Monday, 16 July 2012
Tuesday, 26 June 2012
This Land Is Your Land came on my iPod while I was out riding the other day.
There is a verse that goes:
The sun comes shining as I was strolling The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling The fog was lifting a voice was calling This land was made for you and me
Saturday, 16 June 2012
Sunday, 29 January 2012
I came across an interesting thought the other day, it was wedged between social media, my MA and some serious philosophers.
For my masters I had to write a contextual essay (to explain what the hell I thought I was doing), and I decided for I don’t know what reason to investigate the truth in non-fiction books. This is a pretty interesting topic simply because truth is such a difficult thing to define, and almost non-existent in any narrative form.
It went something like this:
The notion of truth in non-fiction is something that ultimately we understand, when engaging in the reading process, will on some level be flawed. On a psychological level ‘The human mind must think with the aid of categories’. (Allport: 1954) Human beings need a framework in which to see things to make sense of the world, but even those frameworks that allow us to understand the world are in fact constructed by our imagination. Kurt Vonnegut explained that writers seek to bring ‘chaos to order’ because ‘There is no order in the world around us’. (Vonnegut: 1988, p.155)
But the definition of truth is more for Plato the Greek than it is a cycling writer… or is it?
Not only did it allow me to examine the difference between some fantastic books (‘Ma verite [My truth] or Positively False anyone?) as well as the others that bend the truth on a much more subtle and calculating level, it also, while distracting myself for a moments respite looking at a social networking site made me think about the eternal debates about bikes and kit. Shimano or Campag, or Trek or Colnago?
We don’t see life in a linear fashion: instead everything we do or see is affected by the bearing of an enormous depth of previous experiences, emotions and feelings. In the same way that it is completely impossible to view a situation or a conversation entirely objectively, one cannot look at a bike with Campag and see the same things as the person next to them.
The facts of the situation would be: do the brakes stop the bike? Do the gears change? Does everything function efficiently?
At the top level all kit will function very similarly within these parameters of truth. So your choice will always have to be based on personal preference and not which is actually better.
Many people have now caught on to the fact that the professionals just ride what they are told, not what they want to ride, or what is necessarily the best, and this is true.
But in second-guessing, people are also missing a massive point. That bike equipment choice is, much like the truth itself, entirely subjective. So what watching those professionals ride, depending on how you look at the riders and if you are prepared to invest emotionally in them as idols, they will still influence your decision.
It is true though that Professionals have no say in what they ride, and likewise that when they ride a bad bike can they ever say anything about it.
I’m no longer a professional though, so here goes: The worst bike I rode was a Boardman with Dura Ace & Ritchey Wheels. The one I made go the fastest was Cannondale with Record. The one that broke the most was a Ridley with Ultegra. The one that got the most admiring glances was a DeRosa with Record, and my favorite was the RCS Condor with Dura Ace.And you are only racing when you are on tubs. Ain’t that the truth.
Thursday, 29 December 2011
There are a lot of things that go into making a good cyclist, but I strongly believe that first and foremost being a good cyclist comes down to one thing: constitution.
There are those that have it, and those that don’t. There is no real way of properly defining constitution, or indeed testing for it in a lab. Some of the most unlikely souls seem to be possessed of the most rugged constitutions, and there are plenty of dilletantes who think they should have it but who just don’t.
You can't create or replicate constitution any more than you can sprout wings and fly. It is something you either have or don’t, and it is apparent in all walks of life. Lou Reed had constitution, Keith Richards & Margaret Thatcher had constitution. Like them or not, they were people who could live off scant hours of sleep, and still work at an incredible rate, without making themselves ill.
To be a bike rider you have to have constitution simply so you don’t miss races by being sick or injured. These days science fights an ongoing and impressive battle with constitution. Riders only have to show a glimpse of talent at a young age before they can be supported by all sorts of practitioners and specialists who work so hard to make human bodies that keep failing, keep going.
Injuries and sickness are often tagged as bad luck, but being slow to recover, or being sick or injured in the first place, is often natures way of telling the human body that it is beyond its limitations.
However the fact remains, you will always have to have constitution to be a bike rider at the highest level. You will have to not injure easily, not get sick through periods of physical and mental exhaustion, and you will have to keep digging deeper and deeper into reserves that won’t deplete.
I was made up to find then, during some research, the palmares of this man: Benoit Faure´.
Not only was Faure´ 8th in the 1930 Tour de France while riding as a ‘Tourist-Routiere’ he was a professional cyclist for a remarkable twenty years, racing between 1925 to 1945. Conditions for cyclists in that era were unbelievably arduous compared to today’s standards (even without the world being at War for the last 5 years of his career).
How he managed to keep going for twenty years at that time is beyond me. Faure´ wasn’t a real winner, taking only 24 victories in 20 years, the most important of which being the Criterium International in 1941. But he must have had enough to keep slugging away.
All I can say judging from the few photos of him, the remarkable career length, and his 80 years on the planet, is that there was a man with a constitution, a man cut out to be a professional bike rider.
Sunday, 11 December 2011
For a long time I thought the world would end when I stopped bike racing. It didn’t. Fortunately. My slow extraction from the sport may have saved myself the total shock that many riders can face when they finally stop racing.
The fear of it was there though. I think that when you are racing properly, cycling demands so much concentration and focus that you really can’t see beyond it. To quote Bill Shankly, “it’s not life and death, it’s much more than that”. If cycling isn’t living and dying, then what on earth are you doing there?
The trouble seems to be for many people when they quit that they just don’t know what they are doing anywhere. I am sure somewhere there must be a statistic on the divorce rate amongst newly retired cyclists, and there is probably a nice correlation to the numbers of years you spend on the job. It is staggering just how many of the homes that riders spend their time dreaming of returning to, fall to pieces as soon as they are actually living there full time. Unlike joining the mob, you can get out of it while your alive, what you might not be able to do is get out with your life in tact.
I have to admit; it is pretty easy now though, as it’s winter and there is no competition for me to be missing. Only a fool would miss the time of year that as a rider I couldn’t stand.
I haven’t actually faced a winter in quite a while, I’ve run as far as I could from the cold dark days that I used to ride around swearing at when I was a kid in Cornwall. The thing I have noticed though is, the weather really doesn’t mean that much to me anymore.
For over ten years it was my prime concern each morning, the day began there. The assessments of the kit I was going to have to wear, which direction I would be going in, and on the rare occasion, whether or not I would be going to work that day.
These day’s I’ve been just as busy and probably twice as productive. But the weather makes not one iota of difference to my life. I have realised that without going out on your bike, most people’s exposure to the elements is sadly limited.
I’ve been doing a bit of office-based freelance for an experiment. I walk down past my grandfather’s house to the train station each morning. It’s about twenty minutes from my house. It is the main line between my town and the nearest big city- Bristol. The station is packed at 8 am every morning, but I think I’m the only one who gets there on foot. Most people are dropped off like little kids going to school.
I am not really a fan of the cold. Anyone who has stood near me on a start line at a race in below ten degrees can probably attest to that. It really helped me to verbalise what I was going through on those freezing start-lines.
It can admittedly be cold while I wait for the train, but that is it. I know the train is coming. That is as hard as it gets. I’m not 40 miles from home watching the skies darken, with the blood fully retreated from the tips of my fingers, my fuel supplies dwindling, and my only possible mode of transport to get home being a bicycle.
It almost seems like fucking madness now. I used to place myself almost daily at the mercy of the winds, with nothing more than a rain cape as insurance. Now, it is the man made weather of editors, politics, economics and the crappy rail network that I throw myself to the mercy of. I have to admit, that while it is good to only have to look at the weather out of a window, it just isn’t the same.
I do of course still ride a bike as often as I can; it is a shit load of fun when you are doing it because you want to. The only problem being that my body seems to have wilfully forgotten the tens of thousands of kilometres that I have previously pushed it through. It seems almost ridiculous to me that only a few months ago I could actually go and compete in bicycle races. I struggled through 85km this morning, not even a half day.
So while my mind is happy to remember, my body that was to be fair, doing all the hard work, seems to hell bent on forgetting all about it. Fat chance I'll let it though.
Thursday, 6 October 2011
After 17 years of bike racing I am very happy to announce that I will be officially putting my racing days behind me at the end of the 2011 season. My last competitive outing will be the Ritchey Oktoberfest 8-hour endurance Mountain bike relay event in Bristol on October the 15th. I would have loved to finish on the road at the Sun Tour, but the opportunity wasn’t there, the way that this event is run though will mean I can compete in a team with my good mates: Simon Richardson, Jonathan Tiernan-Locke and Zak Dempster.
I have seen cycling change a phenomenal amount in the time that I have been involved, not just within this country, but also within the sport as a whole. Like seeing a photo of someone close to you and suddenly realising that they’ve aged, often in cycling you can be too close to the sport to see how the differences have begun to add up.
When I began racing I dreamt of being World Road Race Champion, I didn’t ever get to be, not many do, however I did at least get to line up and try for it on six occasions. Even the start line of the World Championships can be a long, long way from Penzance, Cornwall.
I have had a remarkable time, met some extraordinary people, as well as some fairly ordinary people who could do extraordinary things. I have learned a few languages, been around the world plenty of times, I have raced some of the truly great bike races, and seemingly all of the very, very bad ones. I have come out of it with much more than I went in, which is fairly rare for me.
I would consider that I had a career of two halves. The first half went pretty much as planned on the bike and those successes mean a lot to me. But the second half was a lot nicer, and allowed me to do things on the terms that I wanted, without having to deal with the evil, corrupt, shameless mothers who put me off doing what I loved the first time round.
I was fortunate to have been in some great teams, on both sides of my 2006 ‘half time’, and I considered Rapha Condor Sharp a real gem. John’s teams are always excellent, and I got to line this one with people I actually consider friends; something I know is actually a real rarity in this sport, despite all the PR bullshit that says otherwise.
In June I finally knew that knew this would be my last season racing. The fat lady was waiting for me at the Boucles de Mayenne and her rehearsals have been getting louder and louder ever since. The good news is she has quite a voice.
I have been studying for my Masters in Professional Writing since last January and as that is due to be finished in the New Year, the timing compounded the fact that I think now is the right time to stop. I consider myself incredibly lucky (I always have) to have found something else that I am passionate enough about to conceivably be able to keep squeezing life on my terms out of it. I am really looking forward it.
I also of course have a few thank-yous to put out there; Gary Dowdell, Mike & Pat Taylor, John Herety, Theo Hartogs, all cornerstones of my eleven years spent racing full time. There are many more people who I will take the time to thank too, but of course I wouldn’t have gotten past the Tamar River without an enormous amount of help and support from my family. In particular my old man, who I began the adventure with, driving the length and breadth of the country to get to races all those years ago, and who, more than anyone helped shape the imagination that allowed me to conjure those dreams up to begin with.
Thanks all. It’s been quite a time.