On good cyclists versus bad cyclists

I suppose I should be grateful to the author of the “mummysgonnacycle” blog for her latest blog post, because it has got me cross enough to dust off this blog and post something. The post is entitled “Cyclists of the world unite! (or at least be friendly)” and is a grumble about 1) people on a sportive not stopping and offering to help her husband who was fixing a mechanical and 2) not all cyclists smiling and waving at all other cyclists.

Now on a sportive, there’s mechanical backup (that’s one of the points of doing a sportive) and she obviously had someone there who knew what he was doing. I can totally understand people not asking she was OK – especially as if everyone who had passed had asked she’d have been saying “Yes, fine, think you” umpteen times. So I’d cut people some slack there. It would have been different if she’d been standing on her own obviously not knowing what to do.

With the greeting every cyclist you see – it depends on context. I don’t say hello to everyone I walk past in Edinburgh, and I don’t greet every cyclist I see in Edinburgh – there are too many. If I’m out hillwalking, I will greet other walkers because there are few of them and we are acknowledging our shared hobby. So when I’m out in the country on a training ride I’ll usually greet other cyclists. I might not if my hands are full of bike though – if I’m going steeply uphill or fast downhill I want both hands on the handlebars, thank you!

This thing about “we’re all cyclists united in our mode of transport”, I really don’t get it. You don’t greet every car driver you pass, do you? But if you drove an unusual vehicle you might greet drivers of the same kind of vehicle. We want cycling to be so usual that greeting a cyclist would be as odd as greeting a car driver, and the only cyclists who greet one another are riders of recumbents… (I was going to say, and Bromptons. But Bromptons are getting very common around here these days.)

It seems to me that when I’m out on my Brompton in my street clothes, transport cycling nice and slowly, then I am a Good Cyclist, a good advert for cyclists, behaving myself and not scaring children and old ladies; but when I put on my lycra and get out my fast bike I become a Bad Cyclist, a lyrca lout, wearing silly clothes and putting some effort in and getting out of breath and sweaty. The horror. But I obey the rules of the road whatever bike I’m on, I treat other road and shared path users with respect whatever speed I’m riding, I’m the same person whatever I’m wearing.
Yes, it is actually OK to train, to want to be a faster, stronger, fitter cyclist, to race and to enjoy racing and competing and trying to be the best you can be whatever that means for you; yes, I totally accept that not everyone enjoys sport, not all cyclists are sports cyclists, not everyone wants to challenge themselves in that way. Just don’t criticize those of us who do.

I did a triathlon last Sunday. As we were coming down the valley, there was a short stretch of road where there were mountain bikers coming up the valley, connecting two off-road sections of a long (175km, I think) mountain bike ride. I was on my TT bike, I had a tail wind, I was down on my aero bars going as fast as I could. I did try and say hello. I think I may have confused some of them. Triathletes are notoriously grumpy, of course…

On an evening with Jens Voigt

Wonderful Boyfriend thinks I spend too much time on cycling forums. He’s probably right. However the other day I did see a post saying that Jens Voigt was coming to a local bike shop called Criterium Cycles to do a question and answer session. So I emailed Wonderful Boyfriend asking if he’d like to go. This appears to have been a stupid question. So we went and it was really interesting, and I thought I would put down some of my impressions. The questions were put by the journalist & broadcaster Jonathan Legard who was excellent – he started off with some questions of his own but also would follow up questions from the audience with another question or two to draw out some more about whatever Jens had been talking about.

Jens was asked about the best cyclists he’s raced with and mentioned two: Fabian Cancellara and Chris Boardman.  He obviously has a lot of respect for Boardman – he was helpful to Voigt when he was an up and coming young cyclist. (At bit of research on Wikipedia suggests they were both in the GAN/Credit Agricole team). Voigt spoke of the career of a sportsman being like a circle; in the early part you learn from others, and towards the end you give back what you have learned to younger people; and he said he got that from Chris Boardman. He respected him as an athlete too.

Voigt was also asked about his best moments as a cyclist. I thought his answer was one of the most interesting things he said. He gave two. One was a Tour de France which his team leader won the overall classification and all of the team (all 9 riders) made it to Paris (I can’t remember what Voigt said, but I think this must have been the 2008 Tour, with Carlos Sastre the winner). The other was a Paris-Nice (I think) which a good friend of his won and Voigt was happy because he’d done everything he could to help his friend win. Wonderful Boyfriend said afterwards that that sums up what Jens was really good at, being a good domestique and working for the team.

The elephant in the room when talking to a pro cyclist is, of course, the subject of doping. I thought that, given the nature of the evening (come and have a nice Q&A with our friendly cyclist) , the elephant might have been left in the corner and ignored. After all, anyone who knows who Jens Voight is would know all about doping. And indeed, no one in the audience asked anything about it. It was Jonathan Legard who brought the subject up and asked about Lance Armstrong. Wonderful Boyfriend thought Voight looked quite uncomfortable, but he did answer the question. Well, what he said was that he thought that Armstrong had been heavily punished compared with other dopers and he should be allowed to do stuff like run a marathon for charity. And he said something about young cyclists not having to deal with the issues and pressures he and his generation had to deal with. It did come over a bit that he was waffling to say the “right” thing.

Something that might have surprised someone who didn’t know much about pro cycling was his attitude to crashes. He was asked about his worst accident and told us about one (which is I think quite well known) where he crashed on a descent and had some very nasty injuries, including a head injury of some kind. He said that for him it was important that that was not the end of his career, and although his wife would have preferred it if he had stopped at that point, she understood that he had to continue. He wasn’t worried about crashing again but when he started back he was concerned about how the hard efforts would affect him; once he knew that was ok he just got on with it.

Jens was asked about the Hour Record a couple of times. He said that in retrospect he could have gone harder in the middle 20 minutes but he had in mind that Eddie Merckx said something along the lines of the Hour was the hardest thing he (Merckx) had done so he didn’t want to overcook it. But the last few minutes, when he knew he’d got the record and it would be the last thing he’d ever do as a pro cyclist, they were great (if painful). Apparently his attempt got some massive number of hits/views (after all, a person cycling round in circles for an hour isn’t that interesting, in theory) and he reckoned that at least some of the subsequent interest has been due to other sponsors/teams looking to generate similar interest! He was also asked about Bradley Wiggins – he appeared to consider “Do you think Wiggins can beat the record?” a bit of a stupid question, given Wiggins’ TT abilities and track background, it was more a question of how much. Jens thought 54 – 55 km, and that once that sort of standard was set there won’t be so many people wanting to have a go – there are no prizes in this one for being second!

Jens and his wife have 6 children (he felt the need to make it clear that this is his only wife, not some complicated arrangement from various marriages!) He was asked if he would encourage them to make a career in sport: his response was that he and his wife agreed that their children should participate in sport, because that has lots of benefits for them as people, but he would neither encourage nor discourage them from making a career of it. He did say that his oldest son, who is 15, is in a cycling club but decided he doesn’t want to race, just enjoy the social side of things. And Jens, perhaps slightly to his own surprise, is absolutely fine with that. Maybe one of his daughters, who are younger, might be the pro… that brought out a strong statement in support of women’s cycling, women work just as hard as the men, they suffer as much, their sport needs more support.

On retirement: Jens was very emphatic that he’s not going to make a comeback. What was more interesting was his statement that he needs some space away from doing sport. He hasn’t touched his bike for months (he’s been running and doing inline skating to keep active and ‘train down’) – he’s got no desire to go out in the cold and the rain. Maybe when the better weather comes he’ll feel like going for a ride. (Then he did admit that he’d looked at some crazy mountain bike race in Alaska or somewhere. Once.) What he has done is get a qualification to be a directeur sportif and he intends to get experience observing and assisting others so it appears that that is something he’d like to get in to. I think it was mentioned that he’s doing some media work as well.

After the Q&A was over an enormous queue formed to meet the man himself. Jens had said that he wasn’t going until he’d met everyone who wanted to meet him! Wonderful Boyfriend and I therefore didn’t rush to join the queue, but chatted to a few people we knew before queuing up. I’ve got a really rubbish photo of W.B. and Jens, but one of the shop people took a rather better one of the three of us. Rather absentmindedly, I went and stood by Wonderful Boyfriend and not by Jens, so in the photo W.B. is in the middle. Note to self, if you are getting your photo taken “with” someone, go and stand by them…

On running the London Marathon

Warning: this post is not about cycling (that’s coming in the next posts).

About a year ago, I ran a marathon, just because I wanted to. I did the Lochaber Marathon, out of Fort William, which was a good event, and clocked a time of 3 hours and 27 minutes. I’d worked really hard to get under my 3:30 target, and when I crossed the finish line my thoughts were “that’s that box ticked, I can’t see myself wanting to do that again.” And then someone on a web forum pointed out that I’d run a Good For Age qualifying time for London. There are basically 3 ways you can get in to the London Marathon: you can go into the ballot, which has no guarantees of a place; you can take a place to run for a charity, which obliges you to raise quite a bit of money in sponsorship; or you can run a “fast” time, otherwise known as a Good For Age time. (Actually there are another lot of spots, called Championship spots, for the really, really fast people). The requirement for a Good For Age (GFA) spot depends, unsurprisingly, on your age and your gender. For men under 40 it is 3hours 10minutes; for men over 40 it goes to 3h15, and so on. But for women under 50 it is 3 hours 50*. I was quite surprised by this; obviously the women’s time will be slower, but that is a lot softer than the men’s times. I assume that they want to give more spaces to women. Anyway the result was that about a fortnight after saying I’d never run a marathon again I had my application in for London.

Roll forward a year, and I was stood on the start line – well actually there are 3 start lines, because there are so many people, the start you see on TV is probably about half the total runners… We had our silence in memory of the victims of the Boston Marathon bombings and then we were off. Well, I am used to taking part in little local races where there might be a few partners/children hanging about at the finish line. This was rather different! There were crowds pretty much all the way round, so the experience varied from “noisy” to “very noisy” – the drummers under the flyover were especially noisy…  going through Greenwich there were several pubs with sound systems or bands. At one point in Greenwich the road runs straight for quite a way, and it was just full of runners as far as I could see – and I also knew that most of the runners were behind me! Wonderful Boyfriend was waiting at a point just after Tower Bridge where you pass in both directions – on the way out it is just after the half way point and on the way back about mile 22. So I spotted him on the way out – just after the elite male runners had come past on their way back, it was nice to see them. By the time I got back to W.B. I was feeling quite tired and thinking that I’d forgotten just how far a marathon is! I was very glad to see him again. I’d been going for 2.5 – 3 hours by this time and the outward area was still full of people going through halfway… I think seeing W.B. gave me a lift as I knew I was nearly round, because I was able to pick up the pace and pass lots of people all the way to the finish – the “run for 14 minute, walk for a minute, repeat” thing that I do really helps for this as well.

So I got to the finish, which almost felt like an anticlimax. I ran 3:35:58 in the end, which I am quite happy with. I was 5646th out of 34170 finishers, 880th out of 12201 female finishers and 171st out of 1934 women aged between 40 and 44; which is not bad. I got my finisher’s medal and teeshirt (the teeshirt is a one size fits none job – it is massive!) and then spent quite a while waiting for W.B to work his way through the busy tube system to come and join me. We got some food and then went back to my sister’s home where we were staying. Would I do it again? Probably not, though I can see why people go back it is a very good atmosphere. There are just lots of other things I would like to do!

*Note: these were the times for the 2013 race. I believe that they have changed at least some of the qualifying times for next year.

On the cancellation of Midlothian Sprint Triathlon

I’ve got a whole bunch of things that I want to blog about, I seem to have got very behind.

I was supposed to be doing Midlothian Sprint triathlong in a week or two; and then I got the following email from the organisers:

“It is with great regret that we have to announce the cancellation of this year’s race. Entrants will receive a full refund minus their credit card transaction fees.Following a meeting on Friday 12th April at the request of the new police sergeant in charge of the Dalkeith area, the race organisers were informed that the cycle route was no longer acceptable, despite the safe and successful running of the event for many years. The particular concern is cyclists being allowed to cycle in a coned lane through red traffic lights, which happens through two sets of traffic lights on both laps. The sergeant highlighted an alternate route with 4 right turns on each lap, but would not recommend or endorse the alternative route in any way. In our opinion this course is not a viable option for such a large race.
Since the 12th April the race organisers have been working to come up with a safe course which is acceptable to the police. Unfortunately there is no alternative option and no agreement could be found. Triathlon Scotland has advised us that the original course is acceptable as long as cyclists obey the Highway Code and stop at all red lights (6 sets on each lap). We have decided that in the interests of safety and of having a fair race we cannot take this advice.
We fear that going ahead this year the race would quickly become a farce, lead to packs forming at the lights, ill-tempered motorists & cyclists and could be dangerous. We have been warned by the police that disobeying the highway code would be viewed seriously for both riders and race organisers.
The race organisers hope that cancelling the race this year will give us 12 months to work with the police to come up with a solution for next year.”

And so a person, who (as far as we know) knows nothing about triathon, or cycling, can cause an event, which has run without issue for many years, to be cancelled, because he has an issue with cyclists using a coned lane to bypass traffic lights. Even thought this has worked in the past.

So much for the olympic legacy, Edinburgh the World Class Cycling City, the promotion of sport. Yes, fine, we’ll give lip-service to all these things, but go and do it somewhere else, please. Don’t expect us to have a presumption in favour of this sort of thing going ahead, or anything like that.