Archive for February, 2012

Animal Crackers

February 29, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly

Animals seem to have featured highly in the news this week one way or another. Former editor of The Sun Rebekah Brooks and her loan of a police horse by the Met was obviously the big one, but what went on in the lanes of Kent last Sunday was, whilst small fry in comparison, far more puzzling.

I had donned a hi-vis jacket to point riders in the right direction for a few hours at the Hell of the Ashdown but was not aware of one rider having fallen and broken his collarbone – not an uncommon occurrence, although the circumstances were pretty unique. He had struck part of a cow’s carcass in the road, a rib cage according to witnesses.

You may wonder how hundreds of cyclists could have missed seeing a big chunk of animal like that. Splattered badgers, rabbits and foxes are a common and gruesome sight round those parts, but half a heifer? Conspiracy theories abound. Disgruntled local resident or fell off the back of a lorry? Call for Inspector Knacker of The Yard.

I was reminded (thank you, Sarah) of a crash at the old Eastway circuit in Stratford a few years back, when a speeding rabbit tore into the middle of the bunch. It ended badly for several riders – and the rabbit, obviously. The fallen picked themselves up and dusted themselves down by the side of the track. The peloton tore round again, only to discover that a spread of entrails is trickier to negotiate than a live lupine. Down they came again…

There have been plenty of instances of dogs and horses causing chaos in major races over the years. This one is my current favourite, for the way this thoroughbred doesn’t just settle at the back of the bunch, but works its way through to the head of affairs, no wingman (or wing horse) necessary. Just brute strength and an ability to strike the fear of God into the hearts of the riders. You might want to try pulling out a pair of coconut shells from your jersey the next time you need to move up…

The consistently excellent Michael Barry has written a fine feature on crashing for the upcoming Rouleur 29 to accompany Olaf Unverzart’s images. No animals were harmed in the making of this article, you’ll be glad to hear – although Mr Barry gets his share of bangs and scrapes.

Blonde on Blonde

February 22, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Daisy Hendry

I dug out the Bible this week for some guidance. Lost and all at sea, I dusted it down and blew off the cobwebs, prised open the long-ignored pages and searched for pearls of wisdom. Seek and ye shall find.

The Bible, for Tour de France journalists and team managers alike, is the ASO-produced road book that tells us everything we need to know, from route maps to stage profiles to town descriptions, even which hotels the teams are staying in. This mighty tome is the 2010 edition but there is still useful information to be gleaned. It is truly a godsend for a disorganised airhead former blonde with a propensity to forget stuff at crucial moments. And I do mean crucial moments.

Take this, for example. Having organised a Tour trip for my mates – flights, hotels, taxis, the works – and asked them all if they had their passports as we left the house, guess who reached the check-in desk only for the colour to drain from an already pale face on realising they had forgotten theirs? Reaching France eight hours later than a bunch of pissed-up, piss-taking friends will never be forgotten.

So it should come as some surprise, you would think, that a couple of years later, the very same airhead should step off the bus at Paddington Station, en route to Cardiff to attend Millwall’s first appearance in an FA Cup final, to remember his (and his son’s) tickets are pinned to the kitchen notice board. The unfortunate Andy, who also had the bad luck to be involved in the Tour debacle, turned with a look of utter disbelief. “Not again,” he exhaled.

Yes. Again.

I now have a checklist, you’ll be glad to hear, and do not leave south east London without consulting it – which, seeing as there are a few races to attend over the summer, is probably no bad thing.

And, yes, me and the boy made it to the Millennium Stadium to see the mighty Lions get tonked by Manchester United. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world, ticket or no ticket.


February 16, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Geoff Waugh

Extract from Rouleur issue 28, out now.

And so we reach the 2012 model of Endura Racing, another dramatically different incarnation. Jack Bauer’s exploits in Utah did not go unnoticed and the raw Kiwi I first saw at Haut Var two years back – helmet askew, crashing into trees – has developed rapidly into a genuine talent worthy of a contract with Garmin-Cervélo. If there is a tinge of jealousy from Partridge, Wilkinson and Thwaites, it doesn’t show. They are genuinely pleased to see him progress. And, as [team sponsor] Jim McFarlane points out: “It wasn’t good to lose Jack but it is good to see him moving up. And it is good for Endura to be seen as a place where riders can move up.”

Brian Smith, meanwhile, appears to have signed up every available Brit of note, including Jon Tiernan-Locke, winner of the King of the Mountains jersey and 5th overall at the Tour of Britain. Smith expects to see more from the emerging stage race rider. “Jon is not going to do anything in British races. He is a European rider. He showed what he can do in the Tour of Britain. I see his potential and want to give him a chance to shine.”

Just when it seemed the 2012 line-up had been finalised, Smith threw Russell Downing – surplus to requirements at Sky – into the mix. A prolific winner on the domestic scene before spending two seasons with the ProTour team, Downing’s addition to the Endura roster appeared to be a last minute decision, but McFarlane and Smith had been in discussions with the free agent for some months.

I suggested to Smith that his squad now had a top-heavy appearance: too many chiefs, not enough workers. “Julian Winn said the same thing. I said we work on it. Nobody is special. If Russ Downing doesn’t make the break, we make sure somebody else does. We will be represented. We have to take opportunities. We don’t have the money to sign a top sprinter or a top GC contender, so we have a bunch of opportunists.

“The only problem I can see is coming towards the finish, who do we ride for? Julian needs to make that call. I have got two captains on the road I have talked to about it: Alex Blain and Iker Camaño. Alex is a strong sprinter himself, he is knowledgeable and he has the respect of the riders. Now that Russ is involved, he will need to be able to take orders. He was a selfish rider when he was based in the UK, which you need to be. With Sky he learned to do his bit. I think we are getting Russ at his best. I have told him we want him to win, but we also want him to show the other guys how to win.

“Last year we went with a European-based squad and a home, Tour Series squad. The Euros did great, but the home riders never stepped up – the only one was Scott Thwaites. Too many riders out there think they should ride for other people. I don’t want that. And I don’t want to hear the word ‘mistake’ this season.”

Complete Control

February 8, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Daniel Sharp

There was a point, early on in last weekend’s ‘cross race, when the penny dropped. Picking myself up for the second time in quick succession, my team-mate Graham, held up yet again by another’s impetuous behaviour and poor bike handling, issued the following advice: “Calm down!”

It was aimed at me. He was quite correct. A bad start in a ‘cross race is not the end of the world, especially when there is snow on the ground and mistakes to be made. Allow others to make the mistakes while staying loose, focussed and (most importantly) upright. Just because somebody shoves it up the inside on a hairpin bend, doesn’t mean to say you have to shut the door, causing you both to hit the deck. And losing one place approaching a technical section should not raise the hackles unduly. Keep calm, carry on and wait your chance – as opposed to getting riled, tightening up and crashing. Again.

Had I seen the previous day’s excellent GVA Trofee race in Lille (thanks to Dave Haygarth for pointing it out) perhaps the first lap mayhem would have been avoided. The closing stages, with eight men – including Pauwels, Nys, Albert and Stybar – still in contention for the win are some of the finest racing I have seen all season. It certainly knocks the procession of the World Championships at Koksijde into touch.

The winner was Tom Meeusen and the winning move was genius. Nys takes the inside line approaching the right-hander into the woods, pushing Meeusen wide and off his line, with Stybar leading. Tom simply dismounts immediately, sprints round the trees and has the momentum to emerge from the section in the lead, and the power to take the sprint from the front.

It is an object lesson in thinking on your feet – literally, in this instance. The vastly experienced Nys played his ace; the youngster reacted in a split second and got the upper hand. They call him The Iceman, apparently, because of his ability on frozen courses. He’s certainly a cool customer, and that quick thinking and calm under pressure are attributes we could all make use of.

I met Meeusen a few years back at a Fidea team training day in Belgium. Reigning world champion at the time, Erwin Vervecken, pointed out the teenager to me as being one to watch in the future, so I have always looked out for him. Truth is, he blows hot and cold, but when he’s good – like in Lille – he’s very, very good.

Should you have an hour and a half to spare, settle down and watch the whole race. It’s worth it. If not, forward to 1hour 20mins and watch from there. You might learn something. I did.

Revolution Revelation

February 2, 2012

Words: Jonathan Bacon

Gosh, a revelation as much as Revolution. The Manchester Velodrome is a spanking place. Impressive but welcoming – it hides the pain well, but I could feel it. As I wandered the ‘pits’ watching riders spin away on rollers like they were walking in the park, and VIPs clinking glasses and talking the talk, I realised the huge divide between the crowd and the racers. They were a lateral step away. But a big step, a huge stride, a power-packed prowess that wasn’t obvious but was there all the same.

It was the final (4th) round of  this season’s Revolution Series. The Rouleur team had done us proud, and would do again. I was there to say hello and watch the racing. I was soon to marvel at how easy the riders made it look. I’ve ridden at Newport, I believe it’s the same size as Manchester, so the principles were known. The practice was something else. I was told that the riders see these kind of events as ‘fun’ – a break from the really serious stuff – but as the evening went on and they were out there, lap after lap, time after time, I found myself struggling to comprehend their fitness, their stamina, their strength. My thighs twinged sympathetically as the Velodrome commentator suggested “a 15 second final lap should see them take the win” and a lone rider was slung off to fight his lactic threshold. It was fast, impressive and relentless. I spent most of the evening slacked jawed.

God, they go fast. Jason Kenny went very fast, and very early to beat Chris Hoy in a round of the sprint. It was an upset, smart-thinking, well-deserved (all of the above). The Derny race was truly fabulous – I must find out how rider and pilot communicate, although I get the feeling the Howies rider wasn’t too pleased about some aspect of it – perhaps just his own performance. The Devil should be later in the evening – it’s too much fun to have it early. Sprinting when there is no space to sprint into is plain fascinating. And the various points races are of a length that would have me broken after three laps so I’m in awe of the riders who ride lap after lap at an ever quickening pace to then sort things in the last three. Dry mouth in the house.

Great venue, facilities, lovely atmosphere, a really good vibe (I think that’s the phrase). I’m looking forward to next year. I’m going to sort out a session for our Rouleur team – a staff outing – should be good. And whilst it’s available I’ll watch the ITV Player show again, and again… click here (I think it’s there until the end of Feb – do take a look).

Steve Makin was with me and took some appropriate photographs. They’re here…

And a few from the Bacons…