Breakaway

25 July 2011 § 8 Comments

Breaking away

Today
This sunny Sunday lane
Is our own private
Tour parcours
Complete with mimicked Phil-and-Paul
To lend us greater speed:

“And now
The leader
In the Best Young Rider competition
Makes the move
On the inside –

The gap’s opening up –

And the champion
Must respond to this:

He’s digging deep

Let’s not forget
He’s the oldest man
In the race,
So you’ve got to ask;
Has he got the legs
To counter the attack
And close it down
Or are we about to see
A new era ushered in?”

Of course
If I chose
I could go
Straight over the top of her;

But, smiling, I permit
Her cheeky breakaway to succeed
And sit on her wheel;
Training for the big attacks
And moves I cannot answer
In the stages still to come,
Knowing that one day I’ll have to watch her
Head up the road alone.

Written after yesterday’s ride with my 10-year-old daughter, who seems to have inherited my competitive streak on the bike…my fault for encouraging her to watch Le Tour, I guess. For those who haven’t been glued to ITV4 or SKY for the past three weeks, ‘Phil-and-Paul’ are the dynamic commentary duo of Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen, who have been the ‘voices’ of cycling to British fans for over 30 years.

The road twice travelled

9 March 2011 § 8 Comments

A different view

The spirit that drove us
Off the plain, over the water,
Through the mountains, to the moon,
Rebels at retracing a single step.
But every road
Is two roads:
Heading out
That flock of pigeons lent the shaw
An outlandish foliage of white and grey;
Now they dot the grass below
Like morning mushrooms in September;
When it was on my left
I never saw that ditch was newly cleared,
Its sloping sides scraped clean, and smooth as butter;
Those ponies are on their feet now;
A new buzzard casts its shadow over Plashett Wood;
My old friend the kestrel
Is back at his habitual post on the telephone wires,
Where his vole-revealing eyes relentlessly defoliate the field;
And I’d swear those primroses
Weren’t shining palely in the hedge-bottom
When I passed five minutes back.
In the time it took
To stop, decide, dismount and wheel around
The world has turned,
Reshaped itself:
The steep ascents I struggled up
Are gentle swoops and whooping glides;
The sun is warm and on my face
And those two magpies in the meadow
Cancel out their single, sorrowful brother
And send me smiling home.

Reckoned it was about time for another cycling poem. Normally I aim to ride in loops, but on Monday, I ended up doing an out-and-back. A simple switch of direction and suddenly everything was different. I was amazed by how many things (even if only small) could change in a few minutes, and how much I noticed going back that I had missed completely heading out.

Precision

4 February 2011 § 7 Comments

Bike-riding shows me something wonderful in Nature every day. Some days it’s a big thing, like a fox or a rainbow; other times it’s just a tiny moment of perfection like this one.

ABSOLUTE PRECISION

As I pass
A blackbird bursts
Out of the hedge
Like a mortar shell
And
In its sudden startled flight,
Bullets between the lowest bars
Of a white farm gate
Across the road;
Laser-guided through a gap
Just wingtip-wide, then
Ricochets across the yard
To lodge in a tree
That happens to be
In the right place at the right time.
While I congratulate myself
On avoiding the pothole
I spotted at a hundred feet.

Near miss (2)

22 November 2010 § 1 Comment

The signs were quite clear: Men Working; Road Narrows. But the guy in the car behind me decided they didn’t apply to him. So with engine screaming, he overtook, downhill on a blind bend, barely squeezing between me and a parked truck, which two blokes were loading with branches they’d just finished cutting from the trees beside the road. I just hope he was going somewhere really, really important.

NEAR MISS (2)

If you’re going to kill me,
Do it right:

Pull a gun
Stick a knife
Hurl a fist
Or press your thumbs against my throat;

Give me an end
To make a song
Or tale my little one can tell:
A glorious fall
In single combat
One-on-one
In defence of something precious,

Not some senseless, sightless
Snuffing-out
On a rainy Monday
A mile from home.

If you’re going to kill me,
Do me this much kindness:
Look me in the eye
And prove you are
As much a man as me.

Back in business

22 November 2010 § 2 Comments

Yesterday, I rode a metric century (100km) – my first this year and my longest ride since the whole arthritis thing kicked off back in the spring. It was a local Reliability Trial; a classic-end-of-season cycling club event in which the aim is to complete the course as close to a set finishing-time as possible. I’d trained quite carefully and everything came right on the day. Having thought I may have to quit the sport a few months ago, it really feels as though things are back to normal. And not a moment too soon. This poem (bit of a long ‘un, I’m afraid) is dedicated to my good friend and ride partner Kev Smith.

TRIAL OF STRENGTH

Early. Quiet. Cold.
Firing up old instincts
I’d once feared dead.
We have the road
To ourselves; no sign
Of our 149 opponents.
We get the first hints
A mile from the hall:
Here they are, all
Parked up; late-model German estates
With vanity plates,
Antlered with roof-racks
Or the back seats down. On the roadside
Anonymous riders
Refitting wheels, shoving shoes on,
Slipping bidons into cages.
At the start, we gather
A curious brotherhood
In our ill-matched winter kit.
Best bikes and old hacks
Stand stacked three-deep
Against walls, propped on posts
As we make the most
Of the chance to chat, check
Equipment. No turning back
Once we’re over that line.
So we sign our names,
Roll down to the start,
With every heart
Tightened. And – go.
A hundred k ahead, so start slow
On the back of the bunch; sit in
And spin. First hill and we’re splitting
Into twos and threes. For some
You can tell there’s a long day to come.
Easy for the first ten
Or so, then
Hit our first real big one, and
In seconds the field’s flung to hell and gone.
Head down, drive on,
Spot a gap like a lift door
Just before it shuts: dive through
Straight up the middle, between two
Riders right on the limit.
Make it look easy. Just like old times
On these fierce, familiar climbs,
Putting clubmen to the sword,
Breezing by without a word
To ride alone to the summit,
Drink, draw breath, then plummet
Into the valley with fearless
Fury, carving through corners careless
Of speed and the laws of physics,
Held to earth by two hard, trusted slicks
And a deep belief it will never
Happen to me. Up again and over
The high point of the ride
Which I found cloaked in cloud
The day I chose to check
The route, but now the mists peel back
To flood the land with sun.
Here, halfway round, the real work is done
So settle down for the long haul home.
The wind that helped us out here has become
The enemy, cold and in our faces,
And the hot, hard chases turn to steady
Toil in the headwind
That slowly sucks the strength
From legs and lungs, wears down the will. At length
We cross the line, with just enough left in the tank
To get us home (at least, we think).

The cold and hills will not prevail.
We took the test. We did not fail.

The next generation…

4 November 2010 § 2 Comments

Written for me this morning by my nine-year-old daughter. She explained she wanted to cheer me up. Mission accomplished, I’d say.

THE CYCLIST

He pedals hard,
He pedals fast.
Trees and hedges
He whizzes past.

He’s a very good rider,
Training for the Tour.
He’ll win this one
I’m very, very sure.

Then suddenly, he finds a hill.
A big one, 4000ft tall.
If he rides this one
He’ll outride them all.

He starts to sprint,
He wants to win!
“He’s done it!”
His team-mates start to sing.

How do I follow that?

Deep roots

12 October 2010 § 3 Comments

Rain makes autumn cultivations a tricky, stop-start affair on our clay soils, but in the current dry, unseasonably warm spell, they’re progressing at a furious pace. This is one of my favourite times of the farming year: I’ve always been fascinated by the heavy implements that turn ragged stubbles into smooth, drilled seedbeds, and watching their steady passes up and down the fields. On a ride with The Guv’nor yesterday, I found myself pulling off the road to observe a big rig at work; a childhood habit I’ve realised I’m in no hurry to shake off. So, apologies for another tractor poem; normal service will resume shortly.

CULTIVATING HABITS

A deep diesel drone
And the thin, brittle ring
Of steel on stone.
That sound
Half-heard
Has me
Diving for the verge
Like blue lights and sirens:
Searching
For a gap in the hedge
To peer, wary as a poacher,
At a big New Holland
With a till-and-drill machine
Beyond Jethro’s wildest fancy.
Still the lad
Who’d haunt the lanes
Then, bike forgotten,
Wait patiently on gate or stile
And watch the land at work;
An eager boy who shrugs
At the grown man’s shame.

Out and about

4 October 2010 § 1 Comment

One of the things I’ve learned recently (and belatedly) is that you don’t have to go far or fast to have a proper bike ride. I did this little route yesterday with The Guv’nor, snatching the only half-hour of the day when it wasn’t raining; although it never takes me more than a couple of miles from home as the crow flies, it’s full of interest, both from a technical riding point of view, and in the sheer variety of things to see on the way. As backyards go, I guess it’s pretty good.

CLOSE TO HOME

It begins, like them all,
With a hill.
A well-known haul
Up from the town and the river
To the greensand ridge.

A straight mile, more or less,
Attention divided
Between fast-moving traffic
And cauliflower clouds
Heaped over the Downs.

Change down, toil up
A hundred-yard climb
Left rugged and rubbled by frosts
Then a long, cooling plunge
To the heart-in-mouth bridge

And charge for the stiff pull
Through a tunnel of trees;
Sandy banks brock-burrowed
Deep shadows harbouring
The shy deer.

Into the village: sharp left
At the Hare and Hounds
And light out for home
Slashing through esses
Past the Big House, the farm shop and stables

Then stoop like a falcon
Down Bird-in-Eye Hill
And into the final few furlongs
Of brick terraced houses
Parked cars, potholes, patched tarmac, impatience.

Four-and-a-half miles;
About twenty minutes (on a good day).
Not far, not fast,
But a little of everything
I look for in a ride.

Tour 2010: Stage 20

26 July 2010 § 8 Comments

The final kilometres of this year’s Tour were played out in traditional fashion in Paris. Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia) won his fifth stage, and also became the first rider ever to win on the Champs-Elysées two years running. Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini) was second, which gave him overall victory in the green jersey competition.
Alberto Contador (Astana) won the Tour without winning a stage and having been pushed every inch of the way by Andy Schleck. Could we see a change at the top of the sport next season? One man who’s definitely heading for the exit, this time for good, is Lance Armstrong, who finished an anonymous 23rd – not the glorious last hurrah we’d have liked to have seen from the seven-time winner.
It’s been a great Tour, and for the first time in years, I’ve enjoyed it from start to finish. So, inspired by my blog-pal Chloe, my closing entry in this three-week poetry marathon is a retrospective of the entire event in haiku; one for each of the 20 stages.
Thanks for joining me on the road to Paris.

PROLOGUE

Twenty-two times nine
Slaves to the clock. One stands; cries
‘I am Spartacus!”

STAGE 1.

Stage, one; countries, two.
On the run into Brussels
Petacchi sprouts wings.

STAGE 2

Spa cure for the blues:
Chavanel is in yellow;
France is feeling good.

STAGE 3

On a day in Hell,
Cobbles claim men’s bones and souls.
But Thor’s in heaven.

STAGE 4

As the Champagne flows
For Petacchi once again,
Has Cav’s bubble burst?

STAGE 5

So the lead-out train
Gets it right. And suddenly
Cav is back on track.

STAGE 6

First Cav couldn’t win
Now it seems he cannot stop.
Two down, three to go.

STAGE 7

Second time around
Taking yellow the hard way.
Chapeau, Chavanel.

STAGE 8

As the road heads up
Schleck breaks free of gravity.
Shades of Charly Gaul.

STAGE 9

On the Madeleine
Sandy’s out there on his own.
Still is at the line.

STAGE 10

Where Beloki fell
Paulinho makes no mistake
Keeps his winning Gap.

STAGE 11

Cav makes it thirteen
Beats Robbie, Cipo, Zabel
Along with the rest.

STAGE 12

Alberto goes clear;
Andy loses by a hair.
Shape of things to come?

STAGE 13

Vino’s comeback win,
But his past means this is not
One to Revel in.

STAGE 14

Riblon wins alone:
After three lean, unseen years
The Ax man cometh.

STAGE 15

Centenary day
In the Pyrenees. Vockler
Leaves them on a high.

STAGE 16

Peyresourde, Aspin,
Tourmalet, Aubisque. Such names
Don’t scare Fédrigo.

STAGE 17

And then there were two.
On the highest, hardest road
They are on their own.

STAGE 18

Sprinters call it home.
Cav blazes into Bordeaux,
Claims a vintage win.

STAGE 19

Schleck is cast to fail.
Doesn’t read the script. Almost
Forces a rewrite.

STAGE 20

Number five for Cav,
Three for Contador. For Lance
It’s seven and out.

Longjumeau-Paris Champs-Elysées, 102.5km
Won by Mark Cavendish (HTC-Columbia)

Maillot jaune: Alberto Contador (Astana)
Maillot vert: Alessandro Petacchi (Lampre-Farnese Vini)
Maillot au pois: Anthony Charteau (Bbox Bouygues Telecom)
Maillot blanc: Andy Schleck (Saxo Bank)
Team classification: Radio Shack
Lanterne rouge: Adriano Malori (Lampre-Farnese Vini) @ 4h 27m 03s

Tour 2010: Stage 19

25 July 2010 § Leave a comment

The form-book suggested Andy Schleck could lose minutes to Alberto Contador in the only individual time trial of this year’s Tour. As things turned out, it was a lot closer than any of us – including the protagonists themselves – ever imagined. At the first time check, Schleck was actually slightly ahead of the maillot jaune; on the line, he’d lost just 31 seconds, giving Contador a winning margin of 39 seconds – the second-closest finish in Tour history.

A CLOSE-RUN THING

Thirty-nine
On the line.
First check:
Schleck
In front by a nose;
Too close
To call;
Left it all
To Alberto
To do
Or die.
But a guy
With four Grand
Tour wins in hand
Doesn’t crack
So easily
And finally
The man came back
But he was spent
And what it meant
Was clear
From his tears.

Bordeaux-Paulliac, 52km ITT
Won by Fabian Cancellara (Saxo Bank)
Maillot jaune: Alberto Contador (Astana)

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