Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Electroencephalography in the saddle.

I must be riding a lot, I can tell by the way my brain works. Maybe it’s simply fatigue, or lack of sugar; it could possibly even be the short moments of time each day that I make my body function without oxygen. Of course it might just be a reaction to repetitiveness, who knows.

Whatever it is, I have officially gone beyond the stage where my day’s ride allows me to concentrate on a problem I have to solve, creatively, industriously or otherwise. Beyond those rides in which I easily compose lengthy emails, letters to old friends, or stumble upon ideas for Thursday night activities (Thursday night is date night).

Now I am at the stage when I think things such as the thoughts I was having today on my way back from Kinglake, when I started to think that most of my time spent on my bike, I am doing the same thing over and over again.

Not simply pedalling, but just looking as far as I can see down the road, to a corner or a crest, and simply willing my way towards it as fast as possible. (The pedalling here you see, is simply an incidental action to help motion). I then simply repeat the process again as soon as a new horizon presents itself. It can feel like going scene to scene in a movie about the Australian countryside while on a hamster wheel. An image flashes up, I ride towards it, it disappears; I start again.

Sometimes it can take ages to get to that point, where the reel ends, and I can start a new scene. Sometimes, in the case of a crest of a hill, it can be a matter of squeezing my body as hard as I can to get to that point as fast as possible (this can hurt).

I like to get things done, and I suppose this is why I hate the long straight roads. I’m not happy until I have finished what is in front of me. If I know it will take a lot of time and focus to finish what I am doing, I can ahem… get myself a bit flustered.

I continued my abstract thoughts by bringing in Andy Warhol to the conversation. Who I remember hearing say ‘that you only really enjoy a box of chocolates when you eat the last one’. I feel the same with every scene I’m presented, I’m only satisfied with the stretch of road in front of me when it is finally all behind me and I can start something new.

And that is exactly the kind of thing I start to think about when I train maybe a bit too much: Pseudophilosophy on the art of riding a bicycle for a living. Maybe I should knock the riding on the head for a while, get my brain back from the paths it’s been sauntering down lately.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Nacional Front

This week's new robe.. I noticed this kit because it is firstly very cool, and secondly because I really like the band The National. Anyway, I just got slipped this little sample and I now have something to go incognito in, you know what with all that time I spend trying to dodge the UCI..

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Check the detail..

It's the little things.. Thanks to Northside Wheelers, Melbourne.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

The non-race, race calendar..

I’m trying to come up with a list of races to ride. Not the usual list of races, the Tour of Britain, Tour of Japan or any kind of conventional race program. I’m trying to come up with a list of really interesting races to start doing post actual racing career. Lets call it a non-race list.

It has been burning in kindling of mind for a while now to ride the crocodile trophy; ‘The Worlds longest hardest, hottest and most adventure (I think they meant adventurous) Mountain bike race” that runs across the outback of Australia for ten days. Sounds firm but fair to say the least.

And now I can finally start to claim I have started an actual list, as I have a second event (without which, it wasn’t really a list). I want to ride the Melburne Roobaix

The Hell of Northcote, is not really a race, more scavenger hunt/pub/café crawl over just about every stretch of cobbles hidden down the Melbourne alleyways, and finishing with grandeur on the Brunswick track. Pretty damn cool I reckon, and now elbow joint depending firmly fixed on my 2012/13 non-race list.

After that I think I might consider some sort of cyclo-cross race, if I can find one somewhere warm that is. Or is that simply asking too much?

Friday, 26 November 2010

Immigration making the nation.

I had a blog that I was trying to write on Melbourne as a Glowing Young Ruffians post. It started off in an Italian deli, took you through an Argentinian cafe, and ended up at a Greek family dinner. But for one reason or another it was becoming something of a problem blog; the type I write and think 'this is shite, I will come back to it later'. Which I do, and I bash away again- and still think its crap, only to come back again later and realise it is actually worse than crap, and it needs to be abandoned quickly before it and I build any kind of a bond.

To cut a long story short (something that I am learning is at the core of being able to write anything at all well) as part of an assignment for my MA, I had to write about a place in exactly 100 words, and I thought; What better way to kill two seagulls with one very small stone. So here, instead of a thousand or so words on my current place of residence, is a very concise blog on why I like Melbourne:

Melbourne is where coffee becomes an art form, enjoyed by all on public display. Melbourne is tattooed foreign-waiters, easy charm and cooler than cool. Melbourne is buying your bread in Italian, and your fish in Greek. Melbourne is dumplings in China town, after drinking on rooftops all night. Melbourne is hot; Melbourne is fresh. Melbourne is young and doesn’t have a care. Melbourne has art all over, and is an artwork itself. Melbourne is the big cities sister who moved to the sea, born of that immigrant DNA. Melbourne made itself out of the parts that came its way.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

If Beauty is Truth

Would Jamie Oliver please stop saying beautiful. In fact could all the blokes who think that constant use of this adjective makes them sound at once positive, passionate and thoughtful (about almost anything), please stop. That includes you Mark Cavendish, and you too the entire Garmin team, plus any other English speaking (as a first language, I will give the others a break) bike riders, who continue to sound like such fools, as they insist on describing every sprint, hill, descent, country or parcours as beautiful.

Just like Jamie’s repetition of the word made him sound like a twat well inside the first five-minute segment of his ’30 minute meals’ show I was just watching; riders post race interviews are starting to repeat like broken records. The problem seems to be that as our sport undergoes its current corporate makeover, the riders - the actual personalities of the sport, no longer even seem to own the words coming out of their mouths when they cross the line.

It’s like some sharp young pr agent who swapped golf for bikes, has thought; ‘what is going to make our riders sound like they are smart sensitive guys, who have deep thoughts about things’, (like the err… roads in Switzerland?), ‘oh yeah right, lets make everyone sound like they are Dave Millar, he’s the pin up boy of the renaissance cyclist, lets read his sound bites, and regurgitate them’.

So all of a sudden races are no longer shit, exhausting, hard or annoying; they are just beautiful. The crowds that jeer and spit are beautiful, the broken bumpy tarmac is beautiful, the pressured, twisting, jostling peleton is beautiful, the rain in April is beautiful, the strength sapping heat in July is, you guessed it, beautiful.

Give me a break guys; find another adjective. Please. All hope is lost for Jamie Oliver, but there are more of you bike riders, and your personalities are supposed to be different.

It’s like being in a relationship and saying everything is ‘great’ to save an argument. It washes over the real detail of racing and it’s just such a weak positivity. I don’t want to buy this shit any more than I want to listen to that mockney idiot talking about his macaroni cheese.

This is exactly why Cav is only a true star in the moments that his emotions have short-circuited his brain after a sprint. He swears, he chastises others, he vents frustration or elation and he genuinely shows himself. Anyone with a heart that beats must prefer this to the cooled down, debriefed version. I don’t want to hear remorseful apologies, false compliments or even how pretty a country might be. No one could really be interested in that for a second, but his sponsors need him to say it, just in case some nut gets so upset by hearing their hero say the f word that they can no longer hold down a job, and start legal action.

Compare the wonderful verbal fireworks Cav can come out with, to the condescendingly dull template of a post race comment that Garmin riders churn out; ‘I am so proud of the whole team today, I could not have won this without them. We are not just a team we are also bff’s, I love this team. It was a beautiful race. I am so proud Thank you’. Go on, have a look at any post race comment from one of their riders this season and that is word for word what you’ll see. It’s clean, its tidy, it ticks all the sponsors boxes in the in-company magazine but its oh so dull.

Someone give bike riders their personalities back. There is no hope for Jamie Oliver, but he is just a chubby entrepreneur, a clown who caricatures himself for money. Bike riders should be so much more than that.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Baby on Board?

You know who must be laughing his ass off? The guy who first worked out no one is more vulnerable than someone who is frightened and protective, and that people in general are quite happy to thoughtlessly throw money in the face of a potential danger.

The ‘man’ I am talking about, if indeed it was one particular genius, is the man who is realised he could make money out of a very bemusing yellow dot that appears occasionally on my horizon. I am of course talking about those pointless little signs in the back windscreens of cars that say ‘Baby on board’.

What? No, why? No, no, what? I just want to know, what sort of difference could a sign that effectively says – ‘if you must pile into the back of a vehicle today, you’d better chose another with slightly older folk crewing it, as I here happen to be driving the most valuable little life on planet earth, he/she is going to be a doctor don’t you know, and a Nobel prize winner’, really make?

I don’t know a single soul who has ever wanted to crash a car, I have never in my life looked at the passengers belted into the metal carcass speeding along in front of me and though, ‘ah look they don’t seem like they are that valuable, and nope…there is no sign to say there is an infant, I can afford to not even look out the front window along this stretch of road then’. Come on.

I thought, genuinely, that the whole point in driving was to get from A to B while avoiding causing death or serious harm, not only to oneself, but to those other road users around you. So why on earth would you waste the few quid that it costs to put one of those things in your car?

Faith and fear I suppose, and it’s this that has been fascinating me since I caught sight of one the other day out training. I mean, most people must practically comprehend that a small yellow sign will make bugger all difference to the way other road users behave around them, if someone crashes it is not out of will, so no amount of warning is really going to make any difference.

It is just cashing in on the human condition I suppose, a good capitalist response to our need to have to put faith in something, anything, to allay our fears, it is the evolution of the saint Christopher in the front, the evil eye on the lapel, the crucifix around the neck, whatever it may be, this is nothing new.

I am just left wondering, as I drive or ride about these traffic strewn roads, that in our time of religious and spiritual decline; if our symbols will all be this stupidly obvious, and if they’ll all look so ghastly?

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

I like your old stuff

So I thought this might be fun. I know I seem to just be pillaging through other material on this blog at the moment, but it is all in the name of research, trust me. This is the first ever blog that I wrote, I think it would have gone up on the old old British Cycling website (that was for all you trainspotters) in May 2000. It's interesting to me for a few reasons, writing is something I do so much of now it seems like I've always done it, but I did actually start somewhere, and I remember the seed being planted in my mind on the back of the bus from the airport to the hotel when we arrived in Montenegro, it was John Herety who actually suggested I write it up, so I have the man to thank for more than just the bike races. It still amazes me how a little suggestion can change the direction of a life.

I'm also amazed at the guy who wrote this, it drips with enthusiasm and youthful innocence, so it's kind of like reading a diary or meeting up with someone you once knew, at first I cringed, the writing is crap, the humour obvious and it seems so naive. But it had to be didn't it. So thanks to anyone who may have read this the first time around, I don't know why you thought it was a good idea that I wrote, but I will get there one day.

Montenegro, the Big 'A'

Now I figure that to pass pro there are certain things that a young rider has to do. There are plenty of things on this list (mainly involving suffering), such as 'getting your head kicked in at the back of an echelon somewhere in the Low Countries'. You get the picture. Last month I had to complete the part that goes something like, 'a mega hard racing trip in a third world country where everything that can go wrong will do'.

Our 17-day trip to Montenegro, a state of southern Yugoslavia provided all the bad hotels, dodgy 35-year-old Italian riders, insane transfers and snipers for all six of us W.C.P.P riders careers put together. From now on it will just be known to all involved as the 'Big A', that's 'a' for adventure, there was plenty of that.

The race was 'The paths of King Nicholas' a U.C.i 2.6 category six-day stage race. The first two stages were based around Bari in Italy but hey, we had to get there first.

This meant putting my heart firmly in my mouth for a good 2 hours whilst we flew into Yugoslavia in Montenegro Airline's finest exñaircraft, (the emergency exits had already seen action).

Then we were treated to four days of Montenegro's own Costa del Sol. Getting thrown out of hotels, having chips and bread every meal everyday, and the most incredible training race I have ever come across. Two days prior to the six-day event the organisers put on a training race for those teams already there. The route was 150kms and covered two 25km hors category mountains. I laughed. I didn't finish.

Next we had to get over to Italy where Montenegro's finest ferry company put us on the overnight ex-boat. A good 12 hours in a sweaty cabin directly above the engine without any sleep whatsoever stood me in good stead for the next day's opening stage, surely if I could stay awake I'd be flying... well no.

All this time two things had kept us all going, one that hopefully once the race started everything would improve and the time would fly by. Or just maybe John H would see sense and send us home before we actually went to Montenegro for the second time. Neither of these happy outcomes occurred. It went on.

Racing in Italy is worthy of a story of its own, with stages finishing 30km before they should or starting 20 minutes early whilst half the peleton were still getting changed. But I won't go into that.

We ground our way around the first two stages in torrential rain and a freezing coastal wind, hardly encouraged by having to get changed in a cafe porch after 4 hours in the rain two days on the trot. Each of us harboured thoughts that John was bluffing and really he had those sacred plane tickets straight out of Italy. Surely we didn't have to go back? I still had hope this was the case even when we boarded the midnight boat back to Montenegro. But alas, it went on.

At this stage of the game I was almost completely cracked I couldn't care less about the race. I had just been chewing on my handlebars for too long. I didn't laugh much. In fact I was so tired didn't open my eyes much from this point on.

The amount of time in bed got shorter and the stages got longer and seriously hilly. The rain stopped though, which was nice. I had stopped caring about what I ate (10 days of a bread and chips diet kinda does that). It got so bad I craved bananas - I hate bananas. That is when I knew things had gone down pretty low.

The race was finally drawing to a conclusion and I was managing to regain the plot a little. On the last mega mountain day I even felt vaguely like a bike rider again. Jamie (Alberts) also got to flex his muscles and spent the day putting the fear of god into the Cantina Tollo guy in the yellow jersey on every rise, corner and descent. Dan Bridges also decided to become a mountain climber for the day and put a few people to shame without even using his beloved 11 sprocket. Things were looking up, a bit.

All this sudden excitement about going home had improved everyone's legs so much we came away from the race with Jamie in 5th overall and winning the pink jersey. Funny thing is we never found out what it was actually for it looked very pretty though.

The flight home was about as much fun as it was on the way out. I calmed my nerves by playing with the putty that was in the big hole in the fuselage that I was sitting next to.

What did I learn from all this? How to handle tough situations and stay focused on racing my bike despite all these difficulties and hard times? How to be patient with others when I'm too tired to be patient? How to remain professional in races like this? How to stay cool with commissaries and Italians?

Well... err... no just that next time someone tries to drag me off to a race in a country that hasn't done a single repair on anything since 1972 just get sick and stay home like the wiser members of the W.C.P.P...

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

I lifted (and gave a bit of a clean-up to) this from an email I sent my girlfriend the other day. I’m not sure whether I have dipped into self-indulgent three-hour bongo jam territory here, but this blog is kind of about how it all works and what I am thinking, so too was this text. (G, I hope you don’t mind).

I was thinking about what you said about my thoughts in the mail you sent and well, I kind of like that you like them, and I had a good one today and I wanted to show you how it took shape, it matters to me that - they are after all the key to me.

So I was riding today, (I do that sometimes miss). It was actually a great day for it, and I was solo, which makes my brain function and I had been trying to punch out a blog or some writing just before I left so things were still ticking over. And I came up with something, just a line, but one that I instantly loved (they either arrive here or in bed) and for the first time almost ever, I thought about how I got to it and I dunno why, but I wanted to tell you about it.

A guy popped into my head, I saw him when I was having my coffee in Vic park yesterday, he was begging, he had just got some coin out of a group of foreign Uni students and he came wandering up to me, filthy red trackie pants, dirty faded denim jacket and a floppy hat pulled low, and he was old baby, grey stringy stubble and a face that looked like the back of my couch. I knew what I was going to say to him before he even got to me, ‘I had no money’ and he must have known too by the look on my face. Not that I was offensive, but I guess a skilled beggar gets to know every single pantomime we play so well they know who is a giver and who is a no-no.

It was this moment, that for some reason, flashed into my head while I was riding up a short hill out the back of Weston, and it was accompanied by the phrase ‘he looked at me like he was about to ask for some years of his life back’. Is this good? I don’t even know if it’s good or not, but I liked it, I liked the desperation it held, I liked the impossibility of what he would be asking and the admission of all the mistakes, all the things that one would love to change but never can.

It’s not really money that someone wants is it? That’s a means to an end, food, shelter, whatever, that’s all that is, what would you ask for if you were really fucked after all? You’d ask the impossible, time and its reversal.

Anyway, no-one reading a cycling Blog will ever give a shit about a man in a park, but the phrase stuck with me and I kind of started to work on it, and build something out of it and I think I did… I took the good bit, the asking of time, forgot the tramp and applied it to myself. I got, after just a few attempts, and after getting to the bottom of the descent to this; ‘I felt like he had just asked me for some years of his life back’, I reckon that’s one nicely crafted metaphor for use at any time in one of my blogs, when I am trying to describe the feeling that someone has asked something of me that is impossible. ‘He’ in this case, would be a manager, or boss, or teammate. It hints at a desperation that goes beyond the normal limits of what you are asked to perform as a rider or even as a person, and that seems to happen all the time.

It’s a tiny, minute little part of something, but I love how it fell into my lap, inspired by real events, and I love how it may get breezed straight over by a reader, or it may stop them and take them to somewhere similar they have been themselves. I want each and every sentence to have that kind of weight, and to have taken a three-hour ride to achieve, and I love how I can show it to you, if indeed I have managed to do so. You watch, that line will sneak up in something I write and you'll know now, where these things come from.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

He Waits

One of the real luxuries, and indeed part of the appeal of my job as a professional cyclist has always been the fact that I get to travel a lot. I love getting around the place, I really do, and I think to be honest that is one of the appeals being a writer has for me. There is a parallel there, in that I can do either job anywhere, as long as I have the very basics - a road (you find these in most places) or a laptop - I can do my thing and it doesn’t actually matter where I am, in fact the further away from home the better my work output seems to be.

But of late, being as I am on something of a forced hiatus, thanks to the painstaking recovery of my elbow, I’ve made an odd discovery; when handed the option of going anywhere in the world, I don’t really know where to go.

You see, I’ve been to a lot of places, but it seems I’ve always had a reason for going, that might just have been the slightest, teeniest hint of a reason to go (that I happily will take and go forth without even a second’s hesitation). I like to feel the pull; I sometimes (very occasionally) do need the push too.

If I think back to all the places I have found myself, very similar external influences have led me down these particular paths; primarily it’s been racing, where the races are I will go, that is my metier after all. But after that, the things that have taken me by the hand and led me to other lands have been quite simple, either girls that I’ve been enchanted enough to cross seas to visit, or the convenient location of friends somewhere other than home.

With me it really is a case of the blind leading the blonde, I do after all have a tattoo on my fore-arm that makes a smirking remark about how easily led I am, and I have no problem with this at all, having had a remarkably good time in all sorts of places so far. But what I want to know now is, with time on my side, and the world at my feet; what is it that will shape my horizon? Where will I find the influences to set sail to lands anew?

Perhaps it will come from a book? I have just finished reading Pedro Juan Gutierrez’s The Insatiable Spiderman, and apart from all the underage sex, there seems to be quite an appeal in all the dirt and seediness of Havana.

Perhaps it’ll be a song that triggers my next destination; there is something in the weary sound of Cedars of Lebanon by U2 that really pulls me toward some splendid isolation somewhere east of here; waiting on a waiter, he’s taking a while to come/ watching the sun go down, on Lebanon.

Or maybe it could be a chance encounter; luck and time are after all the two prime movers of the universe. I suppose my real skill is not knowing where or how I will get myself to places, but instead being open to the suggestion of these tides, and having so far navigated semi successfully my way around the place. I guess the Zen thing to do would not be to try and work out the where and why, but do like the man from that great Guiness ad and simply wait. ‘He Waits…’

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Strange things you find, some of them in your own genes.

By pure accident, while shifting some things around in my house the other day I found my grandfather’s eulogy. I’m not actually sure who wrote it, as I missed the funeral, but I was mildly intrigued, so broke off from packing books into boxes and sat down with a glass of chianti and had a read (it was actually a tumbler thus drinking wine in the middle of the day was acceptable).

I was interested to find this little excerpt:

Vaughan (my Grandfather) loved words. He loved talking, he loved listening, he loved ideas. He loved the beauty and power of the English language – he loved using it and hearing it well used. He could always find the right words to convey a thought, a hope or an emotion. His original imagery and forceful delivery delighted many audiences. He once defined his job as “Passing on visions wrapped up in words”

It was startling to me as I not so long ago found this in my own father’s first draft of his autobiography (A true Southam tradition):

I’ve also got an admission to make; I’ve recently fallen in love again. Not with some dazzling young female but with the English language. Being dyslexic made my early relationship with the English language a difficult one, but no more. I love it. It’s history, it’s staggering richness, the wide choice of words, its subtleness, its ability to continuously evolve, and the wonderful words themselves.

I love and adore what I call ‘big words’. Whenever I come across a new one I write it down and look up it’s meaning, like yesterday it was cunctation, meaning procrastination, and then try in some way to use it.

And then there is me, and I seem somehow to have inherited this love of language, I can see myself in both of these glimpses of the love of language that my father and his father both clearly harbored.

It wouldn’t seem so interesting to me had my grandfather, or my father been authors, or had this love ever been vocalized, but it hasn’t, ever. We all just seem to have stumbled across this same passion, it makes me wonder, if a love for language and communication could be part of your make up? Or, if these things are incidental, products of similar environments or simply a learned upbringing and urge to communicate?

Whatever the case if this has been passed down, what on earth happened to the hard-work gene? By the looks of the rest of this eulogy, that was fairly important to one Vaughan Southam, I’m not so sure that will appear in mine, nor dads for that matter.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

American Slang

Simply the best album I have listened to all year, American Slang by The Gaslight Anthem. Listening to the same album over and over reminds me of my youth, when I only had two tapes, and yet seemed to get through just with them. Once in fact I made a cassette with Dock of the Bay on repeat for 45 minutes (thats seven times over, in case you wondered) It's rare that I get an album good enough to listen to over and over these days, this one really is.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Plotting and scheming

In my further research for a real grip on this the best idea I had put to me by Suzy was the mood board. I didn't really know what one was but unknown to me I have been mood boarding my life since I was 18. All the journals I've ever kept are loosely filled with lists of songs, lyrics, movies, places, different foods, girls, races, pictures.

It's funny but I kind of knew it would be good to keep all this, but never knew why. I am glad I did now, I am starting to see the birth of something here, not simply the writing bits, but the exact thought patterns, images and inspiration that I need.

The most interesting of all this was going back and reading my early blogs for the British Cycling website. I have every blog I've ever written on file, dating back to our trip to Montenegro in April 2000. The thing that struck me was; firstly how BAD the blogs are, even when I got to a period where I thought the writing was quite good (around 2004) it is still terrible, so thanks everyone for encouraging me to write - god only knows why you thought it was good.

Secondly I was astounded at the boy that I met when I read these blogs, in the ten years between then and now I haven't noticed the small changes that have made me from Tom Southam the boy to Tom Southam the older boy. I was genuinely startled that I ever used to think, talk or simply be like that.

Quite a trip, and I have only just gone through a few of them. It's quite hard listening to yourself al day. But good news is I know it's in there somewhere, all here, now its a matter of picking through these bits, and I'm looking forward to seeing who I meet along the way.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Herbie & Laurent

In a bid to research for my book I have been getting my way through a good few more cycling books than usual, the highlight of this so far has turned out to be Herbie Sykes’ The Eagle of the Cantavese while the real disappointment has been the newly translated We were young and carefree by Laurent Fignon.

Herbie actually sent me his book a while ago as I had been pestering him with a few writing related questions, I figured I was on to a winner when the first things he did was recommend I read American Pastoral and quote Kurt Vonnegut. Most cycling writers I come across give you the impression they are just failed riders who enjoyed English G.C.S.E (some, the better ones, even admit to that).

Where Herbie’s book looks for all the stories, the tales, the lives and the details of his subject, Fignon just seems to breeze through all this, trying simply (and failing in my mind) to prove that he was actually a great champion who was dealt more than his fair share of bad luck. Maybe this is really what it looks like through a champion’s eye, but in not taking into account his audience, he simply comes across as more arrogant than I imagined and totally lacks any humility.

I see Fignon as a man who had a chip on his shoulder, then lost the Tour and found that chip became a dent; the thing is - I’m not so sure that I need to hear about it. There are many many hard luck stories in cycling, a quick leaf through the lives of many of the post-war Italian cyclists that appear in Herbie’s book is testament to that, but I think it really is the way you tell ‘em.

The good bits of course, of Fignon’s book, are the revelations about the Columbian riders importing coke into Europe in their frames and ‘handing it out by the bag-load’ after Lucho Herrera’s win in the 1986 Tour of Spain, and how while racing in Columbia the entire Renault Elf team rode the last stage after knocking back a gram each.

Both these books are adherent to the trend in cycling books to be historical and really focus on a bygone eras for cycling, and both of them seem to lament those epochs passing. It reminds me of something I read in Kurt Vonnegut’s marvellous little volume A Man Without a Country (which, I think is worth a read every few months or so as it is the closest I think anyone has ever come to explaining what it’s all about) that;

‘There have never been any ”Good Old Days,” there have just been days’.

And of course coming as it does from the mind of Vonnegut that quote rings true. I can be guilty of this kind of rose tinted viewing of bygone eras in cycling. Looking through my own blogs and writings I can really see why I was so attracted to what I thought Fignon would have to say. I saw him as the last bastion of the ‘old ways’ of cycling, as, it turns out did he, claiming that his loss in the 1989 Tour was the moment cycling changed forever, from a bespoke trade and tradition of ‘winners’ to a factory made assembly line of ‘earners’.

But then, I go back to Herbie’s book and I can here the same things being said by the elderly Italian pros, that things changed forever after that time, and (obviously) got a lot worse. To be honest riding in either era looked bloody horrible in certain respects, and completely unstable financially, as well as downright dangerous.

So, note to self while I go through the thought process in creating the shape of my book, avoid telling everyone that things changed for the worse when Lance won the Tour (that was where I had my personal marker for the shift between one cycling world and another) and focus more on just what happened in those days, that were neither good, nor bad, but just simply days.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

I think I have worked out what it is that I miss so much when I am stuck unable to ride my bike, or just reduced simply, to short elbow aggravating sorties every other day. Most bike riders in this situation would suggest they simply miss the buzz of exercise; the sensations of sweating, the feeling of breathing deeply while your heart pounds out of your chest. But I think that's too simple a take on things for me.

Maybe I miss the satisfaction of being fit, lean and knowing everything is working pretty well – you know your body a lot better when its condition is the focal point of your life. But then it’s also damn hard work so it’s isn’t really great shakes to be told that you re not able to wear yourself out for a few weeks.

I know the extra two kilos that have crept up on me will be worked off, I know the muscles that seem to have forgotten that they ever had a job to do and have rolled out their beach towel and dozed off to sleep, but inevitably I will work them back to strength. I like the satisfaction of the hard work, but I don’t miss it.

It’s not really the competition I miss either, I do find it hard to not go along to the races and be stuck in the same town for more than two weeks at a time. But then, I have raced and journeyed enough in my life now to appreciate the break. Plus if I need a really competitive time we can always go to the park with the girls and play just about any game you can imagine. If you thought being part of the peleton was fierce, try playing boule with girls on a calm summers afternoon.

There is of course a little element of camaraderie that I miss, not being out on top of the Mendips with one or two of my mates on my bike does bother me a little bit, but we still catch up at the coffee shop, or the bar, or wherever. What with most of my mates being bike riders anyway, I don’t miss out on that social element. I just miss out on those moments when you are convinced, in your slightly fatigued state that the ‘mate’ you are riding with actually really wants to hurt you.

It took me a while to work out exactly what it was that I was missing. I have been quite a lucky guy this year in that during the time that I haven’t been able to ride, the weather has been great; there have been plenty of visitors to Bristol, parties, picnics, occasions, a lengthy visit from my lady and all sorts of Pimm’s related fun. But in this, a practically unheralded dream world for me in a normal cycling season, I knew my unsettled heart was missing something.

I worked out what it was today, while I was sat alone waiting for my injured housemate outside the plastic surgery ward at Frenchay hospital. More than anything else I miss the most basic and simplistic essence of the bicycle; I miss the freedom.

I had always thought talk of the ‘freedom’ that the bicycle allows you, was peasant talk, taken straight from the pages of a biography of a poor boy who made good by riding his delivery bike further and further into the hills until finally he won France’s most prestigious amateur race on it, or the wistful poetic musings of the current crop of the peleton’s self appointed renaissance men, who can’t describe a race without saying how ‘beautiful’ everything from the dirt to the manhole covers along the roads were.

But, that is exactly what I miss. The rides I spend alone, where the physical rhythm of riding allows my brain to relax into it’s most useful and creative state, the hours I spend going through albums on my iPod and listening, really listening to them, the endless myriad of thoughts and ponderings that go on during the periods splendid isolation that the bike gives me.

Part of something and yet part of nothing, I love riding alone, I love the view it gives me, I love the thoughts I chase myself around the countryside with and then discard on the cutting room floor. I think I love the distance too, it’s a really simple thing, and I always know where I am and exactly how far form home I am, and how long it will take me to get anywhere, but I love the fact that I get to distance myself from where I dwell the rest of the time.

When I can’t ride my world really noticeably shrinks, and even though it’s a pretty cool world to hang out in, I like to be able to slip out and take myself off to for a little while. It’s certainly not the only reason I ride, but it’s one I’m looking forward to appreciating very soon.

Go easy, step lightly, stay free – The Clash