Poor bike. Looks like
You just came last
in the Tour of Flanders,
or spent the day
on the road to Roubaix
and, en route, passed
through all the seven circles
of cycling hell.

But mud and crud
Aren’t all that I
Must try washing from you:
A deeper taint
Now dulls your blue paint;
The rumours fly
And history’s rewritten
As more men tell.

Yet still, I will
Keep faith with you,
My partner for so long.
You are no fake:
Their crimes do not make
What we’ve been through
Any the less. We did it
And did it well.


Took the road bike on my own little ‘Tour of redemption’ today. As I’d hoped, the weather was foul and the roads were filthy – real hardcore stuff – and I chose a route with plenty of hills (not difficult round here!) I’d just finished reading Tyler Hamilton’s illuminating, and heartbreaking, book The Secret Race and desperately needed reminding just what it was I first loved about this crazy sport. Thing is, my road bike is the same as the one Hamilton, Armstrong and the US Postal Service team rode at the ’99 and ’00 Tours (which is why I got it) That big sponsor’s logo on the seat-tube, which I used to be so proud of, now seems like an indictment: from what I’ve just read, USPS should probably stand for Users of Suspicious and Prohibited Substances.
Anyway, had a brilliant ride, and came back with the bike looking as though it had just been dragged out of a canal; this poem came to me while I was washing it down. The truth I discovered today was that whatever Armstrong et al may or may not have done, they can’t make my light, fast, beautiful bike heavy, slow or ugly. The bike is bigger and greater than the sport of cycling, and I can still enjoy the one without the other. All is well. N.


(NB The Tour of Flanders is a legendarily demanding one-day ‘classic’ race held in Belgium every spring. The weather is usually appalling. Roubaix is the unlovely industrial town where the almost-as-tough and even-more-famous Paris-Roubaix classic ends. Both races include lots of cobbled roads, and the list of past winners is a roll-call of the sport’s serious hard-men.)

4 thoughts on “Clean

  1. Nick I am pleased you feel your bike is “cleansed” in both its reputation and literally! 🙂

    I can only reiterate its owner is clean and clear 🙂
    And I have learned about The Tour of Flanders!! I thought you had made it up! 🙂

    Christine xx

    • Ah, you couldn’t make up the Tour of Flanders…it’s a completely insane race, really: last year’s edition was 255km (about 160 miles) and the winner, Tom Boonen (a Belgian, as they usually are, who’d won on two previous occasions) finished in a shade over six hours. And the cobbles aren’t little rounded ones, neatly and firmly set in cement either; they’re whacking great things as big as loaves of bread, all tilted and loose, in a mix of mud and cow-dung the riders call ‘Belgian toothpaste’. And those are the easy bits: you should see the cobbled climbs – the infamous Koppenberg has a gradient of 22%!

      And thank you again for your lovely comment. The bike is shiny once more, and I’m feeling a lot less grubby, too. N.xx

  2. I’m really happy to hear/read this–good for you, Nick!! I dare say I’ve grabbed a bit of inspiration/encouragement which have nothing to do with biking or writing today.

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