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Those Damned Fans

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The one thing that separates cycling from all other sports is the fact that it is free to watch at the highest level.  Imagine turning up at the World Cup Final and watching the match with your camper van and BBQ at the side of the pitch.  Or standing on a hill overlooking the Superbowl with a few beers and your mates watching the game unfold.  Or walking into the Augusta National with a pair of shorts and a vest on the final round of the Masters.

You can’t.

But that’s exactly what you can do at every single cycling World Tour event.  And that is why cycling is by far and above, the most inclusive and remarkable global sport. More

TdF + Bastille Day = Mont Ventoux

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Today is stage 12 of the Tour de France and it marks a special day for the French – Bastille Day, a national holiday and the hopes of a French winner on the famous mountain in a week where their footballers failed to deliver.

But it’s a special day for me too – it’s the first time the Tour has visited the Giant of Provence since my efforts in September 2013.  Whilst it’s not a national holiday where I live, I can assure you that I’ll be watching the stage somehow. More

It’s the Tour de France – everything will be OK

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Tour_de_France_logo_2016Today is the day folks.

The 2016 Tour De France is upon us, cycling’s biggest event, with the biggest teams and the best riders taking part.

In terms of predictions for the overall win, it’s going to be Froome (Sky) at 5/4, Quintana (Movistar) at 7/4, Contador (Tinkoff) at 5/1 or maybe, just maybe Aru (Astana) at 16/1.  Strong riders, clever riders, strong teams but there’s not much value there for a three week stage race.

I might have more fun looking at individual stages, today for example will be for the sprinters.  It’s not your ordinary sprinter stage.  The winner of today’s stage gets to wear the Maillot Jaune (the Yellow Jersey), cycling’s most coveted prize. More

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

A New Nemesis?

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For most of my life and certainly the last 20 years, Mont Ventoux was a mystical, untouchable place and certainly no place for an overweight, untalented “cyclist” like me.  Having climbed it last year, its status in my head changed from nemesis, to a new found friend, a friend that you quite like but don’t yet know well enough to fully trust and deep down you know that you’ll probably never really be completely comfortable in their presence.

But there’s something exciting about the early stages of friendships, every experience is new, you learn things, you’re more open, less inhibited.  That’s what my experience of the Ventoux was, I spoke to her (yes, “it” is now “her”), I cursed her, she broke my heart but after the healer that is time passed, she pulled me back together and made me laugh.  She’ll never be a close friend, I’ll see her again, not too soon but we’ll hook up for sure in the future.

The thing is, I want to feel those emotions again.

Which brings me to the Pico del Veleta.  Wikipedia states that “Pico del Veleta is the third highest peak of the Iberian peninsula and the second highest in the Sierra Nevada.”  Its height is 3,394 metres (11,135 ft) which is a whole lot higher than my old friend in Provence.  The access road to the summit is the highest paved road in Europe.

So what are the numbers?  My friends at www.climbybike.com state the following:

Average grade: 7.8 %

Length: 30.11 km

Height start: 979 m

Height top: 3354 m

Elevation gain: 2369 m

She’s ranked as the hardest climb in Spain and the 18th hardest on the planet and her vital statistics are on my Routes Page.  She sounds like someone I should meet.

And I’m going to meet her.  On the 29th of August 2014 to be precise.  But this time I’m not jumping into a new relationship solo, that was too painful.  The auld dun racer (Dad) is joining me as my chaperone.  We’ll introduce ourselves over the day and hopefully create that excitement of new friendship.

Or will I create a new nemesis?

The difference between me and Lance Armstrong is that I still have a chance to win the Tour de France.

The Giant

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