Sunday, 17 March 2013


My father once asked me – almost apropos of nothing – whether I held truck with the concept of fate. I dismissed the notion – must have done, because although I don’t specifically recall what I offered in reply, I do remember my old man telling me that ‘greater minds’ than mine had deemed the idea worthy of their consideration, as well as being a little put out that he was satisfied that there were indeed greater minds than mine. I knew there to be greater minds than mine, or course – far, far greater – but how could my sire be so sure? It was reasonable for him to surmise that there probably were minds far greater than mine, but I think I resented that he should so obviously think it a full gone conclusion. It wasn't so much that my mind in anyway bordered on greatness (I was in my late teens – how could it?) but the absoluteness of having that statement directed towards me – ‘greater minds than yours’ – seemed, at the very least, to ruthlessly depose the idea that in the future my mind may very well develop into one of the greatest minds of them all. But no, in one foul phrase the limits of my genius had been set. It may well turn out that I was a particularly clever chap, but I’d never possess the faculty to legitimately rationalize the possibility that fate plays a part in everybody’s lives. To make the matter worse, I’d admitted as much myself.
            It’s probable that I had no opinion on the subject whatsoever. Moreover, I overcame the certitude that my father didn't think I’d cut it as one of the key thinkers of my generation in approximately 3 seconds: I didn't consider my mind to be in any way “great” so why should he? I was just a sullen teenager who thought their father couldn't possibly know one way or another how exceptional their son’s mind was or wasn't (I’ll stand by that assertion) and that he was merely being a little premature with statements like ‘greater minds than yours’ (but not that one).
But later, when I had the space to mull it over, I did have a go at pontificating on the subject of fate, if only to allow for the possibility that my mind could very well be great after all. I came to the conclusion that the question was moot, for if one supposed that either possibility could be true then the outcome was the same in either case: we had either reached the current way of things because it was predestined, or we had reached the current way of things because they weren't. Ergo, if fate had a hand in our affairs then it also had hand in free will, the ability to challenge and question fate, and to seal fate’s own fate: free will was predetermined and at the same time fate was vulnerable to the vagaries of free will.

I talk of fate because of the various dilemmas I've been faced with whilst gazing at cycling jerseys on eBay. I possess two jerseys, you may recall, but I've peered into the future and concluded that this number will not suffice. I like the idea that three might be about right because then I’d introduce the concept of a ‘trinity of jerseys’ and hope the phrase caught on. I’d like that cyclists might talk of their own personal trinities, or that older riders would reminisce and decide which three jerseys were their favourites – what would constitute their ‘Holy Trinity’, if you like. It would become common parlance among the cycling community, and journalists in the field would ask professional cyclists to name their Holy Trinity, normally at the end of the interview because they wouldn't be sure whether the interviewee would take to the idea or not. At first Bradley Wiggins would assume the interviewer to be making reference toward his fondness for Mod inspired clobber, but, once assured that the concept was genuine, would quite get into it. Mark Cavendish would take to it at once. David Millar would ponder the question as if he’d been asked something rather lofty. Chris Froome would stare in bemusement and wonder what the point was of asking such a thing.
Having decided that two jerseys was definitely NOT enough, and that three might help me make myths, I set about appropriating my third – my Holy Spirit. Given that my existing jerseys differ significantly, I began to ponder what form a third should take and in doing so came to the conclusion that I would need to select from among the following taxonomies:

1 – The Woollen Jersey: There’s something very appealing about an old woollen jersey. Search out pictures of the annual L’Eroica, in which bikes and attire are required to be of a certain age, and one will get a feel for what I'm talking about it: the designs tend to be cleaner, less ostentatious, and more functional, yet oddly colourful.
One’s woollen jersey – should you choose to acquire one – will preferably be a genuine race edition. The less imaginative among us will ape legends Jacques Anquetil and Eddy Merckx, and buy replica Bic and Molteni jerseys in respective homage. Others might fare a little better and wear Faema, Peugeot or Mercier across their chests. The innovators will be those who find examples of the real thing, down weekend markets or in high-street charity shops – or on eBay. Typically, these jerseys will comprise of three or maybe four colours, often broken up into horizontal or vertical stripes. Any sort of graphic is rare and if present will be presented in the same manner as the flock lettering – the detail is rarely printed or sewn on. More obscure team sponsors include Gan, Gelati-Sanson, Miko, and many more unknown.
Whichever way you approach it, one could argue that every cycling enthusiast should have a woollen jersey within their repertoire.

[A typical gathering of jerseys at L'Eroica ]

2 – Contemporary Team Kit (with caveats): There are plenty of pleasing jerseys in the modern peloton – just be mindful of the fact that you’re not stuck in there racing with them. If you must wear modern team kit then take care to whom you pledge allegiance. For obvious reasons, replica Team Sky kit is to be avoided. Omega Pharma-Quick Step would have been considered permissible last year but Mark Cavendish has recently joined them and one should proceed with caution. Weirdly, Garmin Sharp kit is probably okay, even with David Millar still propping up their ranks (or maybe because David Millar is still propping up their ranks). The idea here is to avoid being seen as a “fan” of some of exclusively British elements of modern cycling – this isn't football. 
National colours and national champion jerseys are best avoided too, unless you go for something unusual, like the impressive Lithuanian effort for 2013.

3 – 1980s Team Kit: If you want team kit that isn't classic, woollen and pre-mass market, then it is to this supposedly low point in collective taste that one must turn. In fact, the 1980s wasn't the aesthetic disaster that frivolous, retrospective, televisual pseudo documentaries would have you believe, and the cycling jerseys of the period are a case in point: Super U Raleigh, Café de Colombia, PDM-Concorde, La Vie Claire, Renault-Elf – the list is extensive and it’s probably only a matter of time before I succumb to this era’s charm.

4 – The Faux-Classic Racing Jersey: There will be those who will balk at the thought of wearing wool, and they are beyond hope. But there are some people who think that the wearing of (replica) team kit should be set aside for members of a team, and I have a degree of sympathy with this position. The team jersey pastiche allows such folk to look good without having to compromise this conviction. Solo’s Classique range is a firm example of this kind of jersey, and Morvelo have made positive a contribution too. Rapha and Le Coq Sportif have produced worthy efforts, but the best shirts probably come from De Marchi. The only downside to this model is that you normally pay big bucks for the privilege.

5 – Club Colours: I'm not a big fan but there are certainly some decent club jerseys out there, even if they are in the distinct minority. I assume my Descente jersey to be a club jersey of sorts – or a work’s team at the very least – and I'm very fond of my understated Descente jersey. I think that’s probably the key to a successful shirt of this ilk: less is more. Also, wearing a club jersey when you’re not even a member of the club in question has a whiff of subversion about it – and that’s a good thing.

I embraced the possibility of buying a 1980s team jersey and an authentic woollen one in about equal measure – it would come down to whichever opportunity arose first. Initially it seemed like the 1980s was going to win. I outbid someone bidding for a rare Vermarc Sport Tonissteiner Euro Tour Team jersey and it was mine for the princely sum of £4.50. Unfortunately, it turned out to be chronically small, and I would have had a row over the measurements the seller listed if he hadn't instantly offered a full refund, the cost of his postage included (it still cost me a couple of quid to send it back, but these are the fortunes of eBay).
            Next, I turned to Prendas Ciclismo and their excellent range of replica team kit inspired by season’s past. It was only the price of such shirts that had prohibited me from buying from them sooner, but now they were selling a PDM-Concorde jersey at a reduced price. Again, the thing turned out too small, and the next size up was sold out. They gave me a full refund and provided a first rate service throughout.
It was a case of third time lucky, and it was a woollen vestment that turned up trumps. White and almost fluorescent green with black trim, it’s an old Caisse D’Epargne team jersey, Caisse D’Epargne being a French bank that endorses a pro-cycling team to this very day. I like how the wool feels: warmer, more relaxed than the modern fabric that my other jerseys are made from.
And no sooner had I received the thing and I saw a Carlos-Galli jersey selling on eBay, and low on takers. This is what I mean by alluding to the notion of fate: eBay never stands still and one search invariably leads to another: a jersey is found, a bid is placed, and then a rival bidder might intervene, which in turn may oblige one to look elsewhere. What search will you have typed in that day? Has the seller of your dream jersey grasped the concept of search engine optimisation and listed their product in a way that will help you find it? Do you even have the time to conduct a thorough search before somebody sneaks in and buys that 7-Eleven team jersey you've set your heart on – or are you even so inclined to look in the first instance? And so it goes, and it’s impossible to tell where this will lead, and in what direction. A small alteration of the past can change the way a man thinks about things, with various consequences.
Take it further: if it hadn't been raining on Sunday 29th July I probably wouldn't have found myself indoors, glued to the 2012 Olympic women’s road race. If I hadn't been so entranced by that then I wouldn't have picked that moment in time to look for road-bicycles Gumtree. If I hadn't spotted some guy living not two miles from me selling a Raleigh Record Ace, or if I’d left it an hour later and his other potential customer had bought the thing (and as it was I hesitated for about 45 minutes before making the call), then my enthusiasm for road-cycling might have waned and who knows when, or if, I would have committed to buying a road-bike. But I did buy it, which resulted in me selling it and having to wait for the transaction to be completed before finding a replacement. Had that gone through quicker, then I could have ended up with a Peugeot instead of a Carlos, and if I hadn't been acquainted with Carlos then Carlos-Weltschmerz would not have come into being and I might be riding for Peugeot-Saudade (©) instead. And what sort of jersey would I have searched for on eBay then?

I looked into numerology and the significance that the number 4 might hold. Turns out that 4 is the number of fate, and to associate with it is to understand that some things are beyond one’s control. ‘Four’ is also supposed to symbolise the principle of putting ideas into form, and of expressing knowledge – or wisdom.

[POST-SCRIPT: I actually ended up bidding on a second-hand, but very new looking, replica La Vie Claire jersey on eBay too, and was convinced that I would win, my maximum bid far out-reaching what was on the table with just minutes of the auction left to run. I set my limit at something like £30 (the cost of shipping seemed excessive to me, at £3.99, otherwise I may have gone even higher). The jersey went for £32. Prendas Ciclismo sell them new for £49.95 – it made little sense. Sometimes it’s only when you come close to getting something, but don’t, that you realise just how much you wanted it. If I was full-time employed I’d probably just go straight to Prendas.
            And it should go without saying that I feel obliged to bid for the Carlos-Galli top, although to not do so would be perversely un-fatalistic. And so I have – I submitted a maximum bid of £17.02, rounding up to £20 when the postage is taken into account. So if I win that, and I do manage to get my hands on a ‘La Vie Claire’, then I’ll be left with five jerseys, and that’s not going to help me in establishing my trinity theory of jersey ownership. God forbid I should ever find a 7-Eleven shirt going for a reasonable rate. I think the situation is getting a little out of hand.]

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