“Daddy… Daddy… DADDY?!!”
“What are we doing today?”
“Well, there’s a race on later I wouldn’t mind…”
“I wanna go playground”
“Hmm, it’s just that it’s quite an important…”
“And swimmin’, I wanna go swimmin’ too”
Playground and swimming. Right. It’s only the bloody Tour of Flanders. But try and explain that to a threenager with ideas. I used to have this theory that when a cyclist had a baby their performances would start to decline sharply. A lack of sleep, disruption to their daily life, a reduction in their willingness to risk their own life descending or fighting for position in a bunch sprint. I’m sure once upon a time I had lots of anecdotal evidence to back this up. But all of it is meaningless now because of Chris Froome.
He had a son in the winter of 2015 and whirred his way to Tour de France victory, quite easily, for the next two years. Although Froome is no stranger to defying logic. Since he came along nobody would have thought that a man with seven knees and 12 elbows who rides a bike like a pelican caught in a washing line could have won a bike race, yet here we are.
My theory may not hold for actual cyclists, but it certainly holds when it comes to viewing them. Watching bike racing used to be a whole lot easier before I became the third most important person in my own life. Of course I acquiesce to playground and swimming. How can I not? How can I say no that face? But I make a deal that we’ll go and do this but as long as I’m back by 2pm so I can catch the last 80km. Ha! A ‘deal’. With who? Nobody is even listening to me.
We make it back for 3pm.
“I wanna go play on the slide”
I foolishly bought her a slide.
“But there’s only 43km to go and it’s….”
“I wanna go play on the slide now Daddy!!”
This is a losing battle. I press record on my Sky box.
Some people like to have a pop off Sky. The company I mean, not the team, although the same is true of the team. Some people complain about the adverse effect they’ve had on Premier League football, inflating wages and egos in roughly equal measure. There has also been the Rupert Murdoch angle to consider – quite an easy reason to dislike any company, having him as an owner.
I remember I told my father-in-law that Chris Froome had tested positive at the 2017 Vuelta and he looked at me po-faced and said ‘serves Sky right, terrible customer service’. But I won’t hear a bad word said about Sky these days. That little ‘R’ button allows me to watch races I never would be able to watch otherwise. And besides, they’re not half as bad as Ineos.
There’s a ritual to these things. I can’t just watch a five minute highlight reel while I’m on the toilet in work the next day. I need at least two hours (not on the toilet, you know what I mean). Cycling is an opera. It’s not a pop song. And it needs to be enjoyed as such.
The house needs to be quiet, preferably empty. The dog has to be walked, the fire has to be lit, the dinner has to be in the oven, the house has to be tidy, the coffee cup has to be full. Only then am I ready.
“DADDY! I need to go toilet.”
The house is ‘preferably’ empty. But ‘preferably’ never won the race.
There’s another step which has been added to my ritual these days, and that’s a flick through The Road Book, the new cycling almanack edited by Ned Boulting. And I’m not just saying this because I’m a contributor to it (although I am (but I’m not (just saying it I mean (I am a contributor (but I’m genuinely not just saying it))))).
It’s the type of book full of detail where the attention to correctly nested and closed parentheses has been given as much thought as the look and feel. It’s the type of book that when picked up, transports you into one of those rooms in posh hotels which is always empty but immaculately kept which you’re never sure if you’re allowed to be in or not.
I always look at last year’s edition of whatever race it is I’m about to watch. In this case, the Tour of Flanders. Of course I remember that it was won by Niki Terpstra, how could I not? It’s actually that race (perhaps subconsciously, perhaps not) which led to Ned commissioning a piece from Harry Pearson on why Terpstra divides opinion so much. Ned loved the way he won that race. I did not.
“Daddy, who’s that boy?”
“That’s Niki Terpstra”
“Why is he on the ground?”
“He’s crashed. A case in point why you’re never allowed race bikes or ride bikes or be in any kind of dangerous situation whatsoever or go outside alone or go outside at all.”
I’m joking of course. But not really. As any father would attest. She’s also been told to stand well clear of The Road Book as it sits on the shelf. Not just because I really don’t want her to add to the buttery fingerprints that are already on it (hers, not mine, I think). But if it were to fall on her, it would probably kill her. It’s that big.
Terpstra had won last year. I didn’t need reminding of that. But I had quite forgotten what a performance it was from Mads Pedersen having been in the breakaway to manage to follow Terpstra, albeit from a bit of a distance, to hold on to second place on his debut in the race. It also serves as a reminder that Wout van Aert was riding for Veranda’s Willems Crelan last year and what a peculiar season he had where he ended up racing cyclo-cross without a team before finally forcing through his move to what is now Jumbo-Visma.
I then find myself leafing through the pages – in that reverential way that one should when they’re imagining they’re in one of those fancy bookish hotel rooms and imagining they’re smoking a cigar and drinking straight whiskey – and quickly land upon the Tour de Langkawi which I had forgotten starts next week. Before quickly moving on to the Giro which I’m reminded will be upon us alarmingly quickly.
My daughter has fallen asleep beside me. It’s a miracle. An actual miracle. I’m really going to get to watch the final 20km of this race with no interruptions.
The Road Book is the book I go to now for a memory jog, a jolt into the past, a brain tickle. Not because I need to know something specific, I still have my phone in my pocket for that sort of thing. But because of the specifics that I didn’t even know I wanted to know.
“Da da!! Da da!! DA DA!!”
Five kilometres to go. She’s awake. No, not her. The other one. Oh yes, I have two now. So does Chris Froome as a matter of fact. Good luck with that fifth Tour de France.