Legwork In London
It’s six forty-five on the opening night of the Rouleur Classic and I’m standing in a brick-domed vault talking bikes with Lord Sugar. “We didn’t have stabilizers in Hackney,” he tells me, emphasising that word Hackney in such a way as to make me want to renounce, immediately, my double-breasted Prorsum blazer. “They just roll you down a hill and tell you to ride the bloody thing.” And while I’m pretty sure that’s definitely a lie (for one thing, Hackney’s actually a very flat part of London) I don’t say anything, largely because I’ve heard that silence in an interview is the most powerful tool one can use, but equally because I’ve just taken a salmon vol-au-vent to the face at short notice. “We weren’t all educated in the hallways of Eton,” he says, which, you know, I can’t help feeling is sort of irrelevant: from what I remember the place always held something of a zero-tolerance policy towards corridor cycling.
Suddenly, Eddie Merckx is here, and a short man next to me whispers “The Cannibal!” in tearful disbelief. The wall behind the Belgian is punctuated by square woolen jerseys in every conceivable colour: the yellow one, I’m told by a handsome waiter, is particularly coveted. In a far corner, World Road Race champion Lizzie Armistead is holding court on the aggressions of frame geometry; in the gallery above me a small tussle has broken out over the best vantage point from which to watch David Millar’s imminent speech; and out in the Maserati lounge a group of Italian men huddle together for what I can only imagine is a comparison of their beautifully sculpted thighs. All about us, the room rings out with brake calipers and things made improbably of carbon fibre, and the vaults reek wonderfully of vulcanized rubber as a grown man reels beside a childhood hero.
Soon, Lord Sugar is whisked away by someone with a slightly better lanyard than mine, and I’m left to make “I think it’s Prosecco, actually” small talk with a PR girl and what I’m quickly beginning to suspect is a gatecrashing autograph trader. “Do you cycle at all?” I ask him, as he scans furtively around the room. “Dear boy”, he replies, placing a fatherly hand on my shoulder, his eyes swimming with the occasion: “I never learned.”