Saturday, 30 July 2011

YouTube Video is up!....

I've been so quiet with 'proper work' that I've been able to find time to cobble together a short clip of bits from our LeJog ride for YouTube - check it out:

Monday, 25 July 2011

Good on yer Cadel...

Hats doffed then to a great achievement by Cadel Evans in becoming the first Australian to win The Tour de France. Our own Mark Cavendish deserves praise too, becoming the first Englishman to win the Green Jersey. And what an exciting three weeks its been for all us lovers of cycle racing, and in particular the greatest race of them all - The Tour.

There's been immense drama as each stage has unfolded; the crashes, the pain and suffering, the cat and mouse tactics, the passion and pageant - all there in bucketfuls. The stages through the Alps were my personal favourites, seeing Andy Schleck make his breakaway I thought for sure he was going to take the yellow in Paris. Then Contador came back, then Evans.... it was just edge of the seat stuff.

It's also heartening to note that Cadel Evans is the oldest winner since World War 2 - at 34 its unlikely that he'll be able to repeat his performance, but boy did he look strong in the Alps when he clawed back Schleck's lead, and his time trialling on the penultimate stage was superb. He was the strongest rider, simple as that really.

I'm going to miss my daily 'fix' from Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen and the contributions from Chris Boardman and Ned Boulting were excellent. A big thanks to ITV4 for supporting cycling too.

Friday, 22 July 2011


Yesterdays stage of the Tour saw the riders competing in the Alps. I've always enjoyed the mountain stages, the drama of it, the sight of these supermen heading ever upwards into the clouds, the pain and suffering clear to see on their faces.

This was the highest finish in the history of the Tour - and it saw Andy Schleck ascend to the plateau of greatness. All previous doubts concerning the 26-year-old Luxembourg rider's courage and judgment were dispelled by a majestic attack that vindicated his supporters, disarmed his critics and earned the gratitude of neutrals who had been waiting for the explosive gesture that would define this years Tour.

There were three climbs above 2,300 metres and Schleck reshaped the contest single-handed. Alberto Contador had no answer and Samuel Sánchez faded away, Cadel Evans provided the other heroic performance of the day with a desperate chase of the younger Schleck, gritting his teeth and towing the yellow jersey group up the final climb to cut in half what had been, with 10km to go, a lead of four minutes. Without Evans's unassisted effort, Schleck might well have opened up enough of a lead to take to Paris.

This victory, in the first-ever finish at the 2,645m summit of the Col du Galibier, celebrated the first assault on the Alps in 1911. But making history afresh was the point of the day. This was the Tour's Queen stage, as it is called, featuring the highest point of the race as the riders passed over the 2,774m Col d'Agnel before going on to tackle the 2,360m Col d'Izoard and then the mighty Galibier. The most daunting prospect in other words, that the race's planners could devise. And with 60km to go, with 15 riders from various breaks still up ahead and with the battle between the contenders for overall victory seemingly locked in a stalemate, Andy, the younger Schleck brother, launched his effort, accelerating smoothly away from the peloton and on to a cmagnificent solo victory - this was historic riding; a throwback to the days of Merckx and Coppi - it made fascinating viewing, enhanced by the alpine scenery and the good weather.

So gruelling was the stage that only 78 riders finished within the stipulated 120% of the winner's time. The judges took pity on the stragglers, imposing penalties instead of excluding them. Mark Cavendish, who finished in a gruppetto of 80 riders, was docked 20 points, reducing his lead over his nearest rival for the green jersey, José Joaquín Rojas, from 35 points to 15.

But the day was about Andy Schleck, and a feat thoroughly worthy of his late compatriot Charly Gaul, known as the Angel of the Mountains, who won the 1958 Tour after a similarly epic ride in the Alps. To win a yellow jersey of his own, however, bearing in mind Evans's almost certain superiority in Saturday's time trial, Schleck may have to do all it again (today) Friday, on a shorter stage that crosses the Galibier from the other direction before finishing on the Alpe d'Huez, the ultimate killing ground.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

The Tour....

With my arm/hand in plaster my riding is purely vicarious at present - I'm enjoying watching The Tour de France - what a spectacle it is; the speeds they reach, particularly on the descents are scarily breathtaking - 69mph on one stage i was watching recently!!

The Tour has to be the world's greatest annual sporting event. First run in 1903 as a publicity stunt by a newspaper, and with a Paris bar as the starting point, today's Tour attracts 15 million spectators over its three week duration (in a country of 62 million), and additional hundreds of millions via TV.

Why is the Tour de France such an epic contest among the world's best athletes? There are no other sporting events where the competitors are subjected to such superhuman challenges day after day for three weeks. This year's tour covers 3,430km (2131 miles), with the longest daily stage being 226 km/140 miles. It is no exageration to compare competing in the Tour to running a marathon every day for three weeks. It is a small wonder that despite a 9,000 daily caloric consumption, the exertion rates are so high that Tour riders typically lose about 3 or 4 kg during the entire race.

This year's Tour has been marked by numerous accidents and retirements due to injury, including to several pre-race favourites. Broken collar bones, femurs and pelvises have caused riders to withdraw from the race, and crashes have been caused by spectators, camera motorbikes and even team cars.

The French are yearning for a home grown winner, and as of this writing the maillot jaune does indeed rest on the shoulders of a Frenchman, the Alsatian Thomas Voeckler. Every French newspaper heralded him as a FRENCH Tour leader.

Whoever is leading by the time they reach Paris one thing is crystal clear: if you like to see daily exhibitions of extraordinary courage, endurance, speed, stamina, heartbreak, exhaustion, drama, and for a lucky few, eventual triumph, then tune in to this year's Tour de France. There's nothing else like it.

Monday, 18 July 2011


I was thinking how Fridays have always been associated with going to the pub. At least they have for me, for pretty much the last thirty five years. My first job after leaving college was drinking at a small advertising agency. Work was something that seemed to get in the way of visiting the wine bar in those far-off days. As a young artist keen to make my mark (literally and figuratively) I noticed there were plenty of people who spent an inordinate amount of time 'out with clients' - mostly that meant long lunches at the wine bar, pub or a particular french restaurant that stocked a very reasonable Pinot Noir. In those days my meagre salary meant that i was unable to join the party - except for Fridays.

If we were lucky, lunchtime would be the starting point - the whole agency would decamp to 'The Wheatsheaf' one of the account execs had his own stool with a little wooden plaque that said - Stuart's Stool' I assume this enabled him to A) Find his place as he staggered in from yet another client meeting and B) Enabled him to remember who he was at closing time. If it had been a good week, the art studio would be treated to a couple of rounds of beer and maybe a cheese and onion cob, if it had been an exceptional week it would be a couple of rounds of beer and a steak and kidney pie. Quite often we stayed in there all afternoon, there was no need to worry about driving - none of us had cars.

That Friday ritual has travelled with me through various jobs in various locations; and even now I still see Friday as a night to visit the pub - these days it's usually a less full-on engagement. Three pints and i'm done. The reason I mention all this is that last Friday I met with Gary and John at one of our regular haunts. There was an old Peugeot bicycle standing by the door - it brought back a few memories. I once had a most satisfying Peugeot. It was a proper racing bike with glue-on tubular tyres. The Chainwheels were drilled out and it had Campagnolo gears. It was light, for its time, and fast. I remember I had to get my Dad to sign the forms as a guarantor for the hire purchase agreement - I don't remember how much it was, probably over £200, maybe £300 - but it was over 30 years ago. Once in the pub I saw the cyclist at the bar - he was getting on in years; he had the look of one of those meerkats that are all over the tv advertisements at the moment, pencil thin and straight. He wore leather cycling shoes that had been polished to a patent shine, no socks and a shiny short sleeved cycling jersey. I got chatting to him, told him about our end-to-end adventure and he came back at with some tales of his own.

He told me that he had been having a few troubles of late. His wife was an alcoholic. He had been sitting at home and she emerged from the kitchen with a saucepan of boiling hot mince and onions and tipped the lot over his back. She was now being treated at a clinic somewhere. He then added, and he described it in such a way that made it seem little more than a minor inconvenience, his house had burnt down. He was now living with his daughter but had received a letter saying that his wife would be ready to return soon. He seemed anxious about this and as I left him he said he might just ride off on his bike and get lost somewhere.

Sometimes you have to remember there are always those with more problems than your own.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

In France....

It's Thursday. I've just been out for a three hour bike ride through the countryside of southern France. A few hills, a bit of coastline, the smell of excellent gourmet food being cooked in a wood burning oven, and always courteous drivers. After I placed my bike in the dedicated and secure storage I walked round to the hotel entrance, and who should I encounter? The Schleck brothers and Fabian Cancellara, all heading out for a training ride. I manage to solicit a few autographs then wander to my room for a quick shower before taking in an afternoon of wine and cheese tasting.

In my dreams.

I went to the hospital last Tuesday, the fractures department to be precise. After finding the place and joining the queue I was summoned for an X-ray. The specialist who looked at the results 'ummed and arrred' for a while - he enlarged bits of the grey image and then zoomed back out again, then in again.... This went on for a while. In the end he decided that my hand is broken in two places, that's the bad news. The good news; the dislocated finger is not dislocated anymore. So, I was sent back to the fractures ward and then on to the Plaster Department. I've been plastered before - I remember it being distinctly uncomfortable. This time I have a cast from just below the elbow up to my fingers and around my thumb. Maybe they do better plastering these days because this one doesn't feel too bad - so far no itching at all.
My appointment for the removal is in four weeks' time. FOUR WEEKS!. It's only just beginning to sink in, no riding for the next four weeks - my fitness will be melted away, how will i keep the weight off? - what am I going to do??

Just dream I suppose.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Wednesday night... A&E

No posts for a while - sorry - after riding the end-to-end we've been contemplating what to do next, do we continue with this blog? Do we close it down?, Do we come up with another challenge? - Watch this space!....

In the meantime though we'll carry on posting bits and pieces - as you are probably aware, every time a new post is added the 'Le Jog' day-to-day diary gets pushed down the page. So I've added a diary page on the navigation bar at the top - so that anyone who hasn't already read through it can do so easily with everything in one place.

This Wednesday we were due to ride to The Red Lion at Newborough, I met Gary at his house and we were joined by another Paul who lives opposite Gary. We set off and, as usual, we were blasting our way into Burton on Trent, 26/27mph, I was in front and noticed a truck pull out of a side road up ahead, I slowed a bit to give him chance to speed up, I glanced behind me to see where the others were, as my eyes returned to the front I was faced by the truck which had stopped, I was almost on top of it; I slammed on the brakes, too hard! - I stopped but the front wheel locked and I went over the handlebars.

It all happened in a flash - I think ,as I went over, my bike hit the back of the truck, I ended up tangled up on the road with Gary and the other Paul rushing to my aid. I felt okay. I got up, I knew I'd banged my face/head and when I looked at my left hand my ring finger looked alarmingly misplaced. The driver of the truck came round and offered to call an ambulance, we declined that, but Gary called his wife Val who came down in the car to take me to A&E at Burton Hospital. I was there for around 3 hours, X-rays confirmed I had broken a bone in my hand and dislocated my finger. I had numerous abrasions and bruises and had somehow managed to break a back tooth. After a pain killing injection it took two doctors to realign my finger - it hurt! - I had to shout out whilst they were 'manipulating' it, a procedure made more painful by the fracture lower down in my hand. Another X-Ray confirmed everything was where it should be and I have to go back to the fracture clinic next week for a further consultation.

I read somewhere that everyone who rides a bike regularly as either had a crash or is about to. I hope I've had my share for a while. Good job this didn't happen just before we set out on Le Jog, or indeed during it!

Anyway, I'm okay, just a bit sore and bruised, my neck and shoulders are stiff and my helmet is a write-off. A big thanks to Gary, Paul and Val for their help and the doctors and nurses at Burton A&E.

Here's a few pictures - grisly stuff!