the islay coffee festival

roys celtic house

though i have no statistical evidence to prove it, there's just an outside possibility that gaelic has been edged out of being the second most spoken language on the island this weekend. it has been replaced by german, and it will probably remain so for the rest of the week. if corroboration were rquired that there's something up on the queen of the hebrides at present, you need only have been accompanying me past lagavulin distillery on my way to ardbeg this morning. when i place this in the perspective of well before 10am, you may just begin to grasp the enormity of the situation.

with the advent of disabled access regulations a few years back, the entrance to lagavulin's reception centre expanded from a few steps up to the door to a lengthy ramp, doing its very best to imitate the early approach to alpe d'huez. this ramp ascends from, or descends to, depending on your point of view, an open courtyard where more often there is one or two 40ft trailers parked. as i rode past this morning, there was a queue of people stretching from the doorway, all down the full length of the ramp in to the courtyard and round its extensive perimeter before doubling back towards the mill room.

the car park opposite the old malt barns was full to overflowing with foreign plated cars and more than just a couple of large motorhomes. this particular state of affairs will be repeated everyday this week, culminating in ardbog day (that's not a spelling error) next saturday, 1st june. it is, of course, the islay whisky festival, when the resident population is all but outnumbered by an influx of aficionados of the amber nectar.

they will spend thousands of pounds, euros, dollars and yen attending masterclasses, managers' tours and evening entertainment, offering even more for the limited edition bottlings that each and every distillery has recognised as a substantial money spinner. even as i rode towards the bonded warehouses at laphroaig, shortly after the morning ferry's arrival at port ellen, a large usa plated jeep passed me at farkin, with three sorry looking individuals sat in the estate section, grimly peering out the rear window. a mixture of dedication coupled with stupidity.

as a confirmed teetotaller, i can only smile at such whisky driven excesses as i resolved to ride my very own islay coffee festival. it's a notion that has germinated since both ardebg 's old kiln cafe and bowmore's celtic house installed machines capable of offering designer coffees. thus, a 25km ride from bowmore to ardbeg for a morning double-espresso was followed by the same distance on return (along the high road this time) to bowmore for yet another double accompanied by a slice of date and walnut loaf.

sitting on the upper floor of the celtic house, aghast humour was sated by the bizarre and doubtless illegal parking of a substantially sized german motor home on the opposing corner, offering a fine obstacle for the unwary. i think it more than likely that the local police will have their work cut out for themselves this week.

two double espressos separated by 25km seemed the optimum spacing in order to refrain from becoming spaced out, and in order that such restricted abstinence be adopted yet again, i rode all the way round loch gorm on my way to debbie's for lunch and a soya cappuccino. lest you think my constitution to be of cast iron or reynolds 853 steel, i might point out that the latter consumables were augmented by a can of lemon san pellegrino. a far more efficacious repast than any concerning single malt in my opinion.

i adjudged that such substantial and uncommon intake of caffeine in less than five hours might possibly keep me awake until the wee small hours, so i lengthened the return journey to ensure an appropriate number of kilometres would require concomitant hours of sleep. thus the daily total, after returning to watch the climb to the admirably named tre cime di lavaredo on eurosport player, topped out at 115km give or take a few centimetres.

i'm thankful that my solo islay coffee festival did not suffer from the weather experienced by nibbles, cuddles and simon le bon.

monday 27th may 2013


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rapha race cape

rapha race cape

bearing in mind i do not live sufficiently distant from my place of work to have need of a bicycle (it would take longer to extricate a bicycle from the shed, than to walk), and adding in the fact that it is well nigh impossible to take more than a few steps in this village without encountering some form of conversation, it's often a wonder i make it to work on time at all.

coinciding with my timely stroll to the office is the work pattern of archie shaw. he's the chap responsible for keeping the streets of bowmore in the litter free condition they are most often found, and as he makes his way uphill in main street, i am often headed in the opposite direction. coincidence usually features conversation.

rapha race cape

i'm not much one for gossip; on many an occasion i have been berated by mrs washingmachinepost for not having passed on a hitherto unknown kernel of knowledge, one that i had though barely worth offering headroom. the previously mentioned mr shaw, in the course of his daily ministrations, receives many a word of top secret wisdom, some of which he deigns to pass in my direction. it may not be little nuggets that i wish to mention to others, but it keeps me as well informed as i wish to be.

however, an occupational hazard of spending all day, every day in the great outdoors, tidying up after those who ought to know better, brings with it an unavoidable exposure to the elements. as archie has been in his current employ for more than just a few years, his knowledge of weather patterns and forecasts is almost second to none, knowledge that i cannot deny, is much sought after. however, it is an undeniable fact that power corrupts, and archie's power (weather forecasting) can often be used for nefarious means, most of which revolve around winding me up during the early part of the week.

rapha race cape

like many a member of the pelotonese, i have great need of the weekend bike ride after sitting relatively motionless in front of a computer for five days. the trouble is that mr shaw is only too well aware of this, and will often say to me on a tuesday morning "well, you've no chance of getting out this weekend; rain and gales both days." after several occasions of discovering that the weekends were, in fact, more than dry and temperate, i have now taken to checking xcweather, just to ascertain whether i am being taken for a ride once more.

however, outside the control of both of us is the distinct unreliability of the selfsame weather systems. i am convinced that meteorology is a science comfortably entwined with the law according to sod. for on several occasions too frequent to be pure coincidence, the arrival of a waterproof jacket, jersey, or pair of mudguards is usually serendipitously matched with several weeks of dry weather. i jest not when i say that i have often contacted the sender of said waterproofs to apologise for the lack of a published review due to a complete absence of precipitation.

rapha race cape

such, i at first believed, were the circumstances surrounding the arrival of rapha's race cape, much to the joy of those who hoped for a dry weekend. however, in a manner that marks me out as eccentric amongst my hebridean peers, the appearance of heavy rain one saturday morning brought a smile to at least my visage.

the sky blue race cape is in fact exactly the same as that worn by bradley and his band of bedraggled men. it features a full length, colour-co-ordinated ykk zip that has been set with identifiable top and bottom to speed up the act of donning in race conditions. if you are anything like me, grabbing a waterproof from a rear pocket brings with it a degree of exasperating faff as i try to figure out which is the collar and which the hem.

rapha race cape

in this case, the high collar is lined with a soft, black fleecy material that curves over the top. and in a careful mark of attention to detail so often missed on cycling jackets, it features a collar loop to allow the jacket to be hung on a coat hook. simple but effective. the one obvious item missing from the race cape is any form of pocket. there is, to put not too fine a point on it, no storage space whatsoever. while i can see why this omission makes some sense from a professional racing point of view, i can't help thinking that the usual three across the back would turn a superb jacket into an utterly superb jacket.

still, as rapha have pointed out, the multi-way stretch of the tri-laminate fabric allows it to fit over even heavily stuffed rear pockets in the jersey underneath and yet still maintain its effectiveness. rapha are also keen to point out the restrictiveness of the race cape's sizing. though rather uncharacteristically i am now fitting into a size small in even the pro-team kit, my regular jersey size for the winter is medium. though bereft of its team sky logos, the regular race cape is still of a very close race fit, and if you wish it to have year round efficacy, it is recommended that you move up a size.

rapha race cape

paying careful heed to this advice, i received a large race cape for review, and i'm rather glad i did, for it is still remarkably close to looking as if it were sprayed on. that, i might add, is no criticism, for the garment renders its purpose with great aplomb at least partially due to the close fit. taking advantage of islay's unexpected downpour, i set out to ride 70km as the water was dripping incessantly off the bike shed roof.

of course, that old reliability chestnut reared its head after only 15km when the rain all but ceased and hints of sun started to peek through the clouds. however, not wishing to look a gift horse in the mouth (what exactly does that mean?) it offered the ideal opportunity to gauge the jacket's breathability.

rapha race cape

below the race cape i wore the rapha bordeaux-paris jersey and a merino baselayer, matched with a pair of armwarmers. as the ambient temperature started to rise, i cannot deny that it became mildly steamy inside, particularly on the underside of the armwarmers. however, i am rarely offering waterproof jackets the ideal conditions in which to do their job, as photographs usually mean stopping and starting rather a lot, a fact that varies my body temperature considerably and messes with the laws of condensation.

however, overall, the race cape behaved every bit as well as rapha's hardshell jacket, offering a happy median between that and their rainjacket. the former is not really stowable.

as you will all well know by now, every road on islay leads to debbie's eventually and it was on leaving said hostelry after lunch that the rain began to come down by the bucket load, aided and abetted by a rising galeforce wind. just the very weather i was searching for, and weather that proved beyond doubt that this may well be one of the finest race-bred waterproofs on the market. after riding in the deluge for over an hour, i returned home to find that bordeaux-paris jersey still warm and pretty much dry. what internal dampness could be seen was entirely due to my strenuous thrashings against an atlantic headwind. nothing is totally breathable in the face of such exertion.

rapha race cape

as i have mentioned on more than one occasion, i am a great fan of long-sleeves on both jerseys and jackets; it's a predilection not necessarily shared with the competitive professional. having viewed sartorially doubtful sleeve removing exercises in the peloton that left riders with uneven, ragged short sleeves, rapha designer, graeme raeburn figured there ought to be a more pragmatic solution, one that he has implemented in the race cape.

about one third of the way down each sleeve is an all encompassing tape that encircles the sleeve diameter. if you cut along the centre of this tape, the lower portion of the sleeve can be removed without the fabric fraying. this is but a simple yes or no consideration for the well-supplied professional, but i think it would be a brave individual who spent over £200 on a race cape only to take scissors to its sleeves. what if the end result was not to your liking?

rapha race cape

this situation, of course, could be solved by purchasing two jackets and having only one with short sleeves for those speedy moments. perhaps it would be the one a size smaller for fast days. graeme raeburn suggested that in order that i might appraise myself of how appropriate or otherwise this may look, i should maybe just cut off one sleeve.

the front of the jacket features a velcro'd flap which can be easily grabbed to aid removal or fastening of the jacket. it also allows the cape to be unzipped but prevented from flapping too much in the (gale force) wind. as i look out the window of washingmachinepost croft, i see the sheep in the field lying comfortably on the grass and few clouds in a blue sky. it's a situation that would seem to suggest leaving the race cape at home for a while, but since this is the hebrides, that won't be for long.

a very fine, stylish and efficacious garment altogether.

rapha's race cape retails at £220 in sizes xxs to xxl both in sky blue (reviewed) and charcoal. rapha advise moving up one size from normal if you intend to wear over winter kit

rapha race cape

sunday 26th may 2013


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on the road bike. the search for a nation's cycling soul. (or sniffing the yak-skin shoe, or the great eccentrics of british cycling) by ned boulting. yellow jersey press hardback. 320pp illus. £14.99

on the road bike by ned boulting

for many a long year now, i have arisen at 08:30 each and every sunday morning (holidays excepted) to clothe myself in merino wool, lycra shorts with a comfy bit at the bum and more often than not, either a long-sleeved sportwool jersey or short version with armwarmers. after breakfast, and depending on the weather, i will complement the aforementioned with some form of brightly coloured jacket, possibly stuffed into one of the three rear pockets on my jersey (why do they put those pockets on the back?), don a pair of prescription photochromic wrapround shades and shoes that make me walk like a duck.

eccentric? moi?

in fact, amongst the mininal peloton that makes up the velo club on a sunday morning, this is perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour, given a certain credence by the fact that the staff at debbie's rarely bat an eyelid when we drag our sorry carcases onto a coffee bar stool, more than likely dripping rain all over the floor. on an island with perhaps more than its fair share of eccentrics (have you met the newspaper's editor?), the velo club peloton are but a few more.

we are, however, something of a minority amongst the uk population at large. it is less than unusual to meet more than just one gent clad in the jersey of his favoured football team while garnering the weekly shop in the supermarket, but almost unheard of to see anyone in a teamsky top or quickstep gilet. our minority status not only keeps us invisible, but evidences our eccentricity if brought to the surface. yet were it not for the unconventional few, uk cycling would not be what it is today.

it is arguably possible that our level of eccentricity has diminished slightly since the events of 2012. though few of us have changed the habits of a lifetime, the more who follow in our wheeltracks, the less such behaviour seems out of step with society as a whole. whereas prior to 2012 it was seemly to avoid me in the streets during those three weeks in july, just in case inadvertant reference was made to le tour, i now find folks going out of their way to discuss the finer points of sprinting (well, almost).

however, even within our select and growing band of merry men (and women), there are those who stand out amongst the crowd. individuals such as mick bennett, chris boardman, graham webb, tony hewson, simon mottram and more than just a few others. they are, to borrow from ned boulting's subtitle, members of the nation's cycling soul. without many of these individuals, british cycling would not be in a fit state to to be regarded even as eccentric. were it not for their efforts on our behalf, however inadvertant, there would still be anonymous individuals riding at secret locations of a sunday morn, dressed in regulation black alpaca.

and massed start racing would never have reached a level in the uk where the police could make it well nigh impossibly expensive to continue.

ned boulting is a far cleverer man than he would have you believe, and not just for his ability to conceive a book such as this. for he has that rare ability to place his subject in a context easily understood by those who find it all so difficult to understand. add to that a style of writing that accurately mirrors his ease of personal conversation, and it is all too easy to find yourself at chapter ten, when only a few moments ago (surely) you had been absorbing his opening paragraphs in chapter one.

delightfully, and more than obviously not pre-planned, bradley's podium position in paris, july 2012 clearly sets the tone for the following sixteen chapters. 'And without so much as a nod to his hosts, who were now treated only to a view of his yellow clad bony spine, he delivered the most exquisitely judged line I have ever heard.
"Right. We're just going to draw the raffle numbers..."

though wiggins has received many deserved plaudits since the summer of 2012, it would be hard not to applaud a man who managed to remain convincingly parochial even in the face of champs elysees glory. on the road bike then goes on to prove that in this, he is not alone.

ned's friendship with chris boardman, in the context of being fellow broadcasters for itv4 allows him a more personal close-up of what makes the man tick. 'To borrow a phrase from Blackadder, he tweaked the nose of tradition and poked a stick in the eye of convention.' in the finest tradition of interviewing, rather than sit down over coffee, ned went for a ride with chris. 'he is a determinedly chatty presence on a bike, keeping up a flow of conversation, which is often 'tech' related (and when this happens, the only sensible course of action is to agree with everything).'

his choice of incumbents to feature in the chapters of this book rather demonstrates the wide-ranging eccentricity with which we are blessed, though i have little doubt that none of them would agree with such nomenclature. surely the mark of a true eccentric?

the twist in the tale relates to mr boulting himself. for while he laconically allows us the luxury of his acute observations (he is an excellent listener), positing all from the viewpoint of the distanced observer, anyone who ever listened to the real peloton podcasts featuring himself and matt rendell will recognise a properly constituted level of cycling eccentricity in the author himself. and i really do mean that in the nicest possible way. you would perhaps agree that anyone willing to enter the fray of cycle publishing with a book paying specific attention to an episode of public ineptitude (how i won the yellow jumper) is not quite like the rest of us.

or perhaps exactly like the rest of us.

in yet another of those cases where the skilled author has managed to transcend his subject matter in the favour of those recently arrived at our most beautiful sport, boulting's writing is both self-deprecating, yet immaculately informed. 'About five years ago I started presenting televised races from the provinces, The Tour Series. These are humble, city-centre circuit races from strictly non-Metropolitan places like Redditch, Woking and Kirkcaldy. Raced over an hour around a tight course, they are full-blooded, honest scraps, which usually end in a bunch sprint. Big crowds cheer the riders on from behind barriers.'

if only i could have summarised the tour series in so few well-chosen words, perhaps more folks would speak to me in bowmore main street.

but perhaps the book's secret weapon is the treatment of his chapter by chapter guests. the majority of the interviews are placed in an intriguing context... 'Once when I go and see Maurice at his shop, he keeps me waiting for a long time. A customer has come in who is parting with a significant sum of money. Maurice has his priorities and at times like this, understandably, I am not one of them.' but despite the third subtitle alluded to in my own article title, boulting does not treat his subjects as being in any way eccentric. perhaps occasionally by implication, but never directly.

'And with that, he carefully parted the paper flaps protecting the shoe from ultra violet light and negative ions, and he buried his nose right up to his eye sockets into the shoe, inhaling deeply, as if snouting for truffles. After a period of time long enough for me to become a little uncomfortable, he came up for air. 'That's the real deal.'

i believe that the majority of potential readers of on the road bike will see its pages as a mirror held in front of their collective faces. but its greatest achievement is undoubtedly to have unlocked the influences that have made the majority of readers the cyclists (eccentrics?) that they now are, even if they previously had no such notion. it is an oblique view of the hidden corners of our sport or activity that stretches from the bizarreness of the hill climb season ('There's a tree, covered in ivy, right in front of you as you start. Head for that, and it'll take you onto the right side of the road for the climb. The gradient's not so bad there.'), to politicians (ken livingstone) and cycling heroes both of past and modern times.

as a child of the united kingdom, if you have need of discovering your own cycling heritage, one that has little or nothing to do with alpe d'huez, fausto coppi, gino bartali or mont ventoux, or simply wish to place your favoured/obsessive activity in some form of perspective, i think it necessary that you both heed and enjoy the words of ned boulting's on the road bike. this way you can more confidently face your detractors with a smile upon your face.

'On his way over, he is stopped by a member of the public, with whom he poses for a picture. That done, he politely declines to shake the outstretched hand, for fear of picking up last-minute infections. By the time he reaches the cluster of VIPs, he has mysteriously abandoned such principles of hygiene, and warmly shakes the hands of Fausto Pinarello, who owns the eponymous bike brand. So it seems that not all bacteria are equal.'

for the chance to win a copy of ned boulting's 'on the road bike', simply tell me for which uk tv channel did ned cover the 2012 tour de france? answers should be e-mailed to by friday 31st may, making sure to include your full postal address, and the first drawn correct answer will receive ned's latest book.

saturday 25th may 2013


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what kati did next

kati jagger

if i might simplify matters far more than they deserve to be simplified, it is rarely enough to sponsor a formula one car, you must then tell everyone you've sponsored a formula one car. this i have used as a somewhat patronising mantra for many an appropriate situation, most recently involving the setting up of a web page for a local accommodation provider. no sooner had i done so and uploaded to a web server, than i received an e-mail saying it culd not be found on google.

those more well-versed in these situations will recognise that of which i speak. google takes more than five minutes to categorise a newly listed web page, and even if by some quirk of fate that expectation is exceeded, it's almost certain that the listing will not be at the top of its page rankings.

transferring my simplification to a verisimilitude of the real world, having brought to market the finest garment/component/bicycle/whatever the world has never seen, the only way idolatry, fame and fortune will head in your direction is if interested parties are made aware of its existence. i realise this is perhaps preaching to the converted, but it is, to better serve my purposes, worth dissecting just a little more.

i yesterday reviewed a most commendable book by charly wegelius and tom southam, a publication that will not be officially released until june 6th. however, no matter your opinion of my reviewing abilities, you are at least now aware of the book's existence and that come that first week in june, should you be of a mind, pennies can be swapped for pages. however, in order that i am able to fulfil my part of the equation, somebody needs not only to have informed me of its impending existence, but had the foresight to pop a copy in a jiffy bag and send it in my direction.

i would strongly resist being regarded as a journalist, for i have no formal training in such a vocation, but i will reluctantly admit or accept that i form part of what is empirically referred to as the media. whether i like it or not, while traditional media still form a large part of our daily lives, insidious little pixellations such as the post have their place in the melee. it would be a naive business that that ignored this unsought after fact. therefore, on production or release of the next greatest thing since sliced bread, it becomes necessary for folks like me to be alerted, a task that usually falls to a nominated press officer.

perhaps tautologically, the larger and more internationally landscaped the company, the more astute and well-versed that press officer needs to be. rapha racing of imperial works in perren street is no exception to this unwritten rule. though initial contact with those in kentish town was via perhaps a couple of multi-tasking staff (including, it must be said, the current ceo), now that they have established themselves in the uk, mainland europe, australia, the far east and north america, it would be stretching credibility to expect mr mottram to be available 24/7 should i need to ask why the zip on the race cape is different from that on their hardshell.

daft though such a question might appear when removed from all context, odd chaps like myself would still be rather partial to a cogent answer. currently occupying the telephone number and e-mail address that would provide just such an answer, is kati jagger.

kati hails originally from pawley's island in south carolina, a strip of coastland seventy miles north of charleston and first settled in the 1700s by families of rice planters. it is, by any proper sense of measurement, a considerable distance from the narrow close leading to imperial works in london's kentish town. how did that happen?

"i studied and graduated in english literature at the university of south carolina. i visited oxford in 2008 to present a paper looking towards my doctorate in the subject, and i just loved the place. so i resolved to move here while writing for my phd. "

i'd imagine you'd be thinking pretty much the same as i was; steeped in heritage rapha may well be, but on my few visits to perren street i have yet to come across anyone quoting from the metaphysical poetry of john donne or, indeed, any other form of classical literature. "i became aware of the clothing through condor cycles, so when the opportunity appeared on rapha's website to apply for a position as marketing intern for six months, i jumped at the chance."

and that is pretty much when i came across miss jagger in the course of my perennial pestering of laura bower (currently the uk marketing manager) for information on new or forthcoming products. at that particular time, rapha did not have a dedicated press officer, the function of which was carried out by the marketing department. "when my six months internship ended, they asked me to stay on, and i wasn't going to say no. so through various internal steps, i was considered as a candidate for press officer."

kati's father had worked in marketing back in the states, and prior to her current stint at rapha, she had worked at foyles bookshop in charing cross road. that, she says, was an enjoyable period. to be successful at marketing and indeed in her current position, kati thinks it important to be able to converse easily with customers and clients, skills that are as much a part of selling as the products themselves. "i feel truly lucky to have had some of the best in the business to learn from.", citing the aforementioned laura bower as well as slate olson and chris distefano in the portland office as having been particularly influential in her years at rapha. "it also goes without saying that simon mottram is one of the best minds from which to learn about branding. i've tried to put all this together and apply it in my current position as press officer."

if you have ever had the good fortune to visit the rabbit warren that is rapha's enclave at imperial works, you would perhaps be as impressed as i was by the number of bicycles racked inside the building, all belonging to staff commuting to and from work. it is also a long-standing tradition that wednesday morning is bike ride morning at rapha, when all those who wish to do so head out for a substantial distance prior to lunch. "i live in shepherd's bush, so i have a six mile daily commute to perren street, and i join the webdesday morning ride as often as i can."

i daresay it's possible to work at rapha without being a cyclist, but i doubt it happens too often.

kati undertook her first official sportive on the isle of wight only last weekend, mileage that she was keen to incorporate as part of her training and participation in rapha's women's 100, an idea that is the brainchild of mrs bower. several women riders, including kati, will ride this year's etape du tour on sunday 7th july. however, recognising that not every woman has ridden such a distance (100km), nor is in an ideal or geographical position to join the etape, several rapha sponsored training rides have been held over the past few months to encourage female riders to extend or consolidate their cycling abilities.

"in much of a similar fashion to the festive 500 it's a challenge that will hopefully culminate in a sizeable number of women riders undertaking 100 kilometres, wherever they might be on july 7th" thus, while kati may well be the incumbent to which queries on zip affixations ought to be addressed, it is also her responsibility to keep the media (that's me and many others) informed of the many facets of rapha racing, whether it be product, projects, the cycle clubs or any one of a myriad other details. i believe the old get out clause used to be 'and any other duties required by management.'

she has also put her considerable wiritng abilities to good use in the servitude of the women's 100, having had a feature published in the times newspaper only just last week. i have come in contact with several impressive press officers over the years, but i can't say i know of many who have studied, or are studying for a phd in english literature.

if all goes according to plan, this will be the last time kati herself will appear in the pixels of the post, for press officers are rarely the subject of the press per se. but whenever some rapha news or reviews appear in these black and yellow pixels, you'll know where i heard it from first.

"the journey at perren street so far has been an amazing experience."

rapha womens 100

friday 24th may 2013


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domestique. the true life ups and downs of a tour pro. charly wegelius with tom southam. ebury press hardback 304pp illus. £16.99

domestique by wegelius and southam

my daughter is now in her late twenties, married, just moved into her own home and about to make me a grandfather. i can forgive the first three of those. however, since she was in primary one, i have been called upon by the school to paint the scenery for the annual pantomime, despite the fact that child number one left around sixteen years ago, and child number two almost ten years past. you would figure that, in those intervening years, at least one other child still attending school would have a parent willing to express their scenic skills in place of yours truly.

it seems not.

this rather pleasant iniquity (it's nice to be needed even if it is only once a year) is compounded by my position at the local newspaper. for come the month of december, most of the primary schools on the island present their nativities and pantomimes, the latter of which make it mandatory for every pupil to play a part, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. this, as you may guess, lengthens proceedings well over the expected time frame, and it is incumbent upon the editor and myself to attend these festive dramas in order that we might review them for the christmas edition of our newspaper.

sixteen years of attending any form of artistic display is likely to become something of a trying affair. the kids all do their very best, and some do so with considerable aplomb, but after a decade and a half plus, it becomes harder and harder to write words that will entice the hapless christmas reader.

even worse is the sight, on arrival at the pantomime venue of a couple of tables laden with bottles of wine and whisky, chocolates and assorted donated trinketry for the raffle at intermission. as if proceedings were not already stretching credibility, some of these raffles (and believe me every event held on islay has a raffle) last almost as long as the pantomimes themselves.

i never buy raffle tickets.

this is not necessarily out of a sense of inherent stinginess, but inculcated after having won only two raffle prizes in my life. one was a bottle of grouse whisky, and not only do i not drink, but it seemed a mite insulting to offer a blend midst eight local malts. and my other winning prize was a leg of lamb. i'm a vegetarian. on the basis that every local raffle is based mostly on bottles of whisky (for perfectly understandable reasons) i keep my pound coins in my pocket.

some people, however, have an overwhelming need to win. though i wish not to castigate my compatriots on the rapha retreat, they had not only the wherewithal to reach the summits well before me, but the speed so to do, and some of that would have emanated from a desire to be the first. it's not particularly uncommon; look amongst your sunday pelotonese and tell me that there are not several who have the tenacity to chase for victory at the sprint point, howsoever designated.

but if you take a look at the professional peloton from the helicopter shot, there are obviously far more riders constituting same than can be stood on the three podium spots available at race end. by simple powers of deduction, some of those in each team must be purely there to aid a designated leader towards one of those three places. and since we're discussing professionals, one must assume that they do this because they've been told to, or because that's what they want to be doing.

"But the few times that I fell into a leadership role, I felt the weight of responsibility that comes with being professional, and I realised very quickly that I didn't like it one bit."

the speaker is charly wegelius, a rider of finnish parentage, but licensed as a brit, and who took it upon himself to make the move that many before him have undertaken and moved to france to ride with that nation's premier amateur team. at that point in time, vendee u were managed by the man now in charge of thomas voeckler's europcar team, jean rene bernadeau. this initial venture onto foreign shores was not as successful as he'd hoped, though he'd shown himself more than willing and able to look after himself.

a return to britain surprisingly brought him a place on british cycling's world class performance plan, though in truth it seems the team was built around his strengths. without wishing to fill in the gaps and spoil the narrative for those intent on purchasing, wegelius landed well and truly on both feet by joining the formative and ultimately dominant mapei team. reading the description of just how well mapei looked after their riders, it is an easy matter to understand why everything else subsequent paled into desolation when mapei announced their withdrawal from professional racing.

charlie's career took in the depths of italy's de nardi team, the greater joys of liquigas, and eventually a move away from italy to silence lotto to assist a neurotic sounding cadel evans. wegelius ended his competitive cycling career with the american team united healthcare, finding himself at one point in blatant contradiction of his impeccable domestique career...

'There were 600 metres between that uncrossed finish line and my front wheel. I could see the barriers that lined the final twists and turns towards that line. I was so close. I realised then that I wanted to win a professional bike race race more than anything in the world.'

wegelius is to be congratulated for opening the box lid on a career that, as he plainly acknowledges, many would give their right arm for. 'As we passed I could see him look up at the bus, and a smile of recognition shot across his face. He may not have known anything about who we were exactly, but he recognised the gleaming team bus plastered in stickers and the job that we did. I wondered if, just for a second, he wanted to be on that bus, to break free of the shackles of the mundane life I imagined for him.'

however, while the larger portion of the book details the trials and tribulations of being a professional domestique, a job at which wegelius plainly excelled, domestique documents a sportsman falling out of love with what had seemingly become a very hard, if reasonably well remunerated job. it's a fear that must haunt many, the point at which your life's greatest dreams and aspirations become simply another facet of the mundane.

the book's 304 pages (read in the briefest instance of time, i might add) bear remarkable comparison with drummer bill bruford's autobiography. here was a musician who had survived an apparently successful career, and again one that many would have dearly liked to imitate, but lost much of his enthusiasm for paradiddles when they became little more than a means to a not very happy end. and much like that of wegelius, one that took him away from home and family for lengthy periods of time.

charlie wegelius is now a directeur sportif at jonathan vaughters garmin team, so one must assume that his enthusiasm for cycle sport has not deserted him entirely.

it is not unseemly here to praise wgelius for his warts and all expose of the highs and lows of a career that did not expect him to cross the finish line in first place, but often to expend more energy and suffer considerably more than those who did. however, a similar level of praise must be heaped upon tom southam, former rapha condor rider and now a highly accomplished writer, for engineering a book that is well nigh impossible to put back on the shelf at the end of each chapter.

southam's style, craft and artistry render the words on the page all but transparent, a highly desirable trait in one ghost writing another's story. in this case, he is superb. of course, southam and wegelius have history. both were members of the 2005 british team in madrid charged with catering to the podium aspirations of roger hammond, and both subsequently received a lifetime ban from wearing a british jersey for being seen to ride for the italians. how you view this escapade after reading wegelius' blunt confession of wrongdoing (one that lost john herety his job as british team manager) is entirely up to you, but in the storytelling, neither have sought to absolve themselves of blame.

i have previously rated rider autobiographies as a tad self-indulgent, on the basis that they are often full of their own importance yet doing a repetitive and often unexciting job whatever the hype might suggest. domestique is a refreshing exception to this state of affairs. if justice is alive and well in the world, this will be the sports book of the year.

" the real world a workaholic who ignored his family would be regarded as a piece of shit, and yet I saw that I was doing exactly the same thing while being revered by an adoring public... we were a bunch of selfish arseholes who spent our lives trying to stand up as little as possible."

'domestique' by charly wegelius with tom southam is published by ebury press on june 6th 2013.

thursday 23rd may 2013


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tete de la course

giro d'italia

the days of waiting perhaps weeks until stories and results filtered through from europe (if they truly did so at all) have now faded into memory. with britain historically having been far from the forefront of cycle road-racing, it would have been a very circumspect editor who would send a staff reporter to watch the goings on of the european skinny tyre brigade and telephone his observations that selfsame day. though pre-dating my own interest and delight in the sport, it's hard not to come across tales from the great and the good, of waiting up to days or weeks for either the uk press to sit up and pay token attention, or for french and italian publications to appear in the newsagents of the metropolis.

it seems very unlikely that a hebridean resident would have been any the wiser for a longer period of time. the co-op in bowmore doesn't stock the comic even now.

however, as technology has marched relentlessly onwards, encompassing moore's law regarding processor development, mobile phones, the interweb and all associated forms of electronic communication, the speed at which information can be passed from one continent to another has quite literally reached light speed. though results from the spring classics may not be displayed on the boards outside glasgow's central station, it would take any member of the pelotonese mere minutes to acquire the necessary placings.

giro d'italia

which, though i digress briefly, does not explain why it took so darned long to find out the winner of sunday's scottish road race championship. rant over.

even now, though i am not contributing to dave brailsford's salary, i can still have access to the principal world tour races on this very macbook air, or even more visually impressive, on the sizeable screen of the imac in the office. this is by way of my monthly online subscription to eurosport, offering the ideal situation whereby that substantial screen real estate can be divided into two-thirds work, and one third giro d'italia coverage.

yet though both the pertinent and the unavoidable can be viewed pretty much anywhere anytime, i don't doubt that those of a certain age recall with fondness and a sense of adventure, trying manfully or womanfully to find just what it was they eagerly awaited in the days before wall to wall communication. even i, youthful though i pretend to be, can remember the days of channel four's nightly half-hour tour de france highlights, with gary imlach often sarcastically relating the minutiae of cycle stage racing for both the cognoscenti and the civilian population.

afterwards dragging the heavy plain gauge steel bike from the garage for a post highlights ride is a feature likely never to be recaptured.

giro d'italia

but the very governing body in which we place our implicit faith to look after the interests of our sport have seemingly irreversibly altered glaring portions of the aforementioned minutiae. in years gone by, secret handshakes in the cycling world were often denoted by arcane television captions. anyone with a pass-key knew that pictures from moto 1 would be brought to us courtesy of the front group, moto 2 that following at a respectable distance behind, and often moto 3 offering up the rear of the peloton, often known as the grupetto, or laughing group.

similarly, each country's events were couched in the national language, only adding to the mystique and opportunities for a dod of one-upmanship in the office the following day. for though we all know that the guys depicted by moto 2 are intent on chasing down those riding within camera shot of moto 1, somehow, in the giro at least insiguitori is a far more characterful appellation than that of chasing group.

and meanwhile, in those three weeks in july, one could always rely on the the leading splinter of peloton to be le tete de la course, a magical phrase oft seen emblazoned on jerseys and t-shirts, yet now reduced in all uci sanctioned events to simply front of the race. what i would dearly like to know is, why?

giro d'italia

what possible harm could it have done to the uci's internationalisation of the sport, to retain aspects of each respective national language? you will note that both the tour de france and giro d'italia have not become the tour of france nor specifically, the tour of italy. at least not on our television or computer screens. so apparently logical linguistic consistency is not part of the debate in aigle.

i believe that the only opportunity to return all to a semblance of national order is to simply bombard pat mcquaid with a deluge of letters and e-mails pointing out that we all have as much invested in this sport as he reputedly does. it seems totally iniquitous that decisions even as apparently trivial as this not only go unchallenged, but apparently devoid of consultation. the man and his henchmen are messing with tradition and history and don't seem to give a fig.

international cycling union (uci), ch. de la melee 12, 1860 aigle, switzerland or e-mail mark it for pat's attention, and tell him i sent you.

wednesday 22nd may 2013


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pinarello dogma k - a brief review

pinarello dogma k

in much the same way as the whisky generation is happy to believe that every bottle they own has been lovingly cared for and cherished in a darkened warehouse, mere centimetres from the salt sea air, the pelotonese seem content to buy into the notion that races are won by means of the bicycle marque in which the winner has placed implicit faith. if we were to take the principal subject of the current issue of rouleur magazine, namely miguel indurain, and place him on a raleigh shopping bike, he'd likely still whup our asses over any particular time-trial course you cared to name. similarly, i think it likely christopher froome would still summit before any of us, were he confined to the lowered saddle of a bmx.

the bike do not maketh the man, though i don't doubt that a good one is of great assistance. when all within the professional peloton are within a hair's breadth of each other, the technology with which they are supplied, despite still requiring personal input, can often make the difference between first and second.

pinarello dogma k

pinarello ascribe century ride geometry to that of the dogma k, aspiring to a frame design that offers greater comfort without any compromise in performance. this is reputedly the frame used by team sky during their cobbled classics campaign, where comfort really can make the difference between finishing on the podium or, punctures permitting, finishing at all.

for their series of rapha retreats, the travel chaps at perren street arranged a fleet of appropriately decorated black and pink dogmas for those intent on four days of hard riding in provence. the choice was made principally by rapha's head of travel, brad sauber, who has specced pinarellos for many years in his own travel company, and has a good working relationship with the italian company.

in truth, it's the first time i'd ridden a pinarello since the days when aluminium was en vogue. the monocoque frame's profile, constructed from 60hm1k toray carbon fibre (whatever that means), is similar in intent to that of pinarello's other two dogma options, but eschews the squiggly seatstays in favour of a set of subtly concave examples ending in a flat wishbone at the seat tube juncture. the curved top tube blends into a substantially sized head tube with concomitant integrated 1.125" to 1"25" headset (if indeed we can talk about tubes in a monocoque), offering considerable real estate for a heavily oversized downtube.

pinarello dogma k

the tubing seems mostly to result from the every action has an equal and opposite reaction mantra, for that downtube may conceivably have resulted in a colossal bottom bracket section that, in this case incorporates press fit bearings. rapha's dogmas are all kitted out with shimano ultegra mechanical groupsets, meaning that the bottom bracket has to enter via an fsa adaptor, since shimano do not offer an oversize bottom bracket spindle that might mate with press-fit bearings.

in this case (thankfully) the chainsets were of the compact variety, offering 50/34 matched with a 12/25 cassette at the rear. this was fastened to one of a pair of fulcrum racing zero aluminium wheels, the hubs featuring campagnolo's ultra spherical bearings. both wheels were shod with continental grand prix four seasons 700x25c rubber. though i have often thought it odd that rapha have never offered their own branded bar tape, each of these machines rather unsurprisingly featured black pinarello tape, wrapped over alloy most (pinarello's in-house component brand) bars and held in place with a similarly branded tiger alu stem. the carbon seatpost was also from the most stable while the saddle sat atop was the eccentrically named catopuma from selle italia featuring a cutout for our soft bits.

i can only assume that the internal cable routing exists to serve not only the current trend for offering sleeker lines from front to back, but to assist with those who would prefer to be electrically geared rather than plain old mechanical effort. in this, pinarello have made a very neat job, the rear gear cable exiting from the top of the right-hand chainstay appearing highly workmanlike and aesthetically pleasing at the same time. i'm still none too sure that i'd be keen to fit a new set of cables on such a frame, but no doubt it's a tad easier than my surmising would have me believe.

pinarello dogma k

though pinarello continue to describe their dogma frames as asymmetric, even though i spent four days with this bicycle, i can't say i noticed any appreciable difference between this and other quality carbon frame. maybe that's the point. though my bicycle prejudices have considerably lessened over the years, i still find my teeth grating over the squiggly onda front fork. though based on no engineering or technical knowlegde whatsoever, i find it hard to believe that the squiggles actually do anything other than annoy me.

but i could, of course, be entirely wrong.

the lanterne rouge rides again

pinarello dogma k

i'd be happy to agree with anyone who cares to take issue, that four days is hardly sufficient to provide an appreciation of an outwardly simple, yet subtly complex bicycle. quite obviously, the hinterlands of provence offer a whole 'nuther set of challenges on a bicycle (any bicycle), than do the highways and byways of islay. but during those four days, i covered a touch less than 250km, albeit at a speed considerably less than that of my riding companions.

as i have already paid lip service to, prior to my days in provence, i would have confidently stated that i was a competent climber, a false impression of which i was very quickly cured. however, as soon as the road veered upwards, my not entirely unnatural reaction was to lift myself out of the saddle for the unleashing of yet another superhuman effort. unfortunately, this led to an almost immediate retirement to the safety of that saddle, as i found the front end stability not quite what i had expected.

it transpires that i was not the only rider to experience this sensation, one that left me less than willing to try the same again. however, even in my slow slog on the southern french ascents, when sat in the saddle, the bike's stability was quite impressive. i would love to be in a position to relate a similar investment of confidence in its descending abilities, but my own timidity when the road headed downwards rather precluded my finding out. however, on observing the downward plunges of my betters, i think it safe to say that it handles extremely well.

pinarello dogma k

what i did not experience, and i admit i only made myself aware of this on the plane back to blighty, was a lack of that spring in the step, when push came to shove. once again, i'm loathe to apportion blame to the hugeness of modern monocoque bottom bracket areas, but it is something i have come across on previous reviews of similarly constituted carbon frames. whether it truly makes any real difference to the frame's alacrity is a moot point, but it's something i've looked for ever since my first reyonolds 653.

aside from an undeniable comfort factor no matter the smoothness or roughness of terrain under wheel, the steering was very confidence inspiring to one easily described as a wimp. though i had no wish to approach downhill bends any faster than i did, it was never the steering that gave me cause for concern. rather bizarrely, however, those conti grand prix tyres never filled me with confidence, despite never once having put a foot wrong. they were most obviously equal to anything my compatriots could throw in their direction, and not once, even on gravel laden descents, did they move off their line. yet something just didn't do it for me.

pinarello dogma k

go figure.

what was not the sole province of my distaste, was the catopuma saddle. our first ride was barely 60km, and though a little sore, i put it down to having sat on a coach for hours on end before subjecting my posterior to the comfort of a british airways airbus. day two, however consisted of a lengthy 120km round the foot of mont ventoux, and i confess that after 80km, i would cheerfully have dismounted and walked. saddles are a personal choice, and i know of others on the retreat who hated the seat as much as i, while others found it very much to their satisfaction. suffice it to say, if you intend joing mr sauber on one of his forthcoming retreats and you have a favoured saddle, take it with you.

pinarello dogma k

the wheels were mostly excellent; even a minimally spoked radial front wheel behaved impeccably throughout, and shimano's ultegra compact groupset, though suffering the same left ,right, one-two step syndrome that affects every other 50/34 setup. the old 53/39 has a 14 tooth gap between rings, while the current compact offerings stretch that to 16. i find this always offers the iniquity of reaching for a larger rear sprocket when changing into the big ring, but i'm led to believe everyone suffers the same.

my only criticism, one that i have levelled at all shimano's sti units in previous reviews, is the length of inward movement on the right flip lever to change the rear gear. in the pouring rain, more often than not, my finger had slipped off the polished lever before the gear had successfully changed. and while were here, isn't it time that all three added a smidgeon of tactility to their gear and brake levers to foil wet, slippy fingers?

pinarello dogma k

i apologise if this review comes across as more negative than positive. a good dollop of that has to be laid at my being removed from an hebridean comfort zone on a strange bike in a strange but beautiful land. another week on preferably a different saddle may well have shifted the balance greatly in the dogma's favour. it was light, it was fast when i had the ability to let it loose, it was undeniably comfortable (perhaps just a bit too much so) and only unseated climbing gave me mild cause for concern over the stability. contrast that with my blatant inability to ride it as hard as everyone else seemed to be doing, and i have little doubt that my conclusions may be open to question. but then the bike, and subsequently pinarello, are not responsible for the quality of the rider, and that might just be a point worth making.

i might also point out that every carbon monocoque i have had the pleasure of riding up till this point has been a slow-burner. in other words, their undoubted qualities seem to take longer to show themselves than when riding fillet brazing, tig welds or tubes and lugs. and by the latter, i mean both steel and carbon. why that should be the case, i know not, but though i have filled my paragraphs with what i believe to be pertinent criticisms along with praiseworthy attributes, i think it almost certain that, just like a good joni mitchell album, repeated sampling would eventually provide exciting rewards, all the while wondering where those sprang from.

if you experience one of these on a rapha retreat sometime in the near future, disappointment is not a word that will readily spring to mind.

a simlarly specced but obviously less exclusively painted pinarello dogma k retails at approximately £5,900

pinarello dogma | rapha retreats

tuesday 21st may 2013


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