"I gradually developed a theory which I called the Twenty Syndrome, it related to Sean Kelly and it directly concerned my chances of beating him. I say my chances but in reality it probably applied to everyone else as well. Twenty degrees, 20 sprocket and the 20th of April.
So any race where it was colder than 20 degrees, didn't have a very long hill which necessitated bigger than a 20-tooth sprocket to get up and was before the 20th of April was a race where I had little chance of beating Sean Kelly." Robert Millar.
i cannot deny that, in my early years of finding an interest in international cycle racing, attention was pretty much focussed on robert millar. as a scot and at the time, new owner of a racing bike shaped object, a complete lack of knowledge had impressed upon my naive psyche that, rather obviously, i could head uphill with all the ease that millar displayed. heaven's sake, we both came from glasgow, he was only a couple of years younger than me and he'd won the polka dot jersey in the '84 tour.
how hard could it be?
in that particular year's event, sean kelly missed out on green by a matter of metres and points to frank hoste, finishing one place behind millar in the general classification. at that time, however, kelly had not even entered my cycling horizons, something of a disfavourable admission of which i'm not particularly proud, but everyone has to start somewhere. it does me little additional credit that truthfully the first major impression that sean kelly made was when my daughter found his irish accent on eurosport's commentary to be demonstrably delightful.
"torty-tree kilometres to the finish"
in hunger, his arguably overdue autobiography, kelly comes across every bit the plain speaker he is in 'real life'. if memory serves, it was after the 2009 braveheart ride in kilmarnock, when we had all sat down to munch on cake and slurp some less than impressive coffee. sean pulled up a chair and sat down beside me midst a conversation regarding garden sheds. unfortunately, memory does not recall why sheds were under consideration, but mr kelly had joined in every bit as enthusiastically as the rest of us.
during this verbal dissertation, i was aware of a largish chap hovering behind our respective chairs, obviously wishing to have a brief word with sean kelly. at an opportune break in shed discussions, he opened with "i loved that last win in milan-sanremo; what gear were you using at the sprint?" it was, as we all know, a pointless question, but one phrased to allow the speaker to have at least some communication with the great man. "the right one" replied kelly.
that's exactly what you get from hunger; sean plain and simple. remarkably self-effacing, aware that he's a worthy addition to the panoply of professional cycling, but with no great desire to impress this on each and every reader. it's likely that you'll learn a lot more about sean kelly than you knew before the start, including that fact that he's well aware of his reputation for being a man of few words.
in the 1975 milk race, he was part of a group of three riding into sheffield, his co-conspirators being the swede bernt johansson and poland's jan trybala. "Johansson and Trybala seemed to think the stage was between them anyway." johannson stood to take the yellow jersey at the finish line, so the two were discussing the likelihood of trybala being allowed to cross in first place. kelly sat in their slipstream and as they entered the finishing straight "I put my head down and attacked hard."
"Neither Johansson nor Trybala were happy with me but I kept my response short. Two words did it."
it has never failed to impress me the powers of recall displayed by many a professional rider. while i struggle to remember what i had for tea on friday, kelly can relate who his breakaway companions were from almost forty years ago.
kelly's opinions of the farming life are not kept secret in the opening chapters, though he had yet to consider taking steps to emulate the career paths of many of the italian and french riders of the forties and fifties; ultimately opting for the road rather than the byre. "As a teenager, I grew resentful of the animals, so dumb and needy. I cleaned up their shite, fed them and then there'd be some more shite to clean up. But father had me lined up to be a farmer." not only dismissive of a potential career, but unafraid to descend into the vernacular to do so.
it is this level of plain speaking that makes sean kelly an endearing author and storyteller. it's perhaps unlikely to suggest that those less than enamoured with the irishman (though i figure they'd be few and far between) would be found reading his autobiography in any case, but there is a not unexpected dearth of sensationalism to the career of a rider who was the world's number one for several years on the trot. he even brings to light the apocryphal anecdote regarding his having once nodded by way of answer in a radio interview.
and what should certainly not be misread as a lack of respect for cycling's great heritage, concerns his winning of paris-roubaix in a year when the finish was not in the velodrome at roubaix. several of his interlocutors post race had asked if he felt such a win was diminished through not having followed the grandstand finish. "I'd won the race, so we could have finished in a car park for all I cared."
strangely, it is this almost careless disregard for his own importance in the professional cycling firmament (except when it came to contractual negotiations) that leads the book to take on an almost intangible air of excitement. the important races throughout this career are exploited in great detail where kelly feels them worthy of dissection, yet almost cast aside where little of personal importance or result took place. "The Tour de France was not a memorable one for me. I finished 46th, an hour behind the winner, Pedro Delgado."
careful reading often proves his narrative to be greater than the sum of its parts.
throughout the book's 33 chapters, there is never any doubt as to the identity of the man who shaped the majority of his professional career. from kelly's description, jean de gribaldy, kelly's ds at flandria "was the Matt Busby of French cycling, with a reputation for spotting the best young riders and making them into champions." sean describes him as having been a directeur sportif well ahead of his time, both in methods of training and diet. "(He) believed in hard racing, lots of training and eating little. He kept his riders hungry, in a very real sense." though he would leave de gribaldy's jurisdiction during his career, the impression made by the man who brought him into the world of professional cycling would remain a telling voice on kelly's shoulder throughout the remainder of his career.
though the book opens with a foreword by sir bradley wiggins, the telling commendation is that of contemporary rider, robert millar. this chapter 'respecting sean kelly' is appended to the end of kelly's narrative. frequent praise towards millar is a regular feature throughout the book, though rarely directly, but it is robert's testimony that echoes the impression most of us have of king kelly.
"Then a thought occurs to me. Sean Kelly would have left an hour ago, on time, on schedule and probably with no gloves either. I stop whingeing to myself and do the three hours." and "No bragging, no showing off and no slagging his rivals. It's little wonder the press found him so difficult to interview." though it does seem a little ironic that the last statement should come from a rider who, for his own reasons, fulfilled a similar stature with regard to the world's press.
hunger. the autobiography is an intriguing and intensely readable book. the pace all but parallels the shape of kelly's racing career and personality, and much like the man himself it brokers no fuss, faff or extraneous detail. for me it was a particularly important read in the light of my knowing considerably less about the irishman than surely ought to have been the case before now. lionel birnie's peloton publishing (the very same that brought us two excellent volumes of cycling anthology) is to be soundly congratulated for successfully transferring the man's personality and career into print. with the 100th tour de france currently underway, now is the ideal time to take note of a rider who played a singularly important part in the tours of the eighties and nineties.
it's been a long time coming, but sean kelly's 'hunger. the autobiography' must surely be seen as an essential piece of cycling history.
monday 1st july 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
during my first two years at secondary school, it was compulsory to take french, and even though i do say so myself, i was reasonably competent in the subject. granted, my pronunciations left a bit to be desired, but i figured i had grasped the basic tenets of the language as far as spelling and grammar were concerned. unfortunately, come third year when subjects were chosen to study towards certificates, taking arts, sciences and languages became mutually exclusive in certain combinations.
thus french was regretfully dropped in favour of statistics.
in later years i attempted to revive those long-lost skills by studying at evening classes, but those still taught french grammatically, while english had long ago tragically dispensed with such niceties. i thus found it an uphill struggle to place french lessons in some sort of context, one to which i found myself unequal, and sadly i failed to finish the course.
though i have visited france on only three occasions since then, i've managed only to utter 'merci', 'bonjour' and 'deux chevaux', hopefully at appropriate moments. i am envious when others are able to linguistically fraternise with the locals, and would dearly love to do likewise, but that would entail a concentrated portion of effort on my part; more than likely too much like work.
the selfsame principle can be applied to many a prospective venture, but in the case about to be under discussion, it is the disturbingly awkward titles applied to various parts of the body, particularly the muscles that give cause for concern. in similar fashion to the bizarrely named characters in jrr tolkein's posthumously published silmarillion, many of these muscles tax the concentration to a degree greater than i can currently fathom, even though the diagrams in the first portion of this book couldn't be much clearer.
for instance, were you aware that we had an upper, middle and lower trapezius and even a biceps femoris semitendinosus (well, actually there are two of them)? a little more of this, and you can begin to see from whence i am coming. however, despite garmin professional tom danielson's and exercise physiologist allison westfahl's clarification of all points north and south, a book such as this will require sustained (though undoubtedly rewarding) concentration on behalf of the reader.
thankfully, if i have made correct use of core strength, being unable to recall each and every muscle in the human body seems not to lessen the efficacy of the exercises that inevitably follow. danielson's role in all this is to fill regular shaded boxes relating what i take to be ms westfahl's technical advice and narrative to the average and not so average cyclist. i'd be very surprised indeed if there were any reading this review who have not, at one time or another, suffered from muscular aches and pains generated by a less than truthfully efficient position on the bicycle. the principal problem is often in equating these pains to their causes and subsequent remedies.
that is precisely where this book enters the room.
though there is rather a lot of prevarication before we get to the nitty gritty (six chapters to be precise), the exercise regimes themselves are well laid out and clearly delineated for those new to the act of stretching themselves in places we never knew we had, for those with a pre-existing core strength routine and lastly for those who have been doing so for longer than eight weeks. if you're unsure as to which category you're in, there's a table that offers salient descriptions of what you will require to have already achieved.
disappointingly, i struggled to fulfil the requirments for the lowest level, suggesting that tom's book may have arrived not a moment too soon. i don't for one minute doubt that the preamble to the exercises is thought to be necessitous, but i'm inclined to think that most purchasers will head straight to page 96 where the first of the workouts appear. the minor folly in such a layout i fear, is that these workouts appear in advance of the illustrated exercises themselves. this means items such as rainbow stretch in doorway and wall squat with pelvic tucks mean less than would presumably be the case had the latter been placed prior to the workout tables.
however, since flicking back and forth is inevitable no matter how you use the book, i'm perhaps being overly critical.
each exercise is offered a page of its own, with a baseball capped tom danielson illustrated in beginning, middle and ultimate positions relevant to each instance. a description of how to correctly carry out each exercise is printed above and each details the muscles targeted. the latter portion of the book contains workout logs, in which the reader can fill their own progress. it's an ideal appendix to the book, not always seen in contemporary exercise publications.
the exercises are very much geared towards the absolute minimum of ancillary equipment, for as danielson is keen to relate "That's one of the things I really appreciate about Allison's program designs. She always takes into account that I'm dragging my bike all over the world with me, so the last thing I need to do is take even more equipment along for the ride."
i figure i would be derelict in my duties if i had not attempted at least a few of the simpler exercises in the book. were i to wait until i had completed the appropriate level, i fear velopress would have reprinted the second edition, so i offer my thoughts before i develop muscles in places where i currently don't have places. given that i have seen others out of the saddle when climbing yet almost come to a halt when reseating themselves, i wondered whether this may also be a personal affliction.
thus i took tom's advice and partook of squat exercises (for in essence, that's what we're doing in and out of the saddle). the seated boat row offers to aid rotational strength and stabilisation, while chair squats teach the glutes and hamstrings to do their utmost. if done correctly (and i believe i did so), there is a modicum of pain to be subsumed, but certainly never an ouch factor. i have been currently unable to build myself a daily practice that will have sir dave brailsford on the phone, but it is surely only a matter of time.
it's a particularly effective book, ultimately well-planned if a little long-winded over the opening chapters. however, i have this notion that, as i become fitter and stronger, i may invest the time to learn at least some of those obscure muscle groups. but i'm pretty sure i'll never do so in french.
sunday 30th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the word dry is not one that frequents the hebridean lexicon very often. even on a day like friday, the morning flight from glasgow failed to land at islay international airport due to low visibility. this lack of being able to see enough of the runway to land the flybe saab also resulted in more than just a few millimetres of precipitation. the west of scotland must be one of the most consistent markets for waterproofs, particularly of the breathable variety, for even as the scottish schools break-up for their summer holidays one is reminded of the creedence clearwater revival song have you ever seen the rain?
apart from a brief summer at the beginning of june, we've seen little else.
therefore, any bicycle product that incorporates the word dry in its title has to be viewed with a certain degree of circumspection. even worse, the apellation in this case, qualifies a decidedly liquid product. as a young nipper, i could never quite come to grips with the notion that my parents could order such a thing as a dry white wine. surely that must simply equate to an empty glass?
it is only a matter of months since the happy hippo at purple harry offered appropriate technology with which to lubricate bicycle chains. i have already paid testament to the tautologically named wet lube, but in order to be the first kid on the block with the complete set, i also received their dry lube. you might be unimpressed to learn that both are of liquid constitution, however, according to the words on the label, the former is designed more specifically for those days when the rain interrupts or accompanies each and every bike ride.
the dry version, according to its own wording, is geared (sorry) towards chains that will inhabit more dessicated environs. pretty much not the scottish hebrides, now that you come to mention it.
however, while i could easily be accused of painting a drab picture of my abode, there are days like yesterday that commence with no aeroplane, yet end with warm sunny afternoons and particularly attractive evenings. those, i imagine, are the very ones built for purple harry's dry lube. of course, a lube has need of being a lube; it would be particularly iniquitous to engineer a chain lubricant that had need of being changed mid-ride. the wet lube works just ginger peachy in the dry and, based on limited exposure, the dry lube seems to be quite at home in the rain.
the principal difference, so far as i can figure, is that the dry lube seems to need more frequent application, even over several never ending days of sun. having deliberately left the chain on my cielo for a week or so between lubing, the links did seem particularly dry come seven days or more, but there was no sight nor sound of squeaking in the interim. the hippo technology is easily applied straight from the nozzle on the bottle onto each individual pivot on the chain. the lube is white and seems to dry overnight to a sort of waxy finish.
having the luxury of both wet and dry purple harry lubes, i am opting for the latter during the so-called summer months, come rain or shine, and then when neoprene overshoes come back into fashion, the bottle of wet lube will occupy front and centre on the bike shed shelf. with stage one of the tour setting off from a corsican start-line today. many a shiny chain will occupy our telly screens. you may not be quite so fastidious in maintaining a transmissive sheen, but i hate to be shamed by a speeding peloton, so shine and dry lube will be the prescription for the next month or two.
and were all the above benefits insufficient, and given that we velocipedinists are renowned for our environmental values, purple harry's dry chain lube is biodegradable, even if it does drip on your wheel rims when you're not careful.
still not sure about dry white wine though.
a 125ml bottle of purple harry dry lube costs £6.99. aside from the chain, it is equally formulated for all those obscure little pivoting bits of metal and whirling jockey wheels.
saturday 29th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the above headlining statement sounds as if it ought to fall into the category of graeme obree's "90% of all statistics are made up on the spot", but in point of fact, it's mostly true. as one who rarely consumes kit kats, or any other chocolate sweets for that matter, i couldn't tell you whether this refers to a two finger kit kat, or the larger four fingers. heaven forfend they should refer to a kit kat chunky. it is, in essence, the sort of comparison that makes it simpler to discuss the benefits of cycling with the average civilian.
there is, of course, considerably more where that came from: 43% of uk commuters' time is spent in traffic (bringing to mind a brief conversation witnessed on twitter recently, where one disgruntled tweeter bemoaned the fact that he was stuck in traffic, to which an astute respondent stated "you're not stuck in traffic; you are traffic."), commuting by bicycle can save up to £900 per year, a motor car on average, spends 95% of its life parked and that cars and taxis make up for 43% of road transport greenhouse gas.
several of the above will be of little surprise to the regular cyclist, activist or otherwise. it doesn't take too long to realise the benefits of pedalling on a regular basis; it's the very reason why i recently suggested that we in the uk follow the bulk of the american states and implement a national bike month. twenty-eight days plus on the bike is more than likely to turn an experiment into a habit, and a very beneficial habit at that.
however, take a look at that garmin next time you're out and about, and i'm willing to bet that even when setting the device in the first instance, there wasn't the option to measure calories burned in kit kats or mars bars. many of us who are sufficiently obsessed with the bicycle and the world that surrounds it are apt to forget that few of the civilian population share our delight. and in the manner of learning to speak a foreign language, it is often necessary to translate the enthusiasm in the hope that some of it might rub off.
it's for this very reason that express solicitors (no, i'm not sure i understand that bit either) have resorted to a remarkably user-friendly manner to present much of this information to a hopefully intrigued, yet agnostic audience. this has all been egged on by the knowledge that british cycling's membership has increased by 50% since brad's sideburns won the tour de france last year, and by an mit study in lyon demonstrating that bicycles appear to be 50% faster than other modes of transport during city-centre rush hour. distil this even further, a daily commute by bicycle can save up to eleven days per year; 22 hours a month or pretty much an hour a day.
this is the very information that would lead my son to contend that he might conceivably stay in bed for longer each morning, though i have grave doubts that his level of fitness would translate into a speedy enough commute to arrive at work not only timeously, but in pristine condition. james maxey, of express solicitors, said: "three quarters of a million more people now ride a bike compared to ten years ago. Although 60% of people are still driving, there has been a 17% increase in cycling over the past ten years."
i'm all for someone aiding and abetting my proselytising on behalf of the velocipede and velocipedinist, for oft times i figure i am in need of a less complex and technical approach. the kit kat bit pretty much does it for me. not unnaturally, the firm of solicitors, who are specialists in injury claims have included some sage advice for not only those who may become newbies to the activity, but those who figure they're too embedded in the genre to learn anything new. perhaps a tad on the obvious side, but good advice nonetheless, we are reminded that red means stop, and perhaps contentiously in certain circles that we should wear helmets.
being careful at junctions, making sure we're lit up like a christmas tree of an evening, being aware of vehicle blind-spots and respecting other road users cannot possibly be considered an arguable proposition.
however, my testament to such a plethora of often meaningless statistics and percentages consists, i readily admit, of mere words. and it will not have escaped your attention that they have all been transcribed in a page dedicated to the milieu of cycling in all its marvellous forms. what is likely to make far more of a dent in the staunch civilian reticence to embrace the bicycle is a more user-friendly manner of demonstration, the very method employed for whatever reason, by express solicitors.
thus, this particular diatribe is concerned not with regurgitating the same old same old in the direction of those well-versed in the language, but to provide the wherewithal to clinch the deal by means of a simple weblink. after which, the lucky recipient need only let their fingers do the walking.
friday 28th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
lands end to john o'groats or vice versa, is something of a cliche when it comes to semi-adventurous cycling. it has become almost as common as riding from london to paris, whether purely for the joy of each separate undertaking or whether riding to raise funds for charity. there are, of course, records to be taken into account; it's a strange human trait that someone always wants to do something faster than others before them. very much a case of focussing on the destination rather than the getting there. however, as the girl in the office never tires of saying "it's as well we're all different".
the distance from one end of britain to the other can vary substantially depending on the chosen route. the circuitous course will bring the joy of an inviting britain, while the more direct version will undoubtedly aid and abet those keen on having their name in lights. at least until the next lot get there faster. additionally, for peace of mind and the minimum of fuss, most cyclists will rely on a support crew of some description or other, whether that consists simply of mum in an old mini, or an entire ground crew in a fully-equipped mobile home.
you would need to be completely nuts to begin at the 'end to end' experience in cornwall dressed only in a pair of union jack boxer shorts. no food, no bikes, no clothes and, most importantly, no money.
george and ben are/were those nutters, intent on travelling the length of the country without spending any money, and beginning with nothing but those boxer shorts. "we hoped to rely on the generosity of the British public to help us with everything from accommodation to food, clothes to shoes, and bikes to beer."
it would seem pointless to mention that neither of our two heroes had any intention of relegating any previous records to the history books. this was simply (?) an attempt to prove that britain still hosts some of the finest humanity in the world. though 316 pages long, i was of little faith that the pair had any real chance of completing their self-imposed task. yes, you could probably manage to cadge one or two sandwiches, but who the heck was going to offer free bicycles to two guys in boxer shorts?
i'm tempted to leave this part as it is; if you want to find out whether they did indeed reach the most northerly part of the british land-mass, perhaps you ought to acquire your own copy of the book. however, to reinforce my earlier mention of the journey rather than the destination, this is indeed where their faith in british kindness was not only verified, but rather humorously described. in fact, laugh out loud humorously.
author george mahood describes his day job as that of photographer, but there was obviously a latent literary and comic talent lurking in the background. in justifying just how minimalist their attempt was to be "Even the notorious 'Naked Rambler wore a pair of walking boots. The cheating bastard." this immediate ability to identify the nature of those encountered along the way makes for pristine character assessment "The hotel receptionist forced a smile when she saw us. She was in her late thirties and had the look of a supply teacher who would take no shit."
to detail each and every incident, situation and location that peppered their non-conformist journey would be to detract from your own reading (and laughing). it's probably not giving away too much to inform you that they managed to acquire a couple of bikes ultimately via the lost property office of a small town police station, but initially from the shed of an eccentric individual whose premises contained a plethora of different bikes in various states of disrepair. mahood's own falcon kid's racing bike offered him the opportunity to frequently re-attach the chain, a velocipede he was so attached to that when a more practical model was found in that lost property office, he cast it aside in favour of the falcon.
throughout the trip, they documented each act of kindness by way of a photograph and presenting the do-gooder with a postcard that clearly stated 'I am OFFICIALLY a very nice person.' in the kindle version at least, most of those in receipt of said postcard can be seen illustrated at the end of each chapter.
i cannot deny that free country is not a book about cycling in the manner we would all more regularly recognise. yes, in most occasions george and ben made their way from town to town and village to village by means of some very rudimentary bicycles, but in truth, you'll learn more about what not to do than anything that is likely to encourage thoughts of long-distance cycling adventure. however, along the way, you will laugh so much that this realisation will likely not dawn until the last page has been turned and the covers closed until you read it again.
if bookshops had such a category as feel good narratives, copies of free country would fill the bulk of the available shelfspace. it's absolutely hilarious, and only sporadically about bicycles.
thursday 27th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
when you're somewhere slightly out of the ordinary, with need to be at a certain point at a given time, it's not that difficult to over or under estimate the amount of time required to get from a to b. such was my minor dilemma at the british road-race championships on sunday 23rd. i had walked from point a to point b on the previous day, but of course, with less than an honours degree in hindsight, totally negleected to check how long it took me.
with the women's race due off at 9:30am and the need to procure my press pass, the tribulations of which i have already regaled you with, in a fashion that has pursued me all my life, i arrived nerve-wrackingly early. this does occasionally have its advantages, but with no overweening need to reserve a place by the finish-line, my early arrival left me mountains of minutes to spare.
having already made the connection to occupy that spare seat in the rapha team car, it seemed only fitting that i scout about to find where said car was likely to be, and assure john herety that i was not only present, but happy to make a return appointment for the race start in the early afternoon. impressively overshadowing any other team vehicles in park was a foreign-plate teamsky death star, preceded by a black and blue liveried jaguar. both these vehicles were fawned over pretty much all-day, though nobody ever exited the door till well after mid-day.
at the opposite end of the same stretch of road was a rapha condor jlt liveried mini-bus bookended by a red recovery van which was serving as the mechanic's workshop; the regular vehicle was "in the shop".
though the time was not far past 9am, team mechanics james and jim griffin (who work for protool cycleworks) were already arranging the riders' bikes, hanging them by the saddles along a length of supported tubing installed on the grass under tree cover especially for the purpose. the mini-bus contained boxes of sports drinks, gels, energy bars and much of the paraphernalia associated with running a continental cycle racing team. bear in mind that, at this point, there was no sign of the team cars or riders, so the two chaps present were experiencing a longer day than those ultimately responsible for satisfying the sponsors with results.
having made myself known and asked as to the expected arrival time of mr herety ("he should be here around 10:30, if you want to pop back then") i had a brief chat with james and jim and like any plane or train spotter, cast an approving and envious eye over the campagnolo equipped condor bicycles. since the guys were busy and unlikely to revel in the need to make small talk with a scruffy bloke and his ponytail, i sloped off to keep tabs on the women's race, and bump into one or two friends around the green.
there were still an inordinate number of groupies hanging about the death star, having the mrs or mum take photos of them in front of its darkened flanks.
the three rapha condor jlt team cars arrived to join their early rising compatriots shortly after mid-day, at which point i was welcomed by john herety, in the process pointing out which car would be used to follow the race. having apparently readied all the bikes, checked their tyre pressures, fettled the gears and polished them sufficiently to use as shaving mirrors, james started fitting the spares to the substantial roofrack on the team car, while the ground crew of rob palmer, andrew evans, david kauffman and tim kennaugh (yes peter's brother) placed cans of coke and substantial quantities of gels and bars into seemingly every crevice in the skoda and gave the riders a last minute massage. the driver's door storage bin frequently emptied portions of its cargo into the footwell as we later negotiated glasgow's streets.
stashed into the seat behind john was a selection of continental shod campagnolo wheels, strategically positioned should a quick wheel change be necessary during the race. james applied copious amounts of gaffa tape to the passenger seat headrest, apparently to affix something for his use during the five and a half hour race, but i confess, i have no idea what it was. some of the sticky bits did, however, rearrange my coiffeur throughout the afternoon's harum scarum when john opened the passenger window to converse with those in other team cars or, perchance, a commissaire.
perhaps i am simply being naive, or perhaps i have believed too many stories of mechanics dropping off to sleep in the back seat during a long stage race, but i had rather figured that james would now be able to sit back and relax, having seemingly inhabited a few more working hours than the black, white and pink lads we were now following. that, however, would be to underestimate the value of a good mechanic.
as mentioned in my previous article, james had to make a speedy exit from the car before we had even left the start/finish straight, then dexterously wield a magic spanner at considerable speed, to try and have the hapless elliot rejoin the bunch.
as john herety pointed out, "during the race, james is my p.a. (personal assistant)." when race radio stuttered to infrequent life, riders in the break, in the bunch or in need of assistance are identified merely by their race number. rarely were any mentioned by name. thus, everytime the radios crackled to life, spitting out frequently incoherent digits, james would identify who those riders were, while i was still scanning my similar list in a vain attempt to be of some use.
the other rcj staff were positioned in the feed-zone at the entry to the start/finish straight, and there was constant, if often humorous contact between them and the car both by radio and mobile phone, mostly to find out where the rcj riders were in the under-23 section of the race, who was still riding and to gain time checks on those behind kristian house's four man group, and that between the latter and those at the head of the race.
on a warm(ish) day like sunday, over what seemed to me quite a challenging course (there were hills i wouldn't have like to have ridden once in an afternoon, never mind thirteen times), kristian was kept well supplied with drinks, and only a lap or two from the finish, he was handed a bottle containing coca-cola to provide a quick burst of sugar at a strategic point in the race. judging by his neatly timed escape for sixth place (and bear in mind all those ahead of him were world tour riders), that might just have been exactly what he needed.
i never thought to ask whether it was diet.
bottles and gels were passed throughout the race from the back seat to the front; james rarely had a moment's rest. immediately the car had pulled off at race end, the ground crew, if they don't mind me referring to them as such, began removing the condors from the car roof to the van and many other mundane tasks that i was too elated to pay attention to.
it may well be the lads in the rcj jerseys and shorts who receive autograph and photo requests as they sit in their continental tyres branded director's chairs, and any plaudits that may be deserved on achieving commendable results over the finish line. i'm not forgetting too, that they all have need of many days and hours of training to be in the positions they currently find themselves. but there's one heck of a lot of work goes into making it as easy as possible for them all to exist as professional bike riders. and since none other than jimmy mac actually live in scotland, all the ground crew had need of driving home (wherever that might be) after the event.
i simply walked back to the hotel, via a feed stop, having done pretty much nothing all day.
wednesday 26th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
never underestimate the female wile. i offer this as fair warning to the male of the species; you have little idea how the mind of the fairer sex works, and of the upper limits of its superpowers.
in the manner of the daily travail, i am generally to be found in the office a good hour or so before the administrative staff, or at least one particular member of same. thus, the fact that i generally finish my day at the same time as this delightful, yet obviously darkly endowed woman is not fully recognised as an iniquitous situation. the fact that i have cultivated a furrowed brow long before she puts the key in the front door lock to make way for a demanding public seems largely to go unnoticed. i, however, find it a most equitable situation, for come the end of the week, more often than not, i have completed that with which i am charged by friday lunchtime.
sadly it is at this point that my bids for an early freedom have become eventually unstuck.
uncharacteristically, islay has benefitted from a most lenient spell of weather. gone is the atlantic howl, taking with it our more natural cloud cover, and replacing it with azure skies, relatively calm seas and a temperature that encourages the exposure of athletically honed skin. it would take a man of truly flandrian equanimity to find this weather to his distaste, thus i have scoffed lunch apace, made my excuses and departed forthwith. i swear i can hear the colnago calling me from the bike shed.
perhaps understandably, those compelled to remain in the office, with only a blinkered window of opportunity offering scant comfort through the remainder of the working day, have protested and protested loudly that i am in danger of entering the realm of the unfair. quite characteristically, i have ignored such protestations, and nipped home smartly to undertake an afternoon of velocipedinal activity. this, i now realise, was only the beginning of my unfavourable fortune.
on occasion number one, with a warm afternoon's riding and testing to look forward to, as i lifted my transport from the bike shed, i noticed the front tyre to be somewhat softer than desired. on re-inflating, it gave every indication to be a slow puncture, one that could easily be remedied but after the bike ride i intended to fulfil. as if that were not omen enough, on stopping mid-ride to acquire some photographs to accompany my review, i discovered the rear tyre to be completely flat as i was about to continue on my merry way.
puncture mended, it became all too obvious that the front slow puncture had become a tad faster in its deflatory intent, and it then became a race to see if i might make good my return before i ended riding on the rim. it was at this point that i failed to take account of the earlier female admonishment of my early departure from the office.
fast forward a couple of weeks, and a similar situation again presented itself, one that i was again keen to take advantage of and one that also received similar protestations from the woman behind the reception desk. honed athletes do not gain their notoriety from weakness in the face of adversity, so yet again i made my excuses and departed. this time, however, the little girl you see in the sky kids' jersey informed me that i was daft to ride out of an afternoon for i was bound ultimately to get wet. i confess she did not present this information so eloquently, but i assume you get the picture.
at this particular time there seemed very little evidence that her forecasting skills would come true.
the apparel for the afternoon consisted of my rapha condor club sportwool jersey, all the better to accompany a pair of condor cycles' twenty quid shorts. (strictly speaking, they retail for £19.99, but i'm inclined to let that slide). these are simple lycra shorts, with no bib, and held in place by an elasticated waist. the padding is, in a tactile and visual sense, on the thin side, as is the lycra itself. however, scan the web pages and cycle shop windows available to you, and you will generally find that cycle shorts cost a tad more than twenty quid.
condor's claire beaumont is quick to point out that "they're not rapha, but then they're not meant to be." the shorts are aimed more at the commuter who would benefit from a competent slice of padding that could easily be worn under other more regular shorts and thus disguising the fact that the wearer may have moved ever so slightly further towards the jedi mind than their otherwise standard apparel would suggest. they're also ideal if, having cycled to work in the morning in pouring rain, a cheap but dry pair of shorts is thus required.
either way, and despite the large white condor lettering on each leg, they can be seen as a remarkably economic option should conditions require. despite being more used to the rather expensive end of the market and having a bib section to keep all where it ought to be, i had dressed myself in the described manner in order that i might evaluate their effectiveness on your behalf.
i know you await, with bated breath, the outcome both of the review and the direction taken by female superpowers, so i will hinder it no longer. i had gone barely 6km when a now cloudy sky unceremoniously dumped litres of precipitation on this unsuspecting cyclist. having hedged my bets against womanly wiles, i had a rainjacket in one of my three rear pockets, swiftly donned, but with scant protection for those shorts.
under such conditions i would not give out too much hope for lycra shorts comprising such minimal construction. heavy rain and thin lycra rarely make for companionable bedfellows, to say nothing of a now water-logged chamois pad of similar mind. yet, despite my misgivings over the power of the female prophecy, the shorts remained true to their identifiable purpose. granted, the lycra offered the occasional snagging on the saddle nose when remounting, but i fear this had just as much to do with the power of that elasticated waist as to the anorexic nature of the lycra.
in the days before i discovered bib shorts, continued into the age when i knew not how to order the appropriate size (waist or height?), i bear recollections of similar shorts succumbing to comparable gravitational pull. and to be perfectly honest, for a mere twenty quid, has anyone the inalienable right to grumble?
i think it highly unlikely that any of those departing the start line in corsica this coming saturday will be clad in condor's £19.99 shorts, but if they introduce the folks intent on remaining individuals with bikes rather than cyclists to the bum cossetting pleasures of a proper pair of cycle shorts then condor deserve every ounce of approbation they receive.
i am, however, not sure the girl in reception will see it that way.
tuesday 25th june 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................