I bear the marks of my biker’s tan… It’s my second skin. I derive neither shame nor glory from it. I take it on, and, with the first rays of the spring sun, I put down another layer. One day I was at the pool and a kid yelled at me: ‘Hey pops, you forgot your bike!’ It’s hard to stay incognito. – Paul Fournel, Need for the Bike
By now your friends, family and work colleagues already think you’re strange with that peculiar obsession with cycling you have. But that doesn’t stop them from stifling a giggle when they first notice that the deep brown tan on your arms mysteriously ends at the wrist – the classic cycling mitt tan line. Do they suspect the other tanning horrors that lurk beneath your shirtsleeves? Read the rest of this entry »
It’s difficult to understand how some people’s favourite season is not summer. In terms of racing there’s more on offer than at any other time of the year; living in London it’s easily possible to race three times a week if you so wanted, and that’s not to mention time trialling and sportives (if you’re that way inclined). Racing after work is possible because of the longer evenings, and Tuesday night alone there’s the choice of either Hillingdon or Crystal Palace. But for me the only choice is Palace.
I remember in my first year of racing I didn’t stray far from Hillingdon; as a fourth cat your racing options are fairly limited anyway, but I’d heard stories about Palace. About the crazy narrow course. That’s in a public park with dog walkers straying onto the road. The chaos as the various concurrent races mingle and tangle, and all the confusion that ensues. But bored of circling a flat featureless track out by an industrial park at the end of the bordering-on-hostile Uxbridge Road, I gathered my courage and headed one evening instead to south east London… I’d never enjoyed myself so much during a race than during that first taste of Palace – sprinting out of every corner, tentatively getting to grips with the tricky bends. I regretted listening to the nay-sayers and the doom mongers, and for not racing there sooner. Read the rest of this entry »
How many times does the thought cross your mind? “I wish this could just end right now”, as the elastic to the wheel in front starts to stretch further and further, and the effort to close it gets more and more painful. A puncture, a broken spoke, something innocuous but definitive. A noble end, an irrefutable excuse. “Not a crash, nothing painful, just an end.”
And then it finally happens, the shameful truth emerges – the legs inadequate, the heart too weak, the line of riders drift away. Shoulders bowed, head hung low – you’ve been dropped.
Did it ever happen to Mercx? Did anyone ever have ‘The Cannibal’ for breakfast? Was Hinault ever humiliated, anyone ever lick his plate clean? Did that guy who beat you and the rest of the field on Sunday ever grovel in the wheels of stronger riders, ever ride himself into the ground only to finish dead last – or not finish at all? After all, we’re all human – right? Read the rest of this entry »
After a restless night, I hear my alarm go off. Still dark outside, but I was already awake anyway. Lying still, I strain to listen to the weather, for the tapping of rain against the window or the signs of a stiff breeze disturbing the leaves of the trees. It’s early season and it’s race day. Hitching a lift with a team-mate, we survey the skies over the motorway as we leave the city and head out into the countryside. Rain might mean a last-minute change of kit, or could determine how the race is won. We chat nervously trying to predict how the racing will unfold, recalling the difficulty of certain climbs and the vagaries of the particular circuit. Our destination is race headquarters at a country village hall. It could be Loxwood, Alfold, Bletchingley or Wisborough – all names conjuring images of a quaint Britishness distant to our everyday metropolitan lives. On arrival, the ritual begins: signing on, the pinning of numbers, several toilet visits. We change in the drafty hall on plastic chairs common to municipal buildings, notices for Women’s Institute meetings and toddler playgroups are dotted about the walls. In the corner is the familiar counter serving tea. Laid out is a spread of homemade cakes and sandwiches of cheap bread and simple fillings. The race officials warm and feed themselves in anticipation of the hours standing on cold road corners, or of monitoring the race from the front seat of the commissaire’s car. The racers will revive themselves a few hours from now, cradling cups of hot tea in shivering hands, faces spattered in road grime.
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Hope all is well back home. Our trip has been interesting and eventful, although not all of it so enjoyable. But I suppose that’s the price you pay for a sense of adventure!
After a long discussion within our group we finally agreed that we’d take a trip across the Pain Barrier – we’d travelled so close to the border and our curiosity finally got the better of us. Of course we’d all heard the stories; the self-satisfied tales from some far flung land, beyond even the maps of less intrepid tourists. The stories of survival against the odds, of going deeper and deeper into uncertain territory. We wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Read the rest of this entry »
‘Labrador’ illustration by Philip Deacon. Check out his website www.philipdeacon.co.uk for more witty cycling related artwork and prints available to buy.
I remember the dog very well. It was a yellow dog, a boxer. I remember I was the last to see him alive because I was the one who hit him. At the same moment, I felt my front wheel give way and my handlebars twist against my left arm. I felt the breeze from the peloton, opening up and yelling all around me, and then I woke up, sitting on the Longchamp pavement, trying to scratch my phone number in the sand, in case I passed out again. Paul Fournel, ‘Need for the Bike’
Like most cyclists I prefer the predictable.
I like weather that is warm and sunny and stays that way. I dislike sunny days that change their mind halfway through and choose to be petulant little brats and start raining on you.
I like cars that indicate they’re about to turn, and then actually turn the way they’ve indicated. And dislike car doors that suddenly swing open on you.
I like the reduced odds of a breakaway rather than the lottery of bunch sprints.
I don’t like children who run up to the curb and are only stopped from venturing further at the final moment by a firm parental grip.
And I don’t like dogs.
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La petit mort. The seconds begin to stretch, sound recedes. The heart is fit to burst as everything begins to burn. For some it’s about aggression, a flurry of rage. For others it’s a task of concentrated effort, the pain turned inwards. The suffering is contained in their eyes, the torture in facial contortions.
Just as quickly as it begun, it’s suddenly over. Legs slowly unwind from their frantic whir. And as this is roller racing at Rollapaluza, a cold beer can be in your hands literally seconds after unstrapping from the roller racing rig.
Is this the perfect distillation of cycling? The sport reduced to its purest form? Physical suffering rewarded by, for some, glory, and for everyone else a hard earned pint? Cycling in a bar – what’s not to love?
Monday was the second round of the Rollapaluza Winter League. Results and more photos from the night can be found here. Clubmate John ‘Coolers’ Coolahan was the clear winner, having also set the fastest time recorded on the night (21.71 seconds). Natalie Creswick won the women’s event in equally convincing style. I failed to even progress out of the qualifying round. Woeful.
Right now I shouldn’t be writing this, sitting here with the sun streaming through the windows. A beautiful early autumn morning. Where I should be, naturally, is on my bike, waiting at the bottom of a hill ready for my start time. “10 seconds… and 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…”
The hill climb season traditionally comes tagged onto the end of the main racing season, just as the mornings get cooler and leaves start falling onto the country roads and lanes that we ride on. For anyone who began their season many months ago when spring was still struggling to emerge from the shadow of winter, holding any sort of form so late in the year is a struggle. It requires planning, probably some period of rest taken mid-season. It means avoiding injuries and crashes – which is no mean feat when a season is peppered with dozens of near-misses. Read the rest of this entry »