competitive cycling contains a myriad of disciplines, many of which are hidden from public view, buried in the shadow of the poster boys: road cycling, mountain biking and bmx. even cyclocross is not seen as one of the major velocipedinal pastimes, despite it preceding mountain biking by several decades. no doubt this is a situation that affects many other sports, but since we're all obsessed with cycling in the first place, we're totally ignorant of such matters.
that's something for other bloggers to deal with.
there are reasons, of course, why there is an apparent popularity hierarchy, some of which has to do with the ubiquitous world of marketing, but which more likely is brought down to seasonal length. this would explain why cyclocross is not uppermost in the minds of the great unwashed; october to january scarcely constitutes a long time, in modern sporting parlance.
the road cycling season, once began with the spring classics and ended with the tour of lombardy (when it occupied its proper place in the firmament). nowadays there really is no off season if you accept that the tour down under scarcely leaves the world tour professionals any downtime away from the training camp. mountain biking traditionally was considered a summer sport, but the art of the downhill and various other aspects, though possibly not as popular as once they were, have made it difficult to see the join.
as far as i know, bmx just happens forever.
hill-climbing is very much the lost boy of the cycling world. all over and done with by the last weekend of october, there are perfectly good reasons as to why nobody knew it was happening in the first place. while we think little of watching a stage of the grand tours over several hours, the average hill-climber can be back in the clubhouse in a little over five minutes. as such, you'd hardly think hill climbing to be the subject of conversation for other than the participants and the apocryphal one man and his dog who stands by the roadside to watch.
"...it's the juxtaposition of climbing theatres: Alpe D'Huez versus the Rake.One takes forty-five minutes, the other takes two and a half."
yet prominent riders and time-triallists such as alex dowsett, malcolm elliot, chris boardman, david millar and michael hutchinson have all submitted to the agonies that comprise the average hill climb. which presumably means there might be more to going uphill fast than we at first thought. but could you write an entire book about the sport?
apparently you can and paul jones has made a particularly excellent job of doing so. i've reviewed previous publications that deal with the more arcane species found in cycle sport and it would be foolish of me to pretend otherwise that i did not approach this one with certain reservations, bordering on dread. i was wrong; very wrong. and this despite protestations from the author at the very beginning.
"It's an event that is not in thrall to contemporary fashion or modernity, the backward looking aesthetic of current cycling garb or an endless obsession with retro reproduction."
it's a clever ploy to subtly denigrate the contemporary world of roadie-ness from a standpoint of relative obscurity. i warmed to the author's narrative from page one, even though i may be one of the individuals to which he is referring. to qualify this statement with the equally demeaning statement "Wearing a self-consciously epic jersey will only get you so far up the Rake or Challacombe."
if, like me, neither of the latter hill climbs hold any meaning for you, there is no option other than to continue with the subsequent 279 pages. and you will be extremely glad you did.
the author not unnaturally begins with a history of the hill climb, placing the championship in an appreciable perspective, beginning with the 95 year-old vic clark. "He's not the only cyclist I've met who still has a recall of events from decades ago, in different lives, but he might just be the oldest." this contrasts graphically with that of chris boardman later in the book "He was the only rider I came across who couldn't remember anything about the individual races he rode."
of course, there are many others starring in 'a corinthian endeavour' apart from clark and boardman. paul jones exhibits not only a love for this end of the sport, but a keen knowledge and appreciation, one that turns the champions about whom he writes into every bit the stars that mainstreamers wiggo, froome, nibali and contador have become. it takes considerable narrative skill to create a compulsive read out of eighteen chapters concerning a few minutes of ascendancy and jones has this ability in spades.
along the way, not entirely content with poking fun at the pelotonese, he has a not altogether unjustified sideswipe at cycling weekly regarding its present day dismissal of the hill climb as scarcely worthy of page room, where once it feared not to tread. "It was an era when Cycling valued and valorised all competitive branches of the sport, identifying the rich, end-of-season narrative of the hill climb as being distinctive and newsworthy, rather than other stories, like the endless self-promotion of their 'classic sportif', with the narcissistic 'suffering' of their staff writers or editor being the narrative of choice."
there's definitely more than a hint of sour grapes in that quote, but as i said, not entirely without cause.
the book is a celebration of individuals such as granville and graham sydney, ralph wilson, joe waugh, graham dangerfield, tevjan pettinger, ann bowditch, sarah helliwell and many others whose names would easily fill as many pixels as i've already used up till now.
but while road riders often protest that it's not about the bike, the hill climbers have no qualms about either discussing whether to ride fixed or not, nor about accepting the huge part each particular hill plays in the proceedings.
"...I didn't use my Zipps either, I would waste power, mental energy and torque by using light wheels. I needed to be solid and it worked, and my wheels weren't actually that light."
thus there are introductions made to the rake, the stang (a whole chapter), long hill, ditchling beacon, the cat and fiddle, cheddar gorge and many other bits of road that go upwards with a vengeance.
adrian bell at mousehold press deserves a concerted round of applause for having the perspicacity to send this to press. though its premise would outwardly seem to consign it to the more obscure regions of the cycling bookshelf, this would be a serious error of judgment. well illustrated and written with good humour, it was an unexpected delight well worth the price of admission.
"As recently as 2012 the Cycling Time Trials Council opened a Pandora's box known as 'internet entry', much to the chagrin of their target audience, who remain happier paying in shekels and pfennigs, delivered by carrier pigeon."
thursday 9 july 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................