Rio 2016 – Track cycling

Before the track cycling started at Rio I was worried. I should have listened to Chris Hoy, or, as I’m now calling him Guru Hoy. He was SO upbeat about the prospects of the British team prior to the Olympics and I doubted him. I will never doubt Guru Hoy ever again. He knew. The performance of the whole track cycling team was so head-tighteningly, life-affirmingly fantastic that I haven’t been able to write about it until now because I have spent most of the last couple of weeks like this:

lqdyivhhureci

I started to believe when I saw Phil Hindes come out of the starting gate in the qualification round of the team sprint. This wasn’t what I had seen at the Wirld Championships earlier in the year. The GB cycling team have a tradition of keeping their innovations secret until just before the Olympics. Many of the other countries had trialled out their Olympic equipment in competitions before. Not GB. In the lead up to the Olympics details of the work of Room X (how very Turing!) at British Cycling began to emerge: new bikes, skinsuits and the recruitment of Tony Purnell, formerly of the Jaguar F1 team to oversee innovations.

Back to the team sprint. Guru Hoy had tipped Jason Kenny to get three gold medals in Rio. I doubted he could get even one medal of any colour, because I am an idiot who knows nothing about anything. Having watched the start of the team sprint competition in the Sports Bar (because I was on me ‘olidays), Mr FtW and I watched the final in bed. I can’t actually tell you very much about it because, as Mr FtW pointed out, I was more excited about it than he has been about anything in his entire life. I had to express my excitement in a silent, arm waving, tense sort of way because the Junior FtWs were asleep in their room on the other side of the lodge. I contained myself (just about.) Callum Skinner was a bit of a revelation. Many have tried and failed over the years to be the next Hoy and Kenny. Skinner looks like he might be the real deal AND he gently told off a pro-Brexit group on Twitter for using his image without permission. Good lad.

That was just the start. The men’s team sprint victory was followed by the men’s team pursuit. During the final of the TP I honestly thought I was going to stop breathing and pass out. It was SO close and excruciatingly tense. One of the things I love at the Olympics is the brain-combusting joy of first-time gold medalists. Callum Skinner experienced it on the podium during the TS medal ceremony, as did Owain Doull, who, for all of his good hair and ‘Yeah I’m off to ride for Sky’ coolness, looked like he was going to start sobbing when the national anthem started playing. Luckily Bradley Wiggins stepped in to gurn like a fool on camera and reduce the rest of the TP boys to giggling wrecks. Once you’re a Sir you can do what you like.

The women’s Team Pursuit! Oh how I love them. Four more contrasting characters you couldn’t dream up. The Jane Austen-y younger Bennett sister looks of Elinor Barker. Katie Archibald, an actual real-life version of Julia Stiles’ character from Ten Things I Hate About You. Jo Rowsell Shand, a TV presenter in waiting and the elegant, grown-up lady I will never be. Laura Trott who defies description, although she reminds me of those plucky girls from the WW2 Pathe newsreel footage: ‘Well, the Germans bombed my street so I pulled everyone out of the rubble, grabbed the family dog and cycled ten miles to get help. I’m not a hero, I just really like dogs!’

Post-event interviews are always fun. Handled by the wrong interviewer they can be mind-numbingly awful:

Interviewer: ‘You’ve won a gold medal!’

Interviewee: ‘Yeah!’ [Then spends two minutes answering the statement that has been presented to them because the interviewer is too witless to ask them a question]

Luckily Jill Douglas is pretty good at getting the post-race interview right. She even handled Katie Archibald well when she was asked about her hair after the TP final (I’m paraphrasing slightly but this was the gist of it):

JD: Will you be dyeing your hair gold after this?

KA: I dunno, I might have to ask you for tips.

😱😱😱

I swear you could see Katie Archibald inwardly thinking OH MY GOD OH MY GOD WHY DID I SAY THAT WHY OH WHY KILL ME NOW immediately after she’d said it. I felt her pain because it’s exactly the sort of thing I would have said after winning a gold medal. In fact, it’s the sort of inappropriate thing I say on a daily basis and I’m more than old enough to know better and will never win a gold medal at the Olympics.

Then there was Becky. I’m totally #teambecky. Earlier this year I was chatting to someone (no names) who had done some media work with Becky James and apparently she is an absolute sweetie and a pleasure to work with. Being a dreadful English person, my reference points for Welshness are: 1. The Welsh rugby team 2. Gavin and Stacey. This is handy because there something very Stacey-ish about Becky and she’s going out with George North. Obviously he’s not Gavin, but… Even Dame Clare Balding got a bit overexcited when she interviewed George after Becky’s first silver medal because 💪💪

So to Jason and Laura. They just work don’t they? As sportspeople. As a couple. They complement each other perfectly. Laura’s all competitiveness, giggles and pluck and Jason is outwardly ‘Whevs’ and by his own admission a bit grumpy. She cheers him up; he keeps her grounded and they evidently look after each other. I reckon they’d be fun company at a dinner party and they love dogs. They just happen to have ten gold medals between them and are young enough to get more. The whole comparing them to reality tv couples is a bit overwrought, but they are just the kind of people that children and young people should have as role models. Brilliant enough to win gold medals but also practical enough to keep their kit in a bag for life. What more do we need from our heroes?

I was genuinely worried for Mark Cavendish when I saw him at the World Championships. He’s brilliant but I felt that the decision to focus on the Omnium was made too late; there surely wasn’t enough time for him to master the disciplines to a sufficiently high level to get a medal at the Olympics, let alone gold. Once again, I love it when I’m wrong. Gold was indeed a step too far but his silver medal was a wonderful moment. He could come back in four years….

I was genuinely sad when the track cycling finished. Dame Clare looked a bit lost standing out in the rain on her own after six nights in the company of Chris Hoy under the bright lights of the velodrome. The Olympics kind-of ended for me (triathlon aside) on the second Tuesday. I tried to get into the BMX, I really did, but it wasn’t for me. It felt too Whacky Races and random for me.

A quick note on the comments made by cyclists from other nations. Aside from the USA, very few countries bought their A-game to the velodrome. Bauge and Pervis, both great over the years, are fading forces for France. The Australian team looked dependable but not stellar (men’s team pursuit aside). There are promising signs from the teams from the Netherlands and New Zealand but the other nations looked under-par. If Sarah Hammer could have cloned herself three times and taken up all the places in the team pursuit, I feel sure that she would have done. I loved the GB whitewash in the Rio velodrome, but I hope that the other nations really bring it to them in Tokyo. The GB team funding is fuelled by Olympic achievement. World Champion jerseys are a ‘nice to have’ but they don’t fit in with the plan and they don’t  get c.35 million pounds in funding to win them.

Next: the Paralympic cycling. GB should be pretty good at that, too although I won’t be making an predictions because I’m rubbish at them. However, I fancy a couple of people to turn their London 2012 silvers and bronzes gold in Rio….

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

image

Fin. Almost.

l4hnzqkwd0qhwmsak

Fin.

 

TdF 2016 – Stage 3

The whole Mark Cavendish being back to his brilliant best thing is really messing with my fantasy team. I mean, it’s brilliant and all but I’m now kicking myself for choosing Marcel Kittel for my fantasy team, who was NOWHERE today. Marcel, darling, you may have magnificent hair, but you and I are going to fall out soon if you don’t start contesting the sprints a bit more convincingly.

Peter Sagan in the yellow jersey was everything you’d want it to be. He spent a lot of time at the front of the peloton today chatting to anyone and everyone and clearly having a lovely time. He also chose the correct attire and wore black shorts with the yellow jersey. I can’t bear the yellow shorts (socks, helmet, socks, sunglasses) thing. It’s just WRONG and makes them look like Bananas in Pyjamas. Not a good look.

*sigh* it wasn’t the most interesting day, unless you like playing ‘Spot the cyclist stopping for a wee at the side of the road’ for two hours. Lovely Tom Dumoulin even did an exaggerated yawn at the camera at one point. Velon should have played the Magic Roundabout theme tune over the Velon GoPro footage of today’s stage. I wouldn’t have been remotely surprised if Sagan had produced his etchings and passed them around the peloton.

gbx7lztncrbuq

Mark Cavendish will be wearing the Green jersey tomorrow and Peter Sagan retains the yellow for another day. It’s a sprint stage and it would be unwise to bet against Cav, but Andre Greipel looks hungry so he might be a good pick.

TdF 2016 – Stage 2

Oh Peter Sagan! I really shouldn’t like him as much as I do. He’s the weird kid from school who does nothing except be odd for five years before discovering skiffle one summer, learning to play the guitar, cultivating his hair into a quiff and suddenly becoming the sort of boy that one of your mates decides she quite fancies, leading the rest of the group to shout at her “YOU CANNOT FANCY HIM! HIS GUITAR PLAYING IS EXCELLENT BUT HE’S STILL WEIRD!”

It’s very hard to dislike Peter Sagan but I probably shouldn’t like him at all. He first came to my attention when he pinched a podium girls’ bottom and I was incredibly scathing of his inappropriateness. However, he seemed genuinely sorry for his actions   and has done nothing since to trouble my angry feminist radar. I’m now of the opinion that if Sagan didn’t exist, cycling would have to invent him. I love his silliness, the way he rides a bike, the little giggle he does in interviews, the Grease video, the weird celebrations and the wheelies. I can even forgive him the Wolverine phase and the green hair. He’s still the weird kid from school at heart, but is now really rich, successful and brilliant at winning bike races.

zgf1opqotg05a

I’m SO smug that I tipped Sagan to win today’s stage last night and he duly delivered. Thanks for the fantasy league points, Peter.

What Peter Sagan hath given my fantasy team, Richie Porte hath taken away.

Porte is the perfect example of a ‘heart over head’ choice for my fantasy TdF team. I want him to do well, but….it’s complicated. He’s been such an integral part of Sky since I started watching cycling that it’s been quite hard for me to see him in BMC colours this year. The balance of my cycling universe feels wrong. I really dithered about including him in the Indecent Minority but my head was overruled.

It was gutting to watch Porte getting a wheel change from neutral service today at a crucial point in the stage. A small voice in my head speculated that if the same had happened when he was at Sky, Henao would have swapped bikes with him thus limiting the time damage. BMC seem to be operating a dual team leader policy, which I’m not sure is what Porte signed up for. I wonder what would have happened if Van Garderen had the same problem today. I could go full tinfoil hat on this and continue writing absolute conspiracy theory bollocks for daaaays, so I won’t.

Stage 3 is one for the sprinters, so I’d like to see another straight fight between Marcel Kittel and Mark Cavendish s’il vous plait. Bonne nuit.

 

TdF 2016 – Stage 1

I’m taking part in the Velogames fantasy Tour de France. So is Mr (Dr) FtW. He’s hoping that his ‘Mostly Team Sky plus Kittel plus a random’ team will trounce my ‘Carefully chosen but with more heart than head deployed’ team.

Neither the Indecent Minority (my team) or the Chatteris Climbers (his) contain Mark Cavendish. I’m convinced that I’m going to somehow jinx my riders simply by favouring them (sorry Tom, Marcel, Peter, Richie, Wout, Adam, Steve, Mikel and Tony.) Therefore, to give Cav the best chance of winning gold in the Omnium in Rio and not ending up in a heap on a roadside near Utah Beach, I simply couldn’t include him.

There’s a great interview with Peta Cavendish (Mark’s wife) in the book ‘101 Damnations’ by Ned Boulting, in which she says that her husband “holds [The Tour] up on a pedestal, in an ivory castle, with unicorns surrounding it”. Until today he had never worn the yellow jersey at the TdF. This was his third opportunity and he grabbed it from Kittel, Sagan and the rest. Cav is famous for crying at some point during every TdF he has taken part in. The tears were those of the joyous variety as he took his 27th TdF stage win and donned the yellow jersey for the first time. One suspects that this jersey will have a very special place in his home, mounted in an ivory frame, housed in a turret, probably guarded by unicorns with yellow horns.

As a cycling Johnny-come-lately I’m not familiar with the pre-marriage and  children Mark Cavendish. I’ve read stuff of course – the tantrums, the petulance, the colander, the generousness, the former Miss Italy – but the 2016 Cav comes across as a man that knows he is basically winning at life. The plain speaking, fury and sweariness is still there, but they’re part of what makes him…him and not a platitude-spouting robot.

When Cav finally decides to retire from cycling  (not just yet, eh?) I would really, really, REALLY like him to be a contestant on Strictly Come Dancing. He used to be a ballroom dancing champion of course (of course!) but that’s no more of an issue than any number of celebs who have been to stage school. He would be brilliant entertainment, his pro dancer would adore his work ethic and he’d probably win the entire show.

Anyway, I’m getting distracted. This is really about my fantasy team (and Cav.) In other news there were a couple of big crashes, the first of which involved Alberto Contador. Nope, nothing to say about that at all. Geraint Thomas was caught up in the second crash, which is the least surprising news since we learned that moths really, really like flames. Luckily he’s fine and astonishingly bouncy for a grown-up.

The TdF may be the largest annual sporting event in the world but it still retains an air of the village fete at times. This was apparent at the start of the race this morning when the peloton went to Mont-Saint-Michel and was directed to double back on itself for no obvious reason other than to frame the island commune as a pleasing backdrop to Chris Froome, Vinceno Nibali and the rest looking slightly confused for a few minutes while the various important cars and motorbikes performed elaborate three point turns. A ribbon was eventually cut. SIR Gary Verity appeared on screen, apparently summoned by a yellow-trousered genie in a lamp imported from Ilkley (without a hat.)

Tomorrow’s stage goes as near to Jersey as it’s possible for the TdF to get without becoming part of a Guy Martin world record attempt. I’m hoping for a sighting of Jim Bergerac and/or Charlie Hungerford. It’s flat(ish) with a cat. 3 climb near the end. In the interests of the Indecent Minority I’d like Sagan to win, produce a pair of scissors and chop his mane off whilst shouting I AM NOT SAMPSON! I AM SAGAN!

fou8rib01ldjy

World Track Championships 2016

The World Track Championships happened last weekend, six miles (ish, as the crow flies) from my house and I went to one session. One. What an idiot I am.

When the tickets went on sale I looked at the dates and times of the sessions, looked at when my husband was working (we have children, I’m not needy enough to require his presence at all times) and (grumpily) concluded that I couldn’t go to any of it. It was fine. I could watch it on the telly. It didn’t matter.

However, once the WTC started I knew I had to go along to *something*. Of course, most sessions had already sold out but I managed to bag a single ticket, right at the back in the corner of the Lee Valley Velodrome and went along. I attempted to (non-threateningly) stalk The Cycling Podcast but I think they were hiding. Perhaps they spotted my binoculars. I’m like the woman that Frasier Crane thinks is stalking him but actually turns out to be a little eccentric but essentially harmless.

I’ve been to a lot of Revolution sessions in London and I went to the Velodrome to watch the Paralympics in 2012 but nothing had quite prepared me for how different a World Championships would be. [Side note: I fail to understand why the LVP hasn’t hosted the World Para-Cycling Championships yet. It’s the perfect venue, the racing would be incredible and it would be the perfect access point for school kids to go and watch some cracking competition.] The session I attended featured the women’s team pursuit and Mark Cavendish in the Omnium.

Laura Trott is box office. She’s the Kylie Minogue of cycling – tiny, brilliant at what she does and everyone adores her. Jo Rowsell Shand is quietly authoritative and seems extremely calm. I’d be amazed if she didn’t become a TV presenter/pundit once she retires from cycling.  I hadn’t seen the team pursuit ‘live’ before but it’s such a beautiful discipline to observe when it’s done right (no, I wasn’t there on the Thursday).

I hadn’t seen Mark Cavendish in the flesh before but he reminded me of a boxer. He’s got the same swagger as my boxing trainer (clarification: I don’t fight, I just train like a boxer). Its the inner fire that makes them brilliant. The paramedics at the track looked bored for most of the session (no accidents for them to attend to, luckily) but a couple of them leapt to their feet when Cav took to the track and roared him on with the rest of the crowd. If Cav ever thinks that the British cycling public don’t love or understand him, he only has to think back to this weekend and remember the collective power, energy and noise provided by thousands of people willing him to do well.

I managed to watch the rest of the TWC on TV. I worked out that I could have gone to more sessions and would have seen John Dibben win the points race (jumping up and down in front of the TV in my pyjamas was really not the same) on Friday, and Jason Kenny win the sprint the following evening (hiding behind a cushion muttering ‘He won’t win this. He won’t…OH YES HE HAS!’). As for Sunday (which, for complicated reasons that are not worth explaining, I was finally able to catch up with on Monday evening) when Kylie…sorry, Laura won the Omnium and Wiggins and Cavendish won the Madison… I’m fine about it though. FINE. It’s not like the WTC won’t happen in the UK (or, specifically, six miles from my house) in the next 10-20 years or more. Did I mention I was fine? Good.

The WTC forcibly reminded me how much I love track cycling. I love it for the same reasons that I love buying clothes from Oasis, hot chocolate from Starbucks and go on holiday to Center Parcs. It’s safe, aesthetically pleasing, controlled, familiar, reliable, clean and never lets me down. Am I a boring person governed by routine and predictability?  Oh yes. Proud of it, too. At least the racing isn’t adversely affected by the weather – see today’s Paris-Nice stage for evidence of that. I have promised the girls that we will take them to Revolution and the London 6-Day later in the year.

Of course I’m watching Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice now, but there’s a little piece of my cycling-loving heart that belongs to the velodrome in Stratford.

 

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….