The dangerous summer (revisited, yet again)

1.

In Paul Morand’s story, the ‘Six-Day Night’, part of his ‘Open All Night’ collection published in 1922, the narrator of the story is pursuing a woman named Leah whose companion is taking part in the six-day race at the Vél d’Hiv – the Winter Velodrome – in Paris. Explains Leah: “He’s a stayer, a six-day man. He’s riding a six-day race. What! Never heard of Pattimatheu where you come from?” The narrator follows Leah to the velodrome to see the action. “Shrill whistles pierced the air. There were four thousand yells, Parisian yells, coming from well down in the throat. The sprints began… The sixteen racers repassed unfailingly every twenty seconds in a compact platoon.” Continue reading

Three paras: Cavendish, heroes, Millar

One must confess, dear reader, to being confused as to the motivation behind Mark Cavendish’s book ‘At Speed: My Life in the Fast Lane’ (a big thanks to VeloPress for the review copy). It is a compelling read – as far as cycling autobiographies go – that moves along as swiftly as its author, but still with an engaging narrative (perhaps helped in this department by the ghost writer, the excellent Daniel Friebe). It is not Cavendish’s flouting of tradition where the autobiography comes after retirement, to shine a light behind the scenes of the author’s career (see Charlie Wegelius, for example), or to offer a counter narrative for someone returning to the sport (see David Millar, for example), or to build an epic mythology for blatant self-aggrandizement (see Lance Armstrong, for example). No, there’s nothing wrong with writing the story as it unfolds; and Cavendish is a man in a hurry. What gives rise to confusion is the level of intimacy he’s prepared to share, his own emotional ups-and-downs for starters, but also his unvarnished views of everyone else in the sport. Perhaps it is testament to his talent that he does not need to ‘make nice’ with everyone in cycling while he is still active in the sport. It is hard not to read the book accompanied by the smoke from bridges being burned. We fans are not deserving of such intimate revelations, so why make them? It is possible that Cavendish wishes to control the narrative of his career right here and now, while he has the opportunity. But whether he actually needs to do so, or to do so in this way (even if we as readers get to enjoy all the details), is another question indeed. Continue reading

On the big ring and carbon clinchers

Reader feedback is always satisfying to receive. A recent email posed two questions: how to put into practice the advice put down here to use the big ring at least once on every climb; and your author’s view on carbon clinchers for climbing. Firstly, then, the big ring. Climbing in the big ring is more of a state of mind. As noted here, your author recently swapped in new cassettes with a taller range to allow more big ring climbing (30-12 previously and now a 28-12). This was largely a redundant move as similar ratios to, say, a 50×25 combo can be achieved by staying in the small ring and clicking down the cassette. But there is something satisfying about being able to tackle a climb in the big ring; if you start the climb in a big gear it forces you to do something a bit more interesting on the climb than just sitting and spinning. You might even find yourself at the top of the climb still in the big ring, having even dropped it farther down the cassette. Continue reading

Armstrong 3.0 – part 3 (in 3 paras)

1.

Imagine if you will, dear reader, that Armstrong stepped off his bike early in 1998, having successfully recovered from his cancer and returned to pro bike racing, and announced his retirement. Mission accomplished. No Vuelta that year, and certainly no Tour wins from 1999 to 2005. Imagine that he instead turned to establishing his cancer foundation, which did not become the ubiquitous yellow-armband wielding entity it became with his Tour fame but a smaller, no less dedicated, institution focusing on men’s health. Perhaps he returned to triathlon, competing successfully and winning several high-profile events. As a result, the profile of triathlons was boosted and Trek abandoned its road bike line (keeping LeMond on instead) to focus on the growth of the sport. Road cycling remained a strictly continental endeavour, still a mystery to most North Americans, and with doping scandal after doping scandal involving dodgy Spanish and Italian doctors, and mysterious Austrian clinics, it stayed as a fringe sport for Euro wannabees. For those not buying into triathlons, cyclocross started to emerge from the remnants of mountain biking and frustrated hipster roadies who wanted a new sport they could make their own. That one single individual could have such a dramatic impact on the direction of sport in North America does not seem an entirely absurd proposition. Continue reading

Armstrong 3.0 – part 2

“They don’t like me saying that in 2009 I was clean but these things are the truth. But I also understand the people who say they don’t believe me… What I’m saying is that the day there’s a test of a transfusion I’ll be the first guy to put that sample [from after the Mont Ventoux stage in 2009] on the line. And I’ll bet everything on that.” – Lance Armstrong.

I’ll bet everything on that. Continue reading

Armstrong 3.0 – part 1

Comeback 2.0 is a curious addition to one’s cycling book collection. Gorgeously presented, in the spirit of Rouleur, the book is “Lance Armstrong’s first-person photo journal of his 2009 comeback season with the goal of taking the Livestrong message around the world.” With sumptuous cycling photography, as well as intimate portraits of Armstrong and his family, the book – probably more intended for a general rather than a hardcore cycling audience – is a seemingly rare glimpse into the behind-the-scenes of the whole endeavour. RadioShack, Armstrong’s team sponsor for 2010, was also involved, and $10 from each book sale was donated to Livestrong “to inspire and empower those affected by cancer.” The Special Collector’s Edition (only $5 secondhand – they don’t hold much value these days) features a removable dust jacket with “keepsake poster” and 16 additional pages of photos. Continue reading

Meanings revisted

I like the bike for the usual reasons – exploration, freedom, camaraderie, the rush of endorphins – but also the possibility it holds out, when I can admit to feeling more competitive than I like to think, that an exploit of some sort, ill-conceived and irrational, based on the flimsiest of training base, might be undertaken and, with luck, fortitude and a dose of the unforeseen, possibly yield bragging rights for a limited time despite, in the greater context of exploits and achievements, making a rather minute impression on those with greater reserves of power and endurance, of which there are many. I like that possibility.

One must confess to a certain skepticism of professional team sports, particularly the dangerous aspects of mass hysteria, rivalry and nationalism, but pro cycling is different as its fan support is more a celebration of the spectacle – beautiful, brutal – than the competitive aspect, or a celebration of an ideal: even if that ideal, glory through suffering, might be more a construct of the myth makers than a genuine value worth supporting (especially as ideals are often either promulgated by the powerful in their own interests or mask the agendas of others seeking to seize that power for their own ends), which shouldn’t prevent us, however, from sympathizing with those – the riders – who flog themselves for their own rewards, such as they are, and for our own entertainment. Which I like, too.

Thévenet's secret? Gallic tenacity and very stylish kit (L'Equipe)

The mountains await… (L’Equipe)