The Heuvel fits and thus will remain in my possession. It’s a nice jersey, especially when considering that it cost less than half its recommended retail price. But I think I prefer the Descente after all: the fabric is softer, the fit is just that little more intimate, and, practically speaking, it is one of a kind. It is also the perfect hue of blue – rather like the tint of Everton’s football kit circa 1983-1985. So despite the Belgian theme that informs The Heuvel, and the emergence of Dirk Baert as some sort of project patron saint, it could well be the Descente jersey I’ll be wearing for next year’s London to Brighton. We shall see.
Which finally brings us to the unveiling of my prospective team’s name. This is the remit: a moniker that calls to mind some of the professional outfits currently racing the grand tours. The reason for this is because these sponsor-induced sobriquets often have an amusing ring to my ear: Saxo-Bank Tinkoff; Garmin Sharp; Argos-Shimano; Orica GreenEDGE; Saur-Sojasun. Although I'm not forming an actual cycling club, whatever title I come up with will represent my own de facto organisation from here on in, even if after the London to Brighton is done it continues to exist as an affiliation of one, with myself as its only member – a mere figment of my imagination.
My confederacy might endorse competing in the odd sportive but will only occasionally meet up for training sessions – and they’ll be optional. My syndicate will not have an official team jersey but will persuade its riders to find their own sartorial niche. My coalition will applaud individuality. My club rejects the notion of a club. We’re not going to be called the Pan-Southwest London Cycling Club, or the West Thames Wheelers, or anything else that so readily suggests who we are and what it is we do. We shall ride under the curious appellation that is Carlos-Weltschmerz (observing the German pronunciation of the second word). Ostensibly, this might sound rather absurd, but I think it has a plausible ring to it. Moreover, it functions as a tribute to Dirk Baert and his loyalty to the guys at Carlos, whilst also reflecting – via the medium of phonology – the Latin/Germanic duality that defines Great Britain’s position on the European cultural spectrum, for road cycling is a very European endeavour.
Weltschmerz has a particular resonance in and of itself, this Teutonic locution roughly translating into something approximating ‘world weariness’. Dissect its meaning still further and you’re really onto something: it conveys more than to be simply jaded and articulates the realisation that the physical reality of the human condition can never conform to the idealistic demands that one’s self places upon it. This seems appropriate, given the impervious nature of the task at hand: a vain attempt to replicate the sensation of riding in a grand-tour – an exercise in futility if there ever was one. Despite embracing the concept of Weltschmerz, I'm not necessarily resigning myself to its implications. One could say that I'm seeking joy in anomie… or solace in resistance.
I can pinpoint the precise moment I finally ‘got’ road cycling. It was during Stage 5 of the 2012 Vuelta a Espana and, early on, Javier Chacón (racing for Team Andalucia) broke away from the rest of the field, built up a 12 minute lead before being chased down by the pack approximately 30 km from the finish ( in what was a 168 km race). He was rewarded with the stage’s Combativity Award for his efforts, deservedly so. Without anyone supporting him, Monsieur Chacón had little chance of pulling off this audacious stab for victory, but he gave it a go anyway.
What really left an impression was the instant he must have known it was all over, when Javier glanced back over his shoulder and saw the Argos-Shimano led peloton gradually bearing down on him. It was a singular spectacle that evoked in me both fear and humour, and I can’t think of any other sport that draws out a moment like that. In football, say, a shot on goal might hit the back of the net, veer horribly wide, or end up in the arms of the goalkeeper. Whatever the outcome, it’s resolved in a split-second. With cricket, the batsman plays the stroke and either scores a number of runs, gets caught out, misses the ball entirely and – depending on the bowler’s intention – finds his wicket smashed to pieces or lives to face another delivery. Either way, it’s pretty immediate.
In cycling, though, the real drama (not the crashes or sprint finishes) tends to gently unfold, suspending one’s emotion to the point where you don’t quite know what to do with it. It’s like watching an explosion in slow-motion, energy dissipating – so incomprehensible that the only natural response is to laugh a little.
I hope my cadres buy into my vision of an existential cycling outfit, with no official membership, no hard rules and regulations, no sense of being part of a greater community: a sort of cycling militia, kicking against the imperial velocipedists who look down upon the rest of us.
Team Carlos-Weltschmerz Code of Conduct and Ethics
- Always behave in a gentlemanly fashion.
- Comedy cycling jerseys are bad and should be avoided – they’re not for you.
- Assimilate the consumption of a static beverage on cycle rides of reasonable length.
- Have respect and admiration for the steel bicycle, for it is a pure thing.
- Buy Dirk Baert a beer if you ever get the chance.
- Offer the Spanish team Caja Rural your support – they seem like a nice bunch.
- Riding alone is good; embrace solitude.
- Be sure to take in the view.
- Don’t take cycling too seriously.
- Take cycling very seriously indeed.
[POST-SCRIPT: After writing the above, I unearthed a website – and I can’t recall how – peddling a level of obstinance comparable to my own, and was left with the feeling that maybe I'm not so wide of cycling culture as I’d assumed. Velominati (Keepers of the Cog) lay down 91 rules, no less, many of which I’d gladly slip in alongside those I've devised for Carlos-Weltschmerz. For example:
Rule #16 – Respect the Jersey: Championship and race leader jerseys must only be worn if you've won the championship or led the race.
Rule #26 – Make your bike photogenic: When photographing your bike, gussy her up properly for the camera. Some parameters are firm: valve stems at 6 o’clock; cranks never at 90 or 180 degrees. Others are at your discretion, though the accepted practices include putting the chain on the big dog, and no bidons in the cages.
Rule #80 – Always be Casually Deliberate. Waiting for others pre-ride or at the start line pre-race, you must be tranquilo (sic), resting on your top tube thusly. This may be extended to any time one is aboard the bike, but not riding it, such as at stop lights.
A picture of pro-cyclists draped over their handlebars, chewing the pre-race fat, is provided as a suitable example to illustrate that final decree. There’s also a link to an article examining the ‘delicate art’ of convincing as a Pro. It puts forward the case that cyclists are amongst the hardest sportsmen there are, but also the most vain. And if you too aspire to be Casually Deliberate, then a number of pointers are provided:
‘A pre-ride espresso is the perfect Casually Deliberate means to prepare for a ride: fully kitted up, loyal machine leaning patiently against a nearby wall, cycling cap carefully dishevelled atop the head, sunnies perched above the brim.’
This sort of thing is right up my street. I'm not particularly hard and I'm not particularly vain, but I am hard and vain enough to elicit pleasure from an approach such as this.
It’s a tricky dividing line. When I see a gathering of cyclists wearing full pro-team kit (especially if it’s Team Sky issue), their carbon bikes sprawled all around them, I'm inclined to think they look preposterously arrogant (or arrogantly preposterous?). But were these guys to wear more low-key gear, ride older bikes and maybe relax a little, then my perception could waver.
I think the Velominati is an Australian conceit – Antipodean, at least – so maybe it’s not so much a cycling issue as much a cultural one? Let’s face it: the British cycling enthusiast does tend to be quite a middle-class beast, capable of emitting all the superciliousness that this can entail – you only have to watch them picking fights with dozy motorists to see that.
Let’s not get carried away: Carlos-Weltschmerz does not concern itself with the verisimilitude of things, and isn't interested in promoting class conflict. Really, aesthetics is what it’s all about.]