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Saturday, May 28, 2011

Sporting Heroes - Please dont let me down

For as long as I can remember I have always been interested in sport whether through participation or as a frustrated spectator.

As a small child I remember my father talking to me about the famous Busby Babes and of travelling all over the country to see 'The Red Devils' of Manchester United.

Although I never played football within a few years I was an expert armchair pundit, a walking Mancunian encyclopedia dedicated to my beloved team.

Although I may have struggled with my algebra in the classroom I could recount the detail of every game since my first.

Some forty years later the investment continues and I eagerly await the Champions League Final against the mighty Barcelona tonight.

All sport fans will know that when you follow teams there are always going to be highs and lows.

Today I am high with anticipation of the game and proud of my team for reaching their third final in four years.

I will temporarily lap it up, because win or lose there will inevitably be some future fall from these lofty heights.

There will also be heroes and villains who change the course of the game, your emotions and sometimes your life as a supporter.
I remember being shocked to the core at seeing my superhero Eric Cantona perform a Bruce Lee kick on an abusive spectator at Crystal Palace.

I felt so angry at him for letting me down it felt so personal as if it was one of my children or friends.

It was many months later before I forgave him when in February 1996 he scored a wonder goal against Sunderland. After the ball had struck the back of the net he turned around slowly with that Gaelic arrogance, scanning the crowd to seek my approval high up in the East Stand.

Having any sporting Hero can be that personal and that painful.

When it involves sports you actual play the experience is even more personal.

In my younger years rugby was my true passion.

A game I played right up till 40 years when my local accident and Emergency department reserved me a parking space for Saturday afternoons.

My Hero of this Sport was Dean Richards. He was a man who rarely found himself on the losing side either as a player and subsequently as a manager. He was hugely respected around the world and acknowledged as one of the great players of his generation.

I had the good fortune to play against him twice and he was awesome.

A mountain of a man and a real gentleman.

He was also the only person in the world I have requested a signature from such was my admiration of him.

In 2009 he was banned to have no involvement in Rugby for 3 years.

This was after 'The Bloodgate affair'.

He was the manager of the Harlequins where in a close game he wanted to bring on his already substituted kicker Nick Evans to close a game down.

The only way that he could do that in those circumstances was as a blood substitute for a player who might be required to leave the field of play for treatment.

Low and behold one of the team Tom William suddenly appeared to be profusely bleeding from his mouth. Little did we now he had just bitten into a theatrical blood capsule. This enabled the switch to be made.
Unfortunately Williams was not the brightest of players as he used no subtlety when producing the effect away from any obvious contact and then winking as he came off.

The story started to trickle out weeks later which ran on and on accompanied by smoke and mirrors and an assortment of lies.

Eventually Richards was man enough to come clean.

I felt crushed. Whats the point in cheating!!!!!

I inserted my only signature collection into a shredder. Dean Richards was no longer my hero but a cheat.

When I gave up Rugby I took up road cycling and instantly became addicted to following the grand tours. With no prominent British riders to follow my search for a two wheeled hero fell easily at the feet of Lance Armstrong. Not only was he a magnificent cyclist but he was heroic in some many other ways. Battling and defeating Cancer, setting up a charity and making us all believe that anything is possible.

I became transfixed watching him tackle the mountains of Europe.

In 2001, on the famous slopes of Alpe d’Huez, I suffered as Armstrong appeared to falling off the back of a lead group containing his long-standing rival, Jan Ullrich.

All day he appeared to suffer, prompting Ullrichs German’s Telekom team to set the pace.

As they approached the base of d'Huez, Armstrong pulled to the front.

He looked round at a struggling Ullrich, fixed a stare upon him, then blew him away.

He climbed the mountain and set the fourth-fastest recorded ascent of Alpe d’Huez, thirty-eight minutes and one second.
It was a thing of legends and something I used to keep myself going when things got tough.

In 2003, descending from the Alps to a stage finish in the town of Gap, Armstrong raced downwards, neck-and-neck with the main contender for his yellow jersey, the Spaniard, Joseba Beloki. With the summer heat melting the bitumen in an old road surface, and the two diving for a hairpin bend, Beloki’s front tyre snatched from under his wheel, leaving Beloki in tears upon the tarmac with a broken pelvis, and Armstrong taking the only available option other than a crash. At breakneck speed he rode through a field, dismounted, jumped over a ditch, and regained the road to finish in a competitive time.

There are countless instances of this natural ability and steely determination that has seen Armstrong not only capture my adoration but provide goosebumps to cycling fans and neutrals around the world.

When cycling seemed to spin from one drug scandal to another I always felt sure that Armstrong was clean.

I convinced myself that in overcoming Cancer Armstrong was able to combine natural ability with a pain threshold that no other cyclist could match. It would always be a winning combination.

When the french journalists shouted cheat, I dismissed them as being jealous at having no decent French riders.

When Floyd Landis directly stated that Armstrong took drugs I laughed.

Surely Landis was just trying to justify his own misdemeanours.

Now Tyler Hamilton has emerged seemingly offering direct evidence to a federal investigation linking Armstrong with the direct use of EPO.

I now feel less reluctant to bury my head in the sand

I know that you should not read everything you see but what of the other riders?

None of them are coming forward to provide a contrary view.

I have not heard Big George Hincapie rubbish Hamiltons claims or even state that he never saw Armstrong take anything !!!!!

For now the sun has not yet set on my relationship with Lance.

He is still my Hero and will continue to inspire me, but maybe I too am living a lie and cheating myself.

Whether you use EPO or the inspiration of false gods you still have to pedal the bike.

Lance please dont let me down!!!

I am sure this sordid affair that surrounds Armstrong will run and run.

To use the words of my less tarnished Hero Eric Cantona:-

"When the seagulls follow the trawler, it's because they think sardines will be thrown into the sea"

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Eating in the saddle

Last weekends Brig Sportive threatened to be a washout with high winds and torrential rain forecast.
Certainly as we travelled to the venue you could have been excused for believing that you were in a car wash as we were buffeted from side to side whilst seemingly being emerged in large quantities of water.
However as the start time approached the aerial sprinkler system malfunctioned and the only precipitation in sight was that left behind forming large puddles along the route.

The field had been depleted by those non attenders who suffered from acute Ombrophobia- (Fear of rain or of being rained on)

As Mark and I prepared ourselves, fellow Mule Kelky and his Colleague Karen turned up to do the Shorter ride. So at least three Mule Shirts were on Parade.The course was gorgeous and well organised although the last 15 miles riding into a strong headwind caused my energy levels to tumble as dramatically as a sneezing trapeze artist.

With my Garmin telling me I had completed 98.2 miles Mark pointed out some riders behind us. These were a couple of young bucks who we had recently overtaken. They were storming up the road and closing the gap rapidly, probably incensed that some tubby veteran was going to pick up a 'ten second pride bonus' at the finish. Mark asked 'what have you got left? With only 1.8 miles to go I knew I had something in reserve and can always be relied upon to lead out when the terrain is flat. 'Don't worry about me' I arrogantly shouted as I blasted past him ramping up the pace to 28 mph. Glued to my wheel Mark shouted out words of encouragement.

After a mile I was hurting, after 1.5 miles I was totally burying myself. Moments later as my Garmin hit 99.80 miles I suddenly realised that there was no finishing line around the corner. The urban area that we were now entering was not in fact Brig but the village three miles to the south of our destination. The sudden realisation crushed me and I let Mark through, frantically trying to hold his wheel whilst yelling at him to slow down. Fortunately the young bucks were now nowhere to be seen and I was able to compose myself and wipe the froth from my mouth before we crossed the line. 100miles should be 100 miles, not F***ing 103.2

This week saw the start of our summer team training on Wednesday evening where it was good to see some new faces.

This week also provided me with over 3,000 miles for the year providing me with a great foundation for the rest of the season.

To get better and faster I now need to get leaner and lighter - my usual problem.

With a 24 hour ride looming on the Horizon its no longer a wish, its now a necessity.
Bob and I had a ride out to Millington on Saturday and stopped at the 'Ramblers rest' for a coffee, a great spot which is a favorite spot for cyclists.

Bob asked me if I wanted my customary Cake which to his astonishment I declined explaining my new ambitions

All around us were other cyclists drinking Coffee and eating cakes which were obviously baked especially for me. I watched intently my head darting from each plate to mouth, as by saliva glands went into overdrive.

Unamused I told Bob that these skinny cyclists were obliged to eat as they had no 'personal fuel' to rely on, I likened their attendance to that of a racing car refuelling during a pit stop.

Bob liked the analogy and chucked.

Developing it further I patted by protruding belly and remarked how clever I was by developing my own fuel reserves which required no saddlebag and could be secured quite nicely on the inside of my cycling jersey.

I then seem to loose the plot and pronounced that when I die I could never be cremated.

I explained that such a course of action might create a large traffic jam with a backlog of funeral hearses trying to reach the crematorium. The delay would inevitably be caused by the time needed for my fuel sacks to extinguish.

Small villages could be heated for weeks or I could be used as an exercise my the local fire brigade.

Bob who was certain that my abstract mutterings were symptoms of some hypoglycemic condition and insisted we share a muesli bar.

It was not quite a cream cake ....but it did shut me up.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ambition is the last refuge of Failure

When Oscar Wilde wrote that 'ambition is the last refuge of failure' people applauded at yet another insightful phrase from this perceptive wordsmith.
Once the clapping had died down they then argued about what was meant by it.
This in turn ironically played the phrase out as ambitious scholars had to accept that their own interpretations were possibly flawed.
My own take on this is that 'Ambition' is a positive attribute, a driving force, a will to succeed.
Where could 'failure' possibly find a refuge in such a state of mind?

I believe that Wilde probably perceived that with ambition there comes 'challenges'. A desire to do something 'out of your comfort zone' or 'out of reach' .

With such new ventures there is always a greater possibility of failure because of the unknown. Life often requires practice, a succession of dress rehearsals. How many times do you get things right the first time?

Last Saturday Simon and I took part in the Pocklington Pedal Challenge 100 mile sportive. A traditional type sportive with challenges provided through frequent arduous climbs, zig-zagging between the Vale of York and the East Yorkshire Wolds. It included two trips into Thixendale an idyllic village only accessible to riders who have put in their winter training. Somewhere you would be as happy to leave as you would to arrive. To visit twice by different routes was as imaginative as it was sadistic. I can just imagine the organisers having a jolly good laugh as they thought up that one !!!!

On arriving at the start I was overcome with a great sense of unease as I walked to the signing on area. The gale force blustery winds were tugging at my clothes and caused me to tilt forwards in order to make progress. As we lined up for the start I surveyed the depleted entrants knowing that the remainder had sensibly silenced alarms and pulled the covers back over there helmetless heads. It was one moment in time that I was actually grateful for my additional poundage as some of the stickmen would surely be blown from hill tops. We were set off in two minute intervals and Simon and I took up the rear, with an almost immediate call of nature by Simon we were soon adrift. The first hill soon arrived the 400 feet, 16% gradient, and 35 mph headwind was a difficult equasion but =3.8mph of progress. It also required the skill of a high wire performer required to remain on two wheels. After 35 miles we started overtaking folk.........some who were forced to walk up some of the hills due to the wind/gradient conspiracy.

After 75 miles we were as close to the finish as we had been all day. Simon was suffering the psychological affects of having me glued to his wheel all day. Sensibly it was a position I was eager not to relinquish without a significant reduction in speed. He questioned the satisfaction and pleasure that the day had brought and suggested that we call it a day. I agreed.

So is this failure Mr Wilde?.........No way. Surely in these circumstances the lack of achievement is never 'failure' but merely a lack of success.
As I complete this blogpost I am following the weather for tomorrows sportive in Lincolnshire.

High winds and torrential rain.......................Although I intend to start there may be some further 'lack of success'.......... and ample supplies of water.