Monday, 5 September 2011

Get an 'Old 'un'.....

There are some things that we still do well in this country - Royal Weddings, Morris Dancing, Rioting... of particular interest at this time of high summer is the Village Show. This nostalgic throwback is still prevelent in the UK and long may it continue. Last weekend saw a couple of shows in our locality, but by far the biggest, most impressive and successful is The Shackerstone Show, in fact it's one of the best in the country!

This year's line up of attractions included the Battle of Britain memorial flypast (Lancaster, Spitfire, Hurricane), An aerial acrobatic display from the Brietling Wing Walkers, Mark Stannage (Stunt Man & Escape Artist), Sheepdog displays, Marching Bands, Lawn Mower Racing, Birds of Prey demonstrations, Classic Cars, Traction Engines, Steam Rollers, Narrowboats, Traditional Fun Fair, Beer Festival and more....

On Friday night Gary, John and I went to for our usual Friday night 'pint' - the road outside the pub was blocked by a Steam Roller!!! - and this is the essence of these 'Village' events - the prospect of being delayed by a slow moving, steam powered vehicle or a flock of sheepdog driven ducks moving up the road is to be expected and encouraged.

Of particular interest to us was the 55th Veteran Cycle Rally, being held concurrently with the Shackerstone Show and centred on The Oddhouse (where Gary and I meet for our training rides in Leicestershire). On Sunday we arranged to meet there at 10.30am - knowing that the 'veterans' were planning a ride at 10.45. It was wet, grey and miserable as I set off from home, but by the time I reached The Oddhouse the sky was beginning to clear and there were signs of sunshine. We looked around at a vast array of interesting machines, loads of 'Ordinaries' (penny farthings), but other more mysterious variations also. We chatted to one or two of the owners - as we were walking through the crowd I saw a man lifting his machine off the ground as if to demonstrate the weight to someone "Carbon Fibre" I asked "Oh Yeah" he answered!

We followed as the entourage left the pub and made their way along the route that we cycle on a regular basis. Gary's bike sudenly started to make a strange rattling sound from the back wheel, one of the Veteran cyclists shouted out: "You should get an old 'un"

I was amazed how quick some of these old cycles were - I was overtaken by a penny farthing and I followed him for a while, he was tootling along at 16/17mph. Soon we were in Carlton, there was a man with a megaphone directing the veterans up a drive to a house where they could get a coffee and have a rest - there must have been around 100 riders in total, maybe more, and most of them dressed in appropriate clothing, hats, footwear. By now it was a blissful, blue, bright day. The man with megaphone is till administering instructions to even more cyclists as they drift towards the rest point. There was a woman riding a trike with a face as red as the skirt she was wearing - there was a man in a bowler hat and riding boots who, as he dismounted, sought immediate support from a handy telegraph pole - some of these bikes are hard work!

Next stop was The Belper Arms at Newton Burgoland - supposedly the oldest pub in Leicestershire - We got there and ordered beers and food - the 'pack' would be a while yet, but already customers were talking about it. We got chatting to a chap who had worked on Lancaster bombers, ground crew, he told us that the cyclists were on their way - 150 of them - quick, get to the bar before they arrive!!!

Soon the pub and the car park was overrun with hot, thirsty cyclists - the queue at the bar was deep - there was a sudden loud announcement from the man with the megaphone - "two pints of Stella please"...

This was a thoroughly enjoyable Sunday - some riding, some interesting old bikes to look at, a few beers and lunch at a country pub - perfect!

Here's a video of some of the cyclists:

Friday, 2 September 2011

Heroes and pain...

Rene Vietto

We've seen some considerable suffering in this years Giro, then the Tour de France with riders crashing all over the place and being hit by press cars. As I write Bradley Wiggins is leading this years Vuelta, having recovered from a broken collarbone sustained during the Tour de France.

I have just been reading about some of the long forgotten riders from yesteryear.
I came across Rene Vietto who whilst riding the Tour de France in 1934 as a relative unknown, found himself with 'wings on the mountains'. This was not really a surprise, he had won the Grand Prix Wolber earlier in the year. He was prepared for the Alps and won easily on the steepest terrain. After he won the two major Alpine stages, journalists reported that this 'boy' could be the purest mountain climber that France had known.

During the 1934 Tour, he left the peloton standing during a mountain stage and he was poised to become race leader after his team captain Antonin Magne crashed during stage 16. A marshal on a motorcycle caught Vietto to inform him his captain was way back on the side of the road, with teammate Lap├ębie ahead, and the other teammates behind the yellow jersey. Vietto turned and rode back up the mountain to give Magne his bike. Magne mounted Vietto’s bike and was able to close the gap to preserve his overall lead and win the Tour.

A photograph shows Vietto sitting on a stone wall as the race passes.

Vietto after handing his bike to his captain

This made him a star in France. The image of a 20-year-old who sacrificed his chance of winning the Tour doubled his popularity. He was named the Tour's best climber. and finished 5th overall, almost 1 hour behind Magne. Vietto never won the Tour. He was closest in 1939 when he received the yellow jersey in Lorient in one of the first stages. After that Tour, war broke out and the race wasn't held again until 1947.

Vietto wore the yellow jersey for 15 stages during the 1938 Tour and for 14 stages during the 1947 Tour. He finished second in 1939, fifth in 1934 and 1947 and eighth in 1935. He has the highest career yellow jersey statistics of anyone to never win the Tour de France overall.

But the best part of the story is this: Vietto lost a toe to sepsis during the Tour of 1947. Having lost the toe Vietto insisted that his domestique, Apo Lazarides, cut off one of his own toes to match and to feel the pain. Vietto's toe is in formaldehyde in a bar in Marseilles.