Archive for January, 2011

Always Read the Label

January 27, 2011

...turn to the left.Unveiling of the new season’s team kit invariably attracts a disproportionate amount of comment. There is little else to discuss over the winter before racing starts in earnest, so the designers of what the pro peloton will be sporting this year undergo close scrutiny while we twiddle our thumbs.

Race commentators and fans alike will have their work cut out if Garmin-Cervelo, Sky and Leopard-Trek are all on the front setting up their sprinters for a bunch gallop. (By the way, that’s pronounced ‘LAY-oh-pard’, not Leopard. Even thinking the word wrongly is punishable by sulking from the management. You have been warned). It seems black is the new black. Telling yer Boasson Hagen from yer Haussler for yer Hushovd is the new challenge.

The days of garish jerseys and shorts that made the unfortunate wearers objects of ridicule are long gone – and no bad thing – but at least you knew who was who. Pantani and Chiappucci’s attacking antics garnered hours of TV coverage for sponsors Carrera jeans, the predominantly white jersey seemingly always on the front. But it’s the shorts that everyone remembers; faux-denim abominations that preceded the current ‘jeggings’ look by some 25 years. It took a brave man (or an Italian fashion victim) to carry off a look wearing those babies.

Yes, the Carrera shorts were pretty special, but the entry of French DIY chain Castorama into cycling sponsorship a few years later raised the bar much higher. Even the late, great Laurent Fignon, a man with a certain je ne sais quoi style-wise, struggled to maintain his dignity in those shocking approximations of a workman’s overalls. The kit had the effect of turning the wearer into a cross between a children’s TV presenter and Bob the Builder’s assistant. Only the mullet-supreme of Laurent Brochard seemed to suit the image, but for all the wrong reasons.

Robert Millar was saved from the ignominy of wearing Le Groupement’s multi-coloured cock-up of a jersey for any length of time by the collapse of the pyramid sales company within months of the team’s launch – a blessing in disguise if ever I saw one. Mario Cipollini’s many crimes against the world of fashion should have received close attention from the Lycra Police, yet are somehow beyond ridicule. It’s Mario: let it go.

As for the early years of mountain biking apparel, that is an article in itself. Close examination of photos from the era should come with a health warning; if flash photography warrants one, then so do images of multi-coloured car crash designs of the era.

So, no garish clobber in my clothing cupboard. Less is more when it comes to kit design, especially in the shorts department. It’s got to be black, although that is not without its drawbacks. I splashed out on a reassuringly expensive pair in the summer and felt understandably distressed wearing them the first time that they felt less than comfortable. Closer examination at the roadside revealed the leg grippers had been stitched to the outside; the machinist obviously had an off day. A thoroughly indignant email was being composed in my head on the ride home.

Mrs C got the whole story in the kitchen (apart from how much the shorts cost, of course). With years of experience in imbecilic behaviour, and without so much as a backward glance from her laptop screen, she said: “You have checked they’re not inside-out, haven’t you?”

Perhaps faux-denim shorts have their advantages after all.


Truth be Told

January 20, 2011

© Jakob Kristian Sørensen

I won a time trial.

Nothing to shout about, you’re probably thinking, but it made me happy for a few weeks. Plus, to anyone who knows my (ahem) fitness regime, it does sound highly unlikely. It was a complete and utter fluke, of course, and a few years back. It had actually slipped my mind until stumbling across the first and hardest climb of the circuit whilst riding in Kent last week. Hubbard’s Hill is a nasty ascent even when you’re fit. When bumbling along in a post-Christmas fug, it has the capacity to finish off a man miles from home with empty legs.

But a strong rider with good form can stomp up Hubbard’s and recover quickly enough, as I had done once, in a previous century, on a crisp March morning. Time trials have always been an ordeal to my mind. Getting up before it’s light and riding flat out as the sun rises has never agreed with my constitution. Hammering along dual carriageways, all alone, in the vain hope of catching some speck in the distance, messes with the mind of the uncommitted racer. It is the ultimate in self-discipline – therein lies the issue.

The early season hilly TT, though, seemed just about bearable: something to get your teeth into; a reasonable start time. The winning fluke came about for two reasons. This was the first event on a brand new course and, in those pre-GPS days and with scant details of where the start was, I failed to find it. Unloading the bike and heading off into the lanes for an hour or two’s spin, I happened upon the race after half an hour, pinned on a number and was away, sufficiently warmed-up for once to go flat-out from the off. It was an uncommonly good feeling and, as riders were caught, it kept on coming. No easing off, no backing down, and Hubbard’s Hill was all mine. The saddle may have been about to part company with it’s post for the last three miles, but there was no denying the legs.

The second reason for this unlikely victory became apparent at the finish, as several riders who would have undoubtedly kicked my backside all over Sevenoaks Weald hung around drinking tea, victims of the lack of published detail regarding the race start. Welcome to the world of time trialling, ladies and gents.

Holding the course record was the icing on the cake. It stood for precisely one year, until the next time the annual race was held, when it was lowered by several minutes. The fast boys had found the start. My last attempt at the ‘race of truth’ would remain the best. Others are better equipped, mentally and physically, for the discipline, and I hold the utmost respect for those who can grind out a blisteringly fast TT.

This leads me (rather neatly) to Stiler er Manden from the upcoming Rouleur issue 22, a study of the art of time trialling by four Danish artists, including Jørgen Leth, director of A Sunday in Hell. (If you have not seen it, do so – now).

They present four views in their chosen medium – whether words, photographs or illustrations – to encapsulate this test of mental fortitude that has decided so many Grand Tours in the modern era. Master the ‘race of truth’ and good things will surely follow. Just warm-up properly and make sure you know where the start is…


When Johnny met Bradley

January 13, 2011

“In the city there’s a thousand things I want to say to you
But whenever I approach you, you make me look a fool
I wanna say, I wanna tell you
About the young ideas
But you turn them into fear”
Paul Weller

The Christmas lights of Covent Garden were twinkling. Bright shop windows were adorned with colour, sharp art for stylish goods of all shapes ‘n’ shades. It is urgent that there are brands to be pushed, desired product to be flogged. Designer cool mingled with desirable tat. Shoppers bustled ‘n’ shoved, danced nimble side steps to avoid those absorbed on mobile phones.

Seven Dials is some weird epicentre to link up with a cyclist outta season. A small roundabout in the heart of the city, the hub is wrapped in scaffolding, maybe a festive tree, perhaps a challenging art installation. It was way too cold to bother checking it out. The lanes spun off like spokes. A hunched figure beetled across the junction. It was Guy Andrews, your editor, clutching what appeared to be two paving slabs, right size ‘n’ weight, like a magi bearing holy offerings. They were copies of Timm Kölln’s brand new monster book The Peloton. How out of place they looked, these savage stark portraits amongst the exfoliated beautiful people. One book was a gift, a sweetener from Rouleur, for Bradley Wiggins who I was due to meet shortly in some swanky nearby boutique hotel. Guy ‘n’ I ducked into the nearest boozer. Lo and behold! There was our man Wiggy. I had to double-take because he wasn’t on his bike – the same kinda idiot savant take that Montezuma’s Aztecs had on Cortez’s Spanish conquistadors on horse-back, thinking animal plus man-in-armour were one whole creature. Wiggo was dressed sharply, in smart threads. I watched the way he moved around the cramped crowded corner of that bar, his balance good for a surprisingly large bloke, neat ‘n’ precise footwork between the stools ‘n’ chairs, careful yet apparently careless, innate. I’ll bet he can dance real good (for a white man) when he’s had a few.

We sat and he talked, straight and to the point. No duckin’ or divin’; no flannellin’, no mod mumblin’.

Johnny Green talks to Bradley Wiggins about music, style and, occasionally, bike racing, in issue 22 of Rouleur magazine. On sale early February.

Unfulfilling Prophesy

January 6, 2011

The Rapha 500, despite the best of intentions, ended in spookily similar fashion to my alternative and likely programme, as opposed to the idealistic scenario mapped out here.

Every school report I ever had made the same points repeatedly: could do better; must try harder; wasting undoubted talent. My teachers knew a slacker when they saw one. It’s a fair cop. Nothing’s going to change now, but it was fun trying… or sort of trying.

Thursday 23rd: Totally washed out due to delayed flight into Luton because of snow. Fall asleep on sofa.

As predicted, arrived back in London in the middle of the night after spending most of the day in airports. Totally washed out.
Friday 24th: Presents to wrap and work to finish before break. Manage half hour on turbo.

Emails dealt with, but Sainsburys, the wine shop and the queue at a cheese emporium take up remains of the day. No turbo.
• Saturday 25th: Eat, drink, be merry.

Surrounded by hacking and sniffling relatives, leading to lurgy paranoia. Hope copious quantities of Kiwi Pinot Noir will kill any lurking germs.
Sunday 26th: Family coming for lunch. Riding out of the question.
Actually manage to slip out on the ‘cross bike for an hour blast round an icy Peckham Rye. Legs feel lumpier than the kid’s Christmas stockings and lungs struggle to inflate. An incident involving a small dog and one of those infernal extendable leads finish off a throughly forgettable ride. Switch to Argentinian Malbec to aid clearance of memory.
Monday 27th: Ride to ‘cross race 50km.

Subsonic, ultra-powerful sneezing takes hold. Stops short of full-blown man-flu, but racing out of the question. Curse relatives and their bugs and spend day moping around on sofa.
Tuesday 28th: Apparently, stripping wallpaper in the summer does not qualify as ‘decorating the bedroom’. Drive to Homebase.
Mrs C throws an impromptu belated birthday party. Spend day cooking chilli con carne for 30 people. Throw in lots of extra chillies for my own ‘kill or cure’ benefit.
Wednesday 29th: Apply Homebase products to wall.
Convince Mrs C that distressed walls are so this season and make hasty exit for gentle 40km on the ‘cross bike in the drizzle. Feeling good, which can only be attributed to the antioxidant properties of chilli con carne and a good Cabernet Sauvignon. A mere 440km to knock out tomorrow, then…

• Thursday 30th: More snow. One hour on turbo before head falls off. Spend evening compiling New Year’s resolutions.
No snow, thankfully, so head out to the hills of Kent for a very enjoyable 100km in the lanes, giving me a grand total of 160km for the week. Resolve to continue haphazard fitness regime in 2011.