Inspiration is everywhere. Sometimes it strikes out of a clear blue sky and sometimes we need to go looking for it, though for us as cyclists and fans of cycling, it’s never too far away.
When I was a young cyclist with the ambition to win the yellow jersey, reading cycling magazines and seeing the Channel 4 coverage of the Tour de France inspired me to get out on my bike to ride and train. My ambition to win the Tour remains as yet unrealised, but that doesn’t at all reduce the sport’s inspirational effect on me - these days I strive to succeed in different ways, at my job, as a runner or as a musician, and watching bike racers do extraordinary things still inspires me to try harder or work more effectively in all those areas.
Of course, every edition of Rouleur is inspirational, but in making this specific edition we wanted to remind ourselves and our readers to consciously examine our inspirations. It’s not just riders and their exploits which motivate us to improve. For some, the landscapes of cycling are inspirational - we all have a bucket list of great climbs to tackle: Mont Ventoux, Alpe d’Huez, the Stelvio. Some of us are inspired by riding rather than racing - sometimes speed is less meaningful than, well, meaning.
So what’s in the mag? Well, what could be more inspirational than two of the most successful cyclists of 2022? We have exclusive and in-depth interviews with Jai Hindley, the Giro d’Italia winner, and sprinter Lorena Wiebes, who is achieving in women’s cycling what Mark Cavendish did in his heyday in men’s cycling.
I was mesmerised by Hindley’s Giro win this year. It wasn’t the most dynamic of grand tours - the 2022 Giro’s main draws were one really spectacular and aggressive middle-mountain stage to Torino (who needs the high mountains?) and then a tension that held and held until the very final climb of the race. However, Hindley was imperious, all the way through the race. He rode with confidence and poise, which belied the hard season he had in 2021.
At the same time, Isabel Best’s interview with him in the magazine gives the impression that he is nothing else than an ordinary human, who just happens to do extraordinary things. He’s laid back, cheerful and optimistic, and gives no sense that there are any demons or insecurities. Isabel’s interview really digs into the gap between the imperious, god-like rider of the 2022 Giro with the well-adjusted human. You’re also going to love David Powell’s portraits and photographs of Hindley, one of which we’ve put on the cover. We don’t often put riders on the cover - the last was Anna van der Breggen at the end of last year. But we felt that this image summed up Hindley so well - you can see both confidence and at the same time he looks like he’s pinching himself at how things have turned out (which he talks about in the interview). And the quote we’ve run sums up the magazine perfectly.
We sent Andy McGrath to the Women’s Tour to interview Lorena Wiebes, who is the dominant sprinter in women’s cycling at the moment, and by a long way. She’s in the kind of zone where her rivals get dropped even when sitting in her wheel. There’s no such thing as a safe bet in cycling, but give the Dutchwoman a flat finish and no hiccups, and she wins.
As Andy has pointed out in his feature, one run of results for her earlier in the year, all achieved in the WorldTour, reads: 1-1-1-1-85-1-1. That 85th place? She crashed. She tells Andy about her rise through the ranks, her very different hobbies of kickboxing and boating, but also her ambition to shine in races other than sprint finishes. Andy also got privileged access to a DSM team meeting one morning at the Women’s Tour, which was both hugely revealing and also obviously very effective - Wiebes went on to win that day.
As I mentioned above, it’s not just cyclists who are inspirational, however. Our writer/photographer James Startt has created a piece for us centred on Mont Ventoux, which is one of cycling’s most iconic climbs.
Of course, the fact that whenever it appears in the Tour de France it seems to just ratchet up the excitement and drama helps - think of Chris Froome running up that hill in 2016, or Wout van Aert soloing to victory last year (as well as Jonas Vingegaard serving notice to the world that he was capable of dropping Tadej Pogačar). Or Armstrong v Pantani in 2000, or Eros Poli winning in 1994, or Jeff Bernard both winning in 1987 and, in his day-glo green sweatband and Combination Classification jersey, better exemplifying the fashion of the 1980s than perhaps any other image.
But the mountain itself has presence - it towers above Provence, and an accident of geology means that there are no mountains of comparable size for miles around. The top is barren and dry, the forests having been cleared centuries ago to leave a rocky crown topped with a weather station, without which the images of the climb would have nowhere near the same impact. James first visited Ventoux in the early 1980s and it has drawn him ever since.
Our staff writer Rachel Jary has contributed a piece on motherhood in professional cycling, which may be the most inspirational story of all. Even a decade ago, it was vanishingly rare for female professional cyclists to also be mothers. But Lizzie Deignan has blazed a trail by taking a pause on her racing career to have a baby and coming back to win Paris-Roubaix, supported by her Trek-Segafredo team. Elinor Barker has been similarly supported by her Uno-X team in having a baby and coming back to race.
However, the sport has not suddenly achieved enlightenment. The fact that examples like this are still big news is both positive, in that it shows us that it should be entirely possible for any rider to have a baby and resume her career, but also shows us that there is a lot of work still to do. The ideal scenario would be that we don’t bat an eyelid beyond the fact that it makes for a nice story, but we’re nowhere near that and so we should celebrate Deignan, Barker and every other rider combining motherhood and racing because of the example they set.
Barker told Rachel: “I don’t want to be part of a narrative that just says it’s all down to hard work and determination. Because mostly it’s down to support.” Riders obviously need support to be able to maintain a career and any other responsibilities they have, but that also counts for us as cycling fans and followers, and especially for team sponsors - if we support riders who want to make this choice, it will become normalised. And sometimes the normal is inspirational.
Also in the magazine: Bradley Wiggins and the summer of 2012, Rouleur rides the hardest ever stage of the Tour de France, Fabio Aru rides his favourite local loop, Mitch Docker rides across Sweden on a diet of pizza and much, much more.