It was time to start rallying the domestiques, so I put together my first newsletter:
‘Hello and welcome to the curious world of Carlos-Weltschmerz, a small cycling outfit I am cobbling together to race this year's London to Brighton bike ride.
If you are reading this it is because you have already expressed an interest in joining forces with me, with the understanding that it's not some sort of Sunday afternoon jolly: prospective members of Team Carlos-Weltschmerz will be expected to attain a reasonable level of fitness so that we might post a better than average time (whatever that may be). However, the reason that you were invited in on this project in the first instance is because I know that this shouldn't be a major issue for anyone concerned.
You may also be aware that the post-race celebrations will be taken as seriously as the race itself. Indeed, whilst it's not essential that you buy into the ethos that underpins Carlos-Weltschmerz, one should be aware of the code of ethics that informs it; this is an institution that applauds individuality and resists conformity – 'my club' rejects the very notion of a club.
I can confirm that this year's London to Brighton is scheduled to take place on the 16th June with registration scheduled for the 2nd March. I will take care of these formalities but need permission, and confirmation, that I can bill people for their portion of the registration fee when the time comes.
Further, Evans (S) – Carlos-Weltschmerz's club secretary – will be looking into the availability of hotels for the day in question and I am told that January is a good time to make bookings. As such, I will need to know what sort of sleeping arrangements people are prepared to enter into and, again, permission to make bookings on their behalf. Essentially, I'm asking that people confirm their interest – I will understand if it has since waned – and give me the green light to proceed with making firm plans.
With regard to training, I'm hoping that we might get away with just two or three group sessions to commence sometime in the spring, just to get used to cycling in a line and so that everyone sort of knows each other a little. Cafés and pubs may play a role in this.
Thank you for your interest in helping my theoretical organisation in its quest to replicate Tour conditions. Please let me know if you're still on board.
(Directeur Sportif - Carlos-Weltschmerz)’
I was happy with that – why shouldn’t I be? I was even happier when Messrs Mommersteeg and Messrs Gowland returned emails affirming their will to participate. My brother’s and Wenborn’s cooperation had never really been in doubt, but I hadn't been entirely sure about the other two: I don’t know them so well. How wonderful, now, that their earlier interest has proved to be sincere. If they’d turned me down I don’t think I would have even bothered looking for replacements. I can think of no obvious substitutes regardless.
I look forward to our team getting together for the first time, of Carlos-Weltschmerz becoming some kind of tendentious reality, a hotchpotch of part-time cyclists in muddled fatigues, winging it a little.
In the meantime, I've just finished reading David Millar’s memoir, Racing in the Dark: The Fall and Rise of David Millar. Millar is a British/Scottish cyclist who got caught doping in 2004, was subsequently banned for two years and now rides – clean – for Garmin-Sharp. It’s a good read and provides an insight into the minutiae of road cycling, especially during a period when a significant proportion of the riders on the ProTour circuit took the drug EPO, and other performance-enhancing elixirs. [Few will argue against the advantage that taking EPO – or erythropoietin, to give it its proper name – delivers. The drug works by stimulating the production of red blood cells, which in turn hastens the transferral of oxygen to the muscles that will benefit from it. In Michael Hutchinson’s splendid book The Hour, the former time-trial specialist supposes that taking EPO would probably knock a hypothetical 3 or 4 minutes off of a 40 km time-trial, a race he would otherwise expect to complete in something like 48 minutes. That’s an unequivocally significant disparity.]
I'm not interested in the politics of doping (not as far as this project is concerned, anyway) but it is worth noting that David Millar is one of the few ex-dopers who not only appears genuinely contrite – or contrite at all – but is now making a real effort to help clean up the sport. More intriguing to my mind is how Millar describes the culture of cycling and the people who involve themselves in it. The pre-caught-doping Millar comes across as rather impudent, but he as good as concedes to this acknowledging that his peripatetic upbringing imbued in him something of an ‘adolescent mentality’. It is Millar’s willingness to expose his less palatable characteristics, as well as those of professional cycling as a whole, that ultimately has you rooting for the man. He doesn't reach out for reader’s sympathy and seems sincerely grateful for the second chance he’s been given. It’s almost as if the whole episode has made him a better person, and it’s just a shame he had to dope in order for this to be so.
There’s a bit towards the end of the book where Millar discovers the joys of ‘cycling for the sake of cycling’. As a professional – even as a keen amateur – he’d always been motivated by the act of competing, and it further illustrates how far the man has come since his brush with infamy. This new-found enthusiasm culminates in him forming a cycling club with his training partner, the Canadian cyclist Michael Barry, an informal institution they've christened Velo Club Rocacorba – Velo meaning bicycle, Club meaning… club, and Rocacorba being a mountain close to Millar’s home in Gerona, Catalonia, that many professional racers like to climb as part of their training programme. Whilst I whole-heartedly approve of this ‘frivolous, nonsensical’ endeavour, as Millar describes it, it does sort of stiffen my resolve in the face of cycling convention. Velo – Club – Rocacorba. It’s not Carlos-Weltschmerz, is it?
[POST-SCRIPT: On reflection, it’s probably worth passing some comment on the matter of drug-taking, and on the subject of Lance Armstrong in particular. I've not been into road cycling long enough to emote profusely on the subject, but it is with interest that I watch the ongoing saga of The Boss/The Texan/Mellow Johnny (?!) slowly unfold. In précis, Lance Armstrong was formally charged with doping and trafficking drugs by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in June 2012, charges that Armstrong resolutely denied – not the first time. Armstrong’s response was to file a lawsuit against USADA requesting that the agency drop all imputations against him, which was dismissed, then revised and resubmitted, but ultimately ruled in USADA’s favour. Or something like that.
Armstrong was subsequently banned from competing at ANY level (which appeared moot, considering he had already retired from competitive sport) by USADA and stripped of all the titles he’d won under its jurisdiction dating from 1 August 1998 to the present day. Rather surprisingly, and perhaps tellingly, Armstrong announced that he did not intend to challenge this decision, citing the continuing strain it would place on himself, his charitable foundation – Livestrong – and his family, although he continued to protest his innocence.
Up until this point, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) had been reluctant to pursue the same line of enquiry against Armstrong as USADA, and called to task its recommendation that Lance be stripped of his seven Tour de France titles. USADA responded by disclosing the full details of their investigation, which the UCI were unable to refute, and Armstrong’s Tour wins were then revoked. The day after the UCI made its decision Lance Armstrong removed reference to his seven Tour de France triumphs from his “Twitter Biography”.
Not long after Bradley Wiggins’s victory in the 2012 Tour de France, I found myself in the company of a pleasant Gaulish gentleman from Marseille. Keen to gain some sort of insight into how Wiggins (I refuse to refer to him as “Wiggo” – for why refer back to my beef with Altura’s use of the word “mitts”) was perceived by the French, I asked him… how was Wiggins perceived by the French? ‘Oh, yes, we like him very much.’ Did he think Bradley took drugs to enhance his performance? ‘But of course.’ Whether a cyclist dopes or not appears to be immaterial to the French: they assume that all winners of the Tour de France are doped up to their eyeballs. It makes no difference to them, I'm told, in terms of a rider’s popularity. They won’t take the same puritanical view that English speaking Protestants do: it’s just the way it is.
But what did the French think of Lance Armstrong? Not very much, it transpired, the reason being that they considered him arrogant, with no amount of respect for the heritage of the Tour at all (and maybe because he is an American). Armstrong has admitted as much himself. Indeed, he seems to take some sort of bizarre pride in knowing nothing – or pretending to know nothing – of the history of the sport and the characters who have forged its myths. He’s in it for himself, no more, no less.]