Archive for August, 2012

Podcast: Issue 33

August 29, 2012

Editor Guy Andrews and Managing Editor Ian Cleverly join Jack Thurston to discuss the new issue of Rouleur magazine. They talk about the Tour of Bavaria, which pits top riders against lesser known pros with the scenic backdrop of southern Germany, compare and contrast Italian wheel rim specialists Ambrosio with American framebuilders Independent Fabrication. They also discuss Eileen Sheridan, one of the greatest cyclists Britain has ever produced and listen to Paul Fournel reading from his new book, published by Rouleur.

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 Bikes is proud of its six year association with Independent Fabrication, whose range of beautifully designed frames with flawless welds, perfectly finished in rich colours, has found favour with the discerning Mosquito customer from the very start. The New England-based company will build exactly the bike you seek, whether it be steel, titanium or carbon. In the words of Indy Fab, ‘we build almost everything out of almost anything’. It’s a process that’s steeped in tradition and driven by innovation not bound by convention. See the range in the flesh at 123 Essex Road, London N1 2SN or on the screen at mosquito-bikes.co.uk.

Walk out to Winter

August 23, 2012

Eric Estlund from Winter Bicycles, as featured in issue 32, works his magic with metal in this lovely short film by Ryan Schoeck.

Belief Systems

August 16, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly

I’ve just got back from a mini tour of France. For a cycling journalist, that is something of a busman’s holiday, but there were parties to attend and good friends to catch up with. And, of course, some fantastic riding to be had. The country does have its up sides.

Starting in the Loire and a three-day residency at a salle des fêtes on the banks of the river downstream from lovely Saumur, we partied as only a bunch of alcohol-hardened 50-year-olds can, before tumbling into bed and resuming celebrations a few hours later.

Unusually, people wanted to talk to me about cycling; how exciting the Tour must have been for someone in the business; a British winner after all these years; magazine sales must be going through the roof.  Jane, who lives near Cognac, told me that the French media and public had taken to Bradley ‘Le Gentleman’ Wiggins after a slightly rocky start to relations in the opening week. Entente cordiale had broken out once again, which was good to hear.

We headed south to the Drôme, on the edge of the Vercors, quiet enough to feel totally relaxing and with enough traffic-free climbs and winding lanes to keep any cyclist happy for a week or two.

Joel, the next-door-neighbour, said it had been a tedious Tour. Sky had strangled the race, killed off any enjoyment for spectators. He said they had raced like a team (yes, I know; struggled to get my head round that one as well). He also believed they were doping. That was the only possible explanation he could find for the complete domination he had witnessed during the previous three weeks.

Next stop Versailles.  If you have not been, the palace is of such ludicrous dimensions and grandiosity that its very existence lends an air of inevitability to the French Revolution. If the peasants were wavering in 1789 then one glimpse of Versailles would have provided sufficient incentive to tool up and storm the Bastille.

By this time the Olympics were in full swing and Team GB were hoovering up the medals, especially on the track. French TV, much like any other nation, showed mostly sports its own athletes were performing well in. I got to watch lots of handball but not a lot of cycling. I did, however, see a French journalist interview David Cameron in the garden of Number 10. How, the journalist wondered, could Team GB possibly win so many gold medals in cycling? What was going on? (Why he thought David Cameron would have the answer to this, God only knows.)

It was an intentionally loaded question, the inference clear: they must be doping. Cameron batted it away with the usual ‘hard work and dedication’ line, and did not take the bait, unlike Wiggins in that infamous press conference on the Tour.

I had exchanged emails with two Americans towards the tail end of the Tour, both in the cycling business, both knowledgeable of the racing game, both having serious doubts that what they were witnessing on this race was possible without chemical assistance. American fans have been badly burned by the US Postal revelations and the realisation that the Blue Train they had been hollering for all those years was not altogether clean, to say the least. Now the Sky blue train had taken its place with equally devastating results, why should they not draw the same conclusion?

These anecdotal snapshots are what the sport is up against the world over. It is not sufficient to think that, because we are British, we are clean, play fair, and the rest of the cycling world should be happy with that explanation. It has to be shouted from the rooftops, over and over; proved beyond doubt; made public and challenged, not avoided and brushed under the carpet.

Say it loud: I’m clean and I’m proud.

Le Tour de Bore

August 9, 2012

Words: William Fotheringham 

Boring. Tedious. Monotonous. Predictable. That, according to some, were the words that summed up this year’s Tour de France. We had the first ever British winner but apparently that wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t thrill a minute, seat of the pants, tension all the way stuff. Well that wasn’t how Bradley Wiggins lived it, if the few chances we had to exchange views during the race were anything to go by. He seemed to be having quite an intense time of it.

Concern that the Tour is boring is not a new phenomenon. In fact it’s a perennial concern. In 1952, the organisers increased the prize money for second place to liven things up as Coppi romped to victory. In 1970, they were aghast when Eddy Merckx took the lead early in the race. Further back, Alfredo Binda was famously paid to stay away from the 1930 Giro because, guess what, he was making it too predictable. Jacques Anquetil was criticised for it, so too Bernard Hinault and Miguel Indurain.

Part of the problem is down to the nature of cycle racing on the road. An endurance sport is not always thrill a minute. Thrill a minute is an elimination race on the velodrome; the 20/20 to the Test Match that is the Tour de France. But while elimination races provide great entertainment they are rarely memorable in the longer term (unless Laura Trott or Willy De Bosscher is involved, but that’s another story). The other issue with road racing is team tactics, which are now so well honed that the outcome of many Tour stages is preordained until the (bunch) finish.

If we have expectations that the Tour is an edge of the seat ride, I blame Laurent Fignon, Pedro Delgado and Greg LeMond. It’s all their fault. Between them they created the most incredible Tour ever in 1989, with the Frenchman and the American swapping the lead time after time with never more than 53 seconds between them. I suspect that race has conditioned many people’s view of what a Tour de France should be. But it was a completely unique event, because neither Fignon nor LeMond was anywhere near their best form – both were fighting back from long-term injury of different kinds – and the big favourite Delgado set off with a 3min handicap by missing his prologue start time.

The 1989 race came two years after the Stephen Roche Tour – in which the Irishman ruthlessly hunted down Delgado in the final week – and three years after the most intrigue-filled Tour ever, the 1986 race in which LeMond and Hinault indulged in a hilariously theatrical battle with the glorious twist being that the pair were team-mates. That contest pitted a mentally strong but physically fading Hinault against a physically fresh but mentally fragile LeMond. Further back, the 1979 Tour was a thriller (ignore the 13min gap between Hinault and Joop Zoetemelk, 10min of which was added on afterwards when the Dutchman tested positive), largely because Hinault had a nightmare on the stage to Roubaix, losing three minutes after a puncture and a delay due to strikers on the course. He then hunted down Zoetemelk with the same ruthlessness Roche showed eight years later in his pursuit of Delgado.

These Tours are exceptions, however. Mostly, the race is a relentless process of physical attrition in which the first big physical test, be it a summit finish or an early long time trial, delivers a verdict that remains largely unchanged in Paris. On the whole the rate of physical deterioration in any stage race is a curve which remains the same for most of the protagonists, so in the final week it’s rare for a leader to be much better than earlier in the race. That’s why the classification is often fairly set and the gaps simply get bigger.

That can seem predictable but the fact is that there is so much else going on during the Tour that in my eyes it never is. This year’s ‘boring’ race had Wiggins calling the Twitter doubters “fucking wankers” (and worse), the tacks on a Pyrenean climb, the intriguing question of Chris Froome, and plenty more. It didn’t have the cut and thrust of the 1989 and 1979 races but few Tours do. Boredom is in the eye of the beholder.

Extract from Rouleur issue 33. William Fotheringham is the author of Roule Britannia. A history of Britons in the Tour de France, the book will be reissued in October with new sections covering the 2012 race. 

Battaglin 1987

August 2, 2012

Photos: Michael Blann

“I was stunned when I came round the final corner and saw Delgado up ahead. I didn’t expect that at all. First of all I could just see the back of some cars, then I was able to see Delgado just in front of them.”

“Even then I didn’t know how far up he was – that didn’t really interest me. All I knew was the faster I went, the closer I would get to him and the better my chance would be of winning the Tour.”

“I think if Delgado had known I was coming back at him he would have gone a little bit harder as well if he’d had anything left in the tank.”

“As I crossed the line I didn’t realise the significance of what I’d done. All I knew was that winning the Tour was still a possibility for me, but I had no idea what I’d achieved.”

“What made it dramatic was the fact that because the journalists behind the finish line were getting the time checks from 4km or 5km to go, they assumed that the Tour was over.”

“Everybody had their own ‘Delgado wins the Tour’ stories already written in their minds, so when I came round the corner they were all surprised, including Phil Liggett, as everyone will remember from his famous commentary as Delgado finished. I’ve had it played back to me a few times since.”

Born to Ride by Stephen Roche is published by Yellow Jersey Press