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.

 

Pictures on a Page

We have something a bit different today…a guest blog. And not just any old guest blog, either. This one is about the current state of cycling magazine photography, written Guy Andrews (the man who founded and edited Rouleur magazine). It’s though-provoking stuff, and not just a shameless plug for his new book.


 

In the Spring of 2007, at Gent–Wevelgem, I climbed up a tree on the Kemelberg, before the riders arrived for the first time to get a better view of the race. Once up there I watched, slightly transfixed, as German photographer Olaf Unverzart walked up the other side of the road and set up his box camera. There couldn’t have been anything more inappropriate to lug across the mud and cobbles of Flanders and the race was due any moment, but he almost nonchalantly picked his spot on a mound, high above the ten deep spectators that lined the road. He knew what was coming, so he climbed up the bank, set up and he had a clear shot of the cobbled road down the hill. Olaf made some wonderful double exposure photographs of bike racing in that period, usually just one a day. Timeless, ghostly and beautiful images that you can look at for hours and never tire of.

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Cycling photography has become a bit of a ‘thing’ these days. It’s probably fair to say that I may have managed to help that along a bit myself, but cycling and photography have had similar historical paths to the present day, maybe that’s one of the reasons why many people love both: they’re both addictive and the inventions (the camera and the bike) are both perfect. Many photographers like cycling for that reason alone and many are now exploring the world of bike racing. But photography, like bicycle technology, is reaching a thin end of a wedge.

When Rouleur Magazine first started we used a few (only one or two) black and white stories, the pictures were contemporary, set in current racing, but the process was old-school. It looked different and surprisingly shocked a few people, but I was happy that it made an impression because it shook up the apples a bit. However some critics latched onto these few early stories and started saying stuff like it’s ‘retro’ and because it was black and white (the one I really hate) they said it was ‘Arty’ – like that’s a bad thing. I remember one reviewer saying that the photography was ‘unusual’ which I took as a compliment. I remember Ben Ingham and Herbie Sykes did a story on Evgeni Berzin, the ’94 Giro winner. It was as tragic as it was beautiful. Somebody said it was ‘too sad’ and it upset them. I thought well it’s reality, sometimes that’s tough. But if it’s that beautiful? Everything doesn’t always have a happy ending. I always wanted to break the formulaic approach of representing sport and sportspeople. Sure, sport is about life, about struggle and about cultures, competition is merely the entertainment and in cycling that entertainment happens in the real world, that’s what excites great photographers. And sometimes it’s sad.

Read any magazine feature about a bike rider these days and you see a clear formula: photographs of them racing back in the day and then some portraits of them now, usually in their home with their trophy collection and a pot of tea… that’s all fine and dandy, but where’s any emotional connection? Just saying that this is now ‘behind the scenes’ is simply not enough, because photographers are not doing their job unless their pictures challenge ‘something,’ anything. And does it tell us anything new or unexpected, other than just a world coloured-in beige? Right now that’s all I see.

Fundamentally this shows a distinct lack of understanding of photography — not the technical, but the cultural aspect. Reportage photography is more than a tool to record what everybody else can clearly see already. It should inform the viewer and challenge them to consider and reconsider, it should inspire them to think and question, it should provoke emotion. Simply shooting ‘In the style of…’ or believing that ‘adding a filter’ to get an ‘effect’ or (horror of horrors) simply by turning it black and white – cosmetic but if the image below is meaningless, it will remain that way.

At one point you could differentiate between the work out there too, in 2008 Camille McMillan, Rein van Der Wouw, Taz Darling and Tim Kölln all went to the same races, but shot very different things and made some very individual statements – because they all have a unique and individual style and wanted to say something very personal. Your photographic/visual voice is what differentiates the intention, execution and the content of the work – which is why the work is original when the voice is personal and honest.

Only this week, I looked at a series of galleries from the spring classics, not only did I see work heavily aped, but all the galleries looked pretty-much identical. It may sound harsh, but I cannot believe some of the blatantly lazy copying and hackneyed nonsense that perfectly competent photographers are trying to pass off as original work. That is pretty depressing to see. This is where the ‘cycling photography rules’ come into play, or ‘Belgian Bicycle Photography Bingo’ as I like to call it. There are dozens of photographers (as we speak) in Belgium taking pictures of toothless old people, Flandrian flags and children asking for autographs (not forgetting the beer and frites) and therefore depicting a clichéd and patronising representation of Belgian racing culture, but is this doing any good? It’s turning into some sort of bizarre National Geographic social-photo-documentary experiment rather than a true reflection of the sport. It’s like there’s a checklist of shots to ‘get’ when most often one good one would do it.

When starting Rouleur magazine I set out to try something different, and now everything’s looking alike again. In 2005 it was certainly easier to make a difference and perhaps magazines have now cherry-picked some of those ideas we started (although in fairness very few ideas in magazines are completely ‘new’ and there is a marked difference between inspiration and influence to simply copying). So you can now get something a bit similar, but perhaps a bit cheaper. That’s not sour grapes that’s just the solid fact of publishing, we had a good run of it and I knew that eventually people would catch-on. In fairness much of what we were doing was emulating the late, great Jock Wadley who had a great eye for a photograph and his covers of The Coureur and Sporting Cyclist were true gems of magazine design. But I digress, copying is a reality of consumer magazine publishing and usually it’s the publishing house with the most horsepower who ‘wins’.

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Photographers need to make a living and so they simply shoot what they are asked to, follow the ‘cycling photography rules’ and never try anything different. In all honesty though, this is the fault of the editor, not the photographers, and how many editors actually understand or even appreciate what makes a decent photograph? In the main, like publishers, they just want it cheap and to look like what the other mags are doing. An old publisher I worked for many years ago once said to me, ‘just use something average, it makes the ads look better’ and I’m not sure that attitude has changed that much. Keep to path of least resistance, keep it safe.

There’s a distinct lack of consistency too and it is the responsibility a photographer carries to understand the strength of their visual commentary – so holiday snaps just don’t do the job. As a result, what we have now is dozens of perfectly technically capable photographers who all produce piles of very adequate work – albeit with predictable, one dimensional and dull results. Nobody appears to consider what they are doing or why, it’s just ‘carpet bomb’ the thing from every possible angle and hope that something turns up in the edit. It’s safe, it’s over-familiar and it’s being over-done.

Perhaps having to get the images published way too fast has also skewed the quantity over quality for good too and many would argue that modern technology hasn’t really helped photography, it’s just made it quicker, cheaper, easier and perhaps more environmentally friendly, but I’m not convinced that the work is any better – I’d actually say, in the wrong hands, it’s getting worse. Film meant photographers took more time, they would take the camera down from their face every once in a while and actually have a look at what was going on but what’s to stop people still working this way?

I was watching a race the other day from 1988 and as a break went away from the peloton, the photographer on a moto watched and waited for the riders to accelerate and settle down into their rhythm, then, as one of them counter attacked, he took one shot. It happened to be the race I was researching for another book and I was trying to find out where and when this impeccably timed photograph was taken, and there it was as plain as day: the single perfect shot. The best racing work is usually when the photographer had to take his time, reload a film or look and wait to see a situation develop, then taken the one shot that mattered.

If you are a sports photographer all this fuss is probably a good thing, if it’s not ‘arty’ or ‘risky’ you’re after, if it’s newsworthy podiums and finish lines then there’s still plenty of work to be done out there and I have a lot of respect for that. Events need to be recorded and if that’s the intention, so be it. It’s a bloody hard job requiring long nights in sweaty press rooms, relentless travel, awful food and terrible hotels and those folks work extremely hard, but my gripe isn’t about them. Maybe at this point I should also acknowledge that many of the best photographers move on at some point, that is that all of their work is transient, they may work on a single subject all their lives and revisit it from time to time. Or they are happy with what they have done and move on naturally to the next subject for them. Or they may decide that the road has become crowded enough and they’re done. Every dog has it’s day, and all that.

I had the privilege of working with Magnum Photo Agency several times during my time as editor at Rouleur, their work is unique and their members are, arguably, the best in the business. So when I had the chance to do a book of their cycle racing work, it was a dream job come true (shameless plug: Published by Thames and Hudson at the end of April). Looking back over the collections of these great photographers, highlighted several things – that they have an amazing hit rate, they shot very little, and what they did shoot and publish was exceptional.

Robert Capa followed the 1939 Tour de France and shot just 35 rolls of film, some of the contact sheets are only half bike racing, some from other places. He probably had a few days off (it looked as if he’d spent a few days on the French Riviera, but he was fond of a party, so who can blame him?) despite that, what comes off these contact sheets is how he worked, you can almost see him thinking and exploring through the pictures before he finds his shot – photography has always been all about the decisive moment, and Capa was a maestro. It’s interesting to note that many of  photographers view the ‘either side of the moment’ which carpet-bombing produces – as being the ‘almost the moment’ shots.

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Elsewhere in the archive is work by photographers embedded in teams: Harry Gruyeart’s story about Bernard Hinault at the 1982 Tour de France and Guy Le Querrec’s about Laurent Fignon and the Renault team a couple of years later (it was 30 years ago, but behind the scenes at a training camp never looked so fresh and despite the volume of ‘similar’ work recently created, this has never been bettered for creativity and true photographic legacy).

The Magnum project taught me a couple of things about photography: firstly; whatever you think is a good shot of a post-race portrait, crowd scene, or a racing landscape, a Magnum photographer probably got there first. And secondly that truly talented photographers make a lot more of something they don’t understand than an average photographer would of something they do understand – and that being a ‘fan’ makes you the worst kind of commentator – your view is wholly biased and subconsciously will attempt to influence the audience.

This is why so called ‘behind the scenes’ is now more marketing than reportage – one is simply dressed in the ‘style’ of the other. Many of the best photographs taken around a bike race were taken by people who’d never seen a race before and probably had no idea what the Tour de France was – they may not ‘understand’ the celebrity pecking order or racing strategy, but they do understand people, emotions and humour. They may have only, especially in the case of Martine Franck, taken a couple of frames, but those frames are worth a lifetime of some of the work we see today.

If Magnum Photography is a bit ‘arty’ for you, then take a look at the late, great Bernard Thompson’s work or Gerry Cranham’s fabulous sporting archive or simply buy a copy of Visions of Cycling by Graham Watson (who is still shooting today). Graham’s 1989 book is still one of my favourite cycling photography books, it has pictures the likes of I’ve seen a thousand times since and some you’ll never see again, but it’s his timing that’s important – every one a winner.

I hope these comments don’t get misconstrued and I’m not saying ‘stop taking pictures everyone, ‘cos it’s all been done,’ because I love photography and I love cycling. All I’m asking is for people to take a few risks and be mindful there is a dire need right now to strive for originality and authenticity – because that is your responsibility if you want to be taken seriously as photographer. Just to stop and think occasionally, because cycling’s a fast, fun and furious sport – so you need to take your time.

Guy Andrews

@thecoureur

 

 

Yaay…the Classics are back

Thank god for the Classics, that time of year when we can consign the dreadful middle-eastern races to the barely remembered dustbin of cycling history and concentrate on proper racing. And to celebrate, the latest edition of Rouleur (Issue 61) is positively Flanders-tastic. Just as my heart invariably sinks at the sight of an early-winter cyclocross cover, my heart positively raced at the sight of a Spring cover featuring cobbles and Flandrian flags.

Kicking the issue off is Martin Procter’s cartoon take on Paris-Roubaix related products that you might (but probably won’t) see in the Rouleur shop. It’s a gentle joke at the magazine’s expense, and really rather good. I particularly liked Procter’s Surreal Sunday Art Print — a very clever mash-up of The Persistence of Memory and Guernica. I reckon they probably could sell that if Martin did a more detailed version. The Favourite Things piece is about Bernie Eisel, in which he reveals that he reads Kafka and Mann as well as Ken Follett, he likes Goya and funny shaped bikes, and that he wears Paul Smith and likes avenues of trees. Not what you’d expect from a pro cyclist, and a timely reminder that they’re not all empty-headed dullards.

The first big feature is about the Ronde van Vlaanderen and features eight snap-shots from the history of the Ronde, and six profiles of the Lions of Flanders. The words by Paul Maunder are interesting and the illustrations by Simon Scarsbrook are delightful. A thoroughly enjoyable read. Next is a Q&A with Tom Boonen about his relationship with the Ronde, which is better than your average Q&A and concentrates on that relationship rather than trying to be a rider profile or an extended palmares.

Ian Cleverly’s piece on the highs and lows of running, and riding for, a Continental development team (An Post-Chain Reaction) is also a good read. I enjoy these glimpses into a world I know little about, and anything with Sean Kelly in is good in my book. Following on from this is an interesting piece about the VAMberg, the iconic climb of the Ronde van Drenthe, which apparently is actually a gigantic mound of rubbish. And I liked the story about how the Cota de Witteveen, as climbed in the 2009 Vuelta, is a totally imaginary mountain put into the race to create the first KoM.

The piece about cyclists/DSs called Van Something (in this case Van Hooydonck, Van Schueren and Vansummeren) is also pretty interesting, and Rouleur manage to get more out of pro interviews than other magazines. But I couldn’t get very excited about the POC factory tour (POC helmets are mostly hideous-looking), although the photos are really nice.

Finally there’s a lengthy piece about the Strade Biache, one of cycling’s most beautiful races. Written by Colin O’Brien, and with beautiful photos by Paolo Ciaberta, it’s a gorgeous article that captures the essence of this race and raises some interesting points about how new races can succeed if they’re staged in the right place.

And that’s it for this issue. All in all a good effort from the team at Rouleur, with lashings of Flandrian goodness and a luscious dessert of Tuscan Strade Bianche.

@TranquilloTommy

Pick Two

“Ex-riders live their lives in slow-motion. Eddy Merckx. This man has been signing autographs for 200 years. He has a certain look. He looks straight at you but his eyes somehow stop looking two metres before they reach yours. You both glare at the void between you and him.”

This is classic Rouleur material. As Keith Bontrager never said: “Poetic. Pretentious. Insightful. Pick two.” But this is what you get with Rouleur. It’s not easy, and it’s not comfortable, but it is thought-provoking and rarely boring.

The opening quote was from part 2 of their big interview with Jan Ullrich, conducted and photographed by The Danes. The first part left me scratching my head and wondering where they were going with this interview, and by the end of part 2 I’m none the wiser. It is both hugely disappointing and at the same time hugely engaging. If you wanted to know anything about Ullrich the racer, you’re better off waiting for Dan Friebe’s book (The Greatest That Never Was) to come out. But if you want a glimpse beneath the skin of one of cycling’s great enigmas, this is a good place to start. This isn’t so much an interview as the story of a journalist failing to get the interview, but not minding too much and at the same time showing us the ordinary man behind the earring.

Even before you get to the Ullrich “interview” there are two things to mention — Martin Proctor’s excellent cartoon look into the future of pro cycling, and a gorgeous photo of Mount Tiede under the stars, taken by Michael Blann. Both marvelous in their own ways.

The piece on the Mur de Huy is really more about the nature of pain and suffering on a bike than about a steep hill in the Ardennes, but is not bad. The cod psychology at the end is a bit too cod for my liking, but it’s not terrible. However the article about the demise of the Colombia Coldeportes team, and the struggles faced by all lower-level teams, is really good. The gulf between the haves and the have-nots seems to be getting ever wider, and this article shines a bright light on just how hard it is to keep a Continental-level team going. Fascinating, if slightly depressing, stuff.

Next is an article about Fabian Cancellara. He was in London at the end of last year, and every man and his dog conducted an interview with him. To be honest, I didn’t really want to read this, but I’m glad I did because it’s the bits between the quotes, the bits by Andy McGrath, that really allow this piece to shine. And I assumed the following piece about Endura and Moviestar would be a piece of PR puff, but it was more interesting than I expected.

Following on from this is an interview with Ryder Hesjedal. I didn’t bother, I’m afraid. It’s a Q&A, which always feels a bit lazy and doesn’t allow for the insightful gap-filling we got in the Cancellara interview. And it’s Ryder Hesjedal. I don’t care. But the Tour de San Luis article was great, mostly because I know very little about this race, the pictures are lovely, and it contains the least subtle accusations of doping that I’ve ever read. Normally I hate covering races, but the Tour de San Luis sounds brilliant.

And that’s it. Generally a good read, containing some beautiful words and photos, and a tenner well spent in my book. As usual there’s some stuff in there I don’t really “get”, but overall I enjoyed it. And nary a listicle in sight.


 

I probably won’t be blogging tomorrow on account of a pair of these having turned up, and I’ll probably be far too toroidal to concentrate on blogging.

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@TranquilloTommy

A completely different animal

Issue 59 of Rouleur is upon us, and it’s another reasonable effort by the certifiable lunatics at Gruppo Media. By steadfastly refusing to conform to publishing norms, Rouleur continues to stand apart from the crowd. It’s resolutely grown-up and eschews the “Top Ten Greatest…” type articles in favour of considered, properly researched, and slightly left-field articles about the world of road racing. Branded pretentious by some, and achingly self-conscious by others, it nonetheless treads its own path.

So this issue we kick off with a hefty piece about Jan Ulrich, the man forever in the shadow of Lance Armstrong, written by The Danes (the Danish journalist and photographer duo of Morten Okobo and Jakob Kristian Sorensen). I’m not sure what I think about The Danes. They do a lot of stuff for Rouleur, but it’s often pretty challenging stuff. They did a two-part feature about Lance Armstrong a while back, and now they’re doing a two-parter about Ulrich. I’m guessing it will be Riccardo Ricco next.

But this is not a potted biography of the man with a few quotes thrown in, as you so often get in Pro Cycling and Cycle Sport. This is altogether different. It’s an attempt to peel back the protective layers and examine the man within. In doing so, Okobo reveals a lot about himself as well. Normally I would hate this kind of thing…journalism should never be about the journalist. But this is a different form of writing. And it sort of works. I’ll wait until part 2 before forming a proper opinion, but so far it is engaging, and I’m looking forward to the big reveal in part two (assuming there is a big reveal…there wasn’t in the Armstrong one).

Next is a lovely piece that is exactly the sort of thing Rouleur does so well…it’s a piece about an artist who does paintings of cycling — Jeff Parr. There’s not a huge amount of text, but there are six examples of his work, all of which merit examination. This is the kind of story you would never find in the mainstream cycling press, but it’s beautiful. And only Rouleur would dare use one of Parr’s semi-abstracts as a full-bleed double-page spread.

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Another heavyweight feature comes in the form of a piece about the French Europcar team. It’s a fascinating look behind the scenes with one of the smaller teams operating on a tiny budget compared to the likes of Sky and Tinkoff. It’s also a very good vehicle for examining the problems of funding top-level cycling teams and bringing through young French talent.

Following on from this is an interview with…yes, it’s Geraint Thomas! Yaay! It’s been several minutes since I last didn’t read an interview with him, and in an effort to maintain consistency I didn’t read this one either. I’m sure Rouleur’s version is better than most, but I just don’t care.

But I do care about the Giro di Lombardia, the race of the falling leaves. It’s a beautiful and historic Classic, held in one of the most beautiful places imaginable. And Colin O’Brien tells the story of the 2015 Lombardia very well indeed. Tagged onto the end of the feature is a short and slightly odd piece about testing Sportful’s Fiandre range of clothing. It doesn’t really fit the Rouleur style, but it was an opportunity to ride with the Tinkoff team for a day.

Another slightly odd feature is the one about the UCI driving course, aimed at making sure members of the press don’t knock riders into barbed-wire fences. Like the author, I expected this to be a practical lesson in road-craft for convoy drivers. It wasn’t. It was a lengthy and boring PowerPoint presentation. The author does his best to analyse why there have been so many accidents this year, but doesn’t really go into any depth. Clearly Rouleur found this a frustrating experience, as does the reader.

Who doesn’t love a cycling article that kicks off with a quote from Steinbeck, eh? This one is about the Tour of California, and is slightly unusual in that it is written by Tom Southam, a DS with the Drapac team. It’s an insider’s view, and all the more interesting for that. I’m not a huge fan of the ToC (all those tossers in fancy dress running alongside the riders get right on my tits), but it’s a good piece. The choice and use of photos, however, has me scratching my head…too much blurry photography cropped in peculiar ways. I’m all in favour of arty stuff, but this is just silly.

And that’s your lot. It’s not a bad issue, but it’s not one of their best. Maybe organising their Rouleur Classic bike show has caused them to take their collective eye off the ball slightly. Let’s hope for better things next issue.

 

How much???

I really don’t know what to make of the Rouleur Classic bike show. On the one hand it’s a very small bike show that costs at least £50 (yes, fifty pounds) for a ticket, while on the other it’s an opportunity to look at some of the best kit, and mingle with the great and the good of cycling, in a relaxed, uncrowded atmosphere.

The Corbynista in me rebels at the idea of charging people between £50 and £175 (yes, one hundred and seventy-five pounds) for a ticket to a bicycle exhibition, but look…there’s Eddy, and Spartacus, and Kenny van Vlaminck. Crikey, isn’t that Ernesto Colnago talking to Alberto Contador? Hi Lizzie, congrats on The Jersey. And who’s that over there with the halo, the bloke turning water into wine? It’s Saint David of Millar, of course, the man who turned a Skoda team car into a Maserati Ghibli.

At this point, any self-respecting cycling journalist would have done a quick vox-pop to gauge punter reaction. But self-respect and cycling journalists are not comfortable bed-fellows these days. Plus, those finger-foods won’t eat themselves, you know. More Champagne? Well, why not. So I’ve no idea what any of the paying customers thought.

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Held at Vinopolis on London’s Bankside, the venue is a collection of brick-arched cellars (although on ground-level) in which were housed stands from the likes of Assos, Lightweight, Canondale, Zipp, Colnago, Trek, Castelli, Canyon, etc.

The show had a cozy, intimate feel and wasn’t particularly crowded which meant you could actually get to talk to the people on the stands. And they got to grab all your details from the RFID wrist-bands we were all given. There was interesting stuff on show, and some very lovely stuff that I can’t afford. I was particularly excited to see Tinkoff-Saxo team chef Hannah Grant doing some cooking for visitors to try, and signing copies of her Grand Tour Cookbook (I’ll be reviewing that in due course).

As well as new shiny stuff, there was also a room full of old bikes and jerseys. But not just any old bikes, and not just any old jerseys. Look…there’s Fausto Coppi’s World Champs jersey! Look…there’s Indurain’s time-trial bike. Strangely, the thing that moved me most was seeing Lucien Petit-Breton’s 1907 track bike. It’s impossibly decrepit, and looks like someone dragged it out of a barn in rural France, but it is imbued with an historical resonance that I find very appealing.

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After a couple of hours of looking, talking, eating and drinking, and listening to the celebs doing Q&As in the theatre, I’m pretty much done. And it was a very pleasant and interesting couple of hours, immersed in something that I love and find endlessly fascinating. But is it worth £50/£100/£175? I guess that rather depends on whether you have that sort of money to spend on something like this, and what you expect to get out of it. A certain amount of what was on display can be seen at other bike shows, albeit in a less intimate atmosphere. But £50+ is a lot of dosh for a bike show.

Or is it? A decent dinner in the West End can easily cost £50 a head. It costs me more than £50 to get up to the NEC for the Cycle Show. As an occasional visitor to Premiership football, I am accustomed to spending £50+ for a ticket to see a match of variable quality. And on the few occasions I’ve been to the opera, £100 doesn’t get you a particularly good seat at Covent Garden.

Ultimately, I got more pleasure from a couple of hours at the Rouleur Classic than from dinner, or Götterdämmerung, or Ryan Shawcross. And you do get the latest copy of Rouleur free.

 

Bookazines? FFS!

Bah and, indeed, humbug! Bookazine? Really? I think you’ll find the correct nomenclature is “one-shot”. It’s not a mook or a bookazine or a magbook, it’s a one-shot. From the dictionary.com definition of one-shot:

 

A magazine, brochure, or the like that is published only one time, with no subsequent issues intended, usually containing articles and photographs devoted to one topical subject.

From the dictionary.com definition of bookazine:

Did you mean borazine?

 

Anyway, I recently bought two one-shots, one about Eddy Merckx produced by the team at Rouleur, and one about Cycling’s Iconic Places produced by the team at Cycling Weekly. They were a tenner each.

The thing is, I’m a sucker for certain things. Eddy Merckx is one, and cycling’s ironic iconic places is the other. For me, cycling and the history of cycle sport, are inexorably linked. I do know people for whom cycling is just a form of exercise, and people for whom it is just a means of transport. But for me it is history, exercise, freedom, transport, meditation and so many other things besides.

So a one-shot about Merckx, produced by Rouleur, is a must-have in my book. And the Cycling’s Iconic Places one-shot was a spur-of-the-moment purchase. Cycling Weekly actually have their own Merckx one-shot out at the moment, but it has a typo on the cover, which doesn’t fill me with confidence about the rest of the content.

Merckx by Rouleur  (which sounds a bit like one of those wanky aftershave ads) is a lovely thing. As you’d expect, Rouleur has avoided just churning out a chronological look at his life and instead gone for a thoughtful approach, using certain events to illustrate certain aspects of Merckx’s style and character. There are articles by a variety of authors, some lovely illustrations by Tom Jay, and a 32-page section of photos in the middle (there are loads of photos throughout, it’s just that there’s a very glossy section in the middle).

In many ways I prefer this tribute to Merckx to either of the biographies by Daniel Friebe and William Fotheringham which, for me, didn’t quite capture the enigma and magic. At 178 pages it’s a substantial piece of work and very well put together. Ten quid well spent, in my book.

Cycling’s Iconic Places is actually rather good as well, but in a different way. The production values aren’t as nice as the Merckx one-shot, but it’s still a pleasing thing and it neatly brings together disparate places that are steeped in meaning for cyclists. Divided into three sections (Mountains, Hills & Cobbles, and Velodromes) it looks at the famous climbs of France, Italy and Spain, then the bergs and cobbles of northern France and Flanders, before turning its attention to a handful of velodromes.

This one-shot actually makes quite a nice companion to books like Daniel Friebe’s excellent Mountain High and Mountain Higher, because there’s a little more in here about memorable moments that occurred in these places. For me, this one-shot is pretty much my bucket-list of places I’d like to ride my bike. I’ve already been to quite a few of them, but there are plenty in here still left to ride, and this one-shot makes me more determined than ever to climb the Mortirolo and the Izoard.

At 146 pages, Cycling’s Iconic Places is decent value for a tenner, even if the repro in some places is a bit dodgy.


 

And that’s it for this week. Check back on Monday, when I will be reviewing the Rouleur Classic cycle show.

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Kierkegaard was right!

I’ll never forget the first time I saw a copy of Rouleur. I picked it up and had a flick through. It seemed to be about cycle racing, but it was hard to tell. None of the articles had stand-firsts (those intro paragraphs that tell you roughly what you’re going to get over the next few pages), they just launched straight into some long-form writing. The photos rarely gave you any clue, either. In an 18-page piece about Shimano there was not one single photograph of a Shimano product, or even a bicycle. There was a factory, a huge fish, some telegraph poles, men in overalls and hard-hats, and a pick-up truck.

The writing was as long or as short as it needed to be, and most of the photography seemed to be in the style of Paul Graham. I was in the middle of a part-time photography degree at the time, and Rouleur struck me as being visually striking, but utterly bonkers from a publishing perspective. My fellow photography students loved it, my fellow cyclists hated it.

And that’s the thing with Rouleur…it’s a real Marmite product. Most people love it or hate it, but very few fall anywhere in the middle. Me, I love it. As a magazine man, I love its unapologetic lunacy. It flies in the face of all received wisdom about magazine publishing. It costs £10 a copy and yet carries relatively little advertising. They produce separate covers for the subscribers, devoid of barcodes and coverlines. And it comes out eight times a year. None of it makes any sense, and yet they do it anyway. Chateau! Gateau! Respect!

The latest issue of Rouleur is number 58, and when it arrived with that reassuring thud on my doormat my heart sank. Oh god…cyclo-cross. I hate this time of year because it’s when all the mags try and convince us that cyclo-cross isn’t actually shit. Of course deep down we all know that it is shit, but in the spirit of the Emperor’s latest garments (something that seems to predominate in cycling) we nod sagely and murmur “Sven Nys” in reverential tones. Or declare, breezily, that Hertz van Rental’s  exceptional bike-handling skills are down to his time spent cyclo-cross racing.

But it’s all bollocks…drop-bar off-roading is just stupid. You don’t need to adopt an aero tuck while ploughing through a quagmire at walking pace, or when your bike’s slung over your shoulder. If you want to get all muddy and tired, do mountain biking instead. On a mountain bike (a device purpose-built for this sort of thing). Don’t do it on a road bike that has been bastardised so that it is neither fish nor fowl. And do it in a beautiful wilderness, not round a field outside Milton Keynes or Ronse.

I have a theory…cyclo-cross is like speedway. Most of the people watching speedway have absolutely no interest in motorcycle sport, or motorcycles, they have an interest in speedway (and possibly beer and gambling). And most of the people at a cyclo-cross event have no interest in cycling. Look at the crowds at a cyclo-cross event. The vast majority of them are large, grey-haired, beery Belgian and Dutch men who have clearly never been near a drop-bar bike in their lives. For the crowd, this is an excellent excuse to meet up with like-minded beery people, have a beery barbecue in the rain, and then drive home slightly pissed smelling of the onions and ketchup.

Sure there are a few wannabe fans at these events…they run back and forth across the infield with their own CX bikes slung over their shoulders, hoping to get another glimpse of Saint Sven of Nys. But mostly the crowd is middle-aged men and young children, most of whom I suspect are related to people in the race. And, I’m afraid to say,  from a spectator’s point of view it’s really quite boring.

Anyway, first up in the latest Rouleur is a piece about Sven Nys, who’s retiring at the end of this season. It’s actually moderately interesting, even if it still doesn’t convince me that cyclo-cross is anything other than rubbish. Then we have a nice piece about Hennie Kuipper, a man who won Olympic and World Championships, as well as a hatfull of Monuments, and of whom most people have never heard. I like pieces like this…I actually feel like I’ve learned something new, something that adds to my understanding of the sport.

The next big feature is absolutely beautiful. Entitled “Outsiders” it’s an extract from a new book about De Marchi, the company that made jerseys for some of Italy’s greatest (and not-so-great) cyclists. There are jerseys worn by Coppi and Cottur and Favero, beautifully photographed, and with a brief but incredibly lyrical story about the rider and the jersey. I don’t know if there will be an English language version of this book (these excerpts were translated by Andy McGrath, one of Rouleur’s staffers), but if there is, I want one.

Another heavyweight feature comes in the form of  The Enemy Within. It’s a serious look at an unspoken taboo within the pro peloton – mental illness. Ex-racer and former British U23 National Champion Ben Greenwood opens up about depression, eating disorders and mental health issues within pro cycling. It’s a very interesting look at something few want to talk about, although I feel an opportunity was lost to go further. An add-on piece from a sports psychologist might have been useful , because this is something that seems to affect a large number of sportsmen and women (A Life Too Short: The Tragedy of Robert Enke by Ronald Reng is definitely worth a read on this subject).

After a 10-page piece about Adidas (no, I couldn’t care less either) is a nice piece about Dario Cataldo (Astana domestique). The editors of Cycle Sport and Pro Cycling should look at this, read this, and then try and understand why this piece is in a completely different league to the turgid stuff they churn out month after month.

It’s the same with the following article, ostensibly about about Charley Gaul but actually about the personality types in cycling and where we all fall on the Myers-Briggs scale. It’s an interesting and thought-provoking piece that I will revisit and think about for a while to come.

An that’s it. Another issue of Rouleur, and this is a particularly good one. With 102 editorial pages out of 146, this issue had rather more ads in it than I expected. And a fair number of those editorial pages are often dominated by arty white spaces or full-page photos, but ultimately it takes me longer to read Rouleur than anything else, and I feel I get better value from it than the lightweight drivel of some of the monthlies. Having said that, Rouleur doesn’t always get it right (the madness of redesigning the musette being a case in point…17 pages in issue 57!).