Posts Tagged ‘bradley wiggins’

Froome Blog

July 25, 2013

VERSAILLES/PARIS
Words: Andy McGrath Photos: Offside

July 21 2012, final weekend of the Tour, St Pancras station, London. I sat waiting for the Eurostar reading a newspaper with a picture of a young Bradley Wiggins on a first bicycle. Inside were pages and pages on his life story, reflections from his nearest and dearest. The Sun had cut-out sideburns on the front cover.

It felt like the world stopped spinning that Sunday.

A year on, I was struck by the comparatively muted response to Chris Froome’s Tour de France victory. Fans decamped to Paris and broadsheets had a few yellow-jersey front pages, but it didn’t approach the wig-out Wiggins euphoria.

Why does Froome’s win not compare? Firstly, he had the misfortune to win when Britain sits briefly and blissfully in the sporting ascendancy.

His triumph was the summer fait accompli sandwiched in between more capricious mainstream successes of the first Ashes Test, the Lions tour and Murray at Wimbledon.

Is it due to a perceived “plastic Britishness” because of Froome’s African upbringing? Baloney. We don’t cheer less for Samoan-born Manu Tuilagi when he scores a try for England, or for Mo Farah, who lived in Somalia till he was eight.

It’s funny because, in character, Froome is more quintessentially British than Bradley Wiggins. He’s Le Real Gentleman: faultlessly polite, quietly determined, boarding school-educated with a clipped accent and dry sense of humour.

Mirror-gazing honesty time: we’re a nation of Froomes. We wait politely in long queues. We give up our seats to pensioners on buses. And it’s not as fun for fans seeing a reflection of the nice-but-bland national stereotype winning.

Whereas mod Wiggins is more chaotically, engagingly human. He swears occasionally, says a few things he shouldn’t and doesn’t play by the rules the whole time. Fans and journalists like persuasive personalities, shows of honesty and a fallible hero.

There’s the gripping feeling that it’s always a rollercoaster with Wiggins. He can match golden seasons with doldrum months. Even winning the 2012 Tour, he gave hints of fragility, snapping at journalists and seeming to hold back Froome.

It’s not as fun when the overwhelming pre-race favourite doesn’t show any great weakness.

But don’t mistake Froome for being boring or uncharismatic. As a Dutch journalist told me on the Tour’s second rest day – and as our issue 39 interview with the Tour winner testifies – Froome on and off the race are two very different people.

He has to peddle the sensible line at the Tour because there’s the – not unreasonable – perception that a few of us hacks will spin anything other than anodyne quotes into the day’s big story.

The future belongs to Froome. Yes, several more Tour wins potentially await but he could be the responsible, transparent talisman modern cycling craves.

Currently, long-term modern cycling followers are wronged lovers sitting at home in pyjamas with their spoons in ice cream tubs. Every time we were lied to, cheated on and told tall tales, we came back for more.

Enough, we’re sick of it. Automatic trust has been waived by the sport’s history. Look what a fine mess blind trust got us into.

So Froome had to patiently field question after question about his and Sky’s performance. And journalists have to keep asking: every performance changes the parameters.

Over the course of the race, especially into the last week, he seemed to change from someone whose winning experience threatened to be soured by these repeat demands to recognising his important role.

“This is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time,” were his final words in Paris.

But he’s got to keep acting and talking about doping because he means it, not just because it sounds good or because the team spokesperson whispers it in his ear.

What also excites about Froome and the future is his voracity. He very nearly won the King of the Mountains too; the last man to do that was some Belgian called Eddy. The first thing he targeted post-Tour was not a lengthy pub session but the world championships in Florence.

He doesn’t share readily, even when the wise thing to do in cycling is occasionally let someone else win and store it as a favour for the future.

When the season finishes, the big challenge for Froome is keeping his head. He’ll be transported to the very bottom of the climb again to begin the long Tour training trudge again, only with the demands on his time of the reigning champion.

I can only imagine the effect the award cermonies and late nights have. They can toy with training plans and the mind. When people keep telling you how great you are, your sense of self-importance gets skewed.

A repeat Tour win, that’s the real difficult second album. Recent history is littered with one-time champs who failed to do it again.

I’d say Wiggins will be another, but his history suggests it’s stupid to write him off. He’s due a big rise on the rollercoaster in 2014.

FOUGERES/TOURS

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“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

Cath

December 6, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Geoff Waugh

You know how it is. Feet up on the sofa watching the Tour highlights all alone, glass of wine in hand, I’m wondering what it must feel like to know – as early as the ninth stage, to Besançon – that your nearest and dearest, barring accidents or complete meltdown, is going to win the race; to know that those months, years, of effort and sacrifice were worth it – if indeed they are worth it.

It needs that person to be sitting here on the sofa with me, watching the race, a bundle of nerves as the camera homes in on the latest crash until the fallers are identified; relief as the yellow jersey is spotted safely ensconced at the head of the peloton. It requires this rubbernecking journo to lean across and see firsthand the stream of consciousness Tweeting taking place, the rule of thumbs relaying thoughts within seconds. There is a need to glean the un-Tweeted, extract the unsaid, to gauge whether the enormity of what her husband was about to achieve had struck home; how it would change their lives irreparably.

A couple more glasses of red later and it seems a fine idea to send a speculative e-mail to Cath Wiggins suggesting we meet up and watch the race together; explaining how we had met on two previous occasions and how, to my eternal shame, I had practically trampled over her to reach Brad; saying how I couldn’t even recall what she looked like.

In the cold – and sober – light of the morning, the wording of that e-mail looked quite preposterous. The wait for a suitably strong riposte began but it did not last long.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she wrote. “Everybody does that,” referring to my lack of courtesy and common decency. A magnanimous response to say the least. Yet she agreed to the idea, so we planned a day of TV watching in France following the rest day in Pau. It didn’t work out, for one reason or another, so we rescheduled for the Tour of Britain, arranging a rendezvous on top of Quernmore, the day’s final climb on the stage into Blackpool.

As luck would have it, the worst weather the north west of England could muster slammed down on the hilltop that morning; gusting winds bringing torrential downpours that tumbled down the fields and onto the road, huge pools of standing water forming at the foot of the climb.

I sent a text questioning whether Cath was really riding the 50 miles from home to Quernmore or doing the sensible thing and driving. The reply was fast and emphatic: “I am on my way. I am northern!”

We found a cold, shivering Cath beneath a tree with dad Dave Cochram in tow, chaperone for the day. Having watched Brad and his boys shoot past, successfully lining up that day’s sprint for Mark Cavendish, we head to the nearest pub for tea and coffee.

Pulling out one of our Wiggo mugs from my bag, I’m already making apologies, thinking it may be a bit odd drinking tea from a vessel with a cartoon version of your husband adorning the outside. But she loves it, with one reservation: “His hair’s the wrong colour. It’s not ginger…”

Extract from issue 35, out now

The Kids Are All Right

November 22, 2012

 Words and photo: Claire Read

The first thing that hit me when I walked into Glasgow’s brand new Sir Chris Hoy velodrome? A kid. It was an accident, you understand. He was scuttling around with 25-odd of his classmates, their collective excitement creating a blur in which both they and I became temporarily lost. It made some gentle jostling as inevitable as the multiple Scotch malts I pictured his teacher downing the second she got home.

When I finally made it to my seat and had a chance to look around the entire (impressive) facility, I realised that the school group I had encountered was far from the only one around. Loads of uniformed youngsters watched the Scottish leg of the 2012/13 UCI Track World Cup and – by cheering all riders but going ballistic for any member of Team GB – they proved very vocal members of the audience. A little too vocal, in fact. Their enthusiasm getting the better of them, some disregarded the big screen command to be silent during the final countdown before races – a request which was charmingly worded as the Scottish ‘Whees’d’ as opposed to the southerly ‘Ssshh’.

I enjoyed the kids’ exuberance but couldn’t help but find the whole situation bemusing. Could there really be children in front of me who, for their school trip, were watching cycling? Who were going crazy for each and every race? Who felt comfortable to demonstrate their support for this sport? When I was younger, to love cycling was more than enough to instantly render you the weirdest of the weird – more so if you insisted on wearing your Team Z jersey for non-uniform day. Yet these days that the kids who wear their cycling garb are probably the coolest in school.

For me one of the most fascinating revelations in Rouleur’s interview with Cath Wiggins (issue 35) is that, like me and many others, she has mixed feelings about the sport’s shift to the British mainstream – a move for which, let’s face it, her husband is in large part responsible. “The more the merrier, right, because I absolutely love the sport,” she says. “Come in, enjoy it, fall in love with it but if you’re not going to do that, then…”

Then go away, frankly. Over the summer, my friends – in between asking me about a sport in which I had never managed to get them to express any curiosity – comforted me with the idea that British interest in cycling wouldn’t last forever. The new fans would soon fall away. I confess I hoped they were right.

What I’ve come to realise though – what my four days in Glasgow crystallised – is that there is one group of new cycling supporters who I really hope stay. The kids. Because for them this isn’t an insincere jumping on the bandwagon. No, for these kids it’s like it was for me in 1987: they’re seeing pro cycling for the first time and some of them are falling in love. They’re just happening to do it at a time when some of their countrymen are doing well.

So while I shudder at the notion that adults who previously ignored cycling now keenly discuss it, I quite like the idea that school kids are talking about it. I think I would like a situation where British youngsters can chat with some of their class-mates about Brad and Cav – and, dare I hope, Cancellara and Evans and Voeckler – and not be ostracised. Such conversations may be the roots of a real love of the sport.

On Sunday, the final day of competition in Glasgow, I was sitting next to a family. Late in the afternoon, Shane Sutton happened to wander over to our section of seating and the kid – who was maybe about ten – plucked up his courage and went to ask for an autograph. When he reached Sutton, he realised with panic that he didn’t have a pen. I reached over and lent one of mine. Problem solved. Stuff was signed and photos taken.

As soon as the kid got back to his seat, he gently opened up his programme and stared with excitement at the personalised autograph. He smiled and turned to his father. “Who was he?” he asked. “He works for Team Sky,” replied dad delightedly, sharing the childish grin of his son. As I thrilled in the idea that Shane Sutton HAD USED MY PEN I remembered that a true love of cycling makes us all kids. So how could I possibly object to welcoming a few more? Just whees’d during the countdown.

Claire Read

 

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. 

When Johnny Met Bradley

July 26, 2012

Words: Johnny Green Photos: Ben Ingham

“In the city
There’s a thousands things
I wanna say to you”
The Jam, In The City

The Christmas lights of Covent Garden were twinkling. Bright shop windows were adorned with colour, sharp art for stylish goods of all shapes ‘n’ shades. It is urgent that there are brands to be pushed, desired product to be flogged. Designer cool mingled with desirable tat. Shoppers bustled ‘n’ shoved, danced nimble side steps to avoid those absorbed on mobile phones.

Seven Dials is some weird epicentre to link up with a cyclist outta season. A small roundabout in the heart of the city, the hub is wrapped in scaffolding, maybe a festive tree, perhaps a challenging art installation. It was way too cold to bother checking it out. The lanes spun off like spokes. A hunched figure beetled across the junction. It was Guy Andrews, your editor, clutching what appeared to be two paving slabs, right size ‘n’ weight, like a magi bearing holy offerings. They were copies of Timm Kölln’s brand new monster book The Peloton. How out of place they looked, these savage stark portraits amongst the exfoliated beautiful people. One book was a gift, a sweetener from Rouleur, for Bradley Wiggins who I was due to meet shortly in some swanky nearby boutique hotel. Guy ‘n’ I ducked into the nearest boozer. Lo and behold! There was our man Wiggy. I had to double-take because he wasn’t on his bike – the same kinda idiot savant take that Montezuma’s Aztecs had on Cortez’s Spanish conquistadors on horse-back, thinking animal plus man-in-armour were one whole creature. Wiggo was dressed sharply, in smart threads. I watched the way he moved around the cramped crowded corner of that bar, his balance good for a surprisingly large bloke, neat ‘n’ precise footwork between the stools ‘n’ chairs, careful yet apparently careless, innate. I’ll bet he can dance real good (for a white man) when he’s had a few.

We sat and he talked, straight and to the point. No duckin’ or divin’; no flannellin’, no mod mumblin’.

JG: How d’ya do, Bradley. Let us speak of Coppi and Pantani.

BW: [laughing] Let’s talk about Keith Richards. Have you read his autobiography?

(Oh shit, I thought. I had been determined to get through this entire interview without mentioning dopage. Like Basil Fawlty in a parallel universe, I was telling myself, “Don’t mention the drugs.” But The Wigster rejoiced in the tale of Adam Ant queuing patiently in line recently in Waterstone’s to get his copy signed by Keef. Fame in two directions, ebb ‘n’ flow – a perfect start for a man high in the sporting spectrum. George Michael and Madonna belched outta the pub’s speakers.)

BW: Wish this was Ian Brown. He’s cool. Are we here to talk about cycling?

JG: Not necessarily.

(At this point, your photographer, Ben, persuades Brad to crush himself into a corner for a photo shoot, muttering, “The eyes, its all in the eyes,” whilst I’m jaggin’ to him, “The shoes, shoot the shoes.” It was becoming confusing.)

JG: Your book, On Tour, is brave.

BW: It was about documenting what it’s like to ride the Tour de France, success or failure. With hindsight, it is all the more interesting because it went tits-up. The photos tell the story of what that race does to your body. Obviously it wasn’t planned to be like that. Going into it, I was thinking that I was going to be Audley Harrison beating David Haye. It became apparent after round one it wasn’t gonna happen. You don’t know until you go in there. In a lot of sport, there is this premeditated media training…

JG: Although you’d had this amazing year in 2009, you nevertheless put your neck on the line. I thought, when I read your book, hats off to you. But how come you are so much into retro music? There is a playlist inside your book…

BW: Music was my first love before cycling. For some reason, it seems fascinating to people that you can have a personality towards music and still be a top sportsman. You don’t all have to walk about in a Daley Thompson tracksuit and trainers 24 hours a day and be this archetypal sportsman. I go with a lot of my mates to gigs and concerts but, you know, you’re not supposed to because their perception is of your sporting persona – they associate it with not being disciplined. But you’ve got to have a life outside of your sport.

JG: I would hope so.

BW: As a kid growing up, I listened to my uncle’s record collection and my granddad’s – you know, Chas ‘n’ Dave and stuff.

JG: Me too – fantastic!

BW: From that I went on to the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, Howlin’ Wolf. From a young age, it was always there.

JG: You’re a London boy – Harrow Road. Tell me about live music.

BW: My first gig was when I was 12, in 1992. I went to the Shepherd’s Bush Empire for Ocean Colour Scene and that’s where the mod thing happened for me. All these boys turned up on scooters, impeccably dressed, and I was, like, I wanna be in that gang. That was it for me. I was at a multi-cultural school and then Weller came along with Stanley Road in ’95, then lookin’ back at his work in Style Council and The Jam. His influences, tracing ’em back, through Small Faces and Steve Marriot – like satellites taking me to another world.

JG: You never lose that first impact, do you?

BW: Right. I actually met someone who was at Woodstock and saw Hendrix play – phew…

JG: So as a retro man, where do you stand on hats – helmets – which I’m not fond of stylistically?

BW: I couldn’t go back. Not any more. I did the Paris-Nice in 2003 and I was behind [Andrei] Kivilev when he died – no head protection. It’s like seatbelts, and once upon a time no one wore them and now everyone takes care. Helmets on bikes is a reality.

JG: And then someone at ASO figures, what will happen if we remove earpieces for one day? How was that?

BW: It was a load of codswallop, to be honest. We protested by not racing properly. It’s like goal line technology – things have moved on.

JG: Ah, the football… Do you still go, take an interest?

BW: Yeah, I go but it’s no longer Arsenal. I was at Liverpool recently when they beat Chelsea – brilliant!

JG: I notice in the press room at the Tour, the sporting culture is rugby not football. Loathsome.

BW: Well I’m based in the north of England these days, near Wigan, and it’s all rugby league around me. It’s a brilliant place to come home to, especially after three weeks on tour, doing the same thing every day. I’m grounded with dogs, horses, sheep. I have become a rural man. Like some old-time rock star. I love it. Everyone needs an outlet.

JG: Ha ha! Like Keith Richards strolling in his estate in Connecticut. With Team Sky, everything is done for you and nothing is left to chance. Is that helpful?

BW: I think we might have gotten too obsessive this year in trying to stay one step ahead of the game. We tried to predict the weather – maybe trying to be too smart and eliminate chance. Hopefully we’ve learned from that.

JG: So back to mod, Brad… Do you know about Pete Meaden?

BW: Yeah, yeah – he roomed with Pete Townsend, went to art school together, used to manage The Who, was the first strong link with style. He said that being mod was “clean living under difficult circumstances”. I’m not sure that applies any more under the modern day, which is why I’m not a hundred per cent, but I do like what it stands for. I grew up on a council estate in central London so I understand about that attitude to look smart and pristine when you’ve got no money.

JG: Ah, bang on. Nothing to do with… [Shh! Don’t mention the gear!]

BW: Yeah it’s crucial to me, in cycling terms, to be clean and presentable, so when you’re out on the bike… It’s summed up in the team time trial: crisp formation, white British skin suit. It’s how I look at life, almost a religion, never forgetting where you come from, being true to your roots, not getting high ‘n’ mighty. That’s how I try to live my life and teach my kids. Sometimes it is difficult not to get carried away with your own self-importance. Outwardly, it might sometimes appear otherwise. Mark Cavendish is a classic example. People think he’s arrogant, but if you knew Mark on a personal level, he’s nothing like that at all. He’s the most down-to-earth, honest person you could wish to meet. In the past, British riders underwent less intense public scrutiny…

The conversation was cranking up the interest level when the spell was broken. Some old girl comes into the boozer, face flush from the instant heat, her eyes aglow in recognition of her hero.

“It is you! Bradley! I saw you through the window. Unbelievable. I’m reading your book, On Tour, at the moment. I’ve left it on the bedside table.”

“Right”, says Wiggy. “So where did you get this copy?”

She’s shifting her steamed-up glasses, clutching the book, then thrusting it at him.

“When I saw it was you in the pub, I shot off round the corner to Waterstone’s and bought one. Would you sign it please? Fancy, an Olympic champion like you in a pub in the middle of the afternoon!”

The Wigster is cool, friendly and helpful. This lady’s day has been made by a piece of the finest juju. Who’s gonna believe her when she gets home?

Wiggo himself, I suspect, is going to have to become used to being spotted as a national patriotic symbol for the London 2012 Olympic Games. Local boy makes good, on home turf, all kitted out in the red, white and blue of the flag. Thing is, the ’60s mods used it as an ironic device to depict the demise of empire…

As I go to wish the man well, he’s gone. He hovers at the edge of the bar, barely perceptible foot shapes, shuffles towards the door and then, zoom, out ‘n’ gone, like the move of a rider off the front of the pack, lookin’ for that combativity award.

I tucked my faded Ben Sherman shirt in, picked up my little bag of mementoes and slipped away into the chilled city night.

“Dizzy in the head and I’m feelin’ blue
The things you’ve said, well, maybe they’re true.”
The Who, I Can’t Explain

This feature first appeared in Rouleur issue 22

Rise of the Idiots

July 19, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: ASO

The former Cervélo man Tweeted these statements minutes after Chris Froome had crossed the line arms aloft at La Planche des Belles Filles and as Bradley Wiggins was about to don his first ever maillot jaune at the Tour.

Seeing as I had only just finished hollering at the telly – not a common practice, I assure you – and resumed a seated position on the sofa, Vroomen got me thinking. Brits were unbearable already. Would the country be gripped by rampant jingoism in the following weeks due to the heroics of Team Sky’s men? As the mainstream media latches onto a sniff of home success and cycling briefly commands the front page, perhaps there is danger of this nation not realising what this sport is all about.

Consider the highlights of what has been a tremendous Tour (ignore the naysayers who plead boredom), for which huge credit is due to Christian Prudhomme for some dramatic parcours and exhilarating stage finishes, blowing away the notion that only the combination of high mountains and time trials can settle the GC.

Peter Sagan’s brilliant three stage wins, each one different from the next, each with its own accompanying victory celebration. Thibaut Pinot, this year’s youngest rider, soloing across the line, his apoplectic directeur spoftif Marc Madiot behind, hammering the car door in frustration, encouragement, sheer nervous tension. (The left arm of my sofa also took a serious battering, a cloud of dust emerging as my every smack echoed the manager’s.)

The Tour’s oldest rider, the fabulous fruitcake Jens Voigt, hauling his creaking bones up the final kilometre into Bellegarde-sur-Valserine in the most painfully drawn-out slow motion sprint you will ever see. And that day’s winner, Thomas Voeckler, outwitting his breakaway companions with typical panache, his Europcar teammate Pierre Rolland pulling off a superb solo win 24 hours later. And Voeckler again, at Bagnères-de-Luchon.

Not forgetting David Millar’s wily fox routine at the end of a dull day on stage 12, the anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death and a fitting tribute to a great rider.

Cycling fans appreciate great performances, first and foremost. Nationality is secondary. We stand by the side of the road for hours on end to cheer guys who have been riding their bikes for hours on end, and – though we may reserve that extra shout for our favourites – we applaud each and every one (apart from Ivan Basso, obviously…)

There are, of course, exceptions to the rule: certain stretches of Alpe d’Huez; some of the Pyrenean climbs frequented by disturbingly inebriated orange-clad fans; the pissed-up hordes of the Carrefour de l’Arbre at Paris-Roubaix. Sky’s Michael Rogers took abuse from fellow Australians at the roadside as he paced Wiggins up the Glandon on stage 11. The morons thought supporting Cadel Evans would be better served by mouthing off at their countryman. Wiggins would probably have a word for them. It begins with C.

As for the bizarre incident with the tacks, there appeared to be no dubious nationalistic intent behind it. Just wanton malicious damage. Very effective it was, too. A moron working alone it seems.

So as a combination of Austrian, Australian, German, Norwegian and (let’s face it) Kenyan riders coax and tow a Brit along at the head of affairs towards Paris, put it in perspective. If Wiggins does become the first winner from these shores of the Tour de France in Paris on Sunday, it will be a great moment for the country. Just remember who helped put him there. It is our duty as long-time supporters of the sport to educate those – and there are many – not so au fait with road racing’s many peculiarities, alliances and tactical nuances. Teams are not built around national lines, and neither should they be supported as such.

By all means be patriotic, but not to the detriment of other nations. Share the love.

Angliru

September 21, 2011

Words and photos: Ian Cleverly

I decided that to get a true fans-eye view of the Angliru, the famously fearsome climb first used by the Vuelta in 1999 and growing in mythical status ever since, I should really walk up the mountain, 12.5kms of it, 23.5 per cent sectors and all.

Several things transpired to turn me against this carefully laid plan. It was raining. It was cold. An old woman collared me as I wandered the town of Riosa at the foot of the Angliru issuing dire warnings of atrocious weather conditions on the mountain and the inadequacy of my clothing. She may have said something about wolves and killer sheep as well, but I was struggling to translate.

Besides all that, there was a press bus leaving for the summit in half an hour. I’d have been a fool not to, surely?

The entrepreneurial townsfolk of Riosa were flogging rather sad-looking rain capes that may or may not have kept the water at bay for a few minutes. I decided against a panic buy and boarded the bus.

As it turned out, conditions at the top of the climb were less than apocalyptic, even if visibility was far from perfect. I wandered down the mountain from the anticlimactic finish area in search of the party. Prime positions had already been taken, walls on the outside of hairpins providing a place to rest for the next five hours before Juan José Cobo would loom out of the mist and wrestle the red leader’s jersey from Bradley Wiggins.

The 23.5 per cent section of Cueña les Cabres was, as expected, quite brutal. Streams of cyclists passed in various states of distress, notably those on road bikes with insufficiently low gearing. The one guy I saw who seemed to have got his gearing spot on was, unbelievably, a unicylist (exhibitionist, mentalist, depending on your viewpoint). I did not take a picture of him. Such behaviour is not to be encouraged.

Eventually I descended below the cloud level to a broad meadow, home for the day to several thousand Spanish fans, blue and yellow flags of Asturias proudly displayed, beers in hand and a big screen to follow the Vuelta’s progress for the next few hours. I settled in for the afternoon. This was shaping up to be a great day.

 A more considered view of the Angliru, with proper photographs by Timm Kölln (as opposed to my iPhone snaps) will appear in Rouleur issue 26, coming soon.

Viva La Vuelta

September 8, 2011

Words: Christian Vande Velde Photos: Yazuka Wada

Garmin Transitions’ Christian Vande Velde loves the Vuelta. And this is why. Extract on the 2010 edition from the Rouleur photography annual volume 4.

La Vuelta Espana is the least known Grand Tour of the ‘big three’. It lacks spectators, TV ratings, the massive ambition that the Tour and the Giro bring, and of course, the history. However, almost all of these traits are because of where it falls on the calendar year. And we all love it for that. Smashing through the arid countryside at speeds unfathomable to almost anyone (including myself sometimes), all for the sake of racing. If you are motivated, fresh and have goals past the month of August, at the Vuelta you have already won.

September is an interesting month in the cycling world. Most of us have been on the road for the better part of 10 months by this time and although the body is still working properly, the mind is exhausted. Airports, hotels and skype calls with the family lead to an unhappy and unmotivated athlete (not to mention family). So thank God we have the Vuelta to fool us into racing our bikes when we can’t bear the thought of doing another interval up some random hill. We have an organiser who will take us up every goat path with gradients over 20 per cent in Spain. Believe me, should you happen to be the owner of a construction company with the means to make a road that is ridiculously steep, chances are the Vuelta might come to your back yard. The ultimate brainless training.

That said, I love the race. It has a laid-back attitude, bright sunshine, amazing scenery, nice people, good hotels and great food. Plus the hardest racing you can get that close to the off season. And the sleep? My lord, this is where riders with children come to rest up before the off-season with their families.

It is also the perfect race for spectators. There is practically no crowd control at the starts and you can pretty much walk around and meet any cyclist that you care to name; ride the course on your bike before the race without being thrown off by an over ambitious police officer; refuel with a great dinner and some local wine; and – if you aren’t too tired – take in some night life, where you may rub shoulders with one of your heroes who is racing the next day. No shit, it happens.

The Vuelta is hilly, hot, and not easy. The first week this year the thermometer never went below 100 and the ‘sprinter’ stages had 7,000 feet of climbing. So if anyone ever says that the Vuelta is easy, they are ignorant, misinformed or both.

Ambition is the key word here. There are Spaniards whose likeness will be cast in bronze in their respective villages after any sort of breakaway (doomed or otherwise), stage win or halfway decent performance. There are riders without contracts for the following year killing themselves to get into breaks, others who need to turn around a horrible season. And, of course, the guys trying to prepare for the world championships. (Most of them know full well that they wouldn’t be able to come close to training properly if left to their own devices at home.) Then there’s a final ten per cent who weren’t given a choice in the matter and needed to fill out a roster. All of this gives the race a unique feeling of opportunity.

It also makes for the perfect storm of insane tactics and racing. Anything goes. Take yesterday for example. I would be hard pressed to find more than a handful of harder first hours’ of racing than yesterday. Now, depending on which side of the sword you fall, that could be good or bad. I loved it. It is what racing is all about. The radios don’t come into play because everything is happening too fast. And everyone is racing. Everyone – the GC guys jumping into breaks and the guys at the back, racing their hearts out to survive another day.

As for me, La Vuelta serves a purpose second to none: getting a massive block of racing back in my legs, regaining the confidence that has left me over the past few months, and enjoying being a bike racer again – all things that are taken for granted until you crash…over and over and over.

The lack of preparation that I had going into this race would have left me struggling anywhere else. But at the Vuelta, anything is possible, and if you had the opportunity to see an unknown kid from Bratislava launch himself onto the podium yesterday in the TT, and the well-known race leader go from first to fifth over a 46-kilometre course through the some of the best vineyards in the world, you would agree.

This is a great race.