in my early teens, faced with one of those long, hot summers that were all the range in the early 70s, i joined the local tennis club, if for no other reason than membership offered a discount on court hire. i did own what i regarded as a reasonable tennis racket and enough of my school friends were keen to play, making it an apparently worthwhile investment.
however, no sooner had i joined than the names for the club's summer tournament were posted on the board outside the clubhouse (which also provided the advantage of crisps, fizz and ice cream cones). it transpired that membership automatically entered me for this knockout contest and my name appeared opposite someone i had never even heard of before. it was a mere matter of minutes to pop into the secretary's office and scrub my name from the list, for not only was i distinctly not competitive, i really didn't have anything like the tennis skills required to progress past the first round.
this pretty much put me off clubs for the rest of my life, a condition which survives to this day.
though there may be several definitions of just what a club is, depending on its purpose of origination, i have always taken it to be an agglomeration of individuals with a common purpose or goal in mind. most clubs have to be joined; some, like the tennis club mentioned above, simply by paying a year's membership. in the land of golf, it's not always so simple. here it can be a case of proposal by at least two current members and proof that you were invited to the local porsche dealer's summer barbecue. some clubs, however, apply membership on the basis of achievement; no doubt there is a moon landing astronauts club, one that few of us qualify for.
and then there's the yellow jersey club, exclusively for those who have achieved victory in the tour de france. to write a book about each and every one, excluding the fact that the yellow jersey wasn't actually introduced until after the first world war, would not only be a massive undertaking, but would also be a rather massive book. author ed pickering wisely and logically restricted his subjects to those of the last forty years, from 1975 onwards, beginning with bernard thevenet and ending with vincenzo nibali.
it would not be outwith the bounds of intelligence and fortitude to think that those who have stood atop the podium on the champs elysees would have much in common. after all, it surely takes a similar competitive urge or desire to not only survive those three weeks in july, but triumph overall. yet ed pickering's book, if nothing else, demonstrates that nothing could be further from the truth. in fact, what conjoins all of the 21 victors included in the yellow jersey club is the disparity between them all.
tellingly, pickering has opted (quite rightly in my opinion) to include lance armstrong, though the seven consecutive years of his domination are scored through in the list of contents. however, as he points out, the uci have singularly failed to nominate the runners-up in those seven years to receive the jersey instead (unlike other years), and it seems a nonsense to ignore him altogether.
it doesn't seem unusual that at least some of the winners achieved yellow tinted greatness as a result of controlled aggression, perhaps most obviously personified in the shape of bernard hinault. where others wished purely to be the victors "His primary motivation in life was to settle scores and impose himself on people - winning bike races was just the method he happened to use." contrast that with luxemburger, andy schleck, who inherited the 2010 tour after alberto contador was stripped of his victory for doping offences. "He liked being a racing cyclist, but he liked not having too stressful a life just as much...".
the subject of stress turns up quite frequently across all 21 chapters, either as a result of it being imposed upon others by those in the yellow jersey, or imposed upon the yellow jersey by race conditions, the paperazzi, other riders, or simply at their own behest. it turns out that cadel evans, a former world champion mountain biker, a genre of cyclist generally held to be relaxed to the point of being horizontal, did not live up to that image.
"...the stereotypical mountain biker is laid back, the stero-typical Aussie is laid-back. Evans, on the contrary, is highly strung and extremely complex."
the more you read about the likes of laurent fignon, vincenzo nibali, bjarne riis and bradley wiggins, the more you discover that yellow jersey is really all they have in common; that and the ability to ride a bicycle rather quickly. where marco pantani took top spot in the 1998 tour de farce after a thrilling demolition job on jan ullrich in atrocious weather conditions, miguel indurain's five victories scarcely ventured anywhere near the word panache.
as the author himself proclaims "My perception at the time of Indurain's Tour wins was that apart from the Spanish, for whom he was an unimpeachable role model and hero, the people who liked Indurain didn't like cycling, they liked winning."
pickering's narratives are cleverly deceptive; of necessity, he describes in varying detail, the path of each rider's triumph to the yellow jersey which ultimately would simply be a book of factual testament. but in so doing, by describing the inherent strategy (or otherwise) of the respective victories, it's surprising just how much the author unravels of each winner's character. but more importantly in my opinion, this is an eminently readable book; you may be better versed in tour de france history than am i, but nonetheless, the yellow jersey club makes for compulsive reading.
if i have any criticisms, aside from possibly a total lack of accompanying illustrations, it's a comparable lack of either an index or bibliography. pickering makes several mentions of interviews featured in cycling magazines of the time, but doesn't make mention of issue numbers, either in the text or by way of the missing bibliography. it's not what i'd call a necessity by any stretch of the imagination, but it would have been nice. and perhaps an index will have made its way to the back of the book by the time this arrives in paperback form.
superficial niggles aside, this is an excellent read, and possibly a franchise that by 2020, will have acquired another hundred pages or thereabouts. happily, and unlike many other books on le tour that are out of date almost the minute they're published, froome's win this year means the yellow jersey club will still be bang up to date on monday (though ed nearly needed a chapter on nairo quintana).
sunday 26 july 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the notion that the world is becoming a smaller place is one that has become ever more true as the years roll by. of course, this isn't a literal truth; the world is every bit as large as it's ever been, it's simply our ability to traverse its circumference ever more easily and quickly that has altered that perception. where once a trip across the pond to north america would have taken a lot more than the current six hours (or ten if you're heading out west), a frighteningly busy air network, coupled with decreasing fares has meant nipping across to new york for a long-weekend's christmas shopping is scarcely the sort of trip that would raise any eyebrows.
air travel tautologically does not rely upon the trade routes of yore, literal pathways that opened the way for land-based trade between the far east and that of europe. nowadays, much of the physical movement of goods is undertaken by vast container ships that bring all manner of manufactured goods from furniture to monocoque carbon bicycles at prices that barely reflect not only the manufacturing costs but the subsequent weeks at sea being brought virtually to our doorstep.
it might be hard to argue that the latter is an iniquitous situation. it may well have sounded the death knell for much of britain's and arguably some of mainland europe's manufacturing industry, but it has brought lower prices to the west and continually pushed technological improvement. however, on the downside, working conditions for those responsible for pandering to our every desire are not always those we'd wish for ourselves. it's the sort of situation that can most often be excused on the basis that 'it's the way of the world'. in other words, shit happens, as long as it doesn't happen to us.
the old trade routes were also the means by which education - for want of a better word - made its way from the sophisticated east to what we now consider the civilised west. it has always seemed a tad ironic that despite the far east being the source of much of contemporary computer technology, some of the countries in between are classified as the third world in much need of the west's largesse to bring it from the dark ages and closer to that which we accept as the norm. the education that reached us centuries ago now demands that we export it in the opposite direction, perhaps as an equaliser or maybe as a means of salving an uneasy western conscience.
stuart block and claire le hur, both teachers from london intend to cycle through africa and asia starting this september with three key aims in mind. to ride at least 10,000 kilometres (presumably because they're there), raise £100,000 for educational charities and to 'explore key global themes in education and link classrooms worldwide.' claire will ride a bamboo bicycle while stuart will be on a tandem with an empty rear saddle to accommodate those they meet along the way.
on the face of it, connecting classrooms would seem a slightly forlorn hope given the current level of connectivity on offer through parts of africa and asia. starting in uganda, block and le hur intend to follow key natural resources (such as copper and gold) along the south-south trade routes (the new silk roads) and onto resource hungry asia. one major theme, engendered by an association with fairphone will be the supply chain of mobile phones and their role in 21st century education. fairphone is a mobile phone company dedicated to placing social values ahead of economic ones.
along the way, they hope to use the mobile phone and associated technology to not only record their adventure, but to broadcast it in the direction of any who may find themselves in sympathy with their ideals. they have also paired with educational website tutor2u and the british council's connecting classrooms programme. to effect the latter, they'll write blogs, record videos, produce skype lessons as well as producing other educational resources to examine themes that have helped shape economic development over the centuries.
their largesse and, dare i say it, altruism, extends as far as inviting all and sundry to join them in cambodia during march of next year participating in a multi-day 300 kilometre + bike ride to raise educational funds for some of the poorest and more remote areas of our world; the one that only a few paragraphs ago seemed to be getting smaller by the day. if the possibility of spending march 2016 riding your bike in cambodia, raising money for a good cause seems like one that would float your spd cleats, follow the link printed below for more information.
saturday 25 july 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
the trouble with tubes is that they are best friends with their brethren used to make trumpets, trombones, saxophones and, dare i say it, tubular bells. the principle behind all of the above is that they make sounds, using the nature of the tube to process the sound from one end to the other. where the microphones and audience sit. it would be a very odd set of tubular bells indeed that failed to make a pleasant chromatic sound when tapped with a mallet. had that been the case, mike oldfield might be living in total obscurity and richard branson would still be selling records from an advertisement in whatever passes for melody maker these days.
unfortunately, it's not just metal tubes that transmit sound. apart from steel and aluminium, both formerly heralded materials for building bikes, both titanium and carbon fibre have been utilised in the manufacture of snare drums. once more, if their sonic properties were minimised, it's unlikey ron dunnett and drum workshop would be quite so adventurous. sadly, the same properties remain true when cobbled together in the shape of a bicycle. this is the very reason why every untoward sound appears to emanate from the bottom bracket.
since the engine room of any modern bicycle is encapsulated in this often oversized chunk at the frame's lowest point above which we most usually are sat, creaks, groans and clicks have an unnerving habit of making their way to this point. monocoque carbon frames often exaggerate and amplify, for invariably their tubes are all connected internally, with no baffles to halt the downward march of their inherent sonics.
i surely cannot be the only one who has all but dismantled an entire bicycle, starting with the bottom bracket, in order to trace an annoying yet previously unheard and unidentified noise? aside from the bottom bracket, i have removed the cassette, freehub, pedals, headset, saddle and handlebar stem in order to trace a loud creak that was subsequently identified as a loose cone in the rear hub. all because, as i mentioned above, it sounded as if it came from the bottom bracket. if it weren't for the weight factor, i'd have filled the tubes with expanded polystyrene.
ti cycles originated in seattle twenty-five years ago in order to allow dave levy to produce performance titanium frames alongside his regular custom work building in steel. in 2002, ti-cycles relocated to portland, oregon where, aside from continuing to demonstrate superlative building skills, dave also serves as president of the oregon bicycle constructors association. as anyone who has ever had the good fortune to visit a framebuilder's workshop in times of industry will avow, it can be a noisy place. perhaps there's a case for supposing that all the noise featuring in the day to day becomes trapped in those hollow tubes, merely waiting to ambush the owner of said bicycle.
physics probably doesn't work like that. or does it?
friday 24 july 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
photochromic lenses have been in existence for quite some time. i know this because i owned a pair a long, long time ago. yet, for all their vaunted advantages - and i accept that the technology has improved greatly in the many intervening years - they still had a tendency to come up short under certain common circumstances. much like sitting in a sporty motor car, the apportioned style can only be viewed from the outside. sat in the driver's seat, all that can be seen is a windscreen, steering wheel and any number of dials; the folks driving or walking past are those who experience the wow factor.
photochromic lenses alter from clear to infinite darkness in a matter of seconds, but the only ones who are likely to notice are those on the other side of the lenses. but let's face it, that's almost purely a case of aesthetics. i found myself looking like even more of a prat than usual walking in pouring rain on a bright day with totally dark glasses. but i only noticed this if i caught sight of myself in a shop window.
the other disadvantage, from a personal point of view, was their total indifference to artficial light. i spend almost every day of my life sat in front of a computer screen at one time or another, one of the reasons why i wear glasses with a graduated tint. however, the latter doesn't always cut it out of doors, even at the height of a scottish summer. a pair of photochromic lenses would seem to be the ideal solution, if only i could get them to react to the lights in the office or the brightness of my imac screen.
those days may already be here (though currently in a sleeker style than might be prudent in polite company).
ctrl-one eyewear have developed, at enormous cost (mostly at the expense of the american military) a set of lenses that not only exhibit photochromic properties far faster than anything else currently available, but ones that can be set to automatic or manual. in other words, the rider has the option of darkening the lenses at the press of a button to accommodate a sudden change in ambient lighting conditions. or they can be set to automatic. because these ctrl-one lenses are optimised electronically via a liquid crystal coating, any alteration in the strength of the tint can be actioned almost immediately.
though several millions of dollars have been invested in the lens technology over a period of several years, the military version was never likely to look good on an alpine descent atop a sliver of carbon fibre. there is an incumbent style factor that must be adhered to, manufacturing of which was always going to cost money. but thanks to the miracle of crowd funding (in this case, indigogo) it seems there are far more of us desperate to enhance our tinted vision than were needed to get the project off the ground. so there's no worry over this technology actually making it to the bridges of our collective noses before the end of this year.
sited in the left leg of the proposed spectacles is a small button to allow manual operation of the liquid crystal film, actuated via a micro usb battery with a 50 hour life. should the battery go completely flat while you're out desperately trying for a good time on last weekend's sportive, the lens defaults to clear. if i understand the nature of the offer on indigogo, for those of us not in on the ground floor, a pair of these cycling glasses ought to cost around $300 (approx £200). for those with less than perfect vision, they'll even accept a prescription insert.
at the time of writing, there are still around 22 days of the funding offer left. as andy schleck makes mention in the accompanying video, "in two years, the entire peloton will be wearing these."
thursday 23 july 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
there are many questions that could be asked of the world of professional cycle racing, questions other than 'why?'. for instance, who first came up with the streaming of differing levels of teams, such as continental, pro-continental and world tour? whose idea was it and why was it necessary? why couldn't they all play happily together under the one roof? are the riders in a continental team really that much less competitive than the guys who ride the classics and the tours?
those are, of course, all rhetorical questions. if you don't know the answers, either e-mail me or look it up on google. any of the above brought to the surface at the coffee shop after the sunday ride would likely result in catcalls of derision, or at very least, ostracisation in the domestic peloton. that does not, however, mean that there are not valid questions to be asked, the current one that springs to mind (one that has hung around for at least a couple of years) is why so few sponsors make use of their sponsorship when it comes to magazine adverts?
as a reasonably high-profile example, cast your minds back a few years to recall europcar's tommy voeckler nabbing the yellow jersey in le tour and hanging onto it for around ten days, thereby reprising a situation that first occured during the now unmentionable armstrong years. as has become traditional, colnago provided mr voeckler with a bright yellow c59 to match his jersey, shorts and helmet. yet when it came to advertising, the only example to feature this cornucopia of brightness was one from europcar's tyre sponsor; hutchinson.
having hastily painted a top of the range colnago for tommy's express usage, you'd have thought ernesto would have capitalised on those ten days by plastering it all over every road-cycling magazine in europe. it seems you really can lead a horse to water...
however, continuing the yellow trend, clothing sponsor for britain's jlt condor mavic, not only offer shoes of unparalleled yellow brightness, along with helmets of similar hue, but they have edged the bibshorts worn by the likes of kristian house with the selfsame yellow and bearing not only their own logo but those of both jlt and condor. in fact it is house who features in their double-page spreads. to me at least, this seems like a decent attempt to gain a worthy return on their investment. sadly, it seems that they may be ploughing a lonely furrow.
there are three notable points of contact between rider and bicycle: saddle, bars and pedals, the latter being the most consistent. though i have never mastered the art of riding no-hands myself, in case of an unexpected victory, it appears the ability to do so is a necessary preserve of the aspiring professional. few of us, unless ensconced in a recumbent, will complete a bike ride without at least lifting our posteriors from the saddle at least once. the very fact that cycle shoes have ruddy great plastic cleats on the sole would indicate that our feet are intended to remain firmly affixed to the spinney bits.
on this basis, it behoves us well to choose carefully when it comes to purchasing cycle shoes. they have need of providing unparalleled support throughout sprinting, climbing, racing, training, headwinds, tailwinds as well as rain, hail and shine. though it's an inescapable fact that we too have need of surviving the same, rarely do we have to do so mere inches from crappy roads. like i said, choose those shoes carefully.
mavic's cxr ultimates could not fit the bill with any more aplomb than i have observed over recent weeks. visually impressive and noticeable due to their built-in oversock, mavic have managed to place all the comfort in the right places while hardly neglecting stiffness where it is most required. the ultimate, quite naturally as the top of the tree, features a ventilated yet stunningly stiff full carbon sole. the black heel has what mavic refer to as their energy lock heel hold, preventing any untoward flexing where untoward flexing has no place to be.
unlike many other shoes, mavic have eschewed what we would regularly refer to as the tongue. in the case of the ultimates, the shoe body folds over and is attached on the outer side with an elastic strap. this makes it simplicity itself to put the shoes on, all the while ensuring a comfortably close fit before the shoes have been fastened. on the cxr ultimates, mavic have opted to use a variation on the boa closure system, labelled ergo dial; this makes it quick and easy to close and open each shoe, with the ability to adjust the tension individually at each point.
the aeroflap has been specifically designed to improve the shoe's aerodynamics. i have no doubt that mavic have conducted windtunnel tests to verify the latter, but to be honest, there was never any way i was going to find out for myself. bike riders would probably have to ride a lot faster than yours truly to notice any difference. however, the zipped flap does provide a nice aesthetic and unless you really are kristian house, offer a professional 'je ne sais quoi' that might just bring an enhanced and speedier reputation. zipping up the aeroflap does nothing to disturb their superb ventilation.
these are remarkably comfortable shoes which so far have avoided becoming besmirched with any untoward road crap, for which their yellow brightness is undoubtedly grateful. however, when winter arrives on cattle infested roads, i am ever hopeful that their aerodynamicism extends to shirking grubby marks. when shoes look this good, it would be nice to keep them that way.
mavic cxr ultimate road shoes are available in sizes ranging from 3.5 to 13. retailing at £260 they come with a set of cleat screws and a mesh bag. thanks to condor cycles and jlt condor for assistance with this review.
wednesday 22 july 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................
rule 17 dictates that team kit is for members of the team. to a greater or lesser extent, that rule is open to interpretation. or at least, mis-interpretation. for at no point does velominati specify that they refer to the team to which the jersey and shorts originally belong. visually that is. the rule does go onto make mention that wearing of pro team kit for which you are not being paid to wear is surely something of a questionable travesty, but i note that there is no mention if that continues to apply when said team no longer exists. at that point, it rather obviously becomes retro in nature; and everybody's into retro these days. right?
it is on this premise that the fine chaps at prendas ciclismo have based their business model and very successfully so. over the years i can recall possibly two previous incarnations of roger zannier's vetements z sponsored team jerseys, but nary has there been a pair of replica bibshorts. matched upon the same person, this now constitutes replica team kit. and to add an inflection of authenticity, up until 1989, santini were indeed the official team clothing supplier.
in 1989, scotland's robert millar, riding the tour of britain in vetements z colours, surprisingly took off on a climb during one of the early stages, subsequently winning the day and ultimately the entire tour. when interviewed at the end of his winning gambit, he told his interlocutor that he had been given some good news about the team for the following year, news that had provided the impetus for his race-winning move.
"The '89 News was the signing of Greg (Lemond). I knew it was on the cards, but it was confirmed at the ToB by the management. I think I was offered a raise as well. I seem to remember I was on a one year contract when I moved to Z."
robert rather easily assumed the mantle of grimpeur, his disappearance on that tour of britain ascent being a particularly good example. admittedly, he'd already paid testament to this ability by winning the king of the mountains in the 1984 tour. but you knew that already.
much as the desire to emulate mr millar during the course of my review was uppermost in my mind, particularly given that i wear a cutlivated ponytail, it was never really a viable option; islay doesn't have much in the way of hills, let alone mountains. however, what it does have are dozens of kilometres that bear an unnerving resemblance to sections of paris-roubaix pavé. robert rarely participated in such a bumpy competition.
"I never rode Paris Roubaix as a pro. I did it when at ACBB. I was sent to Tour of Flanders by Peugeot in 1980 or '81. Ferdi Van den Haute crashed into me on the Kwaremont and a selection was made. So in my own little way I influenced the outcome even if it was only by blocking the road."
all, however, was not lost, for yet another team z rider, gilbert duclos lassalle, excelled on the cobbles, finally taking home his own cobble for the mantelpiece in 1992 when he finished a matter of 20 seconds ahead of hennie kuiper. then he repeated the exercise the following year. if you accept that a certain mindset is required to test retro team kit to its full extent, then in this case, a swift bout of the duclos lassalles seemed the most appropriate option.
it is of great and continued disappointment that it is possible to ride the highways and byeways of the most southerly of the inner hebrides wearing a team z casquette, short sleeve jersey and bibshorts without anyone so much as casting an askew glance. even on arrival at debbie's, local bastion of velocipedinal knowledge and enthusiasm, not once did anyone make any passing reference to robert, greg or gilbert. and believe me, i offered plenty of hints and opportunity. you really do have to wonder what the world is coming to.
though santini have offered quality cycle clothing for more than fifty years (i have a pin badge that testifies to this), it is a name that is all too often omitted from discussions revolving around cycling attire. that is obviously our error, for in truth this team z kit is every bit the equal of anything currently on the market. the fit of the jersey is exemplary, and contemporary detail has not forgotten a zipped outer pocket applied to the centre example of the regular three. they wouldn't have had those in the late 1980s, when riders had no mobile phones. if i ever had need of using a capital letter, it would begin the word 'quality' in this specific instance. a professional full-length zip is no less than expected.
the bibshorts are/were a revelation. not only was the leg length on these size small bibs judged to perfection. the faux chamois pad is amongst the most comfortable my posterior has had the pleasure of sitting on while the mesh straps completed the ideal fit without channeling marks across my shoulders. if criticism is to be made, it would be pointed at the height of the front section, a confluence of panels that made it a tad awkward to take a natural break without appearing to be suffering from a contortional fit. perhaps that's the way they rolled in the late eighties and we've gone soft in the interim.
to return briefly to those cobbled emulations, i made perfect use of each and every cattle grid on offer, and churned my wheels over poorly surfaced and potholed farm roads (avoiding a couple of tractors in the process; it was silage season at the time). though such trials and tribulations could conceivably bear scarce relevance to reviewing retro cycle clothing, by the time i did reach debbie's i would seriously beg to differ.
this matching set of team z clothing does more than simply bolster santini's reputation as a clothier worthy of our continued respect; it underlines the importance of mick and andy at prendas as an important cog in modern day cycling life (as well as possibly holders of the record for quickest delivery in living memory from dorset to islay. as if to underline the reputation of both, the jersey costs only £55 and the shorts a mere £59.95. at the time of writing, the team z cap was out of stock, but adds only £7.50 to the total bill.
a veritable bargain.
the santini team z short sleeve jersey is available in sizes ranging from xs to 7xl. the vetements z bibshorts are in sizes xs to 4xl
tuesday 21 july 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................