Archive for April, 2013

Podcast: Issue 38

April 30, 2013

At 260 pages long, issue 38 is being cursed by sore-backed posties up and down the nation. The accompanying podcast is a big ‘un too, nudging the hour mark. Joining host Jack Thurston for a feast of Italian cycle sport, the Bath Road 100, and much else besides are assistant editor Andy McGrath and writer Michael Breckon.

Issue 38

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Poetry In Motion

April 24, 2013

Words: Ian Cleverly

There is something about a team time trial that I find endlessly fascinating, a match for any mountain stage in my book. Raw power; pure speed; precision; teamwork at its finest – lest we forget, cycling is a team sport, after all.

It’s the same deal on the track. The team pursuit is a beautiful thing, four kilometres of screaming pain for the participants, a few minutes of poetry in motion for the spectator.

Of course sprinting is the purest form of one-against-one in a velodrome (now the individual pursuit is sadly deemed surplus to requirements) but nothing grips like the four-man version.

A Tour de France without a team time trial has something missing, akin to the Grand National minus Becher’s Brook. The weaker teams are found out, struggling to maintain any semblance of order, popping riders out the back until they are lucky to hold the minimum five together to the finish line.

Some (Garmin for instance) make a point of training for the discipline with some success, while others (Team Sky) despite their obvious firepower, have still been known to blow apart badly.

Getting it right is glorious. Screwing it up is utterly humiliating, but I guess that’s what I like about it…

Bill Watkins was a TTT specialist, which is kind of an odd thing to specialise in, if you think about.

He is now CEO of Serotta in Saratoga, but back in the days when the four-man 100km time trial was very much a part of the Olympic line-up, Watkins and a group of big burly bruisers on bikes were whipped into shape by Polish defector Eddie Borysewicz for an event that rarely took place.

“In my time, it was the Russians, Poles, Czechs – they were the masters. Eddie defected after the Montreal Olympics and when I met him in Squaw Valley at the Olympic Training Centre in ’77 he hardly spoke English.

“We had a two-week training camp there with Davis [Phinney] and [Ron] Kiefel; Greg Lemond was there too, but he was only 16. He could still rip the legs off of us…

“When Eddie came over from the Polish team, who had already won two World Championships and a bunch of Olympic medals, we didn’t have the first idea how to train for it. We were just a bunch of guys doing our own thing.

“But then we started specific intervals, even weight training, to improve our stamina, so that we could all pull at 31 – 32mph and be ready to go again by the time we reached the front.”

The squad improved rapidly. These unlikely-looking cyclists, with physiques that would not look out of place powering a coxless four, got their act together with the aid of their new coach.

“What Eddie B did was introduce a very scientific approach to selection: power, body fat, weight,” says Watkins. “So we were fed into this system and eventually came out with eight TTT riders.

“We needed real big engines and we were mostly real big guys, but it didn’t matter. Put us on a flat road and we went full throttle. You can’t have a guy who weighs 150lb in front of me – I get no rest. It had to be a complimentary selection: no surging, just steady but fast.

“There’s no rest. When you’re dropping back down the line, you are almost at your limit. You pull for maybe a minute, minute and a half, two minutes max, then swing over and you’re at your threshold. And you need to get back on the train immediately.

“Miss that wheel by a couple of inches and you’re gone, and you’re never coming back. No rest, for two hours…”

The ’84 Olympics saw the US team rise from nineteenth position in Montreal in ’76 (USA boycotted the ’80 games in Moscow) to bronze medal position.

It should be pointed out that, as the Eastern Bloc countries boycotted the LA Games, the chances of those four Americans mounting the podium had the Russians, Poles and East Germans attended, are somewhere between slim and nil, but it was a great achievement nonetheless.

And had the US not boycotted four years earlier, Watkins fancies the group of “world-calibre riders” under the tutelage of Eddie B would have been strong contenders for medals.

Watkins never got to travel to LA that summer, making the longlist but not the final selection. “I was sad. I was more than sad. But it was rocking good fun, to ride at 31mph for two hours.

“It was intensely competitive and we all had big egos. We probably should have been cheering each other on, but we were always at each other’s throats. Now we laugh about it and apologise to each other for what assholes we were back then!

“I loved it. It suited my personality.”

Bill Watkins is 6’2”, weighs 180lbs and rides a Serotta.

Many thanks to all at Serotta for showing us around and loaning me a rather swish Legend SG for the Tour of the Battenkill. 

Bernard Hinault

April 17, 2013

Words: Graeme Fife Photos: Gerard Brown

“The snow was driving so hard into our faces, on a crosswind, that we had to protect our eyes with one hand. We needed ski goggles. I couldn’t see a thing.”

Bernard Hinault talking after Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Sunday 20 April, 1980. The race was 245 kilometres; after 70km, 110 of the 174 riders had already quit.

Approaching the feed station at Vietsalm, at 149km, Hinault told his directeur Cyrille Guimard that if it hadn’t stopped snowing by the time they got there, he was climbing off.

As if Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance herself, was eavesdropping, the sun came out. Hinault, being the sort of man he is, was obliged to ride on.

“I went to the front and started to go [roule] because that way I could get some heat into my body and legs.” (The French word rouler can mean to lick someone, as in a fight, or, in the slang, to stand on the pedals.)

He caught and dropped a small group of breakaways, and, 80km from the finish, he was on his own.

“My mind was blank – I couldn’t see anything. I was locked up in myself. I looked at the pine trees – everything was white. I was riding in the furrows left by the car tracks.”

He finished 9min 24sec ahead of Hennie Kuiper, his second victory in the doyen of Classics (Hinault had already won in 1977 and was second in ’79).

By the time Kuiper arrived everyone had gone – television and radio reporters included. It’s as cogent an example as there is of Hinault’s sheer class, his willpower – the rage à vaincre of which he’s spoken – and his style, the panache, the exploit, the dominating spirit, what he called “une morale terrible”.

“Since that day,” he said 30 years on, “I have no feeling in two of my fingers. As soon as the glass drops below eight degrees, I get a pain there.”

This is an extract from issue 19

Farewell to Perren Street

April 11, 2013


Words: Guy Andrews Photos: Taz Darling, Offside and Ben Ingham

Seven years ago this very week I sat on a pink Ikea sofa in an old piano factory in Kentish Town with a handful of pieces of paper and an idea.

It had been knocking around my head for many years. There wasn’t much to show for it, but I’d been in a rush and I could explain the rest.

I was here to meet up with Rapha’s founder and managing director Simon Mottram. I was feeling a bit strange about it because two rather awkward encounters with Simon had gotten me to this place.

On our first, as a then magazine product tester and journalist discussing the idea for Rapha with him, I said I thought he was mad (I don’t think I was alone with that).

The second time was when he’d sold out his first jersey range and started the company that now sponsors a fairly well-known professional team and is, well, doing a roaring trade.

Seeing as I’d told him I thought that his concept for Rapha was rubbish, I was quite expecting him to return the advice.

My premise was to produce a magazine with high production values, paper and print. It would be a magazine for the discerning reader and the fan of bike racing.

In a climate with very few alternative magazines and a worldwide web cluttered with blogs and simple news-based sites, the idea was pretty ambitious.

But I’d always thought that there was a space in the market for a reportage style cycling magazine, something with the spirit of Jock Wadley’s Coureur and the striking visual sense of Foto 8.

I was wrong. Simon liked it. I think we had a shared aesthetic and passion and I’d realised that Rapha was the ideal starting point for this new idea. We decided to have a go and I went off to develop the idea.

Four or so like minded advertisers liked our pitch and we realised that we were onto something. It was small beer on the page yield front – I’m no salesman, after all – but it would pay for the printing. We were in business.

RLR1_COVER_DPS copyThe cover of Rouleur 1

These were the hand-to-mouth beginnings of Rouleur magazine. Before long we moved into the then-spacious headquarters of Rapha Racing Limited, which numbered four employees and that pink sofa.

In the early days contributors were bribed with Rapha socks, jerseys and even soft shell jackets for those longer features.

Many gave their time for free. Photographers like Gerard Brown and Ben Ingham and writers like Matt Seaton and Graeme Fife were there at the start and still work for us today, albeit for a little more than threads and goodwill.

As time went on readers started to subscribe. So Rene Groot, Claire Wilson and I stuffed envelopes and amended spreadsheets as the orders came in.

The boxes of magazines filled the storeroom and we worked amongst them wondering if we could ever sell them all. We did.

Since that first issue, we’ve gone from 64 pages to 260, from four issues a year to eight. We’ve launched mountain biking magazine Privateer and a book publishing imprint with Bloomsbury.

Bruce Sandell came in to manage the business and we moved from Perren Street to Shoreditch three years ago.

The ideas kept coming at a furious rate and we all realised that Rapha couldn’t help us grow them anymore, mainly because of their own exponential growth and success.

Almost seven years to the day we started out with issue 1, a management buyout created a new company and added some much needed investment.

So amicably we agreed to part and allow us to take Rouleur to the next step.

Publishing an independent magazine in these times of economic vagueness and printing decline hasn’t always been easy, but cycling has been in rude recent health and niche independent magazines are on the up. Rouleur has survived, prospered even.

I would like to thank everyone who has been involved in the journey so far, especially those who helped us in those early days. The list is long, forgive me if I don’t mention you all.

But some special thanks go to Neil Wass and all the kind folk at Manson Group our printers, to Jonathan ‘Biff’ Bacon who worked tirelessly on the design of the early issues, to Edwin Ingram at Tapestry, to Peter Guest at Image Lab, to Brian Dowling, all the guys at BDI and to all of the talented contributors who have stuck with us.

And thanks to Simon Mottram who believed in it. We’ve had our differences and still do, but he saw the good in it and that was more than enough.

But above all, thanks to the readers who subscribed and the advertisers who have supported us. It’s thanks to all of you that Rouleur is here to stay.

It hasn’t always been ideal but if it was easy then everyone would be at it.

*The leading photograph was one of our more ambitious covers. It was for issue 20 and is a story in itself.

It was shot on the roof of Perren Street in Kentish Town, Rapha’s HQ. The dog is Gino and the mechanic is John Sutcliffe, who at one point was Rapha’s (and Rouleur’s) accountant.

It took weeks of planning and some tireless work over a very wet August weekend by a small group of talented professionals under the guidance of regular Rouleur photographer Taz Darling. And thank you for everything Taz.

RLR38_COVERNot quite everyone’s a Big Mig fan on the cover of Rouleur 38, which hits the shops in a fortnight.

Last But Not Least

April 8, 2013

roubaix blog
Words: Andy McGrath

As fans begin to filter away from Roubaix Velodrome, a shrill whistle peep from a gendarme turns heads again. A race motorcycle buzzes past and one final group begins its laps.

I return to the arena to see these dusty stragglers circle the bowl – the concrete must feel like velvet after the vicious cobbles – in the warm afternoon sunshine.

Back of the pack, last man of the 2013 Paris-Roubaix, is Danish rider Chris Juul Jensen (Saxo Tinkoff), in 118th position, some 26 minutes behind Fabian Cancellara, the results later tell us.

But results hardly mean a thing in Roubaix. After first place, finishing is enough to be feted.

The collective suffering of the many far exceeds one man’s winning relief. The foot soldier’s tale is far more relatable than that of Cancellara the conqueror.

Not many other riders have suffered like Jensen this spring either. In a bizarre coincidence, this result completes a spring set: he was also lanterne rouge at the Scheldeprijs and the GP E3-Harelbeke.

You might expect the man bringing up the rear to call the race shit, be disheartened, swear off it for life.

After he emerges from the velodrome’s faded shower rooms and we ask for his battle stories, he replies: “It certainly was battle, it was incredible.”

Jensen was dropped after the Arenberg Forest. “That section is a complete slap in the face… two hundred riders going towards one stretch straight for two kilometres. It’s like that scene from Braveheart where they just run towards each other.

“Then when you look at your clock and you still have 70 kilometres to go and you’re up shit creek without a paddle, it’s pretty demoralising.”

Keep going, just keep going. That’s what Jensen told himself. So he found a group and counted off the cobbled sections, one by one.

“I don’t think there’s any rider here who would voluntarily like to step off the bike, especially with the finish in this prestigious velodrome. It was the same for me. No matter how fucked I was and how far there was to the finish.”

He emphasises the profanity in his strong Irish accent: bear in mind, Jensen lived in County Wicklow till the age of 16.

Rouleur, climber, middle mountain man? A second-year professional, Jensen doesn’t know what suits him best yet.

So when he was named in Saxo-Tinkoff’s cobbled Classics line-ups, the young professional didn’t just turn up, race and go home. Consciously or otherwise, he began to educate himself.

After Ghent-Wevelgem, Jensen accompanied friend and team captain Matti Breschel to “some tiny village in Flanders” to visit the Dane’s fan club.

“I saw how they ate, slept and breathed the Classics – Matti was a god to them. And when they realised that I was doing Paris-Roubaix too…”

The significance of the Classics began to sink in, along with his own place in history.

The night before Paris-Roubaix, Jensen watched A Sunday in Hell, Jørgen Leth’s seminal film based on the 1976 edition of the race, again. “I’d seen it a million times, but I saw it three times last week, to get it knocked into me what it is I’m a part of,” he says.

When the going got gruelling, he felt his responsibility to a colossal one-day race and the stubborn need to make his rendezvous with history in Roubaix.

“This isn’t just small races in France or Belgium: this is the bee’s knees of one-day races. There’s nothing that compares. All this combined is what eventually gets you to the finish line,” Jensen says.

“You’ve just seen me coming out of the showers, that’s part of the whole experience. I was sat on the team bus, completely cross-eyed, I hardly knew my own name. But I’d leave here with a sense of regret if I didn’t take a wash in these historic showers.

“That was the same with the bike. You can pull out of many races where you just don’t really give a fuck. But here you’d have such an enormous sense of regret.

“These races have been so demanding, physically and psychologically. As a second-year pro, you just get knocked back down to reality really quickly and hard. I nearly pulled out of more of these Classics than I finished.”

Was it the hardest race of his life? “Yes. It was beyond… I couldn’t predict how tough and frightening it would be, physically demanding and whatnot. There’s no forgiveness really. Although it may have been the hardest race, it was also the most fascinating.”

L’Enfer du Nord

April 3, 2013

Words: Jack Thurston Photos: Ben Ingham

Riding in the Panasonic team car after abandoning the mudbath of the 1985 edition of the race, dazed and confused, drunk with pain, Theo de Rooy put it with typical Dutch directness:

“It’s bollocks, this race, it’s a whole pile of shit. You’re working like an animal, you don’t have the time to piss and you wet your pants. You’re riding in mud like this and you’re slipping. It’s a pile of shit – you must clean yourself otherwise you will go mad.”

Asked if he would ever ride it again, de Rooy instantly replied, “Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!”

Conceived in 1896 by a pair of canny Roubaix textile mill owners, the inaugural edition was held on Easter Sunday and intended as a loosener for Bordeaux-Paris – at the time the most prestigious race of the early season.

At around 300 kilometres, it was half the length of Bordeaux-Paris, but soon gained a diabolical reputation on account of the rough unpaved roads and cobblestone tracks that criss-crossed the fields and forests of the France’s northern borderlands. These borderlands become badlands when drenched and churned by the rain and the wind that sweep down from the North Sea.

The race has always courted controversy. Local clergy denounced La Pascale, the Easter race, as a distraction from religious observance. In those days road racing was a far less popular spectacle than races on the track, but the final laps were raced on the brand new velodrome, which brought in the crowds.

There were so many spectators that one section of stands collapsed under their weight. Soon, Northerners had adopted the race as their own.

The race draws on the raw character of the Northern expanses: a dour landscape of tough lives and hard times. These are great swathes of land, featureless but for lonely water towers, gloomy gothic steeples, collieries, blast furnaces and their mountains of slag.

The dark density of man-made volcanoes can drain the very light from the sky. If it is wet, brightly-coloured team jerseys surrender to the mud and the filth until each rider wears the same grim uniform. Cement grey – how fitting for the convicts of the road!

Within a few years, a special bond had formed between the brave riders and the locals who line the route. For the farm labourers, factory workers and miners at the turn of the century, the echoes of their own daily toil were all too obvious, but so too was the dignity and the pride.

It immediately became a favourite race for local heroes to try their luck. Roubaix-born Charles Crupelandt delighted the home crowd with wins in 1912 and 1914, achieving the second while turning a colossal gear of 24×7.

This land was their land but it was soon to bear witness to a terrible conflagration of mechanised death and destruction.

From that moment onwards the land would bear the memory of a generation of young men sent to kill and be killed, to rot in the trenches of the war they said would end all wars.

In 1919, six months after the Armistice, the race’s twentieth edition followed the line of the Western Front north of Arras and passed through the towns devastated by war.

Bomb craters and grim wreckage scarred fields that entombed the fallen millions. Shell-shattered buildings and trees formed ghostly silhouettes of destruction along the course of the route.

This apocalyptic scene was described by a journalist as L’Enfer du Nord – the Hell of the North – and the name stuck.


Extract from issue 9. Jack Thurston hosts The Bike Show on 104.4 Resonance FM.