Worthwhile moments


There's nothing we like more than meeting our readers, whether it's on the road for a ride or at an event like the one we attended last night in Brighton.

The kind folk at Magazine Brighton had invited us to give a talk about what goes on behind the scenes at a magazine like Simpson: how we choose our stories, the thinking behind the design of the magazine, and some of the processes involved in turning raw ideas into the final product.

It was a fun session, capped by some good questions from the audience. We hope those who attended enjoyed it as much as we did - and maybe learned something new in the process. Our thanks to Roxy, Martin and the team at Magazine Brighton for making it all possible.

The best bit of the evening for us was when a young design student approached us after the talk and told us about her dad, who sadly fell ill recently. She bought him a copy of Simpson to cheer him up a bit - he'd once been a keen cyclist so she thought he might find it interesting. She told us that he loved the magazine and that reading it had really perked him up and reignited his interest in cycling. 

Hearing stories like that is what it's all about as far as we're concerned. Thank you so much to those who came to the event and to those who support us in other ways - by buying the magazine, following us on social media or joining our rides. We look forward to seeing you in the future at other events.

False Start

And they’re off. With home and bookies’ favourite Simon Gerrans claiming the Tour Down Under’s Maillot Grubby-Orange - it’s “ochre”, apparently - the cycling season is well and truly underway. Non-stop racing between now and Rio. Viva! 

Sorry, what? The next World Tour event isn’t until Paris-Nice in March? In that case, if you’ll excuse my Australian, what was the bloody point in that… er, cobber?

From the small set of views I’ve sampled this week, “what’s the point?” appears to be the consensus, with my own enthusiasm and interest, passing at best. I did try to get myself up for it, and the debut of Dimension Data among the echelons of the elite had held a genuine glimmer of interest. But with the biggest of the team’s big-name summer signings conspicuously absent, even that felt anti-climactic. (It also doesn't help that the team’s new jersey looks like it was designed by a company with a name like, well, Dimension Data.) 

It’s not that I haven’t had a big enough break from pro cycling either - quite the opposite in fact. After returning home last Saturday, having aborted my club ride before we’d even passed through Croydon because Oh My God it was cold, wrapped in a blanket I proceeded to re-watch the 2012 Olympic Time Trial in its four hour entirety. Spoiler: Wiggo walked it.

Uninspiring parcours apart, there was nothing really wrong with the racing in Oz. Caleb Ewan’s burst of acceleration to claim the opening stage win being a - some might say Cavendish-esque - highlight. That said, context counts and strong though the guys he charged away from are, does anyone expect Renshaw, Blythe, Wippert to contest many of the big sprints this year?

Nor will the podium three realistically be up there at any of 2016’s grand tours. At 35 Gerrans is older than Cadel Evans was when he won in 2011, and showing few signs that his best days lie ahead; Richie Porte looks likely to lead BMC in France, but a new team probably won’t transform him into one of the greats; Sergio Henao, who came third… seems like a very nice man. 

The Cycling Podcast’s Lionel Birnie has described the Tour Down Under (and the Tour de San Luis) as “the pre-season friendlies of the cycling season”. Although I like the analogy it doesn’t feel quite right. Rather than resembling that funny little tournament they play at the Emirates each year, to me the race looks more like the league cup - a real competition, featuring all the real teams, but missing most of the big names and, more importantly, any sense that anyone thinks it matters. Just as football fans reluctantly trudge along to watch the second stringers, as a cycling fan-slash-journalist I feel obliged to pay attention to the TDU, yet the race being neither one thing nor t’other, wind up feeling a bit short-changed. 

Of course it doesn’t help that it takes place halfway round the world, but the Australian Open, The Ashes and Neighbours seem to manage. The scheduling does seem to be the TDU’s biggest problem - on Saturday Chris Froome dismissed the suggestion that he would ever start his season this early - so how about shuffling it down the calendar a bit, or even swapping it with the ugly highway cruise that is the Tour of California? Australia is a big beautiful country and there ought to be a big race outside of Europe that the top riders take seriously. It is the World Tour, after all.

A purely accidental Festive 500

Everything is different at Christmas. Town centres are transformed into disco balls, mince pies become a food group, hangovers become socially acceptable on Wednesday afternoons.

Even Strava takes on a festive hue as, for ten days, the drudging, crows-flight commutes and predictable club runs are replaced by sweeping countryside loops. A casual scroll through my feed this week offers up, amongst other enviable settings, the lowlands of Belgium, the highlands of Scotland and the (take my word for it) breathtakingly picturesque inbetweenlands of the Somerset levels.

Unlike last Christmas, when I briefly escaped to the country and treated myself to the ride of the year through the Mendip Hills, this is not one when I will be straying far from the smoke.

As much as I covet the scenery I find myself equally jealous of the quite reasonable lengths my friends are riding. Thirties, forties and fifties seem to be the order of the day. A quick spin then home to a calorific reward far outweighing that which has been expended. This is the season to indulge, not suffer.

At least it should be. But faced with the choice, as Christmas presents, between riding more, or riding less, I will almost always opt for the former. At 11am on Boxing Day, riding south into a headwind with 100k already on the clock and a good (i.e. awful awful) twenty-five from home, I feel especially acutely that, on this occasion, I may have got that one wrong.

It begins when Nic mentions he would be up at 7am on Christmas Eve for a few laps of Regent’s Park. It doesn’t feel like such a terrible idea the night before - the opportunity to get a march on the day, finish the shopping, make it home before lunch. Then when another invitation arrives, to join clubmates for a Richmond spin, I find myself accepting that as well, tacking it on to the same trip. Despite having decided to eschew Rapha’s Festive 500, by noon on day one I’m already a fifth of the way there (and my family’s gifts are wrapped in newspaper).

Even I don’t feel compelled to train on Christmas Day. As Dr Hutch’s scathingly tweets: “[it] was highly effective when you thought it was just you. Since Twitter, you just feel part of a very sad cult.”

Still, with no public transport and the price of an Uber comparable to the RRP of a Colnago C60, the only way I’m getting to dinner on the other side of the river is by bike. I deliberately choose a route through central London, expecting scenes akin to the zombie film 28 Days Later, only to find a thin layer of tourists with nowhere to go. On my ride home later that night I find Edgware Road as open and alive as ever. With nary a bus in sight, sound or smell, it’s just 2000m of sweetly scented shisha smoke: liquorice, vanilla, cardamom, pomegranate, rose. I love London.

Apart from making me cry, the brutal boxing day shlep out to the Chilterns brings up 300k for the week and I’m still not doing the Festive 500. My recovery meal at the football features half a bottle of port and a bag of chocolate coins.

On Monday I am due to visit friends in Canterbury. Waking up in the morning to beautiful blue skies the first mistake I make (that day at least) is looking to see where it is on the map. The second is judging it as not that much further into Kent than I normally ride - just the next section along Pilgrim’s Way, really - and anyway, I can come home by train. I have long romanticised the one-way, solo venture into the unknown but let me assure you, there is nothing ~ nothing ~ romantic about hugging the embankment of the A20 into Maidstone, realising you’ve misjudged the distance by a third. Two hours late for lunch, I bail out at Ashford.

I rattle off the last couple of k of the Festive 500 over the next couple of days.

On the first morning (ahem, afternoon) of 2016 I emerge from my cocoon, head and legs throbbing, resolving that this year will be one of restraint. A reminder on my phone immediately pops up: Next weekend, 150k ‘winter warmer’. I crawl back under the covers.

Happy New Year!

Let's make it a date

Nine lots of three minutes. I can do this, easy. I tell myself to stay focused, breathe steadily, sit up straight and keep the wine flowing. Wait... what?

With daylight diminished and storm season definitely upon us, the darkened evenings will find many a cyclist, keen to maintain as much fitness as possible, swapping out at least a few of those outdoor kilometres for the odd static bike session or roller derby. For once though, tonight’s indoor activity is not a torturous turbo trainer workout but Cycling Speed Dating at Look Mum No Hands!, Old Street’s lovely bike café, bar and workshop. My legs might appreciate the rest but I’m still expecting to spend plenty of time in the red...

Why would someone want to date a cyclist? Well for one thing, we have nice legs. For another there’s… no, I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got. Every one of my ride buddies who has, through no talent of their own, somehow managed to sustain a relationship to the point of cohabitation has a partner with saintly levels of patience/tolerance. That tired stereotype of women taking up the wardrobe space is as nothing compared to the sheer cubic footage of bike... stuff that we possess. I don’t even care that much about the kit, but it’s still bloody everywhere. Frames, wheels, tools, summer kit, winter kit, spare winter kit, the aforementioned turbo trainer… Then there’s the early morning abandonment, the obsession with data, the interminable tiredness, the need for every holiday to feature at least one Cat 1/HC climb and we’ve still barely scratched the surface. So, to rephrase the question, what kind of person would actively seek this out? Do these women really know what they’re letting themselves in for?

They don’t seem to. Most of the women at LMNH are not so much cyclists, as people who ride bikes. In other words, completely sane. When I mention to one - we’ll call her Pinot - that I have stopped shaving my legs for the winter, she recoils, aghast that this is something I would even consider doing in the first place. All I had to do was resemble a human being for one hundred and eighty seconds, but no.

In case conversation runs dry, the organisers leave on each table three cards containing conversation topics. Chat-doping, basically. Given the theme I’m expecting them to be cycling-related: What was your highlight from this year’s Tour? What’s your VO2 Max? Shimano or Campag? Although at no point do I need to resort to them I do sneak a peak and I’m disappointed. What’s your favourite holiday destination? (Mallorca, duh) What’s your dream job? (Come ooon.)

So did I meet a future team leader to whom I might one day serve as super-domestique? Sadly, not this time.

Perhaps due to having ridden here in the rain, Terpstra seems a bit stroppy so I’m relieved to be saved by the bicycle bell rings as she is obliged to move on. Although there’s no spark, as such, Hesjedal is enormous fun to talk to and could be a great accompaniment on training rides. Kittel has stunningly shiny hair, so (naturally) I find myself asking if she’s a fan of Alpecin shampoo. This (naturally) produces the most awkward moment of the evening. Oh for a sticky bottle.

Names have been changed.

Dave Rayner Fund Dinner 2015

We were delighted to take part in the 2015 Dave Rayner Fund Annual Dinner last weekend. The fundraiser, now in its twenty-first year, was set up after Dave's tragic death at the age of 27, which cut short a promising career. The Fund's lasting legacy is to help young and aspiring British riders realise their dreams of becoming road race professionals by providing the necessary funding. Dreams such as these take time and money to stand any chance of succeeding and the rigours of training and living in both the UK and on the Continent come at a high price for any aspiring youngster.

There was a warm northern welcome to the sell-out event, which featured special guests such as Steve Cummings, Adam Yates, Owain Doull, Jessie Walker and the Brownlee brothers. The on-stage guest interviews and accompanying video footage brought back some emotional memories and joyous victories from the 2015 season, which the crowd could share - for a moment - with those who achieved them.

The evening was punctuated with an array of fundraising opportunities comprising both silent and live auctions. Items such as signed jerseys from Chris Froome, Peter Sagan, Lizzie Armitstead and Ian Stannard created a real stir with some totally outrageous bidding battles going on. It was so cool to see people blowing vast budgets all for a good cause!

Fund-raising events such as the Dave Rayner dinner are a vital source of funding and encouragement for potential stars of the future in what remains an incredibly competitive sport.

After an excellent three-course dinner, the evening ended with some well oiled cyclists, young and old, hitting the dance floor throwing some shapes and executing some top class dad dancing moves. Good job the Lycra was left at home!