Riding Through The Storm

On the 25th of July 2004, two cancer survivors crossed a finishing line on the Champs-Élysées to complete one of the toughest endurance races in the world.  For three weeks the two men had ridden their bicycles up mountain passes in the Pyrenees and through Ski resorts in the Alps, endured extreme heat and icy rain, battled against raging head winds and ignored the howls of pain from every muscle fibre in their bodies.

Neither man is a stranger to suffering.

In 1996 the promising cycling career of Lance Armstrong was abruptly cut short when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.  Given a survival chance of only 40% by his doctor following surgery, few people thought that Lance would even be able to watch another Tour de France on television, never mind compete in one. But in 1999, after successfully completing an intensive programme of chemotherapy treatment, Lance Armstrong not only competed in the Tour de France, he won it. And he kept on wining.

As one man drew a line under a dark chapter of his life, another man’ struggle was just beginning.

Matthew Wilson is a professional cyclist, and unless you’re an avid cycling fan or from Melbourne Australia, then you’re unlikely to have heard of him.  Before being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma, Matthew Wilson was already struggling to make his name in professional cycling and was taking time off from the sport to consider his future.  Uninspired by the prospect of overcoming illness only to return to juggling three jobs he didn’t care for, Matt was convinced by his friend and fellow cyclist Baden Cooke to get back on his bike after recovering from the disease.

In 2003, Matt Wilson was competing in his first Tour de France.  Unlike the triumphant return of Lance Armstrong in 1999, this was no fairytale. And whilst Lance was winning his record equalling 5th Tour de France, Matt was forced to abandon at the half-way mark, at which point he was 167th of 171 and almost 2 hours behind the leader and eventual winner.

Twelve months later, and whilst Lance was toasting his 6th Tour victory with champagne on the Champs-Élysées, Matthew Wilson realised a dream and hauled his broken body over the finish line in 144th place out of 147 that finished.

Under different circumstances, the achievement of Matthew Wilson might have made headline news. He might have been regarded as a patron for cancer sufferers everywhere and elevated as a beacon of hope for what can be achieved in the face of adversity. Instead, his story went untold.

Lance retired with millions of dollars of prize money, sponsorships and endorsements.

Matthew Wilson still rides his bike, crediting his 1st place in the 2007 Herald Sun Tour in his home country as the biggest victory of his cycling career.

Both men survived cancer. Both men survived the Tour de France. But there was a chasm between them.

In 2012, Lance tumbled down the void under an avalanche of evidence that he participated in the use of banned performance enhancing drug.  He was stripped of all 7 of his Tour de France victories.

Meanwhile Matthew Wilson was promoted to the position of manager for the cycling team he rides for, after the previous head stepped down after admitting to doping offences when competing.

While professional cycling burned, every cheat to ever turn a pedal and make a living from the sport stood by with a match in their hand.

But from the ashes rises our phoenix.

It’s taken 8 years to arrive, but Matthew Wilson can now become the beacon of hope we deserve.

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Rev Up Your (Electric) Engines

It’s a common and lazy stereotype to say that women are impressed by big engines, sleek body-work and leather interiors.
I’m neither common nor lazy, and as I was doing some work related research recently I made an interesting observation; news stories about charging stations for electric vehicles almost always feature women. Obviously no self-respecting, Top Gear worshiping, leather adorned bloke would be seen dead anywhere near a namby-pamby electric car (Give him a combustion engine that runs on the blood of unicorns every time), but I still couldn’t quite believe the disproportionate number of women that featured in the articles.
It seems that if you’re a single man, buying an electric car wouldn’t just benefit the environment but also your love life.

Check out the gallery below:

The Telegraph have opted for a young single (no ring) brunette

This is Devon have a 2 for 1 offer

Maybe this from the Birmingham Mail gets your voltage up?

Slim pickings if you live in Hackney.

This beauty in the London Evening Standard knows exactly where to put it.

The Electrical Review gets straight to the point.

The Telegraph throw up another beauty from the stock images archive.

Careful how you pronounce this one

Here's a new angle

Fulton knows the first rule of selling.

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Sports Personality of the Here

The Manchester Evening News has been guilty of an extra-ordinary level of parochialism with their nominations for the 2011 Sports Personality of the year.
Rather than recognise the incredible successes of Mark Cavendish, Mo Farah or Chrissie Wellington over the course of the calendar year, they instead felt the contributions of Yaya Toure, Patrick Vieira, Paul Scholes and Dimitar Berbatov warranted nominations.

I suspect that for most City and Utd supporters, the nominations would be viewed as more of an embarrassment than recognition. Despite the teams occupying first and second spot in the country’s top division, the contributions of those nominated with the potential exclusion of Y. Toure have been limited at most. Indeed it’s difficult to see any of those four being awarded Sports Personality of The Year within their own club, let alone the national pan-sport accolade.

Whoever contributed to the decision making process at the MEN needs to seriously consider their motivation here. If they are so immersed in their sphere of work that they are blind to events beyond the M60 then I suggest they abstain from nominating for next year’s event on the basis of being too ill-informed to make a positive contribution.
Alternatively, it is a realistic assumption that these decisions were part of a conscious effort to represent Manchester sport and increase the profile of the region at a national event. This is poorly thought out and poorly executed. The inclusion of Lancashire Cricketers James Anderson and Glen Chapple can be vindicated by Lancashire CC’s championship winning season and the nomination of Keri-Anne Payne (the South African Born and Stockport Based British Olympic swimmer) is justified for her World Championship winning performance in Shangai. These three athletes accurately embody the regions sporting success, and would have been deserving representatives on the final shortlist. But the decision to include an additional 4 nominations that are based in the city, all of whom have made no more of an impact than other team-mates has demonstrates that the tinted spectacles don’t just adorn the noses of the city’s football fans, but of its journalists as well.

Here is the full list of the Manchester Evening News’s nominations for Sports Personality of the Year 2011,

James Anderson
Dimitar Berbatov
Glen Chapple
Darren Clarke
Rory McIlroy
Keri-Anne Payne
Paul Scholes
Andrew Strauss
Yaya Toure
Patrick Vieira

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Winter Wheelies

With the short days and the downward slide of the mercury, winter can be as welcome as a as a bacon sandwich at a bar mitzvah for cyclists. So I thought I’d take a minute to provide 3 top tips to help keep you on your bike and rack up the miles over the next couple of months.

1) Whilst most of your body can maintain a fairly high temperature during a winter ride, cold conditions can cause real discomfort to your extremities, particularly your fingers and toes. Whilst thick, insulated gloves can provide the added protection you need, the reduction in flexibility and grip could prove dangerous if sudden braking is required. As a solution, head to the kitchen and modify a pair of rubber washing-up gloves by trimming them at the wrist. Wear them underneath regular cycling or cotton gloves for an extra layer of insulation without compromising on flexibility and grip strength.

2) At the polar opposite of your body are your toes, which also feel the cold more than other areas. If you wear specialist cycling shoes or well fitting trainers then adding thicker or extra socks might not be possible if you still want your feet to fit inside them. As with the first tip, the solution to this is also in the kitchen. Wear your normal cotton socks but then wrap them in a layer or two (depending on the temperature) of Cling Film before putting your outer-footwear over the top.. The cling film will insulate your feet but won’t add bulk so that your shoes will still fit. Just makesure you wash your socks and feet as soon as you get home, the cling-film wrap isn’t particularly breathable.

3) Just as your body needs a bit of extra protection in winter, so to does your bike. Many roads will be getting gritted regularly to prevent them from freezing and ice forming. Whilst this is great in the respect that it keeps many routes open and available to cyclists, the salt contained within the grit is a real hazard for bikes as it can greatly increase rusting. After every winter ride, wash your bike with warm soapy water and before it dries apply a liberal amount of GT85 to all the moving parts. This should keep you running smoothly all year.

I hope someone finds these useful, if you’d like me to add to this list then just let me know.

Happy Cycling.

(I don’t have shares in any rubber glove or cling-film manufacturers or in GT85)

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Switched On

There are still 45 days until you can rip into your presents and gorge yourself on turkey, but for Councillor Pat Karney Christmas will officially begin tonight: “Manchester’s Christmas Light switch-on has become the official start of Christmas in the North West”. So whilst in the North West people will be free to scoff mince-pies, sing carols and wear horrific jumpers from 8pm this evening, the rest of the country will have wait to until they can join in the festive spirit.

Those responsible for delivering Christmas to the masses, the anti-Grinch, are Kwasi Danquah III (or Tinchy Stryder if you prefer) and Nicola Roberts (the ginger one from Girls Aloud), Councillor Karney eulogises: “It’s fantastic to welcome both Nicola Roberts and Tinchy Stryder to Manchester. They are both world-renowned, chart-topping stars and to have them performing will make for the best start imaginable for our festive Season.” Presumably their performances will involve singing, unless the pair have been working on a unicycle and sword-swallowing routine.

If the draw of “two world-renowned, chart-topping” stars fail to provide the necessary hyphen quotient, there will also be performances from the cast of Dirty-Dancing, Suzanne-Shaw and Hip-Hop Crew ‘SOAR I.N.K’, before the lights finally get turned on. A spectacular fireworks display has also been lined up to round off the evening.

The Manchester Christmas lights switch on begins at 6:30pm this evening (Thursday 10th November) and is free, no tickets are required.

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Filling The Blank

Manchester should be thankful for all the rain it gets because I’m sure it’s in no small part responsible for the plethora of galleries and museums in the city centre. This blessing in disguise has given Manchester an historical edge when it comes to providing visitors with an inspiring and enjoyable alternative to sheltering in Marks & Spencer, but whilst the cultural deluge has flooded the city centre, the urban fringe has been a relative desert of creativity bar the occasional artistic oasis.

But there are signs that the levy might be about to break. Standing on the outskirts of the city, in baron surroundings of wasteland and make-shift car parks stands the Blank Space, part of the Blank Media Collective. The box of a building protrudes like a Mexican Cactus in a concrete desert, waiting for the first drops of regeneration funding to splash nearby. If you were trying to choose a less well trodden part of the city then you would have your work cut out and it certainly seems an odd spot for an exhibition space. I can imagine footfall is increased during the week as commuters occupy the parking space available, but on a Saturday afternoon the place is deserted and feels like a long abandoned ghost town from a spaghetti western.

Despite the unusual location, the Blank Space appears to be thriving. It has been open for 12 months and the will host a special event this weekend as the owners – Blank Media Collective – celebrate their 5th anniversary. The Collective, which operates as a social enterprise aims to support local creative talent by providing a space to exhibit works. They also provide exposure in their online publication Blankpages and hold regular workshops, mentoring and networking events.

The current exhibition ‘The Title Art Prize’ is displaying the work of shortlisted artists in contention for the accolade awarded to emerging visual artists. The exhibition will run until November 27th and the winner will be announced on November 12th to coincide with the Collectives 5th Birthday celebrations.

We’re lucky to have such a wide variety of indoor attractions to help us forget about the background of drizzle, and whilst the city itself might start to saturate over the winter, new additions to the creative landscape are always welcome. Hopefully the Blank Space will have a long and successful future.

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Gunpowder, Treason and Plot

Ordsall Hall in Salford has been put to many uses in its 750 year past, including a school for clergy, a working men’s club and a radio station. It has also been proposed, in Harrison Ainsworth’s 1842 novel Guy Fawkes, that Ordsall Hall was the location at which Guy Fawkes and Robert Catesby hatched their Gunpowder Plot in 1605. Ainsworth speculated that Fawkes escaped capture by the king’s soldiers by way of an underground tunnel from the Hall to an Inn at the northern end of Deansgate (Maybe he had a train to catch at Victoria).

Despite there being no firm evidence to support Ainsworth’s tale, the legend of Guy Fawkes has become entwined in the history of Ordsall Hall, to the extent that a near-by road has been renamed Guy Fawkes Street. The Hall also celebrates its linkage with the would-be-assassin by stockpiling gunpowder and blowing it up once a year, but without the intention of murdering a king and under the rather more family friendly title of Lighting The Legend, which also consists of a lantern parade and a dramatic depiction on the Hall’s 700 year history.

It’s the first time the Hall has hosted a fireworks display for 3 years, following restoration work of the Tudor Mansion. Ordsall Community Arts group have organised this year’s event and promise that it will be bigger and better than ever.
Gates open at 6:15pm on Friday the 4th of November, and the light parade will begin at 630pm followed by the theatre performance at 7pm, the night will be brought to a close with the fireworks display at 7:30pm, all of which is completely free.

During the rest of the year, Ordsall Hall is open to the public as a period house and local history museum. In 2007 it was named small visitor attraction of the year by the Northwest Regional Development Agency and reopened in May this year following a £4million refurbishment.

If you’re hatching a plot for bonfire night, steer clear of the tunnels below parliament and head over to Guy Fawkes Street instead.

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