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Editor<br />

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Assistant Editor<br />

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10<br />

Editorial<br />

by Trevor Gornall<br />

12<br />

Domestiques<br />

Words: Cillian Kelly<br />

Photography: Cor Vos<br />

26<br />

San<br />

60<br />

Top<br />

72<br />

Fathers<br />

Luca / Prologues<br />

Words: Chris Lanaway & Matthew Bailey<br />

Photography: Chris Lanaway<br />

To Bottom<br />

Words & Photography: Fergus Coyle<br />

Of Colombian Cycling<br />

Words: Marcos Pereda, Translated by Matthew Bailey<br />

Photography: Biblioteca Pública Piloto de Medellín<br />

para América Latina<br />


Bordeaux - Paris<br />

Words: Suze Clemitson<br />

Illustrations: Sam Hinton<br />

Photography: Cor Vos<br />

82<br />

Bathers In The Buenos Aires’ Fountain Of Youth<br />

Words & Photography: Mitchell Belacone<br />

118<br />

128<br />

Other Side Of The Fence<br />

Words:Trevor Gornall<br />

Photography: www.swpix.com & Cor Vos<br />

Briefings<br />

Words & Photography: The Peloton Brief<br />

160<br />

Casquette<br />

Words & Photography: Russell Jones<br />

164<br />

Postcard From The Peak<br />

Words & Photography: Tom Owen<br />

184<br />


Editorial by Trevor Gornall<br />

I’m not going to lie – this issue has been especially challenging to<br />

get over the line. We are however delighted to bring you what we<br />

feel is one of our best yet.<br />

Whilst wrestling with missed deadlines and delays I was recently<br />

reminded of the old adage that the less we know about how<br />

sausages are made the better they taste. So with that in mind,<br />

let us pass on the aperitif that would be a dull explanation of the<br />

numerous dreary challenges that have held us back of late and look<br />

forward to our delicious main course of tasty bangers.<br />

But before we tuck in, first let us welcome to the gang Scott O’Raw,<br />

who some of you may know from The Velocast (shop.velocast.cc).<br />

Scott, a man of many talents, is now tasked with delivering our<br />

design. We hope you enjoy his creative direction, which we will<br />

further develop together in future issues.<br />

So, what’s sizzling on this issue’s hot plate? Our traditional mix of<br />

unusual offerings from new and regular contributors emanating<br />

from the far-flung reaches of the cycling globe – that’s what.<br />

We’re delighted to have a second contribution from Ireland’s<br />

walking encyclopaedia of pro cycling Cillian Kelly. In Domestiques<br />

he takes a look at the loyal servants of the pro peloton and ponders<br />

the question how we can measure their contribution to the<br />

successes of their team leaders.<br />

In San Luca Chris Lanaway shares with us the opening stage of the<br />

102 nd edition of the Giro d’Italia, an 8.2 km ITT, which concluded<br />

with the spectacular ascent to the Santuario di Madonna di San<br />

Luca in Bologna. Chris’s pictures also inspired Matthew Bailey to<br />

pen his piece What’s In A Name?, where he ponders the question<br />

– when is a prologue not a prologue?<br />

We welcome to Conquista Fergus Coyle, who tells us about Dr Ian<br />

Walker’s attempt at the world record for crossing Europe north to<br />

south by bike in Top to Bottom.<br />


Marcos Pereda returns with Fathers of Colombian Cycling. In this<br />

piece, Marcos tells us a tale of bitter poets, Nobel laureates and two<br />

legendary champions, Ramón Hoyos Vallejo and Martín Emilio<br />

Rodríguez, in the land of magical realism. Photos are courtesy of<br />

Biblioteca Pública Piloto de Medellín para América Latina (with<br />

particular thanks to Esteban Duperly for his help).<br />

On more familiar ground, Suze Clemitson returns with Bordeaux-<br />

Paris – another epic feature, this time detailing the history of a race<br />

that gave us perhaps the greatest feat in cycling history. The piece<br />

is wonderfully illustrated by another Conquista debutant Sam<br />

Hinton, who also delivers our cover.<br />

Switching continents, we bid a hearty ‘¡Hola!’ to Mitchell Belacone,<br />

whose debut Conquista feature Bathers in Buenos Aires’ Fountain<br />

of Youth introduces us to the random collection of amigos whose<br />

regular appearances at an Argentine cycle track appear to be<br />

defying the ageing process.<br />

In The Other Side of the Fence the present author catches up with<br />

recently appointed Great Britain Cycling Team senior men’s<br />

academy coach Matthew Brammeier at the 2019 Tour de Yorkshire.<br />

Matt tells us about the end of his career as a pro rider and his switch<br />

to coaching and offers a little insight into the current crop of talent<br />

coming through the GBCT academy.<br />

Find out everything you never needed to know about Ramunas<br />

Navardauskas, what’s hot in Girona, and Nic Dougall’s switch to<br />

triathlon. It can only be the return of Briefings from The Peloton<br />

Brief.<br />

Jack Swart is one of the all-time greats of New Zealand road racing.<br />

Russell Jones tells us his story in Casquette.<br />

And last but not least, Tom Owen rounds out the issue this time<br />

with his Postcard from The Peak.<br />

So sit back and enjoy this magnificent Molteni-esque sausage-fest.<br />

See you on the road . . .

Alain Vigneron<br />



It’s easy to evaluate and compare the<br />

performance of cycling’s champions.<br />

How many victories?<br />

How many jerseys?<br />

But what about the sport’s water-carriers<br />

– the domestiques? They are invariably<br />

lauded for their efforts and assistance by<br />

their victorious team leaders – but how can<br />

we tell whether they deserve it?<br />

Words: Cillian Kelly<br />

Photography: Cor Vos<br />


Most cyclists are losers. 2,648 different riders have managed<br />

to complete the Tour de France and yet only 62 of them have ever<br />

won it. The rest of them are losers. That’s a win rate of 0.023%. It’s<br />

roughly the same ratio for every other cycling race you can think<br />

of. You could say that it’s also true of other sports. I haven’t done<br />

the maths on all of them but I’d imagine you could find similar<br />

numbers of losers in tennis or golf. But this is where cycling<br />

differs. The winner wins and he often wins alone. But he cannot<br />

do so without his team. For so many reasons, the fact that cycling<br />

is a team sport but a single rider crosses the finish line makes it<br />

interesting. Not merely because it gives us this abundance of<br />

losers, but mainly because most of them are not even trying to win.<br />

Of course, I’m being ridiculous just to hoik you in. I know and<br />

you know they are not<br />

losers – far from it. The<br />

domestiques that shape<br />

the sport are some of<br />

”Most cyclists are losers”<br />

the hardest bastards in<br />

it and quite often put in<br />

even more work, produce<br />

more watts and suffer a<br />

lot more than the team<br />

leader they’re working for. They’re not ‘unsung’ heroes. There is<br />

a very wide appreciation and acknowledgement of the work that<br />

they do. When a team leader wins, often the first thing they do is<br />

praise the effort of their teammates.<br />

But how do we know who are the best domestiques? For team<br />

leaders, it’s straightforward – race wins. There can be some debate<br />

about quality vs. quantity and there are different types of riders<br />

who can win different types of races. But ultimately, the races<br />

a leader wins will define him. For everyone else there is no such<br />

measure. How do you measure the contribution of a domestique?<br />

How much credit can Egan Bernal take for Geraint Thomas’s Tour<br />

de France win last year? How much credit should Mark Renshaw<br />

take for all the times he led Mark Cavendish toward the last 300<br />

metres?<br />

A simple measure would be the volume of ‘assists’ a rider<br />

produces. That is, how many times a rider takes a part in a race and<br />

one of their teammates manages to win it.<br />


Michel Stolker, domestique to the great Jacques Anquetil<br />


Famously, George Hincapie assisted Lance Armstrong to all<br />

seven of his Tour de France wins. Obviously domestiques were<br />

not the only professionals assisting Armstrong during those<br />

years, but it didn’t stop Hincapie from building almost his entire<br />

career around the notion that he was the best domestique in<br />

the business (the rest of his career he built around losing Paris-<br />

Roubaix every year).<br />

George Hincapie, if you include Armstrong’s wins, has<br />

actually assisted three different Tour de France winners. After<br />

the seven Tours with Armstrong he remained on the Discovery<br />

Channel team for a couple of years and was still present when<br />

Alberto Contador won his first Tour in 2007. Hincapie then<br />

moved on to HTC-Columbia, where he proved to be something<br />

of a mentor to a young Cavendish, before ending up at BMC<br />

Racing, where he was on the Tour team in 2011 when Cadel Evans<br />

made it to Paris in yellow.<br />

Helping three different riders win the Tour de France sounds<br />

like it’s no accident. Big George must have had something (drugs,<br />

obviously – but maybe something else too). He’s a rare breed.<br />

Since trade teams were permanently reintroduced to the Tour de<br />

George Hincapie shepherds Armstrong<br />

through the 11th stage of the 2005 Tour<br />


France in 1969 only two other<br />

riders have managed this feat of<br />

über-domestiqueness.<br />

The first to do it was a<br />

French rider called Alain<br />

Vigneron, the very definition of<br />

the ‘loser’ we’ve already agreed<br />

is by no means a loser, with no<br />

professional wins to his name.<br />

He was signed to the Renault<br />

team by Cyrille Guimard in 1981<br />

and was trusted straight away<br />

with aiding Bernard Hinault in<br />

July. I’m not sure how much help<br />

the Badger really needed, but<br />

the relationship was a success<br />

as a third Tour de France came<br />

Hinault’s way. A fourth came the<br />

following year, again with the<br />

help of Vigneron. Hinault was<br />

going for three in a row, and five<br />

in total, in the summer of 1983<br />

but a knee injury forced him to<br />

withdraw from the race before<br />

it began. This left the door open<br />

for another teammate, Laurent<br />

Fignon, to capitalise as he took<br />

his first Tour win, again with the<br />

help of Vigneron.<br />

The following off-season<br />

was when relationships soured<br />

between Guimard and Hinault<br />

and the latter went off to form<br />

his own team, La Vie Claire.<br />

He brought Vigneron with him<br />

and again he was there when<br />

Hinault finally did make it five<br />

in 1985 and then promised<br />

to pass the crown to Greg<br />

LeMond the following year.<br />

Vigneron witnessed first-hand<br />

the mutiny and baffling tactics<br />

which coloured the battle<br />

between Hinault and LeMond<br />

as Vigneron himself made it<br />

five Tour de France assists in<br />

total, this time with his third<br />

different leader.<br />

The final rider to achieve<br />

this peculiar hat-trick was<br />

Dominique Arnaud, who<br />

was actually a teammate of<br />

Vigneron’s in 1985 when they<br />

were both on Hinault’s La Vie<br />

Claire team for that year’s Tour.<br />

(Arnaud is not to be confused<br />

with Dominique Arnould, who<br />

won a Tour stage in 1992, then<br />

moved on to the Reynolds<br />

team which won the Tour with<br />

Pedro Delgado in 1988.) Arnaud<br />

went on to ride for Banesto, in<br />

the service of Miguel Induráin<br />

during his maiden win in 1991.<br />

Sadly, Arnaud died of cancer,<br />

aged 60, during the Tour de<br />

France in 2016.<br />

But of course, there is more<br />

to cycling than just the Tour de<br />

France. What about the riders<br />

who have been able to drag<br />

their leaders not just around<br />

France, but around Italy and<br />

Spain too? There are 34 riders<br />

who can say they have assisted<br />

a win at all three Grand Tours.<br />

Both Vigneron and Arnaud are<br />

among them. Hincapie is not,<br />

given his focus on the Tour<br />

throughout his career (he rode<br />

the Tour 17 times but the Giro<br />

only once and the Vuelta twice).<br />


The first ever rider to bask in<br />

the glory of their race-winning team<br />

leader at all three Grand Tours<br />

was the Italian all-rounder Nino<br />

Defilippis. He was a teammate of<br />

Angelo Conterno at Bianchi when he<br />

won the 1956 Vuelta a España. He was<br />

at Carpano in 1960 when Gastone<br />

Nencini won the Tour de France.<br />

And finally, when Franco Balmamion<br />

won his first Giro d’Italia in 1962,<br />

Defilippis was there too. In all three<br />

of those Grand Tours Defilippis won<br />

at least one stage of his own.<br />

In subsequent years a mishmash<br />

of riders have managed this<br />

triple. For every Raphaël Géminiani,<br />

there’s a Bernard Quilfen; for every<br />

Jean Stablinski, a Michel Stolker.<br />

The rider who has assisted the most<br />

overall wins in Grand Tour history<br />

is Victor Van Schil, who did it 11<br />

times. This is perhaps unsurprising<br />

as Van Schil spent most of his good<br />

years as a teammate of Eddy Merckx.<br />

With Merckx he assisted at four<br />

Tours, four Giri and a Vuelta, with a<br />

further Vuelta alongside each of Rolf<br />

Wolfshohl and Raymond Poulidor.<br />

The most recent addition to the<br />

list is Mikel Landa, who was at Astana<br />

when Fabio Aru won the Vuelta. He<br />


Cav takes another Renshaw-fuelled win<br />

was at Team Sky for two of Chris<br />

Froome’s Tour wins and at this year’s<br />

Giro he provided a foil for Richard<br />

Carapaz to take the first ever Grand<br />

Tour win for Ecuador. Perhaps there<br />

is something to the ‘Free Landa’<br />

movement after all.<br />

Taken at face value, it would<br />

seem that these guys are some of<br />

the most successful domestiques in<br />

cycling history. They are the riders<br />

you would want on your team if you<br />

were trying to win a Grand Tour. But<br />

is that really true? How do we know<br />

that their team leaders won because<br />

of them, and not in spite of them?<br />

What did they actually do to help<br />

their leader? Why were they better<br />

at doing whatever that was than<br />

everyone else?<br />

There’s a great article in the<br />

March 2010 issue of ProCycling<br />

magazine where Daniel Friebe<br />

profiles the German rider Andreas<br />

Klier. At that moment he was on<br />

the Cervélo TestTeam and was<br />

gearing up to aid Thor Hushovd<br />

and Heinrich Haussler in their<br />

efforts to win the Tour of Flanders,<br />

although Klier also seemed to<br />


harbour some ambition of winning the race himself. He was 34 by then<br />

but had managed to finish second in the Ronde before, back in 2005.<br />

Haussler describes him as “the reason he joined Cervélo” and “the<br />

man who knows more about riding the Tour of Flanders than anyone<br />

else.” Friebe goes on to write that “his teammates have dubbed him<br />

‘GPS Klier’ such is his knowledge of Classics courses.” Klier had been<br />

living in Flanders for 12 years at that stage and had made it his vocation<br />

to study the local roads and embed all of the fabled routes in his brain.<br />

Another teammate and now GCN presenter Daniel Lloyd (he rode<br />

for the Cervélo TestTeam you know?) revealed in that same article<br />

“Everyone’s got massive respect for Andreas. A lot of the people who<br />

used to be his teammates – you see them following him around the<br />

bunch, because they know he’s always in the right spot. There aren’t<br />

many people who are that clear-headed in those situations.”<br />

But even now, when I ask Lloyd what it was about Klier that made<br />

everyone want to be his teammate, he can’t quite put his finger on it.<br />

And even the bit of detail he did give me was anecdotal. Which is what<br />

being a domestique boils down to – a load of anecdotes. There’s no<br />

measure for this stuff. Sure, you can measure power output or VAM,<br />

but that is no indication of how good a teammate you can be. Sure, in<br />

certain situations they can help. But you could have the best numbers<br />

in the world and still be a dreadful teammate. The only current<br />

measure of the effectiveness of a domestique is the trail of anecdotes<br />

they leave behind in the tales of former teammates.<br />

Anecdotes are not worthless. When a star rider changes<br />

team a whisper in the ear of a directeur sportif, an anecdote and a<br />

recommendation could be all it takes for a domestique to get his next<br />

job. But it doesn’t seem good enough that the careers and lives of some<br />

of cycling’s best people can be left to the whim of a leader and the<br />

hopes that he doesn’t forget the work that was done.<br />

So what can we do? How can we measure it? There must be<br />

something better than the simple ‘assist’ example I’ve detailed here.<br />

These days teams collect and analyse the power data produced by<br />

their riders, both on training rides and in races. And no doubt there is<br />

a benefit to having this information and knowing when and where a<br />

rider’s limitations were reached and breached in given circumstances.<br />

But again, it just feels like there is a piece of the puzzle missing. If a<br />

rider increases their power output significantly during a race for a<br />


Landa leads Froome and one-time team<br />

leader Aru at Stage 17 of the 2017 Tour<br />


22<br />

Andreas Klier shows the way at<br />

Dwars door Vlaanderen 2010

short period of time, was that power<br />

used wisely? Did the rider start working<br />

harder simply because they were<br />

badly positioned? Or perhaps they<br />

were beautifully positioned and the<br />

extra power was needed to shut down<br />

a dangerous move. The power data<br />

themselves only tell half of the story.<br />

The other half is positioning. And the<br />

only way to fill in those details is with<br />

a highly accurate positioning system.<br />

Perhaps a global one?<br />

It seems like it has been years since<br />

GPS was going to transform how<br />

we view and consume cycling, but<br />

the revolution has yet to take place.<br />

We do get some on-screen graphics<br />

about rider whereabouts and there<br />

are better uses of it to be found<br />

online, particularly during bigger<br />

races where a shiny website tracking<br />

all the riders’ positions is provided.<br />

But this is a GPS view at a rather<br />

macro level. We’re only ever told<br />

which group contains which riders. We<br />

never know whereabouts in each group<br />

each rider is to be found.<br />

Cycling is different to most other<br />

sports. It does not take place in an arena<br />

where all competitors are visible all<br />

of the time. In a sport such as football,<br />

computer vision techniques can be<br />

used to make remarkable conclusions<br />

about team and player performance.<br />

But this is not possible in cycling.<br />

When a race begins to split up in<br />

any significant way it becomes very<br />

obvious very quickly just how few<br />

cameras there actually are covering the<br />

race. There are usually only four. Recall<br />

this year’s Amstel Gold Race, where a<br />

fractured finale meant we had no idea<br />

where Mathieu van der Poel was until<br />

the final straight.<br />

GPS systems exist now which can<br />

provide accuracy to within a few inches.<br />

That would allow fans, riders and team<br />

managers to know exactly what is going<br />

on all of the time. Or perhaps, which<br />

is more feasible, to know exactly what<br />

has gone on – a post-race analysis to<br />

interpret all of the data and explain<br />

everything that had just happened. And<br />

for domestiques, this data could finally<br />

The only current measure of the<br />

effectiveness of a domestique is<br />

the trail of anecdotes they leave<br />

behind<br />

provide them with certainty as to what<br />

their value and their worth actually is.<br />

Which riders are the quickest at<br />

moving from back of the bunch to the<br />

front? How long does it take a rider to<br />

go back and get water bottles for their<br />

leader? When instructed to stay in<br />

front of their leader for a certain period<br />

of the race, how much of that time did<br />

they actually spend in front of their<br />

leader? How much time did they spend<br />

at the side of the bunch eating wind?<br />

When they get to the front section of<br />

the bunch, are they able to stay there<br />

as instructed? For how long? If they’re<br />

asked to mark a rider and stay on their<br />

wheel, how well are they able to carry<br />


out that instruction? The GPS information coupled with the<br />

power data from the same race would give a rich tapestry from<br />

which previously unknown conclusions could be drawn.<br />

There was an article published in the New York Times<br />

Magazine earlier this year which provided details of the<br />

data analysis behind the success of Jürgen Klopp’s Liverpool<br />

team. Director of research Ian Graham went to Klopp’s<br />

office shortly after the German arrived at the club and began<br />

discussing a game between Klopp’s former club Borussia<br />

Dortmund and Mainz. Dortmund dominated the game from<br />

start to finish but ended up losing it 2-0. “Ah you saw that game?”<br />

Klopp asked, remembering how bizarrely unlucky his team had<br />

been to lose it. “It was crazy. We killed them. You saw it!”<br />

But the remarkable thing was that even though Graham<br />

hadn’t seen the game he still knew more about why Dortmund<br />

lost than Klopp did. Purely through analysis of the data, Graham<br />

knew everything there was to know about this game without<br />

seeing a ball kicked. This might seem utterly unromantic to<br />

many people, but again perhaps this is where cycling differs<br />

from stadium sports like football. With football all of the action<br />

is presented to the viewer and we can all make up our own<br />

minds about what we’ve seen. With cycling, we hardly see<br />

anything. We don’t have the information we would need to<br />

make our minds up about who is a ‘good’ rider and who is not.<br />

How did Óscar Freire always seem to be absent for the entire<br />

race only to appear at the front with 200 metres to go? What<br />

does Steve Cummings do all day long at the back of the bunch?<br />

What was Mark Renshaw doing for the final 10 kilometres when<br />

he piloted Mark Cavendish to all those victories? Does Andreas<br />

Klier’s knowledge of race routes actually make a difference to<br />

how his teammates ride?<br />

We have no idea. It’s about time we found out.<br />


Landa imperiously escorts Carapaz through the<br />

mountains to victory at this year’s Giro<br />



This year’s Giro started with an explosive time<br />

trial around the spectacular streets of Bologna.<br />

Chris Lanaway was there with his camera and<br />

tells the story of the day below.<br />

Following Chris’s report, we get philosophical,<br />

asking: when is a prologue not a prologue?<br />

Well, when it’s Stage 1, of course. But why are<br />

some short time trials at the start of Grand<br />

Tours prologues and others not? Matthew<br />

Bailey cracks open the rule and history books<br />

in search of an answer.<br />


The climb to Santuario di<br />

Madonna di San Luca (Sanctuary<br />

of the Madonna) – or more<br />

precisely its famous 3.8 km<br />

covered walkway – has drawn<br />

people to the medieval city of<br />

Bologna for centuries. Some<br />

come to make a pilgrimage.<br />

Others simply wish to marvel at<br />

an architectural masterpiece.<br />

More recently the climb<br />

from the flat centre of Bologna to<br />

the basilica at the top has gained<br />

fame and notoriety within the<br />

cycling community. With a<br />

punishing 9.9% average gradient<br />

and stretches reaching 16% it<br />

is enough to test even the best<br />

climbers in the WorldTour.<br />

This climb, known as<br />

the Colle del Guardia, first<br />

featured in the Giro back in<br />

1956 as the setting for stage 15’s<br />

highly unusual 2.45 km ITT –<br />

essentially a British-style hill<br />

climb displaced 1,000 miles<br />

to the south east. It was won,<br />

appropriately in every sense, by<br />

l’ange de la montagne (The Angel<br />

of the Mountains), Luxembourg’s<br />

Charly Gaul, who would also<br />

go on to win the mountain<br />

classification that year.<br />

It was the Giro dell’Emillia,<br />

the final stage of which ends<br />

with 5 punishing reps, that<br />

would establish it as one of the<br />

great cycling climbs. The Italian<br />

autumn classic has been won by<br />

riders of the calibre of Merckx,<br />

Basso, Quintana and Chaves.<br />

On its return to the Giro<br />

the Colle del Guardia would<br />

host the opening stage of the<br />

102nd edition, an 8.2 km ITT<br />

starting on Piazza Maggiore<br />

and covering mostly flat ground<br />

before reaching the final ascent<br />

to the Santuario di Madonna di<br />

San Luca.<br />

Fans lined the entirety of the<br />

climb with cheers erupting as<br />

Italian riders danced upon their<br />

pedals, wrestling their bicycles<br />

up the long steep climb with<br />

little respite until the finish line.<br />

The steepest section is a chicane<br />

through the medieval arcade,<br />

where the road turns into a<br />

wall. The riders grimace as they<br />

fight the brutal gradient. All this<br />

takes place against a backdrop<br />

of homage to Italian cycling<br />

hero Marco Pantani (Il Pirata).<br />

A legendary mountain climber<br />

with an unrivalled ability to attack<br />

in the high mountains during<br />

Grand Tours, Pantani blew away<br />

his rivals with panache and flair<br />

as he rode out of his saddle with<br />

balletic rhythm.<br />

The intensity of the riders’<br />

individual efforts, riding solo<br />

Words & Pictures: Chris Lanaway<br />


LUCA<br />



through the fans and standing tall on the pedals, brings flashbacks<br />

of Pantani and his high-altitude attacks.<br />

As the riders enter the switchbacks fans watch in awe. Each<br />

Italian that passes through the archway is greeted by deafening<br />

cheers and a congregation of Pantani lookalikes, who give chase<br />

(briefly) through the steepest section of the climb. It wasn’t long<br />

before they were calling it ‘Pantani corner’.<br />


32<br />

A Grand Tour that really<br />

encapsulates the beauty<br />

of road cycling, the Giro<br />

will always remain a<br />

special race for cycling<br />

fans and riders the<br />

world over. The circus<br />

moves on from Bologna<br />

with Primož Roglic<br />

wearing the maglia<br />

rosa. I depart Italy with<br />

thoughts of some of<br />

the great moments<br />

of Giro history. And<br />

today was one of them.



What’s in a name? That which we call a rose<br />

By any other name would smell as sweet;<br />

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,<br />

Retain that dear perfection which he owes<br />

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name;<br />

And for that name, which is no part of thee,<br />

Take all myself.<br />

Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2)<br />

Words: Matthew Bailey<br />

Pictures: Chris Lanaway<br />



I’m sure you remember<br />

how this year’s Giro started<br />

with a prologue that ran around<br />

the picturesque streets of the<br />

historic city of Bologna, in front<br />

of huge crowds of cheering,<br />

flag-waving spectators and<br />

culminating with a climb to the<br />

spectacular Sanctuary of the<br />

Madonna di San Luca.<br />

Except you don’t, because it<br />

didn’t. That wasn’t a prologue. It<br />

was Stage 1.<br />

This is confusing. Surely a<br />

prologue is exactly this – a short<br />

individual time trial held at the<br />

very start of a Grand Tour. So<br />

why wasn’t this a prologue? Or<br />

to put it another way – when is a<br />

prologue not a prologue? What’s<br />

in a name?<br />

For once, the UCI rulebook<br />

appears to set things out with<br />

admirable clarity. Rule 2.6.006<br />

of the Road Race Regulations<br />

says (among other things) that a<br />

prologue to a professional men’s<br />

stage race must not exceed 8 km,<br />

must be run as an individual time<br />

trial, and must count towards<br />

the general classification. Well,<br />

Stage 1 of 2019’s Giro was an ITT<br />

that contributed to the overall<br />

GC. But it covered 8.1 km. That’s<br />

100 m too far for a prologue.<br />

Those are the rules. Case closed.<br />

Correct?<br />

Not so fast. It should<br />

be remembered that the<br />

commissaires tend to look at<br />

the UCI rules in the way that a<br />

great chef might look at a book<br />

full of recipes. Useful guidance,<br />

certainly, but ultimately no more<br />

than a starting point for individual<br />

creativity.<br />

For example: section 8.2.2 of<br />

rule 2.12.007 states that any rider<br />

who strikes a spectator will suffer<br />

a ‘500 to 2,000 [Swiss francs]<br />

fine per infringement, 10 to 100<br />

points [deducted] from [his]<br />

UCI rankings and elimination<br />

or disqualification’ from the<br />

race. But, after delivering a swift,<br />

skinny-armed pummelling to a<br />

spectator who had just knocked<br />

him off his bike during stage 20<br />

of this year’s Giro, Miguel Ángel<br />

‘Superman’ López received no<br />

sanction whatsoever.<br />

So how useful are the UCI<br />

rules in understanding what a<br />

prologue is and isn’t? Maybe<br />

history holds some lessons<br />

for us.<br />

It is widely agreed that the<br />

first identifiable prologue to<br />

a Tour de France was a 5.775<br />

km ITT held in Angers in 1967.<br />

But, unhelpfully, it seems that<br />

while the organisers informally<br />

referred to it as a prologue,<br />

officially it was Stage 1a (Stage 1b<br />

went from Angers to Saint-Malo<br />

the next day). And so successful<br />

was this that they did the same<br />

in 1968, when Stage 1a took the<br />

form of a 6.1 km ITT around the<br />


picturesque spa town of Vittel.<br />

1969’s Tour was the first<br />

that opened with an official<br />

prologue. However, the ITT<br />

route around Roubaix that year<br />

was 10 km long. That’s 2 km –<br />

twenty-five percent – further<br />

than would be permitted under<br />

the current rules. So was it a<br />

prologue or not?<br />

That was a minor infraction<br />

compared with 1971, when the<br />

prologue – yes, that was its<br />

official designation – not only<br />

stretched to 11 km but also took<br />

the form of a team time trial,<br />

thus breaking two of the UCI’s<br />

‘rules’ in one go.<br />

So the Tour was willing<br />

to play fast and loose with the<br />

concept of a prologue right<br />

from the start. But that’s nothing<br />

compared with the imagination<br />

on display on the other side of<br />

the Alps.<br />

The first prologue of the<br />

Giro d’Italia came in 1968, but<br />

it wasn’t really a time trial at<br />

all. Instead, the 130 riders were<br />

divided into ten groups of<br />

thirteen, each of which raced<br />

separately around the streets<br />

of Campione d’Italia, a tiny<br />

exclave of Italy surrounded<br />

entirely by Switzerland. The<br />

fastest man around the 5.7<br />

km course, France’s Charly<br />

Grosskost, wore the maglia<br />

rosa the next day, but his time<br />

did not count towards the<br />

general classification – rather<br />

neatly breaking the third and<br />

last of the UCI’s rules.<br />

So none of the things<br />

mentioned in the UCI rules<br />

appear to belong to the essence<br />

of a prologue. More surprising<br />

still is the complete omission<br />

from the rules of what is surely<br />

the most important feature<br />

of anything purporting to call<br />

itself a ‘prologue’.<br />

It is often assumed that the<br />

idea of having a short individual<br />

time trial at the start of a Grand<br />

Tour must have originated with<br />

the Tour de France. Specifically,<br />

the idea is usually credited to<br />

Jean Leulliot, a journalist and<br />

race organiser, who suggested<br />

the prologue (if such it was)<br />

to the 1967 Tour. But in fact<br />

the first Grand Tour to feature<br />

such an ITT on the opening day<br />

was the 1964 Vuelta, when the<br />

riders tackled an 11 km course<br />

around Benidorm.<br />

However, there is a crucial<br />

difference. This earlier ‘prologue’<br />

was officially designated Stage<br />

1b of that year’s Vuelta, the 42<br />

km flat Stage 1a having been<br />

held earlier the same day. Very<br />

short ITTs designated ‘Stage<br />

1b’ were also held after, but on<br />

the same day as, Stages 1a of the<br />

Vueltas of 1966 (3.5 km, Murcia),<br />

1967 (4.1 km, Vigo) and 1968 (4<br />

km, Zaragoza).<br />



And here’s the thing. Amazingly,<br />

the UCI rules don’t say anything<br />

about a prologue having to<br />

precede the first full stage of a<br />

race. So under the current rules<br />

all those Vuelta Stages 1b except<br />

the first (which was 3 km too<br />

long) would count as prologues.<br />

The truth is that attempting<br />

to understand why a short early<br />

ITT is sometimes a prologue<br />

and sometimes not is a fool’s<br />

errand. It’s a distinction without<br />

a difference (with one small<br />

caveat – see below).<br />

Let’s instead ponder a much<br />

more important question: what<br />

is the point of a prologue? Why<br />

bother starting a three-week<br />

Grand Tour with a blink-andyou-miss<br />

it ITT?<br />

It is sometimes suggested<br />

that the reason for holding a<br />

prologue to a Grand Tour is<br />

to allocate the leader’s jersey<br />

for the first proper stage. And<br />

of course it does serve this<br />

purpose, to the considerable<br />

benefit of certain individuals<br />

who might otherwise never get<br />

the chance to wear it.<br />

The mighty Chris<br />

Boardman, for example, wore<br />

the yellow jersey at three<br />

different Tours de France, each<br />

time after winning a prologue.<br />

What is more, he did so at a time<br />

when cycling was just emerging<br />

as a mainstream sport in the<br />

UK, with incalculable positive<br />

consequences for the country’s<br />

appetite for and grasp of road<br />

racing generally and the Tour in<br />

particular.<br />

But if all you want to do<br />

is ‘allocate the jersey’ it isn’t<br />

obvious that an ITT is a better<br />

way of doing it than holding, say,<br />

a normal flat stage with a sprint<br />

finish. On the face of it, it makes<br />

no more sense for the leader’s<br />

jersey of a race covering over<br />

3,000 km and leading up and<br />

down mountain ranges to be<br />

worn by a specialist in 5 km time<br />

trials rather than by a specialist<br />

in going flat out for 200 m.<br />

No: the real purpose of the<br />

prologue is very different.<br />

A short time trial held<br />

in a city centre at the start<br />

of a Grand Tour can pull in<br />

a big crowd. Consequently,<br />

the host city can materially<br />

increase the economic value<br />

of the Grand Départ simply by<br />

holding a prologue the evening<br />

beforehand, especially if it is a<br />

Friday or a Saturday evening.<br />

In this respect a prologue<br />

is very similar to a city centre<br />

criterium (and both are very<br />

different to most road races).<br />

Like a crit, the racing at a short<br />

ITT is easy to understand: as a<br />

criterion for victory ‘quickest<br />

rider round’ is no more complex<br />

than ‘first over the line’. So<br />


anyone can follow it. The<br />

action comes in short, intense,<br />

exciting bursts. And everything<br />

takes place in a compact area.<br />

Consequently, large numbers<br />

of punters settle into one spot<br />

for a whole evening, where<br />

they see a lot of action, soak up<br />

the crackling atmosphere and<br />

practically beg to be refreshed.<br />

So entrepreneurial locals will<br />

pay the host city handsomely for<br />

licences to serve beer and frites.<br />

So attractive is city-centre<br />

racing that the entire economy<br />

of professional road cycling<br />

once rested on the criteriums<br />

that take place in the immediate<br />

aftermath of the Tour de France.<br />

Here, huge crowds gather<br />

to consume vast amounts of<br />

premium-priced carbohydrates<br />

while the participants in the<br />

recently-concluded Grande<br />

Boucle pretend to race around<br />

the town centres of northern<br />

France, Belgium and elsewhere<br />

before letting the maillot<br />

jaune ‘win’. This is why Tour<br />

winners traditionally give all<br />

their race winnings to their<br />

teammates: the prize money<br />

is nothing compared to the<br />

potential rewards of tackling<br />

the post-Tour crit scene in the<br />

yellow jersey. Even though the<br />

economic structure of cycling<br />

has changed since then, to this<br />

day the post-Tour crits remain<br />

popular and highly profitable<br />

for riders and organisers alike.<br />

However, as the kick-off to a<br />

Grand Tour a short time trial has<br />

a number of advantages over a<br />

criterium (even where the latter<br />

is a real race, as the post-Tour<br />

crits most assuredly are not).<br />

For one thing, it’s probably<br />

slightly less likely that the<br />

favourites will crash out of the<br />

race altogether (though short<br />

time trials are not without risk<br />

– just ask Alejandro Valverde,<br />

who broke his patella when he<br />

hit the deck during Düsseldorf ’s<br />

damp 14 km opener in 2017, or<br />

Boardman, who broke his wrist<br />

and ankle in a crash during<br />

1995’s prologue in Saint-Brieuc).<br />

More importantly, the<br />

‘race of truth’ gives spectators<br />

more of a guide to the form of<br />

the favourites than would be<br />

possible in a crit, where the team<br />

leaders would undoubtedly be<br />

hidden in the bunch, sheltered<br />

by their teammates. And given<br />

the time trialling abilities<br />

required of contenders in<br />

modern Grand Tours the GC<br />

stars themselves are pretty<br />

likely to shine, even over such a<br />

short course.<br />

It is therefore submitted that<br />

if these are the goals – to kick off<br />

a Grand Tour with an exciting<br />

burst of meaningful action<br />

accessible to all, to present<br />

the riders (and especially GC<br />

contenders) to the public, and to<br />



present the public to the publiers<br />

et friteurs of the host city (all of<br />

which seem to the present writer<br />

to be pretty good goals) – then<br />

a short ITT confined to a scenic<br />

city centre is an unbeatable way<br />

to meet them.<br />

And yet true prologues have<br />

become a rarity. Over the 41<br />

editions between 1967 and 2007<br />

the Tour de France began with<br />

an ITT prologue on 38 occasions<br />

(there was one ‘prologue team<br />

time trial’, as mentioned above,<br />

and two longer ITTs, in 2000<br />

and 2005). But the eleven Tours<br />

since 2008 have featured only<br />

two prologues, with the last in<br />

London in 2012.<br />

This is at least in part<br />

because of the change of<br />

personnel at the highest levels of<br />

the Tour. 2007 was the year that<br />

Christian Prudhomme took over<br />

as race director. Changing the<br />

nature of the race’s opening was<br />

an obvious way to make his mark.<br />

But the Prudhomme effect<br />

alone is not enough to explain<br />

the demise of the Grand Tour<br />

prologue. The Giro has not<br />

featured one since 2006 and<br />

the Vuelta has been prologuefree<br />

since 1999 (though 2009’s<br />

Stage 1 was a 4.8 km ITT around<br />

Utrecht).<br />

Since 2008, for its opener<br />

the Tour has roughly alternated<br />

between long, flat stages and<br />

ITTs almost double the length<br />

of a prologue. The Giro has done<br />

something similar but thrown<br />

in a couple of team time trials.<br />

And 13 of the last 17 Vueltas have<br />

started with a TTT (all but two<br />

significantly longer than 8 km).<br />

This is a pity. Maybe M.<br />

Prudhomme was right, up to a<br />

point: perhaps having a prologue<br />

almost every year for four<br />

decades was too much of a good<br />

thing. And sprint stages, middledistance<br />

ITTs and team time<br />

trials all have their place.<br />

But none of them introduces<br />

the characters and themes of the<br />

bigger event quite so effectively<br />

and intensely as a prologue does,<br />

and none of them engages the<br />

public anything like as well. So<br />

none of them whets the appetite<br />

for what is to come in quite the<br />

same way.<br />

In short, a prologue is to a<br />

Grand Tour what an overture is<br />

to a grand opera. Moreover, it’s<br />

a well-established and highly<br />

effective way to get the public<br />

to engage with the sport and its<br />

stars. At a time when the sport is<br />

suffering a decline in interest and<br />

a gradual ageing of its audience,<br />

maybe it’s time to restore the<br />

prologue to its rightful place as<br />

the default Grand Tour curtainraiser<br />

– not in the sense that you<br />

have to have a prologue every<br />






time, but in the sense that if you<br />

want to do something different it<br />

had better be good.<br />

Whatever the nomenclature,<br />

Stage 1 of the 2019 Giro certainly<br />

suggests as much. The final 2.1 km<br />

climb to Santuario di San Luca had<br />

an average gradient of 9.7% and<br />

reached 16% in parts. It therefore<br />

combined all the attractions of<br />

the short ITT with that other<br />

crowd-pleasing form of racing,<br />

the hill-climb. The thousands<br />

of spectators responded by<br />

showing themselves very<br />

pleased indeed, with the riders<br />

straining and gurning their way<br />

to the summit past a swirling,<br />

roaring technicolour cauldron of<br />

advanced refreshment.<br />

Pre-Giro favourite Primož<br />

Roglic topped the timesheet.<br />

Almost all the main GC<br />

contenders finished in the top<br />

fifteen. Fastest up the climb, one<br />

of only a few who switched from<br />

his TT machine in favour of a<br />

standard road bike, was Giulio<br />

Ciccone of Trek-Segafredo. This<br />

gave him the maglia azzurra,<br />

which he wore all the way to<br />

the race’s end in Verona. Miguel<br />

Ángel López took the maglia<br />

bianca, which he would give up a<br />

couple of times but regain in time<br />

for his fisticuffs in the mountains<br />

and then retain to the end.<br />

Both as a spectacle in its own<br />

right and as a guide to what’s<br />

to come it is hard to imagine a<br />

better way of starting the Giro.<br />

So who cares whether or not it<br />

is called a prologue? Is this just<br />

another piece of unnecessary and<br />

confusing terminology that only<br />

serves to put people off cycling,<br />

when the phenomenon it refers<br />

to has the potential to do the very<br />

opposite? Should we cry, like<br />

Juliet, ‘prologue, doff thy name’?<br />

Well, this isn’t quite the full<br />

story. For the UCI rules actually<br />

do provide for a key difference<br />

between a prologue and an ITT<br />

representing a true first stage.<br />

It is this: anyone who suffers an<br />

accident and consequently fails<br />

to finish a prologue, but not a<br />

full stage, is permitted to take to<br />

the start line the following day,<br />

credited with the time of the<br />

slowest finisher.<br />

The significance of this<br />

provision is shown by the<br />

ejection from the 2019 Giro of<br />


Hiroki Nishimura of Nippo Vini Fantini Faizanè after he failed to make<br />

the time cut of this year’s Stage 1. In a prologue such a struggling rider<br />

could game the rules by having an ‘accident’, missing the end of the<br />

stage and still starting the next day. In a true stage this rider would not<br />

be presented with any such temptation.<br />

So perhaps this is the reason for dispensing with the prologue.<br />

More likely, perhaps everyone has simply forgotten why we had them<br />

in the first place. If so, it is fervently to be hoped that Bologna 2019<br />

serves as an effective reminder.<br />

One last thing. For 2019 the Giro’s organisers entered into a<br />

partnership with online training platform Zwift, who created a virtual<br />

replica of Stage 1. Not only could members sample the course, but also<br />

Zwift held an ‘exhibition prologue’ which saw four of the participating<br />

teams take to their turbos for two virtual races up the route.<br />

After this exercise rumours swirled that the 2020 Giro might even<br />

start with a virtual prologue. Of course traditionalists were aghast at<br />

the thought of a maglia rosa being disbursed on the basis of riders on<br />

a static trainer controlling a laptop. And of course the organisers have<br />

resisted the temptation, announcing that Stage 1 will be a traditional<br />

prologue-like 9.5 km ITT around the streets of Budapest.<br />

Which is great news for prologue fans. But, just for a moment,<br />

suspend your disbelief and imagine a Grand Tour opening with<br />

an e-stage. You could broadcast it around the world on the internet.<br />

Punters could join in, riding the same course at the same time as the<br />

stars. You could hold it in a stadium, with straining riders appearing on<br />

a massive screen like rock stars.<br />

No, forget the stadium. Imagine instead a city-wide event, with<br />

riders on turbos in every bar in Budapest. What might that be a<br />

prologue to?<br />













60<br />


Words & Photography: Fergus Coyle

Dr Ian Walker is an environmental psychologist who<br />

has written in-depth studies of why we drive cars and of<br />

the behaviour of drivers overtaking bicycles. He’s also<br />

an endurance cyclist and winner of the 2018 North Cape<br />

4000. This summer saw Ian return to the northernmost<br />

tip of Norway to begin a new challenge: an attempt at the<br />

world record for crossing Europe north to south by bike.<br />

Fergus Coyle caught up with Ian in his home town of Bristol<br />

to talk about bad drivers, cycling and breaking records.<br />


May I start by congratulating<br />

you on last year’s impressive<br />

race win! How did you first<br />

get into endurance cycling?<br />

I got into endurance cycling<br />

through endurance running. I<br />

got into the running through<br />

long-distance walking. And I got<br />

into that completely by chance.<br />

I was in my late thirties and<br />

was doing pretty much nothing<br />

physical. I’d succumbed to<br />

the comfortable sloth that hits<br />

so many people at that stage<br />

in life. Then, out of the blue, I<br />

read about the Long Distance<br />

Walkers Association and got<br />

fired up with the idea of taking<br />

part in their annual 100-mile<br />

walk. Somehow the idea of<br />

walking 100 miles burrowed<br />

into my brain – it felt so utterly<br />

inconceivable to walk that far.<br />

I just had to discover what it<br />

would be like to do something<br />

so immense. It turns out that it’s<br />

really, really hard.<br />

Later that year, a friend sent me<br />

a link to a YouTube video with<br />

footage of the Transvulcania<br />

Ultramarathon – a 75 km run up<br />

and down a massive volcano in<br />

the Canary Islands. The scenery<br />

and the event looked absolutely<br />

stunning. “If you can walk 100<br />

miles,” he said, “I reckon we can<br />

do this.”<br />

I immediately became a runner.<br />

I trotted out my first 5 km<br />

run the next day, and within<br />

three months I’d run my first<br />

marathon. A few months after<br />

that I managed to finish the<br />

Transvulcania race – and despite<br />

an hour spent collapsed in the<br />

gutter a mile from the finish I<br />

still finished in the top half of the<br />

field.<br />

The next few years saw me doing<br />

more and more ultrarunning. I<br />

took part in the de facto world<br />

championship of mountain<br />

running that is the Ultra Trail du<br />

Mont Blanc, and back in the UK<br />

I became one of a small number<br />

of people to run the full 102<br />

miles of the Cotswold Way in<br />

under 24 hours.<br />

And then I learned about the<br />

Transcontinental Race and<br />

dropped running overnight.<br />

The Transcontinental Race<br />

covers distances of over 4,000<br />

km across Europe, taking a<br />

different route each year. It<br />

seemed so much bigger and<br />

more challenging than anything<br />

I’d done before. Once again, the<br />

idea of taking on such a massive<br />

challenge burrowed into my<br />

brain – I couldn’t think about<br />

anything else for days. This was<br />

so much bigger than anything<br />

I’ve ever attempted and I just had<br />

to know how that felt. I bought a<br />

bike and started training.<br />

What motivates you to<br />

compete at such a level?<br />




There are many reasons I ride<br />

long distances. It keeps me fit,<br />

and I’ve discovered that I am<br />

also reasonably competitive –<br />

something I would never have<br />

suspected about myself before I<br />

started to take part in races.<br />

But perhaps above all, the<br />

reason I ride across countries<br />

and continents is to put myself<br />

in difficulty.<br />

I think it’s really good for us to<br />

experience some difficulty from<br />

time to time.<br />

By doing ultradistance bike<br />

rides I put myself in tough<br />

situations – but at a time of my<br />

own choosing. This lets me build<br />

self-reliance and coping skills.<br />

By doing that, I become more<br />

confident and better equipped<br />

to handle difficulties off the bike<br />

as well as on it.<br />

At its simplest, whenever I have<br />

a tough day at work, I can always<br />

ask myself “Is this as bad as that<br />

time I was stranded in a Serbian<br />

motorway construction site at<br />

3am with no functioning inner<br />

tubes? No? Well then, let’s get<br />

on with it . . .”<br />

How do you train to be on the<br />

bike for up 20 hours a day?<br />

There’s no substitute for time in<br />

the saddle. Last year I rode over<br />

25,000 km in 1,000 hours. I have<br />

to do those sorts of distances to<br />

toughen me up and make my<br />

body adapt.<br />

But on a day-to-day basis it’s<br />

pretty easy. A big proportion<br />

of this distance was on my<br />

commute to and from work. It’s<br />

an 82 km round trip, which is<br />

a great way to get the distance<br />

into my legs as part of my daily<br />

routine.<br />

The current record for<br />

cycling north to south across<br />

Europe stands at 6,300 km<br />

in 21 days, 14 hours and 23<br />

minutes. How many days do<br />

you hope to complete your<br />

challenge in and what will<br />

your strategy be?<br />

I don’t want to give away too<br />

much in advance, but I do have<br />

definite strategy and tactics for<br />

this record attempt that I hope<br />

will see me come in below the<br />

current record.<br />

Above all, I want to be more<br />

disciplined than I have been<br />

in the past. Last year, on the<br />

North Cape 4000, I averaged<br />

over 360 km a day – but it was<br />

really variable as I didn’t have<br />

any strategy other than ‘ride as<br />

fast as possible’. Individual days<br />

ranged from just under 300 km<br />

to one memorable day where I<br />

cranked out 565 km across the<br />

Baltic States to establish myself<br />

as the race leader.<br />


This time I want to keep the days a lot<br />

more consistent.<br />

Does being on the road ever get<br />

lonely?<br />

Strangely, no – not really. Riding long<br />

distances during a race is quite different<br />

from riding those same distances in a<br />

more leisurely way, such as on a touring<br />

holiday. When I’m racing, a big part of the<br />

day is spent thinking about how<br />

I can best keep moving,<br />

and where I’ll find the<br />

basic elements of<br />

existence: water,<br />

food and shelter.<br />

Or perhaps I’m<br />

thinking about<br />

the running<br />

repair I’ll<br />

attempt when<br />

I next stop, and<br />

how I can do<br />

this as quickly as<br />

possible with the<br />

tools at hand. There’s<br />

almost always something<br />

to think about, to plan.<br />

So individual moments might drag on,<br />

and a climb over a mountain pass might<br />

seem interminable, but in the bigger<br />

picture time passes like the wind. I don’t<br />

think I’ve ever known weeks go by so fast<br />

as when I’m absorbed by the process of<br />

moving as quickly as possible from A to B.<br />

You must be burning an astronomical<br />

number of calories each day. Is there a<br />

science to what you eat or do you just<br />

smash down anything in sight?<br />

Yes, it can easily be well over 10,000<br />

calories a day. But ultradistance cycle<br />

racing is a world away from the controlled,<br />

scientific world of professional sport.<br />

It’s still an underground, ghetto sort<br />

of event. On top of this, races like the<br />

Transcontinental, the North Cape 4000<br />

and the Trans Am Bike Race insist on<br />

riders being entirely unsupported. All of<br />

this means that you’re living on whatever<br />

you can find quickly and easily along<br />

the road. And that basically<br />

means a lot of junk food<br />

from petrol stations.<br />

This isn’t an event<br />

for people with<br />

finicky digestive<br />

systems.<br />

A m o n g<br />

E u r o p e a n<br />

u l t ra c y c l i s t s ,<br />

the 7Days<br />

p r e - p a c k a g e d<br />

croissant has<br />

achieved almost<br />

legendary status: it’s<br />

a massive slug of sugary<br />

calories that will slip into a<br />

jersey pocket but which you can<br />

find in almost any petrol station across<br />

the East for about 50 cents.<br />

This record attempt will be selfsupported.<br />

What will you be carrying<br />

and is there anything unique about<br />

the bike you are taking?<br />

Guinness don’t distinguish between<br />

supported and unsupported world<br />

record attempts, so I could in theory do<br />

this ride with a crew who would massage<br />

me and prepare my meals. But, if I’m<br />


honest, I’d rather do it by myself. This<br />

way, it’s a ‘purer’ event. If I succeed<br />

in beating the record, anybody who<br />

comes along later to try and take the<br />

record from me can choose to take me<br />

on in a fair and equal contest by going<br />

unsupported themselves.<br />

I’ll be carrying the absolute minimum<br />

that I feel comfortable with. Spare parts<br />

and tools, obviously, but zero spare<br />

clothes – I’ll sleep naked, or<br />

in the kit I ride in. I’ve<br />

got my kit down to<br />

such necessities<br />

that, apart from a<br />

sleeping bag and<br />

bivvy bag, I’d<br />

take pretty much<br />

the same stuff on<br />

a long day’s ride<br />

as I would on a<br />

transcontinental<br />

adventure.<br />

Travel light, move<br />

fast.<br />

My bike is nice, but nothing<br />

unusual or unattainable. It’s designed to<br />

be comfortable over long distances, and<br />

I feel at home on it in a way I can hardly<br />

describe. On good days it’s like it’s part<br />

of me.<br />

Future<br />

generations will<br />

think we were<br />

ridiculous.<br />

Back in 2006, in my job as a psychologist,<br />

I fitted a bike out with instruments<br />

and spent a few weeks riding around,<br />

measuring how close motorists got<br />

as they passed me. That study threw<br />

up quite a few things that have largely<br />

passed without comment, not least that<br />

drivers got closer to men than women<br />

when overtaking – a finding that’s since<br />

been repeated in a few other countries.<br />

But one finding from that<br />

early work upset quite<br />

a few people, which<br />

was the discovery<br />

that drivers<br />

tended to pass<br />

a bit closer<br />

when I cycled<br />

wearing a<br />

helmet than<br />

when I didn’t<br />

wear one.<br />

It’s hard to say<br />

why people got so<br />

exercised about this<br />

finding. Perhaps the<br />

idea that wearing a helmet<br />

‘solves’ danger is just very entrenched<br />

in our culture, to the extent that people<br />

aren’t comfortable with my questioning<br />

something they have always just taken<br />

on face value.<br />

Your study into drivers overtaking<br />

cyclists was met by some criticism<br />

over its findings. Particularly<br />

controversial was the finding that<br />

drivers tend to pass closer if a cyclist<br />

is wearing a helmet. Can you tell me<br />

a little about the experiment and<br />

your findings?<br />

I should stress, incidentally, that I’m<br />

not saying that it’s a bad idea to wear a<br />

helmet if you bang your head. Obviously,<br />

cushioning is going to have some value<br />

if you do. The point of these studies was<br />

to show that there might be unintended<br />

consequences of wearing one, and that<br />

your choices as a cyclist don’t happen in<br />


a vacuum – they’re part of a bigger, more complex system, and<br />

we need to consider all its parts.<br />

But, more widely, I’d argue quite strongly that safety equipment<br />

shouldn’t be seen as a solution to dangers that other people<br />

force upon us against our will. It’s one thing for me to put on<br />

a gas mask because I’ve chosen to use some noxious glue<br />

for a repair; but it’s quite another thing for somebody else to<br />

demand I wear one because they’ve decided they want to blow<br />

smoke in my face.<br />

In exactly the same way, it’s one thing for me to wear a helmet<br />

in case I lose control of my bike and fall over, but quite another<br />

if I’m expected to wear one because other people have chosen<br />

to drive machines next to me without due care, or because<br />

politicians can’t be bothered to make our roads safe. And even<br />

then, I’m being very charitable in assuming the helmet would<br />

help when somebody drives their car into me . . .<br />

In 2017 the cycling world was rocked by Mike Hall’s<br />

untimely death whilst competing in a race across<br />

Australia. Given your research and first-hand<br />

experience, do you think there is a point in competition<br />

where endurance cycling becomes too dangerous?<br />

No. If riding legally on a road that is open to bicyclists is too<br />

dangerous then the only acceptable solution is for the road to<br />

be fixed, not for legitimate road users to get off it.<br />

As a culture we have somehow sleepwalked into the situation<br />

where we are comfortable with the idea that outdoors is deadly.<br />

We act as though the danger from motor traffic is something<br />

we can’t control, like the weather.<br />

Around the world, 1.3 million people die on the roads every<br />

year. These deaths are almost all avoidable – but only if we<br />

throw off our blinkers and realise that this danger is not like<br />

the weather. We could stop it tomorrow, if our priorities were<br />

straight. Indeed, we would probably do exactly that, if it were<br />

aeroplanes that were killing people rather than cars and trucks.<br />



But because it’s cars and trucks, we choose not to fix the problem because<br />

we’ve all grown up in a world where dying on the road is seen as normal. Future<br />

generations will think we were ridiculous.<br />

Are you hopeful to see a shift from driving in the coming years with<br />

more people choosing to cycle?<br />

Go out into the street and look at all the cars driving past you. Do you notice<br />

how most of them have just one person in them, yet are taking up a huge<br />

amount of space, putting you in danger and polluting your air? Well, assuming<br />

you’re here in the UK, I can tell you that a quarter of those cars are travelling<br />

under two miles. The majority of them are going under five miles. A lot of those<br />

people you see – probably most of them – could be walking or cycling those<br />

trips.<br />

So why don’t they? Because driving everywhere – even short distances, all by<br />


yourself, within the heart of a city – has been made to feel easy, cheap, normal<br />

and safe.<br />

We need to change this, and change needs to come from both ends. Our<br />

leaders and civic officials need to stop making short-distance urban driving<br />

feel so easy, cheap and normal, and need to start making alternatives to the car<br />

meet those criteria instead.<br />

And we as individuals need to take some responsibility too. We need to be a<br />

lot more mindful of how we travel. Driving, especially through a city, is never a<br />

harmless activity. To do it does impose harm on others – whether that’s noise<br />

pollution, the risk of collision, or whatever.<br />

I’m not saying nobody should drive ever – of course I’m not. But we should be<br />

a lot more sparing and thoughtful about when we do it.<br />


A<br />

tale about<br />

bitter poets, Nobel<br />

laureates and two<br />

legendary champions in<br />

the land of magical<br />

realism.<br />

Words: Marcos Pereda, Translated by Matthew Bailey<br />

Photography: Biblioteca Pública Piloto de Medellín<br />

para América Latina<br />


A cyclist is made by pedalling.<br />

With attacks, sprints, victories.<br />

Champions are decided by<br />

newspaper headlines, by the<br />

prizes they win, by a quick glance<br />

at a palmarès. It’s how we create<br />

our stars.<br />

But our heroes, they’re different.<br />

They ride, yes, they compete, and<br />

they win more than the others.<br />

But they are transcendent for<br />

other reasons. It’s not just the<br />

victories, nor even their panache.<br />

It’s something else, something<br />

more ethereal, not easy to explain<br />

or understand. Something<br />

tangible, something that makes<br />

you shiver inside with boyish<br />

excitement. Yes, these are the<br />

heroes: the riders that make you<br />

feel like a kid again.<br />

This is the story of two heroes.<br />

Two cyclists and good ones too.<br />

Their country’s best of their<br />

respective eras, certainly. Two<br />

riders who were born within a<br />

few kilometres of each other.<br />

Outstanding figures, the fathers<br />

of cycling in Colombia. The<br />

mirror in which you can see the<br />

reflections of Egan Bernal, Nairo<br />

Quintana or Miguel Ángel López.<br />

Two myths. As simple as that.<br />

Two myths.<br />

A Man in Marinilla<br />

Everyone called Ramón ‘Don<br />

Ramón’. Don Ramón de Marinilla,<br />

to be precise. Ramón is Ramón<br />

Hoyos Vallejo. One of the<br />

pioneers of Colombian cycling.<br />

No less than the first ‘beetle’.<br />

The ‘beetle’ business is a curious<br />

story because it came about by<br />

mistake. It so happened that one<br />

day Jorge Enrique Buitrago, a<br />

sportswriter who used the pen<br />

name ‘Mirón’, said that Hoyos’<br />

style reminded him of an insect.<br />

He would climb crouched up<br />

against his handlebars, legs<br />

akimbo, ungainly, too eager. Seen<br />

from a distance, he resembles a<br />

grasshopper, thinks Mirón. But<br />

he is wrong and mixes his words<br />

up. An eternal error. There goes<br />

Ramón Hoyos Vallejo, he says, the<br />

mountain beetle. And that’s how<br />

all Colombian climbers would be<br />

known for the rest of time. But he,<br />

Ramón, Don Ramón de Marinilla,<br />

will always be the first.<br />

Ramón Hoyos was also a great<br />

champion. Probably the greatest<br />

champion of the early years of<br />

Colombian cycling. The Vuelta<br />

a Colombia was born in 1951 and<br />

by 1958 Hoyos had already won<br />

it five times, taking 38 stage wins.<br />

His record would only ever be<br />

beaten by Cochise Rodríguez.<br />

But we are talking about the<br />

very first Vueltas a Colombia.<br />

In a word: madness. Monstrous<br />

routes which motor vehicles<br />

couldn’t cope with but which<br />


were conquered, day after day, by<br />

the long-suffering riders. Losing<br />

hours, gaining minutes, up and<br />

down in every stage. Wading<br />

through overflowing rivers with<br />

their bikes on their shoulders, up<br />

to their knees in oceans of mud.<br />

Climbs up to an altitude over<br />

3,000 m, where the air is thinner<br />

and lighter. And the jungle,<br />

the tropical humidity, the high<br />

temperatures, the ghosts at the<br />

summits. An adventure which<br />

takes in an entire country. And<br />

there, him.<br />

Him.<br />

Because the figure of Hoyos was<br />

perfect. Perfect for that place,<br />

for that time. Hoyos was a paisa,<br />

born very close to Medellín<br />

in the centre of Antioquia. He<br />

represented the pride of his<br />

region against the champions of<br />

Cundinamarca. It was they, from<br />

Bogotá, who created the Vuelta a<br />

Colombia, but it was we who won<br />

it. His duels with Efraín Forero<br />

Triviño, the indomitable ‘El Zipa’,<br />

who won the first edition of the<br />

race, are legendary and went<br />

far beyond mere sport. Zipa<br />

accused Hoyos of training too<br />

much, of having a whole team<br />

at his service while he had to<br />

fight alone against everyone and<br />

everything, especially against<br />

those who were supposed to be<br />

his teammates.<br />

And he wasn’t far wrong, because<br />

the Antioquia teams (at that<br />

time the Vuelta a Colombia was<br />

contested by teams representing<br />

the country’s regions) were better<br />

prepared, more disciplined and<br />

worked together in the face<br />

of the chaos and anarchy that<br />

existed elsewhere and from<br />

which Forero suffered so much.<br />

The credit for this goes to Julio<br />

Arrastía, an Argentine immigrant<br />

to Colombia who brought with<br />

him ideas and a strong grasp of<br />

psychology to help him persuade<br />

each rider to put himself in the<br />

service of the strongest.<br />

And the strongest, almost<br />

always, was Ramón Hoyos. So<br />

much so that he seemed larger<br />

than life, acquiring something<br />

of a mythical status. He rode in<br />

the jersey of the armed forces<br />

(he was doing national service)<br />

and they cheered him wherever<br />

he went. Everyone wanted to<br />

catch a glimpse of him. He was<br />

venerated like a lay saint. In many<br />

Antioquia homes there were<br />

two pictures on the living room<br />

wall. The first was a religious<br />

image, usually a Sacred Heart.<br />

The second was a photograph<br />

of Ramón Hoyos. Legend has it<br />

that one paisa household kept<br />

as a relic a chicken bone that<br />

had been gnawed by the great<br />

champion. How heretical, how<br />

beautiful. Such was the intensity<br />

of public fervour.<br />

For his part, Ramón did little to<br />

encourage it. He was taciturn,<br />

quiet, sometimes even surly.<br />


Ramón Hoyos<br />


Cochise as a young man<br />

Of humble origin, he never managed<br />

to rid himself of that shyness typical<br />

of those who had known hunger as<br />

children. So his comments to the press<br />

were sullen and very brief, the absolute<br />

bare minimum required of him. It didn’t<br />

matter. Everything he had to say he<br />

could say on the bicycle. And there,<br />

ascending those eternal climbs, he was<br />

the greatest. With his clumsy style,<br />

laboured but effective. Taking metres,<br />

minutes, worlds of distance from the<br />

other riders with every corner. Daring<br />

and decisive. Breaks of 100 or 150<br />

kilometres. What’s the difference? I can<br />

do anything, I can do anything. That’s<br />

why I’m Don Ramón de Marinilla.<br />

But the public wanted more. We know<br />

the champion, but what of the person?<br />

The inscrutable furrowed brow is not<br />

enough: fans crave smiles and stories. So<br />

a Colombian newspaper, El Espectador,<br />

decided to send a young journalist to<br />

write a long biography of Ramón Hoyos,<br />

to be serialised over fourteen issues.<br />

The name of the little-known reporter<br />

was Gabriel García Márquez. Much<br />


later he won the Nobel Prize<br />

for Literature.<br />

And it was at this point<br />

that Hoyos definitively<br />

transcended his sport.<br />

Because it is impossible to<br />

tell where his life ends and<br />

Márquez’s storytelling begins.<br />

In other words, the first beetle<br />

moves to Macondo and lives<br />

in the words of ‘Gabo’. And his<br />

actions start to have symbolic<br />

meaning. What surrounds<br />

him is telluric. The dirt on his<br />

face. The ground he hits in<br />

his many crashes. Mud in the<br />

tragedy that ends the lives of<br />

his mother and sister. And<br />

dreams full of premonition.<br />

The prose of Gabriel García<br />

Márquez merges with the life<br />

of Ramón Hoyos and what<br />

emerges is a marvellous novel.<br />

The greedy author does not<br />

hesitate to appropriate reality,<br />

to twist it, to turn the tanned<br />

and taciturn face of Hoyos<br />

into a recognisable icon, a<br />

literary symbol. And we all<br />

smile, because it’s beautiful.<br />

That’s how it is, that’s how it<br />

was, how a cyclist started to<br />

become something bigger,<br />

much bigger. An illusion<br />

shared by everyone.<br />

Oh, Ramón Hoyos was also<br />

the subject of a painting by<br />

Fernando Botero, the most<br />

internationally-renowned<br />

Colombian artist of the 20 th<br />

century. One day the painting<br />

was stolen and the artist<br />

received a ransom demand for<br />

$3,000. Certainly more money<br />

than Hoyos ever earned for<br />

riding his bike in that amateur<br />

age. Botero paid, of course.<br />

You don’t let a legend get<br />

away.<br />

Cochise vs. The World<br />

The kids leave the cinema.<br />

They have been to see ‘Broken<br />

Arrow’, a western with<br />

cowboys and Indians. One<br />

stands out. One of the bad<br />

guys. One of those that some<br />

call bad guys. But oh, how<br />

brave, how noble, how driven.<br />

Nothing and no one could<br />

stop him. He looked people<br />

straight in the eye and always<br />

kept his word. How could<br />

they call him a savage when<br />

he was more human than any<br />

of them? Yes, that boy, that<br />

dark-skinned boy with the<br />

deep hazel eyes, he sees it<br />

clearly. That same afternoon<br />

he tells his friends, “Don’t call<br />

me Martín Emilio any more. I<br />

prefer Cochise.”<br />

That’s how Martín Emilio<br />

Rodríguez became known<br />

to all as Cochise Rodríguez.<br />

It was also the first time that<br />

his overpowering personality<br />

imposed itself on a stubborn<br />

reality, in the administrative<br />

matter of his name. It would<br />

not be the last.<br />


Because Cochise was special.<br />

Charismatic, fun. Cochise always had<br />

a smile, a kind word, a controversial<br />

remark. For a journalist or photographer,<br />

Cochise was a dream. So dark, those<br />

sideburns so long, those good looks.<br />

He had the face of a heartthrob, a star<br />

of telenovelas. But there is more to<br />

winning a bike race than having a pretty<br />

face. You need legs, strength. And<br />

Cochise had these in abundance.<br />

He was fascinating. Imperious. He was<br />

the precise opposite of what we think<br />

a Colombian cyclist is. Especially the<br />

Colombians of his era. He was tall and<br />

strong with broad shoulders and legs<br />

that moved like powerful pistons. A<br />

locomotive. Nothing like his teammates<br />

– short, thin, crazy climbers who<br />

barely knew how to ride on the flat.<br />

Cochise knew. As fast as anyone in the<br />

sprints and superb against the clock,<br />

he moved skilfully around the peloton.<br />

He was perfect: photogenic, daring and<br />

charismatic. He was a true symbol of the<br />

Colombia of the sixties and seventies.<br />

Because Cochise, Cochise Rodríguez,<br />

was not a contemporary of Ramón<br />

Hoyos. There was barely a decade<br />

between them, but in reality the<br />

difference was much greater than that.<br />

Hoyos was a boy who came from a<br />

more rural world, simpler, more direct<br />

perhaps. Work and keep your mouth<br />

shut, that was Hoyos. Not Cochise.<br />

Cochise was a city boy, a character from<br />

Dickens in the suburbs of Medellín,<br />

someone who saw from a very early age<br />

that the bicycle would offer him a route<br />

to a better life. Hoyos wore suit trousers,<br />

Cochise the most modern of jeans.<br />

One fearfully hid his expressions from<br />

the lenses of the photographers. The<br />

other stretched his smile, pulled faces,<br />

let his eyes peek out from behind his<br />

sunglasses. Two worlds. So close, yet so<br />

far apart. They never got along. Jealous,<br />

perhaps: one of the other’s youth, the<br />

other of the first’s mystique. They never<br />

got along, no.<br />

And what more was there? Cochise<br />

dedicated himself to winning, or rather<br />

to tyrannising Colombian cycling. He<br />

won the Vuelta a Colombia four times<br />

(winning 39 stages in the process and<br />

thus beating – such exquisite pleasure –<br />

Hoyos’ record). One Clásico RCN. And<br />

every other race you can think of. On the<br />

road and, above all, on the track.<br />

And it was in the velodrome that Martín<br />

Emilio – sorry, Cochise – enjoyed his<br />

greatest achievements. South American<br />

Champion. World Champion in the<br />

individual pursuit. Holder of the<br />

amateur hour record (in Mexico in 1975).<br />

He was a star. It was the high point of<br />

his popularity. And the seed of what<br />

happened next.<br />

Because in order to take on the Hour,<br />

that epic challenge, Cochise called upon<br />

the help of an Italian sponsor, Giacinto<br />

Benotto. His bicycle was Benottobranded<br />

and ‘Benotto’ appeared on<br />

his jersey that day. Nothing unusual<br />

about that . . . except in Colombia, where<br />

cyclists were, in theory, amateurs and<br />

so not allowed to accept sponsorship<br />

money. The scandal was uncovered and<br />

Cochise saw his great dream evaporate<br />

– the Munich Olympics. Since only<br />

non-professionals competed at the<br />


Martín Emilio “Cochise” Rodríguez<br />

Olympics in those days and he was no longer an amateur, he was<br />

not allowed to participate.<br />

The world was at his feet. What was he to do? In Colombia he had<br />

won everything. Latin America itself seemed too small for his<br />

legs. Cochise wasted no time in deliberations and the European<br />

adventure began. He was not the first Colombian to try it (Giovanni<br />

Jiménez had been racing in Belgium for a few years already) but he<br />

was the first to be successful. He joined Salvarini and later Bianchi.<br />

Always riding as a gregario for Felice Gimondi, the great Italian<br />

champion of the time. Always subordinated to his leader. Even so,<br />

there were successes – some symbolic (he was the first Colombian<br />

to ride the Tour and the Giro) and some real. He won two stages<br />

of the Giro, the first stages to be won by a non-European at any of<br />

the Grand Tours. A milestone. His name will remain in the history<br />

books forever.<br />

When he returned to Colombia, tired of riding for others, it was<br />

madness. The veteran champion is always more popular than the<br />

arrogant youth and Cochise returned across the Atlantic with that<br />


special aura: of a time when we were all young and still idealistic. He<br />

began to participate in special tributes arranged for his benefit and<br />

appeared in advertisements. He smiled and pressed the flesh. Some<br />

say he charged people to visit his house, though he always denied it<br />

(it’s not as crazy as it sounds – Rafael Antonio Niño, his successor as<br />

the great Colombian champion, sold tickets to his fans to watch him<br />

rest in bed). He had transcended sport like no one before him. He<br />

even had his share of literary glory, like Hoyos.<br />

Only he was interviewed not by Gabo but by Gonzalo Arango,<br />

who was a sharp-witted and sarcastic poet, someone who despised<br />

athletes merely for being athletes. And the conversation was<br />

disrespectful, aggressive with the two almost coming to blows. The<br />

result is fantastic, of course. The same can be said for the difference<br />

between the two stories, that of García Marquez and that of Arango,<br />

which marks the changes in Colombia between the 1950s and the<br />

1970s. Or, while we’re making comparisons, the evolution from<br />

Hoyos to Cochise.<br />

Maybe. Only maybe.<br />

They never got on, Cochise and Hoyos. They were civil, never<br />

making direct attacks and would never have dreamt of being<br />

disrespectful. That’s for others, who have no manners. But there<br />

were never compliments or flowers. They avoided fine words and<br />

let slip only minor complaints. Of course, Rodriguez said, he got a<br />

lot of help from his teammates. And he, responded Hoyos, was never<br />

able to gain time in the mountains. They looked at each other. The<br />

two of them. Knowing they were legends. Still more, repositories of<br />

something transcendental, something inexhaustible.<br />

Both Ramón Hoyos and Cochise Rodríguez were the pride of an<br />

entire nation.<br />

Conquista and Marcos Pereda would like to thank Esteban Duperly<br />

for his assistance.<br />


Ramón Hoyos at the start of the Classic “El Colombiano”<br />


Bordeaux-Paris was one of the last links<br />

to professional road cycling’s dustiest<br />

origins. The version that died in 1988 was<br />

a pale shadow of what was once arguably<br />

the greatest race of all – a race which also gave<br />

us perhaps the greatest feat in the sport’s history,<br />

courtesy of Jacques Anquetil.<br />



PARIS<br />

Words:<br />

Suze Clemitson<br />

Illustrations: Sam Hinton<br />

Photography: Cor Vos<br />


It all starts at the Hotel Grillon in<br />

Chambéry. There’s just time for a shower,<br />

a shit and a massage before Anquetil is<br />

whisked away in a Ford Taunus, Géminiani<br />

at the wheel, in pursuit of a double inédit – the<br />

Dauphiné and Bordeaux-Paris, the longest,<br />

toughest, motherfucker of a Classic on the<br />

calendar. Anquetil is 32, at the summit of his<br />

legendary career: the first rider to win 5 Tours de<br />

France and all 3 of the Grand Tours, tester par<br />

excellence and winner of a record 8 Grands Prix<br />

des Nations to hammer home the point. None of<br />

this is his idea.<br />


When George Pilkington Mills<br />

lined up at the first Bordeaux-<br />

Paris he was there by right.<br />

Invited to ride by organisers Le<br />

Véloce sport, Mills had ridden<br />

an Ordinary from Land’s End<br />

to John o’ Groats in just 5 days<br />

and would attack the record<br />

ceaselessly over the coming<br />

years on bicycles, tricycles and<br />

tandems. The king of LEJOG was<br />

a perfect fit for the 600 km slog<br />

between the great south-western<br />

city of Bordeaux and the Parc<br />

des Princes velodrome in the<br />

south-west suburbs of Paris, now<br />

home to Paris Saint-Germain.<br />

1891 was a busy year for<br />

G.P. Mills. At the age of 25<br />

the designer and bicycle<br />

manufacturer went bankrupt<br />

and once again broke the LEJOG<br />

record, this time by 21 hours over<br />

his old mark, riding a Humber<br />

safety bicycle. He also breezed<br />

across the Channel with a couple<br />

of friends from the North Road<br />

Cycling Club, which he had cofounded<br />

in 1885 to promote ‘fast<br />

and long distance cycling on the<br />

Great North and other Roads’,<br />

to tackle some continental<br />

racing. Mills, Montague Holbein<br />

– who would unsuccessfully<br />

attempt to swim the English<br />

Channel at least 4 times – and<br />

Seymour Edge – future motor<br />

manufacturer and car dealer –<br />

would finish one-two-three in the<br />

first Bordeaux-Paris.<br />

Mills used a combination of<br />

youth, guile and tactical nous to<br />

build an unassailable lead. When<br />

the race reached Angoulême,<br />

instead of resting and enjoying<br />

a three-course meal and a hot<br />

shower, as the good people of<br />

Angoulême were expecting –<br />

surely no one could tackle such<br />

a great distance without need of<br />

a bed for the night? – they were<br />

shocked to see Mills grab a bowl<br />

of soup and hightail it out of<br />

their city, paced on his way by<br />

one of France’s top professional<br />

riders. He would lead by over<br />

half an hour by the time the race<br />

reached Ruffec, 50 km away.<br />

Mills would eventually be<br />

declared the winner of the race<br />

once the Bicycle Union had been<br />

convinced of his amateur status.<br />

Even though he was sponsored<br />

by a bicycle manufacturer Mills<br />

wore the fake halo of the amateur<br />

riding for love not money.<br />

Given the weather conditions<br />

and the equipment at hand<br />

Mills’s winning time of 26h 36m<br />

25s was quite a feat. But the<br />

Englishman had had an ace up<br />

the sleeve of his woollen jersey –<br />

when he stopped briefly at Tours<br />

he ate raw meat and consumed a<br />

‘specially prepared stimulant’.<br />


For those who think British cycling success began in 2012, Mills wasn’t<br />

the only rider tearing up the continental roads in the 19th century.<br />

James Moore had been setting records since the 1860s and was<br />

considered the world’s first great racing cyclist. Having won what was<br />

purported to be the first ever bicycle race in 1868 at Saint-Cloud in<br />

Paris he capped it all with his triumph in Paris-Rouen in 1869.<br />

Moore’s triumph in Saint-Cloud was quite an achievement<br />

considering he’d only acquired his first bicycle, a cumbersome<br />

Michaux velocipede, in 1865. Born in Suffolk but resident in France<br />

from the age of four, the crack rider was known as l’Anglais volant in<br />

France and ‘The Flying Frenchie’ across the Channel. But Moore had<br />

retired by 1877, too soon to race the fledgling Bordeaux-Paris.<br />

Instead, 5 years after the North Road Cycling Club had dominated<br />

that first race, it was a slight, dark-haired rider with an impressively<br />

European moustache that would stand on the top of the podium.<br />

Arthur Linton was mining in the pits of the South Wales valleys at<br />

13 and signed as a professional to Gladiator Cycles in 1893. There he<br />

came under the influence of James Edward ‘Choppy’ Warburton, who,<br />

like Linton, had been a child labourer, scuttling under the clatter of the<br />

cotton looms as a 6-year-old, gathering waste cotton.<br />

Choppy has become the original Dr Mabuse, the godfather of every<br />

modern doping doctor, with his infamous little black bottle and<br />

the sulphurous stench of doping. The truth seems more mundane:<br />

the bottle was a piece of showmanship wielded by the flamboyant<br />

Lancastrian in his sweeping floor-length overcoat and bowler hat, his<br />

arms wrapped over-familiarly around his young charges.<br />

Toulouse-Lautrec captured him in a poster for the Simpson chain<br />

company, hands in pockets, bestriding the little world of the Catford<br />


He boards a Mystère 20 at<br />

Nîmes airport and 1 hour 15<br />

minutes later steps onto the<br />

tarmac at Bordeaux-Mérignac.<br />

He catches an hour’s sleep before the<br />

marathon begins. His directeur sportif,<br />

Raphaël Géminiani – Le Grand Fusil<br />

– is waiting to drive him to the start<br />

line in the heart of Bordeaux. Gem is<br />

the real author of this crazy stunt. It<br />

is he who has decided that his rider<br />

is capable of completing the 1,565<br />

km of a particularly mountainous<br />

Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré before<br />

haring across the country to ride<br />

through the night and into the day<br />

from Bordeaux in the deep South<br />

West to the boulevards of Paris.<br />


velodrome like a colossus. He was fond<br />

of boasting that he’d trained four riders<br />

and three had become world champions,<br />

including Linton. Tongues wagged but<br />

it seems Linton’s true weakness was<br />

for gambling and match-fixing, a little<br />

peccadillo he’d acquired during his<br />

successful athletics career. His riders’<br />

success hinged on a dedication to ferreting<br />

out new ways to improve performance –<br />

history is in the process of reevaluating him<br />

as a Brailsford rather than a Ferrari.<br />

As part of Warburton’s untouchable<br />

Gladiator squad Linton was unstoppable,<br />

setting record after record. When he<br />

returned home to Aberaman at the end<br />

of an 1894 season that saw him declared<br />

‘Champion Cyclist of the World’ he<br />

received a hero’s welcome and a banquet in<br />

the local pub The Lamb and Flag.<br />

Arthur had already split from Choppy in<br />

1895, a saison sans thanks to a knee injury.<br />

According to his obituary in the Evening<br />

Post his health was already failing before<br />

he recorded his greatest triumph, winning<br />

the 1896 Bordeaux-Paris with the “sheer<br />

bulldog pluck and determination, which<br />

were his characteristics throughout<br />

the whole of his career.” Though Linton<br />

crossed the line first, 1’ 02” ahead of his<br />

rivals, the victory was shared with the<br />

Frenchman Gaston Rivierre when Linton<br />

was adjudged to have taken a shortcut.<br />

His last race was the gruelling Bol d’Or,<br />

a 24-hour marathon held at the Buffalo<br />

velodrome in June. After leading for the<br />

first six hours he stopped for a break,<br />

complaining of feeling unwell. Forced to<br />


etire, he returned to his hometown of<br />

Aberdare and died just under a month<br />

later. And that’s when the rumours start<br />

– of Linton foaming at the mouth after a<br />

swig from Choppy’s bottle and dying from<br />

strychnine poisoning.<br />

The truth is far more prosaic and infinitely<br />

sadder. Linton died from typhoid fever<br />

brought on, it was said, by overexertion<br />

and the years of training and constant<br />

effort. His brother Tom, also a modestly<br />

successful rider, would die of the same<br />

illness 18 years later. Choppy Warburton,<br />

his career destroyed by a lifetime ban from<br />

the English cycling scene, suffered a fatal<br />

heart attack just a year after his protégé’s<br />

death in 1897, still fighting his ban. It was<br />

said he was worth just three halfpennies<br />

when he died.<br />

<br />

Dead of night. A fine rain – the<br />

kind that soaks you through<br />

– is falling. 11 men line up at the<br />

Bordeaux velodrome to ride the 567 km<br />

between them and the Parc des Princes.<br />

8,000 fans pack the building, cheering<br />

their heroes to the rafters as they head off<br />

into the darkness. A phalanx of lighted<br />

windows and cheering spectators mark<br />

the way as the rain doubles down, and<br />

the wind hits them square in the face like<br />

a fat wet sail.<br />


Le Véloce-sport had its offices at 3 Rue du Château-Trompette, a side street<br />

just off the Place des Quinconces, a magisterially open space and one of<br />

the largest public squares in Europe – just right for the start of a massdepart<br />

cycle race. It was here that any aspiring cyclo-touriste<br />

could purchase a copy of Voyage de Bordeaux à Paris par trois<br />

vélocipédistes for the sum of 2F 30. This luxury edition –<br />

200 pages and 2 illustrations – detailed the picaresque<br />

adventures of Messrs George Thomas, president of<br />

the Union Vélocipédique de France and chevalier<br />

de la Légion d’honneur, Oscar Maillotte of the<br />

Véloce Club Bordelaise and Maurice Martin of<br />

Le Véloce-sport as they bowled through the<br />

bucolic countryside towards the fleshpots of<br />

the capital. Think Three Men on a Bike with<br />

potholes, gîtes and pedals.<br />

Maurice Martin, poet, writer and a longtime<br />

member of the V.C.B. virtually<br />

invented the idea of cyclo-touring and<br />

promoted it enthusiastically through the<br />

pages of Le Véloce-sport. But the magazine<br />

had another mission – to challenge the<br />

hegemony of the Parisian cycling press as<br />

arbiters of all things vélocipédique. When<br />

George Thomas took over as president of<br />

the UVF in 1890, Le Véloce-sport became<br />

the de facto house magazine.<br />

Whether the exploits of Thomas, Maillotte<br />

and Martin were the inspiration for three<br />

pistards of the VCB – Fernand Panajou,<br />

Théophile Lévelley and Pierre Rousset – to<br />

create Bordeaux-Paris isn’t entirely clear, but<br />

the synchronicity is neat enough. They said they<br />

wanted to ‘strike the imagination’ of the rider by<br />

arguably creating the world’s first Classic. For Le Vélocesport,<br />

scooping Le Petit Journal and Pierre Giffard’s Paris-<br />

Brest-Paris spectacular must have been sweet.<br />

No such problems for the Le Véloce-sport event which, the<br />

magazine was quick to claim, had even won the approbation of those<br />

who were constitutionally opposed to bicycle racing in Bordeaux. By<br />

1893 the list of prizes up for grabs included a watercolour offered by the<br />


artist for the oldest sprinter not classified in the top 6, plus a variety of<br />

medals: for the first rider to go through the control in Poitiers and finish<br />

in Paris and the first Bordelais rider to arrive at the finish line. Most<br />

splendid of all, a complete cycling costume offered by the Maison<br />

du Grand Théâtre in Bordeaux for the youngest Bordelais rider<br />

to arrive in the Parc des Princes.<br />

1891 was Year Zero for road racing, born out of the<br />

unholy marriage of sport, spectacle and selfpromotion.<br />

These were the baby steps of what<br />

became known in France as le sport spectacle<br />

where the enthusiasm and expertise of cycling<br />

clubs riffed off the commercial imperative<br />

of the newspapers that invested in their<br />

races to sell more newspapers. Riders<br />

and manufacturers weren’t immune to<br />

the commercial opportunities either.<br />

Before long they’d learned to monetise<br />

everything from inner tubes to tyres<br />

to the bicycles themselves. A cycling<br />

exploit like Bordeaux-Paris became both<br />

a technological showcase and a real-time<br />

drama to be shared with the crowds<br />

waiting with bated breath . . .<br />

Bordeaux-Paris was the first in an<br />

explosion of ultra-distance races between<br />

1891 and 1896, which saw the debut of La<br />

Doyenne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, in 1892<br />

and Paris-Roubaix in 1896. The northern<br />

cobbled race was often seen as a mere<br />

amuse-bouche for Bordeaux-Paris, the Queen<br />

herself. Both those shorter races survive, their<br />

devotion to distance never quite so extreme as<br />

the randonées refashioned as road races. Despite<br />

being commemorated in the folklore of cycling as a<br />

tasty choux bun, Giffard’s Paris-Brest-Paris – at 1,200 km<br />

over twice the distance of Bordeaux-Paris – struggled to<br />

capture the imagination and was finished as a professional<br />

race by 1951.<br />

The gimmick of setting riders absurd long-distance challenges was<br />

part one-upmanship between rival newspaper editors and part regional<br />


pride – the riders of Bordeaux, alarmed at reports the cycling<br />

clubs of Grenoble and Lyon were about to adopt the English model<br />

of endurance time trialling, jumped the gun and opted for a less<br />

logistically challenging point-to-point race. The pacing came later –<br />

the 1899 race was paced by motorcar, the raffishly knickerbockered<br />

figure of Josef Fischer tucked in the slipstream of an elegant<br />

automobile. The familiar profile of the smelly little Derny would be<br />

introduced in the 1930s.<br />

The UVF had always been open about attracting professional riders<br />

to their ranks and allowing them to compete in their races. But one of<br />

France’s elite riders, Charles Terront, would not be at the start line in<br />

1891. In order to attract British riders to the race, Le Véloce-sport was<br />

forced to accept the diktat of the National Cycling Union that the race<br />

be strictly amateur. Which meant that the shamateur Mills, riding for<br />

his North Road club but heavily sponsored by Humber bicycles, was<br />

free to be paced by a professional and beat the peloton of French club<br />

riders. Ironically, the British had turned what was dreamed of as a<br />

randonnée into a proper road race.<br />

The debate over where Paris-Bordeaux could and would lead the<br />

sport of bike racing would rage on over the next decade. By the late<br />

1890s the race had been taken over by Giffard’s Le Vélo and the 1902<br />

edition was won by Édouard Wattelier, who had already finished<br />

second in that year’s Paris-Roubaix.<br />

But there was another Bordeaux-Paris race that year, where the<br />

winning rider smashed the winning time by over 4 hours. It was<br />

unpaced because the organiser despised anything that might impede<br />

on the Spartan cruelty of long-distance riding. That second race was<br />

won by a rider known variously as the White Bulldog and le petit<br />

ramoneur and was organised by the new kid on the sports journalism<br />

block – L’Auto-Vélo under the editorship of Henri Desgrange.<br />


For the next 300 km,<br />

Anquetil suffers – like a<br />

dog in the midday sun, like<br />

a condemned man in his cell.<br />

He pants, he coughs, the waxy skin<br />

stretches tight over his cheekbones<br />

like a death mask. Gem berates him,<br />

insults him, questions his pride and<br />

his manhood. Anquetil is having<br />

none of it but he’s fucked if he’s about<br />

to surrender. He says later that the<br />

reason he won was because he<br />

wanted to abandon the race as late<br />

as he possibly could presumably just<br />

to piss off the boss. But the relentless<br />

cold and the wind take their toll and<br />

by Châtellerault he’s half an hour<br />

down on his schedule.<br />


94<br />

Herman van Springel

Bordeaux-Paris didn’t make it into the first Tour de France as one of<br />

the iconic six original stages. Instead the peloton tackled Bordeaux-<br />

Nantes, a mere 425 km, in a stage won by Maurice Garin. The<br />

diminutive French-Italian rider would go on to win the race overall,<br />

having led from start to finish. It was the start of a long and illustrious<br />

relationship between the biggest cycling race of them all and the<br />

jewel of the South West – Bordeaux has hosted the Tour 80 times<br />

since 1903.<br />

It’s not difficult to see how a 500 km+ one-day race in May became a<br />

playground of future Tour champions. It was the ideal preparation for<br />

the gargantuan stages of that race and the roll call of winners between<br />

1903 and the outbreak of world war one reads like a Who’s Who of the<br />

Iron Age of cycling – Hippolyte Aucouturier (1903), 2nd in the Tour<br />

and winner of Paris-Roubaix that year; Louis Trousselier (1908) winner<br />

of the Tour – Paris-Roubaix double in 1905; Francois Faber (1911)<br />

winner of the 1909 Tour and a record 5 stages back-to-back.<br />

When the race resumed in 1919 it was with a win by Henri Pélissier,<br />

the flamboyant star of the new French cycling who would finally win<br />

the Tour in 1923. His brother Francis would win Bordeaux-Paris in<br />

1922. He was the last French winner before a long string of fabled<br />

Belgian hard men dominated the palmarès – Georges Ronsse the<br />

cyclo-cross specialist, Classics winner and two-time world champion<br />

won 3 editions of the race between 1927 and 1930.<br />

The dominance of the twin superpowers of world cycling was briefly<br />

interrupted in 1925 by the first rider to pull off the illustrious Ronde<br />

van Vlaanderen / Paris-Roubaix double in 1923 – a feat unmatched<br />

until his countryman Fabian Cancellara did it again in 2010. Heinrich<br />

‘Heiri’ Suter was born 8 years after the first Bordeaux-Paris was<br />

raced and won the GP Wolber – at that time the unofficial world<br />

championships – in 1922 at just 23 years of age and then again in 1925,<br />

the year he conquered Bordeaux-Paris. In 1926 he’d go one-two at<br />

Paris-Tours with fellow Swiss Kastor Notter.<br />

The youngest and most successful of six brothers who all raced, Heiri<br />

nailed 58 professional wins in his career. Neat as a toy soldier with<br />

his slicked-down hair, Suter was Swiss champion 7 times before he<br />

retired at the end of a 14-year career that was ridden entirely between<br />

the two world wars.<br />


96<br />

Poitiers. Relief as the trainers mount their<br />

Dernys and motor-pace the riders from here<br />

to Paris. Vin Denson attacks and spends the next 100<br />

km with his nose in the wind. He’s one of three Ford<br />

France-Gitane-Dunlop riders in the race alongside<br />

Maître Jacques and Jean Stablinski. But the Peugeot<br />

team are there in numbers and they’re keen to make<br />

the race relentless. Attack after attack has the desired<br />

effect and drops Anquetil like a greased piglet. Time<br />

after time he rides himself back, the jumper, tights and<br />

jaunty bobble hat of the early hours stripped away<br />

between the car doors, by the exposed roadside in the<br />

traditional Bordeaux-Paris mid-morning striptease –<br />

ah, the glamour of professional cycling. And through it<br />

all, Tom Simpson – the sensational winner of the 1963<br />

race – bides his time.

They called him The Flying Dutchman ever<br />

afterwards. The rider who flew 70 m down<br />

a ravine on the descent of the Aubisque and<br />

climbed back out on a rope braided together<br />

out of inner tubes. For Wim van Est it was<br />

heartbreak - the first Dutch rider ever to pull on<br />

the yellow jersey, he was forced to abandon the<br />

1951 Tour even though he suffered only mild<br />

abrasions. “In a flash I saw death,” he said later,<br />

“and the rest I don’t remember very well – a big<br />

boom in my head and then a religious silence.”<br />

It made a great ad campaign for his sponsor,<br />

Pontiac watches: “My heart stopped, but my<br />

Pontiac didn’t.” That snappy advertising slogan,<br />

with the strapline “Pontiac can take a beating,”<br />

caught the public imagination. Shortly before<br />

his death in 2003 he unveiled a plaque at the<br />

spot his dreams died and another of the Tour’s<br />

legends was forged.<br />

Wim van Est had only turned pro 4 years<br />

earlier, at the age of 24. He’d spent his early<br />

life dodging the law, smuggling tobacco and<br />

serving prison time. The bike was a step<br />

towards legitimacy and van Est grabbed it,<br />

winning Bordeaux-Paris in 1950. It suited him<br />

well, the rider they called ‘The Locomotive’,<br />

with its endless grinding kilometres. He would<br />

win it twice more – in 1952 and then again in<br />

1961 at the end of his long career. In total he<br />

stood on the podium 6 times.<br />

It was an exceptional record in the longest of<br />

the Classics. In any other era he’d have earned<br />

the title ‘M. Bordeaux-Paris’ and he remains one<br />

of the monstres sacrés of that epic race. But that<br />

particular nickname was reserved for a stocky<br />

rider from Grenoble who won the race 4 times<br />

between 1951 and 1957, Bernard Gauthier.<br />



Like van Est, Gauthier was a relatively late arrival<br />

in the pro ranks having made the choice between<br />

the bike or the Foreign Legion. As a kid during<br />

the war he’d been picked up by the Gestapo and<br />

bundled onto a train headed for Buchenwald<br />

concentration camp. Full of the courage,<br />

audacity and grinta that would earn him the<br />

nickname ‘Steel Legs’ in the pro peloton,<br />

Gauthier jumped off the train and escaped. He<br />

started his cycling career as an independent,<br />

arguing that it was the only way to detect real<br />

talent, and wore the yellow jersey at the Tour<br />

for a week after diving into a crazy escape on an<br />

epic stage between Liège and Lille in the 1950<br />

Tour. There’s a photo of him, wild-eyed, after<br />

raiding a pub for a drink, beer bottle in hand.<br />

The 1954 race showed every ounce of<br />

Gauthier’s guts. Crashing heavily at Arthenay<br />

the Frenchman shredded his shoulder<br />

leaving van Est to dart away towards a third<br />

victory. His directeur sportif, the ever-formal<br />

and taciturn Antonin Magne – winner of the<br />

1931 and 1935 Tours and one of the greatest<br />

tacticians of them all – may have been<br />

nicknamed ‘The Monk’ for his silence,<br />

but he had a way of bringing out the best<br />

in his riders. Gauthier hauled back the<br />

Dutchman and then forced the race at<br />

Châteaufort, riding into the Parc des<br />

Princes alone and exhausted.<br />

In 1956 the race was paced from<br />

start to finish. Gauthier, suffering<br />

terrible stomach cramps, seemed<br />

powerless to stop Jean-Claude<br />

Skerl, a complete unknown,<br />

running away with the race.<br />

For over 400 km Skerl held<br />

the lead until Gauthier’s<br />

iron determination and<br />

steel legs dragged him<br />

back into contention as<br />


the race headed towards Chartres, the magnificent<br />

cathedral looming large on the featureless plain.<br />

Gauthier struck in the Vallée de Chevreuse and<br />

Skerl’s luck and legs ran out. Gauthier raised his<br />

arms in victory for a third time.<br />

The Chevreuse valley was his happy hunting<br />

ground again as he constructed a record-breaking<br />

fourth win in 1957. The heat was storm-laden and<br />

oppressive. The great Classics specialist Rik Van<br />

Looy couldn’t take the pace and climbed off before<br />

the race hit Chartres, his red jersey flaked out at<br />

the roadside like a wilted poppy. Gauthier – like a<br />

great Hercules crushing a bike that should never<br />

have passed the bike fit – put the legendary sprinter<br />

André Darrigade to the sword and then flew away<br />

to a 7’ victory that more than honoured the French<br />

champion’s jersey he wore with such pride.<br />

In a perfect ouroboros, Gauthier would spend the<br />

1962 season as van Est’s DS at Liberia-Grammont-<br />

Wolber. It was one of cycling’s petty cruelties, a<br />

tragic vignette, that shook Gauthier’s confidence<br />

and sent him back to Grenoble to open a florist’s<br />

shop – Marc Huiart was knocked down by a race<br />

car and killed at the GP des Fourmies soon after he<br />

set off down the road to best his brother Jacqui’s<br />

winning time.<br />

Hercules died at the age of 94 in November 2018, on<br />

the same day as Gaston Plaud, the Peugeot directeur<br />

sportif who took Merckx, Thévenet and a young rider<br />

from England called Tom Simpson to glory.<br />


Tours, km 327. Francois Mahé, a<br />

brick shithouse of a Breton, kicks<br />

through the muck and joins<br />

Vinson in the lead at Mont Saron.<br />

It’s the last race of a 15-year career<br />

that has seen him wear the leader’s jersey<br />

and win stages in the Tour and the Vuelta<br />

and finish 2nd and 3rd in Bordeaux-Paris.<br />

He sets all his stubbornness and experience<br />

at winning one final time. The peloton,<br />

such as it is, a straggle of Dernys and riders<br />

strewn across the road, is 1’ 30” down by<br />

the time the race crosses the Loire. After<br />

210 km alone in the lead, despite a couple<br />

of punctures that see the peloton frozen in<br />

place as he makes his repairs, Mahé is 6’ 30”<br />

ahead and the race behind is decimated.<br />

Simpson, furious that Mahé has attacked at<br />

the change zone, tries to bring him to heel,<br />

still picking chunks of gravel out of his groin<br />

and chamois as he rides.<br />


“Briton wins cycle race,” announced British Pathé with typical stiffupper-lipped<br />

understatement. At the height of its fame as the<br />

longest, most gruelling classic, Tom Simpson sprinted into the<br />

Parc des Princes and smashed it, putting minutes into his rivals<br />

and taking one of the great wins of his illustrious career.<br />

To understand Bordeaux-Paris you have to understand how it<br />

feels to be yoked to a Derny kilometre after kilometre,<br />

the pace and the road inexorable,<br />

your eyes glued to the wheel,<br />

your nose filled with the<br />

thick stink of two-stroke<br />

fumes. Not a word had<br />


passed between Simpson and his trainer, the implacable Fernand<br />

Wambst, who had paced Ferdi Kübler to victory in 1953, for over 500<br />

kilometres. Then 2 km before the velodrome: “On sprint pour le tour!<br />

We’ll sprint for the lap!” A 100,000 franc prime but peanuts compared<br />

to the winner’s prize and the lucrative appearance contracts that<br />

went with it. Simpson’s voracious greed for victory and its<br />

spoils was as all-consuming as ever – he won the 1963 Derby<br />

of the Road at a sprint, his extravagant coup de pédale as<br />

efficient as ever.<br />

Under the direction of Plaud,<br />

Simpson and his 4 Peugeot<br />

teammates ate their pre-<br />


ace meal at 11.30. The hotel kitchens buzzed<br />

with soigneurs filling musettes and bidons for<br />

the day ahead. 15 riders lined up in the predawn<br />

gloom to ride the 2 km of the départ<br />

fictif along the quays of Bordeaux before<br />

the flag dropped at 1.58am. Like a gang of<br />

narcoleptics out on a spree, the peloton of the<br />

62 nd Bordeaux-Paris headed sleepily towards<br />

Châtellerault where the trainers were poised<br />

to pace their charges the remaining 299 km to<br />

the Parc des Princes.<br />

Attacking effectively in a Dernypaced<br />

race is all about the symbiosis<br />

between trainer and rider, the almost<br />

imperceptible upping of the revolutions<br />

until your rear wheel has disappeared down<br />

the road as if you simply teleported from<br />

here to there. Wambst sees the twin<br />

Gothic spires of Chartres cathedral, one<br />

of the most recognisable landmarks<br />

in the race, and imperceptibly ups the<br />

pace, turning the pedals of the Derny<br />

just a little faster.<br />

It’s nothing and everything. His turn of speed proves<br />

devastating with just over 60 km left to race. He is<br />

careful in the way he turns the screw not to blow<br />

Simpson’s legs out from under him. Both men and<br />

their machines move away towards Paris in perfect tandem.<br />

When Wayne Hildred raced the 1982 Bordeaux-Paris alongside<br />

Paul Sherwen and Sean Kelly he wasn’t so lucky. His pacer was an<br />

ambitious Belgian wheeler-dealer and sometime agent called Staf<br />

Boone, who decided to make the race hard from the start. Hildred<br />

remembered “screaming out at Staf ‘Ease up! Easy, easy! Slow<br />

down, Staf!’ and he wouldn’t listen.” By 8am Hildred’s legs were<br />

shredded and he was vomiting at the roadside. Gradually, trainer<br />

and rider were forced to reverse places: “After a while I would just<br />

sit up and refuse to keep the pace and eventually I gained some<br />

control over him.” Hildred finished an hour down on the winner,<br />

Frenchman Marcel Tinazzi, and lost 6 kg in the process.<br />


Wambst understands how to pace Simpson<br />

perfectly. Now the Englishman begins to<br />

hunt the victory in earnest, reeling in riders,<br />

constructing his final victory on the Côte de<br />

Dourdan, a Flemish berg dropped into the<br />

Chevreuse Valley. One of the lost mythic<br />

landscapes of cycling, wrapped in this quietly<br />

beautiful landscape that teems with forests,<br />

rivers and castles, Dourdan is the Arenberg or<br />

Alpe d’Huez of Bordeaux-Paris. In 1963, as they<br />

had been so many times before, the roads were<br />

heaving with spectators eager to see who was<br />

ready to launch themselves to victory. The 1959<br />

winner Louison Bobet can be heard shouting<br />

“Bravo Tom - il est formidable!” from the Radio<br />

Luxembourg car.<br />

So would Simpson ride the Tour if he won<br />

Bordeaux-Paris, asked Sporting Cyclist. “Almost<br />

certainly not,” Simpson responded. “I would<br />

concentrate on the world road championships.”<br />

The rainbow jersey would have to wait until<br />

1965 in San Sebastian when Simpson took an<br />

almost impossible win, beating the German<br />

powerhouse Rudi Altig in a two-up sprint. Mr<br />

Tom had never been so popular.<br />


Le Gué, km 483. Everything until<br />

this point has been riposte and<br />

parry. Now Simpson attacks, then<br />

attacks again at Ablis 9 km down the<br />

road and then again in the pavé at Dourdan<br />

after another 8 km. A series of quick thrusts<br />

that cut the thread between Simpson and<br />

his pursuers. With just 35 km until the finish<br />

in the Parc des Princes velodrome, Simpson<br />

catches Mahé with Anquetil and Stablinski<br />

around 100 m further back down the road.<br />


But even in 1963 the shine was coming off Bordeaux-Paris. That<br />

year there was no Van Looy, Altig, Stablinski or Anquetil on the<br />

start line and the inevitable whispers about the legitimacy of<br />

Simpson’s victory began to circulate, even though any rider can<br />

only win against the riders in front of him.<br />

By 1977 René Fallet, who followed that year’s ‘masterpiece of<br />

jeopardy’ from start to finish, was writing in the Livre d’Or du<br />

Cyclisme: “Now it is threatened with extinction, like the whale.<br />

Bordeaux-Paris has become too big for the so-called ‘big’ riders.<br />

In contrast to the great ones of yesterday, the Simpsons, Bobets,<br />

Küblers, Anquetils, etc., those of today flee this Monument like<br />

the plague and perhaps condemn it to death, which seriously<br />

dishonours them. One day – and why not? – they will find Paris-<br />

Roubaix or the Tour too tiring and will only ride criteriums.<br />

In front of empty seats, I hope. And it will be the end of this<br />

legendary sport.”<br />

But Bordeaux-Paris wasn’t ready to go quietly. There were still<br />

riders who wanted to pit themselves against this prehistoric<br />

challenge. Herman van Springel lost the 1968 Tour by just 38<br />

seconds, done over by a rampant Jan Janssen in a final 55 km time<br />

trial into Paris that saw the yellow jersey ripped rudely off the<br />

Belgian’s shoulders. 1969 saw the debut of Merckxissimo and the<br />

all-devouring Cannibal. What was a Belgian to do? Head for the<br />

South West and make his name in the last great endurance test. A<br />

race where he knew Merckx was sure not to follow.<br />

Van Springel won in 1970, 74, 75, 77, 78, 80 and 81. In 1977 the<br />

funny little Dernys – named after the Roger Derny et Fils factory<br />

where they were manufactured and powered with pedals and<br />

two stroke engines – were replaced by a sleek and shining fleet of<br />

Kawasakis. The new Monsieur Bordeaux-Paris beat Tour winner<br />

Lucien Aimar in 1970 and might have increased his tally of wins to<br />

9 if the 1971 and 1972 races hadn’t been cancelled. In 1974 he beat<br />

the next-placed rider Régis Delépine by over 15 minutes but was<br />

forced to share first place with him. Just like Arthur Linton back in<br />

1896 he was judged to have ridden the wrong course though this<br />

time van Springel rode several kilometres more than he needed to<br />

and it was Delépine who argued that the prize be shared.<br />

He was first in a field of 10 riders in 1975 and then second to<br />

Walter Godefroot the crack sprinter and Classics specialist who’d<br />


already won the race back in 1967. Although by 1977 the Miroir<br />

du cyclisme was declaring “‘The race that killed’ has become the<br />

race that died,” nobody told van Springel, who had his revenge<br />

on Godefroot by winning with a 3’ 25” margin of victory. He<br />

won again in 1978 to surpass Gauthier’s four wins, pinch his M.<br />

Bordeaux-Paris tag and beat Joop Zoetemelk in the process.<br />

Despite a bad crash and serious head injury, van Springel still<br />

finished third in 1979 before rounding out his Bordeaux-Paris<br />

exploits and his professional career with back-to-back wins in<br />

1980 and 81. In between times he managed 5 stages at the Tour,<br />

a green jersey, and a handful of other Classics including the 1968<br />

Giro di Lombardia where he beat a star-studded field solo and<br />

bagged the Super Prestige Pernod International trophy into<br />

the bargain. But his name was made in the endless, grinding,<br />

hallucinatory hours of Bordeaux-Paris while Merckx was bending<br />

the Grand Tours to his implacable will.<br />

Bordeaux snoozes on the banks of the river Garonne like a<br />

châtelaine, grown rich and fat and sleepy on great wine and<br />

culture and gastronomy. Louche and elegant yet with a fiercely<br />

beating Latin heart, Bordeaux has a long association with the<br />

bicycle. From the monstrous stages of the early Tours to the<br />

halcyon year of 1994 when the hour record tumbled again<br />

and again throughout the dog days of summer and autumn,<br />

Bordeaux is now a mecca for the cyclo-tourist who can take in<br />

great vineyards, endless beaches and Arcachon oysters with<br />

equal ease.<br />

1988 was the first in a run of three outstanding vintages and<br />

an exceptional year for Sauternes, producing wines of full,<br />

lush, mouth-pleasing richness, the sugar smoothed into<br />

honeyed heaven. But times were changing. The Chinese<br />

capitalist revolution was kickstarting the process that<br />

would open up the grands crus to Chinese ownership,<br />

the first Vinexpo was held in Hong Kong, and négociants<br />

started buying office space in Beijing.<br />

The game was changing in cycling, too. 1988 saw the<br />

US’s Andy Hampsten winning an epic Giro, Ireland’s Sean<br />


Saint-Rémy-lès-Chevreuse,<br />

km 538. Into the endgame and<br />

the sting in the tail. Over a series<br />

of leg-sapping côtes Simpson tries in vain<br />

to stretch his tenuous lead but M. Chrono<br />

and Stab relentlessly, inexorably reel him<br />

back in, despite Stab’s trainer crashing<br />

on the Côte de Dourdan. By Saint-Rémy<br />

Mahé is a busted flush and Stab takes<br />

control, attacking at Châteaufort, forcing<br />

Simpson to dig deep, Anquetil’s pedal<br />

stroke ominously smoothing out<br />

from busted marionette to its<br />

usual perfectly oiled precision.<br />

But his race still hangs in the<br />

balance between triumph<br />

and abandon.<br />


Côte de Picardie, Versailles,<br />

km 555. Anquetil gives the<br />

imperceptible signal to his<br />

trainer, ups the pace with ease<br />

and lets fly. By the top of the côte he has 100<br />

m over Simpson, 150 m over his teammate<br />

Stablinski. The sweating and the rocking<br />

and the uncertainty of the morning are long<br />

gone. The long levers turn with elegant<br />

efficiency. The effortless fluidity of his coup<br />

de pédale is matchless. The sheer sleek<br />

style of it all – back curved, head bowed,<br />

shoulders squared and immobile as he<br />

melts into the bike and transforms effort<br />

into advantage.<br />


Kelly taking his only Grand Tour win at<br />

the Vuelta and Spain’s Pedro Delgado<br />

victorious at the Tour de France despite<br />

a skin-of-the-teeth doping ‘positive’ that<br />

wasn’t – at least not under UCI rules. The<br />

Super Prestige Pernod International was<br />

on its way out, to be replaced with the shiny<br />

new World Cup competition. The UCI<br />

seized control of the professional rankings<br />

and replaced the informal rating of riders<br />

with their own points-based system, the<br />

start of a land grab that has put the sport’s<br />

governing body at loggerheads with race<br />

organisers ever since.<br />

As for Bordeaux-Paris, the final curtain<br />

was about to fall. Long a race out of time<br />

it was declared open in 1988 and more<br />

than 1000 riders were at the start in the<br />

Place des Quinconces. There was no<br />

motor-pacing and the event was won by<br />

Jean-François Rault, a little-known French<br />

pro who covered the 608 km of that final<br />

race in 18’ 55”. The jours de gloire were<br />

at an end – no professional rider had the<br />

time to dedicate to specific motor-paced<br />

training or the desire to ride distances that<br />

belonged back in the Iron Age. There were<br />

too many premium UCI points to be won<br />

at the Vuelta and the Giro, and no rider<br />

with the cojones to attempt anything as<br />

wantonly ridiculous and joyously bonkers<br />

as Anquetil’s Dauphiné-Bordeaux-Paris<br />

double. That kind of thing was best off<br />

left in the bad old days of amphetaminefueled<br />

hi-jinks. It had no place in the<br />

professionalised era of EPO.<br />


30 May 2014 and the Place de Quiconque<br />

is once again thronged with the 998 riders<br />

ready to take on the 610 km challenge of<br />

riding from the sun-soaked vineyards of the<br />

south-western grands crus<br />

to the sleepy green<br />

of the Chevreuse.<br />

26 years after its<br />

last incarnation as<br />

a professional race,<br />

Bordeaux-Paris is<br />

once again open to<br />

amateurs in the way<br />

that the godfather of<br />

cyclo-tourism Maurice<br />

Martin intended.<br />

500 will ride through the<br />

night, maybe even stopping for<br />

the traditional striptease near<br />

Poitiers, aiming to finish the ultra<br />

raid in 36 hours. The rest will<br />

ride alone or in pairs to finish the<br />

ultra rando in under 60 hours.<br />

They will ride through 9 French<br />

départements passing through<br />

some of the prettiest villages and<br />

plus beaux détours in France. They’ll<br />

ride in the slipstream of Mills and<br />

Linton, Simpson and Anquetil, van<br />

Est and Gauthier and van Springel<br />

– a strange fever dream, a sleepdeprived<br />

journey back into the days<br />

when distance ruled and nothing<br />

else mattered.<br />



Maître Jacques<br />


Anquetil is in his<br />

element now, time<br />

trialling into the Parc<br />

des Princes velodrome to<br />

the ovation of the crowd. His<br />

motor pacer and trainer Jo<br />

Goutorbe raises his left arm<br />

to salute his rider, Anquetil’s<br />

wife cries without troubling<br />

her immaculate mascara<br />

or her exquisite eyebrows.<br />

L’exploit est fait. Stab takes the<br />

monstrous bouquet for second<br />

place. Simpson, who dreams of<br />

finishing his career and settling<br />

in Australia, finishes third. The<br />

eternally cool Anquetil has<br />

earned his permis de panache<br />

once and for all.<br />


Wim van Est (centre)<br />




Words & Pictures: Mitchell Belacone<br />


Three or four times a week I ride my<br />

bike down to Circuito KDT to train on<br />

its car-free track. KDT consists of a 1.3<br />

kilometre oval cycle route, a velodrome<br />

and a home-cooking style restaurant<br />

that I equate to a ski lodge for cyclists.<br />

There is also a bike storage garage with<br />

a skilled mechanic. It is on Salguero<br />

between the Alcorta shopping mall<br />

and the river drive. I get there almost<br />

exclusively by bike lanes.<br />

During my five kilometre journey<br />

to KDT I typically share the bicycle<br />

lanes with: a motorcyclist whose helmet<br />

is dangling from his elbow; a twentysomething<br />

hipster pedalling with a<br />

leash attached to his bike at one end<br />

and a Dachshund’s neck at the other;<br />

a chatty couple pedalling side by side<br />

in the opposite direction and taking<br />

up both lanes; at least one ‘look ma no<br />

hands’ genius passing head-on at twenty<br />

kilometres per hour; a few people<br />

choosing to walk on the bike path,<br />

seemingly oblivious to the idea behind<br />

the little painted bicycles on the ground;<br />

and two or three cyclists speaking on<br />

the telephone, or forced to text because<br />

they have DJ-sized headphones on.<br />

Viewing a sexting would not be as<br />

big a surprise as you might think it<br />

should be. They all share in common<br />

a disdain for the helmet, excepting the<br />

aforementioned motorcyclist’s elbow.<br />

This path still beats letting one of<br />

the million maniacal drivers meld me<br />

into the pavement outside the so-called<br />

protected area that is the bike lane. The<br />

insanity ends when I reach into my<br />

jersey pocket and pull out the 10-peso<br />

entrance fee and say ‘Hola amigos’ to<br />

the friendly and familiar faces inside<br />


the gatehouse. I enjoy the ritual<br />

of reaching down to tighten my<br />

cycling shoes and turning on my<br />

gazillion-function cycle computer.<br />

The device and conversation<br />

with the other cyclists help divert<br />

my attention from the repetitive<br />

and none-too-special scenery<br />

of the course. KDT, being less<br />

than a kilometre from the river,<br />

is windier than farther inland, so<br />

riding in a peloton is even more<br />

advantageous. Even without a<br />

breeze a cyclist going thirty-three<br />

kilometres per hour is creating<br />

and bucking a thirty-threekilometre-per-hour<br />

headwind.<br />

The rider behind him (drafting)<br />

is doing between thirty and forty<br />

percent less work. Typically riders<br />

of equal ability will share the<br />

workload by rotating on and off<br />

the front. Often the younger and<br />

stronger riders will be happy to<br />

stay up front and do the ‘pulling’.<br />

My group seeks them out. We all like<br />

the feeling of going fast.<br />

Argentina has a strong group of<br />

older cyclists called masters. Maybe<br />

it is the Italian bloodlines. Many have<br />

been riding and racing all their lives. At<br />

fifty-nine I am the second youngest in<br />

an informal group of around twenty-five<br />

friends. The majority of these riders<br />

are octogenarians. Most are retired<br />

or people that make their own work<br />

schedules, so we meet down there<br />

around noon. I have been training on<br />

racing bikes fairly consistently since<br />

I was fifteen. If I miss more than two<br />

weeks I struggle to keep up with this<br />

group. I’m always curious about their<br />

ages. Fortunately they usually ask me<br />

mine first. Likely some are interested,<br />

but I get the impression that more<br />

often their real motivation is to watch<br />

the shock spread across my face when<br />

they tell me theirs. They have every<br />

right to be proud. It has nothing to<br />

do with being patronising: I typically<br />

guess they are ten years younger than<br />

they actually are. It’s not only the lack<br />

of pudge, but also the way they move<br />

and act, on as well as off the bike. There<br />

is no weakness in their voices when<br />

they speak. At lunch they move around<br />

in their seats and gesture like college<br />

kids trying to make their points. They<br />

walk with the gait and posture of people<br />

twenty years younger.<br />

In warmer weather, attractive<br />

women often sunbathe on a certain<br />

grassy portion of the infield. When my<br />


eyeballs are not otherwise occupied, I<br />

notice a few of our group leering there<br />

each and every lap. I think it’s less a<br />

case of nostalgia and more the result<br />

of superior circulation. Many have<br />

resting heart rates in the fifties and low<br />

sixties, more common to athletes in<br />

their twenties. They relish relaying their<br />

doctor’s classification of them as one in<br />

a million or freaks of nature.<br />

There is an addictive quality to<br />

the audible hum and gentle vibration<br />

produced from chains driven by pedals<br />

whirling at ninety revolutions<br />

per minute, pushing us through<br />

the air in unison. We all share<br />

that need for self-produced<br />

speed. These elder statesmen’s<br />

addiction to endorphins is<br />

no less pronounced than in<br />

younger athletes, if not more<br />

so. Unless there is a crash,<br />

which is extremely rare for this<br />

experienced group, and as long<br />

as you are properly fitted on the<br />

bike, injuries are almost nonexistent.<br />

Regardless, everyone<br />

in our group wears a helmet.<br />

Rubén is eighty-three.<br />

He rides with a titanium hip.<br />

You could not meet a happier<br />

person spinning around with<br />

the pack. Two years ago, in the<br />

slow lane, a young distracted triathlete<br />

ran into his rear wheel and knocked<br />

him off his bike and onto his fake hip. It<br />

was clearly the triathlete’s fault. Rubén<br />

was in the hospital for a year, half of<br />

that time fighting for his life because of<br />

infections. One day I saw someone else<br />

riding his bicycle and feared the worst.<br />

I asked around and was told that in fact<br />

that was his old bike. He was still alive<br />

but had sold the bike because he was<br />

homebound. That was then. Now go<br />

there on any given Tuesday, Thursday<br />

or Saturday and you will see him on his<br />

new bike with an even bigger smile on<br />

his face.<br />

‘El Uruguayo’, also known as ‘El<br />

Gato’, is eighty, yet has the spirit and<br />

friendliness of a teenager. His bike and<br />

equipment date to a past generation<br />

but he still keeps up with everybody<br />

without sweating too much into his<br />

faded wool jersey. I ride one of the latest<br />

high-tech ‘Ferraris’ of bikes and I often<br />

wear out before he does. I asked him<br />

why this is. He told me, “Because I never<br />

stopped.”<br />

Still another friend, Enrique, is<br />



eighty. He raced bikes from<br />

fifteen to twenty-four. He<br />

did stop, because he had to<br />

concentrate on work and then<br />

tennis became his leisure sport<br />

until he got aced by his knees.<br />

I had trouble keeping up with<br />

him the other week. Knowing<br />

his age, I diagnosed my struggle<br />

at that moment of incredulity<br />

as not enough air in my tyres,<br />

not enough oil on my chain and<br />

he will be in Spain with his new<br />

wife, following the Vuelta a<br />

España.<br />

I hesitate to mention Alfonso<br />

only because he is eighty-one<br />

and stronger than me. I average<br />

fifty kilometres a training<br />

session compared to his seventy.<br />

When we are riding side by<br />

side I’ll often look over and spy<br />

his heart monitor. When his<br />

to a heart problem that must<br />

have just arisen. Five years ago<br />

his wife of forty-nine years died<br />

and he found riding a better<br />

alternative to staying home.<br />

Much heartache can be abated<br />

by riding two hours with friends<br />

at seventy to eighty percent of<br />

your max pulse. Don’t go down<br />

there looking for Enrique the<br />

next three Tuesdays because<br />

is showing one hundred, mine<br />

is typically at a less efficient<br />

one hundred and fifteen for<br />

the same workload. Alfonso is<br />

the owner of an elevator repair<br />

company so I assume he is<br />

good at recalibrating electronic<br />

devices to his liking. How much<br />

different can a heart monitor be<br />

from an elevator control panel?<br />

Forgive my imagination, but I<br />


need something to explain away<br />

the painful discrepancy.<br />

Carlos is a softly-spoken retired<br />

economist. He stands 6’3” and is<br />

the smoothest pedaller there. Call<br />

him economy in motion with no<br />

sign of retirement on that account.<br />

Carlos’s posture has not bowed one<br />

degree to eighty years of battling<br />

gravity. One session I asked him if<br />

he wanted to practice leading each<br />

other out in sprints. It agitated him<br />

and he declined in a firm tone. I<br />

then realized he understands his<br />

body very well and is all about<br />

protecting its engine. He would not<br />

want to risk his ticket to health and<br />

happiness for a momentary thrill as<br />

I was asking him to do. That being<br />

said, he often tucks in behind my<br />

wheel when I jump onto the fastest<br />

peloton. I can’t remember him ever<br />

letting go of it, even at speeds of<br />

forty kilometres per hour.<br />

My first friend there was an<br />

eighty-two-year-old, also named<br />

Rubén. Before the bike lanes<br />

existed, I used to keep my bike in<br />

KDT’s garage. I would take a taxi<br />

there and sync my riding time<br />

with Rubén’s so I could take his<br />

cab back home. After two hours of<br />

riding, it amazed me how silently<br />

and cat-like he jumped in his cab. It<br />

encouraged me to bury the grunts<br />

and groans that I let out for that<br />

task. He was just as quick to jump<br />

out of the car, large-cat-like and not<br />

so silently, when challenged by<br />

aggressive drivers. Rubén smoked<br />

cigarettes until his fifties and the<br />

competition late into his seventies.<br />

Racers are often limited by their<br />

VO2 max (ability to consume<br />

oxygen under stress). Rubén was<br />

not limited by his lungs for the<br />

simple fact that he did not have<br />

lungs, he had a lung. I liked him a<br />

lot even if it annoyed me that he<br />

was as strong as me with just the<br />

one. Rubén had a relapse of his<br />

cancer and half of the remaining<br />

lung was removed. A few months<br />

later he was back, not as strong<br />

but no pussy cat either. As I know<br />

the excitement of being in a bike<br />

race I don’t feel sorry for him, just<br />

admiration for the thrilling life he<br />

had made for himself.<br />

Francisco trains on a track<br />

bike (fixed gear) with only one<br />

handbrake, which he also uses to<br />

commute. Francisco is one of the<br />


most fascinating to watch because he is approaching<br />

eighty and can still keep up with the group at thirtyfive<br />

to forty kilometres per hour on his jalopy. He is<br />

not usually the first to drop off. Francisco was gone for<br />

a few months. One evening as I was having dinner in<br />

Las Cañitas I saw him with his arm in a sling. He was<br />

working as a trapito, car parking guide and protector<br />

for tips. I went over and we spoke. He assured me he<br />

would come back from his crash and he did, a month<br />

later. Now I have not seen him for a few months again<br />

but I would be surprised if he did not return.<br />

These people are not the exception. They are<br />

the norm for this clique. There are also many other<br />

people their age that just cruise around in leisurely<br />

fashion, clearly very happy to be doing so. This group<br />

proves that the Great Cyclist in the Sky is open to my<br />

athletic input and thus might be somewhat flexible<br />

deciding the final day of my ‘Vuelta de Earth’. You<br />

don’t necessarily have to get old at any appointed<br />

time. If not for these forever-young inspirational<br />

friends I likely would not have gotten married at age<br />

fifty-nine, and for the first time, this year. Please give<br />

me a couple of years before I decide whether to thank<br />

them or cut their brake cables.<br />


Bathers in Buenos Aires’ Fountain of Youth was first<br />

published in Mitchell Belacone’s 2019 collection Bud’s<br />

Nose: And Other Less Canine Stories.<br />



Exploring the Great Britain<br />

Cycling Team Academy at the<br />

Tour de Yorkshire 2019<br />

Words by Trevor Gornall<br />

Photos by www.swpix.com / insta: @swpix_cycling & Cor Vos.<br />


It’s been a while since we last spoke to<br />

our old mate Matthew Brammeier, so we<br />

decided to visit the former pro, now lead<br />

academy coach with the Great Britain<br />

Cycling Team (GBCT) men’s endurance<br />

programme, at this year’s Tour de Yorkshire.<br />

It turned out to be a fascinating insight<br />

into how the outspoken and occasionally<br />

controversial pro rider has matured<br />

into a confident and astute leader, now<br />

able to bring the benefit of his diverse<br />

and complicated career as a rider to aid<br />

the development of the next crop of British<br />

talent. Before we delve into the second part of<br />

Matt’s riding career and his aspirations for the<br />

academy we first travel with the team through<br />

stage one of the Tour de Yorkshire 2019.<br />

We met up early on the morning of the first<br />

day of the race at the team hotel in Wetherby.<br />

Here I left my car and grabbed a quick coffee<br />

in the restaurant. Matt and I had a<br />

brief chat in the lounge about the<br />

day ahead, but there wasn’t much<br />

time to hang about gossiping, so<br />

we headed more or less straight<br />

away to the far corner of the<br />

hotel car park that GBCT were<br />

calling home for a few days.<br />

Team staff were buzzing<br />

around making sure all the<br />

last-minute preparations<br />

were complete. There<br />

was a nice atmosphere<br />

around the place and<br />

everyone was clearly<br />

looking forward to<br />

the days that lay<br />

ahead and mixing it<br />

with the big boys’ teams<br />

of the UCI WorldTour. I was<br />

introduced to staff and riders before we<br />

set off with as little fuss as possible.<br />


We drive in convoy with the other GBCT vehicles towards the<br />

start town of Doncaster. In the driver’s seat is of course Matt, with<br />

me (feeling important) riding shotgun. Behind Matt sits the team’s<br />

road captain Dan McLay, on loan from UCI WorldTour outfit EF<br />

Education First. At first I’m not entirely sure who is sat next to Dan<br />

in the back. I think to myself that it could be the young Scot Sean<br />

Flynn, but he was especially quiet - perhaps nervous ahead of the<br />

big race, or maybe just going through his own private pre-race<br />

routine. The in-car chat between Brammeier and McLay catches<br />

me a little off guard, but perhaps I should know better. Matt is<br />

explaining to Dan some half-baked theory on how the Amazon<br />

rainforest only produces enough oxygen to maintain the animal<br />

life forms that live within the Amazon rainforest, and how in return<br />

the animal life forms that inhabit the Amazon rainforest create<br />


just enough carbon dioxide to maintain the plant life of the Amazon<br />

rainforest. So in terms of the rest of the planet the Amazon rainforest<br />

has net zero benefit, he suggests. “It’s like you’ve got these two glasses,”<br />

he continues, and mimics pouring water from one to the other and back<br />

again. “See? Oxygen...and carbon dioxide.” I did not see. I was a bit baffled<br />

if I’m honest, and I’m not entirely unbaffled even now.<br />

We arrive at the start almost without error. Here we are greeted by an<br />

official-looking chap. I drop my window and enquire where the GB<br />

mechanic’s truck is parked, fully expecting a broad Yorkshire accent to<br />

respond. Instead I get only a blank stare back. The Lancastrian in me does<br />

a metaphorical eye-roll before repeating S-L-O-W-L-Y for the benefit of<br />

my Tyke cousin, “The Great Britain team, please mate?” From the back<br />

seat comes an entirely unexpected interjection<br />

from McLay, who in<br />

fluent French was able<br />

to converse with said<br />

official and quickly<br />

establish where we<br />

needed to park. I turned to<br />

McLay, in equal amounts<br />

of embarrassment at my<br />

faux pas and amazement<br />

at his linguistic ability.<br />

“ASO innit,” he mumbles<br />

before retreating back into<br />

his beard, and the world<br />

equilibrium was restored.<br />

The lads sign on underneath<br />

menacingly black clouds.<br />

I briefly imagined that the<br />

weather could just hold,<br />

but as the start approached<br />

the raindrops were already<br />

assembling, ready to unleash<br />

themselves upon this<br />

unusually lively corner of<br />

God’s own country. What to<br />

wear seemed to be the main<br />

debate amongst the team as<br />

some opt for the ‘gabba’ style<br />

tops (or ‘Kabbas’ as I overhear<br />


them described, due to them being<br />

made by Kalas), while others go<br />

for the more traditional ‘layers’<br />

approach, topped off with a rain<br />

jacket. McLay appears to be wearing<br />

every single item of kit issued to him.<br />

That’s experience right there.<br />

We roll out of ‘Donny’ and within a<br />

few minutes of the flag dropping the<br />

weather has already gone biblical<br />

on us. The heavy rain rebounds from<br />

the sodden Yorkshire tarmac, which<br />

reflects the headlights of team cars<br />

and race motos alike. It feels more<br />

like dusk than the middle of the day<br />

and an ark may have been a more<br />

appropriate means of transport.<br />

Barely out of the neutralised zone and<br />

before we can settle into the race, the<br />

words “CHUTE, CHUTE!” are heard<br />

on race radio. Within seconds we<br />

overtake the incident where a couple<br />

of riders have gone down hard to our<br />

right. By the look of the Euskadi guy<br />

his race is done. I recognise the tell-tale<br />

manner in which he’s sat on the ground<br />

nursing his arm. It’s a classic broken collarbone injury for who I later<br />

confirm was Spaniard Mikel Aristi. My pity for him at lasting but a few<br />

minutes into a four-day stage race is tempered by my relief that it wasn’t<br />

one of ‘ours’. We press on, as the race inevitably does, leaving the medics<br />

to mop up the unfortunates behind.<br />

The race immediately goes to plan as Joe Nally and Sean Flynn of GBCT<br />

both get themselves into a small break of just six. They are joined by<br />

former GBCT academy man and winner of 2017 Gent-Wevelgem U23<br />

Jacob Hennessy, now of Canyon dhb p/b Bloor Homes and fellow Brit<br />

Dan Bigham of Team Ribble. Jesper Asselman (Roompot-Charles) and<br />

Kevin Vermaerke (Hagens Berman Axeon) complete the sextet.<br />

Matt checks with the second GBCT car to confirm who is carrying the<br />

spare bikes for our two lads in the break. The consensus is that it’s us.<br />

There then follows one of the most exhilarating things you can do in<br />




sport without actually contributing personally. Our car needs to move<br />

up from our position in the race convoy following the peloton, passing<br />

120 or so riders, as well as motos and other race vehicles, and navigate our<br />

way to the head of the race where the breakaway has formed with a<br />

modest gap of a couple of minutes.<br />

Nothing can really prepare you for<br />

the adrenaline rush, no matter how<br />

many times you’ve experienced<br />

this before. It’s real heart-in-mouth<br />

stuff for this nervous passenger.<br />

I try my best to melt into my<br />

seat, making myself as small as<br />

possible, not easy for someone<br />

1.92 m and 85 kg (on a good day).<br />

But I want Matt to have sight of<br />

his mirrors at all times. The horn<br />

is depressed almost constantly<br />

as Matt moves us up bit-by-bit<br />

on the narrow and twisting roads<br />

somewhere between South and<br />

North Yorkshire en route to our<br />

ultimate destination in Selby.<br />

We’re mere centimetres away<br />

from a dozen or more riders<br />

throughout the nervous couple<br />

of minutes it takes Matt to<br />

pilot us safely to the front. All<br />

occupants of our car are silent<br />

throughout as the mechanic<br />

and I respectfully observe the<br />

skill and patience required to<br />

choose where and when to go for a gap,<br />

and when to hold your ground and maybe risk the wrath of the angry<br />

bunch yelling expletives through the half-open window.<br />

As we pass the pointy end of the bunch I breathe a sigh of relief that our<br />

little escapade is complete, and for the moment we can settle into the<br />

more mundane task of following the breakaway. The fan boy in me was<br />

thinking that at least I might get to hand out a bidon or two.<br />

But we don’t have long to wait before the action kicks off once more. We<br />

hear on the team radio that Ethan Hayter has been involved in a crash and<br />


he needs to change his bike. Yep, that’s right, his bike is of course on the<br />

top of our car. And we have just manoeuvred ourselves to the opposite<br />

end of the race. Of course, turning around and heading back is not really<br />

an option! All we can do is find a lay-by, pull over and wait.<br />

The old heads around me immediately take advantage of the lull in<br />

proceedings to exit the vehicle for an opportunistic nature break. I think<br />

about it for a fraction too long and by the time I’ve decided to join them<br />

they are already zipping up and heading back to the car. With visions of<br />

the team car speeding away while I’m stood there with my old feller in<br />

hand, I decide to hold it in. The mechanic gets Ethan’s spare bike off the<br />

roof and waits patiently at the roadside as the peloton and its entourage,<br />

that we battled so stressfully to overtake for what seemed like an age,<br />

pours past us in a handful of seconds.<br />

Still sat in the passenger seat, terrified to move, my eyes probe the wing<br />

mirror for a sign of Ethan’s arrival behind, but nothing. Matt is constantly<br />

on the team radio reassuring Ethan we have his bike and are waiting on<br />

the left side. What seems like an eternity passes before Ethan calmly<br />

appears. He seems physically OK following his tumble, but his cleat has<br />

become twisted and he cannot continue until it’s resolved. Adrenaline<br />

pulses through my own veins as all I can think about is the ever-growing<br />

gap that Ethan is now going to need to work extremely hard to close to<br />

get back to the rear of the bunch. But he’s the coolest customer in town<br />

as the mechanic tweaks his cleat and re-tightens the bolts. But it’s not<br />

quite right. Inside I’m yelling “GO MAN GO...THE GAP IS FUCKING<br />

MASSIVE!” But undaunted by the situation Ethan calmly feeds back to<br />

the mechanic how the cleat needs further adjustment and waits patiently<br />

for the mechanic to complete the task. Only once his shoe and pedal are<br />

once again perfectly aligned does he coolly climb on board his new bike<br />

to chase down the peloton, setting off seemingly as relaxed as if he were<br />

pedalling to the shop for a packet of Yorkshire Tea.<br />

We spend the next relatively uneventful portion of the race following the<br />

main bunch. There are some nice moments after the feed, when the race<br />

appears to have settled down a little following the early frantic moments<br />

of the break establishing itself and a glut of crashes and collisions. A few<br />

of the elder statesman of the WorldTour spot Matt driving and swing<br />

across the road to say hello. Bernie Eisel, smiling as ever, shares a joke<br />

and Nathan Haas is keen to offer Matt the benefit of his motoring advice.<br />

“Yer almost killed us all back there mate,” he playfully yells through<br />

the window – huge grin on his face. “Almost,” replies Matt smiling, but<br />

without ever taking his eyes off the road ahead.<br />


The other highlight of the day was lunch. An exquisite ham salad<br />

wrap was delivered courtesy of the cooler box in the rear, accompanied<br />

by a mini can of Coke, of a size which, it seems, is only ever served up by<br />

airlines or in feed zone musettes at bike races. To much hilarity amongst<br />

the other two car occupants Matt even conjured up a pre-planned mini<br />

napkin to ensure no crumbs made it onto his new team issue top. The<br />

relative crumb-free benefit of the wrap over other bread types was<br />

debated at length, to the point where the requirement for the napkin was<br />

questioned. Closer inspection of said napkin then revealed a rogue blob<br />

of BBQ sauce had stealthily seeped from the bottom of the wrap. We<br />

were reluctantly forced to admit the napkin had been an inspired call and<br />

had fully justified its inclusion.<br />

One legacy of Keith Lambert’s time as senior men’s academy coach<br />

appears to be the mid-race brew. Matt’s preparation for this started as<br />

soon as I arrived at the hotel. He’d already boiled the kettle in his room<br />

and filled a flask with tea. He later tasked the swanny with sourcing some<br />

milk. All was packed into the car before we left the hotel ready for a postfeed<br />

brew-up. I recall being at the same race last year when I went with<br />

the swanny to the feed. After handing out the rider musettes his next<br />

task was to wait for Keith to pull over to the roadside and hand through<br />

the window his flask of tea, and on that occasion a packet of McVitie’s<br />

digestives. On long days like this sustenance and morale are just as<br />

important for the staff as the riders.<br />


Towards the end of the race, despite his mammoth effort Flynn gets<br />

shelled from the lead group. As is so often the case for riders who have<br />

fought a long hard battle in the breakaway, he slides ungracefully back<br />

through the main bunch and straight out the rear of the peloton. We spot<br />

him and offer bottles and gels, but the manner of his shake of the head<br />

says it all. He’s totally spent and we won’t see him again until he arrives at<br />

the team bus several minutes down on the main bunch of finishers.<br />

Between the race radio, team radio and the live ITV4 broadcast that we<br />

are receiving courtesy of a tablet hastily gaffer-taped to the dash, we<br />

see Nally is still up top, although the break has now thinned to just four.<br />

Following the final climb of the stage Jake Hennessey called it a day in<br />

the knowledge he will start stage two wearing the King of the Mountains<br />

jersey. The weather almost certainly played its part as he dropped back<br />

in search of the relative warmth of a place in the middle of the bunch,<br />

leaving just four out front. And with only a few kilometres left it dawns<br />

on us that Nally and the remaining other three in the break are actually in<br />

with a chance of staying away.<br />

For a moment I let myself imagine the pure joy this would<br />

bring to all involved. A young academy kid just learning<br />

his trade. Not only executing the day’s plan of getting in<br />

the break, but seeing it through to the end and maybe,<br />

just maybe, delivering a memorable victory. The<br />

excitement was palpable as Matt started<br />

shouting at the TV, “Come on<br />

lad, come on!” We exchange<br />



a knowing glance as we both acknowledge the enormity of what might be<br />

just about to happen and I start to imagine myself in one of those pieces of<br />

in-car GoPro footage at the Tour de France when the DS and his sidekick<br />

embrace each other while whooping and hollering as their rider solos to a<br />

mountaintop finish of the queen stage.<br />

Such was the level of emotion inside the car, and belief in our man, that Matt<br />

pulled the car over and stopped so that we could witness the final moments<br />

of the race on our improvised in-car TV. Inside the final kilometre and<br />

under the red kite they go. Holy crap: he might just do this. But the bunch<br />

are bearing down on them fast. This is going to be really close, but have the<br />

sprinter’s teams mistimed their planned capture?<br />

In the thick of the chase, monitoring and manoeuvring but of course without<br />

contributing, is McLay, who is expertly piloting Hayter to the pointy end of<br />

the gallop. Ethan had expertly rejoined the business end of the race following<br />

his tumble and bike swap, and was now ready to offer Plan B as the team’s<br />

designated sprinter for the day. But only if the bunch caught the break.<br />

By now we’re all screaming at the tiny flat screen taped to the dash, praying<br />

the data connection doesn’t start buffering – or worse, give up completely.<br />

Come on Joe, come on, you can do it lad! A few hundred metres to go and the<br />

bunch are thundering down upon the four escapees. ‘Kinell . . . they’ve got<br />

this. Five hundred metres and they are still away. Four hundred. Three.<br />

With whatever is left in their weary legs the four survivors of the day-long<br />

break finally open up the sprint. Given the speed of the peloton roaring down<br />

upon them, now just metres behind, no obvious increase in the speed of the<br />

now-sprinting breakaway four is detectable. Indeed, they suddenly appear<br />

to be going backwards unfeasibly quickly. At just one hundred metres to go<br />

the four are spread across the road, very much focussed on their own race,<br />

seemingly blissfully unaware of the mayhem that is lurking behind them,<br />

and already reaching wilfully for the line.<br />

With barely fifty metres left Asselman of Roompot launches himself ahead<br />

of the others. The bunch suddenly overwhelm the remainder of the break<br />

and there is chaos behind as we try to see who finished where. Asselman<br />

was the clear winner, but the rest was pretty hard to decipher, especially in<br />

the dull and murky conditions, where everyone’s kit was soaked to a similar<br />

grey colour.<br />

Finally the stage result appears on the screen and we see that Ethan has<br />

come through to finish sixth. Nally was swamped on the line and ended up<br />


in twelfth, just behind the likes of Cavendish, Lawless and Zabel, but ahead<br />

of fellow breakees Bigham in 14th and Vermaerke in 18th. No shame in that<br />

whatsoever. A hell of a ride for the youngster.<br />

We eventually rejoin the race route and make our way to the team parking<br />

area at the Selby finish. Sean rolls in 124th of 126 finishers, over ten minutes<br />

down. Everyone makes it safely back to the camper, albeit in various states<br />

of near-exhaustion and universally frozen. All the lads want to do is get<br />

out of their sodden kit and into something warm. Within minutes they are<br />

reappearing from the camper wearing winter coats and woolly hats, with<br />

Tupperware containers of hot food in hand. The exodus from Selby is<br />

impressively well organised as the bikes are all packed away rapidly and we<br />

are on our way in only a few minutes. There is less banter in the car returning<br />

to the hotel post-race. I can only recall a wee small voice coming from the<br />

back seat proclaiming he’s never felt so tired in his life.<br />

My disappointment for Joe at getting caught so close to the line was tempered<br />

slightly at how privileged I felt to have witnessed the events at such close<br />

quarters. Having spent the day with the team I didn’t want to outstay my<br />

welcome. Although I still had a load of questions for Matt and the team I<br />

decided to leave as soon as we arrived back at the hotel and let them recover<br />

for the next day. I arranged to catch up with Matt after the end of the race.<br />

It’s a while later when I eventually get around to calling Matt and asking him<br />

a little more about the race, the academy lads he’s working with and more<br />

generally his own aspirations for his role as senior men’s academy coach.<br />

Matthew Martin Brammeier has already enjoyed a remarkable career in<br />

professional cycling. Back in issue one (in late 2013) we ran an interview<br />

with him that covered his career to date: ‘No Fairy Tales - A Survivor’s Story’.<br />

The feature explored his early days as a junior, when he raced alongside the<br />

likes of Mark Cavendish and Geraint Thomas, and joining the Great Britain<br />

academy where he experienced modest success on the track. Then getting<br />

both legs broken when he was run over by a cement truck in Manchester<br />

and later being invited to leave Britain’s elite programme by coach Rod<br />

Ellingworth. Deciding to go it alone outside of the system and moving to<br />

Belgium and eventually getting a ride on Sean Kelly’s An-Post team, before<br />

switching nationality from British to Irish and becoming Ireland’s national<br />

road race champion four times in a row and time trial champion once.<br />

We pick up our conversation where the last interview left off in 2013. Matt’s<br />

team Champion System had just folded and he was unsure what the future<br />

held, despite an encouraging performance at the Tour of California. I remind<br />


him of Stage 4 when, according to the TV commentary, he went “the wrong<br />

way” at a roundabout with 2 km to go. This enabled him to get the jump on<br />

the bunch, but despite the pre-race plan none of his teammates came with<br />

him. Without any support he was caught shortly before the line and robbed<br />

of a memorable career-defining win.<br />

“I went the right way!” he defiantly maintains.<br />

Following that performance in Cali Matt got talking to some bigger teams<br />

but nothing transpired and he ended up signing for the new Azerbaijanbased<br />

Synergy Baku outfit for the 2014 season. I ask him what he made of the<br />



different race programme and environment away from his familiar European<br />

surroundings.<br />

“At the start I hated it. It was total chaos. Twelve-hour bus journeys to the<br />

start soon put a stop to me complaining about transfers at the Tour of<br />

Britain! But looking back it was actually one of the most fun years I’ve had<br />

on the bike. When I stopped taking myself so seriously I actually started to<br />

really enjoy it. The team was what it was. It gave me enough money to get<br />

through a season and enough races to keep me in the spotlight to move back<br />

up to where I wanted to be.”<br />

I venture to enquire about one of Matt’s career high points – the King of the<br />

Mountains jersey at the 2014 Tour de Langkawi. How the hell did you pull<br />

that one off?<br />

“Talent,” comes the single-word response, with a shrug.<br />

We explore his time as a young rider living in Belgium and the challenges<br />

that brought, not least the weather and dealing with the ultra-competitive<br />

environment where ‘flick or be flicked’ seems to be the way of the world.<br />

“I did a few weeks in Girona over the winter of 2011 and totally fell in love<br />

with the place. The pace of life, the roads, the weather. I just loved it. Belgium<br />

is a great place for young up-and-coming bike riders and of course cyclocross<br />

riders, but after a while I found it difficult to train properly there and<br />

stay serious. So I moved to Girona in 2013 and split my time between there<br />

and Belgium.”<br />

The change of location and the re-focus appeared to do the trick as at the end<br />

of the eventful 2014 season with the Azeri outfit Matt got back into the big<br />

time, earning a two-year contract with what was then everyone’s favourite<br />

second team MTN-Qhubeka. Most riders are afraid to drop down a level, and<br />

worry they will never return to the top races in the world. But Matt made it<br />

back and quickly repaid his new team’s faith in him with a victory in a stage<br />

of Ster ZLM Tour. He also won his own weight in beer at Tour of Flanders. He<br />

was once again reunited with Bernie Eisel, Mark Renshaw, Mark Cavendish<br />

and many staff from his HTC days. I ask him what it meant for him to get<br />

back to that level, competing in those races he dreamed of as a kid, and being<br />

in a supportive and familiar environment where every rider appeared to be<br />

offered a chance to lead the team when they had the form.<br />

“Of course I was super happy to be given the opportunity to step back up.<br />

Clearly it was always going to be a challenge. I think my determination not to<br />


give up in 2014 was enough in itself to open the door back up. I had a great<br />

couple of years at MTN and enjoyed my one and only pro win there! I’ll<br />

look back fondly in years to come on those years for sure.”<br />

I hesitate to push too much on the next topic, because I know what a<br />

profound effect it had on Matt, but I take him back to Stage 6 of the 2015<br />

Tour of Utah. He’d had a fantastic ‘comeback’ season and seemed to be<br />

loving life on the road again. Then that collision. I genuinely still feel sick<br />

thinking about it even now. It was all over social media at the time so you<br />

will find it easily enough if you haven’t seen it already and feel the need to<br />

understand what I’m talking about. I have only seen it once and that was<br />

more than enough for me. I woke that morning to my phone buzzing like<br />

crazy. Knowing that we’d worked together at HTC, Matt’s family were even<br />

contacting me to see if I knew how he was. I did not. There was hardly any<br />

information coming from the race coverage. No one knew what state he<br />

was in – not even his team – only that he’d been involved in a very serious<br />

incident. His family here in Europe going frantic with worry, and, in the<br />

absence of any information, fearing the worst. Still now whenever I see a<br />

bad crash in any race I think about Matt’s incident and how terrified we all<br />

were for his welfare at that time, and how shockingly poor communication<br />

of his status was.<br />

I tell Matt I have the impression that his life as a pro was never quite the<br />

same after that incident and the bizarre situation where his friends and<br />

family watched his crash live on TV, then for hours afterwards had no clue<br />

whether he was alive or not. Thankfully in time he made a full recovery,<br />

but somehow things seemed different afterwards. It seemed his attitude<br />

to the sport had changed and he started to get actively involved with the<br />

rider union and safety issues.<br />

“It definitely added a bit more perspective to my life and made me start to<br />

realise what was important. I made a good comeback from the crash but<br />

in all honesty even if I didn’t know it at the time it was the beginning of<br />

the end for me. I struggled to take risks, fight for position and in general it<br />

killed my competitiveness. I just didn’t care as much any more. As soon as<br />

you lose that fight it’s all over. Cycling is too hard not to be fully committed<br />

– and just a little bit bonkers.”<br />

We move on to happier memories and the team’s connection with the<br />

Qhubeka charity. Matt not only did his bit as part of the team but also<br />

started his own initiative collecting unwanted cycling kit and sending it to<br />

an academy in Africa.<br />


“I saw the opportunity to do a little bit more and give something back to<br />

the sport that almost killed me twice,” he suggests wryly.<br />

“Most of the lads on the team were amazing blokes. There were a couple<br />

who seemed to get a little entitled at being Africans on the first African<br />

team, but they didn’t last long.” I don’t enquire further to understand who<br />

he’s referring to.<br />

2017 saw the arrival of the first Irish-registered pro cycling team Aqua<br />

Blue Sport, and naturally they valued having a multiple Irish national<br />

champion on their roster. Matt got a two-year contract and hooked up<br />

once again with some UK and Irish lads he knew well. I ask what kind of<br />

experience he had racing with this team.<br />

“Year one was a right laugh. We had a great group and it was so much<br />

fun. Naturally success followed. Year two went to total shit. Expectations<br />

were crazy high and we all paid the price for some stupidly overambitious<br />

aspirations. At the end of the day the owners had no idea about cycling. As<br />

soon as they got more involved it went to shit.”<br />

The team rapidly grew in status as a ProContinental outfit and gained<br />

perhaps some eyebrow-raising invites to top races in their first year. The<br />

team owner later suggested he’d bought his way into those races. I ask<br />

what this suggests about the state of pro cycling.<br />

“As far as I’m aware it’s pretty common practice. But it does my head in that<br />

it’s become a general conception that cycling is ‘broken’. Formula 1 drivers<br />

buy their way onto teams, is F1 broken? It’s existed for many years as is and<br />

it is totally fine. If anything it’s overambition and greed that’s going to kill<br />

our sport eventually.”<br />

With the benefit of hindsight, the Aqua Blue Sport experiment was<br />

perhaps fatally flawed from the start. Rick Delaney had the ambition to<br />

create a self-sustaining business model that funded the team through<br />

sales of cycling-related products via a now-defunct online retail site.<br />

Riders appeared to lack confidence in the equipment. Was the experiment<br />

always doomed to failure?<br />

“From day one the sums didn’t add up. We were told ABS would take 5%<br />

commission from sales. We apparently spent over £2m in our first season.<br />

That would take a bigger turnover than Chain Reaction & Wiggle put<br />

together if my maths are correct! There was definitely some other hidden<br />

agenda. We were asked to test equipment the year previous. It was tested<br />


and we hated it. This was communicated but of course we were only the bike<br />

riders, what did we know about bikes?”<br />

As many predicted would happen, the team folded at the end of 2018. But<br />

Matt had already signalled his intention to step away from racing. Was it the<br />

body or the mind that told him it was time to hang up the wheels?<br />

“Bit of both. I wasn’t enjoying it anymore. Couldn’t hurt myself in racing or<br />

training anymore. And on top, the team was a joke. Of course I had something<br />

else lined up for quite a while before. That was motivating me so much more,<br />

so the time was right to go for something new.”<br />

Then, perhaps a surprise to some, he returned to the place where it all<br />

started at British Cycling and the Great Britain Cycling Team, but this time<br />

on the other side of the fence as lead men’s academy coach. It turns out the<br />

same guy who sat him down all those years ago to tell him his career with<br />

Great Britain was over was the same person who reopened the door for<br />

Matt’s return.<br />

“It was a conversation I had with Rod some years ago. I was always kept in the<br />

loop of possible opportunities and as soon as it opened up I jumped at it.”<br />

Clearly Matt didn’t harbour any reservations about returning to British<br />

Cycling after being let go from the track programme as a promising<br />

youngster and had no regrets about switching allegiances to race for Ireland.<br />

But I ask him about the antics he, Cav, and G got up to during their youth.<br />

Allegedly doing donuts in the velodrome car park and changing the wheel<br />

circumference on their cycle computers to make it look like they’d ridden<br />

the training distance prescribed by their then-coach Rod Ellingworth. They<br />

were a proper pain in Rod’s arse - does he not fear the same tricks will come<br />

back to haunt him?<br />

“The lads are a lot more well-behaved these days, thank god, and let’s leave it<br />

that way thanks!”.<br />

I’m intrigued to know how the academy set-up has evolved since Matt’s time<br />

on the programme.<br />

“Everything has really moved forward. I’d say the current crop of juniors are<br />

at a similar level to what we were at as U23’s. However the ethos remains the<br />

same – work hard and learn the trade.”<br />

There seems to be an abundance of talent amongst the current crop of<br />



youngsters. I ask how he sees these lads progressing.<br />

“We definitely have some good guys coming through. It’s a real strong group<br />

which is testament to what we are all doing. The Olympics is possible for<br />

one or two of the lads and we could maybe have two or three moving into the<br />

WorldTour next season too.”<br />

So the ultimate question then - what difference can Matt and his unique<br />

experience bring to the academy?<br />

“I’ve come in with some pretty lofty aspirations. Some years ago the academy<br />

was ’the place to be’ and the best development team in the world. It was<br />

where everyone wanted to be. Over the years the sport has evolved and we<br />

now have some healthy competition out there. I have full faith that we have<br />

the best support team in the world and it’s my goal to build the academy<br />

into the most successful development team in the world. Success to me isn’t<br />

just about performance, it’s about setting these lads up for their futures and<br />

crafting them into happy, resilient, complete bike riders.”<br />

One of Matt’s first changes was to switch the training base to Girona, a place<br />

where he’s has many fond memories of life on and off the bike.<br />

“For me location isn’t all about the roads, the weather, or the transport links.<br />

The move was more about off the bike and the lads being able to have a<br />

happy life away from bike riding. I feel Girona is the ideal place for them to<br />

enjoy themselves off the bike and live their lives as committed bike riders at<br />

the same time.”<br />

We finish off with a chat about the lads who I’d had the privilege to join for<br />

that day in the car at the Tour de Yorkshire. I was curious to better understand<br />

why they were chosen to race, what their roles where and how Matt felt the<br />

race had gone for them all.<br />

So overall the race was considered to be a success for the academy and the<br />

lads who raced. All part of “learning the trade” as Matt often puts it.<br />

These are fascinating times for the GBCT set-up. The track facility in<br />

Manchester with world-class coaches and support staff is very well<br />



DAN McLAY<br />

Dan is no stranger to the academy<br />

set-up. The WorldTour sprinter<br />

with EF Education First has<br />

experienced track success as a<br />

junior in GBCT colours. In 2009 he<br />

took bronze in the Madison at the<br />

UEC European Track Championships and<br />

in 2010 became junior world Madison<br />

track champion with Simon Yates (now<br />

of Mitchelton-Scott). Dan’s experience<br />

made him the perfect road captain. “It’s<br />

181 181<br />

basically like having a coach inside the peloton,”<br />

Matt told me. “You can see a lot on the TV, but not<br />

everything, so it’s invaluable having an experienced<br />

pair of eyes on the lads up close.”<br />

Dan’s role was essentially to mentor the young<br />

sprinters. Show them how to position themselves<br />

in the bunch, which wheels to follow, when to<br />

move up while navigating those critical final few<br />

kilometres. Dan would be there to help guide Ethan<br />

to sixth on Stage 1 and in return he was allowed to<br />

go for the stage win himself on Stage 2, where he<br />

finished fifth.<br />

Charley Calvert<br />

Charley was a late replacement for<br />

the injured Jim Brown. Matt tells me<br />

he almost made it into the academy<br />

in 2018, missing out “by the skin of his<br />

teeth,” being very unfortunate that the<br />

group they already had was considered<br />

especially strong. He was selected for this<br />

race because they like his attitude on and off 182 182<br />

the bike and they wanted to take a closer look<br />

at him. He performed really well throughout<br />

this race and a handful of other Nations Cup races<br />

where he has also really impressed.<br />


Sean Flynn<br />

Matt explained that the academy<br />

system is about give and take so when<br />

they can they like to offer opportunities<br />

to athletes who might not necessarily make<br />

183 183<br />

a major contribution to the team’s particular<br />

goals or may have no particular ambitions in<br />

that particular discipline. The federation wanted<br />

to give promising young Scottish mountain biker<br />

Sean Flynn some high-quality race experience and<br />

he repaid them fully by getting in the break on Stage<br />

1. While his focus is mainly on MTB right now he<br />

could well be one to watch for the future.<br />

Ethan Hayter<br />

Matt is visibly enthused when he talks<br />

about Ethan. “Hitter,” he says simply.<br />

Last year was his first Tour of Britain and<br />

184 184 perhaps he lacked confidence. “He still has<br />

not realised just how good he is, but it’s slowly<br />

starting to dawn on him,’’ Matt says. Tour de<br />

Yorkshire was a great opportunity for him to race<br />

against some big teams. He crashed first day and<br />

still got up and back on to contest the sprint. He<br />

went in the break on a hilly last day. The race didn’t<br />

really pan out as they had expected, but Ethan was<br />

versatile and able to adapt to the situation. It was<br />

also an impressive performance considering it was<br />

his first road race of the year.<br />


Joe Nally<br />

Joe’s stage one ride was described by Matt as<br />

“the performance of his career so far”.<br />

He played it smart in the break all day and<br />

did everything that was asked of him. In the<br />

end he was pretty close to winning and that’s<br />

exceptional for one so young at that level of racing.<br />

The performance he delivered should give a lot of<br />

confidence for the future.<br />

185 185<br />

William Tidball<br />

Will is described as really promising for a<br />

19-year old. This was the biggest race he’s<br />

ever done and he got through it well. He was<br />

able to contribute to the leadouts in the early<br />

stages but unsurprisingly was less effective<br />

on stages three and four. He did well, especially<br />

considering he was thrown in at the deep end.<br />

186 186<br />


Ben Turner<br />

187 187<br />

Ben came into this race off the back<br />

of a full CX season. He’d had a bit of a<br />

rest and was building back up, so the<br />

team didn’t have huge expectations of him in<br />

this race. They know he’s talented and capable<br />

because of his CX performances and so they take<br />

the opportunity to have a look at him on the road<br />

as and when they are able to, then consider if they<br />

can bring him in for major competitions in future.<br />

Sadly he got sick during stage 2 and was unable to<br />

complete the race.<br />


established. There has been phenomenal multiple Olympic success, notably<br />

by the likes of Sir Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendleton and Sir Bradley Wiggins.<br />

British riders have had an unparalleled period of success on the road too<br />

in Grand Tours with Sir Bradley<br />

Wiggins, Mark Cavendish,<br />

Geraint Thomas and of course<br />

Chris Froome. Arguably<br />

though the academy has not<br />

fully delivered its potential<br />

in contributing to the road<br />

success in the same way it<br />

has to track, and perhaps the<br />

UK could have enjoyed even<br />

greater success with a broader<br />

base of talent. So many other<br />

riders like Matt himself have<br />

been forced to find their<br />

own way as a pro outside of<br />

the medal factory that is the<br />

Podium Programme.<br />

Matt’s experience as a young<br />

rider on the programme, who got let go, then<br />

forged his own pathway to ultimately learn his trade, becoming multiple<br />

national champion and making it with some of the biggest teams in the<br />

world can offer invaluable insight into delivering a programme that may<br />

capture more of this talent in the future. His extreme highs and lows have<br />

given him a unique perspective not only on what it takes to make it in the<br />

world of cycling, but importantly on what kind of things drain the motivation<br />

and lead talented athletes to walk away.<br />

The UK domestic road scene is in a strange place. Races such as the Tour de<br />

Yorkshire, Ride London and the Tour of Britain attract huge crowds at the<br />

roadside and on television. But the races that make up what was the Premier<br />

Calendar, and to some extent the national championships rarely capture the<br />

attention of the nation’s fans in this same manner as when the WorldTour<br />

boys come to town.<br />

The existence of high-calibre UK domestic road teams appears as precarious<br />

as ever. Recent years have seen the loss of teams like (Rapha) JLT-Condor,<br />

NFTO, ONE Pro Cycling and now Madison-Genesis. Whilst the perpetual<br />

churn of sponsors has been a fixture of all of pro cycling for many generations<br />

the situation seems set to continue. Uncertainty over a team’s survival can<br />


never be good for the development of talent and at best diverts valuable<br />

resources to the never-ending search for the next team sponsor. Riders are<br />

constantly unsettled, lurching from one failing or failed team to the next.<br />

The GBCT academy team has an ambitious programme of European racing<br />

as well as guaranteed places alongside WorldTour teams in the biggest UK<br />

races. With Matt at the helm the welfare of these riders on and off the bike will<br />

be better than ever before. The UK appears to now have a fantastic pool of<br />

potential road talent. Perhaps it always has. But maybe the key to transferring<br />

that talent from potential to an unparalleled period of road success will lie in<br />

the strengthening of the academy set-up under the guidance of a man who<br />

genuinely has been there and seen it all.<br />




1. What you never needed to know about<br />

Ramunas Navardauskas:<br />

One of our all-time favourite riders, we asked<br />

Ramunas some tough questions – and he obliged:<br />

First Memory of riding a bike?<br />

“Me riding an oversized bike. That bike was so<br />

big that I could not even ride on the top tube.<br />

Seat was much higher! So me as a kid riding on a<br />

bike, pushing my hip next to top tube, and myself<br />

sideways trying to hold balance and still going<br />

same speed as my friends! I was not the only one to<br />

ride like that. So it was kind of normal behaviour.”<br />

Most ridiculous moment on a bike?<br />

“All about crashes. But one was super classic. I<br />

crashed before the start and landed on my butt.<br />

It wasn’t painful, we were riding slow and it was<br />

one of those ridiculous crashes. But my shorts<br />

broke and broke in a spot where . . . Well, you could<br />

see the sweet spot . . . For a while I was riding in<br />

the back of the peloton of shame. But at the end,<br />

a race is a race and I was racing. That day I made<br />

many happy faces. I was the star of the day!”<br />

2. Girona – cycling mecca of the pros and<br />

where we call home:<br />

Latest update from the ground here: Robert<br />

Gesink and his wife Daisy have opened Girona’s<br />

latest hotspot – Hors Catégorie Girona. With<br />

an interior to die for (think bench seating styled<br />

like a velodrome) and endless bike storage, the<br />

collaboration with long-esteemed Flax and Kale in<br />

Barcelona has raised the bar once again for postride<br />

eats and brews (coffees and beers of course).<br />

Tacos, Buddah Bowls and Kombucha for the<br />

health-minded, but plenty of guilty pleasures to go<br />

alongside too. Check it out on Instagram<br />

@horscategoriegirona.<br />


Words & Photography: The Peloton Brief<br />


3. The Nic Dougall Comeback:<br />

Nic Dougall, the loveable, affable<br />

rider for Dimension Data from<br />

2013-2018 has made a remarkable<br />

comeback in triathlon. His first<br />

ever race, the Barcelona 70.3<br />

event, saw him set a course<br />

record on the bike segment and<br />

then place 7th overall. Turns out<br />

an engine finessed with Grand<br />

Tours and cobbled classics can’t<br />

be stopped, and we can’t wait<br />

to see more from him. Before<br />

the event: “My stomach was a<br />

knotted ball inside of me as I<br />

clicked the button that would<br />

enter me into my first race in May.<br />

All the familiar thoughts of selfdoubt<br />

plagued me. Some big and<br />

scary – ‘What if you don’t finish?<br />

What if you haven’t done enough<br />

training?’ – and some ridiculously<br />

mundane – ‘What if you miss your<br />

flight? What if you miss your start<br />

wave?’ They all have one thing<br />

in common though, they all have<br />

to do with failure. As I clicked<br />

the button I pushed all those<br />

thoughts aside. The fear of failure<br />

has limited me as an athlete up<br />

until this point and I won’t let it<br />

limit me any more. I learnt a lot<br />

from my time as a professional<br />

cyclist but after a lot of reflection<br />

in the last few months, I think this<br />

has been my biggest takeaway.”<br />

We are cheering you on Nic!<br />



164<br />


Jack Swart is one of the all-time greats<br />

of New Zealand road racing. His<br />

many triumphs in stage races saw<br />

him bafflingly pigeonholed by the<br />

national selectors, meaning he missed<br />

out on many one-day opportunities.<br />

But that wasn’t the only source of<br />

frustration in his career.<br />

Words & Photography: Russell Jones<br />


It was amongst the pile, squeezed down the side with<br />

the race numbers from the 1980 Milk Race and the 1976<br />

Scottish Milk Race. Bursting at the seams, the cardboard<br />

Chiquita banana box overflowed with memories from<br />

another time. If a picture can tell a thousand words, then<br />

this stage winner’s cap from the 1984 Coors Classic could<br />

tell you so much more.<br />

“We were sitting around the dinner table that night,”<br />

remembers Jack. “We’d all heard about Afghanistan, but we<br />

didn’t really know too much about the politics.”<br />

Jack Swart had made the selection to represent New<br />

Zealand at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the core of the<br />

road squad riding the Milk Race as a preparation event,<br />

just as many of the other amateurs were doing. The twoweek<br />

British stage race was one of the premier races for<br />

amateurs at that time, and with previous winners going<br />

on to win Olympic gold (Kuiper won both the Milk Race<br />

and Olympics in ’72, Johansson the Milk Race in ’75 then<br />

the Olympics in ‘76) it was also considered the perfect<br />

opportunity to size up your Olympic opponents.<br />

The evening after a team time trial stage New Zealand<br />

coach Ron Cheatley received a phone call in their<br />

Llandudno hotel from the Secretary of the New Zealand<br />

Amateur Cycling Association. “They were handing on a<br />

message from Muldoon’s office [The NZ Prime Minister at<br />

that time],” remembers Cheatley. “They told us that New<br />

Zealand was withdrawing from the Games and we were<br />

expected to come home.”<br />

In protest at the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan<br />

the United States had announced they would boycott the<br />

Moscow Olympic Games. New Zealand was one of over<br />

sixty countries which followed suit. Gutted, Jack Swart<br />

would now have to wait another four years for his chance<br />

to ride in the Olympics.<br />

From Good Stock<br />

The first child of post-second world war immigrants,<br />

Jack was raised in the small town of Morrinsville, where<br />

his parents owned a small farm. They had chosen well.<br />





Unbeknownst to the Swarts, the small Waikato town was a hotbed of<br />

cycling – as the young Jack would soon find out. Interested by the bike<br />

racing that passed by the farm gates, he was embraced by the familyrun<br />

Morrinsville Wheelers and their ‘school hall and tea urn, bring<br />

your number back for a cup of cordial’ racing community.<br />

After a steady start he progressed through the ranks and by 1980<br />

he was a household name in New Zealand. With an Edmonton 1978<br />

Commonwealth Games silver, a win in the prestigious home-based<br />

Dulux stage race, three wins in the Manawatu stage race and two<br />

national road titles under his belt he was a regular choice for the<br />

national squad. Naturally strong, his style of racing was one of riding<br />

at the front and seeing who could stay with him. “I remember Jack<br />

was a big burly bastard,” laughs Phil Anderson, who crossed swords<br />

with Jack during the ’77 Dulux. “He was just a beast. He would be a<br />

good man to be in a breakaway with as he was a hard-working guy. I<br />

was away with him a few times and we’d always try and get something<br />

going.” The then-19-year-old Australian riding his first overseas race<br />

developed throughout the week, pipping Swart to take his first big<br />

win. “Looking back, it was a real stepping stone for me, firstly for riding<br />

in a better-quality field, secondly in preparing me for Europe.”<br />

It was no surprise then when Swart was named for the New Zealand<br />

squad to compete in the 100 km team time trial at the 1982 Brisbane<br />

Commonwealth Games. Cleaning up in the previous year’s Oceania<br />

Games, a ‘shake-out’ event held on the same circuit, the Kiwi team<br />

were not only confident but were also on obvious form going into<br />

the 1982 Games, filling the podium at the tough Australian 226 km<br />

Grafton to Inverell race in the lead-in. But on the day of the 100 km<br />

TTT disaster struck. A slipped chain resulted in the team riding half of<br />

the race missing a rider. Their bronze medal was bitter compensation.<br />

Olympic Dreams<br />

A marked rider on his home course, Jack Swart lined up as favourite<br />

to win the 1983 National Championships. It had been chosen as the<br />

selection race for the ’84 Los Angeles Olympic Games. As he had won<br />

the Waikato regional championships on the same roads just weeks<br />

beforehand things were looking good for Swart.<br />

Watched so closely, Swart was not able to jump across to the early<br />

break on the day. The crucial moment came when he suffered a<br />

puncture. The bunch was quick to accelerate and distance him. To add<br />



to Swart’s woes, his Waikato support van was up covering the break.<br />

After waiting for a neutral wheel and then attempting to chase an<br />

attacking bunch Swart called it a day – a decision he still regrets.<br />

“I mentally cracked when I saw that they all decided to take off. As<br />

it happened the whole race exploded, and if I look back on it now, if<br />

I’d just ridden at my tempo I would have grabbed them all back one<br />

by one. But that’s all history.”<br />

Despite being one of the strongest road men in New Zealand, by<br />

not finishing the selection race he had not met the tough criteria set<br />

by the Olympic panel. Jack’s L.A. start was now on hold.<br />

Eager to turn this around, Swart went out and duly won the Tour of<br />

Southland. Riding again from the front he attacked into the wind<br />

on stage 5, distancing the field. He went to win the Dulux tour once<br />

more, again sealing his win on the 175 km New Plymouth queen<br />

stage. “I wanted to show them I could ride,” says Swart referring<br />

to the Olympic selectors. “I knew before I rode Southland and the<br />

Dulux that I wasn’t going to the Olympics as I wasn’t selected, so<br />

that’s why those races were so important to me – to do well and to<br />

show them.”<br />

Still not getting the nod, Swart was asking himself just how much<br />

more he would need to do. Regardless, Cheatley still trained Swart<br />

with the squad, in the hope that the Olympic selectors would<br />

see sense and find him a place. “In those days,” explains Cheatley,<br />

“you nominated your athletes to the Olympic committee and they<br />

handed that on to the cycling selectors for final ratification. Jack<br />

Swart got turned down on the basis that he was supposedly just a<br />

tour rider, which was an absolute joke!”<br />

“Enough of this Sunday stroll”<br />

Like the Milk Race in the previous Olympic campaign, the<br />

Colorado-based Coors Classic was used by many teams for pre-<br />

Games tuning. The high-altitude, tough American stage race even<br />

modified some of its stages to replicate the Californian Mission<br />

Viejo Olympic course. Cheatley asked Swart to join the New<br />

Zealand team, the coach still praying for a last-minute reprieve.<br />

Swart, forced to pay his own way, did so in the hope his Olympic<br />

dream would still come true.<br />


“They told us that New Zealand was withdrawing from<br />

the Games and we were expected to come home.”<br />



Not surprisingly, the American squads were strong. The stillamateur<br />

7-Eleven squad fielded medal hope and criterium<br />

specialist Davis Phinney to sharpen his sprinting legs against<br />

Canadian favourite Steve Bauer, while the likes of Andy<br />

Hampsten and Alexi Grewal were out to duel on the climbs<br />

against Colombians such as Fabio Parra.<br />

As if it wasn’t already a big enough circus, the race was followed<br />

by a crew making the feature film ‘American Flyers’. Riders were<br />

used as cast members, the route doubled as a set and the young<br />

and moustachioed Kevin Coster joined the peloton at the start of<br />

chosen stages in his Shaver Sport kit. Not in the script was Alexi<br />

Grewal’s positive drug test. The American hope was immediately<br />

suspended but allowed back for the Olympic race.<br />

Feeling on form racing at the high altitude, no mean feat coming<br />

from the lowland Waikato countryside, Swart saw his opportunity<br />

during the 100 km 18-lap Aspen stage. Although referred to as a<br />

criterium, at 2438 m and including 900 metres of climbing, this<br />

was certainly no Dutch or Belgian kermesse like Swart had ridden<br />

on previous overseas sorties.<br />

“The circuit had a climb towards the end,” recalls Swart, “and then<br />

it went about 1 km down the main street to the finish. They were<br />

all out of wind on that last lap, so I attacked from the back in the<br />

biggest gear I had and just went for it! Got around the corner and<br />

figured I could be just as fast as they can, and that was it. Phinney<br />

couldn’t catch me. I held them off. It was 10 seconds on the line.<br />

It was a big deal, and what made it such a big deal was that it was<br />

a slap in the face to the Olympic selectors. I was riding with the<br />

Olympic team, winning a race against most of the Olympic riders<br />

and the Olympic race was only a week away.”<br />

Cheatley remembers watching Swart on the podium next to<br />

Phinney in front of 20,000 people, shedding a tear while ‘God<br />

Save New Zealand’ played in the background, gleefully looking<br />

forward to sharing the good news back home with the selectors. “I<br />

naturally perceived that they would rubber stamp Jack’s selection.<br />

It didn’t happen. They rejected it on the basis that they still<br />

thought he was a tour rider and not a one-day rider. I remember<br />

putting Jack back on the flight to New Zealand while we carried<br />

on down to Los Angeles, I remember saying to him, ‘Jack, you’ll<br />

come out and smash them in the Nationals, you’ll win it and show<br />




them that you are more than just<br />

a tour rider,’ because he was more<br />

than that, he’d won a lot of one-day<br />

races. It was really sad Jack Swart<br />

never became an Olympian, really<br />

sad.”<br />

For years he’d juggled with the<br />

continual balance of training<br />

combined with full-time work, and<br />

as the eldest of six he’d helped to<br />

support his family after his father<br />

had died. Now with a new family<br />

of his own, sitting alone on the<br />

plane home Jack faced reality. “I<br />

knew then I’d never to go to the<br />

Olympics. I wasn’t going to be<br />

around another four years for the<br />

next one as our kids were just<br />

about to go to school.”<br />

Watching out for his mates, he<br />

tuned in for the race back in New<br />

Zealand. The Kiwis struggled in<br />

the heat, their best rider finishing<br />

18 th . Grewal returned from his<br />

ban to nose out Bauer for the<br />

sprint. Phinney was 5 th , but his<br />

wife Connie Carpenter Phinney<br />

completed an American sweep of<br />

Olympic road race gold.<br />

“For me the course was OK,”<br />

remembers Stephen Cox, Swart’s<br />

training partner and New Zealand<br />

teammate, “but the conditions, I’d<br />

rather see trees and rain sideways<br />

than the 40 degrees we had that<br />

day. The temperature destroyed<br />

me rather than the course, and<br />

I don’t think it would have been<br />

much better for Jack.”<br />

“I don’t like the heat, not like that,”<br />

agrees Swart. “That and what those<br />

Americans did with their blood<br />

doping program, well . . .”<br />

In early 1985 Rolling Stone<br />

revealed that the cyclists on<br />

the USA team had been using<br />

blood infusion practices prior<br />

to the Olympics. Although<br />

not yet deemed illegal by the<br />

International Olympic Committee,<br />

this revelation, together with<br />

the Grewal positive, certainly<br />

blemished the American success.<br />

A Salute<br />

Ironically, in 1984 the New Zealand<br />

National Championships were<br />

held in the small South Canterbury<br />

town of Pleasant Point. Ironically,<br />

because Swart made a not-sopleasant<br />

point when he accepted<br />

his winner’s trophy, saying “Well,<br />

that wasn’t too bad for a tour rider,”<br />

to the gathered crowd after soloing<br />

to the victory.<br />

Continuing another two years,<br />

Swart announced his retirement<br />

on the top step of the podium of<br />

the Raleigh Cycle Classic, a new<br />

version of the Dulux race. In doing<br />

so he equalled the record of race<br />

wins. Next to him on the podium<br />

was his brother, Stephen, winner of<br />

the last stage. It was an emotional<br />

occasion – a passing of the baton,<br />

as it were. Jack was stepping down<br />

from racing after being a stalwart<br />

of the domestic scene for so long.<br />

Stephen, after seeing his brother’s<br />

career dictated to by internal<br />

politics, turned professional the<br />


very next year. In a nine-season career that saw him ride at<br />

the top level in Europe and America, he returned to this very<br />

podium in 1995, victor in the newly named Colonial Cycle<br />

Classic, this too his last race.<br />

But Stephen Swart’s tale is another story for another day . . .<br />


180<br />

“I remember Jack was a big burly bastard”





From The Peak<br />


Words & Pictures: Tom Owen<br />


The Isle of Skye is the greatest climb in England.<br />

On this point I will brook no argument. Nowhere<br />

near Scotland, it’s a 6 km climb out from Greenfield<br />

(on the Mancunian side of the Peak District), up<br />

into the moorland of the northernmost part of<br />

the National Park proper. I believe it is named<br />

after a pub that is no longer there but used to be<br />

somewhere near the top. The climb is tree-lined<br />

and claustrophobic at its foot, but opens out into<br />

something spectacular.<br />

In the summer of 2018, the one that went on<br />

for aeons, wildfires raged all over the moors. In<br />

town, with the streets choked in the smoke of<br />

burning heather, Mancs could barely clear their<br />

throats enough to belt out ‘It’s coming home . . .’<br />

as England marched improbably onward in the<br />

FIFA World Cup. In Saddleworth, people popped<br />

out to the shops in second world war gas masks to<br />

protect their eyes from the stinging smoke.<br />

Meanwhile, helicopters shuttled between the<br />

Dove Stone reservoir at the bottom of the Isle of<br />

Skye and the tops of the moors carrying slings<br />

filled with water. Was this Yorkshire, or Yosemite?<br />

California or Castleton?<br />

You go over a roundabout to start the climb,<br />

which sucks out any speed you might have hoped<br />

to carry into the initial ramp. The first part is the<br />

steepest and can sometimes be slippery because<br />

it’s shady – although not back then, in the summer<br />

that would never end. A dry stone wall acts as the<br />

barrier to your right, over which you can catch<br />

glimpses of the reservoir. Stand up and kick<br />

through the pedals and grab a sight of sailboats<br />

pulled up on the far side.<br />

As the road curves left and gains height the land<br />

behind the wall is no longer flat enough for tall<br />

trees or cottages. From here to the next layby it’s<br />

open. Knuckle down and turn the pedals. The<br />



“<br />

When you do<br />

look, drink it<br />

in. This is the<br />

best climb in the<br />

country<br />

“<br />


gradient starts to dwindle down to something<br />

more manageable. A right of way crosses the<br />

road and it broadens out for just a little bit to<br />

accommodate a gate on the left and the layby on<br />

the right.<br />

Once you’re past that you’re about halfway and<br />

the scale of the valley becomes apparent. Look<br />

up and ahead and pick out the road as it snakes in<br />

and out with the contours of the hills, but slowly<br />

turns to the right. Put in a few more watts and suck<br />

down some water. Don’t look back and over your<br />

right shoulder for as long as you can resist.<br />

When you do look, drink it in. This is the best<br />

climb in the country. See the water far below now<br />

and the towns of Mossley and Uppermill in the<br />

background, hemmed in by the hills that obscure<br />

the city’s scruffiest outer reaches.<br />

One more turn to make and you can drag your<br />

attention back to the tarmac in front of your wheel.<br />

It rolls out in front for miles, all the way down to<br />

Holmfirth, or Slaithwaite, or Masham or Meltham<br />

and a hundred other glorious climbs.<br />



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