Showing posts with label cycling. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cycling. Show all posts

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Eternal France

The sun is shining upon Gamone. Yesterday, on the slopes of Choranche, I donned my beekeeper’s clothes and attended the second hands-on session of the local association. I have no images, for the simple reason that our white astronaut uniforms and leather gloves make it difficult to take photos. But it was a thrill to ease apart the wooden frames and to discover that the bees of Choranche had been making hay (honey, rather) while our sun was shining. What fabulous little well-organized stealthy beasts! I’m immensely dismayed by the fear of crushing a single one of them (an inevitable accident) when replacing a frame.

This sunny Sunday afternoon, on TV, I’m watching the Paris-Roubaix cycling race. All’s quiet on the Western Front.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

US champion takes the yellow jersey

Whichever way you look at the situation, and no matter what he actually says in his much-awaited coming-out on doping condemnations (recorded yesterday), there's no way in the world that Lance Armstrong can emerge from this sordid affair, in a few days' time, as a winner. The overall victory will be snatched by a veteran pedaler: Oprah Winfrey.


This all-time champion has already reached the summits of media mountains in first position on countless occasions. But this time, she has no doubt performed in a more spectacular fashion than in any of her long list of previous talk-show achievements and victories. Little Lance will look like a feeble child hiding in the folds of his mother's skirts, ruffled by gusts of icy wind blowing across the treacherous alpine slopes, where the slightest miscalculation of his trajectory could hurtle him down to his death.

French commentators have often borrowed a hackneyed theme: "This stage cannot possibly enable any particular rider to win the Tour de France... but it's a stage that could cause several riders to lose the Tour." Never has this observation been more pertinent, in Armstrong's career, than today. Oprah, encouraged by her hordes of fans, needs only to complete the course with a minimum display of natural aggressiveness in order to score maximum points, and secure the overall victory. Lance, on the other hand, could be smitten by dozens of afflictions, or even totally demolished by a grave accident, and carted away half-dead in an ambulance.

But this encounter will not in fact resemble a sporting competition. It will be more like the austere ritual of a bullfight. And don't expect Oprah Winfrey to be the bull.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Dark age of cycling

I call it the Darkstrong epoch.


Others will evoke lies, cheating and bullying. Funnily enough, we cycling enthusiasts and observers in France thought it fabulous, at the time, that a New World offspring could arrive here as a conqueror.

People are confused, particularly those of us who admired Armstrong immensely. Some of us (such as Laurent Jalabert, manager of the French team) say that Armstrong was a great champion in spite of his doping... but that argument doesn't stand up to criticism. Others evoke his cancer combat... but is cheating a valid path to survival?

Others (including myself) are concerned primarily by the survival of professional cycling in general, and the Tour de France in particular. I'm convinced that they're bigger than a stealthy guy from Texas, a Republican buddy of George W Bush.

The most surrealist aspect of this whole affair is that Lance Armstrong persists in claiming that his critics have got things wrong. The situation is binary: Either the critics are totally off-target, or Armstrong is an evil liar (with a jail cell on the horizon).

Cycling is such a fabulous sport that it's a terrible shame that our horizons have sunken to this abysmal level.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Perfectionist punishment

The US Anti-Doping Agency's decision to erase the career of Lance Armstrong is a blatant case of perfectionism. I'm using this term in a pejorative sense, designating a Kafkaesque situation in which holier-than-thou bureaucrats have gone to absurdly extreme lengths in the hope of installing their lily-white conceptions of what professional cycling should be all about.

Lance Armstrong, August 20, 2009 – photo Stefan Wermuth, Reuters

In punishing an outstanding sportsman for alleged faults committed long ago (if indeed they were truly committed), USADA is harming gravely the sport of cycling in general and the Tour de France in particular. For countless admirers in the USA and Europe, Armstrong will remain a hero because of the amazing story of his combat against cancer, and the way in which he happened to pick up no less than 7 yellow jerseys in the wake of that combat. The world of professional cycling has been making enormous efforts to wipe out the use of illicit pharmaceutical products and doping strategies. And the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) will be shooting itself in the foot if it accepts the conclusions (as it is more-or-less obliged to do) of the US anti-doping organization. Hoping to clean up cycling by punishing Armstrong retrospectively is an idiotic case of throwing out the baby with the bath water.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Standing still requires creative effort

In competitive track cycling, there's a curious technique—in the two-person racing format known as sprinting—that consists of standing still on your bike while hoping that the other person will be forced to head off first. The general idea is that it's preferable to remain in the second position at the start of a sprint, since you can take advantage of the first rider's airstream.

Funnily enough, standing still on a track bicycle consumes quite a lot of physical energy, because the rider has to be constantly pressing back and forth on his pedals to avoid moving forwards down the track (or backwards, in certain situations). I know what I'm talking about because, back in my days of track cycling, I used to master this technique quite successfully… but mainly just for fun. Let us refer to this spent energy as status quo (SQ) energy. In other words, it's the energy you need to spend in order to stay exactly where you are.

In our everyday life, we often encounter people who appear to be spending enormous amounts of SQ energy in order to remain more-or-less immobile. I'm thinking above all of bourgeois folk who are obsessed by their status within such-and-such a peer group to which they belong. Even though the Joneses may in fact evolve imperceptibly at a social level, simply keeping up with them can be a relentless and arduous full-time job for neighbors who make this their mission. Most often, SQ energy is used in the hope of demonstrating that one is perfectly normal with respect to one's particular milieu. Members of social groups such as political parties, civic associations, religious bodies and sporting clubs will often devote a lot of SQ energy towards furthering the impression that they are ordinary trustworthy members of the group in question, with no imaginable reason to be ostracized. In another context, you might say that a young man asking for the hand of the girl he loves is often called upon to expend much SQ energy in the context of his future parents-in-law. In La Cage aux Folles, poor Albin had to exploit with talent a maximum of SQ energy in order to prove that "she" was, as expected, an ordinary and acceptable wife/mother.

It would be a mistake to consider that SQ energy is negative, or wasted, because it might indeed be important—for citizens preoccupied by their social status, no less than for a track cyclist—to remain in the same place, with the same status as before. But we would probably not be too wrong in referring to SQ energy as nonproductive, in the sense that it gives rise to nothing new. That's to say, it's not at all the kind of energy that a society might use in its quest for innovation.

Now, the reason I'm talking about SQ energy is that this question has arisen in one of the many ingenious explanations in The Beginning of Infinity by David Deutsch, in a chapter entitled The Evolution of Creativity. Deutsch set out to explain a puzzling era in human prehistory and history. For countless generations, humanity's progress could be represented by an almost flat graph. That's to say, there was no perceptible social or technical innovation whatsoever. In a general sense (excluding calamities, all too frequent, such as warfare, plagues and natural catastrophes), every day tended to be a copy of the previous day. Then, all of a sudden, at an epoch designated as the Enlightenment, the old world order exploded, and innovation burgeoned. Well, Deutsch envisages the existence of a common force behind the immensely long period of negligible human progress and the prolific age of the Enlightenment, and he designates that common force by an unexpected term: creativity.

• During the preliminary era of near-zero progress, individuals who were sufficiently endowed genetically with creativity were able to expend SQ energy enabling them to survive in primitive so-called static societies that abhorred all forms of innovation.

• When the tide turned with the Enlightenment, this same endowment of creativity enabled the descendants of the static societies to abandon their SQ preoccupations and to promote all kinds of innovation.

Here's the pivotal paragraph from Deutsch:

Hence, paradoxically, it requires creativity to thrive in a static society — creativity that enables one to be less innovative than other people. And that is how primitive, static societies, which contained pitifully little knowledge and existed only by suppressing innovation, constituted environments that strongly favoured the evolution of an ever-greater ability to innovate.
The Beginning of Infinity, page 414

As in a track-cycling sprint, the same forces that have enabled a rider to stand still can then be unleashed to make him win.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Red and black

The city of Grenoble (half an hour away from where I live) was the birthplace of the French novelist Stendhal [1783-1842], whose most celebrated title was The Red and the Black. And red and black were the colors, during this Tour de France, of the jersey of Cadel Evans.

After this afternoon's time trial at Grenoble, Cadel changed his colors from red and black to yellow. Normally, tomorrow on the Champs Elysées in Paris, Cadel Evans will be the first Australian cyclist to win the Tour de France.

When I was a teenager in Grafton, I would hear about this fabulous race through French cycling magazines that my uncle Charles Walker used to receive, in his capacity as the president of the Coffs Harbour cycling club. Not yet capable of reading French, I nevertheless admired the photos of champions named Fausto Coppi, Louison Bobet, Raphaël Géminiani… Much later, on 8 July 1963, I happened to be hitchhiking through Grenoble when the 15th stage of the Tour de France arrived there, won by the Spaniard Federico Bahamontes.

Watching the time trial on TV this afternoon, and seeing Evans obtain the yellow jersey, I had the impression that I was witnessing a momentous event in Australian cycling history.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

French cycling legend

Saint-Denis-de-l'Hôtel is a sleepy village on the right bank of the Loire, opposite Jargeau, not far from Orléans, in the heart of the Val de Loire region that was inscribed in 2000 on the list of Unesco World Heritage sites.

The population of the village is less than 3000, but they can boast of a fine velodrome, which was spruced up for this year's French track championships.

Yesterday, on that track, Jeannie Longo won her 59th national title: female points-race champion of France.

Jeannie—who lives on the outskirts of Grenoble—is 52 years old. In other words, when she was born in Annecy, I was still a teenager out in Sydney. She has won 13 world championships, and is thinking about competing in next year's Olympic Games in London. Jeannie Longo also happens to be a skilled pianist, who competed six times (between 1969 and 1975) in the annual piano competition at Besançon.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Roadside encounter

The day before yesterday (Wednesday), I ran into a South African couple, Andrew and Brenda, at the petrol station attached to the local supermarket in St-Jean-en-Royans. They were driving a luxurious Fiat camping car, with German license plates, and wanted to find a cylinder of propane gas for their stove. And this product didn't happen to be stocked by this supermarket. Since it was nearly 7 o'clock in the evening, there was little chance that any other stores would be open. So, I suggested that they might follow me back to my place where, if they ran out of gas, they could always use my kitchen to prepare their evening meal. As things turned out, they did not run out of gas, and actually invited me to share their fine dinner (prepared in the camping van), seated in the warm semi-darkness in front of my house.

They told me that they were thinking of selling their bed-and-breakfast business in South Africa, and setting up a guest house somewhere in Europe. So, they were keen to see what kind of possibilities existed around here. Yesterday morning, I took them along to the excellent guest house in St-Jean-en-Royans operated by Roger Dunne (a former UK cyclist) and his wife Teresa. They've done up an old water-mill on the edge of the village, and transformed it into a high-quality base for visitors who can go out bike-riding in some of the most magnificent landscapes that cyclists could ever imagine.

[Click the photo to visit the website of Roger and Teresa]

When Andrew and Brenda finally drove off (heading up towards the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse), they had several good contacts with local real estate possibilities.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Vercors bike business created by English couple

In the charming village of St-Jean-en-Vercors, Roger and Teresa have created a high-quality gite, called Vélo Vercors, for cycling enthusiasts who would like to ride through the magical landscapes of the Vercors.

[Click the photo to access their website.]

The Vercors is a fabulous place, which should ideally be visited in a leisurely style. What better solution than a bike?

Bitter champagne

On the eve of the Tour de France in 2006, there was a vast dope-oriented cleanup. The organizers published a short list of undesirable riders: the Italian Ivan Basso, the Spaniards Francesco Mancebo and Oscar Sevilla, and the German Jan Ullrich. Finally, the Tour was won by an American, Floyd Landis, who seemed to be as clean as they come. Wasn't he brought up in a pious Mennonite environment in a rural village named Farmersville in Pennsylvania?

The champagne had a bitter aftertaste. Tests revealed that Landis had been doped with EPO, and he was stripped of his victory in the Tour.

A report in The Wall Street Journal has just revealed that Landis has finally admitted that he used dope. He also made accusations concerning former teammates Lance Armstrong and George Hincapie. This long-overdue mea culpa is surely going to stir up a lot of shit during the weeks leading up to the forthcoming Tour de France.

People interested in the case of Armstrong should consult a lengthy in-depth interview (that dates from 2009) with the Australian EPO specialist Michael Ashenden, who gives me the impression that he knows what he's talking about. [Click the photo to access this interview.]

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Associative thinking

Most serious individuals concentrate upon one thing at a time. I'm not suggesting that they have what might be called "one-track minds". I'm merely saying that, when they decide to talk about X, they deliberately leave Y locked up in the wardrobe... which makes for nice easy-to-follow conversation. As for me, I'm not like that. Whenever I'm talking about X, I find myself searching constantly for associated pretexts that might enable me to liberate Y from the wardrobe. This makes me an impossible conversationalist, because my listeners find it hard to pin down what I'm talking about. In polite terms, one might say that I practice associative thinking.

Over the last few days (since the death of my uncle Ken Walker), I've been browsing through old family photos.

The bikes leaning against the fence of the Walker home in Waterview (South Grafton) are Malvern Star track machines, manufactured down in Melbourne. And, in the late '30s, one of the most famous members of the Malvern Star team in Australia was the French champion Charles Rampelberg.

This postcard was pasted in my childhood bible: "Cyclone" Johnny Walker's big brown-paper scrapbook of press cuttings. A native of northern France, Rampelberg was racing out in Australia when World War II erupted. His name appears in records of the six-day races at Sydney in 1938 and 1941. Seriously injured in a fall when his head struck a wing-nut of his front wheel, Rampelberg was obliged to end his cycling career. Unable to envisage a return to his war-stricken homeland, he decided to get into business in Australia as a delicatessen. Later, having made a fortune through this activity, Charles returned to Paris and worked as a marketing representative for his brother Emile Rampelberg, who was renowned as a graphic designer in the textile field, with family links to the great house of Boussac from northern France.

Prior to his career in Australia, Charles Rampelberg had won a bronze medal in the kilometer time trial at the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Back in France, this celebrated track cyclist had surely raced at times (although I've found no records that substantiate this speculation) in an indoor cycling stadium in Paris known as the Vélodrome d'hiver (winter velodrome), located near the Eiffel Tower. I've attended fabulous six-day track-cycling events in both Paris Bercy and Grenoble. The following photo (unidentified) gives you an idea of the hallucinating atmosphere of such places.

Today, we have no authentic images of the Paris velodrome, known familiarly as the Vel d'Hiv.

It was located not far from the spot where Australia's embassy now stands. In fact, while the champion cyclist Rampelberg was recovering from head wounds out in the Antipodes, and setting up his delicatessen business, horrific events were taking place back in the cycling stadium in Paris. On 16-17 July 1942, this place was the focal point of a horrendous roundup of Parisian Jews, destined for extermination in the Nazi camps of Poland. And the most amazing aspect of this terrible affair was that it was carried out, not by German Nazis, but by Frenchmen!

On TV last Tuesday evening, there was much talk about this terrible site and this ignominious event, known now in French, for all Eternity, as the rafle du Vel' d'Hiv (roundup of the winter velodrome). This page of modern French history is darker, even, than the notorious Armistice signed by a fuddy-duddy Philippe Pétain. One of the frightening items of fallout concerning this disgusting affair is the fact that one of its prominent French instigators, René Bousquet, remained a personal friend of François Mitterrand.

These days, countless Francophiles such as myself have been striving to fathom these events. In a sense, we've succeeded, as demonstrated by the immense pride with which I shout out on the rooftops my unbounded admiration and love for the fabulous Fifth Republic of Charles de Gaulle. But don't think of us as dupes. We know that there were dark days... which will continue to take a lot of explaining. That's what I mean by associative thinking.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Lance Armstrong's team

This is an amusing presentation of Lance Armstrong's new RadioShack team:



Lance has just arrived in South Australia to start preparing for the forthcoming Tour Down Under. He's constantly active in the Twitter arena, where his address is lancearmstrong.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

He is the champion

I'm happy to see an Australian road cyclist achieving a major victory, and I'm tremendously pleased that the victor should be Cadel Evans, who has had a rough time this year. I hope he'll have a better employer next year, and that he'll be present in Geelong (Australia), in a year's time, to defend his rainbow jersey.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Cadel's bike breakdown... like my Internet

This photo shows Cadel Evans in the recent Tour de France:

These days, he has been competing splendidly in the Vuelta, the road-cycling tour of Spain. In fact, he could seriously contemplate winning it, since he has been just seven seconds behind Alejandro Valverde. This afternoon, after a trivial mechanical breakdown, Cadel Evans had to wait by the roadside for an entire minute until the Silence-Lotto service vehicle finally dropped by. That's a hell of a lot of silence. Cadel's chances of winning the lottery have suddenly dropped considerably. To zero, you might say. That sad and silly incident no doubt puts an end to one of Australia's biggest hopes for a great cycling victory. And it probably terminates Cadel's top-level cycling career.

Friday, July 24, 2009

New Armstrong team

This evening, at the end of the time trial around the beautiful lake at Annecy, Lance Armstrong announced his new team.

Almost everybody, today, is greatly impressed by the man named Armstrong.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Messy road-cycling situation

As a former adolescent cyclist of sorts in my home town of Grafton (back in the days when bicycles had only recently been invented), I've always been interested in the Australian cycling world. A few days ago, I received an email circular from the organizers of Australia's Tour Down Under, and I promptly dropped in on their website.

Next January's scheduled event in Adelaide is part of the so-called ProTour circuit, under the auspices of the world-level body that governs professional cycling: the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale]. The Tour de France, on the other hand, is organized by the Amaury group, owners of the newspaper L'Equipe (which angered the Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe not so long ago).

The director of the 2009 Tour Down Under assures us that everything "is on track and on schedule". He explains that the UCI has confirmed that the South Australian event "will remain in the top echelon of world cycling. We have also spoken to the elite teams who rate the event highly and plan to be in Adelaide in January 2009."

These reassuring words surprised me somewhat, because the news from France, just after Bastille Day, was that 17 ProTour teams competing in the Tour de France had decided to refrain from taking out ProTour licences for 2009. The Australian website includes a menu concerning teams for the Tour Down Under, but the data is obsolete. The 19 teams that are listed are those that competed in last January's event, rather than those that will be turning up in Adelaide in 2009. So, what gives? Would the organizers of the Tour Down Under be jumping the start in persisting in talking as if it's business as usual?

Today, speaking from Beijing, UCI president Pat McQuaid revealed a plan that his body intends to submit to the Amaury people in France, in the hope of resolving the conflicts that have existed over the last few years. I have the impression that today's UCI press release is full of good intentions, but we know nothing, for the moment, concerning possible reactions of the Tour de France organizers. I feel that South Australia is excessively optimistic in suggesting that they can calmly and confidently begin the countdown to the 2009 Tour Down Under. It would be more realistic if they were to inform potential spectators explicitly that international road cycling is still in a global mess.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

World cycling championships

In Stuttgart today, the seventh place in the female time-trial event, over a distance of 25 kilometers, was obtained by the illustrious cyclist Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli, from the Dauphiné/Savoy region of France. Jeannie's titles and trophies are awesome:

— 5 times world road-cycling champion;

— 4 times world time-trial champion;

— 3 victories in the feminine Tour de France;

— 19 times French road-cycling champion;

— 7 times French time-trial champion.

In all, Jeannie has held 38 world records of one kind or another.

The most amazing thing about this fabulous cyclist—who finished this morning just 1' 21" behind the German Hanka Kupfernagel (and well ahead of the current French champion in this discipline, Maryline Salvetat), is that Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli is 48 years old! For those of you who are older than that, think back to what you were doing at the age of 48. [Personally, I had just returned to Paris after eighteen months in Perth, Australia. I was leading a dissolute life, and smoking over a packet of cigarettes a day.] At the age of 48, could you have dreamed of finishing seventh in a world sporting championship?

Monday, June 18, 2007

Italian cyclist Basso out for two years

Ivan Basso, winner of last year's Giro, admitted recently that he was involved in the so-called Puerto doping scandal. Consequently, he has just been suspended for two years by the Italian cycling federation. Basso's reaction: "I made a mistake, and I have to pay for it."

An interesting question (of a purely theoretical nature, with no practical consequences) now arises. As recently as March 2007, Johan Bruyneel, sporting director of the Discovery Channel team, persisted in trying to justify retrospectively his selection of Basso as a team member. Should we therefore believe that Basso simply never got around to informing Bruyneel that he was actually guilty of doping?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Discovery Channel

During the night, a centimeter-thick veil of snow covered everything at Gamone, from flowering shrubs through to my automobile. Apparently most of France has been hit by this cold spell.

Only two days ago, the television showed us Alberto Contador riding along magnificent sun-drenched mountain roads to his victory in the Paris-Nice race. It's amusing to recall that Contador's US employer, Discovery Channel, was in the limelight a few weeks ago because of a happening that had nothing to do with cycling. They're the people who aired the controversial documentary, produced by James Cameron and directed by Simcha Jacobovici, about a tomb near Jerusalem that contained bone boxes labeled Jesus, Mary, etc.

I don't know what the Spaniard Alberto Contador thinks about Discovery Channel's version of the Jesus story. Three years ago, he had a terrible fall in the Tour of the Asturias. With his jaws shattered, and suddenly racked by convulsions, 21-year-old Contador was taken to hospital in a critical state, and many observers, including fellow cyclists, feared that he might not survive. So, in Christian terms, Contador's brilliant performance in Paris-Nice on Sunday might be thought of as a miracle, a resurrection.