Posts Tagged ‘cyclo-cross’

Troublesome Child

January 31, 2013

Ever get that feeling, having entered an event weeks in advance, that it was all a horrible mistake? That the upcoming pain will far outweigh the endorphin high?

I go through the same ridiculous process every time, even though, deep down, I’m aware that the chances of enjoying every single moment of the ride – or certainly the feeling after it’s all over – are high.

Fretting is the default position, even when there is entry on the line. There are chimps on both shoulders, arguing the toss over the merits and demerits of racing, while I sit helpless between, like being on the night bus to Peckham when it kicks off. The spat soon gets ugly, but there is no point in intervening. What will be, will be.

It’s the same deal with the magazine. We send off the finished article to the printers, then the doubts set in: what if it isn’t as good as the last issue? How do we know we have got it right having pored over the content for weeks and become blind to its charms?

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The reason struck us is the strange chain of emotions running through the office as we went to press. The editor and myself had concluded issue 36 was not one of our best efforts, and had resigned ourselves to improving next time round. Let it go and move on.

Then the publisher, Bruce, and the ad man, Andy, called us to say it was one of our finest. And the early response from those who had got the issue was the same: it’s a beauty. We are happy to stand corrected.

What the editorial and design team strive for is originality, quality and balance – and it was the balance part we were unsure we had got right. Too much historical and Rouleur becomes a museum piece; all contemporary and we have left our core values behind.It’s not until we get the magazine in our hands, having watched it take shape on a computer screen over the shoulder of our designer, Rob, that we can truly say whether it has worked or not. Thankfully, we all agreed: it has worked, and then some.

And what is contained within the covers of this troublesome child, you ask? Ned Boulting opens with a fabulously written piece on the Revolution track series, with suitably wonderful images by Taz Darling. Guy Andrews, a man with a penchant for a steel frame himself, follows the development of the new Madison Genesis team, who will (whisper it) ride steel frames this season. Retro or forward thinking?

Herbie Sykes, a man who loves a good barney, sits down with Paul Kimmage, not averse to a heated debate himself – ask Lance… It is a fascinating feature on where the sport is now and where it’s heading. Our man Jordan Gibbons goes to Germany to discover one of the finest carbon wheel producers in the world making very expensive hoops from Heath Robinson machinery. And even Lance has to pay to get a set. Superb.

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We have two writers new to Rouleur this issue: Olivier Nilsson-Julien talks to Dutch author Herman Chevrolet about his fascinating book on dirty deals and double-crossing in the peloton; and David Sharp spends time with time trial wunderkind Tony Martin, talking over a year of extreme highs and lows, with the always-excellent Timm Kölln recording the scars.

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David Curry accompanies Rouleur regular photographer Olaf Unverzart to the Czech Republic to discuss cyclo-cross with Zdeněk Štybar as the former World Champion converts to a career on the road with Omega-Pharma –Quick Step.

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Plus columnists Paul Fournel – with Jo Burt’s illustration as usual –  Matt Seaton and William Fotheringham, winners all.

Enough of the hard sell. We’re happy enough, but we’re not the readership. Let us know what you make of it.

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The Dalesman

September 26, 2012

Words: Claire Read  Photos: Sam Needham

On June 21, 1960, the letters page of Cycling magazine featured a letter from WH Paul. Mr Paul – William to his friends, Bill to close ones – was founder of the Rough-Stuff Fellowship, an organisation dedicated to off-road riding but strictly opposed to racing anywhere other than on tarmac. Turned out he’d got wind of the plan to run a cyclo-cross race over Yorkshire’s three highest peaks and was not impressed. Actually he was nothing short of “dismayed” that a route he regularly rode was to be turned into “another race route, possibly 100 riders riding, running, jumping and stumbling in a mad scramble to be the first across.”

A few weeks later, the magazine published a response to Mr Paul’s letter. It was from Mr John Rawnsley of Bradford RCC, the club planning to organise the event. In reassuring tones, he argues that there is absolutely no risk of 100 racing cyclists hitting the Peaks, in part because “we very much doubt if there are 30 riders in the country who will be prepared to climb three 2,500 foot mountains in just under four hours, with a total distance of 25 miles.”

John Rawnsley is a man of many talents but I guess clairvoyance isn’t one of them. To be fair, back in 1960 it was probably unimaginable that the Three Peaks Cyclo-Cross race would continue into the next century and attract 600 riders each year. But it did and it does and Sunday 30 September, 2012 will see the 50th edition of what has always (accurately) been billed as the toughest ‘cross race on the calendar.

The concept is simple enough: traverse the peaks of Ingleborough (723 metres), Whernside (736 metres) and Pen-y-Ghent (694 metres). The execution is anything but, both for the organisers and for the competitors. Nowadays the route is 38 miles long – 17 of them on the road, 21 unsurfaced, three to five unrideable. Only ‘cross bikes with drop handlebars are permitted. WH Paul’s vision of hundreds of riders running, jumping and scrambling ultimately wasn’t far off the mark.

But for the first year at least, concerns of a mass of riders disturbing the peace of the Peaks were unfounded (though even then John had slightly underestimated – 35 competitors lined up rather than 30). One of those at the start line on Sunday 1 October, 1961, was a Martin ‘Ginger’ Garwood. A 27-year-old plumber, he hailed from Clapham in London and had made a 480 mile round trip to compete. It was the first time he had seen the Yorkshire Dales or taken part in a mountain race and it all came as a bit of a shock.

“We do a bit of riding down there you know, but this is different,” he told a journalist after the race. “It’s more of an endurance test.” Despite this and a few trips over the handlebars, Ginger finished third overall. He was asked whether he’d be back the following year. “It’ll need a bit of thinking about,” he said.

Extract from issue 34, coming soon.

Culture Clash

January 11, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Wig Worland

You may recall a young man from Kent featured in Rouleur 22 who was based in Belgium trying to make a living from that most unlikely of sources for a Briton, cyclo-cross.

Ian Field, at the third or fourth time of asking – every year seemingly the tipster’s favourite – finally claimed a senior national championship jersey. It was a genuinely emotional moment to see how much those blue and white bands meant to a man who has immersed himself wholeheartedly in the cultural homeland of ‘cross. ‘Field de Brit’, as the Belgies call him, will do the jersey proud.

No disrespect to runner-up Liam Killeen, but the thought of a national champion who doesn’t actually ride ‘cross, save for a couple of warm-ups leading up to the nationals, sticks in the craw somewhat. Having a visible champion on the Continental circuit can only help raise the profile of the sport. Field is the man for the job.

As visible champions go, Helen Wyman is right up there, taking the woman’s crown for an astonishing seventh year in a row. I use the word astonishing because, not only has Wyman been decidedly unwell, but her nearest rivals Nikki Harris, Gabby Day and Annie Last threatened to make it a close, four-way battle for the medal positions – all three have been riding brilliantly in recent weeks. Wyman simply powered away from them, as per usual, making it look easy before coughing and spluttering once past the finish line for the last time. Harris, in particular, must have thought this was her big chance, and her face on the podium clearly showed the bitter disappointment. Wyman’s trademark big grin, meanwhile, stayed locked in position, and rightly so.

As it was a bumper day of cyclo-cross spectating, once home from Ipswich I tuned in to live coverage of the US championships, intrigued to see if the scene is as big in the States as it appears from the UK. The jury is still out on that one.

The park in Wisconsin was visually unexciting, the course a dull, straight-line thrash. Outside the top four or five riders, the drop-off in quality is steep. The three commentators were unintentionally hilarious and less intelligible than the standard chap I tune into on Sporza for Belgian races, and he talks Flemish… If you have seen the film American Graffiti, you will remember well the growling, gravelly tones of DJ Wolfman Jack. One of the three stooges rumbled away in similarly dramatic fashion, the trio reaching a crescendo of excitement well before the race’s finish. They tossed the commentary around with such alarming frequency you’d have thought it was a live hand grenade with a pulled pin. I’m not sure about the riders, but I was utterly spent with a lap still to go. I can only hope the Three Amigos were forced to lie down in a darkened room afterwards, preferably wearing headphone commentary of the tremendous Sporza bloke (whose name escapes me), issuing his favourite admonition: “Tsk, tsk, tsk.”

The crowd did not appear particularly big, but as you would expect, make up in enthusiasm any shortfall in numbers. I write this in a plane over the Atlantic Ocean bound for Louisville, Kentucky, as the city hosts not only the World Masters Championships this week, but the actual UCI cyclo-cross World Championships next year. The whole Belgium-based ‘cross community travelling lock, stock and barrel to the States is an interesting prospect.

Will the fans travel? Is this one step too far in this globalisation obsession of the UCI’s? Can a compact crowd of colourful, cowbell-wielding whoopers create as much atmosphere as tens of thousands of grey-clad, beered-up, smoking Belgians? We intend to find out.

Andy Waterman of Privateer magazine – being younger, fitter, faster and more enthusiastic all round – has kindly agreed to race so that I can chew a pencil and ponder the future of cyclo-cross, whilst supporting from the sidelines with terribly British-style encouragement. There’ll be absolutely no whooping from this sourpuss, just the occasional: “Jolly well done”.

Huge thanks to Chris and Andrew from Trek for the loan of a Cronus CX. And Brian Roddy at Rolf Prima for the wheels. And Bill from Challenge for tubs and things. We’d have been stuck without you, guys.

The Joy of CX

December 8, 2011

Words and photos: Andy Waterman

It used to be the case that temperance, turbo training, skill and mechanical nouse were enough to ensure you were a contender in the underground brotherhood of domestic British cyclo-cross racing.

If more than 50 riders turned up for the senior men’s race at a National Trophy, the UK’s six race series of UCI sanctioned events, you were unlucky.

If more than 40 riders finished you were unlucky.

If you got lapped, you were unlucky.

If you didn’t finish in the top 30, you were unlucky.

How times change.

Things haven’t been going great for me this season. I could blame the half-dozen Belgian full-timers who religiously cross the channel once a fortnight to bag our UCI points; I could blame the Under 23’s, who remain too few to support a race of their own, but too numerous to allow much room for the talentless, hardworking privateer everyman; or I could blame the gridding system, which rewards the best riders while punishing the worst.

I could blame any number of factors, but the real culprit is Talent, or a lack of.

Cyclo-cross, for so long a true stalwart of glamour-free cyclesport alongside 24-hour time trials and audaxes, has become the belle du jour, enticing hugely talented riders from across the cycling spectrum.

Mountain bikers: check; crit specialists: present; roadies: here sir!

There’s still no money in it, in this country at least, but the competition has become fierce. To get a result nowadays you need to be an athlete, not just a grafter.

I can’t be bitter. Talent was always going to usurp the virtues of temperance, turbo training, skill and mechanical knowhow eventually. And hey, I had a good few years – I mean at first I couldn’t believe my luck: there were only about three of us taking it seriously, and the results came thick and fast. And while I was getting those decent results I was having about as much fun as you could possibly hope to have with a heart rate of 180bpm on a cold, wet and muddy Sunday afternoon.

No, it’s nice to see some new blood discovering the joy of CX, and the string of bad results won’t put me off.

The cyclo-cross weekend has become part of my routine now. Travelling up on a Saturday; stretching the legs on the turbo in the hotel room on Saturday night; eating a fried breakfast on Sunday morning before getting to the course at 9.30am to assist the veterans and women on the team. That’s one of the nice things about cross: shorter races mean you can help each other out, working in the pits for your team-mates, them returning the favour later on.

Then at midday it’s into race mode. Get dressed and onto the course; experiment with tyres and pressures; practice the technical sections to get them down pat; eat, drink, back on the turbo to warm up for the race.

The racing itself invariably flies by, almost unnoticed: getting it over and done with is as much a relief as a pleasure. Instead it’s the banter and the processes around the racing that become the story. The van loads of wheels, the container loads of kit, the piss-taking and the practicing – cross quickly becomes a lifestyle.

This weekend we’re going to Bradford to race at the fearful Peel Park – a natural bowl with a steep, slick and slippery off-camber descent that has proved to be a crowd favourite every year I’ve been racing. With the weather finally turning wintery, it’s likely to be complete hell.

I can’t wait.

The photos here were taken a fortnight ago at the National Trophy race in Derby. I finished 41st, six and a half minutes behind the winner, Floris de Tier of Belgium. If I can avoid getting lapped in Bradford, I’ll be a happy man.

Andy is Deputy Editor of Privateer magazine and a member of the ViCiOUS VELO team of wastrels and ne’er-do-wells.

Here’s to you, Ms Robinson

September 29, 2011

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Wig Worland 

The Three Peaks, for those of you who are unaware, is a cyclo-cross race. But then again, it isn’t a cyclo-cross race. It certainly bears no relation to any UCI-approved course regulations you might peruse at your leisure should you feel inclined.

Whilst yomping up the three biggest climbs in Yorkshire is not strictly forbidden by the powers that be, presumably they deemed the likelihood of anyone wishing to undertake such an idiotic and arduous mission as so far-flung that it was unnecessary to ban such behaviour. Yet just shy of 600 of us lined up in Helwith Bridge this year, including a healthy smattering of Spaniards, Italians and Americans. The lunacy is spreading…

And when it comes to rules and regulations, John Rawnsley, organiser for the past 49 editions of the race, says what goes and what doesn’t, which I rather like. Turn up on a machine with tyres that are too fat, straight handlebars or anything that does not resemble an old school ‘cross bike and you run the risk of being disqualified before you’ve even started. Bit of a purist, is John. Seeing as he won the first edition of the race in 1961 and, until recently, had finished (as well as organised) every one since, he’s every right to be.

This is truly a hard-man’s – and woman’s – race where being a sprightly young thing seems to give little advantage. Veteran Nick Craig won the men’s as expected, even without straight handlebars…

It was the women’s title that intrigued me. Louise Robinson’s time of 3:44-49 was phenomenal. I am normally pretty close to the top woman’s finishing position – Isla Rowntree kept me company on the finishing road stretch after Pen-y-ghent a few years back; this time it was Renee Saxton, winner for the last two years. I say they kept me company: truth is they both dropped me unceremoniously. Ms Robinson, meanwhile, had crossed the line an astonishing 26 minutes earlier, missing her own course record by just five minutes on what was by general consensus a slow year due to the boggy conditions on top of the peaks.

Louise, if you are not aware, won a silver medal at the World Cyclo-Cross Championships back in 2000 – a rare British success at the discipline. Her father, Brian Robinson, was the first pro from these shores to make a go of it on the Continent, paving the way for Tom Simpson and those that followed, culminating in Mark Cavendish’s rainbow jersey-winning ride last weekend. And her nephew, Jake Womersley, featured in Rouleur issue 25: another of the Robinson clan making a mark.

And if you’re wondering what it takes to be a Three Peaks winner and a member of the Robinson cycling dynasty, I think this quote from Louise says much.

“My first club run was 114 miles into the Yorkshire Dales, and as seems a regular story, I got left to my own devices when I blew my doors off and had to grovel home where my Mum had to help me off my bike and ply me with sweet tea and biscuits while I lay on the drive. Surprisingly I went on the club run again the week after, although anybody in their right mind would have been put off I think.”

There you go. Who said we Three Peaks-ists were in our right minds?

The Three Peaks

September 14, 2011

Words: Matt Seaton Photos: Geoff Waugh (www.waughphotos.com)

For some of us here at Rouleur, the Three Peaks cyclo-cross is the highlight of the year, not to be missed. For Matt Seaton, once was enough. In this extract from issue 11, Matt tackles the final climb of the day…

The only encouraging thing about Pen-y-ghent is that you can pretty much see the summit from the bottom, so you know how far you have to go and that once you’ve made the turn, it is downhill, more or less, to the finish. The opening section is deceptively easy: of all the peaks, this is the most rideable, a broad track mutating into a stony path. This makes it also the easiest descent, and it is where mere mortals are passed by the gods on their way back down. On cue, Rob Jebb comes flying by, practically airborne and looking unfeasibly fresh.

I try to stay on the bike as long as I can, but make a mistake and fall for a final time. It’s more a clumsy dismount than a tumble, but I twist an ankle as I go over. Just disentangling myself from the bike and getting back up seems to take ages.

My mind is so clouded I only dimly perceive how tired I am. In fact, I am in a state of fatigue-narcosis – and like a helpless old drunk lying in the gutter, I actually giggle as Chris Young twiddles past. He knew to use a smaller gear for this climb, and he had paced himself better than me all day; so now I can only watch him disappear up the mountain as I trudge wearily, dehydrated and running on empty.

Running back down, I have to tell myself consciously to concentrate: mistakes always come when you are tired. My thumb is throbbing, my ankle hurts, there are muscles in my legs I didn’t even know I had which are now threatening industrial action. I just want to get off that last hill. I remount and try to pick my way through the outcrops on the rough upper section of the path. Better descenders shoot past me. The temptation to relax my grip on the cross-top levers and follow them is powerful. But even if I had the skills and courage, it’s a vain thought – because that’s when I flat.

Cursing, I pull over and swap a new tube in. With a gas canister, I lose maybe three minutes, though it feels much longer with riders passing all the time. I set off again. Another minute down the slope, the rear goes soft again. So much for my Michelin Jets. This time, a spectator tells me there’s someone with spare wheels 150 metres further down. Rather than try to mend another puncture, I carry and run. Five hundred metres later, with no spare wheel in sight, I have to change strategy and start working the mini-pump. I feel as though I’ve lost half an hour with this messing about; in reality, it is perhaps another eight to ten minutes. But without high pressure in my rear, and down to my last tube, I have to complete the descent almost as slowly as I went up it.

On the road back to Helwith, I’m overhauled by a big lad in a Sigma Sport skinsuit. It’s all I can do to suck his wheel to the finish. Four falls, two minor injuries, two punctures, 54th overall in 3:44:38 – I’m just glad to get there. Even after the hardest road race, or the longest day in the saddle for a cyclosportive, you eat something, have a drink and soon feel better. This is different: I have never felt so totally spent as after the Peaks. For a week afterwards, my whole body feels as though I had climbed up Pen-y-ghent on my hands and knees and then rolled down it.

The Peaks is a humbling experience. If you think you know where your limits are, the Peaks administers some brutal re-education. I can understand the desire to go back again and again: to trim minutes with better training and race strategy, the right choice of tyres and gears, more support, careful pacing, more experience and local knowledge… that’s the desire to master the Peaks. I’m not sure I have it.

Flanders Field

February 3, 2011

Extract from Rouleur issue 22, on sale from
Wednesday, February 9th at http://www.rouleur.cc

Words Ian Cleverly Photos Marthein Smit

© SmitIf there is such a thing as motor home envy among the cyclo-cross fraternity, then Ian Field is guilty as charged. Wandering the competitor’s parking area at this year’s Koppenbergcross at Oudenaarde in search of “Field de Brit”, as race commentators now refer to the slightly-built man from Kent, the pecking order becomes apparent.

The stars riding for major teams are ensconced in almighty wagons, keeping warm before stepping out to prepare for the race on rollers beneath retractable awnings. Sponsor’s names and truly awful, larger-than-life, gurning images of the riders adorn each mobile home. Local residents with the honour of hosting Sven Nys’ or Niels Albert’s vehicles in their driveway are privileged indeed.

Step outside the top 30 or so sponsored riders and the motor homes become slightly more compact: less storage space for bikes, little room to move around inside, but still perfectly serviceable. Step down again and you find guys like Ian Field, doing their damnedest to break into this world of luxury cruisers and the six-figure salaries that come with them.

Our photographer, Marthein, being Dutch and well versed in all things cyclo-cross, and having attended practically every big race on the calendar last season, asks if we’ll be meeting at our subject’s camper van. “Field de Brit”, I point out, drives a Citroen Berlingo, so we’d be meeting there.

© SmitWelcome to the glamorous life of a pro ‘cross rider in Belgium. As branches of cycle sport go, cyclo-cross is about as ludicrous a way to make a living as they come – on a par, perhaps, with Six Day racing in hardship terms, but with added cold, mud and misery. Yet the likes of Stybar, Wellens, Nys and Albert earn very good money indeed. Thousands pay to watch their heroes in action, drinking copious quantities of Belgian beer from plastic cups in muddy fields. Millions more tune in on the TV at home every weekend throughout the winter. It is, in many respects, a hugely unlikely major sport, but the Belgians love it to bits. An hour of flat-out racing where anything can happen – and often does – is perfect Sunday lunchtime entertainment for the average Leffe-fuelled Flandrian couch potato.

© SmitBart Wellens has starred in his own reality TV show, Wellens en Wee, and the weekend before our arrival in Oudenaarde had appeared on The Last Show, “Belgium’s equivalent to Friday Night with Jonathan Ross,” according to Field. “It was a cyclo-cross special, with Nys, Alberts, Wellens and Stybar. And Wellens’ wife. That shows how big it is. A primetime TV show, dedicated to ‘cross racing. They had mud from different places and the riders had to smell it and identify where it was from…”

Home win

November 5, 2010

Image courtesy of Geoff Waugh www.waughphotos.com
Image courtesy of Geoff Waugh http://www.waughphotos.com

Helen Wyman has won ‘cross races all over Europe and beyond. Switzerland, Italy, the U.S. and, of course, the Britain. Probably more besides.

Yet, until this week, there was one almighty glaring omission from her glittering palmares: a win in Belgium. Bearing in mind Belgium has been Wyman’s base for the past six years, the big win on home soil was a long time coming, but all the sweeter on arrival for being just down the road from her house in Oudenaarde at the Koppenberg Cross.

For those of you unfamiliar with this race, it is quite the most brutal course on the calendar. Koksijde’s dunes pose a myriad of potential pitfalls, but Koppenberg on wet ground is barely rideable. The bunch swings off-road before the infamous cobbled climb rears up appreciably, but that’s where the fun begins. There is plenty more climbing to be done on decidedly claggy ground, made treacherous by the preceding day’s rain. The snaking descent may be better approached with a snowboard than a bike. But bikes are a prerequisite.

Seeing Helen slip and slide her way down the hill in second spot on the opening lap seemed about right – she finished second last year and in the previous day’s race in Zonhoven – but two laps later she had dropped Sanne Cant and was totally in control while everyone else floundered. It was a genuine joy to behold.

To stand on that podium juggling one very heavy cobble, one extremely large bottle of beer and a bunch of flowers was a triumph of persistence and optimism. I have interviewed Helen seconds after crossing the line at the World Championships when her hopes have been dashed by less competent bike handlers crashing on the very first corner, and she was, understandably, pretty miffed. But it doesn’t last long. She learns and moves on, and that smile is soon back in place.

And what Helen has learned this week is that her handling has improved, she is in the form of her life and she can win in Belgium. And (let’s face it), if you can win in Belgium, you can win anywhere.

Also, a cobble looks great on the mantlepiece…

Rouleur photographer Geoff Waugh was also at Koppenberg. See his tremendous gallery of the men’s race here.