Posts Tagged ‘Lance Armstrong’

40 things I’ve learned about cycling and myself now that I’ve turned 40

July 12, 2013
The best-kept secret in club cycling (see no.26)

The best-kept secret in club cycling (see no.26)

1. The most recent thing I’ve learned is this: having taken an extended break to mark your 40th birthday, it is a challenge to get back into the swing of updating your moderately amusing cycling-related weblog. My brain is like a rusty chain; thankfully, I also have lubrication in the form of a warming pot of tea. Let’s see if that’s enough to oil my way through another 39 of these buggers. Off we go!

2. (Before we properly begin, another challenging aspect to banging out a few thoughts on the old MacBook is that I’ve chosen to do it while cycling’s greatest distraction is on the telly. I refer, of course, to the world-famous Tour of France, which I am pleased to note is now being subjected to the high-octane vocal stylings of Carlton Kirby. Did Eurosport bosses promote him to Grand Boucle commentator – Chief Grand Boucleator, if you will – after reading my enthusiastic recommendation in April last year? Why yes, they did. Of course they did.)

3. Taking a sip of my Thé des Moines – a delicate blend of black tea, green tea, vanilla and calendula petals – I am reminded of cycling’s secret truth: no cyclist really drinks coffee because they love the taste. If you actually enjoyed the flavour of refined hot beverages, then you might also seek out the odd cup of well-blended tea. But you don’t, partly because tea only contains a sixth of the caffeine content found in coffee. It’s only a mild addiction, but addictions rarely turn out well. As the old saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you feel incredibly tired once the effect wears off.

4. Well, we’re a tenth of the way through, and I’ve already alienated the caffeinista community. More to the point, I still haven’t properly started this thing yet. So I’ll begin at the beginning. Here we go. For real this time.

5. About 10 years ago, when I started riding seriously, I thought I’d never fit in because I wasn’t serious enough. I don’t mean the long miles or the hard work – I’ve never had a problem with either – but the attention to detail, the planning, the analysing. Then I realised quite a few amateur riders were no good at these things either. It turns out serious cyclists can be as disorganised and shambolic as anyone else. The difference is they feel the absence of discipline more keenly. This is what attracts them to cycling.

6. Pain is temporary; quitting lasts forever. Go hard or go home. Ride like you stole something. No chain, no chain! Etcetera, et bleedin’ cetera. Whenever you’re inclined to think that one of cycling’s many pithy sayings is a great insight into the bigger picture, remember that the cyclist who coined with the greatest number of them was the sport’s biggest fraud. It’s not about the aphorisms.

7. Having said that, I am fully aware the above edict is an aphorism in itself, and this list might become a veritable storehouse of sayings. This is simply my way of participating in one of the longest traditions in cycling: rank, stinking hypocrisy.

8. We need a moratorium on the word ‘velo’. What was once a signal to the more serious end of the cycling spectrum has congealed into an undifferentiated veloslop. Everything, regardless of quality or its target market, is called ‘velo’ these days. Veloriders, Velorution, Urban Velo, Neon Velo… oy, oy, oy. Enough with the velo. We’re veloed out. It’s velover.

9. Two more words that need curbing are ‘pain’ and ‘hurt’. You’re writing about a race or a sportive you have participated in and apparently it was painful. Tell me: if you were writing about swimming, would you tell me that the water was wet? It’s cycling, mate. It’s meant to hurt.

10. Actually, I’d like to make one exception to that last idea, because for some years I’ve harboured a secret desire for the Surrey League to host a race in a village called Hurtmore. In my fantasy promotional campaign, Surrey League bigwig Glyn Durrant peppers the internet-based cycling media with banner ads which are entirely blank, except for one word: “HURTMORE”. The “HURT” is in red, the “MORE” is white. Then a second wave of anticipation hits Surrey League competitors everywhere with these words: “IN 2014 THE SURREY LEAGUE IS GOING TO HURTMORE”. No spaces – “IN2014THESURREYLEAGUEISGOINGTOHURTMORE” – just the words alternating between red and white. Man, imagine the excitement. Imagine the fear.

11. I’ll be honest with you, though: I haven’t done my research on this one. If Hurtmore doesn’t have a leg-shredding climb, they’ll just have to make the race 260km long and hold it on the hottest day of the year.

12. On the subject of races, I thought, upon entering my forties, I would be happy to relinquish my BC licence and limit myself to the sportive playground. Instead, I now realise I am not a sportive rider. I ride them like I would a club ride. I miss the brutality of racing, and I realise I’ve only been competing fitfully since I came back from having major surgery a few years ago. I think this will have to change.

13. I have tried and tried, but I simply cannot forget the name Chester Hill. I saw it on a Surrey League results sheet years ago, and it remains the most old-school cycling name I know of. Despite not having a clue what he looks like, I have a fantasy that one day I might pass him on a particularly testing climb and exclaim: “It’s Chester Hill!” And he, gasping for air, would reply: “It’s not just a hill – it’s friggin’ Ranmore!” I fully realise this may never happen.

14. Cyclists are told too often that cycling is beautiful. Beautiful bikes, beautiful frames, beautiful photography… but they can’t all be beautiful, can they? Because beauty, by definition, is rare. And if you have to tell your customer that the object you’re trying to sell them is beautiful, the chances are it probably isn’t. It’s just… pleasing.

15. The tight-fitting clothing. The pipe-cleaner limbs. The shaved legs. Don’t obviate cycling’s inherent daftness by wallowing in the hollow, monochrome ‘epic’ aesthetic of ‘serious’ cycling culture. Embrace the ridiculous.

16. In the future, not every bike will have electronic gears. But every type of bike will. Think of the growth in usage in the context of the humble kettle: electric kettles are comparatively more complicated than their stove-top equivalents, but everyone uses them now because they do the job with less fuss. And, crucially, they’re not that much more expensive.

17. Miles, not kilometres. Kilometres will always be with us; kilometres are the building blocks of a race, the countdown to the finish line. But say both words out loud: ‘kilometre’ is sharp and factual-sounding; the long ‘i’ of ‘miles’ is expressive. Miles are what you have in your legs, or what you have yet to get in. Miles are units of yearning, not matters of fact. ‘Miles’ conveys incompleteness – and all of us, as cyclists, are incomplete.

18. I have been part of a very big club ever since it was no bigger than a few dozen members. For the first five years, I put together a weekly newsletter about the club called DYNAMITE!, which I set up this blog to archive. Writing DYNAMITE! was one of the more worthwhile things I’ve done. It brought hundreds of strangers together. It kept them entertained. It recorded, in the course of more than 200 issues, just how much we love the sport.

19. Strava and route-sharing websites should’ve killed off cycling clubs, or at least diminished the importance of club runs. Instead, cycling clubs are getting bigger. Nothing surprising about that: cycling can be a miserable sport, and it helps if you’re surrounded by people who will help you cope with terrible form or terrible weather. What is surprising is how little of the culture of cycling clubs is reflected in cycling media, given that club cyclists are the basis of their readership.

20. I like being a loner. But what I like even more than solitude is being out on my bike and stumbling across an old clubmate I haven’t seen for years. Being part of a large club, I often get these little surprises.

21. I miss seeing heart rate monitors on the wrists of strangers. Before Garmin GPS units became ubiquitous, I would sometimes spy a chunky Polar beneath a shirt cuff and realise that, yes, this person is indeed one of us. Now I have to look for daft, mitt-shaped tan lines, like the ones I currently have demarcating my pale hands from my brown arms.

22. If you really want to know what cyclists talk about, don’t look on the internet. This is because the internet has become The Fact Olympics – “Look at my big, juicy facts! My facts are far more powerful than your puny facts! Just face facts – preferably my bulging, pulsating facts!” Relatively few of the face-to-face conversations I have with my cycling chums are about doping, and none of them have deteriorated into an argument. I suspect this is because competitive cyclists prefer to use their bikes and legs rather than words to best each other.

23. I used to believe in strength in numbers, that bad drivers would be shamed into curbing their worst behaviours if we simply had more cyclists join us on London’s streets. Well, we have, and they haven’t. I don’t think there are more bad motorists, but I do think the worst ones are behaving even more badly. We need stronger laws, and better road infrastructure.

24. Having said that, I don’t believe that an adversarial, them-and-us culture is the motorist’s default mindset. You can pass dozens of cars on a single ride without incident. Drivers generally don’t have an issue with us.

25. The best time to ride in London is after 1am. There are fewer cars and, perhaps because there is less traffic, the standard of driving is less aggressive.

26. The best-kept secret in Surrey-based club cycling is Fairoaks Airport. You may not know it, but there really is an airport nestled amidst the roads you train on. It has a nice cafe. You can watch light aircraft and helicopters landing and taking off. It’s like a little day out in the middle of a ride. You will feel like a kid again.

27. Speaking of being a child, the funniest phrase in the cycling lexicon is ‘anodised nipple’.

28. The second-funniest phrase in cycling is ‘Edvald Boobsandhardon’. (If you think it’s disrespectful, please blame my romantical partner Littlejen who made it up.)

29. The third-funniest phrase in cycling is ‘Fartlek’.

30. I rarely drink. I ride quite a bit. I don’t put on much weight. These three things immediately pop into my head when I come across a cyclist who has signed up to a complicated and restrictive diet plan.

31. More than speed, more than distance, cycling is about time. Time is the agent of anticipation, and we’re all anticipating something: the next ride, the next bike, the moment when everything – the right level of fitness, the mental focus – finally comes together.

32. You will know if your bike is the one for you if you keep it by your bed. Wake up. Look at it. Does it make you want to ride even when though you are exhausted? Then congratulations – you have made the right choice.

33. Nobody needs to spend more than £2,500 on a bicycle. I’ve experienced the full panoply of frame materials – aluminium, steel, titanium and carbon – and I’ve loved them all. You can experience the same joy as I have done without spending the equivalent of the price of a new hatchback.

34. I have never envied another person’s bicycle. I don’t go looking for another bike to own. All my bikes found me.

35. I can recall miserable wet rides from years ago – the people I was with, where we went, where we stopped when we punctured – but I can remember barely anything from some of the warm, sunny rides that should have been more memorable. Hot days wipe my memory.

36. Women are the best people to ride with. Men specialise in talking about facts and objects; women tend to talk about people and experiences. They are more observant of character and more aware of absurdity. If I’m going to chat with someone for three hours or more, I know which gender I’d prefer them to be.

37. Book and magazine publishers, please note the following: no one has ever said, “Brilliant! Another lengthy retread of obscure cycling history, told with a personal twist! I’ve just got to read this!”

38. Bicycle races are even more fun when you watch them with Littlejen. My romantical partner is quite a reserved person, but my goodness – you should hear the gob on her during the Tour.

39. Jen is that rarest of people: a cycling fan who loves cycling yet hardly ever rides. She enjoys the spectacle and occasional absurdity of professional cycling; the nerdery and punditry are anathema to her. We need more Littlejens in cycling.

40. Sometimes, when you’re out on your bike, you’ll want to go as hard as you can. On other occasions you might be out for a pootle. Similarly, when I’m being serious, I try to be as engaging and argumentative as I can be; if I’m being daft or whimsical, I put in as many funny bits as I can think of. I wish more people did the same. Write like you ride.

The DYNAMITE! Five: the month in cycling, remixed. February 2013

February 28, 2013

5 UP The Pope
God moves in mysterious ways – so it could have been divine inspiration that prompted an inquisitive journalist to ask Marcel Kittel, “Did the Pope’s resignation give you extra motivation?” following the young German’s victory in the opening stage of the Tour of Oman. Commentator Matt Keenan reports that the question “was met with bemused silence”. Maybe the heat had got to the unnamed hack – or he thought the relatively little-known early season race was called The Tour Of Amen. It’s an easy mistake to make.

4 UP Osen
This little-known Rapha rip-off, spotted by former Perren Streeter Luke Scheybeler, could do with a viral marketing campaign if they want to make their Korean brand a No.1 hit in the UK. How about a pop video of a dapper loon doing an exuberant dance which mimics riding a bike with one hand? Chaingang-nam style. Over to you, Luke. Op, op, op!

3 DOWN Cycling to school
“It would be a national scandal if a school situated within view of the 2012 Box Hill Olympic cycling race introduced a policy that forces pupils into cars.” Well, it should be a scandal, but apparently it isn’t, despite concerned parent James Harvey’s eloquent summation of the decision by North Downs Primary School to ban pupils cycling or walking to two of its sites because of the perceived danger. Memo to Surrey County Council: if the roads really are that dangerous, then maybe you should be targeting motorists instead.

2 DOWN The Guardian
Taking up the cause of his chums in the US who are, like, totally pissed that Lance Armstrong is now using Strava, the Guardian’s Matt Seaton writes: “Of any segment of the American public, this is probably the community that is best-informed, cares most about clean cycling, and feels most betrayed by Armstrong’s cheating.” To which non-Stravistas might respond to the adoptive American’s buddies: relax, er, ‘dudes’. He won’t be using any of Dr Ferrari’s Special Sauce this time. Strava is the one ‘race’ Armstrong can win without doping and, in a just world, he should have been sequestered to it a long time ago. If he doesn’t end up in chokey, getting mired in an online willy-waving ‘King of the Mountains’ purgatory could be the next best thing…

sean yates at hillingdon winter series 2013 3rd cat race
1 UP Sean Yates
Meanwhile, back in Matt’s homeland, an altogether more tolerant attitude to the EPO era was on display when an alleged friend of the infamous Motoman decided to slum it in the lowly 3rd cat race at the penultimate fixture of the Hillingdon Winter Series. Sean Yates (yes, that’s him above on the Team Sky Pinarello, and there are more pics here) was given a warm welcome, which is more than can be said for Eurosport’s Tony Gibb, who was ejected from the series for bollocking his fellow competitors. First Lance, now Tony – who can we believe in anymore?

The DYNAMITE! Five: the month in cycling, remixed. January 2013

January 31, 2013

5 DOWN Assos winter kit assos winter kit at bike show
From the Swiss outfitters who gave you The Homoerotic Mandroid comes another unique way of celebrating the male body: a pair of winter leggings that will turn your balls blue. Isn’t that what they’re supposed to prevent, guys? Cycling Weekly, which photographed The Assos Circle Of Cyan on a dummy’s gentleman’s area at the Cycle Show, has failed to provide a photograph of the garment’s rear view. Which is probably just as well.

4 UP The Urban Cyclist
In the ever-competitive world of cycling magazines, plucky newcomer The Urban Cyclist makes a strong bid for Most Fanciful Upgrade Suggestion: a £649 five-spoke carbon front wheel for the sort of bike you would normally use to get to work or go down the shops. Apparently the BLB Notorious 05 is “a serious bit of kit”, so no pointing and laughing if you see one, OK?
Urban Cyclist mag carbon wheel test

3 UP Rapha rapha shower made for two story
The fashionable literary genre of S&M appears to have infiltrated one of the mini-stories that Rapha famously sews into its garments. New Sky signing Ian Boswell spotted the intriguing tale of a soigneur climbing into a shower to get his hands on bruised and battered Richie Porte – but how does the steamy story end? James Fairbank, Rapha’s head of marketing, suggests you will need to buy all 11 variations of the new Sky jerseys to find out. Just in case he isn’t joking, here’s a suggestion for a title: 50 Shades Of Gains (Marginal).

2. UP Pinarello
To sneers and groans of disappointment, Halfords has announced it will stock Pinarellos. Who would have thought that a proud, Italian, Tour-winning marque could be sold alongside car stereos and bottles of anti-freeze? Well, for a start, anyone who has been to Pinarello’s hometown of Treviso, where the brand’s name adorns anything from kids’ bikes to sturdy shoppers – the sort of bicycles you would expect to find in, er, Halfords.

1. DOWN Lance and Oprah
Amid the fallout from Doprah, spare a thought for the hitherto unexamined effect on the caffeineistas of Old Street. Popular cyclists’ cafe Look Mum No Hands! announced it would screen Armstrong’s confession and give away coffee every time he shed “crocodile tears” – only for the shameless cheat to avoid delivering a Kleenex moment during the first night of the two-part interview. So no free brews. It’s always the fans who suffer, isn’t it?

Ten questions we may never get answered

January 17, 2013

lance and oprah

1. Will you publicly acknowledge, for the sake of your own dignity and the wider sporting community, that triathlon isn’t actually a proper sport?

2. Can anyone actually pronounce “Madone” without having to Google it?

3. Black socks. Whose idea was that, sunshine?

4. You know back in the day, when David Letterman used to announce, “Ladies and gentlemen, the five-time winner of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong!” and a fat kid wearing a yellow jersey would ride through the studio audience on a Trek while the band played a speeded-up version of Proud Mary? How long did you have to spend in makeup to pull that one off? And can you put one of those clips on YouTube? Man, I loved those skits. Great times.

5. You always surprised your rivals with an unexpected, audacious move that allowed you to gain the upper hand psychologically. When’s the cookbook coming out?

6. After all that’s happened, how can you expect any of us to believe that you were the first person to ride a bike on the moon? And without oxygen? Seriously WTF?

7. Do you know that when Festinagirl daydreams about frenching Bertie, she opens her eyes mid-snog and sees your face?

8. Honey Stingers – you could call ‘em Bee PO! Hahahaha! Just putting that one out there, buddy.

9. Contrary to what’s been reported, can you confirm the only performance-enhancing rugs are on either side of Bradley Wiggins’ face?

10. Doping isn’t a victimless crime. Because of what you’ve done, thousands of us in the UK will ingest massive levels of caffeine to watch this ruddy interview at two o’clock in the morning. HOW DOES THAT MAKE YOU FEEL, YOU MONSTER?

Cycling confessions

November 2, 2012

What every cyclist needs: a confession booth

Currently, the mood in cycling is one of revelation: I took drugs, I was on the books of a notorious Spanish doctor, I couldn’t help noticing Lance thought Bobby Julich was a bit dull. That sort of thing. But it’s not just the pros who have had something to hide. I, too, have harboured dreadful secrets. And now, pausing only to offer sincere apologies to those I may have hurt by not speaking out sooner, I shall now unburden myself of the guilt that has wracked my conscience. In return, I ask you to find the compassion in your hearts to forgive me for breaking some of cycling’s strictest edicts…

I do not drink coffee. There – I’ve said it. Drinking coffee makes me more tired by the end of the day, and I don’t miss the hit or the taste. More importantly, I came to realise why coffee lovers talk about which brands they prefer without usually discussing the differences: it’s because all types of bean juice taste roughly the same. Seriously, they do. Starbucks and your favourite independent coffee house both leave, quite literally, a bitter taste in your mouth. It’s just a slightly different bitterness. So have a tea instead, guys! Any tea! Black tea, green tea, fruit teas – there’s a lot more variety. And greater variety means more opportunities to indulge in cyclists’ favourite pastime: arbitrary snobbery. You can’t lose!

I have never looked at a carbon Colnago with envy. They look fine. Perfectly fine. Not beautiful, stunning, amazing, awesome, just… OK. Like a nice fitted kitchen or a sensible hat. To me, they appear to be just another assemblage of carbon tubes, but without the futuristic wowness of, say, a Felt, or the old-school romanticism of a hand-built steel frame. They’re sit somewhere in between. With an Italian name. Total whatevvs.

I don’t want to ride the Etape. One of my favourite pieces of cycling-related prose is Bill Strickland’s pithy, insightful and funny article on the Etape du Tour, which appeared in Rouleur’s 2008 photo annual. Bill evokes the event as a kind of living trance, where the landscape and your fellow riders recede from your immediate perception, thereby provoking a reckoning with yourself. And I can relate to that; I’m just pretty sure I don’t want or need that experience from a sportive. I think sportives should be pleasant jaunts around unfamiliar locales, and the Etape always looks far too over-populated and bloody serious to provide that sort of ride. Also, for me, riding a stage from the actual Tour de France without the speed or ability of a pro would be like running around Wembley Stadium while pretending to kick an invisible football. For these reasons, I am never going to ride the Etape.

I’m not that bothered either way about disc brakes or electronic shifting. I think I’m supposed to feel strongly one way or the other, aren’t I? I just can’t muster the effort, fellas. I’m sorry. Look, if the industry wants it to happen, it will happen. One set of aesthetic values will shift to accommodate another. And if you’re a diehard fan of rim braking or analogue gears, then you’ll probably be able to stick with them. Bicycles will still be able to start and stop. Them wheels will keep on turning. Let’s all have a group hug and try not to fight about it, OK?

Lance falling

October 11, 2012

Nine years ago, Jen and I went to a bar on the Haymarket, had a few drinks, met some fellow cycling fans and watched Lance Armstrong fall off his bike. The famous tumble on the road to Luz Ardiden caused by a spectator’s musette caught in Armstrong’s handlebars had taken place earlier that day, although we hadn’t turned up with the intention of watching the yellow jersey and Iban Mayo have a whoops-a-daisy. We didn’t even know it had happened – both of us had been at work, Twitter hadn’t been invented yet, and mainstream news outlets didn’t give a toss. The reason why we went to watch a big screen at a West End watering hole had something to do with engaging in what was a unique experience for us in 2003: being in a room with other bicyclepeople who liked watching bicycle races. Because we knew very few people who did.

The shindig at the Sports Café was organised by Phil Cavell and Julian Wall of Bikepark in Covent Garden, which later evolved into Cyclefit, the business which is more or less responsible for bicycle fitting becoming a standard part of the bike-buying process. Paul Callinan, who had chatted to me at the Hillingdon circuit when I tentatively started racing, was among those attending. A few months later, after Bikepark stepped down from organising its two popular weekend group rides, Paul and a couple of friends would seize the momentum by reviving a name that Jules had coined in the mid-nineties for the early incarnation of his shop’s team – and so it came to pass that the all-new London Dynamo, which started life as a discussion in Paul’s kitchen, became a phenomenon that swiftly (and inadvertently) grew to be bigger than every long-established club in the south-east. Also propping up the bar on that July evening was Nick Peacock (he later sold me his Merlin frame after he became Dynamo’s second club captain, although I think we didn’t get round to speaking to each other that night) and triathlete-turned-demon-time-trialist Martin Williamson, one of many kindly ’Mos who gave me a lift to races during my first season as a non-car-owning fourth cat. But that night we were all more or less strangers to each other.

So there we all were, the many and varied chums of Bikepark, watching Armstrong fall off, get back up, wallop his groin into his top tube as he came out of his pedal and then solo away to victory. Chapeau! Except no one exclaimed “Chapeau!” or “Hat!” because it hadn’t occurred to any of us yet that pretension or irony had a place in cycling. The mood was more of muted amazement rather than the whooping, roaring enthusiasm you now get at Look Mum No Hands! during an eventful moment of a big race. This was fascination before it evolved into fandom. And we all know the aspects of Armstrong’s story that fascinated us: beating cancer and then beating everyone, a singular character with a single ball. Personally, I loved watching his movements on the bike, swaggering when he was out of the saddle, and the robotic, propulsive, high cadence when he was seated – a contained, measured ferocity. Yet most of the conversations that night weren’t about Armstrong or pro cycling, but about our own, more modest, adventures: where we had been riding, where we planned to ride or race, each of us glimpsing the others’ characters and experience (invariably much greater than mine) by learning about their cycling history.

And when Dynamo began, I still didn’t know who my riding chums actually were. They each had a name, a bike and stories about their riding, all of which helped to identify the less vocal members who dwelt beneath the ubiquitous mask of helmet and sunglasses, but the life they lived beyond our weekly 50-mile training loop across the Surrey Hills was a distant vista. Before setting out one Sunday, Paul muttered wearily to me about having practically no sleep because he had been on call all night. Ah-ha, I thought – a doctor! It took a while for me to discover that he actually worked in IT for a bank, and being on call involved piping zeroes and ones to the Far East in the early hours of the morning. But at least I knew his name – I can still recall the delight at discovering “Nicholas Peacock” on the finishing list of Dynamo’s inaugural Beginners’ Series race, because the surname was part of a long-standing in-joke between myself and Jen. (And as it’s a slightly bizarre gag which isn’t aimed at Nick, it’s probably best Jen and I keep it to ourselves…)

Dynamos were Dynanonymous to each other – but the one name everyone knew, whether they had a rich history of riding or had just started out, was Lance Armstrong. There was a unique combination of factors that led to Dynamo confounding a British Cycling official’s prediction to Paul that we would probably attract a total of around two dozen members: as the only club to have a regular ride in the cycling mecca of Richmond Park, we were conspicuous; we welcomed all-comers; we were, and still are, a friendly bunch; and, in a major departure from the aesthetic of the time, our jersey didn’t comprise a clumsy mélange of fonts and colours or resemble something an estate agent might hammer onto a stick. But I think the main reason why Dynamo grew so rapidly was due to a pool of new, unaffiliated riders who had recently taken up the sport after an English-speaking athlete had caught their attention by repeatedly winning the Tour de France. Armstrong was the key that unlocked the entrance to a previously clandestine world – and if he could get on a bike after what he had been through, then why couldn’t you?

So the blue train of the US Postal Service team unwittingly begat a blue, black and orange locomotive – although it is there that the parallels, like two diesels thundering towards each other, must screech to a halt. I can dimly remember a line in Procycling magazine claiming that Armstrong-related catchphrases such as “No chain! No chain!” and “How d’you like them apples?” had become de rigueur on club runs – and oh, how I cringed, because from my experience of Dynamo, amateur cycling didn’t take hero worship or wish fulfillment to those extremes. Talking about Armstrong, or pro cycling generally, was an excuse for men (sadly, there were only men in those days) to indulge in the necessary human act of gossiping, sharing our awe about feats that had amazed us, trading information, often as a means of trying to work out who would do what the next time around. Would Jan Ullrich ever win another Tour? Could winning the Dauphiné prove to be a poison chalice for the Texan? And, inevitably, along came the only question that never went away: do you think Lance is clean?

Fast forward a few years, and half a dozen ’Mos are sitting on one of the benches outside the Roehampton Gate café in Richmond Park after the Parkride. I’m one of them; two others are also long-standing members (although they’re not the Dynamos I mentioned earlier). Armstrong has decided not to contest the US Anti-Doping Agency’s case against him, and the consensus around the table is that, as a result, no one will truly know if the man stripped of his seven Tour wins ever cheated. Most think the case should never have been pursued because it happened a long time ago, everyone was at it, and USADA doesn’t have any authority in the matter anyway. One Dynamo calls USADA boss Travis Tygart “Travis Dickface”.

Well, Mr Dickface does have the authority, and USADA’s 200-page report released yesterday, featuring damning testimony from every American Tour rider who rode for USPS and Discovery, may convince the doubting Dynamos I listened to that morning. Perhaps I should have pointed them in the direction of the truth: there were some professional cyclists who asked Tygart to sit in as an observer when they were questioned as part of the original federal investigation into USPS – so USADA had to pursue the allegations, because this is what they are funded to do. Anything less would have been corrupt.

But I didn’t say anything. And I’m pleased I kept my trap shut, because the opinions I heard that morning were not those of diehard fans desperately clutching at straws; they were an expression of disconnection from a complicated story that has been twisting and turning for years. True, a few of my cycling chums have followed the slow, inexorable exposure of the EPO years, but they tend to be the minority whose interest in pro cycling began prior to Armstrong’s appearance. I get the impression that most of the cyclists I know have simply not followed the diffuse trail of whispers and nose-tapping which has been played out mostly on fan sites and forums. They’re not angry or disappointed about Armstrong’s fall from grace, because they’ve not been exposed to much of those areas of the internet where anger and disappointment reigns. Threads on our own forum these days about tyre choice, groupsets or any other quotidian aspect of bike riding dwarf those about Armstrong, while the full-throated, joyful cheers we’ve given to Wiggins, Cavendish and other home-grown heroes are more passionate, more engaged than the interest anyone had showed for the Texan. One reason for that enthusiasm is that the likes of Wiggo and Cav are British, and their Olympic exploits were performed on roads we’ve all ridden. Another reason, of course, is that the performances have become more believable.

So let’s remember the Tour de France 1999-2005 in this way: lots of people took loads of drugs and did some amazing things, and we all had a good time witnessing them. But like the big screen looming over our conversations that night at the Sports Café, Armstrong’s adventures have proved to be just the background noise to our own experiences on bicycles. It’s not about the bike rider who brought us together – if, indeed, it ever was.

Lance Armstrong: closing the gap between satire and reality

May 20, 2012

‘What Eells said he found interesting is that after years and years of denials, that in the hours spent with Armstrong researching the article, that the rider didn’t once claim not to have doped.’

‘”Okay, here goes,” Armstrong said. “Um, in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I took, um… You see, in order to give myself a better chance of winning, I… Yes, there were instances during the Tour when…”‘

The DYNAMITE! Five: The week in cycling, remixed. Issue #19

September 30, 2011

5 UP Tim Vine
“See these Icebreakers? Don’t work. Tried to use one to start a conversation and the guy just walked away.” Boom, and indeed, tish! And so, with a chortlesome quip about a high-end brand of merino base layer, comedian Tim Vine began a short routine at the Pearson Performance store on Friday evening which united the two aspects of life most precious to this blog: cycling and light-hearted wordplay. Hurrah! The one-liner wonderman, who is a childhood chum of owners Will and Guy, made our week with his puntastic appearance in East Sheen, although we’re not going to quote the rest of his routine: this is our blog, and we make the jokes around here (even though they are sub-standard by comparison).

4 UP Newreaders
Staying at the launch of the excellent new Pearson store, one interesting nugget that we picked up which may already be common knowledge among the bikerati is that ITV’s Dermot Murnaghan and Matt Barbet of Channel 5 fame regularly go out riding together. Two TV anchormen, sat next to each other on their bikes, talking away for hours: you know what they probably get up to, don’t you? The pair of them (in The DYNAMITE! Files’ head, anyway) chat to each other as if they’re doing a news broadcast, live from the hills of Surrey. Let’s turn on the vivid HDTV of our imagination and watch… “Good afternoon and thanks for joining us. Coming up: a tight left-hander. Over now to Matt Barbet. Matt, tell us what’s happening.” “Thanks, Dermot. We’re getting unconfirmed reports of a major pothole. Oof! Yes, I can now confirm a pothole has been encountered. Back to you, Dermot.” And so on, for the course of 70 to 100 miles. Possibly.

3 DOWN David Harmon
Still at the launch night of Pearson Performance (can you tell this blog doesn’t get out much?) we were disappointed that the World Championships prevented Eurosport commentator and Richmond Park regular David Harmon from attending. One Pearson partygoer reckons the man behind the mic sounds a little different when off-air and isn’t immediately recognisable, so we had a great way to identify him should he have turned up: “accidentally” drop a glass of bubbly and wait for the one person in the room to say: “Oh no! There’s been a crash! Oh, disaster! This is terrible!” Would’ve worked a treat. Maybe next time, eh?

2 UP Pat McQuaid
The Dalai Lama. Barack Obama. Nelson Mandela. Men of character and wisdom, whose achievements are so great that they truly deserve to have an in-depth 15,000-word feature written about them in a publication of record. And now you can add, er, Pat McQuaid to that august list, because the UCI president is the subject of a Grand Tour-sized question-and-answer session in the forthcoming issue of (what else?) Rouleur. It’s all in there: the Armstrong donations, the accusations of nepotism and why, despite what any of us may think, it’s apparently quite important to have a WorldTour race in China. But perhaps the most intriguing revelation is that Uncle Pat used to lurk on internet forums to see what cycling fans have been saying about him. BikeRadar: your hotline to Aigle. Who would have thought?


1 UP Mark Cavendish, Champion Of The World
It’s something you probably never thought you’d see: “Peta, 24, from Essex”, purportedly quoting Goethe on page three of The Sun as she analyses the euro bailout (“Everything in the world may be endured, except continued prosperity,” apparently). Meanwhile, tucked away on page 62 of the same newspaper, there was a brief report on her boyfriend – someone called Mark Cavendish – being crowned cycling’s world road race champion, making him the first Brit to win the men’s title in 46 years. So judging by the difference in column inches between Cav and his girlfriend in Britain’s biggest-selling newspaper, it would appear that the giddy dream posited by an excitable question from the BBC – “Could cycling become the UK’s second-favourite sport?” – is a long way from becoming a reality. But let’s look at it another way: how, you may ask, is the question in any way relevant? Does the popularity of a sport automatically make it more successful or interesting? Because anyone who saw Sunday’s thrilling race in Copenhagen or read Richard Williams’ analysis in the Guardian would realise that British riders are now officially amazing – super-strong, tactically astute and ruddy fast – and they became brilliant while the majority of the British public wasn’t paying any attention. Which makes their achievement all the more special, doesn’t it?

The DYNAMITE! Five: The week in cycling, remixed. Issue #12

August 12, 2011

5 UP A dog in a jersey
Look! It’s a dog wearing a British National Champion’s jersey! And his name is Bradley Waggings! Or Grrr-aint Thomas! Or maybe – ha ha! – Ni-collie Cooke! That’s right! Look at the picture of the doggy which Cycling Weekly tweeted! Not at the news – the doggy! Don’t even think about bike shops being looted, races being called off at Crystal Palace and Hillingdon or that chap from the Telegraph getting knocked off his bike and robbed – just LOOK INTO THE LOVELY, CALMING, UNTHREATENING GAZE OF THE DOGGY! Bad thoughts gone away? Equilibrium restored? Good. Now we can get on with our usual weekly whimasathon…

4 UP Nicolas Sarkozy
The burden of the pretend pro, or “no-fessional”, is a heavy one. While their chums are stuck in an office, perhaps reading a sporadically amusing cycling-related top five run-down to help them get through the day, these aspirational amateurs must focus on one thing and one thing only: cranking out huge mileages, and perhaps tweeting or blogging about it afterwards. But the scope of their obliviousness – which mainly involves paying no attention to a dwindling redundancy fund and an irked spouse – pales in comparison to that of French president Nicolas Sarkozy, who last week ignored the entire eurozone almost going down the crapper so he could go for a pootle on his reasonably-priced B’Twin. To restore British honour, The DYNAMITE! Files is calling on David Cameron, our own pedalling premier, to lead an Armstrong-style Twitter ride through the locality of the next inner-city conflagration while it’s still going on. It is the only way to show the French that we are better than them at blind indifference.

3 DOWN George W Bush
Staying with World Leaders On Bikes News, issue 25 of Rouleur contains a brief appraisal of George W Bush’s crash history, courtesy of an admirably frank exchange between two staff members at Trek’s Wisconsin headquarters. “Bush had, like, eight [bikes] come through,” reveals paint technician Patrick Sullivan. “He just kept wreckin’ ‘em. He’d take ‘em round to his ranch and stuff, and I dunno how the hell he does it. I haven’t ever wrecked a bike in my entire life. Maybe he fell a lot.” Well, the former US president always did seem to be a few spokes short of the proverbial full Ksyrium, so maybe he was as clumsy with his Treks as he was with his words. Or perhaps he did what some careful owners of carbon dream machines would secretly love to do if they didn’t have to pay for them: ride the bike into the ground and then simply get a new one. We’ll just have to wait for Bush’s memoirs before this mystery is solved.

2 DOWN Pendragon – Le Col – Colnago
“Eritrean Halie Dawit was refused a visa, while Libyan Ahmed Belgassem was stuck in his revolution-affected country.” Not the sort of sentence you usually get from Cycling Weekly, and not the type of thing you expect to happen to riders signed by a British racing team. But apparently that was part of the “catalogue of circumstancial [sic] situations” that affected Pendragon – Le Col – Colnago, which announced yesterday it is disbanding at the end of the season. If only The DYNAMITE! Files had a few quid to keep the south-west squad going – then, one day, we might get to read about, say, a plucky Afghan tearing it up around Smithfield, or an Egyptian standing on the podium of the Tour Series. We can but dream.

1 DOWN Artcrank
An urgent announcement for “velophiles” everywhere: mobs of confused, pitchfork-wielding lunatics have been known to drive paedatricians from their homes, so for the sake of your own safety, you may want to find a less unusual term to express your bike lust. In the meantime, an organisation called Artcrank is selling some nice posters next Friday at Look Mum No Hands! which, according to the event’s promotional blather, is the home of all things velophiliac. It’s possible, of course, that the American organisers are living up to the “crank” part of their name by using the made-up word “velophile” in the hope that it will be adopted by a café full of gullible twerps. And, hey, anything could happen after necking a few Slags (the Look Mum unofficial house beer) – although you’d have to be really sozzled to make sense of the Yanks’ assertion that “bicycles now ply the busiest areas of the city”, as if there were once swathes of central London where cyclists never rode. “Riding a bike is like an invitation to be creative,” says founder Charles Youel – a bit like writing a press release, it seems. (The DYNAMITE! Files is going for a lie down now. It’s feeling a bit Artcranky.)

A Level-Headed Analysis Of The Great Publishing Mystery Of 2006

July 8, 2011

It’s Tour time, and that can mean only one thing: everyone is making light-hearted observations about cyclists, regardless of whether they like cycling or not. Not me, though. I’m all out of funny this week, thanks to a chronic lack of sleep, an influx of extra-curricular work and probably the biggest IT disaster I’ve ever experienced in an office environment (you don’t want to know – trust me). So I won’t be joining in with the TdF ROFL-fest, thankyouverymuch. Instead, like Romain Feillu frantically running backwards while trying to flag down a team car, I am going to draw attention to myself by going in the opposite direction. That’s right: in the grand tradition of the internets, I shall now take a serious, analytical look at a phenomenon and then blame it all on a convenient scapegoat.

My Big, Serious Analysis relates to the circulations of three cycling magazines over a decade-long period. I spotted the figures sellotaped to the wall of a certain well-known cycling brand’s office more than a year ago, so I immediately took a photo and promptly forgot about it until I found the picture languishing on our hard drive last week. I’m not going to tell you which office it was, but anyone can probably get these figures quite easily. I should mention, however, that I don’t have an association, paid or otherwise, with any of these magazines.

That's it – squint. Or click to make it bigger. It's up to you.

I’ll ignore the mountain bike mags on the right as I don’t know a ruddy thing about them. What interests me are the three road titles: Cycling Plus (Men’s Health on wheels), Cycle Sport (professional cycling news) and Cycling Weekly (a mishmash of the two, with a dash of domestic racing coverage). At first glance, their fortunes seem as divergent as their subject matter. By 2009, Future Publishing’s Cycling Plus had more than doubled its circulation of 2000. The industry’s technical term for this is: HOLY CHRIST. By contrast, IPC’s Cycle Sport lost almost a quarter of its readership in the same period. The industry’s technical term for this is also: HOLY CHRIST. Yet perhaps more surprising is Cycle Sport’s sister mag Cycling Weekly, whose figures have held remarkably steady. So much for its supposed terminal decline – but you can’t believe everything you read on internet forums, can you?

But now look at what happens in 2006. C+ experiences an annual year-on-year increase of only 0.61% while CS loses a whopping 10.53% – but CW goes up 7.16%. All of these are record numbers for the period. So what the flipping hell happened in ’06 to cause these weird jolts?

Well, it was the first full year of Lance Armstrong’s retirement 1.0, which probably explains why CS’s decline only begins in ’06 (sales were steady up until then, with a healthy rise in ’04). But it was also the year Floyd Landis, er, finished the Tour in the fastest time. Post-Tour editions proclaimed him the winner, but he had already tested positive by the time the copies left the printers. (If I remember correctly, even C+ put Landis on the front – an unusual move, given that its cover stars are usually anonymous amateurs.) The internet had made bike mags seem out-of-date before, but never quite so conspicuously, and I think some readers, particularly those of CS, may have been turned away for good. But perhaps some of them also picked up CW more frequently to find out the latest on the twists and turns of his case, which would at least explain the magazine’s biggest annual circulation rise during the decade.

So there you have it. Everything is Floyd’s fault. And Lance’s. Or maybe not. Perhaps it’s fairer to say that big cycling stars can have wildly varying and unpredictable effects on each magazine’s circulation – and there’s nothing mags can do about it unless they choose to ignore them. Which is what, by and large, C+ seems to have done.

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