Always another side to the story

English: Scott Sunderland at 2009 Tour of Britain

A tale to tell – Scott Sunderland 

VCSE first read about Scott Sunderland’s short-lived tenure as a DS at Sky in Richard Moore’s updated ‘Sky’s the Limit’ book. As UK cycling writers go, Moore is fairly prolific with recent books about Robert Millar and the 1986 Tour de France rivalry of Bernard Hinault and Greg Lemond. He also seems to be the go to guy from British Cycling’s point of view with books about the track programme as well as STL.

‘Sky’s the Limit’ was written around the time of the teams inception taking into account the period leading up to last years success in the Tour. Certainly not the whole story but an interesting aspect was the period Scott Sunderland worked for the team. Sunderland’s take on the situation has to be interpreted but it does look as if he quickly became the square peg to Dave Brailsford’s round hole.

What does become clear from the original portion of the book is that some of the ‘best laid’ plans and assumptions that Sky made about joining the pro peloton didn’t come to pass. From Moore’s text Sunderland is protrayed as a ‘traditional’ style DS, whereas Sky perhaps wanted more of an emphasis on the director element. Dave Brailsford’s acknowledged control freakery occasionally shows through while never that far from the surface.

All of this remains a cameo in the overall tale, now updated with a chapter on Bradley Wiggin’s 2012 triumph. Perhaps never to repeated, that is a story for another day.

The reason for this article is from another one VCSE came across this week on Cycling Tips (link below). This site comes out of Australia so the guys behind it are well placed to tell the tale of the ex pro rider. Sunderland appears regularly on the SBS channel in Australia who carry most of the racing coverage down under and also made the ‘Hell of the North’ documentary shown on the VCSE YouTube channel.

Sunderland’s story is definitely a triumph over adversity and to an extent is not over yet, particularly in relation to an ongoing court battle with the erstwhile TVM team following a horrific accident involving Sunderland and the team car when he was riding for them in 1998.

With experience of riding grand tours and the big one day races Sunderland was a sought after super domestique and can claim to have helped a number of riders to their greatest results including Eurosport colour man Magnus Backstedt at Paris Roubaix in 2004.

For a rider who apparently once so disillusioned with doping practices in the peloton he considered quitting the sport it seems ironic that Sunderland ended up working for Bjarne Riis at CSC. The article doesn’t dwell on that contradiction but hired as a classics specialist Sunderland enjoyed plenty of success with CSC with victories for riders like Fabian Cancellara and compatriot Stuart O’Grady.

Sunderland has also had an element of ‘square peg’ syndrome while working with the UCI, but rather like his Sky experience it isn’t being charitable to suggest that the reality of the situation didn’t match the brochure. Now working with Cycling Australia in addition to his TV work, thanks to Cycling Tips for enlightening this northern hemisphere fan.

Read the article here


Paris Roubaix – “The Hell of the North”

There are one or two clips of the early 70’s documentary about Paris Roubaix “A Sunday in Hell” that can be found on You Tube. The pantheon of cycling films is not vast and most seem to remain marketable. The full version remains available and the snippits available online work well as a part trailer, part advert for the main event.

In many ways it’s ageless; the landscape, the cobbles that haven’t changed in years, if at all. Shot on film, the english voiceover very precise in a way it can only be when not done by an Englishman or perhaps someone who entered the recording studio just concerned with reading the script and collecting their fee.

Nevertheless it’s a classic (in every sense). I’m always struck at how little the bikes seemed to change from the 60’s through to the 90’s even when watching older footage. I love the narrow Reynolds tubing aesthetic but do not possess the engineering or design smarts to see how the curved and kicked out forks can work like the straight blades used today. Paris Roubaix is a race for those skilled in bike handling as much as strength and speed.

The pleasing visual aspects continue with the sight of Peugeot 505’s with sponsors boards fastened to the radiator grill and bendy aluminium roof racks. The musical air horns are a sound that can transport me to a narrow road in northern France in my imagination.

This clip opens with Roger De Vlaeminck. For many years it was reasonable to assume that Paris Roubaix would (perhaps could ) only be won by someone like De Vlaeminck or Merckx. A ‘Flemish Superman’.

De Vlaeminck can perhaps claim to be the most super of the supermen with his four wins but he could be surpassed by fellow Belgian, four time winner and superman Tom Boonen (last years winner) in 2013.

George Hincapie describes riding on the pave like ‘..riding on railway tracks’. The literal translation from the Flemish for cobbles is babies heads!

The finish line, appropriately enough, is at the Roubaix Velodrome. Anyone familiar with the lower divisions of the Football League or Speedway and Greyhound tracks would feel right at home here. The winner of the race is immortalised with a small brass plaque fixed to one of the communal shower cubicles which have an air of a farmyard milking parlour.

For me it’s the determination to maintain as many of the original elements of the race as possible that makes Paris Roubaix a must see.