trouble at mill

tubeless tyres

further to my recent three-part series entitled 'tubeless in bruichladdich', during which i managed to overcome my own misgivings regarding this particular genre of tyre, i have discovered that it seems i am not alone. personally, i would have avoided the situation entirely by simply burying my head in the sand, pretending it didn't exist and hoping, in the meantime, that it might go away. however, while as an individual, that could be seen as perfectly acceptable behaviour, as a famous member of the cycling media, it smacks heavily of cowardice.

and i'm more than willing to confess that had larbert's wheelsmith not sent over a pair of tubeless-ready road wheels for review and suggested that i might acquire a set of tubeless tyres with which to facilitate such a review, i might just have got away with it. i can but heartily thank dave taylor at schwalbe uk for providing the tubeless wherewithal.

though my more usual modus operandi concerning most reviews often dictates that little ever happens immediately, i cannot deny that i put off fitting the tyres for as long as i thought possible; procrastination is one of my superpowers. when time came to release the rubber from the box, push the valves through the rim tape and use washing-up liquid to slide the beads onto the rim, in point of fact, the process was so simple, i was convinced i must have done something wrong.

tubeless tyres

that situation continued all throughout my first two rides on wheels and tyres, convinced that, at any minute, tyres and rims would forever part company. i feel i ought to round off this first part of the narrative by stating that the wheelsmith and schwalbe equipped colnago master is currently sat in the bike shed with inflated tyres that have lost no more pressure than that seen on regular inner tubes. so why then did i learn from derek at wheelsmith that "...a few people have offered to return various tubeless wheel sets already because they don't have the skills or patience to get tyres mounted."

though i pride myself on having a competent level of mechanical ability, i still found it a lot simpler to fit and maintain the schwalbe pro-one tyres than i had expected. so i'd to ask derek 'what's the problem?'

"The perceived difficulties are that it's 'too risky' or 'a total faff'. But only bad technique and duff tyres really makes it difficult to setup. And once you've done it and got over 'puncture paranoia', you will wonder what all the fuss was about.
We've had customers blaming the rims as being 'difficult' or in some cases 'impossible' to fit tyres to. We've even had a couple of pairs returned! But in every case, as rims don't really vary in their minimum overall diameter, it's a lack of technique, patience and understanding that is to blame. Oh, and occasionally a rogue tyre which turns out to be simply useless. I've seen bad tyres from just about every manufacturer. Experience and technique allows you to spot that straight away; otherwise you could be sweating and swearing for hours."

the latter is a situation about which i am unable to testify; the schwalbes presented no problems of any kind, to the extent that i had both fitted and partially inflated before realising quite what i'd managed to achieve. yes, i'd suggest you do other than did i and have at least a brief exploratory ride before heading into the sunrise. i simply turned up for the sunday ride on a hope and a prayer. however, with regard to folks going so far as to return the wheels, surely even the tubeless-ready can be ridden with ordinary tyres and tubes?

tubeless tyres

"Of course, but you'll still need the technique of getting the first bead of the tyre firmly in the central groove of the rim. Normal non-tubeless tyres generally won't work as the side walls are usually porous."

as cycling technology has progressed, i have occasionally noticed that the accompanying documentation is either non-existent or refers the prospective owner/user to an online video or pdf. though few of us are without internet access nowadays, i can't say it's the ideal situation to be stood outside the back door with oily fingers and a job already half done, trying to find the correct page in a pdf to complete the task. granted, it would make far more sense to study the instructions prior to the attempt, but we all know the state of affairs that exists between men and instruction manuals.

though the schwalbes have proved infallible so far, i cannot deny that the documentation with which they arrived was minimal to say the least. and one part informed me that i had need of coating the beads with schwalbe easy-fit, a product i was not in possession of. so is there anything the tyre and rim manufacturers could do to make the whole process simpler and easier?

tubeless tyres

"I've yet to see two different rims with exactly the same internal profile. And as some rims are easier to fit tyres to than others, some kind of standard could surely be established and shared by rim manufacturers. A high gloss internal finish seems to work best and is better for tape adhesion too.
"As for tyres, it's a fine balance between tightness and sealing properly. The excess moulding material on the bead doesn't help the final 'pop', so it would be good if that was removed as it is on some high-end tyres.
  I like the new wave of big road tyres such as the 32mm, where you have plenty of material to push and pull. (however, it has to be noted that very few road bikes have clearance for those sort of tyre widths) They're fast over rough roads too but pressures are critical. I notice if they're run too high, the undamped rebound from the large volume can be a bit of a handful on a road bike.
"I'd also like to see that graphene stuff put to good use on the inside of the tyre as a final puncture protection layer. I'm not sure if this would work, but getting rid of sealant and slime would count as progress. Actually, if tubular tyres lost their inner tubes, became really puncture proof and there was a mega sticky tape which delaminated easily for the novice with a 'special tool', then that would be tyre nirvana for me. But now I'm getting carried away."

for many a long year, particularly in the trade press, we've been told that tubeless tyres are the new black. forget your latex tubes, ditch the tubulars; the future is tubeless. but even a cursory glance at the schwalbe website will tell you that they currently offer only one high-end tubeless road tyre and only in black, when the trendy pelotonese are buying tyres to match their frame colour. and what of rim manufacturers? are the majority of modern-day rims tubeless-ready or do standard rims still predominate?

tubeless tyres

"At Wheelsmith, we only have three or four rims which aren't tubeless-ready now. All Ambrosio rims and even the old favourite Mavic Open Pro are changing over now too. There are waves of new rims coming out that are all tubeless designed. The best I've seen are all carbon; the moulding can be optimised and there is virtually none of the 'hoopwise deformation' you get with alloy rims where a large volume tyre pushes the hook out and you lose spoke tension."

one of the principal reasons you'd opt for a set of handbuilts, as opposed to the factory-builds fitted to the majority of bicycles currently on the market, is to acquire a set of wheels geared to your own riding style, weight and desires. presumably this is something every bit as relevant to the tubeless situation as has always been the case. are there particular rims more appropriate for certain riders?

"For specific lightweight, low inertia duties, go as light as the wheel builder recommends. Listen to him/her; it is they who get the feedback, successes and failures from customers and have to deal with fixing wheels that have been ill-advised.
  "You'll notice, especially if you are heavier, that a stiffer rim will climb better. I say this every day to customers, but most people don't listen and go as light as their budget allows, which is usually too light; and flexy.
  "I've just moved to 50mm tubeless carbon disc rims on my own bike for everyday riding. With a 30mm tyre, I've yet to be 'blown around' like so many are worried about, even in quite gusty conditions. They roll so nicely, take the sting out of bad roads and hold speed really well."
"So, if you want to go fast, go as deep as you can, as wide a tyre as you can and if you're still on rim brakes, learn to brake properly on descents and you can use carbon rims all year round."

tubeless tyres

i might be inclined to ask derek for a loan of those deep carbon doohickies next december to try them in real winds. however, it appears that reticence to join the tubeless party has far more to do with fear of the unknown than any specific, documented difficulties. there's no doubt that, for all our purported adoption of modernity, the average member of the pelotonese is wholly apprehensive of change. i once rode with a friend who all but refused to shift from tubulars to clinchers, despite the serious faff that the former undoubtedly entails.

if it's unsurety that prevents you from going tubeless, i can definitely recommend the wheel tyre combination recently reviewed and no doubt i'll be trying one or two different marques of tyre as the months go by. however, looking at the cycle industry's past history, there's an outside chance that at sometime in the not too distant future, it'll be tubeless or nothing, with tubulars optional for those with their race faces on.

have a word with your friendly local wheelbuilder.

wheelsmith | schwalbe tyres

monday 24 april 2017

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wheelsmith aero disc-brake wheels

rear hub

i have joshed recently that bbc alba is the gaelic phrase for the word 'repeat', though much the same could be said about some of channel four's variations. anytime i've checked the tv programming for bbc alba there are programmes listed that i'm sure were there a few days previously. i hasten to add, at this point, that i haven't actually watched any of these programmes, mostly on the basis that i don't speak or read gaelic. and though i'd prefer not to emulate either bbc alba or e4, i fear the following review may leave me open to such accusations.

however, that would be only partially true.

at least a couple of years ago, derek mclay of larbert's wheelsmith acceded to my request for a pair of review wheels that i only discovered were designed for disc brakes when they arrived at the croft. as the error was entirely mine (at the time, i had no disc equipped bicycles on which to review them), i intended to return them, but derek, fine upstanding member of the community that he is, told me to hang onto them. "discs are coming, whether you like it or not" he said at the time.

rear wheel

he wasn't wrong, though the arrival of appropriate disc brake review models took a tad longer than i'd expected. but if my reticence to accept that such would inevitably be the case was eventually bludgeoned into history, the constant march of technology eventually preyed on the hapless quick-release skewer, once more apparently remaindering those innocent wheelsmith disc-brake wheels.

my most recent review models from specialized bicycles have featured not only hydraulic disc-brakes, but thru-axles as a means of fastening them to the front and rear forks. since the wheelsmith aero set had q/r skewers front and rear, it seemed possible that they would be once more relegated to the back of the bike shed, becoming mere historical curiosities. but occasionally, technology can offer benefits in more than one direction; in this case, by way of a thru-axle upgrade kit for the rear wheel. oddly, this seems not to be an option for the front, but wheelsmith kindly built me a replacement and sent it along with the upgrade kit.

the latter took a mere matter of minutes to fit, though its dimensions were geared towards the 12mm standard employed by specialized, however, derek at wheelsmith informs me that his thru-axle wheels are sold with adapters to allow use with pretty much any notional standard you'd care to mention.

in order to check the efficacy of these scottish hand-built wheels against the admittedly excellent factory builds originally fitted to the specialized roubaix, i replaced the latter with the former, taking the opportunity to upgrade the specialized 26mm tyres with a set of challenge 28mm paris-roubaix rubber.

specialized roubaix

last weekend, lord carlos and i discussed at length the inestimable merits of handbuilt wheels, his shand stoater having recently received a new wheel upgrade. in our minds at least, there is nothing to compare with riding on a a pair of hand built wheels, but the major problem as far as i'm concerned, is quite how to put this into words. after all, a wheel is merely an assembled collection of spokes, a rim and a hub. assuming all those to be quality items, surely there should be no appreciable difference between hand-built and factory-built?

but there is.

a bit like my moaning about the quality and strength of a double-espresso, we're probably talking snobbery; functionally, there's no real difference. but as my drumming friend, billy ward is wont to say, 'art lies in the details'. it's not so much a case of ultimate speed (that's my problem), but much more one defined as the quality of ride, admittedly a subjective decision in the absence of any corroborating scientific evidence.

however, since beauty lies in the eye of the beholder, aside from the visual appeal conferred by the wheelsmiths, this set of partially upgraded wheels have drawn even greater delight from the roubaix to which they are currently affixed. there is an enhanced surety of footing across less than pristine road surfaces, a greatly desirable road noise and a sense of je ne sais quoi that is probably well in excess of that experienced by even the hardened professional rider. there is a notable improvement in climbing when out of the saddle and during gravelly descents (remarkably common around these here parts) i'd be happy to sign a witness statement affirming an admirable degree of improved stability and navigability.

when the opportunity presents itself, i intend to replace the 28mm challenge road tyres with suitable 33mm cross rubber and fasten them to a specialized crux elite to separate the men from the boys, the results of which will appear in hopefully sooner rather than later. meantime, it's smiles all round.


sunday 23 april 2017

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la doyenne


whatever you do, don't repeat this to anyone, because, if you do, i'll deny ever having said it. and just like the taped message at the beginning of each episode of mission impossible, these pixels will self destruct ten seconds after you've finished reading them. don't ask me how i'll know; i just will.

colloquially known as la doyenne, liege-bastogne-liege, which takes place this weekend is the oldest one day cycle race in the world, having begun its lengthy history in 1892. it seems a tad trite to make plain the fact that the riders will race from liege to bastogne and back again, but this year, for the first time, the men's race will be augmented by the inauguration of a women's version. as part of their less than subtle bid for world domination, it's owned by the amaury sports organisation, proprietors of the tour de france.

however, that's not the bit i want you to keep quiet about. what i'd prefer that you kept to yourselves is the fact that for more than one or two years, i thought liege-bastogne-liege was the tour of flanders. i have not the faintest idea from whence this case of mistaken identity arose, but i do know at least part of my error was engendered by the late frank vandenbroucke. the cofidis rider was a dapper dresser even in pelotonic mode, rarely seen without white shoe covers and a higher collar than the majority of his compatriots, precisely why this sticks in my mind.

however, i hold a distinct recollection of watching the belgian on tv, climbing a steep hill past some distinctly flemish looking houses, all the while looking contemptuously over his shoulder at a scrabbling bunch of achtervolgers. quite why my recollection remained aligned to one of the early monuments i am at a loss to explain. on each successive year, when watching the ronde van vlaanderen, i thought it only likely that i had begun watching several moments too late to once again connect with that house-lined steep hill. and all this time, it was liege-bastogne-liege.

boy, do i feel silly.

happily, this error was corrected a matter of years ago when i realised that, while paris-roubaix remains the high point of my season, it is then something of a toss-up between the giro d'italia and la doyenne as to where i might place my cross on the ballot paper (the post is nothing if not topical). i was reminded of my shame and dishonour on yesterday's arrival of an e-mail from the fine folks at rouleur magazine advising me that, should i wish to choose a winner of this sunday's edition of la doyenne, they would be more than happy to offer a year's subscription to their inestimable magazine. always assuming that my winning entry is chosen at random at the end of the race.

now i'm really not keen on any of the rest of you entering, because that would substantially decrease my own chances of being successful, but i'm quite amenable to you choosing a winner as long as you don't subsequently send in your entry. having said that, i've absolutely no idea who to choose.

maybe liege-bastogne-liege isn't my race after all.

rouleur 'la doyenne' competition

photo copyright offside sports photography

saturday 22 april 2017

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the singularity cometh

ultegra di2 synchronized shifting

ray kurzweil, currently employed at google, was personally hired by the company's co-founder, larry page and labours under the rather unwieldy job description 'to bring natural language understanding to google.' something of a polymath, kurzweil may well have entered your sphere of recognition as the inventor of the flatbed scanner, adding to the value of this product by developing character recognition software that cared not one whit for the font in which text was rendered. leaving behind such rudimentary printed language interpretation, a meeting with stevie wonder inspired him to develop an electronic synthesiser able to accurately mimic the sounds of real instruments.

however, such qualitative tinkerings appear almost trivial in comparison with the philosophy encountred in his 1999 book the age of spiritual machines which contended that computers would one day prove superior to that of the finely honed financial mind. he has followed this to its alleged logical conclusion by positing the emergence of the singularity when mankind will be able to upload human consciousness to a machine and thus experience life in perpetuity.

to this end, kurzweil has joined a cryogenics company and on the occasion of his death, aims to be preserved in the hope that future medical technology will perhaps allow fulfillment of his future concerns.

meanwhile, those of us who don't work for google and who have rather more mundane concerns about human mortality are innocently encompassing the incremental shift towards kurzweil's singularity. and the velocipedinal world is scarcely immune from its technological tentacles, the most recent encroachment of which has arrived from the city of osaka. in this case, the advancement of the machine has been labelled synchronized shifting.

lest you think this to be a dissertation on the benefits of such technological advancement, enabled in this case, by an added memory chip to the latest edition of shimano's di2 battery, let me disavow you of that notion. though di2 from shimano, eps from campagnolo and e-tap from sram have infiltrated the handlebars and brake levers of the professional and amateur pelotons, i am still of the luddite opinion that, aside from being the devil's work, electronic shifting remains a solution vainly searching for a problem.

if memory serves correctly, campagnolo attempted to justify their entry into the world of electronic gearchanges, by identifying a hypothetical professional racing cyclist who, tired from his/her extended efforts over a few hundred kilometres, scarcely had the physical wherewithal to accurately change gear. you will perhaps excuse me if i chortle loudly and unashamedly.

but, though i remember warning all and sundry that it most certainly would not end there, apparently, as usual, nobody paid any attention. and thus, while our backs were turned, shimano have produced the e-tube project app that allows the programming of its latest dura-ace and ultegra di2 shifting systems. though so doing in no way (they say) interferes with the rider's remaining ability to select their own gear choice, it is now possible to pair a rear derailleur change with a matching shift up front. as one or two others have been keen to point out, this can be seen as an expensive and ultimately ham-fisted means of competing with a gear system employing a single chainring up front.

if i might offer an example, let's say that the average pedallist is happy to sit with the inner ring matched to each of the rear sprockets until the chain reaches the middle of the block. at that point, shifting down one more sprocket will automatically engage a pre-determined and pre-programmed front shift into the outer ring. if i've understood the principles correctly, programming currently only applies to the front derailleur. since i inevitably find, on the modern compact chainset, that a shift to the big ring usually necessitates a concomitant upward shift at the rear, programming a pair of simultaneous front and rear shifts can surely only be seen as the next major step towards kurzweil's singularity.

as soon as i find out the japanese word for hogwash, i'll let you know.

friday 21 april 2017

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corsa rosa. a history of the giro d'italia. brendan gallagher bloomsbury publishing softback. 296pp illus. £14.99

corsa rosa - brendan gallagher

i would be fibbing if i purported to be in any way acquainted with the musical output of teen heart throbs one direction. their manufactured existence, propensity for selling out large venues to screaming teenage girls and extremely doubtful musical standards do not equate well with my undoubted musical snobbery. in fact, it could be further narrowed down to the fact that i know the names of only two mono-directionals, one of whom may actually be a former one-directional.

to make matters even more obscure, i learned of the names accidentally, gleaned from a news item alleging that a chap by the name of zayn malik (surely that has to be an anagram?) preferred 'cool shit' to that of one direction's pop hits, a statement apparently made in a 2015 interview. for myself, i'm happy to leave directional things at that stage, with no real wish to learn further of their pop star antics. however, applying a similar philosophy to the choice of cycling's grand tours, i too would be far more amenable to 'cool shit' than the more humdrum, for want of a better word.

and in grand tour terms, there is no better cool shit than that of the giro d'italia, the 100th running of which takes place in a matter of weeks from now.

and where colin o'brien's previously published book concerning the same race offered an eclectic cherry-picking of salient features from the previous 99 editions, author brendan gallagher has been far more comprehensive in this illustrious paean to italian 'cool shit'.

"Colder, steeper, often higher, snowier, wetter, foggier, muddier, dustier and yet often more colourful than the Tour, the Giro can also be noisier, harder, friendlier and arguably more beautiful."

if corsa rosa said nothing more across its almost three hundred pages, the introduction from which the above quote is taken, succinctly captures the essence of "...this most brutal and beautiful of all cycling's contests." as you would expect, gallagher brings us in at the point of conception; the origins of the giro d'italia, no doubt recounted in print many times, but a timely reminder of the days when the power of newspapers was substantially different than is currently the case.

in common with the rhetoric and hyperbole of the time, la gazzetta dello sport did not exhibit much in the way of restraint when time came to promote their latest venture: "It is not only a sporting exercise that engages Italian cyclists from such a varity of regions, in a battle of dialects and personalities [...] It is also true patriotic work of acquaintance, swiftly turning to brotherhood, greeting and smiles." proving, if nothing else, that the press were as well-acquainted with fictional writing as they were dealing with facts.

though the giro has been contested by more than its fair share of campionissimos since battle commenced in 1909, arguably the first great protagonist was alfredo binda in the early 1920s, perhaps presaging the giro's reputation for style, never better illustrated by fausto coppi in the 1950s.

"With his good looks, slicked-back hair, perfectly pressed trousers and apparent playboy lifestyle...Binda was from another world altogether."

so successful was binda in hoovering up stage and race wins, (between 1927 - 1929, he won 26 of 41 stages) that ultimately the organisers resorted to paying him the equivalent of the winner's prize-money not to race the 1930 giro d'italia. those victories were well-attested on pink newsprint, but there is no doubt that, in common with many other cycle races with a lengthy pedigree, the giro benefited from more than the odd bout of creative reporting/writing prior to the arrival of film and television coverage. gallagher makes it clear that reporters on the gazetta rarely let the precise facts get in the way of a need to sell newspapers.

this is most notable when comparing the facts known about the early years and racing in the modern era. probably best illustrated by the furore surrounding the expulsion of marco pantani at madonna di campiglio mere days from the finale of the 1999 giro. oddly enough, pantani's substantial lead at that point in the race had already led to comparisons with that of binda's era, tempered by the likelihood that the diminutive italian was not riding 'unaided'.

" criticism, meanwhile, came from those who, although accepting his dominance, felt he and his team were stifling the race and that Pantani didn't have to contest every stage vistory to comfortably take the title."

it would bear comparison with an episode of eastenders in which folk from london's east end appear not to swear at all, to recount the giro's most recent era without mentioning the alarming increase in drug use. that cycling has suffered from drug-taking almost since someone first drew a finishing line on the road is hardly a revelation, but since the nineties, many riders have resorted to ever more sophisticated and arguably dangerous methods of performance enhancement.

gallagher, commendably dispassionately, pursues the drug (epo) problem in the pages following his discourse on pantani's expulsion (the chapter is entitled pantani expulsion heralds dark days) "Further massively strong circumstantial evidence of long-term EPO use came when 'La Stampa' obtained confidential details of hundreds of blood tests for a dozen or so top Italian riders in the mid-nineties."

corsa rosa is an impressive book; well-researched, comprehensive but most importantly, written in a style that obviates any comparisons with academic prose, a pitfall that has blighted so many publications concerned predominantly with historical facts and figures. many of you will already be well-versed in the giro's historical idiosyncrasies, no doubt questioning the need for yet another treatise other than as a commercial exercise so close to the 100th edition. however, to categorise gallagher's corsa rosa in this manner would be to ignore some acute insights into the race's years of cycling entertainment and no matter how much you think you know, it's more than likely you'll unearth a previously hidden gem.

the book ends with a compendium of podiums and jersey winners since 1909, along with several other classifications and a well-ordered index for the more exacting reader. brendan gallagher has done himself and the giro proud.

thursday 20 april 2017

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steadfast-my story. lizzie armitstead (with william fotheringham) blink publishing hardback 284pp illus. £20

lizzie armitstead steadfast

the career of an athlete is a relatively short one. whereas we might study hard to become doctors, architects, mechanics or accountants, those are career paths that ultimately might realise a work ethic that survives until age and savings decide that a pension might be due. and though the hypothetical athlete might wish that their own daily travail would be of similar duration, though the spirit might be willing, the chances are that the body might have other ideas. thus used to be the justification as to why soccer players were offered such attractive remuneration terms.

nowadays, the salary of even a half-decent footballer would seem to be adequate for a lifetime's retirement after only a year or two of professional activity. not so for the intrepid and eager professional cyclist. though financial terms for the latter seem to have considerably improved in recent years, that really only holds true for the male of the species. no doubt marianne vos has a tidy nest egg tucked away for when the fast twitch muscles refuse to twitch at all, but many others are saddled with the reality that life as a professional female cyclist is, in fact, scarcely distinguishable from that of the keen amateur, apart from the offer of a bicycle, jersey and travelling and hotel expenses.

if they're lucky.

it is therefore of little wonder that the more successful amongst both the men's and women's pelotons eagerly grab any opportunities heading their way to augment an often rather basic salary, one that holds no guarantees of continuous employment unless a string of victories can be totted up at season's end. for what other possible reason could a 27 year-old lizzie armitstead figure that she has experienced enough of life to offer up an autobiography?

this is not to point the finger solely at mrs deignan; i find it particularly iniquitous that many athletes and sportspeople seem to find it perfectly acceptable to publish their 'autobiographies' with still (hopefully), well over half their lives still to go. as i wrote this review, a paperback copy of chris boardman's autobiography arrived in the mail, a gent who had at least the decency to wait until his late forties to put pen to paper.

'steadfast' was originally to have appeared in the summer of 2016, ostensibly to coincide with ms armitstead's participation in the rio olympic games. that was until her widely publicised three missed tests, creating less of a smooth preparation for a potential road gold medal than she had originally hoped. though i did not catch sight of the original dustjacket, i can't help thinking that it probably did not contain the following quote on the back cover.

"I'm not obsessivley driven to success in cycling. I love my sport, but I would never cheat for it."

the implication is that, though publication of her autobiography in 2016 may have originally been for perfectly acceptable financial reasons, its delayed publication this week has more to do with damage limitation and catharsis than any literary pretensions. this adjudgment is given greater credence by an introduction entitled 'The imperfect storm' in which ms armitstead attempts to appraise the reader not only of the personal shock resulting from those missed tests, but of the circumstances leading to the state of affairs.

"Two weeks earlier, on 11 July 2016, I had been provisionally suspended by UK Anti-Doping after (UKAD) receiving three strikes within the Whereabouts system that monitors an athlete's availability for random anti-drugs testing;..."

the situation is dealt with once more in greater detail in (ironically) chapter 13 'All roads have potholes'. it gives me no real pleasure to point out at this early stage that, without this disfavourable situation offering a specific point of interest and intrigue, there's not a great deal to commend the book as a welcome addition to the velocipedinal bookshelf. william fotheringham has done a grand job assisting mrs deignan in producing an eminently readable narrative; it's just that, without the above mentioned predicament writ large, there's not a great deal to engage the reader.

chapter one begins "The photographs stuck on the wall of our (lizzie and team-sky rider husband, philip deignan) apartment in Monaco are a reminder of life outside the cycling bubble, of the people who really matter to me, the times and places where I've been happiest." In itself, not necessarily an opening paragraph that would invite criticism. however, the chapter progresses from there to detail those populating each and every photograph, something of an anti-climax after that introduction.

"They usually both wear the same rain jacket becasue Grandma is always in charge of what Granddad wears, which I still find funny. They both live in Otley, which is where I was brought up - my grandmother is the lady you will see at races in a yellow T-shirt with 'I'm lizzie Armitstead's grandma' on it."

lest you think me to be too critical, on the basis that maximising the book's readership potential by adding a little familial familiarity is surely an astute move, in point of fact it came across as around nineteen illustrated pages of padding. "That night in Belgium, we went out to have an ice cream; I can tell from my face how happy I am at seeing her again, because I have missed her so much."

while it would be naive to deny armitstead's skill and power on a bicycle as a professional rider, she occasionally comes across as just a tad naive. she may not be a dyed in the wool feminist, but she does make a somewhat lengthy case for female athletes being treated as such rather than as glamour models on two wheels, yet allows herself to be inadverantly taken advantage of. "...but then they brought out a little pink leotard. I said, 'No, I don't want to be photographed in that.' They said, 'OK fair enough, but just do it, we'll take one picture , see what you think. If you don't like it, we won't use it." lizzie must surely have been the only one who didn't see that one coming (that's the photo they used).

this naivety extends to her apparent lack of understanding as to why women's cycling has failed to reach the financial and appreciative heights of the men's. in point of fact, i couldn't agree with her more, but until television, the uci and the sponsors coalesce behind the same philosophy, changes to the firmament will likely always consist only of baby steps. it's an extension of the same set of circumstances that populate the first ten pages of the so-called sports pages in the daily press with football, golf, cricket and formula one motor racing, but remainders any cycling news to a couple of paragraphs near the back.

"A three-week Tour de France for women over the same distances as the men would be perfectly feasible if there were a good number of nine-women teams competing, all of whom had athletes on a minimum wage and who had the same opportunity to train as the men. As it is, there is still too much of a disparity within the women's peloton in earning power and fitness for that to work."

steadfast is not a bad book; it's just not a particularly good one. i'm none too sure of how high a profile ms. armitstead holds in the cycling world for all her racing successes and those missed tests. refreshingly, she doesn't hold back on her criticism of british cycling (the organisation) or indeed of nicole cooke's alleged single-mindedness in a team situation ("She never helped me out in a race, which means she never recognised me for what I am"). she is fulsome in her praise both of team-mates and adversaries ("..if Vos was there... we'd be racing for second.", completely self-effacing and expansive with regard to the anti-doping affair. yet the inquisitive will wonder why the book is attributed to lizzie armitstead rather than lizzie deignan.

I thought long and hard about whether I should change my name and the positive and negatives of both options [...] it was a personal choice that I wanted to be a family, to be one of the Deignans. [...] people said ... 'You are a brand, don't do it, it will cost you financially."

i can only assume this was the publisher's decision and not mrs deignan's. as might have been the complete lack of an index at the back.

"To me, being a woman in sport means not trading on your image, no matter how tempting or lucrative that could be."

wednesday 19 april 2017

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just a thought

duane hanson's tourists

i am not of a mind or religious attachment that finds easter of great significance, other than it adding to the traffic across the island this past weekend. sunday morning's bike ride was continuously punctuated by collective stops along the high road to make way for a seemingly endless procession of motor cars, very few of which seemed inclined to make use of the passing places to allow a gaggle of cyclists to pass unhindered. theoretically, we adhere to the honour system, one that dictates 'whomsoever reaches a passing place first will do the decent thing and pull in to allow the other to pass.' sadly, this is not a message that seems to have reached the land of the steering wheel to the extent where it would be nice if it happened, but mostly we're pretty sure that it wont.

however, please do not take this as another of my endless moans about cyclists versus the motorist; i am very well aware that the level of motor traffic experienced in the principality is as nothing compared to that of scotland, england, ireland or wales. yes, we are probably in possession of a great deal more singletrack road than any of the above, but in truth, we're only playing and it's scarcely a major irritation to dive in and out of passing places of a sunday morning.

however, though i'm sure we're all of a mind to praise the bicycle for the benefits it confers upon an otherwise lethargic part of the week, there are still many who are ignorant of the joys to be had on two wheels. oddly enough, many of those are hardly bereft of bicycles in the first place.

in my early years living in this hebridean paradise, it seemed that seasonal visitors were possesed of an unseemly need to fit in. after all, if you've ever had the pleasure of viewing duane hanson's 'tourists' sculpture in the scottish gallery of modern art, who would wish to stand out in quite such an ostentatious manner? far better, it would appear, to arrive in a range rover while dressed in a waxed-cotton barbour jacket and matching flat cap. it's a trait that can often be viewed at new year, when revellers not from these shores take to the dance floor clad in kilts, sporrans and silver buttoned jackets while the local contingent seems happier (and more comfortable) in t-shirt and jeans.

the days of the barbour jacket, however, seem long gone, the modern accoutrement for a seamless hebridean holiday being a couple of bicycles attached to the roof of an audi, bmw or toyota landcruiser four-wheel-drive. it seems there is little need to consider actually riding these bicycles, for even on saturday past, i met a vehicle of such ilk with two decent looking road bikes fastened to the roof, driving the road around loch gorm near islay's atlantic coast. given the pleasant nature of this circular route, one really has to ask why the bicycles were still on the roof instead of being heartily pedalled in one direction or t'other?

but aside from such considerations, there is much to be said for the bicycle as a vehicle of thought. as has been said by one of greater intellect than i, "nothing ever seems worse after a bike ride." a solo bicycle ride is the ideal cleanser of thoughts, a means of ridding oneself of the workaday baggage, or forming the beginnings of the next cunning plan. aside from the frequent necessity of riding in order to review one product or another, i have many times made use of my hours on the bicycle to refine that which i will surely commit to pixels later that same day. there is ample opportunity to write and rewrite without continually hammering away at the backspace key and i have never once been remiss in my use of punctuation on such occasions (and since you ask, yes, i also think in lowercase).

with the benefit of pushing aside any propensity to obesity, maintaining a healthy body and offering a more than appropriate cadence for the mind, it really is of great wonder that cycling has not yet made it to prescription on the national health service. granted, their budget would scarcely cope with the addition of often pricey carbon fibre, but that would surely be offset by a matching reduction in other areas.

now that i come to think of it, that's about as likely as motorists adopting the passing place honour system.

the image of duane hanson's 'tourists' is copyright of the national galleries of scotland.

tuesday 18 april 2017

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