The AN Post Rás. It was probably the highlight of my 2011 season, so I had high expectations coming into the 2012 edition of the race. Last year I rode for the Irish national team but this year I was taking to the start line in the often-described-as ‘feckin brilliant’ black and white jersey of Rapha Condor Sharp.
I flew over to Dublin by myself to meet the rest of the team who were driving from Manchester. As soon as I arrived one of the lads noticed how much I was smiling. It isn’t just the tough unpredictable racing that makes the Ras such an enjoyable week, the atmosphere amongst all the teams and staff is something I’ve only experienced at this race. The Irish always know how to have a good time and it’s definitely the attitude of people that plays a large part in a good atmosphere that always keeps teams eager to return.
Looking back at the past winners of the race, it’s not a surprise that the team are well known in this part of the world. However, this year Rapha Condor Sharp has taken a completely different approach – focusing on the development of younger riders. The Ras squad was no exception with our eldest rider being 23, which I’m sure would give us the youngest average age of any team competing. The lineup consisted of; Rich Lang our Aussie climber/sprinter/everything’er, Chris Jennings our South African climbing specialist, big Ben Grenda our strong man from Tasmania, Rich Handley the British rider who can also do much pretty anything and finally me, Felix ‘the local’ from Ireland (and Brighton).
The first few days of the race consisted of 140km+ stages with tough rolling roads. We all rode aggressively trying to get at least one black jersey in every break. However, it quickly became apparent that the Ras was going to live up to its potential of being unlike any other race in the calendar. Break after break would try to escape but each attempt was swallowed up. The roads in Ireland are always rolling and usually have a rough broken surface, which made the averaged speeds of over 48km/h every day in the first hour pretty unbelievable.
Every stage of the Ras from beginning to end is like the first 10km of every other normal race – relentless attacks with everyone wanting to get in on the action. Straight away it was apparent that this year’s race was to be tougher than the 2011 edition. There was a lot more strength in the international teams, which meant you had a lot more riders strong enough to attack and consequently a lot more riders strong enough to close the gaps.
Rich Handley fought his way into the successful breakaway of stage two and finished with a 28 second advantage over the rest of the U23 peloton. It doesn’t seem like much, especially at such an early stage of the race, but this smart move from Rich proved to be decisive. With no time bonuses available, the only way for the race favourites to take time out of Rich was to either get away in a break (difficult now with teams wanting to desperately defend their slender advantage) or they’d have to ride away from him on the tougher climbs. Luckily for us, no one in the race was capable of doing that.
As the week progressed we became more and more organised. John kept us on our toes with tactical advice each night and our jobs were simple. Myself and Grenda were to follow all the early moves, disrupt the breakaways and, if needs be, close gaps to any splits or breaks that contained dangerous riders. Langy and Chris had to keep Rich up at the front of the race and then take over the job from myself and Ben in the last few km’s. Rich’s job of having to always be at the front was probably the most stressful – having your team mates work solely for you adds a lot of extra pressure but it was clear that was our best chance of securing the white jersey, so it we were all fully committed to him.
This organisation made things easier for us mentally as well. It’s a great feeling when you know you can ride at 100% to close a gap for your team leader, safe in the knowledge that one of your teammates will be there to immediately back you up and cover the next attack. Morale within the team was high all week, which definitely makes a big impact on the way you race together. Being able to have a laugh in the evenings and forget about the race for a few hours has a very positive effect.
Rich rode well over the very steep climbs of stages five and six and held onto the U23white jersey. One climb in particular was like nothing I’ve ever seen before – Mamore Gap on stage five. It was towards the end of a 160km day, and it must be over 30% in places. A few of us took the decision to ride 28t cassettes but I still struggled to make it over the top. It was 2-3km long and easily the hardest climb I’ve ridden. I had to ride hard in the first 2-3 hours of the stage to contain breakaways and generally try and make Rich’s life as easy as possible. Finishing the job riding over the line in Skerries was one of the best feelings I’ve had on a bike. Thanks to all my team mates, Rich, Ben, Langy and Chris for a great week. Also thanks to John, Ian, Rob and Iona for keeping us in line and for keeping it fun.
Hi. I’m Jon Carver and whether you like it or not I’m cycling shorts newest correspondent.
Straight off though I’m lying. Because the branch of the sport I will be writing about is one where shorts ain’t a clever option At all ..BMX.. “Oh no!” I can hear them wail in Lycra stuffed tea rooms the length and breadth of Scunthorpe.
Well fear not Dear reader. Yes it’s just you and me. For I too am a Lycra lout. I prefer to do my cycling on my nice Campagnolo Athena equipped Ribbles, one road, one TT and my track Bike which is on its way. What? Well I raced in my youth and they’re cheaper than fake tan and a Lamborghini.
So, why BMX? First answer..why not? Second..because I can. Third, because it’s an incredibly large part of the cycling family and if you love your family, you should know about it. How did I get involved at the tender age of 60? Well…I didn’t, I was 30. Yes 30 years I’ve loved this Sport. My two boys Jamie and Jody (Barton) enjoyed BMX when a young man named Bob rode a bike fairly well in a movie called E.T. And inspired the heavy as lead Raleigh Burner and Mullet years. Jamie a highly successful racer and his brother Jody a keen and very young freestyler. My eldest was 8 when he started. His younger brother was just 5. Today it is still a sport where whole families take part. It’s an exciting social and sporting lifestyle. Ooh yes and if you think your new Campagnolo Super Record group is sexy…you’ve seen nothing!
During those heady days of two governing bodies U.K.B.M.X. and N.B.M.X.A I was a regional chairman of the UKBMX and a national council member. I chaired my local club The Tamworth Crusaders and saw that club rise from a small rag tag bunch that travelled by train to Birmingham Wheels …( sighs fondly) to a club with its own very unique track and a strong National and international pedigree. I urged the British Cycling Federation to take the two arms of a great sport under its wing. To my chagrin in the intervening years.. BC as she is now known, took over and to date….the jury is very much out.
So we come full circle. The eldest son Jamie and his sons are back in the sport again Jacob (Barton) is to represent Great Britain in the 24″ wheel class at this years World Championships in Brum and we are still hoping that younger brother Fletcher (Barton) may also yet qualify in the 8 yo class. Jamie and his friends Lee and Lisa run Finelines Racing which is an incredible organisation that can speak for itself.
So, that’s me. A bloke who is nuts about every facet of this most diverse of sports CYCLING and one who has a big vested interest in sharing a particular passion for all things BMX. (Bicycle Moto Cross by the way is what the little acronym stands for.) in its numerous guises.. Numerous? Oh my, oh my yes. Your eyes are in for a treat this year my lovelies. For whilst for the average sports fan Shanaze Reade‘s attempt to bring the Olympic ladies 20″ gold home for us, will hold their attention for the 24 seconds of the Olympic main. There is a whole year of fantastic stuff. A National series that attracts upwards of 1200 riders to each event…no 1200 isn’t a typo. A clear 400 average at regionals, there is also a YOOJ World Championships to be held at the National Indoor arena in Brum… I’m certain the city isn’t going to be ready for just how many people will be descending on them…oops! We shall cope ..Brummies always do. as well, there’s always Xgames and the most amazing skill artistry and (sorry ) Balls of the freestyle trials fraternity. Oh there’s loads happening on those tiny… gorgeous to behold, scarily priced, featherlight lightning fast Bicycles.
Yes that’s right, it’s that time of the year when our attention here in Europe turns to the warmth of the track as the road season draws to a close and the track season gets underway today with the British National Championships.
So if you’re not lucky enough to be attending the Nationals one of the best ways to see some vibrant cycling action is to attend a Revolution, don’t worry it’s not that sort of revolution! Revolutions are competitive but friendly track meetings between world pro cyclists and the best of British pro cycling, along with the cream of British junior talent. All this is condensed into a Saturday evening of electrifying entertainment.
I’m a big fan of the events as you can tell, I’ve attended them since they started in 2003 and the atmosphere is amazing, it’s not intimidating like other sporting events can be, I think that’s mainly down to the fact that cyclists and cycling fans are a uniquely friendly and laid back breed. The Cycling Revolution Series is now in it’s ninth season and it will kick off with the 33rd event on the 29th October 2011. There are four meetings a year [usually one per month], already confirmed for the first is Alex Dowsett from Team Sky, fresh from his National Time Trial victory and I am told more top names are to be confirmed shortly for this first event, but throughout the season you will be able to see the likes of Chris Hoy, and Victoria Pendleton. Confirmed to appear during the season are Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift, Russell Downing and Pete Kennaugh. Last years Revolution Championship team Maxgear will include Simon Yates, Adam Yates and Chris Lawless. Rapha Condor Sharp will bring- Ed Clancy, Andy Tennant and Dean Downing, and UK Youth will join the action headed by Magnus Backstedt, Steven Burke and James Lowsley-Williams, more will of course be added to the list as the season progresses and riders such as Luke Rowe will be available for selection once the new riders contracts start on January 1st 2012.
Your almost certain to see well known faces past and present wandering around the edge of the track mingling with the crowd. There are stands of cycling goodies, food and drink tempting you to part with your money. A great way work those calories off is to have a go at the Watt Bike Challenge, it’s open to everyone and is a real crowd puller.
The Revolutions give fans a chance to see the worlds best compete in a track league format (it was the first track league in the world). The evening’s are filled with different formats of racing including international grudge matches, where riders temporarily leave their Revolution League team to join with their national team to go against rival countries in crowd pulling races like the teams sprint, it’s a great way to see how on form riders are before the Olympics! The venue and event has a very family friendly atmosphere, it’s a great night of fast paced racing and music which enthrals both newcomers to cycling and those hardy old skool cyclists and fans. I’ve often taken friends with me who have no interest in, or knowledge of track cycling and they always come back for more! It will inspire any child to get into cycling, they’ll be pestering you to arrange a track session or find a club for them to join, I’m yet to be proven wrong on that one! It’s thrilling for youngsters because they see the Juniors [Future Stars] riding the track in the same teams as the pro riders and up against them. All teams compete for points towards the Revolution Championship and the all important winners Black Jersey. There are 8 teams with a mix of international, British and junior riders on each. Last seasons winners Maxgear and the runners up Team Sky will be part of this years line up along with other British Pro teams like Rapha and UK Youth. There’s also a bonus this year because the recent building work is now complete at The National Cycling Centre and the brand new adjoining indoor BMX Centre is now ready for competition and training sessions, so visitors can take a peek at what that has to offer, the BMX facility has a shared reception area with the velodrome.
Throughout the winter the Revolution Series takes place in four Saturday meetings (29th October, 19th November, 7th January and 28th January) at Manchester Velodrome, and with Olympic track tickets sold out, this is the perfect and for some the last time to see the Pro’s ride the boards as they reach their peak form in preparation for London 2012, tickets normally sell out well before the meetings so it pays to book early to bag yourself the best seats! I would recommend buying a season ticket, you get to enter the velodrome early and avoid all the queues via the VIP entrance 30 minutes before the main doors open, ideal on a cold, dark Manchester night. You also get 15% discount from the Revolution shop, but hurry I’m told the Season Tickets are nearly sold out!
To buy tickets you can call the ticket line on: 0843 208 0500