“Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking…” goes the old saying, which in my case is fairly accurate.
There is a world of difference between sitting with a headset on in the safety and splendid isolation of the commentary booth and standing up in front of an audience of well oiled and expectant club dinner guests, as I am increasingly beginning to experience.
Whereas roadies do cyclo-cross in the off-season, commentators do dinners, which, whilst being immensely fun and an excellent way of winding down after a season largely away from the UK, are not particularly good for the waistline. That is, unless you follow the David Duffield path to club dinner fitness. Sitting next to David recently at the Beacon Roads Club dinner in Bromsgrove where I had been asked along as guest speaker, I confided to the great man that this was only my second speaking appointment this year and that I was a bit nervous.
“The year before I set my end to end trike record,” replied David, almost casually, “I did 21 dinners as a guest speaker. I knew I’d have to get the miles in over the winter to prepare so I took gigs all over the country and rode to and from each one.”
This appears to be dedication in the extreme and, thankfully for me at least, I doubt that in 2007 the sight of a guest speaker turning up with his suit rolled up in a saddlebag would be as acceptable as in the 1960’s.
The times may have changed but that particular dinner was a wonderful reminder of what a cycling club dinner should be all about. I needn’t have been nervous; a more welcoming bunch of bikies you couldn’t wish to find, ranging from promising teenage talent through to members of the club’s entire lifespan of 61 years, all turned out in their finest to celebrate their sport and their friendship.
Equally as friendly but on the opposite end of the scale from the intimate nature of the Beacon Roads dinner was last week’s Pickwick Bicycle Club Christmas dinner. This all-male affair has now been going 135 years, nearly as long as the aforementioned Mr Duffield himself, and it packed out the New Connaught Rooms in London’s Holborn. Amongst the guests were Daniel Martin, recently signed for American team Slipstream, and Sean Yates, but it took me a couple of minutes to recognise the man sitting next to me as Albert Beaurick, café owner, butcher and friend to Tom Simpson most famously but guardian of many an British rider off to Belgium to follow the dream.
It was ‘Fat’ Albert’s first trip to Britain for 10 years, driven across from Belgium and then into the heart of London the previous day by his wife who had got behind the wheel of a car for the first time in 25 years. Had that all not been enough to wear him out, he had got up early that morning and gone straight down to Smithfield market to buy Scottish rib-eye steaks and English sausages, the world beating quality of which he waxed lyrical about over dinner.
Formed in 1870, the Pickwick is an extraordinary institution whose members take on the names of characters featured in Charles Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers” with, of course, Samuel Pickwick as club president. Of course it doesn’t always work out well for new members. After 7 years waiting for an existing member to die you could get saddled with a female character or even more unfortunately, as in the case of one UK head of a huge bicycle concern, be handed the soubriquet ‘The Convict’.
For me, the Pickwick Club dinner, or ‘garden party’ to give it its correct title, is the real end of the season. Not even the most resilient of professionals can resist its charms and avoid partaking in a little too much of everything.
So, for now, club dinners will give way for a while to the normal family ones together with a few festive club runs and I, for one, will relish the opportunity to just forget about the professional cycling circus of 2007 and scoff a few mince pies.[Go on, tuck in – Ed.]
See you on the Gregarios Boxing Day run.