in either 1984 or '85, the impressive exploits of robert millar in the tour de france brought the sport to the attention of yours truly and probably several dozen others north of the border. the exploits of the diminutive scot against the likes of laurent fignon and bernard hinault were something of a revelation, particularly to those of us with scant knowledge of the whys and wherefores of professional cycling. let's face it, if a rider from glasgow could ride up french mountains at a rather alarming pace, how hard could it be?
buoyed by this inescapable knowledge, mrs washingmachinepost ordered me a ten-speed racer from one of those mail order catalogues and on its arrival, i proceeded to ride up dundonald hill as fast as my legs would allow. it turned out that cycling fast uphill isn't quite as simple as robert made it look. in fact, i'd to stop midway up to prevent most of my tea ending up on the grass verge. however, on learning that the gearing on millar's bike was more advantageous for the purpose at hand, coupled with discovering that plain gauge steel tubing was not the same as that utilised by peugeot, certain aspects of ascending began to achieve some sort of perspective.
i think it more than likely that i'm a slow learner, because until relatively recently, my headspace still contended that i was a born climber. not for me the iniquities of time-trialling or the pell-mell of the finish line sprint. it might well be possible to purchase a t-shirt emblazoned with the legend 'i'm not fat, i'm a sprinter', but there was no room for such in my grimpeur's wardrobe. and then, just to ensure that all my grimps were aligned in a row, i read richard moore's in search of robert millar not once, but twice.
of course, it would be silly of me to base my entire climbing career on a verisimilitude to that of the glaswegian king of the mountains. this fascination with climbing, which even in the late nineties had failed to encompass any real mountains, was given a boost with the arrival of marco pantani and his two grand tour victories in 1998. in fact, i was even stood at a dublin roadside in july '98 to watch the bald italian arrive dead last in the opening prologue. no matter what transpired in the interim, i was a climber through and through.
but then the very nice people at rapha invited me to join them in provence for a few days' cycling, a trip which was to have included an ascent of mont ventoux. thankfully (for me at least), bad weather at the summit put paid to that, for on each day's riding over even relatively small hills, you can guess who was sat well off the back, holding up at least one tour guide from riding off into the sunset with the rest of the party. though my riding in provence was the best ever, i'd pretty much resigned myself to the fact that the only thing i had in common with robert millar was that of our birthplace.
but climbing would still appear to be of major consideration for the majority of the pelotonese, for why else would the world's sportives and gran fondos incorporate quite so many closely grouped gradients? given the thousands who now sign up for anything offering the opportunity to use those compact chainsets, polka dots have rarely strayed far from the (very) average cyclist's mindset.
the inestimable simon warren, a gent for whom flat roads are total anathema and who has regularly demonstrated the uncanny skill of composed conversation over gradients in excess of 14%, authored the first in a series of guides to cycling climbs in 2010 with his road cyclist's guide to britain's hills, following it with several others including one of the finest books in the velocipedinal milieu hellingen: a road cyclist's guide to belgium's greatest cycling climbs. though i for one would be prepared to defend the printed word against all other forms of digital media, i'd be quite likely to make an exception for the 100 greatest cycling climbs app, currently available for both ios and android devices.
as mr warren himself describes this digital offshoot "This is the ultimate tool to help you track down Britain's fantastic hills in your quest to 'ride them all'. the app can be enabled to work in conjunction with your strava account, but if like me, you have no great affinity with facebook for cyclists, it's perfectly happy to app away all on its own.
you can access each of the 100 climbs in one of two ways. either select from a list, or a choose each from an interactive map and on selecting the directions button, there are brief directions, a grid reference and linked access to the device's maps application. though it pains me to say so, it's almost better than the book from which it is descended, including simon's expert narrative and a photo from which you should look away if you are of a nervous disposition. let's be realistic, popping an ipod or iphone in a jersey pocket is a tad simpler than trying to squeeze in a copy of the book. aside from which, it can be really windy atop some of them there hills.
in my case, all 100 still advise that they remain unridden and i fear it will remain so for longer than i'd like to admit. but you just never know... (however, i'm confident that strava will never get a look in)
but in your case, that's the next two years' holiday entitlement accounted for.
simon warren's '100 greatest cycling climbs' digital app is available from apple's app store or the android store for a measly £5.99.
thursday 9 february 2017..........................................................................................................................................................................................................