Tour de of Britain, Stage 7. Hemel Hempstead to Cheltenham.

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Carlton Kirby, in a world of pain.

Today was probably the hilliest of this years route. I managed to get the Strava KOM on the final climb of the day, The Winchcombe, known as the Col de la Coix de Fer of the Cotswolds. Unfortunately this created quite a storm on Twitters. The previous holder of the record time was a Mr Bob Pilchard and unbeknownst to me he has openly talked about taking pot and LSD on the 60’s. As soon as my KOM was confirmed accusations of drug taking came flying in my direction. How, folk were saying, was I able to beat the time of a known doper. The conclusion they all drew was simple. I must have been taking drugs myself! Things didn’t end there though. It soon emerged that Mr Pilchard once voted Tory and sometimes spits food on people he talks to. My reputation is in tatters but I’m sure I will be allowed to plead my case by my Twitter accusers.

Our United Kingdoms of Great Britain team car was broken today, I’m not sure of the exact problem but someone from British Cycling HQ mentioned something about women drivers. Luckily, because our team and Team Skye are pretty much the same thing we were able to get our bottles and bidons from their car. On my first visit to the vehicle to get supplies for my teammates to “take aboard some sustenance” I was met with the now familiar sight of David Brailsford-Sir who was glaring at me through the window. He told me as he was handing me the bottles that one good turn deserves another so I had to first replenish his team before coming back to get fereshments for the UKofGB boys. “Fine” I said, “I’ll be back in a Jiffy”. I heard him screaming something at me, probably words of encouragement, as I headed up the road. When I returned the car window was rolled up, and it was ruddy well tinted so I couldn’t see Mr David to get his attention. I always thought windows were meant to be transparent but never mind.

I’m glad the race finishes tomorrow, a week of cycling is just about as much as I can take. I can’t imagine what riding a Grand Tour would be like, it’s tiring enough watching the likes of the Giro. Though seeing it on TV you do have to contend with the three week lecture on glacial features and types of aggregate from Carlton Kirby.

Dylan Groenewegen won the stage and Lars Boom still leads the Tour de of Britain sprint cup.

 

Digger and the Twitter Doperati.

Following any sport closely can be an emotional business for its fans. There can be highs but at times feelings of disappointment and anger will rise out of nowhere as you watch your football team lose a penalty shootout or you see an umpire makes a bad call against your favourite table tennis player. For fans of professional cycling things are slightly different. We get the same emotions but they often come a good time after the action has finished. There’s the disappointment that our favourite riders and their feats we’ve enjoyed have been aided by banned (and legal) substances and anger at the UCI, cycling’s governing body, for their inability to introduce the reforms that could help ensure fairer and safer competition. Although we encounter these feelings time and again we continue to follow the sport because it’s so entertaining. Because of this murky and frustrating history and the regular promises that things will change for the better three groups of cycling fan have emerged.

The largest of these combines are the ‘Optimistic Pessimists’. They still love the sport but watch things with a heavy dose of scepticism. They have been fooled in the past by cheating and don’t want it to happen again. Instead of celebrating an incredible performance the reaction is now “Mmm, not sure about that”. The UCI are still infuriating but in terms of racing things do seem to be changing ever so slightly. A few riders are now willing to speak out against doping instead of being part of the omerta which protects dopers and their feelings are that much of what they see during races seems to be credible. They watch racing in a different way now. As well getting immersed in the tactics and team dynamics, at the back of their minds they are analysing things to work out if what’s happening is believable and clean. It is obvious that doping still goes on at some level but they’re thankful that the eyebrow doesn’t get raised as often as before.

The eyebrows of are the two other sets of fans don’t move at all and they are very much at opposing sides of the “Who is doping and how much of it is going on” debate.

The first lot, the ‘Deniers’, are either gentle souls, who perhaps only follow a few races a year and are just not interested in whether doping happens, or diehards who will always defend their favourite rider or team against allegations of cheating no matter what actual evidence of malpractice is shown to them.

The last bunch of cycling fans are the Deniers sworn adversaries, though they actually make themselves enemies of anyone who doesn’t agree with them. This restless gang of ‘Truthers’ believe that everyone is on the juice and are very vocal about it. Instead of saying “Mmm’ not sure about that” their mantra is “Yep that’s dirty”. They spend plenty of time proselytising and will end up frustrated then angry if you’re not brought round to their way of thinking. Their arguments to back up their beliefs range from sarcastic coughs to elaborately formed concepts which contain ‘secret inside information’. Some say they resemble conspiracy theorists and I’ve even heard people call them a cult. If you use Twitter and follow cycling you will have seen them pop up on your feed from time to time. They are the Doperati and their illustrious leader is @Digger_forum.

Who is Digger?

My introduction to Digger came in 2011. It was the time of the federal investigation into Lance Armstrong which proved to be the prologue for the big mans fall from grace. Floyd Landis was the main witness in the case but was at that time still coming to terms with his own downfall as well being in the process of being investigated for computer hacking. There was also the question of the nearly $1 million raised for the ‘Floyd Fairness Fund’, money that I believed was donated by people being sold a lie. I decided to hit twitter to see what my 20 or so followers made of my opinion by suggesting that Landis perhaps wasn’t the most reliable of witnesses. Not long after I got a reply from someone who, if I remember right, was calling himself Big Tex Is Going To Jail or @Digger_forum for short. I was quite excited because he wasn’t one of my followers. “Wow” I thought, someone must really value my opinion. They’ve taken time to ‘engage’ with me. Dreams of commenting on pro cycling for a living flashed through my mind. Then I actually read the tweet:

“Charming” I thought. I tried to clarify my point but after becoming aware that my new acquaintance was arguing against a point which was different to the one I was trying to make I decided to finish things as it was becoming a waste of time.

As I became more familiar with twitter and started using it to follow professional cycling I set up a new cycling specific account (@JamesRannoch), mainly so my friends wouldn’t get annoyed by me adding pictures of men in Lycra to their timelines. I saw Digger get mentioned now and again and I occasionally dropped in on his profile and followed some of his ‘conversations’. He seemed to have some pretty extreme theories but to me it looked like were built out of suspicions which he was taking as fact. I didn’t disagree with everything he said, he raised and highlighted some important issues, but I held back from engaging with him when I did. It was obvious that there was no point in arguing with him because his mind wouldn’t be swayed by anyone else’s opinion. But the older I got, the grumpier I became and the less I was able to suffer him gladly. His infuriating debating style should have been scarring me away but it was drawing me into his world of accusations and innuendo. I started to become a little obsessed with disproving some of his more ridiculous theories. I felt that it was morally wrong throwing out proclamations about peoples integrity with flimsy evidence and cowardly to do so from behind an anonymous twitter handle. This would be fine if he was just prattling away in the corner of a pub somewhere because we could just nod or tut at the right moments but he was stating, as fact, things which could effect innocent people on public forums. There is also a fair amount of anger and venom whipped up among his followers and that anger and venom has been joined by spit and whatever else and is now getting directed at the condemned riders from the roadsides of the world. I’d had enough and ended up doing something I am not very proud of. I became a twitter troll. I was going to satirise this so called Digger and my shield of anonymity would be @Borer_forum.

First I tried to find out who this faceless keyboard warrior was, to see exactly what I was up against. There are many theories about his identity and background but after extensive research I could only find one reliable description of him and a photo which surfaced online a few years back.

Next I would employ my arguing skills to take apart all his theories. Unfortunately it didn’t take long for him to block me. There would be no late night debates about hidden motors as we smoked cigars. I wouldn’t receive scented jiffy bags containing long agonising letters about the differences between intramuscular and intravenous. I tried wooing him back with poetry…

….but alas, to no avail.

So I was reduced to taking incessant screen-grabs, much like the great man himself, of his more ridiculous tweets and posting them to the Borer account. Very quickly I found that following him so closely wasn’t good for my blood pressure and general happiness so I decided I would write a blog about Digger, put Borer into retirement and enjoy my life again. This has taken a lot longer than I’d hoped for thanks to the Fancy Bears but here’s what I found:

(Some of the screen grabs are straight off his time line so read from the bottom to the top.)

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Giles Ripwell from the final stage.

Stage 8. London to London.

My recap of the final stage of the Tour de of Britain comes a day late. TEAM wiggins had cause to celebrate after the end as our rider, a certain Mr Owen Doull finished third overall and ended up on, what they call in cycling competitions, ‘The Podium’. And by by jingos! Mr Wiggins-Sir can party! He introduced me to a concoction called a ‘Yager Bomber’ and after 2 of them I was quite worse for wear!
The route went round and round and round London taking in many of the tourist structures of the town. As well as piccadilly circus, now closed after revelations of cruelty to some of its performing animals, we went passed Whitehall, The Strand and The Trafalgar Square. The Trafalgar Square commemorates a decisive battle in the Boer War won by the British army lead by a sea-faring fellow called Mr Horatio Nelsan. A nearby statue, called Nelsans column, was built to honour him and it is one of the biggest erections in London.
Mr Bradley Wiggins-Sir told me that he won an Olympic gold medal in London and made sure I was aware that Mr Chris Froom had never won a medal of any description.
Eli Viviani won the stage after my good friend Andrew Greipel was disqualified and Eddie Bosan-Haggen won the competition overall.

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Stage 3. Cockermouth to Kelso.

Stage 3. Cockermouth to Kelso.

Today we went from Cockermouth to Kelso. The less said about the start town the better don’t you think? It sounds like some of the words Mr Wiggins-Sir has been calling Mr Froome! Soon after leaving that place we passed the house of famous new romantic lyricist William Wordsworth and headed for Carlisle. Before going into Scotland the route roughly followed the path of a wall built by a roman gentleman going by the name of Adrian in the late 20’s. With concerns about the local salmon population, and some knowledge of walls, I asked fellow rider and fish expert, a certain Mr Taylor Finney, whether there was a fish ladder on Adrian’s Wall. He said, wuite abruptly “That’s a damn wall you’re thinking of”. “Well this is a ruddy well wall!” was my reply. Honesty, the language in the peleton is straight from the gutter at times. After a few small climbs late on the stage finished at Floors Castle which was originally built as a Quick Step showroom by one Mr Patrick Lefevre when he took some time off from blaming other people from his teams woes.
Eli Viviani won the stage, his second, and John Lobato took the overall lead after Pete Vucak crashed late on.

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Does Britain need a new Pro Tour team?

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April 23rd 2013.

 

Another Spring Classics season is over and while Fabian Cancellara reigned again in Roubaix and Flanders there were more left-field winners in terms of both teams and riders in San Remo and Liege. For Team Sky however it was business as usual which meant another big fail. While this has been the first year they have targeted these one day races seriously following from their great success in stage races last year it seems that they may never find the formula to get anything out of these unpredictable races. This may not prove to be a problem to them and their sponsors if they do well in any of the grand tours but there could be a terrible effect on the development of British cyclists.

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