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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

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

My Favourite Blogs (for what it’s worth)

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This post is not one that I foresaw myself writing, but was inspired by a friend who created a “book list of her life” – you can find the post here http://www.standingnakedatabusstop.com/the-booklist-of-my-life/ Now, just to note, she is a truly talented writer, in fact she won the public vote in this year’s Blog Awards Ireland Best Post category, so I’d rather you read my post first, then hers.  That way you’re saving the best until last.

One of the few pleasures I have experienced in relation to my Ventoux challenge has been reading other peoples’ ramblings in relation to their own cycling adventures and being exposed to other opinions/commentaries on the cycling world generally.

In a year when Chris Froome dominated the Tour de France, Northern Ireland was announced as the host of the Grande Partenza of the 2014 Giro d’Italia http://www.nitb.com/BusinessSupport/2012-2014Events/GirodItalia2014.aspx, Pat McQuaid was finally ousted as the UCI president and yes, I have to mention him, Lance Armstrong finally came clean (a word not normally associated with the Texan Twat) there was no end to the sport’s coverage.

I thought I would share my favourite sites, mainly to pay homage to those responsible for giving me such pleasure but also in an attempt to promote cycling to those of you who still remain unconvinced with this world.

Richard Moore www.richardmoore.co

Richard Moore is a journalist and author of a range of books that I have read including IN SEARCH OF ROBERT MILLAR, HEROES, VILLAINS & VELODROMES, SLAYING THE BADGER: LeMond, Hinault and the Greatest Ever Tour de France, SKY’S THE LIMIT: British Cycling’s Quest to Conquer the Tour and THE DIRTIEST RACE IN HISTORY: Ben Johnson, Carl Lewis and the 1988 Olympic 100m Final.  Basically if you’re of a certain age and interested in sports, many of these books will spark an interest and I thoroughly recommend them to you.

Yes, he is a friend of a friend (although he doesn’t know that), yes, he rode for Great Britain, yes, he rode for Scotland but he will always win me over with his victory in the Davie Bell Memorial race in 1997 http://southcarrickdaviebell.wordpress.com/results/.

Richard writes and comments on cycling across various platforms including the printed press, @richardmoore73 and via the Humans Invent podcasts http://www.humansinvent.com/#!/13694/the-humans-invent-cycling-podcast/.  He was the BBC’s “go to guy” when the Armstrong story broke and to be honest, he not only appears to know what he’s talking about, I think he actually does know.

The Inner Ring http://inrng.com/

Now the Inner Ring has legendary status in the world of cycling social media with in depth analysis of current events and issues but he/she (I’m still not sure if their identity is known) has also posted a separate lexicon section which hopefully will make life easier for those of you who want to know about cycling but are afraid to ask.  Find it here http://inrng.com/lexicon/  Again, a good one to follow on Twitter (@inrng) even if just to keep you up to date on cycling matters but try the blog – it’s good.

Podium Cafe www.podiumcafe.com

This is a great site as it pulls various blog posts from well-known commentators to fans who have something to say.  Worthy of a daily check just to see who has been saying what and keeping up to speed on upcoming events in the cycling world.

Irish Peloton http://www.irishpeloton.com/

Cillian Kelly is the blogger and he presents the world of professional cycling with the Irish fan in mind, but you don’t have to be Irish to enjoy his work.  I became more interested in him when he posted this blog in June 2013 http://www.irishpeloton.com/2013/06/the-pat-mcquaid-file/  In my opinion this post and the subsequent actions taken by its supporters and the wider Irish cycling fraternity (that’s the island of Ireland for those who wish it clarified) resulted in Pat McQuaid not being nominated for UCI presidency and his eventual downfall.

He is more of a prolific tweeter (@irishpeloton) than blogger but when he writes, you know its going to be a good read.

The Guardian Bike Blog http://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog

Now I’m no lefty but the Guardian’s bike blog is able to do what most other bloggers are unable to do, that is, publish posts on a more or less daily basis.  Consequently, you get a wide variety of subjects and styles but every one of them is a worthwhile read.  It’s also great to see cycling getting mainstream media coverage.

Simpson Magazine www.simpsonmagazine.cc/blog

How could I not include these guys?  Simpson magazine was inspired by my hero, Tom Simpson.  Their ethos is very much about getting out there and riding and enjoying cycling for what it is.  They have issued two magazines to date and the focus is unlike any other cycling publication out there – in a good way.  I think what they’re doing is tremendous and only wish they would do their t-shirts in a slightly larger size.

Fat Lad At The Back http://fatladattheback.com/our-blog/

These guys are tremendous!  The blog is linked here but explore the site further.  Being a bit chunky myself, when I found out about Fat Lad At The Back, I almost wept.  Not only have they created cyclewear for the likes of myself, but the branding and logo are priceless.  Their story is, and I quote, “In celebration of those of us who are fighting our flab for a fitter body, who have struggled up never ending hills, dropped off the back of the pack, been overtaken by those twice our age and half our weight, felt dejected, deflated and forlorn…You are no longer alone, you are one of us, you are a Fat Lad At The Back.

So there you have it, not exactly a book list of my life, more of a check list for my day.  Now you can go to http://www.standingnakedatabusstop.com/the-booklist-of-my-life/ and read a proper blog.

Never use your face as a brake pad.

The Giant

So What About Lance?

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I did not intend my blog to include anything other than my musings in relation to me trying to succeed in the ridiculous challenge I Have set myself for this September but as a fan of cycling the giant feels it is necessary to pass at least an acknowledgement to the Lance Armstrong debacle.  Those who know me best also know that one of the few times I have ever been proven correct in my opinions was when Lance Armstrong finally admitted to using performance enhancing drugs throughout his career.

I would like to say that this was because I had scientific evidence of shenanigans but my conclusions about Armstrong arose purely as a result of his lack of awareness of the history of cycling and the races he was competing in. He never came across as “a nice guy” so I didn’t like him. I didn’t enjoy his cycling. I didn’t like his attitude in the peloton, the way he reacted to opponents and the way he treated certain journalists. If you want an example of such you should watch this clip when Paul Kimmage (journalist and ex-pro Tour de France rider) attempted to challenge Armstrong about his suspicions http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZgns7CXeUI.

Or consider Filippo Simeoni, the Italian cyclist who was treated by doctor Michele Ferrari, who was also Armstrong’s doctor.  Simeoni testified in court that he began doping in 1993, that Dr. Ferrari had prescribed him doping products and was suspended for several months.  Armstrong reportedly called Simeoni a “liar” in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde in July 2003.  On the 18th stage of the 2004 Tour de France Simeoni gapped up to a breakaway of six riders that posed no threat to Armstrong’s leading position.  Nevertheless, Armstrong followed Simeoni, which prompted Armstrong’s rival T-Mobile Team to try to catch the breakaway.  This would not only catch Armstrong but also eliminate the stage winning chances of the six riders in the original breakaway.  The six riders implored Armstrong to drop back to the peloton, but Armstrong would not go unless Simeoni went with him and the two riders dropped back to the peloton.  When Simeoni dropped back, he was abused by other riders calling him “a disgrace”.  Afterwards, Armstrong made a “zip-the-lips” gesture but later said that Simeoni “did not deserve” to win a stage.

These stories were not promoted much at the time because Armstrong was “a living legend”, he had finally made cycling a global phenomenon, he had won his battle against cancer and his Livestrong Foundation was doing wonders.

But what about those who were trying to emulate Armstrong?  What about the riders who also fell by the wayside and took drugs during this period?  What about the  flawed characters and doping cheats but who didn’t deserve to die before their time?

So I say forget about Lance Armstrong forever, lets not give him any more airtime, lets not invite him to a truth and reconciliation commission because its too late for those of us who love the sport.  Let’s spare a few seconds of our time to remember:

Denis Zanette (Italy) – died January 11 2003, aged 32;

Marco Ceriani (Italy) – died May 5 2003, aged 16;

Fabrice Salanson (France) – died June 3 2003, aged 23;

Marco Rusconi (Italy) – died November 14 2003, aged 24;

Jose Maria Jimenez (Spain) – died December 6 2003, aged 32;

Michel Zanoli (Netherlands) – died December 29 2003, aged 35;

Johan Sermon (Belgium) – died February 15 2004, aged 21; and

Marco Pantani (Italy) – died February 15 2004, aged 34.

And for anyone who thinks that my desire to dof my cap to Tom Simpson on Mont Ventoux this year is slightly hypocritical due to his own misdemeanours with amphetamines?  Tom Simpson didn’t fool the world, he didn’t fool financial institutions, he only fooled himself.

The Giant