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 Echelon-velo.co.uk 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…’