As Eurosport’s resident blogger, Blazin’ Saddles, Felix Lowe knows everything there is to know about cycling. Except how to ride a bike. All that’s about to change
The pain made me regret all those jokes I had made at the expense of Boonen’s torn scrotum
I have a confession to make. For years I’ve written about grand tours and famous one-day races without actually getting on a bike myself. You see, I am one of cycling’s biggest armchair fans. From my paltry yet perceptible perch on Eurosport’s cycling website as the anonymous blogger Blazin’ Saddles, I discuss the light-hearted side of the sport while taking crass potshots and satirical snipes at the professional peloton.
I have been happy to pillory the pros for any perceived lack of effort. I’ll gladly slag off any rider whose bike handling or hill climbing or sprinting speed is not, in my opinion, up to scratch. And for nearly a decade I’ve done this without having once got off my backside and given it a go myself.
Well, no longer. I am now in the process of transforming myself from writer to rider. From viewer to doer. And karma has come to kick me squarely on the arse. Or, to be more precise, between the arse and the privates. It started back in April. I found myself living in Australia – I’d been covering the Tour Down Under – where I struck up a friendship with another cycling reporter who lived in Sydney. His name was Alex.
Alex suggested we go for a ride together. You can imagine his surprise on learning that this 30-year-old, so full of knowledge about the sport, had not ridden a bike since his university days. I tried telling him that all food critics weren’t good cooks but he was having none of it.
Using my considerable sway on Twitter, I asked around for someone well over six foot in Sydney with a bike I could ride. Almost instantly I got a reply: James, a fellow Brit in his mid-20s, was going on holiday and would happily lend me his entry-level black Trek. Social media at its very best.
I took possession of the bike and set out on my first ride, fully expecting to emulate Tom Boonen’s scintillating spring classics form. But then the reality hit hard. Who would have thought proper padded shorts would be so important? Clearly not me.
The pain was excruciating. Every bump, every pothole, every sleeping policeman sent a piercing stab through my tender perineum. How I longed for an uphill stretch of road – if only for the chance to jump out of the saddle. Why had I not invested in a pair of decent cycling shorts? The predicament made me instantly regret all those soft jokes I had made last season at the expense of Boonen’s fabled torn scrotum. It had seemed funny at the time, but I was getting my comeuppance in spades. Never before has my Twitter moniker, @saddleblaze, been more apt.
Tempting as it was never to sit astride a bike again, in the days that followed I joined the packs of other cyclists who congregate every day to do laps of a 4km circuit around Sydney’s Centennial Park. Alex ridiculed me for wearing running shorts and said I deserved what I got. He knew but the half of it: underneath I’d stuffed a pair of swimmers with an increasing number of soft socks over the week in a bid to ease the pressure from my distressed undercarriage.
My saddlesore plummeted fresh depths every day. But, perineum pain aside, I got the bug. Riding through gritted teeth I vowed to take up the sport properly once I finally returned to the UK. And now that I’m home, I’m going to get a proper bike, some size 12 cycling shoes and, crucially, a few well-padded pairs of cycling shorts. A cycling obsessive is about to get obsessed by cycling – on my journey I’ll drag you with me as I get kitted up and in good enough shape to ride the 2013 Etape du Tour. At least, that’s the plan. But first things first: I need to find some decent Lycra.