When a bike is too good to be true, it is almost certainly not true

Replica Francesco Moser Hour Record Bike

I walked onto my host’s stand at the bike show I was visiting in Budapest this weekend and the hairs almost stood up on the back of my neck.

Right in front of their stall was one of the legendary bikes of cycle sport – the extraordinary bike ridden by Italian star Francesco Moser in 1988 to break the “the hour”, one of cycling’s most extreme records.To anybody immersed in cycle sport at the time this was the stuff of legends. It even had a photo indicating authenticity.

I couldn’t be true. I just couldn’t make out how this groundbreaking machine wasn’t in a museum or the collection of the man himself.

So I poked around on line over the weekend to see if I could authenticate the bike and I came across a fun new blog I haven’t seen before  – the Lo Pro Cycling Club, a site dedicated to the whole generation of aerodynamic bikes that became super fashionable in the racing scene of the 1980s.

I this great post the blog tells the story of how former professional track rider Kiss Ferenc from Hungary built a Moser replica for fun. I can only assume this is the beast.

The replica is a bit naughty, but what a designer – one of the bike companies should give him a job.

New Tour de France and Italian classics promo videos side by side

Bless the twittersphere and blogosphere.

How else would I be pointed to the new promo videos from the great tours and the Italian classics if links were not popping up all over the place today.

Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Strada Bianchi, Milan San Remo, Tour of Lombardy in four minutes.

As one blogger put it “goosebumps”

Bring on the season.

Climate change stops play

My sort of new discovery this year has been the Belgian passion for cyclocross – or perhaps I should say what I have discovered is live cyclocross on the TV and the extensive coverage of the results in the mainstream media, even pushing back the all consuming monster that is football. (Cyclocross tab below to see other posts)

I can’t help but feel sorry for the organisers is this week’s World Championships in Louisville Kentucky. First time in the 43 years of the championship that they have left Europe. US Cycling is in desperate need of a lift after the nightmares of Armstrong and cyclocross is quietly growing as a new branch of the sport so it could be a real celebration of the sport for them.

So how about this for the news:

Louisville, KY – February 1, 2013. Forecast data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) project that high water levels in the Ohio River will cause Beargrass Creek to flood the low lying areas of Eva Bandman Park in Louisville, Ky, in the early hours on Sunday morning and that water level will continue to rise for the next 48 hours.

That is such a shame for the organisers, now they are relying on a special barrier and moving everything to today, Saturday.

Having seen Niels Albert, Sven Nys and the rest compete in mud so deep they couldn’t ride and on ice that put even the best on their backsides I have a sneaking suspicion that they could and would ride in snorkels and flippers if asked. My money would be on Albert, he’s the tallest.

The sort of good news is that Belgian TV will now show all four events on the one day – about four hours of coverage. Bad news for me is that I’m going to have to improvise – today is the day my other sporting passion kicks off – Rugby’s 6 Nations tournament also involves lots of blokes thrashing about in the mud but as I posted last year only at the very end of the series does it begin to overlap with cycling. Having to make such choices this early in the year really is unfair!

UCI’s live Youtube feed should do it, then I can capture both as I did for Milan San Remo last year.

Oh well, it does mean lots of time to get the ironing done.

Two more brilliant cycling videos to inspire your year

I don’t have the time or the patience to spend much time following cycling links in other media. So I like to give credit when other bloggers or Tweeters turn up something good, I rely on them for all my film links.

Over at Cyclestuff Simon Nurse seems to have a never-ending source of cycling art and other material, his blog is well worth following. Thanks to one of his recent posts I discovered another of those jaw dropping mountain biking films where someone with a touch of vertigo like me just winces, but is drawn back to the screen like a moth to a flame.

 

And then at Charlie Bucket Cycles in Montreal Andybuk has posted a longer video of the Haute Route 2012, a multi-stage amateur race through the Alps, even including a time trial up Alpe D’Huez. Oh yes I’d love to do that but I guess that sort of fitness is a bit of a long way off. It is 45 minutes long so its one for a large mug of tea and maybe a second slice of cake after you have completed appropriate training!

In praise of Nicole Cooke, a real champion

Racing cyclist Nicole Cooke announced her retirement today. Multiple world champion and memorably Olympic Road Race champion at Beijing in 1988

Tonight I heard her giving an excellent interview to the BBC in which she is her usual robust self when describing her views on drug cheats and the impact they have on other riders’ careers. (link below) In the week that Lance Armstrong appears to trying to salvage his reputation on the sorry ground of the Oprah show I think we should salute a real star of our sport.

I am biased about Nicole because I have been following her career for long time and I know that she really is an old school champion, one who made her way up through the sport just before the British Cycling machine started producing champions with almost conveyor like regularity.

Back in the 1990s I was living in Cardiff and I restarted my club riding and racing career with the Cardiff Ajax Cycling Club, then a long standing club with a nice family atmosphere. Down in the schools category a name started to appear regularly – a twelve year old girl was beating all the boys at cyclocross and started winning national championships in unbeatable style. Within a year she was getting a national reputation. I recall Cycling Weekly magazine commenting that most of the senior men could learn a bit from watching her bike handling.

But along with her racing supportive parents Tony and Denise had brought up her and her brother as all round cyclists with a real appreciation of the pastime as well. They had cycled to school and been on cycle touring holidays too but Nicole was always a ferociously competitor and outgrew the gentle riding and school category years ahead of her time. Scarily bright too, doing exams early so they didn’t clash with her racing and a good speaker at social functions and prizegivings.

I have memories of the 15 year old Nicole handing out a thrashing more than a few times at any discipline. A 100 mile February reliability ride in freezing rain and snow, most of the top local riders left my group for dead. While we old men were dying in the café the “youngster” was going the whole way with the lead group – perhaps ideal preparation for that horrible day in Beijing ten or so years later?

Or later that summer when she was given special dispensation to ride outside her youth category with the local senior men as a bit of training. I was well dropped when I pulled off the circuit to watch the race finish, but even by then I had been terrified trying to follow her wheel round some of the corners on the old airfield circuit. Everyone else sort of rode round the corners, Nicole just hauled her bike round in a juddering arc, unforgiving on bike and rider. Not only did she ride with the seniors just below elite level and stay with them all race, she burst from the pack to win the bunch sprint embarrassing some quite handy individuals into the bargain.

She then became our club icon, followed by everyone and gradually a champion respected by everyone throughout the cycling world. Junior champion at every discipline, me shouting at the Eurosport coverage in each victory. Then the Commonwealth Games put her on the national stage, coming from behind after missing a corner after a typical piece of mad and fearless descending.

And that was her style. A colleague of mine at CTC Mick Ives also ran a pro cycling team which Nicole rode for a junior and he said she was relentless and unforgiving on herself and her equipment, driving herself to the limit, probably racing and training too much. Actually now I write this I realise how much she sounds like our other champion Beryl Burton who I have written about quite a bit in the last year or so. (tagged below)

I guess I was one of those who probably believed that she was destined never to quite get the world or Olympic titles she deserved, especially with the coming career of the similarly amazing Marianne Vos. But as if the Olympic title wasn’t enough the sheer bloody mindedness with which she outsprinted Vos for the world title in the same year was the one that had me almost break furniture as I jumped in the air.

That was probably her last brilliant year and it has been tough going since then with injury and team problems, not to mention internal tensions in the British team as her status waned but she remains high on my list as a rider that I would never tire of watching, there was always a possibility that she would do something in almost every race.

She deserves a successful retirement now and the continued respect of our whole cycling world. If she gets her moment in some sort of truth and reconciliation process after all the current rubbish in men’s cycling she will be a force to be reckoned with because she will not hold back.

Respect.

Links – Nicole Cooke on Wikipedia     BBC Radio interview 

A cycling country for hard riders – where cyclocross is a major sport

I always knew Belgium was mad for cycle sport and that it is the main home of the winter variant of the sport – cyclocross. It’s a much older offroad cycle sport than mountain biking, carried out on adapted road bikes.

But I have been highly entertained as for the second week in a row I have bumped into cyclocross on live TV as a major event of the day and the Dutch speaking radio station I had on while cooking a meal led with the cross results as the lead sports headline. A nice bonus, I had been anticipating watching some of the Belgian road classics later in the spring but I had forgotten all about the cyclocross.

Today showed why this has always been an event for hard riders, historically mainly men. The kind of rider who likes to keep a clean bike and mechanical perfection would recoil in horror from the pouring rain, the ankle deep mud and the grinding sand. Perfectly suited to the image of Belgium as the country of riders on and off road who like conditions really horrible.

Today’s Superprestige series race at Diegem had the added twist of being run off under floodlights and street lamps only enhancing the sense of being closed in by the storm. And despite the conditions it appeared to attract a good crowd. All the pictures are on copyrighted sites so I won’t put one here, but try here for some good ones.

I loved cross when I was a kid, I was absolutely useless at it because I lacked the power and strength to be any good. But when it turned really horrible I was always worth a few extra places just because it put off some of the speed merchants. So in the middle of the wettest winters ever in northern Europe I am very happy to be tucked up indoors and to salute the kings of the mud. I guess before the season ends I had better get myself out there and actually watch one.

Celebrating classic Italian bike heritage

cropped-epoca-header.jpgThis is the first of my Christmas holiday posts where I catch up on some of the missing subjects I promised myself I would write about at the time and never quite got round to. Some reflections, maybe a few thanks, but above all else the things I can catch up on when the rain is howling in horizontally across the countryside and it is time for another piece of cake.

Among this year’s new discoveries that I wanted to share were some of Europe’s communities of vintage racing bike enthusiasts. I had frequently marveled at the massive queues for what I could only characterised as a “load of old scrap” when I visited some of the popular bike rallies in the UK but the scale of the sector had passed me by.

However I do know that I always enjoyed seeing a restored classic and this year I have learned so much more about the community and culture behind the world of classic bikes.

GB, WeinmannFirstly I started a rather urgent mission to reduce the volume of cycling stuff I was going to relocate to Belgium. I knew I had a couple of nice classic bikes that needed a good home because I was never going to give them due respect. But I had no idea that when I delved into my old bits box I would be uncovering the items that power a whole community of collectors and restorers.

Crossed flad head badge Freddie Grubb FixieSecondly I began the long drawn out process of restoring my own period classic.  I conceived the project over a year ago on my 50th birthday because the bike itself is of a similar vintage and frankly at fifty there are not so many toys you can buy a bloke. But it was only this year that I got the frame refurbed and started to think properly about the parts.

In both cases I have been hugely impressed by the community over on www.retrobike.co.uk , there just doesn’t seem to be anything that they don’t know about bike bits. And the ability to identify a part or a bike from just a single photo or a clumsy description is only matched by their ability to conjure up just the missing part from a secret store, often in mint condition.

I had carried a bit of a prejudice that this was a mainly British community of eccentrics with some similar enthusiasts in North America. The tribe runs on a diet of old English handmade frames and the period components that go with them.  However it hasn’t taken long in my travels this year to discover that there is an alternative theme that runs across Europe, one that runs on pure Italian vintage, with Colnago and Bianchi at its head. Just goes to show how little I really know about anything when I make assumptions about national character.

First I found the amazing Bikelager in Vienna – café, galley and homage to the finest Italian frames and bikes which I mentioned in one of my Vienna posts in May.  I am looking forward to paying them another visit next year for one of the coolest coffees in town.

Bikelager Wien

Then I in September my newest discovery was Bici D’Epoca, (“Bikes of the ages”) the period bike exhibition at the Padua Cycle Show. As with everything Italian and cycling from this period the twin gods of Coppi and Bartali looked down on everything. I guess it is a form of insurance for the company that they have to give equal billing to both.

It was a feast of Campagnolo, Bianchi, clothing and parts stretching over more than 50 years. Coppi’s 1954 World Championship winning bike as star, but I enjoyed just as much bikes with local histories such as the tandem from the local Padova club which was used to win an Italian national championship, complete with black and white photos of its riders. Coppi's 1954 Bianchi

Vintage Cinelli TandemSo despite being surrounded by some of the most exciting modern bikes on the planet I kept sneaking back to their stall at the Padua fair to soak up some of the legends.

Bici D'Epoca Bici D'Epoca Classic Italian Cycling Tops

The spiritual home of this stuff and one of the drivers of the rediscovery of the era has become the classic ride L’Eroica (“the heroic one”)  which has spawned a whole generation of spinoff rides including a Giro d’Italia d’Epoca. These rides only allow riders to compete on classic bikes with period clothing to preserve the classic images of the sport. L’Eroica itself was created to draw attention to the paving over of the legendary white dirt roads of Tuscany. It can be credited with the decision by the organisers of the Giro D’Italia to take one of the monuments of cycling over little known dirt tracks, days which have changed the destiny of the race. And a professional version of the L’Eroica in the spring is fast becoming a classic. Together they have rehabilitated both the strada bianchi and the classic bikes of Italy.

I almost imagined I had a small part in the original Eroica this year because one of the participants was credited in the event reports with wearing “some natty punched leather Gianni Motta shoes”,   the ones I had sold him just a few weeks before just for the occasion. Now I know that this is a proper missing link in my cycling CV, one for the bucket list to be sure.

So when I could be putting up more blog posts, riding my bike or restoring my own bike I seem to be able click around for ages www.bicidepoca.com for their events, parts, accessories, clothing, historical articles and some great photos of the bikes including the story about that Coppi championship winning bike. And if not I will be sneaking my regular look at www.retrobike.co.uk to see if anyone really does need some of my old tat, for say the price of a cup of coffee?

Beryl: A Love Story on Two Wheels – radio play about the greatest cyclist of an era, possibly ever

So at last Maxine Peake’s play about Beryl Burton made the airwaves this afternoon.

I was traveling so I have had to listen to it myself in my hotel room on the i-player this evening – link here.

Followers of my blog know I have been building up the Beryl story since May (Click tab “Beryl Burton” for other posts and material). I had this horrible moment about a week ago when I read the synopsis on line and I thought it might just be terrible and a bit twee, focussing on a manufactured love story between Beryl and Charlie and my buildup would be in vain.

But what made it work for me were the recordings of Charlie and daughter Denise chatting about Beryl as if she was just round the corner and had popped out for a ride, almost like the day she died. It brings that authenticity and honesty I can respect, bringing to life some of the stories from the book “Personal Best” on which it is based.

Such a dominant figure in the cycling history of the period, but spoken of which such affection by the two people who knew her best, even if it is clear she was far from easy to live with. Yes it was a love story.

Aficionados will be cross at some of the corny sound effects to make radio drama accessible and I can assure you that there weren’t crowds, loudspeakers and commentators at 1960s time trials, if there had been maybe Beryl would have been the star she should have been. But I am forgiving, they were needed for the narrative to work and it is hard to portray a superstar at a sport that was invented for its anonymity! If I have one complaint it would be that her achievements still didn’t really come across, she really was such an athlete she is so hard to sum up.

But all in all a really good effort and its placement on Radio 4 will have gone a long way to telling the world about our hidden heroine. I have only seen feedback on twitter so far tonight, but overall it is really positive.

Please give it a listen, and if you can get a copy of “Personal Best” do so, it fills out the rest.

Play about the life of cycling legend Beryl Burton to be broadcast in November

Those who have been following my blog since the spring will know that a radio broadcast featuring actress Maxine Peake gave me two great posts.

“Beryl Burton, Radcliffe and Maconie, Working Class Struggle in 30 minutes – Maxine Peake you are my new star” on May 1st

“Books and reflections – Eddie Merckx and Beryl Burton” on May 28th.

This is because Maxine was writing a play about the life of Beryl. I am now absolutely delighted to discover that it is going to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 27th November at 2.15 because maxine was back on the Radcliffe and Maconie show again on Monday.

Link to the show http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01p0fpl

Interestingly she says it has now become “Beryl – a love story on two wheels” with a strong emphasis on the relationship between Beryl and Charlie. I hope it gets a huge audience, in these awful times for cycle racing Beryl stands out like a beacon. If you don’t know the story have a read of the blog post and buy her biography.

Link to the BBC6 radio show on Monday is available until next Sunday, Maxine Peake is on after about 30 minutes. (And another plug for my favourite show!)

#london2012 “I know I ‘cos I was there” – road cycling impressions

Gallery

This gallery contains 9 photos.

I have posted for first impressions and the fans. There was actually some cycling going on amongst all this. As I said in my previous post I don’t have the equipment for proper sports photography, and frankly when the big … Continue reading

London2012 cycling “We know ‘cos we were there” – celebrating the fans

Gallery

This gallery contains 18 photos.

Every time a world class bike race has come to the UK since the 1990s organisers have been blown away by the crowds – maybe a million in London for the Tour de France prologue in 2007. We don’t have … Continue reading

#london2012 – “I know ‘cos I was there”

Olympic Stadium London 2012It is not possible to compare my writings with the professionalism of the journalists and photographers covering the Olympic cycling and the energy of the blogging and twitter posters. And my little camera may be good for the blog – but it can’t cope with an Olympic athlete at speed or the size of a stadium.

So instead I am going to post a few personal reflections, things I enjoyed so much about the Olympic Cycling Road Races and Time Trial last week and my visit to the Olympic Stadium yesterday for the athletics.

I have ranted elsewhere about my disappointment with the poor treatment of cycling fans in some aspects of the ticketing but I have to say now that attending the whole thing has been an organisational delight. The national cringe that somehow we would blow it because of transport, weather, surliness or lack of service has been completely disproven, everyone I have spoken to has been unfailingly positive. Yes there were the early tweets about lost bus drivers for athletes but look at it in the context of the numbers who have experienced something they will remember for a long time.

Welsh comedian Max Boyce became famous in the 1970s as a populariser of Welsh rugby fandom. His catchphrase was “I Know ‘cos I was There” – a celebration of watching live. Now I can say “I know ‘cos I was there” for the Olympics, a most extraordinary celebration.

And in case it gets lost at the bottom of the post let me say that the thing that really made the Olympic Park special was the extraordinary attitude of the staff and volunteers in their purple uniforms. Whoever it was that said to them “be an individual” deserves the Knighthood that will go to some of the athletes because this group of all ages, all ethnicities and classes were still going late into the evening with cheerful banter and smiles. When did you last leave a public event where the crowd spontaneously felt the need to say thank you and wave goodbye to the stewards?Humour in the rain

So four events live for me.

Ever since the Olympics were announced for London I knew I wanted to be out at Box Hill for the road races. I was actually born in the shadow of the hill down in Dorking and although we moved away when I was very young I have memories of trips back from time to time. The whole ticketing fiasco annoyed me but somehow or other I would make it. I actually got tickets for the women’s race in the end which gave us access to the hill itself on Sunday. We watched the men’s race at the bottom of the hill in the village of Mickleham which was also on the main circuit of the race so we could see the field nine times and sense the whole race unfurling. In both cases we made a frantic dash for the big screen at a nearby winery – not as fast as the riders heading back to London but certainly quick enough to see the finale of both races.Photo Trevor Mayne

On Time Trial day off to Kingston upon Thames to get some pre-race atmosphere and then just south to Surbiton to find a relatively quieter spot and great views of the riders where a friend of my brother was also offering a dash to the TV after the event too. We were in high hopes – expecting medals for Bradley Wiggins and Emma Pooley, but also enjoying the way time trials can unfold in a very different way to the road races. Perhaps one for the cycling nerds, but I am happy to be characterised that way if you insist. To round it off I had some fun riding down the course with my son before our 30 mile ride home. That was fun in itself, we got applauded on some sections and one cyclist couldn’t help but join us and start chatting about the result. The mood was extraordinary. With over 20 gold medals in the bag now it’s almost impossible to recall that last Wednesday the nation was holding its breath because we hadn’t got there yet despite some near misses. Wiggins and the rowers were like a collective release of breath that let everyone celebrate.

Sorry Fabian Cancellara fans – not your day

And yesterday we got to use the two tickets that I got from the Olympic lottery. If readers are not from the UK you may not be aware of the national fixation with the tickets, but I applied for 22 tickets across 5 sports and I got two, actually better than many people did. Colleagues in Brussels were amazed by the idea of people effectively taking thousand pound gambles, but mine came up with the Olympic Stadium for athletics.So to follow over the weekend three photo and reflection posts – the road races, the time trial day and yesterday at the stadium.Nicole Cooke Team GB

“Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac, Bernard Hinault, Brigitte Bardot. Francois Hollande your boys took a hell of a beating!”

In honour of one of sport’s legendary commentaries and to commemorate British success in the Tour de France. See you all on the road on #yellowsunday

“Napoleon Bonaparte, Charles de Gaulle, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Bernard Hinault, Brigitte Bardot, we have beaten them all, we have beaten them all. Francois Hollande can you hear me? Francois Hollande your boys took a hell of a beating!”

Going to tweet this over to Eurosport – sadly as an international broadcaster I’m sure David Harmon is far too professional these days to yell this when Cavendish hits the front on the Champs tomorrow, but one could dream.

Bjørge Lillelien, Norwegian sports journalist and commentator made the original when he commentated on Norway’s 2-1 victory against England in a World Cup qualifier in Oslo on 9 September 1981. At the end of the match, alternating between English and Norwegian, he proclaimed (in Norwegian) “We are best in the world! We have beaten England! England, birthplace of giants”, before taunting a roll call of famous English people.

“Lord Nelson, Lord Beaverbrook, Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Anthony Eden, Clement Attlee, Henry Cooper, Lady Diana, vi har slått dem alle sammen, vi har slått dem alle sammen [we have beaten them all, we have beaten them all]. Maggie Thatcher, can you hear me? Maggie Thatcher […] your boys took a hell of a beating! Your boys took a hell of a beating!”

Wikipedia has a good list of other parodies and a link to the original commentary which is brilliant. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bj%C3%B8rge_Lillelien

 

On Sunday I shall wear yellow

An appeal for every cyclist in Britain to wear yellow in Sunday!

With acknowledgements to the wonderful Jenny Joseph poem “Warning, when I am old”

On Sunday I shall wear yellow,

And celebrate Wiggo even if yellow doesn’t suit me,

And I shall spend my money on a celebratory coffee and cake,

I will ride around and there will be no time for gardening.

I shall sit in my saddle and ride till I’m tired,

Wheel around the countryside and wave to the rest,

And know that we can shout about cycling,

And make up for the years from Anquetil to Armstrong

The challenge is on – if Bradley Wiggins wins the Tour de France on Sunday can we get every Sunday cyclist in the country to wear at least a dash of yellow? I have been folllowing cycle racing for over 40 years and this one has to be celebrated, even the BBC have noticed!

Can cycling’s poets come up with a better poem that starts with the opening line “On Sunday I shall wear yellow”?

The original: From “Warning” Jenny Joseph, 1961

When I an old woman I shall wear purple,

With a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me,

And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves.

And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter,

I shall sit down on the pavement when I am tired,

And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells,

And run my stick along the public railings,

And make up for the sobriety of my youth.