political cycles

political cycles

Cycling politics. Political cycles. Forever intertwined.

Government and Cycling share a common problem: when the politics becomes the story, the main event, the only talking point.

They’ve both lost their Raison D’être.

Exhibit A. Peter Sagan. Stage 4. The intervention of the Administrators robbed the Tour of Cycling’s World Champion and most charismatic rider. Or to put it bluntly: the biggest name in cycling. The irony was the initial penalty was universally accepted. A significant point loss, hurting Sagan’s inevitable charge into the Green Jersey (that could’ve spiced things up!). Video evidenced debunked the claim of a malicious elbow, instead closer inspection showed Sagan’s elbow hooked on Cavendish’s shifter being pulled outwards. The UCI Race Jury could’ve let it be. Instead we lost 2 Galacticos overnight. The Tour, the cycling (i.e. the important bit) is lesser for it.

Exhibit B. Boris Johnson.  This guy saw the EU Referendum as an opportunity to make a smash grab for Prime Minister. Having become the Poster Boy of Brexit, he didn’t get down to making good on the £350m for the NHS. Instead he and his soon to be ex-Best Friend started squabbling about who should be the next Prime Minister (after Cameron had done a runner). When they’d done with stabbing themselves in the back neither was Prime Minister, neither had a plan for Brexit.

Exhibit C. Nacer Bouhanni. Stage 10. After booting out Sagan from this year’s Tour de France the UCI’s race jury found forgiveness in their capricious hearts. The fiery (and unintentionally comical and irrelevant at the same time) Bouhanni might’ve punched Jack Bauer. A 200 CHF fine and a minute time penalty won’t stop him trying to do it again. Inconsistent administration is distracting. We shouldn’t need to be talking about it.

Exhibit D. Theresa May. The Maybot is the story, her precarious grip on power the drama, her inevitable downfall at the hands of her own treacherous party the obvious conclusion to a sorry tale of arrogance and ineptitude. After the ‘step back in time’ grammar school policy what else has the May Premiership offered? Brexit means Brexit means Brexit. That’s a sound bite not a policy. Strong and stable, strong and stable. Whilst none of her would be executioners have her balls to execute a coup (or simply don’t fancy the poison chalice of being Prime Minister right now), her drawn out political execution is standing in the way of government by her self-centred Government.

Exhibit E. Uran, Bennett but not Romain Bardet. Stage 9. This dastardly trio dared to take on food / water from a third party as they battled through the final gruelling Kilometres of the stage – in Bardet’s case a water bottle from some bloke on the road side. How dare he? It seems a poor rule, contrary to rider welfare but rules are rules. Unless of course you are the French favourite in a French cycle race. Despite all three being caught on camera only Uran and Bennett were penalised. Then as even the UCI Race Jury realised how this might look, rather than bang Barnet with a penalty they repealed all penalties. Bardet’s finish on that mountain runaway was spectacular, instead we’re obsessing about confused and, inconsistent race officiating.

Exhibit F. Jeremy Corbyn. You don’t have to agree with his politics to admire Jezza and his cussedness. He stuck to his guns when even his own MPs were calling for him to go. In spite of the Front Bench / Back Bench rebellions he’s created a truly socialist political party differentiated from New Labour’s copy of the central / moderate reaches of the Tory Party. The infighting has been the story, the ongoing drama of Labour’s soap opera concealed the fact that Corbyn’s policies are unaffordable (and really only attractive to anyone who doesn’t pay tax). The cult of personality surrounding Corbyn sees the important interrogation of his policies a low priority versus ‘will he won’t he survive another coup?

Exhibit G. Unwritten Rules. This Tour. The unwritten rules of the Tour seem to be more comprehensive and less flexible than the actual real rules of the Tour. In F1 if the race leader gets a puncture the whole race doesn’t stop and stand on ceremony. If the race leader has a mechanical. Tough. Everyone else just gets on with the racing and the Team go back to base and figure out how to prevent that mechanical happening again. Time to rip up the unwritten rules and let rip with the racing.

Exhibit H. Trump. His election and the smoke that shrouds Russia’s alleged meddling in the 2016 refuses to disperse. The insinuation of collusion, real or otherwise taints his Presidency and whilst it continues to do so his opponents can look on smugly. Job done. As Trump and his inner circle firefight the flames licking at their personal reputations, they surely can’t get on with building walls and Making America Great Again. Policies, good or bad are stuck in the political sludge.

Please, Administrators / Public Servants when Tomorrow’s newspaper headlines are going to be all about you – think – get a grip of yourself and focus on what we should all really be talking about: a fantastic Tour de France

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FOMO: London to Amsterdam / 24 hours in the life of a support rider

FOMO: London to Amsterdam / 24 hours in the life of a support rider

I missed the send-off. Inevitable when buying 100 Tesco Meal Deals (100 sandwiches / wraps / pasta dishes, 100 drinks and 100 snacks! Food of champions). I didn’t get to see the Official team photo, the Tour de France-style chalked pavement, the cheering, flag waving kids giving their parents a Geweldige Start (Dutch for Grand depart. Destination London to Amsterdam. Not Paris). 


It wasn’t the last thing I was going to miss on the Thompson House Parents’ London to Amsterdam 24-hour Cycle Challenge (one of the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Sponsored Rides for Schools).   

Next up was the relaxed coffee / lunch break in the Hare & Hounds just around the corner from the school. The strict 24-hour challenge schedule meant that the Geweldige Start was more of a prologue as our riders headed straight to the pub.  

For everyone but me that is. I had those last-minute things that always need to be ferried to and from the support vans before they headed off across London. Lunch was a hastily made honey sandwich, wolfed down so that I didn’t miss my crew’s rollout. I hoped it was going to be enough to fuel me to Harwich. I hoped my stress levels were going to subside before Harwich too.   

No chance. From East Sheen to Harwich via 30 kilometres of Inner London. Through Clapham, past haunts of our distant youth. We all missed those days. We missed more than 1 green light as we cut east, south of the river, battling through Friday gridlock, London is far from a fluid cycling city. We were mostly seeing red. 

Looking back now, it was tough, maybe the toughest bit of the ride. We didn’t miss London once we’d successfully traversed it, from Putney, through Elephant and Castle and out past the Olympic Village.

Chigwell onwards we felt free, released from our urban shackles. Next stop Chelmsford. It was hot. Some of my group were feeling the pace. The afternoon break couldn’t come soon enough. A Tesco Meal Deal was never so tempting. Of course, we missed the designated stop. 

Then my Crankset fell out of the Bottom Bracket. During a humiliating dressing down at Evanscycles Chelmsford, I was told I was missing spacers (I took it humbly and thankfully – the Evanscycles boys kept me in the ride). Key Learning Point: don’t ride without testing new kit first. A new Ultegra di2 groupset is a good thing, when it’s had a few KMs to bed in. 

I never did get my afternoon meal deal. Instead, being last man on the road and a lowly Support Rider (abandoned by my Ride Director), I had to chase back hard for 30km. Like a lone breakaway (just at the back). I didn’t miss the Ferry but many of the front group had missed the memo about heading for dinner at the passenger ferry terminal and were enjoying post ride refreshments in the old port district of Harwich. Off I went to collect. 

I didn’t miss out on a mild hangover the next morning having missed the opportunity for an early night. If you look after the guys on the road they’ll look after you in the bar. I had to rely on electrolytes and hard riding, my sure fire cure for my post ride excesses the night before. I did miss our very own BMC Missile, he’d got the train home the night before. It meant that I had to move up to the front group. I’d did my best to hold their rear wheel and offer ‘support’ from back of the group. Besides they seemed content enough to do the hard work. 

The Dutch side of the route was all segregated cycle path. Surprisingly difficult to follow through the towns. Cycling on the road is the Dutch equivalent of a faux pas. We did our best to abide the rules of the cycle path even when the cycle paths became unruly, cutting through the coastal sand dunes, rolling and pitching like the waves to our left. I’d missed this, a 50km bike park entirely dedicated to the cyclist. 

Thank God I missed the bollard that appeared from behind the rear wheel of the bike in front. How I don’t know. It would’ve been nasty. I thanked mountain biking for honing my bike handling. (Later Stevo wasn’t so lucky. He didn’t miss the kerb, he hit it square on. Snapping his bike in half. There’s not much worse than can happen to a Support Rider. He jumped on a spare bike and gave chase in his torn and ripped Lycra. Catching up just in time for the photos). 

With the clock ticking down, ever closer to the 24 deadline the decision was taken to crack on without the missing back-markers. Controversial. As long as it wasn’t the Support Riders decision, we just did what we were told, just went with the flow, put the hard work in at the front or dropped back and brought the stragglers back up to the main group. It’s hard graft this support riding lark. 

The run in to Amsterdam was pan flat (as you’d expect), tracking the canals into central Amsterdam. Progress slowed as we got closer to the Central Station, delicately negotiating the traditional Dutch bikes hogging the cycle paths.   


Thompson House had done it. In 24 hours. The champagne flowed and cameras clicked. All that was left was to load the vans. Our stay in Amsterdam would total 30 minutes, we’d miss the celebrations on the roof top bar and the boat cruise. With Stevo’s bike folded in half and forced into the small gap remaining in 1 of the vans we were heading for home. What could possibly go wrong now? Job done.   

What about missing 3 bikes? That will be it. We spotted them in the rear view mirror just as we pulled away. They were loaded somewhat more carefully than Stevo’s and with only a ferry left to miss we battled out of Amsterdam, hit the Autoroute hard and hurtled towards Calais.  

Why the rush? It was Father’s Day the next day and I didn’t want to miss that. 

Congratulations to Thompson House School. Their dedication to training, riding and fundraising was exemplary.  Hoed (chapeau in Dutch).

Trinity Primary School:  Henley to Paris 2017

Trinity Primary School:  Henley to Paris 2017

However much you look forward to your London to Paris cycle challenge – 1 of the true monuments of cycling challenges – there is a dark shadow that hangs over every aspect. From training in the depths of winter, the beastings in the spin studio through to packing your kit the night before the Grand Depart.

The Newhaven to Dieppe 2300 ferry night crossing. It can’t be trained for.

Imagine then your departure point is Henley Upon Thames. Adding a draining 50km to the parcours. With the dreaded night on the floor getting ever closer with every pedal stroke. The triumph of reaching Newhaven is muted. Even the bonus shower in Newhaven’s finest hotel (Premier Inn) and a feast at Newhaven’s finest eatery (Brewers Fayre) can’t wash away the foreboding that prior knowledge of inevitable sleepless night brings. Just ask any parent.

The day’s ride (a damn good one) quickly falls into the distant past as you watch, confused, as apparently more knowing cyclists perform strange stretching exercises whilst balancing their backsides on strange shaped rubber balls, as you struggle to keep your eyes open first in the plastic seats (nearly as uncomfortable as a saddle) in the DFDS holding bay – I mean the passenger ferry terminal, before finally your transported on the DFDS cattle truck (sorry bus) onboard the ferry. Finally.

It’s a shame. Any route that cuts through Oxfordshire, Berkshire, Surrey and both the Sussex-es can’t be bad. True there was ‘Death Valley’ (aka the road to Twyford) to be survived, the TTT along Drift road to be endured and multiple stretch-hummers (on the way to Royal Ascot) to be avoided but on the whole Day 1 was not far off the Best of British. Even Crocknorth was met with a smile – or was that a grimace?

Then it happens. It’s as bad as you think it’s going to be. You’d been promised cabin. Or as good as. It’s the floor then. ‘Why did I sign up to this.’ you ask as your eyes don’t close as soon as your head hits your inflated pillow. At least your head is awash with images from the send off, your kids looking up at you proudly. The send off was unforgettable. That’s why you signed up.

Then the French bit of the ride happens.

Dieppe is quiet at dawn. Its race course deserted. The 30-odd strong peloton rolls through town. En masse. As one. For approximately 10 minutes before the selection. The Mountain Bike in 1 group, everyone else in the other. 

Even that collective didn’t last. There were soon lots of groups. Whether separated by metres or miles they are all joined in their awe of the traffic free roads (it was only 6am after all), the radiant sunrise and the super smooth tarmac. All the fuss about the ferry had hidden the fact that ride between Dieppe and Paris is one of the best. 24 hour challenge or not, it should be ridden by everyone. It’s got everything, climbs that hurt more than enough, descents that excite just enough, cutting through scenery that makes you feel good to be alive.

Everything you need, except somewhere to buy a coffee and croissant. It wasn’t until 50km in that rural France shook of its sleep. Buchy represented the first sign of life, a bustling market where you could buy an eclectic mix of vintage bikes, ski boots, agricultural equipment, fireplaces. You just wanted coffee. You gulped it down quickly in its flimsy plastic cup if you wanted to get back on the road and drive on for Gisors (to watch the 1st Lions Test). You took your time in the morning sunshine if you just wanted a second coffee.

If Henley to Paris isn’t the normal London to Paris, neither is racing on to Gisors to watch Rugby. The Lions versus All Blacks 1st Test. But you did. You probably also had pizza and a couple of pints before the final run into Paris from Poissy whilst the rest of the Peloton caught up in time to join your second pint.

Then it was just Paris or bust. 30 riders snaking through the Parisian traffic, with tiredness, heat, hunger, excitement taking grip of your senses. Of course there was a puncture less than a kilometre from the finish line. That just preceded the crash at the finish line.

With all riders accounted for (“never leave anyone behind”), you’ve created a new monument in more ways than 1 way: A prayer at send off, a police escort, lucrative jersey sponsorship, a BMC 24-hour distance record, a fixie and a mountain bike with Tri-bars, homecoming in the Reading FC team bus, leaving bikes in the ‘Hands of God’.   

It’s hard to know how to follow that. Where to next? Bring it on. (Just not on the Newhaven to Dieppe Ferry).

And here’s proper report: https://www.henleyherald.com/2017/06/29/trinity-fundraisers-conquer-24-hour-cycle-paris/

London to Luxembourg 2017: dictation

London to Luxembourg 2017: dictation

Team Kendall edged the Send-Off. With bacon sarnies, not 1 but 2 support vans, a mechanic, masseur and team photo (starring a badly constipated Chard). Not forgetting the 25km less riding than Team Missile riding out from Missile Towers had to knock off before they could even begin to think about catching up with Kendall’s Cohort.

Fuelled by a few donuts leftover from the Missile’s pre-ride midnight feast and verbally abused by 1 of the Missile’s Roehampton neighbours as he drunkenly staggered out of the William Hill (the neighbour not the Missile) the mood was edgy in Team Missile as it battled the South Circular.

No surprise really when you consider Chairman Kendall (Junior’s) ominous designs for the Bicycle Moaning Collective’s Annual 300/3 Tour. Yes, there was the preferential treatment for the Chairman’s Cabal, but even they were not to be spared the ardours of a route that tested then broke, then broke some more even the most gnarled veterans of past BMC tours.

Not to mention the Bear’s newbies, heartlessly abandoned to fend for themselves by their host after the super-hot ride to Dover.

The London to Dover route, familiar and welcome in the unique way that it combines tranquil Kentish lanes with frenetic Kentish A-roads populated by angry Kents*, is nevertheless effective in getting the job of catching a ferry done. The only shadow cast by the scorching sun was that damn Danton Lane climb, never disappointing in its brutality or its picture-postcard view of the Eurotunnel terminal from the top.

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(Dover looked splendid too, that’s not a typo).

 

Don’t mistake this as a letter of complaint or an expression of dissatisfaction. To the contrary. This is the very ideology of a BMC Tour. And we’ve not even got to the Feared (in a good way) Day 2. Day 1 was still to be enjoyed, our BMC Life President had surpassed himself with a quality lakeside retreat (that wouldn’t disappoint an African Despot), to rest weary legs and unwind after the totally unnecessary and wholly predictable race to the finish line by BMC elders who should know better.

Only the most autocratic leader could devise Day 2. 200km gruelling, cooking miles across the Northern extremes of France. Yes, it was flat, yes there were peaceful canals but there were also grassy fields (to be crossed on foot) steep flights of stairs (for bikes to be carried down) crystal meth tunnels to be negotiated. The oppressive heat meant that the BMC was spread out across the length of the bonus cycle tracks, bottles ran dry, sweat poured out – creating a Thai-dye cycle kit of a fashion not seen since the late 1990s.


We’ll never know if those camels were real or a sun-induced mirage.

After avoiding a ‘trench-of-death’ and admiring the Missile’s solo chase to catch the riders he’d generously afforded an unconventional ‘half a kebab head start’ the post-Apocalyptic silhouette of Charleroi was a welcome vision. Towering, derelict industrial relics marked our finish line. More importantly it meant rehydration. Rarely have endurance athletes quenched their thirst so voluminously as Mechanic Glenn worked on the street, attracting a following amongst the interesting locals (that’s interesting not interested).

All that was left of a Day 2 that lived up to its billing, was for Dave-O to have his customary ‘Cycling-Induced Whitey’ and for the really dehydrated to head to Charleroi’s best Irish bar, surely just a coincidence that it was located next to the hotel.

Day 3 should be easy by comparison (if you could get out of the lifts). We even had a local guide. Not since Cologne had the Tour enjoyed indigenous participation. Erwin rode into town on what quite possibly (but was probably not) Cavendish’s spare Cervelo. With its gold chain hinting at superior performance, Erwin’s bike and fresh legs were the envy of the group.

The temperature had dropped but the total scheduled ascent had not. The route profile looked as inviting as a dragon’s back. Only the most heinous Martinet could impose a Day 3 that topped Day 2. 190km better. 3500m ascent much much worse. It was no wonder that the minions dropped their protected ride, it was every man (and minion) for themselves.

But as brutal as it was, Day 3’s route was cycling perfection. Where there was beauty it was swiftly followed by pain. Every mini-alpine-like descent, was cruelly followed by a punchy ascent. Big climbs. Long climbs, stretching for kilometres-climbs.

From ‘kilometre ridiculously early’ the notion of the traditional front, middle or rear group melted into irrelevance. The Ardennes was exacting its toll. Groups were strung out such that membership of any 1 group was a loose concept. This was before Ming the Merciless played his Ace: Montagne de la Croix (Dinant). Short, sharp and wall like. Not great on a bike, not great on foot (in cleats) either. Crampons would’ve been more suitable.

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Post the Wall, inevitably the first rumblings of discontent could be heard. The Regime was close to crumbling, with the battered Peloton reduced to eating 2-day old sausage rolls on the pavement, maybe the Generalissimo had gone too far this time. The grip of his iron fist showed signs of weakening as riders dared to disobey his authority and escape off the front of the subjugated peloton on the final awesome descent into Luxembourg.

But this being a BMC 300/3, when the beers started to flow in the centre of Luxembourg (after a few inevitable diversions), the Wall, the near starvation, the enforced captivity of a young masseur in the back of a van, the double ‘sting in the tail’ climb into Luxembourg was forgotten. Dear Leader that was the toughest 300/3 yet but it might just have been one of the best.

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Thanks to all the BMC Riders, Support Crew and of course Stevo for making London to Luxembourg 2017 some if the best fun you can have for 3 days (on a bike).

 

*Kents: residents of Kent, when positioned behind the wheel of a car, easily mistaken for….