Sunday, 15 January 2012

London Bike Show 2012

Well, that was a cracking show for bike leching, but very little for those with an inverse enthusiasm-to-wallet ratio. Still, the chance to fondle Liquigas' Cannondales and try out Shimano's Di2 is not to be sneezed at, although my alcohol-related hayfever did inflict a few sneezes after discovering the Finnish tourist board's table of free vodka.

I was rather taken with the Vanmoof ( as a classy bit of design, and was absolutely gobsmacked by Cav's bike. I know he's a diddy wee man, but I had no idea how diddy. I was riding a bigger frame when I was 10. 

The pics all came out dim and blurry, which was surprising for a hall filled with so many 1000 watt lamps that you could feel the Vitamin D being leeched out of your skin. That'll teach me to take my phone instead of my camera.

This isn't a trick shot, Cav's bike is barely belly button high.

Cav, G and Alex Dowsett's jerseys.

The celebratory colour scheme that Cuddles abandoned after a few miles for fear of tempting fate. And quite right too, if you ask me. 

Wobbly forks and stays, tubes that aren't tubular, grooves in odd places.  Advanced? Yes. Cool? Yes.  Pretty? No.

Sure, it's pretty, but it's what's inside that counts, and in the case of the Vanmoof , what's inside is the gears,  the cables, the LED front and rear lights and the dynamo that powers them. Neat.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Vuelta 2012: Very Northern, Very Steep.

That's not a misprint, they really are ignoring  half of the country.

I’m really starting to love the Vuelta. I know, as a cycling fan I’m supposed to make snide comments about the route taking in Spain’s finest dual carriageways and concrete factories, or point out that all the top drawer riders will go home after using the first week as training for the Worlds, but I just don’t feel like doing that.

I’ve really enjoyed the last two Vueltas. Obviously 2011 stands out for the high placings of Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome, the ascent of la Gamonal that ended Wiggo’s hopes and prompted a thousand speculative “what’s in Cobo’s fridge?” posts on internet forums, and the throat shredding showdown on Pena Cabarga (I don’t know if it shredded Froome and Cobo’s throats really, but I screamed myself hoarse).

Even 2010’s race stands out for me. People talk about the 2010 Giro being one of the finest stage races in decades, but let’s be honest, it wouldn’t have been half as interesting if it weren’t for Vinokourov’s race losing refusal to chase on the road to l’Aquila. That year’s Vuelta, on the other hand, owed its excitement not to huge gaps opened by passivity, but to the constantly shifting battle to close the narrow gaps between Nibali, Anton and Mosquera.  It might not have had the muddy strade bianchi or Basso’s redemptive win on the Zoncolan, but for me the Vuelta was the best grand tour of 2010 and were it not for an exceptional Tour De France, it would have been the best grand tour of 2011 too.

Which brings us to this years Vuelta, the route of which was announced this morning. It revisits two of the key battlefields of 2010: Lagos De Covadonga, the Vuelta’s Alpe D’Huez, and Bola Del Mundo, the ever steepening ramp that saw Nibali seal his victory with a desperate pursuit of Ezequiel Mosquera through the mist on the penultimate day.

While the Giro and the Tour are both opting for slightly less mountainous routes in 2012, the Vuelta is going the other way. Officially there are seven mountaintop finishes, but a closer look reveals that some of the non-mountain stages in fact feature short, vicious climbs to the finish, such as the 15% max Rapitan and the 28% max Mirador de Ezaro. I know I promised stop scoring easy wins with predictions of Joaquim Rodriguez victories, but anything short and damn near vertical has the Katusha man's name written all over it. Usually literally.

Of course, there’s a 16K Team Time Trial in Pamplona that won’t suit him, and a 40K individual test on Stage 11 that could be disastrous: he blew four minutes in 2011 and six in 2010 over similar distances. Nevertheless, the better time triallists may well be discouraged by the amount of climbing to be done, so perhaps the margins against the clock will be reduced by conservatism or absence.

Although the mountains are the best bit of any race, packing a grand tour with climbs doesn’t always make it interesting. Contador’s unchallenged victory in last year’s Giro proves that. Nevertheless, the mix of big climbs on short stages and vicious ramps ending otherwise pan flat pootles through the Spanish countryside looks like a recipe for explosive racing. I can’t wait.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Well that didn't take long...

Wasn't much like this at all, really.
I've just had my first crash in as long as I can remember, probably more than ten or fifteen years. Not coincidentally, it occurred less than a hundred yards after I set out to get used to my new SPDs.

I was very well prepared. I'd read useful guides. I'd watched videos on installing and riding with cleats. I'd sat on the kitchen table dangling my feet to make sure I got the cleats properly aligned. I was ready. That may have been part of the problem. I was feeling sort of cocky as I walked out the door, I'd used SPDs a few years ago with no problem at all, so a part of me was expecting to just click in and go. Another little voice in my head was saying that thoughts like that were asking for trouble.

I had a few initial teething troubles clipping in, my feet repeatedly scuffed over the fronts of the pedals as I wobbled along the road, until finally I engaged with each pedal with a satisfying clunk. Phase one accomplished. I pushed down gently and rolled neatly up to the t-junction at the end of the road, where I effortlessly flicked my right heel and popped my foor out of the pedal, just the way you're supposed too. Instead of pulling to a halt, however, I noticed that there was no traffic and decided to just carry on, rolling out of the junction in a smooth left turn, whereupon my wheels slid out from under me and I was dumped onto the tarmac.

Had I been going a bit faster the slide would probably have looked quite dramatic, but even at low speed the impact was enough to set all the bones down my left side humming like tuning forks. At this point an adorable little black cat with a big round face and a conversational meow trotted offer and let e scratch behind his ears while I got my breath back and waited for things to start seriously hurting. After a few seconds I was relieved to realise that they weren't going to, and I turned my attention to the Purple Peril. His eyecatching blue bar tape was in a rotten state and the left brake lever was now pointing accusingly at the right one. Again, no major harm done.

I wheeled the bike back home and had the brakes and tapes back in the proper place within twenty minutes. My elbow, which took the brunt of the landing, had to spend the afternoon nestled in a bag of frozen peas (doubly annoying, as I was going to have them with a Shepherds Pie today). What became of the cat, I don't know, but if I see him again he's getting a Salmon stick and some ear tickling.

The funny thing is, it wasn't your traditional new-SPD crash, in as much as I didn't pull to halt, find my feet inextricably welded to the pedals, and topple over sideways. In all honesty, it happened so quickly I couldn't figure out what had caused it, although I'm sure being clipped in on one side and loose on the other must have been a factor.

So, tomorrow I shall have another, less cocky practice with my new SPDs. Only this time I'll wheel the bike to a nice, soft, grassy park first.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Is there no end to Phil Liggett's talent?

Ever since I first saw The Atomic Cafe I've been a fan of "found art", and one of my Christmas presents this year was a collection of  "found poetry" called Dancing on the Pedals. It was compiled by Doug Donaldson, a former contributor to Bicycling, and contains gems drawn from the commentary of 'Uncle' Phil Liggett.
The tall, tanned one is Phil Liggett. The short, hoppy one is not Paul Sherwen.
Check these out:
Riders fall and need
wheels replaced
by helpers from their team cars.
Dust gets into the riders'
lungs as much.
But still,
the speed of the race 
is relentless.

All The News Fit To Ride
Newspapers up the jersey
keep the wind out
and get ready for the long flight down.
No parachutes will be issued.

Spanish Flier
That is amazing
now he hits the cobble hill
and dances
is dancing away too
to big gains
in the Tour De France today.

Calling it poetry is slightly tongue in cheek, of course, but funnily enough, it does neatly satisfy two of my admittedly uninformed criteria for good poetry: it's far more expressive than its minimal word count would lead you to expect, and it provokes an emotional response. 

You could argue that any chunk of speech could be chopped into mismatched lines to remove the rhythms of speech and replace them with the rhythms of poetry, but to test that theory I've just sat through David Duffield's commentary on the 1999 and 1990 editions of Paris-Roubaix, and nothing he says quite works the way Ligget's words do. Look:

David Duffield on Paris-Roubaix
Getting in towards the final fifteen kilometres of this race and still 
this little group are still in the lead. 
The crowds out on the side of the road cheering them all the way to the finish. 
Urging on the various people they want to win this.
 Is it going to be a win for France?

It doesn't work, does it? Don't get me wrong, I used to enjoy David Duffield's rambling commentary (I always wondered if he had an annual bet against Channel 4/ITV's Paul Sherwen to see who could get away with broadcasting the largest verbatim chunk of Tour's roadbook), but his commentary is clearly more prose than poetry, whereas Phil Liggett gives you crackers like this:

Rolling Thunder
This is something special today
the storms that appeared to blow in,
                                                 blew out    
at least as far as the weather is concerned.
The storm is all down there. 
On the highway.

Anyway, you can get the book here. In the meantime, what are the chances of getting Phil Liggett added to the GCSE syllabus?