Italy’s great cycling stage-race is well under way. Where have you been? Well, if you want to be a flag-draped rose-nosed idiot-patriot, like me,* during the running of this year’s Giro d’Italia, allez-ing Wiggo and his confrères, drunkenly singing barmy-vindaloo-army songs at your television (or minute-by-minute commentary), who exactly should you be cheering? That I will tell you.
<Shuffles through printouts like truffle pig> Hmm. It turns out there are only six British riders, and of course a British team in Sky Procycling. You know these guys, and if you don’t (1) for shame; and (2) me too! So here’s a little recap on the who and how many palmares they are draped in like little caesars on push bikes.
- Bradley Wiggins of Sky Procycling. Yawn. We all know this 33-year-old superb (Belgian-born) Briton. He won the Tour of France last year, and didn’t he win the entire Olympics as well? That he did. As I type he is sitting 6th in the GC of the Giro. Moving swiftly on.
- Mark Cavendish of Omega Pharma-Quick Step. Yeah yeah, the Manx Merckx. Cav hasn’t had quite the recent glory of Wig, but the 27-year-old’s achievements are impressive. No one has won as many mass-start stages in the history of the Tour de France. He won the Milan–San Remo in 2009. And in 2010 he took the green jersey (points classification) in the other of the three Grand Tours (along with the Giro and the TdF), the Vuelta a España – a feat he repeated at the Tour de France in 2011. Having won the Tour of Qatar earlier in the year, he barnstormed the first race in the current Giro, winning it, but has been flagging since [doubtless this will be incorrect at the point I hit UPLOAD … aarrgh he just won stage 6, blogfail]. He’ll be looking to prove his place as his sprint-specialising team’s number one. Andiamo Cavo!
- Alex Dowsett of Movistar Team. Like Cav, Dowsett has recently defected from Sky to be a bigger fish in a … differently shaped? … pond. The 24-year-old haemophiliac is currently the British time-trial champion (and has been for two years). He missed the classics last year with a spifflicated elbow, but is now back and burning serious rubber. Like Cav he’s had one good run so far in the Giro, the stage 2 team time trial, when, with still-high-flying team-mates Benat Intxuasti and Giovanni Visconti, Movistar rolled in 9 seconds behind stage winners Sky. His role is more as a team player for Movistar, and is not in contention for honours.
- Adam Blythe of BMC Racing. At 23 years old, Blythe is looking to really move beyond promising youngster, and seems to be managing it. In 2010 he won the 2.1 event (i.e. the equivalent in UCI’s ranking as the Tour of Britain) the Circuit Franco-Belge, and was fourth this year in the Tour of Qatar (which Cav won). So far in the Giro, he’s had the one great race, coming 7th in stage 1, the one Cav won. Significantly he beat BMC’s big gun Cadel Evans. Now however he is near the very back of the pack, almost 50 minutes behind off leader Luca Paolini. Presumably because his role is, like Dowsett, as a domestique for his team. But what do I know.
- Steve Cummings of BMC Racing. Team-mates with Blythe and the mighty Cadel Evans, Cummings is an older hand at 33 years old. Like Dowsett he is reappearing in 2013 after much skeletal mangling: his pelvis and wrist from the Tours of the Algarve and the Basque Country respectively. He has come 2nd in the Tour of Britain twice (2008 and 2011) and his greatest achievements are probably his tricolor of non-road race medals: the bronze in the individual pursuit at the 2006 Commonwealth Games, the gold in the team pursuit at the same games, and the silver at the 2004 Olympics for team pursuit. Again, he’s at the rear of the field and presumably working as a slipstream-sweeper for Evans.
- David Millar of Garmin Sharp. The even older hand at 36 years old, Millar has done it all, been banned for it, and come back again. He’s the only British rider to have worn the leader jersey in all three Grand Tours, including of course the fabled pink number of the Giro. He is the most interesting of the six as evidenced by his (non-Bloomsbury!) autobiography Racing through the Dark, and by the fact I missed him out on the first version of this blog (pointed out on the Guardian minute-by-minute commentary to my colossal shame). Millar also broke a bone last year (collarbone) and is also currently malingering at the very back end of the GC.
Interestingly there is (and perhaps can be?) only one Brit in the Sky team, namely Wiggins. And in fact if you really want to be a daft patriot, there are few very fine Johnny Foreigners in the Sky team you can squeak under your nationalistic-fervour blanket. The two I would suggest you jump toot sweet on the bandwagon of are the Colombians: Sergio Henao (age 25) and Rigoberto Urán (26). After stage 5, Urán was sitting in 2nd place and Henao in 8th. They are both hot dogs on the climbs and the mountains await us in today’s stage 7.
The Colombian equivalent of vindaloo? The ajiaco. Thank you Siri.
*I am, like Wiggo, a plastic Briton, and will take my jingoism from country to country as I please, just you try and stop me.
Guest writer Rob Lee marvels at the endurance challenge Clive Forth set himself in order to write The Great British Mountain Bike Trail Guide. Clive had to hurl his big-tread wheels up and down the single track and forest roads of the 50 best trail centres that Britain and Ireland had to offer. To make it fun, he gave himself a month to complete the lot.
When Clive told me that he was going to ride 50 trails on one big road trip I was instantly jealous. It had all the right ingredients in all the right quantities for a wild, enjoyable, yet massively challenging adventure. It was also the perfect culmination of everything that we’d worked on together, that he’d worked on with others, and many of the things that Clive himself had achieved and developed to that date.
Just being able to complete this many trails in so few days was going to require mental strength, a degree of endurance and a dose of fortitude. In this, the challenge reflected the many accomplished rides that Clive has supported in the endurance arena of mountain biking. He knows the pains of endurance all too well, both in life and sport, as witness and participant. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen him put a rider back on their bike – after issuing what came to be known on our team as the ‘dad chat’ – and sending them out to deliver the goods on a long ride or endurance race. Having worked an endurance race pit on so many occasions there can’t be many people who have provided as much support, both physical and psychological, to victorious solo racers as Clive has.
So a test of endurance for sure, but with a true devotee of the mountain bike at the helm this challenge was never going to be as simple as endurance. Endurance racing and riding is straightforward: ride smooth, stay safe, don’t go too fast too soon, don’t do anything outrageous and just keep going. If this was solely an endurance challenge then the name of the game would be simple. Any endurance athlete designing and riding this challenge would go the same way: long trails, medium-to-high technical difficulty, play it safe, ride conservatively. Looking at the list of trails, the endurance mountain biking rule book has been thrown out the window, or perhaps Clive was just too busy riding to read it? Jump parks and downhill tracks thrown into the mix? I know what you’re thinking, or at least you are if you’ve never been riding with our man. He doesn’t do conservative riding, and while this is an endurance challenge, the likelihood that he’d have kept his tyres planted firmly on terra firma were about a million to one.
So now we have skill and without a doubt a massive element of speed. We are looking at an endurance challenge with lots of mini attacking moves, rapid accelerations, big air-time and tough technical trail sections. The number of riders capable of pulling such a thing off just went down about 80%. The element of danger involved in riding fast, taking air and increasing the technicality of the trails to be ridden, while tired, is something no one who has ever ridden a big endurance event would question. It’s simply not done because the risk of bringing the whole endeavor to a screaming halt in a split second is a serious possibility. But that’s something you only think about on the level of endurance racer, and Clive has skills that most of us can only ever dream of. His eye at speed is exceptional and I’ve marvelled many a time at his ability to take everything in his stride whatever the terrain.
I look at the adventures I’ve been on and the journeys I’ve taken by bike and I start to realise that the main ingredients missing from most of them were the element of speed, and the element of fun that travelling much faster off-road can deliver. But this challenge didn’t suffer from that loss and likely, if anything, increased in enjoyment due to their addition. Of course there was an element of rest, while getting from one trail to the next by car or van, that pure endurance doesn’t have, but this in itself I suspect only enriched the experience. Something everyone dreams of, the classic road trip, is suddenly added to a mix so exciting you can feel the adrenalin course through your veins at the very prospect. And with that road trip, and the need for images to accomplish the telling of this story, came the final magic touch that enhances anything we do: companionship for the adventure.
Such a cocktail that many, myself included, have commented that they wish it had been themselves and not Clive that had been on this adventure. But that in itself holds the truth: it could be you, or I, if we just take the inspiration laid out in The Great British Mountain Bike Trail Guide and plan for something fun and outrageous. The pace of life can be fast, it passes by in a flash, but putting the time aside to take on a creative challenge is as good a way as any to create memories you’ll never forget. Clive did, and I think he’d be the first to say: you can too. Read and enjoy, this story can only lead to inspiration and adventure.
Rob Lee is an endurance cycling champion and founder of Seven Deadly Spins.
I have been reading a good book on the evolution of human nature and culture that I’ll not provide a link to here as Bloomsbury don’t publish it and I’m that petty. One piece of social science research it unearths troubles me, and it’s something it seems has long been taken for granted when psychologists discuss the supporters of team sports. We are all desperately, unthinkingly and arbitrarily tribal. Which is to say, we are concurrently members of as many tribes as we can find connections to: from people, say, of the same religion as us to those that like the same guitar-strewn ne’er-do-wells or brand of cat litter. And once in a tribe, we will bias favouritism towards anyone we feel that tribal link to. Uh-huh, me too! I like GrittyKitty! You’re all right, you!
When it comes to supporting a sports team, the biases of tribalism explode. Various chin-strokers suggest that the mini-wars of sports teams, facing each other in packs and defending a home structure, fit so easily with our Paleolithic wiring that we experience the same fervour and bias as if it was in actuality our small band of spear-wielding nudists taking on the appalling cannibals from across the river (i.e. Millwall). This they say explains the popularity of round and oval ball sports, and even prim-white-jumpered cricket.
It’s all in good fun of course, so why bother to give pause? No one is actually getting a spear through her netball bib after all. Perhaps, but a couple of things still stick in my craw. The delusion that the accomplishments/failures of the team I support directly transfer their glory/shame to me creates a worryingly arbitrary pendulum to which to fix my emotional life. No, actually, this I’m OK with, glory being otherwise hard to come by. It is odd though, the unreality of my link to the team, and the fact I would NEVER consider shifting my allegiance. Jerry Seinfeld sums it up well:
Loyalty to any one sports team is pretty hard to justify. Because the players are always changing, the team can move to another city, you’re actually rooting for the clothes when you get right down to it. You know what I mean, you are standing and cheering and yelling for your clothes to beat the clothes from another city. Fans will be so in love with a player but if he goes to another team, they boo him. This is the same human being in a different shirt, they hate him now. Boo! Different shirt!! Boo. [intro to the Seinfeld episode ‘The Label Maker’]
If there proves to be any truth to the preposterous rumour that Liverpool’s goalkeeper Pepe Reina might be transferred to Manchester United I would respond like that I think. Boo! Different shirt!! A traitor would’ve crossed a line that I personally could never even consider pretending to sniff like cocaine à la Robbie Fowler. Bringing me to the other worry: the unthinking approval-bias towards the behaviour of fellow tribespeople (fans, players) and its corollary, the unthinking bias against the behaviour of the enemy. … I have just deleted a paragraph or two as I dove knees-first into a few of the illustrative sticking points between Liverpool FC and Manchester’s second best club. I delete as I want to move past the bias – as level-headed and good-natured as I imagine my bias to be. There are at least two sides to any story, and since I would want people to be open-minded toward ‘our’ side when it contradicts public or media opinion, I should be prepared to be just as open-minded in the reverse situation. I’m not quite there yet.
This blog arises as we are soon to publish a book on Manchester United’s history: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. I was sick at the thought of it and made sure that all related work was pushed onto my long-suffering colleague Sarah. And have since been hiding my arms under my desk. But no, give them fair credit, the club’s rise is a powerful story, and their achievements continue to break records we should all be impressed by. They have had many excellent players, and also David Beckham. Ho ho. No, he too was more than the shrill stripper naysayers mock. His boots had a genius for spatial geometry, and his best free kicks will be long remembered.
I will say no more lest I chew through my own tongue, but this is a start. Biases should remain on the field, giving us our vicarious jollies through the length of the ritualised skirmish. Go our colourfully dressed little war-party, sack and plunder! Beyond that, let calm and sense be the things of greatest value.
This is a guest post written by Sarah Johansson
British boxing has become less exciting for fight fans in recent years, with the retirement of both Ricky Hatton and Joe Calzaghe and the decline of Amir Khan. However, the Olympics brought with it an upsurge of interest for the sport, and 2012 marked the first inclusion of women’s boxing in the games. Does this mean that boxing is on the up?
I’ll admit I’ve never been a fan: it’s always been too violent for me. Maybe I’m a big old wuss, but I like sports where people are nice to each other. Not only have I not liked it, I’ve dismissed it with a passion, usually citing words like ‘barbaric’, ‘primitive’ or just ‘stupid’. So imagine my horror when I was forced to sit through a Prizefighter tournament recently. I say forced, but when you’re sharing a small flat with an obsessed boxing fan, it’s pretty difficult not to absorb the sweaty aggression emitted from the screen.
Yet I was fascinated, which leads me to preconception no. 1 about boxing: it’s all about the aggression. Sure, professional boxing is scored based on the most effective punches, style, aggression and knockdowns. Amateur boxing, however, is judged by landing the most clean punches on the target area (a glorified game of tag, if you will). This, ironically, didn’t mean much to me until I had a go at Fight Night on Xbox.
Several hours and two blood blisters later, I came to the realisation that: (a) boxing requires some serious skill and technique, and (b) I was definitely capable of letting out a whole lot of aggression myself. So I’ve started to view amateur boxing in a different light: rather than focusing on the violence, I’ve come to admire the amount of dedication and discipline required, which reaches a level that few other sports could hope to equal. Lack of funding usually means having to work normal day jobs too, trying to fit in exercise and fights whenever there is time.
That was the case for Nicola Adams who worked as a builder and Corrie extra before taking home the first female Olympic gold medal in the flyweight class last year. Before 2009, funding wasn’t readily available for female boxers, and now, after the five-medal success in London, funding and opportunities are growing exponentially and universities are endorsing the sport to a much greater extent.
This is set to provide a whole new environment for a sport that is becoming more and more popular. Some of Britain’s ‘flagship’ athletes are now amateur boxers, which lights a torch for a bright future in Britain’s professional boxing game. This transition is already in motion now with Olympian Anthony Ogogo recently turning pro.
While I admit my previous dismissal of the sport probably involved very loaded words for someone who professes they couldn’t care less for it, I guess that’s what boxing does to people; it stirs and fascinates, repulses and excites. And even though I’m struggling with some conflicting emotions about boxing, you can’t deny the obvious fitness benefits. A boxer at their peak easily ranks among the fittest athletes in the world.
Boxing exercise is guaranteed to take you to the next level in your exercise regime, regardless of whether you train or compete in a different discipline. And if you want to get fit, focused and fighting, put on the gloves and try a boxing-fitness class. They provide non-contact cardiovascular workouts with boxing-style exercise, which perfectly suits those of us who want to get toned and gain physical and mental strength – but who might want to keep the violence at a safe distance.
The legacy of the Olympics and Paralympics some have hoped aloud is that more of us, still all geed up and whooping, will take part in sport. When I say ‘us’ imagine instead the unspoken target: some pre-teen lazybones hunched over her smartphone. Suddenly she’s shot-putting her pillowcase of junk food out the window and joining squadrons of her kind in the streets, hurdling bins, moonwalking like dressage horses, going all Beth Tweddle on lamp-posts. Healthiness being the age’s religion, this is seen as a good thing. Sport is good for you. It makes you a fitter biomechanical machine, and a fitter body is happier, lives longer and, though I have gone too far already, contributes more to society. Here I am at a sports publisher, and such a groundswell of interest in sport should have me licking my chops – moo-ha-ha! Allow me instead to pooh-pooh.
But why? Why emit a sales-sapping grump of a blog? Am I so cynical, so sour of puss, so easily prepared to kill joy and rain on the parade of something community-spirited and optimistic, something right-headed and good. I would hope so, yes.
And now I hold up exhibit A, my left ring finger in a splint. This is what sport has done to me. A detached tendon suffered while keeping goal in five-a-side football. Do not, I suggest, try to block a cannonball using your ring finger like a pool cue, tip first. The digit has contracted the deformity known as mallet finger and is now permanently bent at the top joint. It may never fully heal, and in the meanwhile I am forced to wear my plastic finger hat of shame – for weeks.
My question is this: In the light of such a catastrophe, how can anyone of passing sanity suggest that sport is good for you?
Like most people involved in such things I have an atlas of injury remnants across my body: from bone bruises and dicky joints to multiply shucked toenails. We are not alone. Sport leads to a continuous barrage of impacts, crunches, wrenches and body damage. They don’t call them tennis elbows nor swimmer’s shoulders for nothing. One of the Olympic equestrian team was discussing how commonly they break fingers after being thrown. A recent crash in the Tour de France was called the Massacre at Metz for the mangled piles of bodies and bikes it left behind, all their skimpy little bike vests in tatters, with gravel-rash oozing horribly through the holes. None of this is strictly speaking good for you, is it. And I suspect it is only the very luckiest of sportspersons who will not wear the brunt of some injury or other to the grave.
Sport is bad for you. So should we wish it upon pubescent slobs and those less disposed towards physical movement? I don’t know. The only reason I can imagine, and probably the real impetus behind our participation anyway, is – no not self-esteem, goal-orientation, team-cooperative-learning-enhancement or some other policy-speak codswallop – fun. Sport is fun. Play it if you want. Unfortunately I will continue to.
I became a five-a-side goalkeeper for the usual reason – sloth. Five minutes into any game, wheezing, glossy, highlighter-pink, I would sub myself into goal to grab a breather. Some other slob would soon come in and replace me, but five desperate minutes later, having chased the ball around dutifully like an aging Labrador, I would limp back into the safety of the goal area. With the back of a downcast head heaving gasped wordless lungfuls at my replacement, I would, more instructively, indicate with a finger the universal signage for I-am-dying-please-allow-me-this-one-favour. Over the years, however, something transpired. I will be 40 in 2013 and perhaps in sport-years an old dog. But learnt I have.
I played football, or soccer as we ignorantly called it, for the first 17 years of life, representing my New Zealand province up to under-18 level. The fact that barely 11 under-18s played football in North Otago helped enormously. I was also the only left-footed player so a shoo-in for the larboard wing. But as the full blast of adolescence raged through my bloodstream, all nonconformist radical (with football inappropriate haircut), I packed it in. Another 17 years passed, and the chance arose to play ‘indoor soccer’ at work. Brilliant I thought. I will be great again. I will hot-knife through these rugby-addled fools like butter. Running onto the pitch, the ball rolled in my direction. Here was my moment. I visualized the sinuous run upfield, drifting, jinking, feigning. Moving to trap the ball, I instead stood on the front of it and face-planted into the Astroturf. My 17-year-old body had deserted me. I looked down in dismay: When had I become so bell-shaped, so ambling?
But I kept at it, and, moving to Britain, played more and more. My stints in goal grew longer. Yet I still saw these as time-outs, a less boring subs’ bench. In my head I was a winger, a glory-hound glory-bound. Besides, others were better than me in goal … not that I was that bad.
One team in an annual company-wide tournament last year needed a goalie. I had been playing a bit more goal for my five-a-side league team, Red Star White City, who were at the time bottom of the bottom division in the BBC league. So I volunteered. The tournament was catalytic to a realisation. We won our group, and I was getting a lot of praise for my keepering. We won our quarter final. (Push play on ‘Eye of the Tiger’.) We brick-bottled it in the semi and exited. But throughout I was diving, rushing, making myself big, cutting down the angles, sticking a leg out. We were drawing a crowd, and I was the instigator of a pleasing percentage of the oohs and applause. Perhaps – I blinked, shuddering – I was actually better in goal.
Pushing into the Brad Friedel years I have accepted my role. The occasional run-out is always appreciated, but first and foremost, I’m the goalie. Red Star White City ascended into the second tier of our league the season before last, and then narrowly avoided relegation back down. This season (a ten-week period) we’re sitting mid-table. It’s hard to believe. We are not particularly hot, skill-wise, and our league is packed with scarily good players. One or two of us have some tricks and pace, but if we keep possession for more than four phases it’s a miracle. Where we excel is organisation. We are in fact like the undefeated New Zealand team in the 2010 World Cup. A bunch of Ryan Nelsons everyone expects to walk over, but who somehow hang in there through sheer will and constant harrying. Defence, we do well. And the heart of the defence is the lunk with the gloves on. Last night we won 3-0 against our arch-enemies Refine United. And in doing so I reached the highest height of my goalkeeping career so far. A bunch of saves all around the area, including three (not entirely over-egged) diving fingertip numbers and a classic backwards-stuck-out-leg-having-gone-the-wrong-way-initially, giving us the clean sheet. In the morning report, I received not only man of the match, but player of the week in all fixtures, and the goalie spot in the (fabled pantheon of) team of the week. I am literally choking in goalie glory. Next week of course I will let in a stupid one at the near post or fumble a back-pass into my own net, but before a fall comes some rather lovely pride.
I still resent my inability to nip, dart or achieve anything approximating fitness, but like Brad on the cover of The Soccer Goalkeeping Handbook, by legendary keeper-coach Alex Welsh, I am aging not ungracefully.
I asked Alex Welsh what he thought the key skills for a five-a-side goalie were compared to that of the full-size version. He summarised it beautifully:
Goalkeeping in Five-a-Side – Alex Welsh
In terms of the goalkeeping issues for five-a-side, the key principles remain the same, but the keeper has less time and space. With a quicker game constrained by the below-head-height and goal-area rules, the following points need to be considered:
- Constantly adjust your position as the ball moves so that you are always in the right place as the opponent shoots; and always be ready.
- Adopt a low, ready position and become a good exponent of the collapsing and low-diving saves.
- If not making a clean catch, parry or deflect into safety zones (wide of the goal).
- Develop good blocking techniques for close-range shots.
- Catch the ball safely before
- Scanning to select the target. Choose the appropriate throwing technique (roll or sling) before
- Counter-attacking to advantage. If counter-attacking, throw to the back foot (the one closest to the opponent’s goal) and if seeking to retain possession throw to the safe side. Remember a pass is a present so don’t give the receiver a control problem.