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I’ll Make You Rich Part I – MSR

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This weekend sees the first cycling Monument of 2016, the Milan-San Remo (MSR).  It’s the longest professional one-day race and consequently, the winner can be harder to predict.  So many variables enter the equation, inclement weather conditions, how the legs respond in a sprint after 7 hours of racing and being able to get over the final climb of the Cipressa without cracking, to name but a few.

What is more certain, is the likelihood that the race will finish with a sprint as the last time the winning margin was more than 10 seconds was in 1994 and more than a minute was 1974.

I’m no betting man but there are certain events where a flutter is justified and the first Monument of the season is one such occasion.  I’ve selected my favourites, a few outside chances for those who want more bang for their buck and reasoned arguments for some notable exclusions. More

CRC or Wiggle – just apply Rule #58

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The announcement last week that Northern Ireland’s very own Chain Reaction Cycles (CRC) will more than likely merge with the UK retailer Wiggle had me initially disappointed.  I like the CRC story, a small local bike shop opened in the early 1980’s, growing to become one of the UK’s great business successes.  And soon, it could disappear.

But then I started thinking like a cyclist.  Shit, what does this mean for me?  To hell with romance, I spend too much time on the CRC and Wiggle websites, trying to find that elusive deal of all deals and a merger will end that wasteful, yet oh so enjoyable quest.

How will it change things?  What exists today with the two separate companies?  And how do the current actual stock lines compare? More

How much is too much?

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The confirmation yesterday (31st January) that a bike used in this weekend’s World Cyclo-Cross Championships was fitted with a motorised device is possibly the answer to this post’s question (see Cycling News for details if you must).  The top level event in possibly the purest cycling discipline.

There have been rumours of “mechanical doping” for a while now but most of us struggled with actually believing it.

All the instances of bikes being hurried away to the privacy of the team trucks could be attributed to a number of dodgy, yet understandable reasons.  Teams may add some lead weight into the seat tube to hide the fact that the bike they have doesn’t come under the regulation minimum weight.  Individual riders may prefer certain pieces of equipment which are not their sponsors so want to avoid losing the financial support.  For example, tyre manufacturer brands are blacked out which can’t be noticed when the bikes are being ridden but can be at the finish area.

But a motor in the frame was the stuff of myths.  Surely the additional weight would offset any advantages?  Surely the increase in power available was negligible at professional levels?

Well, apparently not.  There are mainstream manufacturers out there as Matt de Neef reported last year in Cycling Tips.

Some of these products claim to provide over 100 watts of power which is a significant boost if you’re trying to maintain a gap on the peloton or struggling up the final climb in a major race.

So if one of these devices can provide an extra 100 watts of power with a 60 minute battery and if bikes are already too light then it kind of makes that apparent massive leap to the professional ranks slightly shorter.

But mechanical doping requires a significant level of subterfuge with many characters involved.  Mechanics, riders, engineers, quite possibly manufacturers and even sponsors.  It requires wholesale corruption.  If this is the case, professional cycling is well and truly broken and deserves to be thrown to the wolves. It is just frankly, beyond the pale.

So where does it leave me?  Well, I am a massive fan of professional cycling.  I’ve seen it tear itself apart with doping scandals.  I’ve seen it ridiculed with dodgy governance.  But I have remained with it because I still believe in the majority of cases it’s one man or woman on a bike riding as fast as he or she can and that’s something I can relate to.

I’ll give it another season – this season (2016) and if it becomes apparent that mechanical doping is rife, then that’ll do me.  I still can’t believe that this is the case but we have been fooled before and if it is so, I will turn my back on it and I won’t look over my shoulder.

Still riding but with a somewhat cynical grimace.

The Giant

Cycling in Vietnam – 10 Pieces of Advice

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I’m not a travel blogger but having just cycled for three days down Vietnam’s Central Coast, I felt compelled to share some thoughts.  Rather than wax lyrical about the experience, I’ve decided to give 10 pieces of advice which you may or may not find useful.

  1. Obey the Rules – just because you’re in a different country, on a different bike and maybe riding with people you’ll never see again, you remain obliged to obey The Rules.  Velominati are the Keepers of the Cog.  In so being, they also maintain the sacred text wherein lie the simple truths of cycling etiquette known as The Rules.  As cyclists, we have the responsibility of firstly adhering to The Rules and secondly applying Rule#3 – Guide the Uninitiated.  I tried to apply this when my brother-in-law decided to ride with no top on.  His reasoned argument was that being a model (I know) apparently there’s nothing worse than turning up for a photo shoot with tan lines on your arms.  I failed in my duty to adequately explain Rule#7 – Tan lines should be cultivated and kept razor sharp and off he and his single toned torso tottered.

    Blatant Breach of Rule#7

    Blatant Breach of Rule#7

  2. Remember to Talk – sounds obvious?  Well, it can be easy to just sit and ride, or just talk to who you know but you’re not going to expand your mind with that philosophy so introduce yourself and hear other experiences.  Our group of 6 comprised of yours truly and my other half, my youngest brother-in-law on my wife’s side and his wife and a couple from Sydney, Australia, Steve and Patsy.  Riding in Vietnam is a very stress-free experience, certainly the route we took.  Very little traffic, decent roads and relatively flat, so it’s ideal for chatting amongst yourselves.  I spent a good while talking with Steve and established that the third male of the group is none other than an Iron Man.  So one male model, one Iron Man and me.  It was at this point I thought I felt my rear brakes rubbing on the rim and dropped back to sob quietly and reconsider the benefits of an expanded mind.

    Shooting the Breeze

    Shooting the Breeze With the Iron Man

  3. Look Around – an error most people make when riding bikes is that they focus on the road and view in front of them but fail to even glance at the sights around them.  You never know what you could miss and you probably will never cycle the route again so make the effort to absorb as much of the sights as possible.

    Take In The Views

    Take In The Views

  4. Respect the Locals – one of the most endearing memories of the trip was how friendly the Vietnamese people were.  Our route took us through rural villages which are located in one of the poorest regions of the country but despite this, everyone offered us a smile, a wave or a two fingered salute (apparently this is a gesture similar to the Western wave although I’m not sure if our guide was having a laugh).  Every time we went through a village we heard the screams of “HELLO” from children who then scurried out to high five each of as we rode through their lives.  Whilst shouting “hello” back became a tad monotonous, we had to remind ourselves that the sight of us was extremely interesting for these kids so it was important to respond as if it was the first time we had done so.

    Life Goes On

    Life Goes On

  5. Learn Something New Each Day – I guess you could apply this to everyday life.  I live in Northern Ireland and one of its most visited attractions is the Giant’s Causeway, on the North Coast.  Now I am personally greatly underwhelmed by this jewel in Northern Ireland’s crown so imagine my horror when we arrived at a place known as Ganh Da Dia to be presented with the view below.

    The Stuff of Nightmares

    The Stuff of Nightmares

  6. Always Remember the Joy of Riding a Bike – We can all remember the freedom that riding a bike brought to us when we were kids.  But we grow up and if we’re lucky, we manage to squeeze a few hours a week of riding into our allegedly hectic lifestyles and we forget those feelings.  Well on day 3, the weather was more North Atlantic than South China Sea, slightly cooler and pretty heavy rain.  Everyone was a little bit apprehensive, we had a 70km ride coming up and no sign of the sun breaking through.  Our route started with a 4km descent on a dirt road.  Now you can approach this in two ways 1) take it easy, it’s not a race, remember healthcare costs in Vietnam or 2) ride it like a kid, almost lose control, get caked in dirt and laugh.  I selected option 2) not because I’m particularly daring but because it’s just too much of an effort to slow the bike down when you’re my weight.
  7. thumb_IMG_1404_1024Acknowledge History – My knowledge of the modern history of Vietnam is probably similar to everyone else’s – it was two countries, Communist North and Democratic South, Ho Chi Minh was a bad guy, the Americans tried to save the South from the bad guy, the Americans failed, Ho Chi Minh won, North and South were unified and Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City.  On the second day we stopped at My Lai, the scene of the 1968 massacre of a village and its inhabitants by an American Unit.  Unlike many of the war museums in Vietnam, there is no need for the Government to embellish this story.  It is a poignant reminder of the horrors of war and the lottery of where and when you are born.

    My Lai

    My Lai

  8. Eat With the Locals – On an organised trip, it’s very easy to dine at the hotel/resort that you are spending the night and that’s fine, particularly if you’re knackered.  But I would always recommend asking your tour guide where is there a good place for local food.  We did and whilst in some cases we had no idea what we were eating, we knew it was fresh, we knew it was healthy and we knew we were directly supporting the local economy with our tourist dollars.

    Not Really Convinced

    Not Really Convinced

  9. Hydration & Sunscreen – dehydration can ruin your entire day and on a 3 day tour that’s a shameful error.  Half a litre (at least) an hour is a good measure and if you’re running low, stop, wait for the support vehicle and fill up.  Your fellow riders will always ease up, you’ll catch up with them soon enough and sometimes it’s nice just riding alone in a foreign landscape.  Failure to apply and reapply sunscreen is an even greater sin and will do more than ruin your day.
  10. Make Memories – at the end of the day we’re just passing through so savour each moment and make memories.  And inadvertently advertise Saddle Skedaddle.  And bad photos.  And bad hair.  Mine, not hers.

    Just Making Memories

    Just Making Memories

Our trip was provided by the team at Vietnam Bike Tours who are based in Nha Trang and guided us there from our pick up at Hoi An and our routes can be seen in the Route Section of the site.

So there you have it, my 10 pieces of advice after a wonderful experience, cycling in a truly foreign land, absorbing the local culture and just having some good old-fashioned fun.  Take my advice or leave it but as Baz Luhrmann said – trust me on the sunscreen.

Xin Cam on

The Giant

Good Idea – Wrong Person

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So Sir Dave Brailsford has called on the UCI to require World Tour teams to publish their rider performance numbers in the interests of transparency, similar to what Chris Froome did last month.
It certainly appears positive that the head of the world’s best team (well, best resourced team) is making such a statement.
Team Sky has a well stated zero tolerance policy for doping which even includes zero tolerance for any of their non-riding staff who may have been implicated in past misdemeanours. We saw the moonlight flits of Bobby Julich, Steven de Jong and Sean Yates.
Furthermore, David Walsh, that bastion of integrity when it comes to outing the dopers concluded after spending a good while inside Team Sky that they’re doing it clean.
And Chris Froome’s numbers published in December kind of stack up too.
So what else can Sir Dave and the men in Rapha gear do?
Well to be honest Sir Dave shouldn’t be calling any shots at all. He and all his World Tour counterparts should be towing the line. It is the UCI which is responsible for anti-doping policy and they should be imposing whatever action they feel necessary to further enhance the credibility of top tier cycling.
Remember what happened with Lance Armstrong? He dictated the UCI anti-doping agenda which well suited him and his EPO infested comrades.
We’re supposed to jump for joy when no positive tests showed up in this year’s Tour De France (I exclude Luca Paulini as he was taking cocaine to dance better rather than ride faster) or the Vuelta but the dark clouds and mistrust of the Armstrong era still hang over the sport. It’s almost like the till balancing to the penny at the end of trading, desirable, but highly unlikely and an indicator of fraud.
I’m not a naysayer, I believe in this sport and I believe in the efforts being made throughout the peloton to deliver tremendous racing and therefore great entertainment. I believe in Sir Dave Brailsford, Jonathan Vaughters and Brian Smith.
I believe in Chris Froome, Nairo Quintana, Tom Dumoulin and Peter Sagan.
I can even just about believe in Alberto Contador and Alejandro Valverde.
But I don’t believe in Alexander Vinikourov, Bjarne Riis or Matt White and I don’t believe in the governing body’s anti-doping protocols being driven by the very people it may one day have to sanction for breaches of such protocols.
It’s because of these characters and Sir Dave’s so-called advice that the UCI needs to impose its authority by either getting them out of the sport or being creative in how it deals with the issues. European Law more or less discounts the former as an option so it’s the latter route that has to be pursued.
And to be fair, the UCI is trying to reform but it’s a slow process with many barriers including the owners of the Tour De France and the Vuelta (ASO), sponsors who may get scared off at the thought of longer term commitments and the general constipation usually experienced in Civil Service departments where inertia is the easy way out.
So what about a stage plan as follows:
1. Hand over responsibility for the anti-doping programme entirely to an independent body;
2. Have clear policies and legal standing so that the Astana debacle of late 2014/early 2015 doesn’t happen again; and
3. Change the structure of racing to enable more stability for riders, particularly those young riders who are trying to make a career in the sport without either forcing them out or forcing them down a road to ruin.
Anyway, who am I?
Viva pan y agua.

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The Giant

Top 10 Cycling Moments of 2015

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It’s the time of the year when I both look forward to the coming season and look back on the season that was.  2015 was another massive year for cycling and so I bring you my personal top 10 moments:

10 Northern Ireland’s Giro Legacy

In 2014 Northern Ireland hosted the Grande Partenza (Big Start) of the Giro D’Italia and this year saw the first major legacy event, the Giro Gran Fondo which was a closed road sportive.  Almost 3,000 riders took part in the two routes which were joined by Stephen Roche (1987 Giro winner), Richie Porte (Team Sky) and myself (Ayr Roads Cycling Club).  Once again, the folks of Northern Ireland took to the streets, pinked up and provided endless support and encouragement for the riders, embracing the cycling festival once again.

9 Froome Does It Again

In July, Chris Froome (Sky) won his second Tour De France and Team Sky’s third in five years.  We should always remember that this so-called dominance is a new phenomenon, as prior to 2012 the UK had no winners in over 100 years of trying.  Furthermore, it will undoubtedly be short-lived with Sky leaving cycling in the near future making it harder for a UK-centric team to deliver at the top level.  So enjoy it while it lasts.

8 Nibali Has No Shame

Now we all know about Dave Brailsford’s concept of marginal gains but Vincenzo Nibali took it to the extremes in Stage 2 of this year’s Vuelta a Espana.  Having been caught up in a crash with about 30km to go, Nibali and his Astana team fought like dogs to catch up with the favourites.  They got to the front of a chasing group and as the Astana team car came alongside Nibali, helicopter footage clearly showed the Italian hold on to the vehicle and being catapulted away not for a few metres but for a few hundred metres.  He caught up with the peloton although ended up about 90 seconds down on the winner (the same deficit as he had before he took the free ride).  Result?  Disqualification.  Some have said that this punishment was harsh as all riders have taken a pull or a sticky bottle to get back up to the peloton after a crash. But using the car to get away from your peers is just a no no.

7 John Degenkolb Monument Double

In 2015, John Degenkolb (Giant Alpecin) achieved something which is very rare, a Monument double.  For the uninitiated, think winning two of the four golf majors, or two of the four tennis grand slam events.

First of all, he claimed the Milan-San Remo in typical fashion by sprinting to victory.  But as any rider will tell you, sprinting at the Milan-San Remo is like no other sprint as you cannot really gauge what you have left in the tank due to the fact that you have already raced almost 300km.  Secondly and probably more impressive was his victory at Paris-Roubaix where he chased down Zdenek Stybar (Etixx-Quickstep) and Greg Van Avermaet (BMC) in the last few kilometres before winning the sprint in the Roubaix velodrome.  He became the first German to win Paris-Roubaix since Josef Fischer won the inaugural event in 1896 and the first winner of both events since Ireland’s Sean Kelly in 1986.

6 Cometh the Hour

I remember travelling down to the Leicester velodrome with my dad in 1984 to watch Francesco Moser ride around the track on his aerodynamic bike which he had used the previous month to capture Eddy Merckx’s 1972 World Hour Record.  Over 10 years on I remember Graeme Obree and Chris Boardman duelling with Boardman achieving the furthest distance ever in 60 minutes (56.375km).  Then the UCI outlawed the superman position and aero bikes so the Hour record seemed destined for obscurity as it was recognised that no-one could beat 56km on a standard bike.

Roll forward to the end of the 2014 season and the UCI updated their rules and created the “unified record”.  I won’t bore you with details but in essence the World Hour record is very firmly back, with 6 attempts being made on it in 2015 alone, 3 of which succeeded.

The UK did well, Alex Dowsett (Movistar) 52.937km broke the record in May and Bradley Wiggins in June with 54.526km which is the current benchmark.

5 Stannard’s Omloop Fun

Whilst Team Sky have excelled at the Grand Tours, particularly the Tour De France, their achievements in one day races and the Classics are somewhat shoddy with a couple of exceptions.  Geraint Thomas won the 2015 E3 Harelbeke and in my opinion more impressively, Ian Stannard retained the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad title.

Stannard spent the last 40km in a break with three Etixx Quickstep riders, Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh.  Now, anyone could tell you that Stannard simply should not be able to have won the race.  But win he did, much to the confusion, embarrassment and downright incredulity of Etixx.  To be fair, there were many factors at play, a fast approaching group only 20 seconds behind, no race radios etc. although the  Etixx riders did make a few questionable decisions in the last 5km.

Anyway, Stannard, was there for the sprint finish and cruised his way past Terpsrta to take the win for Team Sky and hand defeat from the jaws of victory to Etixx.

4 Tom Comes of Age in Spain

The Vuelta a Espana has had a bit of a renaissance over recent years, capitalising on the popularity of the sport but also from what has happened or not in the other two grand tours.

2015 did not disappoint and a strong field including Froome, Valverde, Nibali and Quintana took to the start but with Froome and Nibali exiting the event opened up slightly.  Esteban Chaves (Orica Greenedge) and Tom Dumoulin (Giant Alpecin) battled for the leader’s red jersey over the early stages but surprisingly Dumoulin, kept his form throughout the three week race.  He had no support from his Giant Alpecin team at all and only succumbed to Fabio Aru (Astana) on the penultimate stage.

Whilst Aru deserves many plaudits for his maiden grand tour victory, it is a huge chapeau to Dumoulin who surely has to go on to bigger things over the coming years.

And so to my top 3. Each of these moments had me screaming at the TV, jumping up and down for joy like a big kid and smiling for hours afterwards.

3 Mandela Day Magic

On stage 14 of this year’s Tour De France, as the French duo of Thibaut Pinot (FDJ) and Romain Bardet (AG2R) crested the final climb of the day, contemplating how to beat each other, Britain’s Steve Cummings whizzed by them unexpectedly and time trialled the final kilometre to a sensational win.  It was Cummings’ first Tour De France win, his South African MTN-Quebeka team’s first Tour stage and it all took place fittingly on Mandela Day.  Watch the reaction in his team bus here http://youtu.be/KO0d6GTvUs4

2 King Peter

Peter Sagan is undoubtedly one of the most consistent riders at the top level of professional cycling.  He boasts an enviable palmares but many, including himself, know that it could be even more impressive as he is also known for his ability to accumulate a ridiculous number of 2nd and 3rd place finishes.  But at the World Road Race Championships in Richmond, Virginia this year, Sagan attacked the peloton on the final cobbled climb of the day and managed to stay away to claim the coveted rainbow jersey.  Having crossed the finish line, he left his bike and proceeded to walk back up the finishing straight high fiving his fellow competitors who to a man seemed as happy for his victory as he was for himself.  Those images are captured here http://youtu.be/ScuAqTMhEKk

1 Queen Lizzie

My best moment of 2015 was watching Yorkshire’s Lizzie Armitstead becoming the Women’s World Road Race Champion.  Her effort in the final 20km to catch a dangerous break at the foot of the final incline meant that she had to lead out the sprint and it all worked beautifully.  It capped a great season for Armitstead who has also won the World Cup and the British National titles.  Her reaction was so different from Peter Sagan’s but no less enthralling.  Another worthy rainbow jersey wearer for 2016.

So that was 2015 in 10 short bursts.  2016 promises so much with two exciting world champions, a possible changing of the guard with Dumoulin and Aru coming of age, maybe a final chance to see Fabian Cancellara and Tom Boonen duel at the Ronde and we have the Rio Olympics where good old Wiggo may sign off in style.

Happy New Year

The Giant

Why It Should Be Lizzie

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On Sunday 20 December the BBC Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) event shall be held a few miles down the road from me in Belfast, the latest of a long list of major events which Northern Ireland has proudly hosted.
This year’s contenders are:
– Lizzie Armitstead (cycling);
– Lucy Bronze (football);
– Jessica Ennis-Hill (athletics);
– Mo Farah (athletics);
– Chris Froome (cycling);
– Tyson Fury (boxing);
– Lewis Hamilton (Formula 1);
– Andy Murray (tennis);
– Adam Peaty (swimming);
– Greg Rutherford (athletics);
– Kevin Sinfield (rugby league); and
– Max Whitlock (athletics).
An impressive list as ever, highlighting the strength and depth of UK sporting talent in 2015. OK, it’s a little bit English-centric and also a tad male dominated but it is what is. The list does reflect who has achieved the most during the year and now it is up to the general public to decide who should receive the accolade.
My own personal opinion?

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Lizzie Armitstead.
Armitstead has achieved huge success in her career to date and 2015 saw her reach new heights with the following wins:
– World Road Race Champion;
– Road World Cup Champion;
– British National Road Champion;
– Tour of Qatar;
– Trofeo Alfredo Binda;
– Boels Rental Hills Classic;
– Philadelphia Cycling Classic; and
– GP de Plouay.
Her victory in this year’s World Road Race in Richmond, USA was acknowledged by her peers as a justification of her form and talent.
But what is most impressive is that she plies her trade relatively quietly, across the globe, in a sport which still has a long way to go in terms of rewarding its participants with financial security.
Yes, cycling in the UK is one of the fastest growing and popular sports but women’s professional cycling remains a bit of a novelty as far as the UCI (cycling’s governing body) is concerned. The UCI say the right things but they aren’t really delivering for this element of the sport.
UCI President, Brian Cookson, stated earlier this year in an interview with Shane Stokes from http://www.cyclingtips.com
“I think it is important that we allow women’s cycling to grow in that economically sustainable way. I think that we are seeing that now. We are involving women in the decision-making processes much more than has ever been the case before and I think we are seeing the benefits of that now.”
That’s great Brian, slightly condescending and a little bit patronising but at least you and your organisation seem to be getting it.
Oh, but wait a minute. In the same interview he also said:
“I think that within a short period of time we will be in a position to have rules about minimum wage and I will take advice from the women’s commission, from women who are involved in the teams and the riders’ associations and so on as to when the right time for that is.”
The right time for a minimum wage? THE RIGHT TIME FOR A MINIMUM WAGE?
How about 2015 Brian? How about remembering that you don’t represent an organisation or a company but that you represent a sport? How about thinking about saying that last statement in the presence of Beryl Burton who would have made sure you wouldn’t be able to sit down for weeks? Or have you gone native in a such a short period of time?
It is despite the UCI that Lizzie Armitstead and all the other women professional cyclists are performing to the highest level, providing entertainment to the public, delivering quality events and scraping a living. They do it because fundamentally they love the sport, are hugely talented and are fiercely competitive.
I digress, apologies.
Why Lizzie Armitstead over the others?
Armitstead is at the top of her game. She has consistently delivered results not just in 2015 but for the last five years. She doesn’t just turn up for the big events. She doesn’t talk up her achievements. She doesn’t disrespect her fellow professionals. She is clear blue sky with no clouds lingering around her. She rides a bike with grace.
But maybe the most compelling reason for Armitstead to win SPOTY this year is the perfect symmetry of it being exactly 50 years ago when the late, great Tom Simpson became the first cyclist to win the award.
A minimum wage FFS Brian.
The Giant

Paint it Black

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Frank Strack is the founder of Velominati and the keeper of the rules of cycling.  There are 95 rules and every one of them should be engrained in all cyclists’ minds and should be obeyed to the letter.

http://www.velominati.com

Each rule serves a specific purpose, each rule is clear and concise, consequently there is absolutely no reason that the rules should be broken or misunderstood.
I’m going to focus on Rule #14 Shorts Should Be Black
“Team issue shorts should be black, with the possible exception of side-panels which may match the rest of the team kit.”

If you search on most online retailers today, it’s very difficult to find cycling shorts that aren’t predominantly black which begs the question, why is there a need for Rule #14?

Well to be honest it started in the 1990’s and developed from there.  Rule #14 must remain to ensure that we never, never, return to these dark days.

Laurent Fignon with the exterior bib design by Castorama

Laurent Fignon with the exterior bib design by Castorama

Carriers tried to make Lycra look like denim - fail

Carrera tried to make Lycra look like denim – fail

Industrial sealant products are tricky to market but.......

Industrial sealant products are tricky to market but…….

Mario Cipollini got away with much during his career

Mario Cipollini got away with much during his career but even this was a step too far

Great rider - awful kit

Great rider – awful kit

Phonak or phoney - it's still grim and does an injustice to the bike he's on

Phonak or phoney  – it’s still grim and does an injustice to the bike he’s on

However, it has taken almost 25 years for the marketplace (that’s you and me by the way) to realise that Rule #14 is valid.  I even wore rule breaking shorts for my attempt on Mont Ventoux in 2013 trying to inwardly justify my decision with the thought of them reflecting the heat of the sun more than black shorts.  But the real reason was that I stupidly considered them more flattering and that they matched my top better.
Well, for the record, they didn’t, black shorts match all cycling jerseys and with regard to trying to avoid a hot ass, I refer you to Rule #5 Harden the #%£$ Up.
But they’re still at it and until Rule #14 becomes mandatory within cycling’s governing body we will still see this.

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Tom Simpson - how it was and how it should be

Tom Simpson – how it was and how it should be

Forever in black.

The Giant.

Justifying Your Heroes & Villains

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Over the past few years people have asked me how I can hold up Tom Simpson and Marco Pantani as my heroes of cycling and yet also have such little regard for Lance Armstrong. I think the answer is fairly straightforward albeit probably very disappointing and its not about doping. Well, not exactly. Let me explain.
Hero # 1 – Tom Simpson

My original hero in the cycling world was and still is Tom Simpson. He died well before I was born, there’s very little, if any film footage of him in action and a similar dearth of photographic images. I don’t know what resonated with me about him or how his story was introduced to me. But he did and it was.

In 1962, Simpson became the first British rider to wear the Tour De France Yellow Jersey. In 1965, Simpson became Great Britain’s first ever World Road Race Champion, a feat which has only been achieved once since (Mark Cavendish 2011). That year he was also the first cyclist to win BBC Sports Personality of the Year. He wrecked his knee skiing in the Winter so his year in the rainbow jersey was relatively unsuccessful and he failed to maximise his earnings potential. He was the catalyst for the term “the curse of the rainbow jersey”. He knew he was at his peak and in order to secure his financial future he knew he had to deliver big results.  

On 13th July 1967, he started Stage 13 of the Tour De France which finished on Mont Ventoux. He shouldn’t have. He was ill with stomach cramps. I won’t go into details of his final moments on the bike but the combination of his illness, amphetamines, alcohol, the searing heat (54 degrees) and his obsession with chasing a high finishing place, proved too much.

It was Simpson’s death on Mont Ventoux that inspired me – some would say fooled me – to dream about climbing that mountain on the bike. Doffing my hat as I passed his monument less than a mile from the summit is a memory that remains with me with more clarity than any other I hold.

By all accounts he was a nice guy, liked by his peers in the peloton, adored by the fans at the roadside and was respectful of the sporting media of the time. He was fiercely competitive but a gentleman and I have found very few, if any, examples of unbecoming personal behavioural traits.

Hero # 2 – Marco Pantani

Marco Pantani, in my opinion was the finest cyclist of my generation. His climbing abilities and aggressive descending enabled him to offset his lack of time trialling prowess thereby making him a great Grand Tour contender. From 1993 to 2003, he podiumed five times in the Tour De France and Giro D’Italia, winning both in 1998 (the last rider to have done so. When he was on form, he could destroy the competition. He appeared to almost sprint up the mountains, mainly as a combination of his style (he climbed on the drops of the bars) and a significant use of performance enhancing additives.

He was adored by the tifosi, cycling fans generally and commentators loved him.

But he was a fragile human being, a deep thinker, a rider who was troubled in his mind probably because he had a conscience, possibly thinking of what cycling had forced him to do and what he therefore was doing to cycling.

When he was kicked out of the Giro D’Italia in 1999 after winning the previous stage on Madonna di Campiglio his career was effectively over in his head. He never won another Giro stage. He still raced and competed until 2003 but was troubled by ongoing legal battles, drug addiction and the feelings of being treated poorly by the sport of cycling.

On 14th February 2004, Pantani died alone in a hotel room in Rimini, as a result of cocaine abuse. Over 20,000 people attended his funeral.

And the Villain – Lance Armstrong

So that takes us to my villain, Mr Lance Armstrong. He’s the one that is known to us all, either as a supreme specimen who won the Tour De France seven times after surviving cancer, or as the biggest perpetrator of sporting fraud. Here’s a bit of controversy for you. I accept him as one of the finest cyclists of the modern era. Yes, he was a doper extraordinaire, his dominance could also be deemed as boring, but his prolific attacks and race tactics kept me on the edge of my seat for a good few years. His duel with Pantani on Mont Ventoux during the 2000 Tour De France is a YouTube favourite.

But his attitude always frustrated me. To me, he came across as a man who lacked a certain quality, namely respect for cycling history, his fellow professionals and those supporting the sport.

Some examples?

1999 Tour De France Stage 10 Sestrieres to Alpe D’Huez

The French professional Christophe Bassons had been writing a daily column in Le Parisien newspaper providing a rider’s eye view of life in the race. The peloton had decided to go easy for the first 100km but hadn’t told Bassons as he was being ostracised for his anti-doping opinions. In an act of defiance, Bassons decided to attack the peloton immediately. He knew he wouldn’t be allowed to get away and sure enough the entire peloton worked together to catch him. He recalled the moment he was caught in a Radio 5 interview in October 2012.

“…and then Lance Armstrong reached me. He grabbed me by the shoulder, because he knew everyone would be watching and he knew that at that moment he could show everyone that he was the boss. He stopped me and said what I was saying wasn’t true, what I was saying was bad for cycling, that I mustn’t say it, that I had no right to be a professional cyclist, that I should quit cycling, that I should quit the Tour. I was depressed for 6 months. I was crying all,of the time. I was in a really bad way.”

2004 Tour De France Stage 18 Annemasse to Lons le Saunier

Early into the stage Fillipo Simeoni was in what ended up being the winning break. But to everyone’s surprise and horror Armstrong also joined the group. None of the other riders were Tour contenders but as Armstrong was wearing the yellow jersey he most certainly was. With Armstrong in their company, the break had no chance of staying away. When Garcia Acosta asked Armstrong what he was doing, he replied that he’d go back to the peloton but only if Simeoni did the same. Simeoni reluctantly obliged and the break was allowed to succeed. Why? Simeoni was a witness for the prosecution case against Armstrong’s doctor Michele Ferrari.

2009 Tour of California Pre Race Press Conference

Paul Kimmage, a journalist and former professional cyclist asked Armstrong a question about doping in cycling and specifically stated that “the cancer has returned” a reference to Armstrong’s comeback. What followed was an aggressive attack on Kimmage in an attempt to humiliate him. Armstrong intimated that he didn’t know who Kimmage was, or that he was an ex-pro however it was clear that his response had been carefully prepared and practiced. I can’t do it justice so watch it on YouTube here http://youtu.be/nZgns7CXeUI

There are others who suffered at the hands of Armstrong’s character flaw, Emma O’Reilly, David Walsh and Betsy Andreu to name but a few. Google them if you’re not already aware and see what you think.

In Conclusion

So after that brief and personal take on this trio of heroes and villains, what have I explained?  

Well all three were dopers – that’s not great and all three had significant moments on Mont Ventoux – none more so than Simpson. All three took cycling to a new level and all three ended their cycling careers in varied but tragic circumstances.

Well, as compelling as Armstrong is with his articulate responses to any questions put to him, the fact that he always has a reasoned argument for all his actions, his undeniable cycling talent and the good he has done through fundraising, I’m just not convinced that he’s a nice guy and believe it or not, I think that’s quite important.

But who am I anyway?

The Giant

Power to Weight for Dummies

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P/kg where P is power expressed as watts and kg is weight – well that’s it there. The formula that if applied and managed effectively enables us to monitor and subsequently improve our performance on the bike. We can develop a training programme around these numbers, slog our guts out over the winter implementing it, carefully plan our spring and summer rides to ensure they optimise the impact, stare at our computers, only occasionally looking at the road in front for a pothole.
Or, we could just focus on losing weight.
Now, this post is not intended for the elite athlete as you are already at a weight level that cannot be reduced and your focus will be on the power side of the formula.
This simple story is for those cyclists who carry more weight than they wish and who get frustrated with the apparent lack of progress despite going out two or three times a week.
When I got back on the bike about 3 years ago I was over 18 stone (over 115kg). I spent the first year riding around regularly at a steady pace, struggling up any incline and whilst clearly getting fitter, didn’t really lose much weight. I attempted the Ventoux challenge and crumbled on the second ascent.
I then spent about 4 months looking to buy a new bike. I focused on getting the lightest possible bike for my budget because a lighter bike makes you go faster, right?
Another 6 months of the same. A few rides a week and still my performance was static.
Then I succumbed to Strava and whilst I didn’t and to this day don’t play the segment game when I’m actually riding, I did and continue to study my performance on key segments afterwards.
I had lost my first significant amount of weight (over a stone or about 8kg) about a year ago and low and behold, all my segment data showed a remarkable improvement even though it didn’t feel that way on the bike.
This year, I’ve lost another stone (7kg) and again my numbers are massively better but what is more interesting is that I am now feeling the benefit on the road. I actually know that I’m going well, I know that I won’t go into the red (unless it’s a silly gradient or I’ve overindulged the night before) and I don’t dread climbing, I look forward to it.
So yes, it’s really that simple.
If you’re reading this thinking, “I know all this, what’s he going on about, of course you go better if you’re lighter” then you are 100% correct.
I knew this too, so why didn’t I do enough about it before Ventoux and why did I spend 4 months looking for as light a bike as possible and why didn’t I join Strava or any other training app earlier?
Well, it’s like most things in life, we don’t address the elephant in the room, we don’t focus on the root cause because that means we have to deal with it, that means we actually have to do something tangible. And that means effort.
But when applying that effort enables you to see or feel real benefits whether it’s a Strava segment, a drop in waist size or dress size it becomes a no brainer. And more importantly, you’re doing it for yourself, no-one else. I’m one of the least competitive individuals on this planet but there’s something fulfilling about beating yourself. You are your hardest opponent, physically and psychologically.
So I continue on my odyssey, whatever that odyssey is, whether it’s losing weight, cycling more, keeping active but no longer is the odyssey a pain in the ass because I know that each step should make my riding more enjoyable.
Colin Montgomerie once said “nothing tastes as good as slim feels”.
I’ll paraphrase him – nothing tastes as good as climbing faster than you did last week.
The Giant

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