Politics and Sport clash in my cycling club.

This has been an interesting week to be a member of the National Clarion Cycling Club along with one of the regional sections, Fenland in my case.

The club had a motion submitted to conference to remove references to the socialist wording and useage of that word. A word that has historically underpinned the movement.

I joined Fenland in 1991 and (subject to a few spells away whilst living elsewhere in the country) have mainly ridden for them ever since.

The leanings towards the political ideaology of the clubs ‘Fellowship is life’ slogan has only come up periodically in my experiences and not to any sort of level that might make me feel like I am part of some influential party vying to run the country.

I have been aware of the history of the club. I know it is named after a newspaper and has strong ties to the suffragettes and the founder of the Labour Party.

I was vaguely aware of the clubs alliances with the Catalan people, but all of this seemed a long time ago and not especially relevant to myself and cycling in the 2000s.

Cycling is a sport and hobby for me, not a window into a world of party politics and of looking to insert my influence on others.

The motion went through unopposed so it would appear that in the main the membership were also a bit ambivalent to the modern day interpretation of the clubs mission statement in the same way I was. But not all.

There was already a “breakaway” movement down in London who started afresh (also under the Natoinal Clarion name) a while back and actually dialled up the political language and socialist values as part of their pitch for members. It looks like further defections could be on the cards with members who feel that the updating of the National Clarions statements to reflect newer more apolitical values is a step too far.

It’s a really interesting debate, but also one where friends have turned on friends and a lot of bad blood is being spilled. This has been mainly on Facebook.

For what it’s worth, I was content with the way the club presented its origins and history. Whilst not a hardcore socialist in any way, I am delighted that my cycling club has a story, and had been influential in society over the years of its history.

I think that history should most definitely be protected and valued.

However, society feels like it has never been more mistrusting of any sort of political influence and I would never want anyone to miss out of joining Fenland Clarion if they felt they couldn’t based on how they might vote in an election.

I hope all sides can see sense and work for the future of the organisation, using a mix of the modern and historical to ensure that the Clarion is seen as historically rich but progressive and forward looking.

Over to the committee…

2021 Giro Retrospective

With a couple of weeks and plenty of racing having passed under our wheels since the Giro, it seems trite to call this piece a review so I have altered the title to reflect this!

The context of the race and its thrilling final days have been put into more perspective over recent days with the news that winner Egan Bernal has posted a positive Covid-19 test.

Its not especially clear as to whether this diagnosis could explain some of his late race trevails but it was certainly a more exciting Giro as a result of him slowing down in the run up to the final weekend.

The Columbian too the race leaders pink jersey on stage 9 and was seemingly cruising through the race with quiet dominance and backed up by a strong Ineos team.

He rode with calmness and composure on what could have been a tricky stage 11 over the Strade Bianche to Montalcino, a stage where Dan Martin unravelled and Remco Evenepoel started to show he was human.

The first week and a half had gone entirely to Sir Dave Brailsfords plan.

But as we got into the back end of the race, Simon Yates started to pick up pace and managed to distance the race leader on a couple of stages.

There was talk of a bad back for Bernal and in Dani Martinez he had a rider nursing him through and keeping him close to the other contenders.

If Bernal was the ultimate winner of the race, Martinez was man of the match, 100%.

The final road stage of the race was a mountainous one but Yates couldn’t take advantage and actually lost time to Bernal who was carefully managing his efforts despite being behind 2nd placed Damiano Caruso who won the stage.

The time trial was a formality and Bernal was able to get home and win his second grand tour.

This was a different beast to his yellow jersey with a vulnerability and reliance on his team that will stand him in good stead going forward.

Aside from the battle for the pink leaders jersey Peter Sagan won the points despite a fine for intimidation in the transitional part of the race.

Geoffrey Bouchard of Ag2R was the mountains winner after featuring in a number of key breakaways across the whole race.

There were notable stage wins from Taco van der Hoorn in week one when he kept the collective might of the peloton at bay in the closing stages to take an unlikely victory by only a handful of seconds.

Stage 13 saw the end of one of cyclings longest streaks of finishing top 3 in grand tour stage without winning with a popular sprint win for Giacomo Nizzolo who left it late to come over the top Edoardo Affini before breaking down in tears in the finishing zone.

This was a brilliant Giro for a whole number of reasons. The less than spring like weather made the racing harder and ensured that even on a “easy” day, it wasnt an easy day.

We had multiple breakaway winners, a trend that has carried on into the post Giro racing. This is great and for the first time since radios for the riders and mathmatical formulas to decide when to start the chase, the advantage is with the brave riders striking out off the front early in the stage.

Chapeau!

So now we get into the build up races for the Tour de France, a race that will have to create some brilliant memories to be better than this one…

Over to you France!

RnkPrev▼▲RiderTeamUCIPntTime
11 BERNAL EganINEOS Grenadiers85040086:17:28
22 CARUSO DamianoBahrain – Victorious6802901:29
33 YATES SimonTeam BikeExchange5752404:15
44 VLASOV AleksandrAstana – Premier Tech4602206:40
56▲1 MARTÍNEZ Daniel FelipeINEOS Grenadiers3802007:24
68▲2 ALMEIDA JoãoDeceuninck – Quick Step320190,,
75▼2 BARDET RomainTeam DSM2601808:05
87▼1 CARTHY HughEF Education – Nippo2201708:56
99 FOSS TobiasTeam Jumbo-Visma18016011:44
1010 MARTIN DanIsrael Start-Up Nation14015018:35

Beautiful Brittany – despite the current weather

I always feel that despite being hillier than Rutland, Brittany has a lot in common with my local region.

There is an exposed coast that we dont have here, but the short punchy climbs do have plenty in common and the ribinou farm tracks sit nicely alongside those sectors of farm track we use in our own Rutland CICLE classic.

I noted in a post recently that I was in mid flow about how Tro Bro Leon, a single day classic that showcases this area and its off road culture, was the best days racing of 2021 to date.

Then the Giro went over the Strade Bianche on a chilly Tuscan day and I had to take some time to reset.

However, I am still at pains to highlight the wonderful nature of Tro Bro and talk about the fact it had a British winner in Connor Swift.

Not only were there up and down hill off road segments to race, there was windy exposed coast line and far from living up to its unofficial tag as “the Hipsters classic” the race was proving to be a hard mans classic.

Swift was joined in a breakaway by local rider Olivier Le Gac of Groupama/FDJ and they drove on through the mud and past lush green hedges to fight out the finish.

Piet Allegaert, a Belgian with Cofidis was also in the move and despite clearly being the strongest, our lad Connor launched his sprint early to make sure.

This saw off Le Gac who was out of it but as Swift threw his hands of the bars to celebrate, Allegaert threw his bike forward leading to a close photo finish.

It was a dramatic end to a brilliant race that had weather, terrain and the riders making it so enjoyable a watch.

RnkRiderTeamUCIPntTime
1 SWIFT ConnorTeam Arkéa Samsic2001255:18:38
2 ALLEGAERT PietCofidis, Solutions Crédits15085,,
3 PLANCKAERT BaptisteIntermarché – Wanty – Gobert Matériaux12560,,
4 LE GAC OlivierGroupama – FDJ10050,,
5 TILLER RasmusUno-X Pro Cycling Team8545,,
6 DEGENKOLB JohnLotto Soudal70400:26
7 NAESEN OliverAG2R Citroën Team6035,,
8 WELTEN BramTeam Arkéa Samsic5030,,
9 LAPORTE ChristopheCofidis, Solutions Crédits4026,,
10 GENIETS KevinGroupama – FDJ3522,
from procyclingstats.com

We haven’t even mentioned Phillippe Gilbert attacking from the chasing group late on but not being able to make the top 10.

It’s one for my bucket list to go and watch and ride the course. I can’t wait.

Canadian pro team Rally Cycling posted this gallery which captures the mood perfectly…

The upcoming Giro marks a change in the season

Despite their being much disruption still across Europe and beyond, we have had a cycling season to enjoy and 2021 has delivered.

There have been a number of highlights in the classics and one week stage races to date and before we get into the Giro D’Italia let’s cover our top 3…

3. Mark Cavendish in the Tour of Turkey

“Cav” has come a long way from his tearful farewell to 2020.

After release from Bahrain/McLaren he was late in finding a team, but when he did it was a key move in returning to the Quickstep set up where (Harrogate aside) he had enjoyed constant success.

It took a while to click. There were a couple of Belgian semi-classic near misses and a fall when he was in the mix at Nokere Koerse.

He arrived in Turkey though and finally got the win. And then he won again. And then he kept winning.

The field of sprinters wasn’t deep the whingers cried.

But Jasper Philipsen is a top tier rider who had beaten Cav earlier in the campaign, and Andrei Griepel was still motivated to succeed.

Where the great mans season goes from here who knows.

But as he has said in interviews since getting back from Turkey, he has proved what he wanted to prove and now anything else he gets is a bonus.

2. Paris Nice Last Day

Fendrien covered this a lot at the time. Cycling is full of unwritten rules and rituals. One of which Primoz Roglic broke on the penultimate day of the race when refusing to gift a stage to Gino Mader who had been out in the days breakaway.

There was no need for Roglic to sprint and overtake Mader in the final metres of the stage as he had dropped his rivals and had no need for the win and time bonuses. He had the yellow jersey and the race was all but over.

The final day of the race seemed destined for formality before Roglic managed to crash twice, the second time the peloton decided to take its own retribution for how he’d treated the youngster on the previous day and rode on without waiting.

Two days of racing and two broken rules with race leaders gifting stages and the peloton waiting for race leaders after crashes up in smoke as the riders headed south through France.

Despite a spirited pursuit and a real desire not to give in, Roglic lost the race to Max Schachmann.

He learned his lesson though and later in the spring hauled in Tadej Pogacar and Brandy McNulty on the last day of the Tour of the Basque Country. However as a thanks to David Gaudu for helping his daring escape succeed and win him the race overall, Roglic didn’t sprint for the stage and the Frenchman won.

  1. Mathieu Van de Poel in Italy

You will be groaning to see that I have managed to shoehorn a couple of moments of MvdP magic into one bullet point.

You could also throw in his below par Milan San Remo performance as evidence you shouldn’t generalise.

But… two performances from the man of the season so far cannot be split by this correspondent.

First off was his 1600+ watt attack in Strade Bianche. It was a moment that regular cycling watchers will continue to rewind and replay for decades to come.

The fact he managed two of these accelerations, the second of which on the streest of Siena was enough to win the race should never be forgotten.

He proved that quick sharp attacks weren’t the only thing in his locker by attacking to keep warm on a icy wet day in Tirreno-Adriatico.

Castelfidardo is a town that will be forever immortalised in cycling history after he rode the race off his wheel and despite misjudging the efforts impact on his legs hung on for the win.

So now we moved on to a new phase of the season and the first three week stage race of the season in the Giro. It will be scenic and packed with great stories and stages. But it will need to be good to beat the opening part of 2021, that is for sure!

A lull in the action

Last April was so full on you can’t even imagine.

Understanding what was happening in the pandemic and carrying on working whilst some of my friends and colleagues were furloughed around me was harrowing.

I turned the emotion, and need to have thinking time into a challenge of riding every day during that month.

This was a particular challenge with the UK restrictions at the time as it was unclear if you could leave your house and how far you could go.

The majority of the miles were done on the turbo trainer with other riders less than 7km from home on a looping circuit.

2020 was warmer so the virtual highway was a better, less challenging place

As well as relaxing my brain, it challenged my powers of resilience and motivation.

Fast forward to April 2021 and its been a whole different proposition.

The stress of late summer 2020 job hunting followed by being locked down again and having months of the children home from school has left me craving something different this month.

Rest.

So far I have ridden 2 of the club 10 mile races this season and am about a minute away from where I was last year.

My usual attitude to that would be to throw more miles and more intensity into those efforts. My initial reaction was to start checking the credit card balance to see if funds were sufficient to go back on the merry-go-round of training with a power meter.

But then I stopped to think.

Every time I have started a way off where I wanted to be in a season I have reacted by trying even harder.

Most of those years I have struggled to keep racing past August.

So for me 2021 is about a different approach. More of a gamble and more of a test of patience. But I am hoping for results that show it was worth it.

This week I have barely travelled 20 miles by bicycle as of yet. And all of that has been virtual miles out of the icy cold northerly wind that has chilled us for weeks here. The smile is slowly coming back to my lips through the grimace of the effort.

All of the data charts and graphs show that fitness wise I am starting to dip.

But they all measure three metrics and one of those going down is a positive.

Fitness, form and fatigue are the three, and whilst its great to see that my heart rate and turbo trainer power data shows the final measure, fatigue, is in decline, meaning I am ‘fresher’, its the benefit to my mind I am most interested in.

After all cycling is our hobby, not our profession. So for me to know be back at the stage where I want to get out on my bike and have fun, not be a slave to data and numbers, is the best win of the season.

Regardless of what it does to my times in races.

Personal Emotion in cycling

Can cycling be emotive on a freezing cold Wednesday evening on a stretch of gravelly road between Peterborough and Rutland?

For me it was when I saw a familiar car and face beaming out at me as I suffered to get into a rhythm.

I might be closing in on 50 and celebrating 30 years since I starting bike racing in this same “Bluebell Series”, but seeing my Mum watching still makes me find an extra couple of KM/h.

It’s a long and complicated tale of parental support on cold road sides for decades. My parents love the sport and have enjoyed my journey through it. There have been endless pasta meals at 5am on a weekend before a long time in the car and then huddled up with a flask waiting for me to get to the finish or whatever race it was. There were only minimal complaints from them!

But, there is also the part where my best days and biggest results coincided with a period of serious ill health for my Mum. This meant I rode Flanders and had my best finish in the Tour of Cambridgeshire gran fondo without her being there to join in the celebratory beers and pizza.

And that still hurts even today and 6 years on.

So, still suffering with ill health, when she makes the effort to watch a race (safely socially distanced and in the car) I feel duty bound to make the effort to give my absolute best in return.

Last night was no exception.

I paid for the effort and the near 10 mile head wind ride home after the race in freezing temperatures was a challenge but nothing like the one she has been through to be able to come and show me her support.

I just want to say thank you.