The Skills Day

This article first appeared on the Kingston Wheelers website. For the past four years I have organised a Skills Day for the club, although Mark Dempster officially organised in 2015 and I just did the MC’ing on the day in addition to bringing in pro riders Yanto Barker and Alice Barnes. The idea is to give as many people as possible the experience of riding in a big group at race speed – its useful for riders participating in Ride London for the first time as it is for those seeking to participate in road racing.  Thanks to Jo Thompson for the write up.

 

On Saturday 21st November the annual club Skills Day took place at Hillingdon Cycle Track. This year we were delighted to welcome pro riders Yanto Barker and Alice Barnes to come and share their knowledge with the club and practice group riding drills. The day was split up into three parts, with an intro and group riding sessions, then back inside for a Q&A with Yanto and Alice hosted by Andy Edwards, finished off with two races – a five lap race followed by a 10 lap handicap.

Jo Thompson recounts the day:

A chilly day, 5c and 20mph winds. Arriving at Hillingdon for my first time I was a bit apprehensive. About 50 bikes of assorted sizes, colours were already parked up, hanging from their saddles on the bike racks. I found a space for mine and then entered the small building to the warmth, Wheelers everywhere, sitting chatting, eating cake already and drinking hot drinks.

Andy talked, we listened. My eyes noticed a young lady sitting in GB kit…. And a another Man in a sponsored jersey who looked familiar. Andy introduced them, Alice Barnes and Yanto Barker and the penny dropped. This is going to be an awesome day.

We were told we were going out in groups, so we put our lids on and all the women gathered together. We were then split into two groups. I went in the group with Alice leading us and Andy covered the rear of our group. We started off at a steady pace practising ‘through and off’. Not as easy as I thought, especially with a 20mph wind hitting me when I was on the front. Alice gave us instructions and hints to help.

Andy made sure we were continually moving and keeping a close gap. We practised this for a few laps and then stopped for a brief chat. Yanto joined us, so we split into another two groups. We practised ‘through and off’ at a faster pace, which at some points seemed to be easier but others harder as the circuit would split you with either a hill or a bend.

After a few laps, Yanto took the lead and then steadily took us up a notch again, moving on and faster we stayed with him in a line, each keeping the wheel in front close. This was fun, we working quite hard and I could really feel when I was catching the head wind or making a gap on a bend or hill, so I started to find my own lines out of the bends and over the hills, this made it easier over all for me. Yanto was really encouraging and supportive.

After this we all gathered in the building for something to eat and drink. Andy then, asked Wheelers – Mark, Harry and Declan their take on racing and some of their events (a bit of banter followed). We then heard from Yanto Barker and Alice Barnes, out of sitting there listening to Elite riders telling their stories and sharing their advice, the main thing that struck me was their down to earthly-ness.

Next up, back on our bikes for some Races… Clockwise this time. The dark starting to loom we pedalled down to the start line. The temperature was really starting to drop and we were itching to set off. I didn’t really know what to expect with this race thing. Scratch apparently. We all head off in a big group and as the group gets faster, you try to keep up. So off we set, trying to warm up. Straight away people started to pass me and the group surged forward. I was definitely not ready for this but tucked down low and grabbed someone’s wheel.

Onwards we headed, into headwinds, up slopes around bends, the pace started to quicken and more and more effort was being demanded. I pushed hard and started to move up and past a few riders, there was a split happening and I didn’t want to be in the back. Laps passed and my lungs were starting to burn, I still wasn’t warmed up enough, grabbing wheels I hung on for as long as I could but the group ahead started to surge more and we started to splinter. I lost a wheel and got the headwind…. I tried and tried but there was no way back. I carried on pushing to catch for a couple more laps which I now realise was completely useless and a show of inexperience.

A short rest and we were off again. I wasn’t too happy as my legs were feeling heavy.

We split into groups and given handicaps. 10 laps. (muttered swearing commenced from me) A bit like cat and mouse, the back group (fastest) had to catch the first group (ladies) – I won’t say slowest as I think we gave them a run for their money.

Alice Barnes lead us off, Sarah behind her and me at the rear. At least I was warmed up now. Alice lead a good pace and we sat closely together, the headwind had seemed to have picked up but the tailwind sections was almost worth it. Averaging around 21mph we kept on… at some point Yanto joined us. He took the lead and gave Alice some relief. Still pushing on Yanto said that they weren’t gaining on us. I couldn’t believe this but it gave me a push to keep on it.

Pushing harder with each lap, I just stuck as much as I could to Sarah’s wheel. I took the corners and slopes in my own line. Last corner of lap 5 – I turn to look behind me, a lone rider is gaining on us – I shouted to tell Yanto. Lap 6 – I look to my right and there is a group gaining on us. On another part of the circuit. A sudden kick of adrenaline and competitiveness showed itself. Yanto kept checking on us and we kept together.

At some point early into Lap 6, the lone rider was with us, I think Sarah was tired and I moved in front but we’d started to drop. I grabbed the lone rider’s wheel and Alice shouted at me to keep on.

He let me on his wheel and we surged forward, the next thing I knew someone went past, fast. Then another, and then I as in a group again, though not ladies. Alice was still with me pushing me on. The lone rider shouted for me to get on a wheel which was really uplifting. Alice suddenly gave me a massive saddle push from behind and I felt overwhelmed to keep pushing. My lungs were burning and my legs dying. I tried to get out of the saddle and push but nothing. Alice gave me another massive saddle push but I was done. I had to slacken off. She told me we had done really well and we kept them off for nearly 7 laps. Not bad.

Alice stayed with me for the rest of the lap and we cooled down over lap 8. A truly lovely young lady.

Once over the line we stopped to watch the sprint. Declan and Yanto fighting it out…

Overall an awesome day I really felt part of and will be back for more.

Rod Ellingworth in Conversation

The article first appeared on the Kingston Wheelers website. Thanks Harry!

On Wednesday 11th November we had the pleasure of an evening with Rod Ellingworth, Head of Performance Operations at Team Sky. The evening at Hampton Court Golf Club was organised by Andy Edwards and hosted in partnership with Sigma Sport and London Dynamo. It was great to see members from all the clubs together, a rare sight outside of Surrey League races.

Andy gave us an intro to the evening, with some background into his cycling career and how he and Rod first discussed the idea of an interview at the National Road Race Championships last year in Abergavenny. Andy had a go at mixing it alongside World Tour pros at the Nationals and he remarked on how close the connection is between grassroots and elite cycling, with amateurs and pros often mixing it up on the same stage or social circles, not something you find in other sports such as football or F1.

Rod is from a cycling family, with his father a founding member of Clayton Velo and his brother sponsoring the local cycling club. Rod’s early racing career was funded through the local council, receiving £100 for race expenses.

Looking back at his own racing career, Rod recalled how he used to complete a training diary which he’d photocopy and send to his coach Alan Sturgess. For training he’d go on club rides, ride the track and do a 10 mile TT most weekends, along with Tuesday night circuit training.

Rod on… having the right mindset

Rod believes having the right mindset is really important for young racers. He first saw Mark Cavendish ride at the Manchester Velodrome, when a rider came down in front of him causing him to crash hard. Rod said most people would have called it a day, but Cav got back on the bike and tried to ride on. When Rod came on board as a coach he wanted to ensure his young riders were being pushed to the limit, as that would make sure they could compete with the best in the world. The Olympic Madison race averages 54km/h so he had his track riders training at 65km/h behind derny bikes.

Rod on… winter training

Rod is a big believer in using the turbo during winter to ensure you are still train peak power. He also highlighted that you should keep riding in the drops during winter (“get laid across the bike”), to ensure it’s not a shock to the system when you get back on the race bike in spring. On winter club runs riders should maximise opportunities for training through chain gangs and sprinting for town signs.

Rod on… the National Road Race Championship in 2015

This year the Team Sky riders (Kennaugh, Stannard and Rowe) and Mark Cavendish absolutely battered themselves to get away from the main field. Some of the world tour riders have a complex about getting beaten by continental riders, so there’s a tendency to overdo it in national races. Rod thought the effort showed at the Tour de France a week later.

Rod on… Geraint Thomas

G will have free reign in 2016, with a focus on winning the Tour of Flanders. Chris Froome will still be the main rider for the Tour, but Rod thinks G is capable of winning the Flanders/Tour double in the future. His excellent season this year has been partly due to weight loss. In an age of specialisation (grand tour or classics riders) G is one of the best all-rounders in the peloton.

Rod on… the future of British Cycling

Rod highlighted the importance of grassroots racing as a means for young racers to get the right experience. As races are getting harder to part on, cycling clubs must ensure they continue to host and support local races, with everyone doing their bit to marshal and make them happen.

 

Racing The Nationals

This article first appeared on VeloUK.

Old Enough to Know Better? Andy Edwards of Sigma Sport recalls taking on the challenge of riding the British Road Race Championships

Andy writes … One thing I love about cycling is its democratic and meritocratic feel. Anyone can participate and if you are any good, you will get to the top of the sport if you are talented enough, work hard and have a bit of luck. Perhaps it is why, more than any other Olympic sport, participation is going through the roof.

Only in cycling can a Tour de France favourite (Wiggins) turn up to the Bickerstaffe chain gang with the local lads, as he did in March 2012, or Alex Dowsett ride his local club 10. UK based UCI teams will frequently participate at National B level, which are mostly amateur events, and some amateurs can give the pros a good run. The link between top level and grass roots remains strong and it something that is very unique to cycling.

AndyEdwards

Andy Edwards (left) in the Wally Gimber. Photo: Dave Hayward.

There are plenty of routes into the sport, whether you start as a Youth or Junior or as a 4th cat. The Youth and Junior ranks are without doubt the toughest place to start as you are competing with the stars of tomorrow. The fastest road race I ever did was the 1987 Dawtric GP Peter Buckley, at 27.3 mph for 72 miles, not bad for a bunch of kids on steel frames with toe clips & straps and shifters on the down tube!

Wherever you start, I personally try to encourage those coming up through the sport to mix things up and try racing at a higher level. A 3rd cat doing a 2/3 race for the first time will notice the difference, as will a 2nd cat riding their first Nat B. It goes beyond merely chasing points: it’s about understanding and adapting to a higher level of racing. Once you have managed to get the hang of Nat B racing, try a Premier Calendar. It is not just the speed, it’s about the rhythm of the race, the tactics, the style, the technical skills required to participate.

Once you get the hang of one level, try the next one up – that’s my mantra. Keep pushing and don’t be a complacent big fish in a small pond.

Everyone has to start somewhere and the younger guys coming through the sport need to keep challenging themselves. It was great to see riders like Lawrence Carpenter, Elliott Porter and Dante Carpenter (3rd U23) getting up there in the race; all of them I have raced with at local level over the past few years.

Even though I am long past the age of dreaming about a pro career, there is still an excitement about racing with top-level guys. Since returning to racing in 2010 after a 22 year absence, I’ve mixed up all levels of racing and never feel intimidated by the names on the start sheet, even if I do get a battering.

National RR Champs
Entering the Elite Men’s National Road Race Championships in Abergavenny was probably about as far as I am able to push things. With the Tour starting in Yorkshire this year, coupled with early rumours of Froome, Cavendish and Wiggins being on the start line, it was an opportunity too good to resist for a 43 year old full-time music business executive intent on indulging his mid-life crisis!

As we now know, Froome didn’t enter and Cavendish and Wiggins were both DNS, but a host of World Tour stars and top-level British based pros would be there so there was still a lot to look forward to. As I joked to a friend, it was cheaper than entering the sportive!

My expectations were pretty low. After a decent early season, my form was incredibly patchy owing to a hectic work schedule. All I really wanted to do was stay with the head of the race as far as Celtic Manor, 18 miles in, and then just get round the remainder of the 71 mile opening loop.

ManorBergBridge

Peloton lined out coming into Celtic Manor

As you would expect, the speed was pretty intense from the moment the flag dropped. A rolling road closure may seem a safer option to just riding to the while line, but it has its own unique challenges. Even at 35-40 mph, a 160 rider field will take up the whole road – gutter to gutter. You have to give the motorbikes room to come past, squeeze in to navigate parked cars, narrow bridges and road furniture through town centres along the way. It is not uncommon to see lads using pavements and lay-bys to move up, although that’s frowned upon.

For any amateur contemplating this sort of race for the first time, I’d say take it step by step and know your place. Alex Dowsett needed to push past me on the left, as did Kristian House. I wasn’t going to get in the way of either of those guys, so gave them plenty of room. Adam Yates was yo-yoing around to my right. We all had the same issue of navigating our way around the bunch and spotting moments to move up. The pace was very fast, but I was in no danger of getting dropped, but I did need to be alert and much more so than in a Nat B level race.

I could just about enjoy the roar of the crowds as we passed through a town centre, a novelty for an amateur; but otherwise I was fully focused on the race around me.

It helps if you know the route and read your handbook, however. Not sure how many guys did (!) as the turn into Celtic Manor was chaotic and I made up at least 10 positions by having the right line and gear selection to navigate the 180-degree turn on to the single track road.

ManorBergPete

Full gas up the climb with champion to be Peter Kennaugh leading the way and the peloton spread out down the hill.

That was when the race really began. The run in to the base of the climb was a very narrow twisty road, we were all lined out in one line and going full-gas through one ninety-degree corner after another. One guy told me afterwards he did 400+Watts for 3 mins before the climb even started.

And unlike in amateur races, when you get over the top of the climb they keep the gas on so if you are dropped there is usually no going back.

Poor Geriant Thomas unshipped his chain at the bottom of the climb and spent the rest of the race chasing, so I didn’t feel too bad about my own clunky change from big ring to small. I was a bit miffed that my chain wouldn’t sit on the 25 and had to make do with the 23, but I would have got dropped anyway and before too long I was in the company of Nick Noble (National Masters Champion and ex-GB rider) and Ashley Martin a 19 year old from Exeter. So the two oldest guys in the race and one of the youngest made up a three man TTT to get to the finishing circuit at a brisk, gentleman’s pace. We picked up a few other stragglers along the way and arrived at the finishing circuit with plenty of time to enjoy watching the climax of the race.

So a few thrills and a fabulous day out in the Monmouthshire countryside, I was a participant and a spectator amongst a world-class field made from home grown talent, which was such a buzz. A unique experience, thanks to Bill Owen and his team for organizing and to the NFTO guys who bailed me out of a few mechanical issues before the start!

Not sure if I will ride the Nationals again, but I would encourage others, once they have gained the right level of experience, to give it a go. It’s the chance of a lifetime.