In 1947 Pierre Brambilla became the first rider to lose the lead of the Tour de France on the last day, when he gave up 13 minutes to the monumentally unpopular Jean Robic.
He was so distraught that he went home and buried his bike at the bottom of his garden in an unmarked grave.
I’ve never lost the Tour on the last day. My serial failures to challenge for the win at the Tour have much deeper roots than that. But I do occasionally think about burying bikes.
It is my contention that you can tell much about a cyclist from the state of their garage. I recently had cause to be in the garage of a British pro, and you could have performed brain surgery there. My garage, on the other hand, looks like a glimpse into a dystopian future.
Far, far into the garage, past the bucket of unrepaired inner tubes, beyond the vale of the obsolete tools, there is the graveyard.
It includes a Vitus 992 that I crashed on a training ride in 1996. Its narrow aluminium tubes didn’t fold up, the way oversized ones do, they just bent, very elegantly.
I had to ride it home, facing half-sideways, the wheels running off vertical, the forks pushed backwards so that it was impossible to turn right without fouling the front wheel on the down tube.
It’s kind of funny now; at the time it was my best bike. I rode it home with tears in my eyes, not looking down, and trying to convince myself “it’s not that bad”.
There’s a road race frame that has nothing obvious wrong with it. That was the case for its last months of riding, when it nevertheless made a peculiar creak with every pedal stroke.
My friend Bernard kept telling me the noise was that of a frame with a crack in it.
“Tosh.” I told him I’d inspected the frame, there were no cracks, and that the noise was quite clearly coming from the bottom bracket.
Or the seatpin. Or perhaps the pedals. All of which I greased, tightened, loosened and eventually replaced.
Then I found the crack. The worst part of the whole thing was having to track down and buy an identical frame so that I could avoid the inevitable and everlasting ‘I told you so’ conversation.
I even had to replicate a scratch in the paintwork. Taking a screwdriver to the unblemished paint was easier to do than you might expect, because I was very, very angry.
There is a race wheel with a hub that has been torn in half, as if through the application of vast amounts of torque. Hard to reconcile with the damage having been the work of Bernard.
He gave me back the ruin with a smug smile that suggested he was expecting warm congratulations.
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There is plenty more. A disc wheel that delaminated, and which now looks like a pair of giant, warped LPs. Saddles with big rips in the cover.
A turbo-trainer that (I kid you not) caught fire. I couldn’t bring myself to throw any of this away because all of it, at some point, was brand new. Most of it was expensive. All of it counted as my best kit.
There is something very sad about this corner of the garage — there’s nothing here that didn’t upset me at the time. That’s why I still have it.
Maybe I hoped it would somehow fix itself. Or perhaps chucking it in a skip felt like some sort of disloyalty — could it be that I’m more superstitious than I think I am?
And that takes us back to Brambilla. I think perhaps I should give it all a decent funeral.
Bury it down the garden, and say goodbye. I could make a little cross. I’ve got some bent aluminium frame tubes that would do nicely.