Posts Tagged ‘robert millar’


September 30, 2013

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Our free sampler went down a storm at the Tour of Britain. For anyone who hasn’t seen the magazine before, this taster of issue 39 – the monster 260-page Tour de France special edition – is the perfect introduction to what we do.

“What about free digital copies for American fans,” Tweeted Jim Conrad. A fine idea, Jim. And you don’t have to be American to download it, in case you’re wondering.

We hope you enjoy reading about 100 Tours, Chris Froome, Corsica, Russ Downing, Julio Jiménez and Speedplay pedals.

We trust you will find the writing of Robert Millar, Ned Boulting, Carlos Arribas, Paul Fournel and Colin O’Brien engaging and illuminating.

And we are confident you will find imagery from the likes of photographers Taz Darling, Timm Kölln, Paolo Ciaberta, Robert Wyatt, Daniel Sharp, and illustrator Jo Burt, of the highest order.

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The Knowledge

September 5, 2013

le metier-blog
Words: William Fotheringham Photos: Offside

It all began with the bread.

We sat down to dinner on the evening I arrived in France, and the future top professional on my right picked up his bit of baguette.

I picked up mine. I crunched into it.

He didn’t. Instead, he went through an elaborate little ritual: carefully, he removed the soft inner core. He rolled it up. He put it on the side of the plate and began eating the crust.

I watched. He looked at me. “Faut faire le métier,” he said.

Those four words are the cornerstone of an entire cycling culture in France, and they have broad connotations.

Un métier is a profession, so when you faire le métier, you are living the profession, doing the job, being professional. Faut faire le métier. You gotta do the job properly.

Or, if you really want to go places, faire le métier à fond. Do the job full-on. That’s when there is no bread-core issue, because you aren’t eating bread at all.

Quite why you should eschew the yummy middle bit of your baguette escapes me, but I don’t think that’s why I didn’t go on to win Tour de France stages as my club mate did.

What’s more, I don’t think he had the slightest idea why he was doing it either. He just knew he had to do it if he wanted to be a pro eventually, in the same way that he had to wear an anorak when he went out in the cold (don’t want to catch anything) and that he never, ever, ever trained in shorts without leg-warmers (you only race in shorts, don’t you?).

Being young and ingenuous, I didn’t ask him whether he lived by the old saw that you never slept with a woman within, ooh, five years or so of a major race.

The wealth of received ideas that combine to make up le métier were christened “The Knowledge” by the group of English-speaking professional cyclists of the 1980s that included John Herety, Robert Millar and company.

Once, interviewing the pair in the 1990s, they began going through the catechism: always wear long-johns in winter (you might get cold and want to eat more); always have the heater on in the car (you might get cold and get a cold); never eat strawberries (the fruit of the Devil); always have a shower, not a bath, because baths reduce your muscle tone; never drink plain water, always put some cordial in it. And so on, and so on.

The problem, as Herety and Millar saw it, was this: if you didn’t stick to The Knowledge, you laid yourself open to accusations that this or that infringement had caused a problem of some kind (that cold you had, well, shouldn’t have had the air-con on, should you?).

It was all handed down through the generations, from soigneur to rider to rider to soigneur, from professional to amateur, and so on down the food chains and the family trees that make up cycling.

Researching biographies of Tom Simpson and Fausto Coppi, it was clear that The Knowledge went back decades, to the days when soigneurs were like witchdoctors rather than merely helpers.

The cures were exotic and far-fetched: ice rubs to harden up the crotch; moving the bed in the hotel room so it faced south; putting bricks under the bed end so the blood flowed out of the legs more easily; eating salt fish and royal jelly (not necessarily together).

And not having sex, according to some – although Simpson and Coppi may have been exceptions to that rule.

Tongue in cheek, then, you could claim that the notion of aggregating marginal gains is nothing new.

The Knowledge consisted of hundreds of marginal gains, the theory being that nothing could be left to chance; the practice being that if you left something to chance, it might go wrong.

Season those tubulars for four years in the dark. Boil that chain for the six-day bike in motor oil for a week.

The difference between now and then, of course, is that the aggregation of marginal gains is scientifically based.

In theory, you know what works, so you can dispense with the not having sex and the never having baths and have mood lighting in the bus and wear those wacky stockings.

But watch Team Sky at the dinner table if you ever get the chance. Someone in their ranks will be taking the core out of his baguette, I’ll be bound.

Le métier will never die, although it may go underground.

Extract from Rouleur issue 17. William Fotheringham is cycling correspondent for the Guardian.

Podcast: Issue 41

August 28, 2013

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Columnist Matt Seaton and Managing Editor Ian Cleverly meet in cyberspace to dissect the latest issue of Rouleur with Jack Thurston. They talk about Il Piratas track team from Barcelona, continuity and change in road racing, Alchemy custom carbon bikes and Robert Millar’s debut column calling time on the stealth black look.

The Rouleur podcast is brought to you by Mosquito Bikes, London’s custom made bicycle specialists and stockists of framesets by world-renowned framebuilder Dario Pegoretti. Dario works exclusively with heat-treated Columbus Niobium Spirit tubing: music to the ears of new Rouleur columnist Robert Millar, a Pegoretti fan. Mosquito is at 123 Essex Road, London N1 2SN and on the web at

Issue 41

On Guards

February 21, 2013


Words: William Fotheringham

It was Robert Millar who first opened my eyes to one of the bitter realities of cycling: we spend more time riding our bikes in ‘winter’ than we do in any other season. For a bike rider, winter isn’t a neat division into a three-month segment: it is when you need mudguards and tights and is the part of the year which lasts, if you are unlucky, from October to April.

Millar was the only pro I ever knew who, at his own expense, had a winter bike custom made for him by a local builder, partly on the premise that he wasn’t going to get a machine with mudguard eyes out of the sponsor – and, more to the point, that if he did and then changed teams, the sponsor was liable to ask for it back just at the point he was going to need it most. But mainly, he got that bike in the knowledge that he was going to ride it as much if not more than his race bike, and he might as well keep a bit drier while he did so.

Although I never went to Millar’s extreme of putting a tubular inside a clincher to avoid punctures, I followed his winter bike example in 1996. It felt like a curious step, asking a builder to make me a frame to the same dimensions as the bike I raced on, using the same light steel tubing but with big clearances, longer forks, and all the relevant braze-ons.

Everyone I knew had the same approach to the winter bike. They either used a racing bike they didn’t race any more with the guards attached in various unreliable ways, or they bought the cheapest steel frame they could find off the peg and lived with it. That was cycling tradition: you didn’t invest in something that was going to take the battering from water, potholes and road salt that your winter bike would have to take.

I’ve come to regard those few hundred quid (well, it was 15 years ago now) and the regular sums I’ve spent on resprays as the best investment I’ve ever made in a single item of cycling kit. And not just because taking the guards off and racing on a bike with mudguard eyes and a big fork rake, that looks a bit, well, battered, is an excellent way of winding up fellow bike riders. Mudguard eyes plus long forks equals heavy, right? Not necessarily. (Knowing smile.)

For a sport which we associate so much with summer, there is a curious amount of pleasure to be found in winter bike riding. Even this diluvian winter – where many roads seem to have reverted to a pre-modern, non-tarmacked state – doesn’t have to be hell if you have decent mudguards, substantial tyres, an obsessive regard for wind direction and air temperature and a fair collection of gloves, not to mention an old trick or two like the spare undervest for the café stop. The fact that winter kit is now the best it ever has been, across the board, makes all the difference.

I’ve come to realise that although much of the pure joy from British bike riding is to be had in summer – probably because those sensually pleasing shorts and short sleeve days are so few and far between – winter riding is the source of the most memorable experiences. The extreme stuff that sticks in the mind seems to happen when the days are short: the time when I was a kid and the water froze in the bottle on a 100-mile sponsored ride; the first and, I hope, only time I braked on an icy descent; the club run where we ended up wandering through four foot snowdrifts in our cleats chucking snowballs at each other.

There is plenty to take from this winter too: a Sunday spent dodging epic floods, topped by a half hour on an islet in a flood plain watching a mate repair two punctures as the waters rose around us; the way that constant rain made new and extreme ways of lubricating a chain a constant topic of conversation; a hilarious low speed pratfall on a sheet of black ice that materialised from nowhere; a new climb in the Welsh borders to the top of a mountain tackled (cunning laugh) with a gale force easterly tailwind in dazzling sunshine.

Winter cycling is like teenage love. You dream about the pleasure, you remember the pain.

Extract  from Rouleur issue 36. William Fotheringham is cycling correspondent for the Guardian and translated Laurent Fignon’s autobiography We Were Young and Carefree, published by Yellow Jersey.

Always Read the Label

January 27, 2011

...turn to the left.Unveiling of the new season’s team kit invariably attracts a disproportionate amount of comment. There is little else to discuss over the winter before racing starts in earnest, so the designers of what the pro peloton will be sporting this year undergo close scrutiny while we twiddle our thumbs.

Race commentators and fans alike will have their work cut out if Garmin-Cervelo, Sky and Leopard-Trek are all on the front setting up their sprinters for a bunch gallop. (By the way, that’s pronounced ‘LAY-oh-pard’, not Leopard. Even thinking the word wrongly is punishable by sulking from the management. You have been warned). It seems black is the new black. Telling yer Boasson Hagen from yer Haussler for yer Hushovd is the new challenge.

The days of garish jerseys and shorts that made the unfortunate wearers objects of ridicule are long gone – and no bad thing – but at least you knew who was who. Pantani and Chiappucci’s attacking antics garnered hours of TV coverage for sponsors Carrera jeans, the predominantly white jersey seemingly always on the front. But it’s the shorts that everyone remembers; faux-denim abominations that preceded the current ‘jeggings’ look by some 25 years. It took a brave man (or an Italian fashion victim) to carry off a look wearing those babies.

Yes, the Carrera shorts were pretty special, but the entry of French DIY chain Castorama into cycling sponsorship a few years later raised the bar much higher. Even the late, great Laurent Fignon, a man with a certain je ne sais quoi style-wise, struggled to maintain his dignity in those shocking approximations of a workman’s overalls. The kit had the effect of turning the wearer into a cross between a children’s TV presenter and Bob the Builder’s assistant. Only the mullet-supreme of Laurent Brochard seemed to suit the image, but for all the wrong reasons.

Robert Millar was saved from the ignominy of wearing Le Groupement’s multi-coloured cock-up of a jersey for any length of time by the collapse of the pyramid sales company within months of the team’s launch – a blessing in disguise if ever I saw one. Mario Cipollini’s many crimes against the world of fashion should have received close attention from the Lycra Police, yet are somehow beyond ridicule. It’s Mario: let it go.

As for the early years of mountain biking apparel, that is an article in itself. Close examination of photos from the era should come with a health warning; if flash photography warrants one, then so do images of multi-coloured car crash designs of the era.

So, no garish clobber in my clothing cupboard. Less is more when it comes to kit design, especially in the shorts department. It’s got to be black, although that is not without its drawbacks. I splashed out on a reassuringly expensive pair in the summer and felt understandably distressed wearing them the first time that they felt less than comfortable. Closer examination at the roadside revealed the leg grippers had been stitched to the outside; the machinist obviously had an off day. A thoroughly indignant email was being composed in my head on the ride home.

Mrs C got the whole story in the kitchen (apart from how much the shorts cost, of course). With years of experience in imbecilic behaviour, and without so much as a backward glance from her laptop screen, she said: “You have checked they’re not inside-out, haven’t you?”

Perhaps faux-denim shorts have their advantages after all.