Going to Belgium to watch the Tour of Italy – in the Netherlands

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This gallery contains 7 photos.

That’s how my father tried to explain this week’s holiday in Belgium to his non-cycling friends. It was then followed by a more detailed explanation of how the so called “Grand Tours” of cycle racing often take excursions outside their … Continue reading

British Tour de France winner? Time to wear the yellow again!

When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 I rode round the UK countryside like I had won the race myself. And it inspired one of my personal favourite posts on idonotdespair.com “On Sunday I shall wear yellow”.

Kevin mayne

It is one of favourites because I had so much fun writing it and I was on a euphoric high of fandom. Back in the summer of 2012 not so many people read my blog, but it did get a link in the weekly CTC newsletter so it was probably my record number of views at the time, therefore I was even more chuffed. And any excuse to listen to the wonderful Jenny Joseph poem I plagiarised is a good one.

I may even have gone a bit over the top around the same time when I took on the mad Norwegian football commentator challenge.

Then in 2013 Chris Froome became the second British winner so I could don the yellow again, this time to ride out with my new Belgian cycling club which caused some smiles.

It is almost inconceivable that since 2012 there have been 3 British winners of the tour after 100 years of occasional flurries and few stage wins.

So on Sunday I feel I have no choice – it is out with the faded CTC yellow top again to celebrate Froome’s victory. A bit smug perhaps in the land of Eddie Merckx, the poor old Belgians haven’t had too much joy in the tour of late although Greg van Avermaet and Serge Pauwels gave them some good moments and the Belgian teams Lotto and Etixx have won a lot of stages.

But Sunday will be our day. On Sunday I shall wear yellow. Now I wonder if Cavendish can do something special on the Champs?

Tour de France in Belgium 2015 – unforgettable moments

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This gallery contains 12 photos.

It is now four days since I cycled to Huy to watch the Tour de France stage finish at the summit of the legendary Muy de Huy. In the way of these things the excitement of the Tour has rolled … Continue reading

So that’s it – most important job of the week done. Fantasy Tour de France Team submitted

There may be lawns to mow, bikes to ride and repair, dog to walk, emails to send.

But the week before the Tour de France the annual challenge has been issued and only one task matters. Building a Tour de France team to beat my brothers and my son.

This is a great way of bringing some extra entertainment to our watching, even if we really want the British riders to do well we can add some spice by hoping for a daily win. Not that I need any incentive, it looks like the most exciting Tour in years.

So here, unveiled for the first time is this year’s I Do Not Despair roster over on www.velogames.com , our chosen platform.

fantasy velogames

On Monday I will be reporting in from the top of the Muy de Huy as the race goes for an exciting stage finish at the top of the climb used for the annual Fleche Wallonne classic race in the spring time. With temperatures over 30 degrees at the moment it might be a long hot ride down there, but I have had this day in my diary all year, so I’m going, cooked or not.

Not much prospect of a Belgian winner on the Mur as Philippe Gilbert is injured, but apparently they are expecting over 100,000 spectators to this little town for the finish in this ampitheatre of sport.

I am having a MAMIL moment. Apologies, normal service will be resumed shortly.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

My aim with this blog is to keep a balance. A wide variety of cycling content mixed in with some travel, food and Belgian life.

On the cycling side it means that I try to balance my personal love of for sporty riding like great races and mountain biking with rides for everyone in amazing locations and great company.

However regular readers may have noticed a trend creeping in over the past few months. Since December I have been doing a lot of long hard rides. Thankfully you have all been very appreciative of the long touring days, the hard cross country and recently the excursion to Taiwan’s mountains.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

I am having a MAMIL moment. I am a Middle Aged Man in Lycra, racing around the countryside in search of cycling achievement.

Here is my confession.

I ended last summer feeling good about my riding and I was determined to keep it up over the winter for the first time since moving to Belgium.  The idea became firmer when I found our club’s previously secret winter riding gang that would get me out on Sunday mornings, just like back in the UK.

However that innocent aim got hi-jacked by a moment of MAMIL madness. I was clicking around the web one evening when I found the site for the Tour of Flanders challenge ride on the Saturday before the legendary classic. The race I have been visiting since I got here, only growing in my estimation now I live in Belgium.

Centrum Ronde van Vlaanderen

Click, enter your details. 130 kilometres, all the famous climbs, I can do that, click. Enter credit card, click. (I would like to blame mixing Belgian beer with a double espresso, or similar over-stimulation, but I suspect I just had a moment.) And with that I went off to bed dreaming of becoming a Flandrian.

Centrum Ronde Van Vlaanderen

A couple of days later I made my true confession. “Well I may have just sort of….” and “I was just thinking maybe I could ride an event Easter weekend.” “The Tour of Flanders Cyclo….”

Once again Mrs Idonotdespair showed the insight into my behaviour that kept our marriage happy for twenty five years. She cut straight through my woffle, gave me a withering look and said “Oh no, you are going to start training aren’t you?”

I promised that it wasn’t the case. No obsessive behaviour. No doubling the food bill. No sneaky rides at inappropriate moments. Because I had no doubt I would not be training for this ride. I would try to “get fit”, but in my head that is a process of just a few longer fun rides on top of my usual schedule.

Training is what you do when you become slave to an objective. Faster, higher, stronger. To beat a time or a rival. No I am not going to be training, I am just going for a long ride.

Reality bites.

About a week after I signed up for the Tour of Flanders ride I began my schedule by setting set out for a thrash up a few hills on Saturday morning. This did not go well at all and I promptly came down with flu and then a chest infection which lasted almost through to Christmas. Best winter in years? No chance.

So I did the only realistic thing in the circumstances. I panicked.

Well almost. I had 13 weeks to create the man in my head who was bouncing up steep cobbled hills with enthusiasm and energy, not somebody crawling to the line in pain and suffering. Yes the Tour of Flanders classic allows for fun riders who can take up to 12 hours to do just 70km, something I can handle even when totally unfit. But that’s not the point for me, I want it to feel sporty, I want to be able to follow bunches of other riders, I want to be able to look at it on the TV the next day when the pros ride and I want to be able to say “I did that”.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

It has however been really hard, especially in my head. It is five years since I last got myself anywhere near this level of fitness, in fact probably nearer ten. The body forgets. I have ached, I have groaned, I have been wet and cold rather more times than I wanted. I was much more tired than I had expected as I stepped up the riding/training.

Riding with the club’s winter group I found myself struggling unexpectedly to keep up. People I rode with all last year were dropping me on Sundays. I blamed my old winter bikes and the fact that I was riding 3 or 4 days in the week to so I was more tired than them, but if you had asked me at the end of February “How’s it going?” I really was not happy. And perhaps that’s my main point, the stress of the target took a lot of the shine off the riding, it was something I “had to do”, not “wanted to do”.

I think I might have been training. Oh dear!

Rewards.

March arrived.

The mornings offered a hint of spring.

I extracted my best bike from its winter hibernation and enjoyed the swish of lightweight tyres on dry roads.

My strategy for surviving the annual diet of jetlag, late dinners and over-consumption at the Taipei Cycle Show paid off brilliantly with the two extra days for cycling acting as a wonderful final warm weather training camp.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

And then I went out on a Sunday and whizzed round with our fast group, something I could not possibly have done a year ago. And as I started enjoying myself the aches and pains eased away. I am about 4kg lighter than I was in October and a hell of a lot fitter, I really can enjoy this.

Maybe, just maybe I am ready for my MAMIL moment on Saturday.

Lessons learned.

I have no enthusiasm whatsoever to turn training for cycling into a way of life again. I intend to keep my rides nicely balanced with a return to regular city and gentle touring rides.

Photo by Andrzej Felczak

All credit to the veteran racers and born again MAMILs that bring so much energy and passion to their cycling. Yes I am going to try and keep fairly fit. I can see some great rides coming up over the rest of the year and as I am in Belgium I will stretch out for some more links to the classics.

But I am going to keep it fun. If the wind is howling and the rain coming down horizontally like it was this morning, I will roll over, take an extra hour and go for the train later.

Probably.

Bike story: Cycling reminiscences provoked by the restoration of my fixed wheel friend Freddie Grubb 11773. (Chapter 2)

Photo Godric CC

Chapter 2 Roller Racing and Record Breaking

In Chapter 1 of the story of my restored Freddie Grubb I wrote about its life in the Godric Cycling Club, a small but successful cycling club based around the Suffolk towns of Bungay and Beccles, an area known as the Waveney Valley.

These are small towns in a rural area so the population catchment isn’t large and apart from the occasional footballer who has a trial with a professional team the area hasn’t turned out a line of sporting heroes to put it on the map. Therefore relative to its size the cycling club has been a bit of a standard bearer, turning out a regular crop of local champions and occasionally a national level competitor.

But in one field of cycling the Godric CC made an impression far beyond the reaches of the Waveney Valley, picking up not one but two world records. And my Freddie Grubb was part of at least one of those records, if not both.

That is entirely in keeping with the name that it carries, because Frederick Henry Grubb (b 1887) was one of the prolific record breakers of his era. www.nkilgariff.com lists 14 of his British records from 60 miles to 24 hours, mostly broken before he won two silver medals at the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm and then turned professional. He did not take to professional racing so he turned to bike building to exploit his fame.

Which brings us back to the record breaking story of this Freddie Grubb.

In chapter 1 I wrote about grass track racing in East Anglia which helped sustain use of fixed wheel bikes for many years. The other branch of the sport that carried on in splendid isolation in a few clubs around the country was roller racing.

Today most bike racers and even some enthusiastic hard tourists will have a turbo trainer at home. One of the most unloved instruments of cycling torture imaginable, I was delighted the day I decided I would never do that again.

Prior to turbo trainers we used rollers for indoor training and you still see riders warming up on them before races.

Much less common are the sets of racing rollers where two or four bikes were put onto special rollers connected to a measuring clock.

Inevitably it falls to cycling author Carlton Reid, author of “Roads were not built for cars” (reviewed in December 2014) to provide a comprehensive history of indoor trainers since the 1880s on his web site. He says roller-racing really took off in the 1930s and its popularity as entertainment continued until the 1950s. The great draw for riders is that the lack of wind resistance means you can fit a huge gear to your bike and routinely do speeds well over 50 miles per hour, with a world record of over 130 miles per hour. Short sprints are very fast and very furious. Hard to imagine now but the most famous venue for roller racing in the 50s was the Royal Albert Hall, perhaps the most prestigious concert hall in London.

Carton’s history matches my understanding because the founding generation of the Godric CC were all familiar with the roller races they had seen in the fifties, but quite quickly it had almost died out, not least because the equipment was very scarce. However (and I have no idea why) the Godric were a club that kept a roller tradition. In 1968 the club broke the world 12 hour roller relay record and in the early 70s a Bungay Modern School team from the club set a national schools record at 12 hours too.

Godric CC World record Roller racing team 1968

I am not sure, and I really must ask Lindsay Wigby, whether the star of this story was used in the 1968 attempt, but Lindsay was in the team so it seems quite possible that my Freddie Grubb was a world record breaker in 1968.

The roller tradition suited these fixed wheel bikes well. Just like the grass track racing the bikes were only a tweak away from being ready to ride at all times. There were many lightweight narrow fixed wheels with racing tyres around because the bikes had been used for time trialling. The single front brakes could be slipped off and the bike was about ready, apart from the fact you had to turn your handlebars up.

Why? Well one might say “because everyone else did”. Like so many things in cycling this habit was part of roller riding lore and was mixed in practicality and probable bull dung. One reason given was that “it opens up your chest and you breath better”. Given that people were doing phenomenal speeds on the road bent like hair pins without apparently suffering from breath problems this seems about as likely as a sticky plaster on your nose helping you play football better. Much more realistically the upright position kept your weight firmly on the rear drive of the rollers. Because you tended to bounce about at high pedal rates this made sure every pedal stroke counted and kept you stable.

However roller riding did test the mechanical creativity of the riders in one way. If you want to ride steadily at over 50 miles an hour you need pretty enormous gears, and even then a high cadence is needed. In those days 11 tooth sprockets were not even available on geared bikes, a 13 was very daring indeed and the smallest fixed sprockets were occasional 14s. But because the Godric were a roller club there was a secret squirrel store of relevant bits, including the near mythological 8 tooth rear sprocket. Old roller riders had abtained huge chainwheels, usually made by TA of France, that could go up to 64 teeth. When combined with a 14 sprocket suitable gears could be reached.

The 8 tooth sprocket was a near myth because whenever it was discussed there was always some doubt about who had it last time and quite where it had come from. I was always told that it was a lawnmower sprocket that had been filed down to the correct width for a bike chain and then welded to the side of a conventional sprocket so it could be fitted. With this baby even a normal 54 tooth road chainset gave enormous gears. In legend it could be combined with one of the giant chainsets to reach record breaking speeds but only heroic men with thighs like tree trunks could get it moving. When I saw it you could only describe it as one of the ugliest and most functional pieces of equipment ever put on a bike.

Both Freddie Grubb and the 8 tooth sprocket definitely found their way to to a Guinness World Record in 1977.

A team of four young guys from Bungay High School were set up to go for the schools’ record held by our clubmates. However we had a secret weapon. The club had been fundraising and bought a set of the newest, smoothest rollers ever made with bearings and drives of incredible quality from Cambridge firm Barelli.

Barelli almost deserve a blog entry in their own right. In the 1970s a high quality engineering firm based just outside Cambridge, England decided to make possibly the finest engineered pedals made in England, perhaps in the world at the time. They came with a lifetime guarantee and retailed from an amazing £50. But cyclists wouldn’t believe that a product was top quality unless it was continental, preferably Italian. So a nondescript industrial estate out on the Huntingdon Road gave its name to a special product. Bar Hill became “Barelli”.

But owner Geoff Chapman was also convinced that there was a place in cycling for the revival of rollers if they could be built to the same outstanding quality as his pedals. The very first prototype even featured electronic counting instead of a mechanical drive, a revolutionary concept that preceded the modern cycle computer by a good five years, but unfortunately couldn’t be made to run reliably. How do we know that? Because it was the set of Barelli prototype rollers that the Godric CC bought. Until a few weeks before the record attempt we had a lot of failures so Chapman replaced the electronics with a nylon drive cable in an oil bath, a design that still put the Barelli rollers low resistance into a different class to all the old sets.

They were, very, very quick as our trials had already proven. However we also had another secret weapon in the older club riders who had been there before and actually knew exactly how to plan a record schedule, especially ride manager John Pugh. I was actually number 5 in the squad in terms of ability and got in because my mate Dale blew up in the trial, but I got my chance from there.

I rode Freddie of course, and during the run up to the event the magical 8 sprocket was rediscovered and probably because I was the last choice for the squad the other guys had the huge chainsets and I had the 8 tooth. And here we are!

Photo Godric CC

So in a village hall near Bungay we set out as four 16 and 17 year olds to break the world record for adults, not just the school distance. And the rest, as you might say is history, as my Guinness World Record certificate will attest. 657 miles, a shade under 55 miles per hour for the whole 12 hours.

Guiness World Record Roller Cycle Racing

I have to admit I had a bit of a personal bad day. Nerves, a touch of asthma, I have no idea why but I had a shocker. I did my part for the whole day but I am very grateful that my much stronger team mates were absolutely on top of their game that day so we had a good margin over the old record.

We held it for about two years until a team of top adult riders from Hounslow Wheelers took it, but to be fair they didn’t smash our time into oblivion. We probably still hold the schools’ record because the discipline has become so rare, maybe one of the modern promoters could encourage a hopeful team to give it a proper thrashing now.

Freddie Grubb is a world record breaking bike. Not the celebrity of the bikes that have broken the world hour record on the track or the Fausto Coppi world championship Bianchi I saw at the Padua bike show in 2013, but there cannot be so many bikes out there that have this claim to fame. And like the first part of the story it is one wrapped up in the club life of the Godric.

Roller racing Godric CC early 1980s

I carried on track and roller racing for another year or two (above in green) until I left for university at the age of 19, making it a part of cycling I too left behind. It has taken this restoration project to bring it all back.

Roller racing too has made a bit of a comeback too thanks to the public relations skills of companies like Rollapaluza and Goldsprint, they have really modernised with the right mix of noise, lights and music. if you get a chance to go to a roller night I recommend it.

Chapters 3 and 4 “Decline and restoration” here.

Part 2 of my guest post for DiscoveringBelgium.com “New Year’s Revolutions: The Best of Belgian Cycling for 2015”

Part 2 of my guest post for Denzil Walton’s www.discoveringbelgium.com has been published today.

Last week it was all about places for you to ride.

This week its “Watching cycling with the Belgians – beer, frites and the most passionate fans in the world” 

I have suggested some of the best cycling to watch this year including the Six Days of Ghent, the great settings for cyclocross races and  of course the road classics.

An extra bonus for 2015 is the Tour de France which comes to Wallonia in July.

www.dicoveringbelgium.com

For links to my own accounts of visiting the various races mentioned click the tabs at the bottom of the page.

Thanks again Denzil for the opportunity to spread the word and for the great ideas on your blog.