Archive for June, 2013

Grimpeur

June 26, 2013

climber

Words: Jack Thurston Illustrations: Jo Burt

Mountains possess a dangerous allure – that stomach-churning sense of foreboding when you first glimpse the dark slab of rock looming above as you approach along the valley floor.

Squinting, peering up at the summit ridge, so far away, so far up, you say to yourself, “Yes, that’s where I’m going.” You then look down and think, “But these legs, can they get me there? Can they?”

Whether you are an elite racer or cyclotouriste, riding up a mountain means riding on the edge. Hit it too hard, raise your effort beyond your body’s limits and you’re certain to blow up.

Once you crack, there’s no coming back – just a new definition of pain as you struggle around every hairpin, every turn of the pedals demanding a monumental effort. Nowhere to run to, nowhere to hide.

So you try to find a rhythm, a perfect beat. You stay in the saddle and stroke the pedals. Keeping your arms wide, hands on the outside of the brake hoods, you open up those lungs and breathe deeply.

You’re desperate to take in more air. It’s getting thinner every minute. Don’t grimace, don’t frown: it will cost you energy and, what’s more, it will show the world how much you’re hurting.

Slowly, imperceptibly, as you advance onwards and upwards, your awareness draws in closer around you.

You follow the wheel ahead, or the white lines on the road, dash-dash-dash, a meaningless Morse code leading you onwards, upwards. Wisely, you don’t look up at the ridge to see how far is still to go.

Instead you look down at your sweat dripping on to the bars; you feel it saturating your eyebrows, salt stinging your eyes. Your lungs are two great bellows, filled with doubt. Why can’t I take in more oxygen, why are my legs so hungry, why is my mouth so dry?

Climbing brings a simplicity and a purity to road racing. On flatter terrain where speeds are so much greater, the laws of aerodynamics come into play, shaping the peloton into bunches and echelons, requiring riders to work together.

In the mountains, gravity is the enemy, not wind, and each rider knows that ultimately he will ride alone.

Extract from issue 17.

The Joker

June 20, 2013

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Words: Tom Southam Photos: Geoff Waugh

That great British institution, the national road championships, takes place this weekend in Glasgow. Photographer Geoff Waugh captured the quintessentially English 2010 edition in Lancashire, while Tom Southam tells of an earlier time and a newcomer to its peculiarities. Extract from Rouleur Annual 4, available here for £10.

I clearly remember Max Sciandri’s one and only attempt at the nationals in 2000.

Being Italian and used to some semblance of order to the pattern of a race, he had spent the first few hours hiding at the back, concentrating on looking cool. When he did eventually slide gracefully to what he thought was the front, he was stunned to be informed by an Addiscombe CC rider that this group was in fact already several minutes down on the leaders. Furthermore, there was not one break down the road, but several groups of riders, all plugging away at different time gaps, and that no, there certainly would not be any kind of cohesive effort to reel these groups in for the finale.

Max’s day was over before it began, and was curtailed swiftly at the next feed zone where, cursing these odd English amateurs, he swore never to return.

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Callin’ the Shots

June 13, 2013

COLLECTION LIONEL LAGET *** Local Caption *** leducq (andre) desgrange (henri)

Words: Johnny Green Photo: Offside/l’Equipe

“What is needed here in professional cycling is a benign dictator”, said The Brief. I had bumped into him on the train. Brandishing a newspaper, he was fresh back from the law courts, sending criminalised ruffians from the hulks to the colonies. His wig was carefully powdered ‘n’ packed away in his brief case. I caught his drift.

A leader to head the parade and call the shots. A man such as Henri Desgrange. One who brooks no nonsense. One who walks the walk as well as spieling it. He invented Le Tour and ran it ruthlessly until his demise during the Second World War. Young Henri had given notice of his attitude as a young Parisian office clerk in the latter days of the nineteenth century. He was a pioneer of the pedals, cycling to work in plus-fours with no socks. His bare calves shocked women pedestrians. His boss told him to cover up or shave off. Desgrange quit. Ain’t that cool? His racing mores were ‘men not the machines’. He led from the front and took no bullshit.

“It is always easy to obey if one dreams of being in command”
Jean-Paul Sartre

In these difficult days, it would seem that cycling is run by committee men. No difference here now from all those other sports controlled by bug-eyed sponsor-sponging bureaucrats. I warn my kids to beware of men in bland bespoke suits wearing those frameless glasses of the psychopathic Nazi dentist played by Larry Olivier in Marathon Man. Such men as we possess fail to inspire and uplift. Praise for the sport emits as a muddled apology, time after time. What is needed at the top is a hero to represent our dreams to the unknowing. A towering figure to fit the bill. Just like John Wayne.

“Walk tall. Walk straight,
And look the world right in the eye.
That’s what my Mama told me,
When I was about knee high”

Val Doonican, the loveable Irish country artiste with the remarkable knitwear, sang that. But it was written by Don Wayne. Not John (no relation), but it could well have been. The Americans have, of recent years, buttoned on to the importance of a strong, charismatic, fabulous looking leader. Why, Ronald Reagan, he of the superb quiffage, got his feet under the desk in the Oval Office of the White House. And Arnold Schwarzenegger got the gig as Governor of California. Yep, even George W. Bush pulled the top job because folk tagged him as a fun guy to go for a beer with. For a maybe moment, I even had Lance Armstrong figured as a wannabe Capitol Hill politician. Not so sure, right now.

Yet are we here to do the bidding of despots? Or do we quite like, on the quiet, being shoved around and told what to do? I am tired of the fluff and drivel. A strong icon to persuade the world that all is golden in the land of the bicycle is attractive. I’m not lookin’ for a Führer; I’m only referencing the cycle game here.

“We don’t need this fascist groove thang”
Heaven 17

Jacques Goddet as a supreme organiser in tough times is a wonderful memory. In khaki suit with a pith helmet, he stood through the sunroof of his motor, looking every inch the tank commander. Jean Cocteau called him “The last of the troubadours”. Goddet said, “It’s necessary to keep the inhuman side to Le Tour. Excess is necessary”. Loud ‘n’ clear, Jacques!

Jean-Marie Leblanc, resembling a pork butcher from Lille with impressive jowls, certainly knew his cycling chops. He spoke from the heart to save us all from ruin but was short on glamour. These days, image is everything.

I just want to be comforted, inspired, driven by beautiful determination and certainty. I would consider Mario Cipollini as pres, because a winning smile and a great barnet go a long way. What matter a little flakiness around the edges? It can prove most endearing.

Status is conferred by achievement; gravitas is arrived at through painful experience; diplomacy gained by always thinking about the other guy. One man towers above all-comers, residing in a stratosphere of his own creation. Would we not trek to the ends of the earth and the Izoard in unity with such a man? That man can only be Eddy Merckx.

“Don’t follow leaders;
Watch the parkin’ meters”
Bob Dylan
Subterranean Homesick Blues

Extract from issue 39, out now

Podcast: Issue 39

June 6, 2013

In an edition of the podcast recorded entirely in the Welsh Borders, Jack Thurston talks to photographer Robert Wyatt about his first bike racing assigment, following Russell Downing at the 3 Days of De Panne. Ned Boulting talks about his interview with Chris Froome, hot favourite for this year’s Tour de France. Also in the mix, Speedplay pedals, Henri Desgrange and the beauty of ugly riding.

The Rouleur podcast is brought to you by Mosquito Bikes, London’s custom made bicycle specialists. The latest summer collection from french clothing company Cafe Du Cycliste is now available in the shop and online. Designed on the Cote D’Azur and manufactured from the latest Sportwool blends, Cafe Du Cycliste brings together performance and style in one package. Mosquito is at 123 Essex Road, London N1 2SN or on the web at mosquito-bikes.co.uk.

Issue 39

Storming the Stelvio

June 5, 2013

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Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Jason Cardillo/Dain Zaffke

A pair of Englishmen sat exhausted outside their hotel, staring into the distance. Not so much a thousand-yard stare as a 155-kilometre one. Or the 4,058 metres of ascending equivalent. Rarely have I witnessed such wasted humanity where alcohol was not involved.

Nine-and-a-half-hours in the saddle can do that to a man, or a woman, for that matter. Of course, the Stelvio was hard; the cold wind blew; banks of snow lining the road received another dusting as we neared the top; skiers took full advantage of the extended season on the peak.

But it was the Mortirolo that had done the damage to our pair of Londoners. The savage gradient in the final kilometres was bad enough. Throw in a serrated dog’s dinner of a road surface and there was (whisper it) walking to be done for the backmarkers.

“It was horrible,” they both agreed. “Truly horrible.”

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They had, however, done what the Giro had failed to achieve nine days earlier – conquered the Stelvio – and judging by the vacant looks and slouched bodies sinking visibly into hotel furniture, it had been a testing day, to say the least.

I’d love to be able to give a first-hand account of the horror, but being eminently sensible and averse to prolonged suffering, I did the medio route, neatly swerving the Mortirolo altogether. Seeing these poor chaps confirmed it was the correct decision.

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Highlights of the day: the ‘neutralised’ opening descent of the valley from Bormio, where one of our group clocked a maximum of 90kph; and possibly the finest cigarette I have ever inhaled atop the Stelvio before a chilling but thrilling descent back down to town.

Lowpoints: the grovel back up the valley road into a bastard headwind with no group to share the load; lack of fitness leading to being alone on the valley road in the first place. Time to stop smoking.

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This is one of our gang, Aaron Gulley, from Santa Fe. He is fit as a butcher’s dog and finished with 30th best time which, when you consider he had to blast past the best part of a thousand riders to get up to the leading group, is bloody impressive. And, unlike most, he still had the energy to smile afterwards. Chapeau sir.

And below is another of our bunch, Melina Holzer. Being a recent convert to road cycling having taken employment at Easton Bell, she threw herself in at the deep end and stormed up the Stelvio – first time on clipless pedals, third road ride ever. Superb. And if you’re wondering what she is wearing, that’s a skort, I am reliably informed. Screen shot 2013-06-05 at 12.18.11

If you fancy joining us next year, leave a line below and if there is sufficient interest, we’ll lead a Rouleur trip to the Gran Fondo Stelvio. There are three distances, so suffering for all, if suffering is your bag…

Many thanks to Easton Bell for the loan of some mighty fine wheels and Velo Veneto  for catering to our every need.