it pretty much all stems from an inherent distrust of riding with several thousand others, though that's a situation unlikely to become a problem on the rather narrow roads of this hebridean island. i was co-erced into this fundamental basic tenet of road bike riding after reading the seemingly ubiquitous articles in bicycling magazine on 'riding your first century', 'preparing for your first century' and 'what sort of coffee should you have before your first century?'. actually i made that last one up, but you get the general idea.
i will trouble you not with my first one hundred miles ridden in a day, but suffice it to say, it was somewhat less straightforward than those bicycling articles would have had me believe. in truth, this was entirely down to pilot error and a supermarket till receipt. riding one hundred miles entirely alone, apart from one or two sheep and some meandering cattle, seems not to be the norm. but on an island that, at that moment in time was bereft of any velocipedinal accompaniment, something that could only be seen as an occupational hazard. this was, unfortunately, a situation that continued for more than just one or two years. i am assuming, therefore, that my aversion to a peloton stems from these initial century outings.
grab a copy of the comic at the appropriate time early in the year, and it is possible to garner a substantial list of sportive rides taking place across almost all twelve months of the year. i know of many who mix these domestic travails with one or two of european descent, with the appropriate weekends blocked out on the calendar, quite possibly book-ending periods of appropriate training. this is where those thousands make themselves known and where claustrophobia threatens to impact.
click forward around twenty years, and what started as a great solo adventure has become the almost ineptly named ride of the falling rain, a ride that peaked with 102 riders in 2011 and played host to seventy plus just yesterday. i claim a degree of ineptness in the naming purely because for the last five years very little if any precipitation has featured across the 160 plus kilometres. it is, of course, a marketing department's dream; if the weather turns out to be particularly adverse, as only the hebrides can provide, we did warn you. if, however, the wind sits at single figures, the sun shines and the rain has stayed mainly on the plain, it's a great bonus.
as to the pelotonic element, the only point of the ride when all the assembled riders are travelling in proximity stretches to around two miles out of those hundred. for it can scarcely have escaped the attention of the astute that despite a prevalence of hills in most of the world's sportives and gran fondos, the majority of riders cannot climb particularly well. thus on the upward slopes towards kilchiaran, small gaps begin to appear. however, kilchiaran is approached by a 14% descent, a feature that delighted many of those riding for the first time. sadly those smiles lasted not too long; what goes down must go up, and kilchiaran is departed via another 14% slope, only this time it heads upward. therefore, by the time we're rolling past tormisdale, we're in groups of three, four, or maybe five.
it is of great joy to myself and the other members of velo club d'ardbeg that there are many who return year on year to participate in the ride of the falling rain. there is no entry fee (though we suggest ten pounds in the direction of world bicycle relief as an appropriate compensation), there are no marshalls, no feedstops, no mechanical assistance and most importantly, no compulsion to ride all one hundred miles. in fact, there are more who eschew the ultimate distance than complete it, and that is the way that it ought to be atmo (sorry richard). cycling is all about enjoying yourself, and surely any rule that dogmatically insists on ultimate completion mitigates against this? yes, completing a challenge such as the magical hundred is our collective birthright, but not, i would contend, at the expense of the enjoyment of riding your bicycle.
it did rain briefly yesterday, unfortunately almost all of it landing on jeff and suzanne, but i saw nothing but smiles. sam and aileen at debbie's cafe kept us well supplied with designer caffeine, and everyone at ardbeg distillery did their utmost to ensure prompt and efficient service to least interrupt us as we entered our stride for the second half. fiona and staff at port mor were also excellent hosts on sunday eve, where endless second helpings could legitimately be passed off as carbo loading. but most of all, thank you to all those who took the effort and expense to visit islay over this past weekend and educate at least one incumbent as to the skills and pleasures of no longer riding solo.
monday 6th august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
though memory perhaps serves me less than well in such matters, when i cottoned onto the fact that i could watch the tour de france on the telly, every team had red coca cola bidons clasped in ther bottle cages. the only commentators in the early days were paul sherwen and phil liggett, for i'm pretty sure that eurosport had yet to exist. after all, satellite television was barely a twinkle in rupert murdoch's eye. i know this because i believe it was paul sherwen, phil's conscience, who pointed out that any team using their own bottles from which to drink would have been cheerfully fined by amaury sports who own the tour. i have little to no idea how or why certain companies decide their sponsorship strategy. several seem very much at odds with their core business.
i can only assume that coca cola hoped those standing by the roadside would find it within their french francs (the euro had yet to be invented) to purchase coke by the carton-load, for few of those racing are likely to have had fizzy pop in their bottle cages. for the armstrong years, the nike swoosh took pride of place on most of the jerseys, from yellow through polka dots and onto green, again a strange choice for truthfully, nike played a very small part (if any at all) in the day to day of the majority of cyclists. i am unaware of any riders who eschewed their assos or rapha in favour of nike kit.
and given the unwritten law of the sunday ride, that nobody wears yellow, polka dots, or world championship bands unless they've earned them, there is surely less than a marvellous after-market for any of those jerseys amongst the cognoscenti? however, now that the swoosh has gone back across the pond, one of the great originals has resurfaced to take its place.
on arriving at victoria bus station almost exactly two weeks ago, i popped across to victoria street station and took the underground to euston, then walked along euston road and down gray's inn road. clerkenwell road is much, much longer than anyone thinks it is before merging into old street where i was heading for breakfast at look mum no hands!. i have already waxed lyrical about their outstanding muesli and coffee, but while face stuffing, it took less than acute observation to be aware of a rack of retro styled tour jerseys to my left, overlooked by yellow, green and polka dot replicas of the 'real' thing.
this year's jerseys were sponsored by le coq sportif, and they had also, rather enterprisingly, sponsored look mum no hands! for the three weeks of the tour. a welcome resurgence of a company we'd almost forgotten about in the uk. le coq sportif has a reputation for quality leisure clothing. sponsoring the tour jerseys moves them into an altogether different category. i asked billy gentry, marketing manager for lcs in the uk, was this a conscious decision to become a purveyor of sports oriented clothing?
"LCS has a vast history of producing sports apparel, especially cycling where we produced the TDF jerseys for nearly 40 years. For us this is really a return to our roots. The partnership with the Tour de France will allow us to become again the great sports equipment supplier that we used to be."
sort of at odds with the approach engendered by nike, le coq sportif simultaneously produced a range of jerseys and shirts under the grande boucle banner, one that, according to sam at look mum no hands has been well received. how do they intend to capitalise on this? "Having a history in cycling like we do, we felt it only right to produce a premium collection which had a nod to jerseys of the past. The idea behind this range is to take the Tour de France colour codes and give them a modern and lifestyle twist. We will certainly continue to work on a lifestyle collection inspired by the Tour de France."
it's an oft neglected area, that of the cycling inspired leisure market. sure, there are quite a number of t-shirts bearing cycling related graphics, but i have always found it a region ignored by those who are in an ideal position to capitalise. for instance, mavic staff can be often seen wearing branded polo shorts or mechanic shirts which many of us would give our eye teeth for, but these are unavailable to joe soap. le coq sportif are perhaps in the opposite corner of this siutation, being more identified with the non-technical side of that particular world. in the light of producing race leaders' jerseys for the tour, might they now be looking towards a more technical range?
"With the time we spent developing the performance jerseys for the Tour it was only logical for us to look in this direction. As I said, the objective is to come back as a legitimate and renowned sports equipment supplier. We are working on a mainstream performance range, that will come out at some point in 2013."
on the front page of our local newspaper's website, there are a number of small boxed adverts that link to the websites of the advertisers, most of whom offer self-catering accommodation. there is a monthly rate for those adverts, but we insist on a six month minimum period, because it seems unlikely that they will gain much mileage from a shorter period. the same principle must surely apply to sponsors such as le coq sportif? there would likely be little point in having that little triangular logo on a jersey for only one, or maybe two years. is this a long-term project?
"Initially our partnership with A.S.O and most importantly the Tour, is for five years, until 2016. However being back as the supplier of the leaders jerseys for this amazing sports event feels so great that we sincerely hope that it is only the beginning."
referring back to my wonderful and extremely welcome breakfast at look mum no hands!, and the fact that le coq sportif branding was strategically placed throughout the cafe, from where did the idea to place that three weeks sponsorship arrive? "Having an office in Central London we have always been aware of LMNH. When the Tour partnership was announced it seemed logical to work with the guys to create almost an embassy of France in East London, our 'Maison du Coq'."
return on investment is a phrase oft bandied about in marketing circles, the art or science of figuring out just how much measurable advertising or column inches were generated from the initial spend. did the maison du coq achieve all billy hoped it would? "The aim was to build on the work already done by LMNH in having a hub for the cycling community to enjoy the Tour, along with helping people to make the link between today's tour jerseys and the ones we created in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. The atmosphere at LMNH was incredible during those three weeks. The arrival on the Champs-Elysees and the victory of Bradley Wiggins was an unforgettable day for both the public at LMNH and Le Coq Sportif."
if you're going to come back to the cycling fold, i doubt you could make a better entrance than that of having your logo on those, yellow, green and polka dot jerseys, and perhaps that's the ideal place in which to lay their corporate hat. or not. what's the next step in world domination? will they seek to associate themselves with either of the other grand tours?
"Our partnership with A.S.O includes the Tour, Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice and the Vuelta along with some others so we have quite a few to work with already. Next year, we will celebrate with A.S.O. the 100th edition of the Tour de France and we are already working on a few surprises!"
it is all very well my attributing some success to the resurgence of le coq sportif in the guise of jersey supplier to aso and this year's tour, but only a few riders were in a position to appreciate the skills and haute couture that dressed them on the podium. however, the retro inspired grande boucle range is an whole different kettle of farmyard fowl, and one that dressed me with particular effectiveness in the days immediately after bradley's sideburns won the tour.
in one of those 'tonight matthew, i'm going to be tommy voeckler' moments, le coq sportif provided a quality cotton polka dot, short sleeve shirt, one that allowed me to advertise my cycling affections to those who had any knowledge of the jersey hierarchy in le tour. it is also possible to dress as bradley did, or would have, had he been riding several decades ago, and wear a yellow version of the same, keenly embroidered with henri desgrange's initials.
i did not wear the shirt for any active role in my life, but to do so would not be an unwarranted travesty, for truly this polka dot cotton shirt is sufficiently retro in style that i would not be mistaken for one capable of summiting with ease, yet offered a degree of sartorial elegance that would not see me refused a coffee at debbie's. in fact, the tactility of the cotton seems all but impossible; there is a discrete 'perforation' informing the surface, and the cut is so relaxed that it seems almost at odds with the purgatory through which the true mountains winner must suffer. robert millar would be comfortably at home while sitting watching le tour from the relaxation of his armchair.
that nod towards the competitive is continued via a welcome quarter zip, ending just as the low cut collar begins. there is also a discreet embroidered label on the left just above the hem. the sizing is intriguing, for though i would regularly inhabit a medium in anything cycle related, the shirt sent was a small, and it is of generous, relaxed accommodation.
this is also possibly the first satisfactory way of subsuming the unwritten law that decries those who wear that for which they have not competed and won. the girls in the office are phislistines when it comes to tour jerseys, but i'm happy to wear such luxury with impunity and the occasional smug grin.
thursday 2nd august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there is currenly a spate of movies, none of which i have seen, referring to the action heroes of marvel comics, or if not specifically the latter, certainly not a million miles removed. you will forgive if i manage to fail in my duty to accurately reflect the personalities involved, but i believe the first concerned the masked avengers, an entire phalanx of super heroes who can manage everything from rescuing nuclear missiles from imminent destruction, to carrying the shopping home from tesco's. making possibly a welcome return to the streets and the silver screen, are also spiderman and batman, each in their respective moving picture shows.
what never seems to be considered in these 'who was that masked man' situations, is just how each individual super-hero copes with the frequent change of clothing. consider how inconvenient it must surely be to have laid out a cool pair of jeans and a favourite sweatshirt in the morning, only to receive the call from someone in distress just across town. and perhaps more to the point, how difficult must it be to alter not only one's personality depending on outer garment wear, but adjusting to the relative bagginess of a cotton sweatshirt after many an active hour in spandex. these are issues that receive little or no attention.
anyone would think we were discussing fictitious characters here.
it is, i'd like to point out, much the same state of affairs for those of us intent on being members of the pelotonese at the weekend, yet to all intents and purposes, mere covert civilians every other day of the week. for obsessed by the bicycle as we undoubtedly are, there is no way that alternative transportation is going to be favoured over our beloved bicycles in the attempt to reach work in timely fashion. let's be quite clear here, sportwool and lycra in the workplace tend to attract unwarranted attention and possibly just a p45 if the boss cares less about cycling than he/she ought to.
so, in order to appease those without any form of super hero status, we who blatantly inhabit such immortal stature have necessity of dressing down so to speak. except there is a conceit at work here, for in truth some of that weekday cladding retains all of the racing elitism harboured by something as innocuous looking as a beloved everyday. this bicycle, if you remember, presents the persona of mild-mannered clark kent, while purring beneath the shiny paintwork is a race bike ready to pounce. thus, living contentedly in commuter-wear, many of us are really mark cavendish or tommy voeckler.
there are a number of apparel contenders for the commuting crown; one or two are less than interested in the race game, while others see it as a complementary adjunct to their race face. i make no serious discrimination against one or t'other, but in the present case, the latest in urban wear pops up from livingston, near edinburgh, scotland, home of endura. the scottish company has a lengthy reputation as provider of mountain bike clothing, a reputation that has been somewhat altered by the considerable success of the road team under the managership of brian smith, but one that persists despite skinny wheels and bendy bars. however, with one foot in each camp, endura have a considerable wealth of experience on which to draw.
thus we have the endura urban range, a moniker i confess to having little sympathy for; not everyone cycling to work and the coffee shop is surrounded by claustrophobic streets of building facades. some of us inhabit wide-open spaces, yet have need of similar apparel. however, in mitigation, it must be something of a struggle to invent an appropriate name for cycle clothing with both sartorial and pragmatic qualities.
the endura range consists of a shell jacket, a softshell, a merino jersey, merino polo, stretch trousers, shorts, a cap, leather gloves and some rather stylish argyll socks. for review, the rather fine folks in livingston sent a merino polo shirt, stretch trousers and two pairs of argyll socks. all, with the exception of the socks, in black. it's at this point i can hear the ire rising in many a committed commuter, for though black trousers and black shirt are often de rigeur in the confines of the office, the fact that both softshell and shell jacket proffer the same or less than bright and shiny colours, will disappoint those who advocate an enhanced degree of visibility.
while i'd be inclined to agree with them over the jackets, though i have not had sight of the endura offerings, suitable approbation was forthcoming from my office colleagues as to the style and cut of the trousers and polo shirt. the former are fashioned from a softshell-like material with greater than modest water-resistance which, though not tested in the field, did suffer some spilt green tea last monday without undue distress. there are two zipped rear pockets matched by two front pockets. fastening is by means of a single hook and two poppers, accompanied by a most accommodating belt (perhaps made for someone of considerably larger girth than myself).
pedalling south-west to the al fresco supping facilities at debbie's, these were, to put not too fine a point on it, flipping marvellous. they're windproof, ostensibly water-repellent and stretchy enough to allow for speedy and energetic pedalling, yet retaining all the sartorial elegance promised at the grand depart. the coolmax socks, offered in two impressive colour formats, are the ideal accompaniment for the trouser legs, providing an ankle length that allows tucking-in. the fact that they are an argyll pattern could not be more geographically appropriate for thewashingmachinepost.
the polo shirt is something of a piece de resistance, fabricated in remarkably fine merino and sporting a vertical ribbed pattern that lifts it above the ordinary. were this a regular cycle jersey, the neck opening would be described as half-length, behind the front flap, closure is effected by means of individual poppers apart from a top button. this latter feature is the one point with which i'd take issue; heading off into what passes for the urban hinterlands round these here parts, i fastened all the way to the neck, wimp that i am. though this was in the latter days of july, the ambient temperature was adjudged a smidgeon too cool not to underlay the polo with an endura baabaa merino long-sleeve baselayer.
less than half-way there, a modicum of cooling was required, but could i get that flipping button to unfasten? i would have preferred, if choice were offered, either poppers all the way to the neck, or perhaps a zip like a real super hero. behind that front wind-flap, no-one would be any the wiser, and my unimpressive prestidigitation would not be called on in the face of adversity.
whether the surrounding landscape is of urban sprawl or agricultural hue, the likelihood of precipitation is fairly evenly spread. too warm for either of the urban series shell jackets, yet too erratic to ride without a safety net, the polo's side-zipped rear pocket is capacious enough to swallow an entire endura pak-a-jak whole, comforted by a compact digital camera. how unbelievably cool is that? i can say little other than that i am impressed, for even after swot and hettie chasing me all the way from deb's back to bowmore, endura's urban clothing was still appropriately composed to allow for an afternoon of productivity in the office. and an evening of slouching in the armchair, if truth be told.
so, when that bat-eared mask, cape and utility belt are off to the dry-cleaners (a less often noted super hero requirement on occasion), dressing head to toe in black with argyll footwork could well be the very enhancement required when cycling to the batcave or the nearest phone box.
endura's urban stretch pant retails at £59.99, the merino polo shirt at £49.99 and the argyll socks for £12.99.
tuesday 1st august 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................