Tuesday 30 June 2009

July cometh

1 July has attained a significance in recent years for me - it marks the beginning of the preparation for the cross season in a number of ways.

Comtemplating a season of mud, tubs and washing gear never seems right before this date, despite any summer season cross races that crop up from time to time. Even now it feels strange with the temperature hitting 26 degrees. It is more that it isn't possible (for me at least) to sustain the enthusiasm and dedication to get you through a cross season to January for more than 6 months. Add in the fact that the 3 Peaks entry forms go online on this date, and you have a series of conditions to concentrate the mind, body and equipment for the season of attrition to come.

Any longer than that and even the most obsessive of us can fail to live up to our own expectations. Even 3 Peaks guru :-) Dave Haygarth refused to go out on a cross bike with me a couple of weeks ago - "I know a good 3 Peaks 'loop' for cross bikes but got to leave it till August or I'll go mental if I start too long in advance".

Wise words, promptly ignored by me the following weekend when I went out on the moors and woods with Mark who was also missing the feel of off road riding on skinny tires. Like some kind of forbidden activity, it felt all the better to be doing it when by rights we shouldn't have been. Dave H is sagely restricting himself to a diet of crits and road racing, long the traditional preparation for the hardened crosser. Seeing as I have a phobia of bunch racing and high speed corners it makes sense to throw caution to the wind and get out off road again. Witness a hayfeverish, snotty and sweaty ride across the moors to work this morning........... Must work on those downhills as I currently look like a contestant on a reality TV show who'll do anything however inept to get on TV - 'ride a rocky Black level ski run on a unicycle, blindfold? Sure, where do i sign......'

At least by starting even earlier than 1 July this year I have time to work on those weaknesses........

Also, I can't resist passing on this little story from friend Rich who suffered my whinging and wheezing on an abortive (for me) White Rose Challenge last weekend. Rich mentioned he was starting a club/group called Dead Wren Velo - a cryptic and evocative name if ever there was one:

Dead Wren Velo was named after a ride with Jules, Rob, John and a few others. As Jules and I dropped down to Burnsall, I indicated as a wheel hazard, a perfectly intact dead wren. We then waited for longer than expected for the boys to arrive at the cafe. When they did, John was resplendent in road rash! Robbie had also seen the amazingly intact dead wren and instead of indicating he just slammed on the anchors for a better look with the inevitable result for those following his wheel (John). As always, Robbie was completely unhurt!

Rich is one of those quiet, but always strong riders you love to ride with, but you don't - if you get what I mean in terms of suffering. Always sartorially exact, with an eye not for the latest mainstream fashion, more for what works and works well, in clothing and equipment. He rode alongside me for the first few hilly miles of the White Rose Challenge in Yorkshire, pedalling a much bigger gear and looking like he was working considerably less than me. He was indeed smooth and stylish on a modern steel frame and his own handbuilt wheels, though I noted with some pride as well as consternation that we had picked the same articles of clothing to ride in from the Assos and Rapha stable - the cycling equivalent of not checking with your best girl friend as to what dress she was going to wear at the party. Rich went on to post a very fast time for the WRC despite putting up with me for the first hour while I spluttered and heaved my way up the climbs, before urging him to leave me and tag on to a faster group as it came through. Thank God, I was able to slow down then...............

Chapeau Rich and cheers for the lesson in how not to do it.

Monday 22 June 2009


12 days to go to the Tour de France and I am dreaming of.........

Kasseien: bloedloze keizers van terreur en harde stenen stilte

Loosely translated as:

Cobblestones: bloedloze emperors of terror and hard stones silence.

Photo: Stephan Vanfleteren

Thursday 18 June 2009

losing with style

What do Eddie the Eagle, Fasuto Coppi and cyclocross have in common?

The answer lies in the murky tale of the ‘maglia nera’ or black jersey - the antomym creation to the ‘maglia rosa’ pink jersey of the Giro D’Italia.

Viewers of a certain age may remember our Eddie at the 1988 Winter Olympics, pride of a nation with little to celebrate in a post Falklands, post Black Monday, recession dominated landscape:

Eddie’s complete inability to compete at the sharp end of the competition won the hearts and minds of the public, so much so that he managed to crack the Top 50 (no less) with ‘Fly, Eddie , Fly’ and amassed a fortune of £400k within a year. True to form he was bankrupt by 1992.

Luigi Malabrocca was the Italian Eddie during the late 1940s, though to be fair to him, he exhibited considerably more ability and flair than Eddie ever did in his chosen sport of cycling. His claim to fame centred around his singleminded pursuit of the ‘maglia nera’ awarded to last placed rider in the Giro between 1946-1951. His dedication to the cause of winning (albeit a slightly different version) mimicked that of a certain Texan cancer survivor – there was no end to the ruses he dreamt up to ensure his ownership of the jersey for slowest rider in the race. From playing hide and seek, performing long bar crawls, self inflicted punctures, feigning illness, there was nothing this performer could not turn his hand to.

Distressingly, he actually only won the jersey twice out of 3 attempts as his particularly inventive blagging one day in the '49 Giro led to the time keepers becoming bored and leaving in disgust, only to award him the same time as the bunch and gift the jersey to a co-competitor, Sante Carollo. It tickles me that there were more than one of them vying for the honour.

Then again, that is to underestimate the honour of the maglia nera, and explains why the Giro still recognizes the jersey with a black number, the jersey itself now being deemed to have negative connotations.

Whilst he never tried for the jersey again after the debacle of ‘49, Malabrocca had more success in cyclocross. He was Italian Champion in ’51 and again in ’53 and apparently exhibited some flair for the dark art. So much so that he became affectionately known as the ‘Coppi of Cyclocross’. History does appear to record what Coppi thought of the moniker nor is there much evidence of the great mans involvement in cross some years before. Italy first had a National Cross Championship in 1930 and some Tour riders of the period liked to keep fit in the winter through cross racing – a better placed researcher than I may be able to uncover Coppi’s involvement or not.

But for now, I like the image of this celebrated failure turned cross champ and his hard earned maglia nera, floating stylishly across the fields like a Coppi of the mud………..

Tuesday 16 June 2009

in search of connection

I love this photo and for a while I couldn't work out why. It appeared the other day on the Rapha Continental section http://www.rapha.cc/onekama-mi accompanied by a succinct and insightful write up from Jeremy Dunn.

After chasing it round my head for a bit, and riding out with Duncan 'Here Come the Belgians', I pinpointed it: fellowship.

Robert Millar describes himself, perhaps ironically, as a sociable loner in the excellent 'In Search of Robert Millar' by Robert Moore. I instantly related to this, though hopefully I come across as less spikey than the Glaswegian enigma himself. Growing up, effectively as an only child (but with a learning disabled sister), I got used to amusing myself for long periods with a variety of past times. Those formative experiences have left me with a confidence in spending time with myself. However, when people come along for the ride then it is all for the better.

I still ride alone mostly, with some exceptions (http://crossjunkie.blogspot.com/2009/03/cheshire-cat.html) but the chance to ride in good company is one I increasingly err toward. Perhaps I am getting more gregarious as I get older, or just better at seeking out others to share the road with. Either way, a 3 hour hilly ride with Duncan (whom I had never previously been formally introduced to) passed in a blur of conversation, ideas, banter and shared experience as well as some serious physical effort. Thanks - here's to fruitful future collaborations.

The photo says it all really - effort showing on the faces, tough conditions leaving their mark, an intimate shot but showing a shared experience to be savoured for some time to come. Everything a good ride should be.

Friday 12 June 2009

in defence of tubs

I thought I’d try it this year – what with the experience of a couple of seasons of cross, and a move toward purity of approach for some big sportives, going down the tub route on the road seemed to make sense. Besides, it was no longer making sense to be using a nice pair of deep dish carbon wheels to be ground down and bashed chasing lowly places in NW Cross League races.

Years ago, racing cross in a past life, I flirted with the concept of tubs, getting hold of some ancient Barum and Vittoria’s. I never really got on with them, preferring the dubious clincher treads that were out there at the time. It was a beginner’s mistake – finding the preparation and gluing a hassle and never really getting to grips with the correct pressure.

After my lengthy break from cycling and with a renewed passion for cross, I gave it a whirl again. With advancing years came increased patience and a desire to do the material justice. Cheap tufos soon became obsolete in favour of my first pair of Dugasts and then the obsession was born. Taking heart from blogs across the Atlantic, gluing became a ritual accompanied by specially searched for exotic Belgian beers and authentic Euro cross races sourced from the newsgroup I began subscribing to.

Whilst gluing is still time consuming, its methodology and rhythm merely add to the overall experience before the tub has even been ridden. Then there is the endless (internal) debate about matching pressure to conditions and surface to come.

In short, I was a convert and a zealous one at that. Road tubs were another matter though………

Feedback on forums and websites was almost unremittingly negative and gave the impression that only someone with a ProTour contract should even attempt to consider racing with tubs on the road. Given I was not road racing, I turned to the sportive community to find the same disparagement – except for the lone voice of Dave Lloyd over on the cyclosport forum. Too fiddly, prone to rolling, nightmare if punctured – all the same negatives that clincher cross riders come up with, none of which had previously bothered me with cross tubs.

Never one to take well meant advice to heart (ask my wife) I ploughed ahead and got some Continental Sprinter Gatorskins, mainly because of their alleged puncture protection and mesh sidewalls. Not wanting to be caught in a remote area with a long wait and grovelling phone-call to a significant other, I also invested in a spare, 2 cans of Vittoria Pitstop and removeable valve cores to allow adding DT tubeless sealant as well. Three methods of puncture repair security, just to make sure.

My lovely carbons and Sprinters have now taken me round the Cheshire Cat, Lakeland Loop, Fred Whitton, Coast to Coast Challenge and numerous other training rides without missing a beat. Well, except when they skipped and skidded and deposited me in a bramble patch on the Fred……..

I’m sold in short – I was anyway with the cross tubs but riding tubs on the road, albeit some slightly utilitarian ones has been a joy. Smooth, fast and very comfortable. So embrace the glue, organise your puncture repair and get back to basics – you’ll love it I promise.

Next year’s project – some Ambrosio rims, tied and soldered with fat 24mm Open Pave tubs. The Ulimate Classics wheel.

In the meantime I am excited to report on the forthcoming inaugural collaborative ride between http://herecometheblegians.blogspot.com and http://crossjunkie.blogspot.com, tomorrow morning and taking in some of the finer cobbled sections of the Ronde van Oost Lancashire. Report to follow plus some exciting collaborative ventures in the pipeline, I hope.

Monday 8 June 2009

you heard it here first..........

Well, actually http://www.mollycameron.com/ was on it first but she only had half the story.

Francois from FMB has clearly done a deal with some major tire manufacturers and got a whole load of new exciting treads, mostly for cross. Details are not on the website yet but crossjunkie can bring you a sneak preview.

Most interesting of all is the emergence of a true mud tread for cross which looks suspiciously like a Racing Ralph to me. Molly had some made up on 34mm carcasses a while back and Sven Nys trialled some from Dugast about a year ago too.

Anyways, the Racing Ralph tread has long been regarded as a pretty good tread for mud - how will it compare to a Rhino?

Also available now is a standard Griffo/Typhoon tread - this has been the industry norm for pro racers for years now and works on just about anything. Nys often uses these in the really muddy races when most of us would reach for Rhinos, so proving that ability counts for a reasonable amount of one's success at staying upright.

FMB's file tread was already awesome, so I am not sure how the new Griffo file tread helps too much but choice is no bad thing.

The quality of FMB I think is better even than Dugast and all of the above will be available from John Holmes at Cyclocross Imports - great, bloke, great service so give him a call: http://www.empella.co.uk/

Wednesday 3 June 2009

what the hell??!!

Check this out courtesy of http://pavepavepave.blogspot.com/:

Trek Madone(?) Carbon frame, Campag Record chainset, Zipp 808s. Quality.

Rack, flat pedals with no straps on the clips, lock wrapped around seatpost and STRAIGHT BARS!!!!!!!!


Monday 1 June 2009


Watching my often glamorous wife get ready for a night out with some awe and confusion (I was ready some time in advance.....), I was struck by the similarities between the ritual that people, not just women (!), go through before heading off to their favourite pub/restaurant/club etc for a formal night out, and the preparation for heading out on the bike:

Body preparation - Am I relatively recently washed to avoid suffering of training partner when sitting on one's wheel? Legs shaved? Chamois cream? Sunscreen or embrocation depending on time of year? Check.

Clothing - what's the ambient temperature outside? What highs and lows of temperature are expected? What co-ordinates with what? Knee warmers or legwarmers? Winter jersey or jacket? Rainwear or risk it? Check. (Actually, in my home town this step seems to be omitted by those going out by using the maxim "wear as little as possible at all times")

Peripherals/accessories - puncture repair stuff? Gels/bars? Spare clothing? Phone and money? Check.

Bike - tire pressure? Chain lubed? Annoying creak solved? Check.

Route - Balancing desired time out with time in lumber for being late back? The equivalent of the late return with consequent hangover.

Then assemble components in order - get dressed, try to cram everything into small pockets - don't want to take anything unnecessary that will clutter one's style...... retrieve bike from cellar/shed/hiding place.

Last Obsessive Compulsive Disorder check - oh crap, forgot money/house/keys/helmet etc.

Enjoy ride.

For racing cross - multiply complexity by a factor of 10. OCD truly in danger of becoming established.

Oh, and talking of sartorial elegance, the little female mini-me that shares my unfortunate genetic make up for long lanky limbs and slopy shoulders has shown some exquisite taste recently. When asked to get a sun hat for some (locally unseasonal) sun-blessed gardening this weekend, she appeared rocking my red Rapha biretta with far more style than I have ever pulled off. Chapeau.