Award-winning sports Journalist and author
Award-winning sports Journalist and author

How to get ahead in winter

How to get ahead in winter

First of a series of blogs on the new-look website.

The risks you run as a cyclist if you don’t take winter seriously were brought home this week when a cyclist of my acquaintance ventured out on what looked like a decent enough day only to be caught in a big sleet shower 30 miles from base. The bike rider in question had a cape with him but otherwise was in thin stuff. He ended up shivering under a blanket in a cafe, borderline hypothermic; if he had one thing to be thankful for, it was that he didn’t get a mechanical and end up by the roadside at what could have been a very nasty moment.

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There’s snow in them hills if you look closely…

 

 

Over the years I’ve had enough “episodes” to fill up a Monty Python type “we had it tough” sketch – frozen bottles, frozen everything I guess – but the fact is I actually relish the arrival of winter, having worked out some simple ground rules from experience. Some of these are pretty obvious, maybe all of them if you have been cycling for a while. Some you won’t agree with, but that’s fine. I would just add the proviso that these are my own opinions; no one has given me freebies to make me write nice things about their products (interestingly, companies are always happy to give journalists summer kit, never winter stuff).

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Homage to the Great Bike Race

It is one of the most evocative of opening sentences: “In my case I came upon the Tour de France by way of Whitley Bay and Morecambe.” To paraphrase the late Geoff Nicholson’s beginning to this book, in my personal case I came upon the Tour de France by way of The Great Bike Race. There are books that change your life and shape your life. This is one of those.

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JEAN BOBET

In every sport there are dead legends, in every sport there are living legends and in every sport there are the men who provide the invisible thread that binds past and present together: Jean Bobet is such a man, brother of the triple Tour winner Louison, and now a celebrated writer on the sport they enjoyed together. Here is Louison’s training partner and confidant, a man who rubbed shoulders with all the greats of the 1950s, and who was at Fausto Coppi’s funeral: a day he remembers for the fact that ‘in death as in life, others appropriated Fausto.’

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GUNSMOKE ON THE 2009 TOUR

 

The consensus is that this is the closest Tour de France ever, with one week left to the finish, but whether close equals boring stalemate or suspense-filled tension is a matter of some debate. Friday’s stage through theVosgesmountains toColmarsummed it up: there were three nasty climbs and it teemed with rain all day. Just right for someone to start sniping at Lance Armstrong and Alberto Contador, you might have thought. And there was gunsmoke in the air, but unfortunately it was from someone on the roadside who thought it was clever to pop an airgun at the peloton.

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FLANDRIANS

Alberic Schotte was the first and the last. The first of the Flandrians, because no one will ever quite match up to the man Brits inevitably call “Brick”, the last because every Flandrian is the last, or so the Flemish cycling fans worry. As a small region straddlingBelgiumandHolland, inhabited by a linguistic subgroup used to being trampled on by bigger neighbours,Flandersis a place of nostalgia tinged with paranoia. What’s coming in the future may not end up being as good as what was: hence the fact that every great Flemish cyclist is “the last of the Flandrians”. The worry is that there may not be another one about to come along…

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WATERCARRIERS

Try to explain a professional cycling team’s hierarchy to a non-cyclist, and the reaction will always be bemusement. There is nothing else in sport quite like the relationship between domestique and star. It was Geoffrey Nicholson who best summed up the great paradox, that in cycling the stars need the watercarriers, but the bottle-fetchers don’t get the same money or status. “In any team game,” wrote Nicholson, “sacrifices have to be made and the attackers can get more than the defenders. But it’s an odd team game in which those who score the goals get the major prizes.”

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ROBERT MILLAR

Time flies. It is all of seventeen years since I went for a memorable mountain bike ride in a wild, chilly wood in easternFrance. My guide was Robert Millar, who had promised to take me to a few muddy places, get me covered in mud and, he was clearly hoping to watch me fall off, all in the interest of a good story. It was in the hoary old days when mountain biking was something new, and a road racing star who rode a mountain bike was a radical. 

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THE TOUR IS FINISHED, 2007

“The Tour de France is finished. It has been killed by its own success, by the passions it has released, the injuries and filthy suspicions caused by the ignorant and the wicked.” Not a lament over this year’s tarnished edition, but the reflection of the organiser Henri Desgrange after the 1904 race, ruined by widespread cheating, with the first three finishers disqualified and victory awarded to Henri Cornet. Desgrange was wrong, but his words may ring true 103 years on.

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PHIL AND PAUL (BUT MAINLY PAUL)

Phil and Paul. You can’t help but think of the double act as the Murray Walker and James Hunt of our sports, and for me, as for so many others, Liggett and Sherwen are the voices that fuelled my passion once the Tour de France and Kellogg’s Tour of Britain hit terrestrial television in the 1980s. But on my side, I suspect it all runs a little deeper and longer than for many.

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THE CHESSBOARD

In the great wardrobe in the sky where iconic cycling kit is stored, the Peugeot “chessboard” has a special little coathanger all to itself. For those who like to describe cycling as chess on wheels, there is a happy symmetry in the fact that Bernard Thevenet, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx et al raced in a jersey that bore a chessboard’s chequered design, “les damiers” as the French called it.

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