Friday, 31 January 2014

Two-penneth worth - 2

The Cyclepassion calendar

A recent issue of Cycling Weekly had a debate article relating to the Cyclepassion calendar. This followed on from a number of complaints from readers after this most esteemed cycling journal published an advertisement for the calendar which displays photos of female racing cyclists posing with their bikes.

More specifically they are made up, with their hair beautifully coiffeured, dressed in a very comely fashion, often in leather and heels, revealing more flesh than they would do when out on their bikes, and showing off a sensual pout.
These "glamour" photos are featured alongside a corresponding photo of the athlete in racing action on her bike.

Readers have been outraged that Cycling Weekly would publish this "chauvinistic rubbish". One reader thought he had "gone back in time by about 40 years", while others dismissed the calendar as porn and demeaning to women.

Although I have never bought the calendar and have no plans to buy it, I must say I quite like the idea behind it. I think the photography looks good and I like the way that they portray the femininity of each of the riders. It is always nice to see another side to these hardcore athletes, though I must admit that some of the photos lack taste.

Even though some of the photos look a little bit clichéd is that a reason for people to be outraged by it? Could it not be seen as just another form of artistic expression that can be appreciated or not, depending on one's personal tastes? I am not that keen on Modigliani but it doesn't make me send flames over the internet when I see one!

The models for the Cyclepassion calendar are not forced into doing it. Posing for a calendar is one of several ways of raising your personal profile in this day and age where people can achieve "celebrity status" through a variety of routes.

The women featured in the calendar are elite athletes who are well-known in their own right - people like road racers Hanka Kupfernagel and Liz Hatch, mountain biker Gunn-Rita Dahle-Flesja, and cyclo cross racer Nikki Harris have featured on the calendar. They could have put a cyclosportive to their name, they could have launched a range of bikes or clothing, written a column in a publication or appeared on a celebrity dance or reality show! But hey, they've chosen to be a model, and who am I to lambast them for it?

Whether we love it or loathe it, this is called freedom of choice. If the footage that shows the making of the calendar is anything to go by the women appear to be really enjoying the experience. In fact, they see themselves as very lucky to have the opportunity since, according to Anke Wilken the originator the calendar in 2006, there are so many more athletes applying to be featured in the calendar than the 12 places available. It is quite a dilemma for her selecting the chosen few!

For me, some there are stylish photos and there are some less stylish photos in the calendars. But it is still a long way off pornography, so I have no problem with it.

Drawing a parallel with Cyclepassion's older, more exclusive, classier counterpart, the Pirelli Calendar, this has gradually become a well respected publication after the initial protestations when it was first launched in 1964. With only limited copies of the calendar available to a carefully selected clientele, the recipient of this calendar from the Italian tyre company is bound to feel like very privileged! In fact, the photographers and the models involved in its production see it as a prestigious moment of their careers. Kate Moss, who has appeared in the Cal on a number of occasions described modelling for it as "the best job ever," while Clive Arrowsmith who was commissioned to shoot the 1991 and 1992 editions described it as being "like a knighthood of photography." The Pirelli Calendar prides itself on taste and has moved with the times by shooting the models with their clothes on. Indeed the current calendar, which celebrates its 50th anniversary contains previously unseen photos taken by the late Helmut Newton in 1985. All of the models are fully clothed and look as lovely as ever.

When Annie Leibovitz shot the photos for the 2000 edition of the calendar she saw it as an opportunity to look at women in a way that has integrity to it, and in a very classy way.

I have no problem with that, and I think that's what the Cyclepassion calendar is trying to do. And who knows, it might still be going in 50 years' time!

Monday, 27 January 2014

Lunchtime jaunt - 1

Bollington - Blaze Hill - Macclesfield

One of the advantages of working in the new place, up in Macclesfield, is being able to ride my bike at lunchtime.

It is something that I have been able to do in the past - for instance, the times when I was home based  in London I could easily find quick routes around South London. When I worked in Central London it was even possible to do reps around St James's Park or Hyde Park, while trying not to frighten the tourists crossing the road!

Sadly, when I was in Milan this was a definite no, no. First of all there were no changing/shower facilities after finishing my ride. Secondly, places to ride were quite limited. There was only really a stretch of canal path on the Naviglio Grande. Thirdly, and most importantly there was no secure bike park so there was no way I'd leave a road bike chained up outside the building. It wouldn't have lasted 30 seconds - and I know through bitter experience! So really, if I went to work in the morning with my road bike, by lunchtime I would have had no bike to use for my lunch-time jaunt!

Moving to Macclesfield, situated right on the edge of the Peak District has been the best antidote to 18 months of being in an urban sprawl of Milan with its lack of green spaces. This area of Cheshire offers the best lunchtime cycling that I have ever had so far.

So I make the most of it. There are lots of country lanes near where I work. Quite a few of them go uphill! There are even some steep roads with cobbles for if I wish to practice for the Tour of Flanders, which I have signed up to ride. I will talk about the different routes over time.

The route I will talk about in this post is the standard jaunt that I take at lunchtimes. Even though it's only around 9-miles long it is a good little work-out, since it involves around 250m of climbing. One of the local hills to where I work is Blaze Hill - a climb that lasts less than 2 miles but gives a height gain of around 170m. There are a couple of 15% gradient sections, especially the early part of the climb, coming out of Bollington. Prior to doing Blaze Hill there is also the leg tester on Grimshaw Lane, which I always find a bit of challenge, especially as I tackle it from a low speed after having taken a sharp right from the main road through Bollington. But it's all good fun.

The descent back towards Macclesfield is lovely and sweeping, with a couple of tight bends but great for maintaining your cornering skills. There is also a short spike known as Tower Hill to stop you getting too complacent about freewheeling!

This is a good quick spin that can be done in a lunch hour without being accused of "skiving away from your desk!" When I get back to the office I feel like I deserve my lunch!
I can certainly feel myself getting stronger these days, so the hills must be good for me. I must just try to remember that whenever I heave and wind my way up Smithy Brow!

The route is here

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Two-penneth worth -1

A new type of post on my blog for this year is the "opinion" post. I have done a few such posts in the past, such as the podium girls post and the post on cyclist accidents and fatalities, but from now on I will put them under this series known as "two-penneth worth". (Or two cents' worth for my transatlantic and antipodean readers!)
The posts will be on any subject, including themes outside of cycling - like this post. So here goes with my first opinion post of the year. Looking forward to doing more.

Politician has extra-marital affair - et alors?

I'm not surprised to hear about what is happening in François Hollande's personal life at the moment. This is really not such an unusual thing among French politicians. In fact it is practically de rigueur that French politicians spread some of their wild oats outside of the marital home!

Former president François Mitterand had a love child with a woman that wasn't his wife. In fact in the 80s when the then UK Transport Minister, Cecil Parkinson resigned from his job over an extra-marital affair it was the same French President who famously said "if everyone in my cabinet resigned each time they had an affair there'd be no body left apart from my transport minister, who is a woman." Well, that woman was Edith Cresson, and Monsieur Mitterand was in the sack with her!

In France, playing away is not confined to politicians either. One of the most well respected journalists during the time I lived there in the 90s, Patrick Poivre d'Arvour, vehemently denied there was anything between himself and fellow newsreader Claire Chazal - until the day the media was suddenly presented with their 10-year-old love child!

I too recall a few occasions where I was propositioned by guys who were married. I never partook in any of those games though!

As far as I can see, the most noteworthy news about President Hollande's affair is the fact that he's been caught with his pants down, as well as the fact that he was spotted looking very unstylish on his 3-wheeler scooter travelling to one of his trysts - he could have at least gone there in a chauffeur driven car, like Jacques Chirac used to do!

While the French population has given a gallic "tut tut" to Hollande's ungentlemanly behaviour towards his partner, Valérie Trierweiler, the chattering classes have not been endeared by the reaction of the twice-married Paris Match journalist. This first lady had never been taken into the hearts of the people of France in the first place, since she ousted Ségolène Royal from the President's side. French women have an unwritten rule to not make themselves look like the victims of their partner's or husband's infidelity. By landing herself in hospital after an apparent overdose and depression Valérie Trierweiler has solicited many disapproving looks.

But out of all of this, my question is why should the British media impose its own values on the French president? Why are they talking of him resigning? Surely this is a private matter for Monsieur Hollande? Surely at the limit it is a matter for the French electorate? Folks are clearly annoyed over what the Co-Prince of Andorra has done, but none of the vox pops you see on TV have your average homme dans la rue calling for his resignation.

I am not saying that I am in favour of infidelity or even that it should not be condemned. I just don't see why it should be used as a yardstick for measuring the success or future of a man's political career. I can't see why the private life of any politician should take centre stage in world politics.

It is tempting to think that part of the reason for the media frenzy on this side of the Channel is fuelled by a jealousy that politicians here would not be able to do the same thing and get off scot free! Many UK politicians must be looking across whimsically at their counterparts in the Elysées Palace and the Assemblée Nationale, who have all kinds of mistresses and love nests under the eyes of the Parisian elite classes while still tucked away from the glare of the media (usually). Now that François Hollande has been "outed" by Closer magazine, the British media are making a real field day of it and calling it "payback time".

Who knows, a time may come when a British politician can have an extra-marital affair, even a love child, and still keep his job. Actually, that day may have already come - just ask Mayor of London, Boris Johnson! Sacré Bleu!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

My Moment of the Week - 1

National Cyclo Cross Championships
Since returning to the UK I have slowly been getting back into competitive cycling. I haven't been particularly prolific about it. I just wanted to do a few races that would be fun and without worrying too much about my result.

The cycling that matches these criteria is cyclo cross! It's always fun - even when the course turns into a mudbath! These were the conditions we were faced with over the weekend at the National Cyclo Cross Championships in Derby.

My race, the female vets, was the first one of the day. Already that was tough enough. At some moments it was like riding through treacle and you had to really push hard to turn the pedals and get the bike moving - and that was just on the flat sections! As well as that there were lots of adverse cambers to ride down and around. Well, they were too slippery for me to ride so I ended up running those sections. I also had to run up the steep banks and through the sandpit. I didn't feel confident that I could ride through the sand, and I didn't want to risk falling and getting a horrible mixture of sand and mud into my chain!

Given the conditions I would have done well to have had an extra bicycle in the pits. I was at a distinct disadvantage to my fellow competitors, most of whom had two bikes and a pit crew. I didn't have the best race. I finished in last position out of 29 women. But hey, I am glad I went and I had a good day. Even though our race was first thing in the morning there was alot of crowd support and lots of folks cheered me on.
As well as this race being memorable for being the first national championships I have ever done, there were other stand-out moments.

Firstly, I only went to these national championships because it was the first time ever that they were holding a separate women vets race. Normally all women race as one big group with the elite/international riders mixed in with vets.

For someone of my ability it would be pointless doing this race as I would be lapped within 15 minutes by the likes of Helen Wyman and that would be my race over. But this year British Cycling agreed to put on a separate "older woman's" race, mirroring what happens with the men. They also said that if they had at least 20 women enter the race this year then they would stage it again next year. I wanted to support the initiative so I entered the race.

In the end we had 30 women sign up for the race, which is great news. I may have come last, but I don't mind that too much as I know I didn't have a great race and I can certainly improve on my performance. And now I know that there will be a women vets race next year so I have something to aim for, and I can get involved in a race that was as exciting as that between the two frontrunners!
The other noteworthy aspect of this event for me was that I spent the rest of the time interviewing the winners of the different races for Cycling Weekly magazine.

I always find interviewing fun, and it's also a great to learn about the different riders. I had been a little anxious about doing the first few interviews because I was going to have to interview the winners of my race immediately after racing myself - barely after getting my breath back, covered in mud and in the cold.

In fact, I was more preoccupied with my strategy for doing a coherent interview while staying warm and looking presentable than I was about my racing!
Things worked out ok in the end and I managed to interview everyone. I particularly enjoyed meeting young Megan James, sister of World Track Cycling Champion Becky James.

I was also very honoured to interview Nick Craig. He won the male vets race on the Saturday and went on to race the elite race the following day, taking 3rd place in a stella field. Impressive bloke, and very pleasant too. So, all in all it wasn't a bad weekend for me. Photos by Aodan Higgins   

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Gee, it's 2014 already!

I must say that 2013 seems to have come and gone so quickly I can hardly believe we are once again in a new year. The days just go by much to rapidly for me to keep up!

The last part of 2013 was spent travelling around a fair bit. It was all about trying to get the right balance in terms of seeing both mine and Higg's side of the family and also doing a few of the things we enjoy.

For me that meant a trip down to London from Macclesfield, then back up to Yorkshire to see my family, followed by a return to Macclesfield for a cyclo cross interlude in Bakewell and in Macclesfield.

Next, we flew across the Irish Sea to catch up with Higg's parents in Cork, and his orienteer friends and siblings in Doolin, County Clare.

Then we were very briefly in London before flying to Geneva for a few days of skiing in Chamonix.

After all that the Christmas holiday finished when I answered my 4.30am alarm call yesterday morning to get the 6.16am from Euston to Macclesfield to start back at work, and hopefully use a bit of the time to recuperate from my Christmas holiday! Phew!

Still, I had an enjoyable few weeks. I have spent a lot of money in the process but I gained a few presents and even (by some fluke) a cash prize at the Macclesfield Super cross!

Hopefully, I still have a bit of energy to get through 2014. I will need it this weekend for I am competing in the vet women's race at the National Cyclo cross championships and immediately after that I get to interview the different newly crowned national champions for the cycling magazine. I'd better eat three shredded wheats that day!