Posts Tagged ‘paul fournel’

Merckx: Photographs from a Family Album

August 23, 2013

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Words: Paul Fournel

We know that this album belonged to a Monsieur Lecouf, but that is all we know. Who was this Lecouf?

He was Belgian, it seems. But was it him who took the pictures… or did he just collect them? Was he close to Eddy?

Or was he simply another race fan, one of those devoted Tour lovers who runs across fields and climbs mountains just to snatch a photo or grab a racer’s cap still damp with sweat?

And like Monsieur Lecouf, how many children, teenagers and grown-ups glued pictures of Eddy into scrapbooks like this one?

These photos seem to have been taken with a Kodak Instamatic, a very popular camera in 1971. They are shot on colour film, which is lucky because 1971 was a brightly coloured year for Eddy.

At the start of the season, he shed the red jersey of Faema for the rusty merino of Molteni, his new home.

Molteni is a family of amateur racing cyclists that found fortune and glory in the world of fine Italian meat products and who sponsored one of the finest and most successful professional cycling teams of the era.

Their jersey, made by Vittore Gianni, was simple and elegant: a rare tan colour with black stripes and cuffs.

“Molteni’s jersey was brown and black, dour and intense,” writes Kadir Guirey. “Far more representative of Merckx’s introspective and enigmatic racing nature.” And it cut through the peloton screaming.

At the end of a long journey, and through a chance buy at an auction, the album is now in the hands of cyclist and collector Guirey, who keeps it safe in London.

It is a small part of many passions: the passion for Merckx of course, but also the passion for both iconic and candid mages of Merckx, a passion for the many Merckx fanatics, the simple passion for bicycle racing and the history of the bicycle… a passion for cycling culture.

This is not just a collection of photographs, it is a collection of memories.

L’Album d’Eddy goes on sale today in the Rouleur shop. You can buy it here.

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Extract from L’Album d’Eddy; photos extracted from issue 8

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Wind

March 21, 2013

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Words: Paul Fournel Illustration: Jo Burt

The bike is the school of the wind. There are two kinds of biking wind: objective wind and relative wind. The first one is produced by the world around us, and the second is the work of the cyclist alone. His masterpiece, you might say, for the faster he is, the more wind he creates.

The wind of the world is the one that hits you square on. Against it there’s no remedy other than friendship and solidarity. When you get a strong, persistent north wind full in the face, there’s nothing better than a big-shouldered friend. You curl up into a little ball behind him and wait for it to pass. Actually, you wait till he moves aside to give you his spot, and then you take your pull.

The strongest wind I can recall ever having ridden into is the wind of the west of Ireland. I pedalled along the coast, south of Galway, and I was careful always to leave riding into the wind, so I could be sure of getting back. I was alone, and it was a rough fight. There was no mercy. Everything that allows you to cheat and find shelter was missing: no trees, no houses, no hedges, no contours. Nothing but the wet, powerful, inexhaustible ocean wind. Stretched out on the bike, I had the feeling I was killing time, condemned to using mountain gears on flat terrain.

On the way back, all along the Irish coast, it was sheer delight when my little inner breath connected with the big outside wind. More pleasurable than descending, because I felt like I was in super shape, going much faster than I should have been.

Having very early on, at my own expense, learned that the wind wears you out, I soon learned to note from which direction it was blowing. There’s something of the sailor in the cyclist. Thanks to this basic training you learn to shelter yourself better and take better advantage of the strength of others. When the wind blows from the side, or from an angle, the riders fan out across the road in order to use their companions as barriers. These fans are called ‘echelons’, and if you’re not in the right one, getting from one to another is practically impossible.

Shelter and suction are the best reasons to make cycling friends. You can benefit from the combined effort and relax for a moment before taking your turn at the front.

To really take advantage, you have to stay close, in the bubble, with your front wheel only a few centimetres from the wheel in front. If you give up a few bike-lengths, the wind closes in on you and ‘getting back in’ is not easy. When whoever’s in front is pulling really hard, it can even be impossible.

In the 1996 Tour de France, in the long and very regular descent from Montgenèvre to Briançon, the peloton, anxious to get to the finish, stretched out in a long unbroken line, with every racer fighting to keep his place. Melchor Mauri, a good-looking rider who had been pedalling next to our car, had some derailleur problems that made him lose his spot; he was slipping away very quickly from the group. Christian Palka, who was driving, told me: “If we leave him there, he’ll soon be ten minutes down. He won’t get back in by himself at that speed.”

So we sheltered him with our car for about a hundred metres, to get him back in the line. He thanked us with a pleasant wink. At that point we were doing about eighty kilometres an hour.

Please don’t repeat this story, since it’s strictly forbidden by race rules to help riders in this way – by breaking the terrible law of the wind.

Extract from issue 8

Paul Fournel is the author of Vélo, available from the Rouleur shop

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.

La Reprise

June 20, 2012

Words: Paul Fournel Illustration: Jo Burt

The bike left my father one Sunday morning ten years ago. It happened between Bas-en-Basset and Aurec in the Haute-Loire region of France, in solitude. He was climbing a small hill which I would not describe as laughable because cyclists – even those who are used to the Ventoux or Izoard – well know that you can explode on a two kilometre hill which doesn’t go up that much.

Let’s just say that this incline should not have been sufficient to end his riding.

‘Something’ tightened in his chest, imperiously letting him know that the bike was leaving him after 70 years of companionship.

He went home without saying anything, at the pace of his pain.

For ten years the bike has been in the garage, upright, ready to go. It is oiled, its wheels are pumped up, it is mountable, perhaps there is still something to eat in the pannier on the handlebars?

No doubt for a long time my father thought he would get back out on the road. In any case, he never said anything about it, ever. Now that he is more than 85 years old, he knows he will not set off anymore.

The other day when I was driving him in his car, he asked me to take a detour so we could go back over that little hill. So I left the main road to take one of those tiny little roads that sink into the countryside and which we had surveyed so many times together.

When we arrived on the incline, he said to me: “It’s here.” I slowed down. “I tried to go up it in the 24 tooth,” he continued, “but the pain was too strong. I turned back.”

Then, one thing leading to another, since we were there, we followed the road. It ascended winding in the forest, all speckled by the sun, narrow, grainy, with the smell of mushroom and of hot earth of this end of the summer.

At the place called The Cutaway, the slope becomes more severe. My father had changed sprocket. He went with a 22. He had never liked to ride too small a gear. There, he explained to me, his childhood friend had fallen in the clump of stinging nettles below. Then he said nothing more because the slope was too tough. I felt him try a 24 but he held on. On the descent, he explained how, 60 years earlier, he had dropped his mate Madel, passing in 52×14. He warned me to watch out for the left turn because it loops back on itself. Then, after the little bridge, we started to climb again.

At this point, the road climbs into the meadow. It is in full sun. There is not a cloud on the horizon and we can see the bends above which hug the curve of the mountain. Far away, we can make out the deep valley of the Loire. It is lined with the shade of green trees which will soon turn yellow. That will be the time of lovely autumn outings when you put on long sleeves in the early hours. My father said to me: “I remember the time I put on golf trousers cut to the knee and big checked woollen socks!” We climbed in silence, our breath short. The sweat that fell down his face, gathering in drops on the point of his chin and falling on his frame. He rusted more than one this way.

When we reached the summit, after the long left turn which was already less steep, the view opened out on the plains just down below. The red-roofed hamlets nestled on crossroads, the beige cows on their green background. The roads narrow and empty. Occasionally a tractor. The road is gentle, one of the rare pieces of flat in the whole of this region. A moment to savour letting your legs turn, hands on the tops, nose in the evening breeze. He was in 52×16. We went through a village, then another with a brief slope before plunging towards the valley. We swallowed it up, standing on the pedals.

“One year, I punctured twice in a row on this bitch of a road,” he said. I remember it very well because I was riding behind him. It was no doubt the summer during which I punctured 16 times myself.

Crossing the hamlet, he made the same silent gesture to warn me about the manhole cover that still hadn’t been replaced in its housing.

The descent is technical. If you want to go fast you have to have the design of the bend in your head before committing yourself totally. It’s essential to know your roads well.

My father descended with his hands on the top of the handlebars, at full tilt, as usual.

Then we arrived at Aurec, on the banks of the Loire. I felt a sense of disappointment. “Everything has changed here, look, they have built everywhere. They have redone the road. It goes straight up. They know nothing about cycling. There is nothing worse than a climb in a straight line.”

We climbed it anyway.

Through the whole of our trip, we remained side by side, shoulder to shoulder. I stayed on his left, like two peaceful cyclotourists, changing speed at the same moment, taking the corners together, rolling on.

But now that we have gone back out on the road together I know that it cannot last and that, soon, he will go on ahead of me.

 

Paul Fournel is the author of Need For the Bike