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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a cycling manifesto

a cycling manifesto

Cycling requires honesty.  That climb hurt? You haven’t trained hard enough.  That descent was slow?  You’re not brave enough.  A vote for Brexit, a fear of immigrants the rise of extremism?  Democracy has failed.  Our elected representatives have taken the easy options.

Cycling from London to Luxembourg (330 miles in 3 days / 4 countries in 3 days) had everything.  Gruelling climbs and exhilarating descents, beauty and decay, physical devastation and mental strength. Everything together on one ride.  A country is a bit like that: rich and poor, rural and urban, young and old.  All having to rub along in the same space and time.

10 hour cycling days afford a lot of time for reflection.  By the end of the trip I knew exactly what needed to be done.

My 53/39 Chainset needs to be swapped for 52/36, the corroded Di2 battery needs replacing and 11 speed would be nice.  Whilst I’m at it I need to take a long hard look at myself, dropping some weight (obviously), strengthening legs and training intelligently wouldn’t leave me falling out the back of the peloton every time the road goes upwards.

A simple systematic and honest approach.

I’m hoping whoever holds the keys to 10 Downing Street tomorrow morning does the same.  A map of poverty in the UK would be a good place to start.  It would correlate strongly with maps of sub-standard housing, low life expectancy, high unemployment, entrenched benefits dependency and hot spots for extremism.

Put simply, if people live in a decaying, degrading, demoralising environment they will become disillusioned, despairing and dangerous.

Take the challenge head on, no short cuts.

The most deprived areas of the country need to be prioritised for fundamental improvement.  Improvements in housing, healthcare and education infrastructure.  All would bring better standards of living, employment and have a positive impact on communities (and lesson the anger).

Charleroi, sits approximately half way between Calais and Luxembourg.  It’s Belgium’s 4th largest city and the largest in the region of Wallonia.  As we cycled the last few KM of a 200KM+ ride, make that dragged ourselves homeward, we passed through the imposing remnants of Charleroi’s heavy industrial past.

The rusting hulks of factories and plants were as breath-taking as they were imposing as they were sad.  Those derelict machines are not coming back to life, the jobs they demanded likewise.  Monuments to the past are their best role now.

The UK has tracts of Industrial Legacy too.  A map of these would correlate to that map of poverty too.

Yesterday lunchtime, for the first time, the UK sourced the majority of its energy from renewables (50.001%) and in doing so provided a glimpse of the future and a solution for now.

The UK’s rich industrial heritage needs a reboot.  Rather than mourn the loss of jobs in 19th/20th Century Industries, reminisce for the glories of the Industrial Revolution, there should be investment in the industry, manufacturing and technologies of the future, centred on the map of ‘communities targeted for rebirth’.

Taking the lead in 21st Century technologies – renewable, environmental, lifesaving – would give the UK something to be proud of and believe in.  Other Nations would take note and follow.

If you put the hard miles in, work intelligently there is no need to feel fear or anger for the future.

Of course this isn’t a Manifesto for Cycling.  Where are the demands for investment in segregated cycle-ways with super smooth tarmac and priority traffic lights?  Sometimes the needs of others need to be prioritised first and the 10 Downing Street key-holder needs to put the needs of their supporters aside to break up current divisions and make a real and positive change.

(My bike is in for a full groupset re-haul with the best of the old groupset being donated to the mechanic doing the work so that he can build up a bike and join us on our rides, just maybe not the 330 miles in 3 day ones).

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the importance of backing up

the importance of backing up

Monday is the worst day for me to get on my bike.  Firstly, it’s Monday.  First day back at work.  If I’m lucky I’ve had a long ride on Sunday.  Not forgetting the destination is work.  Did I mention work already?  Did I mention I don’t want to go to work on Monday?  (I’ve not landed my dream job of being paid to write about cycling. Yet!)

If I rode MTB then I’m doubly reluctant or simply unable to drag myself out of bed, kit up and ride to work.  More likely I’m feeling like I’ve been run over by the bus I need to catch to the train station.

Monday morning trains run chaotic. Worse than usual.  Of course, it’s the Train Drivers first day back too.  I’m guessing many of them don’t want to go to work either, their boyhood dreams of being a train driver have long evaporated under the onslaught of the early morning alarm.

The sardined passengers are in a worse mood than usual too on a Monday, many sense of humours have been lost in the act of getting out of the wrong side of the bed.

Riding then makes best sense.  It also makes sense in the case of ‘backing up’ – riding for a few days in a row – between scheduled and well needed rest days.

Often the http://thebicyclemoaningcollective.com big summer rides are big multi day affairs – 300 miles in 3 days –  long days in the saddle, or consecutive assaults on big mountains.  Backing up in training is essential.

It’s quite clear the Democrats didn’t back up.  True they put 2 hard terms together thanks to their star player: Obama.  However, they didn’t look far enough ahead, they rested on their laurels, they failed to back-up for when the big test came along.

Here’s some very unscientific research to substantiate my weak hypothesis.

Rewind Saturday Night Live to pre-Barack, 2008, watch Tina Fey lampoon then Vice Presidential Candidate Sarah Palin, sit back and enjoy the comedy gold.  Fast forward to the 2016 US election, sub Fey with Alec Baldwin and the jokes are the same.

What’s going on?  Different but the same message.  Lazy SNL script writing or did Barack’s two lauded terms fail to help Good Ol’ Joe Six-Pack and make America Great Again?!

Back in 2008 the SNL team had a lot of material with the ‘Washington Outsider’ stuff, ‘Joe Six-pack’ as the Republicans targeted the traditional blue collar vote.  Sound familiar? Maybe I shouldn’t take my political insight from SNL but essentially SNL lampooned the same electoral message in 2008 as they did in 2016!

There it is.  Indisputable.  The Democrats had plenty of warning, at least 8 years.  They can’t then be surprised that the same disenchanted, alienated voters targeted by the Republicans in 2008 were the same disenchanted/alienated voters in 2016.  They’re still there, just more so, the so called Deplorables.

(Note to Hilary: don’t insult the voters that you need to vote for you to win).

The Democrats got lazy, got complacent. They didn’t clock up the hard miles in training so that they could put a run of strong back to back performances together.  They resorted to the classic under-trained cyclist’s desperate solution: throw money at the problem.

How often does that work?

the bubble bursts

the bubble bursts

Last Sunday as I charged past yet another beat up old boat, rusting, rotting, covered in grimy tarpaulins and assorted debris (old bikes, chairs, pipes etc) – and obviously occupied – I understood Trump could win. People are living in desperate conditions.  Now. Today. In Great Britain.

They’re also living in run down garages, shacks and sheds (that wouldn’t look out of place in a shanty town) in the gardens backing onto the canal. Now. Today. In Great Britain.

This is the same country where a homeowner can be forced to give up their own home to build a runway (by the same politician who said they wouldn’t have to).

Remember in the USA its BREXIT plus plus plus. Supersized.

In an idle moment of curious voyeurism have you clicked through to: “You won’t believe this: derelict stadium / derelict shopping mall / derelict factory / derelict neighbourhood”? The photos are brutal and real and now in the United States of America – the ruler of the free world.

No wonder people in the ‘Developed World’ are angry with the establishment, the political elite, their elected representatives who just do whatever the hell they like (or as they are told to by their party-donor paymasters).

 We’re ripe and simmering for revolution.

And there has been a revolution. Just not the one we needed, wanted or hoped for but it was the one we got and arguably deserved. 

The question is why? Why when democracy has served up the opportunity for a protest vote:

  • Is the candidate of tried and tested ‘fear and hate’ the most attractive?
  •  Is there no alternative offering hope and goodwill?
  •  Is it a surprise that the status quo isn’t as appealing as loud, brash, rabble rousing change?
  • When we want change we entrust the hardliners to deliver?

From despair comes desperation, desperation leads to taking risks. Its lead to BREXIT and Trump.

Free to ride my bike on a Sunday morning (because I’m lucky enough to be able to enjoy leisure time) I saw outside of my bubble and glimpsed desperation and understood a little better why BREXIT and Trump.

political sludge keeps us riding

political sludge keeps us riding

September 2016 was a personal milestone. I turned 40.  What long seemed impossible, was always inevitable.  The mountain I’d built in my path turned out to be a gentle ripple.  The world didn’t stop and my legs are still spinning my pedals.  My monument isn’t the only Impossible that has become the Inevitable.  It was impossible that the UK would vote for BREXIT.  It was impossible that the Labour party vote the unelectable Corbyn as their leader twice.  It’s impossible that the US will vote for Trump. Isn’t it…?

Cycling past the Houses of Parliament I wonder what’s happening in Western Democracies? The accepted wisdom is that these are protest votes by the electorate to give the political establishment a bloody nose.  If this is true then it is a high risk strategy.  This means does not necessarily justify the end.  The results to date are that the UK has voted to exit the EU without a clearly defined exit strategy i.e. a vote for the unknown.  Labour has voted for a leader (and entourage) that is stuck in a 1970s time-warp to regain their party’s socialist heritage i.e. 2 steps forward, 3 steps back.  The USA is quite possibly going to vote for Braggadocious Lunatic instead of an experienced politician because she represents corrupt Washington and he represents the anti-establishment and offers no nonsense change (according to Trump himself).

If this a strange and worrying state of affairs why has no one done anything to stop it? In a globalised ever-changing world politicians are the very slow to change.  In the UK we’ve long been stuck in a political sludge, with just two established political parties of two extremes. The Left and the Right.  The vast majority of us are not similarly polarised.  Love him or loathe him, Tony Blair understood this and created New Labour that in the early days was as close to everything for everyone as you can be.

Why is no one filling the gaping void now?  Our politicians are stuck in a binary inertia. When Apple, Facebook, Google have gone from small tech-start ups to Global Super Powers in a relatively short time, why can’t a new political party(ies) make themselves legitimate in a similarly short responsive time frame?

Why hasn’t Hilary sought to distance herself from being a full-paid up member of the Washington elite?  Maybe she can’t or would be even less trusted if she did but it must be easier to convince US voters that she does represent change and a fresh direction than for Trump to convince US voters he could be the President of the USA.  Whilst Trump has spun, morphed and trampled over his own words over and over again to catch any passing tide of momentum Hilary has stayed Hilary.

As I stop, waiting for the lights to allow me to proceed I worry in another direction, if these protests votes build an unstoppable momentum and the impossible/unthinkable continue to, why aren’t those with true power doing anything about it?  Surely the mega-corporates, the political dynasties, the secret societies don’t want the global disruption that a Trump presidency would trigger?

Which makes me conclude that none of it really matters, that it doesn’t matter who is President of the United States, it doesn’t matter which colour of political party is in power, it doesn’t matter which common market a country is a member, none of this can disrupt the entrenched status quo.

What can be done?  Same as when I hit 40: Keep calm and ride your bike.

let them wear lycra

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It’s not gone away yet and it will probably never go away, the knowledge, the feeling that when you catch sight of yourself in the mirror as you head out the door for a ride – there is something very amusing about cycling attire. The shoes that make you walk precariously, less graciously than a pair of 6 inch heels (I’m guessing here), the resulting wobbliness accentuates the lycra-clad form, opening up cyclists to further ridicule.

If that wasn’t enough, the whole looks is quite possibly worsened by garish colours, topped off by big sun glasses (even in winter) and a bulbous helmet, which even though it unquestionably saves lives doesn’t help the overall look.  Sure, some guys and girls look great in head to toe lycra but most of us don’t.  It can be a uniform: I’m a cyclist and proud. Or it can be a statement of intent: I know I’m out-of-shape but I’m doing something about it.  Or it can just be the most comfortable and practical clothing to wear on a  bike.  But it’s our choice.

Imagine if we couldn’t choose what we wanted to wear on our bikes. If politicians decreed that wearing lycra is offensive and not in the public interest (there are many I am sure that would argue that this is the case). Thankfully that hasn’t happened yet to the minority group known as: Cyclists.  But it is happening in France to Muslim women – probably one of the most subjugated minorities in the world.

I’m not wholly sure why, Muslim women are not allowed to enjoy the beach, to sunbathe or swim in the sea whilst wearing a burkhini.  I do understand that France is a secular society and that the ban is not national but locally imposed on the beaches of the South of France.  I also know that the burkhini was designed to promote inclusion, to allow Muslim Women to join their non-Muslim friends on the beach whilst not falling foul of the religious rules that they abide to.  That’s got to be a good thing, right?

Instead it is being used to further repress a small minority who need help rather than persecution and humiliation.  Surely there are better ways to target Islamic extremism. The ban on the burkhini and the public bullying of the women who wish to wear them by the authorities can only exacerbate rather than cure.

Next time I waddle into a pub or cafe in my lycra, sweaty and bulging, attracting the inevitable amused side-glances and giggles, I’ll return the grins with my own, safe in the knowledge that the police are unlikely to force me to publicly remove an item of lycra clothing perceived as undermining national identity.

another way

another way

I’ve learnt a new word. It was repeated multiple times on the mountain roads I cycled during this year’s Tour de France (when France welcomes the World). It was strangely familiar, I’d heard and spoken a similar sounding word myself before.

Normally it’s French words that are anglicised to effect a certain Je ne sais quoi. This time the French have adapted the English word: FREXIT. Maybe in Germany (DEUXIT), Italy (ITXIT) and Spain (ESPANXIT) similar words are daubed large in heavy set white letters on their mountain roads for cyclists to read. Why are they telling cyclists that they wish to free from the supranational shackles of the EU? Is it because as cyclists we’re continually seeking a freedom of sorts too? More probably because the eyes of the World through the lens of TV cameras suspended from multiple hovering helicopters, will be focused on the mountain roads too. 

Against the mesmerising mountains it looked alien, ugly and in your face: FREXIT (Libre Savoie was much less so, cute even). Out of place in the context of the inherent internationalism of the Tour de France. Riders from America, Russia, Columbia, Scandinavia, France, Italy, Spain & Great Britain (the Great somehow seeming incongruous and out dated) in the same peloton even in the same team working to achieve a collective goal. How often does the Breakaway get away? How many GC contenders solo to victory without their team? Not impossible but not often.

Spectators from all over the world flock to France, supporting riders from countries other than their own, looking past nationality to the heart of their chosen rider, backing them because of their riding style, swagger, temperament, their feats in the face of pain, even just the bike they ride or their record (Palmares (exotic French word)). We’re free to choose, not restricted to just supporting our fellow country men.

So why, when a nation becomes discontent does it turn inward and dismiss the outside world? Nationalism is portrayed as the answer to but it has all so often turned ugly. Whilst technology is pushing aside national boundaries, breaking down barriers, racing towards globalisation, deep down human nature leans towards tribalism. When disenchanted, seemingly threatened we seek identity and safety within our own pack.

Politicians know this. They are skilled in creating fear of ‘the other’. During the EU Referendum, our ‘other’ were the ‘job stealing immigrants’. Trump is championing Muslims as his ‘convenient other’ threatening the American way of life. To be honest we’ve got history in Europe, we’ve written the book on the politics of fear, using fear to gain popularity. We’ve readily walked that thin line that leads towards ethnic cleansing and genocide before.

Don’t worry, we’re sophisticated, developed nations. We won’t fall in to that trap again. We learn from our mistakes, history doesn’t repeat itself, does it? The true success of the maligned EU project has been its success in preventing (another) catastrophic war between ever squabbling nations. I am not sure why that is not more widely acknowledged.

Tormented by the hard climb, tormented by Dom and The Doog disappearing up the road above me, tormented by FREXIT, my mood has turned black as I finally crest the summit where I celebrate with a drink (stale, warm electrolyte), take my summit photos (monumental), another drink (chocolat chaud avec expresso – I’m introducing Café Mocha to France a Col at a time), eat an energy bar (soggy). No time left for a baguette jambon et fromage as the others have scoffed in the time it has taken me to catch back up to them. Clip in and descend.

This is true freedom. Pure excitement, earned and paid for. Nothing else matters other than staying away from the precipitous drop, the slippery white lines, the cracks in the road surface, gravel in the corners and soft, melting asphalt. Nothing other than enjoying the controlled exhilarating madness of descending a hair-pinned, switchbacked, off camber, mountain roller coaster from mountain top to valley floor.

Within the safety of the gorge, a tumbling meltwater fuelled river to my right I’d forgotten about FREXIT/BREXIT. On the mountain I’ve found the answer. When life becomes a cruel, endless grind, misery and resentment builds. When life is exciting, exhilarating, challenging it dissipates. Politicians don’t need to stoop to stoking the flames of fear to create unity. There is another way: energise and excite, create that elusive feel good factor that can unite a nation. Of course politicians know this too. It’s a space race or other vanity endeavour (like hosting the Olympics).

Conveniently we already have our national project: BREXIT. Rather than use it to curl up into an isolated little ball, closing out the outside world, it could be the vehicle to re-tool, re-focus, re-build, re-energise our curmudgeonly, insular, stuck in the past, clinging to former Imperial-glories nation. Make it current, on trend, world leading, prosperous even. BREXIT is a legitimate ‘once in a generation’ unifying challenge, adventure even, more legitimate than going to Mars or bagging a fistful of gold medals.

Our BREXIT project should have our children’s futures at its core, it can be exciting, collective, deliver national pride. What about a British-devised solution to climate change, cost effective supersonic travel, mass water purification in the Developing World, a new sustainable fuel source etc etc? That’s just the stuff I came up with at 60kmh on the down side of the Col de la Colombiere. There’s no limit to the potential, only our ambition.