The column: The need for escapism and distractions in the time of Coronavirus

Last Sunday (March 15th) I found myself in South Yorkshire for the annual Magnificent 7 event, organised by the equally magnificent, Sheffrec CC. Depending on how you look at it, or how competitive you are, it’s either a short and simple, stop-start sportive that takes in several of the city of Sheffield’s steepest hills. Or it’s seven consecutive mass-start, hell-for-leather hill climb races. Either way, it’s a pretty unusual, if not unique event of its kind.

While Yorkshire is now widely seen as the centre of cyclo-tourism in the UK, Sheffield itself forged its place in cycling history (that’s a little steel reference for you) when the second stage of the 2014 Tour de France finished there. It was a thrilling finale to the stage, with the steep slopes packed into the final 50km winnowing the field down to just the GC favourites. For perspective Marcel Kittel, who started the stage in the yellow jersey, finished it a whisker under twenty minutes down.

Attack followed attack but none could make theirs stick until Vincenzo Nibali managed to get away from the rest, not far from the final climb, the 800m long, nose-bleedingly vertiginous Jenkin Road. It was to prove the first canny attack of a dominant performance in that year’s Tour, as his rivals either crashed out or fell away.

It was the memory of that stage that caused me to sign up to the Magnificent 7 last year.

It was the memory of last year’s event – in a nutshell: brutally hard but enormous fun – that made me want to do it again. A lot had changed between the registration date and last Friday, when I went to catch my ride up north. At that point the government was still not ordering such events to be cancelled, or even advising it, but with the first winds of storm Corona already beginning to blow, I personally wasn’t entirely sure the race should have been happening at all. Had it been postponed I wouldn’t have asked for a refund.

Then, on the morning of the event itself, as the groups rolled out of the little village of Lower Bradfield, five or six abreast, each ten or more riders deep, I’ll admit to feeling nervous. The short distances between handlebars seemed a long way from satisfying the requirements of social distancing that we were already supposed to be practicing.

At the top of the first climb I was even more so. As you might expect after having ridden their lungs raw, riders were hacking up all manner of undesirable fluids of varying consistencies. Few participants were coughing into their elbows. In a well-meaning attempt to reassure, one wheeler told me that the noises he was making were just exercise-induced asthma. I was not particularly reassured.

Somewhere along the road, however, between the third and fourth climbs, I realised I hadn’t given thought to the wider world for a good half an hour. My head was as clear as it had been in weeks. I hadn’t gone all out, because I didn’t think it was a good idea to weaken myself unduly, but I had made damn sure I’d got the best of the other guy from my club. (In the end I beat him on six of the hills and lost on just one. #bragging)

What might well turn out to be the last bit of in-person, group fun [steady – Ed] any of us will have for a while brought home the immeasurable importance that escapism and distraction will play in the next however-many months. As hard as it’s going to be, we are all going to need to occasionally take time out from thinking about this crisis, as it affects every one of our lives to one degree or another. We all know mental health and physical health are not unconnected.

Which is not the same as burying our heads in the sand and carrying on as normal. It’s doing what we can to keep them in good shape, while we keep ourselves and each other safe, to ensure we make it to the other side as whole as we possibly can.

Read: On hill climb season

To that end, we want to do what we can. You have likely seen that we have already taken the unprecedented decision to open the Rouleur archives via our app, but what about new cycling content that we could create for In the absence of racing, what do you want to read? Are there races you want to re-live? Riders you’d like to hear from? We won’t get to see them in person, but we should be able to get more or less anyone on the phone. Should we dip our toes into the burgeoning Zwift scene? 

Message us on any of our social media channels or send us an email. No promises, but we’ll do what we can. It’ll be good for us too. 


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