Posts Tagged ‘rouleur’

Sylvain Chavanel

March 7, 2013

Chavanel 2
Words: Graeme Fife Photos: Gerard Brown

I pressed him on the subject of morale among the French riders which had, for a while, been patently on the slide. He rather dismissed the notion. They have a good level in France, a lot of wins since the beginning of the season.

“Is that evidence of a new charge of spirit?”

He answered before I could put it to him that the example of the older generation – him, Thomas Voeckler, even the late-blossoming Christophe Moreau – had much to do with an observable change.

His reply hinted that this wouldn’t be something he’d embrace readily: an innate modesty, I’d say.

“No,” he said, “I don’t think so. They got wins in Qatar, Mallorca…and I hope it will continue. When we come to the big classics, it’s a higher degree altogether. We had people like [Laurent] Jalabert and [Richard] Virenque at world class and we have to wait for others to emerge.”

There’s no question in my mind that he is happy with his role as elder professional, still ‘doing his thing’. Conscious, too, that this attitude will indeed stimulate others.

Solitary by disposition he may be, but he has that easy acceptability of all the demands of the job which shows in the deeply committed professional, a man of his trade, and a jusqu-auboutiste – an all-outer – which is his trademark.

When I ask him what his objective for the season is, I supply the word even before he responds: “Gagner?”

He smiles. The soigneur lifts his right leg to plant it on the table, Chavanel reaches for the pillow, pummels it briefly and reclines once more.

“Yes, it’s important to win, to go for victory. You can come in with the lead bunch but I don’t care about that.

“If I feel good – and that’s the main thing – I make a break and I look round to see if there’s anyone there or not. But I’m not one to think about advantage or disadvantage.

Je roule. If I can win two or three races, on good courses, as I’ve done these last few years, that I would like very much.”

Example: Tour de France stage 2 Brussels to Spa. Only 11km from the start, Chavanel breaks clear and is joined by a number of others.

He attacks once more alone on the Col de Stockeu, some 33km from the finish, only Jürgen Roelandts stays with him until he, too, falls away – on the Col du Rosier, 20km on.

In the rain, on slick, wet roads, Chavanel presses on to win by nearly four minutes and, joy, to take the yellow jersey.

Interviewed after that victory, he said he didn’t have superior qualities in certain areas – he can’t sprint like Boonen, for instance, so he has to find other ways of winning “to make a splash.”

It’s true that he doesn’t win so many races as the great champions “but when I do win, it gets noticed.”

Paradoxically, he said, all the way through the escape he struggled to convince himself that it would come off, but he didn’t want to be disappointed if he failed once again and gradually he got stronger.

The simple analysis is ‘it ain’t over till it’s over’, but the deeper explication is of a psychological toughness that can weather the doubt, know it for what it is and stick to the base instinct: to attack, no matter what it costs and to hell with the risk.

It seems to me an admirable attitude, a coupling of self-knowledge and careless courage, even joie de vivre.

Chavanel 1

Extract from issue 25.

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.

Friday, I’m In Love

April 17, 2012

Images: David Evans

Rouleur Magazine spent Good Friday enjoying the sun, beer and track racing at the Herne Hill Velodrome. A great time we had of it, too. Race reports abound all over the interwebs, as do stacks upon stacks of photographs. We hope to see you at the next meet. Remember: Save the Herne Hill Velodrome.

Blonde on Blonde

February 22, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Daisy Hendry

I dug out the Bible this week for some guidance. Lost and all at sea, I dusted it down and blew off the cobwebs, prised open the long-ignored pages and searched for pearls of wisdom. Seek and ye shall find.

The Bible, for Tour de France journalists and team managers alike, is the ASO-produced road book that tells us everything we need to know, from route maps to stage profiles to town descriptions, even which hotels the teams are staying in. This mighty tome is the 2010 edition but there is still useful information to be gleaned. It is truly a godsend for a disorganised airhead former blonde with a propensity to forget stuff at crucial moments. And I do mean crucial moments.

Take this, for example. Having organised a Tour trip for my mates – flights, hotels, taxis, the works – and asked them all if they had their passports as we left the house, guess who reached the check-in desk only for the colour to drain from an already pale face on realising they had forgotten theirs? Reaching France eight hours later than a bunch of pissed-up, piss-taking friends will never be forgotten.

So it should come as some surprise, you would think, that a couple of years later, the very same airhead should step off the bus at Paddington Station, en route to Cardiff to attend Millwall’s first appearance in an FA Cup final, to remember his (and his son’s) tickets are pinned to the kitchen notice board. The unfortunate Andy, who also had the bad luck to be involved in the Tour debacle, turned with a look of utter disbelief. “Not again,” he exhaled.

Yes. Again.

I now have a checklist, you’ll be glad to hear, and do not leave south east London without consulting it – which, seeing as there are a few races to attend over the summer, is probably no bad thing.

And, yes, me and the boy made it to the Millennium Stadium to see the mighty Lions get tonked by Manchester United. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, ticket or no ticket.

Revolution Revelation

February 2, 2012

Words: Jonathan Bacon

Gosh, a revelation as much as Revolution. The Manchester Velodrome is a spanking place. Impressive but welcoming – it hides the pain well, but I could feel it. As I wandered the ‘pits’ watching riders spin away on rollers like they were walking in the park, and VIPs clinking glasses and talking the talk, I realised the huge divide between the crowd and the racers. They were a lateral step away. But a big step, a huge stride, a power-packed prowess that wasn’t obvious but was there all the same.

It was the final (4th) round of  this season’s Revolution Series. The Rouleur team had done us proud, and would do again. I was there to say hello and watch the racing. I was soon to marvel at how easy the riders made it look. I’ve ridden at Newport, I believe it’s the same size as Manchester, so the principles were known. The practice was something else. I was told that the riders see these kind of events as ‘fun’ – a break from the really serious stuff – but as the evening went on and they were out there, lap after lap, time after time, I found myself struggling to comprehend their fitness, their stamina, their strength. My thighs twinged sympathetically as the Velodrome commentator suggested “a 15 second final lap should see them take the win” and a lone rider was slung off to fight his lactic threshold. It was fast, impressive and relentless. I spent most of the evening slacked jawed.

God, they go fast. Jason Kenny went very fast, and very early to beat Chris Hoy in a round of the sprint. It was an upset, smart-thinking, well-deserved (all of the above). The Derny race was truly fabulous – I must find out how rider and pilot communicate, although I get the feeling the Howies rider wasn’t too pleased about some aspect of it – perhaps just his own performance. The Devil should be later in the evening – it’s too much fun to have it early. Sprinting when there is no space to sprint into is plain fascinating. And the various points races are of a length that would have me broken after three laps so I’m in awe of the riders who ride lap after lap at an ever quickening pace to then sort things in the last three. Dry mouth in the house.

Great venue, facilities, lovely atmosphere, a really good vibe (I think that’s the phrase). I’m looking forward to next year. I’m going to sort out a session for our Rouleur team – a staff outing – should be good. And whilst it’s available I’ll watch the ITV Player show again, and again… click here (I think it’s there until the end of Feb – do take a look).

Steve Makin was with me and took some appropriate photographs. They’re here…

And a few from the Bacons…

The Pavé Buzz

April 13, 2011

Words: Ian Cleverly  Images: Kadir Guirey

I have seen my team win at Wembley – and lose, for that matter. I have witnessed the Tour de France at close quarters on many occasions: from the roadside, inside a team car, in the mountains, on the flat, at the finish.

But nothing – and I mean nothing – comes close to the experience of seeing Paris-Roubaix in the flesh. Standing amidst the crowd at the top of the banking in the velodrome, applauding each and every finisher of this true monument of a race with equal enthusiasm to that accorded winner Johan Van Summeren, brought a tear to the eye that caught me totally unawares.

It was hastily wiped away. Pull yourself together. Man up. That is no way for a Millwall supporter to behave.

The thing was, I had no intention of being in the stadium for the finish. Lazing by a sector of pavé with a picnic and a cold bottle of Duvel was the plan, but the offer of a ride with Team Europcar was too good to be missed (thank you, Richard Goodwin from Hutchinson for sorting). Having the team doctor, Hubert, at the wheel seemed like no bad thing. Being a nervy passenger no matter how many times I travel in the race convoy, the imagination runs riot when you are hurtling across the cobbles in a dust storm, just feet away from the preceding car. I figured we were in safe hands with the good doctor. Or as safe as could be reasonably expected under the circumstances.

First stop was the feed zone at Solesmes, home to Rue Jean Stablinski (as I discovered while wandering around), the former miner and World Champion whose bright idea it was to include the tortuous Arenberg Forest in the parcours. Nice one, Jean.

No major dramas at the feed and Europcar were happy enough, with their Canadian David Veilleux sitting pretty in the break, so we stormed ahead to Sector 19 at Quérénaing à Maing, held up wheels and bottles and hoped the wheels would not be needed. Any rider requiring mechanical assistance from this ham-fisted, left-handed luddite would have to be desperate.

The editor, meanwhile, had taken a more relaxed approach to the art of Paris-Roubaix watching. Guy was holed up in a well-appointed camper van with Rouleur’s good friend Kadir Guirey, enjoying the spectacle at the relatively quiet Sector 11 at Bersée. He’s done the whole chasing around from point to point thing enough times before, so decided to park up and take it all in. Good call.

The second feed zone, coming some way after Arenberg, saw a dramatically changed field of riders passing through. Most of the pre-race favourites had hauled themselves into contention. A succession of smaller groups, caked in dust and grime, reached out for musettes and pressed on, knowing they were effectively out of the race, yet determined to finish. A battered and bruised Geraint Thomas, a solitary figure in the no-man’s land of Northern France, pushed on regardless. There goes my £10 bet…

Another mad dash cross-country (with just the one near-miss exiting the motorway) and we were in the velodrome in time for the finish, Van Summeren pushing for all he was worth whilst trying to keep on the blue interior band of the track due to his flat tyre, Cancellara and co entering just half a lap adrift.

I’m still buzzing four days later. And planning next year’s trip. Now, where’s the number for that camper van hire company?

Timm Kölln on The Peloton

November 25, 2010

As has become apparent with the publicity building up for The Peloton, this book has been your life for some five years now. Can you take us through the initial thought process behind the book, and how that resulted in what we see today?

Yeah, it’s certainly been a journey for me. The interesting thing to note here is that it all started in 2004, at the Giro d’Italia. I was in the Dolomites on a riding holiday, and the Giro happened to be on at the same time. I didn’t go and see the race and was only following it casually. However, within that ‘close distance’, I had the feeling I belonged to it, that I should be there doing something. This evolved over time, and after some thought I decided about the approach of the portrait shoots: capture the riders just after crossing the finishing line, in an attempt to get as close as possible to their mind-set when still on the bike.

There wasn’t any great preparation in terms of accreditation when I headed to the Giro in 2005. I just went there with the idea to do this photo series employing a white background and of course, black and white films. So first of all, I wanted to make sure that the shooting itself was feasible. And I had to experiment with the technical process, too: find the right equipment I needed, the right film and the proper way of processing the negatives. After looking at what I had done at the Giro, it was clear that this was going to work. The results were very pleasing, so I decided that the concept was sound and I should expand the project.

By then I was thinking of a photo series that would show the physical changes of a cyclist over a five-year period. However, over time I got more involved with the riders and cycling in general, and my interest developed in much more than just the imagery. The whole project started to change into something whereby we could understand more about the riders from a character and personality perspective. Among others, I began to carefully plan when and where I would shoot a rider as an attempt of getting as close as possible to their most personal, ‘existential’ moments.

Could The Peloton be viewed as a vessel for the emotion that cycling has brought to your life these last few years? Your journey with this project has seen some turbulent times in pro cycling: did that ever colour your thoughts on the riders you shot or your interviews with them?

Of course this has been a difficult journey at times, and there have been times when I was simply not enjoying it. Like at the 2007 Tour, when Rasmussen was arrested in the Pyrenees. I actually left the race that day. For sure I didn’t ever doubt that I would complete the project, but I knew that day it was time to leave it alone for a while.

I always tried to be objective and this is how I approached both the riders and the shoots. I wouldn’t really ask them to do anything or to perform for the camera. Why should I? Some people want to show something by themselves, others don’t and some others do so without realising it. There were many memorable moments, especially when the encounter turned into a moment of mutual respect for what everyone was doing. If this happens, you don’t really have to ask for anything specifically or search for an expression or anything you might have had in mind about someone.

I don’t see myself as a journalist. My relationship with the riders was as a photographer, and I think this is how they perceived me, too.

When it came to the interviews, they had to be measured. I wanted to make sure they would reflect my experiences within cycling and I had long discussions with the journalists who conducted most of the interviews with the riders – to ensure that they understood my relationship and experiences with them too – which was based on trust. I made sure I was present at most of the meetings and I’m convinced it was absolutely worth the efforts.

The challenge in editing the book was finding the right balance. This is a photographic book, first and foremost. But the interviews are important, too, and the book needs to have rhythm, of course. I hope we found a way to offer different possibilities of looking at it: you can only look at the pictures; combine the pictures with the catchwords we choose of any statement; or you really read the entire texts which also communicate with each other, forming thematic blocks within the book.

Interestingly the images are all shot in analogue. Tell us a little more about the reasoning for this and your photographic references when shooting the subjects?

I use 90 per cent analogue cameras. For me it is still the most natural way of working and thinking. I just love the process! You don’t see the results immediately, you have no immediate control, you have to use and trust your imagination, just as well as your subject – especially in case of a portrait. It’s important to keep moments and photographs in your own memory and then look at them with a bit of distance, with thoughts or things you may have experienced in the meantime. And once the films have been developed it reignites the imagination again. The lack of control is exciting. But of course my assistants had to endure my excitement, especially after the shoot. I didn’t stop questioning myself after the events!

My influences and inspirations are almost purely from the important black and white photographers, both reportage and portrait: photographers such as August Sander, Richard Avedon and Anton Corbijn are real influences on my style and approach. However, it is more of a tradition than a certain person – black and white photography specifically. And the technical, manufacturing result is something that I really focus on too.

You were also key (amongst others) in the interview processes with each rider. What challenges did that bring?

This was a tough process to manage. Once Herbie (Sykes) and I did four interviews and 700km in one day, so there were times when it was certainly tough. But you have to remember that if you want to realise a volume like this, you just have to do it, without compromise.

I like the comparison of this to doing a race. The whole process of getting a rider, photos wise, was about getting to the finish and the prize of the shots. But sometimes it didn’t happen, but as with the bike, there is always another day.

You also state that there were riders that didn’t make the book, how was the final ‘selection’ of 96 reached?

It isn’t fair to talk about the riders not in the book. Every process like this needs practice, and at first I sometimes wasn’t happy with the results. Additionally, it is a stressful process, but ultimately it is about results, as with bike racing. The best images and the best interviews made it to the book, and that’s it.

We only ever really know a certain amount of riders in pro cycling, and sometimes the selection of images are a reflection of how cycling is. The peloton has anonymous riders, domestiques, or, like Charly Wegelius, riders that never win a race. But their involvement and contribution are what make both the racing and the metier beautiful.

What do you hope to achieve with the book? Is its philosophy to inspire others or is it merely a portrayal of what life is like in the world of pro-cycling?

It’s funny, as if I said something to support a philosophy or inspiration, it would come across as pretentious. All I can say is that I couldn’t do it better. And I am hugely grateful for the access and enthusiasm that the riders gave me. I hope this is reflected in the book, and I really want the reader to judge the book and tell me if this approach works.

From a photographic sense we have seen everything. It is very hard to do something original, but if people recognise that I have followed a tradition and an unpretentious approach, and enjoy the book, then it is a success.

And what next for Timm Kölln?

There may be a bit less cycling for a while. I need a break. Right now, I feel I have said everything that I wanted to with this book. But certainly there are too many good relationships in cycling that I would want to continue, and I have some more ideas, but I will keep these under wraps for now.

The Peloton – available here

Home win

November 5, 2010

Image courtesy of Geoff Waugh
Image courtesy of Geoff Waugh

Helen Wyman has won ‘cross races all over Europe and beyond. Switzerland, Italy, the U.S. and, of course, the Britain. Probably more besides.

Yet, until this week, there was one almighty glaring omission from her glittering palmares: a win in Belgium. Bearing in mind Belgium has been Wyman’s base for the past six years, the big win on home soil was a long time coming, but all the sweeter on arrival for being just down the road from her house in Oudenaarde at the Koppenberg Cross.

For those of you unfamiliar with this race, it is quite the most brutal course on the calendar. Koksijde’s dunes pose a myriad of potential pitfalls, but Koppenberg on wet ground is barely rideable. The bunch swings off-road before the infamous cobbled climb rears up appreciably, but that’s where the fun begins. There is plenty more climbing to be done on decidedly claggy ground, made treacherous by the preceding day’s rain. The snaking descent may be better approached with a snowboard than a bike. But bikes are a prerequisite.

Seeing Helen slip and slide her way down the hill in second spot on the opening lap seemed about right – she finished second last year and in the previous day’s race in Zonhoven – but two laps later she had dropped Sanne Cant and was totally in control while everyone else floundered. It was a genuine joy to behold.

To stand on that podium juggling one very heavy cobble, one extremely large bottle of beer and a bunch of flowers was a triumph of persistence and optimism. I have interviewed Helen seconds after crossing the line at the World Championships when her hopes have been dashed by less competent bike handlers crashing on the very first corner, and she was, understandably, pretty miffed. But it doesn’t last long. She learns and moves on, and that smile is soon back in place.

And what Helen has learned this week is that her handling has improved, she is in the form of her life and she can win in Belgium. And (let’s face it), if you can win in Belgium, you can win anywhere.

Also, a cobble looks great on the mantlepiece…

Rouleur photographer Geoff Waugh was also at Koppenberg. See his tremendous gallery of the men’s race here.