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Hi,

A little while ago Jenni Gwiazdowski started up the London Bike Kitchen and has been working tirelessly ever since to help people learn to fix their own bikes. She left her job so she could put more time into the bike kitchen and is one of the most amazingly supportive, enthusiastic and nice people in the cycling community.

The other night, as she worked late in the workshop, somebody stole her bike from outside the shop. We can all understand how that feels, especially as her bike was lovingly cared for with wheels she’d built herself.

The bike wasn’t insured as this was an expense Jenni couldn’t afford when leaving work as it was a choice between buying food or buying insurance.

Jenni gives so much, really doesn’t deserve to have her bike stolen and has no way of replacing it. She helps and supports everybody that comes into the Bike Kitchen including the pack of local kids that come to her to fix their bikes and pump up their tyres.

Please help me raise enough money to replace Jenni’s bike. It would mean a huge amount to me and I’m sure to her too. Anything you can afford would be so gratefully received!

Thank you!

Beth Anderson

Having recently spent an afternoon in the Kitchen building a bike, I can only agree with Beth’s sentiments. Click through here to contribute.

Update! Beth’s initial target of £1000 has been achieved within 24 hours.  That is pretty amazing, thanks to everyone who donated.

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“..these Superhighways are central to the cycling revolution I'm determined to bring about. No longer will pedal power have to dance and dodge around petrol power – on these routes the bicycle will dominate and that will be clear to all others using them. That should transform the experience of cycling – boosting safety and confidence of everyone using the routes and reinforcing my view that the bike is the best way to travel in this wonderful city of ours.”

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, 2009 on the launch of his Cycle Superhighways

ibikelondon has collected this and other quotes from Boris about the Cycle Superhighways, and also about the cyclist lorry problem. Read the whole post, and go along to the flash-ride tonight if you can.

I would counsel, always in the aftermath of a fatal collision, that the incident itself is not prejudged. Most sensible people were sickened by all the revolting innuendo about whether the cyclist in question was carrying shopping, whether she was wearing a helmet etc.

It is therefore wise to stick to the known facts. Women on bicycles are over-represented in fatal collisions with lorries in London. This is not a new trend. Lorries, usually construction lorries, (aka Heavy Goods Vehicles, and also called Large Goods Vehicles in the European Union), are involved of majority of collisions in which cyclists are killed. This is not a problem unique to London. In Berlin, an average of 10 cyclists are killed every year by lorries.

The junction at which the lorry (not a construction vehicle) collided with the cyclist is wide, and heavily traffic-ed, with high volumes of large goods vehicles. It has been the scene of many serious collisions, as the City of London's own map shows. I went along to a Critical Mass years ago in the mid 90s which went to the spot where a friend was killed, on the junction of Mansell Street and Aldgate High Street. This is about 20 metres from where the collision occured last Friday.

I know that there is a lot of talk about how the re-design of this junction is in hand. Don't think that just because the authorities say they are doing something about it that a little (or ideally, a lot) of encouragement from the public to get on with it won't go amiss. The only reason that the media now cover lorry deaths is because people spent time making a fuss, lighting candles and painting the roads.

 

 

I mentioned elsewhere that I first started following cycling after watching the 1987 Tour de France on Channel 4. Stephen Roche was the hero, and winner, of that Tour, and went on to cap a season equalled only by Merckx with a victory in the World Championships, as well as the Giro d'Italia. Along with Robert Millar, Stephen Roche did as much as anyone to inspire me to follow and participate in cycle sport.

Roche was, is, one of the pre-eminent figures in the English-speaking world. After the apotheosis of 1987, his career petered out somewhat, although he was still good enough to win one or two really big races before retiring. After retirement, he moved into the commentary box at Eurosport, forming a sublime double-act with David Duffield, with this passage, describing Pantani's epic ride over the Galibier in 1998, surely the pinnacle of their time together.

I found Stephen Roche's commentary on the racing illuminating. He described what was happening tactically, and surmised why, and also suggested, when nothing was happening, what the contenders ought to be doing. Having been a rider who liked to attack and shake things up, he was always critical of teams who appeared to be settling for a place on the podium.

He seems an engaging character, and, on the two occasions that I have met him, took the time to say hello and do more than just pass the time of day, even making more or less indiscreet remarks about a leading rider when I bumped into him in a petrol station outside Bourg d'Oisans, about 4 hours before the Tour was due to come through.

However, after all he has gained from the sport, and its supporters, people like me, he owes us more than the tripe that he is peddling regarding cycling's past. In an interview with Jack Thurston on The Bike Show last year, he equivocated, avoided and shamelessly evaded Jack's probing about doping in his era. Once again, quoted in Cycling News yesterday, he is up to the same thing, once again wishing to avoid difficult questions about doping. He even has the gall to suggest that it is only journalists that are interested in cycling's murky past.

It is impossible, in my view, and the view of a lot of ex-fans of cycling, for us to believe in the sport unless all those people still present in it, still making a living from our enthusiasm, who were present when all that dark stuff happened, stop lying by omission and come clean. I don't wish to see Stephen Roche brought down, but it's important that he, as one the leading figures in anglophone cycling, answers some questions, and participates in the cleansing of cycling's Augean Stables. He wants to remain a leader in the sport, wants to continue to enjoy the reflected glory of his sucesses. That's fine, but let him speak of what he knows.

Here's a couple of reasons why it's important that Stephen Roche speaks out:

  1. Stephen Roche rode on the Carrera team alongside Marco Pantani, who has been proven beyond most people's reasonable doubt to have been doping systematically throughout his career, and is arguably the highest profile victim of doping in cycling's history (for a full account of Pantani's life, career, and terrible descent into madness and death, see Matt Rendell's The Death of Marco Pantani). The association with Pantani continued after Roche retired, with Stephen acting as cheerleader in chief during Pantani's Giro / Tour double year. Stephen Roche is a clever, perceptive man, and I would find it extraordinary if he wasn't aware that a new 'preparation' was being used in the early 90s, on his own team, of which he used to be a leader.
  2. Stephen Roche was the winner of the one of the last Tours which we can confidently identify as being before EPO. Lemond, Fignon, Roche and Delgado, whilst still playing team rôles, were nothing like as infuential after 1991 as they had been. This wasn't a gradual descent into obscurity, a slow submersion by the incoming tide of age, this was more akin to a passage from light into shadow. Did none of them discuss with anyone why this might be? Fignon is fairly clear in his autobiography that he knew what was going on, but had no interest in participating in the new arrangements. Robert Millar has obliquely made similar intimations. There is fairly clear evidence that Stephen Roche's blood values were manipulated as part of an early attempt to systematise the use of EPO. Is he seriously suggesting that he knew nothing at all about this?

The sport of cycling will not change unless it learns from the past. It cannot learn from the past if the witnesses stay silent.

 

Great picture of a Hackney bike polo team from the 1950s. Photo courtesy of Garry Beckett.

London Bike Polo

I first played bike polo on grass about 20 years ago in the track centre at Herne Hill after a Saturday morning session. This was back when the club-house and changing rooms were still open, and there was never any worry that the sessions might be over-subscribed. I didn't know his name, but the guy who organised the knock-about on the grass polo bikes was Garry Beckett, son of the great Ron Beckett. The Becketts, for those who don't know, are pillars upon which the south London cycling scene is built. Stalwarts of the Bec Cycling Club (whose rollers we borrowed for the first couple of Rollapaluzas), organisers of the Good Friday track meet… And stars of the bike polo scene! Garry used to be captain of the England team, and father Ron was a regular player too. Garry posted this picture to his twitter account.

 

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As the cliché has it, you can't take a penalty at Wembley, but you can ride up l'Alpe d'Huez anytime. Well, anytime that the road isn't closed by snow or ice. This is part of the magic of the Tour. It will come down a road near you, or go up a road that you have ridden on, if you live in France or have passed time there, as most British people by now have.

For instance, my mother's family lived for a number of years in the Crau, an arid, stony plain between Arles and Salon de Provence. The Tour has passed through the village in which they lived once in my memory, and has passed within a few kilometres at least another 4 times, including Thursday's stage from Aix-en-Provence to Montpellier.

If you can't actually be there, by the side of the road, as the cavalcade passes, there is a vicarious thrill in seeing familiar thoroughfares and corners rush past on the television, as a backdrop to the unrolling drama (or in the case of the Crau, flat as it is, almost always a rolling intermission as the Tour transits from Alps to Pyrenées or vice-versa). That vicarious thrill is heightened if you have actually ridden down the roads, and doubled and redoubled if the road is a classified climb or, even better, a summit finish.

Eros Poli on his way to winning the Ventoux stage in 1994Having ridden up Mont Ventoux the year before, I thrilled to Eros Poli's crazy and magnificent solo breakaway up Mont Ventoux in 1994. The fact that Poli, at 190+ cm, is no-one's idea of a pocket-rocket jack-in-the-box climber, made it all the more enthralling.

Watching his obvious travails, I was reminded of my own plodding efforts on the mountain quite vividly, even down to the final hairpin at the foot of the Observatoire, which caused Poli to almost stall, and come to a dead stop on the ramp. The exact same thing had happened to me the year before. Admittedly, I was in the granny ring, pushing a much much smaller gear, whereas Eros was probably pulling a 39 or bigger, but as they say, it doesn't hurt any less when you are fitter, you just go faster.

This Tour de France is going to be very thrilling for me, as I know the roads of 2 of the key stages really quite well. As I wrote elsewhere, I have been up Ventoux several times. I have also ridden Alpe d'Huez 4 times, as well as the first climb of the following day, Col du Glandon, a few times.

This isn't particularly remarkable, as many hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of cyclists have ridden those same climbs at least once, not least because l'Alpe d'Huez and le Col du Glandon form part of the course of the oldest and most famous (outside of the UK) cyclo-sportive, la Marmotte. The event dates from 1981 and, although it isn't quite as big as the largest of all European cyclo-sportives l'Ardechoise, it is, in my opinion, the best of them.

La Marmotte, unlike a Tour stage, but like most cyclo-sportives, describes a circle, and the finish is close by the start. It encompasses le Col de la Croix de Fer (or sometimes the Glandon, as the two climbs share exactly the same route from the south), the Maurienne valley, the Col du Télégraphe, the Col du Galibier, then descends through the Col du Lauteret, down the Romanche valley for a distance of 50km, at an average downgrade of 6%, to the foot of l'Alpe d'Huez. The finish is in l'Alpe d'Huez.

At 167 km it is almost as long as what is described as a Grand Tour 'Queen' stage, i.e. the hardest mountain stage, and has at least as much vertical ascent as you might expect at nearly 6000m.

It is, it goes without saying, a serious undertaking, for which you need proper physical condition, and during which you need to husband your resources. The first time I rode it, I was in ok shape, not really race fit. (I should point out, so as not to mislead any of my readers, that as a bike racer I was extremely mediocre, very much of the type of bike racer described somewhat unkindly as a career 3rd cat).

I had ridden the mountainous, but not monstrous, Mégève – Mont Blanc sportive the month before, and been taught a lesson by 2 middle-aged French guys, who were riding 1980s bikes, and not because they were rocking the vintage look. They were much, much better bike riders than me, and were also enjoying themselves much more than I was, despite the fact that we were riding only a little way in front of the back-markers. I rode away from them on one of the early climbs, only to find myself clinging to their slip-streams later on on the next climb, having been caught on a descent.

As always seems to be the case with older French guys with legs and arms the colour of leather, they descended like the proverbial stones and were laughing their way around the course, taking pleasure in their surroundings and the company. They understood better than I did the importance of sitting back and pedalling, to use Stephen Roche's phrase. I was still riding stupid.

UnfortunateIy I hadn't learnt my lesson, and I was taught it again, and received extra punishment for failing to pay attention on my first visit to the Alps. Alpe d'Huez was my educator.

I can still remember the awe with which I was struck when I turned onto the climb to Alpe d'Huez for the first time. It's not like Mont Ventoux or other climbs that have a gentle introduction. You turn off the flat valley road, go over a small bridge, turn left and there it is, rearing up in front of your front wheel, like a black cliff, impossibly steep.

The first time I rode up it as the finish of la Marmotte, I was utterly destroyed by it. I was over-geared, over-cooked and had stupidly used up what little I had left after climbing the Col du Galibier on the descent of Lautaret, messing about trying to share pace-making with guys who probably got to the finish an hour ahead of me. I got about half-way up the climb to the first hairpin, and I mentally cracked. The famous 21 hairpins – 21! – I couldn't even see the first one! I didn't know that the first lacet of the 21 is one of the longest, if not the longest.

I had already submitted before I even saw the first bend, and pretty soon was sat by the side of the road, trying to get my heart rate down. I can tell you that there is very little in this world that is more demoralising than watching other people ride bicycles up a climb that has forced you to stop, and climb off yours. I seem to remember that I stopped once more, and then finally managed to haul myself up into the village and across the finish line. 9 hours 40 mins or something around that mark. 90 minutes to get up the final climb! Nearly 3 times Pantani's record! Nearly an hour off a Gold time! The internal reproaches went on like this for a bit.

But apart from my time, and a few bad moments on the last climb, the experience had been magnificent. The start is in Bourg d'Oisans, on the valley floor at the foot of the cliff above which sits the village of Huez and the famous ski station itself, often known only as 'the Alp' by anglophone cyclists, as if it were the only mountain worth talking of. The road out of Bourg towards the valley that leads to the Col de la Croix de Fer runs straight and flat for around 10km.

I have ridden all sorts of cycling events, large and small, from Critical Mass in San Francisco to the Essex Road Race League, and I think that there is nothing in the wide world of cycling that is anything like the start of a really big, multi-thousand rider cyclo-sportive. The strongest sensation I felt was complete unvulnerability, mixed with a powerful sense of awe at what I was seeing on the road ahead of me.

I would guess that the first 500 starters (riders are allowed in this group by invitation only) are already starting the first climb to the reservoir above Allemond, some 20km away, whilst the back-markers are still crossing the start. The road is a river of cyclists, an amorphous mass of wheeled humanity humming along, occupying most of the road. A road closure, marshalls, police outriders – for the main field of la Marmotte, normally tens of thousands strong, all such things are irrelevant.

Louison Bobet leads Gino Bartali on le Col de la Croix de Fer (north side), Tour de France 1948

La Marmotte follows a really superb course. The Col de la Croix de Fer, even if it is climbed from the much easier south side, and the Col du Galibier, two 2000+ metre climbs upon which all of the giants of the sport have written their legends. The Galibier is climbed from the north, also far harder than from the south, and then after cresting the pass, always smeared with snow-banks, for it is cold even in summer at 2645 metres, a mind-bending 50km descent, through unlit tunnels, with hundreds of more or less gifted and crazy descenders weaving in and out of the groups that form on the drop down the Romanche valley from the Lautaret.

Falling, falling down the watercourse towards the final climb. Past the Chambon reservoir, past Les Deux Alpes, and into evocatively named Gorges de l'Infernet. The road twists and turns here, clinging to steep valley walls, and then climbs away from the river, through a tunnel and then, at last!, turns into the wide open valley in which is le Bourg d'Oisans. The road along the valley perfectly straight, following the cliff on the right, up which the riders know they will have to ride. The turn out of the Gorges de l'Infernet made all the hair on my body stand up, even the second time. The drama, the majesty of the physical setting is overwhelming.

I was better prepared in my second ride in La Marmotte. I trained harder. My brother gave me a pulse-meter, and I learned how to use it, so that I could better measure my effort. I rode La Ventoux – Beaumes de Venise and did a Gold time, having enough strength left on the Dentelles de Montmirail to catch and drop other riders. I was in good shape.

I had ridden conservatively, trying to hide in the bigger groups and restrained myself from any show-boating or wasted effort. Arriving at the turn towards the last climb, I knew I had roughly 75 mins to get to the finish line to get my Gold time, a time I knew I had done a couple of days before. There was no stopping by the side of the road this time to put my lungs back in my chest.

I rode right on what I knew was my aerobic max, and backed off immediately if I went over. I took drinks only when I was riding on the flat part of the bends to avoid putting myself into oxygen debt. And I watched the time. 8h 50 was the time I was aiming for. It was going to be close.

The Tour normally uses a different route to enter the ski station proper these days, so doesn't pass Virage 1. La Marmotte does, and the final kilometre is another wall. I was out of the saddle a lot on this section, as I knew I was nearly out of time, and it didn't matter if I blew up. I reached the roundabout, 200 metres from the finish and was showing 8 hours 49. I sat up, and coasted over the line (actually a mat that registers the passage of a chip tied to your ankle).

I was too impatient to wait around to get my certificate, so I went and had a beer, got washed and changed, had another beer (or maybe it was a glass of sparkling wine? Or probably both.), and then went back and got my certificate. It was wrong. The time was right, 8 hours 49 minutes and 2 seconds, but the colour was wrong. It said 'Argent'. It should have said 'Or'. Not Or, as in equivocation, but Or as in unequivocally Gold. I turned around to ask someone to change the colour, as they had got it wrong. Then it slowly dawned on me. They had not got it wrong, I had. The Gold time for my age group wasn't 8 hours 50 minutes, it was 8 hours 49 minutes. I had missed it by 2 seconds. The time I had lost when I sat up and coasted over the finish line. 2 seconds.

Ok, it wasn't anything like as devastating as losing the Tour de France by 8 seconds on the last day of the race, but I did feel pretty stupid. At dinner with my riding companions from the Gastrobiking organisation that had organised my trip, we encountered Veloventoux, also hosting some British cyclists, from the north of the country. On hearing my story, one of them piped up: two seconds? Might as well have been two hours!

This post was sponsored by Eureka Cycles, suppliers of Orbea, Moda and Ridley bicycles

 

When I first started cycling seriously, after I had become a bicycle courier (or bicycle messenger, if you prefer), I really had no idea about how to ride longer distances successfully. One of my earliest excursions was an attempt to ride to York in a day. In January.

I had no idea how far it was, but I guessed that it was a little over 100 miles, maybe 120 or something. My route choice was not at all sophisticated. I had decided to ride up the A10 all the way to Royston, and then head up towards Peterborough, taking in a short section on A1, and then pick up the A14.

I left very early in the morning. As it was January, I rode for a couple of hours in the dark. Miraculously, I managed to negotiate the dual carriage-way section of the A10 in the darkness without incident.

Shortly after dawn, somewhere near Royston, I began to think that I had broken the rear axle, as the rear wheel of the bike was snaking around under me. A couple of more miles, and I suddenly found myself lying on the verge, partially submerged in freezing water. I hadn't realised that there was black ice around, and that the snaking around was the wheels hitting small patches. I had gone down on a larger section.

As I had hit the wet verge, I wasn't hurt. Not even after I fell over again when I tried to stand up on the black ice. (Despite the fall, I didn't notice the black ice until I slipped over on it for the 2nd time).

Muddied, but unbowed, I continued. Never having really ridden a bike outside of London, the experience was entirely novel. Market Deeping, Sleaford and those other small towns were unlike anything I had ever seen, never having visited eastern England before. There wasn't a lot going on, it seemed to me, unless you counted youths milling around the bus shelter.

As I progressed into Lincolnshire, I began to tire. Like the novice I was, I had started too fast, far too fast. And the wind picked up as I rode into the wide open spaces of Lincolnshire.

I had never before been exposed to what I know now is called a block headwind. It's not that you don't get wind in London, it's more that there aren't any really straight roads, and you are constantly turning into and away from the wind. The buildings also serve as wind-breaks, so one is generally not exposed to full force of the wind, apart from when one is passing a really tall building, which create a vortex around them.

The wind that I encountered riding up the A14 from Sleaford towards Lincoln was strong, and was blowing from the north east. The road goes almost exactly straight north mostly, with the odd tack to the right, or almost directly in the direction that the wind was coming from. It was strong enough to almost completely bring me and my bike to a complete stop.

I rode into this wind for some miles, getting more and more demoralised, riding slower and slower until finally I stopped by the side of the road and sat under a tree, feeling defeated and eating biscuits. I may have thrown my bike into a ditch, but I can't remember if I actually did or not.

Biscuits eaten, I decided that I would go no further than Lincoln. At Lincoln station, waiting for the train, I felt ashamed. I thought I was a weakling, beaten far too easily by a straight road and a bit of wind.

I looked up the mileage of that ride the other day. 130-odd miles more or less, from north London to Lincoln. That's a proper ride, not into the head-banging, arse-ripping category of long-distance, but well over 200 km, and therefore into Audax territory.

York? York is miles and miles further. At least 80 miles further. Google maps gives various alternatives and also offer the option to: 'take Public Transport'.