Archive for February, 2013

“Jump On, Lad”

February 26, 2013

Mad1

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Guy Andrews

A funny little anecdote worked its way back to us from the Challenge Mallorca series of races a couple of weeks back, courtesy of one of the young Madison Genesis riders.

Picture yourself, if you can – and have a long enough memory to do so – as an aspiring 18-year-old cyclist, making your professional debut in what will hopefully be a long and fulfilling career.

Last season, your staple diet of racing would have been local circuit races interspersed with the national junior road race series. Now you are in at the deep end competing against the biggest cycling teams in the world; rubbing shoulders with guys you have previously only seen on TV; riding along in the middle of a bunch surrounded by the familiar jerseys of Garmin, Movistar, Cofidis, Omega Pharma, Lotto, Lampre, Euskatel, Orica-GreenEdge, Sky…

A boy’s head could easily turn to mush at the very idea of such company. It could all be a dream. Then, as is the way with pro racing, you are rudely awakened by a split in the bunch. Through no fault of your own, you are at the head of affairs – but in the wrong bunch. There is a gap ahead. It is widening at an alarming rate

Those guys – the ones who have been doing this for years and who you watch on TV – those guys are receding into the distance. Those guys were smart to the split. They can smell it before it happens; they’re ahead of the game; hip to the tip.

You, however, are raw as a cabbage in January. And on the front, into a headwind. Nothing for it but to blast across and bridge that gap – the trouble being that, no matter how hard you press on those damned pedals, the gap will not close. It stays exactly as it is.

Time for a change of tack: a flick of the elbow, a slight swing to the left, and let someone else do the hard work. Except the next guy in line doesn’t come through. What is wrong with him? Does he not understand?

A quick glance over the shoulder to see who the uncooperative swine might be, perhaps a few choice words at the ready to fire off in his direction – standard racing etiquette, you’d think, except that as your vision focuses on a gleaming Pinarello, then takes in the man aboard it, that uncooperative swine glued to your wheel turns out to be the winner of the Tour de France.

What to do? Knuckle down and get on with it is the answer. If Brad wants to come through, he will. If not, what are you going to do about it? Our young man pushes for all he’s worth, but still the gap does not close.

Eventually Brad pulls up level, glances across and issues the words you’ve been longing to hear; from anyone, let alone a Tour winner: “Jump on, lad.”

This man, who you used to watch on TV and hope one day to emulate, is giving you a free ride back to the bunch, because he can, not because he needs to. It is ever so slightly humbling.

Ned Boulting’s piece in issue 36 on the Revolution refers to the origins of the winter track series: Dave Brailsford’s ‘Pathway to Podium’ idea, where young riders compete in the same arena as Olympic gold medallists, and the magic rubs off. How can they fail to be inspired when riding with the likes of Hoy, Pendleton and the rest? Success breeds success – witness Becky James and Simon Yates’ respective gold medal rides on the track in Minsk last week.

So this young man from Madison Genesis, this wet behind the ears whippersnapper with much to learn and little time to learn it, picked up a couple of valuable lessons that day: always stay focused and don’t find yourself the wrong side of the split. And, should the split occur and there is a gap to be closed, look to your friends in the peloton to help, even newfound friends like a Tour de France winner. Keep working hard and one day you may be in a position to return the favour…

Mad2

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On Guards

February 21, 2013

Cyclesport

Words: William Fotheringham

It was Robert Millar who first opened my eyes to one of the bitter realities of cycling: we spend more time riding our bikes in ‘winter’ than we do in any other season. For a bike rider, winter isn’t a neat division into a three-month segment: it is when you need mudguards and tights and is the part of the year which lasts, if you are unlucky, from October to April.

Millar was the only pro I ever knew who, at his own expense, had a winter bike custom made for him by a local builder, partly on the premise that he wasn’t going to get a machine with mudguard eyes out of the sponsor – and, more to the point, that if he did and then changed teams, the sponsor was liable to ask for it back just at the point he was going to need it most. But mainly, he got that bike in the knowledge that he was going to ride it as much if not more than his race bike, and he might as well keep a bit drier while he did so.

Although I never went to Millar’s extreme of putting a tubular inside a clincher to avoid punctures, I followed his winter bike example in 1996. It felt like a curious step, asking a builder to make me a frame to the same dimensions as the bike I raced on, using the same light steel tubing but with big clearances, longer forks, and all the relevant braze-ons.

Everyone I knew had the same approach to the winter bike. They either used a racing bike they didn’t race any more with the guards attached in various unreliable ways, or they bought the cheapest steel frame they could find off the peg and lived with it. That was cycling tradition: you didn’t invest in something that was going to take the battering from water, potholes and road salt that your winter bike would have to take.

I’ve come to regard those few hundred quid (well, it was 15 years ago now) and the regular sums I’ve spent on resprays as the best investment I’ve ever made in a single item of cycling kit. And not just because taking the guards off and racing on a bike with mudguard eyes and a big fork rake, that looks a bit, well, battered, is an excellent way of winding up fellow bike riders. Mudguard eyes plus long forks equals heavy, right? Not necessarily. (Knowing smile.)

For a sport which we associate so much with summer, there is a curious amount of pleasure to be found in winter bike riding. Even this diluvian winter – where many roads seem to have reverted to a pre-modern, non-tarmacked state – doesn’t have to be hell if you have decent mudguards, substantial tyres, an obsessive regard for wind direction and air temperature and a fair collection of gloves, not to mention an old trick or two like the spare undervest for the café stop. The fact that winter kit is now the best it ever has been, across the board, makes all the difference.

I’ve come to realise that although much of the pure joy from British bike riding is to be had in summer – probably because those sensually pleasing shorts and short sleeve days are so few and far between – winter riding is the source of the most memorable experiences. The extreme stuff that sticks in the mind seems to happen when the days are short: the time when I was a kid and the water froze in the bottle on a 100-mile sponsored ride; the first and, I hope, only time I braked on an icy descent; the club run where we ended up wandering through four foot snowdrifts in our cleats chucking snowballs at each other.

There is plenty to take from this winter too: a Sunday spent dodging epic floods, topped by a half hour on an islet in a flood plain watching a mate repair two punctures as the waters rose around us; the way that constant rain made new and extreme ways of lubricating a chain a constant topic of conversation; a hilarious low speed pratfall on a sheet of black ice that materialised from nowhere; a new climb in the Welsh borders to the top of a mountain tackled (cunning laugh) with a gale force easterly tailwind in dazzling sunshine.

Winter cycling is like teenage love. You dream about the pleasure, you remember the pain.

Extract  from Rouleur issue 36. William Fotheringham is cycling correspondent for the Guardian and translated Laurent Fignon’s autobiography We Were Young and Carefree, published by Yellow Jersey.

Podcast: Issue 36

February 11, 2013

Contributors Olivier Nilsson-Julien and Jordan Gibbons join Jack Thurston to discuss Issue 36. They begin with a look at Herman Chevrolet’s history of double-dealing and crookery in cycling, followed by Paul Kimmage’s long-running campaign against doping in the sport, and finish on Lightweight carbon wheels, handmade in Germany since first appearing in the professional peloton in the mid-1990s.

Issue 36

The Rouleur podcast is brought to you by Mosquito Bikes, London’s custom made bicycle specialists. Mosquito is London’s premier dealer of Lightweight wheels, with demonstration models available for test rides. Drop by Mosquito on the Essex Road in Islington, or give them a call to book a spin on the finest in German engineering excellence. 123 Essex Road, London N1 2SN or on the web at mosquito-bikes.co.uk.

Troublesome Child Part II

February 7, 2013

RLR36_Tony_1

Readers of last week’s Rouleur blog will recall how we weren’t altogether sure issue 36 was one of our strongest.

Part of the reason this feeling had permeated the editorial team was that we had made a cock-up and it was too late to correct it.

It is never easy to admit being wrong, but in this instance there is no excuse; we messed up. Mistakes and factual error had been added in to David Sharp’s terrific interview with Tony Martin, and the author has asked that we publish his original version in full, which we are more than happy to do.

So click here to download the feature, with fabulous imagery by Timm Kölln. Hope you enjoy it, and sorry once again to David.