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Like everyone who’s ever ridden, I’ve experienced some hard days on the bike.  My first ascent of Alpe d’huez was emotional, and brought with it a self realisation and belief – that often you are better than you think you are.  I’d only got back on the bike 6 months earlier, and was really unsure if I was capable of reaching the summit.  I did it with a sense of surprise – if not shock, and not a little relief.  Rounding the final switch-back the tears began to flow as I realised I was actually going to do this and for the first time that day I enjoyed the fact that the fans were cheering me – acknowledging the effort that climbing such a mountain requires.  

 

An ascent of the Col du Madeleine the following year, in blistering heat, when I ran out of water 2/3 of the way up also sticks in the mind.  The pub at the top and a swift pint was a decent reward for the suffering though.  In terms of a single mountain – Ventoux was my worst – and I guess in many ways – my best day on a bike…that mountain very nearly defeated me, a total grind – pedalling squares for hours.  Passing the Tommy Simpson memorial was a surreal experience.  I had planned to stop and leave my bidon – as tradition dictates.  But  as the shrine came in to sight I was suddenly overcome with a sense that if I stopped there I might not get back on my bike, and through blurred vision and with a little wobble, I pressed on to the summit with a tip of the cap.  Chapeau Tom.

 

And the day we rode to Briançon from Valloire – tackling the mighty Galibier and Lautauret – both ways in one day – that was just a slog that lasted ALL DAY LONG.  But Saturday 06 April 2013, was surely as tough a day as any of those.  There was no great climbing involved, a relatively short and flat 170 km (105 miles in old money – or a “Century”) – of which 52.3 km was the infamous pavé of the Paris-Roubaix course.  27 secteurs of the biggest, meanest cobblestones you could wish to never see.  This is no Coronation Street.  Stones as big as your head, battered and churned-up by the farmers of the region using these lanes to access their fields with their tractors, in various states of repair – some ok, others not so.

 

Thursday evening I was on my regular “chain-gang” training ride with the Liverpool Century Road Club.  I arrived back – having been battered by the wind and chilled by the cold 3C.  I had a missed call, a text AND an email from Mr Fitz.  He’d booked a hotel near Roubaix.  His intended travel partner had just pulled-out.  He was riding the Paris-Roubaix Challenge on Saturday.  Would I join him?

 

My head is not normally functioning that well after the “chainy” – in itself always a hard effort – but this was a lot to take in – especially as I had another errand to run before I could even eat.  I wasn’t sure if it was even feasible to get there and back.  A quick check of the P&O Ferries website revealed it could be done.  A 5 hour drive to Dover, a 90 minute crossing, a 90 minute drive to Roubaix from Calais, and I should just about make it in time to register for the ride before it closed at 7pm on Friday evening.

 

After getting the ferry booking confirmation back via email – I emailed Fitzy- who had already texted to say he was going to bed due to his 6am start.  We were on.  I would see him in Roubaix – given a fair tailwind.  I slung some LCRC Club kit in my bag and hit the hay some time after midnight, my head full of scrambled thoughts of what kit and bike to take.

 

The alarm appeared to go off about 5 minutes before I went to sleep… it was actually 4 hours but it was going to have to do.  I dressed quickly and grabbed the Giant TCX from the garage.  It was still set up for riding Cross – knobbly tyres and MTB pedals.  No bottle cages, no tool bag, computer, pump or spare tubes.  Trying to get my brain to function at 05:15 after 4 hours sleep.  THINK!  If I was to forget pedals or tubes or pump or whatever at this point the effort and expense would all be in vain.  Fortunately I had made a “to do” list the night before.  Unfortunately I’d forgotten I had made a to do list and had left it on my desk.

 

I chucked the bike in the back of the car, with a couple of GP Four Season Continental slicks – I would change the tyres at the hotel later.  I found some Shimano SPD SL road pedals and chucked them in a bag with some tools.  Robbed the bottle cages off my road bike, along with the saddle pack and pump.  Grabbed another spare tube.  A couple of 750 ml bidons and every bit of SiS bars, gels and drinks I could find in the house.  I was about to head off when I remembered the computer.  I still needed to find a magnet for the wheel sensor.  Somehow located a spare one in the garage and put it in my pocket.  Grabbed a mug of tea and hit the road around 05:50.

 

The drive to Dover was relatively smooth, and I managed to get on a the ferry prior to the one I had booked.  Unfortunately there was a “medical emergency” on board, and the crossing was delayed by an hour due to missing our berth in Calais.  It was about 5 minutes after getting on board that I remembered how seasick I get.  I’ve even been ill on the Mersey Ferry before now.  But my mind must have been so preoccupied that the 2.5 hour crossing had little effect.  A quick visit to the shop to buy a GB badge for the back of the car and those silly stickers for the headlights so I didn’t blind the the Frenchies – SO much to think about.

 

The drive to Roubaix was really smooth.  Called Mr Fitz en-route and he was already at the velodrome.  He’d registered me and picked up my ride number.  We met at the hotel just outside Roubaix and unloaded the bikes.  There were a bunch of Dutch guys in the hotel bar drinking leffe.  They sniggered at my cross bike – which they appeared to consider was somehow not in the spirit of the occasion.  What do the Dutch know about riding bikes…?

 

Bikes unloaded, we made a swift visit to the Super Marché across the road.  Here we panic bought all kinds of stuff that we didn’t need and would later dump.  But it seemed like the right thing at the time. This is what happens when men are put in charge of food buying.  Always.

 

Next we set about finding an Italian restaurant to do some carb loading.  The pony-tailed maestro on the hotel reception found a place in “downtown” Tourcoing and wrote the address down for us.  It was a short 5 minute drive and we arrived around 6pm.  It appeared to be closed.  Not just the restaurant, but the town.  An encounter with a waitress through the restaurant window established that they would open at 7 bells.  Via the medium of international sign language Mr Fitz managed to gesticulate our desire to “mange”.  We would return later, after finally managing to find somewhere to have a coffee and a stella. But, not before being accosted by two french student girls with clipboards, mistaking us for locals and wanting to do some kind of survey.  Do I look French?  Their recommendation for the best place to eat which was currently open – Subway.  Merci Mademoiselle, but non merci.

 

Neither Mr Fitz nore I speak much French.  When Mr Fitz attempts to speak French he invariably speaks German.  Some observations from our visit to the restaurant.  1. If there is one thing the French appear to like less than speaking English, it’s speaking German.  2. French waitresses have no sense of humour.  3. It wasn’t an Italian restaurant – it was a Spanish restaurant – that served pizza and pasta, and 4. you always hear Americans before you see them.

 

We demolished a massive pizza, a massive salad and two massive lasagnes.  And a cheeky glass of red each.  And a gallon of San Pellegrino.  We rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and back to the hotel – to set about some bike mechanicing.

 

Fortunately Mr Fitz had the presence of mind to remember to bring a track pump…which assisted the tyre swap.  But not before I’d managed to blow a tube – to the amusement of the Dutchies in the next room, who gave a loud cheer.  I blamed Fitzy’s track pump for having a faulty pressure gauge.  Much spanner-monkeying later, machine tweaked and tuned, I finally turned-in around midnight.  Kit laid out for the morning – ready to go.

 

Mr Fitz is “kind of a big deal” in the pro cycling world.  And he’d taken his preparation for this ride quite seriously.  He’d even arranged a special meet-up with a pro team mechanic, to get some tips on how best to survive Roubaix.  Fortunately, I had no time to prepare, to ponder on tyre selection, tyre pressure, bike choice, ride strategy, what to eat, when to eat, what to wear, blah blah… My only guidance was a conversation I’d had with Roger Hammond a couple of years earlier when some of the lads had discussed riding the Tour of Flanders sportive.  I asked Roger what he thought of amateurs wanting to ride such a route.  “Seems like a really good way to wreck your bike” was his muted response.  Those words have stayed with me.  Hence, there was no way I was taking my half decent road bike, and that was pretty much the sum total of my pre-ride thoughts.  “On this occasion…” I argued with Mr Fitz “…ignorance is bliss – I really do not want to know what I’m letting myself in for.  I’m just going to take it as it comes, if I analyse it too much I might not bother”.

 

For the second time in 2 nights I got up what seemed to be before I went to bed.  Another 4 hours sleep bagged and the alarm was letting me know it was 04:30.  8 hours sleep in 2 days didn’t feel like ideal preparation for riding Roubaix.  The weather forecast was not encouraging.  1C at the start at 07:00 and a maximum of 3C.  I pretty much dressed in every bit of kit I had brought.  A long sleeve base, short-sleeve jersey, long-sleeve jersey and a gillet.  A buff and a winter hat. 2 pairs of gloves, leg-warmers and overshoes.  Looking every inch the classic sportive-riding nob.  Mr Fitz upstaged me on that front in natural wool hat and a rapha jacket.

 

We loaded the car and made the 90 minute transfer to the start in Busigny.  As we drew near to our destination the snow at the side of the road added to the nerves.  Neither of us had brought full-on winter kit – but we’d just have to manage.  A quick call of nature to lighten the load followed by stuffing bars down our throats to the point that any more would have made us sick.  A final photo – accompanied by slightly insane “what the hell are we doing” laughter…and we headed for the start line arch and immediately hit the road without any sense of ceremony.

 

Within minutes fingers and toes were frozen to the point they could not be felt.  We jumped on the wheel of a couple of Spaniards – both riding Specialized Roubaixs – surely these guys knew what they were doing.  They even had a support vehicle.  They soon dropped us.

 

It wasn’t long before we hit the first secteur of pavé – a cheeky little 2 km intro rated 3* for difficulty by the organiser, 5* being the hardest.  There was not really much that I’ve ever experienced before on a bike that could prepare you for that.  As the front wheel bobbled over the jaggedy cobblestones it quickly became apparent that gripping the bars tightly – for fear of letting go – was not going to be a long-term strategy – it just hurt too much.  The vibrations reverberated through my whole body, especially the legs – calf muscles in particular seemed to dislike the high frequency wobble.  I made it through the other side intact – and looked around for Mr Fitz.  Nothing.  A minute later he emerged.  Both his bidons had been launched from their cages by the ferocity of the vibrations.  He had been concentrating so intently on the road that he had not even noticed at first.  The prospect of riding 160 km more with no bidons was not attractive, so he’d gone back to locate one at least.  But it had to go in a back pocket as it would not stay in the cage.  For the remainder of the ride we shared my bidons.

 

Both somewhat shell-shocked we spent the next “smooth” section discussing how intense the pavé had been, and how we might tackle the next secteur.  I think we were both more than a little intimidated that we still had another 26 secteurs to negotiate.  But we didn’t talk about that.

 

As we passed through those early secteurs we quickly discovered that there’s a very good reason why the pros often seem to prefer to stick to the channels along the sides of the pavé.  Whilst it can be tricky to negotiate the curb stones that edge the cobbles, and some of the ground can be soft, or loose, its infinitely more comfortable than the bone-shaking vibrations of the pavé.  It requires complete concentration, a few cm either way and you risk face-planting the stones – and that can never be good – or slightly less life-threatening, going head first in to a ditch.  When the channels were too dangerous, or simply non-existent, invariably the next least jaggedy place to ride was along the crown of the pavé – straight down the middle.  Either side the tractor wheels have rutted the pavé loosening the cobblestones and creating all manner of holes and nasty obstacles to negotiate.  There is certainly an art to finding the route of least resistance.  Its not an art I think I mastered.  Mr Fitz told me afterwards – “before the ride I was determined to smash those cobbles, tackle them head-on, there was no way you would see me riding in the channels…but after one secteur I’d had enough already.”  He was not alone.

 

There was a feed station after secteur 23, so we made a swift pitstop, piss-stop and shovelled some carbs inside.  Re-filled the bidons and were quickly on our way again.

 

After the first few secteurs were survived with nothing more than a large amount of discomfort and jettisoned bidons and bars from pockets- our discussion switched to thoughts of the first 5* secteur rapidly approaching – the Arenberg Trench.  One of the most infamous stretches of pavé on the Roubaix route.  It was hard to imagine it could be worse than anything already experienced.  But in the event – it was.  At 2.4 km, it is far from the longest secteur – but the stones here are absolutely huge – and so unevenly distributed that the height difference from one to the next is massive – they appear almost like stepping stones – great ravines in between each one.  It was absolutely horrible.  It seemed that I could even feel my brain smashing against the inside of my skull – and that my fillings might have been shaken loose from my teeth.  I really don’t think anything can prepare you for 5* pavé – not even lots of 3* and 4* pavé.  Some riders opted to get off the rocky stuff and ride on to the pedestrian pathway at the side.  I emerged through the other side feeling like I’d just gone a couple of rounds with a cage fighter.  Its fair to say, in this moment I felt no sense of achievement whatsoever – I just wanted to get this bastard ride done with before it beat me.  It was becoming a war of attrition.  Mr Fitz was shell-shocked too – we both looked a bit white.  On we pressed, through the grey gloom, the biting wind and the near freezing temperature.  One thing that was good about the vibration of the cobbles – it seemed to warm you up a bit at least.

 

The middle of the ride gets a bit hazy.  All I can really remember is that Mr Fitz had 3 flats in a row and we spent at least half an hour, probably three quarters, stood by the roadside in the freezing cold, trying to fix a puncture with fingers so cold that you couldn’t feel them.  By chance, some Frenchies who were watching the ride saw our plight and from nowhere conjured up a track pump.  Bravo monsieur!  Having blown 3 tubes Mr Fitz only had one more spare.  I also had one spare, but it was another reason why we needed to stay together and look after each other.  It would be tragic to get so far and then have to finish the day in the back of the Broom Wagon because you ran out of tubes.

 

When Fitzy had his blow out, for some reason his computer got knocked out too.  So I was the only one who had any idea how far from home we were, and I counted down the klicks like an over-enthusiastic primary teacher.  With 50 km to go Fitzy looked at me and kind of shook his head… ”I’m done” he said.  I wasn’t feeling too hot myself to be honest, but this wasn’t really what I wanted to hear.  We made our target the final feedzone.  Lets get there – and see how we feel.  Another refill, much needed piss-stop, and stretch of the back and neck, and we were ready to hit it hard again.  So there’s just 7 more secteurs to go – we told ourselves (we were wrong – there were 8) and so what if it included the 4* Camphin-en-Pevele and the historic 5* Carrefour secteurs – consecutively – we could do it….

 

So, we dug in again.  By now it was almost impossible to hold the bars on the pavé secteurs.  My hands were so battered and sore, and I had pain shooting up my wrists and lower forearms.  If I held the bars in the same place for any length of time I found my fist closing shut, and I was virtually unable to open my fingers.  The only option was to constantly change your grip every few seconds.  And after several hours on the bike my neck too was almost stuck in position.  A constant regime of finger and toe wiggling, stretching, eating drinking, and concentrating on not crashing had really worn us down mentally as well as physically.  And by now my “gooch” was giving me grief too, from the constant hammering.  I guess this was partially my own fault – as I’d left the saddle on my Cross bike – a bike I’d never ridden before for more than 2 hours at a time.  Even the liberal application of Century Riding Cream at 04:45 that morning was not enough to spare me, and I had to adopt an out of the saddle style for the final few secteurs.

 

As we left what we thought was the final secteur, our spirits were raised – thats the hard bit done, its smooth road all the way home – we were going to do this – we had survived without any major incident…no crashes, no broken limbs or smashed teeth.  Our joy was short lived as another secteur of pavé loomed in to sight.  “I thought you said…” glances were exchanged, but nothing was spoken.  Nothing else for it – just to man-up and get through it.  We ploughed through it – painfully slowly – seemingly riding through every single cobble in turn.  I’d heard my friend and sport masseur Peta McSharry tell me that her technique was to “glide” over the top of the cobbles.  Look at me – do I look like I was built to glide?  No.  I ploughed through the cobbles – feeling every single jolt, wobble and bobble.  Emerging from that secteur we were more cautious.  Was THAT the final secteur – or was there yet another one lurking?  As we dragged ourselves closer to the outskirts of Roubaix the area began to look more built-up.  We almost overshot a tight 90 degree right-hander and Mr Fitz did well not to stack it into a fence.  The junction seemed to herald the start of yet another covert section of pavé.  Our hearts sank – but it was only momentary – as we quickly realised it was just some fancy decorative feature at the junction, within 20 m the pavé was gone.  This time for good.

 

For the first time in maybe 7 hours or so our spirits were really lifted.  As we headed in to downtown Roubaix not even the heavy traffic – the first we’d seen in a whole day of riding – could spoil the experience.  Going under the red kite signalled just one kilo to go, and suddenly a little spring returned to the legs.  And before you could really prepare yourself for what was about to hit, we were inside the velodrome – on the smooth hallowed surface.  People were cheering us and the sense of fulfilment, and shear relief began to wash over us.  Mr Fitz hugged the cote d’azur like it was his first born, but I was keen to ride the banks, and ventured high above the thin blue line – those sessions on the Knowsley track giving me the confidence to be a little more adventurous.  Although I quickly dropped down to the comfort of the red sprinters line, in case I suffered the indignity of a slip and fall in the Roubaix Velodrome – that was not the memory I wanted to take home after 170 km of battering myself.

 

As we approached the finish line, Mr Fitz extended his hand and I grabbed it with what little energy I had left.  And as we crossed the line together the handshake became an embrace and we free-wheeled together to the end, hugging each other, absolutely exhausted.  We managed to stay upright until a young french lady had awarded us both our medals, before Fitzy collapsed in a heap on the grass in the track centre.  

 

As we were preparing to leave I heard my name being called, and looked around to see Ms McSharry – looking fresh as if she’d just completed her normal Club run.  “Come on, lets get a beer” she said.  She’s some lady – hard as nails.

 

Our riding was not yet done for the day.  We still had a 5 km transfer back to the hotel to negotiate.  This however was completed without delay, or disagreement or any form of wrong turning, or mis-directions whatesoever.  And it was no-ones fault.  Because we didn’t go wrong.  Much.  And tempers were not lost.  But it just might have been a bit further than we’d hoped.

 

As we arrived back at the hotel we spied the Dutchies – still drinking leffe in the bar.  I THINK they did the ride…but I cannot be certain.

 

That night, after a shower, and retrieving the car from Busigny, we headed back to the thriving metropolis that is Tourcoing.  Being Saturday night it would surely be bouncing.  It was not.  We found a restaurant that was serving “Pavé de Rumpsteak” and washed it down with a pichet de vin rouge – all ordered in our now customary Freutch.

 

The next day we could not even look at the bike.  So we spent the morning exploring the velo club at the Roubaix Velodrome and mooching around the team buses, waiting for the real event to arrive.  We got some dubious take away food from the “No Stress Burger Bar” and were abused by a Napoleonic Gendamerie with small-man syndrome.  Welcome to France.  We found a suitable viewing place inside the velodrome, watched the race unfold on the big screen and witnessed one of the most exciting finishes inside the velodrome that I can ever remember.  Cancellara is a monster – incredible ride once again.  So lucky to have been there to see it.  At the end he even threw in a “Fitzy” on the velodrome turf.

 

With a ferry to catch and a 5 hour drive back from Dover we could not stick around at the finish too long.  So we saw the first few groups arrive then headed to the car and the weary trudge home.

 

A completely crazy weekend.  Thursday evening I had no incline of even watching Roubaix live, never mind riding it.  But sometimes the best things that happen really are the most unexpected.  If I had stopped to analyse what I was attempting I probably would not have done it.  Made some excuse about prior commitments or logistics or expense or whatever.  Happy that I was able to just throw myself at it and not worry about consequences.  Fortunately I had done a half-decent block of training in the last couple of months, that gave me a fighting chance.  But that was not planned – just lucky I’d done it.

 

And on the ferry home, for the first time I was able to sit and contemplate.  And I thought about the pain and discomfort I had put my mind and body through.  I wondered why I could not take the grin off my face when I’ve just done something so brutal and horrible to myself.  It’s totally counter-intuitive that you should derive enjoyment from this.

 

I remembered that – now tarnished – quote of Armstrong, which he claimed would drive him to a threshold that other people could not reach: “Pain is temporary, but quitting lasts forever”.  But I don’t like that anymore, because it seems to me, on reflection, thats a negative driver.  Yes, the pain is temporary, but for me its not the fear of failure so much, but the sense of achievement that last forever.  The self-knowledge that you gain from pushing yourself in to places that you were not sure you could go – thats pure gold, in fact its worth more than gold, because it can never be spent or taken away.

 

The other thought I had was with regard to Taylor Phinny’s quote the other week, speaking in an interview in the Wall Street Journal about his race at Tirreno-Adriatico.  On the penultimate day, he finished dead last.  Many others climbed-off to save themselves the pain.  But Phinny rode on through the pain, to no avail as it happens – since he finished outside the time cut-off and was forced out of the race – but he cited his dad’s Parkinson’s disease as a driving force:

 

“I knew that if my dad could be in my shoes for one day—if all he had to do was struggle on a bike for six hours, but be healthy and fully functional—he would be me on that day in a heartbeat,” Taylor Phinney said. “Every time I wanted to quit, every time I wanted to cry, I just thought about that.”

 

Taylor’s father, Davis Phinney, would later say that hearing those words from his son was better than any medicine he could ever have.

 

So yes, I caused myself a lot of pain on Saturday.  Some think I’m mad. At times I thought I was mad.  I’m still in some discomfort today – two days later, and I expect to suffer some side effects for a few days yet.  But what is this pain?  Its nothing compared to the real pain I would feel if I didn’t have the opportunity to do such things…to seize these opportunities when they present themselves.

 

So thank you Mr Fitz for affording me the insane notion of riding Paris Roubaix Challenge with no notice or preparation.  It was one hell of a ride at the hell of the north, and it was a privilege to be there at your side the whole way.  Well, mostly a little bit ahead of you, but hey, who’s splitting hairs here…  Despite the beating my body has taken, I actually feel refreshed and invigorated.  But the next time you have such a notion, maybe consider sharing this gift you have for imposing suffering on others even wider, I’m sure your other mates could benefit too next time.


- FIN -

Liverpool Century Road Club 10 Mile Time Trial Bronze Standard Medal

Last Saturday night was the annual Liverpool Century Road Club dinner.  I’ve only been a member of the Club for a few years, but the event has become a firm fixture in my social calendar.  I recall my pre-Centurion days – riding solo on the lanes around Hale and seeing the kit and always being a little bit jealous.  But back then I was always too intimidated to join a cycling club – I wasn’t good enough, or at least so I thought.

But to my great surprise and delight this year I was awarded a medal!  Towards the end of this season I “accidentally” entered a time trial.  I was out for an evening spin and totally by chance stumbled across the “Club Ten”.  I thought I would hang around and watch.  Before long I was badgered in to “pinning a number on”.  Needless to say I was completely clueless, but somehow got around in a half decent time.  I didn’t know the time was ok – but the encouragement from the volunteer marhalls and timekeepers was sufficient to ensure I would try again in future.  There was only one more Club Ten left after this one – but I made sure I turned-up for it and delivered a time of 24.39.  Unknown to me this qualified me for the Bronze Standard – hence the medal.

I do love this time of year.  The end of the racing season and everything just starting to feel a wee bit Christmassy.  And its a measure of the feeling that the members have for their Club, that year after year the talented and hard-working young lads that are now making their way forging successful careers as bike riders always return to support the occasion.  Chapeaux therefore to Matt Brammeier, Mark McNally, Jonny Mcevoy and Mike Gregg.  Once a Centurion – always a Centurion.  Indeed even Mr Ian Bibby could not avoid the allure of the Century Dinner – such is its infamy.

Whilst eternally grateful for their continued support – this event is never about the pros.  Of course its essential that the younger members who desire a racing career can see a clear pathway to the top and evidence that they can succeed and overcome the biggest of obstacles.  But the annual prize giving is an opportunity to celebrate Club members achievements of all levels, ages and abilities.  And whilst our pros are doing their thing in the Continental Classics and in the UK Premier Calendar series, there is a small army of unpaid volunteers with a passion for their sport which is so strong that its just infectious.  At times on Saturday night I swear you could touch it.

I could not begin to imagine the number of man hours that are given each year to: the organisation of races and Club events; turbo-training sessions at the Club Rooms; leading rides on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays; delivering coaching and training camps at home and abroad; – the list goes on.  And not a single penny has ever been paid to anyone for their commitment – they do it all for love, often fitting it in around their own busy jobs.

Its accurate to state the Century has more than its fair share of “Alpha Males” – but it really was the females that stole the show this year.  Our self-styled “Ladies in Lycra” are the highest ranked Club team in the country this year – an exceptional achievement…especially when you realise most have them have only been riding for a year or less, and to borrow a favourite phrase of a certain Manxman, surely “more to come” next year.

So what is it about this fine Club that can at the same time help produce bike riders that race at the highest level of the UCI World Tour, and develop a ladies club team that has become the best in the country in under a year?  A Club that can even encourage a fat bloke like me to achieve something in sport for the first time in my life?  Passion and Commitment.  Perhaps two very over-used words, especially in Sport.  An unpaid army of unsung heros who quietly go about their business.  In an era when the concept of community seems to have been smashed some wise old heads have created an environment where every member can feel not only valued and appreciated but also able to contribute - which so many do freely, without any arm-twisting.

My regret is really that I didn’t discover the Century sooner.  Several years of seeing them on the road and always being a bit too shy to approach them, or intimidated at the speed by which they would fly past me.  Finally I grasped the nettle and approached the then Club Secretary George Darlington.  He could not have been more welcoming and encouraging.  A real gentleman with a heart of gold.  Cancer robbed the Century of this fine servant, and at the same time made me appreciate that it would have been a privilege to have known him longer – and that really was all my own fault for not getting involved sooner.  So don’t hesitate.  Seize the day.  If you think you might like to join a cycling club, then I’m pretty certain you will enjoy it.  And if you chose to do so, you will go a long way to find one with a bigger heart than the Liverpool Century Road Club.  Whatever you want to achieve from just riding your bike to competitive racing, there will be help, support and encouragement for you all the way.  You never know, you might even discover you’re a bit better than you think you are.

This week saw the inaugural IG Markets Cycling Pub Quiz in London and I have to say its the best cycling pub quiz I’ve ever been to.  To be fair, its the only cycling pub quiz I’ve ever been to, but dont let this insignificant fact mislead you – it was an excellent occasion.  TARGETSPORTS joined the HOTCHILLEE team, alongside Jane Blanco, former British road race champion (and close personal friend of Lance Armstrong – not that he’s ever mentioned it) Brian Smith, Laura Fletcher from the Bicycle Film Festival and stepping-up to the plate as a late replacement James Booth – Specialized’s UK PR guru.

Now then, anyone who has ever had the privilege to engage with HOTCHILLEE at any level whatsoever will know that to HOTCHILLEE the journey is frequently more significant than the destination.  It’s not where we end up going – its how we get there that matters.  HOTCHILLEE founder Sven Thiele was unable to attend, said to be resting his liver in his native Cape Town, but he was certainly there in spirit as team skipper Blanco kept the drinks flowing throughout.

This season Team Sky Official Partner IG Markets have produced a series of “Top Trump” style cards – detailing the key facts of each of the team’s riders.  There are 30 cards in each pack.  Each team of 5 were assigned one pack of cards each.  On this occasion each card acted as a drinks token – to be exchanged at the bar for a drink.  So 6 each.  Plus the half dozen beers and 2 bottles of wine already on the table…you get the picture – it was always going to get a bit messy.

Mr Smith remains as competitive as ever, and was the inspirational leader on the road, as our team captain switched her focus to keep “dropping back to the car” to keep the team fuelled.  But his enthusiasm was no match for the thoroughness of the Opta-organised quiz questions.  To be blunt – it was solid.  In fact – it was SO difficult – that the combination of free-flowing booze and the top trump cards led to an impromptu sideshow of “Who Am I” with Laura.  Sadly, it quickly became clear that Laura only actually knows the names of 2 Team Sky Riders – and her tactic of opening up with “Am I Ian Stannard*?” ensured that game was short-lived and we were once again forced to face the fact that we actually didn’t really know very much about cycling.

The evening drew to a close, our paper marked by a motley bunch from Fusion Media…who took great delight mocking our feeble attempts.  I THINK we finished the evening 12th out of 20 – no great shame given the esteemed company.  The winners were, I THINK, a bunch of geeks from Cycle Sport, who even had t-shirts made for the occasion. Just sad.  Fortunately HOTCHILLEE’s Layla Smith was also unavailable for selection – lazing at her winter retreat – which surely spared the team an even more embarrassing fate.

So, thanks once again to Olly and Chris from IG for an inspired choice of events to signify the close of the 2011 cycling season.  And thanks to Jane for organising and motivating us on this futile task.  A very enjoyable evening spent with a great bunch.  Team HOTCHILLEE may not have troubled the scorers significantly with regard to the leaderboard – but when it came to the main event – we were there or thereabouts as Last Man Standing…and thats all that ever really matters.

*NOTE: Ian Stannard is 189 cm tall and weighs 80 kg.  He has ridden 2 Grand Tours and has won 1 race. In 2010 he raced 10,024.4 km.

Endura Racing are delighted to announce that Russell Downing, one of the UK’s leading road racers of the recent years, has signed for the team for 2012. The former British road race champion joins us from Team Sky where he picked up a stage victory at the Criterium International and a stage and overall win at the Tour de Wallonie. Much of Russell’s 2011 season was spent in support of his team leaders and he put in a gutsy performance at the Giro d’Italia in May where he rode with several broken ribs to finish his first Grand Tour.

On top of the signings already announced, the signing of Downing brings a wealth of racing experience into the refreshed squad and we go into 2012 with a team that can once again punch above its weight in races all over the world.

Russell Downing:

“I’m really excited about joing Endura Racing for 2012 after a couple of great years with Sky. I’ve been speaking to Brian Smith [Endura Racing's General Manager] for several months now about the team and it’s great to finally put pen to paper.

“Endura Racing have an impressive looking race schedule for 2012 and I’m looking to get back to winning ways, to help build on the what the team achieved in 2011.I’ve enjoyed riding at UCI World Tour level and have gained a lot of experience at some of the biggest races in cycling. I’m looking forward to pass that experience on to the younger riders on the squad.”

Jim McFarlane, Endura Racing owner:

“Russ is an iconic British rider with immense talent and a strong following on the domestic scene; it will be great to see him ride and win again in the UK whilst still representing the team in many of the continental stage races that Endura Racing has on its schedule for 2012.

“His individual talent obviously adds even more strength to the team for next year but we’re also looking forward to having his input in nurturing and developing young talent in the team so they can benefit from his experience.”

Brian Smith, Endura Racing General Manager:

“I would have loved to see Russ stay at World Tour level as he deserves but I think Endura Racing is the perfect team for him.

“Russ is a winner and i am hoping he can lead the team by example by winning in Europe. We want to keep building on our performance levels and to have someone with the experience and respect of Russ I’m more than confident 2012 with be a hugely successful year for Endura Racing. The path from a Scottish club team to a UCI Professional Continental team is looking more likely now.”

Endura Racing 2012 rider line-up:

Alexander Wetterhall (Sweden)
Alexandre Blain (France)
Dean Windsor (Australia)
Erick Rowsell (UK)
Ian Bibby (UK)
Ian Wikinson (UK)
Iker Camano (Spain)
Jack Anderson (Australia)
Jonny McEvoy (UK)
Jon Tiernan-Locke (UK)
Paul Voss (Germany)
Rene Mandri (Estonia)
Rob Partridge (UK)
Russell Downing (UK)
Scott Thwaites (UK)
Zak Dempster (Australia)

Team Associate:
Oli Beckingsale (UK) – MTB

We will once again be supported by a network of top class equipment sponsors and partnerships, look out for further information shortly.

The 2012 team launch will take place at The London Bike Show at ExCeL (12 – 15 January 2012). Details will be announced soon.

Event Programme

A busy weekend again for TARGETSPORTS, not only sponsoring the Geoff Bewley Memorial Cyclo-Cross at Otterspool Park, Liverpool – but also racing in it, AND presenting the new Errea Technical Underwear and Custom Branded Teamwear.  I never had the privilege of meeting Geoff, but if this event was devised as a tribute then he must have been some man.  This year the race also became the centrepiece of the inaugural Liverpool Cycling Festival.

Mike Fuggacia and Rob Pugh are rapidly growing their reputation as two of the best race organisers in the North West, if not the UK.  Indeed, they harbour ambitions of one day bringing the UK National Cyclo-cross Championships to Otterspool.  But as volunteers, both with busy day jobs, organising a race of such quality is time consuming enough.  This year they surpassed their own high standards by bringing a new dimension to the day.  By engaging the local cycling community and the various bodies set-up to promote cycling across Merseyside the event has grown in stature – and the spectators turned out in force to enjoy the festival and watch the racing.  On the day the festival was attended by: Cycling Projects, Cycle Speke, Cycle Aigburth, Travelwise Merseyside, Merseyside Cycling Campaign, Breeze and 2020 Decade of Health & Wellbeing.

The boys were also able to secure valuable sponsorship and support from commercial partners including: GIANT Liverpool, Bioracer, Muc-off, Errea, High On Bikes, Kouta, CNP, Standout Driveways, Standout Glass, David Lloyd Speke, Active Adventures, Otters Cafe, The James Monro Restaurant, APL Parking and Skypark Liverpool.

A record field of 129 riders took to the course for the main race on Saturday, and I wonder how many of them fully appreciated that Rob and Mike – along with an army of Liverpool Century volunteers, had been there since 05:30 – marking the course, erecting the tents, putting out the sponsor’s banners, and generally trying to ensure the event passed-off as smoothly as possible.  A great PA set-up was skilfully manned by Tim Dalton and Geraint Parry who delivered expert commentary throughout the event.  The volunteers remained long after the race participants and spectators had headed home.  The Otter’s Cafe seemed to be doing brisk business throughout the day too.

So, a huge thank you to all those involved in organising the day and making it one of the best events in the UK race calendar.  The course was very technical, – featuring the challenging ascents of “The Ottersberg” and “The Muro di Otterspool” and the torrential downpour the night before made the conditions at the same time both sticky and slippery.  Although I spent most of the race trying not to fall in the mud it was highly enjoyable and I’m already looking forward to next year’s event.  Geoff would have been very proud.

A few images from the day can be found here on the TARGETSPORTS Flickr site.

For those interested in the race results - click here.

 

Once again this Saturday 5th November, TARGETSPORTS will attend the highlight of the Cycling Social season – the Braveheart Cycling Fund annual ride and dinner.  For a couple of days each year, Elite cyclists from all over the world descend upon the unlikely venue of Kilmarnock, just outside Glasgow, Scotland – alongside hundreds of Club riders for an end of season party.  We will be joined on the 44 mile ride through Ayrshire with our good friends from Errea Sport, our resident Sports Massage Expert and numerous Club-mates from the Liverpool Century Road Club – not to mention a couple of interlopers from G.C. Metro.

A chance to join 500 others riding alongside a handful of current and former professional riders, including Alex Dowsett, Russell Downing and the legendary ever present Sean Kelly does help to take you mind off the “Scottish miles”.  A 44 mile route should not, in theory, be too daunting for most Club riders.  A couple of hours, give or take, should see them home and dry – but not this route: Braveheart Route Map.  The surface could generously be described as “grippy” – energy-sapping is more accurate.  Traditionally, the weather is at best “dreachy”.  It WILL be cold.  There WILL be a headwind ALL the way around the loop.  And it WILL rain.  And that’s before we consider the rather lumpy profile: Braveheart Ride 44 mile Route Profile.  Its no wonder they breed them tough up North.

Following a few hours in the saddle, comes the centrepiece of the proceedings – the Dinner & Auction, where those too scared to ride will join us – including representatives of the Bicycle Film Festival and Red Bull.  The cycle-chic glamour for the occasion is supplied by Filles a Velo founder Leigh Marshall and the self-styled Queen of Cycle Sportive writing Holly Blades from Cyclosport.org.  Skilfully hosted by Eurosport Cycling’s very own “anchor” David Harmon, the evening is always enjoyable.  Interviews with the Star Guests, a fantastic meal – perhaps a wee dram or two.  There is even some X-Factor reject and a magic bloke called Dynamo providing entertainment.  It’s not really why I go back every year – but there’s something for everyone at the Braveheart.  So finally, to the reason why we are all there – the charity auction.   Last year’s event raised over £20,000 to help young Scottish riders make their way in a sport that remains especially difficult to break in to if you are from the UK and find yourself outside of the British Cycling Academy programme.   With the sale of each unique item of cycling memorabilia – generously donated from the world of professional cycling – grow the hopes of another aspiring young athlete, who have dreams of one day emulating the fund’s patrons Sir Chris Hoy and David Millar – by carving out a career on the track or the road.

So, if you are not fortunate enough to make it along to this year’s sell-out events – then make sure you sign-up early next year.  In the meantime you can still contribute via the “Make a Donation” section on the website.

Leaders in Events 2011

Leaders in Events 2011

TARGETSPORTS will be in attendance throughout the two-day Leaders programme on Wednesday 5th and Thursday 6th October at Chelsea FC.  This exceptional business networking opportunity for the sports industry was founded by fellow classmate and MBA Football Industries Graduate James Worrall, and has in a very short period of time grown in to the must-attend event in the international sports business calendar.  With a first-class list of speakers and delegates in attendance the event promises to deliver a huge amount of knowledge, value and new business opportunities.

SPORTS MARKETING

TARGETSPORTS are independent sports marketing specialists based in the UK specialising in sports sponsorship activation and event consulting.

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