Archive for July, 2012

When Johnny Met Bradley

July 26, 2012

Words: Johnny Green Photos: Ben Ingham

“In the city
There’s a thousands things
I wanna say to you”
The Jam, In The City

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’.

JG: How d’ya do, Bradley. Let us speak of Coppi and Pantani.

BW: [laughing] Let’s talk about Keith Richards. Have you read his autobiography?

(Oh shit, I thought. I had been determined to get through this entire interview without mentioning dopage. Like Basil Fawlty in a parallel universe, I was telling myself, “Don’t mention the drugs.” But The Wigster rejoiced in the tale of Adam Ant queuing patiently in line recently in Waterstone’s to get his copy signed by Keef. Fame in two directions, ebb ‘n’ flow – a perfect start for a man high in the sporting spectrum. George Michael and Madonna belched outta the pub’s speakers.)

BW: Wish this was Ian Brown. He’s cool. Are we here to talk about cycling?

JG: Not necessarily.

(At this point, your photographer, Ben, persuades Brad to crush himself into a corner for a photo shoot, muttering, “The eyes, its all in the eyes,” whilst I’m jaggin’ to him, “The shoes, shoot the shoes.” It was becoming confusing.)

JG: Your book, On Tour, is brave.

BW: It was about documenting what it’s like to ride the Tour de France, success or failure. With hindsight, it is all the more interesting because it went tits-up. The photos tell the story of what that race does to your body. Obviously it wasn’t planned to be like that. Going into it, I was thinking that I was going to be Audley Harrison beating David Haye. It became apparent after round one it wasn’t gonna happen. You don’t know until you go in there. In a lot of sport, there is this premeditated media training…

JG: Although you’d had this amazing year in 2009, you nevertheless put your neck on the line. I thought, when I read your book, hats off to you. But how come you are so much into retro music? There is a playlist inside your book…

BW: Music was my first love before cycling. For some reason, it seems fascinating to people that you can have a personality towards music and still be a top sportsman. You don’t all have to walk about in a Daley Thompson tracksuit and trainers 24 hours a day and be this archetypal sportsman. I go with a lot of my mates to gigs and concerts but, you know, you’re not supposed to because their perception is of your sporting persona – they associate it with not being disciplined. But you’ve got to have a life outside of your sport.

JG: I would hope so.

BW: As a kid growing up, I listened to my uncle’s record collection and my granddad’s – you know, Chas ‘n’ Dave and stuff.

JG: Me too – fantastic!

BW: From that I went on to the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Howlin’ Wolf. From a young age, it was always there.

JG: You’re a London boy – Harrow Road. Tell me about live music.

BW: My first gig was when I was 12, in 1992. I went to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire for Ocean Colour Scene and that’s where the mod thing happened for me. All these boys turned up on scooters, impeccably dressed, and I was, like, I wanna be in that gang. That was it for me. I was at a multi-cultural school and then Weller came along with Stanley Road in ’95, then lookin’ back at his work in Style Council and The Jam. His influences, tracing ’em back, through Small Faces and Steve Marriot – like satellites taking me to another world.

JG: You never lose that first impact, do you?

BW: Right. I actually met someone who was at Woodstock and saw Hendrix play – phew…

JG: So as a retro man, where do you stand on hats – helmets – which I’m not fond of stylistically?

BW: I couldn’t go back. Not any more. I did the Paris-Nice in 2003 and I was behind [Andrei] Kivilev when he died – no head protection. It’s like seatbelts, and once upon a time no one wore them and now everyone takes care. Helmets on bikes is a reality.

JG: And then someone at ASO figures, what will happen if we remove earpieces for one day? How was that?

BW: It was a load of codswallop, to be honest. We protested by not racing properly. It’s like goal line technology – things have moved on.

JG: Ah, the football… Do you still go, take an interest?

BW: Yeah, I go but it’s no longer Arsenal. I was at Liverpool recently when they beat Chelsea – brilliant!

JG: I notice in the press room at the Tour, the sporting culture is rugby not football. Loathsome.

BW: Well I’m based in the north of England these days, near Wigan, and it’s all rugby league around me. It’s a brilliant place to come home to, especially after three weeks on tour, doing the same thing every day. I’m grounded with dogs, horses, sheep. I have become a rural man. Like some old-time rock star. I love it. Everyone needs an outlet.

JG: Ha ha! Like Keith Richards strolling in his estate in Connecticut. With Team Sky, everything is done for you and nothing is left to chance. Is that helpful?

BW: I think we might have gotten too obsessive this year in trying to stay one step ahead of the game. We tried to predict the weather – maybe trying to be too smart and eliminate chance. Hopefully we’ve learned from that.

JG: So back to mod, Brad… Do you know about Pete Meaden?

BW: Yeah, yeah – he roomed with Pete Townsend, went to art school together, used to manage The Who, was the first strong link with style. He said that being mod was “clean living under difficult circumstances”. I’m not sure that applies any more under the modern day, which is why I’m not a hundred per cent, but I do like what it stands for. I grew up on a council estate in central London so I understand about that attitude to look smart and pristine when you’ve got no money.

JG: Ah, bang on. Nothing to do with… [Shh! Don’t mention the gear!]

BW: Yeah it’s crucial to me, in cycling terms, to be clean and presentable, so when you’re out on the bike… It’s summed up in the team time trial: crisp formation, white British skin suit. It’s how I look at life, almost a religion, never forgetting where you come from, being true to your roots, not getting high ‘n’ mighty. That’s how I try to live my life and teach my kids. Sometimes it is difficult not to get carried away with your own self-importance. Outwardly, it might sometimes appear otherwise. Mark Cavendish is a classic example. People think he’s arrogant, but if you knew Mark on a personal level, he’s nothing like that at all. He’s the most down-to-earth, honest person you could wish to meet. In the past, British riders underwent less intense public scrutiny…

The conversation was cranking up the interest level when the spell was broken. Some old girl comes into the boozer, face flush from the instant heat, her eyes aglow in recognition of her hero.

“It is you! Bradley! I saw you through the window. Unbelievable. I’m reading your book, On Tour, at the moment. I’ve left it on the bedside table.”

“Right”, says Wiggy. “So where did you get this copy?”

She’s shifting her steamed-up glasses, clutching the book, then thrusting it at him.

“When I saw it was you in the pub, I shot off round the corner to Waterstone’s and bought one. Would you sign it please? Fancy, an Olympic champion like you in a pub in the middle of the afternoon!”

The Wigster is cool, friendly and helpful. This lady’s day has been made by a piece of the finest juju. Who’s gonna believe her when she gets home?

Wiggo himself, I suspect, is going to have to become used to being spotted as a national patriotic symbol for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Local boy makes good, on home turf, all kitted out in the red, white and blue of the flag. Thing is, the ’60s mods used it as an ironic device to depict the demise of empire…

As I go to wish the man well, he’s gone. He hovers at the edge of the bar, barely perceptible foot shapes, shuffles towards the door and then, zoom, out ‘n’ gone, like the move of a rider off the front of the pack, lookin’ for that combativity award.

I tucked my faded Ben Sherman shirt in, picked up my little bag of mementoes and slipped away into the chilled city night.

“Dizzy in the head and I’m feelin’ blue
The things you’ve said, well, maybe they’re true.”
The Who, I Can’t Explain

This feature first appeared in Rouleur issue 22

Rise of the Idiots

July 19, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: ASO

The former Cervélo man Tweeted these statements minutes after Chris Froome had crossed the line arms aloft at La Planche des Belles Filles and as Bradley Wiggins was about to don his first ever maillot jaune at the Tour.

Seeing as I had only just finished hollering at the telly – not a common practice, I assure you – and resumed a seated position on the sofa, Vroomen got me thinking. Brits were unbearable already. Would the country be gripped by rampant jingoism in the following weeks due to the heroics of Team Sky’s men? As the mainstream media latches onto a sniff of home success and cycling briefly commands the front page, perhaps there is danger of this nation not realising what this sport is all about.

Consider the highlights of what has been a tremendous Tour (ignore the naysayers who plead boredom), for which huge credit is due to Christian Prudhomme for some dramatic parcours and exhilarating stage finishes, blowing away the notion that only the combination of high mountains and time trials can settle the GC.

Peter Sagan’s brilliant three stage wins, each one different from the next, each with its own accompanying victory celebration. Thibaut Pinot, this year’s youngest rider, soloing across the line, his apoplectic directeur spoftif Marc Madiot behind, hammering the car door in frustration, encouragement, sheer nervous tension. (The left arm of my sofa also took a serious battering, a cloud of dust emerging as my every smack echoed the manager’s.)

The Tour’s oldest rider, the fabulous fruitcake Jens Voigt, hauling his creaking bones up the final kilometre into Bellegarde-sur-Valserine in the most painfully drawn-out slow motion sprint you will ever see. And that day’s winner, Thomas Voeckler, outwitting his breakaway companions with typical panache, his Europcar teammate Pierre Rolland pulling off a superb solo win 24 hours later. And Voeckler again, at Bagnères-de-Luchon.

Not forgetting David Millar’s wily fox routine at the end of a dull day on stage 12, the anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death and a fitting tribute to a great rider.

Cycling fans appreciate great performances, first and foremost. Nationality is secondary. We stand by the side of the road for hours on end to cheer guys who have been riding their bikes for hours on end, and – though we may reserve that extra shout for our favourites – we applaud each and every one (apart from Ivan Basso, obviously…)

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule: certain stretches of Alpe d’Huez; some of the Pyrenean climbs frequented by disturbingly inebriated orange-clad fans; the pissed-up hordes of the Carrefour de l’Arbre at Paris-Roubaix. Sky’s Michael Rogers took abuse from fellow Australians at the roadside as he paced Wiggins up the Glandon on stage 11. The morons thought supporting Cadel Evans would be better served by mouthing off at their countryman. Wiggins would probably have a word for them. It begins with C.

As for the bizarre incident with the tacks, there appeared to be no dubious nationalistic intent behind it. Just wanton malicious damage. Very effective it was, too. A moron working alone it seems.

So as a combination of Austrian, Australian, German, Norwegian and (let’s face it) Kenyan riders coax and tow a Brit along at the head of affairs towards Paris, put it in perspective. If Wiggins does become the first winner from these shores of the Tour de France in Paris on Sunday, it will be a great moment for the country. Just remember who helped put him there. It is our duty as long-time supporters of the sport to educate those – and there are many – not so au fait with road racing’s many peculiarities, alliances and tactical nuances. Teams are not built around national lines, and neither should they be supported as such.

By all means be patriotic, but not to the detriment of other nations. Share the love.

Podcast: Issue 32

July 17, 2012

Managing Editor Ian Cleverly and photojournalist Jordan Gibbons join Jack Thurston to discuss the new issue of Rouleur magazine. The discussion covers this year’s Tour de France, the merits and pitfalls of Twitter, the struggle to keep a road racing circuit at Eastway, London’s new Olympic Velodrome and top end road racing bikes from Ridley in Belgium.

Listen on the link below, download the MP3, or subscribe to the podcast in iTunes.

The Rouleur podcast is brought to you by Mosquito Bikes, London’s custom made bicycle specialists. Mosquito is the London showroom for Lynskey Performance titanium frames. Mark Lynskey has a wealth of experience in using titanium as a frame material, dating back to 1989 and his early involvement with Pro-Tour teams. The expert staff at Mosquito know precisely how to create the perfect combination of fit and performance for the most discerning cyclist. See the range in the flesh at 123 Essex Road, London N1 2SN or on the screen at mosquito-bikes.co.uk.

Blinded by the Light

July 12, 2012

 Words and photos: Jordan Gibbons

It was with great excitement that we four rolled out of Hackney at 8pm headed for the coast. The crowd seemed just the right type – frame pumps, Brooks saddles and Carradice a-plenty. We were doing the Dunwich Dynamo, a 180km night-ride from London to Dunwich, a small coastal town in Suffolk. The ‘Dynamo’ was started 20 years ago by a few messengers with some help from Mosquito Bikes and today over 2000 people make the yearly trip. It has become a big event in the local calendar: pubs stay open and serve food well into the night, bike shops set up tents with cups of tea and bacon rolls, and people turn their gardens into makeshift shelters waving at those passing by.

Our trip was sold to me as a relaxing affair – except one chap arrived with a power meter. Perhaps this was going to be much more serious than I expected. We crawled out of the city at a snail’s pace – infuriating scores of taxi drivers; the roads were just not designed for this many cyclists. As we reached the countryside the light had begun to dip so upon spotting our first pub we made a dash for it before we had to turn on our lights. Thankfully the man with the power meter ordered a pint of Guinness, which put me at ease; perhaps we weren’t going to ‘smash it’ after all.

Emerging like moles we discovered the world had gone dark. Thankfully I had borrowed a quality light to help me on my way. I flipped the switch as we rolled out of the car park. ‘Bloody hell, that’s bright Jordan!’. It was on the dimmest setting. From now until morning, the light was referred to as both ‘the sun’ and ‘the megatron’. The miles fell away easily after this: we had hitched onto a large club who were riding together and were sucked along up the hills. The monotonous darkness interspersed with mild stretches of mortal terror. Quite naturally we made no effort to read the cue-sheet, missed the food stop and instead found sanctuary in a near-by pub. Yet further Guinness to the rescue.

After rattling along a bit further the ride was beginning to take its toll. I was unsure of how far we had ridden but going on the ‘one urinating cyclist per 500 metres’ rule, I had estimated it to be about 110km. I was feeling tired and hungry and the road picked out by hundreds of blinking red dots stretched out to infinity. At this point my mind had turned to the piece of plastic in my pocket and the thought of collapsing into a Travelodge. I decided against it however as the abuse we handed out to the member of our party who got a puncture was so extreme that I dared not imagine what would be said of a quitter. Sensing my waning energy Mike reached into his bag and brought out some food matter that, in the dead of night, looked like a bag of mummified testicles. ‘Excellent!’ I thought, and devoured five.

Yet more miles tumbled away. Now and again came a spark of energy and brilliance interspersed by much longer periods of mediocrity. We passed through a small town at about 3 am with drunken revelers lining the street. One poor chap was leaning against a wall ejecting the contents of his stomach. ‘Bring it all up man!’ I cried. ‘You’ll feel better in the morning.’ I spent the next five minutes thinking about how annoyed I’d be if someone shouted that at me.

The idle chitchat continued until we looked up and realised our lights were no longer needed. It was morning. Quick. Up the pace. We must reach the beach for breakfast. We thundered along with what little energy was left until we saw the sign: ‘Dunwich Road’. One long descent and then you could see it shimmering in the cool morning light. A mirage? No. We could smell it too. Our eyes were not deceiving us. There it was. The café armed with full English breakfasts. We abandoned the bikes and made haste for the queue. Five minutes passed and we were kings. Sat at a table with pots of tea, fried bread and the sun on our backs.

On the Shelf

July 4, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photo: Jordan Gibbons

Firstly, an apology. I have been seriously slacking these past few weeks. The cycling books that have been arriving on my desk at the rate of three or four a week for the last couple of months have largely gone unread.

So apologies to the authors, to the publishers, and to you. Your prospective holiday reads gather dust, while plans for hours of lazing around the pool, book in one hand, beer in the other, are in tatters because this lazy-arse deputy ed can’t be done with actually reading and digesting each and every increasingly weighty tome that arrives in the post. Again, sorry. You know how it is: magazine to write and organise. Piffling, side-tracking matters. Waiting for a detailed analysis of the new releases to accompany your attempt at evening out a ridiculous cycling tan on the beach? Read no further. This is, most certainly, not it.

There is also the small matter of the non-stop perusal of cycling-related matter leading to brain atrophy or, at the very least, the impression that pain, suffering, drugs and untimely death are what makes the world go round. I try and fit a non-sport book between each two-wheeled tale – currently Patti Smith’s excellent autobiography Just Kids – to keep a balanced perspective. That Smith’s story should contain more than its fair share of pain, suffering, drugs and untimely death is an unfortunate coincidence. Back to the cycling books, then.

If you have read Jeff Connor’s Wide Eyed and Legless chronicling the sorry tale of ANC Halfords’ attempt at the 1987 Tour, you may consider re-visiting the story 25 years later superfluous. How wrong. Field of Fire is every bit as well written, funny and insightful as its predecessor. The author’s admittedly sketchy knowledge of the sport in 1987 has increased considerably and his recent interviews with team members and management show a greater understanding on all sides of the scale of what ANC were trying to undertake. Connor’s take on the sad descent into the gutter of Fleet Street’s red tops plays a big part in proceedings and the whole works perfectly. Highly recommended.

Merkcx: Half Man Half Bike by William Fotheringham I had high hopes for, but struggled to connect with. William has written some fine books, notably the Tom Simpson story Put me Back on my Bike and Roule Britannia, but falls short. It feels rushed and under-researched. Merckx is a notoriously difficult subject to get under the skin of and I am not convinced William has pulled it off. But then it topped the Times Bestseller’s List, so what do I know? Daniel Friebe’s The Cannibal awaits, but I’m all Merckxed-out for the moment.

So two Merckx’s arrive at once and, before you know it, there are also two Fotheringhams in the pile. The latest addition is from brother Alasdair, his first book. It makes you wonder what kept him. The Eagle of Toledo – The Life and Times of Federico Bahamontes, is not only a terrific tale but is very well handled by Hispanophile Alasdair. Accounts of cycle racing’s early years invariably contain suffering on a scale unimaginable to the modern professional, but post-Civil War Spain was another level altogether. Riding hundreds of miles between races, surviving on watermelons filched from fields, winning prize money was a necessity for the starving Bahamontes. The maverick climber comes across as a man difficult to like but, once you know the background, impossible not to admire. Alasdair’s book deserves a wider readership than I suspect it will get in this avalanche of summer cycling reading. Do seek it out.

As for the great unread, some appeal more than others. Nicholas Roche (too young), Stephen Roche (maybe…), Bill Strickland’s Tour de Lance (Bill is great, not so interested in the subject matter), Bjarne Riis (ditto on the subject matter), and Reg Harris (could be good).

Bike! compiled by experienced hands Daniel Benson and Richard Moore is a big handsome beast, a tribute to manufacturers, big and small, that have shaped the evolution of the racing bike through the 20th century and beyond. It looks mighty fine and I look forward to settling down on the sofa with it soon – this is no beach read, but the release date is September, so no worries there.

On the lighter side, Ned Boulting’s tremendous How I Won the Yellow Jumper has a Mark Cavendish green jumper update which should be equally good fun. Simon Warren’s demon little pocket book of fiendish ascents has a new brother, Another 100 Greatest Cycling Climbs – “Longer! Higher! Steeper!” You get the picture.

Around Ireland on a Bike by Paul Benjaminse got my attention, purely because it has been an awful long time since I did an anti-clockwise tour of the country and it is high time to re-visit. The scenery appears as dramatic as ever. Does every person you pass on the roads still say hello? Do the road surfaces remain rough as old boots? Probably, and long may it last.