Archive for January, 2013

Troublesome Child

January 31, 2013

Ever get that feeling, having entered an event weeks in advance, that it was all a horrible mistake? That the upcoming pain will far outweigh the endorphin high?

I go through the same ridiculous process every time, even though, deep down, I’m aware that the chances of enjoying every single moment of the ride – or certainly the feeling after it’s all over – are high.

Fretting is the default position, even when there is entry on the line. There are chimps on both shoulders, arguing the toss over the merits and demerits of racing, while I sit helpless between, like being on the night bus to Peckham when it kicks off. The spat soon gets ugly, but there is no point in intervening. What will be, will be.

It’s the same deal with the magazine. We send off the finished article to the printers, then the doubts set in: what if it isn’t as good as the last issue? How do we know we have got it right having pored over the content for weeks and become blind to its charms?

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The reason struck us is the strange chain of emotions running through the office as we went to press. The editor and myself had concluded issue 36 was not one of our best efforts, and had resigned ourselves to improving next time round. Let it go and move on.

Then the publisher, Bruce, and the ad man, Andy, called us to say it was one of our finest. And the early response from those who had got the issue was the same: it’s a beauty. We are happy to stand corrected.

What the editorial and design team strive for is originality, quality and balance – and it was the balance part we were unsure we had got right. Too much historical and Rouleur becomes a museum piece; all contemporary and we have left our core values behind.It’s not until we get the magazine in our hands, having watched it take shape on a computer screen over the shoulder of our designer, Rob, that we can truly say whether it has worked or not. Thankfully, we all agreed: it has worked, and then some.

And what is contained within the covers of this troublesome child, you ask? Ned Boulting opens with a fabulously written piece on the Revolution track series, with suitably wonderful images by Taz Darling. Guy Andrews, a man with a penchant for a steel frame himself, follows the development of the new Madison Genesis team, who will (whisper it) ride steel frames this season. Retro or forward thinking?

Herbie Sykes, a man who loves a good barney, sits down with Paul Kimmage, not averse to a heated debate himself – ask Lance… It is a fascinating feature on where the sport is now and where it’s heading. Our man Jordan Gibbons goes to Germany to discover one of the finest carbon wheel producers in the world making very expensive hoops from Heath Robinson machinery. And even Lance has to pay to get a set. Superb.

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We have two writers new to Rouleur this issue: Olivier Nilsson-Julien talks to Dutch author Herman Chevrolet about his fascinating book on dirty deals and double-crossing in the peloton; and David Sharp spends time with time trial wunderkind Tony Martin, talking over a year of extreme highs and lows, with the always-excellent Timm Kölln recording the scars.

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David Curry accompanies Rouleur regular photographer Olaf Unverzart to the Czech Republic to discuss cyclo-cross with Zdeněk Štybar as the former World Champion converts to a career on the road with Omega-Pharma –Quick Step.

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Plus columnists Paul Fournel – with Jo Burt’s illustration as usual –  Matt Seaton and William Fotheringham, winners all.

Enough of the hard sell. We’re happy enough, but we’re not the readership. Let us know what you make of it.

Train in Spain

January 24, 2013

Words and photos: Jordan Gibbons

Training camps are quite an odd environment. Lots of riders often crammed into small hotels, often in the middle of nowhere and often with little else but journalists to keep them company.

You can really see how cabin fever sets in over the course of a three-week tour with the pressure to perform looming over you. Thankfully the Italian national womens’ team was at the same hotel and seemed to provide some light comic relief with their terrible snowboarding tan lines.

The first training camp of the season provides an important reference point for the team. It’s the first important steps the riders take in riding together and practicing race tactics because receiving some power numbers over the Internet doesn’t give you the whole picture. It’s also the first time the older guys will meet the new recruits and teach them how it’s done.

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This particular training camp took place with Lotto-Belisol in Valencia. Bert Ackaert, the team trainer, likes the location because you can go out and do 150km of pan-flat riding down the coast, or go the other direction and you’re ascending a Cat 2 climb within minutes. He’s also quite partial to Majorca, for similar reasons.

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Note the phone in a plastic bag. Prevents sweaty pocket phonecalls – which is not a euphemism.

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It seems that no matter how professional you become and how many races you ride, swearing with no hands on the bars is still hilarious. It’s also a strong reminder that some of these guys are barely out of their teens.

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Looking at this you may think the roads are horrendous (or that my hands cannot hold a camera).  I can assure you that unlike the surfaces we Brits endure on a daily basis, Valencian roads are fabulous. You might even go as far as to say that the roads are good enough to play snooker with. Unlike my hands, which are not.

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Not long after this picture was taken we saw a man hot-footing along the dual carriageway at a pace I consider to be too fast for a leisure runner. Naturally I put two and two together and assumed he was running away from the scene of the crime.

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One thing that may come as a surprise is just how much a professional will eat whilst out on a training ride. They don’t stop. If they’re not talking or drinking then they’re eating. Contrary to this popular belief that you shouldn’t eat on a sub-three hour ride, they take fuelling very seriously. So perhaps reconsider before you head off into the hills in freezing conditions for five hours with nothing but a jam sandwich for company.

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You might also have a preconception that going on a training ride as a professional is a complete world away from your local club ride. Well, that’s not always the case; on this particular jaunt we took four wrong turns, spent a solid ten minutes riding in the wrong direction, spent a brief period riding down the wrong side of the road and had to wait at the top of one hill whilst somebody went back to collect the glasses they had dropped. What will come of no surprise is the pace: a quick look at the speedometer showed them tapping along at 45km/h.

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I took this picture out of the open side door of a moving van and when the local police saw this they were less than impressed. They politely informed me that if we were seen doing it again (hanging out of the van, that is, not urinating by the roadside) that we’d be put on the first flight back home. Assuming that whatever flight they put me on was almost certainly going to be better than the one on which I arrived I decided to take my chances.

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Lotto Belisol

A Four Grand Day Out

January 10, 2013

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Words: Ian Cleverly  Photos: Paolo Ciaberta and Andy Waterman

Four grand is a serious lump of cash to stump up for a bike, but many of us do, it seems. Much research will have gone into purchasing your pride and joy: reviews scoured, magazines perused, bike shows visited. You may have even – old school style – dropped in at the local bike shop to see some options in the flesh. How very 20th century.

I recently went through the process myself, after decades of making do with second best. Finally, I could have my heart’s desire. The lengthy process of narrowing down the contenders was thoroughly enjoyable. There was a palpable thrill as the order was placed that gradually diminished over the summer as the frame failed to arrive. Not wishing to dish the dirt on the tardy builders but suffice to say they are American and also make excellent headsets.

So a stopgap cheap steel frame was bought to tide me over for a few months and an adequate bike cobbled together from various odds and sods, with some flash carbon wheels for Sunday best.

Having the good fortune to be invited to spend four days riding in the Alpine Challenge, based at Annecy in September, I’m riding along in the bunch when the fella next to me has a good look across at my bike and complements me on owning such a handsome machine. After a double take and an inquiry as to whether he was taking the piss, he assured me he was not and that, despite riding several thousand pounds worth of carbon bling himself, he found my cheap and cheerful steel steed very pleasing to the eye.

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Good to know but a one-off, I figured, except it happened again later that day after the ride. “Ah, but it’s steel,” this guy says, “so it’s heavy.” I hand it over, he jiggles the bike around in that time honoured weight-determining fashion, and concludes it is perfectly acceptable.

This process carried on repeatedly for the duration of the stay, usually accompanied by a catch-all disclaimer why steel does not match carbon: too heavy; too flexy; just plain old-fashioned. But it looked lovely, they all agreed, staring wistfully at the deep red paint of my Genesis, then back to their dull black stealth weapons. Which was fine by me, but baffling nonetheless.

How much research do prospective buyers put in before laying down hard-earned cash? It seems to me many plump for what the pros ride, which is understandable – it’s the whole point of sponsoring a team, after all. But those super-fit, whippet-thin young guys are racing for a living, using the best tools for the job. Most of my riding acquaintances race once in a blue moon, are carrying a few extra pounds but do a lot of miles for pleasure. Do they really want a stiff-as-a-board carbon frame that nudges the UCI weight limit when built up?

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I wouldn’t attempt to argue the virtues of one frame material over another and am certainly not anti-carbon. The Parlee I tested a few years back is still the finest bike I have ever thrown a leg over, and it pained me to give it back. All frame materials are good when used correctly and have their inherent advantages and disadvantages.

But I would maintain there are lots of people out there buying the wrong bikes for the type of riding they intend to do. Whether that is down to the power of advertising, product placement with pro teams, hard-selling bike shop staff, or the age-old method of asking mates’ advice (to be told steel is too heavy and too flexy…) or a combination of all four is unclear.

With new British domestic squad Madison Genesis on frames contructed from Reynolds’ finest tubes (see Guy’s piece in issue 35), it is time to quash the idea that steel is not up to it. Two of the Rapha-Condor-Sharp team rode the Condor’s Super Acciaio last season – out of choice, I should add, not contractual obligation – and they love them. Steel is, once again, a viable option for a top-quality machine, even if you race, and you’d be a mug to discount it out of hand. That’s all I’m saying.

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Take a long, hard look at what’s out there, take into account what you will be using the bike for, then make an informed decision. It is a big outlay of cash, so make sure you get it right.

And remember, aesthetics are part and parcel of that judgement. If, like me, you get a buzz out of people riding alongside and waxing lyrical about your handsome bicycle, steel beats carbon every time, even a bargain basement stopgap. I just hope the new expensive replacement has the same effect…

The Wheel Turns

January 2, 2013

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Words: William Fotheringham    Photo: Offside/L’Equipe

Sic transit gloria mundi. Addio Vigorelli, the under used and under loved track in Milan where the boards are to be ripped up. It’s hard not to feel a sense of loss at the disappearance of one of the last links with the great days of track cycling; the days when the crowds would queue for hours to watch the likes of Antonio Maspes, Reg Harris, Fausto Coppi and Ferdi Kübler ride within what is a monumental and somewhat pompous structure. The building harks back to the fascist days, is in the same style as the city’s Central station, and is to be retained. You will still be able to go there and ponder the wartime day in 1942 when Coppi braved the British bombs to set his hour record but it is unlikely to see bike racing again.

When I visited the track in 2005 during research for Fallen Angel, my biography of Fausto Coppi, it already bore little resemblance to a functioning velodrome. Although the immediate surroundings were no more propitious than at Manchester, it made a stark contrast with that place’s bustling foyer, the constant comings and goings of the GB team and the sold out sessions. Vigorelli’s legendary boards of north African maple were still in place, although they were clearly unusable. (The note in the dilapidated lobby recalling a Beatles concert was an amusing footnote.)

It was obvious even then that it would take a monumental effort, a fair bit of finance, and a huge drive on the part of Italian cycling if it were ever to be restored to its former glory.

In a parallel universe – one where the UCI wasn’t constantly panicking about surviving the latest doping scandal and sending legal letters to those who question its dealings (step forward Paul Kimmage, Floyd Landis and Greg LeMond) – you could envisage a future for track cycling in which velodromes such as the Vigorelli host World Cup competitions. They would be a hub for activities which draw young people into the sport. The boards would be seen as a vital way of getting youth cyclists onto their bikes free of city traffic and winter weather.

This is what is happening in Britain but, given the absence of a coherent top level plan to reboot worldwide track cycling, it is unlikely to happen elsewhere. In the litany of the UCI’s crimes against the sport it is supposed to run, killing off track cycling – by omission rather than commission – should have a prominent place, along with its disregard for women’s racing.

That the Vigorelli would not have a future was confirmed in the week that we lost another link to the golden age of Coppi, Bartali, Kübler et al. Fiorenzo Magni’s death at the age of 91 closed a magnificent innings in which he won the Giro d’Italia three times, claimed a legendary second place in the Giro with a broken collarbone and humerus, and achieved the unlikely feat of winning the Tour of Flanders three years running.

He was an energetic, bustling, determined man in his late 80s when I met him for an interview which was of immense value when writing Fallen Angel, and which eventually appeared in these pages. His memories were clear; in the ‘affair’ of the White Lady which had so divided Italy, he had come down firmly on the side of Coppi’s wronged wife Bruna, to whom he and his wife were close. After half a century, his views were still trenchant.

There was another death that mid-October week. On the day after Magni breathed his last, the Dutch finance house Rabobank announced that – after 18 years – it was pulling out of backing its professional team. In a neat reversal of what Magni had achieved almost 60 years earlier – when he brought in the first of the extra-sportif sponsors who would take over the financing of elite squads as the bike industry fell on hard times – the bike supplier Giant looked set to continue.

Given the relative health of the cycle industry compared to the frailty of finance and consumer goods, that could become a trend if more extra-sportif sponsors take fright in the wake of the Armstrong revelations. The wheel turns, as the French say, but it is at times of crisis such as these that the past becomes doubly important. Greats such as Magni will pass but the sport’s physical landmarks – Alpe d’Huez, the Stelvio, the Madonna del Ghisallo, Arenberg, and the Muur at Geraardsbergen – are a vital link to that past. Therein lies the true tragedy of the loss of the Vigorelli.

William Fotheringham is cycling correspondent for the Guardian and author of Merckx: Half man, Half Bike, published by Yellow Jersey Press.

 Extract from Rouleur issue 35, out now.