LeMond. LeGend.

February 17, 2012

Greg LeMond in the famous change room of the Roubaix velodrome after the 1991 Paris-Roubaix. Look at his eyes. This man is a million miles away. Probably trying to find the energy to chew and swallow whatever pre gel food he’s trying to get into his body after 300 odd kilometers of windswept racing and the jackhammer vibrations of the cobblestone roads that make this race so epic.

I remember the era fondly. John Tesh did the commentary for NBC Sport’s broadcast of the Tour in those years. At the time of this photo LeMond had cemented himself firmly into the pantheon of cycling myth having won the Tour de France 3 times (86, 89, 90) and the World Championships (89). He would retire only two years later after destroying his body trying to keep up to middle of the pack guys that suddenly became contenders overnight. The start of the EPO era, when several large teams instituted doping programs.

Photo by Klaas Jan van der Weij, pulled from Velominati.

Blue Collar Bike Riding

February 15, 2012

I often feel like a blue collar dude working in a white collar world. Salary or not, I’ve always felt that an hour worked is an hour paid and I’ll never really get away from feeling like that. In virtually everything I’ve ever done that 1:1 ratio holds true. There are no freebies, or, if there are, I’m not smart enough to see them. In essence, in all things, you only ever get out what you put in. And I think the sooner an individual realizes this the sooner they get their life together. It doesn’t just come to you. Same thing with bike racing. I was reminded of this through a conversation I had recently with a fellow Synergist, Joe, and an old quote came up.

“Bike racing is a blue collar sport. You’ve got to put in the time.”

I don’t know who said that. It was awhile ago, the 80’s I’m sure, as its been around at least that long.  A Dog in a Hat: An American Bike Racer’s Story of Mud, Drugs, Blood, Betrayal, and Beauty in Belgium, Joe Parkin’s awesome book of a few years ago, delved into the lifestyle behind that sentiment. The book is set in the 80’s when he went over to Belgium, one of the early Americans to do that kind of thing.

Compare this with the fact that, to the outsider, road cycling in North America has an elitist look to it. Its filtered through our culture, for sure, but a lot of the teams nowadays are sponsored by banks and white collar institutions which really contributes to this. Certainly a lot of the people that have picked up the sport post Lance Armstrong also perpetuate this. I’ve heard it said that ‘cycling is the new golf’ for the so called ‘MAMIL – Middle Aged Men in Lycra’, the demographic that essentially funds innovation (thank you!) in bike technology by throwing disposable income at carbon fiber wheels and heart-rate monitors. These things take the perception of the sport in North America away from the roots and guts that Parkin writes about.

The crux of the quote above is clear – no matter who you are you need to ride to get faster. That’s the deal. But the day to day reality of the sport is like what’s talked about in Parkin’s book. A day to day, hour to hour grind. Sometimes good, sometimes bad. A job. So its true in that sense as well. Coincidentally the act of writing is much like this. Another piece of culture that looks all fancy and white collar to the uninitiated, but is really a thing improved only ever by commitment and practice, an hour at a time.

Here’s an exercise. The next time you’re in Home Depot, or Revy, or some other place like that, keep your eyes peeled to see how many pro team sponsors you’ll see. And they’ll be European. Look for Quick Step and for Mapei, two of the more mythical teams of the last 20 years. Find others. These sponsors mirror the core of Parkin’s book and experience, as well as the heart of what’s beneath that quote and the sport itself.

I’ve appreciated that connection since I first noticed it. Mapei, the team of Paris Roubaix and the place The Lion of Flanders finished his hard-man career with is….brick laying cement. Yep. It’s perfect. All the color and flash and spectacle you see on TV is supported by brick and mortar. And that’s the point I’m trying to make here.

On that note, here’s a blue collar icon singing the song that most resembles my feeling every time I try to do an interval workout, you know, the kind where your fingertips turn white ’cause the blood won’t go there anymore?

I’m always holding on to what I got (watts), halfway there (minutes), and living on a prayer until I can finally, for f$#’s sake, stop pedaling.

Joy Division to New Order through Ceremony

February 7, 2012

Everyone’s favorite spastic dancer loses control

I was talking about this with my pal Trent, a week or so ago, and saying how I wanted to write a blog post about the evolution of Joy Division into New Order following the suicide of Ian Curtis.


Both bands are great for their own reasons, but what’s really interesting, to me at least, is to look at the transition from JD to NO, from Curtis to Sumner, and how the mood and tone of the band changed, and also how the mood and tone of the band stayed the same.

The best song to look at to see this evolution, I think, is Ceremony.

It was one of the last Joy Division songs and one of the first New Order songs. Curtis wrote the lyrics and first recorded it and it was the first song that the reincarnated New Order did immediately after his death. Guitarist Bernard Sumner stepped up to sing and, purportedly, had to transcribe the lyrics from the audio of Curtis as they weren’t actually written down anywhere. I’m not sure if that’s true, but if it is, and if you stop to think about it, there’s something incredibly, hauntingly, horrifyingly beautiful about that. The first sounds moving forward for this collection of friends are initiated by the ghost of the recently departed Curtis. How his voice must’ve just hung in the air of that room.

Now if you’re not really a Joy Division fan, or not into this music, the best version for you to listen to is likely the New Order version from the 1987 album Substance. I’m not saying that this is the best version, its just the most sort of accessible one – although the 7″ version is a bit more punk and raw and that’s good too. The original Joy Division recording is very muffled and Curtis’ distinct and robotic drone can be a bit alienating if you haven’t warmed up to it.

Give these a listen back-to-back. The vocals are really bad in the first two but these are the only recordings of this song, so that’s all there’s ever going to be.

The second one here has some rather Transylvanian sounding spookiness.

The third is the first version after Curtis, with Sumner singing. But it’s still very much an emulation of a Joy Division song, one performed by the guys in the sound they’d always had.

The fourth one, from the 7″, is the version that you could suggest is the first, legit, New Order version. The tempo is faster, getting further away from that reverby punkish sound and into something more polished and studio-esque. There’s only a matter of months between these but the direction is there. This is also, I feel, where Sumner is singing more as himself and less as an Ian Curtis impersonator, although that it definitely still there, too. You hear a bit of both, which is why that version is the absolute coolest. It maintains the rawness and DIY feel of Joy Division, yet you start to get a little bit more melody and the more outgoing, vibrant, and more optimistic passion of Sumner and New Order. It’s my fave.

The final version, which was put on the 1987 album Substance, is where the transition is complete. Its important to note that while that last one appeared on an album six years later it was actually recorded in the same year as the 7″ – in 1981. In fact, all five of these were done within just over a year. And by a group of people in their early 20’s who had just lost their friend and leader.

Joy Division, 1980, from Heart and Soul

Joy Division, 1980, live, two weeks before Curtis’ death

New Order, March 1981

New Order, 1981, single 7″

New Order, 1987, Substance

This is why events unnerve me,
They find it all, a different story,
Notice whom for wheels are turning,
Turn again and turn towards this time,
All she ask’s the strength to hold me,
Then again the same old story,
World will travel, oh so quickly,
Travel first and lean towards this time.

Oh, I’ll break them down, no mercy shown,
Heaven knows, it’s got to be this time,
Watching her, these things she said,
The times she cried,
Too frail to wake this time.

Oh I’ll break them down, no mercy shown
Heaven knows, it’s got to be this time,
Avenues all lined with trees,
Picture me and then you start watching,
Watching forever, forever,
Watching love grow, forever,
Letting me know, forever.

A Sunday Epic

February 7, 2012

Alarm bells sounded
in my dream
I did my best to sleep
But a hand reached in and grabbed my ankle
Dragged me through the same routine
Cold air filled my lungs
Felt like I slept for months
Hypnotised by repetition
Living without living at all
Fresh air brought a sense of smell
Renewed my strength
But the pins and needles hurt my feet
As I walked from an interrupted dream
And to look back now
I can only see those streets in black and white
I never found the rainbow’s end
But at least I found a better place without you

McConnell invited me out on a back roads, gravel and singletrack ‘cross fest with some hardcore mountain bike masochists a few weeks ago. The theme song for this ride is brought to you by England’s Guns and Wankers, a punk band comprised of members of another English punk band called Snuff, and from an album called ‘For Dancing and Listening’, which we would play, non stop, for days on end, back when I had a huge blonde afro, lived on beans and rice, and worked in bike shops. I’ve highlighted the appropriate lyrics so that you, dear reader, might also connect with the uncanny relationship between this song and what riding 140k in below zero temperatures was like.

Cruisin north of Cochrane, AB

Gel stop and south to town for lunch

“This one time we lost a couple of guys to a pack of wolves.”

I needed a blow torch to get my shoes off, but hey, there was beer and pizza in my future.