Archives for the month of: May, 2010

…current thinking suggests that small gears and a high cadence are the keys to success. Lance Armstrong’s riding style was epitomised by his whizzy leg speed – but now it just seems that was simply a cover for a more pharmaceutical approach to winning. So forget the small ring Grandma, real men embrace the pain of Big Ring Riding (above). ‘It’s not just a chain ring, it’s a state of mind’…

…last night at Look Mum No Hands!, the excellent The Ride Journal held a party to launch its fourth issue. One hundred and seventy lovely pages of writings, photography and illustration celebrate  the world of cycling in all its carnations. As a sampler, the second issue of the magazine is available as a free download from their website…

…there’s been a lot of speculation over the past week as to the details of the London 2012 road race route. Cycling Weekly broke the story that the loop will take the race from central London out into the Surrey Hills, do a couple of laps of Box Hill, and then return again for a finishing circuit around Westminster. Basically, it’s a course with hills and lumps that will barely register on the athletes’ legs, and makes Cav a shoe-in for taking the win for the home nation. Check it out for yourself by following an approximation of the route here

…recently it has become de rigeur for pro cyclists to announce their every move, thought and bodily function through the medium of Twitter. Once again we can blame Lance Armstrong for setting an unwelcome precedent. However Rapha Condor Sharp rider Tom Southam is bucking the trend, and has used his helmet to spread the word; ‘Twitter ye not’ is his unofficial kit customisation of the year, yet it’s debatable whether it beats his previous season’s declaration, “I’m through with white women”…

Back in the early eighties there was an attempt to bring cycling to a wider British audience with a series of city centre crits (watch YouTube clips here). Sponsored by Kellogg’s, the races briefly made household names of its stars, and made cycling one of the most widely watched sports on TV. Fast and action packed, the races were easy for the public to follow and crowds several rows deep lined their local roads to cheer on this crazy spectacle.

Unfortunately the popularity of the series waned when the TV broadcasts were shunted to the outer limits of the scheduling, shown at midnight alongside other obscure and eccentric sports.

Last night with a very British brand of razzmatazz, the second year of the Tour Series – sponsored by Halfords – kicked off in Canary Wharf. Shivering in the shadows of skyscrapers and the faceless anonymity of corporate headquarters, thin crowds of thin spectators (with such little body fat, cyclists are not built for standing around in the cold) did their utmost to create an atmosphere of anticipation. A loud PA system boomed out pop music, underdressed cheerleaders jumped and waved pom-poms – in an attempt to stay warm as anything else. Read the rest of this entry »

…stumbled across this fantastic photo journal from Californian cyclist Jordan Clark Haggard. The Blue and Red (above) stylishly documents the everyday life of an amateur racer…

…from his ‘epic’ victory on the muddy roads of the Strade Bianche, to taking on the sprinters on stage 9 of the Giro (pics and entirely unbiased comment over on CyclingTips), Cadel Evans is quickly becoming my new favourite cyclist…

…wondering why there were no TV pictures available from the second stage of the Tour of California? The Inner Ring has the low down on why the Americans are stumped by the rain, yet the Italians keep on going through the heaviest of downpours…

I love a bit of Rapha as much as the next poseur cyclist, yet even I think a brushed Camel textured cycling cap at £115 is taking things a bit far…

…new London cycling cafe Look Mum No Hands! gets a respectable review in Time Out. Not quite enough detail on the cakes on offer though, which unfortunately means I’ll have to pop in and sample them myself…

Cyclists are obsessed by weight. It wasn’t until I had entered this crazy sport that my slight physique had ever put fear into the hearts of grown men. Previously, being so skinny was only ever a curse.

One summer when I was a young lad, I was playing in the paddling pool of my friend who lived across the road. His mother, observing me in my little swimming shorts, said she’d never seen such a skinny child; “I was worried there might be a gust of wind and he’d be swept off the ground and blown away like a leaf”. Not much has changed in the intervening years.

The impression given by the media is that every woman is, and should be, obsessed with their weight – every magazine is filled with celebrity stories of losing it, then gaining it, missery at being fat, misery at being too skinny. There are diets, exercise programmes, quick-fix solutions for beach bodies and party dresses. In every page and on every cover is a horror, a depressing fear of the body – a terrible longing to fulfill a particular skinny silhouette. Sometimes I count myself lucky I was born a boy – and a skinny boy at that, free to fill his face as much as he chooses.

Cycling keeps us trim, there are very few extra pounds to be found in the peloton. Yet when the road turns upwards, those labouring will curse their extra weight. Rarely will a sprinter turn to a climber and compliment them on the endurance or power they’ve developed in order to make lighter work of hills and climbs; they’ll turn their attention to weight, to their own excess and to your lack of it.

But any jealousy they have is worn lightly; to be a man and to be skinny is still to be not much of a man at all. A cyclist of more robust construction knows that it is only while turning the pedals on a climb that their physique is to their detriment. I’ve yet to overhear a woman professing a penchant for the pigeon-chested gentleman. Suits are not made in sizes suitable for the grimpeur. Boonen and Cancellara are the housewife’s favourites, not Contador or the Schlecks. Skinny men do not advertise aftershaves, or Calvin Klein underwear, only ‘Mr Muscle’ cleaning products. We’re a joke.

All this exercise and training that eschews the expectations of social norms, also keeps me healthy and strong. I am fitter than almost any other person I know (fellow cyclists excluded), yet often I wonder if life wouldn’t be easier spent on the sofa, or in the kebab shop at the end of a night out drinking. Or maybe if I suffered the intolerable boredom of a gym, with its mirrors and treadmills, and flexed my biceps for no other purpose than to watch them grow bloated with untapped potential.

But I’ve chosen cycling. When I line up with my fellow racing whippets on a Sunday morning – facing down the hills laid out ahead, to exploit one of the few natural advantages handed to us – I feel like I belong.

In the 1979 film Breaking Away, a young American teenager from a non-descript Indiana town develops an obsession with cycling and the Italian team. “Ciao Mama! Ciao Papa!” – his parents are unimpressed, and his friends fail to understand his new passion. David searches out scraps of information on the Italian team, pouring over magazines and papering his bedroom walls with images of his European heroes. Campagnolo, Colnago, Coppi, Gimondi; the evocation of Mediterranean exotica.

So it is with great expectations when he hears news that a team from Italy will be travelling to compete in a local race. At last he gets to experience Italian culture first hand, to race against these foreign new adversaries from the spiritual home of cycling. When the day arrives, the Italians dominate the race, riding at the front and setting a fierce pace, dropping everyone except our American idealist. He is a nuisance, stubbornly refusing to drop behind with the other local riders – the Italians tell him in no uncertain terms – though in Italian – to bugger off. When their intimidation fails to make an impression, they ram a pump into the spokes of his front wheel. As David flies head over heels into the roadside shrubbery, his carefully constructed Italian dream also falls flat on its arse.

Later today, the riders will roll down the start ramp in Amsterdam to begin their three week adventure in the Giro d’Italia. For many the first grand tour of the year is also the best; beautiful scenery rivalling Le Tour, steeper more demanding climbs, racing that is less predictable and more aggressive. But most importantly, it winds it’s way through a country that embodies the soul of cycling, cheered on by the adoring and fanatical tifosi.

The hosts will once again be hoping that a local hero can emerge and claim the maglia rosa – the rest of the world will be hoping he is earning his glory through honest means. Recently we’ve seen too many improbable performances from the home favourites – Basso, Ricco, Di Luca. Too many times has this race, wrapped in the passion and beauty of Italian culture, also been unravelled by its uglier side.

Some people live to work, while others work to live. However many of us cycle to work – then while at work spend our time organising rides, checking the forecast, and posting on cycling forums – and then cycle home again.

Friday night drinks are curtailed in favour of weekend racing. Housework skipped in order to degrease a chain or replace brake pads. A cyclist never has spare time on his hands.

During the winter months, the bite cycling takes out of life appears to be the biggest. Days are short, time for training compressed. Now spring has arrived and summer appears to be on its way, lighter evenings and longer days are to be savoured. Training is no longer a battle against the cold, a forceful effort to galvanise muscles against the elements. Discarding the thermal layers in favour of just shorts and jersey, this is when proper cycling happens – the glorious summer season has begun. Effortlessly, it consumes every waking hour.

Most of us remember when our lives were not like this. We used to be normal, regular people, with normal regular jobs and pastimes. Weekend mornings were spent in bed hiding from hangovers. There was time to phone your mother, hang out aimlessly with friends, to invest into a career. Cycling is selfish. Or rather, to be a cyclist demands selfishness.

It would be odd to think that there just happened to be a cycling-shaped hole in my life, and that fortunately that particular pastime came along and neatly filled it. The truth is that cycling saw the glimmer of an opportunity, barged in, and made itself at home and then started to boss everyone around in it.

Often I think cycling is a substitute for so many of the other things society thinks I should be doing. Putting in those extra hours at work for the chance of a promotion. Going to bars and clubs. Spending money on jeans and shirts, paying installments on a sports car, heading for exotic beach holidays for an all-over tan. Instead it’s lycra, bicycles, training camps and a tan that starts at the ankle and ends just above the knee.

At some point I know I’ll experience an epiphany; one day cycling will seem ridiculous. The hours spent training; the fruitless races (and even the fruitful ones); the need for acceptance and approval by a tiny clique – to impress other cyclists and be acknowledged by fellow racers. That cycling is more an excuse than a substitution. Even though I know that day will come, for now I’ll fight against the doubts. I’d still rather be out on my bike than anywhere else.

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