My feet have hardly touched the ground since my last blog, with three consecutive weekends away from home, a host of meetings and consequently a limited number of opportunities to get on the bike myself. Couple that with a really busy period in my day job too and I’ve been in danger sometimes of meeting myself coming back, like a sort of pedalling Doctor Who. I haven’t yet mastered the art of being in two places at the same time but I’m working on it.
Track World Cup
At the end of February I had the privilege of attending all of the sessions of the UCI Track World Cup presented by Samsung, at the new London Velodrome. A fantastic event in a fantastic facility. As the appointed representative of the UCI Management Committee, I had to do all the presentation ceremonies, which meant that I was up on that stage every few minutes. It got so that even I was sick of seeing myself on the big screen, so apologies to anyone who may have thought I was hogging the limelight – it really wasn’t my choice!
There were so many fantastic performances by the Great Britain team that I’m reluctant to pick out any one of them. You’ll have read the reports and seen them on the excellent television coverage, so I’ll just say that it was great to see some of our established “big hitters” back to something close to their best, whilst also seeing some young stars clearly breaking through and staking their claims for Olympic selection. Whilst it would be too much to predict that we will win as many Gold Medals as we did in Beijing, clearly that was an historic and truly exceptional set of performances but what I will say is that I am confident that we are going to be there or thereabouts and challenging for the podium in as many events.
As Dave Brailsford and his brilliant team of back-up staff say, you can’t ever guarantee success at the elite level - all you can do is make sure that the riders have the best preparation and support that we can possibly provide. Then all our riders can do is their best on the day. Thanks to the support of our funders at UK Sport (keep buying those National Lottery tickets everyone!), our sponsors Sky and others, the BOA and all the many individual and group efforts behind the scenes, I know that they will have the best possible support from the resources available to us. I also know that everyone reading this, in fact the whole nation, will be right behind them too. It’s going to be a great Olympic Games.
During the World Cup, I was also invited to appear on BBC Television’s Breakfast programme on the Sunday morning, to talk about our new involvement in Safer Cycling campaigning, as well as the World Cup. I was picked up from my hotel at 6.30am and whisked across London to the studios at Broadcasting House, to be interviewed by Susanna Reid and Charlie Stayt. After a quick visit to make-up (I know, I don’t need it – a nice lady just dusted me down a bit to stop my face reflecting the studio lights), it was straight into the studio, following a running item about a young street cleaner who had found some Rolex watches in a drain. My ten minutes of fame seemed to go OK, I got my points across and a few people have told me that I didn’t sound like a gibbering idiot, so the general impression seems to have been good. Let me know if you saw it and how you think it went. I have been expecting a call from Graham Norton or Jonathan Ross, - nothing so far but I’m sure it will be soon.
The following weekend, I had a couple of days in Belgium. First up was a meeting of the UCI “Common Ground” session. This was the third session in a new initiative to get a small but wide-ranging group of stakeholders in pro road cycling together, to talk about the issues and to see if common ground (hence the title) can be found regarding the way forward. It’s not appropriate to give names but group members included some top pro riders, race organisers, journalists, national federations, team representatives and UCI people including President Pat McQuaid. I was honoured to be invited and I think it shows the respect with which British Cycling is held in international circles these days, thanks to the amazing progress of recent years.
The outcome of these meetings is perhaps difficult to define exactly. But what is clear is that, contrary to the impression given in the media, the UCI is a body that is a listening organisation and one that is very keen to take on board the views of those people who have the best interests of the sport at heart.
I really think both the UCI and in particular its President Pat McQuaid are hugely misunderstood and misrepresented by certain elements of the media, who seem to accept without question the criticisms made by certain individuals, some of whom, let’s be frank, have axes to grind and a vested interest in destabilising the body that is at least attempting to govern our sport in the best interests of all, rather than of a few who see it as a way of lining their pockets. That’s not to say that I think the UCI is perfect now or has always got everything right in the past – clearly it isn’t and hasn’t. But on balance I certainly prefer the people involved with the UCI now and the structure it has, arcane as it is, compared with some of the individuals and structures that I have seen proposing “new” ways forward for our sport.
From there I went direct to join Team Sky for the first big Belgian race of the year, Het Nieuwsbald, which used to be known as Het Volk until the newspaper of the latter name was taken over by the former. It’s always a pleasure to see the Team Sky set up at close quarters. Everything so professional, everyone seems to know exactly what they are doing and the dedication of the staff matches that of the riders perfectly.
Before the race, I was able to experience the great atmosphere in the start area, with hundreds of fans flocking around the team buses, chasing autographs, freebies, anything at all really. Many British fans were there too, including Rusty and Kay who are probably Team Sky’s most enthusiastic supporters, having recently retired have spent most of the last couple of years turning up at almost every pro race in Europe in their campervan, adorned with flags and banners. They must cover many thousands of miles every year in their endeavour. “We call it our adventure before dementia!” Rusty told me. Check out Team Sky’s Facebook to see Kay’s great photos and their many postings. What a great thing to do – you know, I reckon I might follow their lead sooner or later…..
Again, you’ll know the race result, a great ride by Sky’s Juan Antonio Flecha (“the Spanish Flandrian”) to secure third place behind the new young Belgian sensation Sep Vanmarcke and established star Tom Boonen. I was privileged to spend time with former rider, now working behind the scenes, Dario Cioni, and Head of Operations Carsten Jeppesen, out on the course with spare wheels and bottles.
I had to get home on the Saturday evening, so missed the race next day, Kuurne – Brussels – Kuurne, where Mark Cavendish got the win. Another great performance from him, with a superb lead out from the team.
European Cycling Union Congress
The next weekend I was off again, this time to Segovia near Madrid, with British Cycling Vice Chairman Charlie Jackson. As usual at these kind of meetings, the main point of being there is not really the formal meeting itself, it’s the networking done in between times. So we managed to get some good talking done, supporting Great Britain’s role in the international scene, making friends and influencing both general and specific matters of significance to the future of our sport.
These things are all about credibility – if you have it, people listen to what you have to say. If you don’t, they don’t. These days, I’m happy to report, people do want to know what Great Britain thinks about the big issues of the day. As long as we also remain respectful of our colleagues and don’t take our current position for granted, then I think we can continue to grow in our international influence. We really are in a very privileged position – fantastically well-resourced and successful beyond the wildest dreams of many national federations. But many of us can still remember when we were the poor relations and I believe it’s important to both make and keep friends in Europe and indeed the rest of the world, not least because we may not always be as successful and well-resourced as we are now.
On the bike
Amidst all that, I’ve managed to get out on my bike a few times as well, as I’m hoping to ride a few sportives and also do a little bit of racing later in the year. Charlie and I, together with my mate Vinny Smith an ex-GB team roadman who rode the Peace Race and various other international races back in the 1980s, are riding the Fred Whitton event in May.
As you probably know, this encompasses just about every gruesome hill it is possible to get in a 112 mile loop around the Lake District. I’ve done most of those climbs before, years ago but not all at once. On pre-season training weekends, I always used to say that miles in the Lake District were worth twice the miles anywhere else – the roads are just constantly up and down and generally steep, so you’re constantly in and out of the saddle with little respite. By the way, those were the days when pre-season training meant hostelling weekends in the Lakes, the Dales or Wales. Now it means weeks in the sunshine of Mallorca or Lanzarote! You youngsters, you don’t know how easy you’ve got it, etc, etc.....
Anyway, Charlie and I went up to Keswick for a short reminder of some of the route, covering Honister Pass and Newlands – blimey, I’d forgotten just how steep and long those devils are. I’m not ashamed to say my compact chainset and 34x27 gearing still had me struggling on the steepest bits. I’m actually thinking of getting a triple chainset fitted, just for that one event, bearing in mind that actually those two are not the steepest climbs – that’s probably Hardknott and Wrynose and they come when you’ve already got over 90 miles in your legs. Ouch!
By the way, I also actually knew the late Fred Whitton very well. I raced against him many times and worked alongside him in the old Lakeland and Lancashire Division as Road Race Secretary for Lancashire when he did the same for Cumbria. He also organised the excellent Lakes Road Club 3 Day which ran for several years and gave many people an experience of stage racing. Fred was also in the break with me when I won the Division Championship back in 1971 – he punctured and I’m told he always believed to his dying day that he would have beaten me in the sprint if he hadn’t! Maybe he was right. Either way, a great guy and a sad loss – how fitting that he is remembered by such a fantastic event bearing his name.
Meetings, more meetings
Finally, amongst the many meetings I’ve had this last month or so, probably the most important was with Jennie Price, Chief Executive of Sport England and a number of her senior colleagues. She visited the National Cycling Centre to see what we were up to and to meet with me, the two Vice Chairmen Bob Howden and Charlie Jackson and Chief Executive Ian Drake. More importantly, we discussed our future strategy for continuing the massive increase in participation numbers (i.e. all those people regularly cycling a few times a month, not just British Cycling members) and our future governance. It’s clear we’ll need to make some changes to fit in with some of those requirements going forward but I don’t believe we have a problem with that – the day we stop adapting to our ever-changing environment is the day we become a dinosaur and we all know what happened to them.
That’s it for this month
Happy cycling, more from me next month and please don’t hesitate to let me know if you have any comments on the above or would like me to cover any other matters in a future blog.