Wiggo & Cav’s Triumphant Homecoming – ToB Stage 8

Did you go? Were you there? In case you left the country for a couple of weeks, you would have struggled to avoid seeing that the Tour of Britain hit the streets of this great cycling nation, and even with the inevitable inclemency of the weather, it appeared to be a great success. Cycling Shorts were lucky enough to be invited to London by Jaguar to see how the final stage all panned out, and did we ever pick a good day to go…

The first thought that occurred, when we arrived for the Johnson Health Tech Westminster Grand Prix was how busy the circuit was, even at half ten on a Sunday morning. The sizeable crowd was treated to the spectacle of the pack trying to attack Hannah Barnes for the best part of an hour, but their efforts were fruitless, the national crit champion relentlessly driving the bunch to cover chase after chase, with a final, full-blooded effort by Lydia Boylan and Nicola Juniper failing to stick after putting a big chunk of time on the peloton. The pack was all together for the finale and there was only going to be one winner in the sprint to the line, Barnes taking the win to popular delight. Two observations occurred – firstly, even when you have a standout favourite like Barnes, the racing can still be fantastic. And secondly, if you have any questions over the popularity of women’s racing, put them to one side – this race was massively popular.

The next event was the IG Gentleman’s TT, over one lap of the full 8.8km course, where pairs consisting of a pro “pacer” and a celebrity “gentleman” teamed together with the gentleman’s time over the line being the one that counted. Honours went to Andrew Griffiths and Francis Jackson with a respectable 11:47, tonking second placed Olly Stephens and Alex Stephenson by 47 seconds, with Gavin Morton and Steve Carter Smith another 7 seconds further back in third. I’ll be honest with you – I thought it was a really cool concept, but with very few exceptions (Lee Dixon, Dermot Murnaghen, Ned Boulting), I didn’t know who the celebrities were, although that may say more about me than anything else…  A good idea, though – maybe next year get Boris and Ken to get involved, add a bit of local colour and create a budding sporting rivalry.

But the main event was always going to be the final stage of the Tour of Britain. On a pan-flat stage, no-one was likely to make a race-winning break big enough to take the gold jersey, but that didn’t mean it was a dull affair, Pete Williams and Angel Madrazo joining a six man break in a frenzied battle to take the points jersey, the Spaniard taking it to add to his mountains jersey when Williams was DQ’d from a sprint for some overly lively riding. Inevitably however, the pack hunted them down and despite a late and valiant dash for glory from Alex Dowsett, it was all about the sprint, and there was only ever going to be one winner there, Mark Cavendish rocketing to his third stage victory. With Sir Bradley following him safely home to seal the overall, Whitehall went nuts in celebration – which is not a phrase you’ll hear often!

It’s hard to see the tour in general and stage 8 in particular as anything other than an unparalleled success. Certainly, all day long the crowds were both full and vocally happy, whilst the results were what everyone wanted. But more than just being a showcase for the extraordinary talents of two of Britain’s brightest stars, riders who fly comparatively lower on the radar than Cav and Sir Brad also received rapturous welcomes, riders like Alex Dowsett, Dan Martin and Nairo Quintana. It was great to see that, not only were they recognised and their names known, people were genuinely happy to see them, regardless of nationality. A year on from the Olympics, it’s clear that cycling has as firm a place in the heart of the sporting nation as it has had for many years, and all the signs show that it’s here to stay. Happy days…

Huge thanks to Claire and all at Jaguar UK for their hospitality on a fantastic day #ToB2013 #ridelikeapro @JaguarUK

 

 

RideLondon 2013

RideLondon 2013

If you were to tell me last Sunday saw 16,500 cyclists enjoying 100 miles of closed roads stretching from the Olympic Park in Stratford, East London, weaving through the city and out west into Surrey, I’d think you were crazy. But this was certainly no tall story.

 

 

 

 

The Prudential RideLondon Festival of Cycling hit the capital last weekend seeing more than 65,000 cycling enthusiasts enjoy everything about the bike. A free-cycle through the city soaking in the sites, a Bike Show and the Women’s Elite Crit Race on the Saturday. And on Sunday, the RideLondon 100 followed by the Men’s Pro Race, both taking in a circuit similar to that of the Olympics.

Back in April when I found out I’d won a place to ride with #TeamSkoda, one of the key sponsors of the event, I was not only excited to be part of the UK’s largest celebration of the bike, but pretty nervous too. I’d not long moved back from Amsterdam with the goal of becoming a grimpeuse (climber), or at least a better one than I was. RideLondon was the perfect event to give me the motivational kick to get my slow-twitch muscles working and build the stamina to complete my longest ride yet.

Training
I’d struggled at the beginning of the year to feel the love for the bike. Winter seemed to drag on and as an asthmatic; cold, damp conditions are the worst! I was struggling to enjoy club rides, knowing everyone else had to wait for me at the top of every hill. I decided the only way to deal with this was focus.

I invested in some turbo-training DVDs and started to get into the routine of coming home to a warm, dark house, shutting myself away in the attic for 90 mins. I was also attending weekly track training sessions – riding a fixed gear with intensive interval training was helping to build additional muscle and fitness. By the time I got back out on the road at the Amstel Gold Race in April, I could already see the difference in my power, completing the 125km route (including all the climbs) in just over 5 hours and with energy left over to party that evening. My longest ride yet.

Sussing out the Surrey Hills with Ben

Sussing out the Surrey Hills with Ben

Come the beginning of May, I was ready to head off to the Alps. Cycling for me has always been about social riding; particularly in windy Amsterdam. But for once I was on my own. By tackling the cols alone, I really got to know not only my physical capability, but my inner chimp. I not only came back a different cyclist, but ready to better my performance. I was finally in love with the bike again.

With lighter evenings kicking in, I was now back on the bike 3 – 4 times a week – mixing it up with long weekend rides and some challenging Cat 3 & 4 climbs in the Chilterns, track-training on a Thursday, and some fast, short interval based rides mid week.

Another week in the Alps at the end of June, and I could really see the difference. This time I wasn’t alone. But I not only felt comfortable, I knew how to pace myself and not succumb to the pressure of those that were faster around me. I came back broken, having never cycled or climbed so much in one week before, but I now knew I was capable of more.

Although I’d aimed to become a grimpeuse by the end of the 2013 season, I can happily say I’d already beaten my goal, if not bettered it. Of course, I still have plenty to improve on, but compare me to the cyclist of last year, and you wouldn’t recognise me. I don’t recognise me!

Race Day
The week before RideLondon I was struck down with a chest infection and fever; my lungs collapsing on me and a course of antibiotics prescribed. My worst nightmare and one I seem to live every time I have a big cycle event coming up. Feeling particularly rubbish, all of my enthusiasm had washed out the window, more a fear that I wouldn’t be able to start, let alone complete the full 100 miles comfortably. It was only 2 days before “race day” that I decided I would start and see how I got on. And aren’t I glad I did!

My alarm rung loud at 5am on Sunday morning. I stumbled out of bed into the lycra I’d already laid out the night before, and clambered into the already loaded car trying to eat some form of breakfast – in this instance a banana, 2 boiled eggs prepared the night before and a cup of tea. Entering London on eearily empty roads, I hadn’t really anticipated the eery empty roads I would soon by cycling on.

Arriving at the Olympic park, I was shocked at the sheer number of cyclists in their pens, like patient cattle waiting for the farmer to open the gate. There were hundreds, if not thousands, and I was only seeing an 8th, maybe even a 9th of the total number of cyclists that would pass through the start line that day.

Riding for Skoda, we were welcomed into the VIP tent, brekkie thrown in. Still half asleep, I only batted half an eyelid at Laura Trott and Dani King of Wiggle-Honda Pro team sat at the table tucking into their bacon rolls.

Me and the Matrix Fitness Girls

Taking advantage of the open roads

After a quick discussion with the rest of Team Skoda about our target times, the 6 of us were directed into our wave ready to start at a very prompt 7.50am, along with other Skoda cyclists and the girls from Matrix Fitness RA.

The start was strange. Not only were we swarmed by thousands of other cyclists, all with the same intention, but we were on completely closed roads, ignoring traffic lights and riding straight through junctions. For the first 5 – 10km, the majority were keeping to the left of the road, obviously feeling out of their comfort zone encroaching ‘the other side’. Soon losing the other Team Skoda members, I stuck with the Matrix Fitness girls, Hannah Walker, Jessie Walker and Emma Grant, as we weaved our way through the cyclists, out of the city and into the countryside of Surrey.

The 4 of us had concerns that the ‘swarm’ would continue into the hills, making it difficult to complete the course in a time of our choosing. But come Newlands Corner (not long after a little crash I had as a result of a stopping peloton on a narrowing road), the masses had started to thin.

Apart from ‘lethal’ Leith Hill, the last 25km had to be the toughest. I’d lost the girls following a medic stop at 50 miles and the motivating cheers of ‘you need to beat Boris, he’s ahead of you‘ were a distant memory. Everything was hurting, I couldn’t find a wheel I felt comfortable to sit on, and I just wanted to finish. Pulling onto the Mall, the crowds roaring with support, I was able to use the last of what energy I had to pick up my speed and cross the line with a smile on my face.

6 hours and 24 minutes after starting (including the 30 minute medic stop to clean my wounds), I had finished, lungs in tact! I was particularly happy to roll up to the second Skoda tent of the day, park my bike and enjoy indulging in some proper food, a shower and the Men’s Pro Race.

2014?
If you fancy giving RideLondon 2014 a go, the ballot opens this Monday, 12th August. Good luck!

 

With Thanks:

A massive thank you has to be passed on to the following people and companies:

Skoda & Cycling Plus for providing me the opportunity to take part in a fantastic event, with a big part of that thank you to Jonathan Durling for the support throughout the past few months, and the grandstand tickets!

Matrix Fitness Racing Academy, Helen and Stef Wyman for all of their support at Skoda training events, with particular mention to Hannah, Jessie and Emma for their support on the day.

Team Skoda – without the banter, training rides and comparison of notes over the past few months, the event wouldn’t have been the same without them. Well done all!

Boris Johnson, Prudential, the event marshals and St Johns Ambulance for laying on a fantastic event normally unimaginable for London and very much reminiscent of the Netherlands.

The spectators – a lot more than I was expecting – but awesome, every one of them!

And of course, my wonderful friends and family for all their support and for putting up with my moaning!

Hayley Davies

Hayley Davies

Writer

Riding since Feb 2011 Hayley is a 30 year old female who loves adventures. If she’s not on one of her many bikes or in the water on a bodyboard/surfboard, then Hayley is probably out looking for something new to keep the adrenaline pumping!
Website: www.hjdonline.co.uk

Are we looking at a #bloodycyclist revolution in London?

CS MarkingsAre we looking at a #bloodycyclist revolution in London?

 

When car driver Emma Way last week tweeted ‘’definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier – I have right of way he doesn’t even pay road tax! #bloodycyclists’’ , she could never have guessed the effect of her comments. Cyclists quickly vented their anger at her on Twitter via the hasthtag #bloodycyclists, spurring on a more interesting and needed general debate about cycling safety.

 

In the last decade, London has seen a massive cycle movement unfold increasing 173% since 2001, more recently helped by Mayor Boris Johnson’s personal passion for cycling and his roll out of the Barclays ‘Boris Bikes’ hire bike scheme. This coupled with the establishment of the ‘ride to work’ scheme by employers, which let’s employees pay back the cost of their bike taxfree over a 12 month period and the growth of several urban cycling community groups, means the London cycling movement has gone from being a fringe green movement to a mainstream one in a relatively short space of time.

 

But issues facing cyclists in London are manyfold; the most pressing is unquestionably safety. In an already crowded city, cyclists compete daily with larger, noisier and more dangerous vehicles at all times and many city dwellers who would otherwise gladly hop on their bike to commute to work, are far too intimidated to do so. Until recently, the general sentiment was that the Greater London Authority was ignoring these concerns, in favour of more interesting infrastructure challenges.

 

In March this year something remarkable happened, the Mayor’s new cycle commissioner Andrew Gilligan promptly announced new cycling plans, that are set to be the most ambitious seen in London to date. The plans scoped out nearly £1 billion worth of investments, including a segregated cross rail style cycling superhighway, a London underground style cycling route network following tube lines and more quiet routes, in addition to addressing many of the safety concerns highlighted by campaigners such as HGV movements etc.

 

But there is issues with these plans; the main one being that Transport for London (TFL) only own 5% of London’s roads, the rest are owned by individual councils and it will therefore be upto the GLA to approve plans within boroughs, an unquestionably lengthily and bureaucratic process.

 

On Tuesday 4th June, Andrew Gilligan will headline the HUB Eco Series event ‘Will we finally see a cycling revolution in London’, examining the cycling plans he announced. Pistonheads editor and keen cyclist Dan Trent and cycle blogger Julian Sayarer will both comment on his plans, followed by a Q&A session with the audience.

 

Are you a #bloodcyclist concerned about cycling in London? If so you know where you should be on Tuesday 4th June. Book tickets via http://londoncyclingrevolution.eventbrite.co.uk/.

 

Will We Finally Witness a Cycling Revolution in London?

“Boris Bikes, no sorry Ken Bikes…” Image © Mark Ramsay

Last month, London Mayor Boris Johnson announced what could be very ambitious changes to London’s cycle infrastructure, pledging nearly £1 billion worth of funding to the scheme.

His plans which includes a Crossrail style cycle route that would run at least 15 miles from West London to East London; a ‘tube network’ for the bike in which cycle lanes would run parallel to tube lines, quiet back streets and dangerous junctions would be improved.

Ambitious as they are, the new plans have been criticized on various points. One issue that has been highlighted in the press is the controversy surrounding painting a proposed cycle lane blue on the Victoria Embankment, which some feel will upset the areas ‘heritage’ feel. Another is that, as Transport for London (TFL) only owns 5% of the London roads, the viability of most of the plans will come down to whether the relevant Boroughs approve them or not.

As a cyclist myself, I congratulate Boris on scaling up his transport ambitions and recognising the benefits of making London a cycle friendly city; if just some of his plans go through, they will be a great victory for cycling in London. The plans however face many obstacles…

Poor infrastructure
I feel that the main stumbling block that is holding people back from hopping on their bikes in the same numbers as our European peers, is the issue of safety on our streets. The threat you face when jumping on your bike for a London commute is immense; it is a chaotic city to fare in whether you’re a cyclist or a motorist, with dangerous conditions caused by poorly constructed, out of date infrastructure and numerous dangerous junctions. Both motorists and cyclists take daily risks, frustrated by each others behaviour. ‘Backwards’ town planning bears the main responsibility for this; it will be really positive to see some forward thinking road planning take place.

Pressure on our roads
Another major issue is the lack of respect that all commuters show for the rules of vehicle ‘cohabitation’ on our busy streets. I agree that it is a major problem that cyclists are forever jumping red lights, but cars, vans and busses do the same thing. Badly sequenced traffic lights, a shortage of road space and the sheer pressure of the number of different vehicles on our roads creates a very tense commuting environment. Creating more and wider segregated cycling paths, separated out from the rest of the traffic by paving or other divisions, is key to tackling this issue. I am absolutely convinced that cycling in the capital would noticeably increase in line with more segregated cycling paths; people would feel safer.

Unequal playing field
A third essential consideration, which which Boris Johnson has not even mentioned, is that in the battle of vehicle hierarchy on London’s roads, cyclists are invariably the lowest common denominator; the opposite to the situation in Amsterdam and Copenhagen where cyclists rights are actually considered higher than those of motorists. In London, if a motorist drives in, parks in or in any other way obstructs a cycle lane causing cyclists to have to take evasive action, the car driver would hardly ever be penalised for their behaviour; the majority of London cycle lanes are near on invisible to most other traffic, they might as well not be there. If a car goes anywhere near a bus lane however, heavy fines generally ensue. Surely the same rules should apply everywhere?

Enforcing penalties
Ultimately, if you park in a dangerous place, obstructing the safe passage of other vehicles, you should be penalised; if you jump a red light, you should be penalised regardless of your chosen mode of transport; if you senselessly run onto roads as a pedestrian, you must be penalised. Over time, heavy and consistent fines for rule breaking would without a doubt improve road safety and ease congestion, for everyone.

More accessible high streets
My final plea to the Mayor, is to pedestrianise more high streets in the city and increase 20mph driving zones. Pedestrianised urban shopping areas are common place on the Continent, however have yet to become prevalent in the UK, possibly due to our challenging urban infrastructures. But in this age of debate about the need to re-invent our high streets, perhaps creating a network of car free pedestrianised and cycle zones could be part of the solution to creating more dynamic and accessible shopping areas. There are already several examples of successful semi-pedestrianised areas in the city, one example is Exmouth Market in Farringdon; this vibrant pedestrianised street boasts cafes, restaurants and small independent shops, which during lunch times turns into a mini food market, enjoyed by people of all ages. There is plenty of scope for more such areas in this large city.

My final point is that motorists are not the enemy in this debate, I simply wish to stress the point that could see considerable economic benefits to making our streets more cycle friendly if we do things properly.

How far will Mr Johnson go
Boris Johnson says that we need to reduce congestion in London by getting more people out of their cars and onto their bikes. For this to happen, there needs to be a reason for people to do take that step; a mass investment in the cycling infrastructure would certainly help, but we also need to develop a system whereby it becomes uneconomical, impractical and inefficient to actually use a car. A very radical thought for many. It remains to be seen exactly how far Mr Johnson is willing to take his vision for Londoners.

 

Follow me on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Alorenzen

X