They say never meet your heroes.
When it’s said they should add that if you do though, you perhaps ought not really open your hotel room door to them at 1am wearing nothing but your underpants, stripey socks and a bewildered look. This is exactly how I met Fabien Barel and Anne Caroline Chausson as they tried to find a room for a friend at the hotel I was staying in. I wish I could forget it. I doubt they will. But this was just the latest in a long line of mishaps with the great and good that I have been privy to, or more the cause of.
It started in earnest in 1991. A couple of fresh faced and wide eyed boys with trendy leather jackets and silly haircuts headed off to our first real editorial job at Paris Fashion Week. If I’d known my propensity for upsetting the celebrity I’d have been more careful around society’s ‘A’ list, but I was young and naive and in awe and nothing was going to muffle my supermodel blindness.
Obviously in a job like this you meet an awful lot of people and quite a few of those are famous. And a fair chunk of those these days are without much evident talent. But back in this era, if you were introduced to Vidal Sassoon it was probably understood you shouldn’t spill his coffee on his loafers. Mad weeks of a ridiculous lifestyle fuelled solely and un controversially by Jaffa cakes and chocolate milk and late nights editing on a lightbox saw all manner of faux par notch itself up on my resume. Wobble and nearly topple Grace Jones was a highlight, being called white trash afterwards, perhaps less so. Drive Cindy Crawford to the F word within 10 secs. Instil a look of daggers in the eyes of a new to the American accent Naomi Campbell. Unknowingly ask the oddly dressed chap to my left, Karl Lagerfeld, who the person opposite was the non identification of a celebrity could make me look stupid to my employers!
Years of this have persisted.
Spin forward to last winter and it was me that lowered my lens into a waiter’s tray of Czech bottled beers at Bradley Wiggins’s book launch at the treasure trove that is Paul Smith’s Floral St shop in London’s Covent Garden. Quite what he was doing loitering underneath my hovering long glass with a tray of drinks I am not sure, but an entire shop turned to watch me mop up an oak floor with a large lens cloth and it was as suitably embarrassing as you’d imagine. If you are reading this Sir Brad, Sir Paul, I am ashamed to admit, that was me.
Spin forward further still and so it is that I found myself apologising to two French mtb legends over breakfast in Annecy one morning, when the gravitas of etching the imagery of me in my pants onto the mental hard drives of my cycling heroes was copied and pasted onto another – that of legend of the road, Dan Martin, then grinning and completing the name dropping breakfast trio of champions.
I was here to visit the maison du jaune as Mavic had got a bunch of their most appreciated champions together for the day to say a little thank you for doing what they do best year round on yellow hoops. And all I had to do was watch and not spill anything on any of them.
As the day unfolded and the employees of Mavic got to come and see the result of all their hard work played out on a huge flat screen erected in the spacious atrium in the middle of Mavic HQ to the audience of the stars on the screen above. Beautiful films of epic endurance, breathtaking descent and all out speed reel off featuring one legend after another. Julie Bresset, Anne Caroline Chausson, Fabien Barel, Mike Cotty, Christophe Riblon, Dan Martin…the list of two wheeled warriors went on as champion after champion stepped forward to somewhat reluctantly receive the adoration of the crowd and the appreciation of the paymasters. It was this humbleness that I later realised is the life blood of the cycling world’s ability to connect with it’s fans. The signing of autographs, chatting about rides, turning up and riding along with clubs, allowing the lining of streets and climbs inches from perspiring heroes, It was all represented here with a down to earth person humbly accepting a standing ovation.
As the interviews commenced and the autograph table was lined up like a long trench with an advancing army of poster hungry fans ahead of it queuing, I stood and watched how these guys related to these people that idolise them. Having witnessed a lot of this over the years from politicians to footballers, it’s still refreshing to see these cyclists weren’t just putting on a game face and kissing babies for cameras but instead having real honest conversations about gear ratios and mountain passes and spaghetti out of choice.
When all the hullabaloo had died down and the fans were back home proudly showing their disinterested other halves signed posters of helmeted idols pointing bikes down hills at ridiculous angles, a handful of us popped out for a pizza. Mike Cotty, Dan Martin and I all ended up talking into the night about everything from car racing to Filipino James Bond spoofs and I realised cycling really was like this. Later, away from the limelight in a hotel room with a very mini bar I thought how it was slightly surreal an hour before I was having everyday conversations with genuine heroes of the sport. Race winners in cycling seem to be just your average down to earth after dinner champion. It was late. Bedtime came and I Headed off to the floor above, locked the door and put a t-shirt and shorts on this time, just in case.