Sunday, June 9, 2013


Any cyclist who finds themselves in Paris, with a bike, has to try out a few laps round the much loved Longchamp circuit.
The Hippodrome de Longchamp, or simply Longchamp to the regulars, is a system of cycle paths and closed roads that create a loop around the famous home of French horse racing. 

Situated just outside the périférique, which encircles Paris, in the western suburb of Bois de Boulogne the circuit lies at the heart of French cycling. The first ever bicycle race took place in 1868 just over the river in the park at Saint Cloud when Englishman James Moore won the 1200m event. 
Also from the area is the Athletic Club Boulogne-Billancourt, one time stepping stone to the pro ranks and specifically  the Peugeot team. Back in the 70s and 80s ACBB was the temporary home for many English speaking riders as the club became the first to recognize the talents from the 'new worlds' as they welcomed Robert Miller, Phil Anderson, Stephen Roche and Sean Yates, amongst many others.
Many champions from France also passed through ACBB, most notably Bernard Thévenet and the great Anquetil.
These days the circuit is home to weekend worriers, lunch time keep fitters as well as the occasional pro team. The most popular times seem to be Tuesday and Thursday evening, when groups can reach 100 riders, but at pretty much anytime you can see riders at the circuit.
Not only a Parisian sanctuary for cyclists but you'll also see plenty of runners, triathletes (doing a bit of both) and crazy dudes on roller blades. These guys can stay with the big groups of cyclists up until the speed gets really hot. I've been with them at 40+ kph and not much slower on the uphill sections.

One of the delights of Longchamp, to me, is the wonderful pedestrian footbridge that takes you high above the noise and bustle of the city roads to the edge of the circuit from the Saint Cloud side of the river. 

All sorts ride at Longchamp

The starting gates of the race course

Views of La Defence 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

RIP Richard Ballantine

This is how Richard Ballantine's wonderful book should look like, oily, battered, dog eared and loved. I got my first copy in 1979 as my book gift at the school speech day. I'm sure I should have asked for Tess of the d'urbervilles or 1984 but in so many ways Richards Bicycle book coloured my life.

There's a nice tribute to him in the Telegraph (of all places, how the world has changed, not least by Ballantine), including a couple of classic quotes, the first to the simple joy of turning the pedals;

“It’s immediate and direct. You pedal. You make decisions. You experience the tang of the air and the surge of power as you bite into the road. You’re vitalised. As you hum along you fully and gloriously experience the day, the sunshine, the 
clouds, the breezes. You’re alive!”

Whilst another I remember from the first time I read the book. A shocking account of how to deal with dogs, which seemed so alien to a boy growing up in rural Yorkshire. Maybe the dogs are wilder in the US (though he spent much of his life in the UK). In fact, going back to the telegraph article to pinch the quote I see they've removed it from the original story. Shame. 

Ballantine, despite guiding my early cycling exploits always seemed a bit potty, in an extremely endearing way, much like another hero of mine and cyclists generally, Mike Burrows. Both were leading lights in the Human Powered Vehicle community, which often seems to attract the more alternative personalities. Despite that he was obviously also very in-tune with the wider cycling world and in fact was the first person to import mountain bikes into the UK.

Mr Ballantine, I'll be getting my Bicycle Book out tonight and thinking of you. Thanks.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A real cyclists tipple

Moser was at the heights of powers when I was getting into cycling, so along with Saronni, became a teenage hero of mine. I had posters of them both in the cellar of our house, where I used to tinker with my bikes.

So I was more than happy to share a glass or two of Moser wine with our suppliers on a recent trip to Taiwan. Can't remember if it was good stuff since quite a bit of grape and grain flowed that evening. The Taiwan beer was as good as ever, I know that.

Moser was a great rider and ranks third in the all time list of winners (thanks Wiki), behind you know who and Rik van Looy as well as winning three monuments including Paris-Roubaix three times consecutively. He was also world champion and Giro winner though it was his 1984 hour record that sticks in my mind. He was the first rider to crack 50k with the aid of a rear disc wheel, the thin air of the Mexico city track and, as we were to find out later, a big dose of EPO. 

When his racing career was over in 1988 he set up his vineyard, Moser Azienda Agricola, on the outskirts of Trento where he works to this day producing his wine, all of which celebrate some aspect of his racing career.

Finding the picture of the Moser wine got me thinking about Mosers hour record bikes. In taking the hour record he was responsible for much of the move towards aero bikes but it was his unsuccessful attempt to retake the record in 1985 that saw one of the most startling bikes ever to roll round a velodrome. You can keep your 29ers, this beauty was a whole meter across! You really have to see it in action to appreciate its magnificence and see what the UCI put an end to. We may never see its likes again! Look here for the full glory