Saturday, 17 September 2011

criteriums, doping and the tolpuddle martyrs

Well today i managed to bury my pedal in a 180 corner, end my race and completely screw up the calibration on my SRM. In my opinion the course was dangerous. a speedbump, a 180 turn and then back over the same speedbump. it wasn't about who was strongest but who got unlucky and got the course tape blown into their front wheel or happened to hit the lip of the gutter wrong. I chased like a prick for ages but never got back on. I'd been at the back on the first lap and after a couple of vueltas one member of the biggest and best team in the race took it upon himself to eliminate himself and all the riders behind him. i got back but it cost me all my pennies to do so.

I've raced 2 such criteriums in the past two weeks and the same guy has won both, this would be acceptable if he was a monster sprinter but he's not. he won both with a HUGE gap on the field. It's embarassing for everyone, if he's really that strong he should be racing the pro tour. now this would be ok if i hadn't overheard riders before the race discussing "4mg of that one 100mg of that one" etc. now it's possible that they were talking caffeine, electrolytes or glucose but it's also possible that they weren't.

the problem isn't with the individuals, the people doping or the course designer who is doing his best given a limioted budget and little help from the police or the town hall. I know the organiser and he is a great guy, he has a diabetic kid. He's incredibly kind, he does his best to help people pay to get to races and to put on a good show with good prize money. his races are fun, people come out to watch and to ride. The problem is with us as riders. Quite simply what we need to do is grow a pair and assert ourselves.

When someone laps the field two weeks in a row we need to ask how that's happening. if it's because we all ride like 5th cat muppets then that's one issue but if he's climbing at 600w over and over then we need to ask how. If the races were doing continue to be abandoned due to the failure of the federation or the government to support them then again we need to make our voices heard. Not so long ago i'm pretty sure riders would've sat down and demanded a safer course. Either before the race with the police or even on the start line. Now we're happy to race at all as more and more of the road races here are abandoned in favour of urban circuits.

The problem is one of initiation, just like the intial trade unionists what we need is martyrs. If you've been reading this for a while you'll have noticed that i haven't exactly enjoyed the best employer-employee relations with my former team. If i was unionised they wouldn't be able to do that. It's happened to bigger boys than me as well. Trent Lowe suffered at the hands of the argyle clad lie that is Garmin. Radioshack and Leopard trek seem to intent on merging despite the fact that they will have to terminate the contracts of riders who thought they had secure jobs. I can still remeber the pedaltech and linda mcartney sagas from years back. In short riders are the proletariat in this sport and while we continue to act in a disparate and divided manner we'll continue to be treated as the lowest of the low and people will continue to take advantage of us.

If you ask most of the fans, or peopel at the UCI what the major problem is with this sport they'll talk about doping, but i would contend that this is a symptom and not a cuase. The moment we unite and give a big f**k off to the people cheating in our sport, we'll be able to deal with doping. Only when it becomes the case that lower tier professionals are not over-raced, over travelled and under paid will it become the case that doping does not make economic sense for those "small fish" just looking to feed their families and pay their mortgages. When cyclists don't have to sacrifice an education, and a pension. When professional cycling has a before and after, then maybe riders will be more inclined to look into the future and see the costs of doping. right now, all they see is the present and the short term benefits are undeniable. especially when you have a wife, two children, a mountain of debt and no other job prospects since all you've done since you left school at 16 is pedal around.

I'm sorry if this comes across as ingratitude, i cannot stress enough how much i appreciate those people who put on races. I make an effort to thank the organiser personally every single time i pin on a number. you wouldn't go to a dinner party without writing a thank you letter (i hope) and this is the same gig, just more lycra and fewer candles. SO i'm not ungrateful but I am angry, i'm quite willing to be shipped to the proverbial penbal colonies like the tolpuddle martyrs to make my point clear. I'm lucky, i have job prospects outside this sport and those are where i will ultimatley find myself in years to come. but it takes a lot more than one distinctly average cyclist to make a difference, it takes a critical mass of riders to unite and to refuse to be exploited. Much like the most lumpen of proletariats we have nothing to generate income but our bodies and without unity we're worthless. If we can show unity we can put an end to the necessity of doping in the lower ranks and to those who practice a different form of doping, those for whom doping isnt about survival or paying th ebills but about winning, and when its about winning, then it is cheating. We need to stand up to the cheats, to those who make a profit from the suffering of others and to those prepared to sacrifice indivuals for their own ends. Indeed one might say "cyclists of the world unite, you have nothing to loose but your chains".

Sunday, 11 September 2011

niche marketing

just dusted this one off from from the ipod archives!

It's become something of a trend that I write blogs on planes. Normally this is for lack of anything better todo but that's not the case today, because today boys and girls I got on the plane and turned left. It's a pretty small chunk of people who get to do that, ever, so thank you omnipod.

It also got me reflecting on the niches which some of us occupy in this sport. I mean some riders show an extraordinary capacity to do it all, and to be sure even the biggest sprinter can probably climb faster than you. but still for a sport which itself occupies a small area of the world of sports.

Racing in Belgium has made it abundantly clear to me that months of mountaineering in thirty plus degree weather and eighty plus degree humidity in Spain make you good at climbing mountains in the heat and don't serve as preparation for riding on the cobbles in the rain. Breaking your ribs also doesn't help!

Our sport takes in a huge variety of climates, disciplines and specialities. Not just in the racing sphere either. You can rise sportives, time trials, social rides, on road, off road. Sprint races, climbing races, long or short, hot or cold, day or night.

Different race are approached in different ways as well. The Americans tend to flow trough the corners, French nocturnes are much the same whilst the Belgians will slam on the anchors and then sprint out like they're running from a bull. This makes the back of a kermesse a savage place to be. In Belgium the first and second laps are the fastest, after 30 minutes half the race has been pulled and The break has rolled. By contrast the anglophones tend to roll into things with a more civil start.

Obviously this gives us the classic cliche that there's something for everyone. But it also means that the further you go down your little branch of the river the harder it is to paddle back out. You have to change your weight, your bike set up, your diet and nutrition (and in my case glucose control). Spain seems to be a pretty deep channel, just watch the vuelta when it ventures north of the Pyrenees. There seems to be a unique species of skinny and somewhat sketchy climber which I can fit into very nicely. A little Bit like this business class bed.

So now finding myself in belgium, battered and bruised. Changing my saddle has helped a lot but changing my legs will take a bit longer. Even the doctor told me that at70kg and 190cm I'm not built for the Benelux. But with some hard work and a couple of weeks behind the derny and racing the kermesses I can at least turn some cash.

So find your niche by all means but realize that the further down the branch you swing the harder it is to get back to another branch but to get to the top of. The tree, that's what you have to do.