Goggles & Dust by Brett and Shelley Horton – Book Review

Being a cycling blogger has a few perks but, for me at least, none are quite so fine as the unheralded arrival of a new book to review (although I am open to bigger and better options). The double surprise elements of first the arrival of the package itself and then of the content found therein makes each fresh delivery like a present for an overlooked birthday. And when the ‘present’ is something beautiful, or thought-provoking, or revealing, the feeling of being treated is multiplied exponentially. The arrival of Brett and Shelley Horton’s ‘Goggles & Dust’ was one of the those extra special days when all three boxes are ticked. Beautiful? Check. Thought-Provoking? Check. Revealing? Check.

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The Horton’s didn’t set out to specifically collect photographs of cycling’s so-called Glory Days. Their collections lay in the areas of jerseys and accessories but they found themselves increasingly relying on photos to help authenticate their items. So they began to pick small photographic collections up at flea markets, auctions and then some larger ones from defunct publications. It was something of a shock to them when they recently got around to cataloguing the photos and found that they had amassed over 350,000 images.

A mere one hundred of those beautiful images – all black and white from the Inter-War years – are collected in their new  book ‘Goggles & Dust’ (VeloPress RRP £11.99) but it is still more than enough to open the eyes to the rigours of road cycling during that era. The rickety-looking fixed geared bikes, the saggy woollen clothing, the goggles to protect the riders’ eyes from the ever-present dust of unsurfaced roads. These are the well understood trials of the early coureurs but here we also see the simple shared meals, the rudimentary aid for crash victims and, above all, the lines of the hardships of the road etched deeply on the faces of the winners and losers alike. ‘Giants of the Road’ they called them and it becomes apparent why. These creatures, barely human in some pictures, all too human in others, exist as part of the road itself. They bow to its whims, suffer against its hardships and emerge, not as victors or vanquishers of it, but as equals to it. Survivors of the road..

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The names conjure similarly evocative thoughts but here they are, in the flesh, in mostly previously unseen images. Bottechia, Buysse, LeDucq, Magne, Vietto, Lapébie, Egg, Pélissier and the occasional ‘Rider Unknown’, resolutely plying their trade. And for most it was a trade with the all the attendant lack of wealth and comfort which that entails. A Hollywood style studio portrait of Pélissier – complete with Valentino-esque eyeliner and liberal retouching – seems hugely out of place amongst the mud, blood and tyre changes found elsewhere in the book but its inclusion acknowledges that these men were huge sporting heroes of their day.

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It’s not all pain and suffering though. Lighter moments are included as well; a joke between Leducq and Nicolas Frantz in the peloton, Tour winner Lapébie reunited with his wife and child after the rigours of the road, champagne for Buysse. What strikes most is the individualism of the riders. Though teams were prevalent from the earliest days, – the first picture in the book is of a team time trail – each man here seems to stand alone – making their triumphs and disasters all the more potent.

Reasonably priced and sized at around two-thirds of a piece of A4 paper, ‘Goggles & Dust’ is just the sort of book that would be an excellent addition to any cycling fans Christmas stocking and would provide a wonderful couple of hours diversion. Just choose a moment when it’s quiet and this will enrich your cycling life. We look forward to more gems from the Horton Collection.

Goggles and Dust – Images from Cycling’s Glory Days

THE HORTON COLLECTION

Buon Compleanno – Felice Gimondi

Happy Birthday Felice Gimondi “The Aristocrat27.09.1942


Giro d’Italia  Winner – 1967, ’69, ’76;

Tour de France Winner – 1965

Vuelta a España Winner – 1968

World Champion 1973

Paris-Roubaix 1966; Giro di Lombardia 1966, ’73; Milan San Remo 1974

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A prodigious talent across many road racing disciplines, Gimondi can still be viewed as the last great Italian all-rounder. A winner of Classics, World Championships and all three Grand Tours – including the Tour de France at his first attempt when he was parachuted into the team at the last moment following a team-mates withdrawal. Less famous than nearly all the other riders who can boast such a rounded palmares, Gimondi nevertheless remains an important link to the broader landscape of cycling’s historical period.

Velocast ‘CycLego’ T-shirts

Followers of my Instagram account – @thejerseypocket - may have noticed a recurring feature popping up in recent pictures of me.. I’ve been rather taken by Velocast’s Lego cyclists T-shirts and have been slowly assembling the full set of the old-school racers. Having a couple of young children who are big fans of both cycling and the ubiquitous Danish plastic blocks has made this collection a little easier to explain away but the truth is that the majority of the riders whom Velocast have chosen to re-immortalise are the self-same heroes that I was watching whilst still mucking about with Lego in the first place – so the match-up is very apt.

Tom Simpson in classic black and white Peugeot kit; Eddy Merckx in the brilliant black and orange of Molteni; the young peloton-destroying ‘Professeur’ Fignon in the furiously slanting lines of Renault-Elf; Hinault and Lemond locked together in their famous tussle for control of the Mondrianesque La Vie Claire; and, of course, Robert Millar (complete with ponytail) resplendent in the Z-Vêtements jersey that, for me at least, marked the end of the classic cycling era.

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The range goes a bit further with Taylor Phinney and Marianne Vos but it’s the old school guys that really took my fancy. It’s hard to pick a favourite. I like the Hinault/Lemond double because it tells a story but I wear Eddy the most. The slightly smaller-sized figure on the jersey works better I think, and as Eddy won practically everything else it seems right he should win this little battle too.

The T-shirts are available at the velocast.cc shop priced £25.

Every Bike I Have Ever Owned.. UPDATED

1. Red tricycle with white wheels – Got the front wheel caught in a drainhole on our drive one summer day, flipped over the top and scraped the hell out of my 3 year old bare belly. Ouch. And, yes, that is me below… 

trikes April 1976

2. Purple 2 wheeler – solid wheels. Learnt to ride on that one… My sister is on it here. I’m on my brother’s old blue bike and he is on his new green Raleigh Strika.. Just don’t mention his white wheels – found by my dad as an emergency replacement the day before his birthday (the original ones both punctured) – they were not well received.

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3. Silver Raleigh Strika – Sadly not the back-pedal brake model.. Loved the fake plastic ‘suspension’ parts on the front forks. I eventually outgrew it. The picture shows it on one of it’s last outings: an early cycle-touring set-up for a weekend away in November 1985.

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4. Blue Raleigh Viper. 5 speed. Drop Handlebars. Christmas present – 1985. I thought I was the Boss on this. I flipped and chopped the bars and eventually sold it about six years later.

5. Chrome Bomber – bought from the Classifieds in the Hull Daily Mail. First bike I paid for. (Absolutely no idea where this one went.. Possibly into the River Hull for a dare.) This is the only picture of it I can find. My sister is riding the converted Viper 5.

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6. Raleigh Flyer 10 speed. White with Blue Saddle. Did the Coast to Coast and back aged 15 with my brother on this aged 14. Can still feel the saddle now. (Stolen – Paragon Hotel Hull, Saturday Job)

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7. Raleigh Montage mountain bike. Green. Non-indexed thumb shifters. First Mountain Bike. (Stolen – outside paper shop – walked my  paper round for f***ing months afterwards)

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8. Purple Kuhii Unique. Bloody Heavy – Have never seen this make anywhere else… (Had it for years. Finally stolen – RCA, London, 1999) Not only do I not have a picture of this one – the entire internet doesn’t either…

9. Giant Mountain bike. Replaced the Kuhii. (Stolen after 3 weeks – RCA – not sadly missed – it was shit)

10. Kuhii Unique. (It turned up again at the RCA bike-stands with someone else’s lock on it. Put another lock on it and informed the Police. It was re-stolen the next day – RCA, London)

11. Silver & Purple Raleigh Scorpio. Given by a friend to ride a triathlon. (Still got the frame in the garage)

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12. Giant OCR 1. Thought I might have a future in triathlons. (Stolen after 2 months outside Shoreditch Electricity Showrooms , London)

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13. Langster Alu Single Speed. My first LFGSS forum bike. The “shit brown” one. My first build. Resprayed it grey and loved it (Stolen 2011 – Blackheath)

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14. Corvino Road bike. LFGSS frame and a load of parts. Stripped it to bare aluminium. (Was stolen at the same time as the Langster. Saw it being ridden in Greenwich Park and took it back. My fiancee rides it now)

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15. Specialized Epic Pro 1994 frame  Carbon Tubes, Alu Lugs – Lovely. (LFGSS – still got and cherish – especially now I’ve finally managed to sort out the knee pain it gave me on long rides)

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16. Cinelli Zydeco Cross frame . – Ride this every day, though I have put gears on it now. Entered my one race on this. 7th in the Rapha SuperCross Novice race 2012. (LFGSS – still got)

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17. Continental 1970’s frame- single speed pub bike. (Ebay plus parts bin – Pub bike – still got). UPDATE: this is now being redone for the Tweed Run and L’Eroica Britannia 2013.

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18. Panasonic 1990’s MTB – A departing neighbour gave me this recently. All steel, all original, all fun.

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A Match Made in (Hair) Heaven – Team Giant Alpecin

There is only one big cycling news story today.. Even if Tony Martin somehow manages to muck up the Men’s ITT over at the World’s in Ponferrada, the screaming headline of le jour is that Giant Shimano – home of one Marcel Kittel – is teaming up with a turbo-charged German shampoo company next year and will be known as Giant Alpecin. It truly is a match made in Hair Heaven.

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I wrote a piece recently in praise of Kittel’s coiffure – The Jersey Pocket – Hair of the Cog - and managed to shoe-horn in a sentence about how balding Alejandro Valverde might benefit from a move to the Pro-conti Alpecin team. A jokey one-liner. Three weeks later we have something akin to the mountain coming to Muhammed and the whole of the cycling Twitter-verse is engaging in hair-based puns and barnet banter. The burning question now is whether @Giant_Alpecin adopt the Giant Shimano #keepchallenging hashtag or whether they choose change it to #keepfollicallychallenging. 

As I said before – you hair’d it here first folks.

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Lanterne Rouge by Max Leonard – Book Review

Finishing last in professional sport is not usually a cause for celebration. The aim is to win, to conquer, to vanquish. To the victor the spoils and all that. It’s a pretty Darwinian landscape out there. Thrive and survive or falter and fade. But even in Nature occasionally something unusual happens. The weakling persists; the unsuited somehow clings on, the underdog has his day.

Grand Tour cycling is unusual too. Unusually long, unusually hard, unusually constructed. Just finishing the gruelling three-week stage race is entry to an exclusive club; one that automatically carries the mark of a survivor. Seen through some eyes there are no losers at all. “I’m not last.” insisted Iker Flores when he was in just that position at the 2005 Tour de France, “Make no mistake. 200 came here. I am 120th. In another race I might be last. But not here.”

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The Tour de France in particular has a long rich history of celebrating the man who arrives in Paris last. Founder Henry Desgrange’s publicly-stated aim that “The ideal Tour would be one in which only one rider survives the ordeal” makes every finisher a winner in some sense and Max Leonard’s engaging book Lanterne Rouge – The Last Man in the Tour de France (Yellow Jersey Press. RRP £16.99 Hardcover, £6.99 Kindle) on the history and mindsets of these “Lanterne Rouges” is just that; a celebration. He examines the reasons behind the longevity of and affection for this most historical of ‘wooden spoons’, talks with numerous Lanternes to see how they view their ‘achievement’, and ponders what place such an accolade has in their (and our) lives.

For some the reasoning is quite plain. In past decades the ‘fame’ that accompanied being last-placed in the Tour made it a much more lucrative option than finishing tenth from last – or even tenth overall – and so, for some, it became a goal in its own right. Being Lanterne Rouge (named after the red light that was traditionally hing form the last train carriage to help station masters know that none had become unhooked) guaranteed exposure for the rider’s sponsors and invites to the all-important post Tour exhibition criteriums for the rider himself. For some the goal of finishing last became a positive aim rather than just the consolation prize it began its life as, and throughout the book Leonard recounts tales of riders using all their racing guile, experience and tactical inventiveness in order to make the fine judgement between losing bundles of time and finishing within the time-cut. 

In looking for the essence of the Lanterne Leonard inevitably unearths a few of the characters of the sport. The Lanterne who battled through through early sickness and then managed a stage win over the great Eddy Merckx later in the same race; the exotic North-African who reckoned he was poisoned and then expertly spun his own PR in order to stay in the headlines; the brothers were both Lanterne Rouge during the reign of Lance Armstrong. With chapters covering almost every decade since the race’s inception in 1903, the book also acts as an historical mirror to the privations of those who undertook La Grande Boucle. The tale of Jules Nempon – the sole surviving ‘unsupported’ rider of 1919 – is particularly illuminating. He tracks some of the surviving Lanternes down – men like triple Lanterne Wim Vansevenant, epic baradour Sandy Casar and the man who probably fought ‘hardest’ of all to be Lanterne Rouge, Gerhard Schönbacher but others escape him – most notably Philippe Gaumont – but again, this just adds to the story as it is understandable that some might not cherish their award as dearly as others. 

Leonard’s own battles on the bike also feature in the book. His writing style is both engaging and engaged. His journey along the road of discovery is a much a part of the book as the reminisces of the pro riders who suffered so mightily to finish dead-last. His trials and tribulations interviewing the Lanternes is his own Grand Tour with good days and bad days. I heard Max talk about the book at the Rapha Tempest Festival back in July and found his enthusiasm for the subject quite captivating. As we saw in Yorkshire, the Tour is a huge beast these days with the gaze often relentlessly focussed on the winning and the winners but these little sideways looks at the sport – like Charly Wegelius’ excellent ‘Domestique‘ - offer a new persepctive and understanding to the races that we often feel that we know so well.

Today’s Lanterne Rouges – more comfortably paid and looked after than their predecessors – do not need the limelight in same the way that their earlier counterparts did and enjoy relative anonymity these days. This summer Giant Shimano’s Ji Cheng was the most recent to join the roll-call of Lanternes. Quite fittingly, he will not be the last.

Lanterne Rouge – The Last Man in the Tour de France

Bonne Anniversaire – Robert Millar

Happy Birthday Robert Millar
TdF King of the Mountains 1984

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Until the arrival of Sky, Wiggins and Froome, Robert Millar’s 1984 King of the Mountains title and 4th place overall was Britain’s best Tour de France finish. Cruelly robbed of a win in the 1985 Vuelta and often over-raced by his teams, Millar never flew so high again.

An enigmatic character on and off the bike Millar ploughed a lonely furrow through his early life and disappeared into relative obscurity once his career ended, prompting a book by Richard Moore to go “In Search Of Rober Millar”. He now writes a column for cycling news and is seen at occasional events.

In honour of his birthday I’ll be riding in full Peugeot kit today.