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THE CYCLING QUARTERLY

ISSUE 26


THE CYCLING QUARTERLY

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Trevor Gornall

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Matthew Bailey

matthew@conquista.cc

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RUNE - CREATIVE (Pip Claffey)

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©Conquista Cycling Club Limited 2021

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Editorial

!Hola Conquistadors!

The Covid-19 pandemic

continues to have severe

impacts across the globe, with

individuals and governments

grappling with the complex

moral and medical issues of

isolation, vaccination and

lockdown. Whilst comparatively

trivial, the ongoing uncertainty

continues to affect the retail

industry, the professional

cycling calendar and our ability

to attend races and events and

even ride our bikes where and

when we please.

We now live in a world of rising

and falling rates of infection,

new variants, and everchanging

guidelines and rules.

This uncertainty continues to

complicate the publication of

our print edition as we wrestle

with various challenges affecting

content and sales.

Your patience is greatly

appreciated as we have been

repeatedly forced to delay

publication. Our hope is that as

the world gradually comes to

terms with this particular new

normal, and we can find ways of

working to enable us to settle

upon a new sustainable model.

In the meantime, we’ve had

a bit of a makeover thanks to

the new cover courtesy of Pip

Claffey of Rune Creative. You’ll

see some other elements of

Pip’s work dotted here and

there, brightening up the pages.

In terms of content, it’s

a typically eclectic mix of

words and pictures from the

contemporary pro scene,

historical features and things

you might like to explore

yourself, when able to do so.

Leading from the front is

Augustus Farmer. He fell in

love with his trusty old prime

lens all over when he visited

the sleepy Pyrenean village

of Quillan. Here he captured

the atmosphere of this most

traditional of local French

criteriums.

Shane Stokes discovered Brian

and Peter in Girona – two

Canadians who met when they

decided to take on an epic bike

ride from Beijing to Istanbul.

Their trip would change their

lives in ways they could never

have previously imagined.

When it comes to the sacred

places of cycling, they do

not come much more special

than the Arenberg Trench.

Suze Clemitson explores this

infamous passage that has

claimed so many victims since

its introduction to the Hell of

the North. Images are supplied

by Michael Blann. We’ve also

opted to follow Suze’s piece

with more of Michael’s images

from other iconic elements of

the Paris-Roubaix route.

A debut contribution from Pat

Harrington, who, from his base

in Salt Lake City, has revisited

our occasional series Threads

of History with a delve into the

story behind the iconic jersey

design of St Raphaël. We’ve

paired his words with some

great photos from John Pierce.

In his unique style, Marcos

Pereda takes us back in time to

the 1949 Tour of Algeria, and

the tale of this French attempt

to bring professional cycle

racing to post-war North Africa.

Marcos’s words are translated

by our very own Matthew Bailey.

Matthew then reviews two

contrasting yet equally

eccentrically British books, End

to End by Paul Jones and Start

at the End by Dan Bigham.

We round out this issue with a

fascinating look at how James

Marr and Patrick Lundin set

about building the ultimate

bamboo gravel bike.

This has been a particularly

challenging issue for us to

produce, we hope you enjoy it.

And with a bit of luck, and even

more hope than usual, we’ll see

you on the road…

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Contributors

Michael Blann

Michael is an advertising photographer based

in London with a passion for sports. He is

often commissioned by many of the major

cycling brands but is best known for his work

on mountains and subsequent award winning

book Mountains: Epic Cycling Climbs.

Patrick Lundin

Patrick is a world-class photographer

and having seen some of the best gravel

frames he wanted to build something

unique.

Conquista is nothing without our

wonderful contributors. They fill our

pages with words and pictures from

every corner of the globe, bringing tales

of conquest and achievement to inspire

us all to get out on our bikes and explore

the world outside our door. If you enjoy

their contributions here you may wish to

explore some of their other work.

Suze Clemitson

Suze Clemitson is the author of 100

Tours, 100 Tales. P is for Peloton, Ride

the Revolution and A History of Cycling

in 100 Objects. She occasionally rants in

the Guardian and on Twitter and is still

working on a book about Marie Marvingt.

James Marr

James Marr is a designer and the founder

of Bamboo Bicycle Club, a communityled

engineering project that has been

pioneering the use of bamboo bicycles

for the last 10 years and teaching people

to build their own bamboo bicycle.

Matthew Bailey

Trevor Gornall

Augustus Farmer

Marcos Pereda

Matthew has been writing and taking

photographs for Conquista since 2015

and is entirely to blame for any typos you

find.

Completer of Rubik’s Cube. Creator of

typso. Unfathomably early, yet at the

same time, somehow unfashionably late.

Maker of mistakes. Reluctant benefactor

of hindsight. Legs too long for his body.

Trying.

Londoner turned rural French, until

recently Gus was usually found leaning

out of a car following two wheels

down an Alp through a viewfinder, but

following a RTA on a local col, he now

adds TBI survivor to the title, writer and

photographer.

Marcos writes a lot, for newspapers

and magazines all over the world, and

trains very little. He has published books

about Pedro Delgado and Vicente Trueba

and also a collection of short stories

concerning apocalypses, pandemics

and the living dead. All with a sense of

humour, of course. He lives very close

to Peña Cabarga in Cantabria, but since

it has a maximum gradient of 20% he

doesn’t ride up it very often.

John Pierce

Pip Claffey

Pat Harrington

Shane Stokes

You may recognize John’s pictures

under the PhotoSport International

banner. A former amateur racer turned

photographer, John is renowned

as one of the world’s great sports

photographers. He has been a regular at

bike races since the 70’s and his photo

“Hinault Sprint, Tour de France 1981”

was voted Action Sports Picture of the

decade.

Pip is a freelance illustrator and print

maker based in the north-west of

England. When not sketching, getting

inky in the print studio or under a

veritable mountain of pressing deadlines

she likes to ride her bike or linger in art

supply stores.If you have a project in

mind you can find her at rune-creative.

co.uk

Born and raised in and around the mountains

of Salt Lake City, Utah, Pat Harrington

cut his teeth in the outdoors from

a young age whether it was on a bike,

snowboard or his own two feet. Fast

forward a couple decades and he has

traveled, lived in and adventured through

numerous countries having written and

photographed the journey along the way.

Check out some of his work at patchharrington.com/

and overapintfc.com

Journalist of 25 years’ experience who

has written about cycling for major

outlets such as Cyclingnews, Velonews,

Procycling, Cycling Weekly, CyclingTips,

Conquista, Velonation and the Irish

Times.

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Contents

16 74 120 142

16

The Quillan Crit

Augustus Farmer

One man and his trusty old

50mm lens at the oldest

crit in the West.

120

Threads of History:

St Raphaël

Pat Harrington

A return to the popular series

exploring the stories behind

classic retro jersey designs.

38

Chainges

Shane Stokes

Two Canadians embark upon

a life-changing ride from

Beijing to Istanbul.

130

Bikes and Deserts:

The Tour of Algeria 1949

Marcos Pereda

translated by

Matthew Bailey

How the French took elite

bike racing to Africa.

74

La Trouée d’Arenberg

Suze Clemitson

How an accordion playing

ex-miner saved the greatest

one-day race in the world

from the creeping tide of

modernisation.

142

Eccentric Circles

Matthew Bailey

A review of two contrasting

but equally eccentric

books: Dan Bigham’s

Start At The End and Paul

Jones’ End To End.

38

108

130

160

108

Roubaix: Postcard

From A Foreign Field

Michael Blann

Spectacular images of the

brutal landscapes of the

Somme region of Northern

France.

160

Building The Ultimate

Bamboo Gravel Bike

James Marr

& Patrick Lundin

Putting the unique vibration

properties of bamboo to

useful effect.

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THE QUILLAN CRIT

The Oldest Crit in the West

(or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and

Love the Prime Lens Again)

Augustus Farmer

The picture was of a race that

was a source of genuine local

pride, but in a down to earth way,

well-suited to this small, out of

the way town in the shadow of

the Pyrenees.

Sunday had become adventure

day in our household. To quote

Harry Dean Stanton in Paris,

Texas: “Together they turned

everything into a kind of

adventure, and she liked that.

Just an ordinary trip down to

the grocery store was full of

adventure.” And here, to us,

c’est la meme. That Sunday,

a little Pyrenean day trip in

our ridiculous but lovable car

was detoured by a hi-vis sign

adorned with familiar names:

Bouhanni, Chavanel, Bouet. In

a few hours’ time the oldest

crit in France would be rolling

out, with its usual smattering

of professionals wanting to add

their names to the cup in the

unlikeliest of Sunday afternoon

outings in a corner of my manor

in southern France.

And it is a decent roll of honour.

Poulidor, Janssen, Zoetemelk,

Anquetil, Chiappucci, Rominger,

Mottet, Delgado, Voeckler,

Sastre and Rodriguez have all

won it, but many other famous

names have had a go too:

Hinault, Thebernet, Fignon,

Jalabert and more besides.

We spent a couple of hours

wandering around while the

locals were setting up, talking

to their neighbours and lining

up their camp chairs and cool

boxes below the washing lines

stretched across the street

below. The picture was of a race

that was a source of genuine

local pride, but in a down to

earth way, well-suited to this

small, out of the way town in the

shadow of the Pyrenees. There

was a kind of gentle charm to

the scene: mismatched chairs

and old cardboard cut-outs of

Tour jerseys being wheeled out

for a little local cycle club race

that just happened to draw

champions without any of the

fanfare of a Grand Tour stage.

There weren’t any team buses,

press, or sponsors. The caravan

was made up of a shortened

home-made Kinder egg car and

a local’s restored 1970s Renault

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flat-bed truck, presumably

polished for the occasion. Two

sets of grandparents and some

kids sat in the back, chucking

penny chews and lollipops out

of a supermarket carrier bag

at eager, if slightly bemused,

tourists and local kids clearly

more interested in the sweets

than the history lessons

provided by their elders.

A Range Rover rolled up with a

Team DIRECT ENERGIE decal

on the back. Chavanel had

arrived. Mobbed by young

and old alike, all holding

out their programmes open

at the blank page for hero

scrawls, he obliged, as did his

teammates and fast-changing

AG2R riders Alexis Vuillermoz

and Axel Domont. National

champion Bouhanni raised the

stakes for the entourage of

little people caught up in the

fervour, presumably rarely felt

among these dappled shadows.

I saw a couple of kids in their

local team kit, all gaudy with

mismatched colours and logos,

and I wondered whether we

would see them looking after

the next-but-one generation of

contenders in the mountains

above us in a few years’ time.

A club member still in uniform

and compression socks sat

guard of the freshly laid out

chairs near the finish line. Just

opposite a lone spectator in

a world champion’s jersey

flicked unhurriedly through the

race programme, waiting and

watching as the riders in the

children’s race pushed for finish

line glory and parental approval

from the stand.

I’m not one of those people

that always has a camera. This is

probably daft and has definitely

resulted in missed earnings in

the days of celebrity nonsense,

but recently I have returned

to the roots of my learning by

just wandering around with a

cheap 50 mm lens, revelling in

the simplicity of having little

choice. I know prime lenses are

all the rage again these days,

but trends aside there is just

a humble honesty to a fixed

lens. More than that, there’s a

relief from expectation and a

heightened sense of being an

observer with far less control

over what you can record. That

simplicity and freedom lends

itself well to a renewed way

of seeing – if you want it to.

A flashback to the formative

years – to the excitement of this

magic process. Back to the fun.

A bloke with a warm energy and a

Breton flag stopped me and asked

where my pictures would end up.

My understanding of French was

just enough to grasp that, but not

quite get what he energetically

went on about afterwards. I think

I heard that Bernard Hinault was

his mate and he was flying the flag

here for their region up north, just

as he did when Hinault raced these

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streets. I think that was it, and if

not I think I’ll remember it as that

anyway. It seemed right somehow.

This was the 74th Quillan

Criterium. Except during the

second world war, the race

has been held every year since

1938 in this little town centre

in the south-west of France. I

had been here a few times and

always felt the cycling presence

on these streets, old posters

and banners knocking about in

former shop windows, the cups

and team jerseys of old just left

on display for the odd tourist to

pick up on. I seem to remember

one year a Tour stage departing

here and being unable to park,

with the team trucks and buses

taking up every available inch.

But I hadn’t known why until

that Sunday.

It all kicked off quite subtly

really, with a sedate procession

to a rolling start, followed by a

high tempo for the next couple

of hours. Like the 24 Hours of

Le Mans, it caught the attention

and drifted into the background

in waves, allowing race face

concentration and coffee break

alike with no diminution in the

enjoyment of the spectacle.

This less noisy version of

the Circuit de la Sarthe saw

our heroes power their way

around laps of the centre ville,

local cycle club hard nuts just

chuffed to be holding the

wheel of someone with a higher

calling. Gaps broke and closed,

bystanders wandered, Belgians

drank beers in the sun, and I

overheard English swearing

about Froome, about Sky,

about Valverde. Out there the

contenders were oblivious. I

was with them. Occasional pop

songs over the tannoy signalled

commentator pee breaks. In

silence broken only by isolated

groups of clapping spectators,

our showmen whizzed along the

tree-lined streets, all businesses

closed for the afternoon,

allowing smiling local club

members to man the barricades

and sell tickets for the annual

circus they were rightly proud of.

Resigned to an afternoon with

no escape by car, we lingered

over long, late lunches eaten

in the temporarily cordoned

off streets. Others, blissfully

ignorant of the important events

going on behind them, were

happy enough to live and let

live and put up with lunch on a

plastic picnic table instead of

round at a friend’s house in a

neighbouring village.

We strolled in and out of

viewpoints, climbed onto stages

being set up for an evening’s

entertainment at the village

repas. Kids below compared

heroes on paper, getting

animated when they magically

re-appeared in person round the

corner every couple of minutes.

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Watching people watching

people riding was satisfying, and

reminded me why this sport is

different to so many others. Our

gladiators were right there in

person, with nothing between

them and us but the pluck to go

up and ask for a selfie.

We departed this spectacle

before we wanted to but there

were hot, tired, patient paws

that would melt soon without a

river swim and some mountain

air as was promised at breakfast.

Atop that mountain, a couple

of valleys away, the internet

announced our winner.

Bouhanni had put his name on

that list. The French had their

champion and Quillan shared

him for a year. The Breton flag

walked home to be packed

away for another time. I decided

there and then I would return

some day.

As yet I haven’t, thanks to a

cycling accident less than a year

later which made photography

impossible. But in a bizarre

twist to that day, during a

year spent in hospital, I found

myself alongside two of the

characters from that day in

Quillan. Hinault’s mate with the

Breton flag turned out to be

fellow accident survivor Jean-

Marie, who cheered me on as I

relearned to walk. And one of

the AG2R riders I photographed

at the race, Alexis Vuillermoz,

was a fellow patient of the

physiotherapist that got me

turning turbo trainer pedals

again. Humbling – and as cycling

proves again and again, it’s a

small world.

Sam Bennett

& Patrick Lefevere.

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CHA NGES

How a 12,000 km ride across

Asia transformed lives

Shane Stokes

Photography by TDA Global Cycling unless stated

Some people go through their

lives stuck in ruts, wanting to

change but not knowing how

to do so. This is a story about a

12,000 kilometre bike ride, about

difficulty and tragedy and self-discovery,

and about the new directions

they provoked.

Silk Route

In the spring of 2014 two

Canadians who had never met

were both experiencing similar

emotions: dissatisfaction,

listlessness, uncertainty. Both

had been driven in their careers

but had reached a point in

their lives where they didn’t

know what to do next. Peter

Gaskill was 55 years of age and

from Vancouver. Brian Cebryk

was a year younger and from

the Comox Valley in British

Colombia. They were strangers

but united in feeling adrift.

“I was looking for something

to do,” Gaskill said, talking to

Conquista in Girona. “I had

lost a job that I had had for five

years. It had been the second

time I had lost a job after five

years working at an executive

level. I was casting about, not

really knowing what to do. Kind

of rudderless…not happy, that’s

for sure. I was in a bad space.”

Cebryk was also in a tough

position. He told Conquista

that he was feeling “pretty

high anxiety,” and was “pretty

wound up. I had worked in the

oil and gas business for many

years and, like Peter, was totally

uncertain as to what I wanted

to do.

“I had just finished a couple of

jobs. I had been working for 27

years and my wife and I were

just empty nesting. Our final

child had left home and gone

off to university. So, I was kind

of stuck and not sure what I

wanted to do in the autumn of

my life. I had lots of confusion

and was feeling anxious.

“I was basically looking for

something challenging.

Something that might expand

my horizons, test my comfort

zones. That is where I was.”

It is sometimes said that life

delivers opportunities to you

when you really need them.

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That may or may not be

accurate but, in the case of the

two Canadians, what happened

next would completely change

their trajectories.

Cebryk had been aware of

a Toronto company called

TDA Global Cycling, who ran

long-distance cycling tours

in overseas locations. In fact,

he had twice signed up for

one of their tours in Africa,

but ultimately didn’t make

it to either trip. Then, while

checking emails on his wedding

anniversary, he noticed that

three places were available on a

tour the company was running

along the Silk Route. He talked

it over with his wife Charlene,

she encouraged him, and he

signed up.

Gaskill, meanwhile, had been

skiing with some friends in

the Turkish mountains. He had

brought a bike with him and

stayed on to do some touring

around the country. He met a

cyclist and learned about an

organised trip from the top to

the bottom of South America.

He considered signing up for

that, decided to spend more

time in Canada instead, but

subsequently found out about

the same Silk Route ride Cebryk

would sign up to.

That grabbed his attention.

Travelling across Asia by

bike seemed like the perfect

challenge. Equally importantly, it

would enable him to switch off

from everyday life. “It seemed

I wouldn’t have to think about

anything for four and a half

months,” he said. “Just ride

across a continent.”

The trip would certainly be

a distraction from everyday

life. But, as Cebryk explained,

it was also a significant

undertaking. Forget the Étape

du Tour, or even riding the

entire route of the Tour de

France. This trip was far longer

and far more challenging.

“The ride was following the

historical Silk Route across

Asia,” he said, referring to the

ancient trading route between

China and the west. “It started

in Shanghai and we rode

around 12,200 kilometres to

Istanbul, going across China

into Kyrgyzstan, through the

Pamir Highway in Tajikistan

and from there to Uzbekistan,

through Turkmenistan, through

Iran and then three final weeks

in Turkey.”

Four months in length, the trip

represented a major physical

test. Particularly for Cebryk,

who had done some cycling

but who says he was “pretty

heavy” when he signed up. But

sign up he did, as did the more

experienced rider Gaskill.

Western China

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The decision would change both

their lives.

Shovels And Saddle Sores

The two Canadians flew into

Xi’an in China at the end of

May 2014. They had both

missed the start of the trip,

which had been running by

then for two weeks and had

covered approximately 1,200

kilometres. Their late arrival

meant they were roommates,

and they immediately clicked.

“Peter is a good guy, I knew

that instantly,” Cebryk said.

“We connected. It was a good

first impression.”

It was the same for Gaskill. “It

was a relief, actually. I didn’t

realise how much I would need

to have somebody like Brian

around that I could speak

with. We could relate to each

other really well, because I

think we had somewhat similar

backgrounds in business and

because we came from the

same part of Canada.

“It was really helpful because,

as it turned out, there was

a lot that we needed to talk

through,” he said, laughing.

Cebryk is an open and friendly

person. Gaskill is the same:

very down to earth, no airs and

graces and similarly warm. He’s

also surprisingly frank about

things, as he showed when

talking about an early realisation

he had about the rugged nature

of the journey.

“One of my first memories of

the trip was getting to the first

campsite in a sort of semi-urban

area of China, in a field that

was rocky. We were supposed

to pitch our tents in this field.

I said, ‘I need to take a crap,

where do we go?’ And they

hand you a shovel. I said, ‘that’s

fine, but where do I go?’ They

said, ‘just find somewhere.’ And

there was nowhere to hide.”

He laughed at the memory. “I

said to myself, ‘this isn’t what I

thought we would be doing…’

Cebryk was having his own

realisations about the difficulties

ahead. On the first day, the ride

out of Xi’an was 120 kilometres.

This was further than he had

ever ridden before. Several days

later, a scheduled 100 km ride

was changed to 145 km when a

tunnel collapse forced a change

of route. He was far outside

his comfort zone and began

experiencing saddle sores,

which required treatment from

a nurse on the trip. It was very

early on, and already he was

being tested.

More challenges were to

come. The two Canadians were

Peter Gaskill

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intrigued by the different ethnic

groups in China and, whenever

a day’s ride ended in a town,

they would head in to look for

food, meet the locals and add

to their experiences.

“We couldn’t read the menu,”

Gaskill said of those excursions.

“We would just point to things

and they would serve us

whatever it was. We had no

idea what we were eating. But

it was fine, we never got sick.

But as soon as we moved into

the Muslim part of China, things

got a bit more difficult as it

happened to be Ramadan. They

weren’t particularly interested in

cooking, and were only cooking

for people who were non-

Muslim. Because of Ramadan,

they were themselves only

eating after sundown.

“As soon as we got to that

part of China, I got sick. I was

sick for months after that. I

would have brief periods where

I would be able to control my

bowels a little better, but it was

pretty bad.”

Gaskill laughs at the memories,

but it was clearly a very tough

time.

“I rode most of the trip, but

I was off the bike for quite a

while too. Probably a total of

two or three weeks in all. When

I was sick, I was really sick.

You’d get a little better, things

were okay, and then I would

get really sick again. When I

was like that I just couldn’t ride.

You are so weak, you can hardly

stand up.”

Cebryk noted that some

sickness wasn’t uncommon on

the trip, but that he and Gaskill

were repeatedly slammed by it.

“Peter and I were sick so much,

they started asking people if

we had Canadian disease,” he

said, cueing laughs from Gaskill.

“That is what they termed our

illness, Canadian disease.

“But we supported each

other, it was just part of our

experience, I guess.”

That support would prove vital,

as things were soon to get a lot

more difficult.

Ilkka

In early July the riders were

nearing the end of their period

in China. They were heading

through the Taklamakan Desert

and were a few hundred

kilometres east of Kashgar,

the last major city before the

border with Kyrgyzstan. Things

had been going relatively well

for the group beforehand,

although some people had

already gone home due to

injuries from crashes.

Bin County Cave Temple, China

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Cebryk was ill and had gone

ahead to Kashgar by bus,

planning to rest and recover

there for two days before the

group arrived. Gaskill was feeling

better and had set off that

morning to do the day’s ride.

He set the scene as regards

what happened. “I happened to

be very far back because leaving

camp, somebody had a flat tyre

and I was helping them. In this

part of China it was very difficult

to repair punctures. Truck tyres

exploded all the time, all over

the highway. It seemed like

they have a very low standard

of safety for truck tyres and

when they would blow out, they

would scatter tiny pieces of wire

all over the road.

“Sometimes I would get two

flats in a day because of that.

And when you’d get a flat, you

would have to find the piece of

the wire and take it out of the

tyre, otherwise you can’t fix the

puncture. I helped the person

with the flat but as a result, we

were very late leaving camp.”

Gaskill worried about the delay,

not least because 170 km was

scheduled for that day but a

headwind meant that they were

going far slower than usual,

about 12 kmh. He said the

conditions were ridiculous. He

worried they’d never make it.

“I was riding along with one

woman and the wind finally

eased. It seems that everything

was going to be fine. The

pace had picked up but all of

a sudden we were pulled off

the road by the organisers. We

could see a whole group of

the other riders who had been

ahead of us, stopped just off

the side of the road.

“It was sort of eerie. I

immediately had a feeling

that something really bad had

happened. They said that a guy

had been hit by a car, that they

were going to hospital with

some of the staff members, and

that we would just wait. It didn’t

seem right, because we had

had accidents before and they

hadn’t dealt with it in that way.”

Following a long, nervous delay,

he said that the organisers

who had gone to the hospital

suddenly arrived back. “I knew

then that the guy was dead,

because every time we had had

an accident before and one of

the organisers went with the

person to the hospital, they

would be there for hours and

hours. They’d wait because

they’d come back with that

rider. You just don’t leave them

in the hospital.

“So, it was a horrible feeling to

see them back. I still struggle

not to choke up now, thinking

about it. I really struggle to talk

about the whole thing.”

Camp in Western China

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The rider in question was a

dentist from Finland called

Ilkka Nykanen. The previous

summer he had done another

long-distance ride with the

same organisers, with that trip

starting in Alaska and finishing

in Mexico City.

“He was probably in his mid-

50s,” Cebryk remembers. “He

had done a lot of cycle touring.

I think I read somewhere that he

had done something like 100,000

kilometres of cycle tours.”

Gaskill said he as one of the

quieter people on the trip. “He

was a shy man. He was pretty

private. It was not easy to get

close to him, but everybody

liked him. He was a really

personable guy when you did

speak to him.”

A tribute on the TDA Global

Cycling website describes him

as a very strong rider. “He

rode hard and strongly, mostly

by himself, ahead of the pack,

fighting the elements when

they were there to be fought

and enjoying every bit of it.

Riding long distances on a bike,

in strange lands and different

conditions, was his passion.”

Gaskill said that some of the

riders came across Nykanen right

after the accident. “Again, it was

about exploding tyres. A tyre

blew out on a small truck and

it lost control, hitting him and

killing him, we think instantly.

“Normally he would have been

riding with one of his buddies,

but his buddy was sick, so he

was riding alone. Amongst

the first guys to come across

him was an Australian who

was an elite-level lifeguard. He

immediately tried to resuscitate

him. The people who came

across him were really quite

upset, and he was the most

shook up of all of us. The driver

of the vehicle was very upset

as well.”

The organisers found

themselves dealing with a crisis

and immediately suspended the

ride. They found a large bus and

took the riders the remaining

distance to Kashgar.

The group had a lot of thinking

to do there, and a big decision

to make.

“What Kind Of Life Do I Want

To Live?”

Doing a big tour takes a

considerable strength of mind.

As Gaskill and Cebryk already

attested, serious stomach

problems and bad saddle sores

were two of the obstacles

encountered early on. Later in

the trip, Cebryk said that he had

a frightening experience while

at high altitude in Tajikistan. His

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body was struggling to cope

with a lack of oxygen, with

the simple act of hammering

tent pegs into the ground

leaving him seriously winded.

One night, he was so unable

to breathe that he felt he was

going to die.

Other riders also encountered

difficulties. Some broke bones

and had to go home early.

Others struggled in different

ways, but were able to carry

on. Considering the trip was

over 12,000 kilometres through

very hostile terrain, it is not

surprising that there were

major challenges.

However the death of one of the

group hit them all particularly

hard. Each rider signed up

expecting to be tested. Nobody

expected to be in mortal peril.

It meant that there were serious

discussions about whether or

not to continue.

“That was a real time of selfexploration,”

Gaskill said. “I

think the older guys like Brian

and I were able to discuss what

our feelings were about it. I

think we all were getting ready

to go home. My feeling was I

didn’t sign up to die on this trip.

“The trip across China had been

very difficult up to that point

anyway without the sort of

rewards that you would expect

for a trip like that. However

we did know that we were

entering into some of the most

spectacular parts of the trip, and

it would have been a shame not

to have experienced it. I think

Ilkka would have said, ‘Yeah, you

have got to carry on.’”

Cebryk said that everyone

spent time processing what had

happened and leant on each

other for support. “I think this

incident brought everybody

closer,” he said. “As Peter said,

there was a lot of introspection.”

He spoke frankly about his

own thoughts, saying he really

wrestled with a decision about

what to do next.

“I have lived a life of fear. I had

anxiety before, and this is one

of the things that I was always

fearful of. So when that happens

to a colleague, basically, you

start wondering ‘is this what I

signed up for?’

“After thinking it through, not

sleeping and stuff, I phoned

my wife and I talked to my

three children. I knew that I had

support from them, regardless.

If I decided to go home, they

were okay with it. And if I

decided to carry on, they were

also okay with it.

“At the end of the day, I had to

ask myself, ‘what kind of life do

I want to live?’ Do I go home

and live in front of my television,

Western China

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only to get hit by a car when

I am out on my bike? Or do I

finish this trip?

“I think most people had similar

thoughts. And I think getting

on the bike was…that first day

back on the bike was pretty

nerve-wracking, but I think it

was the best thing I could have

done for myself.”

The group tried to pull together

as a unit. Nykanen’s body was

sent back to Finland for burial.

The group raised a toast to him

and on the day of his funeral

they wore black armbands to

mark the occasion.

And then they pushed on.

Different sections of the

group were processing things

in different ways. The first

responders were having

flashbacks to the day of the

crash and their efforts to revive

Nykanen. The older members

of the group drew on their life

experience to come to terms

with things. The younger ones

adapted differently, keeping to

themselves and not discussing

what had happened.

Gaskill believes it was better to

talk. “Maybe it is just with more

life experience, we were more

used to death because most of

us have had death come close to

us. We were maybe a bit better

conditioned for it, understanding

that the healing process requires

some discussion, I think. It is

hard to say.”

But one common factor was

the healing qualities of cycling.

“When I got back on the bike, I

realised that was really the right

decision. It felt great to get

back on the bike. I have always

loved bike riding anyway, and

so when you are getting back

to something that you really

love, that really helped in terms

of healing.

“I suspected some of those

young people were the same.

When I think of the young

people that were on the trip,

they were passionate cyclists. I

think being on the bike helped

them too.”

Cultural Immersion

Things gradually improved after

that. Both Gaskill and Cebryk

talk about the wide range of

cultural experiences they had,

memories that remain strong to

this day and really enriched their

understanding of the world.

Had they left the trip early they

would have missed out on that.

Had they left early, they might

not have transformed in the way

they later did.

“Some of my fondest memories

are of Kyrgyzstan,” Cebryk

said. “It was amazing how the

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Panj River, Tajikistan/Afghanistan border

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landscape changed within 50 km

of Kashgar. We were in Kyrgyzstan

with very, very hospitable people.

You would go into yurts [tent

dwellings] for fermented mare’s

milk and cookies.”

“Delicious, by the way,”

Gaskill interjected. Then

laughed. “No, it’s horrible. It

is like drinking somebody’s

fermented body odour.”

“Turkmenistan also stands

out as a memory,” Cebryk

continued. “I was very worried

beforehand about going there.

Along with North Korea, it

is probably one of the leastvisited

countries in the world. It

is very tough to get a visa and

I heard it was dangerous. But

it turns out that those worries

were unfounded, like most

worries are.

“One of the strangest

experiences of that trip was

riding into Ashgabat with

Peter. We got there and there

were film crews waiting for us.

They filmed us for about ten

kilometres, coming into the

heart of the city.

“It was the weirdest city I have

ever been in. I felt like I was on

a Star Wars movie set. Then

we got to the hotel we were

staying at for two days and

there were news crews there

interviewing us to find out what

we thought of Turkmenistan. It

was kind of strange to see some

of our riders on the television

that evening.”

Gaskill becomes animated

remembering other parts of the

trip. “There was spectacular

riding—entering the mountains

through Kyrgyzstan, and then

the Tajikistan experience was

just phenomenal. The terrain

was so severe and the people

were very different-looking.

Beautiful people with strong

facial features, dark skin. Their

way of life was amazing to see.

Living in yurts, riding ponies

all over the place and tending

different herds of animals,

including yaks.

“The organisers even bought

a portion of a yak from one of

the villagers. We witnessed the

whole thing…they slaughtered

it in advance of giving us the

portion of the yak which our

organisers had negotiated to

buy. Which, by the way, was the

very worst cut of meat of the

animal. But to see their tradition

around how they slaughter an

animal….cruel beyond anything

that we would consider fair in

the western world, but that is

the way they do it.

“Those sorts of experiences

will always be there in my mind.

We just saw this other way of

living that is just so incredibly

different from ours.”

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Afghanistan, too, made a lasting

impression. The group rode

along the edge of a narrow

canyon above the Panj river,

which was in essence the

border between two countries.

They were on the Tajikistan

side, riding along a crumbling

dirt road. Across the canyon,

they could see a narrow goat

track which had occasional

motorbikes—but no other

vehicles—and people walking to

and fro.

“You could see their villages,

and how they live in these

villages. It seemed interesting,”

Gaskill said. “You would never

see men, but you would see

women working constantly.

They were completely cloaked,

head to toe. You could see

children playing, and we could

wave to the children. Very

rarely would an Afghan adult

communicate with us across the

river, but the children would

be waving to us and we’d be

waving to them.”

Both noted that their

preconceptions about

Afghanistan were challenged

when they saw the country. This

was even more pronounced

when they got to Iran. Iran is

often portrayed negatively in

the west, at least partly due to

decades of political tensions,

but they were pleasantly

surprised by their experiences.

“Everyone looked healthier

when we made it to the Iranian

border,” said Cebryk. “Things

were just better in Iran. The

food was better, the sanitary

conditions were better, and

people were amazing. You

could not stop your bike in

Iran without somebody coming

to talk to you, and offering

you help. I remember Peter

and I riding one time when

there was a pilgrimage. There

were lines of 50 cars. There

was no [hard] shoulder on

the road and we were trying

to concentrate. People were

slowing down to try to give us

nuts or water and all that stuff.

They were very hospitable.

“Our attitudes about the

country are all very much

shaped by the media. I honestly

believe we pay too much

attention to that. The stories

about Iran are that they hate

the west, they hate the US. I

have to admit I have travelled

to nearly 60 countries and I

would say Iran is one of my

favourite countries. We were

all treated very respectfully.

There was no one in the streets

chanting ‘death to America’,

or anything. I think there were

four Americans on the trip and

they were treated no differently

than the rest of us. I can’t wait

to go back there at some point

in time.”

Gaskill describes the country as

Kyrgystan

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Peter going downhill in Kyrgyzstan

Peter riding in Central China

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‘a revelation,’ and suggests that

at least some of the pressure

imposed on Iran from the

outside could be an attempt to

keep it down.

“We were there just before

this opportunity Iran now has

to start to come back into its

own, to maybe start to reach

its potential,” he said. “This is

creating all these problems in

the Middle East because it is

changing the centre of power.

You could see the potential.

The people are well organised,

hard-working, very intelligent,

well educated, fluent in English

and in other languages. Their

cities were orderly, clean, just

so different from other parts of

Asia that we travelled in.

“You really got the sense that

the potential of this country is

enormous, and if the sanctions

were ever lifted, that this

country would prosper. It was

amazing to visit.”

Evolution

At the start of this feature we

described Cebryk and Gaskill

as dissatisfied, listless, and

uncertain about where they

were going in life. They went on

the trip to find themselves or, at

least, to find what direction they

should take next. They went

through serious physical and

mental hardship, including the

emotional turmoil caused by the

death of one of the group.

The decision to push on after

that loss took courage, not

least because of the possibility

that they too could be injured

or killed along the roads.

Going home would have been

understandable, but in staying

committed they were able to

evolve and change.

To an outsider, the most visible

sign of that change would

probably be their physical

transformation. Both lost

weight, becoming fitter and

stronger. Cebryk estimates

he lost a full ten kilos. But it

was their outlook that had

transformed most.

“I think the biggest benefit for

me was that my mental attitude

had changed dramatically,”

Cebryk said. “A friend of mine

calls it ‘expedition mode’. I think

after a few weeks you are in that

mindset. Instead of worrying

what might happen a year

from now, or thinking about

what happened in the past, all

you are thinking about is that

moment on the bike. It was a

very revealing kind of exercise

for me, from that perspective.

“On the trip, the anxiety I had

faded away. Part of that was just

living in the moment and not

really being concerned about

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what may or may not happen.

Part of it was you didn’t know

what was going to happen.

For example, Peter and I had

Canadian disease, as did many

other people, and that affects

how you react to things. You

just deal with that. I think after a

while you get comfortable with

being uncomfortable.”

Gaskill had a similar shift in

attitude to life. He said that his

entire mental approach changed

as a result of the trip. “I believe

it had a very transformative

effect on me and how I see

the world. As Brian said, you

tend to see the world more

in the moment. When you are

uncomfortable, I realised that

things were going to change at

some point. It just always does.

So nothing is permanent.”

He also became more laid

back. Heading into the trip

he had reflected on his many

years of cycling and, by his own

admission, had a considerable

amount of pride. “I probably

came into it with a bit too

much of an ego from a cycling

perspective, thinking ‘I am a

good, strong cyclist, I am going

to mash this route.’ I sure had a

lot to learn,” he laughed.

“By the end, I started to really

take advantage of the ride and

not try to be the first one or

amongst the first ones back

to camp. In fact, by the time

we got to the end of the trip,

we were the very last people

coming back. We would be

stopping everywhere getting

tea, eating cheese, interacting

with the locals and seeing

things. Really, really taking in

where we were.

“Our attitude was that if we got

to camp more than 20 minutes

before dinner, we had wasted

some time! We could have been

out there longer. There was

no point being back in camp,

because we are exploring. We

are learning and absorbing; that

is why we are on the trip.”

There was, perhaps inevitably,

a sense of loss as the trip

drew towards a close. Over

the course of four months the

duo had grown used to that

exploration, to the lifestyle, to

the companionship of others

and to the routine they were

in. There would be pluses to

getting back home, but there

was also a swirl of emotions to

contend with.

“I guess it was bitter sweet,”

said Cebryk. “I was excited,

I had been away from my

wife and kids for almost four

months at that time. I was

meeting my wife at Istanbul.

But I was a bit reluctant to go

home, and I was reluctant to

say goodbye to my new friends

from the trip. You really bind

with these people and connect.

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Fortunately through Facebook

and things you can keep in

touch with them afterwards,

but it was a bit bittersweet. I

wasn’t really looking forward to

going home.”

Gaskill echoes the sentiment

about bittersweet feelings,

but says he was ready for that

trip to end. He had other plans

and wasn’t looking at returning

to his previous life right away.

“We had been on the road a

long time. I knew I wasn’t going

to go home right away, I was

going to stay on the road. But

I just felt that I had probably

enough of the third world and

maybe it was time to just hang

out in Europe. So I wasn’t in a

rush to go home, but it was a

bittersweet feeling to see the

trip end.

“Maybe another aspect of

it is that by the time the trip

had ended, I think that had

probably attained the personal

growth I could get from the trip.

Then it was time to go and do

something different to continue

that path. I was quite interested

in just seeing where this was

taking me as a person.

“I knew I had changed. I was

sorting things out.”

Afterwards

Sometimes people go on

holidays and dream up other

existences while they are there.

They re-evaluate the nine to

five, they weigh up their lives,

they identify what frustrates

them and they vow to make

changes. But once they return

home, they slip back into

the familiar groove and, over

time, the resolve to transform

everything fades.

There are of course multiple

reasons for this. People

can be constrained by

financial pressures or family

commitments, for example. But

habit too can play a part. There

is quite a bit of inertia around

repeated patterns of behaviour

and it can take a lot of effort to

follow a new path.

There are likely multiple factors

behind the change in direction

that Gaskill and Cebryk took.

Both were in their early to mid-

50s when they went on the Silk

Route trip. Both had had good

careers and could afford to take

the time to do the ride.

But it is also true that they

were at a point where they

wanted to, and likely needed

to, change. They spoke about

dissatisfaction with their

lives and with themselves

before they took the flight to

China and began this huge,

Wildlife Above: Kyrgyzstan Below: Turkey

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intimidating adventure. They

went so far out of their comfort

zones and for so long that

they were no longer the same

when they returned. It is quite

possible too that the loss of

a colleague forced an even

deeper re-evaluation than might

have happened.

Whatever the reasons, they

ended the ride in Istanbul as

clearly different people than

who they had been beforehand.

Cebryk had been on a board

of directors prior to heading to

China. One night in Ashgabat,

he decided he had had enough.

“It made me see how much

you had changed, and how

much the trip had changed

all of us,” Gaskill said to

Cebryk when they shared

their thoughts with Conquista.

“I think you wrote the email

at night, thought about it,

and sent it to somebody the

next morning. Then you told

us. It was hilarious! How can

you resign from the board of

directors by email when you

are in Ashgabat? It was just

unbelievable, it was such a

transformation. It helped us all

see how much we were changing.”

Cebryk concedes the board

were likely very surprised by the

message. “But I truly believe

that your life is probably easier

to examine when you are

away from it,” he reasoned.

“It is tough when you are in

Vancouver or wherever you live

and you are trying to examine

your life. You are right in the

midst of it.

“I think if you have questions

about where you are heading,

it is sometimes earlier to look

at that life from a distance.

Especially if you have been

experiencing other things and

meeting other people. So that

trip did really help sort out from

where I was at that time.”

Since then the changes have

continued. “On the trip, some

of us read a lot of books,” said

Gaskill. “Some people actually

bought physical books, but I

read everything electronically.

I read history books, more

philosophical books, but then I

wanted to have some fun too,

so I read a lot of bike porn. I

read all the prose. Interestingly,

they all had this theme about

Girona. I thought, well, after

this trip ends maybe I should go

to Girona and just see what it is

all about.”

Once in Istanbul he booked

a flight to Barcelona. He kept

enough things to do some

light touring with a tent, and

sent the rest of his baggage

back to Canada. He rode

around Spain, spent some

time in Girona, then rode up

through Europe to England

Shanghai

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before flying back to Canada.

It was months after the trip

when he arrived home. It was

wintertime, raining heavily

and cold. Gaskill found himself

heading out at night, having

dinner with local people and, in

his own words, drinking a little

too much. “I realised it was

ridiculous, that it was not what I

wanted to do. And so I thought,

what is holding me back? I

realised what was holding me

back were all the possessions

around me. My apartment, my

condominium, all the things that

I owned in it, and all the things

I owned in storage lockers

throughout Vancouver. I’d a lot

of stuff, being a materialist!”

He mulled things over, then

decided to sell some of it.

“That felt really good, and

then I started selling more of

it until I sold everything. And

that felt really, really good.

Then I travelled for a little while

longer. I went to Japan, I saw

different parts of the world, I

toured on my bike. I thought I

would spend a winter in Girona,

in between going to southeast

Asia and going somewhere else.

But I never left Girona.”

Gaskill’s savings meant he was

able to buy apartments there

as investments. He rented

them out and has also worked

as a tour guide for local bike

companies in Girona. He has

done many shorter trips,

including gravel rides in Spain,

France and elsewhere, and has

continued to fully embrace

cycling and being fit. He has

deliberately avoided amassing

possessions like he did in the

past, although he does own

several bikes.

“Before, I was a typical

materialistic Vancouver guy,

just trying to live in the right

neighbourhood, eat in the right

restaurants, wear the right

clothes. Just being all sort of

materialist, a bit ego driven.

Very much so,” he said.

“It is interesting that I can look

back on that life now and have

a better understanding of what

was driving me to live that

way. I’m not interested now in

living like that, but at the time

it was appropriate. I took on

challenges and sometimes failed

and sometimes succeeded, but

it was always exciting.

“If I hadn’t been who I was then,

I wouldn’t be who I am now.”

Cebryk, too, has changed a lot.

Some of that is due to the Silk

Route trip. Some of that is how

that trip changed Gaskill, and

the example that set for him.

“I would say that Peter is an

inspiration for me. Peter is a

guy that realised he needed to

make a change, and then made

Brian and Peter on the second-last day

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a change,” he explained. “A lot

of people that we talk to can be

quite unhappy, but are unwilling

to make a change. But Peter

has done that. We are visiting

him here in Girona, and I am

really happy for him. He is in a

much better place than the last

time I saw him in Vancouver.

That’s for sure.”

Cebryk has spent the time after

the trip changing his life. He

and his wife downsized, in terms

of where they were living, and

have spent quite a bit of time

travelling. He did a couple of

bike trips in Africa and scaled

back on work.

So what would he say to others

considering such an adventure?

“I have no idea why I did this

trip, to be honest,” he answered.

“It is a really tough question as

to why. Everybody on this trip

did it for different reasons.

“But if you are thinking about

doing something like this, I

would say explore it. Sign up,

face any fears that you have,

and just go for it.”

He regards himself as a very

different person now. “How do

I see my former self? Well, all

I can say is now I am far more

relaxed. I’m less anxious about

things and more mindful. That

has really helped, because the

anxiety was quite a burden for

myself and my family. That trip

certainly helped manage that.”

Brian (left) and Peter (right) in Girona (Photo by Shane Stokes)

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CYCLING & THE

EUROPEAN SACRED –

LA TROUÉE D’ARENBERG

Suze Clemitson

Photography by Michael Blann

If you have been in the vicinity of

the sacred you retain it more in

your bones than in your head; and

if you haven’t, no description of

the experience will ever be satisfactory.

Daniel Taylor,

In Search of Sacred Places

You hear them long before

you see them, these sacred

spaces. The dim rumble that

builds into a full throttled roar,

passed from throat to throat

like a Chinese Shout. This is our

Wembley, our Camp Nou, our

Stadium of Dreams, where the

noise stitches us together into a

chain that connects point A and

point B, just as the riders stitch

together the départ and the

arrivée, just as the first Grand

Boucle redrew the geography of

a nation.

Stitching together the treadle

and the pedal, building a

freedom machine from bits left

over from the sewing machine

and the gymnasticon, the

chariot and the horse-drawn

cart. A machine designed for

the flâneur and the ouvrier, the

rational woman and the speed

freaks, pedalled to sporting

glory by James Moore and

Major Tyler and Miss America.

Taking the roads that were not

made for cars.

In most sports, a kind of

mystical connection develops

between fans, their teams and

the sporting arenas where the

magic happens. But cycling

takes place in the liminal spaces

of the world, the point where

the veil between nature and

man is stretched thinnest.

Sous les pavés la plage! Look

carefully behind the burping

gas guzzlers and flotillas of

motorbikes, the gaudy Lycra

and the streamlined frames

and you might just glimpse the

flickering monochrome images

of the giants of the road.

Or maybe you’re just watching a

bike race.

Say the name and you can

feel the reaction in the flesh,

the skin’s visceral reaction

to brushing up against the

uncanny. It lies at the very

heart of hell, in the ninth circle

of treachery. All that has gone

before is an aperitif, a light

snack of well-made tarmac

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It is the most difficult and

emblematic sector of the race. The

site is majestic. The quality of the

paving is very poor. If there is one

sector that is known worldwide it

is this one. It is the identity of the

race. We cannot win Paris-Roubaix

in the trouée, but we can lose it.

François Doulcier

(President of the Association of

Friends of Paris-Roubaix)

roads and the occasional dusty,

rutted, cobbled track lightly

buttering up the body and mind

for the real onslaught between

now and the velodrome.

This, then, is the story of how

an accordion playing ex-miner

who became world champion

and an ex-pursuit champion

who became a journalist saved

the greatest one-day race in the

world from the creeping tide of

modernisation by uncovering

one of the most sacred spaces in

modern cycling.

Unlike the well-maintained

children’s heads of Flanders

or the smooth granite of the

Champs-Élysées, these stones

are elemental. An ancient lizard,

half buried, still sleeping in the

stony fields. Or maybe they

were hurled at the invading

Normans by the giant Jehan

Gelon and thumped into place

by his prodigious offspring.

Lovingly tended by les Amis de

Paris-Roubaix, the race would

lose its character without these

rough-hewn blocks measuring

roughly 15 cm on each side and

weighing 10 kg apiece. The

work is repetitive, tough and

dirty – they refer to themselves

ironically as les forçats du pavé –

but vital in uniting a community

around the protection of the

only feature that gives relief to

mile after mile of dusty plain.

Menaced by creeping

urbanisation and the threat

of this elemental pavé

disappearing under a blanket of

homogenising tarmac, les Amis

began the long and uneven

route to protecting the race in

1977. Nothing is settled – each

year more cobbles degrade

and need to be replaced, at the

mercy of the wind and the wet.

The fight for classification as

an historical monument is now

abandoned. Instead les Amis

are working towards a heritage

protection agreement to defend

their race, their patrimoine – for

without its pavé, in the words of

author René Fallet, “the North

will lose the North forever.”

Les Amis were born out of a

process of renewal, when the

l’Équipe journalist Albert Bouvet

was given the task of overseeing

the route for the 1968 Paris-

Roubaix. Jacques Goddet

wanted new challenges, new

cobbled sectors to revitalise

the race. Bouvet set off in the

company of Jean Stablinski,

a canny rider who knew how

to bend the more talented

to his tactical will. Stab knew

the area from the ground up,

and beneath it, and it was his

regional knowledge that led

Bouvet and Paris-Roubaix to the

highway to hell.

They called him M. France, this

dapper French born son of Polish

immigrants. It was grinta not

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‘The race starts here in this awful

prehistoric trench, the battle

reducing men and machines

to pieces. Aren’t you sadists?’

Stablinski replied: ‘Maybe, a little.

I want to keep the character of

the race, if you do that a grand

champion always wins.’

style that allowed Jean Stablinski

to hew out a solid career in his

15 years as a pro, winning the

French nationals an unmatched

4 times, 5 stages in the Tour de

France, the Vuelta a España in

1958, the Worlds in 1962 and

the first Amstel Gold in 1966.

But this son of the Nord never

won Paris-Roubaix, not even as

the directeur sportif who guided

Bernard Hinault for his debut in

the pro ranks – though Hinault

would batter Paris-Roubaix into

submission in 1981, beating Mr

Paris-Roubaix himself, Roger

‘Rocher’ de Vlaeminck.

Stab was naturalised at the age

of 16, because “it’s better to be

on the top of the Galibier than

at the bottom of a mine.” He

didn’t entirely escape the pit

where his father worked (until

he was called up for the war

effort – he would die in 1940

when Stab was just 14), but

his career in the mines lasted

just a few brief months and his

willpower to succeed as a cyclist

was stronger than the pull of

gravity. Yet even when his career

was assured, a shadow would

pass across his face as he talked

about how much he missed the

sun when he was underground,

how he never had a day on the

bike that was as hard as being at

the bottom of the world.

A keen accordionist who was

good enough to enrol at the

local conservatoire he made

extra money playing at local

weddings and bals trad but it

was the bike that pulled him

out of the depths of the mine,

out of the school where he was

learning the trade of cimentière,

and towards cycling glory –

first as an amateur winning

two stages of the Peace Race

and finishing third overall, and

then his illustrious professional

career as wingman to Anquetil.

Born Jean Stablewski in Thun-

Saint-Amand in 1932, Stab was

the archetypal ouvrier de la

pédale who rode his way out

of a humble background – he

wouldn’t have looked out

of place at the 1925 Tour de

France, when five mechanics,

four farmers, three builders

(including winner Ottavia

Bottecchia, the ‘Macon di

Friuli’), two miners, two butchers

and two locksmiths lined up in

Paris at what was dubbed the

Tour of the Artisans.

Granite determination and a

timely typo gave the world Jean

Stablinski. He blazed across

the sport, both as a winner so

cunning they called him ‘the

fox’ and a teammate who was

exemplary in his support of

Jacques Anquetil in his Grand

Tour triumphs. Stablinski rode

his last season in 1968, having

helped Roger Pingeon to victory

in the ill-starred 1967 Tour. He

never rode with a bottle in his

cage after he retired – he said

he’d never had the time to get

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During the sixties the mayors

wanted to modernise everything,

so if the race was routed through

their village they made an order to

improve the roads, because they

didn’t want to be seen by the rest

of France as being backward.

Jean Stablinski

to know places and people

when he was a pro, so he rode

with a few sous in his pocket,

always ready to stop off at a

café and boire un coup.

The day after the 1967 Paris-

Roubaix and Jacques Goddet

is en colere. So what if it was

a sprint royale that saw Jan

Janssen mastering a group

of some 15 riders, including

the likes of Van Looy, Merckx,

Poulidor, Altig and Motta?

Paris-Roubaix isn’t a race for the

sprinters. It is, according to M.

Goddet, the last folly cycling

offers its followers, and 1967

was a massive bore – a banal,

monotone race with barely any

difficulties, just kilometre after

kilometre of the flat lands of

the north. M. Bouvet would

kindly get it sorted, find new

secteurs, reinvigorate the

route completely.

The 1967 race featured just 22

km of cobbles, the rest swept

away in les Trente Glorieuses,

the golden years of economic

recovery and full employment

in France that followed world

war two. The road network

was forced to adapt to a new

and dynamic France, the old

narrow cobbled tracks no longer

fit for purpose. Out went the

pavé, swept away under a tidal

wave of thick, glorious tarmac

– the enemy of the ancient and

troublesome granite setts.

“Fortunately, I had the presence

of mind to phone my friend

Jean Stablinski,” Bouvet

recalled in 2017. Stab told him

he’d never find cobbles on the

departmental roads, “but I can

show you some interesting

chemins communaux.” These

are the ‘C’ roads, sometimes not

even that, the white routes that

riddle the map of France and to

this day may remain little more

than cart tracks.

Genia Stablinski, wife of this

most celebrated miner turned

cyclist, recalled the day the

two men met at the Stablinskis’

home in Wallers to go pavé

hunting: “We’re going to make

an omelette because Albert

Bouvet is coming over and we’re

going to look for cobbles.”

Genia and Jean have a great

meet cute – the young Stablinski

advertises in the local Polish

paper for a companion for his

mother and ends up marrying

his new stepfather’s daughter

two years later.

Stablinski took Bouvet to the

pit head of the mine he’d

laboured in briefly back in 1950,

when 3,000 miners worked the

coal seams under the forest.

There was a little-used track

that connected a couple of

the mines in the area, a handy

shortcut for the locals. In the

days when Wallers-Arenberg

earned the blue ribbon as the

most productive mine in France,

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the drève was a place to meet

and relax on the weekend,

hunt and fish in the lake left

by the collapse of one of the

old galleries. Maybe Stab

would play a tune or two on

the accordion he loved. On a

weekday, mopeds bounced

across the cobbles as les

gueules noires made their way

to and from work.

“It scared me,” Bouvet

recalled. “I wondered if the

riders could face up to it. To

reassure me, Jean rode it on

his bike. Finally, in 1968 we

took the risk.” It was a decision

that saved Paris-Roubaix.

When you went down in the

cage, five hundred metres, you

never knew for sure whether

you would be coming up again.

Arenberg is like a descent into

the coal mine. If you start to

think of the danger you won’t

even go there. – Jean Stablinski

Emile Zola’s incendiary

Germinal wasn’t actually set

in Wallers – the action takes

place in the entirely fictionalised

Montsou, based on the town

of Marchiennes twenty minutes

down the road. But it was the

lowering pit head at Wallers-

Arenberg that dominates the

1993 film, casting its implacable

shadow over the stunted lives of

the mining community.

That version of Germinal marked

the long conversion of the

region from the industrial to the

digital. Now the immaculate

brick buildings at the pit head

house the Arenberg Creative

Mine, and the entire area

was listed as a Unesco World

Heritage Site in 2012. You can

take a guided tour to discover

the cobbles the way the miners

knew them – as a quick way

to work through the poetically

named Drève des Boules

d’Hérin, a stately drive through

the forest, the limit of which was

marked by two stone pillars,

atop which sat a pair of brass

balls. Insert your own pun here.

It was Pierre Chany, the fabulist

and chronicler of French cycling,

who dubbed it the trouée,

the trench. The nickname was

well earned – throughout the

long years of the war, Wallers-

Arenberg was the front line,

occupied by the Germans then

liberated by the Canadians in

1918 in a final bloody battle.

And it was Stablinski who

recalled the dark and dirty

gallery beneath the cobbles

when he remarked “I’m the only

rider to have passed above and

below the Arenberg.”

The earth is ancient here, the

millennial forest rising out of

damp loam and lichen. In 1966,

Jean-Marie Léger – a pupil at

the local lycée in Arenberg –

discovered the remains of a

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campaniform goblet in a local

field, indicating the presence

of Bell Beaker culture from the

third millennium BC. By the

Middle Ages, the region was

renowned for the fineness of

its lace and linens but such

delicatesse was roughly pushed

aside by the need to industrialise

after the loss of Alsace-Lorraine

in the Franco-Prussian war. The

real riches of the region lay

beneath the feet and prosperity,

for some, was driven by coal

and steel. Now the north invests

heavily in green tourism and

the decision to locate the new

Louvre in the thriving city of

Lens is revitalising the arts

scene. The north is remaking

itself in a new image.

First laid by Napoleon I, the

cobbled track runs straight

through the forest, bisected now

by the cast iron rail bridge that

hangs high overhead connecting

the canopy of trees. The coal

basin of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais,

running from Valenciennes in the

east to Béthune in the west, has

been exploited since the 1730s,

reaching its zenith in 1899 when

the Compagnie des mines

d’Anzin opened the Wallers-

Arenberg mine under the

hulking pitheads. Here the earth

is bound up with shale and coal

and iron and steel. A 105 m slag

heap stands testament to the

work of the men who dropped

689 m into the earth to extract

the hard black coal.

Before the war to end all

wars, the forest of Wallers had

been part of the domain of

the Arenbergs, princes of the

German empire, whose wealth

and ambition knew no borders

(the beauty of the gardens at

their castle in Enghien was said

to have inspired Versailles). But

war is no respecter of titles

and the forest was stripped

summarily from their control and

sold to the French state in 1921.

Dense and deciduous, the

canopy is lush in summer and

darkly skeletal in winter, the

bare branches stark against

the sky. The brooding slag

heaps of Mont des Ermites,

Goriaux and Sabatier rise

out of the plain above the

predominantly oak forest. The

woods are dark and deep if

not always lovely, summoning

memories of Robert Frost

contemplating his death on a

lonely forest track on a snowy

evening. A liminal place where

once a year the coal-blackened

faces of the hard men toiling

at the bottom of the earth fuse

with the dust-blackened faces

of the hard men riding over

it. But there is solidarity here,

and pride in being the focus

of attention every year for one

Sunday in hell.

The Great War scarred the

north, battering the land into

submission, and it was a long

time before it broke free of that

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Shell-holes one after the other,

with no gaps, outlines of trenches,

barbed wire cut into one thousand

pieces, unexploded shells on the

roadside, here and there, graves.

Crosses bearing a jaunty tricolour

are the only light relief.

savage identity. Victor Breyer,

editor of Le Vélo, was charged

with reconnoitring the blasted

lands in 1919 with a view to

running the 20th Paris-Roubaix

that spring. “Shell-holes one

after the other, with no gaps,

outlines of trenches, barbed

wire cut into one thousand

pieces, unexploded shells on

the roadside, here and there,

graves. Crosses bearing a jaunty

tricolour are the only light

relief.” His riding companion

Eugène Christophe, he of the

broken forks and the first maillot

jaune, took one look at the

tattered land and exclaimed

“this really is the hell of the

north.” Or so one version of the

creation myth goes.

That 1919 race started in

Suresnes, on the banks of the

Seine, before picking its way

north through the infamous

Zone Rouge, an area of

devastation so intense the

French government deemed it

unfit to support agriculture or

human habitation. Stretching

between shattered Verdun in the

East to the battlefields of the

Western Front, 120,000 hectares

lay totally destroyed.

All that remains are the small,

neatly lettered signs: here

was a church, here a village

razed. The rounded domes of

bombs and skulls still break the

earth and the water remains

poisoned with an excess of the

perchlorate used to manufacture

armaments at the start of the

twentieth century. Even the

radical depollution techniques

developed in 1919 and known

popularly as verdunisation

couldn’t entirely clean the land

or water. Some areas remain

despoiled and barren to this

day. Others have rewilded

into charming landscapes that

soothe the horror of trenches

and shell holes. As recently as

2012, 544 communes in Nord-

Pas-de-Calais were forbidden to

drink their water, contaminated

a century before.

But cycling stitches maps

and regions and communities

together, and the 1919 Paris-

Roubaix finally connected the

martyred city abandoned on

the Franco-Belgian border with

the French capital, threading its

way from Beauvais to Breteil to

Amiens to Saint-Pol-sur-Ternoise

to Cambrin to Annœullin to the

Avenue de Jussieu where Henri

Pélissier won the sprint and

declared “This wasn’t a race. It

was a pilgrimage.”

In 1968, the year the peloton first

faced the trench, there were two.

Eddy Merckx. Not yet the

Cannibal, before Merckxissimo.

And Herman Van Springel, the

Belgian enjoying the start of

his best ever season where

he would run out winner of

Lombardy and second in the

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“What if no rider finishes the race?”

Goddet demanded. “It only takes

one,” Bouvet replied.

Tour. Van Springel, the only rider

able to match Merckx’s continual

attacks. The new kid rides the

cobbles with insouciant ease,

breaking the pack apart with a

deadly acceleration soon after

the Arenberg. In the velodrome

he masters Van Springel in the

final sprint, winning from the

front. Finesse and souplesse.

Merckx was electrified by the

cobbles, taking the first of his

three wins and his debut classics

victory in the rainbow jersey he

had won in the Netherlands the

year before. Of course.

The 1968 Paris-Roubaix will

be the first race to feature the

new cobbles uncovered by

Bouvet and Stablinski. Goddet,

the architect of the mission, is

initially horrified, fearing the

primeval pavé would prove

too tough for the riders. It was

Roger Pingeon who was the

first across the Arenberg having

struck out on a solo raid, as ever

impatient and disappointed with

his French teammates. Another

stitch: born in the Nord, the

Frenchman had worked in the

zinc trade before his cycling

career, like Stablinski before him.

The twenty-first century

Arenberg is flags and noise

and colour, the barriers packed

with fans seven and eight

deep. In 1968 there are only

scattered groups of spectators,

muffled up against the cold,

apparently unaware they’re

standing on sacred ground.

They watch incuriously as

Anquetil punctures and then

discreetly disappears from the

race, clearly deciding he gives

no fucks whatsoever about

completing this ridiculous test.

1968 was the year of

revolutions. In Paris, Cambridge,

Brazil and Italy students took

to the streets to demand their

elders and betters do better

and paid in blood. In Mexico

City John Carlos and Tommie

Smith raised their black gloved

fists while Martin Luther King

was shot for daring to go to

the mountaintop. Violence and

hope flared and flickered across

Europe and beyond. This was

the year that Paris-Roubaix

made the great turn to the

East, away from the traditional

parcours from Chantilly through

mining country to Amiens where

the coal dust paths transformed

the riders into the gueules

noires of the mines.

Instead of gaily skipping across

the scattered cobbles of

Doullens and Arras to Roubaix,

Stablinski and Bouvet’s new

pavé took the riders through

the Cambrésis and the

Valenciennois. It was a war of

attrition played out by the slag

heaps and dung heaps that

shaped the landscape. Of the

160 riders on the start line that

April only 44 made it into the

velodrome. The last rider home

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They watch incuriously as Anquetil

punctures and then discreetly

disappears from the race, clearly

deciding he gives no fucks

whatsoever about completing this

ridiculous test.

was Philippe Crépel, wearing the

same Pelforth-Sauvage-Lejeune

jersey as the 1967 vainqueur

Jan Janssen. The nordiste lasted

just four short years in the

peloton before making a much

greater mark as a directeur

sportif to Alain Bondue, Jean-

Luc Vandenbroucke and Mariano

Martinez at La Redoute, Bernard

Hinault at La Vie Claire and

Charly Mottet at Novemail. But

Jacques Goddet was impressed

enough by his debut in that

savage Paris-Roubaix to write:

“The last ranked rider in the

hardest Paris-Roubaix of all time

is also a hero and his name, still

unknown this morning, Philippe

Crépel, should not remain so

even if he finished 40 minutes

behind the winner.” Another

elegant stitch, pulling together

the first and the last. Years later

the Vélo-Club Roubaisienne

commemorated his feat with a

plaque in the infamous concrete

showers, a privilege previously

reserved for each year’s winner.

But then 1968 was an

exceptional year.

As for Jean Stablinski, in his final

Paris-Roubaix he finished 24 th .

“Where did Poulidor finish?” he

demanded as he crossed the

line – his Mercier teammate was

6 th and first Frenchman behind

the rampant quintet of Belgians

spearheaded by Merckx. The

rest of the peloton weren’t

impressed: “They reproached

me for having made them ride

the trench. As I was ending my

career, they said I really didn’t

care about their fate…”

What you notice first are the

birds.

Closed to traffic the rest of the

year, the Fôret de Raismes-

Saint-Amand-Wallers is home to

over 200 species of nesting and

migratory birds whose song fills

the still air. Deer stalk through

the trees and the trench is theirs

for 364 days of the year, until the

hooligans on bikes rip the place

apart for one Sunday afternoon

in hell. And then peace returns,

and the primordial forest goes

back to sleep.

You hardly notice the cobbles

under the cathedral of the forest

canopy, the filtered sunlight

dappled and soft. But you can

feel their edges, their roughness

under your feet and you trip

often enough to remember

what they can do to a wheel rim,

these sugar cubes of granite

cut from the pink coast of the

Côtes-d’Armor in Brittany and

the dark stone of the Tarn.

It’s a pleasant walk on a warm

afternoon, feeling the pavé

basking in the sun, the ancient

reptile’s back with its velvet coat

of moss. A giant, dozing.

But these cobbles don’t share

the symmetrical morphology

of a lizard’s skin. They’re

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98

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The forest in Paris-Roubaix. It’s

unique, only in this race do you have

to ride through Arenberg, no other.

Franco Ballerini

1998 Paris-Roubaix winner

dysfunctional, disjointed.

Like nothing you’ve ever

encountered. Ill-fitting and illmannered,

they assault every

inch of your being, punishing

your hands and wrists, fucking

with your head. This trench

that is every bit as treacherous

as those that once zig-zagged

chaotically across the Nord in

the war to end all wars. Mud.

Moss. Grass. Dust. The right line

is impossible to find because

there is no right line. Poorly

cut and poorly laid, with gaps

of up to 1.5 cm, you strike

each one anew, like repeatedly

hitting a kerb with force at 40

kmph. Once you dive into the

trench you may as well be at

the bottom of the ocean as

you head through the dank

and humid tunnel. Parallel lines

drawing the eye to nothingness.

An arrow running straight

towards oblivion.

The peloton hit the Arenberg

at around 60 kmh, sprinting for

position, shoulders jostling like

jockeys hitting the final furlong,

hurtling down the short, steep

descent into the sunken trench

and onto the pavé. One slip and

it’s carnage.

On a bike each cobble delivers

a hammer blow, impacting your

thighs, your arms, your wrists,

your liver and kidneys, eyeballs,

the roots of your hair. A skating

rink when slicked with rain, a

string of potholes loosely held

together with jagged rock when

dry, the cobbles are the arbiter

of great champions unlike any

other – a mix of connerie and

luck, requiring all your wits,

speed and swashbuckling

bravura. Imagine fucking a

jackhammer for 2.4 km and

you’ll have some sense of the

impact. And that’s before you

ride the Chemin des Abattoirs

or hit Mons-en-Pévèle, Orchies

and Carrefour de l’Arbre.

The trench is too far from the

finish line to be truly decisive,

but the race can be lost here in

an explosion of crunching bone.

Ask Johan Museeuw.

It was wet and windy in 1998,

the riders caked golem-like

in mud. It was the kind of day

the fans love and the hard men

love more, but it was an Italian,

Franco Ballerini, that crossed the

line in the velodrome first after

a solo escape of more than 40

km followed home by his Mapei

teammates Andrea Tafi and

Wilfried Peeters. It was a repeat

of the infamous clean sweep of

1996 when Museeuw, Bortolami

and Tafi broke away with 86 km

left to race and Patrick Lefevre

decided the finishing order from

the team car. The trio took a lap

of honour round the velodrome

to dominate the 100 th race.

This year Museeuw was in

an ambulance, his left knee

shattered. Then a fractured

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If you see them, it’s because

you’ve crashed.

Johan Museeuw

1996, 2000, 2002

Paris-Roubaix winner

patella mutated into a bacterial

infection picked up from the

cobbles of the Arenberg that

attacked his kidneys and left

his leg at risk of amputation.

Three months later he rode

calmly and quietly for one hour

on a summer’s evening. It was,

he said later, the strongest and

most beautiful moment of his

entire career.

In 2000, riding alone into the

velodrome, nobody could say

the Lion of Flanders had stolen

the victory. Museeuw rode into

the velodrome through sheer

force of will. As he crossed the

finish line, he unclipped his

left foot and pointed at the

knee, dedicating his victory to

the patella that nearly robbed

him of his career, his triumph

complete. Fuck you, Arenberg.

The Belgian stuck two fingers up

at the trench but others weren’t

so lucky. In 2011 Tom Boonen

punctured on the early part of

the Arenberg pavé and waited

interminably for a new wheel, his

chances of winning disappearing

down the road with the dribs

and drabs of the peloton.

He wouldn’t make it to the

velodrome, his legs and morale

gone after a lengthy chase and a

messy crash.

Museeuw came into the 1993

Paris-Roubaix as the winner of

that year’s Ronde and would

end the day 4 th behind his GB-

MG teammate Franco Ballerini.

The Italian threw his arms

aloft at the line, convinced of

the victory. But it was Gilbert

Duclos-Lassalle, the tough

little rider from the south-west

who excelled in the races of

the north, who threw his bike

across the line to take his

second cobblestone on the trot.

Remarkable, because Duclos

had crashed heavily in the

Arenberg and lost a good two

minutes on his rivals. In 1992 he

became the oldest ever winner

of the race at 37 years old, 14

years after setting his heart on

winning it, in a demonstration

of pure panache. Greg LeMond

repaid his teammate for his

sacrifice in the 1990 Tour

by running interference and

perfectly controlling the chasing

group, guaranteeing a solo

victory. But 1993 was about the

métier, the craft, the finesse

of being able to judge to

perfection a slow-motion sprint

after hundreds of kilometres

of dust and crap and hurt.

Stitching together the panache

and the profession.

The 2001 race was dominated

by Domo-Farm Frites but the

faces were familiar from the old

Mapei team. Museeuw would

stand on the podium again,

one step down from teammate

Servais Knaven. But spare a

thought for Philippe Gaumont.

One of the gros moteurs of the

peloton, the iron man of Picardie

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Under the shower

you hear the

swearing. ‘This

shitty race, I’ll

never come back.’

But once they’ve

left that room it

becomes ‘Wow,

what a race!’

Cyrille Guimard

came down in the trench, his

tyre sliding out in one of the last

wet editions of Paris-Roubaix.

It was the beginning of a long,

slow calvaire for the French

rider who took a year and a half

to recover from the fracture of

the right femur that left him

yelling “I’ve broken my leg!” as

unpitying riders picked their way

delicately around the annoying

obstacle he had become. But his

career was over by 2004 anyway

– a self-confessed prisoner of

doping who always lived life to

excess, his career was ended

by the Cofidis scandal. Nine

years later he suffered a massive

heart attack and was dead at 40,

unmourned by a sport that had

moved on to marginal gains.

You hear it before you see

it. And what is the Arenberg

without the helicopter rising

and falling over the huge wheel

of the lifting gear that once

dropped miners hundreds of

feet into the earth, its blades

dicing the yells and roars into

a stew of sound. The ominous

shadow of the pit head that

scared the shit out of a young

man called Jean Stablinski, who

knew that if you let the fear in,

you’d never go underground.

That if you let the fear in, you’d

never ride the trench.

You hear it as you see it. The

rim shots as the wheels hit

granite, the hiss of chains

jumping, the shouts of the riders

and the little Spanish climbers

bouncing across the cobbles

like so many brightly coloured

ping pong balls. The stinking

ragout of fear and shit and

sweat and piss. An imaginary tip

of the hat to Stablinski whose

commemorative stele stands

– where else? – a few hundred

yards into the Arenberg trench.

The elbows-wide power stance

of the hard men, powering

their way across the crown of

the cobbles, their hands almost

sarcastically loose on the grips.

The others grovelling. The

familiar flags held aloft. Dirk

Hofman Motorhomes. The Lion

of Flanders.

The Arenberg is the prosaic

become iconic, the stitching

together of the magnificent and

the crude, the cathedral and

the slaughterhouse, the sacred

and the profane. A cobble

lifted overhead in triumph or

just a shitty fucking bike race.

All these antitheses are held

together in the Arenberg trench

or hole or forest – call it what

you like. It’s a statement of what

the race aspires to be, of the

emotions it captures with its

roots buried deep in a collective

history of work and escape for

the ouvriers de la pédale. And

even as cycling rides away from

its heroic past, it’s not time that

confers that iconic status – the

Arenberg has only existed as a

permanent fixture in the Queen

of the Classics since 1984, when

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TV audiences for the first time

watched Alain Bondue take the

turn onto the cobbles that is

traced into any fan’s psyche.

But to run the race now without

the barely-contained threat

of violence that the Arenberg

promises would be like Scarface

without his Little Friend.

As recently as 2005 it was

impassable, the moss and grass

creeping between the granite.

It was possible to imagine a

green Arenberg, where only the

birds and the deer are welcome

and the chaos and beauty of a

bike race a mere fever dream.

But by 2019 the decision had

been taken to mortar the pavé

into place. John Degenkolb,

winner of the 2015 race and

ambassador for les Amis des

Paris-Roubaix, was initially

sceptical about making changes

to such a holy place but now

the grass is slowly banished,

replaced by concrete, making

the sector more stable and

less dangerous to ride. If there

is ever a wet Paris-Roubaix

again, the Arenberg will still be

passable but a little of its soul

will be gone.

But at around 2.30 in the

afternoon on a Sunday in April,

when the headframes loom

and the peloton grit their teeth

and fight for survival and the

hairs on the back of your neck

begin to stand stiff and you’re

on tenterhooks with the visceral

excitement and anticipation

of what is to come, then the

highway to hell is the only place

you want to be.

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Entrance to Arenberg

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ROUBAIX: POSTCARD

FROM A FOREIGN FIELD

Michael Blann

Personal work; it’s where the

best ideas take seed and why, as

a photographer, it’s so important

to keep doing this type of

work. This act of “doing” allows

you to explore ideas without the

expectations or constraints of a

brief. Some ideas are clear from

the beginning, others are a gut

feeling that starts you on a journey

and a process of discovery.

It’s only over time, through nurturing

and experimentation, that

these nuggets of ideas reveal

themselves and develop into

something more meaningful.

As I’ve got older I’ve learnt

to trust my instinct more and

it’s why I ventured to northern

France looking for something

in the muddy landscape of the

Somme which was still undefined.

Exploring landscapes

is where I feel most at ease

photographically. I am drawn to

a sense of place and man’s role

in the physical landscape. It’s a

point of reference in much of

my work.

The Somme region is steeped

in history and suffering, and

it’s no coincidence that one of

the hardest races in the cycling

calendar, Paris-Roubaix traverses

its fields and network

of cobbled farm tracks. It’s a

brutal race, which shakes every

last drop of energy from the

riders and can quickly turn to a

quagmire if it rains. The granite

setts, which make up these

“roads” are invariably dislodged

creating chasms for wheels to

sink into or, worse still, muddy

pools of water which disguise

the dangers beneath. Crashes

and punctures are inevitable and

the attrition rate makes finishing

the race an achievement in itself.

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Like my Mountains project there

seemed to be a synergy between

the physical state of the

roads with the unique type of

racing they have helped create.

Drawn to explore this notion a

little further, what I invariably

found was a stark division where

the smooth modern tarmac road

ended abruptly, giving way to

a muddy field reminiscent of a

Van Gogh painting where black

crows and the withered stalks of

maze paint a scene unchanged

over hundreds of years. It’s

where the old and the new

worlds meet. Standing there

on the junction, it doesn’t take

much imagination to envisage

the Somme during WW1 or a

scene from Émile Zola’s depiction

of miners in his French

masterpiece, Germinal.

These photographs are a

starting point, a place to begin

constructing more resolved

ideas. Whether they amount

to anything more than a short

sortie into a foreign field, they

remain invaluable to me and

a reminder of why personal

work is so important. They have

helped me build my own picture

of what form my photography

should take. Certainly, I’m aware

that my aesthetic gets simpler

every year and I tend to look

to the physical landscape for

answers and meaning.

Shop the range of limited edition

Roubaix prints here:

http://bit.ly/BlannRoubaix

Haveluy

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THREADS OF HISTORY:

ST RAPHAËL

Pat Harrington

Photography: PhotoSport International

The sharp cursive typeface from

the bottle was perfectly married

with the block letters of the

cyclist’s surname, creating one of

cycling’s iconic jerseys. It became

instantly recognizable.

The circle was broken in 1951.

The traditional Tour de France

circuit that used the perimeter

of the country as its formidable

parcours was changed

drastically. The familiar environs

of France’s west coast, as well

as the Alsace and Lorraine, were

largely omitted. This brought

the central departments of the

country to the fore. The layout’s

reinvigoration was an effort by

the organisers to give the Tour

a fresh look. As a result, new

locations and new riders began

to steal the limelight.

Enter Raphaël Géminiani.

While the young man from

Clermont Ferrand already had

three Tour stages to his name

– Stage 19 in 1949 and 17 and

19 in the 1950 edition, where he

finished fourth overall – it was the

1951 Grande Boucle that gave

this son of Italian immigrants

a home field advantage and a

platform to launch his lengthy

and influential career.

As the Tour descended from

Brittany, the peloton followed a

hard west to east diagonal route

across the country, landing them

in the Massif Central for the

first time. It was an area that

was largely unknown in that era.

The new terrain posed many

challenges. Painful climbs up

ancient volcanoes such as the

Puy de Dôme and technical,

dangerous descents daunted

the riders. The young Géminiani

used his local knowledge to

the utmost advantage, winning

Stage 9 from Limoges to his

hometown of Clermont-Ferrand.

This put him permanently into

the polka dot jersey and his

French team into first place.

He wound up finishing second

overall in Paris behind the

Swiss pédaleur de charme

Hugo Koblet.

While “Gém” – as he was

affectionately known – had

11 top-ten finishes in Grand

Tours and a handful of King

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of the Mountains jerseys, his

legend was truly cemented as a

directeur sportif, entrepreneur

and founder of the St. Raphaël

cycling team.

When the team was originally

established in 1954 under the

banner Raphaël Géminiani-

Dunlop, the renegade spirit

of Géminiani was truly forged.

Partnering with the famous

French aperitif brand St.

Raphaël, Gém set out to

become the tonic that would

help refresh the peloton of the

day. The sponsor prided itself

on the health benefits of the

quinaquina base of its spirit,

which yielded a refreshingly

bitter flavour. This was tied

to the company’s striking

marketing imagery. The result

exploded upon the cycling

world as an electric mixture

of high-stakes sport and art.

The partnership was, at that

time in the sport’s history, a

match made in heaven. The

sharp cursive typeface from the

bottle was perfectly married

with the block letters of the

cyclist’s surname, creating one

of cycling’s iconic jerseys. It

became instantly recognizable.

Only two years after the team’s

formation, one of its riders –

and a son of the Massif Central

– Roger Walkowiak won the

1956 edition of the Tour. He

rode under the colours of the

Nord-est/Centre team, as trade

sponsors were not permitted in

the tour until 1962.

Even then, there was political

resistance to Gém’s highly

recognizable look. Once trade

teams were allowed in, the UCI

were hesitant to allow sponsors

that did not also financially

back the Tour itself to appear

on team jerseys. Undeterred,

Géminiani argued that St.

Raphaël was a reference to his

first name, although the team

had already been formally sold

to the drinks company. In the

face of the team founder’s

popularity, opposition crumbled,

and the bold new look indelibly

left its mark on the peloton.

Racing in the now iconic red,

white, black and sky-blue

jersey of the aperitif’s brand,

the French new boys gained

iconic status with the signing

of a star rider from Normandy.

Prior to joining the Géminiani

outfit, as a 23-year-old, Jacques

Anquetil broke Fausto Coppi’s

velodrome one-hour record in

1957. He then went on to win

the Tour that year in the colours

of Alcyon-Dunlop - with both

Louison Bobet and Gém sitting

out that year’s race.

With an eye for talent and the

backing of his new sponsor,

Gém continued to race against

the up-and-coming Anquetil

until finally signing him to St.

Raphaël in 1961, thus beginning

1964 Tour de France, Stage 16, Pau: Anquetil, Poulidor, Junkermann

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The result exploded upon the

cycling world as an electric mixture

of high-stakes sport and art.

their powerful partnership. The

subsequent four seasons would

cement the Norman rider and

his team in legend with a slew of

classics wins plus a remarkable

four consecutive Tour victories

(‘61-‘64) and one win each at the

Giro d’Italia (‘64) and the Vuelta

a España (‘63) – making him the

first cyclist to win all three of

cycling’s Grand Tours.

Throughout the 1950s and

‘60s, the French public had an

embarrassment of riches when

it came to world-class cyclists.

With the likes of Géminiani,

Bobet, Aimar, Pingeon, Anquetil

and Poulidor constantly gracing

the podiums of Europe, the

French public were able

to choose their favourite

champion. During his stretch

of dominance in the early ‘60s,

Anquetil’s outwardly cold,

clinical professional demeanour

disenchanted some of the

French cycling public. His almost

vicious decision-making on the

bike, motivation to win, hypercalculated

approach and desire

to collect prize purses led a

percentage of the public to

whistle and jeer him at races.

His supposed cold-blooded

winning mentality had set him

up him as the villain to another

Frenchman’s humble heroism.

The rivalry that was born out

of France’s split psyche was

Jacques Anquetil vs. Raymond

Poulidor. The percentage of the

population that saw the nation

winning at any cost supported

Jacques and his movie star

persona, while the humble

working class empathised with

the gentle nature of Poulidor.

Anquetil rode for six different

teams throughout his career,

Poulidor just one (Mercier-BP-

Hutchinson). Jacques won five

Grand Tours, Raymond just one

(the ’64 Vuelta).

However, the admiration that

the public had for Poulidor, “The

Eternal Second”, drove Anquetil

mad. He couldn’t understand

how France’s greatest champion

could be second in popularity

to a man who simply could not

win. Ironically, after a current

drought of 35 years without

a Tour victory, perhaps the

French public would welcome a

champion with the mentality of

Anquetil. One must wait and see.

This rivalry was personified best

in the 1964 Tour during Stage

20 on the road up the Puy de

Dôme, the dormant volcano

in Géminiani’s home region of

the Massif Central. As the two

riders scaled the ancient peak,

they were in a breakaway joined

by Spaniards Julio Jimenez and

Federico Bahamontes. Anquetil

struggled to hold the wheel

of his humble rival as he was

completely gassed, though he

tried his hardest to hide it. As

Anquetil was forced to dance

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on his pedals to keep up with

the group, the two Spaniards

attacked, leaving the Frenchmen

to battle out the last 4 km

between themselves. With the

road pitching to a 13 percent

grade, the two faces of French

cycling were left shoulder to

shoulder, quite literally leaning

on one another in a desperate

search for inspiration to finish

the stage. The fight was similar

to the battles between Bartali

and Coppi in the previous

decade that divided Italy. Here,

the image of the two halves

of French cycling and overall

sporting identity embroiled in

such desperation has become

one of the most famous

moments in tour history.

By simply forcing his agonized

body to somehow keep

pedaling, Anquetil’s statement

of intent to win the Tour had

been made to Poulidor. Even

though the great champion

was half dead, he went toe to

toe with the much fresher Pou

Pou until, with 900 meters to

go in the fateful stage, Poulidor

pulled away, gaining 40 seconds

on his rival.

Yet, the anguished effort by

Anquetil paid off. His fourth

place finish that day enabled

him to maintain a 14 second

lead over his valiant rival. At the

finish, Jacques, barely able to

stand, asked his boss Géminiani

how much time he had

preserved to stay in yellow. Gém

told him that he had 14 seconds.

In one of cycling’s greatest

quotes, the exhausted rider

quickly retorted, “That is one

more second than I need. I have

13 in hand.” Asked by a reporter

at the finish line if the race had

played out, Poulidor replied “It’s

not all played out until Paris,

but there is a 90% chance that

Jacques will win.”

Only 48 hours later on the pavé

of Paris, a revived Jacques

Anquetil with his signature

elegance in his pedal strokes

gained an additional 26 seconds

to capture his fifth maillot jaune

and fourth as a member of the

St. Raphaël team. While Anquetil

would go on to have success in

the classics and the Grand Prix

des Nations, this would be the

final great moment in the history

of this short-lived, yet mythical

cycling team.

The team was rebranded after

Gém sold it to the French

subsidiary of the Ford Motor

Company. Both Anquetil and

the boss stayed on for one more

season with success on the road,

but nothing that matched the

swaggering style of the team

that danced up the mountains in

the beautiful colours of l’aperitif

de France, St. Raphaël.

Johan de Roo, Winner Giro Di Lombardia 1963

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About the product:

This version of the jersey that

has been beautifully reproduced

by Prendas Ciclismo and Santini

is a replica of the 1958 classic

that Géminiani himself wore

before becoming a full time

directeur sportif. Featuring the

original cursive typeface from

the iconic aperitif bottles, this

classic will never go out of style

no matter how many rides you

take it on.

Jacques Anquetil, Manx International, Isle of Man,1962

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BIKES AND DESERTS:

THE 1949

TOUR OF ALGERIA

Marcos Pereda

translated by Matthew Bailey

Monsieur, monsieur, I think it will

work. It will be a demonstration

of our French spirit. We will show

how Gallic we are. How Algiers is

no different from, I don’t know,

Nice or Bordeaux. Allez la France!

What are a few Flandrians,

several Frenchmen, a non-Spanish

Spaniard and a handful of

Algerians and Moroccans doing

in North Africa during the spring

of 1949?

Hint: they have bicycles. And it's

not a joke.

Let me think.

Indeed. They are riding the

Tour d´Algérie.

Those Crazy Boys With Their

Crazy Contraptions

All right, all right. There was a

Tour of Algeria once before, in

1929. But we’re going to look

at this one, in 1949. It’s symbolic.

Also epic. A total of 19

stages, covering no less than

3,127 kilometres. Days of up to

254 kilometres, travelling along

the coast and just occasionally

slightly into the unknown pearl

that is the Algerian desert. During

March and April. Sun, dust

and sand. Thirst.

Pain.

They say it was Tony Arbona’s

idea. He was a strapping lad,

dedicated to the art of journalism

(a correspondent for La

Dépêche quotidienne d'Algérie,

then later a television presenter).

Hey, this might just work.

I might even be able to make

a career out of it. It might just

work. So, boldly, he asked for

help – from none other than

Jacques Goddet. Monsieur,

monsieur, I think it will work.

It will be a demonstration of

our French spirit. We will show

how Gallic we are. How Algiers

is no different from, I don't

know, Nice or Bordeaux. Allez

la France!

We’re taking this very seriously.

Even the visuals. We have some

delightful illustrations by René

Rostagny under the pseudonym

Gaston Ry. So chic, so sophisticated,

so (fake) belle epoque.

It’s 1949, but we prefer to think

about 1929, because back then

the French dominated the Tour,

Europe didn’t have so many

wounds (there were some, yes,

but don’t think about it too

much), and the world was a

much happier place. Ah, what a

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joyous feeling of frivolity, how

happy we are. And how beautiful

France is. Even its southern

part. Algeria.

Hard Times In Algeria

Because back in 1949 Algeria

was France. Admittedly, not the

France we know today. But it

was part of France. It comprised

no fewer than three départements

(Oran, Algiers and

Constantine) and the so-called

‘southern territories’ (an elegant

name for the wild desert, those

immense lands where the nomads

refused to acknowledge

French sovereignty).

The story goes way back to the

19 th century. The French asked

– what if there are pirates in

Algeria? They would be a danger

to all Europeans, because of the

extent of maritime trade in the

Mediterranean. So, it was only

logical to bring peace and order

by invading. These things are

better pulled out by the root.

The first wave came in 1831, with

the creation of the Foreign Legion.

The deed was completed in

1857, when Napoleon III pinned

a new medal to his imperial dress

coat, already so full of glories

and honours (later, the Prussians

would take them all off him at a

stroke, but that’s another story).

And so, oh là là, Algeria became

part of la France.

Well, sort of. The Algerians

would have the duties that

came with being French, but

not the benefits. They would

be second-class citizens, who

would not achieve equal rights

until 1944, and who could not

be both citizens of the Republic

and Muslims until 1947 (prior to

that they had to choose one or

the other). Unsurprisingly, Algerian

patriotic sentiment grew in

opposition to what was considered

European imperialism and

sought to make Algeria a free

country. The Étoile Nord-Africaine

was born. Then came the

Algerian Revolutionary Unity and

Action Committee. And finally,

the National Liberation Front.

There is one key date. May 8,

1945. While all of Europe was

celebrating the surrender of the

Nazis, Algeria was stained with

blood. It happens in Sétif, Constantine

départment. A march

is arranged to commemorate

the Algerian war dead. Algerian

flags appear, a symbol banned

by the French sub-prefect Pascal

Butterlin. Emotions run high.

Eventually scuffles break out and

a few protesters are knocked

down. A hundred Algerians will

die on that day, and ten times as

many over the following weeks.

In these events many historians

see the origins of an independence

that will not arrive for

another seventeen years.

“It is romantic, an adventure,”

Charles Finlatérie will write

about the race.

It is against this background

that Tony Arbona dreams up the

Tour d´Algérie.

Posters designed by Gaston Ry. Source: Osenat.com

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The Race

Kouba, in the outskirts of Algiers.

Nine twenty-seven a.m.

Monsieur Narbonne, delegate

of the Algerian Assembly, lowers

the flag. Hours later the strongest

riders arrive in Orléansville.

René Oreel takes victory in the

sprint ahead of Abbés and Bernardoni.

It is March 13th, 1949.

The Tour d´Algérie is underway.

There were some well-known

names there. Hilaire Couvreur,

Edward van Dijck, Benoît Faure

(in subsequent years Raymond

Impanis, André Darrigade and

Jean Dotto would also race in

Africa). Jesús Mujica, who was

born Spanish, became French in

1948 (he changed his surname

to Moujica) and came close to

winning the 1949 edition of Paris-Roubaix

(he made a mistake

as he approached the entrance

to the velodrome with his two

co-escapees, André Mahé and

Frans Leenen, and the race

ended in a famous tie between

Mahé and Serse Coppi, Fausto's

ugly but happy brother).

And then there were them. The

locals. Abdel-Kader Zaaf, Marcel

Zelasco, Ahmed Kebaïli. For

each name there is a story. Care

to hear a couple? The first is one

of pain and tears. The second

brings glory and smiles.

Ahmed Kebaïli was a good

cyclist, but not a champion. He

rode the Tour de France, and

starred in this edition of the Tour

d´Algérie. But the real story is a

political one. Kebaïli had been

politically active since his youth,

as a member of the Algerian

Revolutionary Unity and Action

Committee. And that causes

problems. A couple of times he

is saved only thanks to his popularity,

to the stories he tells the

police about Coppi's elegance

or Koblet's coquetry. But his

luck runs out in 1955. He spends

five years in prison, the cellmate

of the poet Moufdi Zakaria. His

teacher. When Ahmed comes

out, he will become a nationally

recognized figure in the new

Algerian state. The bicycle is just

a memory.

Abdel-Kader Zaaf was a good

rider, but not a champion. A

legend, yes. The best evidence

for the rule that winning races

might earn you a good palmarès,

but you need other

things to achieve mythical status.

Charisma, immortal images.

Luck. Or misfortune – it depends

on who is telling the story.

Because winning . . . well, Zaaf

didn’t win too much. A stage of

this Tour d´Algérie. A few minor

events here and there. But it’s

irrelevant. The image of Zaaf we

remember will never be the guy

crossing the finish line with his

arms in the air. No, his image

is quite a different one. Sitting

on the ground, his back resting

against the trunk of a tree. Unconscious.

Thick rivers of sweat

running down his face. Smelling

of wine.

It happens in 1950. On the

greatest, most mythical stage of

all. La Grande Boucle. Stage thirteen,

July 27th. A huge physical

frame is soaring towards victory.

A fierce gaze, a face filled with

Map of the first Tour of Algeria, 1949. Author unknown.

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The image of Zaaf we remember

will never be the guy crossing the

finish line with his arms in the air.

No, his image is quite a different

one. Sitting on the ground, his

back resting against the trunk of

a tree. Unconscious. Thick rivers

of sweat running down his face.

Smelling of wine.

determination, a white jersey

with a blue band on the chest.

The jersey of the North Africa

team. It’s going to be the first

stage win for a rider from that

continent. An historic moment.

Indeed, it will be. But who is this

approaching arrow, devouring

kilometre after kilometre at full

speed, an impossible feat in the

forty-degree-plus heat of southern

France?

First and foremost, a veteran.

Born in 1917, in Chetouane, a

small Algerian town close to the

Moroccan border. So Algerian,

African, yes – but French.

Another paradox. Abdel-Kader

doesn’t start taking the bike

seriously until he is in his thirties.

In 1948 he wears the colours of

the Volta team. French, but with

a rider from the southern colonies.

It is making its debut appearance

in the Tour de France.

What am I doing here, with my

back, with my hands that look

like giant claws? He abandoned

on the first day.

But despite all of that he was

popular. Because of his combativity,

yes, but also because of

his image. He made grandiose

declarations, spoke of himself in

the third person, threatened the

stars of the peloton with devastating

attacks. A man who only

finished one of the four Tours he

started – in 1951, when he was

the lanterne rouge.

It matters not. Legends are

whimsical. And on this day in

1950, on the road to Nîmes, it

looked like Abdel-Kader was going

to achieve the ultimate glory.

A solo effort, an escape with

fifty kilometres to the finish line.

It was within touching distance.

But what a heat, what a tremendous

heat. Zaaf sweats, thick

rivers drip from his arms to the

asphalt, where they evaporate

instantly. So, our protagonist

drinks. He drinks a lot. The spectators

offer bottles and basins.

In one of them, legend has it,

there is a strange liquid, with a

strong flavour. Zaaf, a devout

Muslim, does not recognise it,

but he proceeds to drink, for

the first time in his life, an enormous

draught of red wine.

And its effects are immediate.

He begins to slow down,

zigzags across the road, falls,

remounts and continues . . . in

the wrong direction, back where

he has come from. After a few

metres he falls again. Spectators

move him under a tree, which

offers some shade. He smells of

wine, says one, and the cliché is

born (the other possible expla-

Abdel-Kader Zaaf. Source: thebikecomesfirst.com

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nation, that Zaaf was feeling the

mixture of heat and amphetamines,

is undoubtedly much less

romantic). An ambulance takes

him to Nîmes hospital.

(The stage is won by Marcel

Molinès. He becomes the first

African to take a victory at the

Grande Boucle.)

The anecdote gave Zaaf fame

and wealth. He made advertisements

for alcoholic drinks,

he was invited to all the criteriums,

he continued to exploit

his status as a guerrilla fighter

for a few more years. Then he

was forgotten. A stranger in

his own country. Too friendly

with the French, too popular

with the oppressors, they tell

him, when Algeria ceases to be

three départments and becomes

a country. He went to jail. A

gunshot wound left him lame for

life. He died in 1986, blind from

diabetes, obese and rejected by

virtually everyone.

So what, he might have thought

to himself. Every time someone

talks about the legendary Tour

de France, I’ll be there. Yes, he

might have thought that.

The race, the Tour d´Algérie,

continued under foreign control.

There were victories for Moujica,

for Barrére, for Goutal. There is

also a local success, thanks to

our old acquaintance Ahmed Kebaïli.

Hilaire Couvreur, a Flemish,

becomes leader in Tiaret, where

Ahmed rues his luck. The punctures,

the mechanicals. Then a

fall, after a spectator (well-intentioned,

if not too intelligent)

starts to water the peloton

with a hose to help combat the

suffocating heat – a bad idea

where the roads are not made of

asphalt but of desert sand. Soon

there was a swamp and poor Kebaïli’s

lean body hit the ground.

He will attack relentlessly during

the rest of the race, suffering

major injuries and spells of fainting,

but he will not win again at

this Tour d´Algérie.

There’s not much of the story

left to tell. Couvreur hangs on to

the yellow jersey until the end,

helped by Edward van Dijck, a

Terrot-Hutchinson teammate

and the rider who finishes the

race most strongly. He finishes

third, with five stages to his

name. Second is the Frenchman

Roger Dequenne. Fifth overall,

and first Algerian, the hapless

Ahmed Kebaïli. Glory to the

Flemish, Kings of the Desert.

Hey, the experiment went well,

right? We should do it again

next year.

What Next?

This primitive incarnation of the

Tour d´Algérie survived until

1953. Another victory for Couvreur

(by this time an honorary

African) and then triumphs for

Rosseel (also Flemish), Vincent

Vitetta and Germain Derycke

(riders from the land of the black

lion on the yellow background

felt very much at home). And

then – nothing for more than

five years.

Algeria had other things to

think about.

Hilaire Couvreur. Ahmed Kebaili.

Jean Dotto. Raymond Impanis.

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Just a year after that last "classic"

Tour d´Algérie, the National

Liberation Front, the FLN, was

created. Do you remember

what happened in Sétif? Well,

since then there had been more

examples of civil and political

disobedience. What would end

up being the Algerian War was

getting closer.

Open warfare was triggered in

1955, in Constantine. Attacks,

massacres, repression. Jacques

Soustelle, Governor General of

Algeria, executed 1,273 members

of the FLN (some British

historians estimate the true

death toll at 12,000 including

civilians). By 1956 half a million

French troops are fighting in

North Africa.

In short, these agreements

provided for Algerian autonomy.

That corner of France

south of the Mediterranean

was independent. It was, to all

intents and purposes, a country

in its own right. The old Tour

d´Algérie with its somewhat

naïve charm could be resurrected.

A horizon of national

reconstruction, of pride. That

will be in 1969. On the organizing

committee was one Ahmed

Kebaïli. Past and future. Gösta

Petterson won.

All that other stuff? The history?

That was just for books and

tall tales.

One event triggers another.

Jacque-Émile Massi, commander

of the French paratroopers, begins

a colonial campaign typical

of earlier centuries, spreading

chaos and terror. Years later

Massu will publish a book entitled

The Real Battle of Algiers,

in which he justifies the torture

committed under his command.

“Torturers can be servants of the

state,” he writes. Not content

with this, he decided to intervene

in French politics, carrying

out a coup d’etat and reinstating

Charles de Gaulle as the nation’s

president. It will be De Gaulle

who, in 1962, will sign the Evian

agreements, because the world

is that ironic and throws up

these things that appear almost

like a joke. How Massu must

have raged when he saw how

wrongly things had turned out.

Source:

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MOVING IN

ECCENTRIC CIRCLES

A review of Start at the End by Dan Bigham

and End to End by Paul Jones

Matthew Bailey

But the British do

specialise in – if you will

– a particularly eccentric

type of eccentricity.

Lynne Taylor is nails.

The British are known for their

eccentricity – their affectations,

whims and peculiar habits. Think

of Isaac Newton, who spent

half his life futilely pursuing the

secrets of alchemy, or Beau

Brummel, who took five hours

to dress, or William Blake, who

created wild works of art and

literature then acted them out in

real life, once making his wife sit

naked in the garden listening to

his recital of Paradise Lost.

In truth, though, every nation

has its eccentrics. Think of King

Ludwig of Bavaria, who built

a fairy castle in the Bavarian

forest in homage to Richard

Wagner. Or Salvador Dali. Or

the Citroen 2CV.

But the British do specialise

in – if you will – a particularly

eccentric type of eccentricity.

This is the type which leads us

to do things that are strange,

potentially extremely hazardous,

and which we keep doing

despite having completely

forgotten why we started doing

them in the first place. Think of

cheese-rolling, or Brexit.

There is a peculiarly British strain

of cycling culture that falls within

this category. It has essentially

nothing in common with the

continental cycling culture that

dominates British cycling media

– all sunglasses, espresso, Alps

and paté – and which is used to

sell expensive equipment and

clothing mostly to affluent, middle-aged,

middle-class men who

have taken up the sport late in

life. This is something entirely

different, and much stranger

and more interesting.

Two recent books, Dan Bigham’s

Start at the End and Paul Jones’s

End to End are exemplars of this

uniquely British culture, despite

appearing at first glance to have

almost nothing else in common

with each other (except, oddly,

their titles).

Bigham’s book is an account of

the rise of an amateur team who

came from nowhere to take on

and beat the lavishly funded

Olympic medal-winning teams

of great cycling nations, not

least British Cycling itself, at the

team pursuit. And it is a great

story, which begins with a bloke

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with a spreadsheet and a lot of

knowledge about aerodynamics

and ends with him and his teammates

taking the gold medal at

the Belarus Track World Cup.

There are, however, a couple

of problems, both hinted at

in the book’s subtitle: “How

Reverse Engineering Can Lead

to Success.”

Firstly, this is a success story.

It is in no way intended to

diminish the scale of Bigham’s

achievement when it is pointed

out that there is often something

rather

boring about

success, since

it essentially

involves doing

many boring

things boringly

often until you

get boringly

good at them.

This is especially

so in the case of

a discipline like

the team pursuit,

which requires

extremes of physical

fitness and

precision of execution, rather

than other, more glamorous

sporting qualities such as ingenuity,

strategy or ‘panache’.

Secondly, there is already an

overwhelming number of selfhelp

books, none of which have

anything to do with cycling,

but which cover a lot of the

same ground as Start at the

End – that is, also enjoining the

putative pupil to Find Something

You Love, Focus, Demand

More Of Yourself, Measure

Your Progress, Learn From Your

Mistakes, and so on. And such

books invariably illustrate these

deathless principles with the

now well-known ‘secrets’ of the

success of such familiar figures

as Roger Bannister, Warren

Buffett, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs,

Formula 1 and, of course, British

Cycling and Dave Brailsford, all

of which feature here.

But set these things aside

and there is plenty to enjoy.

Yes, some of the examples of

successful projects and people

are familiar, but plenty others

are not. A particular favourite

is a detailed and completely

surprising history of the jerrycan

– so named because it was, to

use Bigham’s favourite phrase,

“reverse engineered” from a

German design – and its role

in the Allies’ victory in world

war two. And yes, the technical

details of high-performance

sport can be wearying in the

wrong hands, but Bigham’s detailed

breakdown of the team’s

approach is filled with all sorts of

interesting nuggets, including a

surprisingly (to this non-aerodynamicist)

interesting discussion

of the importance of socks.

But the best bits by far are the

personal stories. There being

absolutely no money whatsoever

in track cycling (except

for those benefiting from state

sponsorship), the four original

team members have no choice

but to economise on everything,

and end up living together like

cycling’s answer to The Monkees,

though not before first

Inset: Dan Bigham

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Beyond niche,

Beyond specialist.

After 45 hours the

rain stopped.

being reduced to sleeping on

the kitchen floor of a student

hall of residence. International

meetings stretch their ingenuity

to the limit: on their glorious

trip to Belarus they stay in a

hotel with food so bad they are

reduced to buying vegetables

at a local market, storing them

outside in the snow and then

cooking them in water from the

coffee machine.

Another winning feature is that

none of this appears to affect

the team’s enthusiasm for

their discipline.

Bigham entertainingly

captures the

team’s excitement

at entering

a competition

velodrome for

the first time, and

his description of

beating the Great

Britain Cycling

Team for the first

time verges on

the ecstatic in a

way impossible

to resist.

Yet there is something missing.

Nowhere amid the anecdotes

about Warren Buffett, technical

training tips, exhortations

to excellence and accounts

of cooking dinner in a coffee

machine does Bigham ever

appear seriously to ask himself

why he ever committed to such

a peculiar undertaking in the

first place. The best answer I can

find is that, as a former Formula

1 engineer at a loose end with a

growing interest in sport (which

includes both running and,

perhaps predictably, triathlon) he

just needed something technical

to do, and this seemed as good

as anything. Then, once committed,

he simply never looked

back.

Bigham may call himself a ‘performance

engineer’, but he is

really an obsessive, if a genuinely

scientific one, and the thing

he is obsessive about is not

really, or at least need not be,

cycling. Paul Jones, on the other

hand, who has written brilliant

books about cycling subjects he

acknowledges are obscure – hill

climbing, which he here calls

“beyond niche, beyond specialist”,

and Alf Engers, described

in the marketing blurb for the

book as “a mythical and elusive

folk hero of British cycling” – is

an obsessive who is obsessed

with obsessives and their obsessions,

making him a sort of

obsessive cubed.

Endurance track events like the

team pursuit are not known for

their romance. One might be

tempted to expect rather more

of it from End to End, Jones’s

new history of the Land’s End to

John O’Groats cycling record. If

so, the reader’s misconception is

put straight directly at the outset,

and subsequently on almost

every page of Jones’s utterly

remarkable book.

The achievement of riding the

800-plus miles of the End to End

non-stop, and especially the

achievement of doing so faster

than anyone else, is impossible

to transmit with facts and figures.

Indeed, it takes an entire

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book to express it, which is of

course why Jones has written

one. Listing the challenges that

the rider faces is easy: among

them are cold, rain, wind, exhaustion,

hallucinations, terrible

roads, lunatic drivers, lorries,

digestive malfunction, Shap and

the risk of eye-watering injuries

in crashes due to any combination

of the foregoing. But

such is Jones’s subtle mastery

of his material that he rarely

talks about any of them directly:

instead, they are ever-present,

damply seeping into every corner

of the book. And just in case

this approach

should become

so uniform that

it somehow

inoculates the

reader to the

profound misery

these individual

miseries cumulatively

represent,

Jones drops in

the occasional

passage, sometimes

a single

sentence, that

leaves one gasping.

“Mills was

injured, his thigh bone visible,

a gleaming white surface at the

bottom of a deep wide slash

in his leg. They cannibalised

the pacers’ machines to create

one working bicycle, stapled

the wound together, and he

managed to continue.” (My

personal favourite, from the description

of Lynne Taylor’s effort:

“After forty-five hours the rain

stopped.”)

It is against this backdrop that

Jones tells his stories of barely

believable performance and

self-overcoming. Again, it is

impossible to do the book

justice, so three examples will

have to do. At an advanced

stage of his attempt, Mike

Broadwith develops Shermer’s

syndrome, meaning he cannot

hold his head up while riding to

see where he is going. A brace

is improvised, and he continues,

going on to break the record.

The extraordinary Lynne Taylor is

bedevilled by an upset stomach:

she receives visits from supporters

mid-route while sitting on a

bucket at roadside. Andy Wilkinson

became literally deranged

during the latter stages of his

attempt, which ended with him

breaking the record by a somehow

simultaneously hilarious and

tear-jerking 58 seconds.

The sporting endeavours at the

heart of the book are therefore

reason enough to admire it (and

we haven’t even mentioned the

tandems, tricycles or tandem tricycles).

But there is much more

to End to End than that.

It is an old joke that the first

bicycle race took place immediately

after the second bicycle

was built. Nonetheless, it is still

amazing to learn that the very

first successful attempts to ride

the end-to-end route took place

so long ago that they were

made on ‘ordinaries’ (what the

rest of us call ‘penny-farthings’),

and so predate the invention of

the modern (‘safety’) bicycle.

Michael Broadwith, On Shap Fell (above) and with support crew (below)

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This means that any history

of the End to End essentially

overlaps with the entire history

of cycling in Britain. And some

of its most important figures

feature, from George Pilkington

Mills (winner of the first

Bordeaux-Paris) to (in a cameo

role) Chris Boardman and

Peter Keen. And road cycling

being what it is, this means the

story quickly runs over into the

history of the country the British

cycle through.

Britain is a geographically small

country (however big it feels

when you are riding from Land’s

End to John O’Groats). But it is

hard to disagree with the sentiment

of Hilaire Belloc’s famous

saying that “the corner of a

corner of England is infinite and

can never be exhausted” (and

in this at least the other nations

of Britain are no different). This

is a place so ancient, so rich and

so strange that there is simply

no end to the stories that can be

told about it, even if we restrict

ourselves to those stories involving

bicycles travelling from one

end of it to the other.

Unsurprisingly, then, Jones

touches on all sorts of surprising

topics not usually found in the

pages of cycling books, even

while looking at them through

the rider’s eyes. For example, he

writes of Port Sunlight Wheelers,

whose members worked at

the soap factory located in the

model village of the same name,

built by the Lever Brothers

to provide quality housing to

their workers and their families.

Lever Brothers was one of many

British companies that took an

interest in the welfare of their

employees (at least the British

ones: the story was, admittedly,

rather different elsewhere in the

Empire). Jones writes “Cycling

clubs emerge from a desire

to wear better kit, not to do

better things by other people

. . . I can’t imagine a workplace

setting up a cycle club nowadays.”

(I understand Rapha did,

but I suspect that for Jones that

wouldn’t really count.)

In the same way that he lets the

miseries of the route breathe

through the pages rather than

raving on about them, Jones

takes an understated approach

in telling the stories of the

remarkable women who have

taken on the End to End. He

doesn’t marvel at the very idea

that a woman might try it: he

just tells their stories and lets it

dawn on the reader that these

are athletes every bit the equal

of the men he also celebrates.

He also resists the temptation

to point out just how numerous

and how extraordinary their

stories truly are, because he

simply doesn’t need to. Again,

all that can be offered here are

some examples of women you

won’t have heard of (but will

surely want to know about now).

Janet Tebbutt was the first woman

to attempt the 1,000-mile

record, which she did by riding

endless laps of her local roads,

prompting Jones to declare “I

can’t think of anything worse” –

quite something from the author

of the present work. Pauline

Strong drove an articulated lorry

on her days off from being a

Dan Bigham’s pursuit team in action

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world-beating athlete. And all

you need to know about Lynne

Taylor (she of the bucket, above)

is that her name is followed, in a

saying famous even among her

peers, by the words “is nails”.

This only confirms the present

reviewer’s long-held view that

one important way to support

the growth of women’s cycling

is to show it has a deep, rich,

extraordinary history all its own.

You can’t find the evidence in

the history of the Tour de France

or the 6-day, because it simply

doesn’t exist in the way it does

for the men’s sport. But you can

find it in places like those where

Jones goes looking, because the

qualities of character that create

them are not restricted to men.

Jones says it is one of the adages

of the End to End that “it’s

not whether you can ride fast

enough, it’s whether you can

ride slowly enough” to survive

to the end. Something similar

goes for the task of reading

this book, which becomes

overwhelming if not taken at

a steady pace, leaving time to

appreciate each amazing performance

or implausible anecdote

before moving on to the next.

In the spirit of Belloc’s dictum

about the infinities in Britain’s

corners, the book contains

single footnotes which could

clearly be unpacked into entire

books of their own, such as this

unforgettable vignette:

’Nim [Carline] abandoned at

Carlisle,’ said Mick [Coupe]

later. ‘His helpers never forgave

him. He got in his wife’s car and

went home.’ Nim’s unscientific

approach to racing, ‘hammer it

right from the start’, might not

have helped.

What is more, just as End to

End is not only the definitive

account of an extraordinary

sporting challenge it is not only

also a sort of partial British

social and political history. It is

also a memoir and confessional,

and no less a self-help book

than Bigham’s Start at the End,

though of a very different sort,

because while Bigham (like the

authors of most such books)

exhorts the reader to believe

that with the right approach to

‘engineering’ they can achieve

anything, Jones addresses the

more mature and difficult question

what happens when you

have already tried your hardest

to do everything right and it

simply hasn’t worked.

Jones recounts occasional,

mostly unhappy fragments of

his life story, which has culminated

in his leaving a job he can

no longer stand, clearly deeply

emotionally damaged by the

experience, doubting the wisdom

of his decision and unsure

what to do with the rest of his

life. It is against this backdrop

that he embarks on the twin

challenges of writing this book

and riding the End to End route

(which he does in stages rather

than all at once – sensibly in

my view, though he castigates

himself for his weakness). The

riding was certainly not easy: the

wind, rain, drivers, lorries and

exhaustion clearly took quite a

physical and psychological toll

Dick Poole on Shap Fell in 1960. Photo by Bernard Thompson

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Eileen Sheridan publicity photo for Hercules 1954

Dick Poole at the finish. Photo by Bernard Thompson

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The corner of a

corner of England is

infinite and can never

be exhausted.

It’s not whether you can

ride fast enough, it’s

whether you can ride

slowly enough.

on a rider who was obviously

fragile in both senses. Equally

clearly, the later stages of the

route were profoundly moving.

Rolling through a sunny northern

Scotland towards his final destination,

he writes, “is the cycling

I thought I would be doing, calm

and transcendent . . . It matters

less up here why I did the things

I did.” But even so he is at best

ambivalent about the impact of

his efforts on his plight. Immediately

after completing the route,

he writes “I am no closer to

knowing what to do with my life,

how to be a better person, how

to cope with things and what to

do next.”

The book, however, is a different

matter. Both quests – the riding

and the writing – are clearly

spiritual in nature. This is a word

Jones, in typical undemonstrative

fashion, never uses, though

he captures the point almost

precisely when he writes, of a

remote lay-by where a small but

significant piece of End to End

history took place, “Anywhere

can be a place of pilgrimage, a

Madonna del Ghisallo, because

it is about what a place means,

not what it is.”

But again, this captures the

point only almost precisely.

Cycling and spirituality have

been linked often enough in

the past. But, like Jones here

with his mention of the Church

of Madonna del Ghisallo, most

authors who do make this connection

are typically thinking in

straightforwardly (if not exactly

orthodox) religious terms – of

Pantani crossing the line with his

arms outstretched as if crucified,

of Merckx’s flesh mortified

by his assault on the Hour, of

a resurrected Stephen Roche

emerging miraculously from the

mist on the slopes of La Plagne.

But I don’t mean ‘spiritual’ in

this sense. I mean it in the sense

in which things, places and people

acquire meaning for us. We

don’t need the Church for this,

much less God. We don’t need

Pantani or Merckx either. We do

it ourselves, sometimes wittingly,

sometimes not.

The present reviewer went

through an experience not

dissimilar to Jones’s. I left a

job I hated after 17 years of

miserable, hateful overachievement,

then went back to work

two years later, partly because

I wanted to set an example to

my children by having a ‘proper’

job, and partly because

life seemed to lack any sort of

meaning or structure without

something demanding to do.

(I read numerous Bigham-style

self-help books, which helped

me not one jot, though this may

say more about me than about

the books.) Within two more

years, the lies and broken promises

of one employer had left

me out of pocket to the tune

of several hundred thousand

pounds and, together with the

unspeakably vicious bullying I

suffered for months at a second

workplace, utterly shattered.

Jones recounts bursting into

tears in job interviews, but I

didn’t even get that far: for

large parts of the summer of

2019, I didn’t speak at all for

days on end, not just because I

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knew that if I did, I would start

crying, but because I didn’t

know whether, once I started, I

would ever be able to stop.

One’s assessment of one’s own

achievements is both essential

to one’s own mental health and

maddeningly difficult to control

or predict. There is ample

evidence of this in End to End.

Some riders reach Britain’s

northernmost point and promptly

reverse direction to attempt

the additional record for riding

1,000 miles non-stop. Some

of them succeed, but others

dissolve almost immediately on

leaving John O’Groats, drained

of ambition once their initial target

is achieved. Similarly, some

riders attempt and complete

the entire End to End over and

over again, whereas some do it

once and never achieve or even

attempt anything like it ever

again. Who has succeeded? The

ones who struggled on, or the

ones who quit while they were

ahead? Who has failed? The

ones who tried and powdered,

or the ones who stopped before

they had chance to fall apart?

How can we tell? What counts

as succeeding? And if we don’t

know, what is the point of – well,

of anything?

The present can become unbearably

meaningless for any

one of us at any time. When it

does, there are three options.

Firstly, you can create a new

future for yourself, and try to

find new meaning. Secondly, you

can re-evaluate your own past

life and achievements in such a

way that the present becomes

bearable again. The first option

requires reserves of energy

and optimism that not all of us

possess. The second requires a

soul-searching and personal honesty

not all of us feel capable of.

However, we have no choice but

to attempt one or the other if

we are to avoid the third option,

which is too terrible even to

think about.

With his ride and this book

Jones obviously takes the first

and braver option. The ride may

not have served its intended

purpose, but End to End certainly

seems to have done so, in a

way that would not have been

possible if Jones had never left

his study. “I’ve come to realise

that this book is the journey . .

. I rode to gain experience so

that I could write with clarity

and truth about the journeys

people take.” At the end of any

other book this typically low-key

conclusion might sound rather

banal. Here, for this reader anyway,

it is overpowering. He did

it, reader: he did it.

In the end, then, this magnificent

book is a reminder that

there is only one possible

answer to the ultimate question:

What does it all mean? And that

answer is: It means what you

make it mean. It’s up to you,

and only you. And the best you

can hope for is that, if and when

you get it right, at least you’ll be

able to tell.

Above: Michael Broadwith and Eileen Sheride.

Middle: Paul Jones, Below: Paul Jones with his mum at John O’Groats

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161



BUILDING THE

ULTIMATE BAMBOO

GRAVEL BIKE

James Marr

Photography by Patrick Lundin

Gravel cycling popularity has

exploded over the last few years.

Cyclists’ desire to get off the

beaten track for a more versatile

ride has led to the emergence of

some of the most exciting new

trends in the cycling industry.

Gravel cycling popularity has

exploded over the last few

years. Cyclists’ desire to get

off the beaten track for a more

versatile ride has led to the

emergence of some of the

most exciting new trends in the

cycling industry.

We’ve seen some real

performance boosters

from dropped stays, full

suspension, double drop

handlebars, wider tyres and

new specialist groupsets. This

has made the gravel scene

one of the most innovative

spaces in the cycle industry.

Bamboo as a frame material

has unique vibration properties

making it an ideal material to

smooth out trails allowing for

better handling and speed.

The current trend is for carbon

frames that lack environmental

credentials. Carbon uses more

energy to produce than steel and

is difficult to recycle. Bamboo,

however, is easy to grow and

offsets its carbon footprint.

Combined with flax and bio

composites it has the potential to

offer a viable alternative.

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163



The Makers

Patrick is a world-class

photographer and having

seen some of the best gravel

frames he wanted to build

something unique. James Marr

is a designer and the founder

of Bamboo Bicycle Club, a

community-led engineering

project that has been

pioneering the use of bamboo

bicycles for the last 10 years and

teaching people to build their

own bamboo bicycle.

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165



The Frame Specification

The frame was designed to

be multi-discipline, suitable

for 650B 52 mm tyres and be

able to be used on road with

700c 32 mm. In addition, it was

designed for a 1x system with a

front crank of 42T with dropped

chainstays which allow for a

shorter wheelbase providing

a responsive ride. It’s using a

custom machined T47 bottom

bracket to increase tubing

diameter around the bottom

bracket and using wider axle

cranks. Custom dropouts were

designed to accommodate

a 160 mm flat-mount disc

and 12 mm thru-axle. Finally,

the front end was designed

around a variable rake fork and

integrated bearings.

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167



Frame Materials

The build was created using a

custom Bamboo Bicycle Club

home build kit with a onetime

use jig. The build utilized

laminated bio-composite

bamboo tubing to improve

the performance and strength.

The tubing was joined using

a flax fiber composite with

unique vibration dampening

qualities and has the ability to

be 100% recyclable.

Watch the build video:

http://bit.ly/GravelRevolution

For more information and to

build your own visit:

bamboobicycleclub.org

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THE CYCLING QUARTERLY

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