Mud, Sweets & Beards – Rapha Supercross 2014

I’ve talked before about things often come along in three’s and that was the case again last weekend when a triple bill of ‘Red Hot Cycling Action’ hit the capital. Round One of the 2014-15 Revolution Series was spread across Friday & Saturday at the Olympic Velodrome; Supercross – Rapha’s annual mud-fest up at Alexandria Palace was scheduled for Saturday; and then there was the small matter of The London Sports Writing Festivals cycling extravaganza in the refined locale of Lord’s cricket ground on Sunday. Seriously, what is a blogger to do when faced with such time-consuming (and partially overlapping) choices? Spending the better part of 72 hours doing nothing but ‘cycling stuff’ was, of course, an attractive option on the surface but not really a viable option. – especially as Mrs TJP was out on Friday night and I was home looking after the kids. The fact that I may have also been using this time to prepare my ‘cross bike is, also of course, irrelevant..

Supercross has become a bit of an annual family pilgrimage for The Jersey Pocket clan so that was always on the cards. This was the fourth they’ve attended (I’ve only been to three: they went without me last year when I was called away to San Francisco for work at short-notice). Revolution will come around again (pun absolutely intended) to London in February 2015 for the series final so I felt OK about giving it a miss this time. I dropped out of my usual Sunday morning ride to do a little bit extra for the home/cycle balance before LSWF. The four day festival (covering tennis, football, rugby, running, cricket and cycling) didn’t quite get onto my radar early enough last year but having read the reports from the twitter-lines I didn’t want to miss out again. I’ll be doing a separate article about the festival soon.

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Having spent much of Friday evening cursing my continued inability to readily set-up and keep a smoothly functioning set of indexed gears on any bike that comes into my possession I felt that I was suitably psyched up for a bit of cyclocross. A bit of explosive riding around a small circuit of mud, climbs and other obstacles would have been a perfect outlet for my frustration. The trouble was that my race wasn’t until the very late afternoon so as we made our way across London the rest of the family got the majority of my ire. I’m not that competitive really so I ride the ‘Novice/Fun’ race at Supercross. It’s the one where fancy dress is encouraged and you ride through foam and/or take a shot of tequila to go down a short-cut. The crowd really gets behind everyone – especially those drinking tequila – and, as the name suggests, it’s a ton of fun.

For the first time our two young sons were in separate age categories so we were able to support them individually as they traversed the shortened version of the track that Juniors, Youth, Seniors, Vets and Elite rider’s would use across the day. They both completed their age group races – a first for the youngest – and got around without requiring hospital attention, which would have put a dampener on the day seeing as it wasn’t yet lunchtime. The elder one did take a heavy fall on a tight corner out of the exposed hillside descent and my first reaction was that he had broken his collarbone but – to his credit and to my surprise – he had a little cry (he’s only 8) before looking me squarely in the eye and firmly uttering the immortal words “Put me back on my bike.” It was then my turn to choke back the tears as I pushed him off to complete a further two laps and roll in last.

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With their races done by 11.30am and mine not due to start until 4.15, we cast around for something to while away the hours. crepes were consumed, frites were finished, coffee was chugged and shared bacon-burgers were consigned to a number of rumbly tummies. That took us up till about 12 o’clock. The non-racing side of the Supercross was somewhat smaller this year and the lack of the Look Mum No Hands stall – usually located in the middle of the course – meant that you were either watching the racing or eating & drinking in the ‘paddock’ area to the side. It was pretty hard to do both at the same time and I thought this was a bit of a shame.

The winning kids had their own mini podium presentation halfway through the day, with the top 3 places being gifted Rapha bidons filled with sweets. The Under 8’s and Under 10’s could hardly believe their luck – Haribo?! Brilliant! As the presentations continued – and you have to feel sorry for the poor soul who was handed the sheet to read out that was immediately challenged by the parents of the child who had been wrongly marked down a place – you could see the shift in preference for the bottle over the sweets unfold before your eyes. It just started to reveal itself in the Under 12 category, who were pretty chuffed with both carrier and contents, whilst the Under 14’s probably felt that just an empty bidon would have been more fitting. As the older kids clambered down from the stage the remaining Haribo was offered as a free-for-all to the other competitors, who fell upon it like a plague of locusts ensuring that everyone came away happy.

remounting

The course was quite different from previous ones that I have seen before. After the usual starting straight blast and the plunge down a quickly rutted grassy curve it stayed much longer down the hill with a long wooded trail section at the bottom end which – though fast and fun – took riders out of sight for what felt like an age. After a couple of wind-exposed switchbacks on the viewable area the route ramped up steeply on a brutally boggy hill that led to a tough sweeping section closer (but further away than usual) to the ridge-top Palace with it’s bristling TV antennae.  A technical run then took the riders back down through the woods towards the start-finish line. I headed out onto the course during the break between one of the Youth and Junior races to get the feel of it and was glad to see that the sharp turn onto the loosely gravelled start/finish road had been omitted. Instead the route went straight over and then arced back up to the road at a more forgiving angle. As I sailed past I was intrigued by an enormously large,tripod-supported black tube that was, for now, pointing skywards like a vast artillery piece. Surely this couldn’t be the promised Foam Cannon? It would have looked more at home in the hands of a galactic fleet laying siege to an off-world colony of rebels.

There are always more than a few familiar faces at Supercross but it was definitely unexpected to see @DanFromNam, Dan Craven, the bearded Europcar pro road rider, hanging around the elite teams vans. Even more unexpected to see him in cycling kit toting a Colnago cross bike. It turns out that he has always wanted to ride at Supercross and he was Rapha’s guest for the day. “How many cross races have you done before?” I inquired. “None” he replied with a anxious rub-down of the famous beard, “This will be my first. I’ve always wanted to do it but I thought I was doing the tequila and foam one. I’ve never ridden cross before and they told me yesterday that I’m riding with the Elites. I’m going to come last..”. My pint-sized eight year old piped up in response, keen to get one over the pro he had watched in the recent Vuelta, “”I’ve done three.” he said proudly. “And so has he” he continued, pointing at his half-pint brother. Dan smiled politely but stopped short of asking them for race advice. Just as well really, they hadn’t given me even the slightest hint about the best lines, suitable tyre pressure or the state of the parcours. Honestly, anyone would think they were just here for the fun of it. He did generously give them a quick geography lesson about Namibia before going back to his preparation.

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Before Dan got to race with the Elites the long, gruelling Senior races had to be held. We’d missed most of the Under 12’s and Youth races eating and chatting but the Women’s race was in full flight as we returned to watching. I managed to glean some info about approach trajectories and speeds but knew it be another baptism of fire once I got onto the course. The Women’s race was immediately followed by the Men’s race, which at just under 50 minutes was the longest of the day. The Men’s senior winner had an average lap time of  5’44” – midway between the Women’s senior average of 6’30” and the Elites of just under 5 minutes. It’s always good to see the top competitors on the course before you get to ride as you can see what lines they are taking and which parts they are avoiding. Dan acquitted himself admirably but – just like me and my boys – was never going to be troubling the podium. Jody Crawford of Hargroves took his third Supercross win in two weeks for a clean sweep of the 2014 top spots, whilst Round 2 winner Annie Simpson of Hope held off Round 1 winner Amira Mellor of Team Yorkshire in the women’s Elite. Between them they had locked out the top two positions across the three rounds.

As the Elite racer’s finished their race I was doing a little half-hearted warming up in the carpark/paddock. Mrs TJP had taken the boys home by now so I was relying on a few LFGSS friends and some neighbours for vocal support. The promise of sleepovers and Minecraft were just about good enough substitutes for the kids to offset the possibility of seeing Dad be killed by – cue extra loud voiceover by Supercross announcer Matt Payne – “Europe’s. Largest. Foam. Cannon.” but for the second time in a week I found myself being asked to bequeath my bikes to someone (the eight year-old this time) if I didn’t make it through the next few hours alive. (The other time is finely nuanced story involves me, Oleg Tinkoff, the UCI having fit and proper persons test for team-owners and pictures of tits. Follow my Twitter feed if you feel the need to know the full story..

blurry tequila

By now the Tequila Shortcut had been opened and it was becoming clear that it offered a frankly massive advantage. Apparently there were complaints  that the ‘shortcut’ wasn’t significant enough last year. No such accusation could be levelled this year. For the shortened Fun Race route, which omitted the sweeping top section after the boggy hill climb, opting for Tequila Shortcut knocked two and half minutes off a five minute lap.. With a 30 minute race scheduled I mentally calculated that at being 12 shots of tequila to have a chance of winning. As I said, I’m not that competitive. Nor am I that resilient to hard liquor. I decided on a one-off, one on strategy , hoping to enjoy the whole course a few times and to get the cheers in Tequila Alley a few times as well. I was a bit miffed then when the race was halted after twenty minutes.. That would have only been eight shots of tequila.. Nah, I still couldn’t have kept that down. As it was I managed five laps – 3 long and two tequila’s before the premature end.

I did survive the foam cannon – to the very slight and wholly temporary irritation of  the eight-year old. It was suitably impressive with one person who saw a posted photograph of the scene asking where they had brought all the snow in from. Yep, it was a veritable glacier of foam and I am glad to report that (this time) I stayed upright through it. They switched it off after three laps as to was threatening to drown the riders. I won’t deny that there was a fall, courtesy of a tricky tree root down in the far corner of the circuit but as no-one saw it, it probably doesn’t count., And best of all, like my sons, I also had a moment of one-upmanship on the Grand Tour-riding road pro when I overtook Dan Craven running up the Boggy Hill. Even if we ignore the (very minor) fact that he had lined up for the Fun race straight after doing a 40 minute Elite race in a discipline he had never tried before, I think it’s fair to say that I’ve bested a pro-cyclist on a climb. Just to make sure the moment was marked I may also have mentioned that I reckoned he had ‘overdone his warm-up’ as I squelched past..

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I caught up with Dan again after the race. Of course he had gone ‘Full Tequila'; throwing down “six or seven.?” he guessed, much to the repeated delight of the crowd.  He shared that he had really enjoyed the day, despite the Elite race anxiety, and I reckon that is the whole point. My eldest one almost broke his collarbone and loved it. I hopelessly missed out on my stated goal of a top ten finish and loved it. Elsewhere people were puking tequila and loving it. Dan hadn’t come last in the Elite race and was certainly loving that – he was still sitting on his top tube in the carpark/paddock talking to all and sundry as we left after the presentations. Top man.

foam dan

Rapha has a tendency to polarise people, with many coming down on the side of “it’s expensive & posh & elitist”. Of all the marketing things that they do I feel that Supercross is one of the most accessible and most engagable. For a start it’s free to attend and it is rapidly becoming a global concern, with similar events in Australia, Germany, Japan and the US this year. The freely distributed cowbells, which have become a signature of the event, are another sign that this really is more about the racing than brand-building. For my money – and I did stump up the princely sum of £15 to enter myself and the boys – the rudimentariness of some aspects of the day – the farting PA, the timing chip discrepancies, and the “We’ve sold out of chips but you can have three Tunnocks for a quid.. oh and about three free bananas as well..” from the food stall is just what I want from a cycle race. Sure, it might convince some to go and buy something from Rapha’s (very nice) cyclocross range but, in my experience, it’s much more likely to convince them to have a go at Supercross itself next year.

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A friend rode the the Seniors Race with a GoPro and posted this final lap video to Youtube:

B&W Photography courtesy of Amey Gokarn | Video courtesy of Howard Stredwick

The Cycling Anthology Volume 5 – Book Review

It is a strange feeling to realise that I have not reviewed a Cycling Anthology before. They have popped up on the blog in the past on Christmas wish lists and the launch of Volume 4 featured, tangentially at least, in my Portrait of The Cycling Podcast feature but I must admit that I was somewhat chastened to find I’ve not previously written specifically about these excellent collections of original writing. As the series now reaches Volume 5 the time has come to rectify such a glaring oversight.

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The premise of the Anthologies remains simple: get the very best cycling journalist’s around and give them free rein to write, at length, on a subject of their own choosing, and share the sales income equally. It’s an appealingly noble formula that has served editors Ellis Bacon and Lionel Birnie well over the editions and Volume 5 – the second to be published by Yellow Jersey Press (RRP £8.99, paperback) – is no exception. The range and quality of the writing is as high as ever and this edition can be seen as a particularly strong one.

In the latest offering, alongside Bacon and Birnie who both offer excellent chapters, are such notable cycling stalwarts as Brendan Gallagher, Jeremy Whittle, Francois Thomazeau, Edward Pickering, Andy McGrath, Matt Beaudin, Daniel Friebe, and Matt McGeehan. The ten chapters range widely; going back as much as a century historically and as far as Columbia geographically. We find treatises on that most elusive of cycling qualities: panache, alongside a revealing look at the Tour de France’s least well known director, Jean-Francois Naquet-Radiguet.. Who? Well, exactly. We have a report from the 2014 Track World Champs in Cali, Columbia and an elegy to the forgotten Pyrenean summit finish in Superbagneres. All are good reads in their own right but collected together in short chapter form they give us a fantastic tasting-plate of words that the authors have really invested their hearts and souls into.

The stand-out chapters for me this time around are equally varied. The volume rightfully opens with Brendan Gallagher’s “Soldiers of the Road”, covering his thoughts on the centenary of the start of World War I, as seen through the veil of the cyclists who fought (and often perished) in the conflict. As well as discussing the three Tour winners who died, Lapize, Faber and Petit-Breton, Gallagher also contextualises the War in terms of the bicycle itself. A key military ‘vehicle’ at the time, it is estimated that over 100,000 British soldiers served ‘a la velo‘ during the Great War. The number for the French and Belgians is significantly higher. The sheer scale of the conflict is always bewildering but, as usual, it’s the human touch that hits home hardest. Gallagher’s poignant revelations about reconnaissance cyclist Henry Parr, the very first British soldier to be killed in the fighting, bring the madness and confusion of war home in the most personal way. His loss serves as a marker for all those who followed.

Loss of a different kind is covered excellently by Andy McGrath in his chapter “The Search For Joey McLoughlin”. McLoughlin was a promising Liverpudlian rider in the  late 1980’s, the winner of the 1986 Milk Race, who, like many before, headed to the Continent to fulfil his pro-cycling dreams. A contract with the Z-Peugeot team in 1988 that should have been the start of something great was really the beginning of the end. He returned to England and retired a year later, aged just 26. A few years later he disappeared completely, nit just from his cycling friends and work associates but also from his family and relations as well. McGrath starts the process of tracking him down but it will take more time and a longer story to solve this particular mystery.

Elsewhere, Matthew Beaudin’s “The Sounds of Cycling”, an aural analysis of the 2014 Tour de France, is a structural tour de force – a brilliant conceived and executed diary of a month away from home, as told through the audible assault that defines the chaos of the Tour. It’s quite wonderful. Similarly bold is Ellis Bacon’s retelling of the same Tour in rhyming verse. I must admit that I approached this chapter with significant apprehension but Bacon manages the seemingly impossible and actually leaves you wanting more. Chapeau indeed sir..

The four preceding volumes are also still available and have become a valued repository of cycling fact and cycling whimsy in my house. Even at the distance of such an overdue review, I would heartily recommend them all..

The Cycling Anthology Volume 5 will be released on 6th November.

Parkour Ride – Road vs Fixed vs BMX vs Mountain Bike.

It’s the banging on the safety barriers that tells us they are coming. A wave of frenetic beating rising up from below, masking the announcer’s urgent voice and even threatening the pumping music which is bouncing around the concrete walls of the multi-storey carpark. Overhead a police helicopter clatters, searching for something off near The River whilst just to the North the clustered towers of The City glare provocatively in the fading dusk light, finally hiding the last of the unseasonal October sun which followed the earlier autumnal rain. The announcer’s muffled exhortations become ever more drowned out by the banging as the riders approach the roof but then, as they burst out of the dark cavern-like mouth onto level 10, the crescendo dissipates as it released from the pressured confines of below and the experience becomes visual. Two riders, almost side by side, flash past our vantage point, caught in the arc-lights illuminating the course. The first is clad in a vest top – a stark contrast to the full face helmets, goggles and body armour that many are wearing –  crouched low over his bike, legs pumping like pistons as he tries to keep up with his low single gear; the other is up higher on a 24-inch wheeled trail bike, wearing jeans, ponytail tied back away from her exposed face, which is a study of concentration as she looks for a line through the twisting turns ahead. It’s like a still shot from a wider movie, a blurred sports photo. A fraction of a second later they are over the jumps and looping around the roof, preparing to plunge back down into the dry-iced darkness for a surging run to the finish line on Level 0. No quarter is being asked for and none is being given. We hear the barrier noise recede, following the riders as the dive downwards, and the announcer’s words come back into clarity. She’s overtaken her rival on the descent and takes the win. She will race again. He’s out. The announcer calls for “Energy, Energy, Energy” and the music is notched up another level as the next riders head to the start gate. Welcome to Parkour Ride.

Parkour Ride 2014

Bike racing usually follows a set of prescribed rules. Road bikes race against other road bikes on roads. BMX’ers take on fellow BMX’ers on BMX tracks, Mountain bikes ride mountain trails and Fixed Geared bikes pit themselves against the cross-town traffic and each other in city centre ‘Alley Cat’ races. And never the twain shall meet. Until now that is. ParkourRide is a new concept for bike racing – bringing together all these disciplines and pitting them against each other in a venue which is part race-track and part nightclub. And it goes further than that by giving amateur riders the chance to qualify to ride against the top pro riders in the evening finals. Conceived and now realised by FACE Partnership, the promotion company behind the Revolution and Nocturne Series events, it’s certainly a winning idea on paper. The Jersey Pocket went over to Tobacco Dock in Wapping last weekend to see how it worked in practice.

Tobacco Dock is located pretty much in the heart of London but is nonetheless overlooked. Cut off by the river to the South, the A1205 Highway road to the North and with old docks to both the East and the West, it’s one of those lost areas that fell into decay some years ago and hasn’t yet hauled itself out. A protrusion left behind by the loss of river traffic. There are now some new trendy developments on the riverside itself but head in the opposite direction from Wapping rail station and the grittiness ramps up as quickly as the inclines in the unused car-park that is Parkour Ride’s home for the weekend. Two full size pirate ships – built as an attraction for the long since doomed shopping centre which the carpark was built for – lie marooned in concrete next door. Hand-painted signs have long since half bleached out in the sun, leaving cryptic messages and glyphs for pondering over, whilst the early day rain lends a forlorn air to the puddled streets outside. At least it’s dry inside.

Don’t get me wrong – this is the perfect place for Parkour Ride. There is no-one within hearing distance to mind the loud music and the tight, twisting turns of the multi-storey car-park will present some real challenges to the riders. I arrive in the early afternoon just as the second round of amateur rider time trials are getting underway. One hundred have turned up to contest the top 20 spots which will be given a crack at the pro-riders in front of the paying punters in the evening session. The time trials are just a single rider against the clock. The battles with two riders going head-to-head will also come later.

Even by multi-storey car-park standards Tobacco Dock is a challenging course. It’s not big, it’s not wide and (apart from the very odd steel-beamed carpark at Bridgwater Services on the M5) it’s also the lowest car park I can think of. Riders wearing Go-Pro’s on top of their helmets were in serious danger of losing them to the arching concrete on the ceilings as they strove to post a time of around one minute to make the cut. FACE had spent much of Friday making things even harder for the riders; adding rollers, jumps, berms, narrowed areas and cross-over points. The riders would have use of one set of car ramps as their course whilst the punters would have the other, spiralling up and down through various levels of bars and sponsored activity areas. Not that there is much activity for now. With the crowds yet to come the amateurs are having to do with impressing the remains of the set-up crew, a small army of stewards and the usual few hangers-on who have come in early. I count myself in that last lot.

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There are a few familiar faces amongst the amateurs: roadies and fixed-gear nuts who have crossed my path before. There are also lot of strange looking creatures flying around the course, the likes of whom I rarely get to meet. BMX’ers. MTB’ers, Trials-riders and Paramedics. What’s that? Paramedics? Yep, one of the bike-riding members of the St John’s Ambulance team has donned a race number and headed out on the course on his work bike with the full paramedic pannier set up. Incredibly he catches some air off the roof-top ramp and posts a time of 1’02” to slot neatly into the current Top 20. I grab him at the finish line to get the lowdown on this two-wheeled ‘Air Ambulance’. He’s standing with Dave Hemmings – the former MTB British champion who is currently lying in 3rd place – who is as impressed with the ride as I am. It turns out that the medic has a bit of form; Tom Lynch is also a former British Champion (in BMX) but his impromptu entry sums up everything that is good about the inclusive nature of the event for me. As the afternoon progresses his time doggedly hangs on in the Top 20 and cuttingly it’s only the very last amateur ride of the second session who squeezes him out. Ryan Stack’s run not only edges Tom into 21st place but also pushes everyone down one place as he posts the fastest time of the day. The rain had stopped by this time and there’s no doubt that the drying track was running faster but Stack’s time of 56″.107 is almost a second faster than Rob Reed’s second place. The young BMX’er from London is obviously one to keep an eye on later in the day.

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As the final times come in there is chance to take stock and see how the different bike disciplines fared. None of the fixed or road riders were able to make it into the finals so they will only be represented by George Garnier, the sole pro who is riding fixed, and recently retired Garmin-Sharp road rider David Millar, whose connection with FACE goes back over a decade and who is here already, sinking a beer on the roof, accompanied by his wife, sister and mum. The tightness of the course has obviously favoured the smaller bikes and already FACE are thinking about how to even up the odds for next year. Starting the race from lower down in the carpark is suggested, as is making the BMX’ers go a longer way around. It’s clear that the organisers want a fairer fight..

Amongst those who missed out on the finals this time are Jess Morgan and Sam Dunn – the only two women who rode the amateur heats. FACE have made sure that two of the ten pro riders are female; Downhill World Champ Manon Carpenter and Team MuleBar rider & TV presenter Anna Glowinski; but only four out of almost 110 riders is something else that the organisers should look to improve. Both Jess and Sam – good friends, whose times were split by exactly one-tenth of a second – were happy to be flying the flag for the girls though and turned their competitive energies to the Rollapaluza stand instead. I was all for the girls vs guys scenario on the night as it seemed a natural extension of the “Choose Your Weapon” tagline that FACE had devised to promote the Road vs Fixed vs MTB vs BMX ethos of the event. Everyone lumped in together and battling hard. But Anna gave me a different take on it later, which FACE may want to ponder before holding the next event. “I always kick up a fuss when there aren’t separate male and female races; I don’t think it’s a good thing for encouraging women to give it a go. With a two storey sprint up a hill the guys are gonna be a lot faster. What chance then do ordinary females have of qualifying?! An event I did once with Red Bull – The Fox Hunt with Gee Atherton – was open to all and only 2 girls raced. Last weekend Red Bull did the same event, just for women, with [his sister] Rachael Atherton…150 women raced! I believe separate categories are needed to get women racing.”

Amateur rider Jess Morgan agrees, but qualifies that by saying that she is also conflicted about whether a separate Women’s Event would be best. “On one hand I really liked the lack of segregation as it echoed the lack of boundaries between the amateurs and pro’s and type of bikes used – the race was about as meritocratic as you could possibly get – but, on the other hand, I [was the] the fastest amateur female [and] came #82 out of #88 overall. Strength is relative and in a female-only category you’ll see aggressive and exciting racing, whereas in mixed races all too often it’s the girls who are unceremoniously spat out of the back. It’s a bit of a catch 22. You can keep the structure as it is and accept that the majority of women will fail to qualify, or you can segregate it which would probably attract more women to enter but lose the ‘lack of boundaries concept’ which makes it so appealing in the first place. In the end I’d go for the latter, to draw attention to women’s cycling, to make the racing more exciting, to get more women in the final event and to give the spectators more races to watch.”

In the deepest bowels of the carpark, below the ground level where there are at least some half-barred windows letting in light, are the Rider’s Pits. Without the glamour of the disco lighting of the public areas above but with the music constantly reminding everyone what is happening up top, the area has the feeling of the staging areas below the Colosseum. Incongruities abound. Bikes, helmets and other kit lies around, awaiting retrieval. A full-sus MTB, finished in three different shades of outrageous neon, stands next to a stripped-down fixie; like a pumped-up mastiff glaring over a cocksure whippet. Nearby David Millar’s $15,000 Cervelo S5 is casually tucked between a steel protection barrier and a grimy wall. Across the dingy space a single mechanic, from sponsors Giant, does the few adjustments and repairs that are required. It’s a far cry from the start village of a Grand Tour. And all the better for it.

Rider Pit

Down here too, in the murky area below the arena where the dry ice sinks and obscures the vision, are our Gladiators. They cluster in small circles, sitting on their top tubes, sharing stories with each other; comparing equipment, techniques and times. And, of course, eyeing up the opposition. Head-to-head racing is an unusually confrontational format for bikes and by the time the evening session starts the tension is palpable. This is something totally new thing for both the Pro’s and the Amateurs alike. The Rule Book is yet to be written and, at this stage at least, anything could happen. An increase in activity from the announcer let’s us know that the crowds are coming in and the real racing is about to get started.

The pro-riders get their chance to have a go on the course as the sun-sinks and the car-park fills up. Just like the amateurs they get one slow-paced orientation run and then an individual timed run which will slot them into the seedings for the head-to-heads. Unsurprisingly World BMX No. 1 and, perhaps more importantly for today, Parkour Ride course designer Liam Phillips posts the best time which is more than two and half seconds better the next pro, MTB’er Ricky Crompton, and a whopping 3 seconds faster than Ryan Stack amateur benchmark. As fastest pro’s Phillips and Crompton get a bye from the first round of head-to heads and of the other pro’s only Anna Glowinski’s time is slower than that of ousted paramedic Tom Lynch but her passage to the next round at least is guaranteed.

Glowinski was nervous before her first race; she had told me as much before she headed up out of the pits to the starting gate for her match against one of the middle ranked amateurs. She felt conscious that her pro status meant that she was being judged as equal to  “Real World champions” but her first effort, when she came from behind on that first match up, did much to set aside the doubts that she had unnecessarily harboured. “I was convinced I was going to really embarrass myself! I really, really had low expectations for myself, esepcially being in the “Pro” catagory but I knew a load of friends would be there and I was really excited about trying something new on a bike so I really wanted to get stuck in. It was having a crowd there that made me nervous, not the course; that was just really fun. And in the end it worked out fine, I raced well and had a right laugh.” A chest infection can’t have helped either but Glowinski was glowing with pride and exhilaration by the time she made it back down from that run and she would approach her next match-up (against fellow pro rider Sam Pilgrim) with far more confidence.

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Dave Hemmings had taken a lot of confidence into his first head to head against fellow MTB amateur James Parsons but an overcooked corner saw him take the first nasty looking fall of the day. The multi-level racing meant that, despite reasonably extensive closed circuit TV coverage showing the action form the various levels on screens around the site, it was easy to miss some key moments. I didn’t understand what had befallen Dave until I saw him later on – out of his race kit and back in the Vulpine clothing of the company he now works for – and he showed me the road rash. He remained philosophical about his untimely exit whilst praising the event in general. “[It was] rider error; I caught some white paint and the front wheel went away so fast that I had no reaction to it. My hands were still on the bars as I went under the barriers upside down. I feel confident I would have made it to the quarters [but then] I would have raced Liam Phillips, I would have gone out for sure in that round. The atmosphere is amazing and the vibe is great between all riders. The course was good going up. I would have made it at least another two floors of upward racing to give the MTB’s and road bikes a better chance against the BMX’s and I would have liked to have had more than just one practise run to fully set my bike up for the conditions. The whole event has so much scope. I can’t wait to do the next one..”

The organisers had actually expected a lot more spills and had built in plenty of time to deal with them. The lack of accident related downtime though did mean that there were longer periods between races at times and the atmosphere did dip somewhat at these moments. A shorter timescale, or some kind of exhibition riding between races would maybe have helped keep the event building towards the dramatic climax.

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David Millar and George Garnier weren’t able to make it out of their first head-to-heads. Millar had put in a storming time trial qualifier; going sub 58″ seconds on a road bike was an outstanding ride giving the course and the obstacles that had to be negotiated. He reckoned that he made up most of the time he had lost on the technical roof section with a barn-storming descent but he couldn’t repeat the trick against a mountain bike rode by amateur David Jacquin, who took an early lead over the lumps and held off the popular pro rider for the win. In all 8 of the 20 amateurs made it through the second knock-out round making it an even split in the last 16.

Manon Carpenter, resplendent in her rainbow stripes, won her second matchup but then came up against the mighty Liam Phillips, who must have already had one eye on the final. Tom Dowie, the third fastest pro qualifier was also making good progress through the round. Dowie, a bearded MTB rider was easy to spot amongst the increasingly common BMX helmets, and he made it through to the semi-finals alongside Phillips, local pro- rider Tre Whyte and our friend from the amateur heats Ryan Stack. Stack had already beaten an MTB and a couple of BMX’s on his way to the semi’s and now would face a best of three race-off against Dowie for one of the final spots. Phillips cooly dispatched Trey Whyte 2-0 on his side of the draw but Dowie fought back against Stack – confidently making the most of the inside lane in their second match – to take it to a popular decider. To the delight of the crowd, who were now mainly thronged around the start and finish lines, Stack prevailed to give the organisers a dream ticket final of the top ranked pro facing off against someone who had gone all the way through the afternoon qualifiers. As Dowie and Whyte raced each other for the third place honours (a battle which Whyte would win), Phillips took a moment alone behind the start line to compose himself. He looked pretty majestic waiting there, whilst Stack looked like a man who already had three more races in his legs than the favourite. “I never thought I would get this far” he confided whilst still remaining upbeat about his chances in the final race-off.


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So, here it was. BMX vs BMX. Top pro against top amateur. Twice they blasted out from the automatic start gate and twice they disappeared into the darkness out upon the roof jockeying for position but each time Phillips returned marginally ahead and stayed upright to the finish. Stack was never far off but at the end of a long and exhilarating day Phillips’ record was undefeated in all his races and a worthy champion.

After the presentations and a couple of last banging tracks from the Red Bull DJ’s, the crowd spilled out of the carpark back into the bleakness of a Wapping night with something akin to a post-club buzz going on. Ears still rang with the sounds of the evening, drinks were still in hand and plans were being made for what was to happen next. For many, Parkour Ride had been a great way to kick-off a long weekend and I reckon it’s fair to say that of the event as a whole: a great first time that was enjoyed by all but, having stood there with the crowds who were all just realising how big and crazy and loud and sweaty and messy it could be, you came away with the feeling that, with a few tweaks and a bit of a bigger budget, next time this thing will be massive..

Photos by AE Photos, Jake Lewis and Scott Pattenden. Used courtesy of FACE.

Additional Photography by Howard Smith & David Loosmore. Crash Photo via Dave Hemmings

More about history of Tobacco Dock here

Swimming Against The Tide  – Tsubasa Frameworks.

logo BW

D.o.i.n.g.

t.h.i.n.g.s

s.l.o.w.l.y.

a.n.d.

c.a.r.e.f.u.l.l.y.

has fallen out of fashion somewhat. We all see this in our everyday lives and, for the most part, we all go along with it; swept up by the ever quickening current that comes with each new turn of the tide. But we also see that some people choose to reject this acceleration of life and try to apply the brakes in some way. They choose to either fight the current or, occasionally, get out of the water altogether.

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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 up small photographic collections 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 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.