Award-winning sports journalist and author
Award-winning sports journalist and author

Ups and downs

Advance warning. I’ve been trying for a while to figure out how to do these blogs and have finally decided the only approach is the well known sportswear company one: Just Do It. But I think a proviso is necessary. These pieces are not going to be controversial, opinionated, “calling out” anyone for this and that. I don’t have a massive legal team to back me up, andI have a very good forum in the Guardian when they ask me to put across my views on Jiffy Bags and such.

The desk as the creative frenzy reached its height. I’m not going to upload photos of the crash’s after effects on public health grounds.

Nope, these are going to be about the cycling that takes up most of my life, about the bits of bike related stuff that I come across when I get out of the Shire and visit the real world for work reasons, and occasionally about the non-cycling thingies that creep in when I turn my back.

So the last week has been dominated by two things: the arrival of the new book, and the biggest crash I’ve had in years, that has left me nursing a seriously ropy shoulder. Getting your mitts on a new book is a lovely feeling, especially when, as is the case with Sunday in Hell, it’s the first one with only my name on the front cover since the Bernard Hinault biography back in 2015. There have been ghost-written books since then, both of which I’ve been very proud of, but those are not the same.

So it’s a special moment when you rip open the Jiffy Bag (insert your own joke here), and there in front of you is the finished product of several years work. In this case, I had the original idea back in 2011, I started talking about it with the publisher in 2012, and did the first interview for it in 2015. After that, Bradley Wiggins and Lizzie Armitstead asked me to help with books for them, and those kind of proposals are hard to turn down, hence the delay. So it’s been a long road with this one, and finally you get your reward.

It’s rewarding to look at the details, the things the designers put in that sound great in theory and look fine at the proof stage, but which you can only be certain about when the finished article turns up. There are a lot of screen grabs from the film in the book, and they are perfect; there’s a little motorcycle camera logo on many of the pages (to find out exactly what it does you will have to buy the book) and so on. There are some nice pics in the plate section, some taken by me which is a surprising development but they’ve come up sharp. All good.

Most of all, I like to look at a new book and contemplate: a lot of work went into that. But what I can never do is actually read the book. I’ve seen that text so many times that frankly I’m fed up with it. It takes about four or five years before I want to look again at one of my books.

That nice moment made up for the crash in the Abergavenny handicap, which was horrible. These days, I am massively paranoid about how I race, because now that I am in my 50s there is every chance that I won’t manage to race again after a really heavy one with broken bones. So I channel Steve Cummings, staying last wheel or so. Or I sit in the left-hand gutter, usually with half an eye on the roadside eying out where I can take evasive action. Risks are taken only when strictly necessary.

On this occasion I was in the middle of the bunch, close to the front but not at the front, which is a position I try to avoid. It was a classic British race crash, where someone was on the wrong side of the white line, moved across to his left to stay safe, and someone else got caught in the wave and touched a wheel. Two riders ahead of you, you can’t avoid it. At 30mph, it’s going to hurt, although luckily I fell onto the first faller; the big bruise on my hip is probably his pedal. There were others worse off than me so I’m not complaining.

It was the first time in years I’ve been a human speed bump with most of the peloton going over or round me, and as a result I’ve been finding odd bruises and bumps here and there. A broken brake lever, bent bars and probably some damage to shoulder ligaments, in the shoulder that until a week ago was the final major joint that I hadn’t crashed on. It’s a classic: not bad enough to go to hospital for x-rays but grim enough to keep me quiet. Maybe I’ll break the habit of
a lifetime and read that newly arrived book …

The Sunday in Hell screenings + signings tour

The closing stage of the Sunday in Hell spring tour ended somewhere on a Great Western train heading west from Reading. It was an exhilarating and at times zombifyingly tiring few days doing something I hadn’t done before, a series of book signings and Q&A sessions back to back, four in the space of five days across the south of the UK: London, Poole, Bristol, and London again. In distance and arduousness, it was more the Four Days of Dunkirk than the Giro. But it was fun.

When I got close to the end of writing Sunday in Hell, it seemed the obvious thing to do was to combine screenings of the film with Question and Answer sessions about the book and the film, and a chance for people to buy the book. I don’t know if it is something that’s been done before with other books about films, but it seemed like a happy marriage: a film that people love and don’t get to see very often, and a book that I want to sell copies of.

From this week, it seems clear that people do want to watch the film still, which I shouldn’t be surprised at, given that I’ve suggested it’s the greatest cycling documentary ever made, an enduring classic about a Classic, and so on. But it’s still surprising to see those venues sold out. And it seems that people want to watch the film and then buy the book to read more about the film which is also welcome, given that it is on that proposition that I’ve staked a year of my life in writing and getting nerdy about sections of cobbles, long-lens takes and state funding in Danish cinema in the early 1970s.

So there was much to like: I got to the new look Herne Hill, which I have wanted to see since it reopened, partly because of its evocative history, also with my track league organiser hat on, as well as my track rider casquette. I visited Prendas Ciclismo in Poole, who were one of the first advertisers when Jeremy Whittle and I founded procycling in 1999, and who were supplying me with arm-warmers and stuff when I rode the FBD Ras back in 1997.

Most appositely of all, I went back to the Watershed arts centre in Bristol, where the idea of “writing a book about a film about a race” was born when I went to a screening of Sunday there in 2010, did compere duties for a Q&A with Jorgen Leth, and realised there might be a bit more to this film than initially thought.

Most commonly asked question: why did you write a book about a film?

Blind sider: what is your favourite bike?

The one I couldn’t answer; do you know anyone who doesn’t like a Sunday in Hell?

With thanks to Look Mum No Hands in Old St, Prendas Ciclismo and Rockets and Rascals in Poole, Watershed in Bristol, and the Friends of Herne Hill for their help in setting the spring tour up.  Next up: Ilkley on April 29, Ross on Wye on May 16 via Rossiter books. Ilkley is sold out I’m afraid, three weeks ahead of showing.

April 29, Ilkley Cinema, Ilkley, 730pm

May 16: Phoenix Theatre, Ross on Wye, 7pm (kindly supported by Rossiter Books of Ross on Wye)

Other dates pending… Any suggestions welcome at this address… Look forward to seeing you there.