I was recently explaining to a friend what had led me to buy a gravel* bike (actually, I was gushing enthusiastically about how great my new bike is and why he should get one too), and the reasons why I think the gravel thing has really taken off. It’s more than a passing fad, I gush-explained. Here’s why…
Prior to picking up this book I hadn’t heard of The Tour of the Battlefields (Circuit des Champs de Bataille in its native French), and given that it took place only once, back in 1919, I’m probably not the only one. Enter Tom Isitt, photojournalist and cycling enthusiast to provide enlightenment.
It’s a long time since I last pinned a number to my cycling jersey. Back in my day (when MTB wheels were all 26 inches and fluro lycra wasn’t retro) I entered a lot of cross-country races. The only tactic I observed, with mixed to middling results, was to ride flat-out from start to finish. My only ‘glorious’ road-racing memory involves failing to ride my breakaway companions off my wheel on a climb, then leading out the sprint, ignoring my inner monologue, which was breathlessly shouting, “you shouldn’t be leading out, you shouldn’t be leading out!”
I have no immediate intention of returning to competitive ways and so picked up Full Gas – How to Win a Bike Race: Tactics From Inside the Peloton, to give it its full title, unsure if this book was really for me.
It didn’t take long for those doubts to be dispelled.
Shut up legs! Retired pro-cyclist Jen’s Voigt inner-pain voice, turned catchphrase, turned marketing slogan is now the title of his autobiography.
Voigt had a long, successful career with a palmares that most domestiques (that’s mostly the role he played) would kill (their team leader) for: two Tour de France stages, wore the yellow jersey twice, five-times winner of Criterium International, won the Deutschland Tour, Tour Méditerranéen, plus various other stage wins and podiums, and he broke the Hour Record on the track.
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.
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.
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).