The Pain and the Glory
The official team sky diary of the Giro campaign and Tour victory
Introduction by… Sir Dave Brailsford & Chris Froome
Words by Sarah Edworthy, Photography by Scott Mitchell
Cast your mind back to Team Sky’s annus mirabilis. Its 2012 and the halcyon day’s of Wiggo’s dominance in the stage races cumulating in victory in the Tour de France and yet another Olympic gold, this time in the time trial. Every pedal stroke of which, you’ll recall, was chronicled in the rather good ’21 Day’s to Glory’.
Now comes this 2013 Grand Tour journal charting the ups, downs, plan A’s, plan B’s, the tragedies, the triumphs and inner working’s of Team Sky.
The Pain and the Glory delves deep into Team Sky’s attempt to win the double: the 2013 Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France. This is a book in two-parts and is generally chronological.
It opens with a well written introduction from Sir Dave and quickly leaps straight into the Giro and Sky’s charge for victory through Bradley Wiggins – remember all the talk, Nibali or Wiggins – and their eventual re-structuring and plan-B second place in GC with Rigoberto Uran. The ‘second half’ of the book covers the Tour and Chris Froome’s gradual deconstruction of the other main GC contenders. Geraint Thomas’ epic ride through of pain will long live in the memory – a legend tales root.
The Pain and the glory has a real fly-on-the-wall feel to it. Although it does leave one or two crucial question unasked – as you’d expect from an internally employed team of professional journalists. The book rally excels in the unusual layers of detail about each and every stage. All supplemented beautifully by the Scott Mitchell’s sublime photography and enriched by input from the all the main protagonists – Wiggin’s, Froome, Uran, Thomas (he of the fractured pelvis in stage 1… This man is one tough dude!), Stannard, et al. It also allows an insight into to the oft hidden, but absolutely vital, work of the mechanics, medical staff, cooks and families.
This is the very official account of a tumultuous yet ultimately successful year in the life of one of the leading professional road cycling teams. Kudos to Sarah Edwards for generating such a flowing narrative.
Marginal gains on the road… Massive gains in reader experience: the book is accompanied by a fascinating commentary from the team players, photographers and writers. Just download the free Livebooks App from The App store or Google Play, scan the photo’s with the livebook symbol and sit back and listen. This really works and is highly effective in enriching and enlightening. I found the chats about photography, framing and choice, artistic and highly educational.
CyclingShorts Star Rating: 80/100 (9 if Team Sky ran a women’s team!)
YOU CAN WIN A COPY IN OUR LATEST COMPETITION – JUST CLICK HERE!
The Pain and the Glory: the official team sky diary of the Giro campaign and Tour victory
Exclusive – with accompanying Team Sky podcast Apps
Harper Collins – Non Fiction on 17th October 2013
Available in Hardback & eBook
RRP £20.00 (Hardback) RRP £13.39 (Digital)
The Castle Ride 2007 – Action Medical Research: My very first cycling event and a journey into the unknown.
Here’s hoping to break the 6 hour barrier in 2013!
The Castle Ride was a brilliantly organised event and my thanks must go to Mike Trott and all the team at Action Medical Research for their very thorough and thoughtful planning and I must admit to approaching the event with great trepidation as I’d been rather ill over the previous weekend and had, as a result, missed almost a weeks training.
The Map shows the six castles en route. A simply wonderful 103 miles.
Having received advice ranging from ‘don’t ride when ill from Sue and John (runners extraordinaire),’ go for it, it’s not a race (typical PE teacher talk, Mr. Dainton!),’ and ‘you must be bloody mad! (my mum)’ I decided to indeed go for it and packed my bag with my poshest Lycra (10//2 if any fashionistas are reading, vintage 1995 – rather foolish of me in light of recent events!) and as many energy bars & gels as I could carry.
Team Barnes-Bulllen-Dey (sponsored by Gregg’s pies and the legendary Tour of Britain stage winner, London to Holyhead champion and bastion of all knowledge two-wheeled, Alan Perkins, who gave me some Jelly Belly beans – I assume no sarcasm was intended, Alan) left N E London thanks to domestique #1 Keith Bullen (Winner: Le Tour de Tesco, 1959, The Giro d’Pizza Express, 2007) who provided luxurious ‘white van’ transport (complete with school chair) for which I was very grateful. With domestique #2 David Barnes (Winner Le Grand Stag night and runner up in the classic ‘Paris-cafe in Paris’; who provided the stale whiff of fine wine and stale granite-esque brownies, along with a plethora of mumbled promises about a future embracing only temperance, study and more than four hours sleep, safely strapped into the passenger seat, we made our way through the emerging buildings of East London and onwards towards the more refined airs and graces of Tonbridge castle.
It was now 6 a.m on a Sunday morning and I was not impressed and just a little grumpy, although this silly emotion was loosing the battle with that of a growing sense of excitement!
Having arrived in Tonbridge and changing into our sexy Lycra in a car park, to the cheers – or should that be shocked-jeers – of many a morning shopper (in our defence… it was very cold!), Team Bulllen-Dey, with a green-hued David in tow, headed for the start line and event registration. Little did we anticipate what David would do today, despite his condition.
The level of organisation and the splendour of the medieval castle walls and grounds proved only to enhance the positive emotions of the morning. We were itching to get going and we didn’t have to hang around for long. What an amazingly
friendly bunch cyclists are and what a pleasure it was to finally meet the outstanding AMR staff face to face, busy as they were marshalling the troops.
Castle 2007 start – ©Nick Dey
What a magnificent setting from which to start a sportive.
About twenty five cyclists, from the gathered five hundred or so, set off in a group at around 7.30 a.m. Keith is in yellow, I’m looking down. The plan was to take it easy, to do a pleasant 25 km/h until we had warmed-up and had more of an idea what to expect. So much for the plan. We averaged over 40 km/h for the first eight kilometers!Psychologists, please comment here on the male ego! This was 8 a.m and not only was I bitter and twisted about being dragged from my bed, but now I was also unduly fatigued (a phrase my old PE teacher instilled in us when we actually meant… totally knackered!) We still had a daunting 95 miles to go!
The first hill …
A sharp right led us onto a seemingly endless incline that caught out a few, myself included. David had long since vanished into the distance (so much for the late night!), and Condor-Keith was battling to stay with the mighty ’06 Madone 5.5! Foolishly I decided to ‘have a go’ at the hill. Predictably I was found, a few kilometers later (having thought the hill was a few hundred meters long) slumped twitching over the Bontrager bars about 20 meters short of the summit! My entire body seemed to be bursting with lactic acid and I’m sure I could taste iron and blood. My lungs had long since vacated their cage and only photosynthesis kept me going!
The next 40 miles were not too pleasant as my body struggled to recover from the minds misplaced, and definitely unrealistic, enthusiasm – four months light training through the gentle, but beautiful & cafe laden lanes of Essex do not a Bradley Wiggins make! David, like the good domestique he is, was found waiting for his elders by a field full of gently swaying corn, basking in the sunshine of a glorious morn, sipping from his designer bidon – The swine (one hell of a rider though!) We cycled together for twenty-or-so miles in a peloton of ever changing dimensions and met and chatted to several cyclists about life, the charity, Le Tour and the road ahead. A pleasant morning it made for all concerned. Thanks for the draft to the chap from Sevenoaks (Dulwich CC?) whose wife went to the School I now teach at (Forest, small world) and whose advice probably got us, or at least me, through the event. He left me for dead up the hills though and I didn’t see him again. The route seemed to get better and better as the sun rose high. Some of the scenery was stunning and he roads seemed almost devoid of traffic. Bliss – if it wasn’t for the burning lungs and legs!
Campag Chaos …With each pedal stroke inducing spasms of pain and discomfort Keith and I were focused only on luncheon and Michelin-starred recuperation (OK, the food wasn’t that good. but it was close and never has plate of tuna pasta been more gratefully received). Unfortunately about 10 miles short of the fine Tavern whence luncheon was based; restorative pasta, banana’s and peace, KB’s Campag top of the range set up decided to trap his chain between hub and cassette. Interestingly my sexy shimano Dura-Ace 9700 was performing perfectly, as, of course, I expected it would! With the aid of a very kind motorcycle steward and protected by a deliberately parked, and thus cyclist friendly, ambulance we spent a good half an hour with the Italian beastie before we could resume. Thanks to the steward and to the Ambulance crew for their vital help. After about two miles it was decided that I ‘race’ ahead and meet David at the lunch stop. Keith assured me that he, and his beloved Condor/Campag would be OK. He was.
You don’t want to fall off here – not with everyone watching!David, who’d arrived about an hour earlier, and I were dining heartily when we saw a cloud of dust and heard the clatter of bike, body and road, right in front of the gathered throngs of Castle riders. An ‘unnamed’ cyclist had taken a slapstick tumble whilst coming to a stop… Was that a Condor bike? Isn’t that the dreaded Campag? Who was this mysterious rider? Thankfully nothing more than pride was bruised and about twenty minutes later we resumed our adventure.
Unexpected fun …
The next fifty miles were a distinct pleasure. I’d be very grateful if anyone could explain why I only managed to average a painful 20-23 km/h for the first 50 miles and then an easy, pleasant even, 31 k/h for the next 50, despite the unfriendly undulations? I’m at a loss. I can only put it down to fuel, rest, a gentle stretch and a grupetto going at a pace I could cope with. David, once again, vanished into the distance (to his credit he always asked for permission – not that we would, indeed could, ever say no) and Keith and I decided it would be best to go at our own pace. it made for solitary bit-and-bit along some roads but it also made for a splendid afternoons cycling. Tagging along and playing hopscotch with small groups and individuals we were rarely passed and I owe a debt of gratitude to the gentleman who urged me along for the final undulating 20 miles, without his support, dragging me up the climbs at a pace far greater than I would have managed alone, my average for the final 50 would surely have plummeted. I’m afraid I didn’t catch his name so if he’s reading this … I thank you Sir (you should become a teacher – inspiring stuff.) A big thanks to Helen and Oly from AMR, whom I met at an isolated feed station and whose encouragement was far more important than all the sweets on offer, and also to all the folk who gave up their time to run the event. Special thanks go to the Halford’s mechanics for a free tune up. How wonderful it was to collect our first ever endurance medals and to avail ourselves of the free sports massage in the grounds of Tonbridge Castle.
What a way to end a glorious day.
This image is courtesy of Keith Bullen and his funky Garmin-Memory Map duo. It is the actual route Keith followed – we did a slightly shorter one as we didn’t get lost – did you enjoy the extra hill KB!!!
If Garmin or Memory-Map are reading this then sponsorship would make my life a little more fun, I’ll even add your logo and link!!! Cheers Keith.
Should anyone ever read this then I most heartily recommend the Castle Ride for a superb days cycling.
Can’t wait until next year.
It is the one event I miss most now I spend most of the year in Deutschland.
The Castle Ride 100 today:
SALE 20% off entry fee for limited period. Use voucher code SALE! Offer ends January.
One of the most popular bike rides in the South East, the Castle Ride 100 attracts 1,000 riders on this must do event. The North Downs offer up some big climbs including the mile long climb of Hollingbourne Hill along the way. Quiet lanes make the route through England’s garden a real joy to ride even though this is a tough one.
With a choice of 100km or a tougher 100-mile route
, you’ll have a great day in the saddle with the Action Medical Research team. Whether you are an experienced rider aiming to get a fast time or a rider aiming to make a day of it and take in the sights, this ride is for you.
Expect excellent feed stations manned by friendly volunteers and a buffet style lunch mid-way through the ride that you will find hard to tear yourself away from! Riders will be supported by first class medical support, mechanical services and a sweep vehicle.
Many riders have experienced a RIDE 100 event, and thoroughly enjoyed the social atmosphere and return to enjoy the unique experience that we offer. Make 2013 the year that you take part in a RIDE 100 sportive! You won’t be disappointed.
Still not convinced? Perhaps knight of the realm can encourage you to register?
If you’ve enjoyed this post and have a few pennies to spare please would you consider sponsoring me for my 2013 fundraising for Action Medical Research.
It WILL make a difference.
Mark Cavendish & Juan Antinio Flecha Jaguar Sportbrake & Team Sky Launch - ©Copyright Jaguar & Team Sky
JAGUAR AND TEAM SKY ANNOUNCE A THREE YEAR PARTNERSHIP
Jaguar Cars announced this a new three-year global partnership with Team Sky Pro Cycling this afternoon, which coincides with the forthcoming launch of the new XF Sportbrake.
The partnership, which was announced in the elegant surroundings of Syon Park, West London, was attended by leading members of Team Sky. They included 2011 Road Cycling World Champion Mark Cavendish, Sky Rider Juan Antonio Flecha, Team Principal Dave Brailsford. Representing Jaguar was Geoff Cousins, Global Director of Sponsorships.
Jaguar cars will provide invaluable support to the team during the races, carrying over £100,000 of cutting-edge cycling equipment on the roof alone. The car also acts as the ‘nerve centre’ of the team on the road from where all vital strategic and split second tactical decisions are made. Jaguar is providing Team Sky with its latest model, the new XF Sportbrake.
With Team Sky competing at the top level of UCI rankings, riding everything from the one-day classics to stage races and the ‘Grand Tours’. The team’s stated objective is not only to inspire a love of cycling but also to produce a winner of the legendary Tour de France by 2014.
Geoff Cousins, Jaguar Global Director of Sponsorships, commented: “We’re delighted to announce a new three year partnership with Team Sky. We know that our involvement in the rapidly growing sport of cycling and our support of Team Sky resonates strongly with new and existing Jaguar customers. Team Sky and Jaguar have similar ambitions and objectives and furthermore, the values of the team fit well with our human performance and Alive themes that sit at the heart of the Jaguar brand. We wish the riders the very best of luck and look forward to celebrating their successes over the coming years”.
Commenting on the announcement, Dave Brailsford, Sky Pro Cycling’s Team Principal said: “We are delighted to continue our partnership with Jaguar. Over the past two years Jaguar has provided the team with fantastic support and we very much look forward to putting the new XF Sportbrake through its paces. I am confident it will play an important role in the team’s success this year by providing a fast, high performance and comfortable race support car. It provides the perfect environment from which to direct race operations when we’re on the road. The fact that it looks stunning too will make it the stand out car behind the peloton”.
Andrew Whyman the Chief Programme Engineer of the Jaguar XF Sportbrake added: “Jaguar is rightly praised for its design-led products, but in creating the XF Sportbrake we were careful to ensure that this was balanced with the engineering integrity required to create an estate car that is as usable as it is enjoyable. The Sportbrake epitomises the Jaguar sporting dynamic with its combination of innovative, seductive design and performance. In the XF Sportbrake this is complemented by a no-compromise approach to practicality and versatility”.
Alex winning Nocturne - Image ©Copyright Tom Simpson Photography
Alex - ©Copyright Kramon
A Conversation with
by Anna Magrath
Alex Dowsett chats to me about cycling, living with haemophilia, Team Sky… and the significance of martial arts bears in modern cinema.
Alex is one of British Cycling’s rising stars, and this year the Essex rider joined the ranks of Team Sky. Alex, who has spent his career perfecting his time trialling technique, has had a lot of success against the clock. Alex joined the Trek-Livestrong Development Team after spending three years with the British Cycling Olympic Academy. He spent a lot of time in Quaratta, Italy with British Cycling before he was snapped up by Trek-Livestrong in 2010, a team owned by Lance Armstrong. Under Director Sportif Axel Merckx Alex flourished. In 2011 Alex came back to the British Cycling fold by signing to Team Sky where he’s had an excellent start to his season.
Alex suffers from haemophilia and he’s the only rider in the Pro Tour peloton with the condition. I caught up with him to talk about his career and how his condition has impacted on his life.
How has your first season with Team Sky gone?
This years been pretty good so far, I mean I sort of set out with the aim not to disgrace myself in my first year in the pro ranks, so I’m pretty sure I’ve not done that. I got my first podium in the prologue of the Electro Tour [Ster ZLM Toer] a few weeks ago… and I finished sixth overall and I’ve just finished 5th overall in the Tour of Denmark [Post Danmark Rundt], 3rd in the Time Trial on Stage 5 which I am really, really pleased with. It’s just nice to prove to myself that I can be competitive at this level. So it’s still onwards and upwards. Unfortunately I’ve had a little bit of an ankle injury just the last couple if weeks so I had to take some time off but it’s all been fixed and I’m back on the bike and trying to crawl back to where I was before.
What was the ankle injury?
It’s basically a form of arthritis, I haven’t got a lot of cartilage in there which the doctors have fixed with cortisone injections along with a lubricant which they injected straight into the joint and that seems to have fixed it. The doctors are pretty confident that it shouldn’t give me any hassle. They say there’s research into other sports that are weight bearing and there are footballers in far worse condition than I am in, playing football is pretty hazardous for the joints.
Is it something they’ll have to keep an eye on?
Yeah I might have to have this injection they say maybe at worst every six months but I might never have to have it again. So it’s just a case of if it comes on again I know something can be done to ease it, so it’s not bad at all to be honest.
So will that injury be impacted upon by your haemophilia or is unrelated?
The haemophilia certainly wouldn’t have helped it, I’m not sure whether it’s directly related or not, it’s difficult to know to be honest. It might stem from me playing basketball a lot when I was at school, that could have aggravated it. It could be a culmination of a number of things, haemophilia included most likely, so it’s not something we see as being massively important, it’s just a case of managing it and dealing with it as best we can.
Alex and Team Sky - Images ©Copyright Chris Maher
Alex Tour of Utah, Stage 4 Crit - Image Copyright Brian Hodes @ VeloImages.com
So have you enjoyed your time off the bike or were you itching to get back out there?
Yeah it was good, well it was frustrating for a while, it was a bit of a worry. I only really had one day were I was pretty down about it all, I went out that night and lost all my worries though. I didn’t drink because I live in the middle of nowhere so it’s a bit of a logistical nightmare when I want to go out and have a drink. I had a nice time though and met a really nice girl that I’m still talking to so it’s all good in that respect, I was stone cold sober! It couldn’t have gone better really and I felt great in the morning not having a hangover.
What’s your next focus then?
Well for the next few races, with all this time off, I’ll be largely playing the domestique team roll, doing what I can for whoever’s really on form and going for it. I’ll be doing things like getting bottles, lead outs and just generally looking after the boys.
Who’s on the next team selection with you?
Errr… [Chuckles] I haven’t the foggiest, I mean I probably should know, it’s all on the website, we get the race brief through a couple of days before we travel. We do so many races with so many people it all just rolls on to the next one, there’s a large number of us. Usually directors ring around everyone a few days before a tour or race to see how everyone’s feeling and how the training’s going and how well they’ll be performing. It also depends on whether the race is going to suit you more than others.
So how are you settling in to Team Sky?
Oh it’s been brilliant, they really do look after their athletes, the support you get when things are up and when you’re down is equal which is something that you may not get with other teams. It’s easy to neglect the riders that have had problems during a season but that certainly isn’t the case here, they all really get looked after. It’s brilliant that all the riders are really prepared to help each other out too. There’s no competitiveness within the team. It’s a fantastic environment to be in.
You were with another great cycling team (Trek-Livestrong) before making the move to Team Sky, so what made you want to move?
I think ultimately I’ve been supported right from the start by the GB squad and British Cycling, from a very early age. Sky is a fantastic team that’s really moving forwards and pushing the boundaries. So the option I guess at the time was Team Radio Shack or Sky. The problem with the Radio Shack offer was that it was only definitely for 1 year, whereas Sky were offering a definite 2 years. Also Dave Brailsford [Team GB and Team Sky Performance Director] phoned me himself to talk about going moving there, but from Radio Shack it was my agent who phoned me to tell me about the contract offer on the table. I mean if the top guy can take the time out and ring me himself it says something about the team and the sort of respect they have for all the individual riders. There were a whole load of factors that contributed to the decision. The Olympics were part of it as well, that’s a big target for me, being part of the collaboration between Team Sky and the GB Team is massive, it means my race programme is completely tailored around being as perfectly prepared as I can be for the Olympics.
Alex riding Ster ZLM Toer - ©Copyright Kevin Kempf
So are you still aiming for the Time Trial in the Olympics?
The way it works is if I ride the time trial I also have to ride the road race, so I think with me being a young rider, whilst I’ll aim for it I think a medal might be out of reach… well in the time trial I’m more likely to be an outside chance of getting a medal. So I’m turning a lot of my focus on being a team player in the road race for Cav [Mark Cavendish], and then it would be a case of making sure he does as well as possible, and then I’ll turn my focus to the Time Trial.
You must be feeling pretty good with your results lately (injury aside), I mean your performance at the Smithfield Nocturne in London and your result in the Commonwealth Games show you’ve got a lot of strength?
Yeah and I think it’s something I can develop as well, I mean come Rio [2016 Olympic Games] I hope to be a gold medal contender. When you’ve got the likes of Tony Martin and Cancellara [Fabian Cancellara] I’m just not at that level yet. I think there’s an age and strength issue. David Millar is a prime example of that: in the Commonwealth Games I showed I have the potential, I was only 3 seconds behind him and then the headwind just completely pulled me apart. It’s just pure strength which comes from the experience these guys have of riding loads of grand tours.
So is the grand tour circuit one of your main goals and aims at the moment? Sky are reasonably new to it, as you are, but the performance they’ve put in has been amazing?
Yeah, well before the Tour, I err… Well there was a possibility of doing the Vuelta [Vuelta a Espana]. Now that I’ve had this injury and that Brad [Bradley Wiggins] said he was gonna hit the Vuelta hard it was no longer an option. My first grand tour may well be the Giro [Giro d’Italia] next year. I did the under-23 Tour de l’Avenir last year which is the under-23 Tour de France basically.
Chris Froome & Alex Dowsett - ©Copyright Kramon
Alex Dowsett - Tour of Utah
Do you think the pressure of the Olympics being so close to the Tour de France next year will mean Team Sky have to rethink who will ride the tour to give Team GB a chance?
Yeah I mean it won’t effect me at all because I don’t think I’ll be a contender. I guess with the likes of Geraint [Thomas] and Brad there’s a few issues there and also there’s a lot of guys in a situation like Edvald Boasson Hagen, I mean what’s he gonna do? We just don’t know to be honest, I think I’ll leave it in the team managements hands, I certainly wouldn’t want to have to make those decisions.
What do you feel is your proudest moment to date, not necessarily the biggest accolade?
I won the under-23 European Championships last year, but eight weeks earlier I was on the floor with a broken shoulder blade and the doctors told me I’d be lucky to get on my bike let alone train for it. I was back on my bike faster than a shoulder blade break, I was on the turbo within a week and back on the road in ten days, and these were the haemophilia doctors saying this, I mean usually a break for me would be two to four weeks just in hospital.
So you’re one of these people who gets a kick out of proving someone wrong?
Yeah, there’s nothing like proving someone wrong to add a little bit of incentive. I have a fair bit of grit. I’m not stupid about it, all within reason. One of the doctors at this hospital (I think she usually works with children), she treated me like a child the whole time, that was the incentive there and then I guess.
As someone with haemophilia did you find as a child that you were discouraged from taking part in sports because of the dangers?
Yeah definitely. Certain sports, particularly contact sports are a big no-go which is understandable, I think it’s something I’m trying to change and encourage as well. I mean it applies to kids in general, there’s so many mainstream sports whereby people judge if you’re not good at them you’re never going to be a sportsman or athlete. My dad was a racing driver so as a kid I did a lot of go-karting, and then swimming, followed by sailing and I moved on to cycling. But I did the sports that you wouldn’t usually stumble across, you just have to have to opportunity to try it out, kids need to be shown and given taster session to get them outdoors. I mean for all I know I might be living next door to a potential Michael Schumacher, but without that chance a child may not have that interest ignited. Obviously that’s just an example, there are plenty of other sports out there that don’t cost a fortune to try out or get involved with.
So you’re really trying to raise the awareness of sport across the board?
Yeah, certainly in the haemophilia community. It’s easy for parents to be scared, they find out about their child having the condition and it’s a deep shock to them. They then just want to wrap the child up in cotton wool, but the fitter you are as a youngster the less problems you’ll have. It’s a bit of a double edged sword. All parents are protective of their children and don’t want to see them get hurt, but a child can gain their independence, strength and confidence through sport, which can help them later in life.
Alex Tour Of Utah, Stage3, 2010 - Image ©Copyright Michael Crook Photography
Were your parents very supportive towards you taking part in sport or was it something they worried about?
Yes they were very supportive, I wouldn’t be were I am at all if it wasn’t for them. When the doctors said that swimming was a great way of keeping my haemophilia at bay, Mum had me swimming five different swimming lessons in five different towns six times a week, she was finding as many swimming lessons as possible. Dad would take me go-karting every Sunday morning, he got me a small dinghy for sailing. They were really supportive for sports that I showed any kind of interest in.
Do they still get nervous when your out on your bike?
Oh yeah, yeah, [chuckles] if I’ve been out for longer than I said I would be my Mum will give me a ring. It wasn’t a problem when I was living in America, she didn’t know where I was, now I’m back in England it’s “Where are you? Are you at home yet?”, “No mum I’m at a cafe”, “Well make sure you give me a ring when you get home… Don’t forget!”, “Yes Mum”.
Though if I forget to take my medication Mum will be on my case. It rarely happens, but I know the day I slip up will be the day that Mum and Dad will be on to me. It’s good, I’m very lucky to have the parents that I have.
How do you go about giving children with haemophilia advice and encouragement to take up sport especially, with the understandable worries parents have? You do think parents should allow kids more freedom?
Yes, I’ve worked with the UK Haemophilia Society now for some time, but now I’m starting to work quite closely with the World Federation of Haemophilia. I’ve done a few interviews for them and basically I’m just trying to share my story and experiences with others. Actually I’ve had a guy on Facebook contact me from the Ukraine recently whose son has been diagnosed and he found an interview and article and sent copies of it to me. It was in Russian which was pretty surreal. He said (and I’ve had a few emails like this and it’s really cool) that my story has helped them. I know how traumatic it was for my parents when they found out, I was 18 months old, it was pretty grim for them. The doctor at the time painted the worst picture possible. If they’d known then what they know now and what sort of life I could have and achieve, then life would have been a lot easier and a lot less stressful for them.
It also impacts on siblings, I have a little sister and there were some rough times, they’d worry that my little sister Lois would get left out, but I’ve got fantastic parents and Lois is a bit of a hard nut herself. We’re all fine, all reasonably normal [laughs].
Alex at Revolution 30 - Image ©Copyright Hope Tranter
What’s your favourite discipline and do you prefer road or track?
Time trial, definitely!… and I have to say road is my preference.
Will you be doing any of the Revolutions at Manchester Velodrome this season?
Yeah, I’ll be doing as many as I can, I’m sure there’ll be one or two that clash with Sky training camps but I’ll be there. I do enjoy them.
A lot of your team have come through the British Cycling Academy as you did, what do you feel are the main benefits you’ve had from the process?
They taught us to look after ourselves and behave like pro riders before we reached that level. I noticed when I went to Livestrong I could actually drop my levels of discipline, whereas a lot of the Livestrong riders that had just come in from junior squads, or just racing in other teams, they had to suddenly raise their game, whereas I could relax a little bit. They covered things like self discipline to organisation, food and obviously training. The academy really teaches you to look after yourself and to be disciplined as well. It also give you a lot of independence with the living arrangements. It’s pretty hard as well, we’d have days in the winter which were grim and you had to survive on just under sixty quid a week. That was just for food basically, but when you’re doing 25 hours a week training you tend to eat quite a bit. You’d have days where you wake up pretty early, ride into the velodrome any weather, have a two hour Italian lesson, then lunch which you had to make yourself and bring in, then a three hour track session, then dinner that you’d had to make yourself and bring with you, then your track league… And then you’d ride home at 11 o’clock at night. To go to bed and get up the next day and do it all over again.
On one occasion, in fact one of my first track sessions, my phone battery had run flat over night. I’d been making a number of calls in the evening and forgotten to charge the phone and I used it as my alarm clock each morning. I ended up missing the first track session. I rang up Rod Ellingworth and said, “Sorry about that, I’ll make it in for the second session though,” and he said, “No, you’ll come into the velodrome now!” and when I got there I had three cars to clean lined up in the car park. I went out and bought myself an alarm clock that night. I wasn’t going to have that happen again! At age 18 it was an eye opener for me, I soon learned. The average kid is starting their first job or heading to university or college and able to mess around a bit or have an off day, so it was a bit of a shock to the system. Our accommodation was in Fallowfield, Manchester which is student central and the flats were above a Wetherspoon’s, next to a nightclub and opposite another nightclub, temptation everywhere. That sorted out who were the ones that were going to make it, though some of the guys that went out did make it through. It was just knowing your limits and getting the balance, there was a time and a place for it.
Alex winning at Smithfield Nocturne 2011 - Image ©Copyright Phil Jones
Talking of going out, do you get much time for a social life? And if and when you do does it revolve around a cycling set?
Erm… The academy was pretty grim at times but it was what you needed to do. Training in Italy was good but it was tough, eight guys who all thought they were gods gift to cycling living under one roof, there were some fireworks but for the most part we all got on. We were stuck in a small town, nobody spoke English. We ate, slept and trained together, that was pretty tough, no escape from each other. Then I went to Livestrong and suddenly I was in America! Living in the States was great because everything they say about the English accent and the girls is absolutely true [laughs]. I also found I was racing better when I was happier. Now I’m back in England I’ve got a good group of mates that live around me, I don’t go nuts, a lot of my nights out are for dinner or down the pub, a cafe or trips to the cinema. I go to the cinema a lot because I’ve got a good friend who’s a bit of a film buff. It got to the point that the only film we hadn’t seen from the current listings was Kung-Fu Panda. He was still up for it but I said, “Nah, this is starting to reach new levels of sadness, we’re gonna have to do something different tonight! No films about martial art bears!”
I take it fairly steady in the season because I know that’s what I need to do. I’m reasonably disciplined about it, the team helps you as much as they can, but at the end of the day it’s up to you. You have a nutritionist that comes round and tells you you can afford to lose one or two kilos to burn off your fat levels but ultimately it’s down to you to make the effort, they can only do so much. The same applies to training and getting yourself ready for races. All the facilities are there, it’s up to you how much you make the most of the opportunity, they can’t make you get out on your bike and put the extra hours in. If you don’t perform you don’t get into races, you don’t get your contract renewed and then you’ll never win! You’ve got everything laid out for you, you just have to grab hold of it and make the most of it.
If you sustain an injury how do they control your medication during a race, are they able to treat your condition on the spot?
Well the beauty of racing with the team now is that there’s always a team doctor at the races, he’s aware of my condition and holds my medication, and when I come down he’s there to scrape me up off the floor, he makes sure I’m alright. It’s all handled really professionally, and the team have really taken it upon themselves to learn everything they can about my condition because it’s pretty unusual and I think I’m the only one in the pro peloton with it. The medication has to be taken every other day but when I fall or get an injury I take more. The medication gets me up to about sixty percent of the levels of a normal person, which is enough to keep any problems like a minor injury caused by crashing at bay. Then if I do find myself on the floor I just take extra. My drugs aren’t controlled substances, it’s not the same as say someone in the pro peloton with asthma, they would have to fill out forms to allow them to use their inhaler. If you’re going to require a drug that can be abused and used as a performance enhancer then you have to fill in a form. A lot of the asthmatic medication would make you test positive. If you have to take a drug that will cause you to test positive then the doctors will give you a form that’s called a therapeutic use exemption form, which they hand in with a sample that says,“This guy’s on this drug, but it’s fine because he’s got asthma.”
Where’s your favourite training ride and what are your favourite stop-off treats?
Oh… A massive cake! I guess I like it a little bit too much. A pre-breakfast ride: I get up, have coffee and then ride on empty for about and hour and luckily about an hour away from me is pretty much the best cafe in Essex so that’s where I spend a lot of my time. It’s called The Blue Egg, the cakes are excellent. I usually have the date and oat slice because I kind of convince myself that it sounds healthy, it’s probably got a lot of butter and sugar in it but they don’t tell you about that, so what you don’t know doesn’t hurt you I guess.
What advice would you give to kids interested in getting involved in cycling?
Get out and try all forms of racing and see which discipline suits you. I think kids should try lots of different sports too, I mean when I first started cycling I was swimming as well and I think it really helped me on the bike. I mean Time Trials were my thing, it was all I did until I was a junior. I first tried the track at about 15, I then started doing it with the junior GB squad at 17.
Alex at the National Road Championships 2011 - ©Copyright Ian Robinson
Click here for Alex’s Facebook Page.
Click here to view Alex’s Twitter feed.
Click here for more about Alex & Team Sky.
Click here to be taken to British Cycling.
For more information about the World Federation of Haemophilia.
To be taken to the UK Haemophilia Society website.
British National Time Trial Champion
5th Overall Tour of Denmark
3rd in Stage 5 (Time Trial)
3rd Overall – Prologue – Ster Zlm Toer (and best young rider prize)
1st Smithfield Nocturne
1st European Time Trial Championships U23
1st Stage 5 Cascade Cycling Classic (USA)
Tour of Utah
2nd Stage 2
Tour de l’Avenir
2nd in Prologue
2nd Commonwealth Games Time Trial
1st Chrono des Nations U23
1st Richmond Grand Prix
1st British Time Trial Championships U23
7th World Time Trial Championships U23
11th European Time Trial Championships U23
3rd Abergavenny International Criterium (UCI 1.2)
4th British U23 Road Race Championships
3rd British Senior 10 mile Time Trial Championships
1st Team Time Trial Tour d’Alsace (UCI 2.2)
1st British Time Trial Championships U23
1st Perfs Pedal Road Race
1st Overall British Premier Calendar U23 Champion
1st Rudy Project Time Trial Series
3rd British Senior 10 mile Time Trial Championships
4th British Senior 25 mile Time Trial Championships
1st British Junior Road Race Championships
1st British Junior 10 mile Time Trial Championships
1st British Junior 25 mile Time Trial Championships
1st Tour of Switzerland 7.7km Time Trial
1st European Junior Team Pursuit Championships
My thanks to Alex and all the photographers.
Click to read Sam’s interview with Alex
©Copyright 2011 Anna Magrath @ Cycling Shorts. Please do not reproduce any content without permission from myself or the photographers.