At the start of this year I swapped my old skinny-tyred Scott CR1 for a fat-ish tyred Jamis gravel bike. If my Twitter feed is anything to go by, a lot of folk see the gravel trend as marketing bollocks designed to sell more bikes. In all honesty, mine has proved something of a revelation. Over the last couple of years I’d begun to get a little tired of tackling the same old, routine road rides in my local patch. Owning a bike that can take the rough with the smooth has allowed me to explore tracks, paths, old drove roads and the like to expand my route itinerary without the hassle of moving house.
Anquetil, Alone may not be the most comprehensive history of the first rider to win five Tours de France but if there’s one better written I’ll eat my chapeau.
To Maître Jacques in a minute. First, the author: Paul Fournel is a French writer, poet, publisher, and cultural ambassador. A few years back I stumbled upon his 2001 collection of essays on cycling, Need For The Bike (Besoin de vélo, in its original French). If you’re a cyclist and haven’t read it then do yourself a favour, open a new tab in your browser and order a copy. Now. Fournel may not have been the best cyclist ever (he describes his own two-wheeled talent as banal) but there’s no one who writes better about the sport.
We all get the idea of relaxation but how many of us ever properly succeed? A few moments to savour a coffee, ten seconds before the traffic lights change, the five minutes of any day when you’re not being digitally nagged and staring at a screen. For most, the reality of relaxation is little more than a few stolen moments peppered throughout the rush of the daily routine. As for a whole weekend of it? Sure sounds like a magical proposition, but come on, who are you trying to kid?
Rainbows in the Mud – Inside the Intoxicating World of Cyclocross by Paul Maunder
What I knew about cyclocross before reading this book:
- ‘Cross is what masochistic roadies do in the winter
- Lots of mud
- Running and bunny-hopping
- More mud
- Did I mention mud?
I was watching my guilty-pleasure TV show, Come Dine With Me, the other night when one of the contestants opined their phobia-level hatred of the banana. What had the mellow yellow done to make him so vociferous? I probably didn’t want to know, but I did take an instant dislike to the hater. The banana, you see, is a pal of mine.
A 90-minute Seriously Stretchy Summer Release deep-tissue Thai Massage with rolling acupressure and passive stretches at Knot Stressed Therapies Clinic (40-42 Montrose Terrace, Edinburgh, EH7 5DL, 07540 809 944, www.knotstressed.com).
This treatment is based on a foundation of Thai massage, with the practitioner using their hands, elbows, knees and feet to apply yoga-like stretches to the receiver’s body. These Thai techniques are complemented by acupressure, whereby clearing pressure is placed upon the body’s “meridians”, junctions through which life energy is considered to flow. Price: £50.
I’ve been making a belated effort to tackle some of Scotland’s toughest/best (depending on your penchant for uphill) cycling climbs. Towards the end of the winter I sampled the Mennock Pass (nice but by no means nasty), a few weeks ago the Bealach na Ba (nice and nasty, thanks to hideous weather) and, just the other day, the Cairn o’ Mount (read on).
Thanks mostly to The Breakaway, when it comes to big-climb bragging among fellow cyclists I can usually hold my own. Ventoux? Not nearly as hard as I expected. Alpe D? It’s fun, like an uphill roller coaster. The Stelvio, Gavia, Mortirolo? Si, si, si.
However, one name kept cropping up that didn’t feature on my ‘palmares’, and its lacking left me a little ashamed. Sure, I’d ridden loads of the French and Italian climbs, but what about the big one in my own backyard?
Er, which one is that? The Bea-what now? I’d sheepishly admit to not having a clue.
Bealach na Ba, they repeated. Toughest in Scotland, they said, pleased to have caught me out, pleased at themselves for having completed that particular Caledonian challenge.
Butcher, Blacksmith, Acrobat, Sweep – The Tale of the First Tour de France by Peter Cossins (Yellow Jersey Press) is part explanation of how the world’s greatest bike race came into being, and part sporting reportage of the inaugural Grand Tour’s monstrous stages. There’s a lot of historical detail packed in here but, thanks to Cossins’ telling and the nature of the events being told, none of it makes for dull reading.