Posts Tagged ‘tour of britain’

Turning The Corner

September 21, 2013

Words: Andy McGrath Photos: David Blanks

September 16 2012. Stage eight of the Tour of Britain, Barhatch Lane, Surrey.

Wouter Sybrandy was on an adrenaline high, charging after the breakaway. Time to end a good Tour of Britain by bridging this gap on the fast descent, he thought.

“I remember going into the corner a little bit fast. But I’d done it lots of times, I thought I could make it,” Wouter recalls.

Spoiler alert: Wouter didn’t.

His first recollections are IG-Sigma Sport manager Becky Frewing and doctor Andrew Meilak standing over him.

Sybrandy made sure he could move all his limbs. Yes, no problem. “Then I was actually pretty chilled. I had a bit of morphine, I wasn’t feeling too much pain.

“But from the expression on their faces, I realised I might be in a bad way.”

There was a lot of blood. His face was a mess and he had broken three vertebrae and several ribs.  Race doctor Andrew Meilak recalls being frightened by the severity of his injuries.

Wouter spent the following week in St George’s Hospital in Tooting, forbidden from moving and waiting for serious spinal surgery.

Time flew by in a morphine-muddled haze as he moved from hospital room to room, surgery to surgery.  His forehead and cheekbones were plated.

As for pain, it sounds like he’ll never complain about an interval again. “After the back surgery, they put me asleep on my wound. I woke up and I’ve never been in so much pain. It was so bad, I was unable to talk, just mouthing ‘help’ to the nurses.”

A fixture of the British racing scene, 29-year-old Wouter is a refreshing throwback to the days when top roadmen took both the Premier Calendar and time trials seriously. He’s a tough, attack-minded guy on the bike, a thoroughly nice chap off it.

But the Dutchman didn’t realise the high regard in which he was held by peers til he got internet coverage in hospital, a week after the crash, and received the many messages of support.

“It’s a good way of seeing who your real friends are. I was really surprised by some of the people visiting,” he says.

Step by step, Wouter got better. One day, he walked to the bathroom. The next, outside. Then to the next floor. And so on and so on, setting small targets.

Wouter’s sunny attitude in the face of adversity shines through as he recounts events. He even calls the whole thing “a very positive experience”: on a high in the race, then from the morphine, even the hospital experience.

He must be one of life’s optimists. That’s the right tonic when plunged into such a pendulous situation.

Only able to ride an hour at a time before his back got painful, he did his exercises, went swimming and rebuilt the lost back strength. His progess was staggering.

“The doctors said it would take me six months to get back on the bike. I did it in two. They were amazed. Actually, they emailed me the other day, they want to write an article about it.”

By the time February rolled around, he was back at training camps, making his team-mates suffer again.

That said, Wouter is not fully recovered. He still gets double vision in the time-trial position because his eyes aren’t quite aligned – which is why he nearly ended up in the barriers on the final corner of the stage three test around Knowsley Safari Park this week.

“You can see in my left eye socket, it’s arched a bit more than the other. I need to get that fixed… People that haven’t seen me in a while are surprised, it looks a bit like a black eye.”

The crash that could have ended his career doesn’t prey on his mind. On September 17 – a day late – Wouter realised his bad fall had been a year ago.

It’s been good for publicity too, but every time he signs on at this year’s Tour of Britain, he’s heard “Wouter Sybrandy, the rider who recovered from a bad crash,” booming from the announcer.

Time to put that one to bed. Wouter Sybrandy, Tour of Britain stage winner would be a more pleasing replacement.

So how would he like to ring in his return to his adopted local Surrey roads on today’s seventh stage between Epsom and Guildford, a year after that horror crash?

“The only way is to be in the break, that’s how to do it properly,” he says.

Tour of Britain

September 12, 2013

Cycling - Tour of Britain (Stage 5)

Words: Tom Southam Photo: Offside

The road markings are strangely familiar, the hedgerows unmistakable, the villages built of local stone in recognisable layouts, the greys, the greens, the red-and-white road signs, the license plates on the parked cars…

Everything in my peripheral vision makes up a perfectly normal view of another day in Britain, apart from the fact I am passing through this land of everyday as part of an international pro peloton.

We pass a Budgens and I look about: Basques to my right, Italians in a Russian team to my left, the high-pitch guffawing that can only come from French cyclists echoing in my ears, and a convoy of 30 brightly-coloured estate vehicles jostling all over the road behind us.

I always feel like something is slightly out of place at the Tour of Britain, like someone has photoshopped an image of a bike race on top of a picture of the British countryside.

Even though I have ridden the race four times now, I am still a little confused by the feeling of the party being at my house.

Even the lengthy transfers take on a slightly surreal feeling: I am on the M4, where I often am, but what is the Katusha bus doing here?

Of course, this feeling comes from an entire youth spent looking at pictures of bike races on foreign shores, foreign roads‚ similar but not the same.

It never occurred to me that these places were just places too, and that the roads I dreamt of weren’t there with any magical or express purpose of a bike race passing over them; they were just roads.

I spent my whole youth riding around UK roads thinking only of escaping them and getting to the promised lands of Flanders, the Alps, the Pyrenees. It never really occurred to me that everyone could just come over here and we could race over Bodmin Moor.

It really is the little things that make all the difference here, not just for us British riders having the strange sensation of all these foreign guests in our bike race.

I couldn’t help but laugh when I saw Filippo Pozzato so incapable of coming out of his comfort zone that he couldn’t take a feed bag from the left, as is dictated by English road law.

He had to stop in the middle of the feed zone and demand that we, the bunch, all waited while he, the White Knight himself, made his visibly petrified soigneur run across the road in front of oncoming riders to hand-deliver the feed bag to him where he stood‚ seemingly cursing our highway code, Queen Elizabeth II and the Madonna in equal measure.

These little things are advantages that add up for UK riders, I’m sure. I remember quite distinctly the first time I rode the race in 2004, while riding for an Italian team.

I thought how easy everything was, exactly the same feeling you get when you first walk up to a counter or into a shop the moment you get back from a long overseas trip.

In your head, you are still trying to think two or three steps ahead, all senses alert for different languages, transport systems, foreign maps or any kinds of difficulty. In a split second you realise that you can actually relax – you don’t have to second-guess, you don’t have to be one step ahead.

You are home and everything is simple. Everything is how it was, how it should be, and how you expect it to be. That moment of excitement, relief, guilt and pleasure is a strange sensation in a bike race.

There is something quite amazing about playing at home. It is one thing to have a group of family or friends make a trip to Europe to watch you race, but it is another to be able to race in front of everyone all in one go, and then be televised later for good measure.

Racing over a hill near Taunton past a staggering amount of people who knew my name, my nationality instantly raising me above my natural status in the wild of the peloton, is something I’d quite like to mull over when I am a very old man laid up with nothing but my memories to ponder.

Extract from issue 17. Tom Southam is an ex-professional cyclist. He came 34th in the 2009 Tour of Britain.


December 6, 2012

Words: Ian Cleverly Photos: Geoff Waugh

You know how it is. Feet up on the sofa watching the Tour highlights all alone, glass of wine in hand, I’m wondering what it must feel like to know – as early as the ninth stage, to Besançon – that your nearest and dearest, barring accidents or complete meltdown, is going to win the race; to know that those months, years, of effort and sacrifice were worth it – if indeed they are worth it.

It needs that person to be sitting here on the sofa with me, watching the race, a bundle of nerves as the camera homes in on the latest crash until the fallers are identified; relief as the yellow jersey is spotted safely ensconced at the head of the peloton. It requires this rubbernecking journo to lean across and see firsthand the stream of consciousness Tweeting taking place, the rule of thumbs relaying thoughts within seconds. There is a need to glean the un-Tweeted, extract the unsaid, to gauge whether the enormity of what her husband was about to achieve had struck home; how it would change their lives irreparably.

A couple more glasses of red later and it seems a fine idea to send a speculative e-mail to Cath Wiggins suggesting we meet up and watch the race together; explaining how we had met on two previous occasions and how, to my eternal shame, I had practically trampled over her to reach Brad; saying how I couldn’t even recall what she looked like.

In the cold – and sober – light of the morning, the wording of that e-mail looked quite preposterous. The wait for a suitably strong riposte began but it did not last long.

“Oh, don’t worry,” she wrote. “Everybody does that,” referring to my lack of courtesy and common decency. A magnanimous response to say the least. Yet she agreed to the idea, so we planned a day of TV watching in France following the rest day in Pau. It didn’t work out, for one reason or another, so we rescheduled for the Tour of Britain, arranging a rendezvous on top of Quernmore, the day’s final climb on the stage into Blackpool.

As luck would have it, the worst weather the north west of England could muster slammed down on the hilltop that morning; gusting winds bringing torrential downpours that tumbled down the fields and onto the road, huge pools of standing water forming at the foot of the climb.

I sent a text questioning whether Cath was really riding the 50 miles from home to Quernmore or doing the sensible thing and driving. The reply was fast and emphatic: “I am on my way. I am northern!”

We found a cold, shivering Cath beneath a tree with dad Dave Cochram in tow, chaperone for the day. Having watched Brad and his boys shoot past, successfully lining up that day’s sprint for Mark Cavendish, we head to the nearest pub for tea and coffee.

Pulling out one of our Wiggo mugs from my bag, I’m already making apologies, thinking it may be a bit odd drinking tea from a vessel with a cartoon version of your husband adorning the outside. But she loves it, with one reservation: “His hair’s the wrong colour. It’s not ginger…”

Extract from issue 35, out now