Monday, 27 April 2009

lakeland loop

There was ample opportunity to test any theories of glory related suffering on yesterdays Lakeland Loop - a finale including Hardknott, Wrynose and the smaller but still significant Blea Tarn are a powerful statement about any ride's intention to inflict discomfort.

The result? A little glory, somewhat more suffering, but a clear, if momentarily unexpected winner.

Hardknott was as expected, with wheelies, traction problems and other shenanigans consummate with a 1:3 climb. No foot dabs or bobbles though. What was less expected was the empty feeling on cresting the top - no one to share or even observe from a distance my moment of (personal) glory at completing a long held ambition (Mark was enjoying his own personal struggles lower down the slope). Save for the pair of ravens croaking to each other on the crags above, who may have observed a little moment of triumph though I somewhat doubt it.

With my childlike ego still bruised by the lack of approval at Hardknott we plummeted down again before grinding up Wrynose. The descent from here was life affirming in the sense that because I was alive at the bottom and in one piece, I felt my life was affirmed as still being on track and not diverted to an A and E department nearby. The smell from burning cork brake pads was hugely unnerving, there were seemingly no bail out options on the way down in case of emergency but luckily my tubs stayed glued on despite the heat build up.

Hardknott can be a bleak and lonely place............

Onwards and immediately upwards to Blea Tarn. It was here that it dawned on me -I was out riding yes for the challenge, yes to prove to myself that I am not over the hill at 40 (humour me please), but more importantly because this was by anybody's standards, a simply stunning part of the world. I felt privileged in a genuine kind of way, at being able to express myself in this way in this mountainous terrain. For this day at least, the collective backdrop of Lakeland passes and mountains was all that mattered over above any notions of personal triumph or magnificence.

Friday, 24 April 2009

glory through suffering

Offically entering my 'mid-years' recently has given me an unexpected perspective and new lease of life in terms of any cycling ambitions I may have had. Not unsurprisingly, loftier ambitions have come with a physical price in the form of fairly constant back pain and fatigue in trying to balance increased physical activity with an unyielding work and domestic schedule.

It has also led me to ruminate on the (mantra-like for some) concept of 'glory through suffering' as expressed by Tim Krabbé in his 1978 novel, The Rider:

“The greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure. That is nature’s payback to riders for the homage they pay her by suffering. Velvet pillows, safari parks, sunglasses; people have become woolly mice. They still have bodies that can walk for five days and four nights through a desert of snow, without food, but they accept praise for having taken a one-hour bicycle ride. ‘Good for you’. Instead of expressing their gratitude for the rain by getting wet, people walk around with umbrellas. Nature is an old lady with few friends these days, and those who wish to make use of her charms, she rewards passionately.”

This ideal has been adopted by Rapha as the heart of its philosophy and some might say cycnically, for its marketing strategy. As those who know me will note, I am not at all averse to a little bit of Rapha 'styling' but this is not about a company with a niche(?) market but about the idea itself.

Embrocation blogspot recently posted some candid behind the scenes photos at the Velodrome after this months Roubaix edition and the scenes of riders overwhelmed with fatigue and emotion at the end of a brutal race do nothing to diminish them from the incredible individuals that they are. In my eyes in fact, it enhances their stature and elevates them far beyond mere mortals like myself.

But this is where I struggle - does this lofty paradigm apply to average Joes, to those of us hoping to pick up a few more points at the local League cross race, to get up a steep long climb with a modicum of style rather than a huge struggle? In other words, is our own suffering at the blunt end of physical achievement any less valid than suffering and achievement at the rarified elite level exhibited by our heroes?

I suppose if suffering and its consequent glory are measured by outside observers then those of us hiding in the peloton of average are somewhat outdone by our more genetically and psychologically talented brothers and sisters at elite level. However, I suspect that the judgement comes from within - witness the personal pleasure and glow after completing a particularly hard interval session alone or cracking that sportive time from last year.

The greater the suffering, the greater the pleasure? What of the easy ride on a crisp Spring morning with friends, when a truce is in place on the climbs and there are no half-wheeling antics, merely a leisurely cafe stop and amble home in good company. Pleasure indeed, not much suffering though. Do we need to be burying ourselves for it to be worthy of the 'glory' moniker?

I have enjoyed pushing my personal boundaries as much as anyone else who has committed to pain and suffering in the name of competitive sport, and gained much from it on a personal, psychological even spiritual level. But being a creature of compromise and balance in all matters, I shy away from an absolute statement about suffering related glory, cast in stone like the Roubaix trophy cobble. Perhaps though, that is why I am still a committed achtervolger rather than a natural born winner?

Monday, 20 April 2009

now this is the way to do it..........

Ronde van Oeste Portlandia - 500/600 riders - painted Lion of Flanders road markings - custom flyer - an ethos to aspire to.

Thanks to Cross Crusade rider for that tip off - looks like the bar is being set currently over in Portland, home to all good things muddy and wheeled Stateside. We will have to shape up here in the North West for next year. The challenge is on.

I wonder if the 4 local Councils in Oost Lancashire will mind some yellow lions in random places.....

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

ronde van vlaahanshin

Seems like Rapha Japan must have been reading this very blog (ahem) as they organised a Ronde hommage ride on April 5 in Hanshin, Japan.

Nice race numbers, proper Rapha cue sheet and the fact that they actually rode on the 5th distinguished it as a slightly superior product to the East Lancs version. However, they clearly didn't do their homework as well as this writer, as they don't seem to have picked up on the fact that those are not cobbles. At least not as we know them here in the grimupnorth.............

Steep though.

£3k rapha suit!!

I kid you not - Perren Street has unveiled a £3000 Saville Row suit, designed with nanotechnology for urban commuting.


Bike radar have the full details:

and the usual bitching and moaning with knobs on about Rapha being overpriced, overhyped and underfunctional crap.

Oh, get a life for crying out loud and lighten up! Like the detractors I'm not buying one - it's way too much money (though not for a bespoke suit), suspect in it's functionality for riding, ridiculous for riding in the less salubrious neighbourhoods round my way.......... but it made me smile. And smiles can be short to come by these days.

I prefer this offering from 'Here come the Belgians':

Reproduced with respect from

Roubaix was good by the way, didn't you think? No mud though..............

Thursday, 9 April 2009

un mi-chemin - mid week diversion

The visual treat that is posed this important (rhetorical) question last weekend:

Process vs Outcome. A desire for a hard racing spectacle, rather than rooting for a particular rider to win.

A question well posed, and as it happened, well answered by Ghent Wevelgem yesterday. Cav was everybody's favourite (including mine for purely sentimental reasons) but in the end it was Process that won through as a bold escape by Edvald Boasson Hagen and Aleksandr Kuschynski succeeded against heavy odds in the form of a large star studded chasing group.

Cav was noticeable at the front on the Kemmelberg both times round, having missed the move through a puncture at an inopportune moment. He was in good company though as a number of other notables had ill-timed punctures. Leading the peloton twice up a hard cobbled climb - statement of intent I would say.

Not the result many wanted perhaps but a great piece of riding from the escapees that resulted in a victory every bit as well deserved as the blazing glory the sprinters sometimes acheive in this particular race.

Oh and a certain B. Wiggins GBr was 23rd - 2.14 down in the bulk of the second group in. Good to see.

My spot is booked on the sofa at 1pm on Sunday - what chance of a wet and muddy Roubaix this year.............?

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

rolling through the cobbles

Like a twit, I went on twitter before I returned from holiday and there it was - the one piece of information I didn't want to see until I was ready with a Belgian brew and a window of peace and quiet in which to watch the drama unfold.

Stijn Devolder was, like last year, simply superb. Whilst he didn't telegraph his move on the Eikenmolen in the way Cancellara advertised his attack in the final km of Milan San Remo last year, it was nonetheless no surprise to see him muscle his way off the front of the chasing group and take off like his life depended on it. The Flandrians love a fighter and he looks like just that, like he is out of Cage Rage or something similar - muscled, ripped, developed for one purpose only, that of riding hard up steep cobbled climbs.

Last year he had a clear road ahead of him - this year a few tired riders, remnants of a long break to sweep up and cast aside. I felt it was a formality (though I did have some prior knoweldge!) even before his attack on the Muur with Chavanel able to play the dutiful team mate and so it was, Stijn the Man leaving them in the unseasonal dust again.

Funniest moment of the day? - Manuel Quinziato remonstrating with Chavenel for not chasing his own team mate down when only 25 seconds behind. Doh! Meanwhile local boy Preben Van Hecke got on with it and chased as best he could. Leif Hoste was at it again - dumb move of the day to get in the long mid race break and then start shouting at his fellow break companions as he does every time I've seen him race. How to win friends and influence people............

And so to Ghent-Wevelgem. Will Cav do it? I hope so.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

the real ronde is nigh

This time last year I was barely able to sleep, building up to my long -awaited trip to the Motherland and my first ride on the kassien in Flanders, as well as my first encounter up-close and personal with the legend that is the Ronde van Vlaanderen.

My excitement is more muted this year as I am staying this side of the North Sea/Channel and have managed to be on holiday with my folks as well, putting paid to any hope of watching live. However, Eurosport will be on the Sky+ and Sporza TV on the newsgroup for backup, ready for when I return later in the week. I just hope I don't inadvertently catch the result.

To wet your appetite for all things cobbly, wet, gritty and Flandrian, I caught these great photos from some of the preceeding Flandrian semi-classics in the last couple of weeks.

As to the winner of Sunday? Who knows, but I have a sneaky feeling that a Belgian may win.......