Cycling Widow

Calling the wife or girlfriend of a keen rider a cycling widow is a common joke in cycling circles.

A friend of mine recently became a rather more literal cycling widow. Her husband, in his 70s, died suddenly last year. She’s been slowly clearing out his things over the past few months, and when she found out I was into cycling, decided to give me any bike bits she came across. The bike itself went to his son, but as he’s not ‘into’ bikes, wouldn’t want a box of bits or memorabilia.

It started so matter of factly in our local café one friday “you’re into bikes?…I’ve got a signed poster of Eddy Merckx you can have”. What could I say?

Eddy

Eddy!

This poster was once hanging in a restaurant in Spain. One day Eddy came in, and of course was asked to sign the poster. Years later my friends visited the restaurant a number of times while on holiday, and became friendly with the owner, who gave them the poster.

After the poster, came the bike box. Any true bike nut will have at least one box filled with random bits; tools; components; tyres.

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The box of tricks

The jewels in the crown were some classic Campagnolo tools, known as peanut butter wrenches (I’ve not been able to find a satisfactory explanation for that!) As I’ve got a full complement of wrenches in my tool box already, I think I’ll frame these one day.

"Peanut Butter" wrenches

“Peanut Butter” wrenches

I felt a range of emotions going through this stuff – above all, a strong connection through a shared passion with a man I had hardly known in life. I hope that when I’m done with it, my box of bike bits is passed on to someone, be they a friend, family member or stranger, it doesn’t matter, as long as it’s someone who shares my passion and who will value it as I do.

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Team Kit

I’ve been looking at upgrading my cycling wardrobe for a while. Especially with winter in full tilt, you simply can not be wearing enough clothing sometimes.

As you may have guessed from this blog, I like retro – besides, I’d look ridiculous riding an old steel frame in modern kit.

Last year I got a few cash/voucher gifts from friends and family, and after a bargain find at a Vide Grenier, I’ve been putting together Mecatone Uno team kit to wear. Through Etsy, Ebay and vide greniers I’ve got hold of; short sleeved jersey and bib shorts, fleece winter jersey and bib tights, and a cotton cap.

I'll spare you a photo of me wearing them...

I’ll spare you a photo of me wearing them…

Mercatone Uno were an Italian team of the 1990s/2000s, many Italian riders of note from that period wore their colours – Michele Bartoli, Francesco Cassegrande and Mario Cippolini to name but a few, but the team is most closely associated with Marco Pantani. It was with Mercatone Uno that Pantani won the Giro and Tour, and became the sometime bain of Ullrich and Armstrong.

Pantani is a divisive rider. Almost certainly an EPO cheat, his life and career were beset by drama and accident, culminating in his death from a cocaine overdose in 2004. He is still however widely loved in Italy and the world over. Back home, he is up there with Fausto Coppi as an all time great. Even Greg Lemond, who rarely has a good word to say about a doper, says he was the best of his generation. Like Coppi before him, perhaps it was his untimely death that secured his legend status as much as his actions in life – much like British rider Tom Simpson.

‘Panta’ in his glory days (Wikipedia)

Pantani’s main weapon was daring, breakneck paced attacks in the mountains. He would have good days and bad days, but always put on a show for the spectators. Pantani had flair and panache, which makes him much more appealing than the robotic Riis-Ullrich-Armstrong model of a champion in the EPO era. While EPO can’t give you panache, psychoactive drugs can – particularly towards the end of his life, Pantani was a massive abuser of cocaine.

In his widely acclaimed Biography The Death of Marco Pantani, (I highly recommend a read) Matt Rendell paints an endearing picture of a man who was powerful physically but weak psychologically. He comes across as naïve and child like, in which case it’s easier to see him as a victim than perpetrator in those dark days of cycling.

Pantani is one of my favourite riders, warts and all. All I need now is a 1990s Bianchi with Campagnolo Record to complete my homage…