Sunday, 2 June 2013

Scoop!

Those of a literary bent will recognise the title of this post as the name (but without my !) of Evelyn Waugh's 1938 classic novel, which satirised lots of aspects of journalism, and featured a character based on the real-life Bill Deedes (who was a later a Tory MP, editor of the Daily Telegraph, and the 'Bill' who was the 'Dear Bill' in Private Eye's brilliant imaginary letters of the 1970s and 80s from Denis Thatcher to a golfing buddy). I mention it because I think I got closer to being let in on a genuine scoop this week than I realised at the time.

It came about like this. My children gave me the Cycling Anthology Volume 1 for Christmas, a collection of essays by a variety of sports writers, cycling-specific journalists, and even the more eloquent cyclists themselves. One of the reasons it's so good is because they're allowed, even encouraged, to break free from the usual shackles of journalism - writing in the first person, repeating hearsay, voicing opinion, and so on. It's excellent, and I tweeted as much at the time. One of its two editors, Lionel Birnie, re-tweeted it, I started following him, and when he consequently announced that Volume 2 was to have a launch event at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, I snapped up a couple of tickets. Which was great, as there can't have been more then 50 on offer. (It was also an absolute bargain - £10, including a copy of the book, that retails at £7.99).

And so on Wednesday me and t'eldest travelled to the smoke to meet up for it. She is a cycling fan too, borne out by the fact she took a Mega-Bus coach back 'home' to Plymouth (she doesn't really have a home as such at the moment, being in that post-university, pre-Next Life Stage vortex of existence), which only arrived at 5.40 in the morning...still, she also did it to save £26 on the train fare...I was very proud.

Where was I? Oh yes, the event. It was hosted by Ned Boulting, the bloke off the telly. Yes, that's right, the one who interviews Wiggins, Cavendish, the rest of them, and footballers for God's sake, in front of millions of people. There were, as I say, no more than 50 of us at Foyles. And yet he seemed so nervous...slightly faltering introduction, a couple of flat jokes, sweaty palms (which we could see as he was only three feet away from us). That said, he warmed up as the evening went on, and was his usual witty and erudite self, posing some really good questions. I won't go through a blow by blow account of the evening, but it featured as speakers the two editors of the Anthology (Ellis Bacon and Lionel Birnie), Dan Lloyd (retired cyclist, now a commentator, wrote a chapter in the book about his experiences of riding the Tour in 2010), and the three journalists Richard Williams, Daniel Friebe and Richard Moore. All were entertaining and candid - none more so than Dan Lloyd actually when the inevitable questions about doping were put.

But talking of inevitable questions, it was asked of Dan Lloyd who would win the Tour this year. With no hesitation - and I mean none, not even half a second - he said "Froome or Contador, probably Froome". This naturally opened up the subject of Wiggins, and everyone had their tuppence-worth of opinion. Most of it centred on speculation around how much his Giro experiences would affect him, and around the dynamics between him and Froome. There was consensus that it's more than just sporting rivalry - the two of them genuinely don't like each other very much by all accounts. But then they also started speculating on the psychological effects on Wiggins, and how, after the infamous event in last year's Tour when Froome pulled away from Wiggins at La Toussuire, Wiggins almost jacked in the Tour and came home - when he was in the yellow jersey! - and had to be persuaded not to. Richard Moore was part of this what felt like very informed discussion, and it was he who only 24 hours later broke the "Wiggins may not ride 2013 Tour" story in the Daily Mail. Looking back, I think the signs were there in that conversation that the story was already emerging. To some it's probably not much of a story - "bloke doesn't ride his bike" - but it was good to feel close for an hour or two to what we watch on TV all the time. Interestingly, part of the discussion was around the accessibility of pro-cyclists to the journalists, and all concurred cycling was still far and away the most open of sports for journalists to cover, despite the best efforts of a certain L. Armstrong a few years ago.

Anyway, it was a really good night. I've only read one chapter of the Anthology Volume 2 so far (it's Tour de France-themed this time to recognise the Tour's 100th edition), and if it's representative of the rest of the book, then it's another must-read for anyone with even half an interest in professional cycling. I urge you to add it to your library.

I've done a bit of cycling myself this week. Every day in fact, culminating yesterday in a 101 mile anti-clockwise circumference of Cheshire. I'd set myself the random target of doing a three-figure ride before midday, partly because I hadn't ever done it before, partly to take advantage of quiet roads, and partly to keep myself motivated during what is a long way to do on your todd. Not much to report about it really. I did it; I felt quite strong, my time was ok at 5 hours 50, and the most interesting thing I saw was a wild rabbit - that was ginger. It wasn't a domestic escapee I don't think - at least not a first-generation one - as where I saw it was in the back of beyond. I could have been hallucinating, as I was in the last 10 miles of the ride with most of the blood in my body being in my legs rather than my brain, but I don't think so.

I find out my work fate on Tuesday, particularly whether I'm going to have an extended holiday - unpaid unfortunately. So as previously mentioned I may have more time to ride my bike soon. Not next weekend however - we're paying a flying visit to Brittany - so not sure when more blogging fun will happen.

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