the bare necessities

inner tube

i'd rather hoped features such as this would long ago have become redundant. a collection of stories and anecdotes that could be wheeled out during a long ride or sportive, simply to serve as a distraction from either the grief or boredom, depending on how far behind the front group i/we happened to be. in the days following a motor accident i had about twenty years ago, i began a certain amount of physical rehabilitation by riding my mountain bike along a single-track road for about one mile, then turned around and rode the same distance back. in preparation for so doing, i packed an inner tube, a tyre lever and a small, compact pump.

though my injury at the time would have undoubtedly prevented me from carrying out any form of repair, puncture or otherwise, and the distance would have been easily walkable, the cyclist in me wouldn't leave well enough alone. nowadays, the same regime prevails; in much the same way as it is second nature to put on a seatbelt when in a motor car, every bicycle that exits the washingmachinepost bikeshed has a small seatpack containing the very items listed above.

one of them even has a couple of pound coins in case i have need of phoning someone or an emergency cup of coffee.

tyre lever

yet over the past few months i have lost count of the number of visiting cyclists who have called in varying states of panic, desperate to acquire at least one spare inner tube, and on one occasion, a tyre. before you attempt to mitigate these cries for help by suggesting that each may have been plagued by a spate of punctures that might have used up all their spare tubes, i did ask. the answers almost all pointed to the fact that they'd left home without packing any spare tubes.


unlike a motor car, it's hardly practical to pack each and every spare part or tool that might conceivably be needed en-route. there is a minimum kit that i've listed on the cycling on islay pages, but i think it worthwhile being self-righteous once more in the light of these recent incidents.

the guy with the bust tyre (he insisted it was actually for his wife's bicycle) was aware that the tread was a tad threadbare before leaving home, but figured it would survive a week on islay. the chap was obviously unaware of the tactility of the island's roads, but on the basis that they were here in a camper van, you'd figure a spare tyre wouldn't have taken up excessive room. and one other, having acquired a spare inner tube from yours truly, then asked how he would go about removing the old one. as if that weren't comical enough, it turned out he'd no idea how to remove the rear wheel from his bike, nor was he in possession of a tyre lever or pump.

repair kit

having driven a car up until four or more years ago, i'll happily admit that though understanding the mechanics of the infernal combustion engine, i'd be very loathe to attempt anything other than topping up the oil. yes, i can change a wheel but...

consequently, i don't figure it's absolutely necessary that each and every cyclist undertake a basic mechanic's course, but surely simple matters such as removing a wheel and tyre to replace a tube, ought to be seen as every bit as important as learning how to change gear (that's another story for another time)?

with greater numbers of people learning to enjoy the freedom of the outdoors in the saddle, islay and many other points on the west coast have seen a dramatic increase in the number of riders popping across on the ferry for a cycling holiday. one of the greatest differences between here and the great metropolises is not only the sizeable gaps between pockets of civilisation, but the remoteness of all points in between. it's unlikely they'll ever be stuck for a lift to the nearest point of respite, but i have not named my place of residence as the outer edge for nothing. stopped out on the atlantic coast even in a july rainstorm (we had such a happenstance on saturday) isn't the ideal way to de-stress from the iniquities of work.

cassette remover

so, to put it in a nutshell, if you're intending to head off into the hinterlands by bicycle this summer, make sure that, at the very least, you check the veracity of your tyres (particularly if concealed by mudguards), know what size of inner tube to buy, take at least three or four, and check which type of valve. no use trying to force a schrader through a hole drilled for a presta. additionally, tape three spare spokes to the left-side chainstay and carry a spoke key and cassette remover. at worst, you can find a local garage that will remove the cassette in their vice and allow replacement of a broken spoke if need be.

even if you can't manage that yourself, there will almost always be someone somewhere who can; supplying them with the necessary parts and tools could conceivably get you home. as to punctures, forget about a repair kit. how many would be happy standing by the roadside in pouring rain trying desperately to find the hole, before the even more trying effort of getting a patch to stick? just replace the tube and if you must, fix the puncture back at the hotel/b&b/camper van or tent.

i hope not to hear from you.

images courtesy

monday 14 july 2014

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the climb. chris froome. penguin/viking hardback 435pp illus. £20

the climb chris froome

there is a mildly humorous anecdote regarding the lone ranger and tonto that goes something like this. chasing an escaped cattle rustler, our intrepid twosome are surrounded by a band of marauding apache. in order to defend themselves, they have dismounted and hidden behind a rocky outcrop. however, seriously outnumbered, things are not looking too good. the lone ranger turns to his indian colleague and says "i think we're in real trouble here". looking over to the masked avenger, tonto replies "what do you mean 'we', white man?"

for those perhaps less than familar with the above couple, the two were supposed to be almost inseparable, one having the other's back and vice versa. in other words, the best of pals. the very sort of happy relationship that existed between fausto coppi and gino bartali, alain prost and ayrton senna and bradley wiggins and chris froome. of course, i jest; none of the above would have been likely to invite the other out for a pint after work. in fact, in the pages of the climb, chris froome underlines this apparent lack of empathy between he and sir brad after the latter won the 2012 tour de france.

"I didn't get an invitation to the Yellow Ball. I would also be left out of a bonus payment from Brad to all the riders that had ridden for him as a token of his appreciation."

the climb along with many of the recent spate of so-called autobiographies is in serious danger of undermining the very meaning of the word. the prefix auto is intended to suggest that the subject of the book's contents more or less wrote the entire contents. looking at the cover of the climb, you and i both would be forgiven for thinking that was the case here. but arrive at page 435 and it is disappointing to read "Thank you to David Walsh, for taking the time to get to know me and for writing a book that truly reflects my character."

that's what's referred to as a biography.

now that we have that cleared up, it merely remains for us to second guess whether one or two of the assertions or rare bouts of humour are froome's or walsh's. when discussing a look of disapproval from british cycling's rod ellingworth: "I looked across at the driver of the GB car and I could see a black cloud of rage crossing his face. Rod rage." or later, a more barbed sense of humour: "The Tour of Poland had just ended and i had finished 85th on GC - not exactly knighthood territory."

of course, the premise of any autobiography, faux or otherwise, is that everything we are told is exactly how it all happened, when in fact, that can never be the case. everything is subjective, though perhaps mediated by the true author who is, all the while, pretending not to be the progenitor. the opening chapters concerning froome's halcyon days in kenya and the early career with barloworld have already been covered in david sharp's va va froome (still a terrible title). however, their inclusion here must be honestly welcomed by those readers for whom this is their first introduction to the world of chris froome.

but let's not kid ourselves, the main reason for opening the pages of the climb is to read about those prost and senna moments in the 2012 tour de france. sir brad put across his point of view in his recent my time, but now we're all keen to find out what really happened (sic).

serendipity is a wonderful part of life, and it's something that gave us the chris froome who reached the second step in 2012 and the top one in 2013. but for an almost freakish bout of fortuitousness, he might never have made it as far as his first tour de france; at least not with sky.

towards the end of his first season with the chaps in blue and black, froome was reasonably sure the team was unlikely to renew his contract. though his numbers were good, his race performances were largely unpredictable. and he wasn't called crash froome for nothing (something that might like to be reconsidered in the light of his abrupt departure from this year's tour de france). in his own words "sometimes you don't need a weatherman to tell you which way the wind is going to blow." places were up for grabs in the forthcoming vuelta team, and the final slot was between froome and lars petter, the latter having finished 16th in poland to froome's 85th.

however, lars petter took ill, and they sent froome instead, which is pretty much where history began. the subsequent chapter concerns each twist and turn of a spanish race in which froome finished 2nd and wiggins 3rd. suddenly froome was a someone, a rider with a nice new collection of uci points and a tad more bargaining power than he'd owned prior to the team time-trial in benidorm. in an allusion to the machiavellan dealings of riders' contract negotiations, we are then treated to a masterclass in miscomprehension, deliberate or otherwise, between froome, his agent and dave brailsford.

it becomes apparent, particularly when subsequently discussing that incident on the road to la toussuire, that froome had either understood, or had been given to understand that, assuming bradley to be in no danger as a summit finish appeared, he had free reign to head for the finish line alone. pertinent also, in the light of recent events, is brailsford's apparent insistence, when building a team for the 2012 tour, that it made perfect sense to have two gc contenders, thus giving sky both plan a and plan b.

"Case for the Prosecution: Mr Wiggins, or the agents thereof had retained the services of Mr Froome to do a specific job of adventuring. At a time when he could not be sure of Mr Wiggins's good health or spirits, Mr Froome chose to continue the adventure on his own thus causing physical and psychological damage to Mr Wiggins and spoiling everything."

a blow by blow account of the aftermath is dealt with at length, portraying several members of team sky's management in a rather poor light. obviously froome felt he did not act improperly, but it's clear that there was no love lost between the two riders, even prior to the la toussuire happenstance. interesting how times change.

to be perfectly frank, the climb could have and arguably should have ended there. despite all the foregoing, brad's absence from the 2013 tour team and his poor performance at the same year's giro d'italia almost passes without mention. and froome's victory in a 2013 paris is such recent history that few (self included) will be that desperate to reprise those 21 days in july. one has a sneaking suspicion, however, that the race was included to give the book's pretend author an opportunity to quote himself on the podium.

"...this is one yellow jersey that will stand the test of time."

and is it ok if i make mention of the fact that it worries me just a bit that chris froome has his own logo?

sunday 13 july 2014

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thirty years ago

polka dot jersey

things are a heck of a lot different these days. though it's not looking too great after only one week of racing in the tour, there were a few british riders who started the 101st tour de france. sir brailsford's favouring of froome over sir wiggins has divided opinion amongst the home crowd, and it can't have been a pleasant experience for wiggo to be told that, despite the race beginning in yorkshire, he would be better off concentrating on the commonwealth games. personally, i figure sir dave compounded the situation by stating that, had brad been in the team, even now that crash froome has departed, wiggo would have had to work for richie porte.

i can only assume that dave and brad are no longer the best of pals.

but, while we bask in the smugness that is two successive yellow jerseys accompanied by a second place and two rather decent placings in the vuelta, it doesn't do us any harm to remind ourselves that it wasn't always this way. apart, perhaps, from 1984. in that year, a spindly scotsman with an earring and a perm, not only made his way to fourth place - at that time the highest placing ever achieved by a british rider - but nabbed a podium place clad in the king of the mountains polka dot jersey.

if you consider that in the early eighties, there was no support system for british riders, no performance cycle plan and no fixtures and fittings in manchester, robert millar's achievement was arguably greater than wiggo's yellow jersey, given the team support with which the latter was surrounded. robert recently pointed out that he reached the tour often with 65 days of racing in his legs, while chris froome would be lucky to race than many days all season.

bradley appears to have suffered as a result of winning the 2012 tour de france; his giro d'italia of the following year saw him, by his own admission "descending like a girl", and though he was victorious at the recent tour of california, braislford's previously mentioned assertion that he would have been riding for porte at the moment had he been selected must make him often wonder whether it was all worth the grief.

as the 2014 tour heads into the hills this weekend, it seemed an appropriate moment to talk to the present day robert millar about 1984 and other less pressing matters. after all, over much of his career, pointing a notebook and pencil in his direction was not always greeted with unbridled joy. as the first ever brit/scot to win a tour jersey, did he find that winning the 1984 king of the mountains became a millstone around his neck, with constant pressure to to repeat the achievement?

"No, it was more a reminder that I could do best climber at Grand Tour level. It would have been nice to do it a number of times but things were different and the number of races you were required to start was much larger. It wasn't just a case of starting; some kind of presence or involvement was demanded too."

as bradley reaches his twilight years as a professional cyclist, he has no doubt had occasional thoughts as to quite with what he might fill his wakening hours when it's all over. there are valid comparisons here; wiggins has a reputation as being a tad brusque and for calling a spade an excavating implement. but given the current adulation poured upon certain members of the peloton, it's easy to understand that civilian life, devoid of both that and a team support system, could be something of a culture shock. did robert view his cycling career and his subsequent years as a civilian as separate phases, or merely different sides of the same coin?

"I wouldn't choose civilian; it's not the military being a pro bike rider. Ordinary life was something I kept an attachment to even when I competed, so not going to races anymore wasn't that much of shock culturally.
"However it took some adjustment to not being motivated or stimulated by exercise, so yes I would agree there is a before and after part to my life. I tried not to bring racing home with me and didn't often talk about cycling, not because I wasn't committed to what I was doing, but more that I needed the quiet time and relaxation after being in such a noisy, busy environment."

we're none of us getting any younger, but the common mantra of 'it's only a number' has a certain ring of truth about it. personally, other than a few creaks and groans that weren't there ten years ago, i still feel pretty much the same as i did in my early twenties. that's unlikely to be the true situation, but we often seem to change along with the changes, thus convinced that we're no different than we ever were. does robert figure he's a different person now that he's no longer a professional cyclist?

"Definitely. The person people imagined I was when racing was already different to the person I was back in what you refer to as civvy street.
"Quite often you need some space to reflect and prepare mentally; I could hide behind a persona when I raced. The level of selfishness and agression needed to be competitive was something that dissipated when the race was finished.
"Now my level of calmness and tolerance is much much greater. I think that's an aspect most people watching from the outside don't really understand, that you can compete hard but when it's over, you return to being just a normal person."

millar's final year as a professional racing cyclist was hardly that which he, or others, would have expected. signed for le groupement, the team fell apart before reaching the 1995 tour de france, and robert had an enforced return to civvy street. however, 1995 was not without success; having aided fellow scot brian smith to at least one of his british road race championships, robert became road race champion himself only weeks before hanging up his cleats for good. though subsequent circumstances prevented the jersey from being worn in the tour de france, was there a sense of relief that he'd won the british road race championship before retiring?

"No. I think I was more annoyed that I didn't get to wear the National Champs jersey in things like the Tour or the Classics. Circumstances were different at the Nationals then; no team support, being forced to turn up if you wanted to be considered for the Worlds, despite it being the TdF six days later, the team (Le Groupement) not caring or even being hostile to not wearing the sponsor's colours, the travel nightmares. All this added up to it not being that much of an objective. I know that sounds bad nowadays, but back then being GB champion wasn't that important in Europe."

if you've watched the 1985 granada tv production 'the high life', millar's and peugeot's performance in that year's tour de france was several degrees less impressive than had been the case twelve months earlier. in that documentary, there's an awkward moment when robert is sitting on the tailgate of a team car changing out of his team kit, quite obviously rather despondent at the result of the day's stage. there's a hapless cycle journalist trying manfully to elicit some quotable response and, quite frankly, getting nowhere.

it's a situation that imposes itself upon our sports stars and pop stars. you enter the profession because you're apparently quite good at it, but the better you get, the more the media start to adopt you as one of their own, and that's not always what you signed up for. as a rider, robert had something of a reputation for being 'difficult', yet i've found him to be pretty easy-going and often very funny. was there a purpose to the 'difficult' years, or just the rebelliousness of youth?

"Difficult or knowing what you want are quite often very similar outlooks. I looked at the things I wanted to improve, so I asked myself and others why things were done in certain ways. Like the rubbish diet and food when you were on races, the amount of racing, why those particular events, why there never seemed to be any back-up to any problems you had. More often than not, nobody could tell you why, other than 'it's always been that way.'
"I don't think I was difficult. Demanding yes, but then I asked more of myself than I did of others. For example, race food: asked what I wanted, I would say exactly what and when. I didn't want anything other than what I asked for ,and if that was adhered to, then no problem. If I wasn't asked, then it was no problem either, because no-one asked me. However I would say if it wasn't good enough when asked, and then they did what they wanted anyway.
"Exigent, demanding, committed, with a plan not many people thought possible, yes. But difficult, no. I got on well with all the team staff. I think journalists found me difficult because I couldn't be doing with inane questions, so they got inane answers back as a result."

for years after british cycling failed to renew his contract as national coach in 1998, robert millar 'disappeared'. there were all sorts of rumours regarding his whereabouts and what he might be doing in civilian life. every now and again, someone would claim to have seen robert out riding his bike, but largely, he kept himself to himself, seemingly less than keen to re-enter the world of cycling in any capacity. yet now he's popped up on cycling forums, the robert millar blog on and the final page in rouleur magazine. what changed?

"Disappeared makes me sound like a hermit. I still went cycling, but after the BCF wasted my time in '98, I had no real reason to go to bike races. So I didn't. No-one asked me my opinion or considered I might have something to say. until William Fotheringham got me into doing bike tests at Procycling. I quite enjoyed that. I'm very analytical, so I found that quite entertaining, but then I was replaced, or dropped if you like, and I had a quiet period.
"At that time I got into Tae Kwon Do, so I took that more seriously and broadened my horizons. Since it's very structured and military-based, I found that a refreshing change to what I had been used to.
"I think people, well some people, enjoy what I write because I try not to tell it like a school report. Being given the freedom to do that is quite a privileged situation, so I try to be entertaining and give insights into the world of professional cycling that you don't always get."

in the world of 'if i knew then what i know now' and an honours degree in hindsight, many of us figure that if we had our time all over again we'd have acted differently or made alternative choices. nostalgia is yesterday's thing. however, i know robert's not one of life's nostalgists, but if he had his career over again, would he do anything differently?

"I'd probably go and live somewhere warmer, sunnier and do fewer races. I don't think the attitude I had to racing or being a pro bike rider was any different to that now existing at the top level."

in the good old days of yore, though cycling has often been characterised as one where its participants are more easily accessible than in many other sports, we'd mostly to rely on the odd minute of television, a decent quote in a rare magazine interview, or simply the happy happenstance of bumping into a rider in the supermarket. nowadays, with blogging, twitter, facebook and youtube, there are fewer places to hide and more opportunities to connect with the fans. with the full-range of social media having taken over the world, today's professionals have virtually nowhere to hide. does robert think the life of a bike rider has changed a whole lot since 1984?

"Social media hasn't changed the pro bike riders world. They still go training and racing. It's having back-up for every situation that has changed. You don't need to figure out things like training, or rest periods, diet or equipment, as there's an army of people employed to figure that out for you.
"The social media part is only relevant if you join in with it. Everyone can be a blogger or journalist, so there are way more people with an opinion nowadays, but you can't let stuff like that affect you when you compete."

there are odd regions of washingmachinepost croft partially festooned with medals and very small trophies, attesting to my participation in one or two barely mentionable cycling activities, mostly those i've forgotten the names or dates of. is robert's polka dot jersey framed and hung on the sitting room wall, or is it in a case in the attic?

"In a suitcase in the attic with the other jerseys. There are no cycling related things in the house, for no reason other than it's not something I've ever done. If I need reminding of something, I can usually access that experience or image in my head.  I'm not that proud a person; when I want to achieve something, once I've done it, I think 'Yeah that was good' and nothing more."

i adjudged the point at which this year's tour de france headed into the bumpy bits to be the ideal time to publish this interview. cycling fans worldwide still recall that 1984 jersey and fourth place in the tour. to place it in perspective, i doubt many of us remember who won the kom jersey in 1985. is that a satisfying thought at the end of the day?

robert millar & brian smith

"I think personal satisfaction comes from achieving what you want to do and if you're the first person to do that from your country then I suppose it adds something to the success. When I won things like the TdF mountain prize or that in any of the other Grand Tours and I had done well, I didn't think it was that exceptional. I'd trained for it, it wasn't heroic or a surprise. More often than not the main thought was how much it hurt and quite possibly it'd be a while before someone else came along who realised just how much they were going to hurt to achieve the same or better. "I did OK with the talents I had. The main thing for me was being competitive with the best, even if it was only in certain areas. That I liked."

of course, every major rider has his/her achilles heel. something in their make-up that undermines or perhaps even enhances their je ne sais quoi. that something may indeed be entirely unrelated to either the major forte or even closely allied with the sport in which they participate with gusto. does robert own any boxed sets of 'beavis and butthead?

"No I'm a grown up now. Allegedly."

saturday 12 july 2014

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sportif magazine

my very early years aboard a road bike were peppered with many moments of not only inattention, but complete ignorance of that in which i was inevitably about to be immersed. the tour de france figured large over those drop handlebars, if only because it was the only cycle race to make it to the tv screens; robert millar's polka dots were a naive inspiration, fully encapsulated in the 'how hard can it be?' train of thought. if only i knew then what i know now.

sportif magazine

having a bicycle that bore at least a passing resemblance to that featured in the poster that arrived in the very same box intimated that the skinny tubes, ten-speed gear and bendy bars placed me firmly in the firmament belonging to speed. the fact that i owned almost none of that was my secret and mine alone. but it was saturday mornings on the way to work that offered all the clues that passed me by. riding very quickly along the dual carriageway, with respectable gaps between each were skinny blokes with numbers on their backs.

it does me no credit whatsoever to admit that i had no idea of a) what they were doing and b) the notion that maybe i could have joined the party too.

so, while i'm sure that in such esteemed company one ought not to flaunt the lack of ever having attached a number to the rear pockets of a cycle jersey (yet another facet of my ignorance), that's pretty much what i'm in the process of doing. the local bikeshops always had small posters pinned to the wall or stuck to the window, advertising the existence of apparently competing cycle clubs. i'm not sure whether to be proud or ashamed that i never answered the call.

sportif magazine

those early bikes of doubtful provenance were considered to be transport and little else. yes, on occasion i'd stupidly head off on the by-pass to cycle distances that seem paltry nowadays, intent only on reaching home in a circular manner. the fact that i never once came across others doing likewise on a sunday afternoon ought surely to have ticked a box in my head, but the years of naivety had obviously created a thick mist impossible to penetrate. believe it or not, though the local newsagent had copies of cycling weekly blatantly on display as i collected my daily newspaper, i never quite got it in both senses of that phrase.

nowadays, however, i am considered one of the cognoscenti, a paid up member of the cycling establishment. i can hobnob with the great and the good, all the while appearing to be someone they might actually recognise. my influence stretches almost to the edges of any web browser these pixels may happen to infiltrate. the bike shed strains at its elderly seams; there are wheels, tyres, tubes and even the occasional saddle inhabiting its innards, advertising to all and sundry that i am a member of the pelotonese.

sportif magazine

but still, i have had no need of four safety pins to keep any numbers in place. and it turns out that i am very much not alone.

so while our secret and not so secret aspirations embody the the racing game, influencing our choice of carbon, of spokes and sportwool, the truth is that few of us will even reach the speed of a world tour mechanic springing from the back seat of a team car. whatever our heads might be telling us as we clip into professional pedals, the reality is that we actually just like riding our bikes, slaves to the iniquities of gps and strava. not for nothing do i have a red lanterne rouge embroidered cap amongst my imaginary team kit. and as part of a genuine question, who really cares?

as a literary device, that's something of a rhetorical question, for it's sort of nice to know that someone actually does, and in the process of caring, they've produced a magazine just for us: sportif.

sportif magazine

david harmon, formerly of the eurosport commentary booth, and veteran of seven hot chillee london paris rides has joined forces with the inestimable richard hallett, frame-builder, involuntary hard man and technical writer par excellence to bring a bi-monthly magazine to those with a racing mindset trapped in a sportive physique. the first issue of sportif is of a modest 38 page format that offeers regional variations. thus, while the bulk of the content, such as rohan dubash's expose of the vicissitudes of electric gear shifting and the appropriateness of certain clothing seen as ideal for the sportive rider will be the same for each and every reader, specific areas can be catered to with ease and impunity.

sportif magazine

however, the question uppermost in your minds must surely be, "why would i want yet another cycle magazine cluttering the space between the armchair and coffee table?" well, for one, it's entirely free of charge, and secondly, it's content is tailored towards the majority of today's sporting cyclists. it surely cannot have escaped your attention that the majority of national and international sportives or gran fondos have a habit of selling out long before any specified start time. and at the risk of being seen as arrogantly dismissive, almost everyone has come across one or two participants in these sportive pelotons who would really be better off watching from afar. that may very well be due to a lack of pertinent and assistive information.

issue one brings details of the sportive bike's anatomy, a masterclass on safe-braking, preparation tips and stuff about real, actual sportives. the writing is well above average without a predisposition to talk down to its intended audience. in fact, now that sportif has appeared, one really has to wonder why this hasn't been done before now. there are copies spread far and wide for your delectation and enjoyment, but if, like me, remoteness mitigates against finding your own personal copy, pop over to and alert them to your plight.

all photos copyright steve fleming

friday 11 july 2014

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quantity versus quality


over the years, i have manfully tried to avoid the tour de france. not as a television spectator (i'm glued to every live minute i can surreptitiously watch while supposedly handcrafting this week's newspaper), but in terms of content on the post. it's not so much that i don't find myself equal to the task, but since so many others are every bit as equal, i prefer to offer a haven of 'not the tour de france' to those who need a dark corner in which to lie. however, an apparent growing popularity has led to a constant stream of press releases, many of which are not quite my cup of tea (or espresso), but every now and again, one of them definitely is. in this particular case, despite its manifest association(s) with the tour de france, it's a doozy and i'd hate to let it slip by.

as everyone in the civilised world, and probably one or two less well specified areas already knows, this year's tour de france began wending its merry way towards paris from yorkshire. the only saving grace, from my point of view, is that the incessant mentions have almost dried up. one of the world tour teams currently making up the tour peloton is that of europcar, ancestral home of tommy voeckler, pierre rolland and yuko arashiro, but ultimately a sponsor that rents cars to europeans. the clue, i believe, is in the name.


car rental, by any stretch of the imagination, is hardly the world's most intriguing, interesting or, dare i say it, exciting professions; having worked for hertz in my past, i know of which i speak. however, it appears that someone with influence has a decidedly quirky grasp of statistical information, most of it of no earthly use whatsoever, which is precisely makes it of such great interest and amusement even to vehicular agnostics such as myself.

the old adage of quality not quantity is an interesting mix of both subjective and objective observations, always in danger of comparing apples with bricks. price will always provide an opening guideline as to the quality of any particular bicycle's provenance. it is hardly the defining principle, but one has to start somewhere. but quality could easily be said to be in the eye of the beholder, unlike quantity which most specifically has a definable allocation. as a for instance, let's assume that the latest carbon velocipede costs the princely sum of £2,000 (quantity), and is said to be stiffer yet more compliant than its predecessor (quality).

admit it; you had no idea it would be this simple?


so if we briefly return to the grand depart in yorkshire, the majority in attendance will know, by varying degrees, just how enjoyable their experience was. there is no denying, however, that over the course of that first stage from leeds to harrogate, apart from mark cavendish, the riders will have travelled the equivalent distance of 146,154 sheep standing nose to tail. were that not enough of a defining fact, on the longest climb of the day, the peleton climbed every bit as far as 21,525 sticks of rhubarb laid end to end, and expended 95 yorkshire puddings' worth of calories.

was cycle racing ever defined in such easily understood, everyday terms?

the selfsame sterling europcar individual - and it could easily have been tommy himself for all i know - did not stop there, for a second stage in yorkshire was obviously beckoning to be uniquely classified for our edification. while i can hear one or two guffaws of disbelief at the back, i must make mention that more than one of my colleagues in the office thought these numbers a far more entertaining way to comprehend a sport that, in the main, they struggle to comprehend. so i will continue.


almost equalling the consumption of the kids in the care of mrs washingmachinepost, stage two was 387 times longer than the longest recorded string of liquorice, while the day's climbing was every bit as high as 34.19 york minsters. but then, you already knew that. something that might be of conceivably more interest to dyed in the wool pain and sufferers is that the average number of water bottles consumed per cycle team is 105. of course, none of us really needed to know that the average yorkshire resident drinks 2.8 cups of tea per day, though the fact that a pretty young lady handed me a pack of yorkshire tea in euston station on monday does have tenuous relevance.

with no disrespect to the europcar cycle team, even though they ride rather desirable colnagos, the chances are that their logo will not be gracing any of the paris podium's top three steps. but the knowledge that stage two's longest climb was as tall as 83,799 vertically stacked bottles of ginger beer is a statistic that many of us will remember thanks to the car rental company, long after the obligatory dvd with phil and paul is gathering dust on the shelf.

as i think seriously about resting my word processor for the evening, might i regale you with one more fact before going off to do something far less interesting instead? at an average power output of 241 watts, it would take 7.47 tour riders to boil a kettle.

to read more (and you know you want to), have a look here

thursday 10 july 2014

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the imperialists

rapha's imperial works

only a matter of weeks after arriving on islay, i attended a talk by an artist who's career spanned the twin locations of islay, and edinburgh, though i think only the former appeared in her paintings. during one of her islay sections of the year, she had been persuaded to offer some illustrated words on a recent expedition to the sahara and the resulting artworks. the talk was, as i recall, most illuminating, particularly for yours truly, having artistic pretensions of my own.

rapha's imperial works

in order that i might further discuss the ins and outs of applying oil paint to canvas or primed board, the following day i headed off on my bicycle in the general direction of where i had been told was her islay abode. i mentioned above my relative newness to island life, one aspect of which had passed me by completely. whereas a placename on a map of more urbanised locations would almost without question relate to a town or village, on islay those placenames are quite often individual houses. so as i rode along three miles of singletrack road, stopping only to avoid a large truck returning from one of the distilleries, i was on the lookout for a village rather than a house, one that i had unknowingly passed some two and a half miles previously.

as i have pointed out on many previous occasions, my geographic skills leave a lot to be desired, extending as far as being unable to read maps as well as i probably ought, as at least a part of the following tale will reveal.

rapha's imperial works

those very nice people at rapha had not only invited me to their tenth birthday celebrations which coincided with the arrival of the tour de france from cambridge to the mall, but extended that invitation to visit the second incarnation of imperial works in london's tileyard road. a google map indicated that this was situated off the road passing to the right of kings cross station, itself cowering in the shadow of the utterly magnificent st pancras. i fail to understand why these two stations exist in such close proximity, given that they both live not all that far from the architecturally abhorrent euston station.

i mean, how many major railway stations does a city really need?

rapha's imperial works

anyhoo, i woefully miscalculated how long it would take me to walk from euston to imperial works, and it was only the saving grace that the busy folks at rapha commence their working day around 8am that saved me from hanging around an area of london that has little to commend it other than its being where rapha lives. it is worth my mentioning, i believe, in conjunction with the foregoing railway discussion, that there appears also to be an abandoned york station en route. with so many overground and underground railway stations, some really cool double-decker buses and reasonably advanced cycle facilities, i really cannot fathom why central london still has its roads congested with so much motorised traffic.

those of you who made it to the original imperial works in kentish town's perren street, will find a huge difference between the old former piano works and the new rapha headquarters. admittedly, perren street had a lot more going for it by way of external architectural features (i believe it is now being converted into luxury flats), but the inner space at imperial works 2 is far more impressive. though the plate glass automatic doors let me pass without question, office manager, fenella reed told me that they're normally set for egress only, requiring appointed and unannounced visitors alike to make themselves known prior to gaining access. however, on the day of their tenth anniversary celebrations, with so many comings and goings of a delivery nature, they'd decided to leave them unlocked to marauding scotsmen.

rapha's imperial works

the front door of rapha's original home opened to a darkened metalled stairwell, one that exhibited a gradient greater than the upper slopes of the ventoux. with the company spread over more than one floor, it's a wonder any of the staff had need of riding a bike to keep fit. i2 as i have abbreviated it, opens to a downward sloping ramp leading to reception and a coffee bar (stunningly potent espressos are served; you have been warned) just past tables and chairs at which staff and visitors alike can sup and munch. this, i'd imagine, must be particularly efficacious when they'd prefer that said visitors, for one reason or another, make no further inroads to the black and pink nerve centre.

rapha's imperial works

the second half of the ground floor, to the left of reception was, on my visit, filled with staff bicycles hanging from custom wooden racks. for the naysayers who still contend that the whole affair is one grand marketing exercise, this rather physically demonstrates the converse. not only are there lockers and showers, but a workbench and park tool stand for any fettling found to be necessary.

from here 'tis but a hop, skip and a jump to the customer service centre which occupies a substantial portion of the ground floor. my guide for the morning, press officer kati jagger, said that the customer service team's dismay at being sited below decks had turned to a more joyful disposition on discovering how much cooler and quieter it is than upstairs.

rapha's imperial works

at the top of a stairwell bedecked with yellow musettes is not only a board containing all the story labels that you'll find inside nearly every rapha garment, but access to everything that makes rapha tick (i do not, however, wish this to sound as if their rather excellent customer services team downstairs are not a part of this process. i think you catch my drift.) spread all around this essentially open plan workspace are uk marketing, international marketing, a self-contained information and web technology department as well as a whole half floor dedicated to the design and pre-production process. kati also told me they had now brought the sample prototyping in-house, allowing faster turnround of new rapha apparel.

there are also a few select areas designated for informal and formal meetings as well as several racks of clothing that i'm not allowed to mention yet. to avoid arguably less scrupulous observations, the design department is concealed behind partitions, as is mr mottram's office, thus curtailing any of those inadvertant 'oops!' moments. i'm not much given to investigative journalism, so i didn't push my luck in this instance, but i can only hope that somewhere behind those partitions lurks a pink sofa.

you can take imperial works out of perren street, but you can't take the pink sofa out of imperial works.

a genuine thank you to all those who made me so welcome at imperial works, despite obviously being in the middle of far more important necessities than fending off a ponytailed hebridean with a camera.

wednesday 9 july 2014

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