allow me to set the scene. we're thundering towards the 40mph signs that signify the beginning of bruichladdich village. the road starts to get twisty as we come off the slight rise leading towards loch gorm house on our right, an impressively large stone building that is now a five star bed & breakfast. lord carlos is at the front, mashing the pedals to keep his forward position, but inadvertantly transforming himself into the day's lead-out man. the mighty dave-t, with an impressive spinning style that would be the envy of lance armstrong, is riding just behind lord carlos's rear wheel checking regularly to see where my front wheel is positioned. i have no illusions about my opportunities to beat the two in front; i'm not particularly competitive, and not that fast either, but strategically, i'm in the best place to sprint.
we continue through the twists in the same formation until we are but a few hundred metres from those speed signs, at which point, the mighty dave drops down a couple of sprockets and starts to sprint for the line. i figure that i may as well go for broke, since there's little to lose and probably quite a bit to laugh about after. with lord carlos and the mighty dave filling the 'correct' side of the road, i'll have to cross that dotted white line in my bid for victory. so i flick my left-hand lever to shift into the 53 outer ring, keep my eyes glued to the road in front, lest an unannounced car make its presence known, and gie it laldie' as they say in taiwan. i ease comfortably past both my fellow peletonese, lord carlos dying in those last few metres, and sail across the imaginary finish line a good few bike lengths ahead of the mighty dave.
being one of life's incompetents, i have neither the skill nor the temerity to try and raise both hands off the bars, though doing so would admittedly look a mite incongruous on a sunday morning on islay. as it was, we simply rolled on through the village towards our parking considerations outside debbie's, but imagine if the aftermath were different. imagine if, having alighted from the cielo and removed my helmet, i was immediately whisked to one side, tongue lolling at the side of my mouth, eager to access a soya cappuccino, and stood in front of a white length of paper. a german photographer shouts the equivalent of don't smile and the shutter clicks a few times. of course, none of this happened, and nor is it ever likely to on a sunday morning in bruichladdich.
but for the better part of five years, through spring classic and major tour, that was the modus operandi of photographer timm koelln. you've probably seen some of the end results when they were published in an early edition of rouleur magazine (number 4), but perhaps, like me, been unaware that these were no fleeting glimpses of individuals from a tired and grubby peloton. for starters, were i to possess even one tenth of mr koelln's ability behind the lens, i would not have had the brass-neck to ask anyone to pose for a pic after they'd ridden a not inconsiderable number of kilometres, and could really do with hitting the showers or the luxury and privacy of the team bus.
but timm did.
and not only did he did, but he (and a few others) nipped round their respective houses earlier this year and casually asked what happened next? and now all of those photographs (i counted 94 riders) and their brief commentaries have been beautifully contained within 188 pages for your (and my) delectation. some of the riders look fresher than i do when i lose the sprint at debbie's, while others (cancellara comes to mind) look as if they were hit by a bus. others you wouldn't wish to meet down a glasgow city side street, while some, notably pozzato, look as if they've had their hair done before the shutter clicked. but perhaps the most regular feature, and one that should not be too surprising really, is how gaunt most of them look; some bordering on the unhealthy.
and talking of unhealthy, it's somewhat concerning just how many are no longer part of the peloton of the book's title due to having made unhealthy and illegal choices as regards chemical motivation.
"i knew that it could be my last tour, so i said iĠd go. i also knew that to be of any use iĠd have to be in really good condition, so you know ... that combination of things."
some seem to genuinely regret having become mixed up in that unsavoury part of bike racing, some are unconciliatory, but all those evicted from the peloton seem to express the same regret about no longer having the opportunity to be a professional bike rider. perhaps a case of if i knew then what i know now.
although photographed over a period of five years, the peloton is hugely important as a snapshot of our obsession with pain and suffering on a bicycle. and believe me, there is a great deal of evidence of the latter in this collection of photographs. it is, of course, a speciality of the sport's finest photographers that they manage to show more than the lens alone should be capable of; there is no mistaking the kilometres of trial and tribulation that preceded those moments in time. and as indicated by sofie andersen's words on the rouleur blog, time is something that was required in large chunks to put this book together...
when asked how long he thought it would take to finish the small matter of the design, andreas toepfer, the designer, said he thought it would take two weeks; when asked how long it actually took, he laughed and said that he had no idea."
however long it actually took, toepfer was well within his rights to have taken his time, for the layout is exemplary; lots of white space, photographs dominating the text and plenty of room to breathe. and considering the years that it took to acquire the portraits, there seems little need to hurry the last few steps. deadlines exist to be avoided. fifty pounds is not an inconsiderable sum to spend on a book, irrespective the content, but here i think we can make an exception.
and christmas is just around the corner.
timm koelln's 'peloton' is published on 19th november by rouleur publishing. hardback bound (32cm x 26cm), printed in tri-tone on exclusive paper it can be pre-ordered now. a limited special edition, including a signed baryta print and protective slipcase, will also be available later in november for £200
posted friday 29 october 2010..........................................................................................................................................................................................................