in early 1994, my cycling career was, to put not too fine a point on it, going nowhere. in something of a redundant career move, i'd abandoned all plans of styling myself as a late career grimpeur, principally on the basis of a lack of climbing ability, and fastend my flag firmly to the mast of lead-out man. the trouble was, which enterprising team was going to offer a rider who not only appeared to have a bit of of an identity crisis, but with a palmares that scarcely gave credit to any of the identities i might possibly have adopted. there was always the option of retiring and becoming a directeur sportif, but i only wanted to fall a few steps at a time
scoring the pages of cycling weekly for any team that seemed to be producing such dreadful results that they'd welcome an ageing apprentice lead-out man with open arms, i came across this germaloids schleppers crowd based in gits, a small town several miles west of koksijde, belgium. the guy who almost seemed to be grooming himself as a bona fide lanterne rouge was a rider by the name of kenny van vlaminck. he'd already achieved a career best of 11th place in the '93 edition of gand-wevelgem and figuring i had little to lose, i gave him a call, perhaps exaggerating my talents just a smidgeon, but effectively offering my services as last man in his lead-out train. (i later discovered that last man was also first man). i hadn't, however, entered this completely unawares, having first contacted john herety to ask his opinion of this van vlaminck fellow. john's only words were "kenny who?"
as mr van vlaminck recalls (we always had to call him mr van vlaminck; the kenny bit was strictly for sponsors and fans)
"Brian? Who is this? I cannot remember this guy so much... Ah, I know it now. He was the slow guy from '94. The team was having many health problems, plus we had run out of tyres and I get a call from this guy in Wales I think called Brian Palmier. He explained he was fast and wanted a chance to prove he could make a nice level in Belgium. I asked him if he had some tyres and a bike. Next day he was on the team."
it really was that quick. of course, aside from the fact that mr van vlaminck mysteriously thought i was welsh, there was the not insurmountable problem of getting from scotland to gits overnight. it turned out that the team's sponsor schleppers haulage had a truck returning from cardiff (don't ask), so i'd only to hitch several lifts with bike and kit in tow and the driver dropped me off in gits at around 7:30am the next morning. it turns out they provided this service for the whole team. if you needed a lift to a race and they had a truck heading that way, you could sit in the back hanging onto the bike for grim death.
aside from one or two local criteriums (moorslede and wingene, as i recall), my first major race was the omloop gits in early august. not only was this an important event for personal reasons, it was an important one for the team. as mr van vlaminck is keen to recount.
"We make the Omloop Gits in August. The Home race and of a top importance Germaloids who had just launched a travel size tube of cream. I was in good shape having nearly finished two races at one point.
"We are in the final, riding for maybe top 60 and perhaps in the time cut and I call to Palmier to make the tempo to place me in 250metres so I can show the real Kenny to the people and children who are attending. He comes on my right, nearly 36kph and and I am saying to my mind ok this guy is for real maybe. I take his wheel with 1 kilo only to the line. At one beautiful moment we are like the wind at 40kph but then it is over as I am having problems with my respirations as the level is so high. I am losing the wheel but it is not a decision of the mind or legs it is the poor judgement of Palmier who is failed in his task. It is not normal what happened on this day."
i remember it somewhat differently, but the non disclosure agreement we all had to sign along with even a stagiare's contract prevents me even now from disparaging mr van vlaminck's recollection of events. in fact, despite my being inept enough to get in the way of several pelotons at several events, you need only take a quick peek at mr van vlaminck's palmares to note that i was in good company. as he was more than keen to mention at team meetings either in the back of a schleppers truck or, eventually, the team camper van "Skill is not something that can be learned, I have often learned."
of course, things have moved on since those halcyon days of yore. mr van vlaminck went on from despair to abject ineptitude, recording 19th in the 1996 tour of morocco prologue and almost making it out of the neutral zone in the paris-roubaix of '99. germaloids no longer sponsore the team, having been replaced by internet card company top bonk which, to my mind at least, has resulted in an altogether better looking team jersey.
however, in an effort to redress the balance in my favour, thewashingmachinepost contacted eminent cycling commentator, mr ned boulting (i'm not sure he requires the same means of address as mr van vlaminck, but old habits die hard) for a more independent point of view. mr boulting declined to speak to us, but his press office issued the following statement:
"In those years, Palmier's lead-out was simply feeble. One might have been tempted to feel some sympathy for the rider he was allegedly looking after, had it not been for the fact that Van Vlaminck neither had the legs, not the guile to execute any kind of plan. The two of them were as well suited as pineapple and gammon. In other words, they were shit."
there. i told you so.
the top bonk schleppers team jersey (£70) and cap (£15) can be purchased from milltag. the jersey features a full length zip and, as mr van vlaminck himself says "Look at the craft of it in the pockets!"
as the official clothing of probably the best cycling team in gits, these caps and jerseys are likely to sell out quickly. it would be prudent to click the link below very soon. to offer the last word to mr van vlaminck,
"It is reality now."
very many thanks to matt stephens, ned boulting and milltag's ed cowburn for their considerate assistance with this feature.
wednesday 17 june 2015..........................................................................................................................................................................................................