The Quest for the Maillot Jaune

The Quest for the Maillot Jaune

In 1994, I fell in love with yellow, or colloquially, le maillot jaune. I had the belief that one day I could wear the famous jersey. Sadly, like most adolescent dreams it was short lived and I returned to the fantasy world of wanting to be the next Mark Crossley or Peter Schmeichel. That said, my love of cycling remained, but it was put to the back of my mind for 11 months of the year until the famous maillot jaune was on someone’s shoulders again. The 1994 tour started with a British rider, Chris Boardman, of Halfrauds bike frame, Boardman, taking the individual time trial. The race then shot down to the French coast, boarded the Eurostar at Calais, and then set off on its two-day holiday in Blighty.

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All the kit required to cycle to Paris.

The British route saw it start near the imposing Dover Castle, the key to England was this time opening the door for French crown jewels/81st edition of the greatest grand tour. I am sure most kings from King John ‘Lackland’ would be turning in their grave knowing of this invasion from over the channel. However pleasantries were exchanged as the Italian rider, Flavio Vanzella claimed the maillot jaune on both stage 4 in Brighton and stage 5 in Portsmouth.

It wasn’t until the next day that the maillot jaune was on the back of a Brit in Sean Yates, however the tour had just returned to France at this point and once again my 21 stage obsession had to be lived through Eurosport, its grainy coverage and my 14” television set.

With one month to go before the prologue of the 103rd edition of the Tour de France, Nick Coulson and I set off on our own quest for the maillot jaune and our ride from Marble Arch to Arc de Triomphe.

 

The stats are as followed:

Total distance: 285.1km

Average speed:  23.23 km/h

Calories expended: 5811

Total moving time: 12 hours and 39 minutes

 

It has always been a childhood dream of mine to sprint along the Champs-Elysees and win the coveted stage 21 of the Tour de France. The reality was somewhat different.

We set off at 11am from London and made good progress towards Newhaven. London was slow going, risky and not for the feint-hearted. However, once we crossed onto some trails (not intentional but was good fun walking up a muddy path) we hit our first open road just outside Croydon and we flew our way down to Newhaven. We even managed to stop for some food at a lovely pub where we abused their plug sockets, coffee machine, and ketchup bottle as we replenished our glycogen stores before setting back off towards Newhaven. Upon our arrival there we were greeted like any other passengers, informed of our foolishness for not checking the DFDS policy on bikes (n.b. if we book two passengers with bicycles – that tends to mean we are on a bike each).  We met lovely customs officials asking if we had any petrol in our bikes; not quite what the UCI would ask when searching for a motor in the bottom bracket, but we answered no and were allowed on our way. At the terminal we met 34 riders who were doing the same route but taking three days – their own petit-tour, but raising money for a spinal charity. Two of the riders were using a handcycle – luckily like our route theirs was pretty flat, but still impressive.

On the crossing we had a cabin where our intentions were to sleep, as we were to cycle through the night, but we ended ‘carbing up’, drinking coffee, chatting, showering, and filling our jerseys with food; knowing that we would struggle in night time France.

As we disembarked the ferry, we said bon voyage to the tourers, and off we went towards the Avenue Verte. The route was fairly simple and safe, partly because it was 11pm, but also because Northern France is quite bleak.  The Avenue Verte is superb, smooth and steady, yet in hindsight I would rather use the road, as there are annoying little crossings every 2 km or so, and despite the darkness, you have to be quite weary of those pesky Renault Clios, and Peugeot 106. We made slow progress on the route, but by the time we hit the roads again we had never been so glad to be on slightly rougher surfaces. The road section was fine, but again it was night; if we had known what it was like I would have preferred to stayed on ‘busier’ roads as this would have improved our speed somewhat. (Something to consider for next time around). The night was getting long; we stopped at road junctions to raid our supplies, refuel and rehydrate. We did get to a point where water was quite low and a puncture slowed the pace, but a fantastic croissant and water stop at a bakery in some random town, in now not so Northern France, gave us an opportunity to restock and evaluate our progress. We then continued and made our final leg towards Paris.

Entering the capital was quite confusing and neither of us had any idea of quite where we would come out. The roads all looked the same, we seemed to ziz-zag across the Seine a few times, and saw about 4 or 5 mini Arc de Triomphes.

Finally we entered the Champs-Elysees and unknown to Nick, I tried my best to sprint my way as hard as I could down the road, often leaving Nick at traffic lights, and giving him disparaging looks when we met up at the next light – in true Tour de France style.  Little did he know, I was aiming to accomplish another lifetime ambition of racing down this infamous road. We arrived in Paris after being on the road for 22 hours and 3 minutes, cycling for 12 hours and 39 minutes.

We took the customary picture at Champs-Elysees, rushed to a café for sustenance, only to find that the French were on strike (again), so coca-cola, coffee and a poor man’s croissant were all consumed before we rushed back to the Eurostar to get home.

A great, but tiring experience overall. I want to thank Nick for persuading me to do it, and to apologise for not telling him about my dream of sprinting down the Champs-Elysées.

Strava: @Gareth Simpson

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Comebacks

Comebacks

Since my move to the Home Counties, the tweed capital of England, several things have changed in my life, but none more so than the conversation you overhear in the pub [sorry I mean Gastropub]. In came these tweed-wearing men, who must be part of the local history society and they begin to argue the topic of comebacks. One man argues that Charles de Gaulle, is the greatest ever Frenchman to make a comeback as it was he who was in exile, with the Free French, and then swept to power upon the extinction of the Nazi regime. Then came the turn of the second man and he went royal. King Richard III, who unlike a phoenix rising from the ashes made a twisted-comeback following the discovery of his kyphosis framed in a car park in Leicester, and was later reinterred with the honour of a being the last Plantagenet King. They went on with their conversation as I went back to the bar for a lager.

This conversation about comebacks made me consider who from the world of sport have graced us with a comeback that has made a difference to those fans. In football management, comebacks are a rarity, a vast (minority or majority) of Nottingham Forest fans lauded Mr Chairmen for his appointment of our now de-throned King, Billy Davies. However, Billy’s tempestuous relationship with the tyrannical Chairmen saw him pushed aside once more and into the Football Manager wilderness to not be seen again. Similarly, Jose Mourinho made a triumphant return to Chelsea, admitting his love for the club and all things blue. Yet, whilst the fans were glad to have their leader back. The players were becoming restless in their penthouses and Ferrari’s and when Mourinho upset the players by sacking their favourite doctor, for merely doing her job, we all expected the marching orders. The players put the nail in Mourinho’s coffin, and after Chelsea recorded their worst start to the season under Roman Abramovich’s wallet, the Russian travelled back from his homeland, this time without love, but a shredder for Mourinho’s contract.

On the playing field, I read in The Telegraph [The only sun in the south is that one that shines] that Andy Goode was to retire from professional rugby for the second time in a year. For those of you that are unaware of the talent and corpulent nature of Andy, Andy was actually quite eponymous, 17 caps for England, 400 Premiership rugby (PR) appearances, and second on the all-time points scoreboard. Andy’s sense of humour and inability to tackle world cup winner, Dan Carter, in any other manner than high, has seen him flourish on the pitch and off the pitch when working as a pundit. In football, the last time I witnessed a decent footballing comeback was Paul Scholes who came back in 2012-13 season and played an impressive 33 times despite having a most of a year out of the game coaching in the academy.

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This made me think, who would I have back at my favourite club, Nottingham Forest, would it be Wes Morgan who is putting on one hell of a show at the topic of the Premier League, Peter Shilton who arguably was the best purchase Forest have ever made, or John Robertson, the fat winger. If I had to, I would chose John Robertson, just to relive those moments of pure brilliance from Munich and Madrid, crosses that David Beckham would be proud of and shots that even Peter Shilton wouldn’t be able to save. However, on reflection would I want a player or manager to comeback to my club, No I would not. Painting the wall with the same magnolia will over time; reveal the same wall. Relighting nostalgia is great and if anything that is worth paying £1500 to attend your clubs anniversary celebrations, or £15 in the ticket office for the latest testimonial match, but to reincorporate a player who left for whatever reason(s), or manager who felt it unjust. We have to plan ahead and remember when they were here, what impact did they really make, have we changed since then, and if so, where are we going, and if we are going places, by a ticket like everyone else and sit in the stands.

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Inviting a player back will only further deepen the players coffers in this current climate and as we don’t have any recent players of Andy Goode or Paul Scholes’ ilk, we should continue to reinvest our funds into the academy, player recruitment and retention, and facilities to strive the club forward for the future.

Fawaz Group’s Spring Clean

Fawaz Group’s Spring Clean

Almost biannually one hears of how the figurehead of an outfit is removed, often without notice. Some vanish into thin air, and whilst a few return, some are no longer seen again. You might be forgiven for thinking that I am referring to the treatment of General’s in Kim Jong-un’s regime in North Korea. However, I am sadly referring to the treatment of Nottingham Forest and its managerial appointments. Deep within the Al-Hasawi camp there has been that almost biannual spring clean, and once more the journalists are rubbing their hands together. Our rivals look on with pity, and we as fans are left to pick up the pieces whilst being expected to get behind the new management, players and club with smiles on our faces. Nottingham Forest are once more the court jesters of the league. [Yet that is not to say that Paul Clement’s dismissal from that team down the Brian Clough Way in February should not be considered one of more baffling decisions of the season]. However, whilst the Supreme Leader can release some nationalistic propaganda to warn its enemies about the forthcoming nuclear war, our own leader can only release the familiar rhetoric stored next to their P45.

I must admit my bias; I love Nottingham Forest, yet unlike Fawaz, I will admit to my own poor form. I am an arm-chair fan and owing to work commitments, the 350 mile round trip for home games, and the odd lack of championship teams based around my Surrey home, I haven’t seen my beloved in the flesh for some time. Yet, I yearn for information and I openly admit that I am one of those jaded fans who searches for NFFC on match-days on Twitter, the BBC sport website, and the occasional blurb that is put out via the official club channels. Whilst I Believe in Miracles, the early Clough era was a fantastic fairytale and like Romanticism, it had to come to an end. I am a realist; I know when we over-achieved in 1994-95 qualifying for the UEFA cup, and when we have underachieved with Billy Davies in 2009-10, yet this predicament of managerial turnover has been prevalent since the departure of our own Supreme Commander, Brian Clough OBE. I’m sure he would forgive me for using a quote from Old big ‘ed himself, but ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day, but I wasn’t on that particular job’. Some say managers need to be given time but the average tenure of managers in the Championship is 1.14 years, and those of the Garibaldi red, since Brian Clough’s era, have stayed an almost sector-leading 1.35 years. You could argue that Fawaz, in comparison to his peers, gives our managers more time than some, yet each manager under his tutelage has only been at the helm for 30 games.  As a fan, we are entitled to believe in miracles, the players and manager can also believe in a collective something, yet the chairmen and his ‘advisors’ have to be realistic with the resources we have, and be true to themselves when addressing dips in form.

You would hope that to be able to emblazen our shirts with Fawaz International Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Company, someone from the Al-Hasawi family has to know something about business, or at least now how to get a sponsor printed onto a shirt. As avid BBC Breakfast fans will be aware, when a company is not doing too well, Steph will give us a breakdown of the company’s latest financial report. Steph carefully dumbs down how the shareholders of company ‘x’ are not to be too pleased on hearing the latest profit warnings and conscientiously we get an insightful chat from the Chief Executive of company ‘x’ defending their progress in their chosen sector, especially during this turbulent economic time. Then within a few weeks, whoosh, like magic, they have torn up their contract, taken their million pound share bonus, and escaped to Bermuda.

Similarly, Freedman has had to endure his own hardship of the business model in which he found himself: Financial Fair Play, injuries, questionable signings [who we can only assume were sourced following one of Fawaz’s offspring playing the latest version of Football Manager], and fastidious probing from local BBC journalists. While this was all unfolding, fans were sitting back and enjoying the initial lulled performances; we were enthused to be on a 13-game unbeaten streak from November to February. We remained outside the play-off places that might have appeased Fawaz. Sadly, like all good things this streak of good fortune had to come to the end, and Dougie Freedman’s tenure as manager of Nottingham Forest came to an end on Sunday 13th March 2016.

As we know, football isn’t a business; it’s a pastime of the rich and not so famous. We, as fans, continue to support clubs who are occupied by these opulent tenants. Therefore we sit and we moan from the terraces. We have to endure the monopolisation of our club for whatever monetary, societal or political gain the owners can achieve from owning a club such as ours. However, with recent fan-based movements proving fruitful in easing the cost of away tickets in the Premier League, one asks oneself if it is about time that we as fans curtail the advancement of the Fawaz reign and stand for what we believe is right for our club.

Let us draw to a close with extracts from the Fawaz group’s core values and vision. Part of their vision is to be ‘the most admired company in the region… and to delight customers and stakeholders’. Their most pertinent values are ‘trust & reliability’, and to ‘nurture people’ whilst being ‘adaptive and agile’. In comparison to those who, in their haste, delete their inappropriate tweets of expensive cars and off-the-cuff expletives; I somehow feel that the Fawaz Group Mission and Vision pages might soon need to change to reflect their true values and vision as reflected in their stewardship of Nottingham Forest Football club. I personally recommend that they obtain that P45 from the club secretary’s drawer and remove themselves before the fans do.