A “summit ascent” in the Tour De France takes guts, stamina and a whole bunch of chemicals, by comparison, climbing over parked cars is easy, but no less damaging of cycling’s image
One summer whilst a teenager, in an effort to save up cash for a trip to America, I spent a half dozen weeks as a cycle courier in central London. At sixteen it seemed an entirely plausible way to accumulate funds, I was healthy enough, owned a bike and knew central London quite well, I felt eminently suitable to the task. The one skill I discovered that was lacking from my repertoire, however, was the ability to get bounced off a car bonnet twice a week and then get back on the bike again.
Riis Has Suspension Issues
• Cycling has a new soap opera
• Tinkoff-Saxo suspends sporting director
• Former owner falls out with current owner
The first few accidents were rather minor, even by cyclist’s standards, the odd car door opened in my path just a bit too late to avoid, the pedestrian mindlessly walking out between two parked cars who has only been listening not looking for oncoming traffic, and, of course, the inevitable unannounced left turn that sprawled me over whatever vehicle the idiot happened to be driving. Then I got punted ten feet or so by the impact of a van on Oxford Street and began to realize it was just getting worse.
Speaking to other old hands back at the depot it became clear that I had gotten off rather lightly for my first week and their horror stories left me wondering if America was worth all this effort. For the next couple of weeks I considered myself a peddle-soldier in the warfare between motorists and cyclists, an ever vigilant target of opportunity, staying mobile betting that made me harder to hit. My derision of motorists and their behavior round the dinner table (comprising at least two drivers of course) met with little sympathy.
Cyclists, I was informed, don’t pay road tax, ignore most laws, including traffic lights, scratch people’s paintwork and generally litter the highways and byways. I wasn’t convinced then that this characterization is entirely fair, and indeed I’m not really convinced now, but that summer there was an instance when I did begin to see the other side of the argument, albeit well after the fact and despite having, for want of a better term, joined in. It was the day that London Transport went on strike.
Hope You Like Jammin’ Too
Now we knew it was going to be a crazy day well in advance, the news had touted the chaos well ahead of the day and that morning the breakfast tv shows were awash with horror stories from commuters, with pictures of jammed roads, and fuming drivers. Much of the time stationary traffic is no obstacle to a cyclist, and certainly not one with a few weeks daily experience of weaving between London’s traffic, and indeed it seemed it would be a relatively good day all round with less chance of getting knocked down.
I hadn’t, however, been gambling news of a strike would put the people who’d normally ride buses and tubes into other modes of transport. There were quite a few who would take to their cars, but a whole bunch more that would dust off a bicycle they’d not ridden in years, put clips around their pinstripe trousers and gamely set off to ride into London for work. Thankfully that morning rush hour was quite spread out, people taking the excuse not to arrive on time and ensuring their efforts to get there at all showed on their faces when they rolled in at 10:30.
The real insanity began at about half past five when offices and workplaces began to disgorge their hapless employees back out onto the streets all desperate to get home, have dinner and put their feet up. Oxford Street, a four lane wide shopping paradise, was chockablock with cars, deliver vans, and cyclists, hoards and hoards of cyclists. At red traffic lights they congregated in herds, us couriers hovering at the front of the pack, the rest panting to get their breath back unused to the effort.
At the end of Oxford Street, at the corner of Hyde Park, sits a massive roundabout intersection that on any run of the mill day would be a cyclists nightmare of fast moving traffic lane changing at speed, but not that day. That day it was a jigsaw of cars, and as I approached in company of many other cyclists it became evident we weren’t the first, with cyclists who had tried to jink their way through wedged between the cars, just as unable to move, to progress, trapped in the same static puzzle.
For some moments we stopped eying this entrapment and then, as one, all our eyes turned to a thin wirey chap, a courier with bag and radio, that had hefted his bike onto his shoulder, taken a run up, and had leaped onto the car ahead of him, then stepped to the next, and the next and the next. Looking back that next few minutes were possibly a low point for cycling. Dozens of us, bikes held aloft, stomping our way across bonnets and car roofs, laughing manically at the furious drivers faces as we walked over them and then rode home through the deserted park.
Completely Over The Top
Since then, of course, cycling has had a few more low points. Just say the words “Tour De France” these days and you quickly find everyone is thinking about men in Lycra whizzing through the picturesque French countryside on more chemicals than the front row of a Grateful Dead concert. It’ll be a public perception that will be hard to shift, especially as corporate sponsors are rarely believed regardless of what they say, they having no vested interest in truth as much as in profits.
Even when the financial stuff is in order and the results are going well and people are backing them on ComeOn! Sportsbook, the modern day cycle team can be a hotbed of soap opera style personality clashes. Take for instance the news that Team Tinkoff-Saxo has suspended it’s Danish sporting director, Bjarne Riis, a former Tour winner himself, who used to own the team before selling it to its current owner, Oleg Tinkov. Officially “suspended” and notably absent from recent races, the rumors swirled.
“Following the rumors and speculations published by many Danish media first and then by international cycling media later last night, Tinkoff Saxo would like to clarify that Bjarne Riis is not being actively involved in the team’s activities since last Sunday,” said a statement from Tinkoff-Saxo, answering several questions but then just leaving people with more as it continued; “However, he was not suspended of his active role because of lack of results nor for financial issues.”
Leaving many wondering just what did go on to cause his suspension. If you’re Danish gambling laws of media intrusion would play in your favor for a change and reveal the inside gossip on this falling out between a team owner and one of it’s stalwart management team, you’ll be disappointed because as yet everyone involved is remaining entirely tight lipped. The team have said “no decisions have been taken” and “there will be no further comments on this matter” but you can’t stop people gossiping any more than you can stop a cycle courier getting home by parking your car in his way.