20 years on (part 2)

July 7, 2014
TdF sign

Hilariously placed off-route TdF sign at top of Cragg Vale

20 years ago I was knocked off my bike in central London riding home to watch the highlights of the Tour de France, which visited that year for the first time since 1974. I also met my partner. I am delighted to say that only two of these events are having anniversary celebrations this year. I last wrote about 2014 in January, having started the year with more kilometrage than I have ever gathered in Winter, and some high hopes for the year.

I did complete a 600km Brevet de Randonneur this year, but won’t manage a Super Randonneur Series. I have really enjoyed my riding this year, and will ride just one more event I think, in August. The Tour did come, and I am still reeling from having this slice of French spectacle rushing past the end of my road, slowly. But most of all I am delighted to say that I am still together with @accidentobizaro. Our relationship isn’t about cycling, but it is interwoven within our lives both as an intermittently shared activity, but also as a topic of conversation and as a jumping-off point for many seemingly irrelevant features of our lives. We have climbed Pyrennean and Alpine Cols together, but it is the climbs of the Vosges which the Tour de France visits this year on stages 9 and 10 which I think are most apt – our last big cycling holiday before starting a family was an extraordinary experience. Hair-dryer winds on the flat, and the cool at the top of the mountains; birthday cakes; anniversaries; Cremant…

buses

BMC, Katusha and FdJ get stuck

So, let’s aim for a return to these shores for the Tour in 2034, I’m waiting… if it comes before, all well and good, but it’s something to aim at.

Addendum: as I was taking the photo of the rather misleading TdF sign at the beginning of this post I talked with and photographed a rider from London who had grown up in Hebden Bridge. His son had the same name as me, and lives in Stoke Newington, where I was living in 1994. Jung would like this very much.

heart

Chalk on the road, Stage 2


Medication and long-distance cycling: post 600 thoughts

June 19, 2014
Desgrange on a bike

Henri Desgrange rides a Brevet Randonneur

I have written a lot about doping here, especially in relation to competitive cycling. Since I do not race, this is fairly neutral territory, and I can at least maintain a degree of objectivity. Recent discussion of the use of strong pain killers such as Tramadol, and of medical interventions for asthma and other respiratory issue in professional cycling, and my recent encounter with pain and injury has brought this all a little closer to home. Any medication can enhance performance, and the ethical issues here are complex: many athletes could not compete at all without asthma medication, and there are many situations where anti-inflammatory medication or an analgesic would be perfectly reasonable to enable someone to continue with a minor injury. I would suggest that there are three issues that limit such medical intervention in competition, notwithstanding chronic conditions which require maintenance:

  1. the injury or condition should not be made worse by the use of medication;
  2. the medication should not enhance the athlete’s performance above their baseline without such medication; and
  3. the medication should be within the rules of the sport.

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Let’s Get Lost

June 18, 2014
riders ahead on straight road

Follow them!

I had  a Dutch colleague once whose practice when travelling abroad was to get lost. Intentionally. At a conference in Liège in the early 1990s I accompanied him on late night walk off the University campus (which is out of town at the top of a hill). I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent of his dedication to lostness, and the combination of pitch darkness, unfamiliar territory and dry Dutch humour will stay with me for ever.

blackpool sign and bike

A sign!

I have been lost many times, and mostly on ‘audax’ rides (or randonnées as they really should be called, as on an actual audax, with a road captain getting lost is virtually impossible). My night-time navigation skills are becoming legendary in their inaccuracy, but I am equally capable of turning the wrong way or missing a cue sheet instruction during the day. Recently, Gavin Peacock, who wrote this account of his first 200 here, suggested to me that the absence of yellow arrows, the potential for navigational failure is a feature, not a bug, in the allure libre model of riding that characterises the brevets randonneur organised by Audax UK, and that this was something that positively differentiates this model of riding from the cyclosportive. Despite the cursing that results from my lack of ability to follow a cue sheet, I think he might be right. Even when I have tried to reduce my off-route wandering by using a GPS device I have been foiled by software and hardware failures, or lost signal: it is as if the gods of audax intend me to be forever questioning my progress from control to control, hoping for a sign.

straight road into distance

We’re on a Road to Nowhere

There is getting lost, and the fear of getting lost. Actually being lost is disturbing, but is a problem to be solved, and as my Dutch friend would have argued, a means to finding the unexpected and unplanned. The fear of getting lost is quite something else, and because of the strict time limits on brevets, can lead to a level of stress which takes the fun out of what should be a challenging adventure, hence my attempts to limit my failings using a Garmin. When added to the uncertainty (due to inexperience) of calculating average riding speed versus sleep on my first Brevet 600 (The East and West Coasts) I nearly allowed it to corrupt my enjoyment. Strangely, despite getting lost quite significantly in the Fylde after the Glasson Dock control, and thinking I was lost looking  for it, I managed my time very well, completing the ride with two hours left to spare. As per usual, my efforts to stay on course were stymied by lack of confidence, failure of said Garmin at the 400km mark (which wouldn’t even hard reset), and the loss of my watch at the HQ after my one hour sleep stop. Following a route sheet after 4-500km gets pretty tough even with a functioning odometer, but without even a watch I found judging distance and time almost impossible. Two things stopped me from becoming a latter day Flying Dutchman of the Fylde: my phone (which was still charged and working, I had plenty of external power) and, unsurprisingly, fellow riders (often as unsure of the route as this stage as I, but there was safety in numbers) on the same route, and at one point a random racer who actually waited at the next junction and directed me like a race marshal. I was so addled at this stage that I cannot remember the names of the cycling couple who allowed me to suck their wheels just before and after the mysterious Cartford Toll Bridge control, but they were a high point of my ride – I hope we meet again and I can redeem my embarrassment.

bridge in middle of field

Take me to the bridge…

In the main, I kept to the route, however and despite the agony of the last 100km, where my lack of preparation and limited sleep caused me to lose position on the bike and end up with battered hands and arms and sore shoulders (more on this in a companion piece), this was a wonderful and magical experience. I had no mechanical or lighting problems (new Exposure light was very good) and felt great on the bike for most of the ride. This was a wonderfully organised ride, and a credit to Audax UK, Chris Crossland and his helpers. My second high point after the kindness of others was the experience of eating fish and chips in the LANTERN O’ER LUNE CAFÉ at Glasson Dock. Quite extraordinary, and every visit I have made there has been on an Audax, and each one magical in its own way.

 

 


Addendum to 5 & 9

June 6, 2014

It’s a long while since I rode the North-West Passage in biblical weather. Look what just arrived! Maybe I’ll do another…


Frustration

April 24, 2014

It is easy to become frustrated with the limited success of anti-doping. What with the post-EPO world of xenon-therapy and AICAR, seemingly bizarre inconsistencies of sanction, and the fact that riders, team-staff and management still reflect a past which is surprisingly present it would be easy to respond by

  1. giving up watching
  2. advocating legalisation
  3. posting pictures of veined legs in an attempt to fight doping with humour

Although I have, to my regret, already resorted to approach #3, I am not ready for #1 or #2, but that time may come.

I’ll try to outline a some issues that have been on my mind recently, in an attempt to shed some light on how my thinking is evolving.

We are winning the war on doping

No we are not, and indeed it is arguable that eradicating doping is a foolish, quixotic errand (cf. alcohol prohibition/recreational doping). There is evidence that certain kinds of doping are being used less, or at least in smaller doses, but there is also evidence that other kinds of doping are becoming more widespread. As EPO becomes more detectable, along with blood transfusions, it does not disappear. Riders and doctors begin to consider new methods of performance enhancement, some already banned but hard to detect if administered carefully, some yet to be banned and as yet impossible to detect. The bio-passport, like the 50% rule before it, limits the extent of blood manipulation, but does not eradicate it. Even supposedly anti-doping teams consider the ethics of methods that artificially raise natural EPO production before rejecting them, and the boundaries between ethical, unethical and forbidden become increasingly blurred. This is not a cleaner sport, it is a more conservative one. It is possible that fewer riders are doping, but it is also possible that the same number are, with more care to avoid detection. What is known is that far more doping exists than is detected, and now one cannot even used reduced racing speeds to argue that cycling is cleaner (the arguments the other way are equally strong).

USADA’s approach to the Armstrong case was wrong-headed

A number of commentators, whether professional journalists or interested bystanders have asked yet again why Armstrong should still be such a focus for anti-doping activity and debate – surely he is a scapegoat, and simply serves to absolve the future of cycling for its past sins? There is some truth in this, but there is more to the USADA case than Armstrong. Contrary to Bruyneels’ protestations, Armstrong and his co-defendants are not the only parties in professional cycling to be so ejected from the fold: the machinery of many other teams has been dismantled (one way or another) in the past when the evidence has presented itself. The crucial thing about the USADA case was that, regardless of inconsistencies on the length of some bans (both because of cooperation and legal arguments over the statute of limitations), staff still working, or potentially working with cyclists, were banned from doing so. Bruyneel would probably still be managing a cycling team now without this case, and the doctors and team-helpers banned alongside him would be also. There are certainly many still working in cycling who are equally culpable, but no-one has yet collated, presented and acted on the non-analytical evidence against them yet. Maybe their time will come, but I am convinced that by acting against the entourage and management of riders USADA were taking a useful step.

It’s all in the past

As cycling reaches new audiences it seems many want to collude in hiding its rich past of corruption and spectacle and pretend that we are in some Jerusalem of young, pure and ethical sport. I say Tramadol and Xenon to that, so there.

And that’s all folks, I’ve run out of ideas, and energy for writing this post properly – I would provide extensive reverences but no-one ever follows them, and I am just too tired!


Ticket to ride…

March 3, 2014

WP_20140301_010Last Saturday I took a ferry. I had travelled a long way to get there, and not to get my bike across a bay: but sometimes doing the right thing isn’t obvious.

Ferry ticket

£1 ticket

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Beyond five and nine: why we ride regardless.

February 18, 2014

VecchioJo’s recent Road.cc piece on just riding was a lovely stab at the business of epic, heroic, and sometimes fictional cycling. Similarly, Gavia wrote a magical piece which captures the serendipity of an enjoyable ride.

However, there are days when even rules 5 and 9 of the Velominati are not enough to stimulate us to ride: just riding when the elements are against us can be motivated by the mythology of toughness, a Belgian disregard for muddy and inclement precipitation, gale force winds and painfully low temperatures.

Rule #5

Rule #9

// If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period. Fair-weather riding is a luxury reserved for Sunday afternoons and wide boulevards. Those who ride in foul weather – be it cold, wet, or inordinately hot – are members of a special club of riders who, on the morning of a big ride, pull back the curtain to check the weather and, upon seeing rain falling from the skies, allow a wry smile to spread across their face. This is a rider who loves the work.

Sometimes, more is needed.

Of course, one can make up ridiculously difficult challenges, and publicly commit effort, time, money and others’ work in such a way as to make backing out almost impossible. Mike Cotty’s recent jaunt across the Alps is an example of such admirably impressive folly (the videos here and here are essential viewing). Such challenges have their history in the development of long-distance organised cycling in France and elsewhere, and since the mid-1970s in the UK a small and dedicated band of organisers and riders have dedicated themselves to finding cruel and unusual goals regulated in accordance with Audax UK or Randonneurs Mondiaux regulations.

My first 200km brevet was the permanent version of the Dorset Coast, finishing in Keith Matthews’ back garden with a cup of tea (20 or so years ago). The first 50km or so, including the famous ferry crossing were done in zero visibility, and I will never forget the sight of Corfe Castle emerging out of the fog like some scene from Macbeth. Last week I completed the North-West Passage, which along with the Dorset Coast is the other of the first two AUK organised 200s. Both of these rides would never have existed if it wasn’t for the need to qualify for future versions of Paris-Brest-Paris (the previous year, 1976, AUK was formed and the first Windsor-Chester-Windsor was run as part of qualification for PBP): a full Super Randonneur series was now going to be required (Audax UK/Minter). The North-West passage is infamous for it’s tricky navigation and use of main roads, which in 1977 probably seemed fine. I don’t mind a bit of A-road, but it is unusual to ride down the A6 in daylight for ‘fun’. It is also renowned for its early season weather. In the UK mid-February can bring almost any kind of inclement weather, and this edition came after some of the worst winter storms we have seen for a while (I was stranded in Leeds without transport just two days earlier).

Without my desire to ride Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015 I would never have got out of bed. In order to pre-qualify I need to complete a BRM Super Randonneur series in 2014, qualify in 2015 with another SR, and gain the necessary experience and endurance fitness to ride 1200km without breaking down either physically or mentally. As I rode the 25km to the start realising that I was already colder and wetter than I had ever been on the bike before it was only the fact that this wasn’t just a ride, and the reward was beyond the moment that spurred me on. For me, cycling is part of a tradition, and however atavistic it my be I want to be part of that tradition of long-distance cycling. This does not mean I have lost the ability to enjoy riding for itself: there were moments of sheer joy and beauty to savour: sunset over Lancashire; the sound of tubular clinchers on tarmac; a welcoming control. However, these experiences would never been available to me without the structure of Audax UK and its embedding within the traditions and regulations of organised long-distance cycling.


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