Sunday, 23 February 2020

GET CYCLING DONE, BORIS





We find out in this Question and Answer session if the Prime Minister will do for cycling what he did for Brexit, and “Get Cycling Done”.

Copenhagen, capital of Denmark and capital place for cyclists
Because we would all like to know how cycling can benefit from the recent announcement of £5bn funding to be spent on buses and cycling!


When in fact, it turns out cycling gets only £350m of that lump sum, which is no dam use at all if we are ever to aspire to the standards set in Holland and Denmark.

Especially when you compare this piddling amount to the £1.2bn needed
for Manchester’s proposed 1,800 miles of cycle lanes.


The facts of the matter are that funding for cycling alone needs to be between £6bn and £7bn across five years to be effective.


And the Great Britain Cycling Report produced by the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group in 2012 provides a thorough guide on how the roads are to be made safer for cycling. But nothing came that.

In this Q&A, Cycling OK, the national cyclists’ organisation, talks to the PM on that well-known imaginary cyclists’ channel, Skull Cinema.




As every racing cyclist knows, Skull Cinema is the go-to place when training. It allows us to imagine all manner of things in our little heads as we ride along. I still sometimes act out riding my local hills alongside the greatest cyclist of all time, Eddy Merckx. 
Other people might imagine they are listening to the great statesman Winston Churchill telling them how wonderful he thinks they are.



So, without more ado, over to Skull Cinema for this exclusive Q and A with the PM.


Question: Prime Minister, you will recall the sorry fate of the “Get Britain Cycling Report” published way back in 2012 when the PM at the time, your friend Dave, agreed it was a very good report but declined to give it Cabinet backing.


Prime Minister: Yes, Let’s Get Cycling Done. Bring it on. I must tell you I’ve brought with me my trusted Special Advisor. He’s a rather intense man and it might surprise you to know he has a nice smile, an image which is completely at odds with that presented by the press which paints a picture of a sinister looking snarler.


Ques: Yes, thank you, Prime Minister. But will you give the Get Britain Cycling Report the go-ahead with full cabinet backing?


PM:  Humph, ah, well piffle paffle. Cycling is, as we all know, fantastic way of getting around….  Fantastic, brilliant, as you know I used to be a cyclist….Now I ride indoors on a Zwift turbo trainer – virtual reality cycling. Roads far too dangerous. Can’t think why something isn’t done…


Ques: Turning to the Special Advisor (SA): 

Is the PM saying he will give the Get Britain Cycling Report full cabinet backing?

SPECIAL ADVISOR (SA): No.


Ques: Prime Minister, the Report calls for government to ensure that local and national bodies, such as the Highways Agency, Department for Transport and local government allocate funding to cycling. Will you do this?


PM: Ah, quite right to want this. Brilliant, fantastic…ah. And if I may I say so….Let’s get cycling done…


Ques: to the SA. Will he do this?


SA: No.


Ques: Prime Minister, should cycle funding also come from Health, Education, Sport Business budgets?


PM: I do think…er…yes. Let me tell you, we will, we will be building 40 new hospitals overnight…linked by 250 miles of cycle lanes…



Ques: turning again to SA, is that a yes from the PM?


SA: No.


Ques: Prime Minister, the GBCR calls for a statutory requirement that the needs of cyclists and pedestrians be considered at an early stage of all the new development schemes, from housing to business development, as well as traffic and transport schemes, including funding through the planning system. This isn’t happening. Can you implement this?


PM: Ah, can you repeat the question?


Ques: OK, Prime Minister, the ….


SA: No.


Ques: Prime Minister, existing design guidance needs to be revised to include more cycle parking, and an audit process to help planners, engineers and architects to think bike in all their work.

Will your government undertake to fulfil this?


PM. Hmm….I can only say….Let’s get cycling done…


SA: No.


Ques: The report calls for the Department for Transport to approve and update necessary new regulations, such as allowing separate traffic lights for cyclists.

Will you action this?


PM: Hmmm.


SA. No.


Ques: Prime Minister, Will you call for a major redesign of roundabouts on the lines of the Dutch system to provide cyclists with priority at roundabouts?


PM: I must say I do think …


SA: No.


Ques: Prime Minister. As you know, cycle commuting as distinct from leisure cycling, accounts for between only 1 to 2 per cent of journeys made in England – whereas in Holland it is 28 per cent. Will your government increase funding for cycling from around £7 per head to £20 per head (which is still less than the Dutch spend) to make cycling conditions safer and put more bums on bikes?


PM:  Ah, well……..


SA: No.


Ques: Prime Minister, will your government……………..


SA: No.


Ques: Prime Minister, will you say….?

SA: NO.


Ques: Prime Minister, Can you…?


SA: No.


Ques: Prime Minister, Can…?


SA: No.













Friday, 14 February 2020

More half measures


Well, here’s a thing:  £5bn to spend on improving bus services and the roads for cycling.
More half measures!
This was the news on Tuesday when Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed that the controversial High Speed Railway 2, between London and Birmingham and points north, will go ahead.

He also announced £5bn across five years for cycling and buses. However, some will see this as a mere PR to deflect criticism from those opposed to HS2.
I read that the PM mistakenly told Parliament that cycling’s share of the £5bn was to be £350m. But he was corrected. The sum for cycling is to be £1bn over five years.  That’s a relief, from peanuts to small change.
(But wait, I've just read that the actual sum across five years is in fact £350m! So the PM was correct!
That's according to Cycling UK's Head of Campaigns Duncan Dollimore who is as frustrated as the rest of us at the continued under investment in cycling. If that is the case, time for a profanity - £350m is fuck all.)

But let's just imagine the funding was to be £1bn.
Because that's the figure, plus a bit, that is needed to build Manchester's proposed 1,800 miles of cycle ways,  Manchester cycling Tsar Chris Boardman told The Guardian this week. And he's still
waiting for Boris to provide him with the money.
So that pours cold water over the whole thing.

Good luck, Chris. The rest of the country is only getting £350m.

But In his other guise as British Cycling Policy Advisor, Boardman welcomed the government funding as a step in the right direction and praised the Prime Minister.
British Cycling said:
“The Government has now committed to 250 miles of new, high-quality separated cycle routes and safe junctions, dozens of new Mini-Holland schemes, working with local councils to reduce lorry traffic and ensuring all new routes are built to tough new design standards.”
It’s a start, I suppose.  But whose design standards, the cycle planning experts or government flunkies?

The tens of thousands of miles of other roads in need of this treatment will have to wait. However, there was no suggestion there was more money to come, year on year, for the massive restructuring of the road system that is required.

Being a sceptic who reported cycling policy false starts over four decades, I am wary that this latest government announcement will be another dead end.
The good news is that the Bikeability cycle training is to be extended to every child in England.
But dear oh dear, that will be waste of time if the hostile road system isn’t made safer for cycling according to comments made Cycling UK, the national cycling charity.

And I’m not impressed with the promised 250 miles of segregate cycle lanes…a few miles in different towns and cities?
Imagine having a motorway system built like that, 10 miles in the West Midlands,  five miles in Lancashire, 7 miles in North Yorkshire and five miles in South Yorkshire – big county,  is Yorkshire, that’s why they get two!

So this is all smoke and mirrors story to fix in people’s minds the idea that government is doing the right thing when the promised investment simply won’t go far enough.
They do seem unable to grasp this.  Well, they do grasp it completely. They're messing about!

And besides, I do wonder,  is there now the government mechanism whereby central government can now  tell the 160 Local Authorities  what to do as distinct from “advise”.    Because otherwise nothing very much gets done, with only the likes of  Bristol and now Manchester showing initiative and London are spending real money on cycling improvements. It’s all bits and pieces, no co-ordination.

I was reading in a recent issue of Cycling UK’s magazine that very little cycling or walking has been included in new housing or business developments in recent years.

This will suit the roads lobby who certainly don’t want too many cyclists nicking what they regard as their road space.  That’s what this is all about.





Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Beastly times ahead


2020…facing up to it.

This survey of facial expressions identifies reader types of the nation’s favourite newspapers…

Daily Telegraph readers: authoritarian;

The Times: inscrutable;

The Guardian: knowing;

 The Sun: suspicious;

The Mirror: sullen;

Daily Mail: blank

Cycling Weekly: euphoric

ANON.


Warning! This beast of a piece clocks in at 666 words.

This Blog is all about cycling, except when it isn’t.

 It’s 2020 and the new road season is under way. But that’s not all.


There I was enjoying Eurosport’s review of the Tour Down Under won by home star Richie Porte only for my euphoria to be shattered at the stroke of not quite midnight; 11pm.


Yes, this was Friday night, January 31, when something totally unnecessary happened. The threat of Brexshit finally became reality and a small island divorced from the European Union to cries of joy from demented Leavers and sobbing from tortured Remainers.


Except of course nothing changes until the terms of the divorce are settled 11 months from now. When, depending upon what you believe, it will be all a bed of roses with lovely new trading deals across the world or chaos because the government, doing what they do best, didn’t have a plan.


So it has come to pass that 31 years after the Fall of the Berlin Wall – celebrating the reunification of Eastern and Western Germany - the world watches perplexed as Britain does the opposite and separates from the European Union.  And hides behind an imaginary barrier to make sure those pesky neighbours across the Channel cannot watch as we drift rudderless off the edge of the world.

I feel as sick now as I did three years ago at the referendum result to Leave the EU.


Until this new dawn I was in a good mood as a new season of bike racing got underway Down Under.  Not even sports dark history can dent my enthusiasm.  Not even my recent telling of Big George Hincapie’s story of how he doped for almost his entire professional career (see my previous blog).
The Mersey  Docks 
and Harbour Board building reflected
 in the black mirror-like fa├žade of the modern edifice opposite
 at Liverpool's Pier Head. 
The city was  
Cultural Capital  of Europe in 2008 and voted
 strongly for Remain (58 percent).


Doping! It’s an occupational hazard. So I’ll be keenly studying the form and wondering how long we’ve got to wait for another positive. Positive, a good word gone bad in the case of sport.
And I can find nothing positive about Britain leaving the EU.


Maybe I should switch to reading the Daily Telegraph, see the world through rose tinted Specsavers.

But it was Sunday, so sister paper the Sunday Telegraph would have to do.  I found it full of the joys of spring for our prospects once free of the EU. I could almost believe it myself.

Reading it cover to cover in a corner of my local supermarket, I detected echoes of Empire, of British stubbornness, our famous laisser-faire, and a blunt negotiating style – give us what we want no compromise leave our fish alone!


I almost fell in love with the idea of Britain going it alone, no longer tied to the best trading block in the world; we’ll do it our way, at the food banks.


The Telegraph writers waxed lyrical, going on about how democracy won the day, how the people of Britain voted to Leave – well 17 million voted to leave and 16 million to remain. 

Nothing at all about the indisputable fact that it was all a con. That the four main issues which drove the Leave vote had nothing whatsoever to do with the EU.-


Austerity – wholly due to British policy;

Regional economic inequality - ditto;

Immigration – ditto;

NHS to get the £350m a week paid the EU – LIE.

We were wrong to say that – admitted the Brexshit campaign afterwards.  


And to compound the con, Prime Minister Johnson promised to fix all these things once Brexshit was done; a cunning ploy which reinforced the mistaken belief that it was all their fault, over the water.

Nothing about any of this in the Telegraph of course, gloating, like Johnson himself, in “abnormal self-admiration” as the dictionary defines narcissism.








































Saturday, 18 January 2020

WHEN BIG GEORGE TOOK HIS FIRST SHOT IN THE ARM



EPO became a way of life 
Cycling has its Hall of Fame. Why not a Hall of Shame - for dopers?

How big would it need to be?  Vast, I imagine.

Reading the excellent feature on the Italian legend Fausto Coppi in the recent Rouler magazine brought doping into focus again for me.
It  must be stressed there were no rules banning doping back then. There was not the stigma we attach to it today.  It was probably just quietly accepted as "necessary", not talked about much.

So I don't think riders from that period would necessarily be in my Hall of Shame which will take nominations from the modern era only, for doping has become a far more sophisticated science and quite clearly recognised as cheating.

The idea of a Hall of Shame  came to me after coming across the autobiography of serial doper George Hincapie, “loyal” workhorse for that other serial doper, the infamous Lance Armstrong.

First the Coppi article.

Although the piece didn’t broach the matter of doping, an intriguing passage about Coppi's successful Hour record attempt at Milan’s Vigorelli track in 1942 allured to it.

During the “last segment” of the Hour, when it was touch and go whether Coppi would break Frenchman Maurice Archambaud record of 45.480km, Coppi took three pills from his back pocket and swallowed them. There was no explanation as to what the pills were but whatever they were, "they were enough to give him a final boost".   Coppi broke the record by  31 metres, establishing a new mark of 45.871km.

Notwithstanding Coppi’s remarkable athletic abilities in the pre and post war years, earning him the moniker “Campionissimo” Coppi, like so many of his compatriots, admitted doping.

And although  this was not illegal it nevertheless  provoked media interest as if perhaps the practice was considered just as questionable as frequenting a brothel from time to time.

As in the following television interview with Coppi who didn't deny he took "la bomba" when asked the following questions: 

Do cyclists take la bomba (amphetamine)?

Answer: Yes

Question: How often.

Answer: Whenever it was necessary.

Question: And when was it necessary?

Answer: Almost all the time!





That’s OK, then!


There are stories of his rival Bartali going into Coppi’s hotel room to rummage through his waste basket, filching out discarded medicines and empty pill packets to see what he was on.

Coppi's many victories included five times winning the Tour of Italy, and twice winning the Tour de France. Other major successes included the  world road title once, the Giro di Lombardia five times;   Milan San Remo three times and the cobbled classic Paris – Roubaix once.


In Italy today, an Italian journalist says doping in cycling is regarded as an occupational hazard.

Pro racing is especially tough, perhaps too tough if riders need to resort to chemical assistance to compete at the top. Single day races lasting several hours, Tours of three weeks duration, fierce competition, a long and heavy racing programme pushing the body and mind to the limit.

You can’t win the Tour on salad and mineral water alone, a famous rider once said. 


But this raises the question, could Coppi have  performed such feats of endurance in the Grand Tours and classics had he not resorted to doping?  The question can be asked of all of the others, too.

It's all or nothing for them. Some riders faced with this choice have either simply raced clean and raced the best they could, or given up their on dreams of competing against the top professionals.

Those who doped appear to have simply adjusted their moral compass, placing the use of steroids, testosterone, growth hormone and various cocktail power boosters in the same category as nutrition and having the best bikes and equipment. It all became part of the preparation in their virtual reality world.

They had no choice, they protested.

Which was the case for the defence when  in the early 1990s  EPO made its appearance in the peloton.

This brings me to George Hincapie’s book, The Loyal Lieutenant, My Story, published in 2014 published by Harpur Sport, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.

Perhaps the title ought to have been, Confessions of a serial doper?

I only discovered this in my local library last week.  I found Big George to be most enlightening about how he and Lance Armstrong famously and shamelessly doped their way to Lance’s seven consecutive Tour de France victories.

In 2012 Hincapie confessed to and justified using performance enhancing drugs.

"Given the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by cyclists at the top of the profession, it was not possible to compete without them," said the 39-year-old Hincapie, reported the BBC .


In January the following year, on the Oprah Winnie show,  Armstrong finally confessed to having doped for all his seven Tour victories.

That has gone down as the biggest sporting con in history, resulting in all seven victories being struck from the record. Not that it concerned either of them.  They still consider those victories won.

What interests me is what is going on in the head of a rider when he starts to dope.

Hincapie tells us in his book.

Hincapie, who is from New York, rode the Tour de France 17 times. A tall impressive rider, capable enough of being the champion in any race of his choosing, says Armstrong in the foreword.

Instead, their lifelong friendship which began in their junior days, saw Hincapie put personal ambition aside in the interest of the team.  More specifically he become the willing workhorse for Armstrong through the good and bad.

The bad being….well we  know all about that.

Hincapie’s story gets to the bottom of it.



When EPO (Erythropoietin) arrived on the scene we know that pros like Hincapie and Armstrong justified taking the stuff by saying they were merely levelling the playing field because almost everyone else was doping.

It was a two speed peloton in early 90s, those on it and those left behind!

EPO was rocket fuel, increasing oxygen in the blood, boosting even the average performer beyond his normal athletic ability.


That’s what pissed off Armstrong and Hincapie who were not yet on that stuff, the fact that riders who once were hanging on and being dropped, were suddenly riding along comparatively easily whereas they, the top dogs,  were struggling.  So they decided to reboot the system and re-establish the pecking order.

And they too eventually stuck needles in their shoulders and joined the EPO club to get back on top. They began living the lie, living the dream in the famous classics and the Grand Tours.  They faked it, courtesy of a skilfully managed and administered doping programme  to boost performance and fool medical controls afterwards.


George’s book provided me with a fascinating insight with what goes through the mind of a rider when he or she decides to cheat.

In 1995, he rode and completed his first grand tour, the Vuelta, three weeks of suffering, including getting smashed into the barriers by another rider 50 metres from a certain win three days from the end.


Halfway through the race Hincapie had pushed open the door to the hotel bedroom he shared with another rider …. “I saw him with a needle in his arm.”

Hincapie retreated, out of the room. The pair never spoke of it.

Hincapie admitted to an “overwhelming sense of unfairness”.

“I didn’t know it at the time, but the effects of EPO are staggering. The drug really was a game changer.”


His next moment of revelation came later in the race, which made him realise he could never compete with guys who were on the juice unless he too had assistance.

He’d listened to a rider complaining about how bad he felt, how poor his results were, that he couldn’t recover.  And then noted how the rider’s friend came by with special package and how the next day, having struggled every day until then, he was in the breakaway!


In 1996, Big George took the plunge. In his book he says that he felt he'd
reached the end of his options of racing clean. The only way he could compete on a level playing field with his rivals was to do what they were doing.

What finally convinced him to start cheating was seeing the contents of Frankie Andreu’s cooler. Inside was a Thermos-like container.

“…even though I had no real idea what I was staring out, I was gazing at my future.”

He was looking at labelless vials.  He figured it was EPO, the drug he

  had heard about. So this was what all the fuss was about?

“This is what I have to do to be the best I can be?”


Hincapie pressed Andreu to explain why he was taking EPO.

He replied he didn’t have a choice. He had to do it to survive. Everyone was doing it, he said.

Hincapie made his first purchase in Switzerland.  No prescription necessary.

He says he it planned it like a military operation, withdrawing cash from different ATM machines over a couple of days, following different routes to and from his accommodation.


On the big day he wore a no-name plain jersey and rode his bike across the Italian-Swiss border to Chiasso, a small  town.

In the pharmacy there he asked for a box of Epirex.  That was the name he was told to ask for.

The lady stared at him for a moment, causing Hincapie a surge of panic.  He worried he’d set off silent alarms somewhere and feared for his downfall.

Clearly, Big George knew what he was doing was wrong.

She went away and after what seemed a long time returned with an elongated box.

 He handed her 500 Swiss francs and she gave him his new future – up to eight weeks supply.

Have a nice day, she said.


Back at the accommodation in Italy Hincapie prepared to take his first shot in his upper arm.  It seemed that riders self-treated. No doctors telling them how in those days.

There he was, sitting on the toilet seat, tiny syringe in hand, nervous but determined.


“Here we go…” he said.

And he did the first of countless injections.

He exited the bathroom “a changed man”.

“I felt completely at peace.”

In 2004 two weeks before a major race he would take EPO every other day. Sometimes he would mix in testosterone or growth hormone twice a week.

“There was no guilt; it was part of the training.”

It was the new normal.


He found he could, ride harder and for longer and recover more quickly because EPO stimulated the production of red blood cells and increasing the flow of oxygen to his muscles.

The book is his confession about this dark period in his life as top professional rider. It tells in detail of the highs and lows of how he and Armstrong and their team came to dominate the Tour, of the tactical, mental and physical battles engaged in, of how he strived for success in the single day classics.

There are many contributions from compatriots, some of them also on the stuff, all singing the praises of a classy rider who would eventually came to terms with what he had done and bare his soul.

Big George, by the sound of it, is probably one of the nicest dopers you could wish to meet.


It is well known that EPO, by thickening the blood, leads to an increased risk of several deadly diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cerebral or pulmonary embolism. The misuse of recombinant human EPO may also lead to autoimmune diseases with serious health consequences.

World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)












Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Solved, my Bontrager speedo mystery


Now I know why my Bontrager computer had gone doolalley - in my previous blog,  up there.



It appears some sort of magnetic field was interfering with the signal, resulting in no speedo!

Let me explain.



I had my local bike shop fit a new Bontrager computer to my bike.

I asked them to do it because quite frankly I felt I had put a jinx on the first one.

And while at it I had the bike serviced - the gears were slipping, there was a bit of vibration from the front brake. Probably a bit of play in the  headset.

Well, I picked up the bike with its new computer set up and I was happy to note it was working nicely. As were the gears. But there's still a little vibration from the front brake at speed.

And next day – this afternoon – I went for a spin.

I rolled away and guess what?

It was playing the same game...no speed reading. Blank.

I stopped.

I said to myself what's going on?

I switched my brain to lateral.

And I asked myself, what's different?

Aha!

When the  comp was fitted at the shop there was no front light on the handlebars and the speedo was working.

On this ride there was a front lamp on the handlebars. And the speedo wasn't working!



So I removed the lamp!

And set off.

Hey presto, speedo began to work!!!!

It seems that the lamp - or the battery more probably - which was sitting directly above the wireless transponder on the fork blade, was interfering with the signal to the computer which was sitting just a few inches away from the lamp on the handlebars.

If these devices could talk I imagine it went like this.



Transponder to lamp: “Oi, you up there!  Yes  you, the lamp! I’m trying to send a message to the computer next to you on the handlebars and you’re blocking it.”

Lamp reply to Transponder:  “Oh, it’s you is it, giving me a frigging migraine.”



So I repositioned the lamp on the other side of the handlebars.

And set off.

And still the computer didn’t work!

So I stopped and moved the lamp three inches further along the top of the handlebars, clear, I hoped, of the “electrical field”.

That did the trick.

Soon I was batting along and a quick glance showed me I was moving at over 10mph!

Uphill, a two-mile long drag, into low cloud.

Managed about 19mph along the flat top road. Not bad for me. Quite happy with that. Easily amused.

However, the lamp in its new position means I cannot rest my hands on the top of the bars as I like. So now I will need to figure that out. A bike rider’s day is never finished!