dropouts of an ibis hakkalugi. for the cole catalogue delineates the c24s as for road use, though in mitigation, they didn't go so far as describing what that road looked like.
mr sachs is about to enter his umpteenth season of cyclocross, arming his panoply of freshly built machines with cole t24 tubular wheels (which have a slightly wider rim). on this side of the atlantic, i confess my wimpishness stretches not as far as tubular faff (at least not yet), nor to the extent of racing against a scrabbling peloton of race-faced aggressors. my cyclocross season has much more in common with avoiding stray dogs and sheep, trying very hard not to fall in the river sorn, and opening a succession of farm gates in order to find out where i am. i believe i may have been the person for whom the garmin gps was invented.
armed only with the hakkalugi, a pump and on one occasion, no spare inner tube (having left it behind on the bikeshed floor), i spent a sporadic succession of days throwing myself hither and thither, discovering that the saddle was just too high to allow confident leaping. thankfully, for the purposes of this review, the ground under tyre had morphed from its summer hardness to a special kind of squirmy, leading to one or two nervous bouts of bike handling. in an attempt to find out as much about wheels under pressure, i rode all sorts of stuff i had whimpered at on previous occasions, and in so doing discovered something hitherto unknown about these cole wheels.
they have seriously impressive hidden offroad talents.
fitted to the colnago, they were certainly impressive, if just a little stiffer than i'd have preferred. avoiding the current propensity for radially-spoked wheels, the c-24 front wheel is built one-cross, easing any front end harshness and seemingly in the process, providing a directional ability that was unexpected. everything to do with riding a bicycle is subjective; one man's hyperglide is another man's ergopower. however, i figure that cyclocross at whatever level, is the true vocation of these wheels. in this environment, they were truly impressive, though i'd be hard pushed to place my finger on the exact reason.
and though it has nothing whatsoever to do with the wheels themselves, the hakkalugi wears sram force for its gearing, but the rear c24 has a campag centaur cassette on a campag pattern freehub. yet despite my finest attempts to stick a spanner in the works, i failed miserably to encourage any mis-shifting whatsoever. something else the brochures don't tell you.
it would appear, therefore, that just like a coin of the realm, there are two sides to the cole c-24 lites. they function most admirably as a set of roadies, and all but excel when you give them a hard time in the mud. which is probably not too much of a revelation to the wheels, but it may give cole's marketing department some leeway to play with.
cole wheels are exclusively distributed in the uk by evans cycles. a pair of c24 lites in either campagnolo (tested) or shimano/sram pattern freehub, retails at £274.99
posted wednesday 14 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's a transitional stage in every bike ride where you go from cold to just getting a bit hotter than you'd like. or, if you've put on way too much clobber in the first place, you simply melt in a pool of sportwool and carbon on the corner just before the council's grit heap. i'm not totally averse to being cool when riding a bicycle, particularly if i know i have the means to remedy that, scrunched in one of my rear pockets. however, i generally attempt to err on the side of the old cyclist's wife's tale: if you're warm and comfortable in the first couple of miles, you're overdressed. there is thus a blending of cold with hot at some stage of the proceedings.
when winter truly hits, and i think we'll all know when that happens, the council's grit dump can be passed with a laissez faire glance of cognition, knowing full well that i'll be well on my way to bluehouses before a smidgeon of heat begins to invade my person; because it's inherently colder in winter. and though the sensation of heating up soon passes, it ranks amongst one of the more uncomfortable aspects of the cycling day. or should i say, one of the more unjustifiably uncomfortable aspects; traipsing into debbie's after a long leadout for the bruichladdich sprint may result in a more dishevelled look, but there's a degree of satisfaction in substantial effort that is missing from those early kilometres.
so, for the time being, the day's strategy is to minimise this period of discomfort by attempting to outwit the ambient temperature simply by gazing out the kitchen window. yes, i could pop out in jersey and slippers to remove the cycle from the bikeshed on the pretence of tyre inflation, should the neighbours be watching. but that would hardly constitute battle dress, and undoubtedly lead to inaccurate suppositions. the only way is to dress in component fashion, advised by a scan of the horizon prior to setting foot out of doors. and this is sort of where, certainly at this time of year, the unsung hero of the hour finds itself victorious.
in this particular case, a very specific pair of armwarmers, loving created by velobici in one seamless tube from merino wool, a ribbed section at each end, the topmost of which is designed to keep them in place just where you'd rather. i make no claims to the uniquemess of merino wool as a substrate for armwarmers, but i have not before seen a pair that provide thumb holes at the cuffs to aid stability and chill proofing. coloured to match my velobici lombardy cardigan and fingerless gloves, their function in this case eschewed the wearing of either, for the weather prognostication advised protection of a more serious degree.
cutely, rather than embroidering the velobici name on both, the word had been knitted into the surface of each, in much the same way as the current crop of 3d printers seem to work.
subtle but chic.
i have no real qualms over the warming of that honed physique it's simply that the latter endows a temporarily less than comfortable feeling, allied to the fact that my muscles think they're still in bed. in the case of last sunday, hurricane katia notwithstanding, i figure i pretty much got the mix just right. a merino wabi woolens short sleeve jersey, bib threequarters and those impeccable armwarmers.
there's definitely something about merino wool that aids the exertions inherent in pedalling a bicycle, even in the face of winds that have little concern for the human body. circumspection would have dictated that i adhere to my loosely considered plan as to a suitable distance in the light of the weather forecast, but those are so notoriously wrong for this region that one often moves too far to the wrong side of blase. i wasn't too hot, and i wasn't too cold, so a circumnavigation of loch gorm on islay's atlantic coast did not seem a road too far. this notion was strengthened by the wind, meaning i had no need to pedal at all for a substantial distance.
if thumb holes are provided, then they are there for a reason; i'd popped both thumbs into the spaces provided, and put my leather mitts over the top. granted, if armwarmers intend moving anywhere it's more likely to be down rather than up, but i am gratified to state that the velobici merinos opted for neither. and even a soft flurry of wind-assisted rain seemed like water off a sheep's back. however, when push came to downpour, a more substantial protection was required, and my upper half competed the trip to and from a cappuccino, clad in polyester.
armwarmers inhabit perhaps too much of a utilitarian function to be given much column room. it's very unlikely that there are examples roaming free in the world that do less than expected, but that is not to say that there aren't many that carry out their vocation in life with style and aplomb. these are most definitely in the latter category.
the favour is there for the taking.
available in small/medium and large/xlarge velobici's merino armwarmers can be had in either grey or black for the nice round figure of £38 ($59.91), and can be ordered from velobici.cc
posted tuesday 13 september 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................