Monday, 16 July 2012

No Line On The Horizon

I watch the Tour and I think about Bradley Wiggins. I think about his meteoric rise to where he is today, and how it seemed to come at such a late stage of his career. The Wiggins who was racing when I was, some 6 years ago, was the Wiggins who would come a hundred and something-or-other in the Giro, and would occasionally pick up a stage win in a week-long stage race, before mumbling something about the track and disappearing for a while.

In a way, many people pigeonholed Wiggins right there and then, and to them, nothing about the former track-man winning the Tour makes sense. But there is no accounting for what goes on in someone’s head, and Bradley Wiggins is a man who has long since had vision beyond his apparent horizons.

A friend of mine told me a story about Bradley Wiggins once. We were on the U23 national team, and we would only see Bradley occasionally when he would come and dabble on the road for a bit. I think by that stage he was already at La Francais des Jeux, and we were already all mightily impressed that he was wearing Pro Tour shorts and had bleached his hair like the pros did in 2003.

Anyway, on one of these trips my mate had roomed with Wiggins. When he came up in conversation at a later date, at some dinner table somewhere, he had said in absolute awe, “You know, when we were sharing a room once I asked him, ‘Brad do you think you could ever win the Tour one day?”

This, remember was at a time when Wiggins was focused on the track, and the only murmurs he had made about being good on the road had seemed more like lip service to his profession for the three non-Olympic years each cycle.

To my friends amazement though Wiggins response was thus, “He put his book down, considered the question, looked at me, and just said ‘Yeah, maybe one day- if everything goes right.”

It astounded my friend, because he really meant it. What astounded me was the fact that Wiggins mind hadn’t worked like the rest of ours. Normally, you start off believing you can win the Tour when you are a kid, and then you race more and more, and you get good, but you discover at some stage your level and your ambitions match that.

For most riders, this is formed in their first few years of getting a kicking in the pro peloton. The hiding’s you take temper your goals, and you learn what you could one day possibly win, and what remains way beyond your grasp. For most riders, the question ‘could you win the Tour?’ becomes a stupid one beyond the age of nineteen or twenty.

For Wiggins though, despite his apparent early limitations as a road rider, his goal remained winning the biggest race on earth. He has always seen himself as the rider he is now; it was just us, perhaps, who didn’t see it.

In a weeks time, everything could have conspired to go right, and whether he knew it or not those ten long years ago, should Wiggins win, it will, in my mind, remain testament to one thing; the indubitable power of innate self-belief. 

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

This Land Is Your Land

Sometimes you hear something you've heard a thousand times and you get it for the very first time.

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

That struck me as the most incredible bit of songwriting. 

'Strolling, rolling, calling' 


Saturday, 16 June 2012

What I talk about when I steal from Murakami...

... and talk about running. 
I did a running race the other day, well I say race. I don’t know that I would actually call it that, perhaps more of a mass participation event.

I didn’t really have a competitive desire to be involved in racing again so soon, I think some folks are naturally incredibly competitive, while others, such as myself, actually get a little worn out with competing day in and day out for 17 years.

However, I had coaxed my girlfriend into doing the Bristol 10k as a way of having a goal to set herself to train up for, and naturally, I had in turn been coaxed into taking part myself.

It seemed pretty easy really, the coaxing was perhaps the hardest part of the whole thing, but as a recently retired full time athlete you would think it should be.

But, what struck me while doing the run, and trying to talk my girlfriend through it, was that I am not normal and neither was anyone who I have worked alongside throughout most of my adult life.

By about the 6km mark, Georgie was beginning to struggle, and I was trying to get her to lift the pace to make sure she ran a time that she would be proud of.

For her it was a decent achievement to be doing the 10k with little notice and less preparation, regardless, I knew she was fit enough to do it, and do it respectably. So I pushed her a little, increasing the pace gradually up each drag, and all the time steadily lifting the pace toward the final kilometre when I knew adrenaline and crowds would get her through.

And yet she suffered. Of course she suffered, but what the athlete inside of me just couldn’t comprehend was how little she seemed to be suffering. She could still talk, she hadn’t thrown up, she was composed, and all that was really hurting her was a burning in her lungs and the thudding of the pavement.

I couldn’t understand it: it seemed to me that she wasn’t pushing herself at all.

I thought to the days that I had pushed myself on a bike, not only in races but up and down hillsides in the middle of nowhere, with no-one watching, and no-one timing me, and there being no other goal than a virtually abstract bunch of numbers and figures that I had set for myself in my head, with the sole purpose being to improve myself enough that I could then push myself further the next time.

I thought about those moments I’d been stationery in a garage staring at a sweat drenched heart rate monitor counting down the final twenty seconds of an effort that made my heart beat as many times in a minute as it possibly could; burning, dying, fighting, aching…

I was frustrated because I thought, ‘if you don’t push yourself now, you’ll finish and be disappointed. It has to be now, now, now.’ The thing was, when we run together casually all that pushing is never, ever an issue to me at all, I listen when I am asked to slow, we talk - I enjoy the experience, but the fact that there was a finish line there changed me.

I am no runner by any stretch, but that part of me that had been encouraged so much throughout my life as a cyclist was awoken. As soon as the finish line was in my mind, for some strange reason I had been prepared to push myself to the limit of my physical abilities to cross it in as little time as possible.

The difference between my girlfriend and me though at that stage suddenly seemed two-fold. As a normal, happily balanced human being, she had never had the need, nor desire, to physically push herself to her limits so- as far as she was concerned- she was trying hard as hard as she could. Also as a normal, happily balanced human being, she knew that the finish line wasn’t the only thing in the universe, and that life would go on if she was beaten by the group of strangers I had randomly picked out on the start line and said “right, we just have to beat, him, him, her and him.”

And there it was, the difference between athletes and others perhaps. The fact that you just push so far for so long, that hurting yourself in ways that others couldn’t imagine becomes such routine that when you aren’t doing it, anything else feels like you aren’t trying. 

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Truth Revisited.

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.