Saturday, 23 January 2016

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Most of life is in the professional* cycling scene is somewhat of a paradox. The constant tussles between freshness and fatigue, training and over-training and being well-fed, but never fat, to name a few. However there is one time in the year this all goes out the window; the unruly, much anticipated and highly planned ‘offseason’. And ironically, despite breaking from the norm, I think this is perhaps the time in which ‘the cyclist’, thrown from his or her natural habitat, reaches peak paradoxical proportions.

I believe to be successful at something as all consuming, as physically and as mentally intense as elite level Sport, takes a degree of the all or nothing attitude to life, and in most cases, this means the athlete is very much ‘all in’.

And this approach, habit if you will, doesn’t simply extend to one part of life. Training, nutrition, rest, yes they are all included. But so to is the offseason. The time everything else flies out the window. The time in which an athlete throws themselves in at the deep end, exploring their idea of real life.

*a friend recently described my chosen career, only half jokingly I suspect, as an extension of my adolescence, so loosely he viewed my ‘work’…

This is how it goes for me:

Week one

I am essentially still an athlete in this period, albeit it decliningly so as the week wanes. The overwhelming feeling is one of mental and physical fatigue, and my body reminds me of this at every opportunity. I may be be jetlagged, actually tired from my last race, or perhaps just feigning fatigue to enjoy my time off all the more, thus feeling I have deserved it. Most likely it’s a combination of the three. And whatever the case, it doesn’t really matter as the result is the same: it feels bloody great to do something different.

I am tired, but I’m also relieved: another season finished, ticked off and safely in the bag. For good or bad, it’s done. It has no doubt been a long year, so the relief would be best described as a warm blanket of emotion, loping over everything I do. It’s a glossy finish over a time which at points can feel like that moment you suddenly go from the light to dark, feeling around for familiar objects with your finger tips. I am unaccustomed to normal person activities of staying up past 11pm, drinking and so on. It takes time to adjust! Perhaps it's a different form of training...

During this week I consume no end. I mean I always eat, but now I really eat. Anything, at any time and seemingly half for the sake of it as much as anything else. I ignore the future and enjoy the moment. Oh and yes I drink too, potentially for the first time since Christmas (it’s now November..) This is a potent combination; the willingness to drink, the lack of memory of the effects of ten Gin Tonics and a skinny cyclists body with frankly no ability to soak it all up. I regret it the next morning, particularly the very first morning, after a little to zealous initial crack at the methodical normal life. Hopefully I’m not abroad, but this year I had no such luck, waking up with the hangover from hell and an eighteen-hour journey home ahead. In one word: grim.

Week two

This is the honeymoon period and when I try to plan my much-anticipated holiday for. I feel great, all the time, especially as the week progresses. I find joy in very small things, like flying without a bike, packing a bag with no cycling kit and again, eating whatever I damn please. I have energy for day-to-day life that I can never normally muster. I do alien, utterly unfathomable things, like running up stairs, or by the week's end, when restlessness creeps in, actually going running.

Inevitably like 75% of the peloton, I feel like superman for the first two thirds of the run, before my lungs start to write cheques my muscles simply can't cash. At this moment, seemingly all off a sudden, everything gives way. I limp home, arriving satisfied, ready to eat some more and content to put the running shoes away for another week, or maybe another year...

And then the next morning I wake up in agony, the legs of a ninety eight year old suddenly attached to my far younger torso. I hobble around for a few days, much to the amusement of friends and family, who love my unfit state worryingly so. I start to question if I have perhaps ruined my calves/achillies/body for life by the twentieth ‘argh’ of the morning, my girlfriend busy shaking her head in dismay.

The post-run state aside, I really do feel remarkable in this week, scarily infact. I start to question if everyone, those strange ‘normal’ people I keep referring to, feel like this all the time? I am energetic, my mental capacity bolsters threefold and creativity flows back in to my mind for the first time in well, a cycling season.

Then the paradox: I feel great, making plans for the exciting next year*, but I am constantly one glance from a mirror.

*next season is always exciting – any bike rider telling you otherwise is a liar {or maybe >35 with four kids}, I think it is simply too hard to do otherwise.

A mirror? This takes some explaining…

Cyclists are almost all self-conscious of their bodies, I’d imagine it has something to do with going outside in skin-tight, very thin lycra. Pro cyclists are another level, as ‘performance’ and the fact our livelihoods hinge upon it, is thrown in to the equation. It is programmed in to every rider (again in varying degree’s…) and is a necessary evil. I’m sure Google can point you in the direction of all manner of content surrounding this subject, the results of the new oeuvre of cycling journalism, blogs and ofcourse, books.

But what I want to talk is simply my cheeks, and maybe my legs a bit.

One sighting of my cheeks is all that is needed to remind my not-raced-nor-ridden (and thus lacking reminders of reality) brain, that I am not superman, no matter how much energy and enthusiasm I may posses. The round face, by all accounts a very different one to my in season look, is a stark reminder of the hard work to come, post week three. Occasionally the thicker than normal legs will come out from hiding too, covered in weird short blonde hairs and a layer of fat, to reinforce this message.

And the effect of all this? It simply sends me deeper in to offseason mode, with renewed enthusiasm to enjoy the offseason, cakes, beers and all, before the hard work once again begins.

Count how many times you see your own reflection out and about tomorrow. It’s something you notice a lot more when the face staring back at you barely resemble your own (to exaggerate ever so slightly – but that’s how it feels!).

For in the ‘all of nothing’-ness, however badly we suffer, we fully immerse ourselves in the offseason, all the while denying, putting on hold, the existence of our other, regular (to us) lives. Whatever shape or form this takes, we live how we see ‘normality’. What that is I will probably never know, nor will anyone I suspect, but that is the beauty of it in some ways. For ofcourse it doesn’t really exist and as such is imagined differently by each and every person. It may manifest itself in a holiday, the school run, or just perhaps a few lazy mornings in bed. Regardless, it's our off-season, a memorable and cherished time.

But all the while, as the croissants, copious flat whites, and pizza's are consumed, the other life, somewhere in the back of our minds, looking over our shoulders, lurks. The leg stubble, my infamous (in my family anyway) cheeks, my bike gathering dust and unpacked bags from my last race, provide constant reminders of this life. Of the two lives, if you will; the eleven or so months of the training year, and the other month, at most, when we reinvent ourselves, dance our drunken hearts away and generally cram in as much as we can.

Week three

I start itching to do something. Possibly I sneak in to the Gym, against my Coaches wishes, repeating the exact mistakes of last week’s run and being far too keen, but with far more disastrous consequence. The next three days I can't walk… This year I was on a stag-do and it took some styling out.

I try to enjoy this week as I know the end is near, but really all I want to do is get back on my bike and start working again, I’m sick of not feeling desperately tired and starving after a long ride. I miss the satisfaction of creating and achieving something each and every day. Heck I guess my brain probably misses the endorphins.

I spend the week battling my coach to let me start training next week, complaining about how unfit and fat I am. He holds me back, I push, he holds me back, I push. We settle at starting with a few easy rides and gym sessions, or something along those lines.

I just want to return to normal again. This fictitious offseason limbo life I dreamed up was fun, but I like my life a lot better. The one that lurked, that I hid, that reared its head from time to time, during my break. Yeah that one, it’s a keeper.

And with that, the offseason goal is achieved – perspective. Enduring the paradox of being a professional athlete doing all he can to live in a state as far from athletic as possible has been worth it. I’m ready for the next eleven months of what some might describe as ‘sacrifice’ – you might have gathered by now, I don’t see it that way, not after my break anyway!

Friday, 13 November 2015

A piece on 'London' for Oakley Magazine...

When travelling I think it is only natural to compare new places to home. Our origins form a baseline from which we naturally compare and on occasion shift. However for a Londoner, this act of comparison can also be fraught with danger. As, in my albeit bias opinion, it is extremely difficult to find somewhere as diverse, as dynamic or, quite simply, as interesting as the big smoke.

And yet there is one rather large element of my life in which I constantly improve upon what London has to offer.

As a Cyclist there is nothing better than the feeling of craning ones neck for a look up at a huge mountain. It is mind boggling. Nothing beats watching a tiny road snake upward and disappear in to the sky. And seeing such a pass, brings a palpable, very real mix of fear, anticipation and mystique. From down below it feels completely unfathomable that you will ever reach the top. But of course, with some effort and perseverance, anything is possible. A lesson I love. And a lesson that we can all constantly apply to life both within and away from sport.

Home to just shy of 14 million people, the busy and chaotic streets of London certainly don't always make the best, or safest, training. And high rise flats aside, there certainly isn't a whole lot to look up at. No mountains that's for sure. Infact I think it is safe to say that being a competitive cyclist and living in London doesn't really go hand in hand. Something shown in the relatively small number of Professional Cyclists that have come from the Nations capital.

I grew up in Hackney, in the East of London. And although I now live in the north of Spain, in a small Catalan city called Girona, London still firmly holds my heart. For in spite of it's flat geography, it's crazy drivers and it's often dreary weather, I love riding my bike in the city. London is where I discovered my love for the sport I am now lucky enough to call a job. And when I do make it home, I still find great pleasure in escaping the sprawling reaches of the city. Heading north east, I soon find myself in to the countryside, venturing hours in to the lanes of Essex and Hertfordshire, before eventually returning to it all. The city. I always thought myself incredibly lucky during my years at school, that I could simply go training and escape the hustle and bustle of the a day in the big smoke.

But growing up London has given me one particular great asset in my chosen career - a real appreciation of amazing training roads. For instance the incredible Pyrenees that overlook my adopted home in Spain, and every day, without fail, leave me in awe. There is just something about their foreign and gigantic nature that is, for this city boy, incredibly inspiring. It is a feeling I hope I will never loose.

So to all those in the amazing and ever growing Cycling scene in London - I salute you for your endeavor. Riding in our capital is not easy. Ride safe, and if you ever have the chance, challenge yourself and ride for the mountains - you will be sure to find another gear.
Piece for 'Ape to Gentleman' website...

“Cycling isn’t a game, it’s a sport. Tough, hard and unpitying, and it requires great sacrifices. One plays football, or tennis, or hockey. One doesn’t play at cycling.” - Jean de Gribaldy, Professional cyclist and 'Directeur Sportif'

If you loiter in the certain circles you may have heard 'Cycling is the new Golf' used at some point in the last years. So since, according to one of the most successful Directeur Sportif's (French for sporting director) of the 1970's and 80's Jean de Gribaldy, you cannot 'play' at Cycling - how indeed should you progress if you wish to take up this mystical art?

That is where I come in. A cyclist for arguably the top Development team in the World, Axeon, I will cater for your every 'pro cyclist imitation' need in the following points, to give ease to this supposed tough and unpitying endeavour.

Cyclist can be a notoriously tight nit bunch, complete with endless signals, etiquette and unwritten rules both on and off their machines. However I am of a different belief. I believe that other than staying safe and enjoying yourself, the beauty of Cycling is that it is there for all to adopt and enjoy.

Ultimately, on a bike you you can travel more quickly in cities, you can have a clear environmental conscience and you can become fitter whilst at its! Take that Golf...

Look after your equipment

So you have read this far, maybe you do want to be a cyclist? Well you will need a bike! And once you have bought, begged or borrowed it, you need to keep it clean. This really isn't rocket science and certainly wont take hours from your day. Your main port of call is to give your machine some soapy care and lubrication. Checking your tyres are in good condition should also help to keep you puncture free. The motto here is: look after your equipment and it will look after you!

Riding the road

Cycling can take you limitless places. However it is imperative to remember that the majority of this riding will take place on public highways. In that vein this is possibly the most important point of all - look after yourself! Self and spacial awareness are key. Developing an understanding of not only how you should use the roads, but also how other road users will approach you on a bike is also important. Group riding, something I will touch on later, is also great fun, but can take up more space - so be wary!

Explore

The roads have been conquered and your bike is ready - now is time to have some fun. Get out there and explore. It is amazing the enjoyment that can be derived from finding new places and routes, so see where your bike can take you. Don't be afraid to get a little lost or take a new turn. Find that long lost kid inside yourself and venture in to the unknown. Pushing the boundaries is a lesson we can all take from Sport and apply to any walk of life. So visit those limits both physically and in your knowledge of your local geography - you might find something you like...

Watch

Cycling is a strange sport to watch, but from both the comfort of the sofa or the enthralment of the roadside, it can provide a breathtaking spectacle. Get online and find out about your local races, especially the bigger Professional ones on the calendar. Each race occurs once a year, so it may be a little wait, but you will be sure to find something for some extra pedal based inspiration. And don't be limited by road cycling, have online at Mountain Biking, Cyclo cross, Track racing, BMX racing, Downhill racing and even Cycle Speedway. There is certainly something out there to tickle anyone's two wheeled fancy!

Be social

Cycling is special, yes a bike may have some unappealing upfront costs, but once you are out there it is gloriously free! So explore those lanes and then share them. Join a local Cycling club once you feel confident out on the roads, or even in order to do so with the safety of others. Whether it is to feed your competitive nature or simply to find others to enjoy the roads with, Club's are a great way to learn about the sport and meet other people through it. I have met some of my nearest and dearest friends through cycling, both via races and simply from riding my bike - so once again, see where it takes you!

Sunday, 5 July 2015


'10km to go. A string of three up the right hand side of the road. Half the team. Small but compact. Small, but hopefully effective.

Tight corner to the right. Dare not brake too early, dare not lose position. Accelerate as slow as I can out, saving the legs behind. Mind behind. Constantly assessing.

Australians lined up infront. Snatch a look down, 55km/h. Not a time to touch wheels. Look up. Roundabout looms. Man with flag and whistle going at it. The flapping means we can take both sides. We stay in the right hand gutter, surfing the wheels. Waiting. Biding. Adrenaline building.

Exit the roundabout, wind buffers from the right. A gap opens, the bunch scuttling for shelter. Squeezing left. Clear air and an opportunity to hit the front, but we wait. Patience. Check over my shoulder. Still there. I drift right slightly, creating a gap for my teammates. Saving their legs. Their fast legs. We hope. I hope.

Elbow comes at my hip. I keep my wheel just outside the one infront. An escape route if needed. A few riders up there is a swerve. Grab a load of brake. Only for a second, if that, but speed is lost. The other side of the bunch flies past. I stamp on the pedals. Pull on the bars. Momentarily frantic. I look down through my frame, red shoes behind. Good. We lose a few wheels, but remain together. Strength in unity.

I accelerate full bore now. My hands tight on the drops. It’s a narrow lane and I push up the right. A mixture of shoves and shouts to get my way. To get the gaps three wide. One chops me, briefly his rear mech in my wheel. I lose my shit. It’s clearly no accident. The adrenaline seriously flowing now. Brain is gone out the window, i’m up for this.

Huge chute. Corner misjudged right at the front. Somehow slide up the inside, losing a little momentum but no skin. Some not so lucky.

Look behind. Gaps everywhere. Attacks start flying. Head down to try and help Dan a little more. The main job is done but I want more. Getting the positioning for the last kilometer was key. I lack the power beyond that.

Another corner, no crash but oof its sketchy. Everyone fancies a go in this messy chaos. More attacks. I’m too far back to help now. Or can I slip up the inside of this corner? I push, door shuts. Almost lose my wheel on the curb.

Mind flicks to the GC later in the week. A few hard stamps on the pedals to keep in the wheels. 500, 400, 300. Look up. Sit upright. Oh shit that’s Dan’s hands in the air?! Ha. Release. Elation. Clarity through the chaos.'

- British cyclist Tao Geoghegan Hart takes us into the mind of a racer during the final kilometres of a stage.

[Piece written for the Rapha's Doppio newsletter - http://pages.rapha.cc/racing-2/doppio-tour-week-one]

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Racing Liege

Speak to Aussie Freddy on the start line. I've not known him long but he seems a real good bloke.

A few k in pass Geoff and ask how he feels. He says he doesn't have a chain and I know the feeling also.

Break goes. Stop and unclip and have a pee on big road.

A little later and the race has settled down for the day. Danny Swol, James and I have a little chat about our tactics. Slogan Owen is in the break, we asses the situation, it looks favourable, for now.

Say hi to a great Dutchie I haven't seen in a while. Chat about the winter whilst negotiating a little bit of a crosswind. Makes me laugh how conversation continues even when you are constantly moving around.

Belgian guy says hi, we joke about something. Ask him if he got his jumper back he left in our hotel last week.

Speak to an Aussie for a bit. Also a nice guy. He's probably one of the favourites but we can still chat and laugh for a few minutes, mainly talking of the season ahead.

See the other Rabo dutch guy. We have a chat about an early season French race and a laugh about how I still owe him a bidon from the last stage of Avenir. Today I can repay him he jokes. Someone almost rides in to a traffic island in front. We continue to speak but eyes always remain firmly ahead.

I tell some French guy where to stick it when he throws his helmet, head inside, toward my shoulder going in to a corner. I don't really care if he understands, but I tell him there is one hundred kilometres to go and he has no right to ride like such a…

Big road, have a pee on the go on a slight downhill. Big random crash just in front. Teammate Ruben is tangled up at the bottom as I hop on to curb to go around it.

Get a hex key from Neutral service to tighten computer mount as it has come loose - team car is behind the convoy from crash. We also happen to be last car in the convoy.

James says Ruben is out. Not great news. Another crash happens almost immediately. Nerves are creeping in to the bunch.

Joke with Freddy on climb. His teammate brings him a bottle. As we laugh about a crash going uphill another one happens right in front. Then around the next corner a motorbike is lying on the road, we come to a standstill from the bottleneck it causes.

Nod at the boss as he watches out the car window waiting for the bunch to pass on early slopes of La Redoute.

Logan and rest of the break caught on Redoute - tell him good job. Was a good job.

Kiwi on Lotto asks how it is. Most common question in the bunch in one way or another, always a strange one. Not many competitors in other sports ask each other how they are mid competition I bet.

Stand at a level crossing with 15 k of the race to go. Break disappearing up the road. Train driver looks bizarre crouched in the front in his uniform. Feel surreal. Strange experience.

Someone in front group shouts we are going the wrong way on the top of Saint Nicholas.

Get beat.






Thursday, 26 February 2015

panyagua

Gently the steam starts to rise. Whisps silently meander upward and into the vacant high up reaches of the room, a thin film of cloud forming overhead.

A minute passes, the pressure steadily building.

That’s about when I begin to hear it. A distant tinkle? Barely noticeable above the music, a poorly fitted lid balancing precariously a few rooms away, for now it simply lingers in my peripheral.

I delve deeper.

Bubbles start to form, rising up toward the brim, the edge. Initially small and infrequent, they soon begin to ripple the surface of the water. And so it goes on, the tinkle intensifying, moving nearer, firmly within earshot now. The cloud above thickens and slowly descends, engulfing its surroundings.

About half way, I know from the number painted crudely on the tarmac below, and the pan is now boiling profusely. The lid clatters and before long is all that is audible. The music has faded deep in to the distance, left behind down the road.  

The water is gone and yet the heat stays on. The cloud stays low and the rattle intensifies with every second. Eeking out its last great masterpiece.

And then through the fog I see ‘Lap time 10:00’. That sight I’ve been begging for.

I press the button and it all starts to seep away. However like its’ steady build, it doesn't simply all leave all at once. It thuds and clatters away at my head. And it’s not just up there in that cavernous ceiling. My heart and lungs wheeze, thump and clunk all the way back down the road, the last few moments of cooking on gas leaving their mark.

Then finally, as I come to a slow at the bottom, the music floods back in. And the lid? Precariously placed yet perfectly still, it sits above the lowly shadow of the pan. Refilling, a trickle at a time, before the heat turns back on merely four minutes later.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

365


There is near nothing as unequivocally defining.

And yet it changes every single day. Moving on as swift as a change in the wind. Silent and utterly unnoticeable, but to the few who put themselves out there to notice.

But no one ever tells you that. Especially not in a world in which it is seemingly everything.

They ask. And at first the response is always one of shock, awe. Because it sets you aside, heralds. But these days are limited. It can’t last. For that wind is ever changing and each and every single one slips away, just as fast, maybe faster. Cascading from the kind of grip found at the end of a long hard honest days work. The kind disguising control, but in reality ridden with sweat, tired and frail.

No one ever tells you it’s only once. This day.

We try to fill with optimism. And it is amazing. Proclaiming many chances, eyes on the horizon and not our feet below, stood firmly in the dirt of the present. It's easier that way.

I can remember youth. Real youth that is. When an inch could be gained overnight, when a week, a month, let alone a year, seemed an eternity. I don't know how long ago that was. But I remember it a little.

I remember walking up the concrete stairs of our house age six, looking through the front window, something falling on the television. Dust. I remember proclaiming it would be ok, holding her hand, that blind naïve optimism only a child can posses right there in my palm.

The emotion is a vivid memory, as strong as the image itself.

And now it has gone, that real youth. As has nineteen, almost. Indefinitely so as a racer. In 2015 a racer I will remain, but the title of a teen, the accompanying badge of strange honour, I will no longer posses. 2015 will see one less year of youthful promise, of potential and of experience to be gained. One less chance to leave something in the dirt.

Make the most of the chance. Any chance. Every chance.

It'll be gone before you know it.

Image - SWpix.com

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Flooded voice


The towns were flooded with people. To the extent you wondered quite where they could have all come from.

I think it is pretty rare that a town stands still, every person focusing on one thing. Bike racing is special. In this car and road reliant world, we force that brief moment of nothing upon people. Not everyone likes it, but equally those who may not have taken the time from their day to watch, are near trapped in to doing so. And romantically, maybe naively, I'd like to think some of them might be surprised, might really love what comes when we get there.

I guess in that sense we come to the people.

I’d never felt scared until the race that day. There is one town that echoes in the memory. I was on the far left of the bunch, mid stage, as we came in. It was a slight but fast downhill, in Devon perhaps. I almost feel I need not mention the town was rammed. I’m wondering where all these people come from. But they have come and all these people start to lean in and cheer and clap. Its amazing their support. But I’m also a matter of inches from their hands, bodies, heads. I’m going at near thirty miles an hour. A woman is holding a very small child. I’m passing it so close I could bend my elbow and touch it. I’m scared.

We exit the buildings and return to a country road. The big and quintessentially British hedge row has never looked so soft, so safe. If there were to be a crash now, there would be no young children in sight, just branches and leaves. I relax a little. But in they back of my mind, it felt too close.

Lewes

Another day. Another town. Thankfully barriers between us and them, the people. Or really the person; a collective voice that blares and spurs. It surfs with the bunch, breaking just before we enter, erupting and then slowly falling to a rest again. I’m wondering were it, they, have all come from.

We turn a left, uphill, not too fast. I faintly remember a pub on the corner. It’s only twenty or so kilometres to go, the race has been on and continues to be very much so. Cummings is riding the front just a little up ahead, chasing. It's doesn't hurt but it's unmistakably hard. There aren't all that many guys left, the wind over the cliffs, the climb just before, took their toll on the peloton. I’m concentrating.

I kick out of the corner. My hands grip the bars tight, my arms and upper body tense. I push forward and out of the saddle I stand on the pedals, following the wheel just ahead. And then I hear it. I hear a voice, standing away from the roar in a place of its own. For a split second it catches my complete attention, instantly sending a smile to my face, a warmth to my legs.

It is there and then just as quickly it is gone.

I remember a roundabout a few seconds later, straight over, a slight downhill and then a right. The motorbike outriders overtook hesitantly as the peloton snaked from left to right in the wind. A wider road with a stone wall rising up on the right.

But mostly, mostly I remember having a quiet chuckle, my old man’s voice ringing in my head, a good feeling in my legs.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Place II


Is it a journey if you start and finish in the same place? Do you go anywhere?

I travel between worlds. Sometimes dark and damp, moist, like an undisturbed morning dew. Sometimes old and familiar, engraved in my mind like the grooves of my palms. Sometimes new, a breath of fresh air in every meaning. Regardless, always revealing, brimming with lessons and unfamiliarity.

I pass through deep shadows and cold air that falls deep in to my lungs. I feel my way, the surface of the road rising up through my hands, shaking my knuckles and tarnishing my skin. Occasionally a glare of light will escape through the canopy, a fleeting opportunity to build a better sense of where it is I exist, but for the most part, I simply pass through, everything falling beyond my focus.
And then my momentum, the twisting road, throws me to a greater light, through a gap ahead. It warms my skin instantly, but the sensation is, like everything, merely temporary. It doesn't take long for the moisture to return; this time crawling my shiny skin and stinging my eyes. Again I see nothing. But I feel. I feel it is in this heat that you can most clearly sense the end. Its unforgiving nature, unrelenting intensity, lingers ever so close. It is palpable the further alone you furrow, the higher you venture. Turn away, let go and the feeling will last for an eternity. There is only one way out, you cannot escape.

The road starts to lope upward. Unaggressive, for now. It ripples a little and my hands loosen to compensate, guiding me forward, against natures will. It cuts a path between that that is left, and right. It serves no purpose but to reach the top, the end. Likewise, as I now slow against the gradient, I serve no purpose but to reach the top, someday, the end.

It strikes me to look down from afar at it all, most especially from a mountain top. The City I grew in is littered with artificially created viewpoints, but it is from a place outside of this bubble, looking in at it all, that perspective is created. Looking in this way, I find a clear and lasting sentiment. For what is created down below, as mighty as it is, appears so self contained and insular from up here. It may be cold, different, aloof up here, but it is peaceful. It is a place of it’s own. It is a rarity.

I travel between worlds. Between it all and my own. Rising up and coming down. But somewhere, everyday, high or low, I find my place. And it strikes me again and again…

It is so small, sprawling, separated and full. It lacks love and commitment. It is all so back and forth. Back and forth in the bubbles created. With time to pause and find a place? I don't see it from here.

I have my place. Find yours. Don't ever take it for granted.
Image credit: Iphone (Park City, Utah 2014) and Ben Ingham (Cevennes, France 2013)

Friday, 25 July 2014

Place


Her hand rests defiantly on the counter. I see her eyes deepen first; grooves wild and flaring in all directions sharpen and tense as I reach out. The door swings slow and burly on its hinges, reluctant to give way. I push hesitantly, again looking through my hand, past my own weathered skin, watching her. She watches me.

Five hours I’ve worked, not a word spoken, barely a soul seen. It’s quiet up here in the mountains. It is cold too: I sense her disappointment at a stranger almost immediately, palpable even through the clear glass pane of the door.

I remove my glasses and unclip the strap from my chin, a subconscious courtesy of sorts, perhaps. The clock above the counter catches my eye, the time reminding me of life away from the deserted mountain roads and the villages they serve. The second hand ticks tantalisingly slow, in fitting with its humble surroundings, seemingly impervious to time itself. I glance outside and away for a moment, toward that distant life. I see sodden stonewalls dripping wet, doors scattered up and down the street, from times long before myself, defiantly closed. What I see is decidedly dreary.

I take a seat and now ‘remove my cap’, along with my outer most layer and the contents of my pockets. My fingers lack sense, so they simply fish around, pulling out anything they can. A coin bounces away on to the floor and in to a dark corner, lost.

The anti-climax of a guest she cannot relive an old tale with is still heavy in the air. I sense guests are rare and an unknown all the more so. I try to be warm, both outwardly and inside, but neither is received, nor welcome, it seems. The cold has sunk to my bones the last hours and hers too, for the past fifty or so years it would seem. Her lip stands stout and strong, an unfamiliar silence echoes in my ears. I wish for another coin to hit the stone slates and cut the nothing.

We speak a few words, broken on my part and she clearly reluctantly turns her back. I hear the handle click in place and a slow whuur as the machine comes to life. Moments later she turns and approaches broaching a small mug and saucer in hand, a biscuit resting precariously on its side.

She places it down on the scared wooden table and stands over me in a rather maternal fashion, strikingly contrary to her prior manner. Instinctively my hand immediately searches out the handle. Her eyes stare intensely as I sip, as if watching me spoon in a miraculous medicine. And then, out of nowhere, comes a broad and overwhelming smile, as wide and encompassing as the very mountains I seek refuge from.

Drinking shit coffee is like a long tortuous climb in training, when the legs just aren’t there. It hurts, it’s no fun, but it serves a means to an end. You know how it should feel but that sensation never quiet arrives. And still you warm, regardless of the content, often finding solace simply in the end. Because in spite of their ardours nature, both a climb and a mug of dark liquid always seem to clear the mind, even on the worst of days.

But it’s not shit. It’s soothing, falling deep down, far further than I expected. She continues to smile as she retreats back to her place behind the countertop, back to where she begun. Her tone has now changed and as I catch her eye, the tension, the look through the door, the cold, disappears.

I realise I am not just a stranger to her, but to most. It is not normal what we do, out in that, up in this. And whilst some here may understand more than most, appreciate working out there, they also know to fear it. I think of the sweated, gritty, freckled face she saw through her door. The worn grubby hand reaching deep in to hidden pockets and juggling out a sprawl of coins and folded notes. The foreign and husked voice held back by a fogged brain and riddled airways. The hunger devouring the coffee in an instant.

I leave to return to life and she raises the hand, duly rested as I. A wave and smile deep in to my eyes cement I am no longer a stranger, despite the barriers that lay between her world and my own.


Image credit – Andy Waterman / andywaterman.info

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

March and April


Cycling is a strange sport. One rider crosses the line, taking the plaudits and the glory, and yet it is a ‘team sport’. For it is near impossible to win without support in the professional peloton. And so, despite the singular perceived success of road racing, we celebrate as a whole, sharing the pickings and amazing feeling of winning throughout our teams.

I have been racing for just under a month now, on both sides of the Atlantic. 2014 is my first year as an under23 and senior bike racer and below is a summary of the events thus far. I hope it provides some small insight that may otherwise be lost to those lucky and stupid enough to be inside the peloton…

Apologies for the lack of creativity, my brain is scrambled from training - as it is most days.

In every race there is one moment that defines your day above all else.

San Dimas – Bissell DT

James, frog and I (Roastbif) raced without the team in this ‘local’ Californian stage race. The field was made up of numerous American teams, including 4 UCI Continental squads. James spanked the opening uphill TT. I was fifth and Frenchie 8th. Clement then infiltrated the break on the second day, duly taking the malliot jaune from the kiwi. Oram and I then rode the front in the Crit a little and we won the overall. Nice.

Highlight – taking the win and putting all three of us in the top15 on GC, against squads of eight riders.


Redlands – Bissell DT

The first round of the ‘NRC’, or National Racing Calendar, the Redlands Classic. My legs were coming but not quite present at full race strength yet. I played a team role, leading out and fulfilling other duties. I ducked and dived to fuck for 5th in the bunch kick in the Crit. I suffered in the heat on the last day, my first hot hot hot day since last season.

Highlight – James killing the last day to take 2nd on GC, Nicholia the fast Dane taking the points jersey. The downtown crit, was good fun with a big crowd. Seeing Barnes at the race too.
Ronde Van Vlaanderen u23 – Great Britain

The first Nations Cup of the year and my first u23 race. Doull and I made selection after selection and avoided crash after crash to make the front group over the top of the last cobbled berg. I attacked 3km to go after getting Owains blessing. It lasted a short time, with a Belgian coming across for company, but most importantly forced some of the other teams to chase, allowing my Welsh (on form…) leader to sit in. I came back and then lead out Doull. He was inches from the podium finishing fourth. A pretty sound result for us but not quite the win we fancied. I avoided the huge crash with fifty meters to go, rolling across the line for 15th.

Highlight – My mom and brother watching. Racing around roads and climbs I once trained on with the late and great Alan Rosner as a youth rider. Pulling on the British jersey. Feeling bloody good. Racing with the lads again. Working with Keith Lambert for the first time and hearing some of his stories.
Cote De Picardie u23 – Great Britain

100km of very nervous almost-crosswind racing was followed by two laps around the finish town, with two small climbs per lap. Doull gave me the opportunity to go for myself, I declined and said we should all go for him and try to get a big sprint on the cards. Sid Davies and I went into the first climb of the last lap with Doull on our wheels, I ploughed up it and kept on through the crosswind over the top. I looked back twice and felt amazing seeing the bunch completely lined out behind with Doull sat pretty on my wheel. We swung off in the headwind to let someone else take it up, then someone wiped Owain out. The race winning move went moments later.

Highlight – Feeling strong in the last sprint, shame it was for 11th. I was 20th after choosing the wrong wheel to follow. Our organisation before the crash. Jon making the day long break. Good day but no result.
Liege Bastogne Liege u23 – Bissell DT

My first race in Europe with the team and first with Axel as DS. Special. It started off super cold and we lost three guys to the illness by the feed. Tanner, Geoff and I were wicked organised though. I attacked a few times on the climb after La Redoute to try and help Tanner get away. We all entered the last steep climb together, putting Putt in a real good place at the front. I followed the attacks over the top and got away in a group of three. They messed about a little and we almost got caught in the dying metres. Yet again I sprinted strong but had to go to early to avoid being caught, tying up just before the line. Third. Gutted.

Highlights – success against adversity. Racing. Loving it. Tanner grabbing 9th in the chaotic sprint behind. Standing on the podium. Being called ‘Hart Geoghegan’ on the podium by the commentator with no idea. My brilliant brother and Dad being there to cheer and hang out. Wicked.


My latest ProCycling article (click to enlarge). #outsideisfree

http://www.be-celt.com/2014/04/22/les-decouvertes-de-tao-geoghegan-hart/ - short recent interview in French and English.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Sunday, 16 March 2014


I’ve never seen this before. It could be the same water, but for sure I’ve never seen it here. Its unfamiliarity gives it a difference, even if the breeze is just as fresh, the glisten just as blue. This is the biggest ocean in the world.

I think of the road from St Just to St Ives, the rugged Cornish scenery, an old coal mine tower, the small climb up to Eagle’s Nest way up above Zennor. I picture the white water smashing against the rocks, the tiresome British tarmac, the fresh air. The little holiday cottage and setting out to explore every morning, some of my very first rides. Summer holidays. An old memory.

I think of climbing out of Tossa de Mar, the water down to my right, blue and flat. The road looping up and down, hugging the coastline for eight kilometers or so. The damp corners hiding from the sunlight and the spectacular view. I remember Dave telling me about the day the Tour came along this very road, how special it was, in the break all the way to Barcelona. I picture the turn left up San Grau, climbing with the sea over my shoulder. It’s blue comes in to view again every few hairpins, as the road randomly changes direction, but on the whole it simply simmers silenty behind me. But I do like this climb. And up the last steep ramp I always glance one view back, for it’ll be the last of the day.

You climb slowly up Colemans, rising and dropping, in a way that masks the altitude you are gaining. The road is rough, but nothing like back home, nothing at all like the sapping tarmac of the B3306. There are sheep in the fields at the top, and cows too, sometimes walking on the road. It almost doesn't seem like America up here, a place with fences, borders and strict instruction everywhere, but then up here in the hills it is so different from the cities anyway, and so maybe it’s not so much of a surprise. Over the crest and the narrow road platues. My French teammate asks me what ‘narrow’ means, it’s on the road sign just to our left. I choose to describe it in the context of a narrow mind, he understands.

And then it comes in to view. First through the valley, Russian River I think it is called and then everywhere, all across the horizon. Its amazing. So blue and so vast, in my mind and also plain to see. We rip down the descent and stop at the bottom to turn left on to Highway One. The air is fresh, nothing like anything else I know.

I spend the next fifteen minutes stealing every glance I can, for it’s pretty special to be by the sea. And this is the biggest ocean in the world.

Friday, 28 February 2014

ProCycling Diary #1
[click image to enlarge], http://tinyurl.com/procyclingmag

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

146


Fiction.

Barriers line the street and every hundred yards or so a wooden pole protrudes skyward, a speaker cable tied to the top. Infact everything seems to be cable tied; the sponsor banners, the wires running up and down the road, even the awning across the finish line. This is a travelling circus and the humble cable tie is the perfect metaphor for it’s shoestring nature; cheap, no fuss and ultimately, just as quick to tear down as it is to construct.

Riders, each engrossed in their own routine, linger around cars and vans in their strips. Folding chairs and the eye-watering odour of leg rub hanging in the air completes the obscure scene.

This isn’t the type of race with a PR drive. Nor a race you will have ever heard of. But there is no doubt plenty of the young men fidgeting with safety pins, as they take advice from old men with no idea what they are on about, will have been dreaming of this day for months. Through the now long gone rides of November and December it will have occupied the mind constantly. So too in January, however rather than jubilation and motivation, the thought now provides stone cold fear, the doubt of form and preparation creeping in. It’s all irrelevant now, the race has arrived, the start-finish line been painted, by the local blindman it would appear, and it is time for some pain.

The crowd is mainly made up of local punters. Stood with mild anticipation, their manner reflects the strangity of the sport for spectators. For the race will take most of the day to unfold and only involve, at best, fleeting glances of the athletes for those stood around. Most likely with as many wrinkles as the race has kilometres, these dedicated souls come back every year on this day, the second Sunday of the month. The remaining few hanging over the barriers, instantaneously recognisable as non-locals, are most likely parents and other family members of those racing. There is no glamour at this level. No screaming fans or autograph hunters. These races are almost completely self-consuming; for the reality is that knowone outside of the bubble really gives a shit what happens here. It's the start of the season and an ambiguous race in cowboy country, but for the riders, at this moment in time it is everything.

It’s their raison d'etre and as such it doesn't matter that first prize is a leg of ham, that the numbers they pin on their backs have been used a hundred times before, that nobody is watching.

I once looked up, bullock naked bar a small towel in yet another cold sports hall, to see a pretty girl, sister I would hope, giving a rider just yards away a pre race massage. It was a strange sight in a room full of two hundred members of the opposite sex, mostly stark naked or in some stage of. It made me realise once again, like I do so often, just how deeply ingrained the sport is in the culture around these parts. In today’s race there is no such sister or cheering family members for our man #146. He scribes his sole autograph of the day atop the sign-in ‘stage’ – to vastly over glamorize it, to a deafening cacophony of silence.

Stood on the start line, our man tightens his shoes one last time, adjusts his helmet and tries to zone out from the rabbiting foreign language bouncing all around him. It reminds him how far he is from home and how little he knows of what lays ahead. He looks down at his stem as the commissarie screams instructions out infront of the bunch, it doesn't matter he cant hear, the unfamiliar words would go through one ear and out the other. Euro pop, synonymous with these races and most likely released before he was even born, blares out from the speakers dotted around. Merely background noise, it does little to mask the lack of rapturous fans and the doubts that lay ahead, and is soon drowned out itself by a loud bang from over the otherside of the barriers. Riders clip in ahead and it’s time to go to work…

And then it’s over before it even really started. Fifty uneventful kilometres later he buckles both his wheels on a larger than life pothole. The brakepads rub, the spokes tinkle, and the life falls out of his race. Of course there is a chance of swapping them out, drafting the car and getting back in to the melee. But that quickly evaporates as he pulls to the right hand side of the road, hand in the air, only to watch his team car go sailing by. And before he knows it, so too has every other team in the convoy. No favours in this cut throat peloton. And so he is left standing by the side of the road, the silence, escape from it all, strangely reassuring.

146 climbs off and looks around. His heart slowly starts to return to a more humane level and it dawns on him how screwed he is. Lest I remind you this is cowboy country and 146 is almost completely surrounded by nothing, with no idea of the way home. He stands there for a minute, a boy lost in a world fit for no man and takes in the shit-show of the last five minutes. He roots around in his pockets, scoffing his race food as his Director’s damning words regarding his eating habits bounce around his head. Fuck it.

And then he climbs on the bike and starts to pedal again. His only option, to follow the race route, seems ludicrous, but there is no alternative. For twenty kilometres he saunters along, his moral dampened and his head reminded of his misfortune every blasted turn of the wheels, as his rims rub away on already fully loosened brakes.