Hill fitness? Don’t make me laugh!

Putting the world behind me one step at a time

“Cyclists” Are Dicks.

Great things are afoot in the cycling world. Scotty has been more than ably commenting on it on The Velocast Journal (still feels weird seeing content from Velocast without an¬† [S] or [J] involved). However, whilst the great and the good get on with the business of Professional Cycling I’m going to talk about matters closer to home. Demographically as much as Geographically.

I’m lucky enough to live in Peebles, the jewel in the crown of The 7 Stanes. Home of world class mountain biking trails and gateway to road routes that are as good as anything available in the UK. A cyclist’s paradise.

A honeypot. A flytrap. If it’s on two wheels and self powered it’ll make it’s way to Peebles.

“Aye, there’s the rub”

I started in bicycle retail at a time when if you were engaged enough to visit a shop like The Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative as it was in then, as opposed to the hugely successful retail behemoth it is now, then I’d give you the benefit of the doubt. I am notably intolerant (ask Scotty) but if you walked through those doors I had something in common with you. We were cyclists. Simplistic? Yes but generally true.

Commuter? Cyclist.

Tourer? Cyclist.

Mountain biker? Trailblazer and cyclist, often a mountaineer or hillwalker as well.

Racer? Cyclist.

etc, etc,

These groups weren’t mutually exclusive, usually any given customer spanned two or three of these facets of enjoying the bike.

However at some point mountain biking moved from a thing cyclists did to an “extreme” sport/pastime. I know this is a sweeping generalization and that most of the folk who are taking the trouble to read this grumpy old man rant are folk I would have enjoyed having as customers back in the day but the shift happened.

Let’s take a wee trip back in time.

The approach to the outdoors drummed into me as a young ‘un can be neatly encapsulated in the phrase “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints” (may be a Steppenwolf lyric)

Backpacking? If you carry it in then carry it out. Leave no avoidable trace.

Climbing? Same deal.

Cycling? Ditto.

So, why am I angry today? Well it’s been a week of disappointment for me. As my two collies and I wander the hills around Peebles we cover every kind of terrain from remote, narrow trails through unfrequented forests to the cycling skateparks of The 7 Stanes. Here’s this week’s observations.

Monday: Glentress. Came back from a two hour walk with a rucsac full of discarded juice bottles, crisp bags, discarded energy gels………..

Tuesday: Plora. Two discarded inner tubes. Damn tasty for a deer I’d think.

Wednesday: Harehope. A good day, only rubbish I saw was a discarded condom wrapper. Kudos for some obscure outdoor nookie! ;o)

Thurday: Nether Stewarton forest. Delicate bog plants ripped apart by mountain bike tyre tracks, damage to small paths caused by resultant tyre rut drainage channels.

Friday: Glentress again, more litter.

Today: Saw a road cyclist run onto the verge by a car carrying a Giant XTC and an Anthem. Saw a Peebles town centre road blocked by a Golf with three hardcore bikes on the rack. The occupants had gone for chips. Last year I mentioned on the Velocast how, whilst out on the road bike, I’d been given the finger and run off the road by a car which had a Commencal and a Santa Cruz on the back.

Bottom line? We’re a community here and you no doubt share my disgust but for the normal man in the street? These folk are “cyclists” and damage the land, litter and generally behave like dicks and we’re all tarred with the same brush. These arseholes affect us all and the bicycle advocates can have all of the “interesting debates” they want amongst themselves but it wont make a jot of difference to how we’re treated.

A Velocast title from last year. “The Battle is Lost in Britain”


Relationships Are Built on Trust

What is this Cycling Stuff Anyway?

The first time I saw cycling on television I was 11. World of Sport with Dickie Davis had some footage of some foreign chaps riding up and down a featureless dual carriageway outside Portsmouth. The Tour de France had hit the UK! It was dull but a seed had been planted. A relationship had begun.

Over the next 10 years I followed the sport sporadically, following the Tour through whatever television footage the Saturday sports TV shows aired, checking the dark recesses of newspaper sports pages, when I could afford (or even find) Cycling Weekly I would buy it if I’d heard of the rider or race on the cover.

This all changed in 1984. My first holiday in France, a fantastic walk along the GR 30 in The Auvergne with Ailsa, coincided with Fignon’s crushing victory. L’Equipe and every bit of French media made the Tour an integral part of that trip. As soon as we revealed we were Scots the name “Robert Miller” was uttered and the hospitality we received after the Wee Weejies name broke the ice still humbles me thinking back after all of these years.

By 1985? TV made the whole fan thing a lot easier if all you cared about was Le Tour. Hinault’s last win, The badger finishing with panda’s eyes. I was no longer following the sport sporadically, I was obsessed.

’86 The American triumphed in Le Tour. Magazines like Winning meant even Scots folk could get colour pics of races other than L’Tour. Names that had been faceless or, at best, rendered in crappy newsprint suddenly became familiar to me.

’87 Nico’s dad won The Triple Crown.

’89 Do you need to ask?

By the early 90’s Eurosport meant that the great races I’d only read about were now available to watch (assuming there was no live Yak wrestling preceding the race in the schedule).

You know what’s missing from all of these recollections? An obsession with Doping.

It was happening. A lot. It was amateur pharmacology though. Despite frankly rudimentary testing protocols there were positives returned but I really don’t feel it had that much effect on the racing. The drugs in use at the time could mask pain and help you recover, but a huge percentage of the field was doing the same stuff and they couldn’t fundamentally change a rider’s class. They couldn’t polish a turd or turn a donkey into a racehorse.

A seismic shift happened in the early 90’s though. The goalposts moved. After the 1994 Fleche Wallonne it wasn’t just the goalposts moving it was the earth they were standing on. EPO had gone public. Argentin, Berzin and Furlan heralded in a new world order and since then doping hasn’t been an adjunct to our enjoyment of the sport it’s been the foundation upon which it’s built. It moved from self help by riders and their soigniers to organized doping programs within teams, supported by trained medical staff or vets, and involving huge sums of money. I took my eldest boy to Dublin in 1998 to watch the prologue and if you’d told me the last man that day would be atop the podium in Paris I’d have laughed. None of us were laughing though as events unfolded after Willy Voets was caught with a car full of gear. 1998 was a black year in the history of cycling but I was encouraged by the Vuelta performance of an American cancer sufferer on the comeback trail. I said to a chum “watch for him in next year’s Tour.”

The Armstrong Years.

Surely someone with his medical history wouldn’t put stuff in his body?

Never failed a test.

Around him though the aerobic monsters that he was crushing like grapes were going down like nine pins. Doping case after doping case sullied our sport and when Manolo Saiz was found with a suitcase of cash for Fuentes and his fridge full of blood I nearly walked away.

Entertaining Tours, high drama. Love watching them still but the awesome performances from all the big guys are as much a credit to their doctors as to their athletic ability and diligent training. Climbs done at the watts per kg of a superhuman. Roleurs driving over mountains and winning Queen stages.

A theatre of augmented human performance, nothing more or less.

Lance retires. Landis wins. We know how that went.

Rasmussen and Contador duelling on the climbs, the pair of them with blood like treacle. Where did Rasmussen go his holiday?

Vino caught, Tyler caught, Astana excluded. and on and on and on and on.

For the last twenty years we’ve been conditioned to be cynical. If a performance seems too good to be true it is, because they always are. Time and again we’ve been let down by heroes with feet of clay. They’re not bad men, just cheats in a culture where success has demanded cheating presided over by a governing body only interested in protecting itself and lining the pockets of it’s masters.

If you’re not a cynic after the lessons of the last two decades? You’re a fool.

My Name’s John. I Have Apparently Become a Fool.

This morning on Twitter I asked a simple question. “Philippe Gilbert, doped or clean?.

There have been, as far as I’m aware, no substantive allegations aimed at PhilGil but his performances this year have raised what Scotty used to call “The Roger Moore eyebrow of disbelief”. Landmark victories spread over a period of time that, given our decades of conditioning towards cynicism means he must be doping. Hell, he even dominated the Ardennes week known as doper’s week. Last person to do that was Davide Rebellin! His palmares this year rivals that of Merckx in one day races and short Tours. UNBELIEVABLE!

Well, a substantial sample of my rough and ready vox pop do find it unbelievable. Doper, no doubt.

Some find themselves hoping but doubting.

Some think he clean.

Some regard the very asking of the question as the moral equivalent of beating a puppy to death with your NewsCorp shares certificates.

I’m not going to publish percentages because it was just a rough and ready poll. I’m going to cut to the chase and say what I think.

I think he’s clean. There will always be cheats but the sport has felt cleaner to me this year. There seems a group of riders at the top who are very closely matched and decide the outcome of most of the one day races. PhilGil’s edge may be dopage but I think it’s more likely that in a group of roughly equal peers then brilliant racecraft may well be enough of an edge to appear dominant. Gilbert has that. He’s won a metric shitload of races but not in the manner of some of the ridiculously extravagant demonstrations of force that marked the previous era.

He’s just a great, once in a generation, single day race genius who’s palmares since he turned pro show a credible development curve year on year.

I may be disappointed but I chose not to be cynical.

That’s incidental because I’m not asking for folk to believe in Gilbert, I’m asking folk to take a risk and start believing in cycling again. I think it’s time.

We’ve had a believable, a very believable, Tour. We’ve seen young riders come through, canny riders who aren’t the strongest fill our screens, a measured dosing of effort as opposed to drug fueled extravagant dominance.

People who’ve known me online and via the podcasts will know this is a big step for me.

It’s our sport, let’s take it back and dare to hope.

Jeez, There’s No Pleasing Some of You People!

On Wednesday 23rd of July 2008 an invisible man took wing and won Le Tour. Carlos Sastre of CSC attacked on the slopes of Alpe d’Huez and won not only the stage but lifted the Maillot Jaune from the shoulders of his teammate Frank Schleck. It was a carefully dosed effort, he’d been below the radar for much of the race up to this stage.

I wasn’t podcasting at the time and Twitter had yet to become a significant part of my social life so I only remember my own impressions and those of actual, physically present, friends but I recall being pleased for Sastre. He’d been knocking at the door for far too long and we’d all assumed the big one would never feature on his palmares. The Schlecks would have their chance in future years. ūüėČ

There were others less pleased though.

There were whispers of a hollow victory.

Almost a year to the day earlier Alexander Vinokourov had failed a doping control after putting 1:14 into Cadel Evans on the way winning the first individual time trial of Le Tour. The ASO declared Vino’s team Astana to be unwelcome at the 2008 Tour and 2007 Tour winner Alberto Contador was therefore absent.

Sastre had won, the doubters said, but against a weakened peloton.¬†Lance Armstrong famously derided the 2008 race ¬†“The Tour was a bit of a joke this year. I’ve got nothing against Sastre … or Christian Vande Velde,” he was quoted as saying shortly after the race. “Christian’s a nice guy, but finishing fifth in the Tour de France? Come on!”.

This is ancient history though, why bring it up when our minds are full of one of the best Tours I can remember watching?

Well, here’s the thing…………

This year’s Tour has won almost universal praise. Drama, controversy, packed with excitement virtually every day. Heroic performances from Hoogerland and Voekler. The G.C. contest was a slow burner but once it finally kicked off it was fascinating.

Somehow though the winner, Cadel Evans, seems to have offended a significant number of fans of the sport.¬†Carton Reid’s comments on the most recent Spokesmen podcast moved some listeners to complain about a lack of respect. I’ve seen comments along the lines of “He’s nothing but a wheel sucker”. He’s been criticised for a lack of panache, for his sometimes short tempered relationship with the press, etc, etc.

So, I find myself in the somewhat peculiar position of defending a man I once dubbed “The Bag ‘o Washing”. A man so ungainly on a bicycle that it still pains me to watch him “in extremis”.

The winner of Le Tour is determined very simply. It’s the man who has covered the course in the shortest elapsed time.¬†Who was that man? Cadel Evans.

I think it was Laurent Fignon who stipulated that to be a true Tour Champion you had to win a road stage? Well, Cadel showed grit and bloody minded determination to overhaul Alberto Contador on the Mur-de-Bretagne. Road stage won. He also voiced his disappointment at not getting time checks to Tony Martin in the final time trial because he might have gone for the stage. This was a man who needed to win. On the Galibier when he needed to act or lose the Tour? He acted. Once committed he gave it 100% and never once looked for help. He knew it was his job and just got on with it.

All throughout the race we saw GC guys out of position in the peloton. The bad “luck” suffered by the likes of Contador and the Radioshack guys was often a product of this. Cadel and BMC rode a savvy race. He deserves credit for that.

Now, let’s get back to Sastre and why I mentioned him at the start of this post. His win’s validity suffered, unfairly in my opinion, because Contador was absent. The same can’t be said for Cadel. All the big boys came out to play.¬†Cadel won fair and square.

Say you don’t like him, say he’s not your favourite rider, say anything, but don’t say he didn’t deserve to win the 2011 Tour.

He did.

“It’s Lonely at the Top” or “The Worm Turns”

First, let me say I stand by every¬†syllable¬†of the¬†criticism¬†I’ve shovelled in the direction of les fr√®res Schleck and Ley-O-Pard Trek in general. My good chum Alex Cahill¬†summed up my general sentiments pretty well in his tweet.

“happy to eat my words re: andy’s mettle. if he hadn’t spent the last few days crying for others’ honest advantage, i might be happy for him.”

However, (deep breath before squeezing out praise) the True Racing bunch came out on top after a stage of biblical proportions.

There was nothing innovative about the tactics today. Leopard Trek and BMC both had exactly the same plan and it’s one I’ve seen employed countless times in the decades I’ve been captivated by our sport. It goes like this: Chuck a couple of guys up the road and use them as a bridge for an attack by the team leader later in the stage.

However L.T. employed a couple of tweaks to the basic scheme which made all the difference today.

1:Joost Posthuma drove the sacrificial break HARD with the result that Evan’s BMC men were shed and spent by the time Cuddles needed them but Maxime Montfort still had some juice in the tank to help Andy S.

2: Schlek junior attacked with 60 km to go!

It all worked out perfectly for L.T.

The favourites watched each other and half heartedly marshalled the odd domestique to do his duty on the front of the Maillot Jeaune group whilst Andy gained time on the Izoard and, with sterling help from Montfort, preserved his gap up the Lauteret. Then, suddenly, it was crunch time. Everybody who was anybody stared losing the Tour straight in the face.

Voekler needed to preserve his energy, his jersey virtually sitting on Andy’s shoulders. Now that the terrain provided no place to hide he could legitimately say “I’m not a favourite, it’s you guys that need to chase.”

Contador had been to the¬†voiture¬†du m√©decin early in the day. Was he bluffing a la Lance on the day of “The Look”? A bike change suggested that he might be. He’d employed them to crushing effect in the Giro, changing to gearing perfectly suited for the final ascent.

Basso had Sylwester Szmyd in attendance and looked comfortable.

Schlek senior looked strong and was just along for the ride.

Cadel was the one to blink first. No team mates left, late in his career and with the form of his life he just had too much to lose and he set off in pursuit of Andy in a TT up the Galibier and, once the decision was made, never looked back or asked for help. A champion’s ride. By the time he crossed the line he’d cut a potentially Tour winning gap to Andy to only 2:15.

Frank nipped by at the end for a Schlek one-two. Having been sitting on wheels for much of the day it was expected.

We had our answer about Contador, he cracked near the summit, lost a big chunk of time and any chance of winning this years Tour.

Huge surprise of the day was Tommy V. On a stage perfectly suited to pure climbers and GC guys who’ve targeted this Tour as their only goal for the entire year Tommy V was there at the end, there with Frank, there with Cadel, there in yellow. He remains in yellow. I have to say though I was disappointed by the relative scarcity of tongue action from Tommy today. ;o)

I think that Leopard Trek expected Andy to be caught today and for Frank to launch a counter attack and gain time on the other favourites. He needs that time, he’s as good at time trialling as I am at ballet.

Contador’s so far back the Tour’s a whole new ball game now. He’s been the focus of all of the teams attention and now they have to rethink their strategy. Tomorrow will be fascinating, particularly with a fresh Frank and an Andy and Cadel who burned a lot of matches today.

Exciting individual stages? Drama? Controversy? Bravery in the face of adversity? This Tour has had all of that. The last few days has added the ingredient I’ve been missing. GC drama.


Well, Just for a Change I was Talking Crap.

Anybody watch the cycling today? I suspect that ‘Bert must have read my blog post last evening and thought, not for the first time, “Right, time to stick it to that Galloway eejit. ”

This was a day to regroup. To bed in legs confused by the rest day and fatigued by two weeks of Grand Tour action. A day for plucky breakaways to take the limelight and for the elite to sit and watch, to weigh each other up before the real action starts in the high Alps.

Well at least one part of that played out, a plucky breakaway did carry the day. Thor Hushovd continued Garmin-Cervelo’s fairytale Tour with Ryder Hesjedal in close support. EBH confirmed his excellent form with another great performance.

However, nobody told Contador it was supposed to be the calm before the storm. In really shitty conditions after a long day of hard, fast riding he decided to test the legs of his rivals.

Now, I’ve said on many occasions that I consider ‘Bert the best GT rider of his generation. I’ve said on just as many occasions that, in my opinion, his stellar performances have been “aided”. Today I think we saw a clean(er) ‘bert who’s coming into form just when it counts. More importantly though I think we saw a¬†fiercely¬†competitive,¬†determined athlete who was making a point, reminding the others that the Tour is his turf and if they want it they’ll have to take it. Contador steps forward as my favourite for the title.

In the background though is Evans. Looked entirely untroubled today and gapped Contador on the descent. Took time to get back on ‘Bert’s wheel but that’s the nature of the man. To use an already overused cliche¬ī, he’s a diesel. He can’t match the best climbers for pure acceleration but he can sure as hell claw them back in his own sweet time. He did that today. If Contador falters in the slightest? The Tour is Cadel’s.

What of The Schleks? Who cares? Grey, whining, spoiled brats in a team that’s pretty much the Protour’s equivalent of the emperor’s new clothes. The very definition of over-promising and under-delivering.

Voekler? Showed that he’s human today but, dear god, the man’s got heart and personality. If I could will someone to the Maillot Jeune in Paris I’d be sending good vibes to Tommy V. Think he showed he won’t win Le Tour today but would love to see him claim a top 5 place.

Yesterday I said I felt the favourites had let us down a bit. Today they showed their true character and mettle….and I loved it!

Vive Le Tour!

My Dirty Little Secret

I’ve just been spending a bit of time browsing the ever informative The Science of Sport site.

I find myself agreeing with them that likely this is a far cleaner peloton than we’ve seen for a long while. I’ve seen a lot of mud slung at Tommy Voekler along the lines of “How the hell’s he hanging with the big boys? He must be doping to raise his performance to their level.” Joining the dots as JV says.
However, given the inability of The Schleks, Contador, Evans and Basso to put more than a few token seconds between each other on mountains where we’ve seen the race blown to smithereens on many occasions in the past, I’m starting to think that Voekler is in the form of his life and more conservative preparation has brought the big five’s performances down to a level he’s managing to cope with.
Do I think Voekler can win Le Tour and give the French Nation it’s happiest July since 1985? No, I don’t. I think he’ll have a bad day or just succumb to fatigue but I’ll be cheering for the cheeky chappy and his animatronic tongue, because amongst a grey characterless elite laid low by actual human limitations and unbolstered by pharmacuticals he and the Europecar team have been a breath of fresh air.
Kudos are also due to Vaughter’s Garmin-Cervelo team. The TTT win was a planned victory achieved and Thor’s win in Lourdes in the Rainbow Jersey was the stuff of legend.

The dirty little secret in the title? I’m starting to worry cleaner Grand Tour racing might actually be a bit boring.

Update:¬†I need to clarify that I’m fascinated by this Tour, there has been some cracking racing. Spectacle and drama a’plenty. When the time came for the Heads of State to play their cards though there was more than a little of the damp squib about it. I think this is the result of a cleaner Tour. Instead of the extravagant, no doubt “juiced”, demonstrations of force that help define a Tour in a more cohesive way than just the story the individual stages tell we have a clash of men too scared, or too equal to take the race by the scruff of the neck. They may well be marshalling their strength for The Alpes and I’ll be proven wrong in the most glorious way possible. It doesn’t help that, added together, the famous 5 may struggle collectively to have the personality of ¬†just one of the greats of the past.

I think that all of the really great Grand Tours have a story that ties the whole thing together or a rivalry that sets it on fire. I’m still searching for that this year. It may come in an Alpine Clash of the Titans or it may come when Tommy V hangs on to yellow in Paris. I’m looking for the difference between a good Tour and a great one.

Back to My Roots

Hey, hello folks.
This is the first of the hopefully reasonably regular musings from me on this blog.
As you no doubt know the old body has been letting me down a bit recently so, for the time being at least, I’m taking a step back from podcasting.
So, as I come to terms with a world in which I won’t impose my opinions on you via iTunes every week, in which my erstwhile colleague Derek is pissed off at me for my lack of commitment ;o), and in which fellow Velocaster Scott has finally escaped from his shallow grave under my plum tree and returned to the land of the living, I thought I’d make a return to my first online presence.
A return to a time when podcasts and listener numbers were just a twinkle in Scotty’s eye and a microphone was for recording acoustic guitar, not for speaking into. ;o).
I’ve read a few of the older posts here and I really don’t recognise the person who wrote them. It’s funny how we “evolve” without even noticing.They were definitely the me that I was at the time so they can remain.
So, this is my space. No thoughts of money or monetizing (horrible fucking word), no editing, no chasing audience numbers. Just pure essence of Galloway.
First thought on this new(old) blog? This year’s Tour is brilliant….if you ignore the GC competition.

Speak soon


Bugger Me, I Actually did it!

Well, announced my retirement from The Velocast. Feeling slightly bereft, but also excited by the time it frees up. Hell, I might even find the time to ride my bike! Really proud of the last 18 months and met some fantastic folk, both in the flesh and virtually.
Time to move on though.

Really? Does it get any better than this?

Them Crooked Vultures

Could have been a disaster, these supergroup things usually are.( Asia anyone? ;)). However, Dave Grohl (FooFighters, Nicest Man In Rock, Greatest Living Rock Drummer), Josh Homme (QOTSA, Desert Sessions, General Rock God and Imposing Dutch Person) and John Paul Jones (C’mon, it’s JPJ!) have got together to form Them Crooked Vultures. The eponymous album was released today. Listened to it four or five times whilst freezing my arse off at the postface.
Verdict? Fucking AWESOME!
Seeing them live at the Corn Exchange in Edinburgh next month. ūüėČ