I think this is probably the first real summer of cycling. Or, perhaps, the first one since the society cycling craze of the 1890s. British contenders in the Tour’s main classifications.
Favourites for almost all the Olympic events. The feeling of being in the midst of a cycling revolution is not a new one – it’s a sentiment I’ve expressed every time I’ve been stuck for something to say for about the last three years, and no one has argued with me yet. But this time it feels like something much more powerful.
Sports fans’ enthusiasm migrates from areas of high frustration to areas of low frustration – that’s not new. It forms a swirling maelstrom of passion and wholehearted support. And it looks for things to criticise. For while any idiot can idolise, it is only through criticism that expertise can make itself known. And when it finds something to criticise, expertise twists tighter and tighter, faster and faster.
In the UK we’ve gone, in a few short months, from a world indifferent to our sport, to one where it’s everyone’s sport, and I’m not sure there is enough of it to go round. Baffled indifference has hardened into certain opinion without being tainted by education. My neighbour – you may recall him as the man who only a few months ago asked me if he could beat Bradley Wiggins ‘If I got a decent bike’ – has become a committed cycling fan, still totally unencumbered by actually knowing anything.
Where once he might have asked why Sir Chris Hoy doesn’t ride the Tour, now he’s just skipped straight to being furious that he hasn’t been selected for it. It would have been the perfect warm up for the Olympics. And he could have won the what-do-you-call-it… blue jersey. He says all this with the demented conviction of a Radio 5 phone-in caller stating that his non-league football team ought to buy ‘someone like Ronaldo’. He really, really cares.
And that puts the pressure on those of us for whom cycling has been a passion stretching back at least far enough to have read all the way to the back of a magazine.
It’s hard to make your voice heard by being reasonable. But the people need leadership. They need someone to set the tone. Ask yourself this: why are all these new fans flocking to cycling? Because they anticipate winning, and lots of it.
We faithful are not this shallow. We appreciated cycling all along for its art and its drama, not because we wanted to bask in reflected glory. How otherwise would we have managed through the bleak years when all we had to cling to was the distant memory of the 2008 Olympics, Bradley’s 4th in the 2009 Tour, and Cav closing in on Eddy Merckx’s record of Tour stage wins?
The answer is simply to ignore winning and losing as a measure of success. If anyone queries this, explain (patronisingly, I would suggest, but it’s up to you) the important difference between the process of preparing to win – the training, the planning, the structuring of a team – and how in comparison to the grand scheme of things, the issue of whether any given rider actually crosses the line first is trivial to the point of irrelevance.
This approach will enable you to praise things that look like failure, and condemn things that look like success, ‘because ultimately you have to look at the process rather than the result’. Do it with enough commitment, and no one will ever be able to argue with you, because while winning is black-and-white, the process is grey area all the way through. Your status as a proper expert will be safe for ever.
Great Inventions of Cycling – 1871
The Wind Tunnel
The wind tunnel was invented in 1871 by British engineer Francis Wenham, who failed entirely to appreciate the true use for what he’d come up with, and instead of popping a cyclist in it, used it to investigate the principles of aerodynamics. Had he not made this crucial fumble, we’d still be flying bi-planes, but the aero helmet and skinsuit would have made their debut in time to be used on a penny-farthing.
In fact it was many years before bikes and tunnels came together. Frenchman Maurice Richard used a wind tunnel in Paris to prepare for his hour record ride in 1933, but this was rather unusual. Richard broke the hour record, but achieved relatively little else, perhaps because the photos from the tunnel session show him wearing an Aran sweater and presumably working the ‘dimpled’ line of thought.
Tunnel testing only became common in the 1990s, and then mainly for wheels, which were small and relatively easy to test. Chris Boardman’s Lotus 108 pursuit bike from the 1992 Olympics was developed in a wind tunnel, as was Boardman’s position on it. You might have expected his devastating performances on it to have made tunnel-testing essential, but it was really only in the 21st Century that tunnel-testing became universal.
With 100kms of more or less flat time trialling in this year’s Tour, critics will doubtless complain that the Tour will be won less in the mountains than in the tunnels. But that’s just because they don’t like disc wheels.
Acts of cycling stupidity
Long term readers will recall a Tour fan from a few years ago who booked a trip for his family to see several Alpine stages, and who was pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to find accommodation at reasonable prices. When he got there he discovered he’d used the previous year’s route details by mistake, and the race was still in the Pyrenees.
His wife, who shopped him last time, advises me that that this year he blew it again. This time by confusing the stage numbers with the actual dates.
Sir, we here at Acts of Cycling Stupidity salute you. You are our God.