Thursday, 22 December 2016

Just a jiffy


While browsing in one of London’s temples to cycling excellence – Rapha’s cool cycling shop in the West End – I pondered is this as good it gets?  I don’t mean their coffee, which is excellent. Neither do I mean the smart range of clothing which is very expensive – imagine crashing and writing off such costly kit?

No, it’s the future of the sport I worry about.  More specifically it is the damage done and being done by the Team Sky TUEs and mystery package stories under scrutiny by government and UK anti-doping.

All those wonderful performances by British riders these past 16 years have attracted some two million newcomers to the sport. Now these allegations of “possible wrong doing” have put cycling’s reputation on the line.

On Monday, at the Parliamentary committee enquiry, there came a chance to clear the air.

But the explanations provided by our sport’s big wigs failed to satisfy and they found themselves sinking deeper into the mire.

After 10 weeks of prevarication and two hours of cross examination by the Parliament culture, media and sport select committee, they finally got the answer as to what precisely was in that jiffy bag.   

Suddenly, after a lot of stonewalling, Team Sky boss Sir David Brailsford spilt the beans.  It was revealed in a jiffy - if you like!

The contents of the infamous jiffy bag flown out to Team Sky with coach Simon Cope at the 2011 Criterium du Dauphine was apparently nothing more terrible than a legal medication called Fluimcil, which is used to rid the airways of mucus. It was for Sir Bradley Wiggins’ use.

And we are all asking ourselves, well, OK, why didn’t you say so before all this shit was kicked up?

They couldn’t, it was claimed, because of medical confidentiality. What?

Or, as the comedian Tony Hancock would be heard to cry when he couldn’t quite believe his ears, “Oh, dear, OH DEAR, oh dearie me.”

After several years of unprecedented success by British cyclists amassing those few dozen gleaming Olympic gold medals, plus the crème de la crème, that historic first Tour victory by a British rider courtesy of Wiggins in 2012, followed by three more Tour victories to revelation Chris Froome, cycling is in the spot light as distinct from the limelight. Cycling is in the dog house.

The Jiffy bag story came about following a Daily Mail allegation a few months ago revealing that a package was delivered to Team Sky in France in June, 2011 and it was claimed that the team official carrying it didn’t know what was in it.

That set tongues wagging. Would you or I accept being asked to carry something through customs if we didn’t know the contents?

That story poured fuel onto the fire already raging over earlier story of Sir Bradley Wiggins’ legal use of a banned steroid in 2011, 2012 and in 2013. 

Eyebrows at UK Anti-Doping were now raised and they launched their investigation into “an allegation of wrong doing in cycling.”

Eventually, Parliament decided to join the party.

This is the Team Sky TUES story, which came to light when confidential medical information was hacked and leaked to the world by the so-called Fancy Bears - thought to be Russian. They were reacting, it is presumed, in revenge for all the flak hitting Russia over WADA’s (World Anti-Doping Agency) accusations of state controlled doping which led to calls for Russians to be banned from the Olympics. Their message is take a look what’s going on in the rest of world, not just in Russia.

TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) permit an athlete to take, for medicinal purposes, a banned drug he would otherwise not be permitted to take.  

In my view, anyone who needs medicine to enable them to continue competing should not be competing, they should be resting.

In Wiggins case the drug was a powerful steroid known to enhance performance. Wiggins was permitted this drug to treat his breathing allergies, we are told.  So its use was legal. But was it ethical?

Immediately, the news provoked outcry because clearly Team Sky had moved from being whiter that white to being tinged with grey.

The question everyone has been asking is, was it ethical for a team fond of telling the world they ride clean, then to allow the use such a powerful steroid?  

When asked if by taking this drug for his breathing allergies could Wiggin’s performance also have been enhanced when he won the 2012 Tour.  Brailsford said he couldn’t know if it was or it wasn’t.   So that was the first great unknown. And with it came the doubt.

And then along came the second unknown, the Daily Mail story of a jiffy bag flown out to France for Team Sky. What did it contain? No one was saying.  So more suspicion. More doubt.

And then, under pressure from the MPs, Brailsford claims it contained a harmless medicine.

Understandably, he is now being called on to provide independent evidence in support of this claim.

Otherwise this story will run and run.

Especially as the Daily Hate Mail have now got their hooks into Brailsford.

They are alleging that he tried to persuade them not to run story in the first place by offering them another story instead.

Whatever the truth in this, it pains me that it is the Mail putting our sport on the rack. Very clever paper, the Mail, combining good informative features with malicious deceit, such as the grossly exaggerated stories of migrants flooding into Britain which influenced the Brexit vote!

But back to this public relations disaster facing Team Sky and British Cycling.

There can be no doubt that the biggest sports story of the New Millennium, British Cycling’s stupendous rise from nowhere to top UK Olympic sport. And then Team Sky gave us Tour de France champions, all this in one decade. Now it has been overshadowed by – by what exactly?

By allegations of wrong doing but with no actual proof of wrong doing. Certainly Team Sky have spoilt their copybook by allowing a rider legal use of an illegal (in sport) drug. And British Cycling and Team Sky between them have made a mess of their handling of the Jiffy Bag story, giving the impression that they had something to hide?

Yet neither Team Sky nor British Cycling has been found to have broken the rules, no one has failed a dope test.

Brailsford told the committee he is confident that when Ukad report on their findings, it will be clear there has been no wrong doing.

In the meantime, doubt remains.  And doubt – unless cleared up – can be poisonous.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

The truth is out there

The only government money provided for cycling has gone to sport, commented Cycling UK’s website recently, but in the recent budget no direct money was announced to make the roads safer for cyclists.

They were referring to the £24m funding to  Yorkshire to host the 2019 World Championships. There is no suggestion that money should have gone instead to a cycling strategy. The sport is welcome to their £24m, which reflects Britain’s new standing in the world of international cycling.  It’s a tidy sum for the World’s organisation to play with, but the fact is,  you wouldn’t get much of a cycle lane out of it!

To fund a decent cycling policy for the UK  needs at least £500m per annum. That’s what is being asked for. It may sound a lot to you and me  but it is only fraction of the £multi Billion transport budget.

But the point Cycling UK were making was that once again, cycling gets no direct funding within the Chancellor’s pledge of £1.1bn to upgrade local roads. They sounded surprised!

Surely, they must know the government’s game by now.  They must know the TRUTH.

Transport is all about cars. Cars win every time. Trains have recently started to get a look-in with increased investment. But cycling has to fight for road space, and here and there is given a bit of cycle lane to go and ride in.

Instead, hard-working campaigners  win our admiration for continuing to build and reinforce the excellent economic case for investment in cycling. Sadly, they are going round and round in circles. They hope that common sense will one day prevail and Britain will get a cycling infrastructure to match the excellent Dutch system.

Pigs might also learn to ride bikes.

The campaigners surely know the bitter truth.  And yet they always feign surprise when cycling is almost completely ignored in each and every budget.

I don’t pretend to know how to change this. But I do feel  that a start could be made by coming clean and telling the growing cycling population  how the odds have always been stacked against a half-decent cycling policy ever getting off the ground in the UK.  

Everyone needs to brush up on their UK transport history.

The current campaign of urging MPs and councillors to back cycling is a waste of time. It will only ever go so far and nowhere near far enough in bringing about the integrated transport system this country lacks.

This is largely because Britain has adopted a car-based policy to allow people the freedom to drive everywhere at any time.  So the very idea of promoting cycling to reduce car dependency is alien to the ideology which under pins transport thinking.

To delve into the transport history you can do no better than read  Christian Wolmar’s recently published book “Are Trams Socialist…Why Britain has no transport policy” (reviewed in my blog May 26 this year).

In this he quotes Nicholas Ridley MP as saying:

“The private motorist wants the chance to live a life that gives him (sic)  a new dimension of freedom – freedom to go where he wants when he wants and for as long as he wants.”

This was the attitude, reinforced by a powerful motoring and roads construction lobby,  which underpinned transport ideology, and still does.

Wolmar tells how, only a few decades ago, in order that people should be able to drive everywhere they want to, there  were  plans to transform our cities with inner urban motorways until it was realised that by doing this, whole city centres would have to be destroyed and rebuilt.  Besides,  there could never be enough parking provided for those who wished to stop and view the desolation. The one city centre they managed to wreck was Plymouth.

So that idea was kicked to touch. And instead….they’ve come up with nothing, still holding to the dream that driving is king, and promising somehow to relieve traffic congestion with road “improvements”.

London alone is setting the benchmark for improvements in cycling infrastructure, but this is down to the Mayor, nothing to do with government policy.  Another mayor could easily rip them out!

Cycling campaigners need to find a new approach. They could start by telling it like it is, explaining what drives government thinking on transport.

They need to read Wolmar’s book. He’s got it nailed, and he’s positive, too. Me, I think it’s a hopeless situation whereas he thinks government can be made to change, as they have in their approach to rail travel.

But there is no sign of any positive thinking yet for cycling.

As if to illustrate this, Chancellor Phillip Hammond in his recent budget announced a £b1 upgrade for local roads.  Theoretically, this could lead to making those roads safer for cycling, too, but we can’t bank on it. In fact there no was direct money awarded cycling.   No surprise there.

Hammond was the man who killed off Cycling England when David Cameron was prime minister. Cycling England had pioneered over two dozen cycling demonstration towns which showed that small but effective schemes would encourage more people to cycle instead of drive. 

Clearly they were too successful for their own good and  I fancy that is why the government closed them down!

Meanwhile, the improvements promised for the road link between Oxford and Cambridge (Cambridge was one of Cycle England’s successful cycling demonstration towns)  might work against cycling. The university cities have done much to improve cycling conditions and reduce car dependency.  But now there is fear that the fine balance between car and cycle achieved will be upset as the improved road link pours more motor traffic into both cities.

Nothing changes.

But  to bolster our hopes, or  more likely torment us further with a vision of Utopia,  the cycling press runs yet  again another article  extolling the virtues of cycling conditions in the Netherlands, where 28 per cent of the population ride as against only 2 per cent in the UK. 

I refer to the inspirational piece in the December-January issue of Cycle, the magazine of Cycling UK, written by chief executive Paul Tuohy.  He gives  us hope!

Until  says he just wishes he’d had our Ministers of Transport or even the PM, Theresa May, with him to show what has been achieved for cycling in Holland. You’re wasting your time, Paul. They want out of Europe!

Surely it’s now obvious that no British government will ever create anything remotely like the Dutch have done, and put cycling at the centre of a nationwide integrated transport system – unless there is a massive change in thinking at the core of the establishment.

It can only happen here if cycling becomes an election issue. But given the current crisis caused by Brexit, the public may have more important things on their minds.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

SHORTS? You must be joking!

What’s with the shorts in winter?  Shorts worn by men, walking around the shops, or out cycling, on a freezing cold day?

It’s a fashion thing, right?  Must be.

It irritates me, for some unfathomable reason.

Take the walkers.  The gentlemen I see wearing shorts in winter on the high street and in the shops are mostly over 30, some much older, old enough to know better.  

It begs the question, is the older man attempting to reclaim the ground from that equally annoying trend among the yoof, the wearing of trousers hanging off the arse?  Don’t see this so often nowadays.

They looked as if they had done a load.  It forces them to walk with a certain unnatural stride which requires each leg to move slightly outward, in an attempt to give the jeans purchase on the thighs.

They would frequently have to yank them up by the waistband to stop them slipping down completely.    

This was very cool, apparently.

The trousers around the arse thing came about, I believe, from America of old, when prison inmates were denied belts and braces in case they hung themselves. So they were forced to shuffle about with trousers slipping down their backsides.

But I wonder if perhaps this trend is dying out.  Is the slipping trouser trend on the wane to be replaced by the shorts in winter trend among the older population?

Even more intriguing is the theory (gaining ground) that those same yoof have morphed into the older people we see wearing shorts in winter today.   It’s the same lot out to regain attention with a new trend. And it has spread like wildfire, giving a new lease of life to those who catch the bug, including those nearing pensionable age. 

What does the shorts guy look like?

A typical shorts guy will walk about town wearing a hefty  lined coat or  jacket, a scarf wound around his neck to keep out the chill, wool hat to keep  his brains warm,  gloves to look after his digits, then to confound the wintry look,  he wears not full length kecks, but big shorts with, usually unattractive legs protruding. Not even socks. He may wear flip flops.

It’s as though he can’t make up his mind whether to go the ski-slopes or the beach.


Are they being macho and showing off?  Is the message, look at me, a tough guy who doesn’t   feel the cold? In which case, why the heavy jacket, the wool hat and the gloves.  Why not just do the summer thing and wear a tee shirt?

It’s a mystery, this trend.

Which brings me to another mystery, concerning bike riders who wear shorts in the cold weather.

It’s a new thing among cyclists, this wearing shorts in the winter.   I don’t ever recall seeing any club rider in shorts in the winter.

I’m going back a few decades!

In the pre-thermal top days when you wore big sweaters and blanket lined army combat jackets, you would resort to stuffing newspaper up your jersey and tear strips of newspaper to line your shoes, which were nothing like the marvellous works of art which grace our feet today. And you wore full length plusses, warm diamond patterned stockings to the knee.

Quite simply, we took our cue from the more experienced club riders. We copied them. They dressed for the weather and the newcomers in the club did the same.

Would I be right in thinking that most of the shorts-wearing cyclists are new to the sport and have never been a club, never benefitted from the knowledge?

Many thousands were attracted to take up cycling following the 2012 Olympics in Britain, which resulted in a huge upsurge in the numbers taking to two wheels and racing off without any tuition or guidance whatsoever.

So are they simply copying their heroes of Le Tour and wearing shorts to show off their muscled legs, unaware that come winter, the top guys wouldn’t be seen dead in shorts, at the risk getting a slapping from their coach?

Take my experience last Sunday morning.

The day dawned bright and beautiful. The autumn colours were splendid.  There was a heavy frost and it was very cold. I felt it all the more cold because this was sudden change from mild weather earlier in the week.

The sky was deep blue, the air was clear and the sun was shining. Excellent conditions to be out, cycling, running, whatever took your fancy. Provided you were correctly dressed, which in my book is to wear warm kit top to bottom. And not shorts!

Now I can forgive runners in shorts because you generate so much more heat more quickly when running, and besides, there is not the same chill factor because you are going as fast as on a bike. But I never went out running in the winter wearing shorts.

The majority of riders I encountered  on this lovely, cold winters morning were kitted out in thermal tights and tops, gloves, while many wore overshoes, the better to block out the chill blast. There was a fairly strong wind blowing sending leaves tumbling along the roads.

But quite a number of riders were in shorts, including five who left me for dead on a climb.

I used to be known as a bit of mountain goat. Club hill champion, me, way back. Hope Mountain in North Wales, 1.75 miles of 1-in-6.

I’m not bothered about being dropped on climbs now. These guys are mostly half my age. 

Now most of the “shorts guys” I saw – like the walking bare leg brigade – were well wrapped up on top. Each wore a thermal jersey, some had a lining under the helmet and they wore gloves and overshoes. So clearly they were keen to keep those parts of the body warm.  So top heavy in clobber, but lightweight from the waist down. Thin shorts and bare legs!

I don’t get it.

I recall racing early season when it can still be quite cold to be wearing racing shorts. To counter this we would rub warming embrocation into our precious legs.  I don’t suppose the riders I see out have taken any such precautions and to my mind, if you are going to ride bald in this weather, you should.

No you shouldn’t!  Just cover up, for Christ’s sake.

One of the guys in shorts who shot past me at speed – very impressive - was only wearing a short-sleeved jersey. It was a faded emerald green. It bore the legend “Ireland” in big letters across the back.  They breed them tough in Ireland!

At the café at the top of the climb I spoke to a rider who, like me, was sensibly dressed up top to bottom with warming clothing. I pointed to the guys in shorts.

“This lot in shorts should be arrested and charged with abusing their own bodies,” I suggested. “They’re mental,” he said.

Unless perceived wisdom has changed, I always understood that muscles worked better when warm and would be prone to injury if you pushed too hard when it was too cold. So always to keep legs covered unless it was warm day.

Besides, when you become cold, your body must burn more energy to keep you warm which means that by the day’s end the shorts brigade will be lot more tired than they ought.  Or dead.

I once read of a guy – not a cyclist - who wore shorts on a very cold day and he collapsed. The autopsy revealed a heart condition he had been unaware of. The cold had put him under more stress than his ticker could cope with.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Meet Team Asthma

As the controversy lingers on over Bradley Wiggins legal use of the banned drug triamcinolone to treat his hay fever/allergies, let’s take a break from our British misery and take a look at Norway’s!  For they, too, are embroiled in doping stories.

In Norway, there has long been speculation that use of performance enhancing drugs for medicinal purposes is being abused in their national sport, cross-country skiing.

It is claimed that half of the large and dominant Norwegian national cross-country skiing team are asthmatic and are treated for such. It has earned them the moniker “Team Asthma”, according to a national television channel.

However, breathing problems aside, the Norwegians have been killing the opposition for years and so this has given rise to the oft asked question about asthma medication containing salbutamol, which is this. Could its use as a treatment for breathing difficulties also enhance performance beyond what would normally be expected?

That’s the conundrum with banned drugs athletes may be permitted to take for medicinal purposes during competition.

Why bother you with this story? Well, it so happens that in our house my wife and I are fans of the international cross-country skiing season. As soon as the cycling road season is over on Eurosport, we look forward to the contrast provided by this winter sport held under  blue skies against a backdrop of snow white forested slopes and mountains. So clean and refreshing….!

Cross-country skiing is huge in Norway and their massive team dominates the season.   They have far more athletes than Sweden, Finland, Poland, the USA, Canada, Russia, Italy and France, who also boast top names. Britain enjoys a small presence, too, albeit down the rankings.

It is interesting that cross country skiing has borrowed from cycling and since 2006-2007  the  annual Tour de Ski, one for men, one for women, is held over six to nine stages during December and January, in the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

There is also a series of city centre sprint races which makes good TV. They also appear to have been modelled on cycling and attract huge crowds.

Now two of the Norwegian stars, it has been revealed, have tarnished their image over the, allegedly, inappropriate use of medication.

Both are national heroes.  The first to be named was Martin Johnsrud Sundby who has been stripped of his titles and banned for two months for taking “excessive” does of asthma medication.

WADA, the World Anti-Doping Agency, has now sharpened the rules on how much salbutamol, a substance contained in the medicine Ventolin, one gets to inhale.

From January 1, 2017, an athlete may  take 800 micrograms and not more often than every 12 hours. That dosage is considerably less than Sundby took, according to a WADA director, quoted by Agence France Presse (AFP) covering the story on NRK, the Norwegian national broadcaster.  

The Wada director said Sundby took three doses totaling 15,000 micrograms over five hours before a competition. That amount is roughly 20 times as much as the newly set permissible dose of 800 micrograms every twelve hours.  

So that’s Sundby in the doghouse.

More recently,   Norway’s top woman cross-country skier Therese Johaug has joined him. Like Sundby, Johaug is a household name and she has tested positive for  the steroid clostebol .

Johaug is a seven-time world champion. She was Olympic gold medallist at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics, and took silver and bronze medals at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

In her defence, the Norwegian ski federation said that the drug was in a cream for her badly sunburnt lips - and given to her by a team doctor. 

Apparently, neither he nor Johaug spotted that the package – bought at a pharmacy in Italy - was clearly labelled with the legend “Doping” - circled with a red line struck through it!

It is being claimed in both cycling and cross-country skiing circles that professional competition can be so brutal as to induce asthma. Skiing races are often held over several consecutive days in temperatures of  -15 to -20C. (Any lower than -20 is bad for health and the competition is called off).

However,  claims of induced asthma have drawn scathing comments from  coaches who say they don't believe it. And some asthma sufferers say that going for a blast on skis in the freezing cold has actually reduced their asthma symptoms.

The story gets darker. AFP referred to another “unpleasant   revelation” into a “now-stopped clandestine research project”. This project involved some 40 healthy skiers, swimmers and athletes being given asthma medication despite not obtaining permission from the authorities.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

TUEs your poison

TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions).  TUEs we are told are required by athletes to treat a medical condition. But this may also enable them to legally use and benefit from drugs which they may otherwise be banned from using.  Which raises the question, is this ethical?

That is the question.  And we have the Fancy Bears leak to thank for this, for exposing the medical records of many athletes across the world.  

Fancy Bears, it is thought, hacked this information online on behalf of the Russians smarting from being accused  of operating a state run doping system which led to various of their athletes being banned from the Olympic Games when hey, why let dopers from other countries off the hook.  Fair enough.

Caught up in the poisonous fall out of these revelations is the most famous British Olympian of all time, our very own top bikie, the charismatic Sir Bradley Wiggins who, when riding for Team Sky, had a TUE when he became the first Brit to win the Tour de France on 2012. Also in 2011 and 2013.

It must be said that Wiggins and Team Sky insist they have acted within the rules in applying for TUEs.

TUEs! This  arrangement has been agreed to by all the agencies concerned –  the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the international sports governing bodies.  It was decided it can be only fair to allow medical treatment for athletes with  allergies and/or ailments, such as asthma.

But now  everyone is asking, well it may be legal but is it moral if, by taking certain drugs legally, athletes are unfairly, perhaps knowingly, enhancing their performance?

No we are not, cry the athletes.

But are they in a position to judge?

Is a by-product of a TUE also a means of extending the marginal gains achieved through diet and nutrients and equipment and clothing and so allowing the athlete into forbidden territory?  

Are the athletes themselves so completely wrapped up in their own world of training and racing that they can no longer see why TUEs are being considered wrong – morally.

Wiggo has been put on the spot.

He looked ill at ease when featured in a pre-recorded interview for Sunday’s Andrew Marr show. But Wiggo got off lightly, it was felt, because Marr failed to press him over his explanation for the three TUEs he was permitted in 2011, 2012 and 2013 which allowed him to take the powerful and banned corticosteroid, triamcinolone.

Those TUEs were to “cure a medical condition” Wiggins explained. “This wasn’t about trying to find a way to gain an unfair advantage; this was about putting myself back on a level playing field in order to compete at the highest level.”

Owen Gibson in The Guardian the next day (September 26) delved more deeply into the enigma.  Wiggins, in explaining his need for TUEs to Marr,   said he had really struggled with respiratory problems in the run-up to the 2012 Tour.

But, as Gibson pointed out in his article, he’d said nothing about that in his autobiography.   Wiggins had been in the form of his life, only been ill once or twice with minor colds; he’d barely lost a day’s training.

On the other hand, I am thinking, by the time he came to write his autobiography, had the issue of those respiratory problems paled into insignificance in his own mind, when he came to look back at what he had achieved that year?

And three weeks on the Tour can feel like an age, in a good way, mind.  But those three weeks seem like a lot longer than   three weeks at home, with each day divided up into all those compartments, breakfast, getting to the start, warming up, the stage itself – hours of riding – then the warming down, the podium, the press calls, driving to the hotel,  massage, meal, set up for the tomorrow, bed. Three weeks of that.

One day on Le Tour is a week doing anything else.

Not making excuses for him, mind. But when you look back, it’s always the good things you remember.  You gloss over the bad bits.

Wiggo may also simply have left that episode out because it spoilt the story. A film maker may do that. If they are trying to portray a superman you don’t include bits which show he’s human, like the rest of us.

That had been fantastic season, remember? Wiggins had practiced for taking the yellow jersey in the Tour by winning three prestigious stage races that season: Paris – Nice, the Tour of Romandie, and the Criterium du Dauphine. No Tour winner had previously won all three in the same year.

Then after Le Tour, he wins the Olympic time trial title.

Sod mentioning the breathing issues. Doesn’t fit the picture.

But then there is the contradiction about needles, they don’t fit the picture either.  When he said in that autobiography he wouldn’t take needles that was a reference to needles for doping, he explained. Not to be confused with needles used to inject 40mg of the banned drug triamcinolone - allowed him under a TUE on the way to his 2012 Tour de France victory.

And so the story rolls on.

The following day’s papers carried interviews with Team Sky boss Sir David Brailsford who robustly defended Wiggins and said  that Team Sky did nothing wrong over TUEs.

On the question of whether an injection of a powerful corticosteroid provided Wiggins with performance enhancing benefits that helped him to the 2012 Tour de France victory, Brailsford said, that “the question was more about whether it mitigated the illness that he presented for. I just don’t think it’s possible to answer that.”

So doubt remains.  In which case, maybe TUEs should be cast into Room 101.

I must admit I was quite taken aback when I first learned some years ago now, that a great many athletes from different sports are registered as asthmatics, including cyclists and a great many cross country skiers. Because I thought, how does anyone compete when they have asthma?

My memory is of a teenager who had asthma and how his condition prevented him taking part in schools sports. He struggled if he ran for a bus.

So I have difficulty squaring that vision of a weakened young man with top athletes who also claim to have asthma, yet who can compete at international level, in the world’s toughest events.

Does asthma affect people in varying degrees? I suppose it must.

What did athletes so affected do before there were TUEs?

I don’t know. Give up; get dropped, probably, when they had a bad turn.

But now they can get a TUE, and take medicines for their condition and so keep on running and riding at the front of the race.

The question being asked is, what is the dosage allowed them? And is that dosage performance enhancing?  The answer is always no.

Will the public buy this? Who knows?

If they don’t, will it mean that the fabulous Gold Rush by British cyclists is to become tainted by the revelations about the legal but morally questionable use of medicinal aids taken by Britain’s most famous Olympian Sir Bradley Wiggins? Is the story of the century about to unravel?

It is two decades since British Cycling raised itself from the ashes of its near bankrupt former self to become the UK’s most successful Olympic sport in history. They ushered in a new age, gave us hope after the disgraceful and shocking drug-fuelled career of Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France victories (1999- 2005).

The sport of cycling in the UK transformed itself  and British riders became world beaters on the track and, with Team Sky, made history winning Le Tour while all the time proclaiming themselves to be clean.

Sunday, 18 September 2016


GOOD news.  This makes a change.

This weekend we hear of tougher penalties for drivers who commit the very dangerous offence of using hand-held mobile phones and also how West Midlands Police are to prosecute drivers who do not give cyclists a wide berth when overtaking them. The Highway Code says drivers should give cyclists a metre and half space when overtaking.

But few do, and most pass too close for comfort.

As for the millions of drivers who regularly use hand-held mobile phones while driving, doubling the fine to £60 and dishing out three penalty points on the driving licence is still too lenient. Because at that rate, a driver can be caught using a mobile another four times before losing their licence.

And that’s if he or she is ever caught again! Which is not very likely given that the police don’t have the manpower to be policing the roads?

Still, the increased penalty is to be welcomed because it will draw attention to this huge and very irresponsible problem.

Inspector Brian Rogers, of Cheshire Road Policing, said on The Guardian Blog:  'After the initial flush of publicity throughout the country when the new mobile phone law was introduced in December 2004, many drivers took heed and we issued few fines.

'Drivers are now lapsing back to using their mobile phones at the wheel. In Cheshire, we held a two-month enforcement campaign during early summer and the number of fines issued to drivers using hand-held phones has increased by an astounding 1,000% plus.'

Many people do not appear to understand that using a mobile phone when driving renders a driver’s response times to worse than if he was drunk.  The effect of talking to remote person as distinct from a passenger in the same vehicle is completely different. Talking on the phone cuts you off from the reality of what’s going on the other side of the windscreen. It is not the same as twiddling the radio tuner.

As for texting, which means you have taken your eyes off the road, anyone caught texting at the wheel should be banned from driving for life.

The scientific findings into the effects of mobile phone use on your behaviour are accepted worldwide which is why many countries have outlawed their use by drivers. And the only reason hands free phones were not banned as well is because police said it would be nigh on impossible to detect if someone was using hands-free at the wheel.

But having a law prohibiting mobile phone use by drivers is next to useless if there are no cops out there looking for offenders. And we know that the police numbers are down due to government cuts.

So this means most drivers will continue to get away with it. And that it is more than likely that the only time a driver will find himself in court for using a phone is after he’s had a collision and the police called!

Meanwhile West Midlands Police in partnership with Birmingham City Council are taking action to tackle another serious safety threat, prosecuting drivers who pass too close to cyclists.

The West Midlands trials were carried out by police traffic officer Mark Hodson in mufti, cycling along a road towards where a colleague in a police car lay in wait. Any driver who past Hodson giving him less than the 1.5 metres recommended space was pulled up.  Drivers who pass cyclists really close are reckoned to be doing what the police term a “punishment pass”!

Drivers pulled over were then “offered” a choice: prosecution or 15 minutes education on how to overtake a cyclist safely.

During the trial which lasted four days 80 people were pulled over for passing too close.

The worst drivers, or those who repeat the offence, simply faced prosecution. 38 drivers are to face prosecution.

The worrying thing is in that most cases drivers were not looking out for cyclists. Two drivers when pulled over, said, “What cyclist.”

West Midlands police say that in about 98 per cent of cases, collisions in this area were down to driver action, nothing at all to do with the cyclist.

Following the trial, West Midlands Police plan an initial three-month blitz in pulling drivers over and educating them on the error of their ways. They will then move to enforcement and anyone caught not giving a cyclist the recommended wide berth will be prosecuted.

The problem is to be taken as seriously as drink driving offences.

Cycling UK, the national cyclists’ organisation, praised West Midlands police, saying this is the best ever cycling safety initiative by a police force.

Some 530 cyclists have been seriously injured or killed on West Midland's roads over the four years.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Cycling is UK’s top Olympic sport - but there is little regard for cyclists on the roads nor in the courts.

While £Millions are lavished on Britain’s Olympic cyclists who triumphed  so spectacularly in the Rio Games,  the government slashes funding  for cycling as transport.

As a life-long cycle racing enthusiast I delight in the success of our international riders at Rio.   But as one also concerned with cyclists’ rights I fumigate at the lack of political will to make UK roads safer and at the indifference shown by our legal system towards cyclists run down by motor vehicles.

For although cycling is now considered to be a top sport in the UK – and since Beijing in 2008 has attracted over a million newcomers - cyclists are still regarded as second-class citizens on the roads and in the courts.

Where do we start this story?

We’ll start with the good news.

Can you believe it;   the BBC 10 o’clock news is postponed for over an hour to show Jason Kenny winning gold in final event in the track cycling at the Rio Games!  Unheard of.

Clearly, the Beeb had put its money on Kenny in the Keirin, and decided they couldn’t tear themselves away until the race, twice delayed, and was run.


And so Kenny put the finishing touches to a brilliant Games for the GB track cycling team who each won a medal – unprecedented – leaving the rest of the cycling world to ruminate on how they do it.

Kenny won two golds and his fiancée Laura Trott also won two on the track, to become Britain’s top female Olympic medallist with four golds in total.

At Athens 2004, Britain’s  cyclists won two gold, one silver and one bronze; at Beijing 2008 they won eight gold, four silver and two bronze; at London 2012 they won eight gold, two silver and two bronze and this year, at Rio 2016, the trackies won six gold, four silver and a bronze.

All this has been achieved on the back of over £66m in Lottery funding provided elite track cycling across the last four Olympics.  This is considered a good return by the Lottery people and Government, dishing out the money.

On top of the Lottery-funded track success, British riders have also risen to be a major force in Continental road racing.  Mark Cavendish won  the world road title and has won 30 stages of the Tour de France, Bradley Wiggins become the first Briton to win the Tour outright in 2012, followed by Chris Froome who this year became a three times Tour winner (2013/15/16).

So cycling’s doing great, right? Well, elite cycling is. Money is pumped into elite track cycling.

But the already low level of funding for improving cycling road safety has been slashed.

The treasury is not prepared to stump up the necessary cash despite there being cross-party support to provide £500m per annum to improve safety for cycling on the roads.  Instead the Treasury have provided £300m across three years. 

I don’t believe any government will ever provide adequate funding until cycling becomes an election issue.

 (See Blog 11, which includes the following extract quoting Cycling UK’s Roger Geffen)

Geffen says that funding is going down instead of up.

“The Government’s funding allocations for walking and cycling between 2017/18 and 2020/21 are set to fall by 71%.”

Or, to put it into monetary perspective, the pitifully low spend per head of population (in England) which has stood at £1.50 for decades, and was advised needed to be raised to £10 per head but was dropped to £1.39 has now been forecast to reduce still further, to 0.72 per pence.

Forget the differentials - £66m for Olympic cycling compared to the vastly more £500m for ordinary cycling may sound an awful lot to you and me. But £500m hardly makes a dent in the pile of gold worth several £billions in the Department for Transport’s safe.

The returns on spending £500m per annum on a cycling strategy promise spectacular savings – in improving the health of the nation, reducing pollution, congestion.  

Some might consider this to be worth more than Olympic gold medals - no disrespect to our Olympic champions intended. But you get the drift.

A gong won’t protect riders when they go training on the road! Remember how Bradley Wiggins was knocked off by a white van driver a few years ago?

The bottom line, says Cycling UK’s Geffen,  is the politicians have failed us all.

A letter from Roger Knight of Liverpool in The Guardian on Thursday (August 18) raises this very issue. In fact, his letter inspired me to write this blog.

He began, as I did here, in saying how great it is to see the success of our Olympic cyclists in Rio.

And he goes on to ask, is this success reflected among the elite cyclist reflected in the wider public?

No, he says. The following figures he quoted are widely available. According to Cycling UK only 4 per cent of the population cycle every day.  So, while the UK tops the Olympic medal table, they remain bottom of the general cycling table.

In this, the UK shares this shameful position with Luxembourg and Spain who have the lowest percentage use of cycles of all 28 EU countries – with the exception of Cyprus (2 per cent) and Malta (1 per cent).

The leaders in this particular “medal” table are of course countries like the Netherlands (43 per cent cycle every day) It’s about 30 per cent in Denmark. Cycling becomes the norm from an early age in these countries. In the Netherlands some 49 per cent of Dutch primary school children cycle to school. In the UK, only about 3 percent of children do so.

Our politicians just don’t get cycling. 

Neither do the courts which almost never hand out substantial sentences to drivers who kill and maim.

This week it was reported that a woman who admitted causing the death of a cyclist in a crash in Hampshire was sentenced by Portsmouth magistrates to complete 60 hours of community work.

Jeanette Smith, 69, pleaded guilty to causing death by careless driving and was disqualified from driving for 12 months and ordered to pay a total of £165 in costs and fines.

She had driven into Will Houghton, 20, a member of the Amersham Road CC, on the A32 in Wickham on January 28 and he died two days later.

Also reported this week,  Julie Dinsdale, 53, who lost a leg when a Tesco lorry drove over her and her bike at a roundabout in central London last year, expressed her huge disappointment that the driver, Florin Oprea, 24,  was only fined £625, given five points on his licence and allowed to continue driving!

Oprea pleaded guilty to driving without due care and attention.

Blackfriars crown court heard that a driving assessor had recommended – two days before the collision - that Oprea use his nearside mirrors more. On the day of the collision he was driving unaccompanied for the first time.

* Brake, the road safety charity, says “Drivers who kill, harm and endanger are often let off with grossly inadequate penalties, in some cases for inappropriately-termed charges.”

The charity is advocating a review of charges for causing death and serious injury on the road, to ensure drivers are charged with offences that adequately reflect the risk taken and harm caused.

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Frigging pavement cyclists

Why is it these days so many people break the law by cycling on pavements?

The answer is simple. Either they are ignorant of the law or they don’t care.

It frigging infuriates me and I want to drag them off their machines.
They may protest that they find the road too dangerous to cycle along.
That, however, is no excuse to get up on the pavement.

I don’t mean real cyclists like you and me, I mean Joe Public who has taken to using a bike purely for utility purposes as distinct from people who have taken up the sport. Although a significant number of “proper” cyclists also ride down the pavements when it suits them, and they ride across Zebra crossings to get across the road when they should dismount and  walk their machines. I hate them for it.
This summer I even saw a veteran in the colours of Western Road Club riding on the pavement.  Who did he think he was, Chris Froome? I bet Froome doesn't ride down pavements. Well, I hope he doesn't. But in truth you never know with the pros, a law unto themselves. They live in world of their own. Every road is La Course! Allez.
I once went on a ride with the professional La Redoute team  Paul Sherwen once rode for - oh, when was that?  Early 1980s?  At a crossing in a town, they all simply meandered through the pedestrians who had the green light.   The walkers just parted amiably - oooh, look, it's the pros!
Sorry to say, I just followed the wheels! Well, everyone on the crossing just stopped to let us by, the riders and the following team car and the L'Equipe press car  - a photographer had been taking snaps out in the country. We all just slowly rolled through. Merci!
That was  early season in the South of France, on the eve of the Tour du Haut Var.... As if that was their  excuse!
But I never did it again, your honour.
Back to the pavement cyclists, my real concern.
Don't these pavement cyclists ever think someone could suddenly emerge from a doorway, walk straight into their path and that they might knock them down... if elderly the impact might even kill them?

I am a cyclist of some 60 years.  At the age of 11 I was given my first big bike. It was a second-hand Raleigh Trent Tourist.  My father enrolled me for the cycling proficiency test and I am very thankful that he did.  A series of lessons on road traffic law and how to cycle in traffic, how to look behind you before starting off,  how make left and right turns and generally behave safely,  was followed by a playground test around a mock road layout. I scored a high pass rate of 91 per cent and was pretty pleased with myself.  For I had been taught the rudiments of road craft and road traffic law which I have never forgotten. I was imbued with new found confidence and respect for my fellow road users.

It was made very clear to me that it was against the law to cycle down pavements. If you did so a policeman would stop you.  Of course, that was back in the days when the UK had a police force, before Tory cuts reduced their numbers.

In my town we see a couple of plods make a token appearance on the beat perhaps once a month!
Very occasionally, I see one on a bike. And once - bravo - the cycling cop yelled at a pavement cyclist and made him get on the road. But we no longer have enough police to patrol the streets.

Only very young children were permitted to cycle on pavements. But you never saw young children riding down those pavements bordering main roads. They stayed on side roads, outside their houses. Today, of course, residential roads and many pavements are chock full of parked cars.  So there is nowhere for the children to play, to practice cycling while remaining in sight of the house. And mum or dad might not have the time to take them to the park.

But that doesn’t make it right to let them  loose on crowded pavements in shopping centres, as parents frequently do, on bikes and those blasted scooters.

Not many cyclists today appear to have taken the cycling proficiency test, judging by the stupid antics some get up to.  I think it should be mandatory!

Here's an example bad cycling I witnessed today.

There was the dad cycling on his small-wheeled bike with his young son  in tow on a small bike. – He was aged about eight.  

Mistake 1. They were riding down a narrow pavement bordering a main road into town.  So narrow there was no room to pass a pedestrian loaded down with  shopping bags.

So Dad was breaking the law and also putting his child in danger because at that age, a child

lacks the spatial awareness to judge the speed of approaching traffic - what if he find himself suddenly forced into the road to avoid a pedestrian, for instance?  Fortunately, in the few moments they were in my sight, they had the pavement to themselves until they reaching the traffic light controlled crossing which would take them to the supermarket. 

Mistake 2. When the pair reached this crossing, dad broke the law by cycling across it – you are always meant to dismount and walk your bike across crossings, unless it is a Pelican crossing, when  the illuminated signal will include the image of a cyclist and as well as that of a pedestrian. But this crossing was for walking across.
Dad rode across it, breaking the law again. Of course, his tiny son followed, wobbling behind What did he know?

Well,  thanks to dad, he is becoming equipped for a life of cycling, and in his experience it's perfectly OK to ride down pavements and perfectly OK to ride across pedestrian crossings.