Thursday, 23 February 2012

Thursday... longish ride

It's warm. And as the builders finish repairing our garage roof and I survey the mountain of 'stuff' piled up like a plastic coated mountain in the courtyard I relish the idea of a longish ride out. Restocking the garage can wait a few days, besides we need to sort it out and discard some of the things that are, shall we say, surplus to requirements.

Perhaps I'll have a garage sale - I think that's what they call it?  - basically I collect all the rubbish that I’ve accumulated over the past few years, put it all on a wallpapering table and stand there shouting until it’s all gone.

Pop round if you fancy a look - here’s a few things I need shut of:
A 'Bring Back The Old Money' sandwich board. One shoulder strap perished
3 foot spa’s (2 not working and third has a slight leak)
Plastic container that allegedly keeps butter at optimum temperature
Pine needle scented eczema cream (left over from Xmas obviously)
Some old sponges somehow stained with oil
A broken black & decker drill
A collection of punctured inner tubes (the ideal winter project)
lots of tins of paint - all opened and with varying remains in varying condition - some totally solid - some usuable. Possibly.
A 'Build your own registry office' kit. Some parts missing
Conquer Your Rage With Michael Aspel - VHS video and punchbag (signed).
No need for thermals today - in fact, for a few brief seconds, I toy with the idea of shorts - but then come to my senses. I fill my water bottle, check my lights and then I'm off. There's a slight dampness to the road and in the air. The sky hangs low, cluttered with cloud. But it is definitely....warm.

The roads are quiet as I pass through Snarestone, this route is very familiar, I ride it all the time, its familiarity is comforting but I feel the need for a variation. I change course when I reach the main road and head towards Appleby Magna. The road feels fast and I'm making good progress. As I approach the village I spot a Hare - standing in the road. He seems unconcerned until I get within 30 feet of him - then he moves; slowly, gracefully - for a moment I think I will catch up with him - but then he stops playing around. He changes gear and, wow, he's gone. The hare has true speed - 45mph easy, about twice the speed of Usain Bolt - hares are scarce but they manage to fire the imagination. People paint, draw and sculpt them obsessively. Many people, often those who have never seen one, claim them as their favourite animal. Hares are seldom seen but a single sighting goes deep. If you are lucky enough to spot one its a moment to relish, it’s one of nature’s pieces of magic.

I make my way through various small villages following the path of the river Mease - a silver ribbon stretching into the far distance. I pass through Haunton and Harlsaton and then Edingale. Some fine houses here - palatial almost. I'm heading down to Walton now, alongside the river Trent - there is a lot of debris on the road as I descend into the village - tree branches, gravel and swathes of thick mud. But the sun is shining now - it's warm and it feels great. On the trees there are buds half opened, like shiny scraps of moonlight against the dark bark - this is an illusory spring, the feintest movement and change in the motionless air of a warm, silent day. But however pleasant this 'winter spring' - there is something ominous about it. It is too quiet, too soft - there is something of the dangerous placidity of a sleeping lion - the weather, this fitful beast - inconsequent, unreliant, treacherous and changing all the time. The days are fickle the seasons seem upside down.

I arrive at Barton - my Mum tells me the Post Office has been robbed this morning and that my brother-in-law, Martin, was a witness - I ask her if she's sure he wasn't involved - I could see him as the lookout man - or maybe the driver... she didn't find it funny.

49 miles today - and tomorrow I'm heading to Suffolk - one of my favourite places!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

More photo's.....

Here're some more great photo's I found 

Fausto Coppi after a hard day on the bike

Great photo - feel there's a story here?

He never saw the muck spreader
looks like a hard surface to ride on?

Eddy Merccx in the World Champions shirt in the Alps

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Contador case....

You may have heard that the Spanish rider Alberto Contador has recently been handed a two year ban from cycling - this case has dragged on for some time and I'm not sure anyone really knows what's been happening behind the scenes - I lifted the article below from the web - see what you think......

I think the whole drug testing situation as it stands is an absolute joke.
They test the winner, who then tests positive and loses his title, which then goes to the runner-up, who everyone inside the sport of cycling knows with 99% probability was also doping. But the runner up never gets tested which somehow makes it all OK.

I guess they don’t test everybody who raced on a particular day because then there’d be hardly anyone left to give the prize too. Oh, I’m sorry…did I just say something I wasn’t supposed to? It’s about time people woke up and realized you don’t pound up and down mountains and go time trialling flat out across the plains of France for 3 weeks straight on nothing more than pasta and Gatorade.

Most of these upstanding armchair moralists can’t even put their booze and ciggies down long enough to ride their fat asses up Greenhill Road, yet they belittle hard-training, world-class athletes for doing what they must in order to remain competitive? Tossers.

As for those within the cycling community who piss and moan about ergogenic drug-using cyclists, let’s see them pound across France for 3 weeks straight on nothing more than pasta and hot air, and let us observe how many of them finish anywhere near the ass end of the peleton. Until sports authorities have fairer ways of monitoring drug use, then they should stop administering the tests and punishments in a manner that unfairly ostracizes one rider and makes him a scapegoat, when in reality he’s just doing what everyone else he’s competing against is also doing. He’s doing what he needs to do to stay relevant in competition. The organizers ignore this and make a big show of outing one particular rider when he’s unlucky enough to flunk a test.
“Hey, look at us, we’re trying hard to clean up the sport!” No, you’re putting on a load of theatrical PR bullshit, and you’re not above ruining an athlete’s career to do it.

As for Contador, his reasoning was plausible and, if the system was based on the principle of “innocent until proven guilty”, they should have let him go because there is NO proof he deliberately and knowingly took clenbuterol. They claim to have tested meat from the source his allegedly contaminated meat came from, and that it tested negative. But Farmer Raoul could have quickly cleaned out the clen from his vet supplies box and stopped giving it to his livestock after the initial kerfuffle over Contador’s positive test. Not meaning to cast aspersions on the hard-working farmers of Spain, but why should Contador cop the fallout for an unprovable offense? The fact remains they could not go back in time and test the actual cut of meat that Contador ate.

As for him deliberately using clenbuterol for a performance advantage…he had a miniscule amount in his bloodstream, an amount that most other sports organizations wouldn’t even waste their time over. And let’s not talk about how, even when taken in meaningful doses, clen is a crap ergogenic. It significantly raises body temperature and heartbeat…yep, just what an athlete needs as he’s struggling up a mountain in scorching heat!

The other possibility is that, at some point leading up to the race, Contador’s body weight wasn’t on target and he took some clen prior to the TDF to strip some fat off. But given that he was coming off a Giro win, and that clen has a very short half-life, this doesn’t make sense either. The other possibility is that the testing was a screw-up. If you’ve ever read Landis’s book, you’ll know that there are serious concerns about the quality of testing in some European labs.

Bottom line: Stripping an athlete of the TDF and Giro titles he worked so hard for, over a trivial amount of serum clen they cannot even begin to prove he took deliberately, is bullshit. And the people gloating over Contador’s loss and dumping all over him like he’s the devil incarnate are no doubt predominantly a bunch of jealous non-achievers. Andy Schleck, not an armchair tosser but one of the current crop of world’s best road cyclists, said that he takes no pleasure in Contador’s suspension, even though the 2010 TDF title gets handed to him:
“First of all I feel sad for Alberto. I always believed in his innocence. This is just a very sad day for cycling….”If now (sic) I am declared overall winner of the 2010 Tour de France it will not make me happy. I battled with Contador in that race and I lost.
“My goal is to win the Tour de France in a sportive (sic) way, being the best of all competitors, not in court.
“If I succeed this year, I will consider it my first Tour victory.”

Unlike the shrill Internet experts who revel in reviling Contador, Andy showed a tonne of class when he made those comments. Even the greatest road cyclist of all time, Eddy “The Cannibal” Merccx, is disgusted with the way things have transpired.
“It’s a sad day for Alberto Contador, it’s a sad day for cycling,” he told Eurosport.
Merckx, who himself had tested positive in controversial circumstances during his career which saw him win 475 races, believes the trace amount of clebuterol found in Contador’s urine – 50 picograms per litre, a far lower level than most anti-doping labs are able to detect – means the Spaniard should have been acquitted.
“I think we’re going too far,” Merckx said.
“The level of the (doping) control was incredibly low, and it’s only in cycling that this kind of thing can happen.
“It’s a terrible thing,” he added. “Alberto Contador has won a lot of competitions (races), not just the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia, we saw the way he rode the Giro last year, he doesn’t deserve this.
“I’m the first to say that we need good anti-doping tests,” Merckx said.
“But I think that in cycling they go too far.”

I don’t claim to have an answer to the drugs-in-sport problem, but I do know that as long as there are performance enhancing drugs, and until there is foolproof testing (which will quite possibly be never), then there will always be drug use in sport - any sport, and most likely every sport.  As such, authorities and the public should seriously consider the virtues of  harm minimization strategies. As an example, since the introduction of the hematocrit limits aimed at curbing EPO use, riders have reportedly switched to “microdosing”. This change in tactic has been accompanied by a cessation in the string of deaths linked to EPO use in the late 90s and early 2000s.  If athletes insist on using these drugs, and they will, then why not monitor them and ensure as much as possible that they are doing so in a manner that will pose minimal or no threat (or even possible benefit) to their health?

And for those of you who piously scoff that performance enhancing drugs could ever be anything other than evil, health-destroying agents, then it’s time to pull your head out of your ass. Judicious use of testosterone and HGH, for example is routinely used by enlightened physicians to help prevent the muscle and bone loss associated with aging. And when a cyclist can come back from the ravages of cancer and win 7 Tour de France titles, instead of pissing and moaning that he was an EPO-using cheat and launching idiotic criminal investigations to prove as much, how about diverting the money into research to examine whether judicious doses of EPO can be used to help alleviate the debilitating fatigue commonly suffered by cancer patients, and to accelerate their recovery after treatment?

When someone like Sylvester Stallone uses testosterone and HGH to keep in amazing physical condition for a man in his 60s, instead of turning green with envy and dismissing him as a “juicehead” to make yourself feel better about your own sloppy physical condition, how about campaigning for further research into the anti-aging effects of these drugs, so you too may one day be able to legally use them for your own benefit? If it’s OK for doctors to prescribe poorly studied doses of HRT to women, why not judicious doses of testosterone to aging men?

Not only would such a harm minimization strategy be much fairer than the current idiotic scenario in which individual athletes are caught, not because they are isolated bad apples, but because they were unlucky enough to be tested at the wrong time; it would also provide potential flow-on benefits in terms of health and medical knowledge to the general public. But of course, this would require a widespread embrace of common sense instead of shrill finger-pointing, it would require people to discard the high-and-mighty moralizing that allows them to feel better about their own physical inferiority, and it would require doping authorities and politicians to relinquish a lucrative soapbox.

Whether the general public and sports authorities have the maturity and sense of reason to even consider such a course remains to be seen.

My comment: - Wow, it's a bit of a rant - but maybe there are some valid points? - However I'd just like to add that Gary and I do not advocate drug taking of any kind - (we're not counting alcohol are we?).

Monday, 20 February 2012

Sunday sun day....

How could I resist? - a beautiful, sunny sunday, cold but spring-like and inviting.

I have noticed blackbirds are now singing at dawn and dusk as they start to mark their spring territories. Even when the weather remains cold, the lengthening hours of daylight continue to bring birds closer to breeding condition. Gradually the birds will sing for longer periods each day as spring moves closer.

Weeping willows are beginning to put out fresh green leaves, only two or three months after losing last year’s - which still lie like small purple fish on the ground or in the water beneath them. Small flowers like silvery buttons are appearing... the white bells of snowdrops are nodding on innumerable verges.

As I pedal I make a conscious effort to look around - I'm not too interested in going fast - today it's about looking and seeing and enjoying a few hours out in the fresh air. As I approach Newton Burgoland I stop at a farm gate and dismount for a while. I take a drink and lean against the gate to survey the landscape. There is an extraordinary stillness almost a suspense. It is a charming characteristic of English weather that at times, one season borrows days from another. Spring from summer, winter from spring. And it may be that these milky days of winter which seemed borrowed from March or April are filled with the sadness of things out of their time. Or it may be with ourselves, with our sudden nostalgia for sunlight. There is a remarkable grace about the trees here, a laceiness, a pattern. From afar they have the permanence of steel, they save the land from barrenness.

I mount up and move on - the sun feels warm. There are lots of people about today - ramblers, dog walkers, cyclists - I even saw a man on roller blades. The sunny warmth seems to have tempted everyone out. Badgers are spring-cleaning their setts - in the autumn they take in bracken and leaves to make a warm, steamy chamber for the winter, but now they are pushing out the old and replacing it with new moss and early plants - their cubs will be born soon and they will need plenty of fresh, clean bedding. The cubs will not be seen above ground until April or May, by which time they will look like small versions of their parents. I pass a field that contains at least a hundred molehills. As the sun catches them they resemble a minature mountain range.

I am often surprised how my mind drifts when I'm out on my bike - sometimes I'm totally lost somewhere and suddenly realise I've travelled the last x amount of miles without being fully aware of where I am or where I'm going. Today I found myself mulling over the idea of how unnatural products pass through the marketing department and are presented as wholesome and natural. Early cars had names that suggested grace and speed and nature - Swallow, Jaguar, Alvis Silver Eagle, Singer Gazelle, Humber Super Snipe etc. They were the precursor of the present rash of 4WDs, SUVs - we have a surfeit of acronyms these days - We had better pass over the Jaguar SS.

When I got back I sat down and enjoyed watching the Cycling World Cup on TV held at the new Velodrome in London. It was exciting stuff - the speeds are incredible but the most striking thing was the size of the riders' thighs!!! - huge, particularly the German riders for some reason. Take a look!

Friday, 17 February 2012

Out again!!!

After so much inactivity I've been out two days on the trot! - this time I decided on a longer ride, taking in a visit to my mother in Barton under Needwood - it is an afternoon to escape my desk and computer screen - I must get out and ride; escape into the countryside and be a part of it.

I set off at a pace - pushing a big gear and moving along in excess of 20mph. That lasts for about 100 yards and then the headwind confronts me - suddenly it feels like I'm dragging a builders' bag of rubble. My legs start to burn and my breathing sounds like a blacksmiths bellows - but perforated. I slow to 9mph up the first gentle rise and feel just a smidge despondent.

But at least it's warm; no sun though, there's low lying cloud masking the blue as I make my way towards Measham. The countryside glints with the shimmering guilt of nostalgia, waiting for the return of haystacks, heavy horses and corn dollies. This is distant Albion in the afternoon. In the fields there is machinery that graze like huge dinosaurs - things with retractable arms, grabbers, shovers, cutters, wrappers, sifters, shakers and stereophonic sound and air-con - Sort of Jules Verne meets the Wacky races. But no people and no sign of anything being done - just the mossy fuzz of wheat emerging through the brown earth. The hedge cutters have finished their work and moved on. The strips of hedgerow look pristinely manicured, their horny tips chamfered and ready for a new spurt of growth.

As I pass through Netherseal and on towards Coton in the Elms the sun peeps out to take a look at the fields below. A gentle warmth flows over me as I climb the short hill out of Coton and on towards Walton on Trent. Then there's a smell; a thick, sweet pungent aroma - either someone has dropped a large consignment of French cheese just beyond the hedge or else the farmers here have been muck spreading.

By 3.15 I am at Barton, weaving through traffic calming measures and parked cars, it's been a testing ride, all the way into the wind and my legs can feel the effort. After a couple of hours and some mashed potatos at Mum's I'm on my way back. I have lights but they're not quite needed. The light is still strong enough - it's good to note the days are lengthening rapidly. The fierce hill from Walton tests me again - my legs are burning with the effort and at the top I'm grateful when the road flattens. It's a fast ride now back towards Netherseal - and I stop briefly to click on my lights. As I approach the final few miles the sky is darkening. If you got a piece of white cloth and soaked it in water, then tipped a bottle of indigo ink onto it, so that the ink bled and ran - that would be how the sky looks now - with just a streak of orange light falling onto the dark grey brown earth. The torn edges of violet clouds are almost savage and the sky moves through a darker blue and then grey as the light dies at last. I arrive home having cycled 45 miles - my legs are slightly wobbly - I feel I have pushed myself - just a little.

Thursday, 16 February 2012


I haven't been out much. The cold snap and a spate of busyness at work meant that I a) didn't fancy it .... and b) couldn't find the time. Pathetic excuses, I know. However, it feels warmer - the days are most definitely longer - and there's more optimism in the air.

Last weekend Gary and I organised a quiz night for a village fundraiser. We managed to include a few cycling questions and the event raised around £180.00 in total. The evening reminded me that, a few years ago, we regularly played in pub quizzes in the area. I particularly remember one quiz, our answer to a question was 'The Starship Enterprise'. It is an indication, either of our lack of knowledge or the deviousness of the question setter, that the correct answer was 'The Flying Scotsman'.

 So, It's Wednesday afternoon, I'm wrapped up and out on the bike - which looks like it's been used to plough a field - really must get it cleaned. There's a slight breeze but in general it's bright and fresh. The lanes drift away into the gentle mist - this landscape is that of my childhood - of books and tales of Robin Hood and merry men dressed in green. The hedges are being cut at the moment, the debris is considerable and the tiny steel-hard barbs that are strewn along the road are a cyclists worst enemy. It suddenly occurs to me - those thousands of miles... or hundreds of thousands of miles of hedge that have been destroyed since the war - I’m damned if i can see where they went? - Olde England must have been cluttered in an endless maze of prickly hawthorn.

I pedal on, surprised at my speed - I'm moving along at around 20mph - feeling good, strong even. I feel myself smile - it is so enjoyable getting out again. My imagination moves to the months ahead - the soft breath of warm air, a cockerel crowing, the cry of a blackbird, shorts and short sleeves...all quicken the mind into re-creation.

The mantra of modern culture that most of hold close to our hearts is "Lord, grant me instant gratification” but, released from the bondage of riches and avarice, the reward for those who seek out the simple pleasure of riding a bike will be worth more. This simple, utilitarian, ubiquitous machine, little changed since the birth of the mechanical age can still hold its own. Even though millions of things have been conceived, manufactured and used - millions and millions of gadgets, great and small. And our lives are awash with the efforts of ingenuity and physics. But how many of these things have made the jump from utility to culture?

I'm approaching home now - all that is left of the day’s brightness is the vivid yellowy orange of the sun sinking low between skeletal black trees with distant, bleak mauve hills against a grey sky. I flick on my lights as the day turns darker and I arrive home. I'm still smiling as I push my bike into the garage.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Old Photographs...

There's something interesting about old photographs of cyclists... here's a few I like that I found on the web...

Gino Bartalli

Can't believe the angle of this?

Jacques Anquetil

Monday, 6 February 2012

What the devil.....

German artist Didi Senft, known in the bike racing world as 'the devil' for his unusual habit of dressing up in a red costume with tail and pitchfork and, ahem, encouraging riders in races such as the Tour de France is claiming a new world record: the world's largest tandem.

At 81.5 kilograms the giant two-seater is in no danger of upsetting the UCI's weight limit commissaires, though its 6.38 meter length and 3.13m height almost certainly contravene a whole raft of technical rules.

Senft says he hopes the enormous bike will make it into the next edition of 'The Book of Alternative Records', alongside the backwards cycling hour record (29.1 kilometres) and the record for running 100 meters in Wellington boots filled with custard.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Winter chills.....

I like Saturday mornings. There is a rhythm and routine that I enjoy; the clunk of the letterbox as the morning newspapers arrive; tea and toast in bed; radio 2 on in the background. We linger, greedily scouring the various parts of the papers and reading out bits to each other, adding comments where appropriate. I always enjoy this start to the weekend.

This week was different however, my good lady is away visiting her Mum and I am alone. I busied myself with chores around the house, finally settling down with a late breakfast and a chance to read the newspapers. I was quite taken by a story about Richard Handl who was arrested for trying to split the atom on his cooker at home - I'm not making this up - apparently everything you need is readily available on ebay or in smoke detectors or antique luminous dial clocks. So this guy collected the various elements, mixed them up in a saucepan on his stove with sulphuric acid and beryllium - the neutrons that were emanating from this concoction were then gathered somehow into a test tube to be fired at a chunk of uranium sealed in a glass marble - He sent an email to the authorities just as a courtesy thing really, letting them know what he was up to and to make sure he wasn't breaking any laws. He was taken away in handcuffs. Apparently he's now studying to become a pharmacist. Great story!

It's been cold here. Freezing in fact. I just couldn't drum up the enthusiasm to venture out on the bike - which is the wrong attitude, especially with the idea of grinding up Mont Ventoux now a reality rather than a fantasy. So after a few drinks in the pub on Friday, Gary and I arranged to meet on Saturday afternoon and put a few miles into our legs.

There was the grey-rose light of a cold winters afternoon as we made our way through the lanes. We were both well wrapped - layers of vests, t-shirts, shirts, coats and fleeces - all very effective. I had expected to suffer, with the temperatures hovering at freezing point or just below. Gary had a particularly energetic burst of speed as we rode up the hill into Carlton village - he commented that his legs were still carrying some memory of the Land's End to John O'Groats ride - mine were suffering from Alzheimers.

Then it started to snow. We were expecting it - the forecast had been clear and precise - snow, and lots of it - today. Snow is one of the loveliest of all natural events. Lovelier than frost or winter moonlight and in England it comes seldom enough to be a rare joy - and, I think, never lingers long enough to be truly wearisome. It falls and performs its brief white miracle of transformation and vanishes again before the senses have grown used to the amazing whiteness. The beauty of the sky opening above the snow-lined trees and the eerie stillness of the quiet land. I am not talking about snow in towns or cities - this is not the most lovely winter phenomenon but probably the most depressing and hated - I am talking about snow which falls in the country, opening out in wonderful ways its distances, creating a feeling of great light and tranquil spaciousness. There is no stillness in the world like that of the world under snow. The stillness in summer is made up of an effect of sounds, many drowsy sounds like the warm monotonous moan of pigeons and the dreamy fluttering of thick leaves - sounds which send the air half to sleep and create a singing silence which is most tangible in the heart of warm summer afternoons. But the silence of snow is absolute - it’s the silence of death and suspense. It has a paralysing effect, deadening the wind, freezing the voices of birds. It is a silence that is completely tranquil and profound and most wonderful when the snow has finally ceased. And then sometimes, the fall of snow on snow, through the silence of snow, is the perfection of beauty, a paradox of silence and fluttering and dancing movement. These thoughts made my journey home more rewarding. I wasn't worried that by now I was thoroughly coated in a white, frosty layer or that my hands, legs and feet were feeling the chill - I was happy to be out there, in it and part of it.

Friday, 3 February 2012

En Francais.....

J'ai pensé que je pourrais obtenir une certaine pratique avec mon français. Alors nous y voilà - Bien sûr, je suis en utilisant Google Translate - ce qu'est un établissement fantastique - si je peux trouver un moyen de le transporter quand nous sommes là-bas je suis sûr que ce sera utile.

Voici une phrase: "Avez-vous une bouteille vraiment bon de Geverey Chambertin s'il vous plaît?"

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Cold feet....

If, like me, you tend to suffer with chilly tootsies when the temperature drops, the answer might be this... Balmosa Cream.

I am just reading that this cream, originally intended for the elderly to treat chilblains, is now being adopted by a range of different sportspeople as a relief for muscular sprains and to help post-exercise aches and pains - It is also claimed that it could be the answer to keeping toes warm in sub-zero conditions. If anybody fancies trying it I'd be interested to hear if it works.