Tuesday, 17 May 2011
I’ve been a member of the Penzance Wheelers since my son took up cycling at twelve, a few years ago now. I joined to help out; when my son moved on I just seem to have stayed. I’ve been Chairperson for more years than I care to acknowledge. As I can’t or don’t ride a bike I miss out on all the Sunday rides and the fun of competition. I make up for this by helping at or organizing many of the events we put on. Many of the active members love time trials, a somewhat alien form of bike racing to me, and the club runs a club events (open to all comers) every two weeks and several ‘open’ events each season. The club is good at time trials; we are the proud holders of the prestigious Cornish Cup, a season long tt competition, and lead it this year. We also have five riders in the National 25 TT this year which I think from a small club in the far reaches of west
is a good turnout. We also run a number of criteriums and when we can, a few proper road races. Fewer of our riders seem enjoy to the road racing compared to time trials. Cornwall
Our membership is around fifty, mostly male, of which I must know half well and the other half less well. We do have a few women members, more are very welcome. We no longer have any under 16 riders as we decided by a vote that there is too much arsing around to be done, with endless paper work and courses to go on. It wasn’t always the case but the modern world has made it just too difficult. Fortunately Tom, my son, joined when things were normal and he was initiated into the club in the time honored way by being taken for a ride and then dropped on the way home leaving him to find his own way back. I have to admit I didn’t think this a very smart thing to do at the time but on reading Barry Hoban’s autobiography realized it was the way. This practice ceased shortly afterwards.
We meet once a week for the Sunday ride and again for a social evening on Tuesday night at The Star, Crowlas, and our official HQ. On these evenings up to a dozen or so members turn up to discus, reminisce or yarn about an ever widening range of subjects and drink the excellent beer brewed on the premises by the landlord. This is way better than when we met at the Longrock Institute, a draughty World War1 wooden hut, brought back from
in 1920, with no heating, where we sat around freezing for many a winter evening, drinking cups of black tea or coffee because someone had forgotten to buy the milk. France
We have a healthily informal attitude to officialdom. We occasionally have official meetings. To make these seem different we move to the opposite end of the pub. At the moment the big debate in the club is whether to include a skull and cross bones to our club kit, everyone appears to be in favour but I guess it should go to a vote as pirates were very democratic. We don’t do much paper work; we like to keep it simple. If you want to ride a bike come and join us. However, when we do organize a race or charity ride everything is done extremely well. We aren’t complete fools. This highlights a paradox about the club for although there is this air of informality our organization is top notch and the various events we arrange are always successfully run. We seem keep this fact well disguised.
We also have a very healthy disregard for petty politics that seem to blight many clubs. We don’t strictly adhere to the rule book as I don’t think we have one. There are a few unwritten ones but they are more a wish list or advice. Due to this, in the eyes of a few people we don’t do things correctly. In the past we’ve had a few people join who want every thing to be run properly. The trouble for them is no one takes any notice, we carry on the same. They soon leave. It’s this air of informality and the friendly nature of the club that I so like. It feels very egalitarian.
The club has a very long history being started in the late 1890’s.You used to be able to read about its long history on our website but it seems to have gone missing.( it’s now back) There were a few low points but the club has never gone away, I don’t think it ever will. It has one life member, who never appears. Nobody knows why he was made a life member but he is. Our most famous member must be Tom Southam who was the first Cornishman to make it into the pro ranks. Since then another rider who was in the Wheelers, Steve Lampier, has also made it to Elite level.
We have a club website, www.pzwheelers.co.uk and an active facebook page where a lot more banter ensues.
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
I was leaning on a farm gate, idly watching two donkeys as they watch me. I’m trying desperately to drum up a reason to support Sky in the Giro which I think is a far better race than the Tour. The French do it well but the Italians have that extra panache. The trouble is two fold. However hard I try I can’t overcome my loathing all things Murdoch, and secondly I lost my interest in the top echelons of my favorite sport some while back. The levels of deceit and corruption are just so astronomic that I however hard I try I can’t believe in them. I quite like Contador, especially his style of riding but who seriously believes that beef steak story? I know its not just confined professional cycling but this is the sport I’m involved in.
After a while I realize that I’m more interested in observing a pair of donkey’s ears. They were very hairy and covered in a thick layer of powdery dust. I was now thinking how a pair of ears like this would enhance my birding skills. Due to a back injury I can’t or don’t use binos, instead I rely an enormous amount on indentifying the birds by their calls. These ears I was staring at would greatly assist me, not only are they huge but they work independently. The left ear is facing forwards possibly listening to me but the right ear is roving through a 45 degree arc behind it. Just imagine how they would not only increase my hearing a million fold but I could listen in two places simultaneously, audio location skills would be amazing as well. Then I thought about Bottom in Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night’s dream, he didn’t appear to enjoy the experience of having donkey’s ears and I broke off the reverie.
So it was back to the Sky cycling team, but I have to admit the task is hopeless. All those years I waited and dreamed about a British team. The hours from school boy right through to being a parent spent analyzing just who I would have in the squad from whatever crop of riders that were around at the time and what happens? Sky and the Murdochs turn up. I’ve tried, I’ve tried very hard but my prejudice is too deep. I won’t buy into anything Murdoch. Neither will I watch any of the Giro, it won’t be hard as I don’t own a television. I’ll just keep the vague eye on the result. Instead I’ll enjoy cycling a little further down the pyramid. There’s plenty of it and just as exciting even down in the lowest categories.
I stir from the gate and head on along the path. It’s a blinding Cornish day, brilliant sunlight and a strong south easterly wind have combined to create the most wonderful seascape as I head across and down off the headland.
Saturday, 7 May 2011
It’s a Wednesday evening and I’m almost back on my home turf. I’m usually in the far off reaches of the western tip of
but tonight I’m off on a new venture. I’m setting off to a new location for cycle racing; a go kart track near a village in mid Cornwall called St Eval. We have set up a series consisting of thirteen races to boost road racing in the region and this includes using different venues around the county. It seems to be going well as the number of riders in the previous races has all but doubled. Cornwall
I thought I already knew where the place was but fortunately had a quick look at a map before leaving and discovered I was completely wrong. I now had a rough idea and when I saw a signpost which said, ‘St Eval 5 miles’ turned off the main road into a narrow country lane. A very short distance later another signpost said ‘St Eval 1 mile’. This could appear as odd but Cornish miles can sometimes be very short and at other times very long. The next mile was a very long one. We kept driving seeing nothing for many English miles, any signs or village, just narrow, high banked lanes leading or forking off to unknown places. We eventually passed what looked like a totally deserted army camp that had been blown in on a tornado and then in the far distance I spied a church tower. Churches mean villages I thought, so drove towards it, but in this case a church meant just that, a church and nothing else, one lonesome, solitary church, amongst miles of green scenery, but it was St Eval church and a short distance later we found our destination. I later heard that numerous cars with bikes attached had been driving around the lanes. One lot on spying a car with bikes going in the opposite direction quickly turned round only to see that the other car has done the same on seeing them and passed them once again, both lost.
The St Eval circuit is on a disused second world war aerodrome, therefore positioned high on a rounded hill, a few miles from the sea, so exposed to every breath of wind that blows, a strong and cool southeasterly tonight, and every drop of rain that falls. I’ve heard that some riders are dubious about this new venue as it’s rumoured to be small, the surface rough and covered in oil as it’s used as a go cart track. As I walk around it’s evident that the rumours are totally unfounded; it’s a tight, smooth, 1.2km circuit, better than the battered tarmac they usually race across at Portreath, and which would encourage good bike handing, in particular cornering. I couldn’t see a single drop of oil anywhere.
Forty plus riders arrived, a fair number coming down from the
area. A few local west Plymouth riders are noticeable by their absence, which makes me wonder if they are afflicted with that Cornish travelling problem. Cornwall South Africa, Mexico, Australia, no problem we’ll dig a hole anywhere but go past ? Why? What’s on up there? No thank you boy. Truro
I’m chief judge. I’ve been doing this and organizing all the events for the last fifteen years down the road at RAF Portreath. I choose a good spot just outside the changing rooms and café and chalk on a finish line. The racing is fast and furious, there’s little time for my mind to wander as a bunch of a dozen or so riders fly pass every couple of minutes battling it out, half desperately hanging on while the others are trying to drop them, a number are out the back toiling away not willing to give up and hell bent on beating the riders they are with. A few of the riders have found the cornering difficult and have been dropped but if they keep coming back they’ll learn. The shapes of some of the riders intrigue me as do hairy legs but this is the essence of grass roots. These are people with everyday jobs who love cycling, training in the evenings and weekends, juggling family commitments with racing, who somehow all have discovered a love of physical pain and suffering which this sport above all demands and are all experiencing by the bucket load right now.
The owner of the track is impressed. He stands next to me as the 2nd’s and 3rd’s charge past, with an odd 4th cat, who’s in the wrong race, tenaciously hanging on the back, and mentions that ‘these guys are fit, I wasn’t expecting these speeds.’ I often hear these sentiments; Joe Public has no idea that racing is quite different to piddling along a road. I was at the finish of a stage in the Tour of Britain in
when a rotund family beside me remarked that they didn’t realize it was a ‘motorbike’ race they were watching when the riders came into view across the estuary. They were genuinely stunned when they realized it was ‘pushbikes’. How are they going so fast? Barnstable
I’m pleased, it’s been a good night’s racing and I can tell from the informal conversations that I earwig on that the riders have found it enjoyable. Now that we all know where it is and what it’s like it will make a very suitable venue.
Out of curiosity I looked up St Eval on the internet. The
was demolished in 1938 for the construction of the airbase; only the church was left standing. It’s now an ‘area’ rather than a place, no wonder the sat navs had their drivers confused. village of St Eval
Monday, 2 May 2011
PZW Open sporting 19 mile TT.
I’ve never been a fan of time trials. I’ve never understood their attraction. Pound away all on your lonesome for ten or twenty five miles, for a time. Big buttocks and massive gears.
So here I am back from the highlights of Doonhame in
standing on the side of a B road that runs from Praze to Leedstown shouting out the numbers as the riders go by. (Shouting them to the time keeper that is, I’m not completely mad) Scotland
It’s sunny but the north easterly wind is bloody freezing. It’s always bloody cold up here; thank god I brought a thick shirt, fleece and hat.
There’s me and the timekeeper. Every minute or two so a rider passes by. Minutes can take long time to pass.
Cars drive past, drivers staring. Some drive like idiots, some are fat, I think, ‘you ought to ride a bike’.
For something to do when there’s no traffic I cross the road.
I listen to the evening bird song, two blackbirds, a chiffchaff, robin, two chaffinches, one crow and some woodies and two swallows in the far distance.
Some riders take the wrong route.
’20 and 19’
Sometimes riders go through close together but usually means it’s a longer wait until another appears.
I watch sycamore trees turning to bud
I don’t mind helping out, a club is only as good as the people in it. It’s just that I don’t understand the appeal of this side of the sport, but I’ll always lend a hand.
There are some clouds.
Some riders are fast. The other side of the road looks enticing, I cross again.
I stand on the white line in the middle and stare down the road. I think about a blog I can write.
Some riders are slow.
A rider from our club wins the event, hurrah, I was pleased with that, third too, excellent. Can I go home now?
Saturday, 30 April 2011
I set off from Bristol in bright sunshine around 9.00am driving the Rapha Condor Sharp van with Dan and masseur Maria on board whilst Tom drove the team car with Zak to pick up Ben on the way. Our rendezvous point was a ‘servo’(to us Brits a motorway service station) in
. The plan was to make Cumbria Dumfries by 3.30pm so the riders could go for a spin. Well, the British love of spending their Bank holidays parked up on motorways made the journey a long one but we arrived with enough time for them to have a very quick ride before massages, supper and team meeting. Here we put together a plan, a loose one; if there’s a break at least one rider must be in it or if it comes to a bunch sprint it would be Zak or Dean, the others leading them out.
I’m up at 6am and opened the curtains, what the heck??? Everything was soaking wet, where the hell has the sunshine gone? Gone east, it’s certainly not here. It rained all day making Stage 1 of the Tour of Doonhame a memorable one.
At the start 142 riders rolled out in blotchy rain and 15 degrees, by twenty miles it was teeming down and 10 degrees, at the top of the main climb it was pouring rain through thick grey mist and only 8 degrees. Water carrying little sharp pieces of grit was pouring onto the narrow, winding, potholed, rural lanes. This was a recipe for punctures, mechanicals and crashes. It was carnage, every few hundred meters riders dropped away from the peleton with an arm in the air. The team cars were constantly in action, charging up and down the convoy replacing wheels or pacing riders back to the main bunch. Our final total was seven plus a bike change. Tom did sterling work dropping back to pace his team mates back on or getting back himself back having giving them his wheel. After thirteen punctures, Motorpoint ran out of spare wheels, their rider with the fourteenth plugging on uphill on a flat back wheel as the team car desperately tried to borrow one. I don’t see individual riders in a race, I’m too busy concentrating on my own team, but I spied two local Cornish riders, Chris Opie standing by the road with a wheel in the air and Steve Lampier, looking very strong, as he charged past the car on his way back to the front.
After the final climb we still had four riders in the front twenty eight man group from which the final eight man break formed on the long downhill run back to Moffat. We, mechanic Spike and I, could see the break way down the long sweeping roads but couldn’t make out the riders in it. We waited for the radio to start giving out the numbers, hoping a Rapha Condor Sharp rider was amongst them. When the radio began to crackle my heart started to sink as they are all high numbers (ours are 1 to 7) but then last of all they announced number 6, that’s Zak. Great, his good form could get him the win but he was beaten into second in the sprint by ex Rapha Condor Sharp rider Matt Cronshaw, who with time bonuses took the first yellow jersey, leading Zak by nine seconds.
Even with all the chaos caused by the conditions it was a good day’s racing and second wasn’t too bad.
The sun came out and it was another good day’s racing, although Rapha Condor Sharp appeared to like the number two. On the second stage, Zak was second again, so was still in second place but now only by two seconds. We had had a plan to take yellow and it so nearly came off.
At the team meeting the previous night it was decided to work for Zak. There were the two hotspots sprints where time bonuses of 3,2, 1 seconds were available and another 10, 6 and 4 seconds at the finish line, the plan was to get Zak into a position to nab the required time to secure yellow. That meant we didn’t want any soft breaks going off up the road to take the precious seconds.
It started well, the team car was second in the convoy and I could see Rapha Condor Sharp riders closing down any attempted attacks. Unfortunately, a single Endura rider clipped off and took the first sprint but we heard over the race radio that Zak had got third place and therefore one second. The deficit was now eight seconds.
Soon after the sprint another attack was covered by Dean, it’s just two of them and with sixty miles to the finish; I didn’t think it would be a problem. Then a group of five got across and the lead started to steadily increase. The other Rapha Condor Sharp riders had stayed with Zak. I sat in the convoy, dealing with our punctures, four today and one nasty crash for Dan who needed a bike change(he kept riding but came in well down) wondering and fretting about this break. This is just what we didn’t want, the leading
team aren’t particularly concerned, if these guys stayed away they would soak up the next sprint and possibly the finish, removing Zak’s threat for the day, so won’t work at the front. The hot spot sprint is reached, the break goes through, we don’t win any time bonuses, flipping heck. Raleigh
The break continued and I can see the black Rapha Condor Sharp jerseys have taken up the chase. It’s a hard work and they only closed the gap with about five miles to go, after which Ben and Tom, who had been doing the bulk of the chasing, slipped past us, work over. Now the sprint team kicked into action keeping the bunch together and setting Zak up for the final sprint where he collected second place and six precious seconds, still two short.
At the end I was only frustrated with the result but the team roll in very tired. They had to worked really hard to reel the break back with all the other teams having a relative easy day. I wondered how this would affect them but by the team meeting, held after supper, they were back to normal and the plan is simple; Zak needed just three seconds to go into the lead. Three hot spot sprints plus time bonuses at the finish means there were nineteen seconds up for grabs. We planned to take the three we need as soon as possible and then defend the lead.
The stage started brilliantly with every attack nullified by Rapha Condor Sharp until the first sprint where Zack took first place and three seconds, putting him in yellow ‘on the road’. We now had to defend his position and with 80 odd miles to go it wouldn’t be easy.
, Motorpoint, Sigma and Endura all have riders within a few seconds of Zak. Their attacks came in thick and fast but the men in black maintained a steady pace at the front and brought them back. Eventually an attack established itself and started to make time on the Rapha Condor Sharp led bunch; with no other team helping it was all down to us. Raleigh
As the break’s lead passed 1.10mins we technically lost the yellow jersey but with 40 miles left I felt it would be OK, they will tire, but at nearly two and a half minutes with twenty five miles to go I was getting concerned. Especially when turning a corner I suddenly spied two black Rapha Condor Sharp jerseys by the side of the road, worse still one is Zak who had punctured. The other is Briggsey who is giving him his wheel. In the car we flew into action, as I braked to let Spike out, I spotted another black jersey waiting down the road, it’s Dean. We changed the wheel and I accelerated away pulling over just in front of Zak and started to pace him back to the convoy. We are approaching a hill and I suddenly saw two Endura riders attacking up it, shit, shit. I had Zak plus Dean and Briggsey on my bumper and then come across Tom who has also dropped back to help the chase. I was soon back in the convoy and with no commisaires about paced the riders as far as I could before they clipped off and linked up with the rear of the bunch. We had got them back very quickly but they had still got to get back up to the front of the bunch. The radio soon informed us that only one Endura was still off the front but I was concerned about the break as the chase would have been disrupted.
After their one rider is reeled in, Endura and then Raleigh started coming to the front to help pull the break back partly in the hope that our team were tired and so leave Zak exposed to counter attacks. After working all day some of them were, and first Dan, then Tom and Ben, having done their jobs dropped away and trail off behind us. We now had four riders left to take Zak towards Castle Douglas. The break was all but caught, they were just ten or fifteen seconds in front of the bunch, tantalisingly close but the Rapha Condor Sharp riders, still in charge at the front, cleverly left them dangling there as long as possible knowing that as soon as they were caught, counter attacks will come. The final junction was only made with six miles to go and I felt confident that was too close for any other rider to gain time on Zak. He had been in 4th or 5th place at the head of the bunch showing his good form and confidence, whereas the yellow jersey has been sitting in the middle, to me a sign that he lacked it. I felt sure Zak could manage to win now; all he had to do was beat Croshaw in the sprint and we had the race.
Into the final straight we were well behind the leading riders and as I drove up the final uphill straight I was desperately listening or looking for evidence of what had happened. Had we won? Over the line, I spy the boys all grouped around Zak, embracing and laughing. The answer is, yes we had.
So how do you celebrate a race win? You shake all the riders hands, then get to work, drinks and food for the riders, collect race numbers and transponders, fend off an irate Endura manager who Tom had sworn at for his riders attacking when Zak had a puncture, drive to the hotel, pack the cars and van, sort the bikes and start driving south, six hours back to Bristol, arriving back at 11.00pm feeling knackered. Welcome to the world of cycling, job done what’s the next race. I love it.
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
It’s The East Midlands Classic and my, it’s exactly that, a classic. It starts sedately enough, two circuits of Rutland Water and then from the wide tarmac roads the race turns a sharp left onto fifty odd miles of very narrow farm lanes and tracks, a maze of them crisscrossing the continuously undulating countryside. I soon lose my bearings and as it’s been a dry spring up comes the dust, on the roughest sections thick billowing brown clouds of it, which obscures all but the vaguely distinguishable brake lights of the car just in front whilst in the mirror two murky discs of headlights indicated there was a car behind. The steering wheel is juddering as the car bounces down these tracks, a few ghost-like riders, faces caked, squeeze by, some, legs slowing dropping back, others desperately trying to fight their way forwards after punctures. That sign ‘Welcome to Hell’ wasn’t far wrong.
Occasional tarmac stretches run for long enough for the dust to disperse then we (mechanic Alex and I) try to see if we can see the main peloton and then it’s another sharp turn and we are back hammering away on the narrow farm roads. I have no idea where the Rapha Condor Sharp riders are, neither have I an idea how far I am behind the front of the race, I guess some distance as the radio communication is intermittent. I started as car 18 in the convoy, which put me a long way back to start with and on these narrow lanes the smallest groups of back riders can block the road as do any attendant team cars. I’ve passed a number but I must still be some distance from the front. I plough on spending my time negotiating my way past these groups but it’s slow progress. I still haven’t seen or heard anything of our riders. If any have suffered a puncture I’m relying on our masseurs, (John H sent three anticipating this scenario) positioned with spare wheels at the end of each of the roughest sections to change them. The riders know that if they puncture there just to plug on till the end for a change.
I’m feeling quietly optimistic, at the riders meeting last night the team was very upbeat. After I had run through the day’s schedule we discussed the race. Everyone was up for this one, Zack D and Briggsy had taken one and two last week at the Dengie Marshes, a race over similar terrain to this, so definitely have the form. Dan was a close second in the sprint finish here last year and knows the finish well so explains just how to negotiate the vital final corner in detail to the listening riders. Dean is always up for a race, Tom is a strong rider and Jimmy is feeling good.The team talks it all through and when they leave I notice I’m feeling upbeat. Tom started the ball rolling by launching the first serious attack on these narrow lanes, once back in the fold other attacks were being nullified by the team and now all the riders are obviously still in the front group.
The race continues, driving is taking all my concentration, the sandwich I was just starting when we hit the lanes sits untouched on the seat beside me. We arrive on some tarmac and I can look around long enough to recognize that we have passed this way a couple of times before then we duck back into the juddering dustbowl. Sometime later, I spy a black Rapha Condor Sharp jersey in the swirling dust, the shape tells me its Tom, we bump up alongside but he just signals us through, his day’s work over. We speed on, next it’s Jimmy Mac, he’s just punctured but fortunately we arrive just as he pulls over so it’s a rapid change and he’s away. It’s our first puncture, thank goodness Alex, the mechanic, put those All Season 25mm tyres on. The riders did look slightly askance at their sausage like appearance but they seem to be working as the only call so far is an early one for Dean’s shoe plate which involved a change of footwear through the open car window.
We watch Jimmy link back up to a small group and then accelerate past. We are hearing the radio again, so we’re getting closer to the front. The final hard sections are splintering the race, the race is all down to attrition, hard wear and tear on both man and his bike.
As we arrive we hear the peloton is in three groups so I manoeuvre past two of them, we are now behind the front thirty four riders and we still have four riders up there with twenty five kms to go. I occasionally get glimpses of the front group; the speed is high, the pressure is really on, I can see black jerseys near the front as other riders being spat out of the back.
One French rider has gone for a long one and is 1.50 min up, this alarms me a bit. I can imagine the top British teams all sitting there waiting for the others to start the chase, nullifying each other as the single rider rides away. At twenty km, relief, the chase has started, his time is coming down, a glance at the front tells me it’s the men in black doing the chasing. I’m trapped behind six riders and it seems the three cars in front are sitting there following their riders. I’ve got to get past, I swing on to the small grass verge and at an odd angle, blast the horn and get past two of the cars but the third car is a commissar who stops me, not allowing me through. Shit, I’ve got four riders in the ever diminishing front group and no wheel cover in front of them, I’ve got to I push on. There’s not enough space to pull alongside to talk to the commissar so I drive right up to their rear and beep the horn. I think they finally see which car it is and after a quick conversation wave me through. I bounce past and charge forward. Ten kms, five kms, the last rough section with 3km to go, coming out I spy Dean, he’s dropping away, he’s punctured but waves me through, he’ll ride in on the puncture. I charge on passing dropped riders but can’t get up to the race, 2km, 1km, I swing into the final straight, there’s a few riders but not the very front group, they have finished. I drive down the finishing straight, wondering how it went, as I’m waved over into the car park I hear a loud speaker:
‘No confirmation of the winner’s name but it was a Rapha rider’
Yes, yes, I see Tom passing on his bike and he nods. Yes, we’ve won, I don’t know who but I take my hands off the wheel, shaking my fists in the air to celebrate. A short while later I hear it’s Zack, who easily won the sprint, Briggsey and Dan coming in somewhere behind having set him up. Brilliant.