Archive for April, 2012

Krásná Lípa

April 26, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Gerard Brown

Rouleur’s Ian Cleverly accompanied the For Viored-Brookvex team to the Tour de Feminin Krásná Lípa as soigneur in this extract from issue 30, out now.

Following the opening day’s presentations to the public, racing gets underway with a 110km stage starting and finishing in the town of Krásná Lípa itself. It is stupidly hot. We park up in the feed zone and hand up bottles on an incline, mostly successfully – although some are knocked flying, others missed as a couple of our riders pass in the middle of the bunch, frantically waving their arms. It is a tough lesson to learn. Groups of tail-enders approach, begging for water. They will have to find their own crew, harsh as that may sound. The bottles are tucked behind my back until I spot one of our girls, Gabby. The bidon is held high, lightly clasped by the neck, then lowered into position ready for collection. It is all looking good, until a desperate opposing rider cuts across and attempts to swipe the bottle. It hits the ground. Gabby will be thirsty for another lap. I curse the interloper, but understand the motive. There are some seriously dehydrated riders out there.

We hightail to the finish in time to catch the leaders cross the line, a group predominantly made up of Australians and Russians with the experienced Cath Williamson tucked in among them. The race has split to pieces in the heat and hilly terrain of the very first stage, which could be down to the difference in quality between the likes of former time trial (and three-time cyclo-cross) World Champion Hanka Kupfernagel, and club riders with day jobs like most of ours. But there is no denying the attacking riding we saw – not something the casual spectator associates with women’s racing.

“People don’t get the see the races season-long,” says team manager Rene Groot, “only the Worlds, maybe the nationals, and the difference between pro riders like Emma Pooley to the next level, like our girls, is so big that they just ride away in the first lap and you never see anything of the rest of the race. At the Worlds, there is so much at stake that nobody wants to stick their neck out. It will probably be the same at the Olympics. People base their opinions of women’s racing on those big events. But you look at a race like Krásná Lípa: there are breaks going away, people attacking all the time. It is a shame that people don’t see that.”

A shame indeed, and an even bigger shame for the 11 women – including Cath once again – with a healthy lead with 20km to go the next day. We have set up on the far side of one of the numerous railway crossings to be negotiated, the last chance saloon for anyone wanting a bottle. The lead car comes into view as it crosses the tracks, then stops. Sure enough, the barrier has come down in front of the break, they are caught, then set on their way again together with the 120-strong peloton. It seems harsh but those are the rules. Australians fill the first three positions in the big bunch sprint and Cath is now sitting in a very handy sixth overall, but it could have been so much better.

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Friday, I’m In Love

April 17, 2012

Images: David Evans

Rouleur Magazine spent Good Friday enjoying the sun, beer and track racing at the Herne Hill Velodrome. A great time we had of it, too. Race reports abound all over the interwebs, as do stacks upon stacks of photographs. We hope to see you at the next meet. Remember: Save the Herne Hill Velodrome.



Tro-Bro Léon

April 11, 2012

Words: Graeme Fife Photos: Gerard Brown

French cycling exchanges  pavé for ribinoù in this weekend’s Tro-Bro Léon. Endura Racing – profiled in Rouleur issue 28 – will be riding for Alexandre Blain, Rouleur’s tip for the podium. This extract from Graeme Fife’s feature on Brittany’s rough stuff is in Rouleur 27.

For jpm, ardent man of Brittany that he is, the idea of a bike race round his home region of Léon combined a method of raising money to sponsor native culture and a means of showcasing the beloved pays, the natal land, that notion so dear to the French.

There was another ingredient that made the planned race special, different: the inclusion of a number of sections of ribin (plural ribinoù). These largely unmetalled farm tracks are shortcuts across the open fields, linking roads composed of packed earth, often compacted with stones, some loose, frequently with a grassy ridge down the centre. The ideal ribin, says jpm, “shouldn’t be too broken up, not too many potholes and with grass down the middle – that makes it more rustic.” These off-road byways also serve as escape routes for people on the way back from the bar, allowing them to bypass police breathalysers.

The first TBL – organised by jpm, his brother, and a few friends – was for amateurs; 152 kilometres, four or five ribinoù. Like Henri Desgrange in 1904, however, jpm didn’t expect there to be a second edition of his race. “It was a mess. The first two riders missed the race route. We’d daubed the arrows in a crazy hurry – overturned a pot of paint in one volunteer’s car…” But of course there was another edition the year after, 170 kilometres, and “the arrows were so well-executed that the local highways authority told me to cover them up with tar.”

A shy, taciturn man with an unswerving will to get done what he wants to get done; enormously patient, capable of sitting through protracted objection to any proposal he makes and then repeating with quiet insistence what he’d asked for at the outset, jpm has another similarity with Desgrange: he seeks ever to improve, to make new demands, to extend the original vision. Opened to pros in addition to amateurs in 1999, TBL became a fully professional race the following year. From a budget of 8,000 francs for the first edition in 1984 to one of €250,000 today, the 2011 race (UCI rating 1:1) covered 206.4 kilometres with 25 ribinoù sectors totalling 34.2 kilometres. A couple of years ago a journalist from Le Monde, flourishing his intimate knowledge of pro bike racing, called the TBL “the Breton Paris-Roubaix”. However, jpm pooh-poohs the analogy. True, some parts of the race are off-road but there really is no biddable comparison between the pavé and the ribinoù.

***

jpm lets fall the black and white Breton flag and the 177 riders of the 28th Tro-Bro Léon ride out, among them seven of the Sigma Sport-Specialized team. I’d had a quick word with Sid Barras beforehand about his guys. Oh yes, steep learning curve, no time to recce, problems with the radio, not doing every race with them. “I’ve got other things in my life but… if I can help them… Listen, I need to get out otherwise I’ll get stuck. It’s happened before. Cheers.”

My companions know the course and so we cut some corners, scoot through small villages moored in big fieldscape, hot bright sun, cornflower blue sky, and onto the third section of ribin: 1.6 kilometres. It’s a good’un, two strips of tarmac and a verdant herbal Mohican down the middle. We’re ahead of the race, motos and cars stirring a haze of dust, horns blaring from time to time, spectators hanging back in the verges. A stretch of hedge and out into open farmland – they grow a lot of potatoes round here. We overtake a team car, move through to the end of the track and park to wait for the riders in the early break.

They emerge from the dust as if in a mirage, the carbon frames and wheels speaking the uneven surface in a percussive staccato. Heads down, the judder of the ribin going up through arms, shoulders, neck, and they’re past. We follow, into the mist of fine precipitate, earth particles and heat haze. The course regulator roars through, perched on a moto, waving her arms up and down like she’s pretending to be a seagull. She keeps blowing her whistle and glaring at us. The driver leans out of the window and says something like “What’s your game?” and, ignoring her gesticulations, we chase up and latch onto the bunch of escapees. One rider tosses a bidon to a woman standing by the roadside.

“That’s thoughtful,” remarks the driver, “and for the environment, not to make rubbish of it.”

The fourth stretch of ribin is much rougher: stones, fissures, rutted. The break surges through and you can feel the urgency in their acceleration as they swing off the path and onto smooth road. Another seven kilometres and we’re into woodland, an old village, stone buildings, some abandoned; the ribin markedly rougher; bikes dance like barefoot runners on hot pavements; and suddenly, a steep steep climb out of the dell, cruel tax on legs and lungs, loose stones cheating traction, a nasty hairpin. This is Le Vern, famous round here. Not quite a muur, more of a revetment.

We park again and wait for the main field to go by; that expected but never less than thrilling sizzle of collective power, drive and intense concentration, the potency of a bee swarm. Back in the car and another dodge across country to rejoin the route in the basse marée, an inland area of shore below the tideline which, despite being ringed by a protective dune or bank, is nevertheless frequently inundated with sea water to form a saltmarsh. A few years ago the Tro-Bro Léon had (unusually) bad weather and the ribin here was a saturated trench of sand.

Rouleur issue 27

Chemical Sisters

April 2, 2012

Words: David Evans Photos: Andy Jones

Sarah King met me at 5pm on a Monday, shortly after her astrophysics lecture. We were meeting because she is a rider for Node4 Pro Cycling – a modern mainstay of professional British riding, known through various combinations of Motorpoint/CandiTV/Marshalls Pasta over the last four years – and I was about to start an internship at Rouleur and needed to write about something, anything. That one of England’s top U23 cyclists was willing to stop for a chat counted as a turn up for the books.

Apart form being 19 and a racing cyclist, Sarah is a first year Chemistry student at the University of Warwick. (I asked, a cursory knowledge of astrophysics is necessary for degree level Chemistry, apparently). Over a coffee in the University’s theatre, Sarah gave me a short seminar on how to become a supported rider in the women’s peloton. My notes amount to: be really strong and ask for little in the way of rewards. A national level swimmer who had reached a plateau in training and competing, Sarah tried a triathlon (her first and last) at a friend’s prompting. She came second despite being “a god awful runner”, thanks to blistering swim and bike legs. A familiar story follows: a place on the Talent Team, British Cycling’s well-organised incubator, before being thrust on to the track. Her first race on the boards? “Nationals, which was a nice way to start things off.”

This set the tone for the next two years, which saw Sarah off to Belgium for one crowded Kermesse, followed up 3rd in the U18 national road race, 3rd in the 10 mile time trial bettered by 2nd in the 25 (“I don’t even like 25s, I get bored”). Oh, and 7th in the senior circuit race championships, all during her first year of A levels. I imagine that this kind of precociousness was matched by a natural maturity, bike racing wisdom beyond her years. Apparently not. “I knew nothing. I was strong but I didn’t know how to keep a wheel.” Instead of coddling and coaching, I’m told the way to do well is “just follow a girl who is really good”. So, what did she learn? What secrets were gleaned on the wheels of good riders? “A lot of racing is just looking after yourself. Never do anything, unless you have to.”

No action unless absolutely necessary – I tell her that this has been my approach to studying for some time, if only I had been told it works for bike racing too. The realities of education shape Sarah’s training – ‘labs’, the bane of all BSc students, take up all of Thursday and Friday, and lectures fill up the front end of the week. Still, Sarah is out five or six times a week on the bike, with core work on Wednesday evening and the odd swim thrown in. It’s worth noting that this without the guidance of a professional coach, or any help from the Olympic Development program, which maximises its pounds-per-medal ratio by focusing on track riders.

The chemistry degree makes sense when remembering Nicole Cooke (then World Road Race Champion) suffering through her team folding mid-season. The sudden disappearance of Garmin-Cervelo’s and HTC-Highroad’s squads left riders like Lizzie Armistead and Emma Pooley casting around for rides as late as January. The women’s peloton may be getting more organised and better publicised, but even the semblance of ‘job security’ is still some ways off. Node4, however, is Sarah’s idea of fun. The women’s team is built around phenom Lucy Garner, whose name is mentioned with equal parts reverence and teasing familiarity. The squad, men and women, met up for a team launch and “posh dinner”, 25 cyclists shivering in summer jerseys under winter sunshine for press photos. The new kit was shared out, and jerseys signed by the team for framing on sponsors’ walls. The men’s team dispatched their duties like practiced pros, squiggling neat signatures in permanent marker. Sarah, on the other hand, took a couple of attempts to leave the mark she intended, but I have a feeling that she’ll have the chances to hone this skill over the next few seasons.

I got to see the new kit, mostly a fetching shade of euro-fluro-orange, on a spin the following week in Warwickshire’s countryside. We talked plans for the season and markers laid down in seasons past. After shrugging off a short 23 minute 10 mile TT (“it was very flat” – yes, but you were 17 years old), training camps in Majorca were mentioned, as was the Jersey Crit Week, ITV’s Tour Series and maybe a race or two in Belgium. The uncertainty isn’t unexpected: it all depends on race invites, exams and money. As we soft pedalled through some villages outside of Leamington Spa I realised that the rewards for Sarah’s efforts – the team’s atmosphere, kit and support, the odd bit of travel – amounted to a really good excuse to ride a bike. For all the talk of ‘epic rides’ and the roadie ideal of ‘suffering’ that suffuses most talk around cycling, the sharp end of the women’s peloton is full of riders who are there purely to ride bikes quickly. Money, glory, or the idolisation of carbon fibre barely comes into it – contrast this to any reasonable level men’s amateur race.

The posh dinner and team launch were expected to grace the pages of Cycling Weekly. Will her Mum and Dad keep a clipping for the fridge? Much eye-rolling ensues. “Well, I’d hope so.”

Women’s team For Viored-Brookvex will appear in Rouleur issue 30, coming soon.