I’m in an unusually reflective mood this week. I’ve just been dealing with the weirdness of the Giro d’Italia turning up in Belfast to spread the love of Italian culture, bicycle racing and the colour pink.
I grew up not far from Belfast, in an era characterised by the sound of modest explosions and the occasional crackle of light gunfire drifting on the breeze of a warm summer night.
It was an age when the only cultural ambassador the Italians had ever sent to Northern Ireland was spaghetti Bolognese, which they didn’t like very much anyway, and which they wouldn’t really have minded having blown up.
But last weekend? Without seeing it for myself, I wouldn’t have believed the pinkness that the Giro washed over Belfast. If it hasn’t caused a worldwide shortage of pink paint, then I can only say that there must have been a lot more pink paint in the world than I suspected.
There was even a farmer near the Giant’s Causeway who dyed her sheep pink. Dying sheep pink is really difficult, apparently. The lanolin in wool means you can’t just dunk them in; you have to rub the colour in by hand. So she spent weeks personally massaging them. Not only were they pink, they were the most relaxed sheep in Western Europe.
(Of course, come July, the Yorkshire farmers will have it easy — to get a yellow sheep you just leave an ordinary sheep out in the rain for a bit, though doubtless there will be some show-off who creates his own polka-dot sheep.)
One does end up wondering, of course, what the political consequences might have been if the Giro leader’s jersey was some other colour. Orange, for instance, might have led to some local difficulties. The Giro is the only global bike race that could go to Northern Ireland, because it’s the only one whose signature colour won’t cause someone, somewhere to start stockpiling petrol bombs.
There were other touches. The Presbyterian church just before the turn of the team time trial had taken down its large ‘Repent ye sinners’ sign and replaced it with one saying ‘God loves all races.’ Which was rather nice.
Some things felt very strange indeed. With 17km covered, stage two actually passed the house in which I grew up. It was a nothing house on a nothing road, just outside one of the least interesting towns in Europe. Even there, the Giro managed to sprinkle Italian glamour and glitz and pinkness.
“Imagine the consequences in Northern Ireland if the Giro leader’s jersey was orange”
A hundred yards from our old house was the bus stop where I used to catch the bus to school. Almost everyone I told about this asked me if I was going to watch the race from the bus stop “for old times’ sake”.
Invariably I replied, “I stood there through rain, snow, wind and hail for 14 years. The addition of 200 bike riders ambling along the very early stages of a race discussing what they had for dinner last night isn’t going
to be enough to suddenly make
In the end, I was a little sorry I didn’t go there.
The whole experience would just have been so dissonant, like the Pope on a skateboard. Also, I’d have got free Haribo from the race caravan, which, in fact, is all that would have been required to keep me happy in the rain all those years ago.
Whatever the Tour de France manages to do to Yorkshire in a few weeks’ time, it’s going to have to go some to match the Giro in Northern Ireland. The second-biggest bike race in the world? Say that in Belfast and listen for the chink of petrol bombs being neatly stacked.
Acts of cycling stupidity
My friend Bernard read with interest my column about him a couple of issues back, wherein I took him to task for claiming Strava segments where his performances were achieved while glued to my back wheel.
He demanded a right of reply:
“I realised when I read it that I had in fact been criminally stupid. What I ought to have done was stealthily affix my GPS unit under your saddle when you weren’t looking, then let you get on with the ride on your own. Then I could have retrieved the unit at my leisure, uploaded the files, and had the segments without all that wheel-sucking. And you’d never have worked it out either.”
How to… cope with failure
Failure is always an option. Nothing in the world is so easy that failure is impossible.
Failure is very rarely spectacular — in fact, by the time you’ve definitively failed to achieve something, most observers have become bored and wandered off. So if you don’t shout about it yourself, there’s a good chance that no one will even notice.
Sometimes failure is your own fault, a result of overestimating your own abilities or underestimating the difficulty of the goal. But it’s more likely to be just plain old bad luck. Note that blaming luck, rather than your own shortcomings, constitutes a basic excuse, which is how we deal with failure. Remember that bad luck can afflict certain people on a daily basis for 20 years or more at a stretch.
More advanced excuses for failure can focus on equipment. Be sure not to blame anything that you have previously bored your friends by praising to the rafters — that will just end up bouncing back on your ability to assess equipment. So failure is never the fault of anything that cost more than £200 or is made of carbon fibre. Stick to punctures, chains and brake-block quality.
The best excuses of all blame other people. There are only two kinds of people in the world: those who interfere with your plans, and those who sympathise with you about the evil machinations of the first group. Your family, for example, is probably in the first group, and your riding mates in the second.
Just don’t get your groups mixed up and try complaining about your riding partners to your spouse.