Pushing the Limits – Team Sky’s approach to training Sports Directors

CJ takes another - Bidon practice - Image ©Paul Harris / Cycling Shorts

CJ takes another – Bidon practice – Image ©Paul Harris / Cycling Shorts

When you’re growing up, everyone wants to be the hero –PM, astronaut, fighter pilot, racing driver – but nothing achieved in any of those roles ever happens without a vast latticework of support. Cycling is not immune; indeed, when Wiggo thrust cycling into the faces of an otherwise unknowing public last July, the nuances of the support network around him must have been hard to spot for the casual viewer. Sir Bradley had his nine-man squad on the road, of course, and everything that Team Sky could think of in the way of shiny kit and qualified personnel. And on the road, out of the spotlight but orchestrating every aspect of every race in their beautiful black and blue Jaguars were the Sports Directors.

In the never-ending pursuit of the aggregation of marginal gains, for 2013 Team Sky took the opportunity to despatch two of their Sports Directors to the MIRA proving ground at Nuneaton to learn more about handling the Jaguar XF SportbrakeMarcus Ljungqvist and Dan Hunt both have experience from within the car during races, but neither had previously received specific driver training – under the auspices of Nigel, one of MIRA’s exceedingly capable instructors, Team Sky’s DS’s put themselves to the sword in one of their 2013 cars, merrily sliding and spinning their way around MIRA’s watered, variable grip circuits with some chap called Martin Brundle also on hand to offer the occasional word of advice.

[flagallery gid=19 name=Gallery]

Click SL (slideshow) or FS (fullscreen)

All Images ©Paul Harris / CyclingShorts.

"So what does the pedal on the right do, again?" Martin Brundle is one of the finest racing drivers on earth - maybe the only thing he does better is present programmes about it. ©Paul Harris / Cycling Shorts

“So what does the pedal on the right do, again?” Martin Brundle one of the finest racing drivers on earth – maybe the only thing he does better is present programmes about it. ©Paul Harris / Cycling Shorts

The point was not to train Marcus and Dan how to drive like racing drivers, Martin explained as Nigel sped us around to demonstrate, it’s about teaching them how the car reacts so they know what to do if a situation occurs during a race that pushes the car over the limit. “You might think that, as racing drivers, we throw the car around wildly,” explains the former Le Mans winner and World Sportscar Champion, arguably the best Formula One driver not to win a Grand Prix. “In reality it’s all about being smooth and gentle with the car.” The limiting factor is the tyre –it transmits inputs from acceleration, braking and steering, but if you try and throw too many things at it at once, that’s when things go pear-shaped. Being smooth with the inputs not only allows you to run closer to the ultimate limit, it also means that you’re less likely to go skating wildly over it and the car will be more easily controlled.

For Marcus and Dan, the day was about learning to recognise and respond when that limit is approached, and if Nigel’s teaching is anything like his driving, the roads of ProTour cycle races will be the safer for the improvements in their competence – the Sportbrake proved itself amazingly capable, with eyeball-popping go, stop-on-a-dime brakes and a taut agility that’s just wrong in a car that size. In Nigel’s hands, it happily ran sideways on the low-grip track, then flung us around the capacious rear with gay abandon on the dry handling circuit – if the demonstration was anything to go by, it doesn’t seem likely that Marcus and Dan will often be called upon to push the big cat to the limit!

What’s clear throughout the whole process is that Jaguar and Team Sky have an exceedingly warm and productive relationship. With an engineer on hand with a view to improving the car still further for the peculiar needs of bike racing, it’s obvious that, while the cars look like a standard Sportbrake with livery and a bespoke rack, they have already been modified to suit the job (to cite one example, the rear windows in the Sportbrake didn’t quite go all the way down– now they do), and the process is ongoing with discussions taking place on improved information technology and amended wing mirrors. When it comes to marginal gains, nothing is off limits – Team Sky even went to the lengths of putting a rider on hand to practice the interactions between rider and car, Chris Sutton setting what just might be a record for the number of bidons stowed on a single rider.

Marcus Ljungqvist and Dan Hunt – better drivers. – Images ©Paul Harris / Cycling Shorts

So – a useful day? Dan is positive. “It’s great to be able to test the car in a safe environment and being allowed to fail without the risk of consequences.”

“We went on three different surfaces,” adds Marcus. “ Slippery, super slippery, and super-super-slippery! – and we took the car to the limit to learn how it would react. The good thing here is we can do it over and over again, in a really relaxed environment, so we can remember what we did – in a race maybe something happens but you don’t remember actually how you managed to control it.”

“It’s a core component of what we do, we SHOULD be good at it.” says Dan. “At Sky, we always want to be better at everything we do, and driving’s a critical part – getting guys like Martin and Nigel from MIRA, it’s fantastic for us.”

Marcus nods. “A lot of times it’s former bike riders, you’re supposed to be a good sport director but you have no driving experience at all – you think you’re (just) driving thirty K’s an hour behind the peloton but sometimes it’s really crazy back there.”

“Marginal gains doesn’t stop with the riders, every member of staff has a responsibility to do their job better tomorrow than they did today,” says Dan emphatically. “That’s what marginal gains is about, doing things a little bit better, all of the time –for us today it’s about improving our driving skills, tomorrow it might be involve better tactical skills. For the riders it’s about fitness, about improving their race times. Marginal gains isn’t just equipment or an empty philosophy, it’s about getting better at what you do every day, trying to be the best in the world at what we do.”

This day, as with every other day, Team Sky just got that little bit better.

Revolution 33 Report – The First of the Season

All Images ©Copyright Chris & Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.
[flagallery gid=6 name=”Gallery”]

Click SL (slideshow) or FS (fullscreen)

 
Last night saw the first round of the Revolution series 2011 get underway. As an enthusiastic crowd filtered into the velodrome through the National Cycling Centre‘s new vaulted reception area the riders were out on the track warming up. There was a real buzz in the air, everything felt fresh and new, the presence for the first time of the TV cameras brought an extra bit of excitement to the proceedings. ITV4 set up their pundit interview area near the finishing line with Ned Boulting and Rob Hayles readying themselves to broadcast.

Rob Hayles & Ned Boulting - Image ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.

The format and teams for this season’s Revolution really feel right, the perfect balance has been struck. The team sponsors and structures give the whole event a classic track event feel, with stylish new sponsors including Rouleur Magazine, howies Cycling Clothing, Cunga Bikes and Team UK Youth which is in it’s inaugural year, was set up by the unlikely benefactor Nigel Mansell. The team takes the name of the formula one star’s charity and they fly the flag for the work the organisation does to support over 750,000 young people. These teams were joined by the Revolution old guard of CHEP, Sky, Rapha Condor Sharp and last year’s Championship winners Maxgear.

The headliners included Sky’s Alex Dowsett (British National Time Trial Champion), Steven Burke (National Pursuit Champion), David Daniell and Frances Michael D’Almeida (World Team Sprint Champion)

Devil Scratch Race
Things got underway with the Devil. For those unfamiliar with the format of this fast paced race, there really isn’t any chance of hiding away at the back of the pack waiting to seize glory. The riders have to avoid elimination for the first part of the race with the last rider over the line being disqualified. This happens until you get down to just a handful of riders left on the track and they then fight it out for the win. Alex Dowsett, who’s had a very successful first year on the Sky Pro team, didn’t hang around and was obviously in the mood to show the long road season had been knocked out of his legs. With six or seven laps to go Alex decided to lead out from the front, he shot off the front of the pack and within a couple of laps he had the back of the peloton in sight. He didn’t quite make the catch before the finish line but to be honest I don’t think he tried to. He sat up to celebrate well before the line and the peloton was only metres ahead. The rest of the riders rolled across the line some time later led by Sam Harrison.

There was one thing that seemed different about the atmosphere as people settled in their seats and wandered around the food and bike stands, and it took me a while to realise what it was…. no Watt Bike Challenge! I’m guessing the reason being the huge amount of noise it can generate from the bikes and the spectators. The sound would be a nightmare for the ITV production team to compete with, it did make it was a lot easier to hear Hugh Porter‘s trademark catchphrases over the tannoy too which are always a joy!

DHL Future Stars Girls
One of the standout riders of the evening for me was the lovely Emily Kay. She returns this year to defend her title and she kicked off her first event of the series with an emphatic win in the DHL Future Stars Girls 5km Points Race where she scored points in every sprint for points and then still had enough for a final attack at the finishing line. Alice Barnes took a tumble in the back straight but she got up and dusted herself down to cheers of encouragement from the crowd. Second and third positions were hotly contested by Megan Boyd and Ellie Coster, both putting in great performances. This was just a taster of what was to come later in the evening from Emily though. She continued her charge on the championship jersey with a win in the Girls 6 lap dash and rounded the evening off with the Girls Scratch Race. Riders tried attacks throughout the three Girls events but Emily just stayed calm and controlled the situation. Emily does seem to be head and shoulders above the competition at the moment. She has amazing strength and tactics, an unstoppable combination. I can’t wait to see where her career goes, she’s destined for great things!

Kian Emadi winning his heat against Michael D'Almeida - Image ©Copyright Chris Dando @ Cycling Shorts.

Revolution Sprint
In the sprint competition Round 1 saw Louis Oliva beaten by David Daniell and Kian Emadi proved he’s a talent to be watched as he nudged out Frenchman Thierry Jollet. Philip Hindes was beaten by Michael D’Almeida. Craig MacLean never ceases to amaze me, his experience and strength seemed to be too much for John Paul who put in a valiant effort.

Round 2 saw Craig MacLean make David Daniell work hard for his win and Kian Emadi dispatched World Sprint Champion Michael D’Almeida with an audible gasp from the spectators. I’m not even sure Kian expected that result.

In the Losers 6 Lap Dash race John Paul pushed his way past Thierry Jollet to deny the French yet again.

The Final of the sprint was a great fight between Dave Daniell – who’s obviously on form – and 19 year old Kian Emadi. They were well matched through the early stages of the race but David Daniell had the better of Kian in the second half and powered to the line by almost a bike length.

DHL Future Stars Boys
While the boys events weren’t dominated by one person there was good news for Team CHEP taking 2 wins; Jake Scott took the first of the boys events (Boys 5km Scratch Race) beating Zac May (howies) and Ollie Wood won the Boys 6 Lap Dash ahead of Adam Lewis (Cunga Bikes) and Chris Lawless (Maxgear). CHEP teammate Jake Womersley said, “The races went very well for me and my team, we came out with two wins which was brilliant, they weren’t from me but I tried to help my team mates to get where they needed to be. It was good to be in front of a large audience like that, it really motivates me to do well”.

The Future Stars Boys Scratch race went to Ryan Whatmough. Ryan rode stongly last season and it looks like he’s back to make a play for the championship. He crossed the line ahead of Matthew Cross in 2nd. Jake Ragen put in a great performance throughout the evening with 2nd place in the points race and 3rd in the Scratch race.

Russell doing his Fonzie Mexican Wave - ©Copyright Chris Dando @ Cycling Shorts.

1km Madison Time Trial
Russ Downing whipped up the crowd with Alex in his trademark Fonzie Mexican wave style in preparation for the 1km Madison Time Trial. Alex Dowsett and Russell put in a good performance but in the end they didn’t do enough to get Sky a win, they came in third behind Rapha, winners Leif Lampater and Jon Mould for howies looked very focused and slick taking the win in 58.980.

Points Race – 15km
Russell Downing (Sky) dominated the Points race coming home with 24 points, 9 ahead of David O’Loughlin and Adam Duggleby. I caught up with Russell after the race,

Alex Dowsett Austrailian Pursuit - ©Copyright Chris Dando @ Cycling Shorts.

“I’m loving it, good to know I’ve still got it, I love the Revolutions the crowd create a party atmosphere.”

Australian Pursuit
One of the races I love is the Australian Pursuit. This race is one you have to keep focused on as you need to keep your eyes on the riders and their team manager, who stands throughout the races and acts as their individual start and finishing line. The riders (in this case 8 of them) are evenly spaced out around the track and the object of the twelve lap race is not to be caught by riders starting behind you on the track. If a rider is caught they are immediately eliminated. The winner is the first rider back to their starting position after 12 laps. This endurance race is a great crowd pleaser but pure endurance and in this case it favoured Jens Mouris the Dutch Vacansoleil pro rider in the Rapha colours for the Revolution series. Steven Burke and Alex Dowsett came in second and third respectively.

Feature Race – Round the World Pursuit
A break from the championship came from a special event: in February 2012 Sean Conway intends to cycle solo around the world without a support team in 150 days or less to raise money for SolarAid, hoping to raise £100,000. Throughout this season’s Revolution Series there will be a number of events to help raise money for Sean’s efforts. Each Revolution Sean will take on a different challenge.

Sean Conway on his Pursuit - ©copyright Chris Dando @ Cycling Shorts.

For the first Revolution the challenge was a 12 lap pursuit on fully laden touring bikes. Sean would be up against Vin Coxthe current Global Bike Race record holder, this was going to be tough for both riders as the track is not the environment either of them are used to and touring bikes with panniers aren’t the ideal choice for a velodrome. Sean got off to a good start but the lead swapped a number of times with Vin Cox finally getting the better of Sean and he opened up a gap and made it stick.

After his race Sean challenged members of the audience to beat him on the rollers at his stand. For more information on Sean’s amazing adventure please visit his website and please donate www.cyclingtheearth.co.uk

Keirin (8 laps)
Back to the sprint racing and Craig MacLean got his revenge on the rest of the sprint field as he powered on to win the Keirin.

Scratch Race – 10km
The Scratch Race was the penultimate event of the evening and Rouleur ruled the event with Sam Harrison winning and teammate Tom Murray coming in 3rd. Steven Burke of Team Youth UK came 2nd.

Team Sprint – GB v France
The final crowd-pulling event was a two man international team sprint grudge match between Team GB and France. Riding for GB were John Paul and Dave Daniell and for France Michael D’Almeida and Thierry Jollet. It was a nail biter and the crowd really got behind the GB team but World Team Sprint Champion D’Almeida and teammate Jollet put in an impressive performance and crossed the line in 31.949 with Great Britain finishing in 31.971. A great ride by both teams and while it may have been a bit of a disappointment for the home team I came away smiling when the delightful Michael D’Almeida pulled up to the railings and handed me his winners bouquet… a true gent!

Future Stars Emily Kay & Ollie Wood - Image ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.

Championship
The team leading the Championship after the first round is Rouleur with 204 points. So our very own Tom Murray was on the podium I had a chat with him afterwards, “I’m trying to find my track legs still! So not at my best tonight, but a great result for the team, but always a good laugh doing Revolutions with a big crowd”. Emily Kay (Cunga Bikes) now leads the girls DHL future stars competition with 90 points and looks like she has no intention of giving up her long held crown. Ollie Wood (CHEP) leads the boys competition with 50 points. It looks like it’s going to be an excellent series so don’t leave it too late to book. The next meeting will be headlined by Sky’s Geraint Thomas and Mark Cavendishwith more to be announced shortly.

Image ©Copyright Ben Dando @ Cycling Shorts.

Watch highlights on Monday 31st October
at 7pm on ITV4 in the UK

To buy tickets or to find out more about the Revolution please click here.

Revolution Team Championship

1 Rouleur204
2 Team UK Youth 190
3 Sky Procycling 165
4 CHEP 160
5 howies 159
6 Cunga Bikes 158
7 Maxgear Racing 154
8 Rapha Condor Sharp 132

Future Stars Girls Leader
Emily Kay

Future Stars Boys Leader
Oliver Wood
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

X