Three young club riders pass by, heading for the coast. Heads down, pressing on, the lad on the back just starting to lose the wheel. They remind me of the illustrious, illusionary Troon Velo club of my own youth: a club that existed only in the fevered imaginations of the members but no less (and indeed perhaps more) important for that.
Out for an afternoon habble, strong friendships no barrier to the desire to make your soul mates suffer. Such things are timeless.
I will admit that over the past two weeks my interest in Le Tour dwindled. There had been high points, certainly. The combative Gilbert in yellow and green; the Norwegians (Thor and Edvald) rampaging; little Tommy V battling to retain yellow against all the odds; even Cavendish sprinting to four stage wins so far. But there was always the nagging feeling that not one of the real ‘favourites’ wanted to win the race. Until yesterday it had been a race of waiting and chasing rather than attacking.
Some have said that this is a reflection of a playing field levelled by a cleaner than ever peloton and the meticulous planning of sports science. Before yesterday I would have nodded sagely and agreed with that. In moments of devil-may-care outrage I’d even have suggested that if that’s the case then let’s bring back rampant EPO abuse. At least then perhaps we’d have the spectacle of rampaging attacks over several mountain passes rather than everyone waiting for the final kilometre of the final summit finish.
But wait! Yesterday Andy Schleck attacked with pretty much two whole Hors Category climbs and 60km to go. More than that, he held on to win by just over two minutes from his brother who led home the other favourites and the endlessly courageous Voeckler. It was like a blast from some barely remembered past (the world of the Tour before the dreary Armstrong era) and it was wonderful to watch. In an instant my waning respect for Andy (all that whining about descents was really getting on my nerves) was restored. “No guts, no glory” is a bit of an Armstrongesque soundbite, but surely we can cut the kid some slack for that. It was the kind of attacking riding befitting of a Tour winner, regardless of whether he actually ends up being one or not.
The same is true of Tommy V. He may not win the Tour this year, but my god he’s surely put forward a good case for his name being added to the list of legends if only for the impressive amount of suffering he’s put himself through during the past ten days. Can he hold on over the hairpins of Alpe d’Huez today? Can he time-trial himself to a podium tomorrow? The excitement is finally enough to make me forget my end of term exhaustion.
I visited Box Hill on Sunday; my first time there in thirty one years. Time plays tricks on the memory of course, but it was largely as I had remembered it, only much, much busier. Thirty one years ago we drove there from Carshalton in my mum’s friends’ car (as briefly remembered here), but this time I cycled there from the Surrey Hills under largely blue skies peppered with wisps of cloud scudding quickly past in the fierce north easterly wind. This being my first time up on a bicycle I took it easy, somehow always expecting Zig Zag Road to get steeper, and certainly for it to be longer. In reality the climb was over in the blink of an eye, and for the professionals who will ride it as part of the 2012 Olympic road race parcours I am sure it will seem little more than a pimple on the route.
It certainly does seem to be a Mecca for cyclists though. I was astonished at the number of riders assembled in the grounds of the cafe at the top, and who I had passed on my ride out there. Devon, by comparison, would appear to be a road cycling hinterland... I would be lucky to count the same number of cyclists I saw in one day in Surrey in a year in Devon.
It must be said though that the views from the top of Box Hill are very, very pretty: the garden of England spread below like a luxurious sun-kissed blanket. Thirty one years ago I remember seeing model gliders drift up on the thermals. This time there was only clear air (perhaps the National Trust has banned such activities in favour of healthier pastimes?) and the distant cries of hawks unseen.
Hell Is an Open Door - East River Pipe Paved With a Little Pain - Dot Allison Ride The Wicked Wind - New Colony Six Mud In Your Eye - Orange Juice Puncture My Pride - The Wave Pictures All I Want From You Is Some Effort - The Broken Family Band Hell Is Round The Corner - Tricky Bruised Broken Beaten - Controller.Controller Dusty Roads - Popsicle A Season In Hell - Would-Be-Goods Rattle My Cage - The Primitives Battleground - Seachange Whichever Way the Wind Blows - Bob Mould Gimme Shelter - The Rolling Stones Mud - Guy Clark Come Sing Me A Happy Song To Prove We All Can Get Along The Lumpy, Bumpy, Long And Dusty Road - Bert Jansch Unbroken Ones - Cathal Coughlan Hells Angels - The Bitter Springs
My mate Gav asked me to design a wee logo for his new 'Rather Be Cycling' business a while back. well, I'm delighted to report that 'swooshy man' (as the logo has now been officially named) is now proudly pictured on the 'Rather Be Cycling' support van. I admit I am just a wee bit thrilled to see him there... Now Gav, when are the t-shirts available?
But wait! What's this?! A little further along the road I came across this sign. Another farm, this time selling 'Big Swedes'! And at half the price of a loose one! So it seems you can have either a 'big' Swede or a 'loose' one, but not both big and loose... Decisions, decisions...
My mate Gavin of the ace new ‘Rather Be Cycling’ holiday company (swooshy man logo courtesy of yours truly) had the pleasure of getting muddy on the cobbled roads of hell the other week. More than that, he did it in the company of a bloke called Bernard (plus a bunch of journalists). That’s him in the photo - third in line getting gapped by my mate in the grotty blue anorak. They used to call him ‘The Badger’ you know (that’s Bernard, not Gavin) and, oh yes, he won the Tour De France five times...
There is a nice wee article about the ride by magazine editor Guy Andrews on the Rouleur blog, although Gav’s yet to be published version sneaks it for me, if only for his mention of seeing Dickie Davies introduce a few minutes of the muddy glory of Paris Roubaix back in the early ‘80s. It is something I remember seeing too, though I admit it did not inspire me to go searching out muddy tracks in Ayrshire on which to train, as it did Gav. He admitted to me this week that he had discovered a stretch of cobbles out behind Prestwick airport on which he trained incessantly and which he kept secret from everyone else. I think it’s safe to say that if he had shared the info with me in 1984 I would have thanked him politely and stayed as far away as possible, not wanting to risk getting my La Vie Claire jersey muddied. Yes, I always was a bit of a wimp.
Did I dream it, or did Herbie Sykes’ book about Franco Balmamion fail to enter the recent list of ‘50 Best Cycling Books’ as put together by 'Cycle Sport' magazine? For what it is worth it would have been in my list, certainly in place of any one of the titles about Lance Armstrong. Of course if you are a cyclist and have not read 'The Eagle of the Canavese' you may still be aware of Sykes’ writing from his string of articles for 'Pro Cycling'. These sharp, evocative pieces have turned a brief spotlight on some forgotten faces of Italian cycling and have been some of my favourites in recent months. They surely set us up perfectly for the forthcoming publication by Rouleur Books of his ‘Maglia Rosa - Triumph and tragedy at the Giro d’Italia’ tome.
I told myself after my Le Tour and La Vuelta series of songs in 2010 that I would not do one of those projects again. But the lure of the Giro is strong, and after all, what else will I do with those songs in my music library with the word ‘pink’ in the title? Well let us just see what happens when May 7th comes around...
This year I am taking part in The Prostate Cancer Charity's Tour Ride. I'm riding the full 175km stage from Minehead to Teignmouth, through some of the hilliest terrain the South West has to offer. It's the same route that the professional racers will ride on the 14th September in the Tour of Britain. The only difference is that they will be riding it a lot faster than I will manage (plus they will have nicer bikes). If you could sponsor me that would make all the pain I'll be going through more than worthwhile. I will think of you all as I grit my teeth on the 18% stretches of Stickle Path hill in North Somerset and on the 20%+ ramps of Peak Hill in Sidmouth... I will also sing your praises as I freewheel down the last hill into Teignmouth. If you sponsor me lots I'll even promise not to sing out loud, thereby protecting the local population from the delights of my singing voice.
The money raised will help The Prostate Cancer Charity to provide men affected by prostate cancer with the best support possible. The charity depends on people like you - without your sponsorship, they wouldn't be able to invest in vital research and services to those that need them most.