the race from bordeaux to paris, often referred to as the derby of the road first took place in may of 1891, just failing to reach its first century of existence by last taking place in 1988. it was conceived as a one-day event over slightly less than 600 kilometres, but different to the majority of road-racing by the allowance of slipstreaming, originally behind either a pacing tandem or conventional bicycle, then subsequently behind motorcycles or the dernys more commonly seen these days in the keirin track discipline.
this pacing initially took place right from the off in bordeaux but in later runnings, subsequent to the second world war, this pacing took place over half the distance to paris, the dernys being brought into the equation around poitiers.
though the first edition was won by british rider george pilkington mills by racing through the night, the organisers had rather hoped that it would be a multi-day event. mills began the race in northern bordeaux at 5am, reaching paris just over 26 and a half hours later, a fact that rather puts our sunday morning rides in the shade. however, in keeping with the velo club's rather lackadaisical attitude to competition, other than that final sprint for the speed signs at bruichladdich, mills unsurprisingly occasionally stopped for one or two refreshments along the way. the other factor that he had in common with ourselves was the apparently appalling condition of the french roads in the latter part of the 19th century.
in a bizarre twist that could only originate from britain's national cycling union, their strict views on the distinction between amateurism and the professional brought about a slight hiccup when they discovered that mills was, in fact, employed as a works manager at a bicycle factory. it was demanded that he prove he'd paid all his own expenses for the race to keep afloat his amateur status. fortunately for him, he was able so to do.
britain's palmares in the event wasn't exactly exemplary, for other than mills' success in the inaugural event, there were only two other british victories; arthur linton, who tied with frenchman gaston riviere in 1896, and most notably that of tom simpson in 1963. belgian rider, herman van springel, virtually made the event his own between the years of 1970 and 1981, winning a total of seven times, though he did have to share this with frenchman regis delepine in 1974. the race became a victim of its speciality in the 1980s, requiring special training at a time when the top riders saw the giro d'italia or vuelta espana as higher profile events. the last motor-paced bordeaux-paris ran in 1985 and the three following years saw its eventual demise as a professional race.
in september of this year, bordeaux-paris will see its resurrection at the behest of rapha, reconstituted as a challenge over four days between a maximum of 25 teams of four riders with the object of raising as much money as humanly possible for ambitious about autism, a charity close to the heart of rapha ceo, simon mottram whose eldest son is autistic. though the prospect of riding darned near 600km in a total of 24 hours sounds not entirely unlike purgatory and one, like george pilkington mills, for which the contestants are expected to pay.
however, the emphasis in this case, is very much on enjoyment as on endurance, so those several hundred kilometres are to be undertaken as a relay, hence the four members in each team. to complete the challenge successfully, each rider must ride a minimum of four segments, with at least two riders on the road at any given time. assuming you have any energy left to consider tactics, those will be entirely up to the participants. however, as something of a sweetener, rapha are offering each rider an exclusive bordeaux-paris bundle, including a jersey and complementary gilet.
for reasons of conflicting engagements, i'm unable to join the merry throng, but i have been riding far and (relatively) fast around the principality clad in one of these exemplary jerseys.
i have no wish to bring to the fore, any discussion over whether rapha clothing is overly expensive or otherwise, but i think it a salutory time to point out that i purchased my first rapha sportwool in 2005 in the shape of a pink short-sleeve jersey with a white hoop across the middle and the word 'mortirolo' writ large both front and back in applied lettering. it may also be pertinent to mention that i expected the applied lettering to last a matter of a few machine washes before individual characters started to disappear in the spin cycle. this led to my wondering whether the removal of any letters from the word mortirolo could result in a word that might see me barred from local coffee hostelries.
i still own that jersey almost eight years later, looking like it was removed from its packaging yesterday morning, and every single letter, both front and back, is still where it ought to be. the jersey has been worn only to excess, and seen the inside of three separate washing machines over those years. it cost me £90, meaning it has so far cost me an average of £11.25 per year, and with what appears to be several years' wear left before it reaches retirement age.
the bordeaux-paris jersey, if anything, looks as if it might last even longer, such has been the technological and material advances in those intervening years. in much the same way as each colnago i have reviewed feels as if it was custom fitted by ernesto himself, a medium sized jersey from perren street offers up the same notion. i may be fabulously lucky in that i embody the very shape that inhabits graeme raeburn's copy of adobe illustrator, however, a modest and random poll of others with rapha in their wardrobe assures me that i am not alone.
the trademark features are still in evidence; the zip garage at the top of the full length zip and the hoop on the left sleeve, though in this case, the latter is constituted of a reflective material that also forms the upper hoop on the torso, just above a similar width of white. as this garment is descended from last year's brevet jersey, visibility is a major feature, aiding not only those on their way from bordeaux to paris in low light, but also those who may occasionally partake of an audax ride in the uk.
however, while ostentation is high on the list, so also is luxurious subtlety. on the right sleeve, in tribute to that 1963 victory by tom simpson are the letters ts embroidered in matching maroon thread and centred by both french and british flags. on the two rear outer pockets and above the adjustable-hemmed drop-tail are embroidered coats of arms relating to both bordeaux and paris. the cargo-carrying capacity of this jersey is worth mentioning, for above the usual three rear standard issue is a zipped fourth, easily capable of carrying a cast off gilet, should one's exertions prove overly warm. security of phone, ipod, keys or money for coffee has not been forgotten, and subtly merged into the rightmost rear pocket, is one for zipped security.
it does not, however, stop there, for on the left breast, sandwiched between that reflective top hoop and a white embroidered rapha logo, is yet another pocket, one in which it was a simple matter of keeping my own financial wherewithal to garner a large cup of froth and a cheese and tomato roll at deb's. there's little doubt that the professionals would be embarrassed by such a plethora of carrying spaces, but, like mr mills, few of us inhabit that rarefied atmosphere.
i am not of the constitution or spare time that allowed for a traversing of anything like 600 kilometres in the search for this jersey's inner personality, though i did manage what i believe might be termed a creditable 200km; unfortunately not all at once. some of those kilometres, due to unseasonably cold weather round these here parts, were under cover of either a rapha giro d'italia gilet, or their softshell version. the latter is too bulky to be stowed in that large zipped pocket on the back, but it was a doddle to pop the other inside when faint hints of spring threatened during a post lunch expedition.
the sportwool is of favourable constitution, needing only a merino baselayer below and a pair of armwarmers to pretend that summer is indeed, almost on the horizon. those regular rear pockets comfortably swallowed an ipod, a digital compact camera, a spare cap and a rainjacket in addition to the discarded gilet. such a quantity upset the jersey's impeccable fit not one wit. even when raggedly climbing into a headwind, there were no rumblings or untoward movement where such was unwanted.
the price of bordeaux-paris inflected sportwool has increased slightly since my purchase of that pink mortirolo version, now retailing at £130, but tell me something else that hasn't seen a price increase in eight years? visually, it has received many plaudits from members of the velo club, and i cannot deny that maroon suits it well. however, it provides me with something of a dilemma; how many favourite jerseys can a guy own?
rapha's bordeaux-paris short-sleeve jersey retails at £130 and arrives in sizes ranging from xs to xxl
tuesday 9th april 2013