Saturday, 16 March 2019

LE TOUR SNAPSHOTS 2: Sherwen's epic ride




The Tour de France is not just about the winners. There are other heroes.  Among them the domestiques. Men like the late Paul Sherwen.

 His unexpected and untimely death from a heart attack at the age of 62

 last December came as a great shock to all who knew him.

 Men like Sherwen are the backbone of a team. They are employed primarily to be of service of their team leader, to pace them back to the race after puncturing, to shield them from the wind, to mark rivals, burn themselves out in the lead-out train in the closing kilometres.  Except sometimes these guys  make the headlines.

Their suffering is often overlooked, but it provides another perspective on Le Tour, on the long and often dangerous journey around France, through the Alps and Pyrenees.

I have two stories about two such heroes from the 1985 Tour, about guys who crashed and against all the odds struggled on to finish.  One is about Sherwen as the Tour approached the Alps. The other is about Holland’s Adri Wijnands who several stages later crashed on the approach to the Pyrenees.



First, Sherwen.

In 1976, aged 19, Sherwen rode for Altrincham Road Club. He won Britain’s season-long Star Trophy series. His biggest successes included the National road title also the

 Manx International and the Archer Pernod GP plus two stages in the Tour of Malaga.

When he went to France he joined the Paris ACBB and scored a number of high profile amateur wins.



He turned professional in 1978 riding for Fiat under Raphaël Géminiani, before moving to the La Redoute team.

In 1982 he finished third in the Tour du Haut-Var, won by Sean Kelly. And also won a stage win in the season-opening Tour of the Mediterranean.

In 1983 he was second overall in the Four Days of Dunkirk, winning one stage.

In 1985 he had made the biggest headlines of his life with a heroic ride in the 1985 Tour, his last appearance in this greatest of races.

It was a feat recalled in the many tributes paid Sherwen.

Here’s is the report I filed at the time.

1985 Tour: Stage 10, Epinal to Pontarlier, 204.5km (127 miles)

This is a story about a heroic Englishman and an angry German whose troubles began at the start of this long, fast stage. The hero was Paul Sherwen, the angry German, Didi Thurau.

Their unrelated problems made the news on a day when there was no change to the top overall positions, despite seven climbs, with the toughest at the end, a second-category climb to the finish seven kilometres from the valley floor.

Sherwen, one of the most trusted and hard-working domestique in the business, crashed heavily in the first kilometre in Epinal. He hurt his back and was a few minutes on the ground before re-starting.

Because of the high speed set by race leader Bernard Hinault (La Vie Claire), determined to seal a famous fifth overall victory, the race fairly rushed the first two climbs, a third and fourth category, in the opening 20 kilometres.  The frantic pace doomed Sherwen to never regain the field.

He was so hurt that neither could he stay the pace with two La Redoute team-mates sent back to get him. It was a measure of the team’s regard for the Englishman that these two helpers were former world pursuit champion Alain Bondue and another rated Frenchman, Regis Simon.

The pair were forced to abandon Sherwen after 85 kilometres when it became clear that all three of them would finish outside of the time limit and be eliminated.

Save yourselves, Sherwen told them, a domestique to the last, always thinking of others.

And so Bondue and Simon rode Hell for leather to spare themselves from the clutches of the broom wagon.

At the finish we began formulating our day’s stories all the while waiting for Sherwen to arrive. When after an hour he still hadn’t shown, we began the drive back down the mountain road to the press room, when suddenly the evacuation halted.

A long, long time after Jorgen Pedersen (Carrera) had won the stage, the crowds and traffic blocking the descent off the mountain heard whistles shrill. They parted in waves as a lonely gendarme motard outrider appeared. And then the roadside crowds, making their way home, broke into spontaneous applause and cheers at the sight of the tortured vision winging towards them.  Cries “bravo Sherwen” rang out.

It was unbelievable, he was still riding: six hours chasing, most of it alone.

Like everyone else on the descent, our car pulled over to let him continue the five kilometres to the summit.

We’d all waited a long time hoping to see him finish and then left to get down to the press room, convinced he’d packed.

Not Sherwen.

We should have known better. Sherwen doesn’t give up easily, even when he must have known he would finish so far down he would be eliminated. According to the rules he should have been.

Wim Jeremiasse of Holland, a member of the International Jury, gave us reason to hope, saying: “He finished 23 minutes outside the time limit and the jury are deliberating because of the exceptional circumstances. It may be a good decision.”

A few minutes later, he returned to tell us: “Sherwen will not be disqualified. He can stay in the race. The points in his favour were that he crashed in the first kilometre, when the speed of the race was high. He was trying to the end, and his passage up the climb to the finish was blocked with traffic.”

Sherwen’s Director Sportif, Raphael Geminiani had waited like a father for a lost son on the finish line.

When the shattered, bedraggled Sherwen struggled across the line in a near state of collapse, Geminiani, the big Frenchman, a former star himself, threw his arms about Sherwen and in a show of emotion tore his ripped jersey off his back and helped him into a fresh one, saying: “Here, this is your very own Maillot Jaune.”

As for Didi Thurau, his fate also rested with the International Race Jury.

But for him there was only one possible decision. He was instantly disqualified from the Tour de France and fined 1,125 Francs.

The 30-year-old from Frankfurt, yellow jersey holder for 14 days in the 1977 Tour, had that morning assaulted an official!

Thurau has been upset from being docked a one-minute penalty in the time trial on stage 8, after slipstreaming France’s Charly Mottet who had caught and passed the German.

At the start of stage 10 he had asked the chairman of the jury, Raymond Trine of Belgium, why Mottet hadn’t been penalised as well, because Mottet had also taken turns pacing.

So far so good. But then it went pear-shaped for Thurau, because he then grabbed Trine by the throat and shook him, saying, it was alleged, “I will put you in hospital.”

At which point whistles blew for the start and riders mounted their bikes and everyone else bolted for the cars.

It wasn’t until after the stage finish that the commissaires were able to meet and apply Regulation 24: a fine and instant disqualification with no warning.

The rest of the stage details pale into insignificance compared to those two stories. But nevertheless, when we remind ourselves of the action at the head of the race, Sherwen’s epic chase looks all the more remarkable.

There was the attack by France’s Pascal Simon (Peugeot)

in pursuit of an eight-man break which had done clear after 138 kilometres and had gained over four minutes on the peloton by kilometre 160.

Simon’s move sparked a reaction from Hinault who upped the pace to eventually bring him back before he could reach the breakaway which stayed clear, albeit losing four men on the final climb.  The stage was won by Jorgen Pedersen of Denmark, while all the favourites finished in a 26-man chasing group. Besides Hinault, the other major contenders included Scotland’s Robert Millar, who in 1984 became the first Brit to win one of the three major overall titles in a grand tour, the mountains classification. He also finished fourth final overall, the highest placing by a Brit until Bradley Wiggins equalled this in 2009, before his history making overall victory in 2012.

And also in that elite group was Spain’s Pedro Delgado, winner of the Tour of Spain, who would win the Tour in 1988.

 And what of Sherwen?  He’d recovered by the following morning when the British press sought him out to congratulate him.

“You’re taking the Mickey,” he grinned. No we’re not, we said, and we presented him with a bottle of Champagne to prove it.

“Well, thanks very much guys,” he said, looking quite abashed.

“This is my last Tour and I didn’t want to finish by being eliminated.”

Then he quipped: “I thought I’d treat it as if I was riding a 12-hour!”
NEXT Blog: Wijnands 50mph crash.






Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Snapshots from Le Tour




There are millions of stories about the Tour de France, the world’s greatest and biggest annual sporting event.  Many of them escape our notice.

Here’s an odd tale, for starters. When British fans thrilled to the 100th edition of the Tour de France, to the second historic British victory in the 2013, someone thought fit only to moan.

Kenyan born  Chris Froome had stomped the opposition to win the 2013 edition, to  follow Bradley Wiggins’  first in 2012.   It was another great moment in the story of British cycling’s emergence from Cinderella sport to top cycling nation.  

But when the story was run in The Guardian, some bloke, a doctor,  took exception to a photo of Froome and the other top finishers for posing with celebratory cigars!

And the doc wrote to complain. He considered it wrong to give smoking publicity.

Perhaps the Doc needed to light up!  Er, a Freudian slip, that one. Meant to say, lighten up!

Fortunately, The Guardian the following day did this reader the honour of publishing my indignant response.

Here it is:

Dr Tony Jewell clearly doesn't know his cycle racing (letters, July 23) if he was  "astonished" to see photographs of Froome and other Tour de France winners with cigars in their mouths.

Once upon a time, many a top rider could be seen smoking a pipe during the early part of a long stage. When the speed picked up, he'd call up one of his domestiques and hand his pipe over to his trusty servant safe in the knowledge it would be  looked after until he called for it after the stage. The domestique would knock out the pipe on his handlebars before putting it in his jersey pocket.

The downside was it would leave a dirty brown stain on the handlebar tape.”



Of course, this is was a pack of lies. But it served to make a point. The inspiration for this daft idea  must go to  the late Gus Russell of the Merseyside Wheelers.

Gus always rode with the social section with his pipe clenched between teeth, sometimes lit, sometimes not.

But after a smoke he could be heard, back down the line, knocking out his pipe on the handlebars.

They rode very sedately, those social run members. Very slowly! Didn’t suit everyone.

One Sunday morning,  when  the training and social sections had both  disembarked from the same Birkenhead Ferry  from Liverpool, the two groups politely and sedately pedalled through the town together. Until the slow speed dictated by Gus and his crowd drove club time trialling ace Jim Clarke to distraction.

Unable to contain himself, Jim leapt off his bike, handed it to a clubmate to take hold of and keep it rolling alongside, and then ran ahead of the group, his shoe plates clattering on the road,  shouting, "come on guys, can we have a little bit more pace!"

There were a lot of long faces!

Jim reclaimed  his bike and the training guys upped the gears and sped off to leave the socials to it.

But you always hoped to have Gus for company in the Cheshire lanes on those 6am marshalling turns at the Liverpool and District TTCA 12-hour. Because, as well as having a pipe on the go, he always had his primus stove with him for a brew!



Anyway, Eddy Merckx famously enjoyed the occasional puff on a fag and he won the Tour five times, not to mention over 500 other races.

But not, we must suppose, on 70kph mountain descents when it would be difficult to keep the thing lit.

I enjoyed covering the Tour during the 1980s.

First thing’s first. If there’s three or four of you in the car it must be an estate car. Do they call them estate cars? OK, five-door car, the fifth being the huge wedge of a thing which rises up like a drawbridge at the rear. These cars have a large flat area behind the rear seats, for luggage - and washing.

That space also doubles as a dryer - where you spread out your smalls to dry. 

It is impossible to take enough clothing with you for what is a four week trip all told. For you must include the days getting to the start and away from the finish of this three week Tour of One Night Stands in Hotels when suitcase will be opened but never emptied.

So you must wash clothes as you go.

At the very least the colourful array of underwear laid out in the back can cause amusement for the spectators peering in whenever you are parked up on the route.

By the time the race reaches Paris, however, you will have begun to look a little frayed. The shirt you wear may be days old, and for those bashing stories out from dawn to dusk, there may well be several days growth of facial hair as shaving has become one chore to be dispensed with.

Walking out on the posh Champs Elyees, one of my travelling companions was only saved from being picked up as vagrant when the Gendarmes spotted his Tour accredition sticking out of his moth eaten black shirt.

Poor soul had come directly to the Tour from the Mexico World Cup, a six week jamboree and was knackered. (Football!)

It was his first Tour, too, so it was a steep learning curve. Not that you would have known reading his sparkling copy. It was entertaining, showing he had an excellent grasp of the often complex nature of stage racing. He was a pro, afterall, from a real newspaper!

To the discomfort of this particular member of the English party, some of the French hacks had scrubbed up for the final day’s stage. One even wore a very expensive white suit! Clearly, these people lived in or near Paris and gone home the night before, to shake off the weeks of travel. We viewed this as cheating. They had the left the zone before the battle had been wrapped up!

Enough about travel basics. Over the following weeks,  I’ll recall a few more action snapshots.


Thursday, 3 January 2019

Harp Hilly 100...coast and back...Basil's Balls Up Band


My cycling friend, Al, acting on information given him by his son, tells me that there are many platform zeros up and down the country, and that Redhill station in Surrey isn’t the only one, as I had supposed in my previous blog.

 A blog which made the grievous error of not being about cycling.

I am bemused, at first, to learn there are more platform zeros.  But then I quickly become bored because clearly this was only of interest had Redhill been unique in this respect.

I first met Al when we both rode the Harp RC Hilly 100 kilometre reliability trial in the Chiltern Hills, west of London. It was a damp, misty day. We were in the scratch group riding – breathlessly in my case –  with the stars like Steve Heffernan and Skol Six winner Tony Gowland.
We both got round in the allotted time, pleased to say.  Made the legs ache.

At one point when our group caught and passed a slower group the bunch swelled to near on 80 riders. The speed shot up as the scratch guys attacked down the wrong side of the road to get by and for a while it was a full on road race, to my cost.

 I got shelled in the sort out.  This was about two thirds round the hilly course in the Chilterns and I struggled the remaining kilometres to make the cut.

Al and I then rode home to London, where we discovered we were almost neighbours, living in shared flats in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, close by Earls Court.

We’d clocked about 160-kilometers, including riding out and home, and agreed to meet up that evening to repair the damage – a few pints at the Abingdon. Nice bunch of locals, including John – LT to his friends – he was a guard on London Underground.  And there was little old Sid, usually astride a bar stool crouched forward as if riding a gee gee, as befits his former profession, a jockey.

He’d be well sozzled on gin when Al and I walked in – by which time the kindly bar staff were refilling his glass with water to keep in the saddle.

You live where, a horrified  Martyn Roach said. The time trialling and road star commuted to work up and down the horribly busy Cromwell Road, hard by my flat. I understood Martyn’s horror that a fresh air cyclist should live amongst all that traffic mayhem. I used to think that about the area until I discovered the area’s hidden charms – not to mention easy eating in the Hot Pot and supermarkets open 24 hours.

The flower seller was a character. In his 40s, always looked a bit beaten up with his half-closed eyes.

 It was impossible to make out his sales patter, “Oi, deez a bunch crahurrm a 50 pence.” Once, when I stopped to buy some flowers, I said,  what are you shouting?

“Nuffink, mate, “Nuffink!”

He was a feature, a kindly soul who would help anyone and who once foiled a robbery attempt.

I learned that after he was found in his lockup, with a single shot to the head. That was a shocking business.

So was the matter of the police shooting nearby of Steven Waldorf, mistaken for escaped prisoner David Martin.

The police from the local nick were having celebratory drink in the Abingdon when a customer who had just seen the news walked in.

“What you lot laffing ‘bout about. You shot the wrong guy…it’s on the news.”

Those stories stick in the mind, as does this, a lighter tale.

This was the press stake out of a house near the Abingdon pub one cold November, snappers and hacks making repeated calls on the pub to warm up.  The story centred on young Prince Andrew and American actress and model Koo Stark who resided there. They were dating! Good tabloid stuff.

“Don’t worry, mates, don’t worry, we’ve got a story. We’ve got a story,” an anxious reporter said to photographers after a long night when nothing happened.

Never a dull moment.

We’d sometimes go the Kensington to hear Basil’s Balls up Band. Hilarious.  Blues, rock, Country and Western. They could do it all, accomplished musicians. They’d start with a quality rendition before sending it up.

Their signing off number was Dancers Dilemma, the drummer continuously missing the beat and everyone else off key. Laugh? I nearly died every time.

Brilliant.

Al sent me a YouTube film of them playing at Croyde, the Devon surging resort in 2014!

Obviously some changes to personnel, but the key man was still there, Randy, who played sax and was the funny man.



When I went training, I’d escape London by going west, into Richmond Park only a few miles away, and from there by way of the green corridors of suburbia into the Surrey Hills 25 miles away.

But on Wednesday there was the all day run to the coast, if I was due a day off work.

I persuaded Al to join me on one of these epics.

Riders met at a cafe’ at Kew Bridge 9:00am. Bubble and Squeak to set us up. The proprietor calling out, go on you guys, gerrout on the road!

 The bunch included pro national cyclo-cross champion Keith Mernickle and Johnny Morris (aka the Bear).

We headed off towards the coast in a fast, wait for nobody group, recalled Al. Another shattering day but you had to get the miles in.





I recall one other rider in that group,  Gerry Butterfill puncturing and stopping time and again to pump up his softening tyre on that boring rolling A24 dual carriageway  half-way to the coast.  And Keith Mernickle, spotting a group of riders in the distance calling back down the line for Gerry.

He’s stopped to pump up his tub, again, someone shouted.

When he gets back send him up here, Keith shouted back.

Gerry, riding in the hooks,  gets back on for the umpteenth time

 Gerry, Keith wants you up the front.

Up to the front goes Gerry, ever the dutiful team man.

See that group up there, Gerry, said Keith, as in the far distance figures disappeared over a short rise.

Go up there and find out who they are.

Gerry does as bid, swerving out to tuck in behind a truck…and rapidly draws away from us.

He’d have to be quick; his back wheel was swishing about as his back tyre was going soft again.

We catch him some 20 minutes later, waiting for us. He dutifully reported to Mernickle on who the guys were, then immediately stopped to pump up his tyre for fourth time!

No one waited!

Strong as a horse, Gerry.

120 mile round trip, with a stop for lunch!



Al now lives in Gods Own Country – Yorkshire which, as no one needs reminding, hosted a smashing Grand Depart of the Tour in 2014, and since then every year there is Tour de Yorkshire. And now, in 2019, such is the county’s enthusiasm for bike racing, Yorkshire hosts the World Road Race Championships to be based in Harrogate

The finish line will be near Betty’s, the famous tea and cake emporium. I imagine they will have some special treats that week, rainbow cupcakes and the like.

Tek care, as they say.

Which is something some of the new converts to cycling need to learn.

 I narrowly avoided colliding with one such as he attempted a U-turn in a blind bend top of  Box Hill.    You arsehole, I shouted.

If I’d been driving (that’s a laugh, I’ve never driven) I’d probably have had him and the next thing you know he’d be in an air ambulance.

We never used to see this sort of behaviour. Clearly he was one of the “All the gear no idea” brigade who have taken up the sport since it’s become popular. These clowns are the main reason I mostly avoid riding at weekends.

By the way, I am now selective in observing the custom of acknowledging other cyclists on the road. Those stupid enough to be wearing shorts in the winter are ignored.







                                                                                


Monday, 17 December 2018

THE TRAIN NOW ARRIVING AT PLATFORM ZERO





It was bucketing down on Saturday when I made a rare trip to nail two birds with one stone, so to speak.

This story will seem a little odd to most. It's a Free From. Free From mention of cycles and cyclists.
Oh, except there's a token mention a few paragraphs down.

But hey, that’s how it is. For I wanted to see for myself the uniquely numbered platform zero at Redhill station eight miles from here, and while there to ogle at the Belmond Pullman steam charter train due through. It’s always a grand sight.

To get there was a 10 minute ride on the First Great Western service along the North Downs line.

It is a 15-minute walk to the station, through the park where a thin layer of ice lay just below the surface of the Mill Pond.  The only reason I knew this was because gulls and ducks were standing on it, ankle deep in a thin film of water covering the submerged ice.

The train was running a few minutes late.  A dozen customers – or passengers as we used to be called – took cover from the rain by crowding into the small platform shelter.

A mountain bike rider, his bike leaning against the fence outside in the rain, began running on the spot to keep warm. Evidence that the thermal qualities of cycle clothing which keep us warm as we ride are not so good at their job when hanging around.

In came the train. Ten minutes and one stop later it pulled in on platform 0. Well, well.

It really is numbered 0.

Why is it numbered 0?

Quite simple really.  It is a new platform, the fourth at this station. Surely,  platform 4, then? The others being platform 1, platform 2 and platform 3.

Ah, well. Some bright spark in railway planning reasoned that they couldn’t number it 4 because of its position.  It was just across from platform 1 and if numbered 4 this would be out of sequence and confuse customers – passengers. 

So he or she came up with the only solution possible. It would be numbered platform 0.

Brilliant.

Part one of my day out completed, time to enjoy part two.

I bought a coffee - Sharon size – from the crazy Puccino's café on the station.  Instead of sizing cups small, medium, large, they have given each size a name. I don’t know what they call medium, or what they call large.  But small is Sharon. And the coffees are always served with a what they call a “stupid” little biscuit, gratis.

Crazy Puccino's. When  closed a sign says “Shut happens”.

It is their way of providing a little amusement for stressed rail customers – passengers - like me.

“American. Sharon, please” I asked.

She grinned.

And then there was disappointment.  The charter train came slowly around the curve and onto platform 0, where it would be held for six minutes, awaiting its path back to London.

Oh dear.  It was headed by an inscrutable diesel! Where was the steam engine?

I needed that evocative smell of steam and hot oil, to feel the heat from the boiler as it passed, to see the pistons driving huge driving wheels, the big green loco clanking by glistening and hissing in the rain. 

Instead, a modern powerhouse glides almost silently past, its presence announced by a mere rumble of a powerful unseen force. Impressive, of course.  But I wanted a steam engine.

Perhaps it had failed?

What a blow. So I stood there sipping my Sharon and munching my “stupid” biscuit in the cold looking at the luxury Pullman cars – 12 of them – and at the smartly dressed diners in the warmth within having dinner and Champagne served by immaculately dressed waiters.

It’s not cheap, dinner on that luxurious train.  And it left me wondering how many of those diners were left with one arm and a leg.

A few minutes later I boarded my return train, Spartan compared to the Pullman, but comfortable and warm nonetheless.  It was raining harder than ever.  In my hurried walk home the gulls were still ankle deep on the ice on the Mill Pond.

At home I went into the loft to get down the festive lights.

Too commercial for our taste nowadays, the old pagan Christmas festival.   Hijacked first by the Christians claiming it for the birthday of Jesus, alleged to be the son of God in Heaven, and then by Mammon torturing us with endless TV commercials urging us to buy, buy, buy.

So I prefer to see it as a festival of Light, marking the turning point of winter, of lighter evenings to come.

Besides, ill-health in the family means we keep a quiet house by necessity.  We keep ourselves to ourselves observing a schedule that must remain the same day to day regardless.

The living room is brightened with a small tree ablaze with white Led lights, while on the patio outside the front door lights sparkle on and off along the wrought iron railings.

At bed time there was time read some more of the closing chapter of Michael Collins splendid book, “Carrying the Fire, an astronaut’s journeys”.

Collins piloted the Apollo 11 spacecraft to the Moon in July 1969, when his compatriots Neil Armstrong followed by Buzz Aldrin became the first men to step onto the Moon’s surface.

A remarkable book, it captures the drama, beauty and humour of that historic adventure, not to mention the risks!

They are nearly home. Just a few more tasks to complete to overcome the 50 – 50 odds stacked against their surviving this bold adventure.

Collins must get right the angle of re-entry to avoid 1: burning up in a fireball or, 2: hitting the atmosphere like a stone across water, and skipping off back into space.

Meanwhile, Ground – Mission control at Houston – radios the crew of Apollo 11 a titbit of information on their “downhill run” on this, the evening of their ninth and penultimate day before splashdown in the Pacific.

“You are now 97,970 miles out from earth. Your velocity is 5,991 feet per second.”

And with that calming thought, the Apollo 11 crew bid Houston good night and turned in!

I closed the book and did the same.






















Monday, 3 December 2018

BREXIT - no rhyme or reason


BREXIT: no rhyme or reason

Will Pak Choi from Morocco no longer be in the shops if Britain quits the European Union with no deal on March 29, kissing goodbye to the Customs Union?

Will there no longer be any bananas on the shelves, that staple of British diet, that nutritious fruit from Costa Rica, Mexico, Ecuador and Brazil?

We’re told that up 40 percent of food stuffs from abroad may no longer be available.

Not to mention medicines. This is serious.

There can be no rhyme or reason for any of this. But it’s on the cards!

And what about our sport, our pastime of cycling? A hobby for most, important livelihood for many.

Will there be complications with trading, effecting supplies of Campag from Italy and Shimano from Japan and all other stuff from overseas we take for granted?

 Will those beautifully cut cycling bib shorts and jerseys and those exquisite cycling shoes, made in some far flung province, still be available?

Will the import and the export of goods suffer if parliament cannot bring itself to halt the Brexit juggernaut, sort out some half-decent leaving present or, better still, commit to remaining in the EU?

Or will they remain chained to this lunacy born of that fateful day in 2016 when the referendum asked people to vote on whether Britain should remain  in the EU or leave.
And 52 per cent -  many suffering economic hardship as a result of the Conservative government's cruel austerity measures screwing the poor - voted Leave.
While 48 per cent voted Remain.

The three main concerns of the Leavers were:
1,  immigration was too high, foreigners were taking jobs away from the British; 
2, the £350m a week paid to the EU would instead fund the NHS – (this bogus claim by the Leave campaign swung the vote, I understand); 
3, take back our sovereignty, in the belief that the UK should be self-governing and not be told what do by the EU.

Remainers did not share any of these concerns to anything like the same degree. Indeed, they feared economic and political chaos would be the result of leaving the EU and that Britain would be worse off out than in, especially in relation to public sector jobs, in particular the NHS, which rely heavily on foreign nationals.

For instance, I read that 10 percent of doctors and seven percent of nurses are EU nationals. A third of all EU nationals in the NHS work in London.

Since the referendum there has been a 90 per cent drop in the number of EU nurses coming to work for the NHS. Many foreign nationals living here no longer feel welcome.
There can be no rhyme or reason for this mess bequeathed us by the Leave Campaign.
We are told that all sorts of problems now lie ahead. Let’s start off with issues which will be the least of our concerns but nevertheless help form a picture of the craziness awaiting us.

Here’s lightweight one for starters.

Will the British members of the Sky Team need a visa if they are to get to the start of Le Tour for Geraint Thomas to bid for a second consecutive victory? 
Will a British driving licence still be valid over there?   

It may seem trivial, but what about the supply of cycling components? 

We don’t hear much said about the British cycle industry these days, outside of trade circles. Nothing British about my bikes.  My current model was designed in London but made in Italy. All my nice cycle clothing is from abroad.  

However, it does seem that the British cycle industry is alive and well.

Reynolds tubing of Birmingham, for instance.  Brompton bicycles of course.

What about wheels?  Is there an all British wheel? Does anyone know?

Most rims are made abroad, I believe.  Is that right?

As for spokes, are there any British made spokes?

There are certainly hubs – plug now for Royce hubs, very well thought of, I understand.

Insofar as the fate awaiting the UK cycle trade better I refer you to a story published on the Cyclist webpages - http://tinyurl.com/ybnjtsol

It does a pretty good job of explaining the complexities of international trade which is conducted in US dollars and speculates as what may or may not occur after March 29.

To summarise, at present, the current arrangements with the EU allows goods to move freely from one country to another.

And little change to this is expected if Theresa May’s proposed deal - seen as very controversial and expected to be rejected by Parliament  - does actually go ahead.

However, should Britain crash out of the EU with no deal  leaving us outside of the customs union, there is speculation that all trade arrangements will impact heavily on prices and on the availability of brands.

Surely this looming chaos can be averted?

I recently had an exchange of letters with my MP, Sir Paul Beresford on this very matter. He was a Remain man. I asked him to support a Peoples’ Vote on May’s deal.

He couldn’t do that, he told me. He said he is holding to the view that the will of the people who voted leave should be upheld.  He now backs Theresa May to finalise a deal.

The will of the people! The will of the people was subverted, I told him.  He knows this!

I said this to him. “The referendum, fought by the Leave campaign, was anything but honest. They made a host of misleading claims on immigration and at least one outright lie. 

They claimed, in big letters on the side of their Battle Bus,   that the £350m paid to the EU every week would go to the NHS instead! Many people voted Leave on the strength of this bogus claim.  

And almost immediately the vote was cast the awful Farage, who started all this nonsense, admitted it was wrong, that that money cannot simply go the NHS.

Not to mention Boris Johnson spinning anti—EU rhetoric and misinformation in his newspaper column for decades for which, remember,  he was eventually sacked from, oh, which paper was it, the Telegraph, The Times?  Doesn’t matter which.  But the rubbish stories he put out do matter, for he has constantly poisoned minds.

It’s all David Cameron’s fault, for agreeing  - simply to appease the populist call - to the referendum  in the first place,  on matters few of us were equipped to deal with and for this may he never be forgiven.

For he  has set us on a path which, via the ballot box, has presented us with a result which could yet undo the very parliamentary system he is supposed to hold dear. The Leave vote has given oxygen to closet racists and xenophobes.

The Leaver vote has split political parties down the middle.  It has revealed democracy’s Achilles heel as a host of far-right dangerous individuals seek to gain from it.

Sir Paul acknowledged my letter, but declined to comment further.

I imagine the xenophobes must presume they are of pure race when a check of their ancestry may surprise them.  For instance, I am 60 per cent English; the rest is a mix of Irish, Swedish and European, west and eastern.

The current crisis has made me concerned for the rights of foreign nationals living and working here in the UK and British people who live and work on the Continent.


As for Michael Gove MP, is he confused?  As fellow MPs quit the Cabinet over May’s Brexit plans he said, that while he, too, disagreed with May he would not leave the Cabinet because once outside it he would no longer have any influence to argue his point of view. Better to remain to persuade her to change tack.

Pity he cannot apply that logic to European matters, and advocate we remain within the Union.

For once outside we will have no voice over decisions they take which may still impact this side of the water.

Since then, Gove has been quoted as saying he will back May.

And so here we are.  But exactly where are we? 

Who knows what will happen after March 29?

We should delay it three days, to April 1.  And then, just before midday, call out “APRIL FOOL”.

And not leave afterall.

That would be my option. Apparently, that’s no longer an option.

In which case the lack of Pak Choi and of cycle components could be the least of our problems. 

And all for no rhyme or reason.








Sunday, 28 October 2018

Engers - the stylish King of the road


BOOK REVIEW

I LIKE ALF

By Paul Jones

Published by Mousehold Press,

Victoria Cottage,

Constitution Opening,

Norwich NR3 4BD.


£13.95

ISBN: 978-1-874739-81-4





“I Like Alf” is the untold story of one of the most talented, stylish and enigmatic of cycling champions ever to have dominated UK time trialling, London’s Alf Engers,  winner of national titles from 1959 to the late 1970s.

This is about “The King”, the man who wanted to win the Tour de France but whose destiny lay elsewhere.  Officialdom found him too controversial to their liking, this when time trialling itself was controversial, with its reliance on traffic flow to produce fast times!

There were allegations of “white lining” - riding too far out in the road and so impeding traffic when he was often going faster than the traffic - of having following cars.

Two East London officials in particular did their best to have him suspended from racing for the most spurious reasons and succeeded!

Notwithstanding such problems, Engers   would come back and continue to make the headlines with breath-taking performances which saw him win the national 25 title six times and put competition record beyond reach with the first 30mph ride. He could do it all, time trial, road race, the track. He was a big draw at events.

But this book does more than merely recall how Engers came to unleash his undisputed powers on the domestic time trialling scene, taking on class rivals such as Pete Wells, Eddie Adkins, Derek Cottington, Dave Holliday, and Ian Hallam.   Engers dominated like no other. It’s funny, too, with amusing stories  that reveal his lighter side,  with so many anecdotes about the characters among the clubs, frame builders and others of who shared in those heady days.

Chiefly this is about a man who overcame the odds stacked against him. Not the least being he worked full time in a bakery, late into the night. 

His triumphs on the bike brought him brief solace from his troubled memories of a father who had shown little interest in his son; and the ever present threat of disqualification from officials looking for any excuse to ban a guy who was simply different!

This is a riveting read by author Paul Jones who sensitively seeks out the darker recesses of Enger’s soul.

I sensed, too, that Engers clearly found release in sharing his story, especially in revealing the unhappy moments from his youth. That should not disguise a cracking, good fun story, too, which revisits his personal triumphs still talked about today.

For though his records have at last fallen, Engers exploits remain unsurpassed.

This is a joy to read. And it begs the question, is Paul Jones a pseudonym?  Here is descriptive prose worthy of the late Norman Mailler!

It reminds me of noted rock guitarist Jeff Beck’s stunned disbelief upon first hearing the mesmerising guitar riffs of Jimi Hendrix.  “Well,” Becks is reported to have said to Eric Clapton, “we might as well pack it in!” Instead, of course, Hendrix’s style galvanised him.

The title of this book “I like Alf” says it all. Although cycling officials, the “Blazers” had it in for him,  

riders loved this colourful character.  So did his rivals who were so often left behind in his wake!

So someone produced stickers, proclaiming: “I Like Alf”.