Olympic cycling preview – the road races

Well, I say preview. This is more of a random collection of thoughts and vaguely relevant Gifs that I’ve chucked together. Are you sitting comfortably? The let me begin. 

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The Olympics. Massively corrupt? Yes. Run by a bunch of people that love money and power but hate sport? Oh yes. But. BUT! The sheer scale and spectacle of the thing. Lots and lots of sporty people coming together (mostly metaphorically, some literally) to showcase their life’s work. The hope! The achievement! The agony! The ecstasy! All human life, etc etc. I adore the Olympics like a constantly straying yet seriously hot boyfriend. I know he’s probably going to cheat again (and again) but when he’s with me…its just the best thing in the entire world and he even looks beautiful in those sunglasses that he always wears indoors.

What’s better than the Olympics? CYCLING AT THE OLYMPICS *breathes into a paper bag* Best of all, there’s track cycling AND road cycling. Show me a sporting event that can do both…

Road Race – Men

On Saturday the cycling begins with the men’s road race. My loyalties are a little bit divided. I should be supporting the GB team as it is full of incredibly strong riders. Geraint! Froome! Cummings! (A) Yates! Stannard! However, my heart has been a little bit stolen by the Netherlands team which looks incredibly strong. I’m a little biased because it features two of my favourite cyclists: Wout Poels and Tom Dumoulin, plus Steven Kruijswijk and Bauke Mollema.

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Behold this incredibly terrible composite, not at all photoshopped picture of the Dutch  cycling team for Rio!  

However the Olympic road race always seems to be a bit of a lottery and in the absence of Peter Sagan (going for glory in the mountain biking event) the following candidates seem to be as good a bet as any: Alejandro Valverde (sigh), Dan Martin (if only he was 94% less grumpy than he always is), Vincenzo Nibali (he cruised around this year’s Tour as he’s specifically targeting the Olympics), Wout Poels (he’s been racing and winning this year like he’s really, really trying to impress someone and has managed to impress everyone in the process), Chris Froome (not a one day rider, but never rule him out), Julian Alaphilippe/Romain Bardet (maybe), and finally Richie Porte (the dream podium: Poels, Porte, one of Froome/Cummings/Thomas in any order you like.)

Road Race – Women

Until Tuesday of this week I was willing to bet quite a large quantity of chocolate that Lizzie Armitstead would win the women’s road race. She still might but the three missed tests…she’s never been a rider that has worried my doping antennae but to miss one test is fairly common…two can happen but three missed tests without a sanction is incredibly rare. I suspect there’s more to the story than we have been told and I’m not convinced that she deliberately missed the tests to avoid providing a positive sample. She’s very much an alpha female but when the family proverbial hits the fan, Type A personalities can find it hard to deal with life (I speak from experience.) However, cycling has such a chequered history of lies and liars that for many people, anything Armitstead achieves in Rio will have an invisible asterisk next to it. Christine Ohuruogh missed three tests, served a suspension (one rule for one…) won an Olympic gold medal in the 400 metres and some people still have suspicions about her.

Again, the Netherlands team featuring Marianne Vos and Anna Van Der Breggen looks incredibly strong (I might just wear an orange top and have done with it), as does the US line-up that includes Kristin Armstrong. It depends on Armitstead’s state of mind. She’s damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t so she may as well try and win and seek to be as honest as she possibly can be about her testing hit rate (the number of tests she’s missed versus the number she’s actually had), biological passport and other factors that may enhance or impair her performance. I’m sure she wishes more than anyone that she could change the situation she’s found herself in.

Coming up next week: the time trials and *fanfare* the track cycling. Hurrah!

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TdF 2016 – Stage 21

They think it’s all over….it is now. The Tour de France for 2016 is done and dusted. Chris Froome won his third Tour and surely a Knighthood awaits. Team Sky have now won four Tours in five years, which is a phenomenal achievement. I’m not sure what they give Sir Dave Brailsford now – a Damehood to complete the set?! Adam (yeah) Yates won the white jersey for the best young rider and has grown into a confident GC contender over the last three weeks. Peter Sagan inevitably won the green points jersey yet again. If he keeps this up ASO will have to rename it the Peter Sagan jersey. Rafal Majka won the  Polka-dot jersey after the departure of Contador gave him the chance to contest the King of the Mountains competition.

So, shall we do some hugging and learning now?

1. Kellan Froome is ADORABLE, even when teething and grumpy. Michelle – I have been there and I feel your pain. It gets easier. In about three years’ time.

2. Never, EVER write off Mark Cavendish. He’s a phenomenon and I’m so glad he’s ‘ours’.

3. I’m sad that we won’t get to see Lovely Tom Dumoulin in Rio. His duel with Chris Froome in the time trial would have been great to watch. Lovely Tom might just win a Grand Tour one day

4. As might Adam Yates

5. As might Super Wout Poels. Did I mention that he’s my favourite? I’ve been very quiet about it. Almost stealth. *whispers* he’s awesome.

6. I will never, ever forget the sight of Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux. Accompanied by Ned Boulting’s now iconic commentary. “The yellow jersey is RUNNING up MONT VENTOUX!” It was utterly surreal.

7. Despite finishing on the podium, Nairo Quintana never really looked like a contender.

8. It would be interesting to see what Romain Bardet could do in a different team. Somewhere like Orica, perhaps.

9. Chris Froome. What else can be said? He’s a unique human being. One day, if we’re very lucky, we’ll look back and fully appreciate what he’s done.

10. Dan Martin managed to be nice about Sky. I nearly fell over. Perhaps he’s drunk?

11. The Tour is The Tour.

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Fin. Almost.

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Fin.

 

TdF 2016 – Stage 20

….and with an Mmm-Bop it’s (nearly) gone. With an Mmm-Bop it’s (nearly) not there. Today was the last ‘proper’ TdF stage before the hugging, champagne and cigar processional on the outskirts of Paris prior to the sprint on the Champs Elysees tomorrow.

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Barring anything untoward happening Chris Froome will win his third (and Team Sky’s fourth) Tour de France tomorrow. The anti-Sky brigade have been less vocal this year, or maybe I haven’t been seeking them out so much. They undoubtedly still exist and nothing will convince them that Froome is clean. I understand adopting a questioning attitude to outstanding sporting performance – it’s right that we shouldn’t necessarily accept what we see at face value – but if there is doubt, there has to be a basis in fact for it, not just a gut feeling or some difficult to contextualise raw data.

Also, what do the doubters actually win if they’re proved right? Will they endlessly, victoriously retweet their HE MUST BE DOPING missives from 1,2,5,10,20 years ago if/when the time comes? No-one comes out of this scenario particularly well, although I suppose they get to feel all vindicated and warm and fuzzy inside. It’s all a bit THEY GOT ME LAST TIME BUT THOSE PESKY KIDS WON’T FOOL ME AGAIN! SUCKERS!

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Over the years I’ve seem some sporting performances that I simply did not believe. I’ve been right about some, probably along the right lines with others although they’ve not – yet – been proven one way or the other. I was at the Anniversary Games today with Team FtW. The two junior members of Team FtW are very taken with Usain Bolt, Mo Farah and Renaud Lavillenie. At their age I remember watching the men’s 100 metres final at the 1988 Olympics on TV. Although I didn’t understand what it all meant at the time, I broadly understood that sprinting was a discipline in which people cheated. It’s too simplistic to say that Ben Johnson et al made me cynical, but they made me question what I saw back then and what I see now. At the moment, Junior FtW believe that the performances they see are real. We have tried to be honest with them about how athletes cheat and what that means, but we haven’t (yet) had to go through the process of explaining that a sporting achievement they watched was actually a lie. I’d like them to swerve that particular right of passage really, but it’s highly unrealistic.

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Back to cycling, the thing I really don’t like though (and the thing that stopped me seeking out certain people the first place) is when the super-cynics start retweeting or quoting tweets from Sky superfans in order to belittle their belief and laugh at their stupidity. If attempting to make a devoted harmless grandmother feel silly is your way of having fun, you probably need to have a good look at yourself. Let them be. They aren’t harming you. Fight your battles somewhere else.

I’m quite wary about making bold statements on who I think is – and isn’t – clean. I believe it’s reasonable to have hope that the performances I’ve witnessed are achieved without resorting to illegal measures. Equally, it’s sensible to keep some scepticism in reserve. Broadly, performances in cycling are still slower today than they were during the EPO era. Chris Froome isn’t riding away from his fellow GC contenders in the mountains every day.

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I’d hate to think that Team Sky sit on the team bus after every stage wired up to God knows what, pissing themselves laughing at the idiots that believe in them. Frankly they’d have to be pretty bloody stupid to be doing that now. Surely in an age of smartphones with cameras and recording equipment built into them where people constantly over share about their lives on social media, they couldn’t contemplate indulging in such risky, reputation-shattering behaviour? It’s like the Moon landings. How could they have been faked when thousands of people were involved in making them happen? Someone would have talked eventually.

Maybe I’m just another dickhead, but I choose to believe that 90% of what I now see is real. Tomorrow I’ll enjoy the celebrations in all of their end of Star Wars glory.

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I’m not sure which one Chris Froome is in this gif. Maybe C-3PO? 

 

TdF 2016 – Stage 19

OH GOD. The rain! The slippery, sketchy roads. The potential for ‘Doing a Gove’ was extremely strong.

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It was inevitable that Chris Froome would Gove today. Like dominoes, once one rider went down, he was a dead cert to have his own oopsy-daisy moment. Fortunately  for him, Sky had a plan for such an eventuality (of course they bloody did) and Geraint Thomas handed over his bike to his team leader. However, the Sky team car couldn’t make it up to Froome to swap the borrowed bike for one of his own. Fear not! Super Wout came to the rescue (YET AGAIN) and he did everything he could apart from give Froome a backie to the line. I don’t know how much Sky are paying Wout Poels, but it’s quite clearly not enough. Oh Sky, please build a team around Wout and let him loose in the Giro or Vuelta next year.

Oh and their little arms around each other at the end was totes adorbz. So adorbz, in fact, that I’m busting this little gif out:

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It wasn’t a great day for the other Dutch cyclists though. Bauke Mollema lost a lot of time and tumbled down the GC and out of contention. Lovely Tom Dumoulin fractured his wrist doing a Gove and is now a doubt for the Olympics. *sadface* Here’s Gloria again:

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So, there’s one more Alpine stage for Super Wout to nurse Froome through and then he can have a nice day out in Paris on Sunday.

Oh! Geraint Thomas has been doing daily Gifs to express his feelings on the day’s stage. I see you G&T. I. See. You.

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TdF 2016 – Stage 12

 

So it turns out that everything is insane everywhere, not just in the UK right now.

1. Richie Porte versus the motorbike reminded me of this:

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Poor Richie.

2. Chris Froome running up Mont Ventoux reminded me of this:

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And this:

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3. Wout Poels hurting himself in the service of Froome on Ventoux made me feel like this:

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All Of Teh Feels.

How on EARTH do their partners feel when they do this to themselves? When random stuff happens to them? I’m going nuts watching it all and I don’t know any of them. Ultimately the sensible thing was done and Froome and Porte didn’t suffer, jersey or time-wise.

Tomorrow’s time trial will feel like a rest day in comparison.

 

TdF Stages 6-11

Everything is currently BATSHIT in the UK. It’s been so crazy that I haven’t even wanted to ruminate whimsically on the TdF via the medium of Gifs. I’ve been watching it religiously of course but the urge to find a gif of a topless Marcel Kittel has gone. Things really are bad here.

As things stand, unless he falls off his bike, goes mad or A Very Bad Thing happens, Chris Froome is (probably) going to win this year’s edition. I keep waiting for Nairo Quintana to do…..something….but there he sits, day after day, with the same expression on his face. I’m worried he’s dead and Movistar just prop him up on his bike every day, Weekend at Bernies-style.

My fantasy team is doing ok, thanks to stage wins from Steve Cummings, Lovely Tom Dumoulin, Marcel the Magnificent and of course the irrepressible Peter Sagan. My pick of Richie Porte is going to come back to haunt me and I’m regretting picking Mikel Nieve over Sergio Henao. I have NO regrets about picking Wout Poels. I’m confident he will come into his own later in the race.

Tomorrow is MONT VENTOUX DAAAAAAAAYYYYY! Except. Due to the high winds (we can only apologise for Boris Johnson – just be grateful he’s not on a zip wire) the stage will finish 6kms from the top. This makes me sad again. I’m going to have to cheer myself up with my current favourite gif.

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COWS!

 

 

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.

No more heroes

I have a policy of not having individual sporting heroes. Not these days. Certainly not current sportspeople. Frankly, I’m too old and cynical to indulge in hero worship of anyone.

When I first got into cycling, we were watching the highlights of a race one evening (I forget which one) and my husband piped up from his end of the sofa ‘There’s no-one in cycling for you to fancy really, is there?’ I thought about it for a bit and concluded that it wasn’t relevant and didn’t matter. There may have been a bit of ‘How very dare you!’ for good measure.

Of course, there are some members of the peloton that are generally considered to be quite fanciable: Adam Hansen (clever, hard as nails, 13 consecutive grand tour finishes and counting) and Tom Boonen (reformed bad boy, dad of twins, Classics specialist) immediately spring to mind.

Others stand out for different reasons. Marcel Kittel has magnificent hair (see also Owain Doull.) Esteban Chaves is adorable and I’d like to adopt him. Taylor Phinney (also has good hair) is too cool for school but you’d be glad if one of your children bought him and/or Alex Dowsett home. Peter Sagan is an absolute gift to cycling and probably one of the few characters along with Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish and Laura Trott to transcend the sport.

As I’ve got older I find that I value solidity over flashiness. I’m convinced that once you have children you’re more impressed by someone that can get shit done rather than one that spends more time getting ready to go out than you do. I’m referring to Tony Martin, along with the Sky quartet of Wout Poels, Ian Stannard, Luke Rowe and Geraint Thomas. So impressed was I by the latter’s contribution to the success of Sky that last year I did a presentation for the Group Dynamics and Leadership module of my Applied Sport and Exercise Psychology course in which I argued that he was the prototypical team member and was therefore the future of the team, along with Richie Porte…

…who now rides for BMC. Awkward. Anyway.

Stage 3 of the 2014 Tour finished in London. My sister and I decided to watch the Tour at the Olympic Park in Stratford. My sister wrote Va Va Froome in chalk on the pavement and we spectacularly failed to nab any of the freebies that were flung in our general direction by the Caravan. By the time we realised that the arrival of the peloton was imminent I was slightly hysterical, to the amusement of my husband who had come to join us. It was the first time had been to watch the Tour – deliberately at least. It came right past our flat in 2007 but I was pregnant, sick and grumpy and didn’t really understand cycling back then.

The noise increased. The motorbikes came by and then the peloton was rushing towards us. I held up my phone to take photos. In my hysteria I screamed. In fact, I threw my head back and screamed at ear-splitting volume:

COME ON RICHIE!

To this day I cannot explain why I did it. It’s become a meme in our house. Every time there’s a bike race on and Richie Porte is participating I wait for my husband to screech COME ON RICHIE in a shrill approximation of my voice. It’s become A Thing. It is absolutely hilarious apparently. I find it significantly less funny.

However, I have no cycling heroes apart from the ones mentioned in this post. Maybe a few others. I’m sure there are plenty of people I’ve forgotten to mention. At some stage I need to do a whole separate post on the female cyclists that I find inspiring. This is definitely a ‘to be continued’.

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….