Archive for June, 2010

Lancashire hot-trot

June 26, 2010

Well, we’ve taken a spin round the course in Lancashire and it’s a belter. Actually, it was more of a grovel if truth be told for us non-fit types. No flat whatsoever, plenty of climbing and some nerve-wracking descents, all packed into an extremely compact 7.5 mile closed road circuit.

And it’s narrow lanes all the way, with no overtaking possibilities for team cars, but with a cut-through for vehicles needing to get ahead of the bunch.

So the men’s race will see 130 riders desperate to be near the front, but mostly incapable through sheer weight of numbers on the road. The opening two laps will be crucial and, if we’re not mistaken, the peloton will be split to pieces in double-quick time.

The British Championships is invariably a whittling down process where normal team work seems to fly out the window, but this will be more so. It is hard to see many riders being in with a shout come the bell lap.

Who will win? My punditry skills are renowned for their inaccuracy (except in matters of cyclo-cross) but I have a hunch that Cervelo riders will be in the medals in both men’s and women’s races. As for which riders, there is so far I am prepared to stick this scrawny neck out and no further.

It is live on Eurosport if you can’t get to Pendle in person, although there is a football match going on at the same time, apparently…

I know where I’d rather be.

Ian Cleverly

In praise of…Resonance FM

June 15, 2010

A few years back, I was twiddling the dial on my tuner one Saturday afternoon, a dead time of day for decent radio programmes unless the football commentary floats your boat. The tuner seemed to think it had found a station, yet all I could hear was white noise. I left it right there for a few minutes, intrigued by the sound in my kitchen making the glasses on the shelf move around.

Another eminently listenable, if left-field, track followed on. The hushed tones of a DJ (‘Whispering’ Bob Harris has nothing on these guys) then said a few words before firing up another four minutes of aurally challenging music.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Resonance FM. The radio station was founded by members of the London Musicians Collective in 2002, I discovered. That information immediately took me back to several evenings in the 80’s spent in their Camden base listening to free jazz of the very free variety. Drums, bass and brass would fly off at different tangents, occasionally coming together for something approaching a groove, before splitting again, each musician doing their own thing. And not always on traditional instruments: rubber hose, copper tubing and funnels all played a part in the LMC’s jams.

The results were variable but rarely dull. At some point in the evening’s proceedings, something would grab you; something you would never hear in the traditional music pubs in Camden; a loose affiliation of sounds that shook your ‘pop’-trained listening abilities and challenged rather than pacifying.

Resonance is built from the same stuff. Some of it is dull. Some of it is brilliant. But rarely does it occupy the tedious middle ground of most radio station’s output. It now shares equal billing with the four or five other points on the dial I can trust to deliver good radio throughout the day. There is even a show called Clear Spot, the name of my all-time favourite album. Perfect.

And not only does Resonance play weird and wonderful music but it is home to The Bike Show, a weekly half hour of cycling stuff from Jack Thurston that is consistently good value. It’s not glossy, it’s not hi-tech, but it is interesting. There is no narrow remit for Thurston to follow. He takes a subject that interests him and runs with it, invariably with good results.

So tune in (and drop out) to Resonance 104.4FM at 18.30 on Mondays for The Bike Show, or get one of those marvellous podcast thingies for your iPod, or listen online.

And take the time to listen to some of the station’s other shows. Expect to hear some music you have never heard before, a lot you never want to hear again, and, every so often, an absolute gem that makes you believe music can still be innovative and exciting.

Ian Cleverly

In praise of…vet’s racing

June 8, 2010

by Ian Cleverly, photos courtesy of the late, great Bernard Thompson

It seems that half the over-40’s I speak to have knocked road racing on the head for one reason or another, but mostly because of inexorably declining turn of speed. It’s no fun when the top-end slips away and you find yourself hanging on instead of animating the race. Keen young things go flying by and hare off on the climbs while we older gentleman gasp and wheeze, desperately trying to cling to their wheels. And there is little chance of matters improving. The only way is down.

There are exceptions, of course: those super-vets who always had it and, seemingly, always will. Malcolm Elliott springs to mind. He will be 96 this year, give or take, and still dishes it out to the young ‘uns. But those of us starting from a lower level quietly slip out the back of the bunch, wondering why we do it.

Being a cyclo-cross rider first and foremost, road racing gradually took a back seat over the last few years. Last year somehow passed by without a single bunch race on the open road – a sad state of affairs, and a slippery slope. Once you are out of the habit, getting back in is so much harder.

But my newly-expanded team are keen as mustard and a group of guys the wrong side of 40 want to tear it up in the local LVRC (League of Veteran Racing Cyclists) events. I took the plunge, renewed my dormant membership and headed down to Surrey for a 50-miler, expecting the worst.

Seeing the hill on the way to the HQ and remembering my previous ignominious debut on this course did not boost the confidence levels. Falling out the back on the opening lap was a salutary lesson that old timers can still be pretty nippy.

It turned out I fretting unnecessarily. Sure, the pace was pretty high while the top boys sorted themselves out and a break formed. But once they were clear, the bunch settled down and got on with racing at a manageable speed.

The road surface was littered with pot holes, but every one was pointed out by a preceding rider. Each junction had at least three marshals in place to smooth our passage. There was no kamikaze diving round blind bends on the wrong side of the road; no precarious bike handling; no shouting and swearing; no jittery, twitchy riding whatsoever. Just a bunch of blokes racing hard in the Surrey lanes.

So stop making excuses and get stuck in. You can even race with an older age group until you’ve found your legs again, which is jolly reasonable. There are some extremely fit old timers out there but also plenty of not-so-fit guys, just enjoying racing for the sake of it. And that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

Ian Cleverly

Blood on the track: when dernys go bad

June 5, 2010

There was a young woman at the derny session at the track, trying out behind the peculiar mopeds for the first time. One of the amply-proportioned pilots was busy giving hints and tips to our debutante, explaining how to get closer to the bike and gain maximum benefit from the windcheater before her.

I chipped in, saying there was nothing to fear from the derny. You could even bump the rear mudguard – as the missing paint confirmed – without coming to grief, and continue smoothly behind the bike. It is all perfectly safe, I said.

Smoothness is the key here. The skilled pilots maintain a consistent pace by turning a huge gear that supplements the tiny engine of the derny, knees and toes splayed out to avoid the hot motor. A keen headwind in the back straight requires a little more effort, with a gentle easing off on the home straight to keep an even tempo. The twist-grip accelerator of a normal moped is not sensitive enough to deal with these fractional changes in speed. Hence the freakish appearance of our beloved buzzing two-stroke dernys.

Any sudden acceleration is keenly felt by those behind, especially towards the end of a string of eight riders. The whiplash effect can be enough to blow the last man clean away, especially as the final laps of a 20-minute session approach. I find it hard to work out if the pilots are imperceptibly notching up the pace during that 20 minutes or if the accumulated pain of riding at such a speed has taken its toll, but the closing laps are always agony as we all fight to hold the wheel in front.

And, once you hear that bell, it is every man and woman for themselves in a race to the line, the rider closest to the derny (and preferably a portly pilot) getting an armchair ride to the finish. It is quite the most brutal and enjoyable training I do: the highlight of my cycling week. Three 20-minute blasts round the track give a high-speed workout and bring a smile to your face that lasts several days.

Unless, of course, the derny engine cuts out and catapults the bike backwards, wiping out the three riders closest to it. It is not something I have seen before, and hope never to see again, but the effect is dramatic.

Skidding along the track surface on my right side, I was immediately conscious of the six riders behind, so curled up like a fallen jockey at Becher’s Brook, awaiting the thud that never came. They flew past either side, apart from poor Eric who was already on the deck and would soon be in an ambulance. Get well soon, Eric.

My immediate reaction in these situations – probably the wrong one – is to get up and walk off, cursing away the pain under my breath. I came face to face with our young woman, aghast at the carnage on the track before her. It was a totally freak accident, I explained. Never seen anything like it. What are the chances of that, I joked. See you next week?…

Ian Cleverly

Foiled again!

June 3, 2010

Being, generally speaking, a very bad photographer, I don’t suppose it should come as a huge surprise to me when I fail to take good pictures – even though I will foolishly persist in trying – and it doesn’t. All the same, there was a certain sense of disappointment when I nearly got a picture of Simoni taking his bow on Passo Tonale – only to be cruelly foiled by a cheering Italian. That’s just not fair.



June 2, 2010

Let’s face it: it is an intrinsic risk when it comes to time trials – a risk significantly larger than in other kinds of road racing – that it becomes a bit, well, dull. [And, regardless of Nibali’s risk-taking antics and Arroyo’s brave attempt to at least try to win back that pink bicycle of his, it was a very real factor at the epilogue of this year’s Giro, even in such grand surroundings as the Arena in Verona.] The time trial is devoid of tactics, of politics, of anything that makes road racing what it is – there’s no drafting, no hiding, no attacking. There is a man [or a woman] on a bike, trying to go as fast as humanly possible for the required distance.