Archives for the month of: February, 2011

Many will be meeting new teammates for the first time, new kit, new bikes, new expectations. After months of social rides and training camps, it’s back to business. On Saturday Het Nieuwsblad, followed hot on its heels by Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne the following day.

Like the first day of school, nerves buzz around the peloton. Even the hardest of training rides is no comparison to what’s about to happen. Everyone waits for the start impatiently and expectantly. The first taste of burn in their legs and lungs, the surge of the peloton, the organised chaos, crashes and near-misses, the white intensity. This is it – the season starts here…

These previously unpublished photos by Camille McMillan capture the start of the 2009 season at Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne…

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A Kingston Wheeler’s prize giving from the early sixties. Obviously a more formal affair back then.

At the end of last season I was fortunate enough to win a trophy at my club’s annual prize giving. I can only assume it was a lean year. On the bus home at the end of the evening I realised that the cup was in fact older than I was. And after finding my way around the hotchpotch of engravings I discovered the first winner was some lad called T.C. Sharpe way back in 1957. It may have been this, and the sense of history and legacy it conjured, or the several pints I’d consumed in celebration, but a lump formed in my throat. I felt a little emotional.

A few years previously I turned up to one of the Kingston Wheelers‘ regular Sunday club runs. I’d blotted out my fears at being out of place on my cumbersome hybrid with its flat bars and triple chainring. My intimidation mounted as the car park used as the meeting point started to fill with an cornucopia of expensive looking equipment. As the various groups filed out onto the road I latched on to the one billed as the slowest. No one laughed at my helmet with its attached visor, or my slightly baggy jersey, or my ugly commuter’s bike with its comfy padded saddle, and within the space of a morning and a few hills in the Surrey countryside I was ready to sign up and become a member.

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Photograph of fixed gear menace by Outlier

Riding in London you encounter all types. In images of cycling cities – Shanghai, Copenhagen, Amsterdam – the cyclists filtering through the congested roads look as if they’re all riding the same bike. Upright, practical, utilitarian, and anonymous. Over here there is no typical cyclist, each one encountered is different to the next – businessmen on Bromptons, sensible office workers on hybrids in high-viz, sporty types with dropped bars and lycra shorts. But there are some that float above the rest of us – not necessarily faster, most certainly not safer, but insufferably cooler.

I’ve played by the rules my whole life; fearful of authority, worried about parental disapproval. I wear a helmet, I stop at red lights, I avoid undertaking busses. My cycling clothes are sensible and practical, my commute treated like any other ride. I’m conscious of my lack of cool, but feel gripped by good sense and manners.

I regularly encounter on my ride to work my commuting nemesis; like the group of lads that hung around at the far end of the playground sharing cigarettes, I am lured by his disregard for rules and authority. His clothes tread carefully the line between practicality and style – dark, a slim cut jacket, jeans, black Sidis and cycling cap, messenger bag slung over his shoulder. His bike a stripped down fixie, simple, elegant. No doubt, on closer inspection, it would reveal nods to obscurity, an eye for tasteful componentry. But most of all, he glides.

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…last summer I had a great week riding in southern France with Tarik Djedour as part of a test run for his new Étape Reine Cycling training camps. Part of the week was taking on the Cinglés du Mont Ventoux challenge, and you can read my account of that hot day in the saddle here. Tarik is now ready to take bookings for the coming year, running a programme of camps that will appeal to both sportivists and racers alike, giving you a chance to take on Ventoux and ride the route of the The Tour du Mont Aigoual (the race featured in Tim Krabbé’s ‘The Rider’). Check out his new website, or visit his stand at the TCR Show which runs from this Friday 11th until Sunday 13th February…

…it appears all the speculation was right – the Olympic 2012 road race route will pass through Surrey and wind its way up the iconic Col de Box Hill. Not much of a challenge for these finely honed Olympic athletes, admittedly. Even Cav should get up it without too much problem. Aside from the novelty and convenience for local cyclists to have the race passing their doorstep, it might also mean some of the roads used will get a much needed makeover. The challenge of ascending Box Hill is currently more about the road surface than it is the gradient. Let’s hope they do something about the quality of the cakes too. You can see the full route here

…the UCI has announced a new series of races for amateur riders. The UCI World Cycling Tour will consist of fifteen events that will offer the chance to qualify for the UWCT final. So in future if you see someone lapping Richmond Park in a World Champion’s jersey think, before you start tutting, that they may actually have earned those stripes…

…the excellent blog The Inner Ring has moved home, had a bit of a tidy up, and is now at a new address – The blog has gone from strength to strength over the past year, quickly establishing itself as the best source for pro cycling news, insight and analysis out there – mainstream press included. So update your bookmarks!…

Ben clinches 3rd place in the recent Red Bull Hill Chasers event. Photography by Roman Skyver

Condor Cycles is a London institution, with their own iconic brand of bikes, and long-standing shop on Gray’s Inn Road. They’ve been serving the local cycling community since 1948, and have strong ties with the racing scene, their bikes having been ridden in the Tour de France and by the likes of Tommy Simpson and Bradley Wiggins. They’re also currently co-sponsors of the Rapha Condor Sharp professional team. Ben Spurrier has the enviable job of designing the Condor range, and with his own racing pedigree, the brand is in good hands…

Give us a brief account of your cycling background. I grew up in London and cut my teeth racing at Beastway and in the London Cyclo Cross League. I got my first job in a bike shop at 15 which I kept going through the holidays when at university. I did a block of time as a workshop manager in a large chain where I gained a Cytech 3 mechanic’s qualification, then in 2005 I started at the head office working on the up-coming own brand. This wasn’t the most creative role but it was my big break and it got my foot in the door. It gave me the opportunity to travel to the Far East and I racked up a lot of invaluable experience. I also did a stint in the Product Department at Madison, the importer and distributer of Shimano and other brands such as Cervelo, San Marco and more. I’ve done ten 24hr MTB races (one solo), the Paris-Roubaix VTT stage race twice, Cape Epic MTB stage race, 3 peaks Cyclocross race 3 times, I race cyclocross at league level and in the National Trophy and I have worked as mechanic and tech-support on a UK pro road team.

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“The hardest part about going training is putting on your socks”, so says Simon Gerrans’ coach Dave Sanders. However, for me, the hardest part is actually finding my socks in the first place. And then trying to remember where I put the strap for my heart rate monitor, and then realising I forgot to lube my chain or fill my drinks bottles… and then, before you know it, I’m already late.

So prevalent is the habit of cyclists to run behind schedule that Rapha deemed it necessary to create an iPhone app to help more punctual riders cope with the problems lateness causes. “Where the hell is Fausto?” is their tagline. Now I’m not sufficiently sophisticated and Euro to actually know anyone called Fausto, but I imagine many of my club mates have uttered similar queries that curse my name. The ‘Five Minute Wait’ is the traditional feature to the start of any group ride, and beyond the usual banter (“Been out on the bike much?”, “Are they new wheels?”, etc, etc), is the familiar “Did anyone else say they were coming?”. Or at least I imagine this is what people say – I generally only arrive, sweating and panting, as everyone else is clipping in and about to set off.

I’ve never tried Rapha’s app but, putting aside the fact that I don’t even own an iPhone, isn’t it just one more thing to fiddle about with before setting off? I’m already wasting valuable seconds having to wait for my Garmin to warm-up and finish its interminable search for GPS Satellites. One more bit of gadgetry could spell the difference between ‘just in time’ to ‘just too late’.

Keeping your riding mates waiting on a Saturday morning is one thing, running late for a race is quite another. I’ll admit to getting pretty nervous on the eve of a race, but the cause is not the pressure to perform, or the nightmarish visions of crashing and ending up propped up in a hospital bed nursing something broken or dislocated. My nerves stem from the dread of forgetting something, or over-sleeping, or missing my train, or one of the dozens of other little details that could go wrong. How many of us have heard of guys arriving at a race only to find they’ve left their cycling shoes at home? Or encountered some poor soul desperately trying to borrow a spare helmet from somebody (anybody!) whilst their own sits serenely back on the kitchen table enjoying the stillness of an empty house?

And so the scene is set, and every race day morning I dash frantically around stuffing everything into my bag, ticking off my checklist as I go. Train timetables are carefully jotted down on scraps of paper, with corresponding alternative routes if Option A proves just out of reach for me and my disorganised bag packing. When I eventually find myself in the race, with all equipment and accoutrements present and correct, I can finally give sigh in relief and relax.

Except of course, if I happen to find myself competing in a time trial. A nightmare scenario! So not only have I had to make my way to the start line exactly on time (and no doubt at some ungodly hour of the morning) but there’s a couple of old guys waiting for my arrival with clipboards and stopwatches a few miles down the road. In a panic I over-compensate, starting off in such a rush I quickly find my lungs burning and head spinning, before settling into a rhythm of despondency, until the finish line draws into view and I attempt a final pathetic spurt to limit my losses. “Sorry I’m late”, I gasp to the timekeepers.

(Regular readers may have noticed the timely relevance of this post, coming as it does several months after we visited the first of the Deadly Sins way back in September. I would like to claim that this belated entry on tardiness is a stroke of genius on my part, biding my in order to add a witty nuance the post. But alas – with one thing or another – I’m just running a bit behind schedule. As usual.)

Photograph of the 2010 Catford Hill Climb by Martin Godwin