Archive for June, 2012

La Reprise

June 20, 2012

Words: Paul Fournel Illustration: Jo Burt

The bike left my father one Sunday morning ten years ago. It happened between Bas-en-Basset and Aurec in the Haute-Loire region of France, in solitude. He was climbing a small hill which I would not describe as laughable because cyclists – even those who are used to the Ventoux or Izoard – well know that you can explode on a two kilometre hill which doesn’t go up that much.

Let’s just say that this incline should not have been sufficient to end his riding.

‘Something’ tightened in his chest, imperiously letting him know that the bike was leaving him after 70 years of companionship.

He went home without saying anything, at the pace of his pain.

For ten years the bike has been in the garage, upright, ready to go. It is oiled, its wheels are pumped up, it is mountable, perhaps there is still something to eat in the pannier on the handlebars?

No doubt for a long time my father thought he would get back out on the road. In any case, he never said anything about it, ever. Now that he is more than 85 years old, he knows he will not set off anymore.

The other day when I was driving him in his car, he asked me to take a detour so we could go back over that little hill. So I left the main road to take one of those tiny little roads that sink into the countryside and which we had surveyed so many times together.

When we arrived on the incline, he said to me: “It’s here.” I slowed down. “I tried to go up it in the 24 tooth,” he continued, “but the pain was too strong. I turned back.”

Then, one thing leading to another, since we were there, we followed the road. It ascended winding in the forest, all speckled by the sun, narrow, grainy, with the smell of mushroom and of hot earth of this end of the summer.

At the place called The Cutaway, the slope becomes more severe. My father had changed sprocket. He went with a 22. He had never liked to ride too small a gear. There, he explained to me, his childhood friend had fallen in the clump of stinging nettles below. Then he said nothing more because the slope was too tough. I felt him try a 24 but he held on. On the descent, he explained how, 60 years earlier, he had dropped his mate Madel, passing in 52×14. He warned me to watch out for the left turn because it loops back on itself. Then, after the little bridge, we started to climb again.

At this point, the road climbs into the meadow. It is in full sun. There is not a cloud on the horizon and we can see the bends above which hug the curve of the mountain. Far away, we can make out the deep valley of the Loire. It is lined with the shade of green trees which will soon turn yellow. That will be the time of lovely autumn outings when you put on long sleeves in the early hours. My father said to me: “I remember the time I put on golf trousers cut to the knee and big checked woollen socks!” We climbed in silence, our breath short. The sweat that fell down his face, gathering in drops on the point of his chin and falling on his frame. He rusted more than one this way.

When we reached the summit, after the long left turn which was already less steep, the view opened out on the plains just down below. The red-roofed hamlets nestled on crossroads, the beige cows on their green background. The roads narrow and empty. Occasionally a tractor. The road is gentle, one of the rare pieces of flat in the whole of this region. A moment to savour letting your legs turn, hands on the tops, nose in the evening breeze. He was in 52×16. We went through a village, then another with a brief slope before plunging towards the valley. We swallowed it up, standing on the pedals.

“One year, I punctured twice in a row on this bitch of a road,” he said. I remember it very well because I was riding behind him. It was no doubt the summer during which I punctured 16 times myself.

Crossing the hamlet, he made the same silent gesture to warn me about the manhole cover that still hadn’t been replaced in its housing.

The descent is technical. If you want to go fast you have to have the design of the bend in your head before committing yourself totally. It’s essential to know your roads well.

My father descended with his hands on the top of the handlebars, at full tilt, as usual.

Then we arrived at Aurec, on the banks of the Loire. I felt a sense of disappointment. “Everything has changed here, look, they have built everywhere. They have redone the road. It goes straight up. They know nothing about cycling. There is nothing worse than a climb in a straight line.”

We climbed it anyway.

Through the whole of our trip, we remained side by side, shoulder to shoulder. I stayed on his left, like two peaceful cyclotourists, changing speed at the same moment, taking the corners together, rolling on.

But now that we have gone back out on the road together I know that it cannot last and that, soon, he will go on ahead of me.


Paul Fournel is the author of Need For the Bike

IG London Nocturne

June 14, 2012

Photos: Wig Worland

Podcast: Issue 31

June 7, 2012

Editor Guy Andrews and deputy editor Ian Cleverly join Jack Thurston for a discussion of issue 31 of Rouleur. The discussion covers legendary photojournalist Robert Capa’s intimate images of the 1939 Tour de France, a visit to Portland, Oregon, the ultimate headset, Luis Ocaña and sporting rivalry and the carbon future of custom framebuilding.

Listen on the link below, or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

The Rouleur podcast is brought to you by Mosquito Bikes, London’s custom made bicycle specialists. Mosquito Bikes are exclusive retailers of handmade bicycles by Tom Warmerdam of Demon Frameworks. The Signature range blends elegance, brutalism, beauty and performance. They feature custom lugs built from scratch, bilaminate and fully fillet brazed frames. See the range in the flesh at 123 Essex Road, London N1 2SN or on the screen at

Shake, Rattle and…

June 7, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Wig Worland 

There was a Charge of the Light Brigade moment entering the first cobbled sector at Troisville. The dead straight road leading to the 2.2km opening stretch of the rough stuff descends gently, giving the rider sufficient momentum to freewheel briefly and take in the unfolding carnage.

Bodies to the left, bodies to the right, bodies in front. Cycling’s equivalent of Lord Tennyson’s doomed six hundred – or a fair few of them – had fallen at the first hurdle. The bi-annual event impeccably organised by VC Roubaix takes place in the summer, with (generally) correspondingly dry and mud-free conditions, yet a veneer of moist slime on the pavé was wreaking havoc.

Some hit the deck hard within yards of leaving the tarmac. Others struggled to hold a straight line and bounced, victims of their own transfixed stares, into ditches either side of the track. Bottles littered the ground; muddied riders surveyed their machines for damage, clasping bruised hips and sporting battered egos; one chap appeared to be heading for an early bath, destined never to experience the legendary utilitarian showers at Roubaix.

The previously jocular nature shared by our group of eight on the opening road section dissipated in an instant. Silence descended as we each focussed on a route through the chaos and wondered how the hell we were going to manage the next 160km without falling to pieces.

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred

The curious thing was we all emerged unscathed. Or maybe not so curious. Those with cobble experience had prepared the Roubaix virgins the night before. Attack the pavé sectors and recover on the road, they said. Keep the hands on the tops, nice and loose. Use the body to steer, not the bars. Ride on the central ridge and avoid the gutter, unless you can clearly see there are no hidden potholes lurking in the puddles.

And it works. We blasted through the sector and back onto tarmac, conversation returning in an excited babble as we re-grouped briefly – a big part of the enjoyment of the day, I felt: we were pretty evenly matched for speed and rarely had to wait around for long. Anyone in a big hurry could always find a faster group to latch onto but, truth be told, we were passing a lot more than being passed, especially on the cobbles. All those winters of cyclo-cross were finally paying off.

The choice of equipment was paying off, too. A ‘cross bike shorn with 28mm Conti Gator Skins, bar-top brake levers and gel inserts under the bars may sound like overkill, but worked to perfection. We pushed on, gaining confidence with every section of cobbles, passing the occasional water bottle, saddle pack or tubular, their owners presumably blissfully unaware of the loss.

The feeling of smug satisfaction with our progress was gone in a flash. The left-hand pedal, you will no doubt know, is designed not to come undone, due to its reverse thread. Well, mine did. At speed. On the cobbles. It was a hairy moment, pushing down on the crank and hitting stone with pedal, but I managed to keep it upright with an ungainly hop, skip and skid manoeuvre. The multi tool in my saddle pack had disintegrated into its constituent parts. Thankfully the rather better-equipped mechanic in our midst knew to insert the pedal from the reverse side of the crank to overcome the stripped thread situation – a tip well worth knowing – and we were back on the road. Anything not firmly attached to the bike (and even things that are) will rattle loose during Paris-Roubaix, so be warned: tighten up.

The infamous Arenberg Forest was looming large, just when we thought we had this thing licked. Jean Stablinski is the man to thank for this particularly fine (or gruesome, depending on your outlook) stretch of appallingly uneven stone. The 1962 World Champion and ’58 Vuelta winner was a former miner who had worked far below the dead straight road that starts by the pit gates, the tunnels apparently having a bearing on the subsidence of the cobbles. Quite why the great Stablinski thought it a suitable surface to run a race over is unclear. Presumably he could handle it.

I, for one, could not. The summer version we rode allows the luxury of leaving the pavé (or even skipping it altogether) for the adjacent cinder track. The ASO event in April, taking place the day before the race, will have barriers in place, leaving no alternative but to grimace and bear it. Everything you have heard about the Arenberg is true – with interest. I walked the length of it at last year’s Tour and close inspection brought home the random nature of the stones, misshapen rejects jutting out at all angles, cobbled together. Prepare to be shaken.

The consequences of cycling and taking murky substances are well catalogued. The risks are plain for all to see. A curious green energy drink supplied by the organisation looked like something Barry Manilow might sip at the Copacabana, so I plumped for the clear boissons énergétiques – and paid the price soon after. The rattling of the Arenberg speeded the evil potion through my system and I was crouched behind a hedge soon after. Sorry to be so graphic, but take your own tried-and-tested energy products or suffer the consequences.

Some determined chasing to rejoin the group and the remainder of the ride flew by, even the notorious Carrefour de l’Arbre – a totally different prospect on a dry, sunny summer’s day to a wet and windy April.

The comrades on wheels transformed to deadly enemies approaching Roubaix velodrome, attacks going on either side of the pavé, blowing the group to pieces before the famous, spine-tingling right-hander onto the banked track. Getting out of the saddle to sprint for the line and flumping straight back down again brought home the sheer exhaustion from an amazing day.

A beer or two, the ultimate in rudimentary showers and that all-important mounted cobblestone. It really does not get any better than this.