Yorkshire’s Grand Depart – Rapha Tempest Festival

It’s the night before the Grand Départ and things are not looking too rosy in ‘God’s Own Country’. To use the local phrase, it is ‘siling down’ and the floodlights outside the Rapha HQ tent at Broughton Hall in Yorkshire are in danger of being extinguished by a deluge of fierce intensity.  The rain is beating heavily on the plasticised canvas marquee, providing additional percussion to the Friday night beats being played by Rapha DJ’s Joey Hall and Festus. The throng of people inside are having a good time enjoying the tunes, the beer and the company but eyes keep flicking outside and you can feel minds wondering whether the name of the Tempest Festival will prove prophetic. I’m inside too, chatting to a couple of guys sitting at one of the long tables in the bar end of the tent. One notices my concern and leans in conspiratorially. “Don’t worry.” he says over the noise of the music. “I work as a trader in Amsterdam. I have to study the weather to make my bets. The sun will come out at eight o’clock tomorrow morning. I promise you.”

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Yellow Fever – Tour de France Preview

With so much focus in this country on the Grand Départ it has been hard at times to remember that there will be a further 18 days of racing after the world’s biggest cycling cavalcade leaves our shores. I have been as guilty of this as anyone by focussing my thoughts almost entirely on the opening two stages in Yorkshire and the Stage 3 run from Cambridge to London. Everyone is talking about the ‘destiny ‘of Mark Cavendish to win the Maillot Jeune in his mum’s home town of Harrogate and wondering how much damage the fearsome Côte de Jenkins Road will do in the final few kilometres into Sheffield the following day. I think we are suffering from a touch of yellow fever that is clouding our ability to see beyond this weekend. It’s fantastic that we have so much to discuss about the short time the Grand Boucle is with us. But what of the rest of Le Tour?

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Stoller’s Départ – Douglas Cowie & Matthew Shaw

I am lucky to be old enough, and to have arrived in London just in time, to have enjoyed the considerable pleasures of the old Reading Room at the British Museum. The circular space at the centre of the Great Court, which attained almost sacred status to the Capital’s writers of yesteryear, was just about the most evocative place one could imagine to read or write. The Victorian desks, low glowing lights, the curved bookshelves lining the perimeter walls and the elegant clerestory windows were all suitably impressive but so was the archaic ticketed entry system which made you feel as much a part of the ancient furniture as the often impenetrable tomes in the room. Pushing open the low gate and entering the hushed arena of that literary sanctum was about as good as it got for me back then and I mourned the closing of the old Reading Room in 1997 like the loss of an old friend. It remains my favourite London space, despite not being open for 17 years.

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Yorkshire’s Grand Depart – Interview with Head of Media – Andy Denton

With the Tour de France less than a month away, all cycling eyes are turning to Yorkshire as final preparations are made before some of England’s most green and pleasant land is turned yellow for the couple of crazy days that will be Le Grand Depart.

Leading the team charged with communicating the story of Yorkshire’s time in the spotlight is Head of Media, Andy Denton. The Jersey Pocket caught up with this Kentish Lad who found his home in the Yorkshire Dales and then helped win the bid to bring Froome, Nibali, Contador and everyone else to England’s largest county.


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The Complete Book of the Tour De France – Feargal McKay – Book Review


As a self-confessed trivia and fact addict, one of my very favourite books as a teenager was Pears’ Cyclopedia. Not a particularly challenging text for an adolescent I will admit but, in pre-internet days, it was the single best source of a wide range of knowledge that I could lay my hands on. Being then of very limited means (variously pocket money, a paper round, a Saturday job as a kitchen porter, eventually a student loan) I tended to buy one every two to three years rather than each annual publishing. I was never disappointed by each new edition that somehow held a world’s worth of knowledge in a pocket-sized paperback. Looking back now from the considerably expanded knowledge base that we can call upon with just a few taps and swipes, it seems as quaintly antiquated as index cards or typewriters (both of which I also cherished at that time) but, judging by the goosebumps which prickled up and down my back earlier this week, the thrill of a receiving a book that portends to hold ‘all the answers’ creates the same feelings of excitement as it ever did.

Feargal McKay’s “The Complete Book of the Tour De France” (Aurum Press, £25 Hardcover) is by no means pocket-sized. Even in this pre-release paperback format it weighs something close to an Arenberg cobble and, in the new hardback edition that will be released on June 5th, it would probably do similar damage to a speeding front wheel*. But unlike the famed pave blocks that will define Stage 5 on this year’s Tour, this heavyweight cycling compendium can tell you everything you might ever want to know about the Grand Boucle. The old saying that “Knowledge is Power” certainly becomes more compelling when the source of knowledge that you are quoting from could also be used to knock your enemies senseless with a single blow. Try doing that with an iPhone…

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The presentation of apparently endless facts about an annual bike race run in (roughly) the same format for over a century could ostensibly be a dull task to assemble and thereafter be an even duller task to read. Most encyclopaedia’s try to get around this issue by making sure there are a liberal amount of maps, diagrams and illustrations peppering the facts. Pears’ went a degree further by introducing a dozen or so ‘Special Topics’ to each edition. Sitting alongside the more usual Scientific, Historical and Geographical facts, these Special Topics brought some more subjective discussion and debate to the otherwise potentially mundane world of the almanac. More importantly they also delivered some context, personality and story to much of the rest of the book. In order to provide some context to the dry facts and figures that he has meticulously assembled, McKay has also wisely chosen to tell the stories behind the Tour’s various editions and developments, covering its scandals and glories in order provide a definitive statistical account of the Tour and the circumstances under which they were achieved.

And he has done it very well. McKay’s writing has an easy, conversational style that makes you imagine that you are listening to a learned friend telling you about each Tour. Knowing of his Irish background lends an accent to this imagined narration and the book, surprisingly for something that you had expected to be a simple compendium, quickly becomes more of a fireside Jackanory, to be consumed over many evenings, one chapter at a time. Time moves on but the roads and mountains remain and the wheels still turn to conquer them.

So, where to begin? Not necessarily at the beginning. McKay has naturally arranged his book in chronological order (and consumed that way the accompanying narratives would build to give a comprehensive – and comprehensible – understanding of the Tour’s progress through the decades) but one of the real joys of an almanac is that you don’t need to devour it in any particular order. In fact, there is a strong case for saying that you should never actually read it at all. Instead you should either consult it for a particular reason (just who was the Lanterne Rouge in 1937?) or you should just browse in order to allow it to reveal it’s secrets to you in a random, chance-like fashion by flipping pages until a word or name catches your eye. Anquetil, Aucouturier, Alpe D’Huez; Pottier, Pantani, Puy de Dome; Garin, Gimondi, Galibier… It’s an Aladdin’s Cave of Tour History, Tour Geography, Tour Science and Tour Politics. All you have to do is walk in..

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The stories that you find next to the stats change as the motivating forces behind the Tour change from the requirements of marketing to requirements of politics, which in turn give way to commercialisation, which in turn give way to a need for regaining credibility. Throughout the main characters rise and fall as time takes it’s inevitable toll on all and yet the lists goes on. The charts at the end of each Tour story are presented in the same prosaic fashion throughout and, stripped bare of all the drama, intrigue and effort that the narrative has just given us, returns the riders to the immortality of the statistic. All are equal. Geants de la Route.

I would dearly love to see a future edition that included simple maps of each running of the Tour. Done in a consistent way, which was in keeping with the unchanging tables of Stage and Overall Winners, would not spoil the power of their simplicity but would add an extra dimension to the ‘Completeness’ of the book and would help chart the early decades of growth in particular. I don’t think the postmen around the country would thank me for adding an extra 50 or so pages to the already weighty volume but I think the cycling buffs (who will hugely enjoy this excellent book without them) definitely would.

Aurum Publishing are offering a free copy of The Complete Book of the Tour de France as a prize in the very first Jersey Pocket competition. Just send an email to thejerseypocket@gmail.com and a winner will be picked at random on June 5th.

* 02.06.14 update – Aurum have confirmed that the published book will be a paperback, not a hardback as initially intended.

Giro d’Italia Preview – Whatever happened to all the heroes?

“Whatever happened to all the heroes? All the Shakespeareos?” –  The Stranglers: No More Heroes

With the Giro d’Italia starting in Belfast on Friday, and the inaugural Women’s Tour of Britain breaking new ground in England this week, there are probably more top-level cyclists currently on UK soil than for many, many a year. But whilst the Women’s Tour has attracted the crème de la crème of female riders, this edition of the Giro has been dogged by some big name stay-aways who are preferring to focus on the Tour de France later in the Summer.


If this is your first time watching the Giro check out the Beginner’s Guide at the bottom of the page.

Defending champion Vincenzo Nibali’s decision to fight for Yellow rather than Pink has perhaps caused the biggest concern for the organisers and certainly for the homegrown fans. Italian cycling is suffering from a cyclical downturn and true contenders appear very thin on the ground despite their country-men making up more than a third of the 198 entrants. Previous winners Damiano Cunego, Michele Scarponi and Ivan Basso are riding (as is 2012 winner Ryder Hesjedal) but none have shown the form that would put them into consideration for the top prize. Elsewhere, Joaquin ‘Purito’ Rodriguez, a seemingly resurgent Cadel Evans and 2013 Tour de France runner up Nairo (Nero for this race, surely??) Quintana do bring undoubted quality but there remains a feeling that this is very much a sideshow filled with men who are either deemed too old for a Tour win, or still too young. Quintana, with an occasionally 50-year-old looking face on his 24 year old body, sits in both camps.


Quintana: the favourite is an old head & young shoulders above the rest.

Injury and accident have also robbed the start list of a couple of key battles. Richie Porte’s early season illness has pushed his goals backwards, meaning we miss out on a potential repeat of a high-level Sky vs Movistar battle that illuminated last years Tour and which had been widely expected. After Wiggins’ disastrous appearance in Italy last year (and Sky’s courting of the American market in the overlapping Tour of California this year) it’s been left to local boy Dario Cataldo to carry the hopes of Sky for this Grand Tour instead. Chris Horner’s incident with a car during recent training has also removed his name from the start list and with it the intriguing prospect of him going head-to-head on the mountains with Quintana whose age is his own digits swapped around.

Visa issues have also blighted the build-up to Belfast’s Grande Partenza. A number of riders have apparently either been denied visas by the UK authorities or simply not received them (and their all important passports) back in time. Cue further last-minute roster re-shuffling. That aside, preparations for the big roll-out in Ireland seems to have captured the enthusiastic spirit that the country is famous for. The Emerald Isle has been turned totally pink – literally in some cases – with fuchsia sheep, rose horses, coral cranes and even the odd mauve mayor popping up the celebrate the coming of the Giro. 1987 winner Stephen Roche has been roped in as the de facto ambassador for the first three days and, with his son Nicholas leading the Tinkoff-Saxobank team and his nephew, Dan Martin of Garmin-Sharp in the hunt for stage wins, he will be hoping to continue celebrating long after the Giro caravan has moved on.

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There will be lots of pink wool to be had in Ireland’s Autumn/Winter fashions.

And move on they must; for after starting from the Titanic museum near Belfast’s famous shipyards and winding their way through North and South en-route to Dublin, the whole entourage faces a long transfer to Southern Italy before beginning the stages ‘up the boot’ towards the Alps and the Dolomites. This year’s finish will be in Trieste on June 1st but there is a whole heap of climbing to be done before the riders reach the final port. And that brings us back to Quintana.

With a favourable course than includes monstrous ascents of the Gavia & Stelvio on Stage 16, a mountain time-trial up the Monte Grappa on Stage 19 and then a penultimate day which ends with the eye-watering ramps of the Zoncolan, the tiny Colombian climber looks set to thrive. Quintana has been given the lead role of a strong team under the pretext of Movistar preferring to develop him in the less pressured environment of the Giro. With the relatively depleted start list though, this plan could backfire as Quintana is now such a hot favourite (10-11 ON at the time of writing) that anything less than the win will be seen as a sure thing thrown away. With such high expectations, and without another potential leader within the team to deflect attention, all the pressure will actually be fully on him from the outset. One hopes that his attacking style is not overly curtailed by the burden of favouritism.


If Quintana can’t land the Giro in a suitably swashbucklingly way I suspect that most neutrals will be hoping that the ever-popular Purito finally lands a Grand Tour. Whatever happens, we don’t want a defensive phoney war through the mountains with one explosive attack on the last 100m of the Zoncolan any more than we did the dull time-trialled victories of Indurain. More than any other Grand Tour, the Giro sets itself up to be about spectacle. Let’s hope it delivers. Forza!


Beginner’s Guide to the Giro

21 stages, 3 rest days (Mondays), 3,449.9 kilometres.

Key stages: 16 (Tuesday 27th), 19 (Friday 30th), 20 (Saturday 31st)

TdF/Giro Differences: Yellow is Pink, Green is Red, Polka Dots are solid blue, White is still white.

Grand Depart = Grande Partenza, Domestique = GregarioMaillot Jaune = Maglia Rosa

Froome is Porte, Kennaugh, Cataldo. Cav is Swift. Kittel is still Kittel.

Foreign Starts – Grand Tours on Tour

With both the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia set to start outside of their own borders next year it seems like a good time to have a look at this increasingly regular phenomenon. In 2014 the Giro will spend three days in Ireland during May, visiting both Belfast and Dublin, before Le Tour comes to Yorkshire, Cambridge and London in July. Whilst the Vuelta tends to be much more of an insular affair – having only started outside of Spain twice in it’s 60 year history –  a fifth of all the Giro starts since it’s first foray to San Marino in 1965 have been foreign affairs.
The Tour is an even more international event with over 20 foreign starts dating back as early as 1954 in Amsterdam. This began a sequence of around three Tours each decade commencing in foreign parts up until the Millennium. After that they increased again and Tour De France race director Christian Prudhomme clearly stated his aims in 2007 when he said that 3 out of every 5 Tours should begin abroad. Talk during the Armstrong era of a start on American soil may have failed to materialise because of the very real logistical issues of transferring the entire race and it’s vast entourage across 5 time zones of Atlantic Ocean but the appetite to take the Tour ‘on tour’ is self evident.

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Yorkshire’s Grand Depart – Countdown commencement

A year from today, July 5th 2014, the Tour de France will roll out from Leeds – it’s most Northerly, and perhaps least likely starting point ever. Last December Yorkshire won the bid to host the 2014 Grand Depart, beating competition from much more apparently obvious choices such as Florence, Berlin and Barcelona (as well as the less immediately obvious choice of Venice…. Hello? Canals?). Succesfully riding the tide of the success of Cav & Brad, and by skilfully tapping the burgeoning public enthusiasm for road cycling that bloomed during the London Grand Depart in 2007 and then again for the 2012 Olympics, Yorkshire played their bid to their particular strengths and are now beginning the execution of a critical 12 months worth of awareness and opportunity building in order to make the very most of the Tour’s short time in their hands. 


The Route

Yorkshire’s initial bid had suggested that the Tour would spend three full days in England’s largest county. However, once the route (decided by the Tours French owners ASO) was confirmed a couple of months after the bid win, Yorkshire was left with Stages 1 and 2, with Stage 3 located in the South, running from Cambridge to a central London finish. I was personally disappointed that the mooted third day was dropped in favour of London. There were suggestions that the route would include my home town of Hull and would cross the Humber Bridge – which I think would have been a great Tour image – but the two Stages they do have look to be absolute crackers.

Stage 1. Leeds to Harrogate. 

Leeds – Harewood – Otley – Ilkley – Skipton – Kettlewell – Aysgarth – Hawes – Reeth – Leyburn – Ripon – Harrogate

No prologue again next year and the first stage looks to be similar to this years in trying to set up a sprinter for the first Maillot Jaune. It’s a 190km looping course, initially striking out North-West from Leeds, taking in the open country of the Yorkshire Dales National Park before heading back close to the starting point in Harrogate. Cav’s mum lives around the corner to finish and he will be especially fired up after missing out on his chance to wear yellow this year.

Stage 2. York to Sheffield.

York – Knaresborough – Silsden – Keighley – Haworth – Hebden Bridge – Elland – Huddersfield – Holmfirth – Sheffield

The second stage has been described by Christian Prudhomme as being more like a Spring Classic and whilst a pure sprinter may be in yellow as they roll out of York to start the 200km anti-clockwise loop it’s unlikely he would be atop the podium come the days end. If Cav did grab the leader’s jersey on Day 1 there will be some memorable scenes as the route returns through Harrogate. Lingering shots of Cav’s mum waving out of her window as her yellow-clad son is allowed to lead the peloton through town perhaps.. The route then winds down through West Yorkshire across a sawtooth profile (including the brilliantly named Blubberhouses where my mother’s family trace their roots back to, and then Hebden Bridge where I lived out a memorably up-and-down year after university) before finishing in Sheffield on a small repeating circuit. Prudhomme has made comparisons between the Stage 2 route and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and he obviously feels that the puncheurs will be at the head of affairs through the last few kilometres.

The direction is clear. ASO want more, and more different, yellow jersey wearers in the first days of the race. They want to open out the leader’s spot to all rider styles and create greater spectacle from the off. In choosing challenging routes over more glamorous backdrops they seem keen to put the cycling, and not the spectacle, first. They believe, as should we all, that, given the right terrain and passionate hosts, that the spectacle will come naturally.

You can see maps and more info on the routes at Yorkshire’s website here.

I’ll be returning to the Grand Depart regularly over the next year and looking a number of different aspects. Suggestions welcome.