Archive for February, 2011

Tough of the Track

February 24, 2011

 

Photos courtesy Geoff Waugh

Azizulhasni Awang, the diminutive Malaysian sprinter renowned for pulling wheelies as he crosses the finish line, is now a household name. Not for reasons of sporting excellence, which the showboater fully deserves, but for leaving the Manchester velodrome with a 20cm shard of the track surface bisecting his calf.

You have probably all seen the photos and YouTube footage by now, so we’ll not bother posting shots of Awang’s leg. Suffice to say, it was by far the most gruesome and bizarre accident I have ever witnessed at close quarters.

The fact that I was stood just a few feet from where he lay, clearly in distress, yet failed to notice a sizable length of Siberian pine protruding either side of his left leg, is puzzling to say the least. There was a barrier in the way, and several helpers assisting the stricken rider, which may explain the oversight. There was also a bizarre Wacky Races scenario being played out on the finish straight, with Jason Niblett and Juan Peralta Gascon running in cleats, fighting tooth-and-nail to be next across the line. The Spaniard forgot his bike in the mayhem and was subsequently relegated. These guys do not know how to give up…

As the mighty Chris Hoy, who was creaming the opposition (crash or no crash), pulled off the track, Awang was stretchered away along the finish straight and the source of his distress became apparent. The crowd rose to applaud. Awang motioned towards his left leg, as if to say that the splinter was a minor hindrance and he would be back tomorrow. In Monty Python terms, just a flesh wound. It was spine-tingling stuff.

Edward Dawkins, meanwhile, receiving attention from a trackside medic, was asked where he felt pain. The Kiwi, missing a section of skin from one shoulder practically equal in size to the massive tattoo covering the other, replied that he was from New Zealand. The question was repeated. So was the answer. “Did you not hear me, mate? I’m from New Zealand. We don’t feel pain.”

The admonishment to fellow cyclists to ‘man up’ when swerving a training session in the rain is now redundant. ‘Awang up’, or ‘Dawkins up’. Either will suffice.

Truly, toughs of the track.

Ian Cleverly

Photos courtesy Geoff Waugh

 

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Ten of the best from the ten best

February 17, 2011

In case you have yet to see our latest Rouleur Photography Annual, here’s a taster of what’s inside – 320 pages of wondrous images and words.

“The best photographic record of 2010 in all of cycling” – Bill Strickland Bicycling Magazine

Gerard Brown - Francesco Marciarelli, Mont Faron, Tour of the MedGerard Brown – Francesco Marciarelli, Mont Faron, Tour of the Med

Guy Andrews – Cav after the crash, Tour de Suisse

Olaf Unverzart – Winning ceremony, Giro d’Italia

Daniel Sharp – Climb on Meeting House Road, Tour of the Battenkill

Marthein Smit – Kevin Seeldrayers in trouble, Tour de France

Timm Kölln – Luisle explains, Tour de France

Taz Darling – Crucifix, Giro d’Italia

Yazuka Wada – Assistance, La Vuelta

Geoff Waugh – Raleigh Round, British National Championships, Barley

Ben Ingham – Castellania

Sucker

February 10, 2011

I feel bad. Sat here. Not poorly – guilty. I really should pull my weight but at this time of the year that’s no mean feat. I’m not out of shape so much as not in shape, but I’m most certainly, yet again, tucked in. Sucking. Drafting. Feathering brakes. Concentrating. Wanting to be fitter.

I’m spending more time than seems decent sitting in, sucking wheels. I guess I’m out with stronger riders and it’s a win-win situation if they’re ok on the front. They get a workout and I get one too – clinging on to an alien pace. I’m hoping, as the season progresses, I’ll get to a level where I can do my turns at the front, but I worry that they’ll have only got stronger too and the gap will remain – between their ability and mine, their wheel and mine. I might well suck all year. Where will that get me? Well, I guess, sat here, concentrating on the wheel in front with a part of my head wandering off to ponder the situation; my ride partner’s choice of footwear, tyre choice and gear selection; his hub, his shoes, his calves, his arse; the little rear LED, switched off and pointing heaven knows where. The seat pack, with a spare tube and his emergency (full-fat-coke-and-a-mars-bar) fiver.

And me, my front tyre, the pressure within and the pressure to stay close – a safe distance but an efficient distance. To take us both down with a touch of rubber would be, at best, embarrassing, and unthinkable beyond that. I try not to think about it. I concentrate on staying put and staying safe. Spinning smoothly and staying calm. I await the suffering. It will come. The whole point of riding at this time of year, like this, is to get fit. Get some miles in the legs and this will involve suffering. And as a wheelsucker, I see the point as clearly as I will see the stars.

The end of a long ride will bring the drags I know and loathe. I worry too that I might break. Fear and loathing across the marshes. It’s an affectionate loathing. I like the work they involve but it comes with tunnel vision and sparkles before my eyes. I watch the wheel in front and it becomes everything. It’s a blur within a blur and everything else is peripheral. It’s not that zone of performance people talk about, I think that might always allude me but it is a zone of sorts. A cliff edge of concentration and lactic and souplesse. A slippery slope of crank-chopping chaos and ebbing resolve. I hide from head winds and mind fucks. Pain and pride fighting to an end that can’t come soon enough, but I so don’t want to come early. I bury myself to avoid a shameful death.

Starry-eyed. All these thoughts, filling my head as I’m sat on the wheel. Drafting. Working. Shirking. Working. I try not to think what he’s thinking up front. I daren’t. Best I just keep going. I am the sucker.

Jonathan Bacon

 

Flanders Field

February 3, 2011

Extract from Rouleur issue 22, on sale from
Wednesday, February 9th at http://www.rouleur.cc

Words Ian Cleverly Photos Marthein Smit

© SmitIf there is such a thing as motor home envy among the cyclo-cross fraternity, then Ian Field is guilty as charged. Wandering the competitor’s parking area at this year’s Koppenbergcross at Oudenaarde in search of “Field de Brit”, as race commentators now refer to the slightly-built man from Kent, the pecking order becomes apparent.

The stars riding for major teams are ensconced in almighty wagons, keeping warm before stepping out to prepare for the race on rollers beneath retractable awnings. Sponsor’s names and truly awful, larger-than-life, gurning images of the riders adorn each mobile home. Local residents with the honour of hosting Sven Nys’ or Niels Albert’s vehicles in their driveway are privileged indeed.

Step outside the top 30 or so sponsored riders and the motor homes become slightly more compact: less storage space for bikes, little room to move around inside, but still perfectly serviceable. Step down again and you find guys like Ian Field, doing their damnedest to break into this world of luxury cruisers and the six-figure salaries that come with them.

Our photographer, Marthein, being Dutch and well versed in all things cyclo-cross, and having attended practically every big race on the calendar last season, asks if we’ll be meeting at our subject’s camper van. “Field de Brit”, I point out, drives a Citroen Berlingo, so we’d be meeting there.

© SmitWelcome to the glamorous life of a pro ‘cross rider in Belgium. As branches of cycle sport go, cyclo-cross is about as ludicrous a way to make a living as they come – on a par, perhaps, with Six Day racing in hardship terms, but with added cold, mud and misery. Yet the likes of Stybar, Wellens, Nys and Albert earn very good money indeed. Thousands pay to watch their heroes in action, drinking copious quantities of Belgian beer from plastic cups in muddy fields. Millions more tune in on the TV at home every weekend throughout the winter. It is, in many respects, a hugely unlikely major sport, but the Belgians love it to bits. An hour of flat-out racing where anything can happen – and often does – is perfect Sunday lunchtime entertainment for the average Leffe-fuelled Flandrian couch potato.

© SmitBart Wellens has starred in his own reality TV show, Wellens en Wee, and the weekend before our arrival in Oudenaarde had appeared on The Last Show, “Belgium’s equivalent to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross,” according to Field. “It was a cyclo-cross special, with Nys, Alberts, Wellens and Stybar. And Wellens’ wife. That shows how big it is. A primetime TV show, dedicated to ‘cross racing. They had mud from different places and the riders had to smell it and identify where it was from…”