rapha continental

i apologise if i've retreaded the following just a tad too often, but i think it relevant to today's conversation, so i'm going ahead anyway. in the mid twenty-tens, my good friend, daniel wakefield pasley, he of manual for speed, hit upon an idea that subsequently became the original rapha continental, a group of like-minded cyclists, aboard custom made, black-painted steel frames, all of which were equipped with pink chris king componentry. the rationale behind the continental was to ride the ubiquitous and now clichéd 'road less travelled', clad in the finest that rapha had to offer, yet scarcely mentioning the apparel at all. it effectively placed rapha at the cutting edge of contemporary cycle marketing, through the written word, incredible photography and subsequently, moving pictures.

the roads upon which they practised this new art (so to speak), were not the metalled, potholed variety that have infiltrated our collective sunday mornings, but often lengthy stretches of gravel track, all but forgotten components of north america's modern transport infrastructure. these are the very roads now held up as icons of the burgeoning gravel bike trend, where 42mm knobblies are de rigeur and one or two misguided folks are intent on placing suspension forks. a mountain bike by any other name, all the while maintaining tenuous links with cyclocross.

rapha continental

the continental, as was, rode on pretty much standard spoked wheels featuring 28mm continental rubber, the sort of tyres that experienced a number of punctures en-route; all part and parcel of the continental life. this eventually led to the subsequent series of gentleman's rides, featuring teams of riders racing each other across gravel roads similar to those traversed by the continental. i should declare an interest of sorts, for over a period of a couple of years, mr pasley and i collaborated on an editorial basis. however, the main point i wish to make is by way of the word that features as today's title.

i would dearly love to have been the originator of the word (underbiking), but it's one that was pointed out to me by a regular correspondent, originating in a forum on in that context, it was defined as riding over terrain on a bicycle allegedly unsuited to that terrain. for instance, i have carved out a nice little circuit in bridgend woods that favours my cyclocross bicycle, but were i to undertake the parcours on the basso diamante, currently on review, that would be categorised as underbiking. the odd part of this discussion is that, prior to the compartmentalising of cycling, there would have been little or no discrimination over just what a bicycle was capable of, irrespective of the space it occupied on the bicycle shop floor.

cyclocross is alleged to have begun in the early part of the 19th century, when road riders challenged each other to race from one village to the next, by any route thought possible. you can pretty much guarantee that those riders were not in possession of a separate bicycle for the purpose.

rapha continental

the concept of underbiking is, however, being undermined from the opposite direction, entirely at the behest of commercial interest and very much of dubious purpose. shimano, providers of the majority of oem cycle componentry and the first to market with electronic gear shifting, have now branched out to provide indoor cycling shoes, ideal for the fictitious world of zwift or the expensive online spin classes provided by the likes of peloton. and as if that were insufficient, there are more than a few gravel specific shoes, shorts and gloves on the market, none of which can be seen as supporting the notion of underbiking.

so, at the risk of biting the hand that often feeds me, i figure it would be just ginger peachy if we got behind the concept, using whatever is in the bike shed to accomplish whatever genre of cycling is on offer on any specific day. bmx appears to be experiencing yet another local revival; groups of youngsters appear in the strangest of places, all sat insouciantly upon what appear to be new bmx bicycles. but there will always be kids whose parents cannot or will not contribute to the latest velocipedinal trend; those children simply participate on whatever they have in the bike shed; here's hoping that's a trend that follows them into adulthood.

long live the continental.

monday 2 september 2019

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not my problem, that is now my problem

british cycling membership

in much the same way that i have no real intention of ever training for anything, tautologically, you would be correct in deducing that there is exactly zero chance of me ever racing either. the current cliché would dictate that i protest loudly that a number will never be pinned to my jersey, but since they've a tendency to do so for sportives and the like, i would be guilty of telling fibs. aside from my advancing years being regarded as sufficient reason for never becoming any faster than i am at present, it seems i was born without the competitive gene; this is regularly witnessed at the sunday morning sprint, when i'm more inclined to sit at the back with the mighty dave t and comment on the impetuousness of my fellow pelotonese.

british cycling membership

i don't mind sayng, therefore, that it came as something of a surprise to receive my renewal membership pack from british cycling (despite having joined scottish cycling, a rant that has appeared in previous years) and noted that the credit card sized membership quite clearly states 'race' in white on red. with recollections of having joined the local tennis club when a youngster and unwittingly ended up in the club competition, i immediately checked the british cycling (not scottish cycling) website, just in case i was expected to ride for the gb team in yorkshire this month.

british cycling membership

i apparently have what is designated, race silver membership, a category i specifically chose in order to receive both liability insurance and legal support, though i fervently hope i never have need of either. my fears regarding the racing part were allayed by the words 'option to buy full race licence', though why the word 'full' receives a capital is something of a mystery. oddly enough, i could find no specific information as to the price of a full racing licence, though as i have already intimated, that is of academic interest as far as i am concerned.

once again, as last year, the membership pack features a car window sticker, something i remember moaning about as the last thing i expected to receive as part of my cycling membership. however, my suggestion that it would be a neat idea to include a bicycle frame decal seems to have been taken to heart, though with a tad more alacrity than i'd expected. why i would wish to apply a triangular 30% gradient sticker, or one depicting a british cycling casquette, is probably a debate for another day. that said, i did note a feature of which i find myself in disapproval (no change there, then).

british cycling membership

positioned just above the words 'british cycling' is the hsbc uk logo, not only on my membership card, but on several of the accompanying decals. like many of you, i have no tangible connection to the financial behemoth and thus have no great desire to advertise their existence. whatever beneficial arrangements they have made with british cycling have not noticeably created downward pressure on the annual membership fee, nor am i aware of any specific personal benefits heading in my direction as a result.

in short, the hsbc sponsorship is one that exists between british cycling and a finance company, the us parent of which sported an operating income last year of $20 billion and assets of $2.5 trillion. i scarcely seems necessary to point out that the british subsidiary is somewhat less valuable, but i'm sure you get my point. i have no problem advertising that i hold membership of british cycling, even if the word race is a tad more prominent than i'd like it to be, but i do have some reservations about providing airspace to a finance company that seems to have fared rather well without my assistance up till now.

there's no escaping the fact that cycle sport relies substantially on commercial sponsorship, and that many civilian cyclists seem happy to wear the colours of their favoured team. however, so doing is a matter of choice, as is, before you point it out, subscribing to membership of british cycling. there's always the option of joining cyclinguk, an arguably more sensible choice for those without a propensity towards the sporting life. but, having been a member of scottish cycling (sic) for many a long year, i resent the imposition of unadvised commerciality for which i can see no personal benefit accruing to any british cycling members.

i have no car, so the window sticker will remain within the membership pack, as will what i take to be the selection of frame stickers. the fate of the membership card is currently under consideration.

sunday 1 september 2019

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the greatest. the times and life of beryl burton. william fotheringham youcaxton press hardback. 286pp illus. £20

the greatest - will fotheringham

in 2011, a chap by the name of david levine, concerned that female drummers were distinctly underserved by the percussion industry, launched an annual contest under the heading 'hit like a girl'. leaving aside my perennial contention that drums ought to be played, not hit, this seems a perceived case of negative reinforcement. the phrase 'hit like a girl' would more usually be used as an admonishment aimed at particularly weak males. it certainly has few positive connotations.

yet, in the realm of the drumset, it has proved something of an unqualified success, this year's contest having been successfully completed in spring of this year. it has proved something that should have been recognised all along; that girls can play drums every bit as well as blokes. and in many cases, a darned sight better.

cycling has yet to have it's 'ride like a girl' moment, though there's little argument against the notion that women's cycling has gained a higher profile in recent years. however, we're still some way short of there being simply 'cycling', an activity practised by both genders on equal footing. and if ever you were in doubt that there are female cyclists capable of leaving their male counterparts trailing in their wake, you'd best read will fotheringham's superb appreciation of the times and life of beryl burton.

in fact, the evidence is available on the inside flap of the dustjacket.

"17 September 1967, approx 5.20pm: Beryl Burton overtakes Mike Mcnamara to clinch victory in the 12 hour race at Otley, Yorkshire. [...] Unsure of what to do, or say, she offers him a liquorice allsort from her pocket."

viewed in our modern-day, allegedly enlightened times, this might seem something of an innocuous point of record, but in 1967 it was a 'big deal'. mcnamara was regarded as the chris boardman or graeme obree of his day; being overtaken by a mere woman in such a long-distance event would scarcely have been viewed as an ego boost.

that beryl burton could hit every bit as hard as a man, can be seen by her seven page palmares published towards the back of mr fotheringham's latest publication. it displays an enviable consistency throughout the thirty years of her competitive life, including a whole panoply of national championships, best-all-rounder victories, top road race placings and time-trial records, many of which have stood for decades. yet, unlike today's support system offered by cycling clubs and british cycling, burton achieved pretty much all the above through her own efforts and the unquestioning support of husband charlie.

born in 1937, and brought up 'sternly' as beryl charnock, she was, by her own admission, a somewhat stubborn, competitive child."Indeed, one of Beryl Charnock's teachers described her to her face as 'a stubborn little mule'. Fotheringham's narrative lays the 'blame' for her future single-mindedness on having failed the infamous eleven-plus exam, an assessment that all british schoolchildren were required to undertake in order to provide the eduation authorities with a ranking system of sorts. those who passed were elegible to attend grammar school, while those who failed completed their education through the state system.

"Beryl Charnock had no fear going into the exam: she had worked hard and was well prepared. But her experience on the day was one familiar to many students: 'I completely froze'." her failure led to a lengthy period of illness, going down with rheumatic fever and subsequently sydenham's chorea. she "was unable to speak, and was paralysed down one side." hardly the ideal apprenticeship for a future record holder.

rheumatic fever is notorious for causing heart damage in about half of all cases, as a result of which doctors advised beryl not to cycle "...but if she did get on a bike, that she should walk up the hills."

charles burton met his future wife in the mid 1950s, while working at montague burton (no relation). he was already a cyclist and, not long after their meeting, she gave up swimming and became a cyclist too. she claimed to have preferred swimming, having wanted to become a top swimmer, however, charles was afraid of water, obscuring the possibility of their becoming buddies in the water. "I became a bike rider because of Charlie." he was seven years older than beryl, an age gap that the author asserts would have made him seem more like a father figure. however, any notions of grandeur that charlie might have held regarding his own cycling career were consigned to his saddlebag, as he altruistically placed himself in the service of the career of his new wife.

it's a role he seems to have accepted gracefully. when he and beryl attended a cycling club dinner in essex at which beryl was principal guest, the organisers realised that the speakers' table had been laid two places short. "It doesn't matter', Charlie replied. 'I will have a kip in the van outside, as we are driving home tonight.'

however, there was still the need to earn a living. "Time trialling remained a strictly amateur sport, a status which the Road Time Trials Council guarded fiercely..." most of burton's income came from working at nim (norman) carline's rhubarb farm. not exactly living the dream, but the physical labour entailed by such an occupation undoubtedly added to burton's physical strength, surely put to good use during the sort of twelve-hour rides that included offering sweets to the men she passed on the road.

will fotheringham has written a marvellous testament to one of britain's finest ever cyclists, male or female. burton's own autobiography was a very dry, dispassionate affair, citing mostly details of travel to and from each event, accompanied by finishing times and placings, but precious little else. 'the greatest' presents a far more enjoyable and readable book, putting flesh on the bones, and offering a superb testament to one of the sport's true greats. and even though many within the sport will have already gained a knowledge and appreciation of burton's exploits, will fotheringham has produced a compelling account of her extraordinary life and accomplishments.

your cycling bookshelf may already contain tomes on the greats of the sport: coppi, bartali, anquetil, hinault et al, but i can assure you, it will never become a complete collection until it features 'the greatest'.

in ending, i hope might be allowed a typographical observation that has nothing to do with either beryl burton or author will fotheringham. ligatures are craftily fashioned adjuncts to letters that allow them better to merge with those adjacent. as an example, in many italics, the stroke on the letter 'f' avoids collision with the dot above the letter 'i' by means of a noticeable gap. there is, therefore, a ligature available to join the two together for more pleasing text. unfortunately, the typesetter of the greatest has failed to implement this, meaning that the italicised footnotes annoyed the living daylights out of me.
just saying.

copies of 'the greatest' are available now, from either islay bikes, or prendas ciclismo

saturday 31 august 2019

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festival time

kirkcaldy cycle festival

when you live in a small community, such as mine, there's an ever present danger of coming across as too parochial. you would perhaps be surprised at the amount of correspondence received at our local newspaper, complaining about the absence of golf results, a report on a recently held meeting, or no photograph of kids on their first day at school. granted, it is defined as a community publication, dedicated to disseminating information deemed pertinent to the locale, but depending on any number of events that take place over the publication period, it's not always possible to have them included. the complainers are usually, golfers, attendees at the meeting under question, or the parent of a five year-old just starting school.

not everyone sees the bigger picture.

i cannot deny that i have been guilty of parochialism in these very pixels, but always hopeful that it can be disguised as a story of far greater import. arguably the very embodiment of chaos theory.

yet, i am moved to extend this alleged insularity slightly further afield, in favour of a gent who once formed an integral part of the sunday morning peloton. formerly islay's roads engineer, david ferrier recently retired from his thankless position and, with his wife, helen, eased themselves back into mainland life, domiciled in the town of kirkcaldy (pronounced 'kirkoddy'). for those as geographically challenged as myself, were you to stand atop the mound in edinburgh and look north across the forth, kircaldy is pretty much in that direction, 30 miles by road in the kingdom of fife.

kircaldy cycle festival

with the aid of the aforementioned gentleman and his spouse, greener kirkcaldy has organised a week long festival of cycling, commencing this coming monday, 1 september until saturday 7 september, featuring a wide range of events suitable for cyclists new and old. active travel development officer with greener kirkcaldy (a position conspicuous by its absence on islay), susan jeynes said that "We're really keen on the idea of getting more people out walking and cycling, and replacing short car journeys with a bike ride instead. Kirkcaldy is a great place for cycling, with some great routes along the coast and around the parks."

having never consciously visited the town, i'm in no position to disagree, but i don't doubt her effervescence in favour of the location. "We want to encourage more people to get on their bikes. This festival offers a range of activities to show both the fun and the practical sides of cycling." the problem that mr ferrier, ms jeynes and greener kirkcaldy face, is pretty much exactly the same one that faces us all: how to convince non-cyclists that there's no need to watch itv4's coverage of the vuelta, or to understand the concept of nano-fibres, just to ride to and from work or school.

kircaldy cycle festival

the activities on offer throughout the week include a few led rides along some of the area's quieter roads and cycle routes, some of which are suitable for riders as young as twelve. according to david, there's a cycle chat and question evening ("no question is too stupid or too basic"), a simple bike maintenance workshop, and the highlight of the week, a family fun day in beveridge park on the festival's final day.

rather obviously, i'm hardly recommending that the richmond park peloton down tools this friday and head inexorably north to kirkcaldy, but should you live within the dundee - stirling - edinburgh triangle on the east of scotland, check the website address below; either you could choose an event that might better introduce you to the joys of cycling, or, if you're an experienced rider, perhaps you could offer david, helen and susan some expert assistance?

the big problem with many such events is their existence in isolation; once they're over, they're over, until next year. what happens if your interest in cycling is piqued after the event? kirkcaldy, it would appear, has this particular potential problem licked. according to susan jeynes "We'll have regular ongoing cycling activities and cycle rides after the festival, for anyone interested in cycling more regularly."

that's the way to do it.

greener kirkcaldy

cyclist photos: george mcluskie

friday 30 august 2019

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a sense of perspective

playground bike stand

according to transport and travel in scotland, a mere 0.9% of scottish schoolchildren cycle to their place of education each day. this compares less favourably with a so-called 'hands-up survey' where 5.2% said they would usually cycle to their primary school, but considerably fewer (1.3%) said the same thing about getting to and from secondary school. based on personal observation, cycling to islay high school is an activity that simply doesn't exist at all. the phrase 'too cool for skool' has apparently widened its scope.

to clothe those statistics with appropriate numbers, according to the scottish government, there were 400,250 pupils attending primary school in 2018, though bizarrely (and merely confirming that i don't understand numbers), there are apparently a mere 286,000 attending secondary school. to my mind that makes no sense, but i've checked several times and that's what the numbers say.

however, for those better acquainted with statistical information, these figures ought to give a clearer idea of how many children are regularly pedalling their way to see teacher each day of the working week. by my reckoning, 0.9% is considerably less than 100 schoolchildren, which leads me to seriously doubt my grasp of basic arithmetic. thankfully, someone has already calculated that only 2% of england's schoolkids currently cycle to school, but i'm afraid i couldn't find any relevant numbers for wales, though i think it safe to assume a reasonable degree of equivalence.

overall, it hardly paints an encouraging picture. during my own years at secondary school, the (long) wall along the front of the school playground was pretty much obscured by bicycles, often two deep in places. those days are obviously confined to the annals of nostalgia. however, having regaled you with my numerical incompetence, the result really has little material bearing on the subject i would like to put up for discussion.

from 23 to 27 september this year, pupils attending the uk's schools have been invited by sustrans to participate in bike to school week. supported by the bikeability trust, this five-day long event is designed to celebrate the act of cycling to school and promoting the health benefits to be gained thereof. sustrans ceo said "Bike to School Week is a great way to promote the positive impact that an active lifestyle can have on children's wellbeing and overall health." while many parents cite the increasing amount of traffic as a salient reason to preclude their offspring from riding to work, in most cases, their subsequent driving those kids to school, creates the very problem of which they complained in the first place.

that, however, is an argument/discussion for another day, for currently there is a more pressing story of double-standards to consider. those of you with little better to do, will no doubt recall my lengthy annual criticism of national bike to work day. you can already see the problem: why do we make do with a single day of riding to work to encourage britain's working population to leave the car at home and ride to work, yet attempt to persuade our kids to ride for five?

would it not make a great deal more sense to tell cyclescheme to get on their bikes, before handing 'cycle to work month' over to sustrans, where it seems the sense of perspective is a deal more extensive and, dare i say it, 'educated'?

mind you, who's going to take sensible advice from someone unable to make sense of allegedly simple statistics?

thursday 29 august 2019

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chater lea grand tour pedals - the story so far

chater-lea grand tour pedal

we are, it has to be said, a nation of moaners. yet, by way of mitigation, we have plenty to moan about. no matter which way you voted in the brexit referendum, some three years ago, it's hard to deny that the very people we voted to deal with such matters, seem hellbent on making a veritable dog's dinner of the entire affair. only yesterday at teatime, i was prompted to recall that the local averagemarket seemed once again to have de-listed the tomato pesto that has featured on my fresh pasta for more years than i care to remember. whether there is need or otherwise, i have visited said averagemarket on a daily basis, in the seemingly vain hope that new supplies will have arrived, and all will be ginger peachy once again.

when visiting scotland only last week, i dropped by to see the only schoolmate i have kept in touch with these last forty-something years. along with his cousin, he owns and manages a garage and car showroom. in the days when we both attended school, the signs above the latter featured the logos of rover, morris and mg, but those are now reduced to only mg. though the initials once signified morris garages, the current models are produced by the saic company, china's largest car manufacturer. and while some vehicles in the range are still designed and assembled in the uk, manufacturing has long since departed these shores.

chater-lea grand tour pedal

to be blunt, that is a state of affairs that has impinged itself on a wide range of products once manufactured within the british isles: televisions, radios, furniture, bicycles and three-speed hub gears have all departed for foreign parts. naturally, there are a number of reasons for this state of affairs, but there's every reason to believe that the little we have left might conceivably follow suit after the end of october this year.

thankfully, there are those who not only have our best interests at heart, but are intent on improving the definition of the phrase 'made in britain'. a few of those people currently operate under the revived umbrella of chater-lea. they possess event the confidence to eschew the initials signifying the united kingdom, in favour of the words great britain, where their magnificent, steel grand tour pedals are constructed. i first reviewed an early production pair in may of this year, since when they have provided stalwart service, accompanied by the sort of style it is hard to come by these days.

i cannot deny that, after a few years messing around with bmx bicycles several decades ago, i have lived in fear of a foot slipping from a pedal only to be mangled by the serrated edges designed to keep my foot there in the first place. it appears that such a lack of confidence has been entirely misplaced. over the last four months of smooth pedalling, not once has anything remiss been afoot. add to that, their strength of character and conviction remains unblemished; there's not a mark on them.

chater-lea grand tour pedal

not only warranted for the life of the original owner, the grand tour pedals are fully user serviceable. i would love to be one of those folks who pays scant regard to the vicissitudes of dismantling any piece of new, untested technology, but so fluid are these pedals, i prefer to work on the basis that, if it ain't broke, don't (attempt) to fix it. i would be (and probably was) amongst the first to pay attention to the substantial weight of chater-lea's beautiful creations (335g per pedal), but believe me, they're worth every gramme of that stainless steel.

ironically, i have had the review pair affixed to a brand of crank that once also suffered from accusations of excessive weight and overbuilding: campagnolo. though my twelve-speed record carbon chainset is often home to a pair of micro-road pedals, they are every bit as comfortable paying host to chater-lea. to be honest, i'm really not sure what else to say; the greats of yesteryear would have adored these pedals; i adore these pedals; unless you're a weight-weenie, you will adore these pedals.

the only way these could be better is if they had a pair of chater-lea toe-clips affixed to the serrated front plates. oh, and a polished chater-lea crankset, matched to a 27.2mm polished steel seatpost. surely that's not asking too much to keep britain's cyclists great?

chater-lea grand tour pedals

wednesday 28 august 2019

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the fall and rise

bmx kids

unsure of the current apellation, i will simply refer to it as the cycle proficiency scheme and hope for the best that you'll all know of that to which i refer. i mention this because the local primary school, within shouting distance of the croft, commenced cycle-training yesterday morning, though perhaps more theoretically than practically. this i know because one of the kids looked after by mrs washingmachinepost after school, provided us with a conundrum over a suitable bicycle on which she might learn.

you would be correct in pointing out that this is hardly the responsibility of either mrs washingmachinepost or myself, but given the number of bicycles peppering the back garden, so doing is less onerous than you might imagine. that said, the little darling already had available, a green bmx bicycle which she intended to take to school for the purpose of learning her required cycling skills. unfortunately, but quite understandably, the school recommends pretty much any genre of bicycle apart from bmx, a situation that seems likely to confer a second conundrum when they too approach the cycle proficiency scheme.

as many of you will already be aware, either by way of rank disapproval or via signs of a misspent youth, the archetypal bmx bicycle is surely one of the most impractical forms of cycling known to mankind, with high handlebars and a seatpost that rarely comes anywhere near providing a comfortable riding position. certain variations of the genre arrive with no seatpost or saddle whatsoever, tautologically known as a trials bike. combine the above with a bottom bracket height that is at least a full inch higher than anything normal, and there's a real danger that the kids will knock themselves unconscious with their knees before managing to negotiate even the most basic of manoeuvres.

to place all this in some sort of perspective, it would appear that, on islay at least, bmx is experiencing something of a revival. only last saturday, en route to purchase my weekend newspaper, i noted a large agglomeration of kids, impractically stopped in the middle of the street, the majority of whom were affecting an insouciant air of coolness, astride their new machinery. though no doubt this should have brought a tear to my eye, seeing the next generation on two wheels, it strikes me that the velo club's almost non-existent recruitment policy might be aimed in the wrong direction.

we have spent many a long year extolling the virtues of road cycling, even extending that policy laterally to include mountain biking (if absolutely necessary), yet such a policy has resulted in exactly zero recruits to the sunday morning peloton. with this apparent upsurge in bmx interest, i believe the situation may be one worth monitoring from afar. i'm too old, long-haired and decrepit to feign interest in performing wheelies while endlessly spinning handlebars in a pastiche of the freestylers. the fact that such attempts of conformity would scarcely be treated as credible amongst the freestyle cognoscenti, rather obviously provides the very escape clause for which i was earnesty searching.

but at sometime in the (relatively) near future, those bmx bandits are going to tire of bruises on chins and kneecaps. and having to stand up because it's too far to sit down. the gyro devices that allow the bars to spin will fail to allow for decent braking at front or rear, and once again, those small, imperfectly formed bicycles, will be remaindered to the back of the bike shed as sure as eggs is eggs.

and that's the very point at which we'll pounce, confidently armed with carbon fibre.

tuesday 27 august 2019

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