Podcast: SSCXWCITA17

Recorded a lot of stuff while I was out in Verona for the single speed cyclocross world champs. Put it all together into a little podcast which you can listen to below.

Report from the single speed cyclocross world championships in Verona where world champions were crowned, obstacles were set on fire, many crashes were had, much beer was drunk, and two tattoos were administered.

Race Report. SSCXWCITA17.

I think this might be the hardest blog post I’ve ever had to write. It’s not that I’ve got writer’s block, or that what I’m trying to speak about is a painful subject. Nope, it’s that I spent an hour of last night sleeping in a car park somewhere in the East Midlands, and when I finally did make it home I had to be at work about 4 hours later. In the last 12 hours I’ve driven from Verona to Venice, flown to Gatwick, driven to the Peak District and then cycled to Salford. Before all that I was battering my body at the Single Speed Cyclocross World Champs. In between that I was battering my mind at the various parties in between the races at the Single Speed Cyclocross World Champs. As bad as I’m feeling I can take solace that somewhere in Europe there is at least one Belgian who feels a lot worse than me, my money’s on the one handing out all the hash cookies and advising people that it’d probably be a good idea if they “just eat half.”



The Single Speed CX World Champs, or SSCXWCs, began about 10 years ago and they’ve mainly been held on the West Coast of the USA, with some incursions into Canada. Their birth place and spiritual home, like most things of this nature is Portland, Oregon, a place where I believe tattoos are mandatory, and possibly administered at birth. For the uninitiated the SSCXWCs are a bike race, a 2 day party, and the goofiest good time you can have. Riders take it both seriously and not at all seriously at the same time. Maybe this was best exemplified by the Tigers-BPC team, who had some of the strongest riders in the race, but sat up en-masse midway through the final to form an honour guard and salute every rider. 



Before we get to that, let’s rewind a little to see how the fuck I got here. This year’s SSCXWC was to be held in Verona, Italy, the first time they’ve been held outside of North America, and so a perfectly affordable opportunity for me to combine my 2 favourite endeavours... Eating things from Italy and doing rad stuff on a bike. As much as I’m a fan of doing rad stuff on a bike, it only dawns on me the day before the race that I’ve forgotten to practice a lot of the rad stuff I might need to do, namely learn how to get off a cx bike, learn how to jump back on to a cx bike, and learn how to actually ride a cx bike. In fact my entire preparation for the race involves Will, in my local bike shop, telling me that “grass is grip”. Essentially I’m basing all my chances of survival on a meme, which is a bit like how Americans elect their president. For all my luck this meme will be more fake news, generated by some scoundrel in Russia to destabilise Europe. I don’t need much more destabilising as, by the time the weekend is out, I’ll have crashed half a dozen times.


Rather than learn how to ride CX I’ve spent most of the time before the event trying to secure a bike that is rad enough to compete, and luckily I’ve been hooked up by Sam and Judith at Stayer Cycles. They’ve built a sweet single speed cross machine, in a salmon-y orange colour with piratical decals. It’s stunning and deserves a way better rider than me.

 So hot.

So hot.


I stay in Venice on Thursday before getting a hotel in Verona on the Friday. In both places my room number is 201 and both rooms contain the same self help book. The book is either in every single hotel room in Italy, or the universe is giving me a none too subtle hint reach for my rainbow and unlock my inner unicorn. It’s obvious from the last sentence that I didn’t read either copy, I did flick through both of them, but in trying to help me reach my full potential as a human being, the author neglected to include a chapter on how to not be totally shit at CX.


Friday evening, the day before the first races, is a chance to socialise, eat pizza, and try and find someone to fix my rear cantilever brake. The bike is so pretty that everyone wants to help out, but it is Fish, who has driven down from Holland and is sleeping in his van, who has the right spanner. With that name, that van, plus his long hair, he should smell way more of josticks and patchouli than he does. It turns out that he used to ride for the Netherlands national track team and he’s good pals with Laurens Ten Dam. He also runs the madmen bike store in Amsterdam and drives around Europe doing cool events like this. I think he has the high score for being a dude.

 It's just another motherfucking bombtrack.

It's just another motherfucking bombtrack.


Before the evening is out I’ve met riders from Holland, Switzerland, Japan, USA, Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, and a shit load from Belgium. Most of them seem to have brought a bottle of spirits from their homeland and insist on giving them to me until my insides are a pissed version of the UN.  




One other thing, you know what single speed riders love? I’ll tell you. They love stickers. They’re insane for them. Literally everyone I meet is keen to give me a bundle of adhesive backed logos for brands that I’ll probably never buy anything from. I ended up with so many that I think I’ve completed the Panini Single Speed ’17 sticker album, without even trying. Hit me up for swaps.


Saturday morning is the first chance we get to see the course. I see it from about 2mm away after crashing on the first serious kicker. It’s ok, I’ve got about 45 minutes to work out how to do this. The setting is the Bastioni Vallo Città di Nimes, a park containing the ruined ramparts of a 19th century fort, and it is stunning. The first part of the course is some rolling grassy mounds, followed by some barriers that you need to run over, and then a couple of really steep banks. The second looks like a wall and so I assume you have to run up it. By the end of the weekend I’ll have mastered riding up it, but it’ll be way too little, way to late. After that there’s a fast downhill before a set of shallow steps, another place where I’ll be running, before a wicked fast, single track descent. From the hillside you can see riders take the descent and then exit through an archway into an open field where they then take on the spiral of death. On exiting the spiral there’s a chance to relax and ride in a straight line between 2 of the ancient walls before a trip into some deep leaf litter where I’ll crash later on. The final real difficulty that the course provides is a cobbled tunnel, the exit of which is obscured by hanging sheets of a black material, making the inside of the tunnel almost pitch black. 



By the time my warm up is finished I think I might have mastered how to do a CX dismount, but sadly I’ve had no time to attempt a proper remount. I’m off in heat 1 of 4, and the top 15 will make Sunday’s final. All I remember of the race is an increasing grin growing across my face as I started to get a feel for the course. That grin would be reset each time I crashed, but it always regrew. My road legs mean that I’m not even tired by the time the 40 minute race is over, and I feel strong every time the race goes straight and involves actual pedalling, but sadly my lack of skills means I’m always vying for position with guys in fancy dress who’ve been drunk since the night before.


At the communal dinner that night, in the amazing setting of the Porto Palio, the 16th century gates of Verona’s medieval walls, I discover that I’ve miraculously made the final. I’m pretty sure this is a clerical error but true to the spirit of the event, no one cares and I’m welcome to vie for a world championship.


After dinner the Belgian hash cake fiend starts corrupting everyone. A stoner rock band plays and things start promising to get weird. Poorly timed administration of the space biscuits means that the weirdness only really starts during the DJ set that follows the band. A skinny italian stays on stage well after the band has finished and simply mimes playing every instrument. It’s a wonderfully nuanced performance that brings a new element to The Fratellis’ Chelsea Dagger. Literally nothing good has ever happened to that song, until now. I bail in the hope that the different hangover levels might even out the playing field a bit in the morning.


Despite the administrative error I give up my place in the final. I just want to watch these riders rip the course to bits, and also because they’ve added a set of flaming logs that need to be jumped over. I’ve spent the morning perfecting my remount and not working out how to jump my bike over obstacles that are on fire.



The loser’s final starts with a Le Mans start. We each remove a shoe and leave it on top of our bikes before heading to the park gates. After a painful sprint over gravel we’re up and racing. I may have made some improvements in my CX game, but I’m still being schooled by a guy on a child’s mountain bike. Luckily for my self-esteem I’ve dropped the guy carrying an inflatable crocodile. 


As well as the flaming log pit, another modification has been made to the course, flares have now been set off in the tunnel and a stereo inside is blasting out doom metal, I’d be making serious devil horns if I wasn’t riding over massively irregular cobbles. Other modifications include a member of the illuminati hanging around the centre of the spiral of death, and a forced beer stop. I decide to only crash once in this race, but I do it on the descent in front of most of the crowd. After that my humiliation is complete and I’m a couple of beers deep, so I think nothing of jumping the flaming log obstacle for the first time in the race.



When I’m done dicking around on the course it’s time to let the skilled folk have their fun. The DJ plays Ezekiel 25:17 from Pulp Fiction and the riders sprint up a 1 in 3 hill to get their bikes. The difference between them and me is night and day. The eventual men’s winner is taking lines that I never knew existed as he carves down the descent. There’s been some friendly rivalry between the Belgians and the Italians with the Belgians suggesting that the Italians are fast but have no technical skills. The guy out front is Italian, he’s super fast and I can’t see a single thing wrong with his technical skills. This is underlined when he laps his first rider, who waits for him, lies down on the gravel, and lets him jump his bike over his prone body. If you’re going to get lapped then get lapped like this.

By law, the winner of the SSCXWC has to be tattooed after the race. I catch our Italian friend, who rides for the Super Nova team, at the finish line and he tells me he has no tats, and that this will be his first. At least now he’ll be able to go and race in Portland if the race ever goes home. Speaking of which, Megan Chinburg who wins the women’s race is a Portlandian, and when I catch up with her whilst she’s being inked, she seems to be perfectly at home. She describes the pain of being tattooed as "kinda like a cross race. It hurts for a bit and then it's over."

 World champ.

World champ.

Thanks once again to the Stayer crew for providing me with a sweet bike to ride. 

Check out the rider gallery here

And there are a couple of ace photo albums here and

And you can listen to my report from the event on the BBC's Bespoke Weekly

Single Speed CX World Championships. Rider Gallery

Goofin' around on bikes.


Book Review: Draft Animals - Living The Pro Cycling Dream (Once In A While) by Phil Gaimon.

There’s that bit in The Dark Knight Rises where Catwoman warns Bruce Wayne that “There’s a storm coming.” She tells him that “you and your friends better batten down the hatches.” I should have told Phil Gaimon that when I spoke to him about his new book, Draft Animals - Living The Pro Cycling Dream (Once In A While). I’ll get to why that is in a bit, as I’d rather talk about what I thought of the book, rather than the controversy that it has kicked off. Incidentally, the biggest surprise for me was that it took so long for the controversy to get so controversial. Guess most of the folk in cycling must be slow readers.

Draft Animals - Living The Pro Cycling Dream (Once In A While), is probably the perfect storm of cycling tropes for me. It deals with Phil’s entire professional career, which involves a lot of criss-crossing the USA, sleeping on sofas and in vans, just to turn up for any race where the prize money may make the trip at least partially worthwhile. Readers of this blog will know that the title, The Hard Road (well actually The-Hard-Road because someone already got the good URL), is taken from Jamie Paolinetti’s ace film about the domestic racing seen in the US. Something about the sacrifice and lack of  any real recognition, outside of a very small world, deeply appeals to me. Perhaps that’s because it’s not a million miles away from my own racing life, though slightly faster and with a lot more hay bales placed on very technical corners. Gaimon’s book is also about a rider who is determined to make it and to earn his spot in the World Tour, something he achieves at a relatively late stage in his career (28 years old). Again, maybe that plays to my hope that at 36, a Team Manager from the World Tour will realise that my victory in a Regional A race is a sign that I’m about to blossom into the champion stage racer that I was always destined to be.

Gaimon’s career is a DIY one. He made it to the World Tour through his own hustle; he kept himself afloat by running his own business; and since “retiring”, he’s created another career for himself as a youtuber. I think most youtubers are about 12, so once again Phil’s a late gatecrasher at the party. His book is also a DIY effort, in the fact that he wrote it himself. Maybe because having a ghostwriter is not as viable when you don’t leave your sport with millions in the bank, but probably because he’s actually a damn fine writer. He’s incredibly self-deprecating, so much so that it’s surprising that he’s not British. Perhaps that is what has stopped him from coming out of the sport being as bitter and twisted as he has every right to be, although when I asked him about that he told me that he just “bottles it up inside” and he’d “just murdered a homeless man on his run.” That’s what pro-cycling will do to you, I guess.

One of the things I got out of the book was how much pro-cycling involves just a lot of moving in and out of houses, and loads of selling your stuff to the next rider who’s just moved to Girona. Somewhere out there is a shitty old car that’s had about 10 careless owners, almost all of whom were pro-riders. If you're currently driving it then hit me up as I'd like to do a feature on it.

Another thing that I got from the book is that quite a lot of people think Chris Horner is a dick. Phil Gaimon does, and it’s a bit of a recurring theme in the book. That could have been something that the media picked up on if it wasn’t for Fabien Cancellara. We’ve all heard the rumours that he might be the owner and donor of the blood in the bags labelled “Luigi” from the Operation Puerto scandal, although Thomas Dekker has claimed them for himself. We’ve also all seen the youtube footage that makes it look a lot like he’s using a motor when he won Paris-Roubaix and Ronde van Vlaanderen in 2010. Gaimon thinks both stories are true, something that I think might have given the lawyers at Penguin Books a few palpitations ahead of the publishing. After a couple of quiet weeks they might have thought that they wouldn’t have had any problems until one of the cycling news sites finally mentioned it. It’s since blown up, and the latest is that Cancellara’s lawyers are demanding that Penguin stop publishing the book and that Gaimon makes a public apology. I’m absolutely certain that that’s not going to make more people want to read the book. I think I might read it again.

Draft Animals - Living The Pro Cycling Dream (Once In A While) is published by Penguin, and it’s out now.

If you’ve not read the book yet, but want to hear more about what Gaimon thinks about riders including Fabian Cancellara and Alberto Contador, then here’s a snippet from when I interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.