Sunday, 20 February 2011

Cycling is part of my life.

SSE with thick mizzly mist today, winter in Cornwall. As the mist lifts the colours of the seascape are magnificent but so are the sounds of the sea and the freshness in the air. I lie in bed at night just listening to its rolling thunder. In Big Sur Jack Karouac tired to write the sounds of the ocean, I never thought he did it justice. He was listening to the Pacific, a very different place to the stormy Atlantic. The sound of our beach doesn’t resemble Penzance’s a few miles down the coast where the shush of the shingle gives it a respiratory lisp: Ours is a mile of sand and just pounds away.   

The two big passions of my life are cycling and ornithology. Cycling came into my life via my elder brother, ornithology via my father.

My bother pointed out in 1962 that an English cyclist called Tommy Simpson had come 6th in the Tour de France and worn the coveted yellow jersey. For reasons I can not fathom I was hooked from that moment onwards. We all rode bikes and we raced around but I never joined a club or ever rode an official race. I won two very unofficial races in my entire career but many thousands of virtual races in my head, mostly highly prestigious European ones.

In those days it was hard to follow the European professional racing as with virtually no GB riders in Europe there was no media coverage. However I discovered that Georges Bookshop on the top of Park Row in Bristol sold foreign magazines and intermittently one called Mirroir du Cyclism appeared on the rack. It was all in French but full of wonderful black and white photos of the great men. I stared at the pictures, cut them out and stuck them on my wall and finally learnt to read French, something which in years of school I failed otherwise to accomplish. I think it had something to do with motivation, an attribute few French teachers especially Colonel Shallow managed to achieve in me. He slept most of the time whilst we quietly watched not daring to wake him. Then came Cyclingweekly which I bought for years keeping track of the smalltime English professional scene and finally some races made it to TV. As I didn’t have one I had to spend time lurking outside TV shops on various High Streets so I could watch the five or ten minutes of silent races.

Simpson’s Cycling is My Life was my bible. Family summer camping holidays in France became odysseys to bike shops in search of a fabled woolen Peugeot BP jersey. I eventually discovered a jersey, alas a year after Simpson died on Mount Ventoux. I bought it and my parents could relax. My prized possession, I wore it so proudly on English roads on my yellow Claud Butler.

When my son, named Tom, (the name was chosen by my partner,) showed an interest in cycling I was very keen to help. I supported him and delighted as he rose through the ranks to a European professional, riding along side some of the biggest names of the day in the very races I had won when a schoolboy dreaming in black and white.

But then disappointment set in as I learnt a different story to the one I had imagined for so long.  The glamour appeared to be just a chimera, the inner soul rotten to the core; many of those greats had feet of clay. I stopped watching or taking much of an interest. I stopped watching the Tour as, to my mind, the biggest fraudster of the lot won it numerous times. I spent my energies supporting the sport at grass root level as I couldn’t walk away from it. My son who had dropped out of the pro peleton came back in at a less contentious level under a manager who treated his riders with respect. I became interested again. I enjoyed the racing again. I know that there is a problem but I just accept that now, it’s one that runs deeply through all professional sport. I don’t condone it, I just shrug and get on with it, accepting the murkier side as part and parcel of the human condition.

 I’ve now been retired a couple of years and having exorcized teaching from my system was wondering what else I could do. And what happens? The job as assistant manager at a pro bike team comes my way, starting at the Tour of Taiwan in mid March and running all season. I love cycling as a sport, always have done, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into it but hadn’t expected this to happen. Now I’m to be an integral part of it all. I can’t wait. I’ve been watching from the road side since 1962 now in 2011, I’m on the road.

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