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The VCDL Guide to the Classics: Part Three – The Ardennes

21.04.15 | Permalink | Comment? Posted by Gary

Our tedious guide mercifully (and belatedly) reaches its conclusion in the Ardennes…


An anomaly in cycling: something that started in 1966 being considered one of the three Ardennes Classics. And it’s sponsor is a brewery, not some newspaper.

amstelSo you scoff at the idea of a bike race in Holland, but the proliferation of the suffix “berg” in the route shows that this race takes in all the hills in Holland. Sometimes on multiple occasions.

Starting in Maastricht, the race heads east before essentially becoming 3 separate loops around the town of Valkenburg and the famous Cauberg, which will be tackled 4 times, including the finish.

We call it
Gary Moore/Thin Lizzy (Amstel in Love with You)

De Winningest Rider
Jan Raas (1977-80, 1982)

2014 Winner
Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team)

2015 Winner
Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick Step) (Some “preview” this!!)

Things to post on Twitter
If only VCDL had posted their preview before this race today…
Where’s the women’s race? #disgrace

Things not to post on Twitter
But this is supposed to be in Holland.


First run in 1936, La Fleche Wallonne (Walloon Arrow) is traditionally held mid-week between Amstel Gold (which we shamefully ignored in this guide) and Liège–Bastogne–Liège. Fleche is the easiest of all the Spring Classics as Italian and Spanish riders have won it 8 times in the last decade.

The Gewiss-Ballan team led home a historic 1-2-3 in the 1994 edition, finishing a minute and 14 seconds ahead of the chase group. This is why any team winning a bike race today and having other riders strongly-placed is the immediate subject of Twitter suspicion. Except of course Team Sky, who just always are.

Starting this year in Waremme, near Liege, and heading in a looping south westerly direction for 92km, before 3 circuits, it’s really all about the legendary Mur de Huy, which will tackled no fewer than 3 times, including the finish. The 1300m climb which peaks at 22% isn’t one for the explosive climbers but perhaps more the diesel engines, as witnessed when Cadel Evans winched his way from the back to win in the Rainbow Jersey in 2010. We liked that. The route to the Mur will also feature in Stage 3 of this year’s Tour de France, which is just plain rotten.

De Winningest Riders
Marcel Kint (1943-45)
Eddy Merckx (1967, 1970, 1972)
Moreno Argentin (1990, 1991, 1994)
Davide Rebellin (2004, 2007, 2009)

2014 Winner
Alejandro Valverde, Movistar

Things to post on Twitter
This is still one of the most iconic races in the calendar – I love the Mur.
[Insert name] looks good on this first ascent of the Mur. One eye on July?

Things not to post on Twitter
That uphill finish won’t suit Mark Cavendish. #fact


The fourth of cycling’s 5 Monuments (along with Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and Il Lombardia) La Doyenne was first held in 1892. Notable for being the oldest of the Spring Classics and a race that Andy Schleck has won. Really, in 2009. Look it up.

Arguably the toughest of the Classics, L-B-L is a thick end of 260km, figure of 8 route, taking in famous names like the Cotes de la Redoute, Stockeu (remember Fabs neutralising the Tour peloton on its descent in 2010?) and St Nicolas, which was shoved into the final kms in 1992 just to cheer everyone up.

Archief Diversen moreDe Winningest Rider
Eddy Merckx (1969, 1971-73, 1975)

2014  Winner
Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEDGE)

Things to post on Twitter
The descent off the Stockeu will be key if he’s going to stay away.
Right, that’s the Classics over with. I can remove my arm warmers now.

Things not to post on Twitter
Thank Christ these one day races are over with. When’s the Tour?

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The VCDL Guide to the Classics: Part Two – The Cobbled Classics

25.03.15 | Permalink | Comment? Posted by Gary

21_bigContinuing our lacking-in-depth coverage of the new season, here’s all you didn’t realise that you need to know about the lumpy stuff…


Originally named after the nearby E3 motorway, the E3 Prijs Vlaanderen first took place in 1958. The road is now the A14 but the race name changed to E3 Harelbeke in 2011, gifting us literally minutes of hilarity with our annual references to the E3 Harold Bishop.

The race marks the start of Vlaamse Wielerweek, a week of racing culminating at the Tour of Flanders the following weekend.

All over the place like some mad woman’s shite, wending its way across East Flanders and Wallonia with no fewer than 17 hills, many on cobbles. Look out for familiar names like Eikenberg, Kapelberg, Paterberg and Oude Kwaremont. A new climb was introduced in 2014, the 1500m cobbled Karnemelkbeekstraat, which Peter Sagan used to launch what would be his winning move.

We call it
Harold Bishop

De Winningest Rider
Tom Boonen (2004-2007, 2012)

2014 Winner
Peter Sagan (Cannondale)

Things to post on Twitter
I’m only watching this because I love Our Sport™ so much, not to support the misogynist organisers

Things not to post on Twitter
I didn’t see what the fuss was about that poster
I told my boss I was off sick today, but I’m pissed on the Kapelberg with my brother-in-law LOLS!


Sometimes called “the Spinters Classic”, given the flat finish of the course, first held in 1934. Despite its position in the calendar, still not officially considered to be part of Vlaamse Wielerweek (this is the sport of cycling, remember?).

The women’s edition was introduced in 2012.

The race heads from Leinze (not actually Gent itself) towards the Flanders coast, so expect wind and echelons. The centrepiece of the race, tho’, is arguable the loop that takes in the trio of the Baneberg, Kemmelberg and Monteberg – twice.

We call it
Amazingly enough, Gent-Wevelgem.

De Winningest Riders
Robert Van Eenaeme (1936, 1937, 1945)
Rik Van Looy (1956, 1957, 1962)
Eddy Merckx (1967, 1970, 1973)
Mario Cipollini (1992, 1993, 2002)
Tom Boonen (2004, 2011, 2012)

2014 Winner
Men – John Degenkolb (Team Giant Shimano)
Women – Lauren Hall (Optum-Kelly Benefit Strategies)

Things to post on Twitter
It’s a fitting tribute to this race that all those great names are tied on 3 wins each

Things not to post on Twitter
If Cippolini won it 3 times, how hard can it really be?


First held in 1913.  This is when it starts to get proper serious and Vlaanderens Mooste will make even the most jaded fan moist.

The women’s edition was introduced in 2008, having been won previously by the likes of Marianne Vos and Nicole Cooke.  A tough race for tough women too.

Asterisk Subject to Change.  The race has seen more than its share of changes over the years but has started in Bruges since 2008.  De Ronde switched to its current finish in Oudenaarde in 2012 and the town has been the focal point of the main exchanges since then, as well as a slightly controversial spectators village with grandstanding and the likes.  We’ve said before, cycling adapts to change slowly…

Of course, it’s all about the cobbles and the fun really begins on the famous Koppenberg, a narrow and mercifully short 10% climb (max 22%!!)  which starts to sort out the hard men from mere men.  With “only” 45km to the finish from there, the Koppenberg is followed by Steenbeekdries (5.3%) and Taaienberg (6.6%) in quick succession.  From there, the riders take on the Kluisberg before a series of loops that combine 3 ascents of the Oude Kwaremont (2.2km at 4%) and 2 of the Paterberg with a maximum gradient of 20%.  If this was the Vuelta we’d be calling it inhuman.  Or something.

Oh, and the women’s race might not be as long as the men’s, but it loops around the Oudenaarde area, consisting of much of the same lumpy stuff.

We call it
De Ronde, to sound exotic and interesting. The Ronde of Flanders, to sound like idiots.

De Winningest Riders
Fiorenzo Magni
(1949, 1950, 1951)
Achiel Buysse (1940, 1941, 1943)
Eric Leman (1970, 1972, 1973)
Johan Museeuw (1993, 1995, 1998)
Tom Boonen (2005, 2006, 2012)
Fabian Cancellara (2010, 2013, 2014)

Mirjam Melchers-Van Poppel (2005, 2006)
Judith Arndt (2008, 2012)

2014 Winner
Men - Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing)
Women – Ellen van Dijk (Boels-Dolmans)

Things to post on Twitter
We’re here, Tweeting live from top of the Paterberg!
Those hospitality tents in Oudenaarde are a symbol of corporate greed that insults the endeavour of the riders

Things not to post on Twitter
Our live Tweets will be delayed as the other half is watching the Eastenders omnibus
These prawn sandwiches are lovely


In France, although the race starts in Paris in the same way that a budget airline may fly there.  Goes near Belgium, so that’s still hard.  La Reine (“Queen of the Classics”) or, more popularly, l’Enfer du Nord (“Hell of the North”) was first raced in 1896.

Bernard Hinault only raced it once, winning in 1981 and describing it as “bullshit”. This is, however, not true – he’d ridden it before in 1980 and would ride it again in 1982. He did call it “bullshit” tho’.

Kicks off in Compiegne, some 80-odd km north north-east of Paris and wanders over 253km to Roubaix, near the Belgian border.  Oh, and in between there will be  53km over 27 secteurs of infamous cobbled pave.  Nippy.  3 of these secteurs will feature in stage 4 of this year’s Tour de France, giving people like us the opportunity to make lazy punditry like “Cancellara with one eye on July, perhaps?”

The race finishes with a lap of the famous Roubaix Velodrome, which will often see weary track sprint tactics play out after the proverbial Sunday in Hell.

The jury’s out on whether it’s a more iconic race in the dry (= dust) or the rain (= carnage).  This jury contains no-one who has ridden, or will ever ride, the race.

We call it

Coureurs avec les plus de victories
Roger De Vlaeminck
(1972, 1974, 1975, 1977)
Tom Boonen (2005, 2008, 2009, 2012)

2014 Winner
Niki Terpstra
(Omega Pharma-Quick Step)

Things to post on Twitter
[Insert name of rider showing strongly on cobbles] – perhaps an eye on July?
[Team x] need to be well-positioned before the Carrefour de l’Arbre if this is going to come off for them today

Things not to post on Twitter
I’ve ridden at South Queensferry so I can tell you how much they’re suffering here
No wonder Hinault only rode this once.


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Blog Posts

The VCDL Guide to the Classics: Part 1.5 – Milan – San Remo

16.03.15 | Permalink | Comment? Posted by Gary

We continue our inessential guide to the early season…


Of course, it’s not all about the gritty war-torn fields on northern Europe.  It just seems that way.  Milan-San Remo is the first ‘proper’ Spring Classic of the season.  They even call it La Primavera, or “springtime”, which is nice, but probably only works in Latin-based languages.  Calling any of the cobbled classics “Voorjaar” wouldn’t have quite the same romance, we fear.

Not in Belgium.   First raced in 1907, Milan-San Remo is the longest one-day race in the pro calendar.  Unlike many other races, it actually starts and finishes in the places its name suggests.

There’s as yet no women’s race.  We are but the messengers.

A generally flat route, this is nevertheless no pleasant Sunday club run from Milan down to the Ligurian coast, crossing the legendary Passo del Turchino and featuring the Cipressa and Poggio climbs inside the last 25km.  This generally allows us to make lazy statements like “if they can get [insert name of sprinter of your choice] to the foot of the Poggio then it could be an interesting finish”.  And when the weather blows, it really sucks, if you see what we mean.  Last year they introduced the Pompeiana climb to increase the race’s appeal to the climbers but then pulled it at the last minute due to landslides.  Shoddy workmanship, if you ask us.

Look out for lots of jostling on the final 2 climbs as the sprinters’ teams try to get their bloke into position and for Italian Pro-Conti teams blagging telly time early in the race.  You’ll likely need shades for the latter.

We call it
(Joe Jordan Football Italia voice) Mee-laaaan – San Raaaay-mo

De Winningest Rider
Eddy Merckx (7) – 1966, 1967, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1975, 1976

 2014 Winner
Alexander Kristoff
(Team Katusha)

Gianni Savio: "Winning a bike race is like making love to a beautiful woman"

Gianni Savio: “Winning a bike race is like making love to a beautiful woman”

Things to post on Twitter
If they can get [insert name of sprinter of your choice] to the foot of the Poggio then it could be an interesting finish
If it rains here, it’ll be carnage off the Turchino

Things not to post on Twitter
Where are the cobbles?
That Nibali can descend.
Is that Swiss Toni in the Androni Giocattoli car?

Part Two of our cut-out-and-forget guide – The Cobbled Classics – coming soon!

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Blog Posts, Gary's Blog

Flat Earth Society

03.03.15 | Permalink | Comment? Posted by Gary

Gary casts his eye over Openingsweekend

On The Cycling Podcast’s first special ‘Friends’ episode, Lionel Birnie decribes cycling as “conservative”. If cycling is “conservative”, then the Belgians are its Tea Party. Witness this weekend’s complaint from Etixx Quick-Step team manager, Patrick Lefevere, that a team leader should not be sitting on wheels for 30km. Said team leader was none other than Sky’s Ian Stannard whose perhaps improbable victory given the odds at Het Nieuwsblad on Saturday left the legendary DS looking for excuses.

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
It was all going so well too, with the lead group of 4 containing no fewer than 3 EQS jerseys on the shoulders of Tom Boonen, Niki Terpstra and Stijn Vandenbergh. But Stannard’s looming presence at the back of the group caused uncertainty among the trio rather than it simply being a case of who was riding for who in a famous sweep of the podium in Gent. If Stannard wasn’t helping much, a chasing pack that included the likes of Sep Vanmarcke was helping even less.

But with 4.5km to go, Boonen attacked, you’d have been forgiven at that point for saying “well, that’s that then”. But it wasn’t. With a seemingly unflustered Stannard pulling Boonen back to the group, Nikki Terpstra was next to jump. To his surprise, Stannard continued to track him, leaving a tiring Boonen and Vandenbergh out of contention as the two-up sprint started to take shape.

There was almost a sense of déjà vu as Terpstra and Stannard went under the 1km to go kite. An almost identical scenario had played out a year before and a repeat of that result was to follow. Terpstra opened up a gap with 200m to go but as he faded, it was Stannard who prevailed taking his second successive Het Nieuwsblad victory. Cycling’s Village Green Preservation Society were not impressed, seemingly forgetting that 3 v 1 should be more than enough odds to win a race.

On to Sunday then, when proceedings at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne looked for a while to be following a similar pattern. With a break of 19 riders formed and with about 50km to go, another E-QS –v- Team Sky scenario loomed with Ian Stannard once again the fly in the embrocation. While he was ultimately working for Sky new boy Elia Viviani, he looked strong and was causing enough concern for the cameras to show Tom Boonen gesticulating wildly in his direction for the second afternoon on the bounce.

With Katusha massing at the front for Alexander Kristoff as the race approached 2 laps of the finishing circuit, a potentially messy sprint looked on the cards. A late – but predictably doomed – attack from Philippe Gilbert threatened this scenario, but only briefly as the sprinters’ teams started jostling for position.  Stannard’s job done for Sky, it was up to Ben Swift to deliver Viviani into place while Kristoff looked increasingly certain of the win. That was until Mark Cavendish appeared from a fair distance back to snatch it on the line from Kristoff with Viviani rounding out the podium, as anyone who’d seen Nacer Bouhani’s near-miss with the barriers were just catching their breath back.

In the post-race interview, Cavendish would reveal that he felt that DS Wilfried Peeters lacked faith in him to do the job.  Contrast this with Lefevere’s unwillingness to criticise his 3 riders on Saturday and you really do wonder what place “conservatism” still has in the liberal, free-thinking new world.

The one day specialists reconvene in Milan in just under 3 weeks’ time. From conservatives to Il tifosi, but that’s a whole other can of worms…

Image: Poly Peloton



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Blog Posts, Gary's Blog


27.02.15 | Permalink | Comment? Posted by Gary

With apologies to Dexy’s Midnight Runners…

Vino! Vino! Vino! Vino! Vino!
Back in Twenty-Seven on the road to Albi
Oh, Vino
With your bandaged knees you still went and smashed the TT
Le Courage de Vino-o!
But that night the vampires came to check out your blood
After a fortnight of crashin’ and chasin’ back up
The fastest legs in the time trial that day
Got you hustled and busted and it all taken away

 Athletic perspiration, you gave some hope
But you were Alexander the cheat
The Kazakh that doped
But now just look at us
As we’re looking down on you
Yes we’re being judgmental
It’s what you chose to do


Now your team’s in the dock and it’s not a surprise
Oh Vino
You said Astana were clean but that was just lies
Oh-oh-oh Vin-o
But the suits they crumbled, and let you all race
But they suspected like we did
Now you’re again in disgrace
And now you’re all over, your story’s so lame, brrrrr
But you’ll probably just scramble for another to blame

Athletic perspiration, Nibali gave us hope
That maybe Astana were clean now
But three of them doped
But now just look at us
We’ve all just had enough
Yes we’re being judgmental
It’s time to piss off

Oh Vino, Woh-oh-oh Vino-o
Oh Vino, Woh-oh-oh Vino-o

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Blog Posts

The VCDL Guide to the Classics: Part One – Openingsweekend

25.02.15 | Permalink | Comment? Posted by Gary

The phoney wars of the Middle East and Down Under are over.  The sunshine has been packed away for another couple of months and the leg warmers with matching grimaces are back.  The European season is upon us and who less qualified than us to guide you through the essentials.

Get your web proxy and that Sporza feed sorted out, crack open that Leffe and pretend it’s proper Belgian beer and join us as we step into Openingsweekend…

Suffering from the raging DTs after a winter of no racing, the Belgians are so gagging to get started that they give us not one, but TWO (count ‘em) races to get things underway.  Okay, they’re not strictly ‘Classics’, but when has that ever let that stop us?


Established in 1945, by newspaper Het Volk, as a rival to Het Nieuwsblad’s patronage of the Ronde Van Vlaanderen.  Ironically, Het Volk folded and was taken over by Het Nieuwsblad and the race has been known as such since 2009.

A women’s edition was introduced in 2006.

A series of climbs and loops that include the likes of the Oude Kruisberg, Taaienberg, Eikenberg and the Wolvenberg

We call it
Gent-Gent or – latterly – The Omlette

De Winningest Riders
Men (3 wins): Joseph Bruyère (1974, 1975 and 1980), Ernest Sterckx (1952, 1953 and 1956), Peter van Petegem (1997, 1998 and 2002).
Women (2): Suzanne de Goede (2006, 2009)

2014 Winner
Men – Ian Stannard (Team Sky)
Women – Amy Pieters (Team Giant-Shimano)

Things to post on Twitter
This is the real start of the season for me.
I’m telling you, they’ll wait until the Molenberg, then FIREWORKS  #boom
Why is there no live stream for the women’s race? #disgrace

Things not to post on Twitter
Why don’t they resurface that road?
Typical bloody Froome – not here when Bradley needs him!
At least it was sunny in Qatar


First run in 1945.  Almost always won by Belgians, although nobody told dissenters like Steve de Jongh (2004, 2008) George Hincapie (2005), Chris Sutton (2011) or Cav (2012).

Cancelled in 2013 due to snow, and not in any way to stop bloody foreigners winning 4 years on the bounce (Dutchman Bobbie Traskell won in 2010, although that’s nearly Belgian).

Doesn’t actually go to Brussels, but does start and finish in Kuurne.  Takes in Classics staple climbs such as La Houppe, Kruisberg and Oude Kwaremont.

We call it
(Graham’s deep voice) Kooooor-na-Brussels-Kooooor-na

De Winningest Rider
Tom Boonen (3 wins – 2007, 2009, 2014)

2014 Winner
Tom Boonen (Omega Pharma-Quickstep)

Things to post on Twitter
In many ways I prefer this race to Flanders
This is a hard race for hard men
There should be a hard race for hard women #disgrace

Things not to post on Twitter
Imagine there being 2 towns in Belgium called Kuurne
Look out for Vini Fantini in the closing kilometres


Look out for Part Two of our cut-out-and-forget guide – The Cobbled Classics – possibly even before they start…

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Revolution in the Air

03.02.15 | Permalink | Comment? Posted by Gary

Gary and his good lady spend a day – and night – at the races

The ever-popular Revolution Series came to Glasgow and the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome this past Saturday. It’s a perfect mix of competition with UCI-legit competition, the ‘track league’ that is the Elite Championship (for teams and individuals) and the Hoy Future Stars series all combining seasoned pros, superstars and those who will be superstars.

The 32-race programme is packed across 2 sessions, covering World Cup and Olympic stalwart disciplines like the Sprint, Keirin, Scratch and Points races to newer kids on the block like the Elimination Race and the Longest Lap.

The purists don’t like the Elimination race, normally part of the Omnium in the World Cup series but it adds a bit of theatre to the event. Perhaps it’s deemed too frivolous, but you can’t argue that it’s entertaining, especially when it’s every lap that sees a rider eliminated rather than every other at World Cup level. Similarly, the new-for-series-12 Longest Lap is a bit of escape as each rider strictly-speaking tries to ride as slowly as possible towards the start line for a length of time known only the commissaries before a sprint lap when the gun fires. In practice it’s a master class in trackstanding.

The juniors also compete in 6-lap dash, Scratch and Points races and – rather encouragingly – all the junior races are held in the evening session rather than being buried in the lower-key afternoon stint. The racing is fact, its committed, it’s fierce and we were reminded of the dangers of track racing when Shenna McKiverigan was stretchered from the arena following a collision during the Girls Points Race.

10390425_1037778369582088_4612035266977036820_nAs you’d perhaps expect, the Big Names dominated the elite programme and sometimes the gulf was plain to see. Lizzie Armitstead took 3 laps out of the field to smash it in the women’s Points Race, while Jason Kenny never looked anything other than comfortable winning the men’s’ Sprint. They didn’t have it all their own way, of course, with Lewis Oliva taking the men’s Kierin and American Bobby Lea beating Adam Blythe in the men’s Scratch.

As well as the superstars, there were a number of names familiar to the Glasgow crowd too, such as Charline Joiner, Callum Skinner and John Paul. But it was Glasgow’s Neah Evans who caught my eye, taking 3 wins in the Sprint race and just losing out on a place in the final sprint in an Elimination Race won, not by Lizzie Armitstead, as you’d probably expect, but Team USN’s Emily Kay. I hope we see more of Neah in the future.

For a series that is packaged nicely for television (Cyclevox deliver this through Channel 4), Revolution most definitely works best in the flesh. We were also fortunate enough to have seats close enough to the action in both sessions to hear (and occasionally feel) the swoosh as riders swept high on the bankings and the shouts from inside the peloton during the endurance events.  And love him or loathe him, Hugh Porter continues to live and breathe track racing and, even if he seemed confused over the exact age of Portugal’s impressive Oliveira twins (I think we settled on 18), or the pronunciation of the more exotic names (Ruari Yeoman from that balmy enclave of East Kilbride will have been gritting his teeth every time he heard “Roo-arr-i”), his enthusiasm for what’s happening remains undiminished and infectious. Cracking stuff.

There are 2 rounds left of the Revolution series, with Round 5 also featuring Dame Sarah Storey’s Hour Record attempt at the Lee Valley Velopark (that’s the Olympic Velodrome to the likes of you and me!) and the final round back at the home of British cycling, the National Cycling Centre in Manchester. Check it out if you can.

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No Gettin’ Over You

29.01.15 | Permalink | Comment? Posted by Gary

Gary’s under Lance’s spell. If you believe that sort of thing.

This week, Lance Armstrong gave an interview to the BBC in which he said that, were he starting out again in 1995, then it’s likely he’d choose to dope.

“If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again because I don’t think you have to,” he told the BBC’s Dan Roan. ” If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again, because I don’t think you have to. If you take me back to 1995, when it was completely and totally pervasive, I’d probably do it again. People don’t like to hear that.” 

No, they don’t. Cue social media meltdown.

But I really don’t have any problem that statement. Genuinely. If you were driven to succeed like Armstrong and many of his peers were around that time then we know now that to do so almost always required some outside assistance. I have long since reconciled that US Postal/Discover just did it better than a lot of teams. It’s disappointing, it’s wrong and – yes – the era (NB not just Armstrong) robbed a lot of honest riders and teams of results, prize money and careers. But it was what it was.

Hell, as a new fan of road cycling in 2003, I believed in le Mensong Armstrong. I even dismissed David Walsh was just a bitter hack with an axe to grind – a mantle long-since wrested from him by Paul Kimmage, who seems hell-bent on keeping it.  But then I began to ask my own questions and began to listen to the other voices. I’m quite capable of critical thinking about my own beliefs and it’s no shame to realise that you were wrong. I got over it, I moved on. (Although I did cling on to the belief that Floyd Landis was fitted up a good while longer than perhaps I should have…)

“The sport must move on”. We hear this cry regularly and indeed it must. But moving on is something that sections of the cycling media and fans seem to have real problems doing. I wonder why. Are people really that hurt by wrongdoing in Our Sport ™ “Oh, I want to believe but we’ve been lied to so often.” Please give me a break.

There are many people who have genuine cause to be angry towards Lance Armstrong: Betsy Andreu, David Walsh, Emma O’Reilly, Christophe Bassons and Filippo Simeoni are but 4 high-profile names on a long list of those whom he royally fucked over. But with reconciliations of sorts with O’Reilly and Bassons, it strikes me that the real victims are dealing better with his (belated) confession, expulsion and now apparent attempts at reconciliation than the bitter voices who made their names from decrying the disgraced rider.

Lance Armstrong might be a psychopath, a bully or just a plain “asshole” (check out Rouleur 51) but it’s not actually him who needs rehabilitation into the post-Lance era.

It’s cycling fans.

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Blog Posts, Book Review

Book Review: 101 Damnations…

26.01.15 | Permalink | Comment? Posted by Gary
Gary emerges, blinking, into a new year with Ned Boulting’s latest offering
image1_editedOn 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.

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Episode 74 – This Pod Should Be Played Loud

16.10.14 | Permalink | 5 Comments Posted by Gary

The-Last-Waltz-Everyone1It’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.


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