2015 Tour, stages 1&2

I’m only going to comment on any stages I get a chance to watch, so it may be few & far between, here’s my initial observations.

Stage 1

The time trial didn’t really tell us much, just that none of the favourites has bad form. There’s been much made of Pinot’s placing (41seconds down on Dennis) ahead of the other favourites, but ahead of him we have some riders who could be potentially high on GC, given a bit of luck. Robert Gesink has some decent form, he’s fresh from a 9th place in the Tour de Suisse, plus a 5th on GC in the Tour of California, both hinting that he’s still got something left in the tank. Neither of these imply a top finish in the Tour, but they do suggest that he could still be up there until the final week, when things get ‘a bit stickier’. On the same time as Pinot was Rigoberto Uran, we know he can perform in a grand tour & he’s now the top placed GC rider. If Rigo’s time trialling well, he’s probably got some decent form, so if anybody gives him some space to get some time, they’d be making a big mistake.

Stage 2

A crosswind devastated stage that could end up reasonably decisive if the favourites are as closely matched as it looks. The winners were Contador, Froome, Van Garderen & Uran (and my young rider tip Barguil) who were in the front group of 24 riders. Froome gained an additional 4second advantage over the others from a small split on the finish line. Big losers were everybody else, including Quintana, Pinot & last years champ Nibali who suffered additional “unluck” (©Sagan) with a late puncture, which required some team car surfing to get back to the group which lost 1min 28s on the leaders. Even further back at 5min 4s were riders like Rolland, Kruijswijk (7th at Giro), Ten Dam (9th in Tour last year), Hesjedal & the Yates bros, effectively writing off any team support for a high overall place, although they may creep up later. Notable time loser was Voeckler, who allowed himself to lose over 11 minutes, we all know what that means in the next few days. It was obvious that BMC, Sky & Tinkoff-Saxo had domestiques with their leader, which could make a huge difference in the next few days, Movistar were riding hard but losing time to the front group, so may not be as strong as we imagine.

Looking Forward

As I’ve said, none of the top riders look to have a huge advantage over the others.These stages show us who’s serious about winning the Tour, they can also create ‘mountain-like’ time gaps, which create big problems for some riders in a couple of weeks, it means they’ll have to drop their rivals to have any chance of getting the time back.

If the riders are on a similar level this year, each stage, or specific mountains may play into the hands of a different protagonist each day, with their different skill-sets, as a fan, you’d certainly hope so. In the past we’ve seen the final winner make mincemeat of their rivals on the opening time trial or prologue, this didn’t happen in 2015, there doesn’t look to be anyone head & shoulders above the others. If this is the case, we get to see more changes in the yellow jersey, pure climbers who can change pace excelling on climbs like Alpe d’Huez (especially from the lower slopes), while the diesels struggle to hang on, the same goes for the steady climbs where the diesels excel. It looks like a great Tour ahead.

Tour Predictions

I was going to do a top 15 prediction, to incite a bit of ridicule & debate, but more importantly to point out the riders slightly further the classification who often get ignored. These riders are often a strange mix, riders of the future, ‘surprise’ performers, past top 5’s, quality riders who had a lucky break, smaller teams top 10 GC hopes & super domestiques for ‘the big four’. But even I’m sick & tired of predictions now, so it’s not going to be funny anymore, instead I’m going to point out some young riders who may creep into a top 20 GC slot, you may see them hanging on the back of the lead group, making audacious attacks, or they may be almost invisible & only seen in the second page of the GC results after the stages. I find this set of lesser known riders quite interesting, it’s where the future champions lurk, learning their trade, suffering for three weeks & watching the current masters at very close quarters, but learning all the time.

The very brief prediction bit

I think Quintana will win, followed by Froome & Pinot. Van Garderen will be seen clinging on for all he’s got & finish 4th, with last years champ Nibali taking the final top 5 slot after some bad luck, which escaped him last year. I’m suggesting that Contador will have one very bad day due to a fierce Giro, resulting in him going for the mountains jersey as a consolation, but he is Bert, so he could just as easily win the thing!

Green jersey, a close run thing with an on form Cav winning against an unsupported Sagan in the first week, due to Contador’s GC hopes. Mountains, Contador, reasons as above, obviously white jersey to the yellow jersey.

(p.s. I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and placed some bets on the above predictions, so I’ll let you know how I get on.)

Look Out For……

Warren Barguil (Team Giant-Alpecin)

With Kittell absent, this team are probably going to be built around stage wins & opportunities. The 23-year-old Frenchman has been tipped as a future star & may be given some space to aim for a high position on GC. He’s already finished in the top ten of grand tour, with 8th place overall in last years Vuelta, so don’t be surprised to see him up his game at the Tour.

The Yates Bros (Orica GreenEDGE)

Simon Yates looks to be the one in best form, but Adam is also just as capable of pulling off a big result at the Tour. I’m seriously suggesting that a top 10 is possible for one of these 22-year-old twins, if it’s not GC they’re going for, expect fantastic attacks, they’re really not scared of anyone. How glad is everybody they didn’t go to Sky & become mountain domestiques, these boys are proper racers.

Daniel Teklehaimanot (MTN Qhubeka)

I get the feeling this team are going to make an impact in the Tour. Eritrean Teklehaimanot is fresh from winning the climbers jersey in the Dauphine, after getting into what seemed like every break! So he’s a man who’s not going to be content sitting in the bunch, and likely unable to contend with the best climbers just yet, we can see him trying to get the polka dot jersey at some point in the race, possibly even a stage win. But breaks, lots of breaks.

Merhawi Kudus (MTN Qhubeka)

Probably less well-known than his team-mate & countryman Teklehaimanot, 21-year-old Kudus has some impressive results & potentially a huge grand tour future. His 2014 performances include 2nd in GC in the Tour of Langkawi (2nd on that Genting Highlands stage) & 5th on GC in the Route du Sud (in the select Valverde group on the Val Louron stage). He’s still to perform at that level in 2015, but if you’re going to perform, the Tour is the place to do it. I think he’s going to be the revelation of the Tour this year.

Julian David Arredondo (Trek Factory Racing)

King of the mountains in the 2014 Giro, the Colombian is a punchy climber, often seen riding in the support of others. The absence of the Schleck’s this year may propel him into a great position within the Trek team, he may be allowed some real freedom. Mollema is his team leader, but since Tirreno, his GC performances have been poor (e.g. 60th in Dauphine), so this team will either get behind somebody else for GC, or it’ll be all for the polka dots & stages, I anticipate the latter.

Sam Bennett (Bora-Argon 18)

You’re not going to see the 24-year-old Irishman near the front on any climbs, but expect him to be taking any opportunity presented to him. He’ll likely be feeding off the bigger sprint trains in the finalé’s of the flatter stages, but he’s better on some of the harder sprint finishes, so don’t be surprised if he takes a stage, he took the scalps of Bouhanni & Sagan earlier in the year.

 

 

Track Cycling’s Strange Quirk

As you watch this Sundays Hour Record attempt by Bradley Wiggins, bear in mind that no part of him, or any static part of his bike has actually travelled the Hour Record distance he sets. It’s a quirk of riding on a velodrome compared to riding on the road, science gets involved & messes things up, during a quiet period of any hour attempt you can bore your family with this info, perfect cycling nerd territory. A long-legged rider has an inbuilt benefit from this, here’s why….

The Banking Effect

Let’s take a hypothetical vertical wall of death you may have seen motorbikes using as an example. This wall of death has Brad Wiggins cycling round it, but it’s quite a small diameter wall of death, so his head is sitting exactly at the centre of rotation. Even though he’s having to ride at 55kmh to keep going on this vertical wall, his head isn’t really going anywhere, he barely feels any wind there at all, it’s just rotating on the spot, causing little or no aerodynamic drag. The only point travelling at 55kmh is the point his tyre touches the wall of death. So Brad’s body or bike frame isn’t actually travelling at 55kmh, the fastest static point of his bike is his bottom bracket, which is travelling less distance than his bike computer would tell him.

A track rider, banked over on a velodrome experiences a similar, but not quite so dramatic effect. The riders body travels at a slower speed on the bankings than a computer measuring wheel rotations would indicate. Consequently, if an accurate GPS unit was affixed to the handlebars it would also read less distance & a slower speed in the bankings than the timekeepers would tell you, there’s nowhere on a bike you could fit a GPS unit that would record the exact track distance covered.

There’s aerodynamic consequences from the banking effect, Brad’s body will be causing more aerodynamic drag on the straight than it does on the bankings. His body’s air speed is slower in the bankings than on the straights, even though his track speed is the same. So as a rider gets taller, their effective body speed reduces on the bankings. It also makes wheel choice & even bottom bracket shape are more important than it originally seemed, as that as close to the point of consistently maximum speed as you can get, that point travels fastest for longest in the Hour Record.

‘Analytic Cycling’ Study

The excellent ‘Analytic Cycling‘ website, contains a wealth of information for cycling geeks, they’ve done a study using the geometry of the Dunc Gray Velodrome in Australia. The test is based on a flying 200m time trial effort, so our distance are not based on a full lap, but include a full banking & one partial banking, so our reduction in distance the centre of gravity travels per lap is more than shown here.

The model they generate shows that even though the track distance is 200m (199.99m), the distance the centre of gravity travels is about 3m less (196.7m) at a pace equivalent to a 14.166 second over 200m. This also shows that there’s a 0.3 second advantage gained on their baseline model, caused by the leaning affect & the riders centre of gravity not travelling as far as the track distance. In the next test the speed is increased & we find that the distance the centre of gravity travels reduces again, as the rider leans in more, essentially cutting the corner yet again. The final test shows that a rider sitting 200mm higher on the bike, with longer legs, also reduces the time for the 200m based on the same power & reduces the distance travelled even further.

So in summary, a taller rider (or one with longer legs to be precise) travels less distance each lap than a shorter rider, they benefit from the leaning effect of the banking, it reduces their time for the same power output. If the additional wind resistance from the longer legs can be minimised, a taller rider (such as Wiggins) has a distinct advantage. It also means that the faster you go, the more benefit you get from this reduced travel effect, which may slightly counter the huge increases in wind resistance you get from increased velocity, anything is a bonus.

The Gist Of It

This is a bit of fun for cycling nerds, but it does show a measurable improvement in speed. Those with the analytic tools to make these estimations correctly have perhaps identified an ideal body type for a pursuit/hour-record rider. But not just on the aero characteristics they display on the road, but from how their body type translates to track cycling. It may be the case that similar to rowing, a certain size of athlete is particularly gifted at these very specific disciplines in cycling. I’m pretty sure British Cycling have got this sorted already, those team pursuit riders look very similar indeed. It looks like Brad’s centre of gravity travels approx 5m less per lap than his track speed, which would mean in a 55 km Brad only travels 53.9km, while if he rode 55km in a straight line on the road, his body would also travel 55km. I was always told “you’ll go quicker on the track than anywhere else”, this may have been true, due to the reduced distance & work required caused by the banking. All this does is explain a strange quirk of track cycling, which the cycling geek may like, others, well, they stopped reading a long time ago.

 

Hour Record – Pre-Wiggins attempt

Alex Dowsett was the fourth rider to break the mens record after the recent rule change, he followed Jens Voigt (51.115km), Matthias Brändle (51.852km) & Rohan Dennis (52.491km). Dowsett seemed to be the least physically stressed by his record-breaking ride, nearly punching through the 53km barrier with 52.937km covered in the hour on the Manchester Velodrome. On Sunday we are being treated to the most anticipated attempt, that of Bradley Wiggins, who most expect to blow the record apart with talk of going above 55km, I’m not so sure.

Things are trickier for Brad, he wants to put the record out of sight for a while, having stated that he’s only going to attempt it once, this is in stark contrast to the manner in which Dowsett attacked the record, pegging the previous one & accelerating at the end. It’s a very different thing to ride within yourself for an hour, only needing to beat the current record by a few metres in order to succeed, than to ride the entire hour on the limits of your physical ability. The Wiggins attempt is more along the lines of the Jack Bobridge one, where he went out incredibly hard when he should have just been pegging the current record & seeing what he had left at the end. We can safely assume that Brad, the seasoned & vastly experienced campaigner that he is, can pace himself better than anybody, plus his support team should be at least on par with Dowsett’s, who looked superb & controlled things perfectly. So it’s unlikely that we’ll see any similar  ‘blowing up’ on Sunday, but here lies Brad’s problem.

Wiggins Problems

If Wiggins rides on his absolute limit, he runs the risk of imploding, if he runs slightly below his absolute limit, he may leave the door open for somebody else to have a go in the near future. I suspect he want’s to knock this record out of the park, which is where the danger lies as Dowsett looked like he had plenty left in the tank. I suspect he’ll play it slightly safe & ride his tried & tested negative split style, gradually increasing pace as the hour progresses. Different to Dowsett’s highly succesful tactic, ride at record pace for the majority then accelerate. Brad can’t do this if he wants to smash the record by a significant margin. Wiggins is riding to beat future attempts, not past ones.

There’s another potential spanner in the works, as one of the most knowledgable authorities on hour records, Michael Hutchinson (@doctor_hutch) said on twitter today. He reckons atmospheric conditions are not favourable for Wiggins, plus the track is slower than Manchester, which in combination he reckons will cost Wiggins a whole kilometre! That’s incredible, but I have to take Doctor Hutch’s word on this, he knows his stuff & I’m pretty sure he’s basing this on genuine data he’s collected. High pressure is forecast, Dowsett set his record in low pressure. This means that the primary inhibitor to forward motion for a cyclist, aerodynamic drag, is higher, it makes a significant difference. It could also cause issues for pacing, if he’s not had the opportunity to test at Sundays pressure, it could force him to ride well within his limits, even gearing down for the harder conditions & slightly slower speed, he may encounter some unknowns.

The Gist Of It

So if we take the above into account, and if we assume that Wiggins was now aiming for something around 55km, then we’ve dropped to 54km for the same power output & the record isn’t looking too far out of reach if Dowsett attacked it again in the next year. It could even open the door for what might be considered an unsporting attempt at altitude by another rider.

I had initially assumed that the Wiggins attempt would kill off the Hour for a few years. But I now think that if Wiggins doesn’t break the 54km barrier, as I suspect, that we may see a new flurry from some more young talented riders in the next couple of years. Things could get interesting.

The record can be seen on the various ways on THIS linked Sky webpage (including youtube), The Cycling Podcast will be covering it live from the Velodrome too, so you’ll not be short of information hopefully. It’s Sunday (7th June) evening between 6:30 & 7:30pm.

 

 

Position, position, position

The adverts in bike magazines try to convince you that their components are more “aero” than somebody elses, the tech time trial geeks in your club are obsessed with “aero”, aero wheels, aero frames, aero handlebars, aero seatpins, aero chainrings, even aero pedals, the list goes on. This is all well & good, aerodynamic kit does make a difference, especially in a time trial, but if you’re concentrating on having the most aerodynamic bike, you’re maybe spending vast sums of money on vanity, rather than first dealing with the real issue, you.

The ‘You’ Issue

A quick study shows that somewhere between 65 to 85% of aerodynamic drag is reported to be caused by the rider, the rest by the bike. The massive 20% variance across riders is caused by many factors. For example, take two riders with the same limb & body lengths, but one carries lots of weight in muscle or fat (or both), while the other is running at ‘pro-level’ body fat. The two riders would therefore fit exactly the same size bike, which has the same drag for both. Where it varies is that the large rider’s forward motion is affected by his size much more than the smaller rider, so of his overall greater drag, his bike’s percentage share is smaller. There is no standard percentage drag apportioned to your bike, it’s different in everybody, it’s even different depending on what clothes you’re wearing. So any figures you see on ‘time saved over 40km’ for any particular component, are based on many assumptions. We can safely assume the marketing information is going to be at the more generous end of possible savings, while not being untrue, only a very small number of people may get this maximum benefit.

Bits n Pieces

This brings us back to component choice (I include the big items like frames in this, but not wheels, see later for that). If you’ve not got your optimum position, or something reasonably close to it, buying all the aero kit in the world may not to help you at all, it may even hinder you. Bad equipment choice, from a ‘fit’ aspect, can lock you into a less than perfect position by not allowing your body to get as aerodynamic as possible. It’s all too common, when I see time trial pictures posted, there is a strange draw to have a look at the bike-cost versus position, quite often it’s incredible that so much is spent without ever going for a proper bike fit or taking good advice.

As a start, a fully adjustable set of aero-bars & an adjustable stem are very cheap options considering the cost you’re intending to spend. That should allow you to set up a position correctly on your current bike, which, may not make your bike look pretty, it may save you a lot of money in the long-term. Then you have the opportunity to know exactly where your saddle & handlebars should be in relation to the bottom bracket, a quick check with a tape & a spirit level on your desired frame (with wheels in) should indicate which size it is you’ll require. Not going along this route may result in you buying what would be your normal road bike size. Often, riders will require a different size, with a longer or shorter top tube, or a lower stack height. You’ll need to get your body to fit this new fast-looking bike without compromising your ideal position, while using available kit. So if you buy one with too short a top tube, you may not find a stem long enough, time trial bike fit is not simply a case of ordering a medium, if you normally ride an off-the-peg medium road frame. It requires a bit more work, you may require something different to what you expected.

The Wheel Question

This is another vastly complicated subject, in this instance it comes under a completely separate topic, as wheel choice has zero impact on position. So you can probably buy your wheels first, use them on the new bike, especially as wheels have a relatively large impact on your speed. But as with other components, there’s no hard & fast rule as to which wheels are best for you. Weather conditions, a rider’s weight & ability to buffer cross winds also come into play here, so trying wheels before you buy could be another valuable piece of testing before you reach for the bank card.

The Gist Of It

Spending some time really looking at your position, or getting somebody with some knowledge to look at it, probably doesn’t give you that instant gratification of buying a shiny new component, or a flash time trial bike. It’s maybe the non-sexy option, maybe it’s difficult, maybe you’ve “not got the time” or maybe you believe the adverts to the letter. The fact is that you could buy ‘the fastest frame in the world’, but if you buy a size you can’t replicate your ideal aero position on, then you’re going to be catching a lot more wind.

The golden rule should be to sort your position first, then (and only then) find the aero frame & components that allow you to replicate that position. This is where buying your new TT frame from a local bike shop really helps, they should be able to let you ride a bike of similar geometry & give some valuable advice on the matter, before you spend your hard-earned cash.

Time trial bikes look great, having one makes people feel ‘a bit Formula 1′, they’re a desirable addition to your stable. But always bear in mind the advantages you get from components are minimal compared to your body position. Be sure you can transfer your highly efficient position across to the geometry of a new time trial frame.

Don’t get carried away by a bit of shiny aerofoil bling, choose the correct bike by spending some time getting your aero set-up dialled in on another bike first.

 

 

 

 

Malboro Gains

With the marginal gains philosophy entrenched across the majority of the top teams these days, I find it surprising that most use a bulky radio system in time trials to communicate to their team car. It looks like they’ve stuffed a packet of fags up their skin-suits, surely there’s a better way than this?

Radio Technology

When all of us carry a mobile phone, pro cycling teams are using a much larger & bulkier unit than an i-phone to relay information to & from their riders. I’m was very confused about this, it blatantly gets in the way of the airflow over the rider, a device like a mobile phone would have a much smaller profile & save a few more watts.

After my ranting on twitter about this, I think I’ve overlooked a few things, these radios are not designed for bike racing, and mobile phones only work if they’re in range of a transmitter. When we see bike races, we admire the amazing scenery, but as anybody who’s been to the mountains of Europe (or the general rule in Scotland, if you’ve got a nice view, you’ve got no phone signal), they probably don’t work for the majority of European race routes, traversing 200km of wilderness.

So lets imagine somebody who’s in charge of in-race communication at Team Sky, we’ve discounted the light & compact mobile phone option as unusable during any normal race, so we go back to radios. As anybody who’s experimented with anything other than ‘CBs’ in domestic race organising, as soon as you use the light & low power radios, once the event gets split up, or there’s a hill bigger than a railway bridge, you can probably forget communication. So we generally revert to ‘CBs’, but even these get out of range pretty easily & voices become crackled. Now what units are available? Not many that meet our requirements unfortunately, it has to be slim, aero, without a giant antenna. It may be the case that Sky & others are using the least worst option here, finding communication more important than the lost watts they incur by having a ‘packet of fags’ under their jersey. There are other very short distance radios that are much smaller, so I’m assuming that riders are not just communication with the following car, but also getting info in time trials from other sources who also have radios.

Aero Profiles

The placement of the radio on the back may seem like the worst place to put it, but perhaps this is simply to get the best signal at all times. We saw Fabio Aru with a pocket sewn into the outside of his skinsuit to carry his, which must be an even worse option than the under-the-suit position. The radios we see also have very sharp corners and as anybody who’s done even basic studying of aerodynamics, this is far from ideal, smoothing out corners to even slightly rounded can have a significant effect (I can’t find an actual photo of the Sky radio unit anywhere, can anybody help?).

There are likely some other places to put these units, but maybe these have been tried & discounted. Such as under the tail of the helmet (may raise tail & disrupt flow), inside the helmet (probably against UCI rules), fitted aero on the bike (again UCI rules) or behind the saddle as the track team do with their SRM units. The latter idea may be blown out of the water by the final item on this blog, carrying a six pack of beer, where there’s less drag with the beer in a rucksack on your back, than on the rack behind the rider. Beer used in aero performance tactics, you heard it here first!

But looking into the aero effects a bit more, I found some surprising sensible information from the Specialized wind tunnel, which showed that carrying a bottle in the back pocket was more aero than carrying it on the bike, although not a radio, it should give some idea of what’s going on. But bear in mind this was with a cross rider, so not in an aero position, we can assume an exposed item on somebody’s back would have a greater impact. Here’s the video.

Conclusion

It looks like wind tunnel tests may have shown the teams that the position on the back, under the skinsuit, although slower than no radio, is the best option currently available. It may also be that they’re looking for a product that doesn’t yet exist on the market. This may be one of the next innovations that we see in the peloton over the next couple of years, a communication company teaming up with a professional cycling team to develop a lightweight, waterproof, low-profile radio with excellent range that can be used in other sports. Maybe sports car racing where drivers can wear the radio, so cuts down time on having to plug in to the car radio, marathon runners if it’s featherweight, there are likely many sports applications and even more leisure ones. The problem is with a product like this, it’s currently only allowed to be used in the top level races in cycling, under the rules would have to be commercially available, so they can’t sell very many until other markets are identified, it would probably be incredibly expensive. Looking back, I was probably wrong to give the teams a good slagging, it seems they may have some valid reasons, but it’s not pretty & there are improvements to be made in the near future. I’ve no doubt that teams such as Sky have already identified this & are working on it, who knows, they may be saving up their innovations for the Tour.

Further viewing for the everyday cyclist

If you’re still interested in the more practical uses, and judging by the interactions I have with readers on this blog on twitter, the following data on the most aero way to carry a six pack of beer may be an everyday benefit to most riders, over saving a few seconds in a time trial.

Event Strategy

I’ve pondered various ideas in the past, on how the event structure in Scotland can benefit riders development & the sport in general. It seems that very little has been done on forming an event structure in sufficient time before the season begins, and while I applaud the introduction of a women’s road series, there are some clashes with the British women’s road race series, which was released months before the Scottish series was announced. I can accept that in Scotland, clubs often don’t register events in plenty of time, so let’s be clear that I’m not solely apportioning blame to Scottish Cycling. If things as basic as looking up the British Cycling website are happening, we obviously need some changes, here’s some of my thoughts.

Event Registration

One problem we have is that events are registered intermittently, some clubs are very quick, others not so.  Events seem to pop up throughout the year, whether this is an issue with finding an organiser, or that folks don’t understand the need to get events registered quickly, I’m not sure, but this needs fixed in order to allow proper event planning. What I’d propose (although I expect we’ll have a few people get all angry about it) is to have a tiered event registration fee. If we set a date for registering road events, say 31st January (what’s anybody else doing in January anyway), then very publicly state that any events registered after that will incur an additional £50 event registration fee, I’m very sure that the majority would be registered with Scottish Cycling by that date. Obviously, the method for doing this would have to be stated quite clearly, plus this isn’t necessarily a club being tied down to a certain date at this point, just stating that they will be running an event & then the calendar can be formed in a much better manner. We had a few milder winters where road events started creeping into the dates as early as the end of February, lets knock this on the head, road races before mid March are going to be horrible affairs, it’s freezing now & it’s May! I’m excluding time trials from this additional registration fee, the national championships are generally on set dates & the others really don’t interfere with the road calendar too much. The £50 additional fee is for making the calendar construction better for everybody, it’s not a stealth tax, in an ideal world no clubs would have to pay it. So all it takes is a club meeting in January 2016, decide your organiser & your race (which you probably already know), register it & you’re not going to incur any more charges. If you can’t even organise a visit to the pub in January with your mates, you’re probably not going to run a decent event anyway.

Specific Annual Dates

We need a coherent list of specific dates for road events in Scotland. Resources are limited, so in order to plan things correctly, we first have to know what is possible, it’s incredibly tricky to have photo finish & moto marshalls at two local national events at one time. So lets spread them out, this also lets riders know very early what they’re training for, even before events get registered, which in the age where many more riders have coaches or training plans, this is crucial for cycling to follow the modernisation of sport & training. We can have slots allocated for all the national road series, track championships etc, we can issue that list in November 2015, training plans can be set accordingly, venues provisionally booked before anything else takes precedent. It’s up to Scottish Cycling to encourage organisers to fill those slots, then build the other events around those major events. We could have some attention paid to the following points  (some of which have been done in the past):

  • Mens & Womens series could be run on the same day, on the same course, sharing manpower, in some circumstances, but not all. Or we could even have 2 different local clubs running each event, sharing marshalls across the events, but depends on the organisers, it shouldn’t be forced onto anybody. (get together & talk with others clubs if you have some ideas)
  • If photo finish & NEG are required, make sure events are not on same day of weekend.
  • When setting these dates, avoid school holidays (across Scotland, not just central belt holidays), big red areas in the SC spreadsheet to help them sort out officials & clubs sort out helpers easier. If folks want to organise in the red areas, that’s up to them.
  • Once we have a coherent structure (which may take a couple of years in reality, as ideas develop) these dates should be relatively continuous from year-to-year. That provides an inbuilt structure & we’re not re-inventing the wheel every February, it should make things much simpler in the future if there’s an annual structure in place.
  • Run the Scottish road race championships on the same day as the British regional championships, as was done for a few years. Currently the Scottish championships clash with a round of the British womens road race series. To avoid any conflicts & get the best & most prestigious field, it’s best to avoid any team loyalty & avoid all potential clashes with major UK events, the only weekend to ensure that is the weekend the regional championships are run. It’s bad enough filling a womens road race field in Scotland, but scheduling it on the same day as a round of a major UK series is going to cause problems for the organiser & potentially the riders. The same goes for all events, the British Cycling major event calendar comes out very early, it’s easy to check.

The Regional Plan

This is where things get tricky, this bit requires cooperation & a fair bit of planning, which is usually where things fall apart in cycling, but it can be done.

I’ve mooted the idea of progressive regional & national leagues in the past, some of which exist in some manner & are quite successful. The ideas are correct, but there need to be some tweaks applied, in order to balance the events against a category system which looks like it’s here to stay, but which doesn’t really work very well in Scotland.

  • Regional Club Series: There are many more 4th category riders in Scotland than there are any others, so there need to be events provided for these riders. I think the biggest mistake that has been made with these events in the past is that the series is based on individual standings, this simply does not work. The riders who win each event, gain a 3rd category licence, but they have a high individual series standing, so have been allowed to ride all the series events. This has the effect of having riders of a higher category than the event is meant for taking all the points. The current 4th cats looking to move up are locked out of upgrading their category, the points are not awarded to the riders who have been upgraded. The lower category series placings should only ever be listed as team only. It can’t work productively any other way. This allows the winning & high-placed riders to move onto other events & race against higher category riders, developing their talent. While the club losing these riders to the higher category events will feel the need to replace them with other riders, opening up a feeding system, riders getting encouraged to enter actual races, currently there’s little incentive, if we want riders to pin a number on their back, we need something like this. Teams from each region would be allocated a certain number of riders in each event & if we’re producing too many 3rd cat riders, then later events could be open to 3rd & 4th category riders, but definitely not the early season ones, there’s an idea in the national series (below) to counter that.
  • National Series: We don’t currently have enough riders in each region to fill E/1/2/3 events, so these events would have to form a national series. although they don’t provide licence points, I’d like to see this series being mixed up with a small number of early season APR’s, with groups being set solely on race category. Then add in some of the major road races, you’ll have a series with a bit of a chance for a talented 3rd cat to be fighting for the overall early in the season. That’s the kind of thing that can spur a rider onto greater things, even if they’re out of the running later on in the season. There’s been little or no innovation in the structure of the national race series recently, it’s been more of an afterthought if we’re all honest about it. Some people are not even aware there is one, such is the low-key nature of it, maybe we need a bit of controversy to get people talking about it again?

The above series ideas would provide each region with a grass-roots champion cycling club every season, this would be based on their ability to develop riders new to racing & feed them into a race structure. We’d also have a platform for our higher category riders to develop. I’d almost be tempted to plan national series to deliberately clash with some of the premier calendar type events down south, to stop negative racing (riders waiting for the big name to attack) & making the playing field a little more level to encourage riders to enter & know they’ll not be destroyed by a pro in the first 20km. It disadvantages a few riders, but may work better for the sport in general.

In Summary

  • Check needed regarding the British Cycling major events calendar for clashes.
  • Run any lower category race series as club ranking ONLY. Otherwise you’re compromising the structure of the series & removing many riders from getting licence points, counter productive to what everybody is trying to achieve.
  •  Charge clubs extra for registering events after 31st January, that should allow the calendar to be compiled.
  • Plan calendar around major events, try to establish an annual slot for these, then build the rest of the calendar around them. Not the other way around.

King of the Morons

Those who follow Scottish politics will probably be familiar with the Stan Laurel type character of Willie Rennie, leader of what’s left of the LibDems in the Scottish Parliament. He’s not only a pretty ineffective politician, he also can’t work Strava, incriminating himself by driving at over 80mph after forgetting to stop the app recording data before he got into his car. He also looks to have bagged himself a couple of King of the Mountains’, while crowning himself ‘King of the Morons’. I think I’ll award a prize for the biggest numpty on Strava, it may take some pretty spectacular action to beat this guy though, but I’m sure somebody will. But for now, Willie Rennie, you are ‘King of the Morons’.

Here’s the story on STV news, and in case you really don’t know what Strava is, read this previous blog for details.

Strava For Dummies

Follow a few simple Strava rules to keep yourself & your bikes safe.

Do’s:

  • Set up privacy on your home location, without this you’re making it obvious to everybody exactly where you keep your bikes. The thieves can see the trail running right to your shed, sometimes the accuracy of GPS works against you.
  • Set up privacy on your work location if you ride to work, otherwise those pesky thieves know where you chain your bike up.
  • Use your Strava data as a training tool, base your performances against yourself, not the local pro, that’ll just destroy your motivation.
  • Switch on the enhanced privacy, so that you can approve your followers, you don’t want everybody seeing where you are. It also abbreviates your name on KOM’s to logged out users. Basic, but not excessive, data protection & privacy for you.

Dont’s:

  • Don’t list your bikes details, if you do, you’re publishing a shopping list for thieves to come & help themselves. If you’ve not set up privacy around your home, and you’ve listed the bikes, I will forward you on an email I got about an African Prince who died in a plane crash. They want to find find someone in UK with a bank account who will be willing to place $10million dollars in it, I’ve got too much money through these schemes, so I thought I’d pass it on to you. Email me your bank details & I’ll put you in touch.
  • Don’t leave it gathering data when you’re in the car. The big red button on the app starts & stops it, learn to use that or you’ll start upsetting everybody with King of the Mountains taken in your car, or worse still publish your law breaking & speeding online for everybody to see. An incredibly stupid thing to do, especially if you’re a public figure.
  • Don’t turn group rides into Strava King of the Mountain sector hunts, unless you’ve agreed this is what you’ll do. If you start blasting away from your former buddies on every sector, well, you’re as arsehole.
  • Don’t link it to your Twitter & Facebook accounts, it makes you look like a maniac & also lets people know that the lie you told to get out of that social engagement was actually just to go training.

A New Level of Stupidity

I watched this in disbelief on Sunday’s Paris Roubaix, the sight of professional cyclists running across a closed level crossing, just in front of a train travelling at huge speed (in the photo above, the train is travelling well over 100mph). These people are idiots, it was incredibly close to them, they should not only get sporting sanctions but also criminal prosecution to avoid any impressionable viewers thinking it’s ok & copying them (it IS a criminal offence). It’s serious stupidity, it’s reckless & shows a total disregard for the position of responsibility they hold as role models & sporting icons.

However you look at things, this aspect of cheating is much worse than doping (it is cheating, it’s specifically written into the UCI rules that it’s forbidden). Doping ruins the image of our sport, it creates false winners & can cause physical & mental damage to one person, but attempting to cheat in the manner seen at the level crossing is much more damaging. It also ruins the image of our sport, it can also create a false result, but it risks lives of others, not just the life of the idiot running across the level crossing. The lives of those using the transport system are also at risk, but this behaviour sets an example to those watching at home, perhaps young impressionable riders wanting to emulate their mentally deficient heroes. This is where the real damage could be done, somebody will be watching & have seen easily recognisable riders who are looked up to, like Wiggins, French champion Démare (and many more) behaving like fools & do the same. Now lets consider how many companies want these types riders to say their using their products, this is because people are influenced by them, they want to do & things & use things that their heroes do, copying idiotic behaviour works in exactly the same way.

Now some say, “it’s in the heat of battle”, that’s garbage. Nobody who’s a cycling fan can say this type of thing is ok, then condemn footballers for attacking each other on the pitch, it’s all irresponsible behaviour & should all be dealt with in the same manner, sporting & criminal sanctions. Cycling is ‘our’ sport, so we often find ourselves defending it to others, but this kind of behaviour has to be clamped down on & I can’t defend it. It would take just one incident where the top riders are removed for this kind of thing & it would never happen again. The AOS races are big commercial events, so there must be pressure felt by the officials to not take action, whether voiced or not. But that’s no excuse, the UCI need to hold an enquiry into why the commissaires failed to act in any effective manner during this incident. I’m a little miffed by this, some will laugh it off, but we were very close to seeing a fatality live on TV. This is bike racing, it’s not life or death, no matter how much a rider wants to win. This was reported in all the UK press, it damages our sport & makes football pitch incidents look inconsequential, somebody could easily have died, we need to make sure it never happens again.

If the complaint from the rail authorities is upheld, do you think that puts the entire future of this race in the balance. Would you laugh off this behaviour then?

Calendar Conundrum

On the face of it, organising a racing season should be relatively simple, but things are never as easy as they seem from the outside. A mixture of misplaced nostalgia, defunct championships & “I want my ‘traditional’ race date” mentality create various issues across the road season in Scotland. It needs a total re-think, I’m keen on the ‘destroy & rebuild’ approach to fixing this annual issue once & for all, it’s really the only way to fix the major issues in a short space of time. A softy-softy approach may fix minor issues, but to truly change the season structure in Scotland, we need big change, all at once to clear up everything into a coherent event structure & not leave any untidy strands running in the background.

Time-Trial Championships

If the rumours are true, then the imminent introduction of a CTT type organisation in Scotland (Cycling Time Trials run all time trials down south), solely running time trials, it may be a huge blessing in disguise for Scottish Cycling. A tired format of fixed distance time trials could be rejuvenated under the control of a new set of people & ideas. I’ve suggested this before as one way in which Scottish time-trialling could go, maybe it’s going to finally happen, I welcome it if it does. It could recharge the discipline & help it come up with solutions to lost courses, defunct historical championships & perhaps an alternative to the pre-occupation with imperial fixed distances.

You could argue that British Cycling are able to focus much more on the side of road racing, track racing & mass participation, rather than catering for, what could we say, the older gent’s sport of flat, fixed distance time trials. Maybe Scottish Cycling would also benefit, I’ve pointed out before that race levies across all disciplines won’t even pay them anything like a full-time staff members salary, so it may free up some resources to concentrate on other disciplines, British Cycling seem to do ok without time-trials. Of course, a big fight with a new governing body will be counter-productive, a low-key relatively public disagreement to show their commitment to the sport would suffice, followed by a mutually beneficial agreement between the two organisations & we then have real progress in all disciplines.

The effect of a separate volunteer-run time-trial governing body (who have zero interest in becoming the UCI affiliated representative of cycling in Scotland), would be quite large in my opinion. It’s really shouldn’t be seen as competition by Scottish Cycling (although, we can imagine it may very well be treated as that), it really takes an admin role away from them, which in real terms may actually save some money. As in ‘Sport V Funding‘, the very approximate supposition of 300 riders per weekend racing for 30 weekends a year raises £3.95 in levies per rider, which looks on paper to be a healthy sum of over £35,000. But if we consider that the insurance is actually through British Cycling, who charge £3.00 for races down south, we can assume that SC are making £0.95 on each levy paid to them, which leaves a well below minimum wage salary of £8,550 to cover all admin across all disciplines, it’s not really enough. So losing time-trialling isn’t really going to break the bank, or un-tick any boxes in development funding, which isn’t really associated with time-trialling on busy roads, it’s more focussed on youth, track & closed circuit racing, a world away in sporting terms.

The removal of these championships from the Scottish Cycling medal list would free up plenty of difficult admin constraints in the road calendar. We have the ’10’, ’25’, ’50’, 100′, ‘Olympic TT’ & ‘Hill Climb’, all dominating a weekend where clashes with other major events are avoided. We can forget this issue if it’s not run by the same governing body, but I’m sure any huge clashes will be avoided, it opens the door to have road & time-trial major events or championships on the same weekend.

This also removes the Scottish Cycling problem of having to enforce UCI equipment rules on their time-trial events, a universally unpopular set of affairs in the time-trial community. Currently time trials in Scotland don’t actually conform to UCI rules, as non compliant bikes & positions are allowed, if these events were run by a non-UCI registered governing body, it no longer becomes a problem for SC. As BC & CTT do, the ‘Olympic’ style championship could be run concurrently, with riders from both sets of bodies competing against each other. It would simply be called the ‘Time Trial Championship’ by Scottish Cycling.

Key Events

So if we’ve got time trialling removed, it’s then much easier to organise a road & track calendar, it makes things much simpler. We can arrange things by choosing a set weekend for championships, with a bit of thought we can design a progressive & more importantly a consistent calendar, by getting it right first time.

The men’s & women’s road race championships appear to now have slotted into the gap in the Elite UK calendar taken up by the BC regional champs. While many would like to say, “but we’re not a region”, while I agree, I think that’s relatively irrelevant to the purpose of this slot in the calendar. It’s a weekend where there are no other top-level events across the UK, like Premier Calendar type events, so all our best riders should be free to ride the national championship, without any issues with teams wanting them to be elsewhere. It almost guarantees the top UK-based Scottish riders turn up, they’ve got no other events to ride. It also provides a substantial amount of points for our upcoming riders keen to take part in the British road race championships in June. These events should be seen primarily as a tool to provide opportunities for our riders to progress. Helping the top riders move onto bigger events, while allowing the aspirational riders to see where the benchmark of performance really is, they can race against the best Scottish riders & see how they compare, for riders with ambitions, this is very beneficial.

The track champs are also key to the Scottish calendar, in recent years they’ve been moved all over the place, some at short notice, which is far from ideal. Track riders, more than any other discipline tend to peak for specific events, this requires a plan set several months out from the event. We need this pinned down, but far enough away from the British champs to allow a 2nd peak to be built into the training to hit best form for both events. (Which is why I really can’t fathom the way athletics do selection, they tend to run ‘trials’ reasonably close to the key selection events. If the athletes were training correctly for the big event, you’d assume they’d be in a build phase during the ‘trials’. Which forces all the athletes to hit their best form too early, in order to gain selection.)

The Gist Of It

As I’ve said, Scottish Cycling losing time trials may not be a bad thing for all disciplines. It allows SC to focus on fewer disciplines, increasing their involvement in developing them. We could also see time-trialling develop outside the constraints of UCI rules & the cost to the rider drop (CTT charge £2 per rider, while SC charge £3.95, due to their insurance being broadly based on the more costly BC road race insurance).

The road & track calendar would become much less complicated, removing the need to allocate specific weekends to the vast number of disciplines that require individual treatment. It would be up to the new time-trial governing body to come up with new ideas to develop the sport, encourage younger riders to take part & generally revive what may become a dead-end as courses & traffic issues grow year-on-year.

What we need are consistent event dates every year, the calendar released as early as possible & some other major changes. These changes may not make some of the more old-school happy, but the days of certain events assuming that their date is protected should be gone. The event strategy has to step on some toes in order to work, but if somebody is unwilling to move, it’s unlikely they’re going to be one of the progressive types that the sport needs to push things forward.

This weekends Crit on the Campus, run by Stirling Bike Club is a prime example of how things should be, let’s design a calendar that encourages more of this type of inclusive, well planned & innovative event. We can be progressive, we can be inventive, but that requires a little destruction, a field needs plowed to allow the new seedlings to grow. It really all depends on whether or not those controlling our sport see the need to alter things & grasp opportunities, I really hope they do.

 

 

Deadly Partners

Watching a Madison is like discovering the plot of a good thriller slowly unfold in front of your eyes. There’s so much going on, but you find yourself focussing on a few pairings, like the suspects in a “who done it?”, only in the case of a Madison, it’s “who wins it?”.

Such is the quality of the top competitors in the mens Madison event at the Worlds, that the outcome can often be predicted very early on, then half way through it’s fairly evident who’s going to take the medals. The prospect of the Madison being a World Championship event for women (as discussed on the excellent Pelotonwatch.com site, with THIS feature) should prove, dare I say it, a better race for the cycling fan to watch, even though the Madison is one of my favourites already.

Dirty Harry

From a UK perspective, I can’t see any better than the diverse, but equally effective combo of Katie Archibald & Laura Trott. In our thriller, Archibald would be the non-conformist gunslinger ‘Dirty Harry’, while Trott being enshrined in the scientific system from an early age could be ‘Ethan Hunt’ (sorry ladies, Hollywood doesn’t provide the same level of female cops, these riders are nothing like the drab Cagney & Lacey). If the UCI do decide to endorse a World Championship for the women’s Madison, I’m very sure that these two deadly partners could certainly be in the running, it seems unfair that we don’t get to see this race at the Worlds. As PelotonWatch reports, many countries now have national championships for women in this event, but still no world championship, there would surely be plenty of nations very interested.

Imagine what may go through Archibald’s head if she’s in with the chance of a gold medal at the Madison in the future, perhaps the same as Harry Callahan’s words below…

I know what you’re thinking: “Did she burn six matches or only five?” Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But being this is a GB Superbike, the fastest track bike in the world, which would blow your socks clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?

The Gist Of It

With the longer distance associated with a Madison, the 50km distance may make the crossover from road to track much more palatable for the endurance riders. With World Cups & World Championships featuring women’s Madisons, we could find some more top female riders being able to supplement their income by riding for a road team in summer, then specialising in the Madison during the winter season. With funding very hard to find in women’s cycling, this could provide an additional incentive for national teams to develop road talent while also attempting to bank international medals to support their programme funding.

Personally, seeing riders like Trott & Archibald using their bunch skills to the maximum, alongside their impressive world-class team pursuit performances, should provide one of the most thrilling races of any World Championships programme. These riders have a depth of talent & racing intelligence, that if developed further can only go in one direction. The Madison could be the event that helps to kickstart another angle in women’s racing, from grassroots to elite, if we think Trott leaves us on the edge of our seat in a ‘Devil’, imagine watching a Madison! Our UK pairing would by no means clear up in this, there will be hurdles to climb, but we know that Harry may get a doing a few times, but in the end, he always comes out on top. Come on UCI, give us another Madison, you know you want to.

Field Testing: Handlebar Width

Some time ago, my ‘Bend It Like Clancy‘ blog looked at narrow bars for road riders, I promised I would be doing some testing a while ago, I have been, the results are not quite as I expected.

The Findings

From the outset, I’d assumed that wide bars would allow better breathing, it’s what I’d always been told, but rather surprisingly I found the opposite to be true. It kind of makes sense now, when riders are climbing on the tops, their arms are in a narrower position than their shoulders, the elbows are naturally used to regulate the open-ness of the chest. I’ve found the same rules apply to the drop bar position, with the neutral setup (of not actively trying to tuck my elbows in by having the correct bar width) as the ideal position for breathing & for body mechanics.

For this experiment I used 3 sets of bars, all with shallow drop, in widths of 38cm, 40cm & 42cm. Each was initially on a different bike, but with identical saddles, saddle position (fore/aft & up/down) & identical reach. With a few short sessions on the rollers, what became immediately apparent was that the 42cm bars feel absolutely wrong compared to the narrower ones. Surprisingly, I found that attempting to get the elbows tucked away, in-line with my shoulders, actually closed my chest with the wider bars. The effect of this was quite surprising, the general historical opinion that gets passed about is that wide bars allow better breathing. This may be correct to some extent, but only if the bars are the correct width & you don’t try to bring your elbows in. So effectively, when you’re riding at your hardest, you may have a detrimental breathing effect with wide bars, but otherwise you may feel better when you don’t require the extra lung function, not ideal for performance or comfort really.

What I Found

The 38cm bars felt best for me, here’s why.

Measuring across the recommended bones, the acromium, gives me a slightly wider position than 38cm on paper. But I think there’s a posture issue here, the back may become arched, posture when hunched over is quite different to taking the measurement standing up. So if you’re going down this route, bear that in mind, your bones may adopt a different position when riding than when standing up (this may be identical for some body types). So for me, the ideal way to sort out your bar width for cycling, is by cycling (see below for how to do this).

If you’re riding behind somebody, quite often you’ll see their hands gripping the bars & the wrist rotated to (consciously or subconsciously) bring the arms in line, some tuck their forearms inside the line of their levers when riding ‘aero’ on the hoods. You’re best to avoid these twists altogether by simply riding the correct bar width, then you’ll never have your hands sticking outside the profile of the rest of your body. I’ve now realised that I’ve probably not paid too much attention to bar width on the road, on the track I always rode narrow bars. I didn’t think it was too important on the road & thought that there was some kind of breathing advantage on climbs by choosing wide bars, I was wrong.

Your body wants to be perfectly aligned, that’s when it’s strongest, it’s when it uses the least energy to fight things other than propelling yourself forwards. As an example, take your pulse sitting down, raise an arm, watch your pulse rise. Everything you do, no matter how small, that forces your body to use additional muscular energy to counter any misalignment or dodgy bike setup, results in energy diverted from forward propulsion.

Advantages

I did some power testing on the various bar widths, I didn’t really find any absolutely huge differences between 42cm & 38cm, but readings were always a little lower, somewhere between 5 to 15 Watts in general for the 38’s at 40kmh. Although that’s a wattage gain that’s hard to get from training alone, it’s in the margin of error zone & I don’t think I spent too much time trying to get exact measurements. I’ll take it as a gain, if it’s 5 Watts, great, if it’s 15 Watts, even better. I expected an advantage somewhere around this, but wattage gains of 40 or 50 Watts I’ve seen hinted at are probably false, but they may exist as you reduce bar width even more.

The main advantage I found was in overall efficiency, having everything in line makes a huge & significant difference to how your bike feels, it also seems to make riding on the drops much more comfortable. I’d go as far as saying the mechanical differences I found were dramatic. I rode 38cm bars while on one of those warm very windy islands, I’ve never felt so strong & stable in cross winds, bigger riders were getting blown all over the place & I felt very secure & controllable. A week after I used the wider bars at home on an old bike & I’ve never felt so bad in a lesser crosswind & felt very unstable, it wasn’t a fitness thing, the additional control was down to posture & alignment. Seated accelerations also felt like seated accelerations on the track, could that be down to alignment & efficiency too, everything seems to work much better. I’ve been riding the wrong bars on the road for many years!

How To Choose For Yourself

First, give this a try…..

  • Set up a mirror directly in front of your rollers (or turbo will do if it’s all you’ve got), but not too close, so you can get a good look at what’s going on without too much foreshortening.
  • Ride on the drops in your normal position & RPM, get relaxed, roll along for 5 minutes.
  • Start making some observations.
  • Are your hands straight & in-line with your arms? (sometimes riders compensate by twisting hands out to keep things in line)
  • Are you upper-arms & forearms in-line vertically?

If everything is perfect, you’re probably on the correct bar width already. If not, or you think something could be improved, you need to start experimenting with different bar widths.

I’ve worked out a simple way to go about this without buying new bars, simply base it on one side at a time. Loosen the bars in the stem & slide the bars across a little, you’ve probably got at least a couple of centimetres you can move without the handlebar reducing in size in the stem clamp, but a reduction in 2cm on one side, results in a 4cm drop in overall bar width (remember the other side will be way wide). Repeat the steps above & get one side aligned, then check that the other is more or less the same, get a happy medium for both, in case you’re built kind of funny. Now you can source new bars, they’re generally measured centre to centre.

The Gist Of It

Bar width was probably something I never really saw as terribly important, I always opted for narrow-ish bars, but didn’t realise until I tried a few different ones is succession how dramatic the effect of having correct bar width actually is. If you’re riding the correct width, you won’t need to listen to the advice to “tuck your elbows in”, you’ll already be perfectly aligned. The only reason you’ll need to tuck your elbows in is if you’re already on the wrong bar width, otherwise you’re creating more frontal area with angled forearms & it might even close your chest.

The number-one thing to learn from this is that your bike set-up is best tested on the rollers, if you’ve not got them the turbo is a poor second best. Rollers allow you to develop a much more balanced & natural position, with nothing supported artificially compared to riding on the turbo. Set up your position this way & you’ll be able to spot smaller differences easier & also realise what really doesn’t work for you (its ideal for aero positions that don’t make you too extreme & end up losing watts by fighting the bike, the turbo will lie to you in this case).

From my experience during this experiment, I’ve become a convert to a narrower bar than would be traditionally considered ‘correct’ for me, even by the bone measurement. I’m not quite as sure about keeping reducing the width for an aero advantage, as I found the biggest differences to be technical rather than watt-saving (which may in itself result in some watt-saving through more efficiency). I’m assuming (but I’ve not tested it yet) that the mechanical gains would reduce as bars get narrower, unless you have the muscle bulk of a track sprinter to counter the mechanical losses & reap the aerodynamic gains that must exist. Everybody will have a different ideal width, but increments are generally in 2cm steps, so choose wisely, from what I’ve found I’d err on the lower value if you think you’re in between. It’s really worth checking out for yourself & it won’t take you long to find out if you’ve got rollers (or a turbo) & a mirror.

Bike fitting is becoming a bigger deal these days, but if you set up yourself up in a mechanically correct position it is beneficial & from what I’ve found, you’ll not lose out on breathing efficiency. Don’t just go for the bar width I chose, do your testing as explained above, my 38cm maybe your 44cm, it’s all down to body shape & alignment. One thing’s for sure, I wish I’d done this little test years ago. If you’re not sure, get an expert to have a look over you, whether that’s in a shop like Hardie Bikes or one of the mobile bike fitters like VisualBikeFit, or many more now appearing across the country, they’ll be able to sort you out. Happy testing.

The Road Calendar – An early look

I’m just rolling my eyes over what’s currently been added so far up to the end of April, I’m well aware that if a club or organiser hasn’t paid their affiliation fees, then any events will not appear. But I’m assuming that taking a weekend snapshot (25/1/15), we’ll get a decent snapshot of how the first couple of months are looking for racing in Scotland.

I’m pretty sure you know I don’t really like flat TT’s, unless somebody’s tried to do something with them to make an event of it, so I’ll largely ignore them, but embrace hilly & team time trials. Links to BC calendar are on the event name.

Weekend 21/22 Feb: The Early TTT’s start

  • Sunday: In about a months time the season kicks off with a the Ice Breaker 2 Up TTT, by Fullarton Wheelers, a 2-up team time trial for the tough guys who are still carrying a layer of turkey fat.

Weekend 28 Feb/1st Mar:

  • No events so far

Weekend 7/8 Mar:

Weekend 14/15 Mar: Individual TT’s begin

  • Saturday: Loudoun Road Club Galston Hilly Time Trial, yet another event from the small club who take a big personal responsibility in providing events all through the year.
  • Sunday: Corrieri Classic 10, this Stirling Bike Club event feels a bit like an event compared to other flat TT’s, it’s the first chance for the testers to battle mano a mano after a winter spent on the turbo trainer, unless it’s a nice day they’ll be in skinsuit shock after only ever venturing out in full thermal gear, brrrrrr.

Weekend 21/22 Mar: Road racing opens with APR’s & a criterium, but where the Lake APR?

  • Sunday: Fenwick APR by Walkers Cycling Club. Lies & skullduggery, “I’ve not been out much” & lots of other treachery to deal with for any early APR organiser, as riders seek to slip into an easier group.
  • Sunday: Ythan APR. A great wee opening race for the North East season, held by another hard-working Club, the Ythan (as in Python).
  • Sunday: Crit On The Campus. A fabulous Stirling Bike Club criterium on closed roads at Stirling University, last year had world champion Katie Archibald racing, worth a visit as a spectator if you’re not riding. It caters for most categories, so plenty of races to watch.

Weekend 28/29 Mar: Road Races at last & a couple of interesting TT’s.

  • Saturday: Straiton Struggle, Ayr Roads CC 76km road race for 3/4 cats.
  • Sunday: Dick Longdragon Road Race, always attracts some of the top road riders for their first proper battle of the season. Open to E/1/2/3 riders. Hosted by Granite City RT
  • Sunday: Lang Whang Hilly TT, a testing course over an exposed moor & back, but still infinitely nicer than a flat one. Yet another West Lothian Clarion event.
  • Sunday: Gordon Arms Mountain Time Trial, Gala CC’s enduring early season hilly TT in Selkirk.

Weekend 4/5 April: Just one 10, we’re all missing The Girvan/TourDoonHame!

Weekend 11/12 April: A stage race!

Saturday: The BalfRonde, a new one, a short one-day stage race from Vortex RT, obviously in Balfron. Consisting of prologue, circuit race & a mountain top finish, open to E/1/2/3.

Sunday: GCRT Road Race No.1, an ingeniously named event from Granite City RT, open to E/1/2/3 riders.

Weekend 18/19 April: The Drummond Weekend!

Weekend 25/26 April: TT Champs

Cawdor APR, Moray Firth CC are also holding a 10 on the same day, so could be worth a trip for those from elsewhere.

The Tour of the Meldons incorporates the Scottish TT champs this year. Forget the 10 & 25, this one is much closer to what everybody other national champs looks like.

The Gist of It

I’d like to see a few more APR’s, we seem to be losing some for some reason, early season events are usually vastly oversubscribed, so are we just struggling to find organisers? There’s a good mix of events in there, demand at the beginning of the year is always high, so in an ideal world we’d all like to see more events, some riders will be struggling to get a start, especially if they’ve got no results. There also appear to be less 4th cat events than in previous years, I seem to remember everybody was complaining about this in the past, but now looks like 3rd cats have the best choice of all the riders now, maybe we’ve produced loads of them over the last few years.

 

Road Deaths: Political & Media Interest

The terrorist attacks in Paris, killing 17 people last week grabbed huge amounts of media & political attention. Attacks of this kind are incredibly rare in Western Europe, while the relatively common occurrence of death on the highway goes virtually unnoticed. I’m not suggesting that terrorist acts should get less coverage, I’m suggesting that road deaths should also be reported, currently you’re more likely to hear about the traffic jam caused by the incident than any information on the casualty.

Facts & Figures

I’ll take 2013 as an example, as we have data for that year & it includes the death of serviceman Lee Rigby & that of Mohammed Saleem, who was killed by a Ukranian student attempting to start a race war. There were no terrorist related deaths in the UK until we get back to 2005 & the London bombings where 56 lives were taken. In between we have some failed attacks, e.g the Glasgow Airport attack in 2007.

From Government Report: “Pedal cyclist deaths have seen a long-term fall, but have fluctuated between roughly 100 and 120 over the last six years. Since records began in the 1920s, the highest annual figure seen for cyclist deaths was 1,536 in 1934. The lowest annual figure for pedal cyclist deaths was 104 in 2009, 93 per cent lower than the 1934 high.”

The Numbers Don’t Add Up

Aside from the lack of media coverage & politicians making no statements whatsoever on road deaths, it also appears that other terrorist attacks also get little or no coverage. On the same day as the Paris attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine workers, there were other attacks in different parts of the world which claimed many more casualties. Boko Haram in Nigeria massacred approximately 2,000 people & a car bomb in Yemen killed 38 people & injured another 66.

This does throw up some possible reasons road deaths are ignored, we’ve may become numbed to them. This could be the reason why loss of life elsewhere in terrorist attacks is also ignored by our press & politicians, we almost expect to hear of incidents in far away places, but when it’s close to home we become emotionally involved. Do we now expect traffic deaths & have they therefore become ‘ordinary’, surely there’s something seriously wrong if that’s the case. Airline casualties are also reported extensively if there is an incident, while the 2013 worldwide total of 224 casualties is only twice that of the pedal cycle deaths in the UK alone. I don’t remember any cycle deaths being reported on the news, but airline stories go on for days & weeks in some cases.

What surprises me is that politicians are incredibly eager to offer money to be spent on anti-terrorism measures, even wars, when spending that money on helping to stop the many preventable deaths, which could be avoided on our roads if a fraction of those vast sums of money were spent in a productive manner relative to the death toll. It looks like media involvement in ‘dramatic’ death carries weight, politicians attempt to gain votes & popularity by offering to fix those problems, while ignoring the ones that affect many more families across the UK.

Another reason could be the pro-driving lobbyists, we could include Jeremy Clarkson as their media representative on the BBC. We all still buy cars which are not limited to the national speed limit, speed cameras are vandalised & complained about, speed restrictions are fought against. At least Edinburgh Council have had the guts to implement a city-wide 20mph limit to reduce deaths, but the lobbyists are already out providing countless reasons why it won’t work & they should be allowed to speed.

The Gist of It

I apologise for the morbid subject of this blog post, but it has become increasingly shocking how little regard is given in the media, or politically, for the loss of cyclists lives on our roads. We really need to increase awareness to the media that we don’t see this as normal, we see this as preventable & an area where resources should be targeted. Are millions of £’s going to be spent on snooping our emails & monitoring our internet use, or would that money be better spent on reducing something like road deaths, which affect many more people & families in the UK than terrorism? Does cycling need an effective lobby group to push for solutions to the death toll, by providing information to the media & political organisations, how on earth do we go about this?

Each life lost, whether that’s in a terror attack, on the road, or in an airline crash is tragic, but the response seems disproportionate to the actual numbers, maybe we need to have a proper debate about how best we can prevent the most number of deaths, rather than hastily jumping on a political bandwagons.

 

Free Garmin Maps

Anybody who’s been unaware of exactly where their Garmin device cover, may have experienced that sinking feeling when on holiday. You are about to go for a ride, switch on the Garmin & all you can see is one road, on the large island you’re on, you’re looking at the standard Garmin basemap, you’ve screwed up, here’s how to fix it without buying a new map.

There is an easy & cheap/free way to do this (only costs you money if you need to buy a new SD card). Garmin maps will cost you about £100, so when you buy your unit, don’t go for the map bundle, save yourself some money & go for the ‘Open Street Map‘ option, they’re constantly updated & is open source, so you can update whenever you like.

I followed the excellent DC Rainmaker‘s detailed instructions on how go about it, it’s quite simple & quick if you take it step by step. The maps it produces are very detailed & ideal for cycling GPS, I got one to include UK, Ireland, France, Spain, Balearic islands, Canaries, the usual cyclists haunts, the download was a 1.4GB zip file.

I highly recommend this method of getting hold of free maps for your GPS device, the full instructions are HERE, get downloading….

The DC Rainmaker site also has product reviews, ‘how to’ guides on various cycle related products, website guides, it’s well worth a browse, there’s plenty of information in there, especially if you need help setting up a device.

Sky High on Salbutamol?

Twitter has reacted quite badly, in the normal way expected to the piece on road.cc about ‘A third of Team Sky’s riders are asthmatic‘. It’s probably worth taking a look at some pretty obvious reasons why asthma diagnosis is higher in professional athletes than it is through a sedentary population.

For convenience, lets split the UK’s population into four groups, I’m going to make some estimates on percentages of the population, it’s not necessary to be precise on this small study, just indicative of what’s actually going on & where the statistics come from.

  1. The professional sportspeople. Lets be very generous & include the top amateurs in each sport too & give this lot 1% of the total population. These people test themselves to the limits in training & competition, if there’s any exercise induced asthma going on here, it’s going to be caught & diagnosed as such. It’s a condition that cannot go unnoticed at this level.
  2. The fun, competitive & hobby athlete. These may account for up to 10% of the population, I’m including people who take part in any sport, at any level other than elite. So runners, cyclists, martial arts, etc. These people probably push themselves quite hard, if they’re getting serious about their sport it’s likely that they’ve pushed themselves beyond the point where exercise induced asthma may kick in. So there’s a reasonably high chance that somebody in this category will have been to the doctor if it’s happened & got themselves an inhaler, but not nearly as many as in the category above, it may just not be that important to them or affect them that much for what they want to achieve.
  3. Obese & overweight sadly account for approximately 63% of the adult population according to studies. It’s highly unlikely that many of this lot actually push themselves to induce exercise induced asthma. We can assume if they did regular exercise, they wouldn’t be overweight. So I’m also assuming that the bulk of them don’t get diagnosed with asthma due to this. A very hefty part of the population who will be almost removed from the statistics based on this assumption.
  4. The normal fit & healthy part of the population. Unfortunately we’re left with only 26% of the population who fit into this category. I would imagine that they do some sort of exercise, so are reasonably likely to have been diagnosed if there is a problem.

The Assumption

I think asthma exists in many more than the 8 to 10% that have been diagnosed, probably more likely at the levels noticed in elite athletes. If we look at the groups above, I would assume that the same percentage across each group have exercise induced asthma, but the diagnosed percentage is very different. If Asthma is present in an individual, it probably has very little effect on groups 3 & 4, some effect on many in group 2 & would cause anybody in group 1 very big problems. So asthma is more likely to be diagnosed in groups 1,2 & 4, but less so in group 3. So we’re missing a huge proportion from the statistics, 8 to 10% is simply wrong, it’s much more prevalent than that.

You’ve probably noticed that in your bike club there’s plenty of folks using inhalers, probably more than that 10%. You wouldn’t assume that your club-mates are doping salbutamol in order to beat you on your local chain gang, would you? If you do, that’s the same mindset that assumes that somebody on team Sky is doping with salbutamol.

We can obviously discount the extremes here, there are some riders who have been caught with huge quantities of salbutamol in their bodies, they probably are cheating. As an asthmatic myself, I’ve found that if I felt a bit wheezy before a race I’d take a couple of puffs, that usually sorted it, but if not 2 more later. If I still felt wheezy I normally didn’t start. My peak flow was never more than 15% below what it should be for somebody like me, so even with 4 puffs I was still at a disadvantage to an ‘able bodied’ rider. I did experiment once to see if I could get my breathing level with a ‘normal’ person, I couldn’t, beyond 4 puffs across an hour it made no difference whatsoever, I was still well below average, plus the additional puffs made me feel particularly ill, probably not ideal if you were in a race.

If somebody’s cheating with salbutamol, they’re not going to be doing it with an inhaler, it’ll be injected in large quantities, an inhaler will make little difference, if at all to a non asthmatic. The guy in your club, Chris Froome, or any of the huge percentage of pro cyclists who use an inhaler & are diagnosed with asthma are not cheating, they’re still below the peak flow of a non asthmatic. The nonsense posted on twitter has probably got road.cc plenty of hits, which I suspect is what it’s all about, but it’s a non story.

References:

Discussing Development #1

This new blog series is starting out with a few key issues that effect the development of the sport in Scotland (potentially the same issues as elsewhere) & will grow & expand into other blogs, but all will be linked here. I’m very open to receiving ideas & printing them too, even if I don’t agree with them. I’ll start off on two subjects, cyclo-cross & time-trialling, both of which have very different issues, but both could suffer losses to other governing bodies if not looked after correctly.

Cyclo-Cross

Cyclo-cross has blossomed, it’s now the most inclusive discipline in Scottish cycle sport, with hundreds of riders at each race meeting pinning a number on & having fun throughout the winter. This huge success is down to individuals, clubs & Scottish Cyclocross managing to join it all together in a progressive manner. Series events have to meet a required standard & as a result, the events provide great racing & an excellent environment for all ages to compete. Cyclo-cross also has the advantage that road racing does not, that you don’t have to meet a high minimum ability level or you’re dropped & out of the race, in ‘cross you just get lapped (several times for some), but you keep racing & continue to battle with those around you of similar ability. I’ve been to a few, but not turned a pedal in anger at them for a long time, but even I’m getting interested in giving it a go.

Having said all that, ‘cross has reached this level through pure bloody-mindedness, by people who had a vision for where it could go in Scotland. It didn’t do this as a result of help from the governing body, some would say that this lack of support actually caused cyclo-cross harm, while others may suggest that removing itself from ScottishCycling/BritishCycling (apart from race insurance & commissaires) has allowed it to develop in a productive manner, without outside influence. There may be a couple of reasons for this lack of interest, funding & tradition. Cyclo-cross is not an Olympic sport, so the British Cycling plan doesn’t pay it any notice as there are no medals available, for them it could as well be bicycle polo or cycle speedway.

This funding attitude may have rolled down into Scottish Cycling, but it’s a rather shortsighted approach, with one glaringly obvious reason, Scotland doesn’t have an Olympic team (yet). We’re not chasing Olympic medals, we should be chasing event & rider development. Cyclo-cross isn’t a stand alone niche discipline, on the international scene we find road & MTB riders take part in ‘cross, so it seems like a missed opportunity to not look to an accessible sport like ‘cross & use it to feed into other disciplines. If all you’re interested in is sending riders to the GB squad for Olympic disciplines, perhaps cyclo-cross is going to work as a talent feeder into both road & mountain biking to identify those riders at an early stage, so it’s well worth looking if the primary focus is medals in other disciplines.

If Scottish Cyclocross want assistance, now is probably the time for Scottish Cycling to start offering some help, otherwise they could lose this valuable side of the sport to another governing body, TLI. The League International already have some ‘cross races in Scotland, so it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see more shift across in the next couple of years. With the recent success of ‘cross in Scotland especially amongst youth riders, is it really wise to ignore it when there’s a UCI World championship in the discipline? Those young riders could be taking part in non UCI recognised events & although of great ability, could never gain the licence points to enter UCI races down south & then move on to races on the continent.

Time-Trialling

I’ve written a fair bit about the future of time-trialling in the past, read ‘Comparing the Incomparable‘, ‘A Demographic Time Trial‘ & ‘Fixing Time Trials‘ for more info. There’s one huge issue with this discipline, it can be done much cheaper outside British Cycling insurance. Event levies in CTT events (Cycling Time Trials) are £2 per rider, in Scottish Cycling time trials they are £3.95 per rider. The CTT events are often held on very busy roads, but provide a very similar insurance cover. The problem is that BC (British Cycling) insurance is designed to cover bunched road racing on open roads, it goes beyond the requirement needed for time-trialling, so it could be done a lot cheaper. (British Cycling provide cover for only a handful of time trials in England, virtually all time trialling south of the border is run by CTT)

This could go one of three ways, allowing another organisation to step in & undercut administration & entry fees, Scottish Cycling deciding to arrange their own insurance, or the status quo.

  1. An organisation like TLI, or one of the groups running sportives who are used to dealing with insurance issues could step in & take over time trialling in Scotland with only a little organisation & some friendly chats. I’m quite surprised it’s not been done already actually. It would also remove the need for riders to conform to the UCI bike & position rulings, making it an oddball sport internationally, but it would keep some people happy. It would obviously create a war, as Scottish Cycling like to see money flow through their organisation, regardless of whether or not it funds anything, they need to be seen to raise funds & there are plenty of time trials & riders each paying the £3.95 levy to SC every year. There is that tricky UCI rule, where they may try to place a ban on riders taking part in non UCI events, but that would fall at the first hurdle if anybody decided to test it legally. For amateurs that ruling would hold the same weight as SC telling somebody they can’t play non UCI regulated darts, they can’t regulate what you do in your spare time, pressing the issue would likely wipe them out if a well funded individual took offence. So this is a viable alternative & there really isn’t a lot SC could do about it if it was well organised, it’s really up to them to provide an alternative.
  2. Scottish Cycling could relatively easily set up their own event insurance for time trialling. By the example of CTT, they could do it for half the cost of their current British Cycling insurance. As a sweetener to those vocal riders who don’t want to conform to UCI rules & result in the binning of their current bike, they needn’t run it under the rules & it could be out with the UCI rules of the affiliated body of British Cycling. So equipment rules could be waived but I’d suggest they should still stick to the position rules, the CTT ones allow the sport to drift quite far away from international sporting regulations. Maintaining the UCI position rules would help the development of young talent to & from track & into international careers, rather than allowing them to sit in triathlon style positions & then having a difficult change in order to take part in UCI recognised competition. This would allow SC to retain the time trialling side of the sport, but also address the issues raised by the membership regarding rules. Otherwise they may lose it in the near future by not providing value for money, which they are aware of, or if not, they will be now.
  3. The status-quo isn’t going to work in the long run, as I said before somebody will eventually get round to taking it over & there are plenty of voices of dissent out there on this subject. SC can’t really sit on this one forever, they can start work on No.2 (above) any time they like.

Spokey’s New Year Message

This isn’t so much a message to readers, but more of a statement of intent for 2015, outlining which path this blog is going to take in the next wee while. Living in Scotland during the incredible events of 2014 & witnessing the public’s re-engagement with politics (where almost nobody now thinks a Barnett Consequential is the aftermath of a dodgy haircut), maybe we can also channel that engagement into a healthy debate on sports governance & developing forward-thinking ideas? In 2015 SpokeyDokeyBlog is going to be all about pushing the sport forward, right from grass-roots level & how that affects the tiers above, feeding your governing body with your good ideas & working out where the hell the UCI rollercoaster is heading. As things have progressed, I see where I can modify my ideas, so I’ll be rewriting the development blogs too. Alongside that I’ve got a busy year with Hour Record attempts, the Scottish calendar & I’ve got a fair bit of product aero calculations up my sleeve mid-year. I’m also going to try & get to more events, aside from local ones, a return to the Kuipke Velodrome in Ghent would be lovely (photo above is a reminder).

Defining ‘Our’ Job

What’s important to consider, is that bodies like ‘Scottish Cycling’ & ‘British Cycling’ are chiefly administrators, they exist to carry out the tasks that are given to them, not the tasks they don’t know about. That role is controlled by the sports structure we have in place, as explained in ‘Sport V Funding‘. In the past when our governing bodies were run by unpaid passionate volunteers on a shoestring budget, ideas may have existed, but couldn’t be implemented due to budget constraints. In the modern-day what we can’t expect employees having carried out their contracted duties, to spend some time coming up with innovative ideas to develop our sport. That’s not an admin task, it’s our job to do that, we’re the people on the ground, running clubs & events, coaching, out on our bikes & developing master plans to help our sport.

Perhaps myself & many others had unrealistic expectations in recent years, our governing bodies are never going to be ideas based organisations without outside input or a dynamic gung-ho insider willing to rock the boat, as briefly happened in British cycling a few years ago. For us lot, this means it’s now time to get engaged & pass those ideas on, our governing bodies need people like us to pass on those ideas & show them how they could work in practice. We need to make it easy for them, we need to push them in the correct direction by providing plans & showing them how they can be implemented in an economical & constructive manner with the minimum resources, preferably the resources that already exist. It is the time of austerity after all, in order to progress sport in those times, we need to get smart & we need to get active. In Scottish Cycling’s case, the RDO’s (Regional Development Officers) appear to be getting much more involved & the right people are moving into the job, if you get correspondence from them, pass it onto your club mates, you never know who might have an opinion, they require as much feedback as possible. As I’ve said in the past, I’m quite willing for organisations to adopt & adapt any ideas printed on this blog & never acknowledge where they came from, it’s about developing the sport in the best way possible with the resources we have, that includes any ideas that are fed to me by other like-minded folks out there.

It’s fair to say I’ve had differences of opinion with Scottish Cycling, but I feel in every occasion when I’ve highlighted something I’m not particularly happy about, I’ve also highlighted a solution rather than just ranting as is so often seen on forums. After political & sporting events calming down a little (especially for us in Scotland), I’m guessing all will be as-it-is until at least 2018, i.e. Scottish Cycling using British Cycling insurance to run events in Scotland & the UCI remaining the World Governing body (unless they do something incredibly stupid & illegal).

In our own localities, the administrators & the sporting volunteers need to form a better bond, for the volunteers that means getting involved. The dire turnout at the Scottish Cycling AGM compared to days-gone-by, consisted of predominantly the same OAP’s who have been turning up for the last decade & have changed nothing (apologies to those outside that group who turned up, potentially the future facilitators of change). On the plus side, it has to be said that the youth side of the sport looks like it’s very far ahead of the mainstream thinking, with clubs & individuals helping young riders gather the required skills & know-how to become bike riders.

The Final Word

Those who voice forward thinking ideas or try to move things forward are often labels as activists. These individuals have a tendency to become the disgruntled ones who stop turning up at meetings & remove themselves from the process, clubs are littered with former willing volunteers simply became ‘scunnered’ with SCU & Scottish Cycling over the years. I’d like to see an effort to win these people back. For the administrators it means it’s time to be open & accepting that somebody has a good idea, not treating each passionate ‘activist’ as a direct threat. Once ‘the establishment’ chooses to listen to an ‘activist’ (whether in politics or in sport), that person (or group) generally becomes part of the solution to the problem, not the problem itself. In that way you solve the underlying problem the ‘activist’ is unhappy about, but as a bonus you also solve the ‘activist’ problem. Bingo!

Lets move things forward, put your ideas directly to Scottish Cycling, send them an email, write a blog. The initiative has to come from the governing body to actually listen, without that there’s little indication that they see either a need for change, or the impetus to do anything about it. If you stand still in any business you go backwards, that’s obvious is sport more than anything else, and not just in athlete performance. Become bothersome in 2015, it might make all the difference.

 

3600 Seconds: Part1

That old fella Jens Voigt ended my ‘199 Laps’ series of blogs, simply by doing more than 199 laps, so I’m carrying on with a more permanent title for the Hour Record blogs, ‘3600 seconds’. A new era of record-breaking has arrived, which I don’t expect to continue in large numbers beyond 2015 (for men anyway) where somebody will put it at a level that will take a momentous effort to beat. Whether that’s Wiggins, or somebody who can beat the performance I think Wiggo is capable of, the record will be stratospheric in a years time. My archive of Hour Record blogs is HERE.

Quick Update

Jens Voigt was first to have a go at the Hour Record after it was reset by the UCI, but we’ve covered that before, plenty of times (check out my Hour Record archive for more info). He covered 51.110km on the 18th September 2014 at the 250m Velodrome Suisse in Grenchen, that’s a fine start to rebirth of this record, not quite as fast as the mark set by Francesco Moser of 51.151km in 1984. Followed by what one must assume was a nice retirement party & the obligatory watch was hopefully presented, quite fitting for what he’d just done. Then, on 30th October 2014 we had a rider I had little or no knowledge about, Matthias Brändle. He broke Jens record with 51.852km on the short 200m track at The World Cycling Centre (Aigle, Switzerland).

Since then we’ve had several riders talking about attempts (hopefully outside Switzerland for a change), thankfully including one woman, here’s a run down on what we have confirmed & what we have rumoured in anticipated chronological order. It’s looking like a lovely year for the Hour Record, plenty of attempts, unless of course, somebody knocks it out of the park very early, which is the trouble with a record attempt, you either win or lose, there is no 2nd place.

  • Jack Bobridge: January 25th, Melbourne
  • Rohan Dennis: February 8th 2015, Velodrome Suisse
  • Alex Dowsett: February 27th, London. (updated)
  • Sarah Storey: February 28th, London (confirmed) 46.065km womens record to beat.
  • Thomas Dekker: rumoured spring 2015
  • Bradley Wiggins: June 2015, likely London.
  • Alex Rasmussen: rumoured Autumn 2015, likely Copenhagen
  • Rasmus Quaade: likely Copenhagen
  • Ondrej Sosenka: Date unconfirmed, likely Moscow.

The Women

The 2003 record set by Leontien Zijlaard-Van Moorsel will be first assaulted at the Olympic velodrome in London by a rider with too long a palmarès to list, Sarah Storey. She’ll go at the Revolution meeting on 28th February, the target to reach is 46.065km. For old timers, that’s as fast as riding a ’25’ in 52 minutes, but I think Storey will break it, possibly by no more than a km. Actually I hope it’s not by too much, an incredible performance at the first attempt may put the womens record on the shelf, I’d like to see as much interest as there has been from the men (hold a little back for the rematch Sarah). There could be a multitude of riders capable, tried & tested track riders like Sarah Hammer & wild cards like accomplished time triallist Emma Pooley might promote their tri-bike to another audience with a rapid hour (remember she took silver in the Glasgow 2014 TT only a few months ago).

The Men

Looking at the above list, it’s highly likely we’ll not see an attempt by Rasmussen later in the year, the record will likely be well out of reach by then. We can probably also discount Rasmus Quaade unless he does it very soon. Ondrej Sosenka, who held the ‘Athletes Hour’ & was later caught for doping, also looks unlikely, he needs to wait a while until he has some biological passport data after his break, so he may have ditched plans already. That leaves us with some high quality riders who can all set a very high mark, by March this record will only be taken seriously by the riders at the very top of the sport, in their very top condition. There’s plenty of online chat about Tony Martin, but I don’t believe he’ll ever hold this record. His style won’t work well on the track even if he produces more power than everybody else & could smash them in a straight line, the Hour Record is a different beast, it rewards a mixture of souplesse & power.

The Gist Of It

An incredible year ahead & at last the Hour has come back into the spotlight. The mens may be considered unbeatable by June, but the womens may become more interesting during the second half of the year. If Sarah Storey gets plenty of press it may spur some others into having a go. The womens peloton may be more open to embracing it in future as they attempt to increase their earning power & try to add additional value to sponsors, to a side of the sport given much less TV time & publicity than almost every mens discipline. A great year ahead, but those 3600 seconds will be some very painful & memorable ones for the riders.

Book Review: Climbs & Punishment by Felix Lowe

C&P Final Cover

Cyclists from elsewhere than the central lowlands of Scotland may not understand the ‘gringo’ reference, but it helps me explain the book very quickly. The author starts the book as what would be considered a ‘gringo’ & ends it an experienced cyclist, having suffered a multitude of cycling experiences condensed into a few short weeks on a ridiculous organised-ride from Spain to Rome. It’s a voyage of discovery & it’s the ideal Christmas present (to yourself) or to that hard-to-buy-for cyclist. It’s got something in it for everybody, from the die-hard racer to the complete newcomer, you’ll all recognise personal experiences & the personality types the book deals with, plus your non cycling partner (who pretends they don’t watch the Tour) will also likely enjoy it. This book, although at first glance not my normal cycling read, made me smile, it made me smile quite a bit.

The Author

This book comes with a warning, well, it’s not actually the book that has a warning, it’s the person who wrote it. If you ever go on an organised ride & somebody called Felix Lowe is present, go home or give a false name. When you read this book you’ll understand why, all your quirks & abnormalities may be magnified & published for all to read about.  The Author, Felix Lowe may be known to many of you, he’s the man behind the Eurosport ‘Blazin Saddles’ blog & can be followed on twitter @saddleblaze. He also writes the final article in ‘Cyclist’ magazine every month, so if you read about cycling a fair bit, you’ve undoubtably read some of his stuff.

The Review

I struggle to define ‘Climbs & Punishment’ as a particular genre of cycling book. It’s a mix of a travelogue, history book, gastronomy, cycling adventure & bike racing anecdotes from pro riders (including some fantastic ones he gleaned from chats with Greg LeMond), all written with plenty of humour, innuendo & not-so-veiled accusations. What makes this particularly interesting & different is the perspective it’s written from, the author first gained a deep knowledge of the sport of professional cycling by being involved in cycling journalism, before they ever became a cyclist. So this is his story of his initial voyage of a mans physical cycling discovery, potentially this is his unconscious quest to become a ‘proper’ cyclist. We follow his experiences during a rather bizarre (100km per day) organised ride which follows the route of Hannibal’s army into Rome from Spain, over a period of a few weeks. The full content of the book is probably not conveyed in the cover, but then, what could really.

You’ll also find some things discussed which won’t come up on your polite club-ride, mostly to do with bodily functions, body parts & the peculiarities of the effects of cycling’s motion & kit do to your body. Scrotums seem to be mentioned a fair bit, along with his ‘clock’ position in his shorts & the problem of eliminating that last drip, especially in his poor choice of shorts colour. We also get some descriptions of things he encountered on the way, dogs in a not so romantic embrace & an old man peeing in a car park. Normally the things we leave out of our descriptions of our wonderful cycling holidays we pass back to our families. Lowe experiences from a ‘newbie’ point of view what it’s like to get into cycling, but due to his journalistic experienced, Lowe does this with a knowledge which your normal sportive rider wouldn’t possess.

Competition is part of cycling at all levels, regardless of where we are in the sport. We see the authors competitive trait develop rapidly during the trip, with some full-on mountain battles later in the book when other groups turn up on the ride for a few days. Lowe tells you exactly what he’s thinking during his riding, which is especially revealing when the red mist takes over (although stopping to take a photo while having attacked on a mountain isn’t allowed in cycling etiquette).

His fellow companions get a bit of a pounding too, he didn’t know any of them beforehand, including his room-mate Terry, whose character is well & truly destroyed during this book. We discover far too much about these people (but you’ll find yourself wanting more), even people who helped him along the way get ‘the Felix treatment’, such as “Martin, the manager of the hotel and owner of a nose that could have hosted its own ski-jumping competition”. I won’t ruin some of the revelations you’ll discover, which is why I issued the warning at the beginning, it really is relevant (but it’s entertaining, you’ll laugh & your partner will ask what you’re laughing at, you’d probably would find it hard to explain without going into the finer details, just say “nothing”).

There are plenty of character types you’ll recognise from your cycling club, or at least recognise some aspects of their personalities. Lowe is a people watcher & is able to describe this to you in graphic detail, which is why you shouldn’t go on holiday with him. Under twitter questioning he has assured me that they took it all very well, having joined the Tour in 2014 for a few days where he met some of his 2013 ‘crew’, who shook their first in mock castigation.

Pro riders are mentioned frequently too, like Quintana, “with a birth certificate that makes a mockery of his crinkled-as-an-elephants-knee face”. The best ‘pro’ bits are with Greg LeMond, although some of that includes graphic bodily functions (as we’ve come to expect from this book) & Greg’s story of accidental Giro race food of parmesan, sausages & beer.

Hidden behind all the character assassinations is an incredibly well researched book, which perhaps is easy to forget amidst the humour & witty observations. Each significant area or road we visit has a brief resumé of what happened to Hannibal, with plenty of stories of grand-tour battles on the same terrain. This is where Lowe’s knowledge of the sport shines through & we can relate his struggles compared to those of our hero’s & villains of cycling (there’s plenty of doping innuendo here too). There’s also some analysis of a cyclists psyche hidden away & discovered by Lowe, such as “You only ever ride a climb like Ventoux alone anyway, even when in the presence of others”.

Who’s This Book For?

This is almost as hard to define as the book, it’s really not aimed at anybody in particular but will appeal to cyclist & non-cyclists alike. I’d suggest it’s a ‘must read’ for anybody about to book, or having recently booked a training camp in the new year.  You’ll meet plenty of the characters described in ‘Climbs & Punishment’ during your trip to warmer climes, it might even help prepare you for dealing with a trip. I’d suggest that you should have a little cycling knowledge to get something out of this book, but just occasionally watching the Tour over the last few years would be enough.

I’d also recommend Climbs & Punishment as a ‘catch-all’ Christmas gift for your cycling partner or friend (or a stocking filler suggestion for those asking what to buy you), everybody will get something out of it. I enjoyed it, now I need to catch up on some of his equally character destroying ‘Blazin Saddles’ blogs.

Climbs & Punishment is published by Bantam Press & is available HERE for £11.99 if you use Amazon.

(I only publish reviews of books I really like, I was sent this by the publisher, I have others than won’t appear here. Just because they’re not my cup of tea doesn’t mean I should slag of folks who are better writers than I am. Please don’t send me any more, I’ve no time to read any more!)