i'm not entirely unconvinced that a quick search of the interweb wouldn't bring up a whole host of blogs and online newspaper articles referring to the selfsame subject on which i am about to dwell. that's conceivably true about a whole host of literary meanderings, not just restricted to the world of velocipedinal happenings. so i intend to concern myself not with the colossus that occupies the ether and blissfully rush headlong where others have already treaded.
the blame, of course, lies with nigel wynn, at one time the deputy ed at the comic. while i was comfortably sat in front of my macbook air, trying hard to ignore the gale force rattlings outside the window and watching eurosport's live coverage of the tour of britain, nigel tweeted "Tour of Britain live in HD on the telly. How did that happen? A couple of years ago it used to take several hours to find out who won". never a truer word was tweeted, or spoken, come to that. and as nigel replied to my (thoroughly agreeable) riposte, even the amount of interest that has been shown by the mainstream media in graeme obree's nevada record attempts is virtually unprecedented.
it's worth asking the question "where did we go horribly right?
the obvious answer is bradley winning the 2012 tour along with olympic gold. couple that with chris froome atop this year's podium in paris and it wouldn't take a lengthy intellectual discussion to reach the root of this resurgence. i use the word resurgence not so much in terms of substantial success in the field of cycle sport, but in terms of cycling's popularity with the civilian population. for 'tis all too easy to forget cycling's fashionable importance in the middle of last century. though seemingly apocryphal bordering on the fictitious, my contention that within the last year folks have stopped crossing the road to avoid my engaging them in conversation about cycling, is confusingly true. it is now my turn to be stopped to be regaled with their own views and observations on the subject.
which brings a dichotomy all of its own. for do i become all things to all people and revel in their apparently genuine interest, or do i become more entrenched and smile sweetly, while implying that there is far more to the world of cycling than they appear to think?
even if there isn't.
that would make me, and many others no more than a bunch of hypocrites. for have we not spent more than just a decade or two bemoaning the fact that nobody seems to care about cycling, that we are the orphans of sporting society and come the revolution etc.? and now that the tide has seemingly turned (for the present at least), if we remain stoic in the face of acceptance, are we not in danger of becoming snobs?
ten speed racer indeed.
in actual fact, i have not refrained from my previous modus operandi. though eager to accept the mantra of jean de gribaldy ("one plays football, tennis, hockey, but one doesn't play at cycling"), i can see how that would not place one in favour with the population at large. and there would be no subsequent reason to consider how many remnants there will be when inevitably the wiggo bubble eventually bursts.
eurosport's live daily coverage of the 2013 tour of britain may well be unprecedented, but in retrospect we should really have seen it coming. with a field that contains wiggins, cavendish, ciolek and petacchi to name but a few, you can't help thinking that professional cycling no longer sees the race as the season's booby prize. from the point of view of existing and potential sponsors, such unrivalled broadcast coverage is, i'm led to believe, the very manna from the flamme rouge a corporate marketing department has been looking for all these years.
all that has to be achieved now is to make some form of entrenched connection between guys winning on pinarellos, girls winning on colnagos and the fluorescent yellow folks on halford's finest on their collective way to the office on monday morning. if that doesn't take place, the bubble will probably just float away in the wind.
but is it alright if i retain just a smidgeon of snobbery once in a while?
monday 16th september 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
all those years involved in marketing were obviously not well spent, for it seems quite likely that telling one's potential readership that the following diatribe is likely to be boring is hardly guaranteed to garner interest. or then again, perhaps it might. a friend of mine used to operate a wilderness guiding business here on the hallowed isle, and i designed a brochure with the words get lost in bright yellow on the cover.
who amongst us is not going to pick up a leaflet that tells us to 'get lost', even if we subsequently find it to be not applicable to our own sense of adventure? exactly. so perhaps labelling the paragraphs which have yet to be read as boring will be considered less of a warnng and far more of an enticement.
for many a long year, we have been treated to a national cycle week in the uk round about the middle of june. aside from a whole host of cycle related events that seem not to have gained any serious foothold in the public psyche (several bike shops i contacted this past june had no idea it was national bike week, and if they don't know, what chance the civilian population?), but the midweek wednesday was more often than not designated as bike to work day. such vacuous platitudes seem to be an intrinsic part of british culture, for along with national no smoking day and national sandwich week an individual day of riding the bike to work seems about as much use as a chocolate fireguard.
as i have tiresomely reiterated to the point of boredom, american cities such as portland, oregon have a bike to work month. this would seem to adhere to one of the common notions of repetition, that participating in any activity (such as dieting, exercising and giving up smoking) for twenty-one days or, more is likely to inculcate a habit. this makes it far more likely that any given individual will continue the regime past this point. in other words, cycle to work for a month, and there's a better than evens chance that, with one or two exceptions, that'll be you set for life (allegedly).
so how come yet another national bike to work day appeared as if from nowhere on thursday past (12th september)? look a little closer and it appears this pointless exercise was promoted by the cycle to work alliance, an official sounding non-governmental organisation if ever there was one. so who are the cycle to work alliance? not at all strange to relate, the alliance consists of cyclescheme, cycle solutions, evans cycles and halfords, all of whom stand to benefit commercially from an increase in the number of folks riding to and from work.
do not misunderstand my representation of boredom; i see nothing whatsoever wrong with commercial involvement in cycling matters. those sponsors' logos on world tour team jerseys point to nothing else. but i can't help feeling that the imposition of a national bike to work day might benefit from a smidgeon more open-ness on their behalf. click onto the alliance's homepage, though all the above are mentioned in the introductory text, the only name in bold is that of norman baker mp, minister for cycling; a tad misrepresentative perhaps?
however, my contention is not truly with the organisation behind this idea, but with the ultimate pointlessness of it all. if industry and/or government are truly serious about encouraging the population at large to adopt cycling as a realistic mode of transport, playing at it on one day of the year is simply not going to work. there needs to be some sort of incentive and it needs to take place over far longer than a single day. add to that the fact that the government is more than happy to hand over £5,000 to anyone purchasing an electric motor car, how about a similar financial recompense for those serious about purchasing a bicycle to use as a means of travel?
yes, there is indeed the cycle to work scheme itself, which i know has been well-received, but by the alliance's own admission purchasing a bicycle in this manner has been taken advantage of by just over half a million people, compared with national car ownership in excess of 25 million.
in the face of that, bike to work day seems less than a token gesture in my opinion.
sunday 15th september 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
it's quite some time ago now that the beloved gaggia coffee machine went to the great cappuccino in the sky. the diagnosis had been eventually proved correct; the rubber seal surrounding the bit that infuses the pressurised water through the ground coffee eventually lost its grip on reality. after that, a double espresso never tasted the same again, and though the gaggia service department offered their services to put it back on the straight and narrow, factoring in the costs made that somewhat uneconomic. a new machine wasn't substantially more expensive.
there then followed weeks which blended into months of indecision and procrastination over quite what would replace its presence in the corner of the kitchen. that's when it all went rather pear- shaped.
even during weeks when work precludes much in the way of cycling, there is still the option of popping into debbie's on both saturday and sunday. during the daily travail, there's always the coffee machine in the office kitchen that pours out a fairly decent espresso, particularly from a coffee maker that was somewhat on the cheap side. and i am thoroughly of the opinion that the froth at deb's is well nigh unbeatable; where would be the point in purchasing a new machine which will never equal that on offer in bruichladdich?
though i do love a good coffee, i'm not an addict; perchance a couple with lunch on saturday followed by another after the sunday ride is surely enough for anyone? everything in moderation after all.
however, what on earth is one to do if, after a heavy evening of slaving over a hot keyboard, filling more than just a few pixels, one finds oneself desirous of caffeine? currently the sole means of household coffee production is a rather dinky and shiny bialetti moka pot. i confess i had all but forgotten about this necessary implement, for mrs washingmachinepost had inadvertantly obscured it behind the water filter jug and a couple of jars of instant coffee. (one would never sink so low.)
it has now been restored to gainful employment.
though it seems alarmingly obvious to mention, before the moka pot can be made useful, it's necessary to have some appropriately ground coffee to add to its innards. and in this case, i do not use the word appropriately in vain. there are folks in this world who not only understand their clientele, but are magnanimous enough to send some of that understanding to the southern hebrides.
sheffield's world renowned street cycle cafe has not been slow to appreciate at least three of the more obvious factors involved in grand tour cycling. ironically these factors are from the french version rather than the italian one (considering the parent nonnas italian restaurant), but that really is of no nevermind. emblazoned with both the nonnas and la squadra logos, the arabica/robusta blend contained within each 150g pack can be obtained in yellow, green or polka dot clothing. and almost in anticipation of this weekend's start of the tour of britain, there is a limited edition brit pack.
all well and good, i hear myself say, and it behoves me well to mention that a few spoonsful of this coffee blend in the moka pot offers a highly covetable beverage. surprisingly so, i might mention, for i have not had much luck with previous blends. and since hot coffee is not only injurious to cupped hands, to say nothing of dripping through even tightly closed fingers, there is also a la squadra espresso cup and saucer available to round off a themed cup of java post post (if you see what i mean?).
each packet, of whichever hue, retails for £3.50, or £12 for all four. however, you may need to step it up a gear, for there are only 100 of each colour available, and when they're gone, they're gone.
i have no idea what the cost of an espresso cup and saucer is.
friday 13th september 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
robert millar has never struck me as a rider who dwells in the vestiges of nostalgia. the first scottish/british rider ever to win one of the three principal jerseys on offer in the tour de france and up until 2012, also the highest placed from the british isles. that's a record he held for eighteen years, and possibly one he thought would never be superseded, and most likely one none of the rest of us thought had a chance of being eclipsed.
until the last five years or so, britain has not featured as the nation that immediately brought cycling success to mind. though france has featured rather poorly in its home race since the days of bernard hinault, along with belgium, holland and italy it's definitely one of those associated if not with recent cycling success, undoubtedly with a long term affinity with cycle sport. not that i've considered it in this light previously, but perhaps it ought to be considered a tad shameful that the continent across the pond managed to beat us to the top of the podium in paris (but only twice, if we're willing to accept the asterisks that accompany the remaining wins).
so bradley wiggins' fourth place in 2009 (moved up to third after one of those asterisks was added) ostensibly meant that fifteen years after millar's joie de vivre, things were starting to look a tad more optimistic for the british cycling aficionado. though many will now maintain that they had every faith in sir dave's contention to put a british rider on the top step in paris within five years, i doubt that's as true as recall would like it to be.
then, of course, we had the summer of 2012 when it seemed little could ever go wrong. brad nabbed yellow and gold, chris stood second in line and many a track star went home wearing at least one medal. perhaps, chris froome's tour victory this year notwithstanding, that's as good as it gets; if it turns out to be true, there's no shame to be suffered and no face to be lost. british cycling achieved a number of goals that few ever thought would happen in their lifetimes. and the period of celebration, it seems, continues to this day, and rightly so.
sir brad may be seen to have entered the wilderness since this year's giro d'italia, with injury and altered targets leading to a few time-trial victories but no noticable podium spots. perhaps it reflects more upon us that we expect a tour de france victor to repeat the feat ad finitum. surely the yellow jersey foretells of unrivalled prowess on two wheels, laying waste to all that rides in front of the mavic car? despite a collective knowledge to the contrary, more than just an individual has queried "what now for sir bradley?"
but the aura of celebration trundles on apace, particularly in the publishing trade, other than the world of moving pictures, possibly the single most accessible format available to the man/woman in the bikeshed. the latest to fill a slot in the bookshelf, however, might just bring a wince to your bank balance.
"...our mission is to produce definitive publications featuring the finest writers, stunning images displayed on an epic scale and presented in a beautifully-designed, luxury format."
so states the opening paragraph from the about us section of opus publishing's website, the latest from whom concerns britain's favourite mod (paul weller relegated to second place for the time being). "Right now and right here, in his world, he is top of his game, impeccably dressed, feet in the ground, head in the clouds... somewhere up a mountain probably. That's devotion.". So quoth mr weller himself, a tribute that accompanies an image of a besuited sir bradley holding a copy of 101, a substantial yellow bound volume that takes its title from the number affixed to a rear pocket of wiggo's yellow jersey in the year of success.
the 360 page book promises an 'Official, behind the scenes recollection of the victorious 2012 Tour de France campaign. The Official Bradley Wiggins Opus celebrates the historic feat in a depth and on a scale never before possible.' what this opening statement fails to mention is the cost of admission. admittedly limited to 101 copies wordwide and weighing an impressive 15kg (more than the equivalent of two team sky pinarello dogmas) as well as enclosing a piece of brad's yellow jersey, the book can be yours for the princely sum of £1,199.
maybe you'd better sit down.
all, however, is not lost, for there are another two lesser versions available in greater quantities and at lower cost. the limited edition (300 copies) signed by wiggo retails at £599, while the version for the rest of us requires only 199 pieces of the folding stuff, one which you will share with only another 1599 individuals. each edition is of identical content, only the degree of luxury varies the user experience.
so what do you get for your money?
"Scott followed me on the Tour before and we'd discussed during this year's tour (2012) how his stunning images could be translated into an Opus". the scott mentioned above is edinburgh-based photographer scott mitchell, now officially a part of team sky and not infrequently featured in these yellow and black pixels. 101 is a collaboration between the photography of scott mitchell and the words of bradley wiggins. i'd be misleading you if i apportioned great literary prowess to the text accompanying each spread of photographs; most are described as post-stage comments, at which point in time wiggo was probably not apt to quote from proust or hemingway. however, they do provide an immediacy to some quite frankly stunning photography.
at fifteen kilograms and a price in excess of £1,000, a leg on each corner would easily create a real coffee table, let alone a book that might lovingly occupy space upon yours. the plushness of production is of considerable credit to opus; they sure as heck don't do things by halves. but i can't pretend that even paying £199 for a book is somewhat too rich for the average pocket. though it may well be thought to undermine the exclusivity of the three existing versions, i'd love to have seen a fourth edition priced at closer to £50. not all of sir bradley's fans are possessed of unlimited wherewithal; but then i suppose the same could be said of one of those blue and black dogmas.
if you have the money and consider yourself a bradley wiggins superfan, this might just be the icing on the cake. there is no doubting the quality of either production or content, but somehow i'm not sure we'll see the same treatment for this year's winner.
thursday 12th september 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
mrs washingmachinepost sent me an imessage the other day (on my ipod; the mobile phone has still not entered my world) to inform me that her painful knee, which had endured all across the weekend, had taken a momentary turn for the worse. without wishing to seem less than compassionate, i did rather wonder why my morning of bezier points was being interrupted by such distant agony. however, rather true to form, my reply consisted of a phrase that i'm sure has become more than tiresome of late "it's probably caused by a lack of cycling". i will refrain from entering the vernacular and publishing her hastily considered reply.
this investment in cycling as the solution for all ills (if truth be told, i think it the solution to pretty much everything) is one trotted out with unfailing regularity on my behalf no matter the extremity of the situation. and should i find myself afflicted by a mildly sore throat as is the case at present, the platitude is reversed; it was obviously caused by a similar lack of cycling. bluntly put, one can never be aboard the bicycle too often.
however, all humour aside, cycling does own a propensity to try at least to make the world a better place. my two ventures into french france from english london raised around £1,000 each for charitable institutions. each year, a goodly proportion of the riders participating in the ride of the falling rain donate money to a designated charity, that others might benefit from their day in the sun/rain (delete as applicable).
though the genre seems to have desisted from occupying a front page corner of my daily newspaper, many have been the expeditions across obscure parts of the world on which bicyclists might seek to raise money for those of less fortunate and intrepid than themselves. from a physical point of view, many has been the athlete from a different sport or activity who has been advised to take up cycling to remedy or lessen a pervasive medical condition. as i said earlier 'cycling cures everything.'
but every now and again, along comes a bike ride that pushes the corners just a little bit further, all the while maintaining a link with sporting reality. first run as a competitive event in 1891, the 560km bordeaux-paris the inaugural event was won by britain's george pilkington mills. it's a race that's been added to the palmares of both louison bobet and jacques anquetil, and won on seven occasions by herman van springel. the final edition took place in 1988.
it's also a race that has occupied a special place in the mind of rapha ceo, simon mottram, a man who owns designs on reviving this classic for the ordinary man in the finishing straight. to this end, he and members of the rapha board are racing against other teams to not only attempt victory in paris, but raise substantial sums of money for ambitious about autism. the participating teams have been acquiring sponsorship all the way to the start line in bordeaux on friday 13th september.
but hard on the prelude to real, hard, french racing is a more traditional british method of raising funds. the auction.
launched last night (tuesday 10th september) at the london cycle club, the 2013 bordeaux-paris challenge auction offers bidders the chance to acquire, amongst others, mark cavendish's 2012 world champion's jersey, andy hampsten's white jersey from the 86 tour de france, wiggo's sky jerseys, several rather desirable bicycles, including dave millar's 2011 cervelo and the chance to join team sky for a two-day training camp in majorca. perhaps you have already realised this is something of an exclusive auction, intent on raising a substantial sum for ambitious about autism?
for those with deep pockets and matching desire and generosity, take a click across to ebay for the opportunity to participate in this singularly acquisitive yet charitable spree. because just in case you'd forgotten, cycling cures all ills.
rapha bordeaux-paris auction. ends on tuesday 17th september.
wednesday 11th september 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
"This is not just a collection of photographs, it is a collection of memories."
i believe it was frank sinatra who sang "regrets; i've had a few..." before continuing to inform us that, perhaps ever so slightly anti-socially, he'd done it his way. it is my one great regret that, as a teenager in the 1970s, i lived my life more or less oblivious to the existence of eddy merckx, particularly during those molteni years of black and brown wool jerseys. over the time he rode for italian coffee-machine manufacturers faema, i was too young to know any better.
in fact, now that i come to consider the seventies with a clearer sense of recall, i blame my parents. for which twelve year-old is sufficiently independent of mind to be aware of the various acts of sporting prowess taking place all across europe? my father and brother were engrossed in parochial football antics, and cared not one whit for velocipedinal activity. however, i think that a particularly weak excuse on their behalf (and one day i might well point this out), for my younger brother owned a ten-speed racer, yet there was no familial education as to the lineage leading to all those gears.
it is all well and good to own a bicycle with drop bars and a couple of downtube levers, but surely someone of greater years and wisdom must have known those features were not developed for delivering newspapers each weekday morning?
europe however, and more specifically the belgium that was the birthplace of the great eddy merckx, was and is besotted with bicycle racing. no matter that eddy was from the wrong side of town, so to speak, he was at least diplomatic enough not to come down on one side or the other, thus endearing himself to both north and south. it bears comparison with the wholesale british adoption of scottish athletes and tennis players providing they're winning medals and trophies.
but the sixties and seventies were a long time ago. legend has it that if you can remember the sixties, you weren't there. a clever ploy, but less than applicable to countries other than the usa i would imagine, and they'd have been even less aware of eddy's exploits than was i at the time. nowadays however, it brings less than palpable joy to know that i was there so to speak and let it all drift by without comment. sport of any sort was never uppermost in my mind, and even pragmatism ruled the newspaper round, delivery being made on a raleigh twenty shopping bike.
i don't doubt that eddy's palmares would have been any less impressive even had he been aboard a similar set of two wheels; tartan saddle bag and all.
i have a couple of photographic teaching/mentoring duties to perform over the coming two semesters (a technical term that seems to have arrived along with campus), all of which are based in the digital realm. as such, i have a certain amount of studying to do in order to give that air of authority should any of the students ask awkward questions that i rather hoped they wouldn't. there are, apparently no rules in photography, other than the warning never to develop colour film in chicken noodle soup. and develop is a word that no longer truly applies in the digital realm.
gone are the days when film had to be carefully installed in the camera, avoiding unnecessary exposure to light. when the alotted number of exposures had been used, it was time to wind on, pop the film in a little plastic canister and hand it in to be developed. those were the days of photo albums, when the best of the summer holidays and day trips to the seaside were carefully and chronologically affixed to each page. no matter that these albums rarely saw the light of day except during infrequent bouts of nostalgia brought on by unsuspecting visitors. it was simply what you did.
such was the proclivity of the belgian monsieur lecouf, except the photographs pasted in his album eschewed those of his family (if he indeed had any) in favour of a huge selection of candid pictures of eddy merckx. these run the gamut of images depicting eddy in race mode, signing autographs, posing with friends and fans, enjoying the occasional pensive moment and hustling his way through adoring throngs either on his way to the podium or attempting to reach his molteni liveried bicycle.
even kicking a football dressed in a suit.
these photographs had never seen the public light of day until a selection were published in the eighth issue of rouleur magazine. though i would protest in the strongest terms that i am not one for collecting autographs, i must raise my hand at this point and admit that i did get eddy to sign a copy of that particular issue. however, current owner of this unique photo album, kadir guirey has now had the foresight and grace to offer the collection in book format, one that retains the appearance of the original. it's importance, i would suggest, should not be underestimated.
it is unknown whether m. lecouf was the photographer, or simply a close friend or obsessive fan. scrawled on the inside cover are the words 'Bien sportivement - M. Louis leCouf' accompanied by eddy's signature. there then follows an eclectic display of ninety colour and black and white photos, many with the almost obligatory white border beloved of the mid to latter days of photographic prints.
it's difficult to tell whether the prints have deteriorated slightly over the intervening forty odd years, or whether the world truly existed in less saturated colours in the 1970s. what is quite uncanny is the impressive standard of composition in pretty much every image. as paul fournel makes mention in his accompanying essay, these were different times. "...it's hard to believe that Eddy Merckx was so easy to get close to. Could you simply go up to him and take a picture?" ..."When you see the number of barriers that you would need to break down to even approach stars of his caliber today...the simplicity of these images is quite astonishing."
i can think of no better author to inscribe testament both to eddy merckx and the accompanying images than paul fournel. a long-time contributor to the pages of rouleur his perspective of the era and its importance to cycling's ever increasing heritage proves him the ideal candidate for the job. his words were a pleasant surprise after an admittedly lengthy period of perusing the images. rarely does cycling memorabilia get any better than this.
whatever your perceived status within the cycling milieu; beginner, veteran, professional or simply a bloke/girl with a bike, these are frozen moments in history that cannot fail to impress. though cycling benefits greatly from the expertise and vision of many superb contemporary photographers, l'album d'eddy is from a wholly different place, one that will delight and excite in equal proportions. i missed it all the first time round; don't repeat my youthful error.
"...was he simply another race fan, one of those devoted Tour lovers who runs across fields and climbs mountains just to snatch a photo or grab a racer's cap still damp with sweat?"
l'album d'eddy, encased in a leatherette bound cover with gold foil lettering, is available from the rouleur shop for £28.
tuesday 10th september 2013..........................................................................................................................................................................................................