Posts Tagged ‘tom southam’

Tour of Britain

September 12, 2013

Cycling - Tour of Britain (Stage 5)

Words: Tom Southam Photo: Offside

The road markings are strangely familiar, the hedgerows unmistakable, the villages built of local stone in recognisable layouts, the greys, the greens, the red-and-white road signs, the license plates on the parked cars…

Everything in my peripheral vision makes up a perfectly normal view of another day in Britain, apart from the fact I am passing through this land of everyday as part of an international pro peloton.

We pass a Budgens and I look about: Basques to my right, Italians in a Russian team to my left, the high-pitch guffawing that can only come from French cyclists echoing in my ears, and a convoy of 30 brightly-coloured estate vehicles jostling all over the road behind us.

I always feel like something is slightly out of place at the Tour of Britain, like someone has photoshopped an image of a bike race on top of a picture of the British countryside.

Even though I have ridden the race four times now, I am still a little confused by the feeling of the party being at my house.

Even the lengthy transfers take on a slightly surreal feeling: I am on the M4, where I often am, but what is the Katusha bus doing here?

Of course, this feeling comes from an entire youth spent looking at pictures of bike races on foreign shores, foreign roads‚ similar but not the same.

It never occurred to me that these places were just places too, and that the roads I dreamt of weren’t there with any magical or express purpose of a bike race passing over them; they were just roads.

I spent my whole youth riding around UK roads thinking only of escaping them and getting to the promised lands of Flanders, the Alps, the Pyrenees. It never really occurred to me that everyone could just come over here and we could race over Bodmin Moor.

It really is the little things that make all the difference here, not just for us British riders having the strange sensation of all these foreign guests in our bike race.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw Filippo Pozzato so incapable of coming out of his comfort zone that he couldn’t take a feed bag from the left, as is dictated by English road law.

He had to stop in the middle of the feed zone and demand that we, the bunch, all waited while he, the White Knight himself, made his visibly petrified soigneur run across the road in front of oncoming riders to hand-deliver the feed bag to him where he stood‚ seemingly cursing our highway code, Queen Elizabeth II and the Madonna in equal measure.

These little things are advantages that add up for UK riders, I’m sure. I remember quite distinctly the first time I rode the race in 2004, while riding for an Italian team.

I thought how easy everything was, exactly the same feeling you get when you first walk up to a counter or into a shop the moment you get back from a long overseas trip.

In your head, you are still trying to think two or three steps ahead, all senses alert for different languages, transport systems, foreign maps or any kinds of difficulty. In a split second you realise that you can actually relax – you don’t have to second-guess, you don’t have to be one step ahead.

You are home and everything is simple. Everything is how it was, how it should be, and how you expect it to be. That moment of excitement, relief, guilt and pleasure is a strange sensation in a bike race.

There is something quite amazing about playing at home. It is one thing to have a group of family or friends make a trip to Europe to watch you race, but it is another to be able to race in front of everyone all in one go, and then be televised later for good measure.

Racing over a hill near Taunton past a staggering amount of people who knew my name, my nationality instantly raising me above my natural status in the wild of the peloton, is something I’d quite like to mull over when I am a very old man laid up with nothing but my memories to ponder.

Extract from issue 17. Tom Southam is an ex-professional cyclist. He came 34th in the 2009 Tour of Britain.

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The Joker

June 20, 2013

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Words: Tom Southam Photos: Geoff Waugh

That great British institution, the national road championships, takes place this weekend in Glasgow. Photographer Geoff Waugh captured the quintessentially English 2010 edition in Lancashire, while Tom Southam tells of an earlier time and a newcomer to its peculiarities. Extract from Rouleur Annual 4, available here for £10.

I clearly remember Max Sciandri’s one and only attempt at the nationals in 2000.

Being Italian and used to some semblance of order to the pattern of a race, he had spent the first few hours hiding at the back, concentrating on looking cool. When he did eventually slide gracefully to what he thought was the front, he was stunned to be informed by an Addiscombe CC rider that this group was in fact already several minutes down on the leaders. Furthermore, there was not one break down the road, but several groups of riders, all plugging away at different time gaps, and that no, there certainly would not be any kind of cohesive effort to reel these groups in for the finale.

Max’s day was over before it began, and was curtailed swiftly at the next feed zone where, cursing these odd English amateurs, he swore never to return.

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Training Diaries

October 12, 2011

Words: Tom Southam Photos: Wig Worland

There is a game a good friend of mine likes to play. While we sit about together in the bike riders’ twilight, the long afternoons that we pass away “resting” while the rest of the world industriously turns, he sits surrounded by a pile of his old training diaries and encourages me to “pick a date – go on – pick a date from any year and I’ll tell you what I was doing on my bike”. He will then promptly read out a perfectly descriptive vignette of a moment in time, sometimes many moons old, which tells a story of a day on the road. It is amazing how just a few well-chosen words not only take him there, it can take the listener there, too.

I recognise the stories, made up of efforts, times, intervals and heart rates, because I like to play this game too, albeit at home and without an audience. Up on a shelf I have ten full seasons of pedalling, catalogued: “Training diaries: 1994-2003”. They are a written record of almost every ride I did, from kid through to professional bike rider. Leafing through these in the odd private moment takes me way back.

“Thursday, May 26th, 1994. Mileage: 10 (St Just run, slightly shortened), Weekly total: 22 miles. Weather: Breezy, cold, overcast. Notes: Back was awful again. Went well on big chain ring but on hill I was shit, couldn’t get any rhythm. Been ill, only just recovered. Bad day.”

This extract is from the first diary that I ever kept, in what was my first year of competitive cycling. I was 12 and had just started to progress from sporadic forays into the countryside wearing a woollen Peugeot jersey and jeans, to donning Lycra and stringing together what I thought I could call training rides.

If you grow up through bike riding you don’t have much time for looking backwards. One thing that does become apparent when you do get to take the occasional glance at your life, though, is that each year has a definitive shape, texture and feel.

Years passed don’t just blend into one another; each one is markedly different from the next as so many things change from year to year. Firstly in the massive physical improvements you start to feel as you grow, then in the teams you ride for, the different jerseys, the bikes and the little details like the cycling shoes you wore and how they hurt your feet, or cool bits of kit that you had. There is also the wonderful expansion of your geography, your view and understanding of the world filling out as you ascend through the ranks as a rider.

Each year has a structure; the winter signals the rebirth, the hope and aspiration that sees you ploughing through all weathers to be ready for the new year, each spring heralds a damp wet windy beginning, each summer lifts successes into new light, and each autumn sees hope having a quick glance up the road ahead. For most bike riders this is all clearly mapped, plotted and recorded for posterity, in notebooks, in journals, on wall charts and more recently in the electronic seas of the World Wide Web.

The collection of training data has always existed; what has changed over the years are the fields of data collected, and how and why they are interpreted by each individual. The mind of the bike rider varies wildly. Trying to look beyond their shades to work them out is a waste of time; if you want to know a bike rider, just flick through the pages of their training diaries. There you will see the blueprints, not just to a career in pedalling, but also to the mind of the riders themselves.

Extract from Rouleur 26, out soon.