what did octave lapize think about in those final moments, lying in his hospital bed in north west france, in july 1917? perhaps he replayed that final dogfight, throwing his small nieuport aircraft right and left as the chasing albatross fighter began to close. their head-on pass confirmed it was the enemy; le croix de fer. but only that first turn would reveal his rival's calibre as a pilot. the albatross turned in an instant, banking high into the sun; when it reappeared, it was too late. yet as his body began to shut down, lapize was already far away, recalling that earlier duel, seven years previously, when he had joined battle with the best the pyrenees could offer. as they dropped from the clouds to meet him, he conquered each in turn; peyresourde; tourmalet; soulor; and aubisque. "dieu peut avoir les cieux mais les montagnes sont minnenes."
it's a darned travesty. you spend year upon year, trying emphatically to emulate the professional pelotonese, avidly reading every training article in the comic, and even stretching so far as to seek out published volumes concerning a perceived need to inflict pain and suffering on one's own person. advancing years often place a high degree of inexactitude on this verisimilitude, that it is re-defined as mere enactment; the wearing of trade tops that fail miserably to match the bicycle oft ridden.
there are of course, those amongst us, remaining un-named to protect the guilty, who would have no truck with the foregoing. they regard themselves not as cyclists, but as 'blokes/girls with bikes', having no pretence or need for speed and only carelessly wishing to associate with those of a more defined nature. both tend to exist in harmony, deigning only to suffer the existence of each other with a concealed snigger and the confirmed confidence, that the other is ever so slightly misguided.
then the travesty arriveth, and the bubble is well and truly burst. how's a honed athlete to hold his/her head high in public again, when those well-meaning chaps and chapesses of perren street bridge the unbridgeable with the introduction of just one garment? have they not read the unwritten laws? is there no shame to be suffered at the hands of merino wool?
the answers to both would appear to be a resounding 'no'.
we are all doubtless aware of the iniquities of the act of cycling, now that winter is close to sweeping up the fallen leaves, ready to replace them with rain, ice, snow and hoar frost. insulation has waited all season to make its way to the top of the priority list, and here it is replete with style, yet humility; speed, yet a less immediate ruffle of relaxation. you know how it is (don't you?). look closely and the kristian house connection is made manifest, surely enough to satisfy even the most reluctant member of the pelotonese.
in a word 'racy, but only if the cap fits.
black from the top of the roll neck (oft referred to as a polo neck or turtle neck; steve jobs would have worn one on his bicycle) to the last stitch of its well-proportioned hem, it could almost pass for unremarkable. but if you are amongst those clamouring for differentiation, the thin white hoops decorating the (long) cuffs are easily worth the price of admission alone. hoops that will clutter your peripheral vision; those are lengthy sleeves. carriage is also considered in minimal fashion by way of the single rear buttoned pocket, identified by the all but ubiquitous fluorescent pink rapha ident tab, itself buttoned to the pocket's exterior.
joining in the white cat in a snowstorm humour of a blank piece of paper, the british championship hoops are knitted in black, midst that all-enveloping black of a black roll-neck sweater. or jumper as we hebridean flandrians prefer to refer; our hardness is surely undermined by the impossible softness of the finest italian merino wool. thus one's racing affiliations can be heard but not seen. how could rapha have become so callous as to facilitate the end of differentiation without so much as a by-your-leave?
in order to test my theory, it was necessary to visit the coffee shop incognito, so to speak, dressed to cycle but simultaneously streamlined to deceive. i am rarely smug (apart from when told of yet another windows 7 misadventure), but all the time of sharing my table with two acquaintances, it was hard to subjugate a smugness that would have brought blushes to my cheeks were it not for the opportunity to hide behind a large soya cappuccino. no cake was necessary. i had removed my rainjacket making the championship affiliation clearly visible, even tempting fate by leaving the narrow white hoop on the cuff in view when supping.
rapha, in their wisdom, describe this as a mid-layer, perfect for the cold of winter; it may still be autumn, but that gale-force southerly was not the stuff of which central heating is composed. merino baselayer, roll-neck enclosed in a paul smith rainjacket (all but identical to the new city rainjacket in material and behaviour) means even brian smith would be hard-pushed to distinguish between athlete and commuter. that is the basis of the travesty. because unlike many a mid-layer so described, the roll-neck maintains a sense of decorum when uncovered, providing an insulation that allows supping with ease. in this case, i remain vindicated, as does perren street.
despite a gale-force headwind on the latter kilometres of my journey, engendering a character-building effort, i sat in the corner at debbie's, the very model of composure. were the seasons to be inverted, i can see little or no reason why this would not serve duty as a training top of some substance. if you care to wait six months or so, i may well be able to provide the answer.
meantime, i look forward to a winter of smug cosiness.
the opening paragraph constitutes the story label affixed within the rapha roll-neck jumper. it is available direct from perren street at a cost of £90, in black only and in sizes from xs to xxl (medium reviewed).
posted tuesday november 1 2011..........................................................................................................................................................................................................