What we didn’t publish during lockdown

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Last week, for the first time in a few months, it began to feel like things were getting back to normal. Riders were changing teams. Team sponsors came on board, then fell off again as quickly as they arrived. An actual bike race happened, in the real world. Bikes were launched. The world of cycling, wobbling off-axis since March, seemed to find an uneasy kind of balance.

It’s too early to say that we’re collectively out of this tunnel, but it felt like we could see a light at the end, at least.

At the close of every week, most of the CyclingTips team jumps on a call where we talk through the week’s highs and lows. The fact that it was a big week of mostly normal bike stuff was an undeniable high, but as we entered this new norm, we spoke about the need to hold onto the good things we’ve learnt from our content during the lockdown. The nimbleness; the creativity.

Next to my computer I keep a green notebook where I jot down two- or three-word story concepts to pitch in the editorial meeting we have at the start of a week. Not everything gets over the line, but in the past few months a lot of it did.

That’s where our VeloClub members come in.

Because of VeloClub, we are in a position where we can afford to be different to those with a more traditional media model. We can be nimble and creative. We can follow weird muses. Sometimes the ideas never come out of the green notebook; sometimes risks pay off and sometimes they don’t. But because of our members, we all have the freedom to take a shot.

As the cycling world continues to transition into a new ‘business as usual’, I thought it was worth marking the moment with some lockdown-era stories from the cutting room floor that never got published. Not every concept is a good one, but I think there’s something to be learnt from the manic energy we’ve been marinating in during 2020.

And besides – perhaps there’s some life yet in these orphans from the notebook.

On the cutting room floor

“CYOA: Monuments”

Early in the lockdown, when the first race cancellations were starting to trickle in, Matt de Neef and I put together Choose Your Own Adventure-style pieces for Milan-San Remo and Tour of Flanders.

They were brain-breakingly complex to work on, and took a bunch of time, but I maintain that they were a great bit of content in a pretty dark time. Unfortunately the pageviews didn’t justify the many days of work, and we had to make the call not to do one for every cancelled Monument of the season. If you haven’t read them yet, please do!

“Beers of cycling”

A video concept that was originally planned for during the Spring Classics. This idea involved Caley Fretz and me sampling as many of the beers that sponsor cycling events as possible. We’d get progressively more trashy before coming up against the undisputed Final Boss of bad bike beers, the Amstel Gold Race-sponsoring Amstel Lager.

Mmm, beer.

When the Spring Classics were postponed, we toyed with the idea of doing this over Zoom, but were thwarted by lack of distribution. The fact that it would have meant at least one of us day-drinking at breakfast also limited the appeal, but we got pretty close.

“Coco Jamboo / trainer”

My wife’s got a Norwegian compilation CD from when she was a kid called Absolute Music 17. It features a bunch of EuroPop bangers that, I think it’s fair to say, have not aged gracefully.

Somehow my three-year-old daughter found this CD in storage and fell in love with the German pop trio Mr President’s song, Coco Jamboo. Every time we drove anywhere for a few weeks, we listened to Coco Jamboo on repeat. That puts you in a really spicy mindset to tackle the day, I can tell you.

After one particularly punishing drive to daycare, my mind broke a little bit. What is a Coco Jamboo, I began to wonder? Why does the singer like his chicken with rice and lemonade-ah? What kind of macabre entreaty is ‘put me up, put me down’? Why is this song so very crap?

I went as far as contacting Mr President’s rapper’s management to try to secure an interview for an article I planned where I’d ride for an hour on an indoor trainer, just listening to Coco Jamboo on repeat. Perhaps mercifully, they never got back to me and my daughter’s attention shifted to the Moana Soundtrack. Big relief.

“Broken jeans feelings”

I’ve got an old sad pair of Rapha jeans that have at various points over the past few years worn through at the crotch and been resurrected at a small repair shop run by an elderly Vietnamese couple. Over the years they’ve hemmed my suit trousers for weddings and funerals, patched numerous pairs of my jeans, and we’ve become friendly.

Early in the lockdown, I tore another hole in my jeans and shelved them until I could take them to my local repair shop which, as a non-essential service, was closed. The next time I went past, it was empty, with a For Lease sign in the window. I got halfway through writing a meditation on the fragility of life and employment in the current climate, expanding to all the little links in the cycling supply chain that we’d miss if they went away. I never finished it off or made it gel as I’d hoped, but I hope that my clothes repair folks are doing OK.

“Tom Boonen has a pillow”

In which I asked Deceuninck-Quickstep’s long-suffering press officer for the silliest photos from the team’s mattress and pillow sponsor shots, and did not receive a reply, thwarting my plan to write a multi-thousand-word story on Tom Boonen and his pillow, in the style of Gay Talese’s landmark longform feature.

Luckily, Remco Evenepoel failed to drink a non-alcoholic beer and I was able to weave elements of “Tom Boonen has a pillow” into a different type of hard-hitting exposé altogether.

“Weird team vibes”

I don’t actively try to annoy Deceuninck-Quickstep, but I do think the team’s Wolf Pack schtick is a bit icky, and Bora-Hansgrohe’s ‘Band of Brothers’ thing isn’t much better. Then I found out about B&B Hotels-Vital Concept’s ‘Men in Glaz’ moniker and accompanying theme song, and fell down a deep rabbit hole of official cycling team and rider tunes. I haven’t come out of that hole yet, but I can report back on the very French answer to one important question I asked of B&B Hotel’s press officer: “What is a Glaz?”

“Glaz is a colour, indeed. The same colour as the sea in Brittany. Between green and blue, depending on the weather, the season, the time of the day. Glaz is our jersey’s colour, obviously. A proper English translation would be… « Glaz » [winky face]”

Why I’m telling you this

Every idea takes work to flesh out, and most of these never got to be more than skeletons. But each of them is the result of the uniquely fortunate position that we’re in at CyclingTips – a place where we can be creative, and sometimes kooky, and publish things that most other cycling media might not be able to touch.

Over the past few months, we’ve written about Babymakers and Dictators, man-made mountains and fake flooring. We’ve released Choose Your Own Adventure stories, and podcasts about Taylor Swift.

At times, it’s gotten weird – but some of those risks have been pathways to much bigger, more important stories than what they ever started out as, like breaking the story of the UCI’s endorsement of a dictator presiding over one of the worst human rights records in the world.

That freedom, experimentation and sense of play – that’s the VeloClub difference.

Iain Treloar
Senior Editor

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