Thursday night saw Vinopolis open its doors for the Rouleur Classic event and the suited and booted cognoscenti of the affluent London cycling community, most of whom appeared to have come straight from their desks across the river in the Square Mile, or wherever it is that hedge fund managers, bankers and corporate lawyers park their tailored but trim derrieres on weekdays. Eager to get their cycling fix before donning the Rapha and deserting their loved ones for their Sunday morning rides with their top-of-the-range carbon machines, this well-to-do crowd queued round the block before the 6pm start.
Billed as a cross between a cycling exhibition and a trade event, our friends at Rouleur had organised a sparkling and classy line-up of speakers for the opening night including David Millar, Fabien Cancellara, Eddie Merckx, Lizzie Armitstead and Alberto Contador with Ned Boulting acting as host and interviewer. Phew! If that list looks like a gluttonous pre-Christmas blow out with all the trimmings, you should also consider the fact that the likes of Chris Boardman and Velominati’s founder and editor-in-chief, Frank Strack, were also in attendance. Add to this some of the top brands in cycling showing off their wares and you’re looking at a full on Roman banquet, the likes of which this City crowd probably indulge in to celebrate their Christmas bonuses.
Every guest was welcomed with a glass of champagne and there was time to peruse some of the high-end products on display from the likes of Sidi, Castelli, Giro, Merckx, Cannondale and Genesis among many others, or sample some of the rather delicious canapés being passed around. Our favourite at the show, by a long way, were the beautifully hand-crafted titanium frames from Passoni.
But it was good to see the likes of Rovelo.cc displaying their hand-painted zinc mini figures too, some of which had been attached to a Scalextric circuit for guests to play on in between craft beer and artisanal sausages.
Meanwhile a display of Tour bikes from across the ages excited some, the more recent models from last year, some twenty of them, lined up at the back of the theatre area. We marvelled at Nairo Quintana's 2016 tiny Canyon Ultimate CF SLX amongst other larger frames.
We put our feet up and sank back into the white leather sofas of the Maserati lounge to savour the experience, and it was great to see the likes of David Millar looking relaxed, mingling with the punters in what appears to be becoming his trademark fedora.
Up on stage, and bare-headed by now, he gave a thoughtful and insightful interview with Ned Boulting, reminiscing about his full, successful and at times controversial career. There was an easy rapport between the two: clearly a strong friendship has developed from their time working together on TV commentary for the Tour and the Vuelta.
His stint was rounded off with an auction of a portrait of Millar for charity by the well-established painter, Robin Puplett, an avid cycling fan himself. The lucky winner paid £5,000 for the study of Millar in his study, but appeared to be nervous about his wife finding out about the purchase!
The highlight for many was the appearance of the legendary Eddie Merckx, whose charm and easy manner had the audience eating out of his hand. Who knew that after retirement he’d attempted to launch a career in the glamorous world of prefabricated buildings, but couldn't find a financial backer. It wasn't until he took his family to Italy for their first summer holiday in years, that he decided to go into the bike building business, aided by De Rosa, something he perhaps had a little more expertise in!
He gave a fascinating account of his incredible achievements, what drove him to be the best cyclist in the world, and how he earned the nickname, 'The Cannibal', because he devoured his opponents. "I don't anything eat now," he told a relieved audience. He also had some interesting thoughts on modern racers. Clearly a fan of Peter Sagan, the latest pin up boy of the pro world, he still had a couple of pithy comments to make about this superstar's size being an obstacle to his chances of becoming a GC contender. Later in the evening the Tinkoff Saxo chef, whose book 'The Grand Tour Book' was on sale here, agreed with Eddie, but apparently, "the ladies like him that way!"
Later in the evening Frank Strack offered a humourous and light-hearted explanation of the Velominati rules. Ned Boulting remained an assured, relaxed and knowledgeable interviewer throughout the evening.
Well done, Rouleur, for putting on such a great show. Those who’d stumped up the readies for the eye-watering full ticket price seemed pretty content being able to mingle with some of the greats of the cycling world and checking out the products to put on their Christmas lists. They wound their way home with happy thoughts, laden with purchases and a pretty substantial goody bag. We’re looking forward to the next one already!
Ride Velo attended the Rouleur Classic, powered by Masterati