i profess i am not a great frequenter of bike shops. for starters, there is no such thing on islay, and secondly, when i'm in scotland or other parts of the uk, there are often far more interesting things to accomplish than hanging out in bike shops. i will, however, admit to having spent perhaps more time than could be totally justified in west end bikes in portland, but that was mostly for conversational purposes. but that is not to say that i find bike shops something of an anathema. in the glory years, they were what they were; small, dark and racked with jewel like parts, served by an elderly gentleman wearing a shabby brown coat. what need had they to be otherwise?
nowadays, however, they are a part of the retail environment, one that encourages us to spend inordinate amounts of money we most certainly do not have, on brightly painted carbon fibre and other tantalising trinkets. not satisfied with adopting this particular stance, the more amenable of proprietors have added authentic designer coffees and all but smudged the line between bike shop and an encouragingly funky place to spend a saturday afternoon.
one such establishment is the almost legendary ronde in edinburgh's stockbridge area, where an old scottish co-operative outlet has been carefully fashioned into one of the nicest ways to spend money on bikes and coffee. it is to my eternal regret that i have spent only one day in the premises, having visited not long after the opening last august. in the process of being given a guided tour of all that is great and good, in walked a chap dressed in full rapha condor sharp team kit, wheeling a condor leggero carbon race bike intent on parking it in the backshop at ronde.
meeting rcs wannabees in the streets of london is relatively common and certainly not remarkable. finding what appeared to be a verisimilitude of a rapha pelotonese in an edinburgh bike shop seemed a tad strange. of course the in-joke, was most definitely on me. had it been possible to ask the chap behind the coffee counter to put a little egg on my face, the embarrassment would have been complete, for the black and pink clad rider was none other than james mccallum, who really is a rapha condor sharp rider.
and you wonder why i say i'm not a journalist.
there is no earthly reason why professional bike riders should consider themselves to partake of celebrity status; that is an affect we drape some of them in all by ourselves. james mccallum would be a very hard subject on which to impose the latter. while the two neils at ronde conversed at length with claire and grant from condor, james and i munched on almond croissants and supped the very fine coffee on offer. james is a bit younger than i am (well, a big bit if i'm honest), so the fact that our conversation was identical to that of old school chums was as welcome as the coffee and a surrounding of condor frames.
i asked neil millsop of ronde how come they had a rapha condor sharp rider turning up on their doorstep so regularly? "We met James not long after we opened Ronde by chance through John who's known him for years. From the start of our friendship it was clear that James is a selfless person and was nothing but positive about what we were trying to do here, to the point of helping to promote the shop without us asking. He's a one man marketing machine and surprise surprise we now offer some sharp training programs run by James through the shop!"
our chance meeting, perhaps, was while the 2011 season was still in force, and i was happy to note that, despite rapha condor sharp altering trajectory somewhat for 2012, james was re-signed for the season. he has already come second in the east midlands classic this year, is a part of the rcs tour series team and on sunday 20th may, he became the king of scotland, winning the scottish road race championship in balfron, equidistant from glasgow and stirling. and judging from the finish line photos, he was comfortably on his own at that point ahead of second placed evan oliphant.
most kids, when at an impressionable age, have dreams of becoming train drivers or astronauts, so was cycling something that james had in his head from an early age? "No I wanted be an archaeologist when I was a kid. I loved the idea of digging up dinosaurs and finding stuff." now that the bicycle is his mode of employ, does he consider himself an obstinately obsessed cyclist, or simply more dedicated than the rest of us and with substantially more speed? "I think I'm less obsessed now than I was when I was say 19 or 20. Or maybe I'm just as obsessed but a tad more relaxed due to 20 years of experience."
as neil at ronde was wont to add "He reminds us when he turns up at the shop for a pre-training espresso in the dead of winter of why were involved in cycling and also why we maybe don't have what it takes to be professionals; the dedication and positivity flow from his being. Rapha, one of his sponsors, recently ran a discussion asking what people thought "Pro style" was... we'd say Jimmy!"
mccallum turned professional with the plowman craven team in 2007 after his 2006 commonwealth games medal "put me in the shop window so to speak". he then went on to win the national criterium championships. disappointingly, however, the following year he crashed badly and broke his shoulder, forcing him to miss most of the 2008 season. by his own admission he's "not great at doing nothing, so i continued working as well as riding full time." he figures he only became a full-time professional bike rider in 2010. "I think I just wasn't ready or maybe lacked the vision and ambition to go further. Since then John Herety gave me a second chance with Rapha Condor Sharp and I grabbed it with both hands."
john herety is acclaimed as one of the more astute team managers in the world of professional cycle racing, not given to suffering fools gladly. with rapha condor sharp adopting a different mantle this year, what was it that brought him to re-sign james mccallum for the 2012 season, a decision that his scottish road race victory undoubtedly vindicated? "Despite his many years in the sport, Jimmy is still finding out about himself. He continues to defy the ageing process and is as fit now as he has ever been. His strength of character both on and off the bike has proved invaluable to the team, while his mentoring role of the new riders in the team has only reinforced his own already incredible enthusiasm for the sport still further. Everyone on the team is really pleased about his Scottish victory and I personally have no doubt in my mind that he will continue to have more success over the coming years."
there's many a professional in many a profession who has found that earning money from a one-time obsession has dulled the edge that once inflected their participation. sometimes it would seem preferable to have kept it as a serious hobby and done something else instead to put food on the table. has the professional metier altered or reinforced mccallum's appreciation of cycling? now that it's a job, has some of the joy disappeared? "If anything I enjoy it more now that it's my job and I have more purpose as well. Plus the sport is booming at the moment. It's a good place to be."
during the 2011 season, rapha condor sharp dominated the domestic racing scene, but took the (perhaps sensible) decision to refrain from attempting to reach for higher uci ground. any further progress on james mccallum's part, along with that of any of his team-mates would have required a move from the home comforts of rcs. did he ever have plans or dreams to race at pro tour level or was he content to focus more on the uk domestic scene? "Like I said earlier, I think I lacked the ambition and dedication at that point in my career. I'm happy with where I am though. No regrets."
i'm not denying that this article would likely have appeared even had mccallum been of a nationality other than scottish, but invoking thewashingmachinepost parochial rule, it really doesn't hurt. scotland has enviably punched well above its weight in producing talented cyclists; robert millar, brian smith and chris hoy to name but three. however, professional cycling is hardely the simplest of career choices, so had james a backup plan in case he hadn't been as fast as he needed to be? "Yeah I was a nurse for several years. Then worked in events for about three years, so I've always had a back up plan." observing that the combination of career choice and geographical location is not often one that provides the correct answer, did he ever feel pressure to move south in order to realise his professional cycling career? "Nah not really. I love being able to do what I do and still be at home. Even if it does mean at least three hours more driving. I just man up and get on with it..."
it is one of the more exciting facets of life, that you often don't know just what you were aiming for until you get there. in his second year at rapha condor sharp, does mccallum now see this as the target he's ben aiming for all these years, or does the cunning plan have a greater mark in mind? "In all honesty I think at this point in my career and age, this team is the perfect place for me. The boss knows exactly how to use me properly." now that he's entered year two, is it a comfortable place to be? "Definitely. I'm the happiest I've been in a long time. The atmosphere and ethos are spot on and my team-mates are all my best friends."
looking back a matter of days to the scottish road race championship, the previous week saw mccallum ride the first two rounds of the 2012 tour series criterium races, the first in kirkaldy followed by durham later in the same week. did he consider those to be good training for the scottish road race championships, or had he to throw a few other specifics into the works along the way? "All my training for the races was done weeks in advance. Lots of sprints, intervals, chasing motorbikes and riding in a chaingang. The recent results are the fruits of that labour. Cycling is all about what you do when no one's watching and cheering you on. That's the graft." and at what point in sunday's race did he think "i can win this'? "I was pretty confident from the start. I kept on telling myself it was my race to lose and not mine to win." and as scottish champion, does he get to wear a national jersey in future races? "That's a work in progress and Rapha are on the case."
as the 2012 season progresses, with mccallum forming a permanent part of the rapha condor sharp tour series team, it must be a nice feeling to know that one of the highest accolades that can be won by a scottish cyclist is fixed to jimmy's back for the next twelve months. it's a truly unfair question to ask the newly crowned king, but does he have any tentative plans for his post racing years? "Ha ha I dunno. I'll just okay it by ear I think. I take nothing for granted, but I love this sport and everything it's given me. I'd be a bit silly not to try and give something back."
in this instance, it seems pertinent and appropriate to leave the last words to ronde's neil millsop, someone who knows jimmy a lot better than i do. "We're proud to count him as a friend and so happy for his recent successes. They are a testament to his approach and personality. The King of Scotland? Most definitely!"
very many thanks to neil millsop, john herety and james mccallum for valuable assistance in compiling this article and to bazzargh and brassyn for permission to use their photographs of the scottish road race.
thursday 24th may 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................