Clifford has been cycling for 45 years and cannot remember a time when he was not a member of Audlem Academicals (not to be confused with crosstown rivals Audlem Cycling Club). In 1978 he placed fourth in the legendary Dove Holes 10.
Nigel discovered cycling 5 years ago. He has ridden six sportives so far, which he could only have enjoyed more if they had been called “gran fondos”. He is determined to find a way to persuade his wife to call their first child “Rapha”.
Clifford is generously giving Nigel the benefit of a free education in cycling - the way it used to be, and why it was so much better back then. Nigel sometimes finds this hard to follow.
Now that they're in a bubble together, Clifford drops in on Nigel during a long, leisurely ride . . .
CLIFFORD: Hello Nigel. What’s that you’re reading?
NIGEL: [Dunking a biscotti in his ristretto] Oh, it’s a copy of Conquista, the cycling quarterly. It’s really good.
CLIFFORD: A cycling magazine? Magic! Just let me get a tripe butty and my pipe out of my pocket and you can read me the race results. Can’t wait to find out how Clyde and Clive got on in the Slack Bottom Two-Up.
NIGEL: Er, no Clifford, Conquista doesn’t have race results.
CLIFFORD: What? OK, well, what training tips have they got? With there being no racing or group rides at the moment I could use a few new ideas. Actually, I was thinking of getting one of those fancy new heart rate monitors. Can they tell me which one to get?
NIGEL: Erm, not really. They don’t do training tips or product reviews either.
CLIFFORD: [Groaning] Well what’s the point of them then? Oh, wait, I know what this is. It’s one of your fancy-schmancy, New Cycling lifestyle rags. Too cool to cover real actual bike racing!
NIGEL: On the contrary. There are loads of massive features that dig into the history of the sport, from the Tour to the Giro to new races like Strade Bianche and even defunct races like Bordeaux-Paris and Trofeo Baracchi. They had Mark McNally talking about riding in the break at the Tour of Flanders. And in the new issue there’s an exclusive interview with Sean Kelly all about his experiences of riding Paris-Roubaix. It’s the best thing I’ve read in ages.
CLIFFORD: [Derisively] OK, OK, so it’s one for the Raphaphiles who think it's all about glamorous cadavers torturing themselves in the Alps, with every issue containing yet another feature about the bloody 1989 Tour. I bet they wouldn’t know a real bike race if it burst out of their goatskin musettes.
NIGEL: Well I wouldn’t say that. In one issue they had a feature about Liverpool Century Road Club taking a bunch of kids to race on the Isle of Man. You don’t get much more grass roots than that. And look, in issues 20 and 21 they had a massive two-part feature about your mates the Swinnertons, complete with illustrations in the style of Wedgwood [he holds up a copy of issue 20].
CLIFFORD: [Suddenly interested] That’s not Wedgwood, that’s Spode.
NIGEL: [Rolls eyes] Whatever you say, Clifford.
CLIFFORD: Anyway, it’s one thing to talk about racing. It’s quite another to go out and tackle the courses yourself.
NIGEL: Well . . . the editor has written about riding the course of Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. He competed in the Duo Normand, where his TT partner was sick on his shoes. He also took on a 100-mile TT called the Anfield 100, though he ended up throwing his bike into a hedge.
CLIFFORD: Was it raining?
CLIFFORD: [With grudging admiration] Hmph. OK. So they’re racing hipsters. What about the rest of cycling? There's more to riding all year round than just racing, you know.
NIGEL: Actually there’s plenty of features on rides people have done for themselves. There’s bike-packing in Spain, touring in Greece, group rides with HotChillee in South Africa and the UK, and lots of other stuff you don't get anywhere else, like using chrome low-riders to help the homeless in LA, giving an homage to Torrelavega, the history of the derny, the story of keirin, all sorts. Oh, and there’s . . . this. [Holds up a copy of issue 14.]
CLIFFORD: What the hell is that?
NIGEL: Well, it seems there’s this guy who lives in the West Country who never does anything but ride his bike. He hasn’t got any money so he lives in a tent and eats roadkill. These pictures accompany his tips for roasting a badger.
CLIFFORD: [Sucks pipe thoughtfully] Bloody hell. You don’t get that in Cycling Weekly.
NIGEL: That’s the Conquista creed, Clifford!
CLIFFORD: Sounds like this all takes an army of staff, and it’s so obscure you can’t find it anywhere. I presume every copy costs a fortune?
CLIFFORD: Four pounds? That would barely pay for coffee and cake.
NIGEL: In fact all the back issues are available for download – every single one, from zero to 23. And there are also some back issues still available in print for Old Cycling die-hards like you. Just go to the shop at this link.
CLIFFORD: There’s an issue zero?
NIGEL: Too boring to explain.
NIGEL: Oh well. Happy reading, Clifford.