Gary emerges, blinking, into a new year with Ned Boulting’s latest offering
On paper, the 2014 edition of le Grand Boucle must have looked a banker for anyone thinking about recording it for posterity in a book. Cavendish v Kittel in the sprints, a 3-way tussle between Messrs Froome, Contador and Nibali in the mountains for the Yellow Jersey: the race appeared to have all the ingredients for a classic, one we’d be talking about in years to come. But the expectations that preceded the race were dented somewhat on the run-in to Harrogate on Stage 1. They were cracked further before the cobbles of Arenberg on Stage 5 and then pretty much bit the dust on the descent off le Petit Ballon on stage 10.It’s notable, therefore, that Ned Boulting’s third (and a half, if you count How Cav Won the Green Jumper
) book, 101 Damnations…
is sub-titled “Dispatches from
the 101st Tour de France” rather than “Dispatches about
Spoiler alert: the book concludes with the words:
“Had I enjoyed the Tour?
Let me think about it.”
While his debut How I Won The Yellow Jumper was a précis of Ned’s Tours from 2003 to 2010, and captured the excitement as well as the madness that surrounds the race, 101 Damnations… sometimes appears weary, particularly in the early chapters – sorry, stages – an unwell author covered the opening week from Leeds into Flanders. From an ITV (and therefore mainstream British) perspective, interest in the race had taken a kicking by that point. The focus and narrative had been forcibly shifted by events on the road and I’m sure would have flung any producer’s plans into disarray. The tone lifts noticeably as Ned’s health and spirits are renewed as the race gets going properly after what I always think is, to some extent – the phony war of the first week.
Like its predecessor, it gives the reader a revealing glimpse into the unglamorous world of being a journalist following the Tour. Let’s be honest, we’d kill for a crack at it, but I’m not sure I’d survive much beyond le Depart.
As you’d expect, Ned continues to deconstruct the Tour de France in 101 Damnations and he’s never been shy of poking a stick in the eye of all its its pomposity or the riders, where most needed. The trouble is, when you’ve done it once, it’s difficult to keep doing so. So while HIWTYJ had 8 Tours’ worth of characters to assassinate or eulogise (from Lance to Vino, Cav to Wiggo), 101 Damnations… suffers from having a less stellar cast from which to choose.
With the 2014 edition arguably devoid of characters after little over a week of racing, the hapless Peter Sagan finds himself as a shining glimpse of bewildered colour. After consistently failing to turn his jack of all trades into mastery of crossing the line first this time around, he became the glummest-looking man to ever wear the Maillot Vert. The trouble is, Sagan tends to let his riding do the talking – as well as some other antics – and doesn’t always come across terribly well in interviews. Sagan’s “unluck” will be familiar to ITV4 viewers and listeners of its excellent nightly Tour podcast, but I always feel it just a little mean-spirited to take the mickey out of a guy for whom English is at the least his second language.
Graham referred to Ned as providing the “colour” to ITV4’s coverage when we spoke to him on the Pod a few years back. That’s no criticism, and he does this with some aplomb. That does, however, suggest a frivolity, which doesn’t always sit well with a sport as po-faced as cycling. I often feel that a danger in writing as a humourist can overshadow the gist of what’s really being said, although cycling (and many of its fans) is a pompous ass of a sport, with its archaic traditions and distrust of those who dare challenge these.
But Boulting does “serious” particularly well – in fact, On the Road Bike is in many ways an outlet for this “other” Ned, if you will (the chapter on Maurice Burton, springs immediately to mind here). In 101 Damnations… we get an honest glimpse into the relationship between Peta Cavendish and her occasionally-volatile husband, Mark. We also meet Marcel Kittel, arguably Germany’s least-famous elite sportsperson, at home in Erfurt. But Ned also delves into the history of Le Tour, and of cycling itself. Amid the commemorations of the Great War, there are no-less poignant pieces on Roger Rivière and Gérard Saint, 2 French riders whose careers were extinguished in contrasting circumstances. Rivière, a talent with an ego as big as his appetite for illegal substances; Saint, a rider it was said to have been ready to add spice to the Anquetil/Poulidor battles, but a promise tragically never to be realised.
In many ways, then, the book is less about the 2014 Tour de France than its title might suggest to the casual observer. The race itself is almost a bystander as Ned seems forced to go searching elsewhere for stories, other characters or more colour, returning only occasionally to remind us that something did actually happen on the road from Leeds to Paris.
Had I enjoyed 101 Damnations…?
Undoubtedly, yes. But I get the impression that it was an easier read than it was a write. Perhaps such, after all, is the skill of an author.
101 Damnations: Dispatches from the 101st Tour de France is published by Yellow Jersey. Gary got his copy for his birthday.
Tags: book review
, Ned Boulting
, Tour de France
It’s VCDL’s Last Waltz as Gary & Graham bid a tearful farewell to Sausage Roll Studios with extra helpings of rambling nonsense and Belgian beer. Thanks, listeners – it’s been great fun.
, The End
, World Championship
Gary tries to prove that we’re not dead. Although he probably will be after this…
For ages now, I’ve been trying to articulate my thoughts on the vicious circle that is women’s cycling. Everyone knows it’s broken and everyone thinks they know how to fix it, and that it should be fixed now. And almost everyone is a bloke.
This week, I’ve been watching Half the Road, Kathryn Bertine’s compelling documentary on women’s cycling. Subtitled ‘the passion, pitfalls and power of women’s professional cycling’, it doesn’t just dwell on the wrongs – and they are huge wrongs – but celebrates the women’s sport in a way that makes the viewer understand that it’s something worth fighting for. This isn’t right-on liberalism, raising awareness of some niche pastime; the film shows women’s cycling as the vibrant, exciting and celebratory sport that it is. And its niche is potentially, oh, half the population of planet earth.
I’ve also listened to a short interview with Nicole Cooke, gold medallist at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and World Road Race Champion that same year. Whether the rest of Cooke’s story is down to rampant misogyny in the sport or her seeming inability to play nicely with the other boys and girls, I haven’t quite worked out. But she’s no less a victim of the state of the sport, which is why I mention her here.
So what’s wrong? There’s certainly been progress in 2014. Firstly, the UCI revoked the ridiculous rule forcing women’s teams to have an average age of 28 or under. La Course saw the women’s pro teams race on the Champs Elysees ahead of the arrival of the final stage of this year’s Tour de France in July. The Women’s Tour heralded Britain’s first women’s pro stage race, and one that stood on its own in May and not alongside the men’s Tour of Britain in September. And the Vuelta a Espana has proposed a women’s race for 2015. These are Very Good Things indeed.
So what’s left? Well, let’s talk about equal pay/minimum wage, equal prize money, equal racing and equal media coverage. In 2014, I genuinely (and, you may perhaps argue, naively) do not think the disparity is down to redneck attitudes keeping the womenfolk down. That, of course, is not to say that it wasn’t back in the sport’s often forgettable history. These ongoing problems are inextricably linked by that root of all evil, money. Or more accurately, economics. Let’s look at where the burdens lie here:
Equal pay and/or a minimum wage is met by the teams, who are in turn funded by their sponsors. Sponsors want people to see their name and buy their stuff.
Equal racing and prize money is provided by race organisers, who must pay to host races. A World Tour one day race, for example, can cost up to EU 24,000 plus a contribution of 15% of the total prize fund towards the Biological Passport. The organisers must and also pay prize money subject to minimum purses. They are funded by sponsors, race entry fees and some media rights.
Equal media coverage is provided by – well – the media. They make money by people buying their publications or people subscribing to their television coverage and by advertisers paying to hawk their wares during that coverage. And they also pay for TV rights.
So, the teams can’t pay a minimum unless they have sponsors. Sponsors won’t make money unless their brand is being seen in races and people buy their stuff. They’ll make more money if their brand is seen in more races. But the race organisers say there aren’t enough teams and it’s too expensive to run more races. The media can’t cover a sport that barely exists and will give over airtime and column inches to those that do and that people are interested in. People won’t be interested if there’s no coverage. It’s a vicious circle.
I saw UCI President, Brian Cookson, taking pelters today on Twitter for saying that the time “isn’t right” for a minimum wage in women’s cycling. This is wrong, but that doesn’t mean Brian Cookson is incorrect. We all know that a minimum wage is a fundamental cobble on the pave to equality, but whether we like it or not women’s cycling does still need to develop, not in terms of athleticism or professionalism, but as a package – a product. The impact of imposing a minimum wage on teams could be disastrous when finances are precarious in both women and men’s cycling. Hang on – men’s cycling. Now there’s a thing…
A popular (or at least recurring) idea is that every UCI World Tour team should be compelled to have a women’s team. This is sound in principle but more complicated in execution, although that doesn’t make it a non-starter. The major barrier is again an economic one. Sponsorship budgets are stretched and asking to fund 2 teams means either means asking sponsors for more cash, or the men’s side of the sport having to make some serious adjustments to live within tighter constraints. The latter scenario is not without its appeal, and it could have a raft of benefits: for starters I’m thinking less riders meaning smaller rosters making better racing, especially in stage races. How many women’s races do you see dominated by a single team? Exactly.
There’s one risk of wrapping up men and women into one big happy family tho’. Women often come to the sport from outside the traditional continental men’s route. Former Wall Street associate Evelyn Stevens is an obvious example. Riders and their teams are unburdened by the traditions of the past and the sport is still the better for that fact.
I’m not sure if my rambling has a hard conclusion. If it does, then perhaps it’s this: whatever happens, let’s treat women’s cycling the same in terms of pay, exposure and promotion. But let’s not burden it with all the other crap.
Tags: Half the Road
, Kathryn Bertine
, Women's Cycling
Just to prove it’s not just all good things that must come to an end…
It’s been 4 years almost to the day that the VCDL Podcast first took to the ether and it has been as much a part of our lives as our day jobs and all that entails. In that time we’ve spoken to some great people, made some great friends and spent an awful lot of time talking about the sport of cycling and the cartoon cavalcade of characters that lie therein.
This last couple of months, it’s become a bit of an effort tho’, to keep things fresh and to try and build on a model that is really just a couple of mates sitting around chatting about cycling. With busy work lives and growing children among the other distractions, this week we’ve decided to take a break from producing the Pod. We don’t know for how long or whether indeed we’ll ever return to Sausage Roll Studios, but you won’t be hearing our dulcet tones in the near future, that’s for sure.
But what a 4 years it’s been! Who’d have thought we’d have seen one British Grand Tour winner, let alone 2? Who’d have thought Pat McQuaid would have finally been ousted (and after him emailing Gary and all that)? We’ve seen British World Champions on the road, on the track, on the sides of bloody big hills – and we’ve seen them do it time and time again. We’ve also seen the end of Lance Part 2 and then the end of Lance completely. It’s now almost possible to say you’re a cyclist without someone mentioning him. We’ve seen women’s cycling finally start to build some groundswell as it strives to share our screens and our pages with the men’s sport. We’ve seen the UCI begin to change and we hope it’s for the better. It probably couldn’t have got any worse, could it?
So while we step back from the mic, it’s a good time to thank everyone who has supported us over the last 48 months. So a big shout out to (in no particular order):
– our mate Colin (aka Clewsy), who was in at the beginning and will forever be a Don. One day we might even let him forget the Dan Martin Incident;
– the legend that is Graeme Obree, who arguably gave us our finest hour as we chatted round his kitchen table in Episode 9;
- Richard Moore, who has been a friend and supporter and our “barometer of normal” when the tinfoil hats were out. He also brought his own kitchen table to Episodes 13 and 14 and we’ve never let him forget about it
- Ned Boulting, off of the telly, and whose Real Peloton podcast with Matt Rendell was a huge influence;
- John Galloway from Velocast who joined us on more than one occasion and who snuck us on to his show one week while Scott wasn’t looking;
– The First Lady of VCDL, Tracy Moseley who suffered our stalking so stoically that she appeared on the show twice;
- Brian Smith, now with MTN Qubeka, who got 2 episodes all to himself about 15 jobs ago;
- Mike Jardine at Rare Management, who organise the Fort William MTB World Cup round, where we get to be proper media folks for a weekend;
- Lauren and Pete at Shutt who kept us in competition prizes;
– Kirkcowan Cycles’ own Brian Ferguson who did the same
- Rowan Mackie from Magdala Media, the company that runs the Scottish Bike Show, and who left his show in our hands 2 years running, including leaving Sir Chris Hoy with us;
- Balint Hamvas – Mr Cyclephoto himself – who came on to shoot the ‘cross breeze with Graham and who Gary always manages to avoid somehow;
– Neil and Neil at Rondebike in Edinburgh, who left their shop in our hands for an evening, not once but twice. Okay, it was technically shut, but there were guests;
– Our Olympian listener, Susan Egelstaff, not only from the Herald newspaper but also lately of BBC Radio Scotland. Yeah, baby!
But the biggest thanks go to you, our listeners who actually – amazingly – number in your many thousands. Not only for the downloads, but the emails, the Twitter chat, the fantasy race teams, the Facebook comments and the competitions that made our end of social media very social indeed. It was never just 2 (and 3) voices spouting into the ether but some chat with like-minded friends, and it’s been a blast. Thank you one and all.
This isn’t quite the end, tho’, as the blog will continue and we’ll still be on Twitter and all that. Want to know where to find us on social media? Just forward to the end of any episode. But, then, you probably just do that anyway, don’t you….?
Gary and Graham
Tags: Conscious Uncoupling
, We thought you'd gone months ago
Listener John Irwin has been in touch letting us know about his fledgling bike box rental company, which he’s planning to launch for cyclotourists during 2015.
To help shape the business, John has set up a short survey and is looking to get as much input from Actual Cyclists as he can. You’ll find it here.
The survey will also help raise money for Cyclists Fighting Cancer, a charity that enables children and young people living with cancer across the UK to regain their physical fitness, strength and confidence by giving them new bikes, adapted trikes, tandems, other equipment and support. For every completed survey, John will make a 50p donation to Cyclists Fighting Cancer.
Answering the questions doesn’t take long and all responses will be kept anonymous. John will only contact you if you specifically ask to do so in the survey.
So please take a couple of minutes to help John out. You’ll be helping young cancer patients in the process too.
Tags: Cyclists Fighting Cancer
, UK Bike Box
Not From The Ordinary
I have to confess I’m growing weary of the traditional cycling biography/memoir. Rider is born, rider gets first bike, rider has prodigious 2-wheeled talent. Rider gets a contract, rider wins races. Graham refers to this as “..And Then We Went To The Tour”.
Kathryn Bertine never went to the Tour. Actually, that’s not strictly true. This summer she raced for Wiggle Honda at La Course, the women’s race on the Champs Elysees that preceded the final stage of this year’s Tour de France. And rightly so, as she’s a major force behind Le Tour Entier, the campaign to have a women’s race alongside the men.
But I digress. Bertine also didn’t follow the traditional route into professional cycling, turning pro sufficiently late in life that the usual stories start heading towards “and then we went to the osteopath”.
So The Road Less Taken isn’t your typical cycling book, although Bertine herself concedes in her introduction that this series of essays “ will probably end up on the sports shelf, smushed in with the heroes and how-tos of athleticism, though I wrote it not for athletes but for anyone who has ever had the simplest desire to try something different in their own life.”
Life – real life – is invariably an afterthought in most sports memoirs. Perhaps it’s a lone chapter called “Mum” or the name of a spouse. But real life is interwoven throughout The Road Less Taken. For a solo athlete representing an amoeba-like cycling nation such as St Kitts and Nevis, real life is everywhere. The problems faced by the solo pro are exactly the same as those faced by a Cat 4 racer or just any normal person: how do I get there? Where do I eat? Where do I sleep? How do I pay for this?
An underlying theme of The Road Less Taken is Bertine’s quest to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, one which takes her from the USA to Europe, via Central America and back again. Several times. It’s here that you get the true glimpse of the single-minded purpose of professional athletes chasing a dream: there’s no programme here, no stated goals, “Olympic cycle” or medal quotas here. Instead there’s the pursuit of “what if?”. What if this (almost certainly doomed) solo break sticks or even just means I can stay with the peloton after the catch?
Being brave enough to chase “what if?” means being brave (or at least resilient) enough to deal with the setbacks. The broomwagon, the UCI, the mechanicals, the having-to-do-it-all. The fear (dodgy hotel rooms in Central America!), the failure. Actually, not the failure, as Bertine herself reminds us that “DNF is better than DNS” – in cycling and in life.
The setbacks are, however, just part of the book’s subtitle, lessons from a life spent cycling. As you might expect, Bertine talks passionately about inequalities that loom over women’s cycling (and later in the book, women’s sport more generally) but never makes that the point of her existence. She’s an activist (Le Tour Entier, Half the Road), not some whinger on Twitter. Crucially, it is about women’s cycling through the lens of women’s cycling, not within the shadow of the men’s sport.
The Road Less Taken is just a chapter in Kathryn Bertine’s story. Her previous books chronicle her incarnations as a pro figure skater and triathlete (among other sports!). And here we see her as a cyclist, a daughter and a ‘Bonus Wife’ – you’ll have to read the book for that tho’!
An honest and inspiring read, it’s bike racing, but it’s also life.
The Road Less Taken is published by Triumph Books and available in the UK from Amazon.
Tags: book review
, Kathryn Bertine
, Women's Cycling
I am never really sure about the term coffee table book. It seems to damn with faint praise and suggest a conversation piece rather than a serious resource. “Welcome to my home. Why yes, I do like the scenic landscapes of Iceland, please feel free to flick through my coffee table book on the subject.”
It would be easy to look at the Cyclocross 2013/2014 photo album with its heft and its full-page images and just see it as a coffee table book (indeed it is referred to in this way on Balint’s own site) but I prefer to see it as the stories that made up a season, albeit our story teller is a photographer, with a little help from his friends.
Balint Hamvas, who we have interviewed on the pod on a couple of occasions (you can listen here and here), has been producing these season-long photo memoirs for several years now. His commitment to the sport is up there with the riders, the teams and the helpers – just ask him how many miles he travels in a year to cover the races.
The 2013/2014 album opens, fittingly, with an emotional piece written by Simon Burney remembering Amy Dombroski, whose death in an accident whilst training cast a shadow over the ‘cross community that would darken the entire season. The picture of Nikki Harris’ finish-line tribute in Ronse will surely become one of the enduring memories of the season. An image that you can’t look at without sharing a terrible sadness.
Balint then leads us through the season courtesy of his wonderful photos, punctuated by some great writing, such as the Battle of the Lowlands piece by Car0line Cardinaels, which charts the rivalries between Belgium and The Netherlands in the muddy fields of cyclocross.
Fans are treated to a photo essay of (one of) Britain’s darlings of ‘cross, the ever popular and entirely lovable Helen Wyman. Notable in this story is the lack of specific cyclocross photos, suggesting that Balint is not afraid to step away from the competition arena and bring us the personal side of the sport. This is a theme throughout the book, which doesn’t just settle for standard race photos but instead seeks to give us a flavour of the whole event.
I have used the word story several times, deliberately. Each photo serves to give us access to the races as if we were fans in attendance. Just as you can smell the beer and taste the frites of Koksijde, you can almost hear the whistling wind and see the tumbleweed barreling across the deserted grounds of Rome’s poorly received effort.
A sense of melancholy rounds out the book with a look back on the career of Niels Albert who was forced to retire earlier this year as a result of cardiac arrhythmia. He is to stay in the sport in a management role but anyone who has watched cyclocross over the last few years will lament the end of his riding career. This chapter serves as a fitting tribute for one of the sport’s biggest names.
Balint’s love for cyclocross has given those of us who share his passion a wonderful way of reliving each season & we should be quick to thank him for his efforts. As he moves on to the next logical phase of his career, that of giving up the day job and becoming a full time freelance photographer, we wish him every success and we look forward to sharing in the stories of many seasons to come.
You can purchase the book from Balint’s website and it should come as no surprise to you that I highly recommend that you do.
Many thanks to Balint for sending us copies of the book and for allowing us to reproduce these images as part of the review.
Tags: Balint Hamvas
, book review
We are half way through the Vuelta, so what better time to express ill-founded opinions on Froome’s performance & Dan Martin’s riding style. We look at the final round of the MTB World Cup, indulge in idle speculation surrounding rider transfers and congratulate Daryl Impey’s legal team.
Daryl Impey’s very unusual case on Sport 24
Don’t forget to check out the full video for Bike Rider by Mungo’s Hi Fi on YouTube. The album Serious Time is available on CD, vinyl and download from Scotch Bonnet Records as well as iTunes and other download-type interweb emporia.
Please leave us a comment below or e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org
– we’d love to hear from you! You can also use the Wiggle & Chain Reaction Cycles links to help support the show.
Tags: Daryl Impey
, MTB World Cup
, VCDL Ain't Gonna Play Sun City
In this episode we break the mould by bringing you our Vuelta preview before the race has even started. Gary brings you the MTB news since Graham was too lazy to even bother watching it. We also discuss JTL’s epic bender and conclude that he’s a very silly boy!
Interesting Things That Caught Our Eye Over the Last Fortnight also include the 2014 Ridley Scottish Cyclocross Series, Grit.cx – a new cyclocross digital mag and website from the people who brought you Singletrack magazine and cycling art from listener Rudi Nadler.
(And, yes, we know this pic is from the 2012 Vuelta but it’s the only way we could get a cheap ‘Tensions at the Vuelta after-race party as Alberto Contador lifts Jonathan Tiernan-Locke’s brandy…’ gag in here)
Please leave us a comment below or e-mail us at email@example.com
– we’d love to hear from you! You can also use the Wiggle & Chain Reaction Cycles links to help support the show.
, MTB World Cup
, Stomach Pump
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It’s almost time..
Dates for the 2014 Ridley Scottish Cyclocross Series and Scottish CX Championships have been confirmed.
The 6-round series kicks-off at Callander Park, Falkirk on Sunday 5 October and zig-zags its way across the country before concluding at Glengorm Castle on Mull on Saturday 13 December. The Scottish nationals will take place at Knockburn Loch, Banchory the preceding week.
The full calendar is:
2014 Ridley Scottish CX Series & Championships
5th Oct – Callander Park, Falkirk
12th Oct – Strathclyde Park
26th Oct – Irvine Beach
2nd Nov – Auchentoshan, Clydebank
23rd Nov – Lochore Meadows, Lochgelly
13th Dec – Glengorm Castle, Isle of Mull
2014 Scottish Cyclocross Championships
7th Dec – Knockburn Loch, Banchory
Full details and links to online entry (via the British Cycling site) can be found over at the Scottish Cyclocross website, where you’ll also find links to other non-series races.