Whether you’re a keeno, bashing out a cool 60km 3 or 4 times a week on a 3 grand road bike, or just a weekend warrior scraping a few miles here and there on an old Christmas present; there’s nothing quite like putting your roadie through its paces on an early Sunday morning.
River Thompson is a 20 year old photography student studying at Falmouth University. Since moving from London, River has spent a fair bit of time in the saddle of his ‘Trek Alpha’, exploring the winding Cornish lanes, taking in all the Mother Kernow has on offer.
Although River always enjoyed cycling, it was his older brother that initially hooked River into the world of road riding:
“About three or four years ago my brother who was at Bath university at the time was raving on about how good road riding is, and how I need to take it more seriously. After investing in a Trek road bike and some lycra shorts, that I still sometimes feel uncomfortable in, there was no looking back.”
After a Devon birth, River was soon uprooted to the warmer climates of Southern France, where his mother still lives today. Between his student house in Falmouth, his home in London and his Mother’s house just outside of Toulouse, unlike the rest of us, River has a fantastic pick of neighbourhoods to spend his summer months; and of course the Pyrenees mountains just south of his French option make for a great cycling break.
“There are a couple of timeless routes near where I live”, explains River. “It’s not that hilly so you get big numbers and a good chance to top up the tan. Last year me, my brother and a friend took our bikes down to the Pyrenees, on a beautiful day, and hit up the Col du Tourmalet straight after tackling the col d’Aspin. Hours in the scorching sun, it was the best ride of my life, by far the most painful but there’s no way I’ll ever forget that day.”
With perfect smooth, scenic roads, seemingly tailor-made for cycling, it’s no wonder that River makes the most of his time in France each year. After completing his first year at university, instead of flying to Toulouse, last summer, he decided to cycle.
“I got a ferry to Santander and was hoping to make it back to Toulouse in a week or so. I only bought the map 2 days before leaving England and just chose a route day by day. In the end it took me about 8 days including a rest day or two.” Not bad considering it’s a 540km trip, but it wasn’t just the beautiful scenery that River grew to appreciate. “Spain is such an incredible place, just as you think you’re on your own, struggling up another category climb a car slows down behind you… ‘Shit, here come the insults – I knew I should have worn baggier shorts,’ says my English side. I turn around to give a confident nod and I find people leaning out the car cheering me on for the next 100 meters. Amazing! It was mid-summer so I camped where I could, though because I was on my own it was nice to find hostels or campsites when I could and like whenever you’re traveling you meet some incredible people. I cycled with this Scottish guy for about 3 days and I’m still in touch with him now. It was such a great trip, I really pushed myself mentally and physically, especially on the last few days by which point I was ready for my mum’s cooking to fill my boots!”
River and his Scottish companion
With regularly resurfaced roads roaming over the beautiful countryside alongside France’s strong connection with the sport, not to mention La Tour de France; it comes as no surprise that the cycling community in France has developed into something so solid.
“The weather is a massive help but also the roads are just so good. They seem to just redo roads as soon as there’s a tiny crack which means it has unbelievable riding conditions. Cycling is such a treasured sport and part of France and you definitely feel that on the road. Riding in England you can start your ride with yells and shouts from complete strangers about the “spandex” you’re wearing, then you seek comfort in a fellow rider with a nod of the head but all you get is another dirty look half the time. In France you feel good, you feel cool and part of a community, there’s respect from the cyclists and the cars and the cafés have a coffee waiting for you and your spandex on every Sunday morning. Don’t get me wrong, England is great… but France just does it right, you know?”
By this point, you’d be forgiven for developing a little jealousy towards the little man. Every year he gets to sample the world’s best cycling roads, but he has paid his share of dues to the cycling Gods. The dreaded big city commute can be a daunting task for even the most experienced cyclist, and after his recent crash, we don’t need to look much further than the current world number 1 Bradley Wiggins to appreciate the dangers of city cycling. A job in the centre of London saw River commuting about 20-25km a day around town last year but he admits he got a buzz out of it.
“It can be terrifying and you need to learn to be aggressive but also not give cyclists a worse name than they have. A lot of drivers hate cyclists in town and sometimes I understand it when I see them creeping across red lights on main junctions, but it’s growing and that’s really exciting. So many people are on bikes in London, in rush hour there’s a peloton at every main set of traffic lights.You got to make the effort to do big road rides when you live in London, there are a few really nice routes as soon as you’re out of the hustle and bustle but I find it much Harder to motivate myself if I’m honest.”
All that cycling under his belt, yet River still favours the Cornish lanes as amongst his favourite for cycling, and after covering 90km last Sunday with his newly joined cycling club ‘The Falmouth Wheelers’ he’s still got it in him to appreciate the British scene.
“I love it here and some of the cyclists you meet in the UK are some of the most epic riders you’ll ever meet. I love how big cycling has got, I guess a lot recently is to do with Wiggins winning the tour and the Olympics.”