Have you ever wanted to have a mooch around the much-vaunted Team Sky bus? I know I did, and thanks to Jaguar, along with some lucky competition winners, we got that very chance whilst the Death Star sat awaiting its star charges during the final stage of the Tour of Britain.
For a race like the Tour of Britain, Team Sky send the team bus and a big service truck – the service truck has a kitchen and laundry at the front, and bike storage and a workshop at the back. The workshop is empty because the team are out on stage, safely shepherding Sir Brad’s run to the gold jersey.
Visiting the team bus while the riders were away was the cycling equivalent to stepping aboard the deserted Marie Celeste where the coffee pot on the stove was still hot. Bernie Eisel’s spare helmet waits patiently for the call to arms.
The bus was designed and built solely to transport nine riders from the hotel to the start line in as comfortable a fashion as possible. The first vehicle to be built so uncompromisingly, other teams have since followed suit.
Team Sky advise that their riders become attached to particular seats – this seat, the second row on the right hand side, is the one that Chris Froome favoured during his Tour de France triumph.
The seat behind the Froome chair is the one that David Lopez occupied during the Tour of Britain, and his newspaper, recovery bar and phones await his return. Team Sky were fantastically open-handed about allowing us access.
Wiggo’s seat, predictably enough, is in the front row, right behind the driver – some goon who really doesn’t like having his picture taken poses with the jersey that Sir Bradley picked up at the end of the Guildford stage the day before. The helmet weighs nothing.
Sir Bradley’s shades and his Guildford trophy. The seats are exquisitely comfortable.
The rules according to Team Sky.
At the back of the bus, past the showers, is a little meeting room where the world’s supply of energy bars, gels and powders are stored. We were invited to go and have a look around, but I felt too guilty intruding on someone’s workspace to go any further.
How much do you want to try a bottle of this?
Even from the outside, I’ve always been appreciative of what Team Sky have done for the sport in the UK, purely in terms of results and the associated boosting of the profile of racing. But it was a privilege to have a chance to have a look on the inside – even in the closing stages of a fairly important stage race in which they had a vested interest, they took the time to offer the chance to have a mosey around to four randoms that they didn’t know from Adam. And not just a faceless guided whizz around – we had a guide, of course, but Rob could not have been more open and friendly. It was remarkable – all their riders’ personal kit was there, any questions could be asked, photos were encouraged and nothing was off limits. British Cycling Head Coach Shane Sutton was on and off the bus doing his thing whilst we were there, and he was perfectly happy to answer questions as he worked.
It was a fantastic treat, for any cycling fan, and a real privilege to have had the chance – massive “thank you thank you thank you!” thanks to Fran Millar of Team Sky and Claire Boakes of Jaguar for allowing Cycling Shorts this window into such a fascinating world. #ToB2013 #ridelikeapro @TeamSky @JaguarUK @Sportbrake
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
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 Sportbrake. Marcus 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.
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All Images ©Paul Harris / CyclingShorts.
“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.
I was delighted to receive two tickets to the London Bike Show last weekend and rather gutted to find out I couldn’t go. As an ex-pro who still cycles every day, my Dad was of course, more than happy to pop along. Here’s Tony’s account of the bike show on Saturday…
The moment I stepped off the Docklands Light Railway on Saturday morning I knew it was going to be busy. The snow that had fallen copiously in the London area the previous day meant I had to use public transport although I have never been totally comfortable travelling on a driverless train and leaving everything to a computer. I had assumed that the weather would keep a lot of people at home but I was so wrong. The masses propelled me towards the entrance and looking around at my fellow visitors I couldn’t help but notice how well prepared they were for bad weather with a good selection of beanie hats, stout boots and several in what appeared to be rubberised jackets. All was to become clear.
The queue at the entrance was at least 50 deep but moved quickly. My ticket was snatched away and I found myself inside the ExCeL centre – but oh no, the overhead banner proclaimed “Welcome to the London Boat Show”! My inner chimp panicked, how would I retrieve my ticket and get back out? Then I heard someone say “the Bike Show is in the hall at the end”. Tickets gave access not only to the Bike Show but also to the Boat Show, The Outdoors Show and the Active Travel Show.
It wasn’t yet 11 a.m. but it appeared that the Bike Show was drawing in well over 25% of the visitors and so my slow shuffle down the first isle began. The sheer volume of people attending in such bad weather is a fine testament to the popularity of cycling, however, on this occasion it did make it difficult to have a chat with stand attendants.
Even though progress was slow, what struck me straight off was the number of stands showing complete road bikes for sale. Pinarello had the largest stand, right in the centre, displaying a wide range of complete bikes from entry level sportives at around £1,000 to their top end time trial machine coming in at £14,000. If you can only manage £11,000 then you can pick up a nice little track number. Boardman was also there in force at the far end, close to the Animal Bike stunt track where Martyn Ashton (four times British Bike Trial Champion) and Blake Samson were performing mind boggling acrobatics and aerial manoeuvres.
I know I’m an oldie, and call me old fashioned if you want but much of the roadie’s off season pleasure used to be gained from reviewing and selecting the various components that were to be built onto the coming season’s new frame. Now the pressure of volume production versus price directs most of us towards pre-configured complete bikes built around a mass produced monocoque carbon fibre frame, 99% of which are manufactured from one of four or so factories in the far east using carbon fibre spun from one of three Japanese facilities, Toray, Toho Tenax and Mitsubishi Rayon. Time and time again I asked where the vendor’s frames were produced and got the same answer. At Canyon Bikes I asked again if their frames were made in China? “No” the proud German lady proclaimed, I was momentarily excited – perhaps it would be Dusseldorf or Nuremburg, but alas “….ours are manufactured in Tie-van” (she meant Taiwan)!
I could only find three suppliers displaying custom carbon frames. Sigma Sport were offering a hand built custom carbon frame from the iconic Italian Colnago house using preformed carbon lugs bonded to the tubes. I was told Signore Colnago strongly believes this is the right way to do it. You would need £3,000 or more to have one made to measure but I can’t help thinking that these are like giant Airfix kits – preformed pieces glued together and very quick to assemble, although I must admit the multi-stage hand paint process is fabulous.
Le Beau Velo, distributor for the Italian Fondriest brand were offering a bespoke carbon fibre ‘layup’ frame, where the joints are held together with cut-to-fit carbon fibre sheets bonded with epoxy resin rather than preformed lugs. I was told no UK fabricator does this. These frames are hand made in Italy and again have a price tag north of £3,000. Their tubes are constructed from Toray carbon fibre from Japan but they claim the actual manufacturing of the tubes is performed in Italy, presumably by ATR who also supply Colnago and are one of the very few non-Asian manufacturers of monocoque frames. Equally as strong, stiff and responsive as a carbon monocoque, Le Beau Velo’s typical custom frame customer is a gentleman of a certain standing who can afford something that looks special…that is special, whilst still young enough to ride to its full potential (or most of it anyway), “a top end racing frame that is seldom used for racing”.
The Extra stand was also displaying carbon lugged frames manufactured by Time. Time is a French company who obtain a lot of their revenue from contracted carbon fibre work at the Airbus aircraft factory in Toulouse. This has enabled them to become another of the very few non-Asian manufacturers of carbon fibre weave, although their volume in comparison to the far east manufacturers is very small and the number of frames they produce is also small in comparison.
Independent steel and titanium frame builders were noticeable by their absence and I saw only a handful of non-carbon frames for the serious rider. There was no Bamboo construction in evidence at all, which is surprising given the ‘green’ momentum these fabulous machines have been getting. Perhaps the cost of renting a stand at the show is prohibitive to all but the largest suppliers and distributors.
One final note; I happened to be ushered by the masses out of an isle just in front of the Jaguar Performance Theatre as the newly formed professional team sponsored by Madison Genesis was being presented (video below). First up was Dean Downing followed by 8 or 9 fresh faced professionals all hoping to be part of this year’s UCI Continental team under Roger Hammond’s stewardship. They also announced that Genesis has been working with Reynolds to develop a new ‘953’ steel-alloy frameset.
Overall, a hugely enjoyable and educational experience, if hampered a little by the sheer volume of visitors. I stopped on the way back to meet my wife at the newly built Westfield-Stratford shopping mall. It was empty by comparison!
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!
For the launch of the new partnership between the heavyweights that are Team Sky and Jaguar, Cycling Shorts was very kindly asked by Jaguar to provide questions to put to the Team Sky riders, we only knew in advance that Cav would definitely be there so we supplied an array of questions for him and a hefty selection for each of the other Sky cyclists and management.
On the day it turned out Juan Antonio Flecha and Mark Cavendish would represent the team for interviews, but we had plenty of questions for both of them. Unfortunately our collective technical and hard hitting questions didn’t quite make the cut, which is to be expected at a corporate event they tend to go for mass appeal, but our fluffier questions were used.
Questions by Nancy, Darren, and the two Paul’s (Harris & Sloper).
We would like to take this opportunity to thank Jaguar, Team Sky, Mark & Juan.
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”.