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.
My first memory of knowingly hearing the band Ride was John Peel (Google him, kids) playing Vapour Trail on a Saturday night sometime in the winter of 1990 (if memory serves). I was taping the show (as you did back then, onto a TDK C90: Google it, kids), the tape stretched to breaking point over the following days, Vapour Trail on heavy rotation.
Am I too sensitive a cycling soul or does the new HBO film Tour de Pharmacy look (more than a bit) crap? It’s a mockumentary lampooning cycling’s doping culture. Wow, well done guys, only (at least) ten years late to the party.
It’s not that I’m blinkered to cycling’s issues past or present. I quickly realised that my new climbing idol Marco Pantani might not be riding pane e acqua. I was an Armstrong doubter from the first of his seven. I now watch the sport through irises scarred by Festina, Puerto, Landis, Rasmussen, various vanishing twins, EPO Cera, steakgate, Ricardo Ricco’s innumerable fuck ups, motor-doping, whereaboutsgate. You name it, I’ve witnessed a very large jiffy bag full of eye openers.
A haircut (£40) and Ruffians Refresher (£15) at Ruffians Edinburgh (23 Queensferry Street, EH2 4QS, 0131 225 8962 www. ruffians.co.uk).
A Ruffians haircut is a comprehensive 45-minute process, beginning with a consultation, to help match a style to the customer’s face shape, hair type and general style. Next comes a shampoo and conditioning treatment, a scalp massage, then the all-important cut, finish and style. The Refresher is an extra luxury that includes an exfoliating and moisturising facial treatment, soothing hot and cold towels, and a shoulder, arm and hand message.
Giro d’Italia – The Story of the World’s Most Beautiful Bike Race, to give it it’s full title, is exactly what it says on the cover. It takes in all the major editions and events from the Giro’s 1909 birth right up to Nibali’s win in 2016.
A 60-minute Yin Yoga session at Tribe Yoga Quartermile (1 Porters Walk, Edinburgh, EH3 9GJ, 0131 229 1619 www.tribe.yoga). Yin is a passive yoga practice from the Taoist tradition, intended to stretch and strengthen your muscles’ fascia connective tissues. Various prone and supine poses are held for up to 5 minutes in a studio that’s heated to 26 degrees C. An extremely meditative form of movement, the emphasis is on de-stressing body and mind, to leave both in calm harmony. £12.00 for a drop-in class (set of 5 for £50, 10 for £90.00).