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Friday, August 24, 2012

Lancing the Boil

As a parent you sometimes have difficult decisions to make in respect of your children.
One of these concerns the myth of  'Father Christmas' or 'Santa Claus' as he is known in the United States.
For the early years of our children's lives we lie to them, telling them that a big fat man, dressed in red, is going to arrive during the hours of darkness and leave them some presents.
We often reinforce this by advising them to leave out milk for the reindeer and cookies for our rotund invention.
As they gleefully open their presents the next day we whisper 'Did you hear the reindeer bells in the night?'


The joy in their faces is priceless.
Sadly as children get older we know that a time will come when they will find out the truth.
A dilemma evolves.
Do you tell them yourself knowing that you can explain everything? or do you let them work it out themselves to prolong the magical moments that come with this falsehood?

Either way, when they do find out they will realise that you have lied to them.
The age of innocence is over
From thereon in, Christmas changes and is never the same again

For Years Lance Armstrong was my Santa Claus.
He provided me with regular gifts of inspiration - not only in December but throughout the year.
The inspiration never came from his winning the Tour de France seven times, but from his courage in fighting and beating Cancer.
From the inspiration and strength he has provided to cancer sufferers for over a generation.
And yeah drugs or no drugs he was a fantastic cyclist and a consummate athlete.

I had already worked out sometime ago that maybe he didn't drive a sleigh, but it made his gifts no less valuable.

The USADA has now formally told the world that Lance Armstrong is a cheat.
That he is no longer my Santa Claus.
I am not happy

Maybe they are right, but what have they actually achieved?
Where does that leave them now?
Where does that leave the principals of Justice?
Where does that leave cycling ?

It is commonly known that for over the last decade professional cycling has been plagued with the misuse of performance handling drugs.
During that period it is impossible to say who won clean and who won dirty.
Some cyclists were caught, and we  know with total certainty that some were not.
We  knew all these things way before the USADA Investigation.

During that time Lance was suspected of doping he was singled out for testing time and time again.
Each time he passed.
He often quotes that he had never failed a drugs test and I am certain that what he said was factually correct.
Does not mean he didn't take drugs? No
It means what he says 'He never failed a drugs test.
It could also mean had he was able to employ the best chemist, and doctors to mask the tests.

I don't really want to get into the debate about whether he did or didn't, in an environment where there was no even playing field.
I question  the relevance today and the proportionality of the actions taken by the USADA.

Armstrong retired in 2005!!!

Since that time cycling has totally cleaned up its act.
It is now a booming sport both with viewing and participation.

If the USADA wanted to be fair whilst conducting  historical investigations they should investigate all US cyclists or none at all.
They state they have some key witnesses who were willing to testify against Lance but wished to keep them anonymous for fear of intimidation by Armstrong. Do they think we are that stupid!!!!!

It does not take a genius to work out who the witnesses are and I am sure Lance sees, or speaks to them regularly.
What are the USADA doing about their possible involvement?

Lets think this one through...............(hypothetically of course)

Maybe you had been involved in taking performance enhancing drugs in the past and had ridden for a prominent team.
Maybe you  had not yet retired.
Your reputation is still intact and you are earning a good living.
In the past you had seen other cyclists, often friends whose lives had been reduced to tatters through doping exposure, they had become humiliated and some turned into national figures of hate.

Along come the USADA who just might have some evidence that could cause you a few problems.
It may not convict you but could certainly be that sticky sort of mud.
Instead of going after you they induce you.
They say if you testify against your friend they wont go after you.
You are then scared, cornered and trapped.

Maybe they also tell you that they have seen your old mate  who has already agreed to Testify.
You could end up feeling that you have no choice.
Times that scenario by 12 and the pressure is really on Lance.

What hypocrisy
The USADA favours some, but not others, targets some not others.
Offers inducements - Aren't they a body that are meant to deter cheats?

What about the cycling and UCI?

If Lance is stripped of the Tour de France Titles who do they go to?
With most of the prominent riders of that era already exposed who can be sure that the title does not go from one suspected doper to another.
If awarded the title, should any new recipient undergo the same scrutiny as Lance?
If not, why not?

The USADA may have thought themselves as being responsible by telling the world that Santa Claus no longer exists.....but maybe some of us didn't want to know


Monday, August 20, 2012

Ride with Brad

Way before Bradley Wiggins was given his Yellow Jersey to keep, and received yet another golden gong  our meeting was already scheduled.
The 19th of August 2012.
Yes - before the Tour de France and Olympics Bradley had set up the Bradley Wiggins Foundation

A charity with clear aims and objectives
To promote participation in sport and encourage people to exercise on a regular basis

To support keen and talented athletes from all sports who have the potential of taking their talent to the next level
To provide equipment or facilities to allow participation in sport as an individual, through clubs, local communities or schools

To launch the foundation he organised a sportive to take place in the local area where he trained.
Judging by his accent, and believing he was a London Boy, I rubbed my hands together thinking the only hill that might trouble me would be at  Highgate.
Unfortunately Bradley now lives 'Up North'  and trains on the Pennines around the Yorkshire/Lancashire border. The location for the ride.
File:Pendle Hill above mist 235-0004.jpg

Not appreciating any future pain from the comfort of my desk -I entered the event , coaxing some of my fellow Anglo Mules to join me.

Later when I saw that some of the climbs had 'names' - I realised that they must be significant.
Hills or mountains don't normally have names unless they have some sort of personality.

The Iconic 'Nick of Pendle' and 'Trough of Bowland' both had plenty, if they were human they would be absoloute rotters.
Both were featured in my book '100 greatest cycling climbs' by Simon Warren.



On arriving at Barnoldswick I soon realised that this was no ordinary Sportive.
There was a real buzz of excitement within what I can only describe as a cycling village.
As we were corralled into starting pens our turn eventually came which saw us take our place at the front of the cordoning ribbon.

The MC who was entertaining the crowing crowd and linking in to the local radio station spotted our equine shirts. Within seconds a microphone was pressed in front of me asking me to talk about 'The Mules'.
My mind was on forthcoming gradients, not witty remarks, so my response was tepid.
It wouldnt be the only time that my tongue would abandon me that day.
   

Thankfully I was saved by the bell and we were off
A quartet of pink and black in perfect Symmetry.
Wherever there were houses there were people.....hundreds of them with placards and Union jacks.
The love for Bradley Wiggins overflowed so much, that even us mere mortals were able to lap some of it up.

It provided such a lift, that it was like a verbal  anesthetic. It numbed the pain of constantly pushing into the red zone.
The first 15 miles were similar to the wolds with  rolling hills.
Fuelled my adrenaline we were averaging just short of 18 mph.
This was abruptly reduced  by a flock of sheep that were being moved out to pasture.
What a great idea........I nearly followed.!




What did follow was Waddington Fell.
As we moved onto the bigger climbs the roads were chalked and dozens of spectators lined the road to bring a welcome cheer upon the barren moors.
On reaching Sabden I could see the road wind out in front of me far, far into the distance.
The vista was not horizontal but vertical.
As climbs go this was by no means the toughest but it was certainly the most beautiful and awe inspiring that I have ever climbed. (The pictures are not from the day but feature various stages of the climb)





The closer I got to the top the bigger the crowds got, and the louder the applause became .
Dozens of people were forced to walk as the increased gradient opened up the lactic acid valves on lower limbs.
I knew that my feet would remain in my cleats.
Each cheer I harnessed into another turn of the crank and another few meters closer to the summit.  

After the summit - came the descent where Mark registered 48 mph - MAD F***ER!!!!

We then moved into an area that was once described as a wild and lawless region: an area "fabled for its theft, violence and sexual laxity. Interesting.
 It was an area which was the centre of the Pendle witch trials in 1612, a date which is recorded on its imposing landscape.

As the event drew to an end I knew that I was nearly empty and I was starting to struggle.
The rain came making the roads slippy and the narrow ascents became more taxing.
On one such ascent I heard a voice next to me. 'Keep going, your doing really well, there is not far to go now' glancing over - It was him.
The Tour de France winner, and Multiple gold medal  Olympian. Bradley Wiggins
I had rehearsed this moment in my head for weeks, like an outside Oscar nominee.
I would talk about the Mules, ask about the Tour.etc etc
Instead all I could offer was a gormless starstruck smile and a shriek 'Bradley'
He did smile back before smoothly accelerating away from me.
 WHAT A DAY

Saturday, August 11, 2012

The Gold Diggers

 
Over the past two weeks the country has been gripped with Olympic fever and for a small Island we have been punching way above our weight as far as our success is concerned.
If you were to compare our medal haul with our national population then we would be clear leaders in the merit tables.
However to measure our games purely on our sporting achievements would be like glancing at the cover of a book and believing you understood the content.
The real tale lies underneath, within the pages, some of it obvious and some subtly interwoven within the storyline.

One of the less obvious consequences is the affect that the event has had on the media.

Regrettably football or Soccer as its known in America is our national sport and as such it normally dominates both the front and the back pages of our Newspapers.
When I say 'regrettably', I am not referring to the actual sport, but its troublesome bi products:-

The players and their WAGS (Wives and Girlfriends)

With a few notable exceptions the majority of our footballers are selfish, greedy, and arrogant.
They are disrespectful of themselves, other players and officials.

They are disloyal to their wives, partners and teammates
They are yobbish, crude and illiterate.
It does not surprise me that many of them use 'Twitter' to communicate, because using any other form they would struggle to string TWO sentences together.

Finally .......continuing with my rant ..............they are hardly patriotic!
When they line up for England they play with less passion and pride then most couch potatoes viewing them. 
Sadly they are also obscenely overpaid and often 'recievce' in a weekend what an average supporter earns for the whole years work. 

Unfortunately such bounty often attract women with the same levels of morality.

To snare a footballer is  regarded as an actual career choice which fortunately for some have no formal  educational requirements.
The application process does expect some essential characteristics though
These include a high level of silicone, regular botox, and a size 0 frame. 

Despite their objections both the players and WAGS appear to crave the limelight, and the paparazzi are all too keen to help out.
The result is that we get very little worthy news.
Any interest into the richness of life appears to have been diluted into a preoccupation with the lives of these creatures.
The WAG and her Mate have evolved into cut out rolemodels that children worryingly look up to - hardly a lofty  aspiration. 

Over the past two weeks, new and legitimate role models have evolved, who have been so influential that the media have abandoned the Gold Diggers and embraced the Gold Getters.
This is none more so then with our women pursuit riders Laura Trott, Dani King, and Jo Rowsell.
They are everything that the WAGs are not.
Brave, committed, loyal, patriotic, respectful, hard working  and now very much loved.   


Last Saturday In the Olympic final, they smashed the world record for the sixth successive time.

Behind each Olympian there is a story, usually of total commitment and sacrifice, with  great highs and lows that come with four years of training. For this trio there is no difference.
Each of the trio, in different ways, has overcome adversity in their journey to the top of the podium.
Jo Rowsell who shares the same birthday as me has shown such courage in her battle with alopecia.
Brought up in Surrey she used to wear her long auburn hair in plaits.
"I remember crying to my parents and asking why it was happening," Rowsell once said when remembering the day her alopecia was diagnosed at the age of 10. "They said they would get someone to fix it."

Alopecia, however, can only be treated rather than cured. Rowsell became inhibited, concentrating on her schoolwork as a way of avoiding thinking too much about her appearance. She did not dare imagine a life where she might feel confident enough to have a boyfriend. It was then, when she was 15, that a small sporting miracle intervened. Rowsell's undoubted physical potential was spotted by a British cycling scout who visited her school in Sutton in 2004.
Cycling transformed Rowsell. In return, she has provided Dave Brailsford's programme at British cycling with a rider who, at 23, is the steady heartbeat who leads out this young team.
Her humanity resounds and, again with some bravery, she admitted her vulnerability on the last occasion all her hair fell out.
She had just met her boyfriend. "I was so worried he wasn't going to like me," she said.
LauraTrott, the new star of British cycling and the strongest rider of the three is a double Olympian having secured the Omnium on Tuesday the track equivalent of the Heptathlon.

Trott claims to "love that weird feeling you get in your mouth when the pain is so bad it tastes like blood". Trott pushes herself so hard that she regularly vomits after races.
To have her on the track in itself is a miracle as she was born with a collapsed lung, and her life was in jeopardy for six weeks. This contributed to a constant struggle with asthma which she has had to overcome.
The 21-year-old Dani King, meanwhile faced her own serious test three years ago. King's hopes of being offered a place on British cycling's elite programme looked like they would be ended by a serious bout of glandular fever. The illness had such a ravaging impact on King that there were doubts she would ever make it as an elite cyclist.

Travelling without my Mule


Last week my training was interrupted by a work trip to New York and I decided to take my Mule shirt with me on the off chance that I might be able to ride.
The last time that I had visited New York was when they had black and White Televisions and any cycle I owned probably still had three wheels.
Although I was working I wasted no time, opting to rise with the sun to ensure that I could experience as much as possible. All around the city were stalls that sold everything from key rings to T Shirts depicting the slogan 'I Love NY' and I am not surprised. I loved it too. As cities go 
I found it to be Warm (Actually it was scorching) vibrant and diverse. Totally cosmopolitan and displayed all the positive aspects of Americana.
The only shortcoming I detected though was its limited encouragement for urban cycling and commuting.

Apart from Brooklyn Bridge (Above) and Central Park it appeared that any cycling journey would be like undertaking some medieval quest, with hazards abound and beasties at every corner.
Having said that I thought that the cycling facilities in central Park were amazing and was able to experience them for myself by hiring a bike from one of the many outlets.
'What a training ground' - The park offered smooth roads,  hills, fast flats, all surrounded in a beautiful setting surrounded by Iconic landmarks.
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Although I did not have my own 'Mule' with me I soon became acquainted with its distant cousin, who performed admirably.
The only downside was my choice of  sports shorts which was not the ideal clothing to interact with a saddle at 100 degrees of heat, but jeans were my only other choice.
 Note to myself  'always bring bibs or cycle shorts for such eventualities'
The seven miles that I appear to have registered was my shortest ride of the year and certainly the slowest,
but I was equipped with a bell that said 'I love New York'
As I sounded it that was certainly the tune I heard too.

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