Les Veloistes Gentils

lvgjersey-smallAnyone who has spent any time at all on this blog or, indeed, around me over the past year will know all about The Bike Ride. The result of a drunken chat between me and my old mate Mark (original back story here) it turned into something rather more significant and worthwhile, as ten men good and true raised nearly £12,000 for charity by cycling from London to south-west France. More stuff on the adventure here and here.

As you can see below, we had such a fantastic time (and have clearly forgotten about the tired bits) that we’ve decided to do it all over again in 2009. Slightly tougher route this time though…

One thing that we did decide during the ride this year was that our happy little band needed a name, and that name is ‘Les Veloistes Gentils’. We went for a French one because France plays such an important part of what we get up do and, frankly, it sounds cool.

‘Veloistes’ isn’t actually a real word. The French word for bike is velo and the word for cyclist is cycliste, so we’ve combined the two. Nice, huh? The most literal translation for ‘gentil’ is ‘kind’, but it actually means slightly more than that. ‘Gentil’ is about kindness, sure, but also generosity and respectfulness. All round good stuff. And it certainly describes every member of the little equipe that we formed this year. One member of the team, young Tim, has designed the rather lovely logo that you can see here and which will adorn the jerseys next year. There are even rumours of tattoos…

It’s an exclusive little club and one of which you can only become a member by participating on one of the rides, which I very much hope will be an annual event for many years to come. Les Veloistes Gentils already looks like it will be expanding in 2009 as we’ve had a few more sign up for the ride. Who knows how large it might become in the future?

700km, two punctures, one crash, a lot of Haribo

Supping a cold beer on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in St Emilion…it’s remarkable how the pain and effort of a near 700km bike ride over five days melts away. 

It comes right back the next morning though, I can tell you.

Regular viewers will know that for the past few months I’ve been organising a charity bike ride between London and St. Emilion.  Well, last Friday was the day of reckoning as the ten riders gathered at Hampton Court Palace along with our trusty support vehicle driver Nuts (not his real name…).

To cut a long story short, we all made it to the finish.  We had one crash – spectacular but no serious injury – two punctures, a little bit of rain, plenty of sunshine, a lot of laughs and some extremely sore limbs.  We’re all very aware of where our perineums are and have boosted sales of Sudacream and Haribo to new highs (Haribo soon to be repositioned as the elite athelete’s energy boost of choice).  British drivers are as dangerously impatient with cyclists as French ones are respectful.  A fresh baguette filled with butter, cheese, ham and Dijon mustard is the world’s best lunch, without question.  Vittel is the water of champions (but Chateau d’Yquem ’95 is otherworldly). There are some extraordinarily good and generous people around.  There’s a deeply meditative quality to the sound of ten well-prepared road bikes whirring along an otherwise silent French country road in the sunshine.

I can’t wait until I get the chance to do it again.  And best of all, in addition to having an amazing trip, we raised somewhere in the region of £10,000 for charity. 

Can’t be bad.

It’s been a while

I know, I know.  I’ve been lax.  Reasons have been (1) quite a bit of work on, (2) family holiday to Spain and (3) the impending charity bike ride.

Yes, this time next week I’ll be a few kilometres into the 650 or so that lie between Hampton Court Palace and St-Emilion, wrapped in Lycra resembling that in the picture to the right and accompanied by nine other like-minded middle aged fellas.  Tension will no doubt be high…Lycra’s not designed to stretch quite that much after all…but I’ll actually just be relieved to get on the road.

I’m a relatively organised fella, but organising the ride has been quite a logistical challenge.  It sounded easy enough – ten blokes on bikes, a van in support, a ferry crossing and a few hotels en route – but the details…oh the details.  I won’t bore you.

I was in London last weekend and managed to get some training in.  I picked up a new bike from Condor on Gray’s Inn Road, met friend and fellow-rider Mark at his office near St Paul’s and then followed him home to Wimbledon.

Excuse my blasphemy, but Christ on a bike!  And even he’d have filled his nut-hugging shorts.  I haven’t cycled through London traffic in years and doing so during Friday rush hour on a brand new bike was one of the hairiest things I’ve attempted for a while.  Still, we arrive safely and met up with a few of the other lads for a training ride around Surrey last Saturday.  Great fun, and everyone seems to be getting quite excited about the ride.

I’ll be looking forward to landing on French shores next Saturday morning and finding some quiet country roads where motorists respect your passion for cycling rather than resent it.

As I’ve mentioned before (and the eagle-eyed out there will see the logo on the jersey above) we’re doing the ride in aid of NCH, one of the worthiest charities I know.  You’ve still got time to sponsor me – you can do so here.  I’m not far off my target…

I’m hoping to find the time (and the internet connection) to blog a couple of times on the way, and I’ll also try to send the odd tweet.  You can follow me on Twitter here.

Bike ride route…finalised

6a00d8341c78e853ef00e54f119c348833-640wi.jpgMy regular reader(s) will know about the charity bike ride I’ve been organising.  Others can read about it here

At various times over the past few months I’ve been poring over maps (old fashioned offline ones, too) trying to finalise the best route for our little peloton to take on its way from London (well, Hampton Court) to St. Emilion.  Some aspects of the trip are set in stone.  For example, we’re on a ferry from Portsmouth to St. Malo and will also be stopping at my house for one night.  Beyond that, it’s pretty flexible.  Not too flexible, though, as my general route planning methodology has been based upon the flightpath of the crow.

As luck would have it (or not) the third stage of this year’s Tour de France starts in St. Malo and heads to Nantes.  We’re not planning on going quite as far as Nantes in the one day, but can at least cover the first 85km of the stage as we make our merry way south. 

Anyway, if you’re interested, here are the routes mapped out on the wonderful Sanoodi:

Day 1: Hampton Court to Portsmouth

Day 2: St. Malo to Redon

Day 3: Redon to La Roche-sur-Yon

Day 4: La Roche-sur-Yon to Les Chapelles

Day 5: Les Chapelles to St.Emilion

Wish us luck.  We should arrive in St. Emilion on May 6th.  There’s still plenty of time to sponsor me, and you can do so here.

Sore arses and other ailments

tweedcc_web.jpgLast year my old mate Mark and I decided that we needed to undertake a grand physical challenge while we were both still in our 30s.  We decided that – as we did when we were at school together – it’d be a good idea to cycle from Mark’s house to mine.  We grew up in Hertfordshire, and the distance from Codicote to St. Ippolyts was about 10km.  In fact I imagine it still is.

The distance from Wimbledon – where Mark now lives – to my house in France is about 750km, depending on the Channel crossing you take.  It’s unlikely that I’ll be back by teatime.

Still, a challenge is a challenge and we’re doing it.  Not only that, but we’re going past my house and all the way down to St. Emilion, which seemed like a suitable place to collapse.  We’re starting on May 2nd and should arrive on May 6th.  We’ve even managed to convince some similarly middle-aged friends to come along too.  In all, there’ll be 10 of us hauling our generous backsides onto the unforgiving saddles of road-racing machinery of varying quality and vintage.  Should be quite some sight.

It’s all for charity of course.  Our headline beneficiary is NCH, and a very worthy one it is too.  Ken Deeks gave a moving speech about NCH’s work at The Flackenhack Awards last year and I can’t think of a better cause for which to be riding.

You can sponsor me here personally (all contributions very gratefully received) and if you represent a company and feel that having your logo stretched across ten slow-moving arses would be good for business, then I’d love to hear from you.  There’ll be room for the biggest of logos, I assure you.

Oh, I’m also after the loan of a van for a week.  Long-wheelbase Transit size.  Ta.

I’m feeling the back of my hand

“Anymore of your cheek sonny and you’ll feel the back of my hand…” 

Funny little phrase that.  I’d have thought “the front of my clenched fist” might’ve been a better deterrent, but there you go. 

Of course “the back of my hand” has a double meaning.  There’s the corporal punishment for children one as described above and then there’s the one about knowing something (generally a physical location) particularly well.  “I know Soho like the back of my hand”, as someone might utter.

I came across a website called backofmyhand.com earlier today.  It was mentioned at the bottom of a Hotmail I received from a friend (sorry, a “Windows Live Hotmail”).  Not surprising really, as it turns out that it’s a Microsoft owned website – out of the Windows Live team and all based on Virtual Earth (bit of disclosure here – I’ve done a bit of work for Microsoft over the years.  I’m not at the moment though – and I’ve never worked with the Windows Live people).

Actually, I think the fact that it’s a Microsoft site has been its problem, as I can’t imagine it gets any great focus alongside the other Live properties.  The fact that the latest additions to the site seemed to have been made back in March this year seem to endorse the fact.  It’s a shame, because I think it’s a brilliant idea (which probably means it’s being done somewhere else even better…probably based on Google Maps).

Basically, this is how it works.  If you know a particular area like the back of your hand, you can pinpoint it and places of interest on the map with a little description.  It can be as broad or as specific as you like.  So, you might do “brilliant boozers in Barnet” or, equally, “Speed cameras in Stockport” or “Nice things to do on the Isle of Wight”.  You can search the site on location or interest.  It’s cool – and could be really useful if it was populated well.  Problem is, there are only 107 entries on the whole site!  Shame.  I wonder if they’d sell it to me?

worldcup3.jpgHere are another couple of links for the fellow cycling nuts out there.  In a follow-up to my slightly odd Rapha post below and some bike porn surfing this afternoon, I think I might have found my dream bike brand, Witcomb Cycles in Deptford. Witcomb has been custom-making bike frames since 1949 and is now the only bespoke framebuilder left in London.  Just beautiful bikes – check out the lugs on that.

I found the Witcomb website from a link of the site of the Tweed Cycling Club, which is also based in south-east London.  Tweed CC eschews the technology and modernity that has overcome modern road cycling.  The website’s a joy to read – take this for example:

“Why spend a king’s ransom on the latest titanium confection when any weight advantage will be rendered irrelevant by a cheese-and-pickle sandwich and thermos of soup?”


Adios Alonso

hamiltonalonso1806_468x330.jpgTo misquote The Italian Job, one of my favourite films, “It’s a long way back to Spain.  And it’s that way.”

So, Fernando Alonso has left McLaren.  They must be delighted.  He’s a top driver, no doubt, but demonstrated this season that he’s got the temperament of a three year old.  Sure, as a two time world champion turning up at one of the best teams he’d have expected to be quick – and he was.  But because his rookie team mate turned up and blew him away over the early part of the season he threw his toys right out of his very fast pram.

“The team aren’t giving us equal treatment,” he bleated.  Did he expect sympathy?  Sorry son.  You’re paid millions of pounds and you’re driving one of the fastest cars on the grid.  Just get on with the job.  But he couldn’t stop moaning and has talked his way into an almost certainly inferior bit of kit for next season.  Pillock.

Everyone’s talking about where Alonso will turn up next.  I’m more interested in who’s going to get the second McLaren seat.  Ron Dennis has always said that he’ll have two top drivers in his team, rather than a number one and number two.  But is that the right thing to do?  After all, this season Alonso and Hamilton scored 218 points between them – the Ferrari drivers only 204.  But it was Raikkonen who walked off with the title.  McLaren hasn’t won a drivers’ title since ’99.  Perhaps it’s time for a clear team leader? I think so. 

Ron, in case you’re reading.  I’ll happily play second fiddle to Hamilton in 2008.  I absolutely promise not to outshine him.

Next, when baseball does cricket

David Brain of Edelman kindly gave the blog a mention this afternoon, so it only seems fair to do the same thing for him…though I suspect I’ll benefit more.

Actually, I’m very happy to as in the post before his mention of me, David’s embedded a video clip of one of my favourite ever sporting moments (though I’m not sure if I saw it on TV when it actually happened, given I was only 4 at the time). 

David’s juxtaposed (and there’s a word I don’t use very often) the clip against another, in which the most exciting moment ever in American Football took place when one team decided to start playing rugby.  Lessons to be learned, methinks.

Spitting distance from two World Chamionships

lewis_hamilton_bahrain5.jpglewis_hamilton_bahrain5.jpglewis_hamilton_bahrain5.jpgWhat a weekend of sporting action we’ve got ahead of us!  The Rugby World Cup final between England and South Africa on Saturday night and then Lewis Hamilton guuning for the Formula One world chamionship on Sunday.  Cracking stuff – I can’t remember when a weekend last held the prospect of English victories in two such high profile global events.

So, who’s got the better chance?  I guess you’d have to say Hamilton.  He’s leading the championship – albeit only by four points – and has been on cracking form all season.  He also seems fairly unaffected by any amount of pressure (though his off into the gravel in the Chinese pitlane might suggest otherwise).  Still, ‘all’ he’s got to do is finish first or second and it doesn’t matter what the moaning Spaniard Alonso does or the death-warmed-up Finn Raikkonen.

I’ve become so quickly used to Hamilton’s stellar performances that I think it’s very easy to forget what an astonishing season the lad’s had.  Within a few points of winning the world chamionship in his first year of Formula One!  Amazing.  OK, so we know that the car you’re in plays a huge part in your chances of success, and he’s been dricing since he could crawl, but even so, he’s been lining up next to the two time world champion and generally blowing him off the track (possibly a little hyberbole from me there).  Win or lose, though, he’s not going to be wondering where the next paycheck’s coming from for a long, long time.

Now, the rugby.  Slightly different position for the English representatives.  They haven’t shown great form for…well, for four years and didn’t for the first few games of the World Cup.  But the team spirit has delivered a couple of fantastic performances and landed them in the final.  The South African’s have gone about their business quietly and pretty effectively (though not without one or two close calls in the group stage) and they’ve got to go into the final as favourites.  It’s silly to say that England have nothing to lose because of course they have…the World Cup (and their reign as World Champions).  Heart says England, head South Africa.  If it’s close then I’m going England…if South Africa win it’ll be by at least 15 points.

My French neighbours have invited me round to watch the game with them (he’s got a home cinema system and is having a bunch of friends round).  I’ve declined for a number of reasons.  Firstly, I want to watch the game with English commentary; secondly I generally don’t like watching big sporting fixtures on TV in large groups of people…it’s very distracting…and finally, I tend to get quite, umm, ‘agitated’ during games and I’m not sure my neighbours need the particular English vocabulary I’ll no doubt be using!

Obviously two English World Champions by Sunday evening would be perfect.  I’d take one…none at all would mean a hugely depressing start to next week.

There’s one clear winner in all of this though.  ITV Sport.

Bad losers v. good losers

Matt Ravden pointed me to his blog post yesterday about the Rugby World Cup.  The central question was whether – having being knocked out at the quarter-final stage – the All Blacks could still claim to be the best team in the world?  After all, winning the World Cup doesn’t automatically mean that you move straight to the top of the world rankings. 

My perspective is a semantic one.  While the All Blacks can claim (probably rightly) to have the best collection of individual rugby talent, I think the World Cup has clearly demonstrated that they’re not the best team…a team being more than the sum of its collective parts.  France were the better team in the quarter-final against New Zealand because their players dug deeper, played for each other with passion and commitment and the All Blacks couldn’t match them.  Ditto for England against Australia and, of course, against France last weekend.  I’m biased, but if there was a team of rugby players that I wanted playing for my children’s lives (or mine!) it’d be England.

The Kiwis and the Aussies have reacted very badly to losing, as you might expect.  Or should we?  The French haven’t reacted with anything like the same sense of injustice.  I’m back home in France now and almost without exception people are being magnanimous in defeat.  When dropping the kids off at school yesterday my wife was congratulated by numerous other parents, all wishing England well next weekend.  Even the French press I read on Sunday gave credit to England for the deserved victory.  It seems French people are looking forward, not back.

No doubt fans of Australia and New Zealand will trot out the old mantra, “show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.”  I can’t stand that particular motto.  It’s also true to say “show me a bad loser and I’ll show you a loser.”  Losing well, with dignity, shows more character and spirit than losing poorly and moaning about others’ poor decisions.

I think it comes down to a nation’s sense of its own identity.  Australia’s a young country, with a relatively small population and without the depth of history of an England or France.  It’s a massive country with a small town attitude.  A huge proportion of the Australian national identity is centred on its sporting success and when that falls apart, there isn’t a great deal else to turn to.  While sporting success to the English and French is important and desired, we’ve all got a lot of other rich and diverse stuff – film, art, music, history, business, architecture – to get excited about, so we tend to move on a bit more quickly.

There are perhaps some lessons there for our Antipodean friends.  But then, we’ve probably been teaching them enough over the last couple of weeks.