Archive for August, 2011

Heaven Up Here

August 24, 2011

Words and photography: Mike Chick

Bolivia boasts a number of record statistics. At 3,660m, La Paz is the highest de facto capital city in the world (Sucre is the official capital), and Lake Titicaca, at 3,811m, is the highest navigable lake. Within the context of cycling, the Alto Irpavi velodrome in La Paz, at 3,417m, is the highest and fastest in the world, and the venue for Arnaud Tournant’s 2001’s kilometre record of 58.875 seconds, which Chris Hoy missed by the narrowest of margins in 2007 on the same track. And the Vuelta a Bolivia features the highest stage in the UCI road race calendar: at 4,496m above sea level, La Cumbre towers the best part of 2,000m above its nearest European rival. Gregorio Ladino, last year’s winner, explains its effect. “The heat is OK – it’s normal for us. But it’s twice the altitude of Colombia here. The lack of oxygen just makes it incredibly hard.” As altitude increases, air pressure decreases and, with it, the amount of oxygen. So, at 2,500m, roughly the highest point in the Tour de France, there is 25 per cent less oxygen than at sea level. At 4,500m, this decreases further to 59 per cent, a deficit which, unless you are used to it, is going to stop you in your tracks. Fredy Gonzáles, two-time winner of the Giro d’Italia’s king of the mountains competition, gives his verdict: “It’s very, very hard to ride at this altitude if you don’t have the conditioning or experience. It’s totally different. You’re giving 100 per cent and the bike just doesn’t respond. I think you can take three or four minutes out of other riders when, at a normal altitude, it would be maybe 30 seconds or a minute.”

Today’s start lies at 3,815m, and the sun bears down on the teams as they make their preparations. A group of young boys look on from a ledge above the road. We’re in the highlands now, and their clothes show it: the thick jackets and tall hats they are wearing are typical of the region. Some of the Chilean riders pose for photos with them. It’s a harsher, more barren place; the air is dry and thin. La Cumbre looms 60km down the road and more than 600m higher, but with an 80km flat run in to the finish, it’s unlikely any one rider will be able to survive alone. Once again, there is no doubting what the local wonder has planned for the day. Soliz sets about distancing himself from the peloton with a devastating attack at the base of the first of the stage’s three climbs. Boyaca’s Mauricio Neysa and Bolivian Juan Cotumba follow in dogged pursuit as they reach the final climb to La Cumbre, but the aptly named “Volcano” is in his element, flying up this beast of a mountain like it was just another hill. I jump out of the car at the summit and scramble up the ridge above the road to find a vantage point for some pictures, and I’m still gasping for breath several minutes later as Soliz cruises into view. Another minute or so and the first group appears, but the rest of the riders are spread out as far as the eye can see and beyond. As the last of them finally come past, I run down and grab a lift in the broom wagon. Two of the Chileans have abandoned and sit opposite me, dazed and exhausted. One of them, Carlos Miranda, stood on the podium the day before in third place. “It’s just too hard – we’re not designed for this” he grins, resigned to the fact that they are in terrain which truly is beyond them. Another casualty is the winner of stage three, Serbian Zsolt Der. Suffering with bruises from a crash the day before, he is disqualified for holding onto his team car. The European contingent is now down to only one. At the finish in Oruro, a desolate mining town famed for its masked carnival, Soliz is pipped on the line by Colombian Neysa, who along with local rider Cotumba, managed to haul him back on the long run in.

The army band strikes up another tune, out of place in the wide-open expanses of the desert at Vila Vila. The sixth stage runs 162km from here to El Alto, which sits on the high plains above La Paz, at 4,111m. As the race returns to the region with the longest heritage and greatest interest in the sport, the Bolivians are eager to win – and they do. The first five riders are all locals, led home by Jorge Quispe of the Pio Rico team through streets lined deep with enthusiastic spectators. It’s a marked difference from the early stages in Santa Cruz where the locals looked on in bemused curiosity, unfamiliar with the ways of professional cycle racing. Here, in one of the poorest cities in Bolivia, perched on the plain above La Paz, colourful crowds throng the route from the outskirts to the finish, waving flags and cheering their support as the riders race by.

Rouleur issue 22, featuring Heaven Up Here by Mike Chick, available here 

Wide Eyed and Legless Revisited

August 17, 2011

words: Ian Cleverly photos: Geoff Waugh (

“Connor got the job because he was the only sports writer at the Daily Star who didn’t smoke.” Paul Watson

And so a national daily newspaper sent one of its journalists to France for three weeks in July, and one of the finest books ever written on cycling emerged. Wide-Eyed And Legless, Jeff Connor’s boils-and-all coverage of the fateful 1987 Tour de France undertaken by the hopelessly under-prepared ANC-Halfords team, chronicles the misfortunes of the first British squad to tackle the grand boucle in 20 years. Connor spent the entire Tour with them, initially as an observer, but before long as a helper, giving him unprecedented insight into the machinations of ANC’s adventure.

From the prologue in West Berlin, run off in searing heat without time trial bikes or aero helmets, the hapless Tour debutants were on the back foot, struggling to hold wheels on the opening stages due to the ferocious pace of an EPO-fuelled peloton. Competitors returning positive drug tests for known banned substances were effectively slapped on the wrist and fined. No surprise, then, that the 1987 Tour went off at an alarming pace that only relented once the Champs-Élysées had been reached. No surprise that only four of the ANC nine made it to Paris.

Connor had unwittingly stumbled on a brilliant story, packed full of bickering, backbiting and cock-ups: a writer’s dream. And team boss Tony Capper – a bear of a man who would, according to directeur sportif Phil Griffiths, squeeze behind the wheel of the team car surrounded by copious quantities of food for the day ahead – was a gift to a journalist looking for an angle. Connor’s remit from the Star was to cover the Tour and the (hopefully) glorious debut of this British professional team. If he could ride a stage or two himself – hence the non-smoking requirement – that would be a bonus. Both the Star and Connor clearly had a few things to learn that July.

Capper was a man in a hurry. His ANC parcel delivery company was looking to expand into the Continent, so what better way to advertise than via the vehicle of the Tour de France, with a TV audience of millions? What often reads in Wide-Eyed as a rich man’s ego trip was based on sound business principles. Another year and ANC might have been in a position to at least survive the Tour intact. As it transpired, the race finished the team off forever. ANC-Halfords crashed and burned as spectacularly as any dot-com startup at the turn of the 21st century.

Yet the squad had prepared for the main event that year with a series of European races starting in February and gained sufficiently impressive results to earn a Tour place on merit. How did events take such a calamitous turn for the worse in such a short time? Was the team’s performance actually as bad as Connor portrays in Wide-Eyed? After all, Malcolm Elliott came within a whisker of a stage win in Bordeaux, and ANC was not alone in having only four finishers: Sean Kelly’s KAS squad and two other teams were in the same boat, while Supermercati and Ryalco only managed a pair apiece. It was a brutally fast race, covering 800 kilometres more than the 2011 edition. It left grown men broken at the roadside – ANC’s Graham Jones and Adrian Timmis, for differing reasons, remain convinced that the 1987 Tour was effectively the end of their cycling careers.

The team selection for the Tour consisted of five foreign riders (Steve Swart, Shane Sutton, Kvetoslav Palov, Guy Gallopin and Bernard Chesneau) and four British (Graham Jones, Adrian Timmis, Paul Watson and Malcolm Elliott). We gathered together the British contingent, plus directeur sportif Phil Griffiths, to revisit the ’87 Tour and discuss the effect of Wide Eyed and Legless on the team.

Extract from Rouleur issue 25, on sale now


August 11, 2011

Photos: Paolo Ciaberta Words: Rohan Dubash

Photographer Paolo Ciaberta witnesses Aldo Gios re-building the legendary blue machine ridden to victory in the 1977 edition of Paris-Roubaix by Roger de Vlaeminck. Rohan Dubash casts his expert eye over the beautiful components and tries not to drool…

Cinelli’s 1A stem is a classic use of forged alloy, an item of pure elegance and simplicity and a world apart from today’s industrial (but far more practical) Ahead-compatible offerings. The solid construction allowed manufacturers to get creative and personalise the riders’ bikes.

No messing here: the inner chainring is the beefier Record version with additional braces. The outer, however, has not escaped the pantographer’s deft touch. The GT logo can be seen clearly, and small, subtle grooves have been milled to shave grams without reducing rigidity. The ‘over the top’ cable guide for the rear derailleur can also be seen which, despite being awkward to clean, did provide a smooth route for the inner wire.

The Record side-pull brake callipers are no match for modern dual-pivot designs, but in De Vlaeminck’s day these were the best brakes money could buy. They were made from top quality alloys and featured an effective quick release mechanism, easy-to-use brake cable adjuster and wheel guides on the brake shoes to assist in rapid wheel changes.

A solitary chrome steel bottle cage together with an original Brooklyn team water bottle can also be seen. Hydration was still something that many riders simply did not understand and a single fitting was common on most pros’ bikes. Despite the lack of importance certain riders placed on regular fluid intake, steel bottle cages were favoured by most for their durability, which was especially appropriate in races such as Paris-Roubaix.

Tubular tyres were still developing in the late 70s and the Italian artisans at Clement were probably responsible for some of the finest (and weirdest) products to grace our rims. The tyre featured here is a Clement Grinta that was developed as a special wet weather tyre – they even featured little umbrella graphics for emphasis. The tread pattern is interesting, especially when you consider tyre engineers had no CAD systems to help them during the design process.

Extract from Rouleur issue 25 

Prints of Paolo’s wonderful photographs can now be purchased here