Followers of my Instagram account – @thejerseypocket – may have noticed a recurring feature popping up in recent pictures of me.. I’ve been rather taken by Velocast’s Lego cyclists T-shirts and have been slowly assembling the full set of the old-school racers. Having a couple of young children who are big fans of both cycling and the ubiquitous Danish plastic blocks has made this collection a little easier to explain away but the truth is that the majority of the riders whom Velocast have chosen to re-immortalise are the self-same heroes that I was watching whilst still mucking about with Lego in the first place – so the match-up is very apt.
Tom Simpson in classic black and white Peugeot kit; Eddy Merckx in the brilliant black and orange of Molteni; the young peloton-destroying ‘Professeur’ Fignon in the furiously slanting lines of Renault-Elf; Hinault and Lemond locked together in their famous tussle for control of the Mondrianesque La Vie Claire; and, of course, Robert Millar (complete with ponytail) resplendent in the Z-Vêtements jersey that, for me at least, marked the end of the classic cycling era.
The range goes a bit further with Taylor Phinney and Marianne Vos but it’s the old school guys that really took my fancy. It’s hard to pick a favourite. I like the Hinault/Lemond double because it tells a story but I wear Eddy the most. The slightly smaller-sized figure on the jersey works better I think, and as Eddy won practically everything else it seems right he should win this little battle too.
The T-shirts are available at the velocast.cc shop priced £25.
Hair got me into cycling. I know it sounds ridiculous – the leap from barnet(1) to bicycle is not an easy one to imagine – but it’s true. The ponytails of firstly Robert Millar and then, and more importantly, Laurent Fignon bewitched me more than any lofty mountain pass or low-profile time trial machine. Who were these sportsmen who exhibited such flair with their hair? It is said that the aero disadvantage of Fignon’s follicle affectation cost him the 1989 Tour, which he lost to the tousled golden locks of the American Greg Lemond by just eight seconds, but (and I realise that it would have been scant consolation to the distraught Frenchman) it won my undying admiration.
Fignon and on and on.
When I was a kid watching the Tour de France in the late Eighties, my rider allegiances often switched with whichever was my favourite jersey design. I would find myself supporting Renault one year, PDM the next, Z-Peugeot the year after that. As with football a few years earlier (and in the very same way as my young children today) I was something of a itinerant fan. I would pick a jersey, a haircut or a battle between two big stars and plump for one of them. The following year I could very well pick the other guy and have him as my favourite. This certainly happened in 1990 when my support switched from Laurent Fignon the year before to Lemond. Even though my football allegiance had very quickly solidified into one team over the others (mainly due to the fact I that I outgrew the Tottenham shirt – and the associated desire to be Steve Archibald – that I had been given and which caused much confusion in my Manchester-leaning mind) cycling remained ever thus. Unbiased. Unencumbered. Un-tribalised.
“Chris Horner’s recent victory at La Vuelta has made him the oldest winner of a Grand Tour stage ever. At 41 years and 307 days he eclipsed the previous record by some margin to win Stage 3. Horner is one of a few Grand Old Men still riding hard in the hardest of races at what should be long past the dusk of their careers.”
I wrote these words a couple of weeks ago on holiday thinking that I could return home and finish it off to create a piece about the wonderful remarkableness of a couple of older guys winning the odd stage in Grand Tours. The trouble is Horner has kept winning and at this moment – the morning of the last real racing day of La Vuelta – he leads by 3 seconds having distanced his younger rivals on a number of occasions to claw back the time he lost in the Individual Time Trial. Eyebrows are being raised so far they are falling off the back of some correspondents heads, and tongues are wagging so furiously that they are danger of giving their owners whiplash. Whatever the truth is about how Horner is managing such a performance, the cycling community seems desperate to avoid looking naive again.
“This years Tour de France”, I wrote “was illuminated on multiple occasions by Jens Voigt attacking from the get-go and then attacking the break again in an age-defying attempt to solo to a victory. One month older than Horner he fell just short of a win in France although he did manage a solo victory in the Tour of California earlier in the year. So what are Horner and Voigt doing still riding off the front at the wrong side of 40? What on earth keeps them going? And at what cost?”
Each day that has passed has made the implied assumption that Horner would fade and fall down the GC as the race progressed more ridiculous. But what else would have been a reasonable assumption to have made? I wrote elsewhere that Horner’s “few days in red” at the beginning of the race might even complicate his team leader Cancellara’s plans.. I did not contemplate for a second that we would still be writing about him now.