The other day, for purposes purely of research I assure you, I was contemplating in some detail a photograph of Victoria Pendleton in a pair of hot pants.
It’s a tragic indictment of my own sad life that the hot pants in question were the GB track team’s new secret weapon – the distinctly unsexy bastard offspring of a Millets catalogue and an electric blanket was used to keep riders’ muscles warm between the warm up and the race.
I was trying to figure out how fitting Vicky P with what is described as the equivalent of a Formula 1 tyre warmer could be reconciled with the previous secret weapon, the ice-vest. That was a sort of rapid wine-cooling sleeve affair designed to fit the human torso, to keep it cool during and after the warm up.
I wondered idly if heating the legs and cooling the torso simultaneously might not create thermal cracking. Would the athlete’s legs falling off out as they set off out of the start gate be grounds for a restart?
And despite the enlightened, matter-of-fact spirit of the Paralympics, was it acceptable to speculate on something like that, even in the privacy of your own head? And would I be hearing from Jody Cundy’s lawyers?
I put aside my photograph, and contemplated pre-race routines. My own warm up is based on the advice of a random passer-by at Manchester Velodrome a few years ago.
I’d probably have switched it around a bit by now in view of the comments of other strangers, but the passer-by on that occasion was UCI President, Pat McQuaid (absolutely true), and I’ve been sort of afraid to change it in case I draw down upon me the wrath of the UCI warm-up police. I know there’s no such thing, but, well you know… better be safe.
More bonkers than Bernard
It’s still saner than an old college friend. No, not that one, another even more demented one. He avoided any physical stimulation in the immediate pre-race period.
But he still liked to get the adrenaline coursing. He did this by being late. He’d oversleep, then drive to the race like his hair was on fire, while trying to put his shorts on at traffic lights. Normally it would take him at least two sets of lights to complete this action.
He’d arrive at the race changing rooms in a screech of brakes and a shower of gravel, drenched in the sweat of cold panic, then usually ride as if he was in a state of grace to an easy victory.
On the other hand, the trauma inflicted on anyone who got a lift – the interval between traffic lights when he was trying to put his shorts on could be quite unspeakably distressing – was often as not fatal to any racing success. At least one of us gave up cycling completely. Another abandoned an entire genitourinary medical career.
I forfeited all right to criticise him at a time trial. I hopped onto my turbo trainer for a warm up, unfortunately failing to spot the unevenness of the ground. The whole bike and trainer and me with it fell over, and I had to withdraw from the race due to road rash sustained in the car park. Painful memories.
I did work out what was going on with the hot pants, though. It’s Dave Brailsford’s retirement plan. They’re going to show up any day now in the pages of a Sunday supplement as a product clearly aimed at the elderly of poor circulation and mobility, alongside the bath-with-a-door and the super-comfy mail-order shoes.
All this stuff is invariably modeled by the most inappropriately youthful and vigorous young women imaginable. This way, Brailsford’s got his model and his pictures for nothing. It’s brilliant.
Great Inventions of Cycling – 1860s: The Soigneur
The soigneur, or swanny, is as old as cycling. The original version was a sort of trainer, a practitioner of various dark and mysterious arts.
There were the prescribers of training, the promoters of peculiar diets (brandy and a raw egg five minutes before the start of your race? I thought not) and the massagers and maintainers of their charges’ delicate legs.
Their role has expanded and contracted and expanded again over the years. Fausto Coppi’s manager, the enigmatic, blind Biagio Cavanna, was in many respects a super-swanny – he was rumoured to have marked out Coppi for greatness on the basis of how the muscles of campionissimo Coppi’s legs felt when he massaged them.
The most famous swanny of all was, unfortunately, Willy Voet, the Festina team’s employee who was arrested on the Franco-Belgian border driving what was in essence a mobile pharmacy. This couriering was a throwback to the early days of doping, when they dispensed basic amphetamine and the like, before the role was taken by dodgy doctors.
The modern swanny is, essentially, to the rider what the mechanic is to the bicycle. They are responsible for preparing food, manning the feed zone, washing kit, massaging aching limbs, while listening patiently to the complaints and moans of riders about the race, their form, their team mates, their management and all associated gripes and grumbles.
Just in case you find you’re thinking, ‘a bit like my mum, then’, you probably ought to be aware that the majority of swannys are the kind of large forearmed gents you would not want to offend up an alleyway on a dark night.
An email reaches me from Jon Wilkinson-Lockyer:
“I bought a powermeter. I was out when the postman called, so I went to the Post Office to pick it up. I placed it in the base of my son’s pushchair, and walked home. The following day, having grown tired of the rather shabby appearance of the pushchair in question, I decided I’d take it to the recycling centre.
The following night I remembered I hadn’t removed the powermeter in its package first. At first light, I rushed to the dump for a dawn raid. Miraculously, the pushchair was still on top of the heap, powermeter intact.
How I wish I’d left it there.”