Martyn Irvine: a BDIPCesque tribute

March 1, 2014 at 11:02 am | Posted in affairs of the heart, cycling | 2 Comments
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The first thing that made me laugh till I cried when I joined twitter was bangable dudes in procycling. Minx and her collaborators indelicately scrutinised the male peloton, staying just this side of NSFW and making fangirls choke on their cornflakes in the process. If you’ve never heard of BDIPC, I suggest you go and acquaint yourself with it before reading on; you could start with this fairly typical example.

Ready? OK. BDIPC’s very American in style (at least, to my English ears); I found myself wondering how an English version would sound. Then Martyn Irvine did his astonishing double-medal-winning feat at the Worlds in 2013, and I suddenly had a subject. I wrote this quickly, in a sweat, a year ago, and it made me laugh*. And after Martyn’s heroic efforts in the scratch and points races over the last couple of days, it seems relevant all over again.

martyn irvine by shane mcmahon

Martyn Irvine (c) Shane McMahon, on Velonation

Hello there, from across the pond! We English girls like a toothsome, athletic chap as much as anyone, so we’re enormous BDIPC fans. But all this upfront talk of bangability still has us a bit, er, gosh. Well. You know. We may be right up there in the top five Nations Who Like Falling Out Of Taxis At 3am Without Any Knickers On, but actually talking about, er, the, ah, you know, the ACT? Well. It has us groping for words.

And of course, well before we get to the, um, act, we have to make the unsuspecting boy aware of us. We’re not too good at striding up to people, locking eyes with them and suggesting, well, golly. How can we do that, when we’re too shy even to tell our best friends?

Picture me, long ago, skirt waistband rolled over as soon as I was out of sight of the house, school-illegal plastic sandals on my feet, gripped by a new, crippling crush on a sixth former. Best Mate is DESPERATE to know. ‘Who? WHO?’ ‘I can’t. He’ll see me looking at him.’ We cook up a subtle plan: as he saunters by, I’ll turn to her and utter a prearranged sentence. We roam the school corridors at breaktime, giggling. Finally he slouches into view, tall and wan, hair falling studiedly over his face. As we draw level, I ask her, casually, ‘How did your mother’s barbecue go last night?’ Best Mate whips round, looks the poor lad in the eye and exclaims, ‘HIM?!’

So, of course English girls swoon over pretty Euro cyclists, and we’re jolly keen on those Americans who look so delightful all covered in mud.  But sometimes, we hanker for a fellow who knows where we’re coming from. Someone who’ll laugh at our jokes, get on with our brothers, and who might even be nervous and cack-handed, like us, when it comes to chatting to people they, er, oh, you know. People they LIKE. You’re making us blush, now.

Martyn Irvine’s storming performance at the Track World Championships, bringing him two medals in the space of an hour, dragged our attention right away from the crossword. Golly! There was a chap with GRIT. And an Irishman, too! Every English girl likes to imagine she’s got a bit of Celt in her. Transfixed, we watched him digging ever deeper, holding on longer than we dared hope, finding the reserves for that last, game-changing push, and finally bringing off the impossible. Our teacups wobbled in their saucers. There he stood, bathed in the post-race glow, pushing his flop of ginger hair back from his glistening brow, his diffident, delightful attitude matched perfectly by his gentle Northern Irish brogue. And as a nation, we leapt from the sofa, strewing pussycats and Hobnobs left and right, and declared, ‘HOW DID YOUR MOTHER’S BARBECUE GO LAST NIGHT?!’


* I offered it to Minx as a guest post but she declined**. I’m still utterly devastated by this.

** She did say it was ‘hilarious’, though. [wipes eyes] [blows nose]

Barking, biking, boaking. An incomplete look at 2013

December 31, 2013 at 9:59 pm | Posted in cycling | Leave a comment
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[Caution: contains navel-gazing]

I’m always a bit maudlin at New Year. Traditionally, it’s been an opportunity to look back with dissatisfaction over a year of anxiety and underachievement, and look unhappily forward to more of the same.

This year, I feel a bit different: worse in some ways, better in others. February saw me finally crack and go to the GP. A couple of weeks off with stress turned into a couple of months; six months later I was still off, and still feeling pretty terrible. So as of September I’m on a year’s sabbatical, doing a few other things and seeing where I end up. A bit of a quest: is there something I can do that won’t make me feel as useless as academia does? (I’m eternally grateful for the support of @spandelles in making this happen.)

So, it’s been an odd year. A lot of soul-searching, some very low episodes, and quite a few epiphanies. There’s also been quite a lot of biking.
sunny cross ride 2013
Now, I can’t say that biking has saved me from anxiety. Life still makes me weep with fear. I still avoid my friends in case they tell me I have nothing to worry about, and I just need to get out of the house more, or maybe do yoga. But biking’s playing an odd part in reshaping life. I’ve done all sorts of new stuff on bikes this year. Much of it half-paralysed me with terror. But there’s a weird interaction between fear and fun: these have been some of the best times I’ve ever had on a bike. Some highlights:

1. Trying A Bit Harder. I know you all hate Strava, but it’s made an enormous difference to my riding. Who knew trying hard could be fun? Clawing my way slowly up a couple of local leaderboards has done wonders for my self-esteem. And when I go badly, there are always excuses.

2. Velodroming. The fun-fear interaction in microcosm. I sit in track centre, trying not to be sick on my shoes. It takes a superhuman effort to peel myself off the railings and up onto the boards. But zipping down off the banking is the most amazing feeling in the world.

3. Road training. I still can’t follow a wheel without intoning OHGODOHGODOHGODOHGOD. But! Doing through-and-off round the running track! Sprinting for the line! My face aches from grinning.

4. PODIUMING in an actual race. Okay, it was a ‘fun’ race at the Orbital Festival, and it was full of other idiot novices, and basically everyone came in before me. But I still PODIUMED and it was, quite honestly, wonderful.

5. Cyclocross. You all know about this already. ‘Cross saved me from giving up biking altogether, so I owe it. It also regularly brings me into contact with some of my darkest fears (coming last, never EVER getting any better, getting my arse whipped by my friends, and other variants of failing pathetically in public) which seems to be good for me, if painful. My 2013 ‘cross season has been rubbish, but there’s always next year, right?

bike in hailstorm 2013

Anyway. Where’s this all going? @spandelles pointed out to me the other day (with his customary insight) that this year, while I’ve been full of doubts – about work, my capabilities, whether I will ever feel any better – cycling has been my testing ground. Who am I, really? What do I enjoy? What am I good at? What could I get better at? Where should I put the effort in? What potential do I have?

Maybe 2014 will be the year where I can start to generalise from these experiences. Maybe it will all start to join up and make sense. Who knows? Stay tuned, if you can stand it.

In the meantime, I’d like to thank you lot. 2013 would’ve been a lot harder without you. While my existing friends largely carried on without me, twitter leapt to my side, encouraging, supporting and occasionally ticking me off. (A few have even made the improbable leap from online to real-life friends.) I send you all a kiss. Big one.

‘Cross diary 34: @RaphaSuperCross. Take your mum

November 18, 2013 at 11:20 am | Posted in cycling | 8 Comments
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Entirely coincidentally (cough), we were visiting my Mum in North London when Rapha Super Cross came to Alexandra Palace. Having comprehensively failed to show her what ‘cross racing was like by weeping and DNSing at the last opportunity, I was keen to make amends.

The sun shone; the wind blew; the boys squabbled. Business as usual, then. Ally Pally was looking glorious in fashion-forward Autumn-Winter 2013-14 style. I got the boys signed on, then went for a ride round the course, immediately sliding over in the Spiral of Doooom™ (plus ça change, then). Good course: lots of charging around on the grass, bit of singletrack, out and up into the woods again, and repeat on the other side.


Brilliant .gif of the Spiral of Doooom, by Josephine Hartfiel (@Josi_Hartfiel). Click it if it won’t work.

Primo (8) had one of his legendary meltdowns halfway round his second lap: I’M NOT DOING IT. YOU CAN’T MAKE ME. I HATE CYCLOCROSS. Me: OK then! I carefully ignored him for a couple of minutes; he climbed back on sheepishly and rode off again. He finished the race grinning about his prizes (Hope bottle and quick-release keyring). I tried foolishly to turn this into a Learning Moment. Me: See, it was much better to finish, wasn’t it? Him (immediately grumpy again): NO. Meanwhile Segundo (5) was busy being my CX role model, soldiering on happily despite being unable to ride half the course.

Rapha Super Cross 2013 - Ally Pally-47

Marvellous Sights of That London

We milled around a bit, chatting to @Tiny_Pigeon and @TomStaniford, and looking in wonder at cyclists with BEARDS (rare sight in W Yorks). @iancleverly came over to say hello. @nik_tweet announced her arrival by smacking me hard on the arse as she rode past. I threw all my kit at @spandelles and went to line up. The women were in with the vets AND the juniors this time; they set us off in three groups, with the women going last. A commissaire called out names and women took their places, including the girl I’d just been chatting to; realising I knew her from twitter, I shouted ‘Ooh hallo @fentinator!’ There was no time to ponder how daft this sounded as my name was next. Yes, dear reader, for the first and very possibly the last time in my cyclocross career, I got GRIDDED. I actually got GRIDDED. I looked over to see @spandelles laughing his socks off. It didn’t matter.

I got an uncharacteristically good start and held my place in the middle of the group for ooh, half a lap, which felt very exciting (normally I’m shelled in the first few metres). While I was the only person who foot-dabbed in the middle of the Spiral of Dooooom, I didn’t fall off (as at least one other person did). Got a bit of a shock coming round one corner to find BARRIERS had suddenly appeared, but, unfazed, I managed to get off and back on again without drawing too much attention to myself. I charged into the woods excitedly and slithered around on one corner; the girl behind me said ‘Well recovered!’*

Rapha Ally Pally 2013

Get me, looking all PRO and not falling off or owt

Quite a few people burnt me up on the long hill, but cowbells were ringing and spectators were shouting REMEMBER, YOU LOVE THIS! IT’S WHY YOU DO IT! and COME ON THE WOMEN! and so I had to, really, didn’t I. I got overtaken loads (including by @fentinator, who said ‘Hallo!’ cheerily as she lapped me) but I managed to reel one woman back in over about a lap and a half and finally finished ahead of her. Result!

The rest of the day passed in a happy blur of eating crêpes, riding around with the boys and shouting encouragement at the elites. My mum had a great time; I found her watching the seniors, literally jumping up and down going ‘This is really exciting! Is this on the telly, ever?’ We erred on the side of caution and skipped the fun race to go home; @spandelles cunningly avoided all post-race pit crew duties by going and getting on a train. My mum cooked the boys’ tea, and I washed all three bikes then fell asleep in front of Countryfile. A pretty good day, in anyone’s books.

* get me, with the SKILLZ

‘Cross* diary 29: I PODIUM

August 2, 2013 at 12:32 pm | Posted in cycling | 3 Comments
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Last year’s Bike Blenheim Palace Festival of Cycling was a beacon of happiness in a rotten summer; the only weekend in six weeks of school holidays where the sun blazed, we tootled around on tandems, and the whole family stopped bickering and had a lovely time. So I was keen to go to its 2013 incarnation, Orbital Festival at Goodwood. We booked tickets, entered races and got excited, but at the last minute the boyf baulked at the five-and-a-half-hours-in-the-car-with-two-squabbling-children-and-two-nights-in-a-tiny-tent aspect, and it looked like it was all off.

Happily, I have some brilliant friends. My twitter pal, the lovely and devastatingly witty @michgreig, offered to put me up at short notice and be my partner in crime, despite never having met me. (Blind faith, maybe, but when you’ve wept with laughter imagining your respective crushes fighting in jelly, you know you’ve found a kindred spirit.)


On Sunday we were on the 7:02 from Victoria, plotting our day and guffawing. We got off at Chichester and drafted a friendly Bromptoneer to Goodwood. At nine-something there were already Bromptons everywhere; it felt odd to be riding a big-wheeled bike. In a fit of excitement, we signed up for a race – the Tutti Frutti scratch race. 45min plus one lap. It’ll be fine! We’ll be fine! Yeah. Yeah!

We wandered round the stands. Everyone was friendly and delightful, with the exception of A Certain Café, who were their usual grumpy selves (but they’re from London, so we probably have to let them off). A quick bimble round the racetrack; 4.5km with a FIERCE headwind in the home straight. Oof. Then back, in time to watch the Bromptoneers lining their bikes up in the sunshine.

The Brompton World Championships is an incredible spectacle; this year there were 750 riders, all dressed up to the nines. It’s a Le Mans start: they set off in waves, running to their folded bike in the paddock, unfolding it and leaping aboard, then charging past the screaming fans (me) ringing cowbells (Michelle) onto the circuit. They did four laps, with some impressive tactics being employed; if you’ve never watched teams of Brompton riders doing through and off, I thoroughly recommend it. We made friends with a little family and screeched GWAAAN ANOOP! every time their son rode past. Someone gave us a free Berocca**. It was all jolly nice.

As the last of the Bromptoneers rolled in, we were in the starting area, hyperactive with nerves. We defused them by joshing with the other competitors: ‘You look a bit pro. No skinsuits in this race.’ By the time we were herded over to the start line, we were all best buddies. A quick run-through of the rules from a marshal (disappointingly, these weren’t No Pushing, No Bombing, No Petting), a blast from his air horn, and we were off. I shot out the front like an idiot and wondered where everybody was for about a third of a lap, before the bunch (including Michelle) steamed past me, working together like pros. Oh dear. I couldn’t hold their wheels and pedalled round on my own for a lap and a bit, before being caught by a girl of about 14 and her dad.

Pride prevented me from letting them go, so I jumped on her wheel***, then went up to the front for a turn. Me! Working with people! Blimey. We steamed round for half a lap then I swung off*** and she came through***; we’d left her dad behind at some point. The two of us stayed together for the rest of the race. At a couple of points she flagged and I waited; after that I took the pulls*** into the headwind and let her do the tailwind sections. FOOL. The bell rang, we did our final lap, I pulled her up the home straight and she tried to come round me. I went ‘Ooh, you BEAST!’ and pulled out all the stops****, just managing to pip her for the line. Cheek. (There’s a photo of me doing this, looking like I’m about to be sick. I won’t inflict that on you. Here’s one I like better, of me doing Oh My God This Sodding Headwind: )

We giggled about excitedly for a while, WOOHOOing at the Brompton presentations and squeaking at people doing backflips on trials bikes. I fangirled all over Michael Hutchinson and Julia Shaw. We were about to go home when our names were called over the tannoy. We were needed for the presentations. Us! Needed! For PRESENTATIONS! We ran over, laughing hysterically, dumping bikes and bags and clattering up the stairs, to be called out onto the balcony for the WOMEN’S PODIUM. Yes, dear reader, I got a kiss, a handshake and an ACTUAL MEDAL for coming in third woman. Michelle, the Pocket Rocket, was FIRST WOMAN. People cheered and clapped and took photos. It was, quite honestly, one of the best moments of my life.

Women's podium, Tutti Frutti scratch race

Wearing our medals, we rumbled home on the train with ca. 1357 other bikies (most of them on Bromptons, of course, though this didn’t stop the guard having a good grump at us all). Andrew greeted us at the door in a butcher’s apron; the barbie was already on. He listened patiently to the overexcited gabble; we even remembered to ask him how his day had been.

When I got home to the family the next day, the boys responded to my news in typical fashion. 5yo (pouting): ‘But I wanted you to WIN!’ 8yo (kissing my medal reverently): ‘That’s AMAZING.’ It WAS amazing. An amazing weekend with amazing mates doing daft but amazing things. A heartfelt thank you to Michelle and Andrew for welcoming me and making it all possible. You’re utter stars.

* What does all this have to do with ‘cross? Eagled-eyed readers will spot that I raced on my ‘cross bike. More importantly, without having discovered ‘cross, I wouldn’t be doing any of this.

** Don’t drink Berocca if you’re frightened of neon wee, by the way

*** Get me, with the TERMINOLOGY

**** I actually pulled a muscle doing this. No-one can accuse me of not Trying Hard

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