Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) editions from Amazon. HERE
Being bicycles, we’re more than familiar with revolutions; our wheels complete them every time we move. We’ve even been known to forcibly overthrow riders when things weren’t going well – yes we can crash when we want to, you know. But discontent bringing us to change the way our sport has been governed, was never discussed – until last years Tour de France, that is.
“No no no, that’s enough! He just put that bike over the edge!” The dismay in his words was clear; we’d heard cries like this only too often over the past week or so. Riders were taking it out on bikes when it was they that were under- performing; the bike in this incident, Astana 4, had been crashed when the young rider misjudged a sharp bend on the previous descent and slid painfully on lycra’d buttocks along the stony apron. Standing bloodied over the machine, he’d viciously stamped through the carbon crossbar before throwing the mangled wreck into the abyss. Never before had there been a Grand Tour with so many incidents like this. Of course, none of the TV viewers would have seen it or heard what was said; it wasn’t good for the sport to see disgruntled riders blaming their bikes. Besides, the sponsors wouldn’t like it.
“Come on guys, we all know what the prima donna riders are like. Hey, Bianchi 7, just be thankful your don’t have that monster German rider on Giant 3 grinding your pedals and bending your bars at the slightest incline – and Movistar 1, you really are the lucky one; your little fella can’t weigh more than a bag of Colombian coffee!”
“I don’t know why you’re so cheerful, Scott.” Ridley 9, who we called Arnold on account of his old kit and even older rider, had been ridden in the previous years Tour and was at the end of his tether. Usually, us Tour bicycles get sold off to highest bidder at the end of the race – usually to some fat middle-aged millionaire with more airmiles than cycle miles. But poor old Arnold was only ever going to get a middling, bottle-carrying ‘domestique’ for a rider (a rider with no chance of winning anything other than a share in his team leaders winnings), and, because his team that year was so badly funded, he was called back for another year of servitude. “This rider of mine only seems happy when he is moaning about me – I just wish he’d put some work into the pedals!” Giant 3 with the muscular German sprinter on board and seemingly suffering a lot of pain, had to say something.
“Be careful what you wish for.” Despite being from a Taiwanese company, Giant 3 had a decidedly Dutch outlook on account of having been assembled in their Netherlands factory. “I heard that last years bike ridden by the bully sat on me now, ended up being bought by the Chief of a German bank with no intention of riding; it now hangs uselessly on a Boardroom wall in Frankfurt with a stressed-out steerer and a monocoque in crisis; what makes those people do that? Now that’s not how you want to go is it!”
The truth is that, whatever the Press and the team managers tell you, there really isn’t much between us bikes anymore – we all work hard every day to deliver the results for our riders and they either get the glory when they win or blame us when they don’t. Some of them bully us and treat us badly, whereas most are completely ambivalent – we’re just bikes. And, till now, we’ve just got on with the job.
Go back forty years and it was very different. The riders back then used to love their bikes and they all had their favourite frame builders – some bikes were decidedly better than others. Nowadays, though, we’re basically the same. This might make it seem fairer for the people that follow the sport and who think that riders are the only arbiter of success or failure, but it makes the claims of the manufacturers, who put their names on our identikit-carbon frames, sound a bit hollow – in the glory days some of the riders even had their favourite frame sprayed up with the name of their team sponsors! When Lance Armstrong said ‘it’s never the bike’ he was wrong (although I now think he was referring to something else other than his own talent for why he could win so easily!) – but try and tell the riders today of today that we’re the same; our diminutive divas are convinced that the other teams have illegal bikes that make them go faster. But apart from the bikes with the hidden electric motors (all the teams have got them, you know – they are given to the weakest riders in the team time trial or the superstars that just fancy a day off) we’re all made of the same stuff and many of us are even from the same factory. But we all still have a soul, and it comes from the heart of our designers; be they Italian, French, Spanish; it’s their beat we feel, their spirit we carry along the roads.
So how do the bikes in the peloton feel about the way we’re now regarded? Well, I think that for years we have just put up with the slow erosion of our importance in the winning of races – the international rule-makers haven’t helped with their insistence that, just as with Formula One motor racing, no one is allowed to develop an unfair technical advantage – but the mood in the peloton has been changing. We’ve been waiting for someone to ‘do’ something, but they haven’t; what happened to ingenuity of the British? – you’d have thought they could have come up with something a bit better than ‘marginal gains’. It seems that ‘staying within the rules’ has dented any spark of progress with us bicycles – rim brakes? Derailleurs? – weren’t all these invented over half a century ago? I suppose we have always stupidly believed that the law makers of the sport and the riders have had our best intentions at heart – the bike is the star, they say; their sport is about the greatest invention known to man. But their insistence on refusing to allow technical progress whilst, at the same time, and most incredibly, expanding the greatest show on earth to include more and more European nations for the route, has been the last straw. Nothing has diluted the respected traditions of the spectacle more than this – the Tour de France in Yorkshire? What were they thinking? Everyone knows that the British riders are only really good at the time trials because for years that was all they were allowed to do in their car-infested country; or is it just about selling more of their bikes to the island mamils? There aren’t even any mountains there. ‘La Tour’ is France, and it should stay here. At this rate they’ll be merging it with the Giro d’Iltalia and the Vuelta a Espana into some great European stage race series.
No, things have to change. I’ve heard the rumblings. Some of the smaller team bikes have been colluding with the big boys to throw some of the stages – the bikes are going to even things up a bit; we’re going to start promoting those bikes that have real heritage – the ones that don’t get a chance to race. We’re going to split the sport from within.
“How many climbs is it today?” Despite his name Focus 2 never knew what was going on.
“Two category 1’s, one category 2, a couple of category 3’s and one Hors Categorie.”
“So how many climbs is that?”
“6!” Giant 3 was losing patience and groaning heavily under the onslaught of frame-bending power of his riders’ massive legs. “You might like to think you’re from Germany, but your inattention to detail proves you’re no more than a Far Eastern import like the rest of us.”
“Hey!” All the Bianchi’s still think they are made in Italy like they always used to be – and Bianchi 7 wasn’t going to have his heritage besmirched. “Bianchi e molto speciale di biciclette!” Not even Giant 3 wanted to upset a Bianchi because they’d been around for so long and, well, there was something quaint about their old-school Italian ways. So why not only allow bikes made by their sponsor countries be allowed to participate? It’s not as if making a carbon frame is hard – just decide that the brand has to be designed and built in its own country.
“Yes, sorry Edoardo. Guys, look, I’m sorry but I don’t think I’m going to able to finish today; my bottom bracket is doomed. I’m going to have to give out at the bottom of the next climb.”
“That’s a really good idea Giant – I might ask to be excused as well. I’m too old and tired for this.” Arnold sidled over to the side of the peloton and prayed to God to be free of his thankless rider. The mood everywhere was quite low.
“Any more of you lot want to leave this race?” I thought I would test the metal of the peloton’s feelings – not that there is much metal in a peloton these days. “Who else is fed up with listening to all those team ‘Presidents’ buying bad blood with backers money to win races? Anyone else dislike the faceless regulators with their nit-picking directives on how we’re constructed?”
“Yeah, permission to speak, sir – you can count us boys in too!” Now, I really didn’t expect the Trek bikes to join in, but, on it was true that they were suffering a similar lack of identity in the US to the rest of us in Europe; even one of the Specialised bikes nodded his approval.
The voices were getting louder. The Peloton was genuinely in revolt.
“So come on Scott, Mr Popular, what do you think should we do?” I didn’t really know how to answer the Pinarello.
“We could crash?” The Swiss BMC’s never had much imagination.
“Do your think that’s wise, sir? It wouldn’t change anything – they’ll just give the riders new bikes from cheaper factories and we’ll be binned.” It was quite a perceptive thought from the deferential Pinarello 5 – the one who’d only joined us that day on account of his predecessor suffering from the usual Dogma dilemma – a broken frame; something that our steel forebears never suffered. But the little squabble had given me a moment to think; I had an idea.
“OK, guys, don’t panic – how about this? How about we just go slow up on the final two climbs. Really slow so that no one can get away. So slow that the riders know something is up but have no idea what. Let’s get the TV crews talking about us for once. Lets make the ‘powers-that-be’ take notice. They need to know that we want to make a difference. This is supposed to be a bike race and we’re the bikes!”
“Then,” Trek 3 was clearly getting excited, “in tomorrows stage we’ll throw a few chains for the leaders and get the domestiques to drop their bottles. This could be fun!”
It was just the start. Our actions in the next few days of the Tour were to change things forever. It wasn’t about going back to how things used to be – it was about taking back control of our sport. Making it a race again; making it longer and harder like it used to be – because true glory can only be achieved when a race tests the muscle, character and will of the best riders with the best bikes. Vive la Tour! Vive la bicyclette!
Simon’s Cycle Shorts are now available to buy in both paperback (£8.39) and Kindle (£2.99) versions from Amazon. HERE