every now and again, everything falls into place, just like in the movies. rapha appeared in our peripheral vision over seven years ago with a remarkably modest range of clothing consisting of one jersey. but unlike most of their peer group of the time, one contrasting hoop on the left sleeve was about as far as they were willing to pay lip service towards decoration. as with oh so many cycle clothing firms, and based on no track record whatsoever, rapha were different, not entirely unremarkable, but hardly significant in the face of the competition.
however, with a self-promulgated image as pioneers and even celebrators of pain and suffering, they cleverly managed to epitomise the heritage and imagery of same that seems now to have lain dormant in the psyche of the uk cyclist, whether with any predisposition towards actually partaking in any of that pain and suffering or not. as is the wont of the british media, as soon as something has been praised, it's time to examine further the quality and width of that which has been the subject of adoration. aside from an unhealthy obsession with rapha's price tickets, commensurate with many others in the upper reaches of quality apparel of the day, there was the faint whiff of monty python's what have the romans ever done for us?
posturing behind black and whites, fausto coppi and cobbles was all very well, but was it not incumbent on the progenitors to put their ill-gotten gains right where their team car ought to be?
condor cycles at the time suffered from, if anything, being a pillar of cycling society; traditional, dependable, sober and almost entrenched in the world of steel. could there have been a more able, willing and possibly less predictable partner in the emergent rapha condor professional cycle team? it would be a brave and perhaps naive cyclist willing to deny that the continued existence of the team across the years, and through its annual variations in personnel and sponsors has not been at least one of the reasons behind the healthiest british professional cycling scene since the early eighties. many others have joined them in their journey, one which led to the rapha condor sharp team being undoubtedly the most successful british uci continental team in the uk.
as bradley wiggins has discovered to his cost, as soon as success beckons, you become a target; with each successive season, it becomes harder to sustain similar levels of success, and a whole gaggle of pelotonese snapping at those clipless pedals. that, however, is the nature of the beast, and like many a successful salesman, the chance to sit back and reflect on past glory is either non-existent or remarkably short-lived. that, predictably enough, is what we were all ready to see happen for 2012: rcs, as top team spending the year ahead trying to remain there. but instead, bravely, they have looked in the opposite direction, seemingly happy to forgo the potential spoils of victory in favour of nurturing the future of the sport by recruiting at the younger end.
admirable, no doubt, but why on earth...? rapha ceo, simon mottram; "The idea developed quite naturally from a number of conversations between Grant Young (Condor Cycles), Team Manager, John Herety and myself this past summer. We all agreed that we'd enjoyed five years of amazing growth and success, but that we needed a new challenge. None of us were particularly enamoured with the idea of clawing our way through the conti pro ranks and disappearing to Belgium for a couple of years. We also agreed that the UK race scene needed more investment at grass roots and in rider development, not more 'fancy dan' teams dropping in for some quick headlines. John H has always enjoyed seeing riders move through the ranks and I guess that was the spark that led to the new plan."
those black, white and pink colours don't just sell jerseys; they also sell bicycles. though grant young is the man at condor cycles who has to justify the involvement of the grays inn road veterans, claire beaumont is the woman responsible for channelling success, goodwill and occasional disappointment into marketing and selling the brand to the big bad world obsessed as it is, with victory. does the change of trajectory fit neatly into condor's plans for the future? "As a team owner, the change in plans is not an accident. Perhaps people feel we put the most into the team and thus get the most out. Our bikes have been ridden and punished right at the very top of the board, thus bright eyed and bushy tailed kids should have no problem with them, nor should the man sitting on his sofa watching them.
"But we don't do it just to sell bikes. If it was just down to that we would put our funds in other places. Supporting British cycle sport is ingrained in Condor's heritage; 14 riders pushing and proving the bikes' capability and durability is how we move our bike technology forward. We want to make fine framesets and this is one of the only ways we can really monitor and test."
all well and good from those with their whole being comfortably ensconced in the world of cycling, albeit from three different directions; cycling begets cycling. but the third name on the black team jersey is that of sharp electronics, with no intrinsic foot in the peloton by any stretch of the imagination. how do they feel about possibly swapping podium places for a warm cosy feeling as the annual cheque is signed once more? i asked sharp's uk public relations and communications manager, jasper credland, was it not a truism that most, if not all sponsors like to win?; "That's true, and we certainly still expect the team to be trying just as hard for the wins... But, in truth, as a non-cycling sponsor, there's only so much benefit you're going to get from cycling press coverage of a Premier Calendar podium visit, so this is probably a braver step for Rapha and Condor. For us, it's only really The Tour of Britain and to a lesser extent The Tour Series where you get any pick up outside of a fairly core audience, particularly in terms of TV and general press coverage. For 2012, what we're really interested in is understanding whether there is a long-term place for Sharp in the sport, both in the UK, and beyond. For that to be sustainable, we have to be giving something meaningful to the sport, as well as simply taking the exposure.
"We've had two years to begin to understand how the sport works, and we've formed some clear ideas of what we could bring to it, particularly in terms of the insights we can offer through technology and data.
"The new direction for the team offers a great opportunity to see if those ideas work, and that's where were concentrating rather than purely on wins, per se."
so, the bosses and the sponsors seem all quite amenable and agreeable that the direction they wish to pursue for 2012 will provide them with a new and exciting way of making their way through the team cars. but the guys that wear the rapha jerseys and ride condor's bicycles are the ones enduring that pain and suffering at the coalface. edinburgh resident, jamie mccallum has re-signed for a second year with the team. is this a vote of confidence in the team, or vice versa? "It's all down to John (Herety). He gave me the chance to be a part of the best team in the UK and I grabbed it with both hands. Last year I did everything that was asked of me; moving to Rapha really turned my cycling career back on track after a few years struggling in the wilderness." how does mccallum perceive the new philosophy affecting him personally? "From a personal point of view i think it ties in really well with where I'm at in my career. I coach about a dozen or so riders at the moment and I hope that's where I'll end up once my racing career is finished.
"As I'm now getting to the twilight of racing, I'm keen to try and pass on my experience to try and help the next generation get ahead."
i recall many, many years ago attending a david bowie gig at the apollo in glasgow. after the strange success of his ziggy stardust, a not inconsiderable number of acolytes in the ticket queue were appropriately dressed in praise of their idol. imagine their surprise when the aladdin sane persona dominated the stage, making them all look like the tired imitators that they undoubtedly were. the music business is, however, endlessly fickle and constantly re-inventing itself, something almost anathema to the rather more prosaic world of professional cycling. so is there not a danger that race fans and dyed-in-the-wool rapha customers may acquire a perception at variance with that of the team owners? simon mottram again;
" I think there is a lot of affection for the team in the UK. Whenever we go to races, there seem to be more RCS fans than for any other team. Great characters like Dean Downing and Kristian House are staying with us; they have great rapport with the fans. I hope that the new development direction will only strengthen that rapport.
"Rapha's customers have been very generous in their support of the team over the past five years. The Rapha Condor club members feel very close to the team and I think they will get closer still. The team will, if anything, be more accessible and down to earth now, giving all Rapha customers an even closer connection to top level pro riders."
though not wishing to underline any degree of scottish parochiality, it has been said by the scottish bard that 'plans gang aft agley'; not everything works out the way you want it to. although perhaps an unfair question asked before the 2012 season has even started, how will simon gauge if the new regime is working? "Not by race results, although we expect to stay competitive. The reaction of fans and the spirit in the squad will be the main thing for me. The success of the new direction should be measured by how well our U23 riders develop and progress. I would like to see one of them emerge as a race winner this year." condor's claire beaumont concurs; "Results always show that team is working, but we don't expect those immediately. Regular feedback on the bikes from each rider tells us what is going on and that help us build up a strategy for the future. The long term plan is risky but it could also write us into the history books. That's what makes it more exciting."
of course, the man who is effectively charged with playing the new game of chess from the team car will surely be the first to know. what is his criteria? "Quite simply if we manage to move riders to bigger teams. This year we have had success with Zak Dempster and Jonathan Tiernan Locke, but unfortunately at this moment they have not moved up to Pro Tour or Pro Conti level. While I feel some of that is due to current Pro Tour teams merging, it's also down to their ages; if they had both been U23 I feel teams would have taken them. It's taken both those guys a couple of seasons with us to get those results, so it's not difficult to work out that we need to start working with riders when they are younger."
as i mentioned in my opening gambit, this past season has been rapha condor sharp's most successful to date, but the sharp connection, as averred in a previous interview with sharp ceo, paul molyneux, was for two years, a 24 month period that ends pretty much now. this extension of their sponsorship surely indicates they're somewhat satisfied with the arrangement? jasper credland; "Very much so. As well as pure results, though, I think we're very lucky with our co-sponsors, and the shared vision they have of what a pro-cycling team should be about. That's very attractive, and all the more so because we have a team manager, John Herety, who is able to turn that vision into reality. Obviously, it's been great as a sponsor to enjoy the domestic success of the team, particularly in 2011, but my sense is that the team is unusual in cycling; being a real 'team', from management to riders, backroom staff through to owners and sponsors. That's as important a factor in us re-signing as a specified quota of wins. It has certainly made it much easier for us, as a non-cycling brand, to enter and be accepted in the sport in the UK."
simon mottram, prior to his years at perren street, was a brand consultant, a man whose job it was to advise on successful brand strategies. it would be a brave man or woman who denied that such marketing nous has not continued through to this day. most of rapha's initial success hinged on this, and also on the company's adherence to rigid pre-planning of future strategies. so at the risk of being more of a cynic than usual, is it not just a possibility that this new direction is simply another one of those strategies, to wit; with the un-likelihood of repeating this season's success, diversionary tactics became necessary. marketing ahead of the curve?
"No doubt some will say that. But it's very subtle marketing if that is indeed the case! This will probably cost us more in the long run and will be less visible.
"No, the great thing about this new direction is that it gives Rapha and Condor (and our sponsors) the chance to create together a lasting legacy in UK racing, a system, infrastructure and talent that will improve UK racing for years to come. It feels like a very natural thing for Rapha and Condor to do together, in our home market."
stretching this perception sideways just a tad, if i might quote from the rapha condor sharp website: 'Instead of grabbing the podium as many times as possible today, the team will invest in the talent that should be dominating the podium in the years to come.' does jamie mccallum see this as the pressure to perform having now been diluted? "Never. The team always want to win because thats just our mentality. However if we lose it's OK too.
"Sometimes its more about the journey rather than the destination." does he see himself as amongst the senior members of the team, with the ability and skill to bring on the new and younger members of the team? "Age wise? Yes. haha.
"As I said before it's kinda the way I'm heading, but the best thing for me is the group of boys coming in are young enthusiastic and uber talented. I'd have thought that, having raced for 20 years and with some of the best riders in the bunch, I would have the odd nugget of wisdom."
does he regret that the team's investment may no longer be in the existing and proven members of rapha condor sharp, that himself, dean, kristian and others will not be the focus of the team's strategy? "We're never gonna be around forever, so who better to bring on the next generation?"
so, with an influx of younger riders, less experienced in the ways of the peloton than their forebears in the team, is it a factor that might make for a greater racing spectacle? or could it go the other way and simply dilute the effect of rapha condor sharp, racing against ostensibly more experienced riders? after all, tiernan locke has moved to endura, while the same team have signed the skills of ex-sky professional, russell downing. condor's claire beaumont; "Rapha Condor Sharp winning again; it's a story we've heard for the last two years. A great story and one that proves the RCS set up is the best in Britain with equipment that will meet their demands. But repetition can become a little boring. Let's not overplay that story and become dull. Rapha and Condor don't follow the pack, nor does either brand ever sit back. Isn't it better to see a new story unfold in front of us over a year or two? What if we nurture riders who we one day see riding in at the head of the peloton up the side of a col or biting on a gold medal in a major event? I know I would. For the spectators who have supported RCS and that youngster, they'll no doubt feel a greater part of what they are achieving."
bottom line: will it sell more bikes? "We do look for ways to sell more bikes, otherwise we wouldn't be in business. But people can see through gimmicks so our new approach probably won't see a massive rise in Condor bike ownership in the short term. A Condor is a luxury purchase, I appreciate that. People make very considered purchases and lots of factors come into play. Have you ever met Joe Bloggs? He doesn't exist. Everyone is different, so we just have to give it to them straight and show that a Condor bike is a purchase that isn't going to be a let-down. It is going to do exactly what they want it to, we're not all super human pros, so a new generation of riders can tell part of that frameset story."
the does it sell bikes? question has, of course a wider course to run, because it's hardly necessary to remind ourselves that jasper credland's remit is to sell electronic products, and to sell them to folks who might conceivably be balancing their judgment between a new condor leggera or a 42" flat panel tv. in pure marketing terms, is this new direction likely to bring sharp to the attention of a wider dominion, or does he see it as reinforcement of the brand but in a different manner? "For 2012, it's mainly a case of deepening the connection with the people who may have taken note of the 'Sharp' at the end of the team name, but not necessarily gone any further.
"We're also rolling out a new unified branding across Europe, which plays on our core value as an inventor for society, under the tagline of 'This is Why'. So hopefully, people will be seeing a lot more of us anyway."
on asking manager john herety if this was to be a one season trick or a considered approach to the team's future, he replied "It's a considered approach to the future. I'd like this to be a five year project." with one or two exceptions, it is rare for commercial sponsors from outside the sport to hang about for that long. yet, if john herety's dream is to be fulfilled, it is more than likely that multi-year investment will be required from somewhere. does jasper credland see sharp also being in this for the longer term? "We're committed to finding out if we have something meaningful to bring to cycling, and whether we can achieve that with this team. We're also totally committed to the ideas behind the team's direction for 2012 and beyond. What we're not interested in, for sure is rolling along as purely a name on a shirt, and I think that suits everyone involved.
continuing along this sponsorship vein, it's a stated aim of the rcs new direction to hopefully introduce new sponsors to the sport. does herety see this as potentially subjugating cycle racing to the whims of commercial values, perhaps values less than directly related to the peloton? "Quite simply it costs in excess of half a million to run a team like this; we need those sponsors to help grow a project like this."
all the conjecture in the world will fail at this point to say whether rapha condor sharp are heading in the right direction, either for them or for domestic cycle racing in general. it is, however, a brave move to take. though endura racing already operate an espoirs programme, it currently runs separately from their tour series team. so, despite the cynicism offered by myself and others as regards the motives of the sponsors, this does appear to be a genuine attempt by all three principal sponsors to invest in a sport that two of them are entrenched in, and in which the third has taken a more than healthy interest, and just signed up for at least another year. it's easy to guffaw from the armchair, quoting the word 'marketing' at seemingly salient points of any uninformed conversation.
the 2011 season has only just drawn to a close, yet already we've reason other than cav and his thin blue line to look forward to an ever more intriguing 2012.
posted monday 28 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
subterfuge and procrastination are altogether strange bedfellows, but both have their uses. though most cyclists would be loathe to admit it for fear of having their pain and suffering undermined, coffee is the principal objective of every bike ride. yes, cycling weekly fills its pages with endless methods of improving stamina, fitness, speed, climbing and flexibility, but those are all simply variables pertaining to the quest for a double espresso or soya cappuccino. it's our secret, and it's likely to stay that way because believe me, nobody outside of our cosy little circle reads any of this stuff anyway.
in this singular pursuit of happiness, it would be deemed unseemly to simply head out the door and ride straight to debbie's and back. though i'm confident that i bear an uncanny resemblance to a cyclist at speed on the way down the strand, you just never know who you'll meet when supping coffee. that could denounce a hard-won reputation in an instant, something that does not complement the tough-guy persona that my mirror provides on a daily basis (of course there's nothing wrong with it).
so, on a cold, fresh saturday morning, upon removing the colnago from its bikeshed resting place, and in order to assume an appropriate level of subterfuge, i took off in entirely the wrong direction for debbie's. it works every time. this took me into a headwind towards islay international airport, but tellingly, i sneaked up the link road to the high road which, i readily admit, now pointed me in an appropriate direction for coffee. that, however, would be all too easy; this is just where subterfuge was joined by procrastination. at the point of diversion, i was a mere 15km from a fine cup of coffee (or two), yet headed north towards ballygrant. the temptation of a body swerve at the cluanach crossroads was almost too easily avoided, and a most enjoyable climb to storakaig was partaken by rider and colnago alike.
at this point, figuring anyone checking up on me would have either given up, or lost interest around knocklearach, i turned south, hell-bent on making it to debbie's by lunchtime. for not only were my thoughts now absorbed by froth, they had slid sideways and were now incorporating cheese and chutney sandwiches and a square of tablet. but why, you might well ask, am i telling you all this? would i not be less intrusive and more practical in simply pointing you in the direction of my garmin connect web page, where you could see for yourself where i'd been, how long it took me to get there, and at what an embarrassingly low average speed forward motion had proceeded?
well of course i would, but where's the subterfuge and procrastination in that?
the lines drawn on the map were placed there courtesy of a garmin 200 gps unit specifically designed for the act of cycling. in comparison with its siblings, the 200 is compact and bijou with a nice, clear display and a couple of buttons on each side. i don't mind admitting that the latter feature was unexpected. with the recent addition of the 800 gps, garmin entered the world of the iphone by enabling a colour touchscreen that apparently works with even a gloved finger. surely progress that would subsume subsequent releases.
so there i was on the sitting room floor, having plugged in the accompany mains charger to ready the device for use, pressing the screen in answer to the questions i was being asked to complete setup. boy was i disappointed. if apple can place a touchscreen on their ipod nano, and still sell at a reasonable price, why not garmin? at this point, they are guilty of a little fib; not one that will rain bolts of lightning down upon them, but a fib nonetheless. if i might quote from the appropriate page on garmin's website "there's no setup required - just pop it onto the included bike mount and you're ready to roll.". close but not quite; you do have to opt for twelve or 24 hour time settings, whether you fancy metric or imperial measurements, and your body weight. not much to set up, but not quite the same as none at all.
as i have mentioned to the point of boredom, i don't do numbers. if i'm disarmingly honest, the feature i use most on cycle computers is the time of day. when in ready and waiting mode, the 200 displays the time of day in the top left corner; very impressive since there is no gps signal on my sitting room floor, and it never asked me to set the time at any point. however, once the ride option has been selected, and the poor blighter tries desperately to acquire a satellite signal, the clock display disappears, making no reappearance until the ride has been completed, saved and we're back where we started. that makes it darned inconvenient to find out the time of day mid-ride, for so far as i can ascertain, the ride recording would have to be stopped to see the time.
i have come across murmurings regarding garmin's customer service when reviewing previous units, but rarely had cause to verify. in this case, i can do little but corroborate; i attempted to contact technical support to enquire if there was any way of having a clock display while riding, and was informed that a reply could be expected within three days. i'm still waiting.
in practice, the no setup required is all but fulfilled. click the on-screen labelled buttons to start the ride, and up comes the display providing details of speed, distance and elapsed time. the fourth figure at the bottom of the display can be switched from average speed, to calorific output to ascent. it's possible to alter the settings and enable auto pause, something i failed to do first time out, returning home with an abysmal average speed. not a mistake you make twice if you intend uploading details of each ride to garmin connect.
this latter feature is garmin's free web-based software. it's a simple matter to setup a free account online before plugging the 200 into your computer's usb port. the software does the rest, finding the unit, checking the stored history and uploading. 'tis then a simple matter of looking at a map (either google or microsoft) showing where you've been, accompanied by all sorts of data and graphs that, quite frankly, didn't mean that much to me. but then, i have no desperate need of training minutiae.
unlike other garmin devices, the 200 does not contain or display any map information, but at the price, that's really not too suprising. it is, however, possible to scroll through all the stored rides, choose that which interests you most and a rudimentary diagram pertaining to the ride in question is displayed front and centre. yet again according to garmin's website, the unit contains a feature entitled challenge me; - A digital cyclist shows your speed relative to your past performance, along with an indication of how far ahead or behind you are. You also can download rides from other Garmin Connect users for a virtual competition. though i count myself as reasonably computer literate, i could find no way to enable this feature, and nothing in the manual that would help.
the utterly brilliant bit, however, is the total lack of bits and bobs needed to make the 200 work. no need to affix a magnet to the spokes, run wires up the front brake cable, or stick a speed sensor to the front fork leg, then faff about trying to have it recognise the magnet. nor is there any need to scientifically calculate tyre diameter. all this is taken care of by the satellite. in the box there are two bike mount brackets and some mini-bungee cords, allowing fitting on stem or handlebar, and bearing in mind the foregoing, you can swap between bikes without so much as the thought of re-calibration.
it's a doddle to fit and remove from the bracket and was totally secure throughout the review period. the screen is easily readable, though occasionally reflections got the better of legibility. however, there is a backlight to ease reading in difficult or darkened conditions, one that switches itself off after a few seconds. pressing appropriate buttons in full-finger gloves was sometimes a bit hit or miss, and i'd love it if garmin saw fit to offer a version with touchscreen facility. even more so, if they'd just give me a clock that could remain on display permanently. it's not too much to ask is it?
other than that, it's good; really very good.
suggested retail price for the garmin 200 gps unit is £129
posted friday 18 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
in a strange kind of way, it's intriguing when things turn out to be confusing, yet not always the contrary when everything is as planned. when i was not particularly old, the bbc started trailering a new television series called 'monty python's flying circus', just the sort of entertainment guaranteed to entrance a thirteen year old. aviators, the likes of which had not been seen since the days of biggles and algie, throwing their biplanes around the skies in deeds of derring-do. at least, that's the pictures a flying circus conjured up for me.
even those of an age that post-dated this magical world of humour will know enough about the series to wonder how i could ever have mistaken it for an aeronautical display. that first programme, if memory serves correctly, opened with alien blancmanges turning every pro tennis player into scotsmen, who immediately did the only decent thing and headed north of the border. it appears the reason for this altering of nationality was part of a cunning plan for the blancmanges to win wimbledon virtually unchallenged. and it introduced the world to a catchphrase still heard to the present day ...and now for something completely different.
this misappropriation of honesty was carried through to the inevitable monty python annuals, the first of which was published as monty python's big red book despite it having a blue hardback cover. the second incarnation proudly displayed inside the cover that there was a free washing machine to be had with every other copy, followed by the direction see other copy.
the surprise of the programme being not what i had thought it to be was admonished by the eccentric humour of the performers and writers, hugely enjoyed by my father and i, but less so by my mother who didn't quite get the point, if there was one to get. my father being an acolyte of the goons, meant such bizarre humour was not entirely unencountered in our household.
nicholas roche's autobiography (i believe there is no disparity in referring to it as such), does not practice so to deceive. plainly stated upon the cover, under a rather stern photo of the man, are the words my life as a professional cyclist. there is no pretence across the entirety of the book's 382 pages of type that this is other than i figured it would be, and it gives me little pleasure to say that those 382 pages are as dull as dishwater.
i like to consider myself reasonably well-informed as to the state of contemporary cycling in its many variations. i am, as is the case with most of us, more aware of some aspects than of others, but overall, i don't do too badly. i would hate to think of myself as an armchair expert when it comes to the competitve aspects of the genre, having never competed at any level, therefore i have only my reading, e-mails and conversations with professional racing cyclists on which to base my appreciation of their skills and fortitude. not surprisingly, all professional cyclists are not of one ilk; they may have the same job as each other but their individual approach can be substantially different from the next guy in the peloton.
i'm aware that nicholas roche is a current member of the french ag2r team, but beyond that, i could relate little. i have no idea where his star fits in the pelotonic firmament, nor could i name any of his recent victories. i doubt that this makes me a bad person, but it is a situation i hoped to remedy by the reading of this substantial book. at one time, autobiographies were written by those who were in the twilight of their careers: actors, sportsmen, politicians etc.; people who had experienced a great deal of life and who had many a tale to tell. you could imagine eddy merckx or sean kelly writing theirs, and both would likely be worth the price of admission.
the playing field has obviously changed substantially in recent years, with twenty-something tennis players writing their life (sic) stories and it would surprise me not one whit to receive an e-mail from amazon announcing justin bieber's autobiography.
it seems a mite bizarre to open the book under consideration with a recap of his father stephen roche's victory in the tour de france as well as his trials and tribulations in the giro. surely some mistake? in my opinion, defintiely a mistake; if the book's about nicholas roche, stephen should not have any chapter all to himself, let alone the first one. though not a bad writer as such, nicholas does not employ a style that has the reader rivetted to every page, and unfortunately he remains steadfastly true to his subtitle, regaling the reader with every minute detail about pretty much every race in which he's ever turned a wheel. though i'm no doubt being grossly unfair, it would be a simple yet trite matter to precis the contents by way of 'i got in a breakaway, rode my ass off, jumped my companions only a few kilometres from the end, but was overtaken by the peloton a few hundred metres from the line.'
of course, the same could be applied to many a professional rider, and i don't doubt for one minute that such is life for many a travelling pro-tour cyclist. though a faint whiff of glamour emanates from those team buses when stood on the outside looking in, it is likely less so for those on the other side of the tinted windows wearing ipod earphones. i would not, for one minute, attempt to undermine or demean this as an often exciting and occasionally well-remunerated career. however, its repetitiveness does not make for particularly entertaining reading.
nicholas roche may be one of the few irish riders in the pro peleton, and despite being apparently less than keen to trade on his surname, he does not have anything like the fame and palmares of his father. which has me seriously wondering what tempted him to write a book that says very little. i am also somewhat confused as to the intended readership he had in mind; for a few years, roche has written a tour diary for le tour, il giro and la vuelta for the irish independent newspaper, almost all of which are reprinted verbatim in the appropriate chapters (part of the reason for such a substantial number of pages). but it is likely that many of his irish fans will have already read and perhaps cut out and kept those diaries; how disappoiting it must be to have them yet again claim a portion of the asking price.
in diary format, they not only break up the narrative, but are, in my opinion, an unnecessary distraction.
stage 10, wednesday 14 july: chambery-gap 179km
bastille day is always crazy on the tour. the french national holiday means that the roads are lined with fans, and more people watch the stage live on tv because they are off work. because of this, every french rider and every french team wants to win the stage or, at the very least, be in the winning breakaway.
really? i can understand this level of chit-chat in a national newspaper, where the audience may be less than well-versed in the obvious and less-obvious aspects of the tour. but surely the majority of those likely to purchase this book will be better read in the sport's intricacies, and less willing to suffer such (mild) patronisation and timorous insult to their intelligence?
or am i being overly critical?
it may be a simplistic rule of thumb, but i tend to gauge the efficacy and degree of interest that a book posesses and generates by how keen i am to read on past the alotted number of chapters designated for each day's reading. many a book has been hard to put down, others comfortably fill their allocated slot. in the case of one or two, it has been necessary to constantly remind myself that copy has been sent for the express purpose of producing a review. in such cases, it can often be a less than enjoyable experience.
this was one such case.
it is probably worth my mentioning that this book has just been awarded 'irish sports book of the year 2011'
posted thursday 17 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's not simply a case of value for money. in fact, it has precious little to do with any of that sort of stuff, but more than likely born from a sense of heritage. edoardo bianchi founded his bicycle company in 1885, promoting the adoption of cycles with equal sized wheels and pneumatic tyres. for whatever reason, and there are many to choose from, his bicycles were celeste in colour. it's a cool shade of bluish green; how it became so and why it's on italian bicycle frames is really of no never mind. however, the real object of desire, query and adulation is the regal head badge affixed to the front of every bianchi. it features a crowned eagle, and is an adaptation of the former royal crest. at the risk of being shot down in flames by competing interests, it is probably the most recognised cycle head badge in cycledom. certainly the most historic.
but suppose edoardo had been a man of poor taste, or worse still, no taste whatsoever. suppose he'd been more interested in water voles; either we wouldn't be having this discussion, or we'd be having it about someone else's head badge.
knowing little about eddy bianchi, i have little inkling as to whether he was a man of perspicacity or not. perhaps he had his eye squarely centred on the heritage he was bestowing upon the cycling world for the next century and beyond. or more likely, he thought a crowned eagle looked rather fine and stately on the front of a bicycle. either way, we are eternally in his debt, not just for eagles, but for celeste, fausto coppi, felice gimondi and marco pantani (if you follow my line of thinking).
it is of eternal regret that many a fine and expensive bicycle has nowadays resorted to a decal under the clearcoat. even more of a regret that colnago has seen fit to equip the flagship c59 with an ever so slightly blurred decal, an observation for which i have corroborating evidence. i don't doubt that screwing a dod of metal into state of the art carbon fibre rarely makes technological sense, but with advances in adhesives, it can't be too much of a stretch to apply a spot of glue to the back of edoardo's badge, whether it remains metallic, or morphs to something more plastic. in an age of die-cut carbon frames all emanating from the same factory in taiwan, this would be perhaps a token method of identifying one from t'other.
my good friend richard sachs, still working exlusively in steel, permanently affixes his distinctive rs logo to the front of the head tube, and though now cast in brass, even chris king's cielo marque has a real head tube badge affixed by two screws. cielo prototypes used cnc'd badges. there are many others; most recently the independent fabrication frame forming a part of rapha's bicycle collection, bore a real head tube badge based on the engine plate from the infamous citroen h-van. here we are in the twenty-first century and innovation still pays lip service to the past.
and so it continues. a few years back i was lucky enough to be loaned a dromarti bicycle by company owner, martin scofield. dromarti is perhaps more well-known for those luxurious italian leather shoes that are perfectly matched to the italian style of his less well-known bicycles. the cycle frames are modern in intent, but pay more than a passing nod to tradition even by way of the chromed lugs, downtube lever bosses and, at last, a real head tube badge.
i confess that the model i rode in the tweed run of 2009 had no head tube badge other than the previously maligned decal. i'd also be the first to admit that the lack of a head badge has no bearing whatsoever on how well any particular bicycle may or not perform. there is no evidence to suggest that fausto's prowess was solely the preserve of the crowned eagle on the front of his bianchi. but its recent introduction to the dromarti strada can be seen as the continuation of a tradition. with no disrespect intended to the dromarti marque, it is unlikely that their numbers will rival the quantity of celeste on the roads of southern italy at anytime over the next hundred years or so. but this twenty-first century badge maintains and continues the heritage of the bicycle, and as such, is to be roundly applauded.
posted wednesday 16 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i like the way this is going.
there is nothing that proclaims industry quite like an exhibition or trade show. i'm willing to accept tall brick chimneys and factory gates as your answer, but i fear that may be wilful misunderstanding on your part. as the year enters its autumnal phase, all the bike companies come out to play, paying lip service to the consuming part of their world; ideally wishing to score points against their peers, yet willing to entertain orders for large quantities of shipping containers that will stock bicycle shops until they can get round to organising another annual emporium.
same time, same channel.
the chronology of the bicycle industry leaves much to be desired, fighting as it does against the stress-busting mantra of living in the moment. a quick look at the date displayed top left of my computer screen alerts me to the fact that, not only is christmas way too close for comfort, but it is exactly half-way through the month of november. yet grab the nearest copy of cycle sport or procycling, and you will be heartened to know that they think it's december. do i really wish to read a review of the year when there's still a month and a half of it to go?
it's november; the magazines turned up a couple of weeks back. please stop misidentifying the time of year.
but they are not, sad to say, the principal culprits in this masquerade that takes no heed of meticulously prepared calendars. bicycle show time started in early september when all were agog at the wealth of innovation portended for 2012 (a trace of sarcasm never did anyone any harm). and were it to remain so, i think it something most of us could live with. those seagoing containers are afloat for quite a long time; they have a way to go. so in order that the bicycle shops that we all know, frequent and love can place orders to fill their shop floors come 2012, the goods need to be shown in timeous manner.
except that's not quite the way it works. the theory is perfectly admissable, but skim down a few of these black and yellow pixels and it will be forcibly brought to your attention that i have just finished reviewing a colnago cyclocross bike that forms a part of cambiago's strategy for next year. when you consider that it was on holiday in islay for four weeks, it takes not a fellow of the royal observatory at greenwich to note that i likely received said bicycle in october 2011. yet i just told you that it's from colnago's 2012 range. and you can buy one right this minute (give or take 24 hours) from a colnago dealer near you.
a confusing state of affairs.
therefore, if we can invent a hypothetical character - let's call him rowan mackie for the sake of argument - and have him create a brand new cycle show to add to the plethora aready inhabiting the world of make believe time-shifting, wouldn't it be a good idea to hold this hypothetical cycle show in the autumn? you would think, yet the hypothetical mr mackie (to give him his proper title) eschewed all thoughts of falling leaves and went instead for april showers. in so doing, he showed that he cared not one whit for the idiosyncracies of the industry, and ignoring all countenance demanding a trade day. for if all had been shown the previous autumn, to what end would such demands make sense in the spring?
nobody has next year's products ready for show as early as mid-april; they're still working feverishly on the colour schemes, carbon layup and anodising. thus the hypothetical show from our invented mr mackie turns out to be a clebration of scottish cycling (forgot to mention that bit), enjoyed by families and individuals from all across the country. the hard sell was conspicuous by its absence, the pizza and espresso were excellent, and those oblivious of inscrutable timelines arrived in their thousands.
i lied; it wasn't hypothetical. it really happened.
and it really happened so successfully that mr mackie has decided to ignore next year's big thing yet again, and make the scottish bike show next year's bigger thing by adding a day onto the front of the event: ominously commencing on friday april 13th and continuing until sunday 15th at glasgow's secc. the twist in the tale here is the addition of a scottish bike show sportive, commencing on the shores of loch lomond. continuing the deliberate ploy of keeping folks happy and interested, there are two levels of velocipedinal joy available: the challenge route of sixty-five miles and the one hundred mile sportive route. while the latter skirts the edges of queen elizabeth forest park on its way to callander and crianlarich, the former cuts through the park in both directions and hugs the shores of loch katrine. your choice of route will likely be determined by how much training you can squeeze in between now and mid april.
what could be a finer way to enjoy a weekend of bicycles and cycling by visiting the show on friday or saturday, then trying out that new jersey or doohicky you bought in the proximity of loch lomond on sunday? if that seems like a plan, now's the time to book. the early bird (until 2 january 2012) cost for the sportive ride is £25 while the challenge ride costs £21. both include entry to the show.
i'll see you both in and out (if you see what i mean?)
you really have to admire mr mackie's tenacity in having rapha condor sharp rider, jamie mccallum, ride an exercise bike on the shores of loch lomond. major brownie points to both gentlemen.
posted tuesday 15 november 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................