Act, Dream, Plan, Believe

Like many other cycling fans I spent yesterday sat on the sofa with the Elite Men’s World Road Race on in the background.  For me it was an enforced period of rest, laid up as I was with a throat seemingly wrapped in sandpaper and joints which felt they had been knocked about with a sledgehammer – the perils of looking after your young niece and nephews! So at times, the race was a kind of comforting wallpaper, but as with many other British cycling fans it ended with the delight of watching our first world men’s professional/elite road champion for 46 years – a fact I know has delighted one other cycling Manxman well known to this blog.

I also decided to avoid Twitter for the duration of the race. And I have to say it was much better for it. The urge to send a quick opinion bubbled but was kept in my own head. And for some this is a small lesson – we all have thoughts, we all have a right to air them but sometimes it is better to keep them in our own heads. Therefore in the run up to the race we saw opinions on the presence of Sky on GB jerseys, during the race an ongoing critique of Team GBs tactics (therein is a lesson in holding opinion until an eggy face can be avoided) and subsequently the way the course was made for sprinters and how Cav benefited from a “pro-team” set up due to the large number of GB riders from one trade team. I’m sorry folks but I’ve lost interest in most of these tired arguments.  So here’s a more considered take.

Clearly the race was made for sprinters. Whilst some nations complained, the parcours will dictate the eventual winner to a large extent as, as one of the more witty comments on Twitter pointed out, the Italians didn’t complain in Zolder when Mario Cipolini won. Not that the race was easy – whilst there were no decisive climbs, the rise to the finish in itself added interest to the sprint and the fast nature of the course made it difficult for breaks to stay away but equally brought a large bunch to the end and thus a hard race to control. That Team GB rode the race they did should be seen as a master-stroke in planning but more so a genuinely superb team effort on the part of Team GB. At times the armchair fan To accomplish great things...might have questioned the tactic to try and control the race almost alone but by 3.30pm that decision was vindicated – a brave move unseen in recent World’s.  All of which is underpinned by the bigger project, nicely summarised by Inner Ring’s blog but visually captured by Adrian Timmis’ photo. We can all have gripes with the backers of British Cycling and Britian’s own Pro-Team – Sky, BSkyB, call them what you want – but the fact is they have chosen to invest in cycling at all levels. At the top end this has paid off with track and now road success at World level. At the other end it continues to be a part of the growth in the popularity of cycling – as Richard Williams suggested this morning, bike shops are now “virtually recession‑proof”on the back of it. I’m not overly enthusiastic about the puppeteers behind this company but if they are willing to back a sport I love I’ll happily take the money.

Then there is a puerile suggestion that GB are using Team Sky to get around the trade team rules for the Worlds. In a two earlier pieces I highlighted the way in which British Cycling have successfully taken forward a focussed project to be successful in world road cycling and, in another, the contradictions that the world rankings system presents for World championship qualification.  Team GBs qualification points undoubtedly were helped by the performance of Team Sky. Yet Cav himself earned a fair share of the points and was further assisted by other non-Sky riders such as Adam Blyth of Omega Pharma-Lotto.  But lets look back at the history of this project. Richard Moore’s book on Team Sky, Sky’s the Limit, highlights how its foundations are in the Academy system set up by David Brailsford and run by Rod Ellingworth. And who was in the Academy together and the same time? Mark Cavendish, Geraint Thomas, Stephen Cummings and Ian Stannard. Add in Bradley Wiggins (whose 1.5 lap pull on the front makes up for any previous “disappearances”) as a key member of the GB track set up and 5 of the 8 riders out there yesterday had been integral to this project. Frome, Millar and Hunt all provided experience and determination.  When was the last time a national team from any nation looked so committed, focussed and together than this one yesterday.  With the intricacies and contradictions that road racing brings, Team Sky has taken a different approach in its aims and its execution. It has learnt a lot and it has developed a lot, but there is nothing wrong with that. Nor is there anything wrong with a national team having a backbone from one trade team. More often than not the World’s has teams within teams, alliances between trade-teammates which undermine the national cause, something which Great Britain have not been immune. And there is nothing wrong or conspiratorial in one rider who doesn’t ride for the trade team making up the bulk of the squad to be assisted by or benefit from those who are. I’d actually say that was quite mature, whatever future rider movements suggest.  At the end of the day, the comments of all the team have indicated a huge amount of camaraderie which is something we should all look at with pride.

So this one really goes out to the doom merchants out there: for the British cycling fans it is a lesson in grumbling less and enjoying more – we’ve waited a long time for this and the guys did us proud; for the overseas fans you’re time will come, probably next year, that’s the rich merry-go-round of cycling results.  Despite feeling lousy all day yesterday, that race brought a smile to my face. But as well as Cav’s win, there are a lot of positives which can be taken from yesterday and a new chapter in cycling history, both British and International.  I’m already looking froward to next season.


Cycling and depression: finding a balance

This afternoon I read Cyclismespandelles’ blog on cycling and depression. I think the blog speaks eloquently for itself and I’d encourage you all to read it – cyclists because our love can be a dangerous obsession, non-cyclists because…well, because you read my blog so must have some interest in this (and it still could happen to you!). I’ve also commented on the blog itself so you can read my additional thoughts there. And if you found it helpful please pass it on to others.

Ex-professional cyclist Tyler Hamilton (in the news again recently, which you will know unless you were asleep for 60 minutes) claimed in 2009 that his second positive test for doping (DHEA) was the result of his taking a herbal remedy to counter longstanding depression (Bonnie Ford of ESPN as usual does an excellent job of summarising here). Hamilton is not the only professional cyclist to have suffered from depression during or after their care … Read More

via cyclismespandelles

The Problem of Media in Professional Cycling (via The Elements of Guile)

Below is a post that I came across via Twitter. It will be of interest to those readers who follow me for the cycling, it will probably appeal to the conspiracy theorists and is, by extension of the themes, a metaphor of wider society…probably. Equally it links to my previous post Silly Games and is another look at how cycling is/has/could be losing its heart. Enjoy and feel free to comment back.

“It’s not the media that dope (the riders),” Hein Verbruggen told journalist Stephen Farrand last month. “But it’s the media that make the perception, they determine what the perception is.” Verbruggen’s brazen willingness to criticize the messenger rather than the governing bodies, national federations and riders themselves could easily be dismissed as another volley in professional cycling’s continuing refusal to admit the depth of its drug pro … Read More

via The Elements of Guile

ProTour Co-operative not UCI/ASO Cabal?

Ok, back to the cycling commentary. I’d usually leave this to the likes of The Inner Ring or Festinagirl but couldn’t help feeling there was something in this that spanned my love of cycling and a professional interest in co-operation.  In his latest blog on Jonathan Vaughters describes the potential withdrawal of Geox as a team sponsor in the light of their failure to secure ProTeam status as:

an example of an absolute failure of cycling to arrive at a cooperative system that encourages stable, long term sponsorships to exist.

It is interesting he uses the term co-operative, particularly given all the positive talk that co-operatives have received in the UK in the last year. But I suspect JV is not talking about the Rochdale Principles here. Having said that, and in light of some work Charlie Leadbeatter and Ian Christie did 11 years ago, that the most resilient form of mutualism is its softer form, i.e. people coming together with a shared interest. Now if the survival of professional cycling isn’t a scenario requiring the collective and concerted attention of the governing body, the teams and the race organisers to develop a shared way forward I’m at a loss to suggest what is.  So a co-operative way forward makes sense for everyone.  The problem is that it never has and in the last 6 years the power battles have left some powerless within this scenario – is this story starting to sound familiar.

Over the last few years I have been researching housing co-operatives. What I have found is that in the UK housing co-operatives too have been relatively unbalanced in terms of the power possessed by the various stakeholders. The housing co-ops themselves have been increasingly under the control of other governing and owning institutions such as housing associations and the government’s regulator to the extent that housing co-ops themselves have been co-opted into other people’s strategy and game.  The same appears true of professional cycling these days: the UCI and the major Tour organisers wrestle with each other for power over the sport, the teams find a shifting playing field on which to sport their outfits and ultimately the riders , especially the non-stars, lose out in the uncertainty that is created.  Vaughters highlights just one scenario of the potential doom to hit the sport but he is right. Only in developing a solution of mutual benefit to all parties can a sustainable future be carved for the sport. This requires co-operation rather a cabal of interests. Co-operation requires trust an in so developing certainty becomes a very real providing the foundations on which to build and expand.  At the end of the day instead of one winner and several dissatisfied followers, a genuine win-win-win for all involved.  This is what the Rochdale Pioneers envisaged for a co-operative movement and as I have argued in a professional capacity it is the purpose and principle rather than the legal form that will drive the success.  So here’s to JV’s co-operative solution and a chance for cycling to show the world it is groundbreaking for the right reasons.

Keeping up with the Jones’

“I showed everyone I was vulnerable and, in the end, people respect that more.”

One of the most difficult things I’ve found in making the step changes I need in my life has been the ability to talk about how I feel to others and in essence let off steam in a control way. You see, I am prone to being much like a champagne bottle or can of pop: once shaken enough and the cork/stopper is released all of the emotion discharges uncontrolled ready to hit the nearest object. At least I recognise this now and am some way towards controlling that part but I still remain uncomfortable revealing my feelings to others despite the problems that this can create. So I was quite interested to see Bradley Wiggins latest interview which appeared in today’s Guardian and his discussion of the management of his emotions. The cynics amongst you might want to file this in the “further excuses” file of the Wiggins cabinet, but let’s give the guy the benefit of the doubt here. From someone who has had first hand experience of similar feelings this sounds more real and experienced than made-up and opportunist.

“You think it’s the end of the world and you’re completely alone in the whole saga.”

Now that is something I can relate to. It doesn’t matter that Brad is talking about the Tour de France, recognised as the world’s toughest sporting event, I’m talking about life of which the Tour is a part but which is just as much if not more so a tough, punishing and relentless event. I know, I felt the same way last year with the world against me as I tried to struggle on with the weight of expectation pressing heavy on my shoulders. In fact, looking around me today I can see some friends and colleagues displaying similar signs. I’ve come a long way in being able to do that. And so to some extent has Wiggins.  Interestingly it is the outburst he gave during the Tour at Ax-3 Domaines which I can see as his champagne cork moment, the point at which letting guard down and venting his feelings actually gives him more freedom but like me I’m sure he would liked to have done that differently.

The pattern is similar to previous closed season interviews he has given, the opening involving a drink an all too familiar feature some would say. But maybe this suggests that Brad is pretty fragile, that maybe he needs help and support. One of the major problems in this world is that we expect successful people to be individually strong. Maybe it is that view which is delusional rather than the emotions being a frailty or handicap.  Enough pop-pyschology. What is obvious, to me at least, is that building barriers to prevent the outside world from leaking in seems to have been counter-productive for Brad and certainly has been for me so the lesson here is actually to let the world back in but in a more measured way. For me it was a media diet, maybe for Wiggins its for Sky to adopt a more relaxed approach – relaxation clearly does us all the world of good.

The final thing to strike me from the interview was the often overlooked support we get at these times.

“He looks across our tiny table at Cath, who has joined us. In his book, Cath writes a lovely tribute to Wiggins, as her husband and a cyclist. “It was probably only a few weeks ago that I felt you were back again,” Cath says. “I’m getting there,” Wiggins replies wryly.”

I suppose for a lot of the last 18 months I’ve been absent for Mrs AB. But I know that without the love and support of Mrs AB I wouldn’t have made the progress I have. That is always worth remembering.

Like Brad I’m getting there but still have a way to go, altering my own goals and changing the path towards them. We’ll both get there in the end even if the goal is something different. What is most important is being ourselves. Good luck Brad and Illegitimi non carborundum.