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Legs Lungs and Lycra





                                               "The cycling world according to Robin Snelson"



                                                                 The Prologue.

Shortly after joining the Falmouth Wheelers in 2009 I read an article in a magazine - it could have been Cycling Weekly or perhaps Cycling Plus - it said it would take five years for a runner to become a cyclist. As a long distance runner I felt the article slightly exaggerated the differences between the two sports, but now, nearly five years on, I'm not so sure.

Over the last five years I have built, bought and borrowed bikes of every description – road bikes in steel, aluminium and carbon – mountain bikes both “old school” and lightweight aluminium and fold up bikes for when, if ever, we get our bus passes! I have got to grips with most aspects of bike mechanics, and with the help and advice ( and sometimes borrowed tools ) of our LBS, I have built wheels and replaced bearings. I think I now know all I need to about how to get the best out of my bikes – the question is, have I got the best out of me?

We know that with training the human body can achieve amazing things – just look at the astonishing athletic feats in track and field and the strength and incredible control of dancers and gymnasts. Combine this ( human ) “machine”, along with its “engine”, with another machine, the bicycle, and we have the making of something really quite special. I've called this blog “Legs, Lungs and Lycra”. Legs being the machine, lungs the engine and lycra, the fancy clothing, the treasured bike and all the other parephenalia that we would believe makes us better cyclists.  

Early developments of the bicycle saw a world of opportunity open up for many working men the world over, who could now begin to set their sights on more distant horizons. Men who had previously found work only locally could look further afield - and who could do their courting in distant towns and villages ! As many of us found this summer, with a little training and forward planning, it is possible to cycle the length ( and breadth ) of the country on the humble push bike.

Yet, in all the years of research and development in the bicycle and the use of hi tech materials and technology, nothing very much has changed. Compare the average speed of the ( longer ) Tour de France in 1953, the year I was born, with the speed of the drug fuelled peloton of the early 2000's and you will see that it has only altered by a few miles per hour. And much of the improvement in cycling occurred as a result of a better understanding of nutrition and training techniques – and of course the widespread use of EPO! Surely a nicely made frame and a good set of wheels is all we should really need – at least to begin with. As bike shop owner John O'Keefe, supplier of Sean Kelly's very first bike, said of a particularly stunning set of Mavic wheels - “ Sure, you could hang these wheels on a gate and it would fly!”   

And yet, pretty much all the current cycle magazines are full of articles about weight saving this and that and different performance related devices, which, for a professional cyclist at the top of his game, might mean the difference between winning or losing, but for the rest of us it is about as relevant as the colour of frame we choose. Bike manufacturers openly admit that the obsession with weight is driven by the market and ultra lightweight bikes are made only because we ask for them.

So, how long does it take for our bodies to combine seamlessly with the bicycle to become one?......................................... 

“The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles...when a man lets things go so far that he is more than half a bicycle, you will not see him so much because he spends a lot of his time leaning with one elbow on walls or standing propped by one foot at kerbstones.”
Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman




23 August 2016: Midges and Mosquitoes

Having successfully completed the Highlands and Glens Audax in two completely different ways, Dene and I decided to write a report together, giving an account of our separate experiences. Sadly, that is about as far as we have got. We will start piecing together our accounts before the memory fades and hopefully next month we shall have our report finished. Meanwhile, something hugely more interesting has taken my attention, the Olympics! As it is cycling related I thought I'd write about that instead.

I was ill for the final week of the Olympics so, confined to bed, I immersed myself in every sweat soaked minute of it, often sweat soaked myself with a high temperature. Obviously the cycling was the main event and Team GB mopped up most of the medals like greedy children at a party leaving few for the remaining hopefuls. Close to spitting blood, Australia couldn't disguise their frustration - even suspicion – and Kristina Vogel from Germany was quick to back them up but maintained there was no accusation of cheating! Team GB explained what their funding policy was, how they had access to cutting edge bike design, equipment and clothing, and that they had a four year (Olympic) cycle. Oh, and an attention to detail, all those “marginal gains”! And they left it at that.

Now, you don't have to be Chris Boardman to recognise that the British cyclists rode faultlessly. Beautifully. Watch some replays. They were more aerodynamic, tighter in the change overs and all at the peak of physical fitness. They sacrificed four years of their lives doing that. The very best equipment, training camps, mentors and coaches who organised every minute of their 24/7 cycling lives. And presumably some sort of a wage.

The rowers and canoeists deserve a mention. They never get to go to cafés for a cappuccino and slice of carrot cake during a training ride, let alone a mountain top training camp. Irish rowers get a fraction of the funding Team GB get and Gary and Paul O'Donovan from Lisheen, ( close to Sherkin Island – if you haven't seen them being interviewed by Irish Television you should ) who got silver in the mens lightweight double sculls, presumably row up and down the muddy Illen river in training, a river which follows the road out of Skibbereen. Apparently, the GB rowers spend a while in Brazil each year getting acclimatised to the heat.

Looking at canoeist Liam Heath it is difficult to imagine how you can attach any more muscle to a human frame. He totally dominated the field in the 200 metre kayak sprint event. And he seemed genuinely ignorant of his appalling start in the semi finals and, again when he was interviewed, after the final, the interviewer failing to get a response. It later turned out that he doesn't have time to do anything other than look forward and paddle. And he seemed surprised he found winning so easy. So understated and my sort of Olympian.

Then there were the boxers, swimmers, track athletes, pentathletes, triathletes, all putting their lives on hold making this big sacrifice. But I'm now thinking, how much of a sacrifice is it to be paid to do what you like doing best in life and then perform in Rio? It's not like having to bring up a family, on a low income, slave away to pay the mortgage, put food on the table and still be reasonable to one another in front of the children – who would probably be pitched off a flight to Rio anyway!

Or a refugee who has risked their lives and the lives of their children simply to get to a country where it is possible to do all the above.

So, good old Andy Murray. He innocently let slip that he had focused all of six weeks to prepare for the games! Fortunately he didn't admit to any sacrifices!

By the end I was near to spitting blood myself after seeing Team GB mens 4 x 400 metre team get disqualified by some Brazilian jobs worth in order to allow Brazil into the final. ( Gaby Logan wasn't allowed to say that but I can! ) So, I switched channels to watch two large ladies, one clinically obese, ( might have to be careful here ) attempt to putt a little white ball into a hole not very far away. They didn't even pull their own trolleys. I suspect neither of them could run for a bus. And now I understand why the worlds best golfers were fearful of the Zika virus. It was the perfect excuse to duck a totally inappropriate event.

Brazil was host to a hugely successful games, despite grossly insufficient funding and a lack of resources. We didn't get to see the slums, the poverty and the out of control crime but we did witness some truly remarkable sporting achievements.

If you want to beg, borrow or steal any articles or our pictures (as if) we will take it as a compliment. No, really, we will.

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