18/07/17

And What of the Amateur Cyclist?

Romans-sur-Isère, Drôme

So we sit, nursing our rosé, staring at these gods on the bar’s tv.  They’re only blokes on bikes after all, bit younger than us, bit fitter, but not much different.  The surge in bike sales after the Tour is matched only by the impossibility of getting on a tennis court after Wimbledon.

So, I've got the bike and some phenomenally expensive clothing which, rather than flattering, as it seems to on the online site, makes me look a bit like Bibendum after a week at a fat farm.  These shoes are a bit weird, much more power to the pedal, but I keep forgetting to unclip when I stop, and then have to pretend that I intended to lie in the road and study the sky.  Months pass, and I’ve got the bug.  Can’t stay off it, faster, stronger, further, higher.  I’ve lost weight, I’ve cracked the shoes, the saddle’s broken in.  Let’s look at the stats.  I think I’m really quite good.

In the 2016 Tour Marcus Berghardt achieved a speed of 130.7 kph, in the previous year Rohan Dennis’ average over the whole Tour was 55.44 kph.  

We are not like them, and we never will be. No matter how much cold drip coffee we drink pre-ride.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, And wisdom to know the difference.

- The Cyclist's Prayer, on seeing the Tour de France
Three Tour de Force "lifers" doing the whole route
Three Tour de Force "lifers" doing the whole route

But, still we carry on, in ever increasing numbers.  More than 2 million people in the UK cycle every week.  There are over 400 sportives a year across the country.  Bike sales are up by 12%, the increase in the sale of serious road bikes is 30%.  Rapha’s clothing sales grow 30% per annum, the biggest rise being in womens’ kit.

Cycling is fantastic, whether you’re 80 and pootling to the shops, or 18 and training to be a pro.  The Tour, insane, misogynist and scandal-ridden, is still a glorious event, and the fact that it inspires so many makes you almost forgive it’s flaws.

Tour de Force is a partner of Modern Salt on the Tour.  They cover the Tour route a week before the pros, and all the riders are sponsored, raising money for the William Wates Memorial Trust. The Trust exists to celebrate the life of William Wates (1977-1996) by supporting projects that help dis-advantaged young people fulfil their potential and stay away from a life of crime. A member of the Wates family always cycles one or more of the stages.

With Tour de Force you can cycle the whole route (3540 km this year) or just a stage or two.  The logistics are daunting - 158 riders plus support staff to transport, accommodate and feed, with none of the closed roads, sponsorhip and fame of the Tour. Of those 158, 42 are covering the whole route, "lifers", possibly so named as it takes that long to recover.  

Modern Salt spent an afternoon with them after they had completed stage 16, which the Tour does today (Le Puy-en-Velay to Romans-sur-Isère). Talking to the riders there are common themes: the will required to cycle 200-300km a week during the winter: the "battle of attrition" which one of them described - pressing on when, in fact, it's not a lot of fun training on a turbo alone in the garage, or on the road in poor light and freezing rain.  

Chris Stephens is marking his 40th birthday, Paul Eden his 50th.  Elizabeth Ashley,  from Georgia, worked for the Gates Foundation in Nigeria and trained by riding from Kenya to South Africa and then, rather more prosaically, round the Lake District and hills of Surrey.  She has recovered from hip and knee replacement surgery, and is doing the whole route.  Harry Perkins, from New Zealand, had a hideous freak accident on Tour de Force in 2015, fracturing his femur in three places, and he describes his need to finish what he started as something of an albatross round his neck.  Neil Nash Williams, also marking his 50th, has "loved every minute, but, probably more in retrospect then when I'm going through it, as is the way with cycling".  All have raised funds for the William Wates Memorial Trust. This year the total is estimated to be more than £350,000.

As is often discussed, cycling does need to acknowledge women and put more energy and money into that aspect of the sport. (http://www.modernsalt.co.uk/to...

It is also the case, less talked about, that it is now almost exclusively a middle-class pastime - much more than it was in the middle part of the 20th century, and that also should be addressed.

In the nation's collective memory is grainy newsreel footage of factory or shipyard gates opening and hordes of grimy smiling men and the occasional woman peddling home, overtaken by chaps in suits driving cars, while the plummy voiceover tells us how marvellous it all is.   

Now it is more likely to be senior management  getting to work on a Pinarello while the rest struggle with crowded trains or, outside cities, in a diesel-driven car. Cycling has replaced golf as the sport of the successful professional classes.

The beneficiaries of the WWMT are young people from very deprived backgrounds, facing a life of crime, imprisonment and substance abuse.  They do not even have n bikes, they're not on Strava and they've never heard of Rapha.  The Trust's website explains their work, but, more powerful than the written word, is this young man's explanation of what his life is like:

with thanks to Rick Wates.

http://wwmt.org

https://rideleloop.org  (Tour de Force - re-branded for 2018 to Le Loop)

Rick Wates, Will's brother, Chair of the William Wates Memorial Trust, en vélo, bien sûr!
Rick Wates, Will's brother, Chair of the William Wates Memorial Trust, en vélo, bien sûr!

and with a summary of Stage 16, here's the Podcast:

Credits

Name Role
Penny Averill Photographer