Posts Tagged ‘herbie sykes’

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.

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Dopatissimi

May 26, 2011

Ivan Basso, Giro d’Italia 2010 by Guy Andrews

Dopatissimi

Many would have us believe that everyone deserves a second chance, and of course in principal they are quite correct. However, in giving them that second chance, the people responsible for the wellbeing of the professional sport in Italy play Russian Roulette with the livelihoods of those employed within it, and close to it. The likelihood is that the majority of cyclists are now competing without recourse to doping products. If this is the case then they, and the hundreds employed behind the scenes, their sponsors and those building the bikes on which they ride, deserve better than the Giro’s current largesse. Modern doping techniques are not only deeply injurious to the credibility of the sport but, much more importantly, to the cyclists themselves. That Italian riders, those operating within an expensively sponsored team structure at the top end of the sport here, continue to be caught cheating whilst racing abroad is the most damning of all the sport’s truths. The Giro, the great standard bearer, is well beyond the point at which it can afford to keep handing out second chances; what it needs, and what the public demands, is that it starts making examples. The future wellbeing of the sport here depends on it.

Many argue, with no little reason, that doping is as old as the sport itself. Some would still have us believe that cyclists at the highest level are compelled, presumably by some indelible genetic imprint, to dope. Whilst there is truth in the argument that 100 years of doping culture can not be overturned in a relative instant, this in itself renders the responsibility to act decisively all the more compelling, all the more immediate. Elsewhere, most notably in France, huge progress has been made, and the systemised ‘vertical’ doping of the recent past is apparently no more, which can only be a good thing. In northern Europe and America new teams are emerging with openly anti-doping policies and cultures. To many of the young riders I meet, particularly British and American, doping is simply a non-issue because they’ve never been exposed to it. Though globally cycling is doubtless a much cleaner sport than ever it was in the past, the Italian peloton, and the Giro itself, has done nothing of any great substance in the fight against doping. CONI, the Italian Olympic Committee, is stringent in its application of the WADA code, but the Giro seems intent on leaving a side door ajar for most anybody to sneak through. Sad to say, but whilst all around it bike racing is being regenerated and renewed, Italy’s great showcase simply blows hot air.

Extract from Maglia Rosa by Herbie Sykes, available here.

We Can Meet Heroes

April 27, 2011

Words: Guy Andrews Photos: Wig Worland

Eddy Merckx won 525 races.

Most professional riders are lucky if they win one.  And he is, as we all know, the greatest cyclist that will ever live. For this reason alone he is at the top of any cyclists’ list as the number one – the cycling hero to top all cycling heroes. So what’s a man so super-human really like? Finding that out is no small challenge. Eddy is an interesting foil for journalists: not that he’s impolite or terse or difficult or anything, really. He’s just – as the gentlemen of the press will tell you – ‘a bit tricky’. I’ve met him a few times and so it’s hard to fathom why I can’t seem to get him talking. He’s just a man after all. I’m not blaming him – he’s a nice guy, Eddy. It’s clearly my problem and a strange one at that, because you usually can’t shut me up. But when Eddy Merckx shakes my hand I just can’t get the words out… He won Milan-San Remo seven times, the first time at 20 years of age. Just a man, then, Eddy Merckx.

By matter of contrast Italo Zilioli was one of those riders who, by the sounds of it, rode a bike pretty much for fun. He was unlucky in that he was born into a time when the world was rich in cycling talent, but he doesn’t seem to mind: he’s happy to have been there even if it was on the second rung of the ladder and often in the shadow of his Belgian colleague.

And these men agreed, through many strings pulled, mainly by the Sykes and Peracino contingent, to come to the inaugural Rouleur Supper Club, to help us launch Herbie’s new book, Maglia Rosa. I had to write that down, just to prove to myself that it actually happened… Eddy turned up, he brought Signor Zilioli, his best friend in cycling, and Phil Liggett managed to stop them behaving like a couple of overactive school kids long enough for them to chat to our eager audience. Brilliant.

By his own admission Herbie Sykes was never much of a bike rider. However he is a great writer about bike riders as his latest work, Maglia Rosa, shows. Herbie pursued Giro winners all over Italy to tell the story of this great race, then tracked some down a second time to get them to sign the special editions – such is Herbie’s unquenchable dedication to the Giro and all things Italian.

Phil Liggett didn’t win many races either, but he can claim to have raced with Eddy, which in itself is palmares enough. As a journalist he’s been slightly more successful. One of his trade secrets is the unrivaled ability to get people to open up. I’ve had the dubious honour of sharing a few racing experiences with Mr. Liggett and for anyone wanting to have a stab at journalism, it’s an education. He has this extraordinary knack of sticking at his subject no matter how closed the interviewee may be and relentlessly pursuing, often making fun of them in the process, until he gets his answer. So when Eddy Merckx is on top billing, it’s better that Phil does the talking…

As the night progressed we learnt that Eddy Merckx and Italo Zilioli were more that mere racing acquaintances. These two were best pals when they were racing and it still shows. And it showed best earlier in the evening as they signed copies of Maglia Rosa before last night’s supper at the Blueprint Café. It’s a bit like watching two kids on the back seat of a school bus – punching one another and laughing. A close and enduring friendship made on the road regardless of any hierarchy, status or power.

I’m not sure if you should or shouldn’t meet your heroes, but noticing that they’re enjoying being out in London, and happiest in the company of fellow cyclists, makes you realise we’re all just a big band of brothers and sharing the experiences, albeit of those at the sharper end of the sport, has a strange way of bonding us closer together. That may sound a bit corny, but as one of our guests, Alan Sandell, who was more than happy to have met his ‘hero’ last night, told me as he left :

“I grew up with Eddy.”

Prima Tappa

April 19, 2011

Eddy Merckx and Italo Zilioli come to London next week to help celebrate the launch of Maglia Rosa – triumph and tragedy at the Giro d’Italia by Rouleur regular Herbie Sykes. In this extract, Merckx wins his first stage in the Italian race. Look out, world…

Vincenzo Giacotto, the former manager of Carpano, called his old friend Nino Defilippis and told him to meet him on the road to Cervinia, at the foot of the Matterhorn. Charged by Faema, the coffee machine manufacturer, with building a new team after a four year hiatus from the sport, Giacotto was in need of a Giro winner. He had a hunch. It was the spring of 1967.

The formidable, precocious young Belgian, Eddy Merckx, already being touted as ‘the new Rik Van Looy’ for his extraordinary strength in the single day classics, was the hottest property in world cycling. Merckx, his contract with the French bicycle manufacturer Peugeot due to expire at the season’s end, had greatly impressed Giacotto with an outstanding performance at Paris – Nice. A former World amateur champion and already a big winner amongst the professionals, Merckx found himself paying his own expenses at Peugeot. He’d sought to renegotiate but no avail; the winner of Milan – Sanremo continued to buy his own tyres from the local bike shop.

He’d come today because he knew that Italian cycling was better paid, and because he was anxious to meet Giacotto, about whom he’d heard great things from the Belgians he’d managed at Carpano. Almost to a man they had said he was progressive, clever and honest, unusual qualities in the arcane, often grubby world of professional cycling. For his part Giacotto had gotten it into his head that if he could get the youngster to, as he put it, ‘think Italian’, he could challenge Gimondi, considered now the world’s best cyclist, at the Giro.

Defilippis, twice maglia tricolore and formerly Giacotto’s Captain on the road at Carpano, agreed to meet his old boss, though in truth he’d pretty well lost interest in cycling since his retirement. What he saw as Merckx powered his way up the mountain, though, had him agog at his untapped climbing brilliance, and would re-ignite his interest in racing. More immediately though it had him, and Giacotto, scratching about under their car seats, desperate to have Merckx sign something which might constitute, in some way, a pre-contract. The back of a cigarette packet, anything…

Keen to impress his would-be employers, Merckx performed expertly at his first grand tour, the 1967 Giro. When Zilioli attacked on the big mountain stage to Block Haus, he confounded expectation by first following and then dropping him to claim his first Giro stage win. The Gazzetta opined that ‘…our climbers were embarrassed by a Belgian sprinter.’ They, and their scalatori, need get used to the idea. Merckx won again two days later, this time a bunch gallop at the seaside, and would finish ninth on general classification without apparently giving it much thought. In so doing he seemed to confirm Giacotto’s perspicacity. That he possessed bludgeoning strength, a prerequisite for winning the classics, had never been at issue, but he was a tremendous, bullying climber as well, and could time trial with the best. Here indeed was a potential Giro contender.

On Friday 2 September 1967 Edouard Louis Joseph Merckx signed, for 400,000 Belgium Francs a year, a three year contract with Faema; it represented an increase in salary of over 300 per cent. The following day, across the Dutch border at Harleen, he celebrated. In outsprinting the local favourite, Jan Janssen, he become only the second man in history to claim both amateur and professional versions of the world title. Thus, by the time he arrived at Faema’s winter training camp on the Ligurian coast, 22-year-old Merckx had won not only the great Ardennes classic Flêche – Wallonne and Milan – Sanremo (twice), but had handed Giacotto, on a plate, the rainbow jersey of the World champion. It had been a decent day’s work at Cervinia…

Merckx made for the partenza of the Giro with an impressive Spring campaign under his belt. As the peloton barrelled towards the finish of stage one, beneath the Novara’s giant Basilica of San Gaudenzio, the sprinters had themselves in position, entirely as forecast in view of the flatness of the percorso. Two kilometres from the line, however, Merckx bolted, and held off the lot of them to win by six seconds. His was an extraordinary feat of speed and strength, but categorically not the action of a rider intent on winning a three week stage race. Guido Reybrouck, Faema’s designated sprinter, was aghast, Pifferi, Basso and the rest of the Giro’s velocisti humiliated. For his part a delighted Eddy Merckx, the new maglia rosa of the Tour of Italy, didn’t really understand what all the fuss was about. Vincenzo Giacotto simply shrugged his shoulders; this Merckx was something, wasn’t he?

Merckx’ show of force had the media speculating, quite reasonably, that he was at the Giro in search of stage wins, and to a degree they were right. There had been a stage to win, he had won it, and now there were another 21 to try to win before the Giro finished. The next day he went out and won again, this time in the mountains of Aosta. As he made his way towards the podium Merckx was grabbed by a TV reporter from RAI;

‘Bravo Eddy, did you always have it in mind to go for the win today?’

‘Why do you ask me that? Why do you think I’m here? To watch the others win?’