The Cycling Podcast and me

As a relative newcomer to the sport, The Cycling Podcast has been my lifeline. Richard, Lionel and Daniel (or, as I like to think of them, my two wise older brothers and slightly aloof hipster cousin) have taught me almost everything I know about cycling. Their voices have accompanied countless commutes and training runs. They have provided much needed background conversation when I’ve been working at home researching and writing about unimaginably awful topics as part of my day job.

Crucially, their content is extremely accessible (findable, listenable and free for the standard podcast) and lacks the exclusivity of other podcasts. I don’t need to be wearing an Eddy Merckx replica jersey with a pair of Rapha yakskin loafers to be part of their gang. I don’t have to possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of Sean Kelly’s cycling career (although I sense that Lionel might secretly prefer that their listeners did) to keep up with the topics under discussion. They have found the middle ground between being too basic and too intimidating and in-jokey. Thankfully they steer well clear of interviews that proceed along the following lines: “So! Brad! What’s your favourite cheese? Let’s do a wheelie! Wheeeee!” Conversely, I love my Rouleur Magazine subscription but I’m waiting for someone to knock on the door any day now and confiscate my collection because I don’t embody the lifestyle expected of their disciples.

When the Friends of the Podcast scheme was established at the beginning of 2015 I signed up immediately. A fiver for several hours of extra material was (and still is) an absolute bargain. The Friends scheme has risen in price to £10 this year but it is still an absolute steal. Every time a Friends podcast is released it reminds me of the time I was given a subscription to the Hotel Chocolat tasting club (I miss it) and received a box of chocolates through the door each month. Their PIRC podcast for subscribers was a highlight last year, along with the (Im)Perfect Tour de France and both stand up to repeated listening. I cannot recommend a subscription to the Cycling Podcast highly enough. I got a bit overexcited when I saw them from (very) afar at Bradley Wiggins’ Hour Record in London last June and it was interesting to hear their take on the event afterwards.

Their podcasts from the Tour – both the stage reviews and Kilometre 0 –  last year were excellent although I must confess (Ciro-style) that on a particularly bad commute one morning I Tweeted the Podcast to tell them to stop telling me what was going to be in the upcoming interview before they played it. I felt a bit bad afterwards because I should have followed it up with ‘Loving your work, guys!’ but I didn’t because that’s just silly.

While I’m doing a ‘Feedback sandwich’ (and I’m fully aware that my feedback is neither sought nor required), I’m going to mention one small thing that mars my enjoyment of the Podcast. It’s a largely male affair (and that’s not necessarily an issue for me), but the (too) occasional presence of Orla Chennaoui does redress the balance a little. Just a tiny whinge though: if a female cyclist such as Hannah Barnes has achieved something she shouldn’t be referred via her status as Tao Geoghegan Hart’s girlfriend. Just saying. Can we hear a bit more about the women in their own right please?

Above all, what comes across is their genuine affection for cycling. Of course, their day jobs involve writing and talking about the sport so they’re paid to make it interesting but they all convey intelligence, passion and integrity. In short, they have greatly enhanced my understanding and enjoyment of cycling, their podcasts brighten my working week considerably and I sincerely hope we are never told why Lionel’s nickname is ‘Napalm’. I am very pleased that they will be covering the Giro (my favourite grand tour) in more depth this year and can’t wait to find out what the 2016 Friends specials will be.

This is all getting a bit gushy now so I’ll stop but without the CP I would be one of those idiots that still didn’t understand anything about cycling. Now I can at least sound a little bit knowledgeable. If they ever expand their t-shirt range to include one that references the Willunga Hill ain’t Alpe d’Huez meme I’ll be first in the queue. Ladies’ slim fit, obviously. I’ll wear it while I read the next issue of Rouleur.

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.