We did the Première Manche - the first round - of A Travers riding across France from Dieppe to Marseille in the summer of 2009, and it was the original inspiration for this blog. The plan to put the 'band back together again' for another go in 2013 for the second installment fell on stoney ground, with life just getting in the way for too many of us, much to our disappointment. However, our enthusiasm for the bike remains undimmed, and so I'll keep posting my thoughts on the diverse and beautiful facets of the sport regardless. But there's bound to be another big 'adventure ride' coming soon - quite possibly in Italy - so potentially a name change too: Attraverso l'Italia in Bicicletta anyone?

Monday, 20 January 2014

You Must Have Good Eyes To See Through Those

There was quite a debate over at the superb Facebook group '80's Cycling Remembered' that I'm an avid follower of, relating to this picture: who exactly is the rider in French national kit?

Clearly it's the World Championship Road Race for professionals given the national rather than trade-team kit, and a bit of detective work - the wet weather, Système U riding Gitane frames and Emanuele Bombini in an Assos Italian team jersey on a Bianchi X4 - puts it not as Chambéry in 1989 as many thought, but 1987 at Villach in Austria where Stephen Roche crowned his annus mirabilis triple of Giro-Tour-Worlds.

But who is this mystery French rider? Gérard Rue said some, Luc Leblanc said others - but no one could believe it was Laurent Fignon: for some reason he had, for this race, not donned his usual professorial spectacles, opting instead I assume for contact lenses - this is long before the advent of laser eye surgery don't forget. If it was down to his glasses being a bad idea in the wet, it's strange that he didn't go without them more often, and I'd have imagined he'd be sporting some kind of eye protection to keep the grit out of myopic eyes already smarting from the mix of filthy wheel spray and those contact lenses. Perhaps Rudy Project Performance shades, very much in vogue at the time for example, but could you imagine Fignon in his nemesis Lemond's garish, brash, oversized Oakley Factory Pilots? No, me neither. It illustrates though how much Fignon is instantly recognisable by dint of his thinning blonde hair and those gold-rimmed specs; take them away, stick him in a casquette to cover his mop, and he's incognito to most.

I've ridden a couple of times in standard sight-correcting glasses in the wet, and it's been one of the most miserable experiences I've ever had: non-grip nosepiece useless when combined with perspiration, impossible to see through lenses covered in droplets and so constantly forced to look over the top of the rims, and with poor eyesight that's not really a great idea. Not surprising then that bespectacled riders in the pro peloton are few and far beween - most opting for lenses I assume - but there are a handful. I've compiled a list here from memory; can you think of any other well-known riders I've missed? Interestingly some of the links show the riders in team-publicity shots, without glasses. Vanity, perhaps? Is there a Velominati diktat on corrective eyewear?

Gérard Rué:

Philippe Bouvatier:

Marc Gomez:

Alfredo Chinetti:

Jan Janssen:

Jacques Decrion:

Gerrie Knetemann:

Jan Raas:

Marcel Tinazzi:

Alex Zülle:

Fabio Roscioli:

Andrea Noè:

Ray Booty:

Alan Ramsbottom:

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

It's the System, Stupid! Race Distances and PEDs: A Spurious Link

A few years back over at the excellent Italian Cycling Journal blog, there was this post on why, coming up to the Giro d'Italia, the author agreed with Italian public prosecutor Benedetto Roberti's statement that doping in the sport was because "The races are too tough. They need to reduce the kilometers. It’s impossible to think that they [the riders] can complete these races as they are without using banned substances"

More to the point for me, Roberti then went on to state that "Unfortunately that’s the system ... The sport relies on sponsors and sponsors don’t pay the teams unless they win and to win they need to use banned substances." I think it's this second statement that has far more pertinence if we're talking about the fight on doping, and left this comment on the page.

"I've never been convinced it's the distances, but rather modern commercial interests that are the problem with regards to performance-enhancing drugs in cycling. A well-trained pro cyclist should be able to race over 100 miles a day, repeatedly, without the need to dope, unless riding at 45kph 'criterium' speeds. Reduce the distances any more and the Grand Tours for example, the jewels in the sport's crown, will become a 21-day travelling circus of speed rather than stamina, favouring riders with different abilities than the 'Tour' riders. This is a hard sport, and so the Tours have to be gruelling, to provide epic 'exploits', the 'jour sans', a day ruined by 'la fringale', with the winner being someone capable of handling such demanding workloads and blessed with quick recovery. Desgrange said something along the lines of "My ideal Tour is one where only one rider finishes", and whilst I'm not advocating a return to inhuman 400km-plus stages, it's a fact that Merckx and Hinault didn't win Tours with 7-hour stages of 200-250km through the mountains because they doped, it's down to natural ability, to mental toughness, because they could race smart, use their teams and recover day after day, but at average speeds well below what we see today. All the while you have short-sighted sponsors putting pressure on teams, managers and riders to win at all costs or lose their livelihoods, there will be an unbearable temptation to dope. Addressing this by finding what you might term 'traditional' sponsors who are in the sport because they really understand and believe in it - like Mapei's Georgio Squinzi - and having a competent governing body and associated agencies working in partnership to smash the doping rings, vet the 'soigners' and ban the real cheats in a consistent manner will we see the speeds fall. I think it would be a catastrophic mistake if we reduced distances thinking that making things physically easier for these athletes would stop them doping. If we do we'll lose the unique, engaging character of our wonderful sport completely."

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Results Are In ...

 ... and it doesn't make great reading. Sunday's 3-hour ride with some of the lads from the Old Portlians from West Wickham and out into the Kent countryside saw me conduct an admittedly less-than-scientific survey * into the responses I'd get to nods, waves and cheery 'hellos', as a follow-up to my last post on the Velominati 'Nod' rules **. Yep, it's quite probable that the Old Portlians is exactly the kind of group based on age I should be riding with, since I'm clearly a grumpy old git with moderate-to-severe Victor Meldrew Syndrome. To be honest though, I wouldn't even complain at the type of reaction pictured below - better than being totally blanked, eh?

Those all-important numbers you've been waiting for, and quite frankly, I don't believe it:

(a) Cyclists passed going the opposite direction: 72, of whom:
  • Were acknowledged by me (sometimes I'm unable to do anything but pedal): 68
  • Cyclists acknowledging us first, without prompting: 5
  • Out of all acknowledgements:
    Return nod: 7
    Return hello (or similar): 3
    Return wave: 1
(b) Cyclists passing our group going in the same direction: 24, of whom:
  • Were acknowledged by me: 24
  • Cyclists acknowledging us first, without prompting: 2
  • Out of all acknowledgements:
    Return nod: 2
    Return hello (or similar): 5
    Return wave: 0
Conclusion: as outlined in that previous post, is there anything that can be done to convince these cyclists that it's actually unacceptable to simply ignore their peers? Have we failed a generation, or is it down to some kind of snobbery, a class distinction based on the perceived value of your kit? Sure, sometimes it's impossible to be polite (riding hard, dangerous to take hands from bars, junctions etcetera), but these are quite damning stats - I almost feel like flicking the Vees back at some of these people: they may be riding bikes, but they clearly aren't riders.

*: I made the numbers up, but it's close
**: I take the Velominati Rules on reciprocal acknowledgement here and here in the spirit they are intended; too many riders out there seem to have taken them to heart - get over yourselves!

Friday, 3 January 2014

Saying Hello Is Waving Goodbye

Right fellow cyclists: if Beryl Burton can hand up a bloody jelly baby to the male competitor she caught in a 1967 12-hour event (whilst he was en-route to breaking the men's competition record), then I'm pretty sure you can acknowledge the existence of other riders as they nod, wave or shout hello to you as your paths cross out on the road. Certainly this anti-social trend has been well documented in other blog articles and fora, but recent incidents have really troubled me: what's happening to the friendly sport I took up in the early 80s, the refreshingly inclusive pastime rather than badly-taught exclusive ones I endured at school? I'm seriously not unrealistically nostalgic for some rose-tinted ideal of what cycling probably was in the post-war period - as depicted in 'Spinning Wheels' or this CTC Cyclists Special - but really: at one end of the scale not acknowledging other bike riders out on the road is, in my view, just plain rude, regardless whether they're 'newbies' or old hands; at the other, experienced riders like me and Rohan Dubash, aka Doctor D, are fed up of 'wannabe' racers silently speeding past us, so close we almost collide, in an attempt to, what, intimidate us with how quick and 'pro' they are? How good their bike handling would be in the tightly-packed peloton? What's going on here? These people are as disrespectful - and potentially dangerous - as those idiot motorists we have to endure so frequently.

If Alberto can make time for a wave, then what's stopping you?
Clearly cycling, with its new-found popularity and achingly trendy rock-n-roll status in the nation's sporting zeitgeitst, has forgotten its traditional, urbane roots, and has modernised, leaving me trailing in its slipstream. The dwindling traditional club scene as a place to learn, with clubmen and women taking youngsters under their protective wings and schooling them in the art of cycling etiquette and respect, is undoubtedly viewed now as an unfashionable anachronism, of another era, even a little bit odd. Nowdays it seems everything we do or say or wear is a reflection of how successful we are as an individual, and compromising this image in any way is seen as a weakness; maybe good-old fashioned manners, are, well, just a little too old fashioned too. You only have to hang around ambitious middle managers in any London-based agency to see this rather sad scene being acted out on a daily basis, and I've had enough exposure in that yuppie rat-race world to know that it's these types that are being increasingly drawn into a sport I'd argue they don't really 'get': hyper-competitive self-absorbed MAMILs out on the their £10K black plastic 'stealth' bikes on a Sunday, where every ride is a race. How thoroughly modern. And rubbish.

In the past you gained all the respect you'd need from fellow racers by having a clean bike with gleaming chrome, well-tanned, skinny shaven legs, a bit of mileage-induced muscle definition complimented by some crisp white socks of a certain length, and a friendly demeanour to match. In winter - the social season as it was rightly known - it'd be long rides chatting to your mates and a stop at a café for more banter. We knew there was a time to be serious and focussed, and you'd let the legs do the talking when the time was appropriate: during the season in races, and not out on a ride through the lanes in December and January. Clearly all these riders I get no response from are on coach-planned wattage-controlled training rides with such rabid focus on attaining their personal goals that they simply cannot be distracted.

Whilst it's surely a good thing that people are taking up cycling in this country in record numbers, out on the road it's clearly not all positive progress on the conviviality front. I take the Velominati Rules in the tongue-in-cheek spirit I believe they were intended, but it seems there are too many riders out there that just don't understand cycling, what it's fundamentally about and what always made it so very special and different from other sports in the first place. That marvellous sense of fraternity has been rapidly eroded in the individualistic me-first-selfie-generation, when cycling, in my view, had always been about belonging, of having fun together when riding, racing, and simply enjoying ourselves. 

So guys (and there are an increasing number of unfriendly hyper-focussed women out there too), save the 'race face' for racing, and instead smile, wave, say hello and look like you're actually enjoying yourselves when you're lucky enough to be out riding your bike. Remember, six of us were killed in the last month in London, so stop acting like a bunch of prima ballerinas, as Ken would say, and take time to say hello to each other. It might be the last time.