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.

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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.

Book Review: Racing Through the Dark – The Fall and Rise of David Millar

 

Racing Through the Dark

The Fall and Rise of David Millar
by David Millar

I have read many autobiographies about cyclists over the years, but none of them can be compared to this magnificent book by David Millar.
The story can be read on two levels. The first is the most obvious one: a review of one of the most important and decisive periods in contemporary cycling: the end of the nineties and the beginning of the 21st century (the controversial Lance Armstrong era), recorded by an insider. The second is more universal: it is the tale of the loss of innocence, the psychologically fully acceptable story of how a talented young person gets drawn into a world of corruption and foul play, driven by the hunger for success and recognition, and how this world makes this acceptable, because everybody is playing by the same “rules” and the “real world” is well hidden and seems reassuringly far away (a term recently used by Armstrong’s in his defence as he declined to fight his longterm battle with USADA, ‘I played by the rules of the time’). In David Millar’s case, the protagonist survives, and returns on a higher level, an advocate of stronger anti-doping regulations, which, sadly enough, can’t be said of many heroes in many similar stories.

For the real cycling fan, “Racing through the Dark” contains a tremendous amount of background information of how things worked in the pro teams at the time of the 1998 Festina Tour de France: we see how the Cofidis team was organised, we see how “stars” like Philippe Gaumont and Frank Vandenbroucke were behaving like real lunatics, taking drugs before major races, and getting away with it, as long as results were good…We learn how the practice of injections used for recuperation was omnipresent, and how one step leads to the other, as was the case for Millar when he was staying in the house of one of his Italian teammates, who is called “l’Equipier” in the book, but who, in my opinion, can’t be anyone else but Massimiliano Lelli.

We also get a nice insight into contemporary racing, because, luckily, Millar’s racing days weren’t over after he‘d got caught. There is the story of his meeting with the flamboyant JV (Jonathan Vaughters), his friendship with Stuart O’Grady, the Commonwealth Games in India together with Cav (Mark Cavendish), who is described in a very positive way, participating in the Tour de France with a young Bradley Wiggins, who comes across to me to be a rather selfish person, not a team player.

And then there is the second level, the extraordinarily intelligent and well written story of the fall and rise of a talented sportsman, originally from Scotland, who, after his parents get divorced, spends his youth partly in Hong Kong, and partly in England, where his mother and sister still live. We follow his story, how he comes to France to become a pro cyclist, how he reaches top level, winning the yellow jersey in the Tour de France, living the life of a superstar, dwelling in Monaco and Biarritz, how he gets caught for doping practices, and falls into depression, but, sustained by the help of his sister and a few good friends eventually crawls back, and reaches the highest level again, clean and more satisfied this time.

It is this story of “redemption”, as Millar calls it, that makes the book more interesting than the average autobiography of well- known sportsmen, it shows the reader how easily one can make the wrong decisions, how gradually a naïve ambitious youngster chooses the side of the cheating colleagues, and how living in a protected, small universe makes one unaware of what is morally acceptable in the “real world”.

Racing through the Dark is a must read for every cycling fan, who is not only interested in facts and figures, but also enjoys reading a fine story that makes us understand what was going on in the pro teams in the recent past, and makes us hope that there is still a future for cycling.


Title:
Racing Through the Dark – The Fall and Rise of David Millar  

Author: David Millar    

Published by Orion

Available in Paperback, iBook & Kindle

Price:
RRP £8.99 (Paperback), RRP £8.99 (eBook), RRP £18.99 (Hardback)

 
 
 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 

A Conversation With Alex Dowsett

 

Alex winning Nocturne - Image ©Copyright Tom Simpson Photography

 

Alex - ©Copyright Kramon

A Conversation with
Alex Dowsett

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.

 

Alex’s Palmares:

2011
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

2010
1st European Time Trial Championships U23
1st Stage 5 Cascade Cycling Classic (USA)
Tour of Utah
2nd Prologue
2nd Stage 2
Tour de l’Avenir
2nd in Prologue
2nd Commonwealth Games Time Trial
1st Chrono des Nations U23

2009
1st Richmond Grand Prix
1st British Time Trial Championships U23
7th World Time Trial Championships U23
11th European Time Trial Championships U23

2008
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

2007
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

2006
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.

An Insider Look Into What It Means To Be Teammates on BMC Racing

 
This month at CyclingShorts.uk.com I’m bringing you an exclusive, we’re excited to feature a great article by my friend Fitzalan Gorman from www.usprocyclingnews.com She caught up with the riders of BMC Racing to get their thoughts on teammates and how that will play a part in their continued success on the world circuits of the UCI Pro-Tour.

Cristi.
 

American Riders on BMC Racing: Larry Warbasse, Taylor Phinney, John Murphy, George Hincapie show off 2011 team colors at Spain Press day - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com

 

Training camp is often the only time of the year that all riders, directeur sportifs and staff are all together in the same place. While officially it is work, these few weeks are the calm before the storm that is the long professional cycling season. At the end of January, BMC Racing held its training camp along the Spanish coastline near Denia. This area has fairly quiet roads with lots of options including flats and undulating, hilly terrain. While here, I got a chance to talk with various members of BMC Racing to find out a little more about the teammate side of cycling.

Cadel Evans and Tim Roe at Press Day in Spain 2011 - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com

So what do you think of your new teammates?

Brent Bookwalter: “These guys add a certain level of class and experience to the team. Many of the new guys have serious Grand Tour experience and are veterans at the pro tour level in both age and experience. I’m rooming with Ivan Santaromita. We are the same age, he was born in 1984, but he has been racing in the pro tour longer than I’ve been racing road bikes. Guys like that, guys who have been around the block, are very capable, classy and accomplished riders and there is a lot of depth there.”

Cadel Evans“I’m rooming with Yannick Eijssen. He has so many questions and is so motivated. I can only hope that I am giving him good advice. Along with Tim Roe, I hope that I can help develop these young riders better. I’m also excited about having Manuel Quinziato for the Tour de France. He will probably have the biggest influence on my results.”

What do you think of your mentorship with Chris Butler?

George Hincapie: “I have a bit more mentorship role with Chris than with the other riders because I train with him all the time. He has a ton of potential. He had one of the highest watts per kilo at camp for this time of year, which I was excited about. He needs to learn how to ride in the peloton and how to ride on the flats, but when it comes to his climbing, he is definitely world class.”

George Hincapie at BMC Press Day interview in Spain - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com

As a rookie, how do you take advantage of the wealth of experience offered from your veteran teammates?

Chris Butler: “I definitely try to soak it all up. I live 2 kilometers away from George in Greenville, so I am definitely biased towards him but there are so many resources on this team. I feel like Karsten Kroon can ride a bike better than anyone else in the peloton. I just want to follow him around and learn all of that information.”

BMC Racing feels different from so many other pro tour teams: There is no other agenda here other than racing. Do you feel this way?

Brent Bookwalter: “Obviously the objective here is to win and to get results but I think we are really fortunate that our head sponsor, Andy Rihs, the head management, Jim Ochowicz, and the heads of this team are not “win at any cost” kind of guys. They place a lot of value in creating a team more than just bodies pursuing results. They are creating a real family with the hopes that true results will arise from that. I feel that we are fortunate to be in this type of environment over one that demands winning.”

John Murphy“I feel that if you took the same group of guys, and put them first in a situation that demanded they win, and then you put them in a situation where the team provided everything they needed in terms of products and support, 9 times out 10, the supportive environment is where the riders will succeed. I think it is the best approach to anything competitive. Demanding winning isn’t the right psychology.”

Many hours are spent riding for someone else. Tell me a little bit about the mental side of riding in support of one of your teammates.

Brent Bookwalter: “Whether it is George, Karsten, Cadel or anyone else on this team, you step up. I think anytime you care about a person, on a personal level–more than just a coworker level – there is a greater incentive; there is more at stake than career success. There is personal success because you can honestly be happy about that person stepping up on the podium at the end of the race instead of yourself.”

How hard is it to put your personal agenda aside to support your teammates?

John Murphy in Spain at BMC Press Day - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com

John Murphy: “You work for the team and know that you will get your time. It has to go both ways and it is a constantly revolving circle. As much as you want to be the one winning and putting your arms up in the air, nobody does that by himself. If you are lucky enough to be that person, then you have to appreciate everything that everyone else is doing for you.”

Brent Bookwalter: “At this point, we are all professionals. You create longevity and professional success in this sport by fulfilling that role. To some extent, you can have satisfaction in it. You can think, it is not my job to win at the end of the race but it is my job to cover the pack for the first 100 km and I am going to turn myself inside out to do that. It definitely isn’t a thankless job.”

Final Impressions on Teamwork and BMC Racing: 

While here in Denia for the BMC training camp and press day, I was impressed by the individual strength of each rider, but it was the overall spirit of cooperation amongst the team that left a lasting impact with me.Cadel Evans explained the uniqueness of BMC Racing perfectly when he said; “I am allowed to be myself on this team”.  This team just feels different; the respect and attitude between the staff, riders and coaches can be seen in every interaction they have with one another. While everyone’s goal is for BMC to win races, it feels like they are working towards this goal collectively, much like a family.
 

BMC riders: Jeff Louder, Chris Butler, Brent Bookwalter, Chad Beyer, Chris Barton at Press Day 2011 - Image ©Copyright Fitzalan Gorman/ usprocyclingnews.com

 

Many thanks to John Murphy, Brent Bookwalter, Chris Butler, George Hincapie and Cadel Evans for taking a few moments to talk with me about the team and for giving us an inside look into how teamwork plays into the fabric of BMC Racing. Best of luck to BMC Racing with all their goals in this upcoming season!
 
 
 
 

Teamwork versus Domestiques: Ben Day talks about FlyVAustralia and Pegasus Racing

 

Jay Thomson & Ben Day at Wind Tunnel Mooresville, NC Image ©Copyright CristiRuhlman

I caught up with Ben Day of Pegasus Racing and Fly V Australia to get his take on just how “mateship” and teammates played a part in their successful 2010 season. As the team is in the process of applying for a UCI ProTour license, I also wanted to know how that philosophy will play out as the team moves over to Europe to compete in the 2011 season.

When we think of a cycling domestique, we usually think of individuals. Those cyclists who ride in the peloton giving shelter to their GC rider, bringing food and water and pretty much being the unknown force behind the pro-peloton.

But… what if an entire team could be that way–sharing the responsibilities and promoting a culture of just that: TEAMWORK. Might it not be a driving force on the cycling scene, one with a very special team solidarity?

There is a team that has done just that, and done it successfully. That team is Pegasus Racing’s FlyVAustralia. In fact, during their time on the US domestic scene, they’ve ridden together so successfully, this year alone they have scored 84 wins; that they have now made application to the UCI to head to Europe and ride there, hopefully as a ProTour team.

Tell us about “mateship” on FlyV and how its actually helped you and the guys be so successful this season? And also how you see it working as Pegasus Racing takes it to the next level?

Ben Day: The whole mateship ideology, we kind of garnered out of how in Australia we call each other “mate” all the time. It lends itself for us to be a lot more friendly to each other, I guess you could say it’s teamwork Aussie style. But in this context with the team, it just reinforced the importance of what it means to work together as a team and sacrificing yourself for the sake of the team. It’s teamwork with no personal agendas, as is often the case in other systems. I believe we have 84 wins so far for 2010 with one more tour to go, so you have to say its working really, really well. The challenge will be going into next year with the new ProTour team. For us going in there and bringing in some foreign riders and staff, we’ll be trying to teach this method to them as well, and see if they can take up where we’ve left off.

 

FlyV Australia team Image ©Copyright FlyVAustralia.com

You guys have had such great success here in the USA. With the team dynamic that we’ve seen, you all have something special. How do you think that’s going to translate to the new team? Tell us a bit more about that.

Ben: It’s going to be a bit of a challenge in itself. You know, these guys we’ve hired, we’ve hired them with the intention and foresight that these are going to be great people to have involved with the team. It’s a process, not one that just happens naturally though. In the beginnings of 2010, we did some helicopter crash training to help bring the group together and to be in some stressful situations together and learn more about each other. And that helped us with the rest of the season, where we had a lot of success.

But we kind of operate on a very honest platform. And when someone’s done a good job, like when someone wins a race, they’ve done a great job and they don’t really need a lot more pats on the back. But guys who’ve sacrificed themselves for somebody else to win the race, those moments, they’re the ones that are the most important to say, “really good job, well done, if it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t have won.” You really need to appreciate that kind of thing.

We have a very honest and open communication with everybody on the team. But at the same time, if somebody doesn’t do their job we also hold them accountable. So I think having that is… to put it bluntly… a no bullshit platform to work on, people are held accountable. If they’re good, they get congratulated; and if they don’t, then we sit down and talk about it. It’s not just left for people to figure over or for people to talk behind other people’s back. We’re open and honest with each other and we genuinely care about the bloke next to us. When we celebrate, we celebrate together. When we lose, we rally together to support each other for the next feat.

You’ve also signed alot of Aussies for 2011. Like you said, you call yourselves “mates”, do you think it’s in the culture and might make it a bit easier to fit into the team?

Ben: Yeah, it’s definitely in the culture. We’re just like that – Australians are very laid back people and don’t get worked up over small things. You know we’ve signed 11 riders, and so far there are also 11 foreign riders with still spaces to fill. So for the moment, and we will always be, an Australian team. I think that Chris White’s spent a lot of time making sure that he finds people who are willing to…….people who have similar mindsets, the personality of working hard, being laid back willing to comeback and do it for the team. They are going to be our mates and we’re all going to have a great year next year I’m sure.

 

Ben refines TT position - Image ©Copyright Randy Ruhlman

For next year, we’ve heard that you’ve already got Robbie McEwen and Robbie Hunter. They’re both veterans, but they also know how much hard work it is and how much they have to depend on the team. Are you looking for more guys like them, or more all-rounders, GC, or what?

Ben: At the moment we’ve been able to get a really, really good Classics team together. For now we’re a little bit short when it comes to GC guys, people who are capable of performing in three week tours. But you know when you look across the peloton, there aren’t a lot of teams that do have GC contenders in these 3-week tours.

Looks like you have got some nice young riders, and you have some on the roster who are coming with you, like Jai Crawford and Jay Thomson to name a few. So you should have good development on the team then?

Ben: Yeah, we still have a few spots left and we’re going to see who’s left on the marketplace, but then we need to develop as well. We’ve got some young, very talented riders on board, and in a year or two, you never know, these riders might be knocking on the door of the biggest tours in the world.

You mentioned that you had a good Classics team, as well. Do you think you’re going to do a lot of the Classics or focus on development and some of the shorter tours?

Ben: For sure, but the whole process, the ProTour process is still pending. We don’t know, whether we’ll get the license – it gets in there anywhere between Nov 1st and the 15th. But we have some guys who are very, very established in the Classics already. And they are excellent cyclists and they have great reputations. I’m sure we’re going to have starts in a lot of the biggest Classics in the world. So I think that will kind of be the focus in the first year, and where we’re guaranteed to have some people up there getting results.

But then, still as well, there are people who come out of the woodwork and we’ll be at tours and trying for stage wins and just trying to better ourselves all the time. We haven’t been in Europe for a while and we’re going in there with the realisation that it’s not going to be easy. But, you know, doing what we’ve done in the US, we’ve proven we can win races and we’ve got that experience already, so now we’ve got to get over there and amongst it and I’m sure there’s going to be alot of surprises next year.

Ben Day ready for another run on the wind tunnel - Image ©Copyright Cristi Ruhlman

You’ve been a GC guy on the domestic tour here in the US, but these are mainly one week or shorter tours. Are you looking more at the Classics or the shorter tours or straight towards the grand tours?

Ben: The shorter tours. I’ve been in Europe for 6 years previously, so I’ve raced alot of those big tours over there, just haven’t done the 3-week tours. The week-long tours, I’m more than confident that I can handle those and that I will have some good results in those in 2011. But when it comes to the three week tours, I’m humble enough to realise I don’t have the experience yet–there’s alot to learn about recovery… and it’s very rare for a first time Grand Tour rider to come in there and really take the world by storm. It’s happened, but they are really super-talented athletes. I’m just taking it step-by-step and I’ve got quite a few years left in my career and hoping by the end of things, maybe we’re having a different conversation. But let’s wait and see.

Anything else you think you might want to share with us about the new additions and larger Pegasus Racing and “mateship”?

Ben: It should be a good fit, but it’s not going just happen naturally–we’re going to have make sure we put some emphasis on it, as well. We’re planning a training camp in Outback Australia in November. It’s where we’re all going to get together for the first time. I’m sure we’re going to have some “interesting” little activities out there – get to know each other better, be at one together. It’s like a bit of a different concept to Saxo Bank’s survival camp. We do other things, but this is more to bring each other together, to learn more about each other, and it’s worked really, really well so far.

 

MATESHIP is the mantra that Pegasus Racing/Fly V Australia has put into practice. There is no denying its success on the US scene and that it has propelled them to the next step and towards the team’s European destiny for 2011. With the UCI making it’s decision within the next few weeks on that future, it will be very interesting to follow the team and watch as Pegasus Racing’s concept of ”mateship” launches onto the European scene.

 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 
 

 

A Quick Peek at the Ultimate Domestique

 

Team Time Trial--2009 Tour de France Image ©Copyright AFP

 
Who are these riders who give their all in support of the team and its superstar cyclists? Who are the domestiques?

Let’s make no mistake here, all pro-peloton domestiques are super talented riders. They’ve won races throughout their careers and show great promise.

Of course, they have to be that good. If they weren’t great cyclists, they’d never come anywhere close to being considered for a Pro-Tour team. Nor would they be part of that chosen few who support the team in the big races, the Giro, Vuelta, the Tour de France. It’s the pinnacle, the place where all great cyclist aspire to be.

On Cycling Shorts I’d like to spotlight these riders, look at some history of how domestiques and tactics have developed, and profile current and retired domestique riders. In the meantime, maybe we can also get a few to talk about their experiences as professional riders and domestiques.

First though, I really want to start with an ideal, a model of what I think has evolved into the Ultimate Domestique. This is the rider with exceptional, star talent who choses to ride in support of the team instead of inflating his own palmarès.

Yes, it is true. Most of cycling’s superstars started their careers as domestiques-carrying water bottles, blocking the wind, protecting the star rider, then they developed. Lance did, Boonen did, even Contador did, and some of today’s top riders still play both roles, in a sort of super domestique way: stars in some races, support in others.

But occasionally, through circumstances of team or timing, a rider will fulfill the supreme supporting role; that of the Ultimate Domestique. An outstanding rider, one who could easily be a superstar on a different, lesser team, yet he is someone who choses to be part of something bigger. The Ultimate Domestique is that star cyclist who choses to ride and give his all in support of another and help the team win a major Tour!

So, who is my choice? Which rider epitomizes that role of the Ultimate Domestique? Hands down, it’s Andreas Klöden.

 

Photo Courtesy of Team RadioShack

An outstanding rider in his own right, Kloden’s individual talents on the bike are really pretty darn impressive. Twice he’s finished second at the Tour de France (2004, 2006), won at Paris-Nice (2000), and brought home a Bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Yet, he’s chosen time and time again to spend his career with the some of the world’s best teams (Team Telekom/T-Mobile, Astana) riding in support of the most heralded superstars of this generation–Ullrich, Armstrong, and Contador. And much to the frustration of those covetous Team Directors who would love to pay him to come be the big star on their teams.

Klöden has used his talent and stamina to support his team leader through the mountains, in the time trials, and through the grueling weeks of a Grand Tours with the focus on the Tour win for the team. Once again it looks like Klöden will quietly operate away from the intense glare of the spotlight and continue to play his role as the ultimate domestique, this year with his new Team RadioShack.

Having seemingly been dropped from the media’s tentacles, Klöden rarely gives an interview anymore–which is a shame, because among other things he seems like he’d be a pretty fun guy to get to know. Instead he allows his performance on the bike to speak for itself, but that probably says more than dozens of interviews ever could.

So, while I think we may get lucky and see a few more individual accolades before Klöden retires from professional cycling, one thing appears to be certain, he’s discovered his place and he seems happy. Andreas Klöden has found his cycling balance as the ultimate team player — the Ultimate Domestique.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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