Nigel is visiting Clifford during the Tour of Britain. The boys have ridden across Cheshire to Congleton for the start of stage 3.
They are joined by Clyde and Clive, two other members of the Audlem Academicals and long-standing friends of Clifford.
Clifford: It’s a disgrace! A travesty! An outrage!
Nigel: You’re not wrong.
Clifford: What were they thinking?
Nigel: Don’t ask me. I’m as disappointed as you are.
Clifford: I mean, how could they possibly organise a Tour of Britain, bring it to the North West, and not have a stage start or finish in Stoke-on-Trent?
Nigel: What? What are you on about?
Clifford: Stoke-on-Trent! The Tour of Britain always goes to Stoke-on-Trent! It’s the spiritual home of British cycling! What did you think I was on about?
Nigel: I thought you were complaining about this appalling so-called “cappuccino”. I think they’ve used UHT milk. And Ovaltine.
Clifford: Oh, for God’s sake Nigel! Some things are more important than coffee!
Nigel: I notice you haven’t touched yours.
Clifford: Every year the Tour of Britain visits Stoke. If you're going to ride round Cheshire, Staffordshire, the Peak District, Cat & Fiddle, and let's face it it wouldn't be much of a Tour of Britain if you didn't, you absolutely have to start or finish in Stoke. It’s a matter of simple respect for tradition. Like I said - it's the spiritual home of British cycling! That's why the Aviva Women’s Tour went there this year. If they get it, why doesn’t the Tour of Britain?
Nigel: Hang on. At the Tour de Yorkshire David Millar said Yorkshire was the spiritual home of British cycling. Don’t you remember?
Clifford: David Millar? Born in Malta, raised in Hong Kong, lived in bloody Biarritz? What would that floppy-haired fop know about British bloody cycling?
Clive: Well, actually, he lives in the Peak District now. But you’re wrong anyway, Clifford. Everyone knows that the spiritual home of British cycling is Nottingham. That’s where the massive Raleigh factory used to be.
Clyde: Rubbish! The spiritual home of British cycling is the actual home of British Cycling – the velodrome in Manchester, just down the road. After all, the roads they’re racing on today are basically British Cycling’s training routes, all linked together.
Clifford: [bristling] Look, wherever the spiritual home of British cycling is, it is NOT in a bloody velodrome, and it is NOT in bloody Congleton!
Nigel: Come on Clifford, Clive has a point.
Clyde: It’s Clyde.
Nigel: Of course, sorry Clive. Stoke-on-Trent or not, you have to admit the organisers have done a brilliant job. The routes are great: across Scotland, through the Lakes, around Cheshire, down the spine of Wales and then across it, around Devon, and then round the centres of Bristol and London. No boring, flat transfer stages, and, more than once, several stages close enough together that the teams can stay in the same hotel several nights running. No wonder the riders like it. And loads of the top guys are here: Bradley Wiggins, Mark Cavendish, Dan Martin, Tony Martin, Andre Greipel, Caleb Ewan, Elia Viviani, Steve Cummings . . .
Clifford: Nigel, once again you miss the point completely. If cycling doesn’t respect its history, it's nothing. Where will it end?
Nigel: It depends what you mean by “history”. The Tour of Britain has had all sorts of different forms, all sorts of different sponsors, and all sorts of organisational and financial disasters. There are hardly any real traditions. It’s a mess.
Clive: Nigel’s right, Clifford. If you wanted to “respect tradition” you’d have members of the public driving Ford Cortinas into the peloton in the Lake District, and the whole thing running out of money and disappearing every ten years.
Nigel: That’s right, Clyde. But it isn’t like that now. Look – the world’s leading riders, huge crowds everywhere it goes, two TV channels covering it live, plus evening highlights . . . it’s fantastic. Who cares about Stoke-on-Trent?
Clyde: And Congleton’s not that bad, Clifford. The people here are fantastic, and they're all having a great time. Plus there’s a shopping arcade just opposite that sells nothing but real ale.
Clifford: [craning to look through the café window] What? Why didn’t you say so?
Nigel: It’s true, I was trying to tell you earlier. Look, there’s a leaflet. “Congleton is hosting a pop-up beer parlour known as ‘Ale Avenue’. The event will include local brewers from the town and surrounding area.” It’s a temporary thing, only on for four days.
Clifford: Well, we’d better get there quick, then! [exits]
Clive: [watching Clifford go] You know what, Nigel? I think Clifford may have found his spiritual home.
By Matthew Bailey
Photography by Matthew Bailey
Illustrations by Casey Robertson of robertson-designs.com