Saturday, March 3, 2007

How much do I care about cycling? mimitig

Growing up, sport was all around me. I played netball and hockey in the winter. In summer there was swimming, tennis, even athletics. As a spectator and fan, I had first-class cricket to watch in the Parks in the summer; in the winter: lacrosse, hockey and rugby. Sport was on my doorstep. We got free tickets for rugby matches at Twickenham and the Blues hockey match at Lords.

No wonder I thought sport was important. I played and swam for my county I trained alongside future Olympic sportsmen and women and could do nothing but admire their dedication and skill.

Ultimately I was not in their league, and in my late teens I abandoned sports for the fun of boys and parties. There were good times, but I felt a failure in those years because I had not come up to scratch in the sporting league.

Time passes and you understand that you don't have to represent your county or country to have fun with sports. I took up city time-trialling cycling. An evil and totally unregulated sport, but wow, what fun we had. We used to set out on a 3 mile route in central London which started at the south side of Lambeth Bridge. We rode the Embankment, over Waterloo Bridge, up Aldwych and round Soho, back into the Strand and along to Trafalgar Square. The only way you could break the time record was to ride like a fiend down Whitehall and take a complete flyer round the Westminster Bridge Roundabout. Ignore traffic, ignore any lights, just take that downhill acceleration and ride for your life across one of the busiest traffic crossings in London. We used to do it at about 6am when there was minimal traffic. All the same, each and every time you raced towards that line, you knew you risked death.

Why did we do it? Well, we'd all failed at other competitive sports and this was one we knew how to do and enjoyed. Every morning when you knocked a tenth of a second off your circuit, you went to your job feeling confident. After all, you'd just broken either your own or someone else's record. It makes it much harder for the office bully to intimidate when you're riding high on success.

I'd always followed professional road cycling. When I was out there on the streets of London, I was Cipollini, Pantani or Richard Virenque. I imagined the polka dots or the Maillot Jaune on my shoulders.

Then, to my disgust, cycling became the devil of all sports. First the Festina affair, then the drip, drip, drip of more scandal. Finally last year Operation Puerto threatened to, and did, overwhelm Le Tour. Big names were withdrawn, it all looked shadey, and shamefully it ended with the Landis fiasco.

But that was then. Trust the new bosses.

Cycle and love it. It's starting to be clean now.


MotM said...

mimi - Great to see this here and I love the link from childhood to adulthood and on to the pros as heroes. I did all that (well, different sports and different levels) and although not exactly time-trialling, I have hurried to work looking down on my speedometer ticking up to 30 mins instead of the usual 35 and feeling vaguely Armstrongesque, if it weren't for all the wheezing and the funny walk once dismounted!

We've blogged before on this, and have agreed to disagree re cycling's place in polite company. If they can demonstrate long-term clean riding (insofar as any sport can), I'll watch and I'll read again, but never again with the same joy as watching Herrara, Lemond, Fignon, Big Mig, Roche, Pantani, Lance, Jan, Cipo, Abdujaparov, McEwan, Zabel, even Virenque.

I'll post my Landis piece to Ebren and he can post it here if he wishes.

levremance said...

My experience was that bicyclists in London were the maddest bastards of all, and you may have been one them, Mimi. Racing in London traffic?

Is the tour de France racing in London next year? The course you laid out would be great to see. Perhaps without the traffic though.

On the cheats, it doesn't ruin the sport for me and the fact that Landis got caught surely serves as a big deterrent.

MotM said...

Lev - Landis jilted me at the altar!

bluedaddy said...

Superb piece mimitig. I used to cycle to work in London. Islington to Kensington. Mostly used the parks and avoided traffic, but sometimes went for it full pelt through the West End. Psychotically good fun, and I gave myself a Brucie Bonus if I could wind up the odd cabbie while I was at it. Got kids now so not such a good idea, but still enjoy the occasional trip to the pain barrier. I'd like to see Armstrong show me his backwheel with a couple of bags of groceries on his handlebars!

MotM, did you miss out grumpy Hinault on purpose, or just too young? The two Seans, Kelly and Yates, and the brilliant Robert Millar, also brought much joy. Great days - watching the Tour on the C4 is just as evocative for me as James Richardson on Gazzetta Italia. And watching it live in Brighton, dashing on the bike from a spot on Ditchling Beacon to the finish on the seafront was another highpoint.

MotM said...

Bluedaddy - Hinault was as hard a man as any to walk the earth. I loved both Seans and Robert Millar was superb to watch (remember him going off track, at the top of a mountain?). Anyone know what Robert Millar is doing these days? I've heard er... rumours of er... unusual goings-on.

I hit 42mph coming off the top of Ditchling Beacon and was scared. I hit 0mph going to the top.

If Ebren deems my Landis piece worthy of this exalted company, you'll see that I too remember the glory days of C4's TdF coverage.

andrewm said...

Virenque? VIRENQUE???

No, no, no.

Other than that, very good article mimitig. I never enjoyed playing sport myself since about the age of 14. It stopped being fun and became competition, even among friends, and I have no interest in that.

andrewm said...

PS. mimitig, I had no idea you were the legendary Clare. GU is truly a strange world.

mimi said...

Thank you all for your kind comments: also good to know that cycling can still provoke a response other than shuddering away in horror at a tainted sport.
Andrewm: legendary? How so? You have me wondering now as there were many others on the OBO far more prolific and witty than I ever have been.

MotM said...

Legendary is right mimi.

Ebren said...

Mimi, you riegn supreme as the queen of OBO/MBM - with Paula Willow the MBM mistress.

I've never had a bike worth cycling well on. The stroke in my uni 8 used to average 24 in road races, but my bike was simply used to get me to the river and lectures and is now thoroughly mothballed.

Nice writing.

guitougoal said...

Mimi, see you on the tour de france:
Tour de France:1st winner, Maurice Garin
most wins: Lance Armstrong
last win: - F.Landis (disqualified)
- O.Pereiro ?
- Mimi (if Pereiro is disqu.)Your yellow jersey is in the mail.

Tweet it, digg it