you'd likely have to have been on a round the world trip bereft of any form of communication with the world in which you're travelling, to have missed the cycling gargantua that is team sky and associated skyrides. the pockets of bskyb are doubtless close to bottomless, and there were likely a number of alternative routes on which they could have expressed their financial largesse. aside from the commercial extravagance for which we are probably rather grateful, and without which we'd not be celebrating the first british winner of the tour de france, the closely associated news international seem also happy to donate towards cycling's wellbeing, having just provided a £10,000 grant to the all party parliamentary cycling group.
the purpose of the grant is to allow the ten members of the group to examine how to get more brits onto bicycles. i'm sure there are a number of you reading who could provide a number of options for a tenner, rather than spending quite so much on investigating the somewhat obvious. a quick look at amsterdam and portland, combined with a few strategically dispatched e-mails should point them in the right direction. however, affairs of government rarely work that simply. stuff like this apparently demands the need to hold two hearings; one in the autumn of this year and another at the beginning of 2013. during these two hearings, the parliamentary group will quiz experts as to what needs to be done.
if you are of a similar mind to myself, you will be currently wondering just who these experts are likely to be, and just what might qualify them as such in the frst place. well, i can at least partially answer that with the following list: the bicycle association, the association of cycle traders, british cycling, ctc, cycle nation, sustrans and the london cycle campaign. an interesting choice of which my only query would be, 'why only london cycle campaign? when there are other equally effective cycle campaigns in other parts of country. based on the perennial answer to the selfsame question regarding non participation in velocipidity on islay (too windy), i have a notion that the englification of the experts leaves wales, scotland anad northern ireland missing from the inquiry.
things is different up north.
america, on the other hand, is a somewhat different bucket of spoke nipples. i've little to no idea if america has asked why some folks don't cycle as a national question, possibly because so many states and cities are doing a pretty good job by themselves. however, barack obama has other questions he'd like to ask, one of which, though not concerning the act of cycling per se, did prompt a visit to washington by two chaps named chris. invited to attend a white house meeting with other usa manufacturing and business leaders to "receive a macroeconomic and budget overview from top administration officials and to engage in a discussion on job creation and key areas of focus for spurring american economic competitiveness. both of them you probably already know, though, like me, you would associate neither of them with the wearing of a suit, shirt and tie.
chris king, owner of chris king percision components in portland, oregon, was accompanied by former ck employee and now rapha usa communications manager, chris distefano. the meeting took place on thursday, september 13th in two locations. a pre-meeting briefing was held in the eisenhower executive office building, led by assistant secretary nicole lamb-hale. the pre-meeting briefing centred on the national export initiative and the export-import bank of the united states. i hope i am not being too presumptious or dismissive to portend that these are hardly the sort of discussions you'd expect to involve two guys called chris from the bike industry. it seems that on both sides of the atlantic, our little niche world is starting to break into the world of grown-ups.
following the above noted briefing, participants made the short walk to the west wing of the white house, meeting in the roosevelt room next to the oval office. along with chris king and eleven other business leaders from around the country, mr distefano was also invited to participate. as the latter said "What a privilege for me to join my friend Chris King in bringing a 'Bikes Mean Business' conversation to these meetings."
apparently one woman in the group told chris that her husband, a cyclist, was not jealous that she was visiting the white house but that she was meeting chris king. chris distefano said "Just as we walked away, Marine One took off to get the President who had just returned from Colorado. We missed him by about 30 minutes or so. You might think I'm disappointed but I'm not. It's given me the motivation to return to that room with a conversation that cannot be missed. Bikes Mean Business will be spoken in the White House again very soon."
after two days of meetings, chris and chris took to the streets of washington using capital bikeshare (a similar setup to that of london's boris bikes) both impressed to see how popular the system has become.
this all fits in with my cunning plan to re-invent myself as a cycling consultant. i may just mention this to my mp and msp. and if barack obama's reading...
i am very grateful to chris distefano for assistance with this article and for accompanying photos.
monday 24th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
i do not have sky tv. despite the huge amount of money they're ploughing into cycling and the tour de france winning team, none of it is mine. therefore, when along comes the world championships, i must resort to skipping about the internet to find a live feed that i can watch from the comfort of my own armchair, while tentatively supping from my equivalent of a belgian beer; san pellegrino orange from a can. i know richard sachs would not approve.
there are iniquities in this system. for starters, whichever less than widescreen feed i manage to find, there are always a whole series of adverts that pop up on-screen at seemingly random intervals. though'tis but a moment's trackpad click to dismiss these, i've always wondered why the advertisers figure anyone is going to click through their ads while in the middle of watching something they've obviously tuned in specifically to see. the bonus, however, is belgian commentary, replete with its 'oy,oy,oy,oy,oy and the similar exhortation of aye,aye,aye,aye.aye. somehow it makes the entire edifice seem far more authentic, especially when phil gil takes the chequered flag.
so, despite the likes of panasonic and samsung advertising the future of large screen smart televisions, top level cycling coverage may be best watched in lo-res on a two inch square portion of a laptop screen. actually, that's rubbish, cycling is always better watched on as big a screen as is available at the time. a cinema would be ideal. which brings me rather neatly onto the ninth uk running of the annual bicycle film festival which this year takes place between 4th and 7th of next month in the barbican centre, london.
highlights of the festival include the world premiere of benny zenga's line of sight, the uk premiere of the documentary of ireland's great race, the ras tailteann; men of the ras, along with martin dwan's feature on shay elliot: cycle of betrayal. along with these lengthier movies, there are a phalanx of shorter films from across the world including candy rides, boy (which was featured prior to this year's olympics and starring timothy spall) and sister session documenting the first time women were allowed to compete in a major bmx event.
not to undermine the edifice in any way, if that were indeed all that transpired, it would be simply a film show rather than a festival, so flitting about on the fringe, so to speak, are several complementary events including the inevitable sunday rollapaluza roller race, the annual bike polo tournament, bmx jam (as opposed to bmx peanut butter) and a cycling symposium presented by transport for london, debating the future of cycling in london. the latter does tend to make this particular aspect a tad london-centric and perhaps less participatory for those visiting from not london, but you can't have everything.
the bicycle film festival has grown considerably since its inception in 2001, now encompassing festivals in 25 major cities across the world, and ideally poised to complement the current boom in cycling's importance in the uk. it has just always seemed a shame to me that it ventures not north of the border. much as i'd delight in watching the movies listed, london's quite a long way further than glasgow or edinburgh.
maybe next year. or maybe we should just organise our own?
top two photos courtesy selim korycki
sunday 23rd september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
times have changed somewhat since 2004, the year in which simon mottram, luke scheybeler and claire occupied one half of a floor in imperial works, perren street in london's kentish town. at that time, if it was quality cycle clothing you were after, particularly in europe, choices were not exactly limited, but the styles offered were geared more towards providing the just stepped out of the peloton look. settle down in one of the sofas in costa coffee dressed in a bright yellow assos airjacket, and even were there no other seats available, it's unlikely anyone would have occupied the adjacent empty chair. though we had not, at that time been about to experience a wonderful summer of sport, most of the cyclists one would meet on the road were dressed in replica mapei or motorola jerseys.
in one fell swoop, rapha changed all that. i can remember seeing their first offering in the new kit pages of the comic in july of 2004; a white jersey with a black hoop on the left sleeve, made from something called sportwool whatever the heck that was. speaking to simon mottram at the time, he told me someone had phoned only a few days after this first jersey arrived on the market to say that he was very pleased to note that rapha was now available in the uk, because he'd been a fan of the brand for years. at the time, rapha was really that different.
sportwool more or less single-handedly brought merino wool to the attention of the cycling masses. wool jerseys effectively died out in the 1970s; the mighty dave t is replete with stories about wool getting wet and dragging long enough to rub on the rear tyre. though not a rapha invention, blending merino with polyester seemed to offer the best of both worlds, providing a jersey that would last considerably longer than one or two seasons. at the time i purchased one of the original pink mortirolo jerseys, proudly and comfortably wearing it every year since. it still looks as if it came out the packet yesterday (nearly seven years ago), the applique lettering having remained in pristine condition throughout, all letters still in place.
though there have been and will likely continue to be those who jump up and down at perren street's prices, there's little denying that rapha filled a much needed gap in the market, and not just in the uk. imperial works now has a presence in several continents, occupies a substantial portion of the old piano works and has more staff than you could shake a merino sock at. luke and claire have both moved on, but mr mottram is still at the helm, aided and abetted by several strands of creativity ensuring rapha continue on an upward line on the sales graph.
i cannot, i have to admit, recall whether spring/summer and autumn/winter have always been the periods of the year when we, the great unwashed, have been perennially offered new kit to see us through the seasons, but i'm inclined to think not. it's the way rapha work, jetting off to crappier climes at the beginning of summer to photograph and film the apparel we'll hopefully be wearing when the weather gets wettier, windier and colder at home. at which point, the raphalites will head to sun, sea and sand for next year's spring/summer range.
laura bower joined rapha in 2008 and is currently head of uk marketing, while james fairbank joined two years later and finds himself in the position of head of central and brand marketing. between them, they are responsible for safeguarding the upward sportwool-laden trajectory of the recently released rapha 2012 autumn/winter range. doubtless many of us would be happy to occupy a desk in perren street; how come they got there first? following university, james fairbank spent a couple of years working in a bike shop and raced occasionally with rouleur editor, guy andrews, who introduced him to simon mottram in 2008.
"When a vacancy for marketing manager popped up on the site, I got an email from Simon suggesting that I apply. At that stage I'd been at Carhartt for eight years and and I was doing a bit of everything there under the guise of UK Head of Operations including retail admin, wholesale, and marketing. I wanted to concentrate on one thing and branding-wise it was abundantly clear that Rapha had a clarity of vision and sense of drive which was and remains unique. I wanted to be swept up in that."
laura bower's inclusion at the erstwhile piano works had a less logical progression. she says it was a random twist of fate, the need for a part-time job, and a man called john. "It all culminated in an interview at Imperial Works, and shortly after I joined the then team of three in the customer service department. Pretty quickly I got absorbed by the passion everyone had for road cycling and the clear values and goals of the company. I bought a bike, discovered country roads and long weekend rides, and I was hooked."
if you'd ever had the opportunity to visit perren street for even a morning, you'd be perhaps surprised at the busy, yet relaxed atmosphere that pervades. one of those fabulous italian espresso machines occupies pride of place in the small kitchen and someone always offers even the unexpected visitor a coffee to die for, in between conversing with at least four of five people simultaneously. it all looks suspiciously like art college did and is delibertale open plan. even mr mottram cannot be said to have private office. as a company, they seem far more interested in what abilities employees can bring to the table, rather than those bestowed by academia. customer service to head of marketing in around three years is pretty impressive, but what does that entail? laura bower again.
"It's a really varied role, from looking after our retail partners to talking to the press, to dressing a man in a gold lame leotard for the Super Cross tequila shortcut! I spend a lot of time thinking about how to support and offer more to existing customers and how to introduce new people to the brand. This often involves results in long, 40mph trips in the H van to fantastic cycling locations." an even quicker movement through the ranks is one bestowed upon james. in the context of rapha, and with the impressive title, head of central and brand marketing, with what does he occupy his days?
"I'm responsible for helping Simon (Mottram) and Slate (Olson; General Manager, North America) monitor all of the ways that our customers interact with Rapha, from print design to the Cycle Clubs. This involves managing our in-house team of designers and copy-writters as well as occasionally dealing with external agencies. I'm also responsible for supplying all of the central collateral in terms of photography, copy and video.
"To be able to work with creatives of the calibre of Ultan (Coyle), Ben Ingham, Jack (Saunders), Graeme (Raeburn) and Team Copy is a daily delight and helps make up for the fact that I'm a shocking designer, writer and photographer. However I'm a good facilitator with a strong sense of what's right for Rapha."
part of rapha's history includes the fact that founder, simon mottram, knew precious little about clothing design, fabrics or retail when deciding that rapha needed to come to being. his occupation up till that point was as a brand consultant, a guy who advised companies how they could more creatively tender their brand to the general public. given these circumstances, does james feel he is treading in some large and impressive footsteps?
"Definitely, especially considering I have no professional marketing qualifications and I've only worked client side. The majority of my professional development has come through working for some inspired people and I'm blessed to have both Simon and Slate to turn to if I have a query. Having said that, I believe that part of the process only takes you so far and our marketing is based on deep customer insight that springs from the fact that we remain our own target market. From new products to marketing, if it doesn't feel right to we won't do it."
to continue referencing the man at the top, in the many conversations we have shared over the years, i have been impressed that very little of rapha's progress is left to chance. simon mottram is a great believer in the five year plan, so though many of their product releases and associated ventures appear to have perhaps risen as the result of a previous strategy, virtually everything adheres to careful pre-planning. does that make laura's job easier?
"Yes, hugely so, and it's great to have to be so disciplined although totally against my nature. It's really his vision and the strong brand beliefs that make the job easier though. We're all heading in one clear direction, to make cycling the most popular sport in the world. With that always in mind the planning becomes easier."
the telling remark there, is the phrase 'to make cycling the most popular sport in the world'. notice how much at odds that is with more regular marketing speak, where rhetoric and hyperbole would usually be given in a verbal powerpoint presentation, and mostly concerning market penetration, profit margins and offering rapha's demographic the very product range dictated by several focus groups. i have no doubt that several excel spreadsheets underpin a lot of what perren street undertakes, but that art school environment is truly obsessed with racing bicycles, from the chaps in despatch to the guys at the top.
as mentioned at the outset, this conversation coincides with the staged release of the 2012 autumn/winter range, detailed in true rapha fashion via the almost unique lookbook on rapha's website. this consists of the photography and movie-making by ben ingham we have come to expect, in this occasion photographed and filmed on italy's monte zoncolan before our summer of sport had even begun. i asked laura how far in advance the marketing for this release had been in the planning.
"We release our ranges in line with the seasons, unlike fashion houses, and started planning autumn/winter 2012 earlier this year. I'm lucky to be working in a company where ideas flow freely and there are lots of talented marketeers. Twice a year they descend on London for the planning sessions." does she see there to be a danger of creating a straightjacket of sorts by having two major releases per year? for example, the perceived need to come up with new products to fit the release, rather than offering new products as and when ready?
"This is really a question for the designers and developers who produce incredible new collections each season, and for the shipping manager who has to negotiate through the delivery schedule. From a marketing point of view we need to continually feed our customers' desire for new product and content. Having two releases helps focus our communications so we can pick out key stories and tell these clearly. There is always the question of having more releases, especially as we retail globally and need to cater for customers in different hemispheres."
james fairbank: "We find it easier to explain each season when we combine the product launches but given the international nature of the business, we've already started tinkering with our releases with the summer hemisphere in mind. Personally it irks me that fashion brands work so far ahead; for a cycling clothing brand it's good to be able to relate the product to the changing seasons rather than a hypothetical calendar dreamt up by haute couture."
both james and laura have brought up the point that rapha now has substantial market share across several continents, so at the moment, while we debate just which items we'll require from the current range to keep the elements at bay, down under in australia, they'll be looking at short sleeves coupled with full length zips. that would infer that any antipodean marketing campaign ought to be somewhat different than in the uk. though laura's job title ostensibly restricts her to marketing in the uk, is there substantial cross-pollination with north america and the other world regions in which rapha have a presence? or are other regions allowed to market as they see fit?
"There's quite a bit of central marketing which goes out to all regions and we do share ideas, so things like the Continental, Gentlemen's Races and the Super Cross Series have become global. Largely though, each region creates their own marketing plan driven by central business goals and based on the opportunities in their markets." and how much of james' position involves collaboration with rapha's overseas outposts? "Possibly not as much as they'd like. I'm amazed at how autonomous all of our offices are and the quality of the content being turned out by the international marketing teams is staggering and testament to just how strong the brand that Simon has created is."
i'm pleased that laura brought up the subject of the continental at this point, for it's a rapha feature with which i have been addicted since the early days of daniel wakefield pasley's first forays into the american hinterland many years ago. thematically, things have remained the same as the continental project has expanded across the world: black painted, handmade steel bicycles kitted out with pink chris king bottom brackets, hubs and headsets.
these past few months, the continental has made its way to the uk, starting with a memorable trip to the northwest of scotland and the assynt region. in a matter of weeks we ought to see the results of the second uk outing. north america's continental continues unabated while the most recent ride took place in tohoku, japan. how does james see the uk continental as an extension of rapha the brand? "The Continental formula was already established so it was a case of slotting in a wealth of UK frame-building talent, putting their craft to work on the roads of these history-soaked isles and documenting that story."
yet another planned extension of the rapha presence has involved the high street. originally designated pop-ups, the first rapha cycle club opened in clerkenwell road in may 2010, only but a few steps from look mum no hands. however, though the latter has gone from strength to strength, the nature of the rapha pop-up meant that it closed after that year's tour de france. these were planned to circumnavigate the globe, popping up and closing down as the seasons moved on. however, the concept, a bit like apple computer's apple stores, proved undeniably popular and are now set to become a more permanent feature, commencing with the club in san francisco and now with the more centrally situated london club in brewer street, just off regent street.
does james see it as more appropriate that rapha's retail space is encapsulated in the form of the cycle clubs as opposed to a straightforward shop? "Absolutely. Going back to that point about us being the customer, we've tried to make somewhere that we'd like to spend time watching racing while drinking wonderful coffee. Fundamentally the more time you spend in a shop, the more likely you are to spend money there and the better the experience, the more likely you are to return; it's a very simple idea that most high street brands can't develop as they don't have their roots in anything as near as tangible as road cycling."
returning briefly to apple computer, since i did bring it to light, rapha has more than once been described as the 'apple computer' of the cycling world. is this a comparison james finds comfortable or does he consider it merely a superficial similarity? "It's an incredibly flattering association but I feel it's a slightly lazy way of linking two companies that have taken a sophisticated marketing approach to a staid market. One of many differences in a marketing sense would be that Apple concentrate on their products, where as we try to communicate our passion for road cycling allowing the product to speak for itself."
rapha's interaction with their customers does not extend to inviting all and sundry to climb the stairs to the extensive rabbit warren that is their portion of imperial works. the space is busy enough at the best of times without itinerant cycling fans getting in the way. i know my place. as the business has expanded, i have found it preferable to simply sit on a comfortable (at one time, pink) sofa, keep my remarks to myself unless asked otherwise and watch all the frenetic activity happen all around me. to do otherwise risks being wrapped in sportwool and squeezed into one of those black postal bags that are the cause of much excitement when they land on the welcome mat.
so, in the process of raising the profile of road cycling, while providing the sartorial wherewithal that we may enjoy our costa coffee incognito, is laura bower having fun? "I'm permanently balancing on the edge of a precipice, and always slightly uncomfortable. However the day I feel comfortable will be the day I stop having fun. This job feeds my passion for observing and deciphering how we work as humans and i'm constantly surprised by the people I meet and things I learn. Combine this with being encouraged to get out on the bike regularly whilst wearing fantastic clothing, meeting the occasional pro, going to watch stages of Le Tour and Tour of Britain as part of my job and working with inspirational people and yes, I can say definitely that i'm having fun!"
and james. does he have the best job in the world? "Pretty much..(don't tell Simon) There are a number of things that I'm personally passionate about that I'd love to develop more in the future, but almost all of them relate to cycling and currently my role at Rapha helps exert so much more leverage than I could manage on my own."
saturday 22nd september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there's an intriguing and altogether unsolvable dichotomy that pervades every form of cycle sport, interestingly one that only increases the faster you try to ride away from it. the problem, if it can be looked upon as such, is not one readily seen from even the point of spectating by the roadside, from the front seat of the team car (always assuming the type of racing allows for such luxuries), nor by the uci from their eyrie in aigle. there's an inherent split in the perceptive difference between racing a bicycle and watching folks race bicycles. it's a stunningly obvious point to make, but a truism nonetheless. we're therefore all dependent on others to recall the moments that in one manner or another, we missed when they were happening.
i am, of course, talking about and relying on photographers.
in this case, i have a particular individual in mind, a man by the name of chris hinkle whose first published work i reviewed around three years ago when cyclocross arrived in concrete form. chris is something of an individualist when it comes to photography, as indeed are many working in this and other sports, for as he said at the time "i enjoy photographing people and especially enjoy photographing athletes and/or unique passionate persons doing what they do. i have no desire to work for ap, afp, or anyone else shooting sports exclusively and having to get 'the finish line shot."
which is precisely where we came in. hinkle's seeming ability to take up position where you would not think to find a photographer at all has produced some powerful imagery, to the extent that i'm trying to imagine quite where he'd have needed to be in order for the result to have filled his lens. and those are the pictures that cyclocross racers will never ever see as they happen. concentrating on keeping ahead of chasing riders while doing everything in their power to get ever closer to the wheel in front, there is no time whatsoever to appreciate how cool that might look at the time.
it's also an attention deficit situation that distances itself from the average spectator. for they can likely only appreciate the backdrop they provide to the efforts described above when viewing photographs such as those which inhabit cyclocross.
when first published in 2009, cyclocross retailed at around $72.95 (£45) for a hardback book. such are the vicissitudes of niche publishing allied to the availability of on-demand digital publishing, that these ventures are never going to be cheap. or are they? if i told you it was currently possible to acquire a copy of cyclocross for absolutely no money whatsoever, i like to think that you'd buy me a soya cappuccino the next time we're both in debbie's on a saturday lunchtime. in which case, i ought now to brace myself against possible caffeine addiction, for chris hinkle's book can indeed now be had for free in ipod, ipad and iphone format.
with the cyclocross season officially started at crossvegas the other night, inspiration can do little but help the situation going forward (i absolutely hate that phrase, but thought it might prove how in command i am of the current buzzphrases), especially when that inspiration can be carried about in a jacket pocket. granted, the images are not printed on quality art paper, but displayed by means of apple's pixels. on an iphone or ipod touch, those are small pixels to be sure, but 'tis only a matter of zooming in for more detail.
so, for whatever reason you might find yourself in need of chris's book, and free, gratis and for nothing is as good a reason as any, click the link below and spend nothing on acquiring some of the finest cyclocross photography the sport has seen. you'd be daft not to.
friday 21st september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
unsurprisingly, given the visual clue in the accompanying article, everyone who entered the competition to win a signed copy of graeme fife's tour de france book had the answer correct. it therefore comes down to random luck as to who won the only copy available, and that pleasure went to david kent of tooting.
my congratulations and once again brownie points to mainstream publishing and the inestimable graeme fife for sending and signing. david, your prize is on its way.
friday 21st september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"I'm an insecure person. I am emotional. I am a self-critical perfectionist... I'm terrible. I beat myself up the the whole time because I'm striving for something I'll basically never achieve."
the artists and musicians of the world are often viewed as individuals apart from the rest of humanity. it is, of course, something of a sweeping generalisation and an entirely subjective one at that. history is replete with stories attesting to their collective eccentricities. this is all relative; the great majority are easily disposed to view those not exactly like themselves as different, while many of the minority are well disposed towards proving them right. unfortunately, if i might put it in such a manner, the abilities of both categories are not optional; artistry of any type predisposes the incumbent towards viewing or hearing the world in a more rarefied form, a super-power, if you like, that can be either a curse or a blessing, but certainly one that cannot be switched off.
there is a thin and often indefinable line between artistic genius and borderline lunacy. it's a line that can be irregularly stepped over with astonishing frequency, akin, in part, to getting out of the wrong side of the bed in the morning.
sports people, on the other hand, are surely simply fitter versions of ourselves? though an apparent need to drag a body through endless training regimes, dietary and nutritional hardships, accompanied by a healthy dose of pain and suffering can be easily categorised as stoicism, when you consider our more sedate existence, you'd have to admit that such a competitive edge can't be seriously considered as entirely normal. think back to school sports day and the joy that infused your being when you beat several classmates to the loosely held finishing tape. yet, there are sports persons, of whom graeme obree was a notable example, who felt little in the way of positive emotion after speeding round a velodrome at high speed for an hour.
from the pages of between the lines, it would seem that victoria pendleton is yet another. admittedly not entirely in the same manner as obree, but one for whom first across the line is not necessarily the be all and end all. the youngest twin by a few hours and the second girl in the pendleton family, victoria grew up needing to feel approval from a father who was not only, by all repute, an excellent amateur cyclist, but a hard taskmaster. her twin brother alex was diagnosed with leukaemia at an early age, and not entirely surprisingly, he garnered the bulk of the family attention while vicky went to live with relatives for around a year.
when she was old enough to ride a bicycle, she'd ride out with her father, a practice that only increased with age, eschewing regular saturday nights out with friends in favour of an early bed before joining max pendleton on a sunday morning ride. her father comes across as not only an obsessive, but a somewhat heartless individual, who, had victoria been a prospective swimmer, would have likely thrown her in at the deep end and left her to learn the art on her own. on a human scale, his attitude quite frankly stinks, but in terms of inculcating a peerless desire to please accompanied with an ability to overcome physical obstacles, his methods quite possibly shaped the person and competitor that victoria pendleton would eventually become.
the early competitive years were spent racing grass-track against a much recuperated brother alex. and eventually becoming the more proficient victor. regular success endeared her to max pendleton at the same time as bringing her the satisfaction of becoming daddy's girl. nothing ever exists in isolation and it was not long before she was contacted by marshall thomas of british cycling to ask if she'd care to come along to manchester velodrome for an exploratory audition. though very wary of cliches in any shape or form, there is little else to point out other than, the rest is history.
or it would be if the book were discussing a rider other than victoria pendleton. her insecurity, despite growing evidence of an innate ability to ride a bicycle very fast, appears to have invaded her every-off-the bike moment, leading even to several occasions of self-harming with a swiss army knife. so perhaps those sports people on which we have thrown the mantle of british heroes, are less a part of normal society than we had led ourselves to believe.
those who watched the tv documentary about victoria pendleton, aired prior to the extravaganza of track racing that occupied the pringle during the london olympics, will perhaps be aware that she and british cycling sports scientist, scott gardner became, as it were, an item. at this point in the book, just like any good romantic novel, you could be forgiven for thinking that the heroine is about to put all the heartache and agony behind her and live happily ever after. but british cycling, so it seems, is not built that way. fraternisation between the athletes and support staff is officially frowned upon, meaning both pendleton and gardner had to affect an air of personal disinterest, in order that the sporting life might continue undissolved.
in a sport noted for adopting every modern convenience and technique, allied to brailsford's mantra of marginal gains, it seems the british version continued to inhabit the moral and sexist values of an earlier period. apparently it was even stepping over the line to converse with administrative staff in the manchester office, whether male or female. a mediaeval approach i'd venture. scott gardner and victoria pendleton eventually confided their attachment to each other to shane sutton, who subsequently informed the boss, dave brailsford. bear in mind we are discussing a couple aged twenty eight and thirty two respectively at the time, hardly a pair of lovestruck kids with little idea of that in which they had become embroiled. sutton and brailsford seemed, at the time, to accept that such things would happen, an attitude that seemingly changed when the relationship became more public.
in true inexplicable style, gardner subsequently had to resign from british cycling before suffering the indignity of being deported by the home office due to his visa no longer adhering to the conditions on which it had been issued. at this point, backing up a previous desire, pendleton was ready to chuck it all in and move to australia too.
pendleton obviously has more than a grudge or two against the behaviour of those in power at british cycling. it also seems very likely that their story would not corroborate hers, though that doesn't necessarily make hers the subject of disbelief. even to the very last, in the pringle this past august, pendleton still suffered from insecurity and a lack of confidence in her own abilities, despite results that would beg to differ. though i have railed against the writing of autobiographies at such a young age, there is little doubt that she has a story worth telling and quite likely a legitimate grievance against the institution that provided the opportunity to be a world class track cyclist.
but is it a good book?
it is at this point that i find myself in a dilemma, for any story worth telling ought to be worth telling well, and i'm sad to say that between the lines lets itself down just a tad in this respect. the cover states that the book was written in co-operation with author and journalist, donald mcrae, making it harder to apportion credit or blame for the manner of its writing. more than just the once, it descends into melodrama, perhaps appropriately since pendleton is apparently a fan of the tv series downton abbey.
"Don't talk to me,' I said as I walked away from her. In the silence, as I moved as far from her as possible, I could feel something stirring deep in my gut. It felt like a burning sensation - a kind of angry fire inside me. I didn't think I would ever forgive her for what she had done; but I would make her pay on the track. I would burn her by beating her fairly, again and again."
there is no rule against infusing a non-fictional narrative with human emotion, padding it out a bit to offer the reader a more personal insight. but in my opinion, this is hardly the way to do so. in adding these unnecessary (in my mind) frivolities, the book undermines the oft times seriousness of pendleton's situation, bringing it perilously close to an offering from mills and boon.. when discussing the romantic situation developing between herself and scott gardner and the not knowing which way to turn, we are treated to... "Round and round we went, in circles, like two love-struck hamsters on a wheel, or a cyclist and her coach looping round the same old pine track, again and again, one long lap after another."
at the risk of seeming cruel and unkind, it's the standard i'd equate more readily with a secondary school essay. if that were not sufficient to castigate the irregular course of the narrative, witness pendleton's first visit to manchester velodrome to meet marshall thomas. "Marshall explained that the structure of the roof was based on a 122 metre, 200 tonne arch which provided unrestricted viewing for spectators. The roof was covered in aluminium, and weighed around 600 tonnes." there's that high school essay again.
this coupled with some incongruous moments of self-introspection... "I lower the black visor over my face. Only my mouth is now visible, and my lips, usually soft and feminine, are hardened in determination."
doubtless some of the forgoing could be viewed as a means of underlining pendleton's femininity, an aspect of her personality she has done little to conceal throughout her career (and why should she?), one that did little to endear her to certain british cycling coaches at the outset of that career. female sprinters are not supposed to be built like vicky it seems.
the bulk of the book's contents detail each and every competition in which she participated. aside from the frequent excursions into mills and boon speak, these are concisely and comprehensively dealt with and make for, quite frankly, exciting reading. victoria pendleton has now retired from competitive cycling, free to live the life she wants along with scott gardner. no longer are they at the behest of the bizarre, male dominated regime in place at british cycling. in terms of results, she has experienced a most successful career; emotionally that seems far less the case. i don't doubt several riders and members of british cycling staff will be less than enamoured at the way they are portrayed in between the lines but, to ascribe such instances to yet another well-worn cliche, that's life.
victoria pendleton can be justly proud of all her achievements, particularly being able to walk away with head held high on her own terms. i just wish the book was the equal of that career. (and as a parting shot, i'm none too sure about that cover).
thursday 20th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
this has been, we are constantly reminded, a wonderful summer of sport. by and large, this has been a suspiciously non-discriminatory statement; is it one being purveyed all across the world, or am i being too parochial in believing it is an insular notion, purely applicable to great britain? i have a tendency to think of it as the latter, based on quite specific and well-worn criteria. first off, bradley's sideburns won the tour de france and were accompanied on the podium by best pal chris. follow this a few weeks later by first and third at the olympic time-trial and the summer of fun has a frame worth hanging on the wall.
send the kids off round the velodrome for a day or two and that gold just didn't stop, leading to bicycles flying off the floor of your average bike shop in exchange for appropriate remuneration. doomers and gloomers that we all are, mere moments passed before the cognoscenti started to question how long the bubble might last. maybe it still does.
what undermined this veritable wall of plaudits was to be seen in mainstream media coverage of the first ever british winner of the tour of britain last sunday. there is little point in my agreeing that first british winner of the tour de france carries a few kilograms more weight than first british winner of a lesser event in our own country, but it would be nice for the british press to extend their laudatory parochialism to include the excellent jonathan tiernan-locke. not only that, but the guy was riding for a definably british (scottish) team.
i cannot truly say that jon tiernan-locke is an unsung hero, for prior to his exiting injury earlier this season, the man was lifting team endura to a series of podium spots and garnering several column inches in the cycling press. it's perhaps understandable yet hardly fair that bradley makes the front page of the nationals while jtl loses out. still, his chance may come soon enough, as he is rumoured to be moving to team sky for the 2013 season.
his win in the tour of britain was the result of perhaps one of the most subtle approaches to a national tour i've seen in a long while. ninth on stage one, he arrived in 33rd place on stage two, leaving him in 19th place overall and largely transparent as far as the general classification was concerned. he slowly moved up the gc until he sat in 6th place after stage five. the next day, he took over the ig markets gold jersey and hung onto it until the final race into guildford on sunday 16th. to better understand the strategy behind jonathan tiernan-locke's tour of britain, i asked team endura general manager and former british road-race champion, brian smith if jon in gold was the target from the start. though many teams in the tour of britain are likely to have targeted the win, not every team had the capability to realise such a strategy.
"At the team launch in January we told the press we had three main goals in the UK. We have just won the second of them. We went into the race with a plan. All the riders knew the plan from the start and how the team was selected. Riders and staff gave 100% to win the ToB and they should take all the credit."
when riding for rapha condor sharp in 2011, jonathan tiernan locke successfully ended his race with the king of the mountains jersey on his shoulders. naive fellow that i am, i was somewhat surprised to note that former team-mate kristian house took up the cudgels on rapha's behalf this year, but locke was nowhere to be seen on the bumpy bits throughout the week. presumably this was a deliberate ploy and not a sudden and inexplicable loss of climbing prowess at the outset of the tour?
"Yes. The plan was always to win the race with JTL. We did not go in the breaks and all the riders sacrificed personal gain for Jon. Its sometimes difficult for riders to hold themselves back, especially in the first four days but throughout the whole eight days the team rode with patience and raced at the best moments. That takes a little skill."
road racing has been often compared to a game of three-dimensional chess. it wasn't until eurosport commenced broadcasting entire stages from the tour, that i was able to better understand why riders who had no earthly likelihood of winning even a stage, would rocket off the front after the neutralised section and gain several minutes on the bunch. it's because, i have come to understand, road-racing is a team sport, with a designated leader and a phalanx of other riders ready and willing to subjugate their own ambitions to that of the man with the hat. in which case, was locke's win the result of specific riding on behalf of his team-mates, or was he simply more than adept at placing himself in the right place at the right time?
"JTL is a very talented bike rider but you need a team to win a Tour like this. On some of the crosswind sections some of his team mates put him in the best possible places. All these things help for the bigger picture of winning the Tour overall."
it seems almost tedious to point out that not every team necessarily was aiming for the win. team sky, though on paper perfectly capable of adding to their tour de france victory, seemed content to help cav to finish line sprints. yet on stage five, riding in the gold jersey, cavendish went backwards on climbs that several other sprinters seemed to cope with quite comfortably. even his best buddy, wiggins, while riding well towards the front of the race, effectively stopped riding to wait for cavendish, yet failed to achieve anything by his sacrifice. saur sojasun and united healthcare both managed to place two riders in the top ten. was the lack of any other endura riders joining jtl a disappointment, or something effectivley planned for when going for the overall?"
"There was only one danger from all four of UHC and Saur and that was Coppel because he can climb. Paul Voss was always by JTL's side in the hillier stages. Unfortunately Paul lost some time into Blackpool. Coppel also lost a little time so there was never any danger from both teams when it came to the final stages."
at the start of any sanctioned national tour, there are endless possibilities open to the directeurs sportifs as to how they wish to end several days later. not all are complementary, and not all are directly achievable, for circumstances over the course of several stages can mitigate against bright ideas on the start line and in the team bus. but as i have already pointed out, it's a team sport, and i wondered if, simply to back up jtl's win and offer the other riders their own day in the sun, whether endura had also been targeting the team classification (they ended fifth)?
"Every competition was sacrificed for the Gold jersey. We have a professional philosophy within the team and we went to win the overall. You could say we went into the ToB like Sky did for the Tour."
there are a number of strata applied to uci sanctioned cycle racing in which team endura have occupied their place as a continental racing team. the next step up the ladder, and the mid-point between continental and top of the rung word tour is pro-continental, a shelf on which endura have placed their future aspirations for 2013. not entirely susprisingly, each subsequent level of uci approval requires a concomitant increase in operating budget, likely a pocket-money stage too far for scotland's endura clothing company to shoulder on their own. it is no secret that for next year they have merged with team netapp to form, somewhat obviously, team netapp endura.
however, despite having put everything into ensuring jon locke's victory in guildford, they will enter next season without him. as mentioned above, he is rumoured to be riding in the death star next year. i asked brian if it's a disappointment that the team will lose jonathan to another team, or does he feel a sense of pride that jon is apparently moving on to bigger and better things?
"We would love to move forward with JTL as i think we have the team to help and support him as you have witnessed from the ToB. I would not like to stand in his way to reach his real potential. Whatever JTL decides to do in the future i'm sure it will be for the right reasons."
though maybe not operating as designed, in common with rapha condor sharp, endura have often been perceived as a team that acts as a feeder for the bigger boys on the continent. is 2013 likely to be the year when that changes, and that team netapp endura becomes the team that riders might aim for? "I think a little last year and especially this year we have had many good riders wanting to ride for the team. We pride ourselves on the harmony between all the riders and staff. There are no egos and we give 100% to the team's goals. Cycling is a really hard sport and our team is built around motivation. Our riders are happy to ride for Endura Racing and they are happy to perform to their best. It will be a little sad to see some of them go at the end of the year, but with the merger we have a new start and some bonding to do."
rapha condor sharp have seen fit, along with other uk based teams, to continue to support the british road-racing scene. it is perhaps the principal route for british registered riders to gain a leg up towards world tour status without having to follow the likes of robert millar, sean yates and indeed smith himself by moving to the continent and fighting it out with the big boys. does the merger with netapp and the step up to pro continental mean that the uk race scene will see less of endura than has been the case up till now?
"Pro Conti riders are not allowed to ride National Road Races so i would think due to these rules you will see less of the Endura riders in the merger racing in the UK. I don't think this will be a bad thing for British Cycling as i think we will still see other riders and teams progressing. Endura have now shown that in three years you can go from a club team in Scotland to winning the ToB. All you need is a little investment. This is a great time to be involved with GB cycling and i'm sure what Endura Racing have done this year will help in motivating other teams and riders to do likewise."
and given the progress made by endura as referred to by brian above, will they be happy to stop at pro continental, or are the dizzy heights of world tour status on the visible horizon? "We have two years committed to Pro Conti, but the goal after that is to step up to World Tour. Hopefully with quiet a few British riders!"
to change tack just a little and involve brian on a more personal level, it was something of a surprise and joy to find him teamed up again with sparring partner anthony mccrossan as the commentary team on itv4's coverage of the tour of spain. morecambe and mcwise ride again. however, in my humble opinion his commentary during the vuelta took him a good few stages ahead of his erstwhile claim to be 'only a pundit' does he see the day when he'll be lead commentator on tv coverage with a pundit all of his own by his side?
"I have been commentating for eight years now. From Cycling.tv, ITV4, Eurosport i have learned a lot. I love being the colour pundit, as i think this is what i do best. In my book you are best sticking to that!"
finally, with substantial changes on the menu for 2013, what does the rest of 2012 and next year hold for brian smith? "We still have some races to do, and our season ends at Paris-Bourges on the 4th October. I would like to think i have a little time to ride my bike, but i have the Braveheart Dinner and Thunderdrome to organise. Then it's straight into 2013."
Photos by Larry Hickmot and joolz dymond
wednesday 19th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's all about that flash of colour. really, that's the ultimate aim. a bit like the opening scenes from david carradine's kung fu, the idea is to leave no trace whatsoever; perhaps just the faint scrapings of tyre tracks, but that's it.
we all know that the above is all but unobtainable, but there's no denying the importance of having it foremost in the mind while scraping through the undergrowth. in fact, it remains of similar importance whether there's undergrowth in the equation or not. the quickest route between two points is that of a straight line, einstein's theories of the curvature of space notiwthstanding. given that even time-trials eschew such directness, the one thing you probably won't find in a cyclocross course is just such a vector. that being the case, it seems logical that all other factors which might slow a rider between start and finish ought to be minimised.
i have already dealt with the necessities of so doing through the medium of film; witness my recent review of jeremy powers' crosscamp instructional movie. i would never, for one minute, ever suppose to teach my granny to suck eggs. there are many too many riders who could leave me in the dust (literally) when it comes to the techniques of 'cross riding, and i will therefore demur from providing a target at which sniggering might be aimed. mr powers, as u.s. national champion has far more to give than i, and i'm happy to point all in his direction.
however, there is presumably a deal more of a gap between being shown how to, and being able to achieve the very same. were that not the case, many more of us would be vying for that north american podium. powers is presumably also aware of this being the case, otherwise he would be less keen to share his secrets. it must, therefore, come down to a simple (?) combination of technique and that of mindset. can do will almost always win out if allied to a decent bicycle and appropriate clothing for the job at hand.
once past a perceived price-point, the bicycle becomes a less material edifice. if i might plaster on a concept or two from the world of digital cameras, those intended for pro-sumer and professional use, are unlikely to give cause for concern. sure, there's now the question of whether to disc or not to disc, but honestly, that is a concern of a superficial nature. you've got to be riding pretty fast before stopping becomes much of a concern.
in order that i might bring conversation back to that flash of colour, that would leave us, perhaps simplistically, with the matter of appropriate apparel. there are many choices available, but the primary concern, ironically, is just how little attention need be paid to this aspect while riding. if i might posit, without appearing too pretentious, that the likelihood of leaving no trace whatsoever (apart from the previously discussed faintly visible tread pattern) might require an almost zen state of mind, one that is very, very hard to reach, but that seems likely to offer one heck of a lot of fun in the process. thus, one needs to cultivate an unfettered psyche by relegating all other factors inadmissable as evidence.
a padded right shoulder on a full-zip jersey; long-sleeves because everyone knows they're twice as good as short sleeves, and a pair of bib-threequarters. for whether or not you feel the latter to be a necessity or not, they look the part and inculcate a certain belgian-ness to the proceedings. however ungainly those proceedings might currently be. but the missing link in this sartorial eccentricity (compared to the more regular civilian, you understand) are the socks. if i might, for a moment, relate this aspect to having sand in your shoes, irritation of the feet is one of those nagging features that could conceivably detract from any zen-like approach to cyclocross activities. how smooth will your dismount become if wrinkly socks provide a less than smooth exit strategy?
in the interests of the gestalt, these socks ought really to match jersey and bib three-quarters, adding not just comfort and an appropriate ankle length, but a contribution to the flash of colour in the woods.
how silly will you feel at having lost the national cyclocross championship over a lack of concern for your socks?
rapha pro team cyclocross socks are designed to complement the range of rapha 'cross apparel. they are available in small to xl at a cost of £15 ($22)
tuesday 18th september 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................