Thursday, 21 May 2009

Spring Classics

Come April and I am usually stuck in a classroom trying to get a bunch of kids to face up to the fact that examinations are rapidly approaching. Then there is the marking, the demands for extra lessons and the frenzied writing of reports. In fact, if you are not careful you can miss the start of spring completely.

Fortunately I have a great view of a row of conker trees right outside my classroom window to remind me that the world is wakening once more. And with this comes the unmistakeable fact that it's time to start getting an evening ride in now the light is good.

To sneak off at the close of day, togged out in my finest Rapha, shaking off the lycra jokes from close minded colleagues is a particular joy. As each pedal stroke pushes me further from work and into the countryside, I can feel work leaving my mind. Before long I am amidst the froth of hawthorn, the frilly pink blossoms of apple and pear trees and the unmistakeable daub of rape seed. Suddenly, the body responds, Spring lifts and the suppleness that had been missing all through winter returns.

These are generally solo rides and are accompanied by the rider's great friend - the iPod shuffle. Now I know some who say that riding while listening to music is tantamount to signing a death warrant but done carefully it can change the way you whip through the countryside. One ear in, like race radio and with the volume loud enough to still hear psychotic BMW drivers behind, it truly is a gift. However, it does take quite some skill to work out what to put on the thing - just because you like Kate Bush doesn't mean you want to hear her reminding you not to give up when your legs are burning from one too many hills; jazz is all well and good but when the wind is on the sea front Dave Brubeck's jaunty swing isn't going to cut it. No, Kraftwerk knew what they were doing when they combined their motorik sound to the beautiful machine in Tour De France.

Many is the time that the lucky accident of the shuffle segues one great track to another - The curly haired boogie of T.Rex's Children of the Revolution moving smoothly into New Order's Temptation and then whacking the tempo up with It's Tricky by Run DMC. The miles are flying by, the cadence matching the bpm and the all those natural chemicals soar through the veins. You can do anything in this state, certainly squeeze in that extra loop and still be home before your dinner is spoilt. Maybe even race this year...

Obviously, the other great thing about Spring is the return to proper bike racing. The Spring Classics are one day races in France, Belgium and The Netherlands usually involving particularly nasty stretches of road that are either cobbled, steep or both. The most famous is Roubaix as immortalised in One Sunday in Hell, a beautifully shot movie which poetically describes the carnage of the race from St Denis just outside Paris to a velodrome not far from Lille. Stories abound of its awfulness, my favourite being riders claiming to still be peeing blood days after the event because their insides had been jostled around so much on the cobbled patches of the course.

To win a Classic is do something special, to join the very elite of the sport. Interstingly Lance was never interested in such events, his eyes firmly on the one thing that mattered to him - Le Tour. This year saw something pretty special for all british cycling fans - for only the second time in history we had a winner of a Classic - Cavendish at Milan/San Remo. Very little got written about it by the UK press which is an almighty shame. Strangely enough more coverage has come for Victoria Pendleton who has taken her kit off to get on the front of FHM!

Anyway, finally, Spring heralds the return of the long ride and with that comes the poor excuse for being late back home. For while we can all prattle on about the pave, we know the road to our own hell is paved with good intentions and we're all building our dog houses brick by brick, deed by deed. I think every male cyclist has spent many a sunday varnishing the kennel - whether it's for turning up hours later than agreed, forgetting that guests were due for dinner, falling asleep at a social occasion, taking cycling more seriously than family, receipts for new kit discovered in pockets ("How much? For that? Have you completely taken leave of your senses?") or leaving a trail of chain lube smeared across the conservatory floor and many more. Free passes to the dog house, everyone.

Spring, it makes you glad to be alive.