Such sweet sorrow

Well folks, it’s been fun. But unfortunately I have to go away for a while. And where I’m going, there will be no cycling mags, internet access will be severely restricted, and frankly I will be in no position to guide you through the stinking midden that is the UK’s cycling media (cries of “huzzah!” and “trebles all round” from Bristol, Croydon, etc).

But I will leave you with a few recommendations, based on my half-arsed analysis over the last six months. Think of this as my farewell Top 5 listicle:

Magazines

1 Cyclist. Still the best all-round mag for most right-thinking grown ups. Sure, they have the occasional duff issue, but they are mostly very good value.

2 Rouleur. An acquired taste, but if you like road-racing, good photography (mostly) and decent writing, this is the mag for you. Yes, a tenner a copy is expensive, but I feel it still represents good value compared to things like Pro Cycling and Cycle Sport.

3 Cycling Plus. There’s always a lot in it, but not necessarily a lot that I want to read. Certainly worth checking it out in the newsagent’s each month to see if it’s worth buying. More often than not, it is.

4 Cycling Active. Pretty dire these days, with a dreary mix of sportives, lightweight product tests, and dismal training plans for the wannabe racer. Don’t bother, unless you’re a faux-pro with more money than sense who thinks a 60 mile sportive is a race.

5 BikesEtc. Execrable shite. If it’s still going in six month’s time I’ll be quite surprised.

Websites

1 Cyclingtips.com. Excellent Aussie site (don’t let that put you off), with some really good content written by some very good writers. Going from strength to strength.

2 Road.cc. A fairly small site, but the quality is pretty decent, and it doesn’t over-do the listicles and click-bait (although you can find it there). Usually worth a look.

 3 Bikeradar.com. A big old site with plenty of content, most of it reasonably good. The forums are pretty busy too.

4 Rouleur.cc. Strange stories that you don’t get anywhere else, good writing, thought-provoking pieces. A good place to while away a few lunch-hours.

5 RoadCyclingUK.com. Way too many listicles and click-bait. Rarely has anything on it that hasn’t been done better by someone else.

Podcasts

1 Velocast. It’s paid-for, but is far and away the best bike racing podcast(s) out there. John and Scott are knowledgeable, engaging, amusing and add enormously to my enjoyment of bike racing (although John can shut the fuck up about bloody Hour records and TTing!). Cillian’s This Week in Cycling History is excellent, too. With the money you save from not buying shite magazines, spend it on this instead.

2 Pro Women’s Cycling. Properly good stuff from Sarah Connolly and Dan Wright, it’s slightly anarchic, a bit sweary, and mostly very entertaining. Their sheer enthusiasm shines through in a very appealing way (although Dan can sometimes over-do his Australian-ness).

3 Cycling News Podcast. I know! It’s actually not too bad! It does have a tendency to be a bit po-faced and earnest, but overall it’s a pretty reasonable effort most of the time.

4 Telegraph Cycling Podcast. Hosted by the Holy Trinity of cycling authors (Dan Friebe, Richard Moore and Lionel Birnie), I want to like this podcast. But I don’t. There’s a level of smug self-satisfaction from the hosts that I find a little bit annoying. My bookshelves are full of their books, and they probably have every right to feel pleased with themselves, but it doesn’t mean I have to like them. Being a “friend of the podcast” for £10 a year gives you access to long and dreary interviews with uninteresting sports people. The rest of it is free. I like Ciro, though.

5 The Spokesmen Round Table Podcast. Although fairly US-centric, Carlton Reid (Editor of Bikebiz) upholds the UK end of things. It’s quite “tradey”, but no less interesting for that. It’s primarily about recreational cycling, but does meander on to sport stuff from time to time.


 

And that’s all I have to say about that.

 

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Aural pleasures of the Velocast

I’m a firm believer is the old adage that you get what you pay for. Except when you’re out shoplifting, of course. But generally speaking, if something’s cheap there’s a reason for that. Either it’s shit, or it’s OK but was made by some poor sap working for a pittance. Or, as in the case with this blog, it’s cheap (free) because it’s thrown together by some sap stupid enough to do stuff for free. What can I say…I love the sound of my own voice. You’re welcome.

Anyway, I love cycling. I consume cycling mags, books, films, websites, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, podcasts and all things cycling related. Sometimes I even stop wasting my time with all this shit and actually go out on my bike (usually to the Rapha cafe where I spend £19.70 on a flapjack and a extra-shot low-foam luke-warm double-decaf skinny soy cappuccino while watching re-runs of the Spring Classics on Eurosport). Sometimes I look at base layers made from New Zealand Merino wool infused with Manuka honey that cost more than my entire “civvie” wardrobe.

So much do I love cycling that I have been tempted into something quite extraordinary…I’ve actually paid to subscribe to a cycling podcast. It’s the first (and probably only) time I have ventured behind a paywall. Not even the many and varied delights of crazypeegirls.com (only $19.99 a month) has persuaded me to actually stump up money for stuff that I can usually get for free elsewhere. The thing is, though, sometimes you come across something that is so obviously worth the money that it becomes a no-brainer to stump up the dosh. Velocast is one such no-brainer.

I’ve been listening to the Velocast for years…way back when presenters Scott O’Raw had hair and John Galloway was a postman. Nowadays they seem to do the Velocast pretty much full-time and it really is an excellent podcast. Or collection of podcasts, because they do a regular weekly podcast about racing, a weekly podcast about the history of racing (This Week in Cycling History, co-hosted by Cillian Kelly), an occasional book review show (also co-hosted by Cillian Kelly), and then daily shows from the Spring Classics and the Grand Tours. There’s a shit-load of content there, and it’s very well done. These guys clearly know their stuff, they’re amusing and passionate about the sport, and I’m quite happy to spend my money (I think it was about £65 for the early-bird special) on it. They also put up free shows from time to time to lure in fresh subscribers, and there are a few of them on their website, too.

This week’s This Week in Cycling History is 50 minutes of John and Cillian talking about olden day stuff. I’m fascinated by the history of our sport and love learning about the characters and exploits of yesteryear…it’s a bit like a podcast version of Rouleur (the Rouleur podcast is more about promoting the latest issue) but more lighthearted and without the bonkers photography or the artistic use of negative space. There is a format to TWiCH…Cillian recounts a story of yesteryear lunacy, he and John chat about it (and related things) for a while, Cillian recounts another tale of olden-day madness, he and John chat about it (and related things) for a while. Wrap it up, same again next week. And it’s great. I absolutely love it. It’s funny, it’s interesting, it’s empathetic, and it’s one of the highlights of my cycling week. And Cillian is the sort of uber-nerd bike racing geek that makes you feel you could enjoy an evening in the pub together while feeling ever so slightly sorry for his wife. His encyclopedic knowledge of road racing is absolutely extraordinary.

In this episode we get to hear about Jean Marie Leblanc being fined for stopping for a picnic on a stage of the 1970 Tour, the men behind the TdF organisation, and the story of possibly the ultimate all-round racer — Adri van der Poel, who was phenomenally successful in road and cyclocross in the 1980s. Perhaps the best stuff is about the trading of race wins between Sean Kelly and van der Poel, and the fact that the organisers of Lombardia in 1986 were so adamant that an Italian should win Lombardia that the race director used his car to drive Sean Kelly off the road (Kelly got back on, rejoined the leaders, and knowing he wouldn’t be allowed to win it agreed a cash fee for not contesting it). Van der Poel also got popped for doping , a charge he denied by claiming he had eaten a racing pigeon that had been doped!

It’s all good, interesting stuff and I always feel at the end of the show that my cycling experience is being enriched by TWiCH.

Alberto on washing-up duties

Ping! The latest Cyclingnews Podcast drops into my podcatcher. The show-notes tell me that I’m in for a rare treat…an exclusive interview with Alberto Contador talking about the Giro win. Oh joy. And an interview with Chris Froome talking about winning the Tour. I can hardly wait.

You see, it’s all about “content churn”, the endless 24-hour news cycle that bombards us with content, if not actual news. The Publisher told them they had to produce a podcast — everyone else has got one, so we need one. Of course there are no extra resources available, so the churnalists have to throw something together, on top of producing content for the site and the print edition. We churnalists can’t worry about the quality, no time for that, it’s all about the quantity. Churn churn churn. More hits, more clicks, more downloads, more advertising revenue. Anyway, it’s digital innit…here today, gone tomorrow.

And rider interviews are perfect for this. Sit them down in front of a microphone, offer them the opportunity to big-up their team, thank their sponsors and offer up the usual platitudes, and everybody is happy. The churnalists aren’t going to rock the boat by asking anything tricky, because look what happened during the Armstrong era…the dreaded black book (a black-list of journalists Armstrong would not talk to). No access is bad news for churnalists, so keep it bland, let them waffle, and there’s 10 minutes filled, right there.

So back to episode 11 of the Cyclingnews Podcast, where Daniel Benson, Ed Pickering and Patrick Fletcher kick off with a chat about starting the Giro in Japan (silly, but fun for all the journalists out there on expenses), cycling brothers, how we all love an unrepentant doper (Rebellin) simply because he refuses to go away, and TUEs. All of which is quite interesting stuff. Then there’s a plug for Pro Cycling mag, along with the astonishing (and thoroughly shameful) admission that this latest issue is only the second time they’ve put a solo female cyclist on the cover. Really? WTF have they been doing there? Welcome to the 21st Century, boys.

After 20 minutes of moderately interesting chat we have the Chris Froome interview. So fast-forward from 20’45” to 28’35” because there is nothing new here. It can be summed up thusly: I won the tour, some people booed me, other people didn’t, some people thought I was doping, other people didn’t, I don’t dope, one day I’ll release my biological data (once the Sky boffins have confirmed that it won’t damage me in any way).

This is followed by some interesting chat about Alberto’s legacy and an exclusive interview with Alberto Contador at their recent training camp, where he appears to have been tasked with doing the washing up at the end of lunch. This is podcasting gold! Seriously. Clatter, clank, mumble, clink, Giro, splosh, mumble, clunk, attack heeem, clatter, clink, Mortirolo weeen, tinkle, clank, Astana, splish, clonk, clank, jingle, splish, mumble.

Next week they will (probably) be interviewing Vincenzo Nibali while he puts up some shelves round at his Gran’s house, and chatting to Dave Brailsford while he does some Hoovering. This is the way forward for interviews, I’m sure of it. I only wish Jon Snow had interviewed Seb Coe while Coe was down the bank transferring his money to the Caymen Islands.

About The Cycling Digest

I hate blogs. Blogs are shite. With the exception of Inner Ring and BikeSnobNYC, there is virtually none worth your time. Even this one is probably not worth your time, unless you happen to enjoy poking fun at the cycling media, mocking journalists who’ve sold their souls for for a daily crust, and sneering at pro riders who’ve foisted yet another bland “autobiography” onto shelves already groaning under the weight of half-truths and lies-by-omission.

The problem with most blogs is that it’s just more noise, more artless prattle — a million egoists clamouring to have their voices heard. Of course if there really is nothing better to do in your lunch hour, then go ahead, read someone’s 9,000-word account of their latest sportive triumph, or how they made half-a-hundred-weight (ask your dad) of energy bars for under a fiver. But mostly it’s just poorly written drivel by someone labouring under the misapprehension that they are clever/funny/interesting. Usually, they are none of these things.

So what makes The Cycling Digest any different? For a start, it’s written by someone (that’ll be me) who can actually write tolerably well, someone for whom punctuation holds no fears, and whose command of grammar and lexicographic adventurism knows no bounds. More importantly, I have been writing in consumer journalism for nearly three decades and I know a bit about this stuff. I’ve tested products for assorted magazines, written hundreds of thousands of words, and worked hard to maintain journalistic integrity and ethics in an industry more concerned with bottom-line profitability than offering a service to their readers.

Unfortunately journalistic integrity and ethics have long since departed this land, leaving us with…Katie Hopkins, click-bait op-ed pieces, and articles entitled “Ten Reasons You Should…” (buy something our advertisers are selling). Maybe we get the press we deserve? Maybe no one minds that we are being pedaled thinly-disguised advertorials? Maybe this is the price we pay for having such a vast amount of free content available online. The problem, from a consumer’s perspective, is that there is now so much of this stuff out there — magazines, websites, blogs, books, podcasts —  that who knows where to start?

So start here, where I will be reviewing and deconstructing the English-speaking road cycling press, reading terrible books on your behalf so you don’t waste your time and money on this stuff, mocking cycling websites that are trying to convince you to buy stuff you really don’t need, and listening to hours of cycling podcasts to enable you to decide which banal media-savvy soundbites are actually worth persevering with. There will even be some telly thrown in.

And yes, I started a sentence with “and” and ended one with a preposition. So I’m clearly not that good. And sorry about the random advertising that appears below…I can only hope that it’s for something ludicrously inappropriate.