Duty of Care

When your children leave you, at whatever age that might be, you hope that someone will look out for them.  As a mother of two eight year old daughters, that day is (hopefully) unimaginably far away. However, you can never know what their future may hold. It’s with that in mind that I have been keeping an eye on recent events.

How do you deal with the moment when your talented cyclist daughter tells you that they’ve been released from the British Cycling setup four months before the next Olympic Games? Moreover, she tells you that a senior manager told her to ‘go and have a baby’ after previously telling them that they had ‘a fat arse’? It subsequently becomes apparent that other people claim to have been on the receiving end of the sort of comments that would lead to instant dismissal in most modern workplaces.

Imagine receiving the news that one of your twin boys, one of a pair of brilliantly gifted young cyclists has failed a doping control test? Then it emerges that the team doctor failed to submit the required TUE form. Your son’s team has accepted full responsibility for the test failure but you know that cycling has a massive image problem that it is trying to shake off. Moreover, you believe and hope that your sons are making the right informed choices about their lives.

You go with your teenage daughters to a football game. They don’t want to sit with you because they want to do their own thing. You let them go because…what choice do you have?  You’d rather that they sat with you in the stands, or with their dad on the terraces, but you can’t force them. They don’t get to go home that day.

In all of these cases, the people involved were not protected by the bodies and authorities designed to do exactly that.

Jess Varnish’s position in the GB cycling team became vulnerable when the women’s team sprint team failed to qualify for the Rio Olympics. In a setup where medal winning potential is the most important criteria and with Becky James making an excellent comeback from illness and injury, Varnish was always going to be fighting her team-mates to win a place in the individual sprint and keirin events. However, why spend a considerable amount of time and funding on someone only to kick them out with a couple of months to go? The politik course of action would have been to keep Varnish in the team and take her to Rio see if Shane Sutton would be proved right, or if she could prove him wrong. As for the comments that he (allegedly) made, professional sport is a relentlessly tough environment, but there can surely be no place for that culture.

Sutton is undoubtedly a brilliant coach with a proven track record and British Cycling would not have achieved its phenomenal successes without him, but he’s not exactly Gene Hunt. Hopefully the outcome of this debacle will be a better, more balanced structure in British Cycling that values female cyclists as equals to the men and provides them with access to appropriate role models.

When the news broke late last night on social media that an unnamed British cyclist had failed a drugs test, there was a small amount of hysteria and despair. Not Geraint Thomas. Not Pete Kennaugh. Not Hugh Carthy. A few minutes later, it was reported that Simon Yates was the unnamed cyclist. It felt unbelievable…and yet…with the history of the sport, who could really know? It appears that Yates has a well-documented history of suffering from asthma.  There are calls for transparency around prescription medication in professional sport but does the public really have a right to know when a rider is receiving treatment for an STI, or is taking a course of antidepressants, for example? In this case the system worked in one sense because the test found a suspicious substance. However, if it is merely a paperwork error and Yates was taking medication prescribed by the team doctor, his reputation has been tarnished for something that was not his fault. One could argue that he could have checked the status of the medication himself, but if it’s prescribed by a medical professional, how much are you going to question them?

Hillsborough. 27 years to clear the names of the 96 people that died and the countless others whose lives have been adversely affected. Sarah and Vicky Hicks were let down by every single body that was supposed to protect them. Moreover, the continual lies, smears and cover-ups that took place did not allow them to rest in peace.

As a parent, all you can do is let them go. You can’t protect them from discrimination. You can’t tell them to double-check every single medication they’re prescribed. You can’t tell them where to stand. All we can do is hope that those who have a duty of care will protect them as we have done.  When the systems fail them, we have a duty to challenge the status quo. Only then will meaningful, positive change be achieved.

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Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne! Disco Inferno!

Eurosport are running an advert for Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne, which takes place next weekend and every time I see it I sing along to The Traamps disco classic because THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT IT SOUNDS LIKE.

I’m not sure if it’s deliberate, but it’s better than one of those voice overs in which the speaker sounds like their voicebox is stuck on shop demonstration model (via Eddie Izzard crossed with the Polucemon from Allo Allo) “The siycolong is bek thus weekund freoum Speihn as the teup roeders pruphare for the Sprong Clissix”.

I absolutely love Eurosport. They showed  the European Figure Skating Championships a few weeks ago (I enjoy a quadruple toe loop) and I discovered the frankly bizarre sport of Tower Running thanks to their coverage on a slow Friday night last winter. They also show Diamond League athletics, where you can play the ‘Spot the drug cheat’ game (I KNOW), the Revolution Series AND aquatics events (I refuse to call them ‘meets’, yuck.)

However, I don’t *quite* understand why Eurosport show so much siycolong…sorry, cycling when Sky sponsor a whole ruddy World Tour team and could probably pay for the rights for all the Grand Tours, one day races AND the Tour of Langkawi with the change found down the back of Rupert Murdoch’s recliner. Conflict of interest? They show the Tour Down Under on Sky. Anyway, I’m not knocking the current state of affairs in cycling television rights. Apart from anything, in their guise as ‘The Home of Cycling’, Eurosport part-sponsor The Cycling Podcast and my love of CP has been well-documented elsewhere.

In any case, if Sky got the rights to all the cycling they’d have to set up a dedicated channel (Sky Sports Cycling) and everything would be presented by  four identikit presenter-men wearing co-ordinated grey and pale-blue shirts and chinos, unless they got Orla Chennaoui to anchor the whole shebang. The pre-race build up (several hours’ worth) would include the following features:

  1. Taylor Phinney in a paint-off with Banksy (both wearing cycling helmets and balaclavas)
  2. Chris Froome and Richie Porte on a Wallace and Gromit-style motorbike and sidecar trip around Monaco (Porte angrily shouting ‘Look! You’ve replaced me with Ian Boswell. I’ve seen the photos of you training together! I thought I was your special training friend!’ while Froome  maintains an enigmatic silence )
  3. Peter Sagan in conversation with Hugh Jackman (both dressed as Wolverine)
  4. Alex Dowsett showcasing his vehicle and loafer museum (wearing a Movistar onesie and slippers with a big M on them.)
  5. The whole of the Cannondale team on penny farthings playing bicycle polo, with Jonathan Vaughters refereeing in a tweed weskit and plus-fours.

A few times a year ITV4 stop showing re-runs of Midsomer Murders and Columbo and give us excellent coverage of key races: the Dauphine, the Tour of (not de. No.) Yorkshire (or, as Mr W insists on referring to it, ‘T’Tour’T’Yorkshire’), the Tour, the Vuelta and the Tour of Britain. The cycling season isn’t right without a shot of Ned Boulting being buffeted around by a stiff breeze while David Millar towers over him, wafting like a beanpole in a ludicrous hat. I love that they don’t take themselves too seriously: playing On A Ragga Tip by SL2 to mark a stage victory by Romain Bardet (Bardet! Bardet!) last year, and Gary Imlach cocking a snook at more shouty sporting coverage on a regular basis. They’ll miss Matt Rendell this year, as he’s gone to Movistar to be the most entertaining press officer in the peloton now that Chris Baldwin has left Astana. They need a replacement that can speak 54 languages and actually has a good relationship with Mark Cavendish. Daniel Friebe, perhaps?

Its a piecemeal affair, being an armchair cycling fan. It feels like a tiny victory to find live coverage of a race on telly on a random Sunday afternoon. TiVo is a blessing as well – I infuriate my husband by recording random stages of obscure races and watching them at odd times of night. Of course, we’re lucky to have access to the paid-for channels so we can watch as much as we do. I appreciate that other fans aren’t as lucky and end up playing Russian Roulette with dodgy online feeds, or relying on social media for updates.

If the K-B-K/Disco Inferno mashup was intended by Eurosport, I hope it continues thoughout the season. So far I’ve only come up with You Should be Dauphine, but I’m sure there are more Saturday Night Fever OST cycling puns out there. Night on Teide Mountain, anyone? Maybe not.

(I’m really sorry if you were actually looking for a preview of K-B-K (burn that mother down y’all) next weekend. I actually wrote an entirely different post on a completely different subject last week that’s sitting in my drafts folder but it’s depressed me so much that I wanted to write about TV coverage and silly things instead.)

***Update****

I watched Het Niewsblad on a channel called Bike yesterday, which I had no idea existed until Team Sky helpfully tweeted about it. The picture quality was dreadful (my Friends VHS videos from 1998 looked HD in comparison) but the commentator was Rob Hatch who always sounds considerably less northern on telly than he does when he pops up on the Cycling Podcast. There wasn’t a co-commentator, which frankly I thought was a blessing (I’m sure Hatch wouldn’t agree) but they showed nothing of the women’s race, which Lizzie Armitstead won in the rainbow stripes. Wish we could have seen at least the finish, but maybe that would have been so tokenist as to render the exercise meaningless. The TV coverage of women’s cycling is unbelievably crap. I thought Peter Sagan would win the men’s race but I completely forgot that he always comes second unless he gets it wrong, wins and becomes world champion in the process. Therefore Greg Van Avermaert won. Today it’s actually K-B-K (Disco Inferno!). Heart says Boonen, head says Kristoff, probably completely wrong on both counts as I know nothing about anything.

The beginning (Part 2)

In Part 1 I learnt that the BBC is sometimes wrong, the breakaway rarely stays away and I had much to learn about cycling.

Extremes

Throughout 2013 I watched, listened and learned. From the TDU I mostly learnt about the wine growing regions of South Australia and how lovely they were to visit, but I also absorbed information about riders, teams and tactics. My next encounter with road cycling was watching Paris-Roubaix on Eurosport with an unwell daughter by my side. It looked utterly brutal. The screen was a dreary palate of grey: sky, road, mud, cobbles. My god, the cobbles. It was like the peloton had travelled back in time. I feared that they would be held up by highwaymen at any moment. Broadly, this was the same sport I had watched back in January but played out in entirely different circumstances. It was then that I began to understand that cycling was both an extreme sport and a sport of extremes

Giro

Then, the Giro. We had honeymooned in Italy (Rome to be precise) during a hot, bright August nine years before. The version of Italy that provided the setting for the first Grand Tour of the season was something else. It was hilly, cold and forbidding. Skinny cyclists wearing tights, thin rain jackets and gloves battled the elements and themselves. Bradley Wiggins came down ‘sketchy’ (now added to my lexicon of cycling) descents like a giraffe on a Brompton, fell off, chucked his bike against a wall, got ill and went home.

The moment that did it for me though, was Alex Dowsett winning the time trial, unexpectedly beating Wiggins in the process. Dowsett’s start time was so early that the Eurosport coverage hadn’t started when he set his benchmark. The TV pictures joined the stage later, when the faster men and GC contenders were due to take each other on. As each rider attempted (and failed) to beat Dowsett’s time, the screen flashed over to a close-up of his face. He looked terribly nervous mixed with ‘What the actual eff have I done?’ accompanied by a dash of ‘I’ve nicked some pick n mix from the shop and I might get found out by the grown-ups’. It was bizarrely brilliant.

So brilliant that I watched it twice. Once live and subsequently in the evening when my husband had gone to work and the children were in bed. A young British rider on a foreign team winning a time trial stage of a grand tour? Definitely worth watching again.

The Giro remains my favourite tour. Naturally, I watched the (Le) THE Tour in 2013, screaming at the telly as Froome rode up Mont Ventoux, admiring the teamwork of Team Sky, marvelling at the sheer feat of a British team with a (mostly) British rider winning for the second year in a row. However, my stupid romantic heart has a special place for the Giro. I don’t recall whether I watched any other races that year. I’m sure I did. I probably watched the Tour of California and may have flitted in and out of the Vuelta. I can’t warm to it as a Grand Tour for reasons that I’m unable to explain.

*Swirling leaves. Time passes. Etc.*

Now

That was three years ago. I’ve watched an awful lot more cycling since then. I went to the London stages of the Tour de France and the Tour of Britain. I was actually in the velodrome when Bradley Wiggins broke the hour record in London last June. I’ve been to so many Revolution meetings that I subscribe to their official playlist on Spotify and actually enjoy it. For our wedding anniversary last year my husband bought me a subscription to Rouleur Magazine. My evolution from cycling moron to someone that knows a bit about cycling and can hold her own in a conversation with an aficionado is ongoing, but progressing well.

Although I was an ignoramus at the start of all of this, at least I didn’t (and I promise I have not made either of these examples up) think the following:

  1. There is a cyclist called Peloton (first name Pierre, possibly.)
  2. Individual cyclists could enter Grand Tours without a team. This was said in relation to Vincenzo Nibali during the 2014 Tour when he was in the yellow jersey.

So, on this blog I’ll be writing about my impressions of cycling. Upcoming topics may or may not include (but are not limited to): Sky, track, Richie, books, crashes, the Hour, the Cycling Podcast, the Classics, the Giro, standing on the roadside, and anything else that comes to mind.

The beginning (Part 1)

My love affair with cycling…no. My love affair with road cycling (I’ve had a relationship with track cycling for a while now) began during the 2013 Tour Down Under.

No. Wait. Start again. I started watching road cycling during the 2013 Tour Down Under but I actually fell in love with it during the Giro d’Italia.

That explains the when but it doesn’t explain the why.

Olympics

For the why, we have to go back to the Olympics. London 2012. The Saturday morning after the Opening Ceremony the night before. The BBC were telling everyone that all Mark Cavendish had to do was turn up, pedal a bit, win the road race and TEAM GB’s FIRST GOLD MEDAL IN LONDON in the process. Or so it felt. There were words of caution from the ex-professional cyclists turned pundits and commentators but they were swept away by a tidal wave of patriotic confidence. Of course Cav was going to win! Mark World Road Race Champion and BBC Sports Personality of the Year Cavendish! That afternoon I took the children to a party absolutely certain that Cav would win because Sue Barker said so. There was a ripple of surprise among the parents at the party when someone looked on their phone and announced that Cav had finished 29th. This meant that the BBC and Sue Barker were wrong and that’s akin to the ravens leaving the tower or a plague of locusts. Heads would surely have to roll.

I, naively, took to Twitter to ask what happened. I got a couple of replies from proper cycling fans. Their subtext was that I was a moron. What they actually said was that it was impossible to control a race with 5-man teams. I still didn’t understand. Why did *that* matter? I left it and got on with the terribly important business of being completely and utterly consumed by the Olympics. Lizzie Armitstead won the silver medal in the women’s road race the following day and apologised on national television for coming second. I wondered if the apology was an attempt to prevent a crazed member of the BBC presenting team hitting her over the head with a Wenlock statue. I now understand it slightly differently.

The rest is so well known it is barely worth repeating. Bradley Wiggins won the time trial a week after winning the Tour which was a surprise to this particular idiot because I thought he was predominantly a track cyclist. A sort-of British person called Chris Froome took the silver medal in the same event. Then the track cycling events started and I essentially forgot all about the road variation as everyone in a Team GB skinsuit essentially won everything.

*Leaves swirls across the screen, marking the passing of time*

January

There are two things that are important to know about me:

  1. I HATE January
  2. I HATE not knowing things

To borrow a phrase from David Millar’s book The Racer, I f*****g hate January. Flicking around for something to watch in January 2013, I noticed that Sky Sports were showing something called the Tour Down Under. Inconveniently, it was being shown during the middle of the night (because that’s how the earth works) but we set the TiVo and decided to watch the previous days’ stage the following evening.

I decided that I wanted to understand road cycling and I didn’t like the fact that this sport was alien to me. My first image of cycling was of a peloton of approximately 150 men in tight, brightly-coloured clothing cycling really very fast along a very long, very straight road in front of a background of bright blue sky and yellowish-brown land. Apparently there was a ‘breakaway up the road’. This phrase meant nothing to me. They had ‘a sizeable gap’. No, nothing there either.

Breakaway

I read somewhere that one of the first questions that people ask when they first watch cycling is: Why doesn’t the breakaway stay away? I quickly learnt that it doesn’t. Well, unless Tony Martin is in it. Everyone fears Tony. I subsequently found out that the breakaway is controlled by the peloton and is normally reeled back in when it suits the purposes of the larger group. This sort of thing isn’t explained to the casual idiot who happens to put the cycling on. It’s just assumed that you know this stuff. It’s like sitting in the pub with a gang of people who are significantly cleverer than you and hoping that by keeping quiet and absorbing everything they say they won’t notice your presence and laugh at you for being infinitely more stupid than they are.

Growing up, I had no frame of reference for cycling. We were a family of avid sport watchers – football, cricket, rugby, athletics, anything on Grandstand on a Saturday afternoon, any major multi-sport event – but cycling didn’t cross our radar. Moreover I only learnt to ride a bike in 2012 based on the rationale that if a bloke with one arm and one leg could do it and compete in the Paralympics, I could too. So, powered by the twin drivers of loathing the month of January and not wanting to be an idiot I shut up and started the process of understanding a new sport.

To be continued in Part 2….