23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 15.

Predications all turned upside down, commentators and pundits changing their minds quicker than the pedals are turning on those race bikes and the Tour enters its last stage before the final rest day and the last five combative stages before the final processional stage into Paris.

Life changes as quickly as events in a Grand Tour. We try to plan our progress through a varied and challenging course the best we can, but sometimes we just have to react to what happens around us. The same is true in our creative endeavours. Sometimes we have to go off script. We haven’t done anything wrong, it is just the road and conditions in front of us. Often these unexpected problems are a turning point towards something new and better.

I read that Van Gogh’s ‘yellow’ period may have been down to a medical condition or the effects of the ‘home brew’ alcohol he was consuming – either way, the results in his work came to be a defining period in his work. I’m not suggesting that you set out to create the defining moments of your art through adversity, but sometimes change just happens and you should work with it.

Commentators are rightly extolling the achievements of Simon Yates. He won’t win the Tour, this year at least, but he has achieved an incredible feat in his two stage victories, so far. Being successful isn’t always what you think it is.

Stage Summary:

185km – Limoux to Foix Prat d’Albis

A fantastic ride by Simon Yates and a second stage victory for him in this year’s Tour. Thibout Pinot finished strongly also, just behind Yates, and Egan Bernal moved himself up the classification also. Geraint Thomas seems to have recovered a little and grabbed some time back against Alaphilippe, but crucially Pinot and Bernal gained time on him. This year’s Tour seems still wide open for top six riders on GC. Exciting for the Tour undoubtedly, but it also shows you how strong Chris Froome has been over these last few years that the whole race could be controlled by him and his team.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 14.

The Tour has its own heritage and legends not only in the riders of the peloton but also in the stages themselves. The HC – haut category – climbs are essentially marked as ‘beyond classification’ and are largely where the Tour de France is won or lost. The Col du Tourmalet is one of these famous HC climbs, at 19km long with an average of 7.4% – the last 3kms having gradients of 10.9%, 7.2%, and 9.8%.

As creatives we have these legends of HC’s in our field of creativity. There is the history and the stories which we learn, and fear or embrace, and against which we inevitably must test ourselves.

On The Cycling Podcast, Francois Thomazeau made the point that team Ineos appeared to be losing their control over the race and they were now not the emphatic force that they have been in the past. He further surmised that other key Tour teams have suffered a similar fate around seven years into their dominance, e.g. Banesto with Pedro Delgado and Miguel Indurain, United Postal with Lance Armstrong, and now Team Ineos with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome and Geraint Thomas.

Interestingly, these observations come after the general pundit predictions of Thomas winning the time trial stage and Alaphilippe most likely to drop off the pace on the Tourmalet. Okay, Thomas came second in the time trial and faded in the last kilometre on the Tourmalet, but also add into this that Chris Froome isn’t there – if he was here and in form then it would be difficult not to see him comfortably be in Yellow and with a decent lead. Suddenly Team Ineos wouldn’t seem so passé.

Stage Summary:

117.5km – Tarbes to Tourmalet Bareges.

Julian Alaphilippe has now got riders and pundits changing their opinions of him after today’s stage. Thibaut Pinot suddenly shot out of obscurity in this year’s Tour to justify his pre-race status as a possible podium placing. The maillot jaune came in 2nd and took further time out of Geraint Thomas. A shorter stage for this Tour but plenty of fireworks from the peloton, perhaps countering the organiser’s thinking that the longer stages were needed to make the racing more interesting. Short and punchy, making everyone go earlier, seems to have created much more of a spectacle. Chapeau to Alaphilippe for the defence of his leader’s jersey.

Day 435 – The Saturday Answer.

So The Friday Question was What single thing/event would ‘supercharge’ your creative exploits?

In thinking of the question I was influenced by the exploits of current Tour de France leader Julian Alaphilippe. He is a great rider, currently No.1 in the World Rankings, but he is seen as a one-day and short tour specialist. His lead in the greatest cycle race in the world is definitely benefiting from the mysterious powers wearing the leader’s Maillot Jaune – the Yellow Jersey – can bestow upon a rider. Whether is is that extra bit of confidence, or the thought of losing it makes you dig a bit deeper, it does push the rider wearing it to new places.

So, my answer?

Having a separate writing space. A space where I essentially ‘clock’ in and out. A place where the focus is the work of writing and there aren’t other easy distractions. A place where projects are planned and scheduled for completion.

What was yours?

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 11.

Like the anticipation of any big event, the few days before are nervous and conservative. In a bike race like the Tour de France all of the GC favourites become chess players, mindful and trying to think ahead as many moves as they are able. The difference being their eventual execution of those moves will rely on their physical capabilities to match their intellectual efforts.

Any creative mind embarked upon a project will exhibit similar tendencies. There is a natural state of anticipation, nerves, euphoria, a sense of what might have been if only we had done this or that. There is a flow and ebb. We need to recognise this and react accordingly.

I’ve written already about preparation and scheduling. We are on a journey, like the Tour. Mountains and flats. Sprints and individual races against the clock.

Caleb Ewan has been there or there abouts on pretty much all the stages where there has been a main group sprint. Up until now he has not had the ‘luck’. Still he has persisted. That persistence paid off today. He is a young rider who had to leave his wife and newborn child, still in the hospital, to go to the Tour. He has a job and that dictates your life at times. I am sure he will dedicate that stage win to his wife and daughter.

Creativity can be a career or a hobby. For one you have to make sacrifices, for the other you can easily place it to one side. If you are pursuing the former it can be difficult to make that transition from the latter. Like Caleb Ewan, this is where persistence brings you the win.

Stage Summary:

167km – Albi to Toulouse.

A 4th Cat and a a 3rd Cat climb, so generally should be a sprinters’ day.

Caleb Ewan took his first major tour stage win with a good sprint from a long way out. He held onto the right wheels and made it across the line to take his first major tour, let alone his first Tour de France stage, win. The French are still cheering on Julian Alaphilippe in the Maillot Jaune. Interestingly, the French seem to be holding out for Thibaut Pinot, but evert Tour commentator which mentions him immediately follows it up with the assertion that he does not have the mental edge to win the Tour. It has been a long time sine Bernard Hinault last won the race in 1985, and maybe the French are used to wanting to win so are banking on Pinot, or probably won’t win, because they don’t know what to do if a Frenchman does actually win it.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Rest Day 1.

The total time for the Maillot Jaune wearer of Julian Alaphilippe to complete ten stages of the Tour and reach the first rest day is 45h 27’ 15’’.

So what do you do when you have a day off and are only halfway through the race?

Get out on your bike of course!

You go for a team ride of around four hours. You are keeping your body going, keeping it under strain but giving it a little bit of recovery. Some commentators will tell you that the winner of the Tour is the person who can suffer the most and recover the most between stages of suffering.

Rest days allow the media outlets to take stock of what has happened so far and make fresh predictions about the teams and the riders they will tip to be taking the stage glory and the jerseys overall.

It is like a collective sigh and deep breath all in one go.

Creative people should perhaps follow this pattern. Intense hard work. Rest day. Intense hard work. Rest day. Intense hard work. The creative equivalent of the the final stage procession into Paris and the laps around the Champs Elysees.

The actual length of the ‘rest day’ might be longer than 24 hours but here it is deliberate. Exhaustion and creative numbness don’t come into it. No need for ‘writer’s block’, as we’ve programmed in for our brains to think about something else.

The rest days could be promises of family time/trips out as a reward for your hard work and their patience and understanding.

Remember thought that you still have to get on the bike and spin the legs, because tomorrow it is another stage and another day of hard graft at the office.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 8.

The Tour de France seems to have become for the French what Wimbledon is for the British – the best sporting event of its kind in the world but one the host country struggles to win. In fact the last French winner was Bernard Hinault in 1985. Despite wanting the British contingent of riders to top the general classification and/or win stages, there is part of me which does cheer on the French riders, particularly around Bastille Day on July 14th.

In the ITV Tour Podcast – I highly recommend it, especially since Peter Kavannah joined it, very informative and highly funny! – they aired an interview with Team Ineos boss Dave Brailsford. He talks about his association with the town of St. Etienne, where he moved at the beginning of his career as a cyclist. He details moving there without being able to speak the language and not even having a team/job. Then he finds his feet with the help of a guy working in a cafe on the corner down from his apartment. Cycling like most sport/things where people are passionate and knowledgable soon develop communities which help and support each other. Dave Brailsford might not have been able to speak French but he could ‘talk’ cycling. Go and find a community which ‘speaks’ your kind of creativity. Learn to communicate with them and see what happens. Dave Brailsford may not have made it as a cyclist but his team riders have won six out of the last seven Tours!

Stage Summary:

Exciting finish. Crash involving Team Ineos on the last climb bringing down Geraint Thomas and having to work their way back up to the lead part of the peloton. Alaphilippe and Pintot off the front to try and chase down De Gent, but also for Alaphilippe to gain back the Maillot Jaune ahead of Bastille day tomorrow. De Gent held on for the stage win which he deserved. Alaphilippe and Pinot took advantage of their positioning on the last climb, and possibly realising that Geraint Thomas was somehow off the front, maybe even knowing that he had gone down in a crash, and chased down de Ghent – not catching him but catching some much needed seconds and bonuses which left Alaphilippe back in the Maillot Jaune, just in time for Bastille Day.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 6.

There is a mini feature in the ITV 4 highlights coverage of Stage 5 where Matt Rendell presents on Panini sticker books. The standard in sticker books for forty years, and normally the preserve of football teams and competitions, they cover the Giro but now have struck a deal for the Tour de France. The Tour inspires this kind of following. The riders, the teams, the stages, are all colourful and worthy of collection.

Writers and other creatives also collect. They collect ideas and techniques, stories and authors, for reflection and use later on. In recent years Haruki Murakami has written books very much focused on his influences such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and George Orwell’s 1984.

The Tour loves its legends and semi-superstitions and today this is fulfilled in the statistic that of the four times La Planges des Belle Filles has been a stage finish, the Yellow Jersey wearer has carried it into Paris. This statistic could be hampered by the extra gravelly kilometre added on and the remaining two weeks of the Tour with the Alps and the Pyrenees still to go.

Perhaps this is another reason that the Tour endures, because every day you get to try and predict the stage winners, the GC Jersey wearers, all with a weather-eye on your own preferred team and riders.

Stage Summary:

160.5km – Mulhouse to La Planche des Belles Filles.

2x Cat3 climbs, 2x Cat2 climbs, and 3x Cat1 climbs, with the final one reaching a gradient to 24% on gravel at the end. A super tough stage which showed up a semi-surprise winner in Ciccone, leaving Dylan Teuns in the Mailot Jaune, but really shook the main contenders up; which was the point of the stage really, but just like cream rising to the top, Geraint Thomas proved that maybe he does have the form to defend his crown after all, moving into 4th.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 4.

Another long stage over 200km. Most likely to be largely quiet with a few breakaways until after the sprint around 66km to go. In a post-stage interview Geraint Thomas revealed that quiet stages like this, particularly in this first week of the Tour, make for incredibly nervous riding, prone to crashes.

Writer’s are famous for their writer’s block – although there are the block-deniers! – but I think that there is the writing equivalent of early Tour stage crashes.

For a lot of people writing is a nervy affair. There are so many habits, superstitions, omens, about the task of attaching your bottom to a chair and actually writing. Then when you are writing there is a creeping worry that something must be wrong because nothing is actually going wrong or preventing you from writing.

The Tour riders are nervous and twitchy, which is often the reason why crashes happen, so writers do the same.

Okay no other writers physically clip their back wheel or fall down in front of them, but they let ‘something’ put them off their stride. I think this possibly happens to other creatives as well. Watching Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the Year competition, I have seen the odd contestant get halfway through a painting and then wipe off what they’ve done or cover over part of the picture, with some undefined reason as to why.

The peloton (the name given to the whole group of riders) is competitive. The fight for general classification overall and position in each stage is obvious and physical, against each other and against themselves, but there is also a strong sense of camaraderie and unity. These riders love doing what they are doing. The money isn’t fantastic unless you are lucky enough to be a big tour winner or a noted classics rider. These guys ride bikes. Even if it wasn’t their day job then they would be riding their bikes.

Most likely it is their capacity to suffer and push themselves well past any normal limits is the reason why they are professionals.

How do you match up in your respective area of creativity?

Are you professionals in your attitude and habits?

Do you make the sacrifices?

Do you suffer and push yourselves to the limit?

Stage Summary:

213.5km – Reims to Nancy – Sprinters teams to the fore and a win for Elia Vivianni – a rider who has now won sprint stages in all 3 Grand Tours.

One of the moments which sticks out for me on this stage is an interview with Mike Tienussen. He wore the maillot jaune for the first 3 stages and when asked for his thoughts and feelings about not wearing it for this stage, his response was completely upbeat. He talked about the experience being one of happiness and something that he would look back as such long after he had finished being a professional cyclist. He wasn’t down about not being the leader any more. He counted himself to be lucky enough to be one of only a small number of people who would ever wear the Tour leader’s jersey.

23 Days in July 2019 – Le Tour – Stage 3.

This stage of the Tour leaves Belgium and enters France, travelling on one of the longest routes of this edition through the famous Champagne region. Dom Perpignan will watch over the riders as they pass through the vines of Moët and Chandon.

Also in this stage there is the relatively recent invention of time bonuses over some specific climbs, as a way to spice up the race. Interestingly, perhaps one of the reasons why not much happens in some of these early long stages is exactly that – it is an early stage in a three week race and it is ridiculously long.

Over recent years there has been much publicity attached to the design of each year’s Tour and the organiser’s attempts to break the control of the winning teams – well Team Sky really. It also happened before with the various incarnations of the teams of the now disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong.

This always seems to be the reverse of what should happen.

The weight of tradition and teams who carry on doing what they have always done – and not being successful or at least only being partially successful – seem to apply pressure to the race organisers to adapt the course to try and ‘defeat’ the top teams/contenders.

Surely those teams missing out on a final podium place and/or the Yellow Jersey should be adapting the winning habits of those teams winning?

One of the key developments in the Creative world recently is surely the amount of information which can be shared/learned from other creatives?

In the past there have been ‘schools’ of art and music, mostly from the physical proximity of those people involved. Now we can link up with creatives from all over the world at the tap of a screen or press of a keyboard.

What remains, however, is the individual’s uptake of those lessons, which I suspect is read/seen but then not fully adopted. You can see this in sport all the time.

I am not suggesting that we all follow the same blueprint and become clones of each other, but if a sports team/person, or Creative, is producing great results from following specific habits or actions, why wouldn’t we want to add that to our armoury also?

Here is my Tour inspired Creative list of things to do to accomplish your aims:

1. Be clear about the desired end result – e.g. at the end of 90 days you will have a 90,000 word story complete, or you will have a fully completed canvas after 3 days, or 12 song ideas for development after 12 days. The length of time does and doesn’t matter. It is the time frame which you set and will complete the task by.

2. What do you need to do to prepare undertake the task? Think planning, materials, schedules, letting people know you will be engaged upon your creative endeavour for a specific amount of time each day etc. Do you need to plot in detail or just have the basic skeleton of your story? Do you need certain paints or new strings for your guitar. Once you start your creative ‘tour’ if you don’t have it then it is to late.

3. Be clear about the route – each of the Tour riders have a handbook which contains every detail about each stage route they could possibly need. You need to think like this too. Each day you will write 1000 words and spend 20 minutes reviewing the previous day’s efforts. You will spend 3 days sketching and 5 days painting. Each song needs to be between 3-4 minutes and you will lay down the basic guitar chords and a hummed melody for each.

4. What do you need to do each day to optimise your performance? Make sure the cupboard is well stocked with coffee. A short walk before you start writing, or walking and feeding the dog before you paint. 20 minutes of warm-up on the guitar before you start with new ideas. Whatever works best for you.

5. How will you celebrate the wins along the way? Stage winners and Jersey leaders on the Tour get to stand on a podium, shake hands with the local dignitaries, wave at the crowd. What are you going to do? A meal out at the end of each week with your wife if you hit your target. Watching your favourite tv show at the end of your painting session. PlayStation with the kids once you have rough recorded the chords and melody.

Stage Summary:

215km – Binche to Epernay – Essentially flat apart from the one Cat 4 and three Cat 3 climbs right towards the end. The breakaways were kept on a short lead for most of the day but then the peloton were caught napping by J. Alaphilippe. Egan Bernal gained 5 seconds over Geraint Thomas from a small break in the chasing pack and the Tour press seemed keen to try and make something out of this. Potentially Alaphilippe could hold onto the journey for a few stages.

Day 421 – The Saturday Answer and Other Stuff.

Quick Recap – The Friday Question was: if you could have written one book, painted one picture, or performed/written one song – what would it be?

It is so easy to run off a list of at least a dozen books for this answer, but I’m going to be good and only give you the one.

If I could have written one book, it would be Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. There are so many reasons why but the cleanness of the narrative and the name of the main protagonist ‘Montag’ have always resonated with me.

(I am not a visual artist but if I was then Hokasu’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa would be the picture)

(I have written songs but will only confess to this in parenthesis, so the song would be Genesis’ Supper’s Ready)

The other stuff:

A couple of days of blue skies and I’ve realised just how depressing I find grey cloudy skies. It doesn’t even need to be warm, but it is always nice.

I’ve downloaded Rod Judkins’ The Art of Creative Thinking. I’m only on p.27 but he’s pulled out the cannons early on with quotes like this, ‘No masterpieces have ever been produced by a talented but lazy artist’.

Le Tour has arrived! The Tour de France 2019 has begun today. I will write some extra posts with the Tour as the back drop for the next 23 days. I will publish thoughts and observations a day after the actual stage in order to give me time to get the podium placings and other stage information straight. It will be very much a working document which I hope will come together as something more significant at the end.