MAMIL on the loose

The world says
I should be producing
Something
For Someone:
Doesn’t matter what or who
Or why;
It’s the taking part
That counts.

And so
Each weekday-morning pedal-stroke
Is a small rebellion;
A quiet refusal
To be contained.
This sun-stretched hour has not been bought
So I need not account
For how I spend it;
I shout no slogan, raise no banner
But register my protest
With long, lonely marches
In the heat-mirage of burning tyres.

In time
The suits will send
The snatch-squad out
To haul me back and shackle me
To that other, dark machine.

For now,
I’m out of sight and reach,
Fallen off the roaring edge
Of a world they never see.

And if they want to take me
They’ll have to catch me first.

 

Just back from a lunchtime ride: 80 minutes on the road bike, in sunshine hot enough to melt the tarmac. Got to work this afternoon, but now I can face it with equanimity, having done the thing I want to do, ahead of the thing I have to do. Mission accomplished.

Convicts of the road

No one pays us
To be out here –

Journeymen labourers
Hammering the roads
With expensive tools
And ludicrous workwear
We must provide ourselves.

A chain gang,
Prisoners of our own ambition,
Shackled to our senseless dreams

Yet finding our own kind of freedom

In doing the time.

 

In 1924, journalist Albert Londres followed the Tour de France for his newspaper, Le Petit Parisien, and famously described the competitors as forcats de la route – ‘convicts of the road’. These were the days when stages were up to 480km (300 miles) long, and riders’ stimulants of choice included amphetamines, cocaine, chloroform, and even strychnine. Most of us MAMILs revel in the suffering our sport still demands, but we stand in awe of those pioneering pros who wrote the legends we like to feel we’re part of. N.

Confessions of a MAMIL

We’re old enough
To know better,

But not yet so near death
We cannot dream

Of swapping our grey, empty days
And little, easy lives

For a cobweb-light,
Diamond-hard machine

A jersey dipped in liquid rainbow
Dossards, bidons,

And the road:

Of half-killing ourselves to hit
The finish – stark, unarguable –

Not some arbitrary deadline
Forgotten soon as reached;

Or accepting kisses and bouquets
On a podium before a cheering crowd

Not the one-line email, casual word
Or whistling silence when all is done.

A dream reality would shred
Like sunburned skin on scorching tarmac –

A fantasy that, knowing what we do
Of life, fate’s machinations and ourselves,

We should have left behind
And yet

When this is what remains
Of all that greatness we once thought was ours

Perhaps we’ll be forgiven
For holding on so tight.

 

MAMIL: Middle Aged Man In Lycra. And yes, I am – and proud of it. N.

Dividend

So long we’ve been the oddballs, loners, geeks,
Derided MAMILs, big kids with our toys.
Now suddenly, in three transcendent weeks
We’ve given Team GB its poster-boys.
Three heroes have arisen from our ranks –
Froome, Cavendish and Wiggins – and it seems
Our wilderness years may be ending, thanks
To rides that changed the world, fulfilled our dreams.
So can we lesser mortals now expect
All those who’ve shouted Wiggo to the sky
To treat us with a measure of respect
Or must we still accept abuse. Still die.
What chance the bounty Bradley has bestowed
On Britain wins us honour on the road?

 

Words are insufficient to describe Sunday’s Tour de France finale in Paris. I’ve been watching the race since 1996 and never thought I’d see a British winner – far less a British one-two, seven British stage wins, a British rider (and World Champion) winning on the Champs-Elysees for the fourth successive year…simply astonishing.

Perhaps inevitably, THEY have seized on it and wrapped it up in the Union flag ahead of the Olympics. A presenter on the BBC’s Today programme summed up the media reaction perfectly when he said: “I never knew [cycling] was so interesting until we started winning.” It’s worth noting that Wiggins had already won three of Europe’s most prestigious stage-races this season before the Tour even started: not one of these victories was reported by the mainstream press.

The hope is now that Bradley Wiggins’ remarkable achievement will mark the start of a new era, not just for British cycling, but for cycling, and cyclists, in Britain. We’ve waited 99 years for our first Tour winner: let’s hope it doesn’t take that long for attitudes to change, and we stop killing 1,000 cyclists a year on our roads.

(In case you’re wondering: MAMIL is short for Middle-Aged Man In Lycra. Originally a derogatory term, we’ve sort-of embraced it now and see it more as a badge of honour than an insult!) N.