Monday, 24 December 2012

fairytale in Saigon


It’s Christmas eve babe, and I’m yet to hear a single slurred syllable of the Pogues. Although I have seen father Christmas in flip flops and an adorable Vietnamese toddler with reindeer horns on her head passed by our bus on  a moped earlier. Any way you care to spin it, this has been a far from orthodox yuletide. It’s a rare occurrence for a Brit to spend the winter solstice suffering from extreme heat stroke, and I haven’t raced in December aside from on specially gritted and cleared circuits, or the occasional boxing day ‘cross race. Vietnam has been quite the experience, and coming here has been the best Christmas gift I could have hoped for.

The racing itself was odd, the heat puts such a limiter on the efforts that you can make that it almost entirely dictates the state of play. Guys who I have seen go out of the back of kermesses are driving breaks here. It’s all about water, getting water on you and in you is the only way to beat the temperature. Perhaps it’s something about the air quality, every day I peel off my socks after a ride I realize the fumes have turned my skin grey. The closest analogy I can make is that it feels like racing under a blanket, everything is muted, hot and fuzzy. sometimes you get disorientated and everything feels heavy. you can't ever do an all out effort as recovery is impossible. but the heat was the same for everyone, i just made the mistake of arriving pasty and white. 

Combined with the heat, the fact that I seem to be the tallest living human in Vietnam hasn’t helped my wheel sucking quest, and a case of food poisoning/ heat stroke had me writhing in bed all of Wednesday night as my kind teammates poured ice on my chest and eventually got me to sleep in the shower with the cold water running over me, our hotel’s air con had broke and our room was like an oven. I never really felt right after riding and tried to eat dinner. Later than night dinner and everything I had eaten for days resurfaced until I was totally empty.

After my spectacular vomiting/ sweating performance in Can Tho, the travelling circus transferred to Ho Chi Minh city for a downtown criterium, this was a separate UCI 1.2 ranked event and I decided to take the start line fuelled exclusively by coffee, coke and congee. It turns out that my decision to eat only rice the night before had been a wise one, something on the buffet had not made friends with Martin and Jean Michel’s fragile constitutions and it became pretty clear early on that both weren't feeling good. I tried my best to help Jordan up to the front but then he too started to feel the effects of food kept on paraffin burners for 2 hours while they presented awards. Without anything in my legs or my stomach, I did what I could, followed moves and covered. Team mate Etienne rode aggressively up front and we acquitted ourselves well with Jordan contesting a few of the sprints (the criterium was run as a points race) until his bowels got the better of him. I put in an unspectacular bunch finish and returned to the hotel in order to throw up my piece of toast, and to use the elevator before one of my teammates did likewise in the only confined space that everyone in the race HAD to use in the next hour. We likely didn't make any friends there.

it's been great meeting the other riders in the race as well. a shared water bottle sometimes bridges gaps that international diplomacy has found insurmountable. On the first stage i recieved bananas from the mongolians, water from the iranians and ice from team Hanoi. We've had dinner with the phillipinos and learned how to say hello and thank you in a plethora of Asian languages. Stage racing here seems more friendly, we share the same hotel and the same buffet, we pass bottles back and forth, albeit the local teams do so with a wry smile as my (now departed) beard drips with sweat and my paper-white skins turns lobster red in the heat. Bike racing doesn't allow the same isolation other sports do, especially when you race with the same guys day after day. Our fellow racers have been as much guides as competitors and become friends first and adversaries a distant second, Those members of our team who chose to embrace this racing community have enjoyed their time here much more, and gained more as people than the few who decided that true life experiences are fond, not in the streets of Saigon but on th einternet in hotel rooms. Speaking of new firends and outgoing travellers, we're at the Beach with Dan, a Kiwi who lives in China and is racing for the Mongolian national team, you can check out his adventures @bikedan on twitter, his blog makes for interesting reading.

What has really been the highlight of this trip has been the incredible people here, it is impossible to describe how friendly and happy they are. Everyone runs out of their houses to shout hello as we ride by, laughs as we are repulsed by Durian and smiles as we enjoy their food. They drink delicious iced coffee with sweet condensed milk and watch as we do the same, on one ride the café owner even yielded his hammock (not sure what that says about my appearance) when we stopped mid ride for a much needed cool down. Income per capita here might not be equal to the USA but I dare say smiles per day outstrip most places in the world. people here live well, they eat well and,a s we discovered yesterday, with gentle provocation they can throw a few hoops when the old gangam style comes on. From the schoolchildren cheering our progress to the staff in the hotels to the race marshals (who excel at the aforementioned gangam stylin') nobody we met here has been anything but a shining example of how happy and welcoming their nation can be. 

merry Christmas everybody, I've bought myself a duval as my present to me. good things are brewing for next year and great things have happened this year. i hope you are amongst friends, family or at least surrounded by mince pies. i hope your stocking is fully stuffed tomorrow and that you enjoy giving as much as receiving. I also hope that one day you get to see a 5 foot Vietnamese man wearing sandals masquerading as father Christmas, and a lady nearby butchering the word the lyrics of "feliz navidad/merry christmas" in a way that only someone who speaks not one word of the language they are singing can. 

Monday, 17 December 2012

vietnam day one: Ho Chi Min to Can Tho

After last night's chaos whereby our team was initially refused entry, some kind of confusion between the nomenclature which means that regional teams can compete with a mixture of different nationalities but other teams cannot. Fortunatley the issue was resolved thanks to a friendly commisaire and our friends at Agile. This morning we woke up at 5, recieved the good news that we could race and commenced boiling water to drink on the road. Having breakfasted on Congee and baguettes we met with our driver, Mr Minh. Between our team he have 5 languages sadly mr minh contributed two more and none of them were shared. However his enthusiasm and friendly attitude made up for the gaps in vocabulary. He's also now capable of using glucaon.

After our breakfast and an hour spent perfecting the aincient art of sitting around a hotel lobby in lycra drinking coffee we saddled up and rode to the start where we drank more coffee and looked for shade. The race took shape around us, seriously 100 motorbikes seemed to arrive and revved their engines in sync. most impressive was a tricycle with a crotchrocket motorcycle on the front, two wheels on the back and a blue tiger pinted on the side. after an hour of posturing, swopping race foods and looking for ice we lined up,i  looked down the lens of a TV camera for an uncomfortably long time, something exploeded and we were off.

Today was pretty nasty, the heat was opressive, 95 degrees at the start. after 10k neutral and having insisited we were going to take it easy, the flag dropped and i found myself out of the saddle and out of breath, we turned left hopped over a bump and dodged flying bike parts, bottles and in one case an airborne body. the heat beat down and the attacks continued, we were moving fast and it was hot. feedign was difficult with a large caravan and large potholes. and i was getting carried away at the front. i think i underdid the basal, about 60% of normal but i always go high in the heat. i had about 180g carbs for 180km which isn't enough but i was high. live and learn i suppose.

soon enough my head was feeling as if something was trying to hatch from it,  I was holding down my own vomit and i couldnt get out of the saddle without cramping. I slipped to the back to try and get some insulin out of the car but with our vehicle in 21st place in the caravan i worked out that i would never make it back. By the time i got back into a group the race was split up, in the third group those allergic to the wind had gathered and commenced sitting on. Myself and a teammate commenced doing the majority of the work and recieving grief whenever we stopped doing so, i spent far too long riding on my invisible aerobars and chasing down the occasional attack from team gheghis kahn (i'm not joking, they also have team atilla).

crossing the line i fell of my bike completely worked, my beard tasted of salt and my clothes were crusted with my own sweat. i was cramping in muscles i've never cramped in before; my intercostals, my forearms, my forehead. minutes later i had my head in a bucket and my body was doing the sensible thing when overheated and dehydrated, it was expelling the water it had left. Smart.

we've made it back to the hotel now, we're sitting on our beds sharing stories, cleaning shorts, eating sweet buns and shrimp flavoured peas, drinking iced coffee with condensed milk. we're sharing stories from the race and talking about things that aren't bike racing; our univerisites, our favourite music and our favourite other sports.

last night i overdid the spicy food, and my stomach wasnt happy today so i might back of the chilli and feremented fish products tonight, the race organizer kindly waters down the beer so i might have one of those. I'd love to explore canh to but my legs are less than excited about the prospect.

Hasta manana

Friday, 14 December 2012

36 hours, 3 days and 3 countries

This blog was written at various stages of a 24 hour evening and a 36 hour journey:

From the dark (too dark to see my laptop) confines of an air china 747. I can report a distinctly mixed day, never a dull moment, or a blood Glucose check in range. And the seat in front just slammed back into my knees. Arse.

Leaving home 14 hours ago I drove I pick up teammate Jordan and meet coaching as Jessie at the train station. We schlepped boxes and bags onto a rapidly departing train (if bike box cx were an event, I'd be a cardboard carrying Sven nys) which took us to a station where we took a bus to an airport. All good so far.

Things went a little Pete tong here. There seemed to be an issue with the third party issuer of our visas. After considerable sweet talking and hand gesturing we've managed to check our bags and ourselves to Taiwan where we should recollect our visas and head south to Ho chi min city.

China airways have been exemplary in their service. The food has been fantastic and there's a USB charger and a power outlet in the seat. They carry bikes for free, refused to waive fees for the diabetic supplies I'm carrying to a diabetes organization in Vietnam, but then didn't charge us for bags anyway.

Incidentally I can elect from several feature films including one on "bike messengers" and another on food bloggers. How very vogue.what next? A biopic on the social connotations of pbr, crafting a fully fledged 'stache and how to fit into your skinny jeans?

Update: we made it to Taipei, where it came to our attention that my visa hadn't. I sent some emails we became gradually more offensive as I got closer to the deadline for checking in for my next flight. Eventually I got a reply suggesting my application had been lost but was now being processed. More emails ensued and we obtained the visa with 5 minutes to spare. It didn't occur to us until a little later that I had not one visa but three, so some poor bastard(s) are in the same position I just was. Facing two weeks in Taipei airport without the necessary visa to go out of the airport or the necessary credit card limit to change their flights. Lessons learned : don't EVER use vietnamvisa.gov.ve , Taiwan airport arrivals lounge Has benches long enough for me to sleep on(and i have a clean foot on most people here) but even the sandwiches are too spicy for me to eat without my nose and eyes issuing forth a torrent. Gina airlines has wonderfully helpful ground staff. Tea here is good and rice, even with prawns in it,CAN be made into a breakfast porridge .

Second update: we made it! The race sent a driver to pick us up at the airport and e did an exemplary job of cranking up the backstreet boys whenever out lack of a commonlanguage hindered conversation. Because "backstreet is back" is universal. We went shopping and grabbed a few essentials; "safety food", bbq seaweed, steak flavoured crackers, gold cow energy drink. lemon toothpaste dragonfruit an fried squid.

Returning with our goodies we hopped out for a spin. Within 500 meters of the hotel I had flatted, snapped a valve extender and caught a lift with a friendly local on a moped to his house where we inflated my tyre and continued on our adventure in motor pacing. On the Main Street it is no exaggeration to say there are thousands of motorcycles, I now. Know how if feels to be a fish in a shoal albeit the only fish in Lycra, the I y fish with a beard and the tallest fish by about a foot. My YouTube channel (right) has a video of the craziness.

On our route back we bumped into two weddings and what looked like a fatality. Night one in Saigon and already the adventures have begun! Stay tuned.









Monday, 10 December 2012

mince pies with ho chi min


The much missed “blog from above” is making it’s comeback this week. As people all around me drink sugar loaded beverages just because somebody in a blue jacket offered them and I attempt to force 190cm of bike rider  into a seat designed for 90cm of dwarf, and the kindly lasy in front helps the process by pouding my knees into a seemingly impossible position with her (not insignificant) body mass, I feel the urge to update my friends, family and people who came to this website though a series of typographical errors on what’s been going on and what’s coming up.

The last few weeks have seen plenty of kilometers, November was a month with over 110 hours of riding and a resulting above average number of pictures of baked goods in my twitter feed. I’m normally pretty old school in my approach to winter training. I start in December and ride a lot, once I feel ready is tart doing a few more efforts and then commence racing in something a long way from peak form but with just enough fitness to hold on. Which is what I do until gradually, painfully, the legs come around and I start to feel good.

This year I’m approaching things with a little more structure and purpose. After folding my pelvis like a copy of 50 shades of Grey in the summer I feel as if I’ve already rested enough for this year. Nearly 8 weeks off the bike made me miss it terribly. I was fortunate enough to heal up in time for some late season racing but just as I felt my legs coming back from where I left them in Wisconsin, the racing dried up and I was left with two not to enticing options: become a “Christmas Star” and burn brightly on the local group rides where nobody was trying particularly hard or rest when I wasn’t tired. Given that neither seemed particualirly enticing I found a third.

Not all of the world obey’s the Norther hemisphere’s notions of summer and winter, San Diego enjoys year round good weather but it’s inclusion in the US cycling circuit means that racing tends to conform to a national pattern and has dried up. Making use of my world map and email address book I sent off a few messages to friends all over the world with the necessary credentials to find me a bike race to do and an adventure to have.Most came up blank but my Friend John came up trumps. The UCI Asia tour knows how to make hay while the sun shines and so, a brief exchange of emails occurred. The social media cry went out to some like minded friends and a posse was soon assembled with the aim of a pre Christmas trip to the only place in the world where they can say pho and not giggle.

On December the 17th we’ll begin the tour of Vietnam,this is my first Asia tour race so I’m not 100% sure what to expect. I know it’ll be different and it’ll be an adventure. I’m excited about riding new roads, meeting new people and eating new food. I’m also excited about seeking out local diabetes organisations and doing as much advocacy as I can with young people in Vietnam.

Thanks to GoPro I’m also going to be able to capture much of the adventure on video and share it with you, here and on cyclismas. The good people at balmco are on board with embro, oil, recovery creams and chamois “crème” to make the ride more comfortable. Title wise our merry band of brothers is holding out for a cash sponsor. Sponsorship in cycling is an issue I’ll address elsewhere but I feel that money is to say the laast misplaced. The image of our sport has taken a hit in recent months and through no fault of our own perfectly innocent young men are paying the price for the transgressions of a previous generation. I hope that our adventures, blogs, tweets and videos can provide for those of you patient to have read this far, something of a relief from the constant stream of negativity, the rebranding of old cheats at new conferences, calls for change by the people who need to be changed and partial confessions without remorse. This isn’t going to be the sort of UCI racing where people wear oversocks or ride in buses. This is a group of lads having a adventure, bike racing as it is supposed to be. Nobody’s in this for the money ( we’re paying our own way there, I just sold my race wheels and track bike to pay for the flight) we’re in it because we love what we do, and we love it enough not to do anything to hurt this sport. I hope you can share some of that passion on our adventure.

 

Monday, 19 November 2012

unreserved success on the reservation and the only bike "race" so unique it takes two definite articles

I'm sitting in a hotel in Tucson, nursing a bruised ego and mourning a broken wheel. Yesterday's El tour was a bit of an adventure, as it always is. There's something about starting a ride with over 8,000 riders of all (and i mean all) abilities. Sitting in the starting "chute" on my left was an Olympic medalist on the track, on my right a world champion ironman and in front of us all a guy with a camelbak, a triple and a peaked helmet. The ride began in it's usual way, 8 miles which my SRM shows went down at 53 km/h and my mind recalls went down with un paralleled levels of sketchiness. The we hit a river crossing which i firmly believe is as close as i will ever get to storming the beach at Normandy, albeit carrying a bike on my shoulder. Some pretty unorthodox portages were going down all around me and at least one plucky individual attempted to remount a la cyclocross and failed to clear his top tube, let alone saddle. the results of this maneuver were roughly akin to lying down in front of a herd of migrating wildebeest, in cleated carbon shoes.

Having stormed the suburban neighbourhood, i set about riding in front of a large group of cyclists in order to facilitate riding behind the group up ahead for the remaining 103 miles. Having successfully facilitated the conjuncture of the two groups in question i commenced my usual race routine of pretending i had a wind allergy and eating peanut butter flavoured energy products. Things were going swimmingly until the Tucson curse struck.  To add to my run of Tucson luck which includes flat tyres, broken bones and now broken rims. I hit a rock yesterday with such phenomenal force that i put a huge dent in my rim and i mean huge. with the help of a stone and a tyre lever and some Eugene Cristophe attitude  i banged most of the dent out of the rim. 5 flats later, a bike shop refused to help me, or lend me a pair of pliers or spot me a tube (thanks Oro valley bikes) but thankfully the pre thanksgiving spirit of blatant douchebaggery hadn't spread to the folks at ACE hardware who set me up with a hitech duct tape, rasp and pliers based solution which got me home in 4:58, with 60 psi in my rear wheel trailing quite the collection of "cycling enthusiasts" in my draft as we battled a strong headwind (i'm using the royal we here, i didn't see a rear wheel for 60 miles even when i was urinating people wouldn't come around). Good training day then.

We're here in Arizona working with the Pascua Yaqui people, i'm setting up a scheme here through Ayuda  to get a dozen pascua yaqui volunteers to ride one of the various el tour distances in 2013 during world diabetes month. Having spent several long days on the reservation i am feeling incredibly positive about this project and the support we have from gopro to document it and make it. we're still in the process of selecting our volunteers but having already met some of them these last few days i can safely say that we have an enthusiastic base of support int his community. These are not people inherently adverse to exercise, but people who don't get the opportunity to take part in the activities i love. These are a people with a rich history of struggle, endurance, art and community. They love to move, to dance and to sing it's just a question of creating the right environment for this to happen and benefit their health. I want the participants in my scheme  to be ambassadors for their nation, both in the local Tucson community and in the diabetes world was one that these people jumped at and i am honoured to be able to help them do that.

Obviously logistics are proving difficult. We still need to secure bikes, but we have a supporter in mind. The roads in Tucson are not the greatest and the drivers not the friendliest but these people have over come much worse obstacles. Funding is never sufficient and financial times are hard for everyone.  It gets hot and people are scared of low bloodsugar but when cycling but these are not issues we can't overcome when cycling is not just a hobby but a genuine way of improving one's health and that of one's community. When one is faced with a situation where diabetes is a leading cause of mortality in adults not even termed middle aged,  then riding a biek becomes about a lot more than pinning on a number and riding an insignificant 50km in a car park, or 200km around Tucson, it becomes about community and wellbeing.  I hope that this project can extend beyond cycling and be about a re-evaluation of the native American community in Arizona and a new perspective on exercise within that community. I want these guys to be role models for their nation and examples for their friends and families and to lead their brothers and sisters into a new world of health and happiness and to do so on a bike.

Friday, 2 November 2012

beer, bridges and no more bottles

Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, this would perhaps explain the lackadaisical attitude of the assembled bike racers, spectators, judges, police and sundry hangers on at the final showdown of our south of the border stage race. When we arrived the hangers on weren't even ready to hang on yet, let alone the racers ready to race. Fortunately the police were, like good cub scouts always ready and had taken to ripping some hot laps on their motorcycles.

The program was pretty clear on this one, high noon, and given that it was a crit we were able to find the start without our usual confusion and panic. Of course, we hadn't accounted for the time change. The suspicious lack of riders gave me a flashback to yesterday "are you SURE we're in the right place?" i asked as the car park slowly filled up with women, veterans, a taco trailer and none of the elite riders. After a brief chat with some of the assembled possee it was decided that there had indeed been a time change, the direction of which remained unclear. In order to facilitate an increased amount of confusion, and a longer trophy presentation ceremony it was decided that we would now race first, at 10am, with the other categories racing at the same time. Huzzah! Nothing excites me more than passing a novice peloton 200m in the air over a busy motorway.

Oh i didn't mention that did I? see this wasn't just your run of the mill criterium, no sir, this was a criterium on stilts, literally. The course was a hot dog loop on a closed section of a major road (vuelta perrito caliente?), with the toppings on said sausage being the climb of a freeway overpass, the descent and then the re-ascent of an adjacent overpass. Never a dull moment.

Having spent the best part of three hours waiting, lamenting the lack of coffee, drinking my extrem endurance  extend and eating the oranges which seemed to be a sponsor gift as they appeared at the start of each stage i was somewhat surprised to hear cries of "cinco minutos" reverberating around the streets of the empty city. lycra flew, glucometers bleeped, gu packets were stuffed down shorts (this isn't some kind of spinal tap prosthetic, there aren't pockets in my skinsuit) and the central barrier of the freeway saw some cyclocross action as i rushed into the bunch. Having hurried up, we began to wait, and wait. riders were told they couldn't start without gloves, so they got gloves. the GC presentations began, and we clapped. finally we took the line, got mentally prepared, breathed deeply and looked at each other and the course ahead. I had a good spot at the front of the grid and intended to go from the gun. i checked my pedals and shoes, my sunglasses and gloves. And then the inflatable finish gantry fell on my head and knocked me onto my arse.

Once we'd finished making light of the situation, pulled the giant, flaccid rubber structure from the course and disconnected the generator,we raced bikes. I attacked, got my head down and started riding hard enough to taste blood in my mouth. i looked around to see a hefty and growing gap. Sadly the main reason it was growing was that i had overshot the 180 degree turn by about 100 yards. Arse. After more blood tasting i got back on and we adopted the usual format, i was wearing my tractor beam and some of the other guys had the good sense to lock on and enjoy the ride. while some more of them managed to give the bunch the slip, and so we rode around in circles, like a merry go round. on the bridges we revelled in silence and the sound of our gears and gasps. on the corners, we were surrounded by smoke, dust and noise.

Descending after 60k i realised i was hydration free and so i vacated my bottle cages. Despite my immaculate aim, the bottles were filched out the back of the pickup by the time we'd made the 180 degree turn and our team helper was graciously proffering a coke on the other side of the road. Having indicated that i would prefer to be fed without having to climb over a concrete barrier in the middle of the road, and completed another lap i couldn't help but notice a flag being waved. The bottle wasn't offered next time around, as it turned out the beer was getting warm and the race dull, so they'd cut a couple of laps. Charming.

We made it to the final corner, i sprinted like a novice, got off my bike and found that coke which i'd wanted 12k before. We sat in our bibshorts, ate oranges and almonds and drank beer from one of the 9 kegs which the organizer had secured. We waited longer than we rode and clapped as trophies were handed out and phone numbers exchanged. ONce we were off the bikes we were the best of friends. we ate more tacos and i drank a delicious horchata. We sat in the back of pickuptrucks and then walked into the USA as the people who'd give everything to do the same looked on, and hawked air fresheners.  Bike racing is all about contradictions and so is my life; a $15,000 bike and not a penny for food parts of my body which don't work as well as most people and parts which work better than nearly all of them. i hope you've enjoyed being part of the circus, don't go anywhere,there's always more to come.

 

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

fireworks, freeways and farm animals

Day 2 of the vuelta a mexicali dawned early, or rather it dawned whenever it wanted to but unusually i was up to see the dawning happening. The second day also began with some leftover pancakes courtesy of Jose's wife and some nutella courtesy of my friend Marie. Having eaten our unbalanced breakfast we set off to the start of the race. having confirmed the location with the sponsor yesterday and the time with the race organiser we knew we were slated for an 8am start. Assuming the usual Mexican "time change" we arrived allowing plenty of time for warm up/ portapotty activity/ discussion of tactics which we would never actually lay down in the race/ trading action wipes for coffee and other such vital activities. All told we rolled up about 7:50.

Given that nobody does much on time we weren't overly put off by the absence of many other riders. I set out in search of a portapotty and found a set up which, whilst permanent didn't appear to be linked to any form of running water or a front door. Unperturbed i took a throne with a view and got on with the task at hand, and was pretty happy i hadn't traded my action wipes at that point. Having returned to our small group, consisting of some women's racers, our support driver, Jose and some Veterans. i gave the chain a good wiping and began to get a bit fretful as 8:30 came and went without any evidence of a bike race occurring. I pinned my number and selected my semi solid three course menu, opting for an amuse bouche of peanut butter gu before a main of island nectar roctane and a delectable chocolate raspberry course to finish.

My menu planning was rudely interrupted by some shouting, a walkie talkie being held in the air and a mad scramble for the pick up trucks.  What followed was something of an experience, we raced pick up trucks with no less regard to our own safety than we race bikes. except that we were going a lot faster, and using parking lots for shortcuts. On arriving at the start (we seem to have been parked at a point midway through the neutral zone) i donned shoes, sunglasses and helmet with a speed worthy of a tattoo bearing, mankini wearing iron-person. hopping onto the bike i made a dash for the start, and made it in time to hear the briefing beginning, i heaved a sigh of relief, looked down and realized i hadn't put my bottles in the cages. Fortunatley Carlos, our erstwhile mechanic/soigneur/busdriver/cheerleader/ bottle deliverer had my back, and my bottles.

The bunch rolled off at a leisurely 35k/h through the middle of town. sirens blaring and horns honking the police did a great job of forming a little traffic free bubble around us as we rolled through Mexicali's busy center and industrial outskirts inconveniencing Saturday shoppers and entertaining children. Three kilometers outside town the car in front slowed down and i came alongside, a clipboard emerged from the window and i was told to sign on. I strongly suspect this is frowned upon by the blue shirt wearing, beard bearing officials who reign with an iron fist over office parks all around the USA every sunday.

Shortly thereafter we stopped, urinated on someone's garden and received a second briefing. Someone handed out some apples which we ate and a large explosion occurred approximately 5 yards to my right.  Fearing an attack from the Sinaloa cartel, perhaps looking to kidnap me in order to cash in on my twitter celebrity status,  i took the sensible option and remained rooted to the sport emitting a sound which one normally associates with rodents. Apparently, far from coming under fire this was the sponsor of the race (a local fireworks manufacturer) getting in a spot of product placement. Once the bunch had finished laughing at me (and the smoke had cleared) we set off.

i won't regale you with the next 70k of stories. we rode in various winds in various forms of echelon. once i'd found the sweetspot the racing wasn't too hard and being a team of one (and sitting second on team GC is should add) i felt no obligation to do anything other than sit at the back panicking every time dogs, pigs, horses, cattle and small children rushed headlong towards the peloton only to halt at the last possible second and to marvel at the internal organs which one can fry and put in a tortilla and sell by the roadside.

With about 50k to go we were taking to the echelon with gusto, exploiting our vulnerability to force the 16 wheel lorries onto the shoulder as they tried not to pancake the lycra clad masses swarming towards them. The bunch was lined out to the left and feeding was on the right, leading to some fairly audacious dives across the road to get much needed hydration. Of particular note were the "stage race legend" points i gained by landing a bottle in the cooler in the back of the calimax car at 40 k/h (i saw it re emerge later and the sad look on the face of the rider who received a surprisingly light bottle was priceless). A young Mexican rider also managed to score a bottle off the floor, that was impressive (about 1 min into the video).

with 35 k to go we turned into a headwind and, quelle surprise, all hell broke loose. I was partially responsible for this flurry of attacks. essentially a pattern emerged whereby i would attack and be joined by two calimax riders who wouldn't work with me and one valle congelado rider would drag the gap back for no particular reason. Following this someone would attack, i would try to get across and the bunch would come with me. Once i did manage to turn a gap, joined by one member of the small valle congelado team and a solo rider. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain (neither had finished the previous stage so they were out of the GC) they made the logical decision to commit everything. Sadly their commitment wasn't to working in the break but rather to commit everything in their power to doing as little as possible.

After 20k of such shenanigans a break rolled without me and along with two calimax riders i was able to get free of the bunch. Unwilling to drag them up to the bunch i commenced swinging across the road and soon found myself all alone on a long desert highway. The break dangled at 10 seconds, riding harder as i closed the gap and refusing to let me ever quite make the junction. In my little bubble on the autopista i was in a world of suffering i hadn't experienced for a long time. surrounded by motorbikes, officials cars, our team cars and the occasional livestock bearing lorry passing by i felt like a goldfish in a bowl with everyone looking on.

The team car pulled alongside, giving me time checks and somewhat optimistic distances to the finish. I settled into my rhythm and cursed the gopro, thinking about that aerodynamic impact i could gain without it. I also cursed just about everything else i could think about to curse. With 1k to go there was a group heading my way from the bunch and the car informed me that unless i gave it everything i would be caught. I threw both my bottles and buried myself until i saw the chequered flag through my vision which was crowded with stars and black dots from the exertion. i crossed the line, someone grabbed my bike and i fell in a ditch, by a motorway in a suburb of an industrial town in Mexico completely spent. i spent the best part of 10 minutes there before Carlos thought i was recovered enough to sit in the back of a pick up truck and drink a coke.

We made our way back to town as i hacked up a cubic foot of tar which i had swallowed. My serenity was briefly interrupted by the loud intrusion of the pinball lights and sirens which had been accompanying me down the freeway an hour earlier, only now they were pulling us over for having too many people in the back of a pickup. Fortunately a few sentences of lisping castillian and a brief delaying trip to the petrol station on false pretences gave the federale the impression that this gringo was not a profitable prospect and we went home free.

that afternoon i showered, ate, fell asleep on the floor because i was too tired to make it to bed. I awoke starving, gorged on sopes. met some wonderful people, discussed the global financial crisis, the best tortillas, drug cartels and the superiority of Mexican soft drinks to those north of the border. at 9:30, having ascended the stairs with more difficulty than the mountain pass we climbed the day before, i slept better than i have done in a long time.

I was exhausted, spent, hungry, thirsty and everything hurt. It's been months since i felt sick from exercise and went so hard i couldn't see.And  I have never been happier, I have missed bike racing more than i can say, and being back in the mix feels great.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Tacos, trophies and Tecate

It's been a while since i engaged in some good old fashioned international bicycle adventuring. This weekend was a much needed return to such shennaingans in Mexicali Baja California. Whilst i'll spare you the details of the blow by blow i will furnish you with the reader's digest for your perusing pleasure.

Stage one saw us leave san diego at the ungodly hour of 4;45 IN THE MORNING, i had heard tell of such a time from triathletic types but until now i had never seen it other than on my way back from an endurance disco dancing marathon. Having loaded the rental Suburban (thanks State Farm insurance and the lady who failed to notice my parked car and smashed my oil tank) Luke and i set of to Calexico where we met our friend Jose and crossed the "line" into mexicali (see a naming trend emerging here?) immedeatley on arriving we turned off the road to a brand new autopista, so very new in fact that bob el constructor and his big yellow digger were still having at it. bicycle adventurers as we are we didn't let this put us off and kitted up for the start,w hich we were reliably informed was a scant 15 minutes away. Having rushed to the line we noted the absence of other riders, or indeed a line. Soon thereafter it became clear that A) we wouldn't be starting on time B) the dude with the paint can was undersupplied to paint the enitre word "META" and C) there wasn't a toilet anywhere at the race.  A brief visit to a local petrol station, 2 glass bottles of coke, much explaining of how to spell my name and several assurances that yes, i was diabeitc and no, i wasn't going to die and we were off. Then we rode in circles for an hour, given that Calimax had about 70% of the field in their shopping trolley themed Jerseys, and that i represented 1/76th of the field, and given that we were racing a crit. it may not shock you to learn that for much of the race i rode around in front of a large group of bike riders, and despite my best efforts we remained close. sadly some of the bike riders decided to take off and very few of those remaining were willing to co-operate in my attempts to reunite our band of bicycling brothers. Lucas and his 3 calimax compadres stayed away with Lucas taking the sprint.  i finished safley in the pack having inhaled a cubic foot of sand.

After the race we repaired to a local bakery, and the house above it where the Calimax team furnished us with bread, jam, sandwiches pasta and pizza. Post lunch entertainment was provided by my blood glucometer and a "highest non diabetic blood glucose" competition. Oddly the correlation between the results of that competition and the afternoon road race was surprisingly accurate,and inverse. It turns out that at 40 degrees centigrade (100 of your american degrees), pizza is not an ideal meal two hours before the race.

The second stage saw us scaling the mighty rumorosa, this was a bit of a target for me as i haven't been gifted with a Cavendish like sprint, but my twiggy physique lends itself to scaling such storied passes. After two hours awaiting the arrival of our police escort and seeking shade at the race start which seemed to be the car park of a petrol station and two more mexican colas ( I might have overdone the levimir a bit) we headed off on a neutral roll out. Classic Latino biek racing, big holes, blaring sirens and waving kids. After 10k we stopped, 100 men dressed like power rangers urinated on somebody's garden and the race began.

Approximately 15 seconds later i found myself enjoying the delicious taste of my own blood in my mouth as we left the peloton to share the wind amongst themselves and bravely struck out on a two up breakaway attempt. There were three people present but one of them was quite intent on not making himself part of any breakaway and instead experimented with the finer points of sucking wheel. Having not taken one pull for 3kilometers he then began to urge us to pick up the pace lest he get caught. Somehow when this occurred he was still taken by surprise and left to return to the bunch, i think he would have been happy there, more wheels to suck. After a few kilometers of breakaway antics i noticed the bumps in the road becoming more pronounced and the speed becoming more difficult. The bike wasn't exactly handling that well either. sure enough the very same glass bottled soda which fueled the breakaway was now coming back to bite me. my right arm went up, i put the deraillieur in the 11, swung a leg over, hoiked out my wheel and held it high and waited, and watched the bunch roll by, and the caravan roll by. And then our car arrived, accompanied by the judge's moto. We changed the wheel and i told our driver in no uncertain terms that i would be accepting hydration in the form of sticky bottles until my return to my previous position in the race. The judge had other ideas and wouldn't even let me draft behind our car.

And so, the next 40 minutes were spent dribbling on my top tube at 40+ km/h as i inched closer to the carvan. With the help of an unsolicited armsling from a man in the back of a pick up truck, the encouragement of every school child in Baja California and the comforting sound of a telephoto lens capturing the joy that is a solo time trial i returned to the comfort of the bunch. Once there it became clear that my rear wheel posessed mesmerizing qualities. And that my breakaway companions were no longer broken, nor away. However a select group had gone clear and all the teams were represented. Rather than conserving my forces like a good bike racer i took off in hot pursuit, although momentarily distracted by a fantastic looking taco joint and some kind of military roadblock which we passed through I was fortunate enough to receive a coke hand up from one of the judges (4 so far if you're counting) and to be able to drop everyone on the climb. Resulting in a placing which, depending on who you ask was either 5th or 8th on the stage.

At the top of the climb, I was greeted by a small crowd, some surprised looking judges who hadn't seen me since my flat and a homeless guy who was moved enough by my appearance to give ME some candy and a blanket (as well as a gentle ribbing about the inferiority of the Europeans). Jose was waiting at the top having climbed into the car and had kindly left me what i can safely say was the best egg sandwich ever made. after drinking a coffee and watching the remnants of the bunch come in in the dark 8 sweaty men piled into a 5 seater pick up to drive to various parts of Baja California and a hungry diabetic in someone else's sweater munched on dried mango with chilli and tested the blood sugar of everyone in the car. At Jose's house we ate beef and rice, drank coconut water and cursed glass shards. And then, at 10pm we slept like babies. but not before we set our alarms for 5;30 in the morning so that we could hurry up and wait for the next adventure. But that's a story for tomorrow.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

fast, fun and good for you.

I am tempted to write a really vindictive blog post, I want to set a few things straight with all the stuff which has occured in the last few weeks. Chiefly the appeals for sympathy. i'm sorry but these guys didn't HAVE to cheat, they chose to. and before you feel sorry for them feel sorry for the guys who never got a chance because they never crossed a line. I don't want to say any more about it because enough has already been said and there's still a lot more to be said.

You'll have noticed there are a few little maxims at the top of my blog. Admittedly one is HTFU, i'm a big fan of the old HTFU, thus the huge bag of HTFU bands in my (not quite so huge) kitchen (which you can buy in order to support diabetes education in resource poor settings). But underneath that there are some other ones which I've been trying to stick to recently. The riding fast is coming along, not quite there yet but it's getting there. The having fun is something I try to make part of every day. The latter two have been the source of some fun, some busyness and lots and lots of thinking time. I've been busy recently, really busy but i have some exciting news as a product of the busyness.

In partnership with the bigbluetest and the diabetes hands foundation i have received a grant to work with native American people in Arizona.  We'll be spreading the message of exercise, healthy eating and bicycle riding. not only can it improve your blood glucose control, weight management and bodyfat percentage it can also make you happier. Taking a pilot project of a few participants and getting them into shape to complete el tour de Tucson in 2013. I get the privilege of introducing people to the thing that makes me happiest in all the world. Nothing gives me more energy than seeing people discovering the feeling of speed, freedom and movement that i get from riding a bike. When we're little kids we all love riding bikes, then we grow up and we get serious about things. We stop going out for bike rides just because it's fun to balance on something that is inherently unstable. Many of us stop moving at all,  we lose touch with our bodies and we lose touch with how much fun we can have with them. Those of us who keep moving feel the need to quantify it, to call it training not playing. To give it a purpose with races and events and to deny the childlike pleasure that it can bring.

As i spoke about on cyclismas riding bikes is great, it remains great despite the fact that some people are willing to cheat to do it a little faster. I love riding bikes and i won't cease doing so just because some people can't work out that we ride bikes primarily because it's fun. There is a lot of seriousness in the world. And we don't need to take bike riding from the world of fun to the world of serious. Bike riding is good for you and taking what's good for you and making it about hiding vials of illegal drugs in the back of your fridge isn't going to make it any more fun or any better for you.

What is serious is health and if we can take something fun and we can make it benefit our health then we're going to have more success at both. Making being healthy fun and making having fun healthy is the key to keeping well in the long term. I'm hoping i can help share the fun that cycling brings to me each and every day and spread the positive benefits it brings to my bloodsugar control.

Thanks to Gopro we'll be sharing all the positive benefits, the fun rides, the adventures and the journey. they've been kind enough to give us some cameras to document the project so that we can share it and introduce everyone to the joy and positive health benefits that come from bike riding. So watch out for more video content on youtube.

We'll be announcing more about this project soon. But i hope it might provide something of a respite to all the drugs and drudgery which are dominating your cycling worlds right now. I suggest before you get dragged into ANOTHER subpoenaed testimony of another rider whining and claiming they were forced into doping, and you get down on the sport. go out on a bike ride, you'll feel better.

Saturday, 22 September 2012

my friends have my back

If you take a look at the back of any cycling jersey you'll see any mumber of logos, slogans and advertisements. For most riders these are an attempt to look professional, they'll even make an effort to tell you they're "sponsored" thanks to their access to cost +10% "bro deal" pricing and will harp on about the quality of thier "sponsors" products. For other's they're straight up attempts to look cool, i wonder how many people actually can speak with some degree of knowledge about the quick step range of flooring products which they are unconsciously a mobile billboard for? For a small percentage these logos represent an effort by the firms behind the logos to advertise a brand by association with a team or individual.

In the latter situation i'm pretty sure I represent a sub-optimal branding opportunity being not particulairly fast, somewhat divisive in my opinions, really quite unwilling to supress my opinions and quite liberal with the adult language. Oh and while we're at it i've got scruffy hair and I didn't get it cut for interbike. And sometimes i don't realise that there is peanutt butter in my beard.

Given my ability to spread my breakfast all over my facial hair,a long with my manifest other failings it is little short of astonishing that i have, somehow managed to assemble the coolest team of friends to help me ride bikes, have fun, do good and take insulin. This only really occured ot me at interbike this year. Sure, being inside an air conditioned room is pretty rubbish, and nobody likes subsisting on energy product for 3 days (but it is marginally preferable to paying $15 for a frankly cat 5 sandwich) but aside from that i genuinely enjoy interbike. Getting to hang out with the guys who help me each year is a privelege, i get to say thank you for the support they give and we get to make plans for global domination in 2012.

When i'm twittering about hanging out on a booth, or posting pictures of a cool new product it's not because anyone pays me to or because i think i genuinely have any real ability to influence sales of said product it's because i really think that said trinket or bicycle bit is worth sharing. I also believe that anyone who is willing to tolerate my manifest unprofessionalism is worth keeping around.

Over the last three days i have been pitching a project with type 2 diabetics, on which there will be more news very soon, to many of my sponsors. What really made me realize how cool these guys are is that not one of them refused to step up and give me a hand with what i'm proposing to do. This is a pretty good illustration that these guys are genuine, i'm not proposing ROI or exposure to cycling enthusiasts but they're sold on doing good and helping to make a difference. That's when sponsorship ceases to be the salient term, these guys who are willing to support my efforts to help people who need help aren't approaching this as sponsors but as friends, as people who've spent enough time with me by now to see the trials and tribulations of diabetes, to know that it isn't always easy and to understand how much it means to me. The fact that they've seen this, that diabetes has become personal and real to them, and that they want to help me make people's diabetes lives better makes the collection of people i'm working with pretty special. Many of them also provided me with beer, coffee and chocolate at appropriate times last week, which is enough on its own to win my eternal affection.


For your viewing pleasure here is a picture (from 1904photogrpahy.com) of my back, if i was not busy riding a biek down a hill trying to catch someone who had ridden up said hill marginally faster, you would be able to see some logos. Those logos would be from my friends at Tifosi optics, extreme endurance, Shimano USA, Blackburn, Sockguy,Michelin, Fizik, action wipes, kinetic koffee and FSA.So keep an eye on the old twitter for sponsor and project updates, and when i tag someone i'm not being a corporate whore. I'm supporting people who help people.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

improper preparation

i'd like to begin by publically apologizing to anyone who happened to be on the 101, 5 or 605 south between 4:30 and 5:58 yesterday. I probably chopped you, maybe i flashed you, you probably honked at me, i probably waved in an apologetic fashion, maybe you waved back with fewer fingers. But then again, i had a bike race to get to and as we all know that's serious business.

En route from San Francisco to San Diego yesterday it occurred to me that, it was a Tuesday and thus a) i could benefit from cheap but delicious tacos at a variety of establishments and b) if the stars aligned i could make it to el dorado park in time for the Mark Whitehead Memorial race. Leaving SF at 7 am the stars seemed relatively easy to align, add in a coffee stop, a longer than planned lunch chez action wipes and the stars seem to be falling out of the sky entirely and i was sat in rush hour traffic in Santa Monica full of delicious tacos (thanks Martha) and getting increasingly frustrated at the ability of people to drive incredibly slowly and yet still act unpredictably.

I knew the race began at 6, at 5 g maps was suggesting i was an hour and ten minutes out. Bummer. I topped off my basal insulin and got on with driving home, next thing i knew gaps started opening in the traffic and the trusty audi began winding it's way south and east. by 5;30 g maps was saying 31 minutes, i was closing the gap. at 5;45 it looked good for a pretty late notice arrival, so i began undressing as best i could in the car, and trying to rectify the extra basal i had taken, this involved some whinnie the pooh style action with a jar of honey.  (admittedly it didn't look good to the people in traffic around me).

5:58 and i arrive in el dorado park in time to see the field being briefed, i pull in infront of the bunch, and leap forth from the Audi. my trousers were handily undone at this point and found gravity to be less than useful in maintaining my decency. i ran over to the officials, deposited my license, wallet and phone and told them to take the money out to enter the race. I ran to what seemed a decent distance but in hindsight was not perhaps  the most sensible location given the public nature of large open spaces and dropped trousers, donned spandex. back at the car, some kindly soul was putting my bike together and Rahsaan was using my pump. fortunately i was still packing numeration from the day before, and nobody else dresses like a zebra around here anyway.  i scrambled around a bit more and found some shoes and a helmet. As the bunch rolled out i was able to slam a water bottle into my cage, throw my keys to someone who looked tangentially involved with the race and chase down the bunch on the neutral lap. i looked down and disaster struck, the lever on my front wheel was on the right hand side.

having confirmed that laps out for fredliness were a) illegal and b) likely to allow me to wait out the whole race i looked up to witness a lone attacker off the front. Given as pointless long range attacks are my bag (baby) i decided to join him before suffering a critical error in between the bunch and said attacker, despite my best efforts at self hypnosis through hubris i'm still not exactly in winning form. i rapidly returned to the safety of the bunch where i proceeded to lollygag around the corners like a fawn on ice ( it turns out latex tubulars lose air overnight) and to check out my "competition" (if i can really consider myself as competitive wheb my airway seems to have somehow been reduced to the size of a straw in the last 2 months) which included no less than 2 olympians and multiple national champions, not bad for a Tuesday night.

 As you can see here the race got going and i found my way into the wind more than is strictly necessary for someone who is so far from good condition that he need binoculars to even see it.  I'd love to say i eschewed the SRM  in order to more effectively stay in touch with the sensations, and race on the basis of my legs' feedback. I'd also like to claim that i eschewed sunglasses so that the sheer tenacity and rage in my eyes would be more visible to my competitors. Truth be told, i couldn't find either of them (still cant find the sunnies actually) in the quagmire that my car had become.

Anyway, the point of all this waffling: we all like to plan and prepare for our races, check our sugars 59 times and eat & warm up according to a carefully planned schedule whilst wearing an ice vest and some very large headphones which pump "sandstorm" non stop but sometimes it isn't that way. Sitting in my car on the way home, dining on nutella from a jar and my emergency in car biscuit tin i couldn't have been happier. I had fully realized the potential of my day having eaten tacos AND raced bikes as well as travelling the length of a state.

Sometimes it's great to cut away the hassle and the prep and the nerves and just race your bike with honey in your beard and with your boxer shorts on public display in the middle of the course . The sunglasses though, those really help, it might have been a memorial race but that's not the only reason my eyes were watering.

Saturday, 25 August 2012

long ride ramblings

You know when you go to a gig, and the band kicks off into some instrumental jams and everyone's into it for about  minutes, then it gets really pants really fast? I imagine that's how it feels to read another blog in which i tell you that it's really fun riding bikes. Of course it is, i've found some great dirt roads this week, ridden down palomar twice, done my first group ride since i hurt myself, rediscovered the pleasure of pop tarts and the pain of sunburn.
And so I'm sitting here with my guitar in my hands thinking about what to write. I'm pretty sure nobody want's to hear another word about Lance Armstrong, he's like turd cycling can't flush away. let's hope this is the start of the end of the whole saga and we can put his enormous hubris behind us.

Long rides begin like the best blog posts, with no direction and no plan, they flow with the way you feel. you turn right when the light is red and you planned to go straight, and you go straight when you planned to turn because you're busy unwrapping a sandwich. You go where you hadn't planned and somehow you wind your way back to where you started, or where you needed to be.

What i like most about long rides is the way the conversation goes into the most esoteric and existential topics. i discuss things with people on rides that i would never normally talk to them about. there's none of the usual male awkwardness, we talk about relationships, baking, emotions, salad dressing, music and lunch. It always seems a shame to me to ride with someone i haven't met before and to discuss exclusively "cycling" topics. A long ride is a great chance to get to know someone, who they really are and what they really think it's a shared journey, with shared emotions   and experiences. Asking someone about tyre pressure and grip tape doesn't seem to be a great use of that experience.

Whenever you fall in with guys who ride a lot for a long ride, the topics of conversation rarely stray to bike stuff. We might talk about cycling in it's essential (platonic?) nature but not about it's manifestations. For me the long ride at some point ceases to be about cycling. I've put in some big hours alone recently and i really value the chance to pick apart my own perspectives on things, to let song lyrics roll through my brain and bounce around inside. long rides bring me the kind of existential peace with myself that i don't think i could find elsewhere, the combination of mild oxygen deprivation, solitude and just enough mental stimulus from pedalling, steering and changing gear seems to put my brain in a really productive place. I have so many great ideas on a five hour ride, and i forget so many great ideas by the time i am capable of executing them but that's ok. What exists in the moment, when you're deep inside your own thoughts doesn't always work so well in the banal, possibility constrained "normal world". there's something to be said for the beauty of things which exist only in the moment, and those moments only seem to come to me in the mountains on my own.

So having said that i wasn't going to harp on about enjoying training i have just written the literary equivalent of a crowd surfing bass solo. please don't bottle me off stage, I'll revert to type soon. I'm off on an adventure tomorrow and i'm bound to do something silly enough to tell you about.

oh and while we are on the subject of concerts, check this out http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01mbrzt/Reading_and_Leeds_Festival_2012_The_Vaccines_and_Florence__The_Machine/

Thursday, 16 August 2012

a blog about books which are about bike racing before there were blogs


As a quick change of pace toady I’m going to be waxing lyrical about reading, not riding. Given my recent period of extreme sedentaryness I’ve had plenty of time to read. And I took full advantage of it. Most of my reading was of a more academic nature but I did find time to indulge my love of cycling from the comfort of my own sofa.
You’re used to seeing the same old books doing the review rounds no doubt; some guy wrote a book telling people how to eat food (I’m not sure how we came to the situation where that was needed) another wrote a book saying he doped, yet another has a book saying he doped AND alleging that other people did the same (including the guy who wrote the book I mentioned before). Bored and confused yet? For my cycling literary adventures I chose something a little more upbeat, something that reminds me that there was a cycling before oversocks, helmet covers (or indeed helmets), PEDs and marginal gains. Something about the culture which we as cyclists share with other cyclists throughout the world, throughout history. Something of a platonic ideal of cycling if you will.
When I’m feeling in need of such a platonic pick me up I turn to cultura ciclista, a Spanish publishing house dedicated to just such books. You will not find training manuals, diet guides or doping accusations here but rather stories, and ones which will hopefully inspire you to go and ride your bike.
The two books I read were inventando el ciclismo and manana salimos, although I have read all the other boos listed on the website in different languages. The two mentioned helped me through my cycling withdrawal and helped me to remember why I love riding a bike. The adventures, mishaps discoveries and journeys. This is cycling as epic and as tragedy. The victories are won on a different scale, calculated in hours not seconds. The losses are felt on a more existential level. The books tell the story of early cyce racing through the eyes of pioneers of the sport. Inventando el ciclismo chronicles the earliest days of Pais-Brest Paris and the monster races which we don’t see in today’s professional cycling. This really is cycling as a journey and serevs as a wonderful reminder Manana salimos is the story of Jean Bobet,a  cyclist who spent his sporting career in his brothers shadow but intellectually held the yellow jersey amongst cyclists of his era. Not only is the book full of fantastic anecdotes but it paints a picture of the harsh realities of life in postwar Europe.  
I’m reliably assured that these books and others (including Fignon’s fantastic Nous étions jeunes et insouciants , if you’re looking for a hero you can relate to, look no further) will soon be available via amazon.es  and before you harp off about A) not having time to read a book or b) not having any languages other than English consider that both of these are points to your detriment. If you’ve got time to read my musings there is time in your life for these fantastic stories, and another language broadens one’s world and one’s prospects. I would fins it pretty hard to exist in the USA without Spanish and travel would be a nightmare. Both texts are reasonably priced, available in paperback and make great gifts for yourself, or your non cycling other half (you know the “if you don’t like it I will” kind of gifts) so they can see how awesome cycling really is (and I mean awesome in it’s proper sense) .

The books are available on http://www.cultura-ciclista.com/ or @culturaciclista on twitter or via the facebook page by the same name 

Monday, 13 August 2012

weekend wonderfulness

It's Sunday night, my skin feels prickly from sunburn, I've drunk more water than i ever thought possible and still feel thirsty. I haven't seen a bloodsugar above 180 all day and I'm hungry. Nothing beats the feeling of a good, hard couple of days on the bike. Just being outside for a solid 11 hours over two days in the sun and the wind makes me feel so much more alive. Exercise really is the cure for most things that ail you; i feel happier, sleep better, have better sugar control and eat more regularly. 

What I've missed most about riding is the journey. cycling is unique in that it's as much travel as sport, as my team's name suggests we are as much travelers as athletes. I love the things i see and the people i meet out on the road. Just this weekend i ran into friends i haven't seen for over 18 months, met people riding their first 100 mile ride. Rode with a kid who was rocking a pink dinosaur horn and bumped into someone at a BBQ who i'd met on the road two years before and remembered me thanks to the little box on my arm. That's a lot of people to come into and out of my world (and then back into it) in a 48 hour period. The great thing is we all share the pleasure of riding, the joy of being outside, of covering ground and of feeling tired, hungry and accomplished afterwards. 

I'm not going fast at the moment, but i still feel the same. I've missed being hungry, I've missed being tired. Not  exhausted but a little burn when i go up flights of stairs, and a solid eight hours of shut eye every night along with a good nap in between lunch and working. I've been busy when i haven't been riding and i have achieved a lot, but the feeling of having drained yourself makes sleep and food more desirable, working on the computer more tolerable and life entirely more enjoyable.

What's more i'm planning a road trip to do what makes me happy most. Head out on a poorly planned and completely unbudgeted trip to somewhere incredibly beautiful to ride my bike a lot, to sleep on sofas and under the stars, meet new people, eat new food and ride new roads. Maybe i'll bump into some people who are reading this, i hope to be able to share my experiences with all of you. It's been too long since my last adventure. 

Right now i feel like i did as a kid, going on rides with no power goals, no time goals, no intervals. just going out and riding and then when i'm tired i sit down, have a sandwich and ride home. I've bonked like a complete novice, smiled like a loon at the feeling of going 50mph and the wind brushing past my face, I've cursed at punctures and  unzipped my jersey to bear my snow white chest to the californai sun. I don't really care if i am not going fast or winning races, i'm having great fun riding my bike. 

Monday, 6 August 2012

spreading the good news

Have you ever shouted boomshakala in a public place? i have.

I just got a call from my doctor, he says i can ride again tomorrow. Not in groups and no racing but i can ride my bike. I am so excited, like i've just got a furby when all the other kids got books and knitted jumpers.  Now admittedly i'm sure i won't be shredding right when i get back on the bike.in fact i imagine i'll be suffering on a quite monumental scale but at this point after six weeks away from my bike i just want to be outside, i just want to be moving, to be feeling the wind brushing past my cheeks (which i can now shave without worrying about the sea water chafing them). I can't wait to be properly hungry and properly tired again and to be able to eat carbs without feeling like crap right after. I'm excited to visit my old routes, maybe the plants are less green after 6 weeks without rain, maybe the singletrack is cracked and dusty. maybe the rivers are drier and the rabbits which were babies are bigger. that's all to be discovered, all things i've missed.

The next few weeks will be hard, every ride will hurt but every ride i will get stronger, make gains and progress. I'll be behind the guys i was ahead of before, but i'll catch them, and then i'll drop them. I'm lucky, the same process that healed a broken spine in six weeks bounces back from hard riding and comes back stronger, better. Now, more than ever i have realised that what i enjoy about ths sport is not just the competition, it's nice to win but i don't get to do it that often any more. It's the journey, the process. The pilgrims on the camino de santiago whom i stayed with last year wished each other buen camino every day "good travel" or maybe "good roads" now, more than ever i feel that way abotu riding my bike. the joy is in the journey in taking your body and moulding it, shaping it pushing it and letting it bounce back. I just don't get that kind of fulfillment from much else, that feeling of building something and those positive feedback responses.

I have learned a lot about myself and about my body by not riding as well. I've never struggled with my blood sugars so much because i've never been sedentary, not since i can recall. But that was a positive experience, i can help people now, the process of transitioning from high to low basal and low to high insulin sensitivity will be another new one for me and another learning curve i can help people walk.

i want to write more but i have a beer to drink and a chain to clean

Friday, 3 August 2012

Medal winning mentalities and smiling your way to success

this week has been fun, my pelvis is healing at a frankly Olympian speed and i can now sit on the bike for 45 minutes and put out 225 soul crushing watts for that time. The nice thing is, it feels like i'm riding at 225, not like i'm bleeding out of my eyeballs doing 380. I hope this translates into something approaching comfort when i start riding outside again, which will be soon, i hope.

Fortunatley i have had the olympics to watch whilst convalescing this week, I always enjoy the games (who doesn't?) they're the only time when I can really shout at a tv showing someone doing dressage without feeling slightly self conscious and there is something so fulfilling about cracking a beer and pontificating with your mates about women's heavyweight judo when none of you have the faintest clue what on earth is going on. I enjoy the pagentry of the ceremonies as well, it tells us a lot about how nations see themselves. I wrote an article on the Barcelona 1936 games (journal of olympic history if you're interested) and ever since then i can't help but go a bit meta on olympic symbolism. Given that the London i grew up with was more like this and less like this it was nice to see a reflection of what makes up British identity (even if i had to see that through the lens of the Numbskull Broadcasting Corporation who didn't know who Tim Berners-Lee was) especially when that identity isn't all about football, people who happen to be related to people who happen to live in Buckingham Palace or some constructed imagery which wasn't even true at the time it is supposed to reference. These things have their place, but they aren't, to me anyway, salient pillars of identity.

what IS and what I was really proud to see highlighted was the national health service, state run health care is one of the things i miss most about home. Put simply it seems to me to be the hall mark of developing a post industrial society. it shows a level of mutual respect and value and I cannot think of a more compeling use of public funds. I just finished talking to my little sister, she is about to take her med school finals. She's working on a paed ward in which she was telling me that there is an electronic toy jeep the surgery jeep. Any children having non emergency surgery get to drive the jeep from the ward to the theater, theother kids see them and get excited about the prospect. Parents on the ward apparently find it breaks a lot of the tension to see their little kid careering and crashing his or her way to the anesthetic. What a brilliant idea.

There's also someone called a play specialist who is in charge of explaining procedures to children in a way they will understand, making them comfortable and making the ward a fun environment. I think it's not only youngsters who would benefit from this, although admittedly if they had to explain all my injuries in the last 5 years on a teddy bear, i wouldn't envy the bear!

There's something we can all learn here, beign sick and getting better isn't just about science it's about spirit. I try to do the same thing with diabetes, make it fun, make it cool don't make it all about needles and numbers. At the end of the day, when someone is sick we wish them to "feel better" but we so often approach medicine in a way that makes people feel worse. Obviously you're not going to feel good if you're up to your eyeballs in medical debt, or if you can't go to hospital at all because you lack insurance and i think you can all guess how i feel about the US system but i don't feel like going on a rant today. I'll just say that a unique benefit of a state funded system is that it allows investment in holistic practices such as those i have described above because of the scale of the system and because the idea is to save drug costs, not fund drug reps' new lexus payments.

Interestingly this idea of holistic happiness producing better outcomes brings us back to the track. Victoria Pendleton, despite being the most talented track sprinter of her generation, struggles hugely with self confidence and in her case, what makes her fast is making herself relaxed and happy. So many people could learn from this, i see people every day distracting themselves form their low self esteem by working ferociously at jobs they don't enjoy and don't find fulfilling.

So, when you see Vicky P or anyone else standing on the podium or you see your own challenges in life confronting you, be they gold medal finals or just a tough week at work or perhaps some health issues remeber to take some time for yourself and heal up your soul as well as your body.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

lessons from a convalescent

I'm glad to report that my body is living up to it's side of the deal with regards to rest, healing and calcium consumption. I have been following my end of the deal as well, chiefly in the cafe where i am now, watching the trophy wives eat brunch, the finches eat most of the trophy brunch which the wives "couldn't possibly" finish and drinking cappuccinos (only until 11am though, otherwise it's frightfully gauche) . 

I visited my doctor again yesterday (Dr Richburg at SDSM, who continues to be the best ports medicine Dr in the world). He's recently become a big fan of displaying my x rays in the office before having me come out of my cubicle and do some hopping on my broken side. Apparently this is a positive sign, in just two weeks i have progressed from "hobbling miracle" to "hopping miracle". I got the go ahead to ride, inside for half an hour three times a week - about 2 weeks ahead of schedule, good news. I'm under strict instructions to keep using the crutch in bars, bike shops and at the track lest anyone "jump up on" me or get a little overzealous with the friendly arm punch. 

In the meantime, to occupy myself i have been swimming. Now, i have written about swimming before so i won't bore you with the initial details other than to update you on a specific niche of swimming which i had not yet discovered, that of open water swimming  I'm pretty sure this is like the cyclocross of the underwater world, it's pretty niche and pretty gnarly, you get really cold, you inevitably end up getting changed in the back of your car and it is not compatible with an undue amount of concern for aesthetics. Much like cyclocross people seem pretty excited about sharing their passion and teaching you and there isn't an undue amount of number free racer attitude. Unfortunately i have yet to encounter a sub aqua beer hand up, im pretty sure the seals could get involved in that but nobody has asked them.  

In the interest of not letting any knowledge go unshared, here's my list of open water tips for the bike racer pretending to be a swimmer: 

1) it's cold, even when the air is hot the water is bloody freezing. So buy a wetsuit, but get one on craiglsist or you'll look the overweight, overpaid dentist getting dropped on zipps. Don't worry about the wetsuit being all black, nobody will accuse you of being an undercover doper
2) there's really nowhere to put your sugar in a wetsuit, but i find the arms work best, just under your wrist. Alternatively you could go spinal tap and shove it in the swimshorts, but people you meet will likely get the wrong impression. dex 4 bottles are awkwardly shaped. 
3) the first time you see some sea life you WILL scream like a 13 year old girl at a justin beiber concert. Try to make sure this doesn't happen around anyone who you are trying to convince that you're a real grown up. 
4) kelp doesn't actually chase after you, wrap you up and suck you under. That's just in cartoons 
5) sharks are real but apparently mermaids aren't. Not fair eh?
6) there is nowhere to put your car keys in that wetsuit eather. make friends on the beach. 

there's probably some safety stuff you should think about but i'm not really one to lecture anyone on self preservation am I......

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

A guide to speaking cockney: for all those w*nkers on the Internet

Ladies, gents and wankers who hide behind a pseudonym on twitter (I can swear without stars in the main body of the blog but the title gets screened by aggregating websites. Don't ask how I know this). I feel that it is my duty to present to you something of a guide to the correct use of the British form of the English language as spoken in London. Henceforth this shall be referred to as proper English.

We shall start with adjectives. On the mild end of the derisory spectrum (and let's face it the only words you need in another language are abusive ones) we have: "pants" - when used as an adjective this denotes something which is a little bit rubbish, quite annoying but not life changingly awful. We use it a lot to talk about the weather "cor it's been a pants summer again eh?"

Next up are nouns, first  comes the old classic "wanker" this one gets royally butchered by the wannabes out there. It's not a term of endearment. That's what "tosser" is for. It's a term of relatively grave insult. You wouldn't use it in front of someone over twice your age(unless you're 15 or younger). Common uses include "oi wanker let's take this outside" when initiating a traditional bar room brawl or the infamous football chant "the referee's a wanker".

Finally we have "Cunt", the piece de resistance of cockney swearing. This one seems to have been somewhat fetishized and retains its status as one of the few really offensive words (and yet cock isn't? i'd love to talk gender and power dynamics on this one, no really i would, hit me up on twitter.) everywhere outside working class England, and the parts of the world where working class England exported its most undesirable criminals (Hello Australia) where it is a term of mild endearment . once again this word has worked its way into the lexicon of football.

We then have "mate" which, although seemingly a term indicating friendship can often be used to index just the opposite. this ironic use of the word mate can often be heard in those same London bars where one customarily "steps outside": "if i were you mate i'd shut up"

All joking aside, the preoccupation with wiggins' language (and this is something i have also had laid on me) is a bourgeois liberal mid Atlantic middle class hoo haah. Growing up on terraces, in pubs and in fields and building sites around England this is simply the way people speak. To suggest that this comes from a limited vocabulary or linguistic capacity is asinine ( should you need proof, look at this bbc collection of football chants illustrates a linguistic capacity which most poets would envy) this is about the difference between what is implied and what is inferred. the intention of the authour can be distinct from the reception of the audience. We understand different things from the same word and this is where confusion arises.

Text is illegible without context and whilst reception is undoubtedly important, especially in high profile press interviews if we deem what he said inappropriate we're eliminating vocabulary through our claims to the right not to be offended. You're also playing into the hands of constraining debate and not making people accountable for what they say. Words themselves do not hold offense but the way that they are used does. Case in point, i'm wearing a T shirt which says fuck cancer - and a lady of not incosiderable age just hobbled over to tell me she thought it was great. Had i walked up and ordered a fucking cafe con leche, she likely would not have applauded my strength of conviction. context.  Obviously there are exceptions to this, at 19 I got beaten black and blue by BNP thugs because i  do not believe that pseudo-fascists have the right to hide behind free speech and pedal holocaust denial and hate speech. But this isn't hate speech it's just a different language than the one many people are used to, but they're upset, because it sounds the same.

 Ultimatley Bradley is a fantastic rider, a solid bloke and a product of his upbringing. If you don't understand that, you can't understand him. so before you jump to label speech as offensive think about intention. whilst Bradley clearly meant to condemn the people who bitch at him on the internet, his language was entirely appropriate to who he is an what he is saying, and you need to understand that before you jump on a middle class witch hunt bandwagon.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Asking the big questions, and giving the small answers

In my convalesence, i have been chatting to lots of my sponsors and people whom i rely upon for support which my crutch can't provide. I have also been growing plants from seeds (i'd forgotten how much fun that is), playing my harmonica with one arm, narrowly avoiding drowning and calling it aqua running, drinking more wine than i should and not as much water as i ought to, reading more novels than i should and writing fewer papers than i ought to. I've been skyping left right and center and lamenting the lack of an oven in my new place. I have discovered good tequila, rediscovered bad beer, and for a brief time allowed myself to forget about drink mix and gels.

I've also been musing on just how wonderful the himan body is. When i crashed 15 days ago I pretty much destroyed a $15,000 dollar bicycle. it's scrap now (or at best a very garish decoration). But my body, which is equally broken, just needs a few weeks of rest, lots of sleep and the right nutrition and it will fix itself, by itself. no glue, no soldering nothing. That's pretty amazing, we harp on about how wonderful our iphone 17 is and how the latest laptop turns on the heating before you get home and has a boiled kettle waiting for you in the morning. but it can't make itself better when you use that kettle to make tea which you spill on said laptop (yes Gabbi i'm looking at you). The best thing of all about bodies is that we all get one and they are free, we just have to look after them.

 We've come up with a few ideas to help push the diabetes education side of things while i'm off the bike. I feel that if i have all this time i should use it to help people as best i can. To that end, one of our projects was a Q and A session on diabetes and exercise nutrition in general (even for people with fully functioning pancreases [pancrei?]). I seem to get lots of the same questions from people (lots of these pertain to being diabetic and an athlete, and aren't always from diabetic people, so if you have questions like that, please feel free to ask). It doens't matter if you're diabetic and know nothign about bike racing, a bike racer and know nothing about diabetes or if youre neither and you're just curious. increasing net knowledge is the goal here.

My friends over at extreme endurance have offered to help. With our phenomenal social butterfly powers we can reach out to experts in the world of sports nutrition, diabetes healthcare and endurance sports.

What we need from you, loyal blog reading people, is a bit of interaction. You can post your questions here as a comment or email them to jamesstout@teamtraveller.com. and while you're spending time on the internet, please make your way over here and check out the other diabetes education efforts that I am working on with AYUDA. This is a cause really close to my heart and one that i hope people will consider supporting with their time, their money or just bu spreading the word.

Stop sitting there and get in touch!

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

pain, injury and perspective

recently, I've been reflecting on a few things, it's not as if I don't have a fair amount of time on my hands (or hand). I'm lucky enough to have some great friends in San Diego and they have been wonderful in helping me out in the past week. People have taken me shopping, chopped up vegetables for me (try that with one arm in a sling and the other on a crutch), bought me beer, helped me modify my crutches and, in one case, come over when some coats fell on my bed and i got stuck (yes, really, I have turned into Mr Burns).  One thing these friends always ask me is "how's the pain?"

to me this seems like an odd question: pain has never been an issue, it's not that i enjoy pain, far from it.  I think i have a slightly faulty ability to perceive pain. Maybe it's something to do with nerve damage, or maybe i was born this way but last Thursday I walked home on a broken pelvis, I've climbed the pyrenees with broken ribs (and a backpack, at night) and i once broke my cheekbone and survived  a week on asprin and lollipops before someone thought to x ray me. I don't think i'm hard, or tough because i'm really not. anyone who's seen me trying to get into an ice bath will affirm this. I think what's at stake here is the difference between Pain and injury. 

I can still remember playing prep school rugby, tough little 13 year old that i was i had probably sustained some crippling affliction, i imagine a bigger boy had stood on my toe. My coach was stood over me and my teammates gathered around (on reflection it may have been more severe than a toe standing, or a it may have been a very big boy) my coach took a look at me and said "well Stout, pain or injury?" and for the first time i appreciated the distinction. Pain is a feeling, injury is a state and, as Thom Yorke reminds us "just 'cos you feel it doesn't mean it's true". Feelings are important, I'm not one for giving it the old HTFU and ignoring them  (that's why it says STFU on my jersey) but in the case of physical sensations, they can be ignored. Pain, is something you can deal with. you acknowledge it, you see it and then you put it in the place where it doesn't bother you. I used to get scared in crits, really scared, until i learned to do the same thing with fear, i play my little video of the impending stack, then i put that video in the corner and get on with what i'm doing. I don't know how but somehow i learned to habitually do the same thing with pain. It's not always cool, I've picked up cast iron pans and not realised until i get them to the sink that i am burning my hand. Injury is different, your body tells you if it is injured and it tells you to stop, if you can be dispassionate about the pain and focus on the injury you know when you can and can't do something. i knew last Thursday that there was something more than road rash and bruising, you can block out pain but injury won't go away, nor should it. 

When you find yourself in jured, you find yourself in hospital. I was talking to my friend John Behrens (who got hurt far, far worse than i did, and needs your help) about this today. We both got to spend some time in a trauma ward. I'd estimate that 30% of the people who came into that ward left it with the covers pulled over their faces. It's sad, but it's true. I saw a young girl die less than a yard away from me last year, seeing things like that changes your perspective on pain, injury and life. Yes i'm upset, today was the longest road race at TOAD, it was a yellow highlighter day, a big race and i spent today in the library, this doesn't make me happy. But i find it hard to summon up the suicidal moping that you see amongst some injured athletes because ultimately i walked away, with all my limbs, with my face intact and alive. I know bike racing is fun and i know it's important but it's not tantamount to life and we have to think first and foremost about how lucky we are before we moan about the minor inconveniences. If i'd been born in parts of Africa i would have most likely died one year after diagnosis so every day of the last 6 years has been given to e by accident of birth. And i should be grateful.    

Bike racing wise i am replanning my season, i might end up at green mountain, or even racing cyclocross (without a hangover) but this all depends on the doctor's decision tomorrow. I will be sure to update, good or bad news it could always be worse and moaning will never make it better.