Sunday, 29 March 2015

10 soundbites from.... Dani King

London 2012 team pursuit gold medallist and Wiggle Honda rider Dani King is getting back in the swing of things after her terrible accident at the end of last year.

Photo from
Having to overcome the physical injuries was bad enough, but getting over the mental hurdle was a greater challenge.
But now following her 10-week rehabilitation Dani is back in the saddle and racing.
 She has also been busy on training camps, supporting her Wiggle Honda team mates on the side lines at some early European road races, and appearing at Bike Expo, Manchester. I caught up with Dani King at the team launch in Ghent. Here are a few things she had to say.

"I was lucky to get a break last October – I hadn’t had that in about 3 years, which was good but unfortunately I had another forced break with the crash in November."

"I can still feel pain in my ribs every now and again but it’s more of a mental battle for me now, but I’m getting there."

"My first race will be in the UK, the Tour of the Reservoir, then I’ll do a few time trials. My first race with my team will be the Omloop van Borsele, which is towards the end of April. It’s a classics type race."

"I’d like to target the Women's Tour. That’ll be a major goal of mine."

"Rochelle [Gilmore] has done a great job in putting some great personalities together [in Wiggle Honda], so I’m really excited about racing with them this year."

"I took my health for granted before the accident but I’ve found a lot of perspective since."

"It is a shame they [Joanna Rowsell and Laura Trott] are not riding in this team but I’ll still see them out on the road. We communicate on social media most days. It’s not like their completely out of my life – and I’m going to Jo’s wedding this year."

"Getting into the pursuit team for Rio [2016] is gonna be a massive deal for me. It’s not gonna be easy, that’s for sure. What I was lacking for the four kilometres was strength so this road season’s about developing myself as an athlete."

"I really enjoyed my presenting role on the BBC. Who knows, a future career in broadcasting would be nice. But I’ll stick to cycling for now."

"My dad is my biggest role model. He competed in the winter Olympics in biathlon.  After him, Chris Hoy is a cycling role model. He is such a genuinely nice guy who is always there for me to offer advice." 

The full interview with Dani is now up on the Cycling Weekly website.


Saturday, 21 March 2015

MacAskill tricks with the Eclipse!

Hey diddle diddle the cat and the fiddle - the bull jumped over the moon! Well, Red Bull-sponsored Danny MacAskill got pretty close during the solar eclipse yesterday!
Photo by Rutger Pauw/Red Bull content pool

So yesterday morning we huddled around looking through our jazzy specs in Jodrell Bank or posed with pinhole cameras and colanders in Cornwall to see the first almost total solar eclipse of the century.

I remember the big event in 1999 and how everywhere went slightly dark for a moment in London, and then we all cheered and celebrated this momentous occasion!

This time I was in an office in Macclesfield. The sun was shrouded in cloud, it was all a bit grey, then there was apparently an 89% covering of the sun by the moon. The sun came out and people celebrated that we had seen the eclipse. The office going dark and then light again as the sun comes in and out of view happens on any day of the year, but yesterday was special because it was Solar Eclipse day!

Meanwhile in Skye, northern Scotland, where there would have been around a 96% eclipse, Danny MacAskill made much more of the occasion by doing this shoot with photographer Rutger Pauw. Smart move. MacAskill never ceases to impress me with his tricks, and I have enjoyed the various films he's done. I guess he would just see this as having a bit of fun at home - it's jolly amazing though. Here's the account from Pauw and MacAskill of how they produced this photo.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Cycling CIRCus

So the much anticipated CIRC Report was published last week. We were warned that it would make for uncomfortable reading. That was probably the case for the bosses at cycling's governing world body the UCI. The likes of Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid must have had acute indigestion at breakfast as they read the report that morning, citing how they turned a blind eye to doping by Lance Armstrong and co.

For some riders, the report was at best unhelpful, at worst insulting when it stated some of the people interviewed reckon 90% of professional cyclists dope nowadays.

As with a lot of these things the media has homed in on just one aspect of this 227-page report. Doping and Lance Armstrong - actually that's two! CIRC does discuss other things: the use of non-banned substances like caffeine and painkillers. They may appear to be performance-enhancing in the immediate term, but can be detrimental over time. For instance, opiate-based Tramadol relieves severe pain so riders can get up and race, though it can also cause drowsiness and dizziness putting riders at risk of crashes.

Perhaps the CIRC report does make for uncomfortable reading. However, I don't know if it is any more uncomfortable than reading about the set-up in other professional sports that rely heavily on sponsorship, or the average global corporation, or dare I say it, a bank!

In all the EPO haze of the Lance Armstrong-UCI show that has been talked about and talked about, there were a few things in the report that caught my eye through all the mist:

Women's cycling gets only a brief mention in the report. It says that Therapeutic Use Exemptions (which authorise the use of a drug for medical reasons) occur in the women's peloton, with some women going to a race with extensive folders of  TUE-related documentation. TUEs are often applied for with corticoid, which reduces weight quickly in order to improve power to weight ratio. That is slightly worrying as it also ties in with the issue of eating disorders (not mentioned in the CIRC report). Last week the Wiggle-Honda rider and Belgian Road Race Champion Jolien D'Hoore spoke out about eating disorders and called for the UCI to do more to provide support for women and help to prevent these problems.

The report highlighted that women's cycling has been poorly supported in the past years - that's not news really. What is quite worrying is that the report stated that examples were given where riders had been exploited financially, and allegedly sexually. Furthermore, team managers of women's team were almost always male and some were not of the quality to get a job in a male cycling team. But yet they were managing women's teams. The report continued that "glaring opportunities to recognise women's cycling for its potential were tainted by a male-dominated sport that failed to realise the potential of women's cycling."
Well, the report could have started off by giving more than a couple of short paragraphs out of 227 pages to women's cycling! They could have also interviewed more professional cyclists, not just Nicole Cooke. Rant over.

I hope that the couple of points mentioned, which are already significant points will be taken up by key players in the cycling world otherwise the future of women's professional cycling would be very bleak future - with or without doping.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Female Cycling Legends

For International Women's Day a couple of years ago I saluted a few outstanding women in sport. I still salute them, as well as a few more like Serena Williams (tennis), Joanna Rowsell (cycling), Lizzy Yarnold (skeleton), Katie Taylor (boxing), Katie Walsh (jockey), Charlotte Dujardin (dressage) and Sarah Storey (cycling).

This year I also wanted to mention a few more women who were legends in their day.

When it comes to cycling Beryl Burton (who I profiled a couple of years ago) is the standout performer for me. Her prowess went to places no one else's went then, or since. Taking various British records some of which took a number of years to be beaten even by male cycle racers, Burton is arguably the greatest female cycle racer in Britain.

Another legend is Leontien van Moorsel. Her name has been mentioned recently as Sarah Storey recently tried unsuccessfully to break her world hour record. The record that she set of 46.065km in 2003 has become a high bar for women racers, especially given this Dutch racer's brilliant pedigree. She won a number of titles in the 1990s and noughties on the road and on the track, including battles with one of her then rivals Jeannie Longo-Ciprelli during the women's Tour de France.

Van Moorsel won gold medals in the road race, the time trial and on the track, plus a silver on the track at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, as well as a gold and a bronze medal at Athens in 2004 in the time trial and on the track. This makes her the most decorated female cyclist in the Olympics. And she managed this after having battled with anorexia nervosa some years before. Today, Leontien van Moorsel is a coach and motivational speaker.

Further back in time was the so-named "Miss America" from the late 1860s when cycle racing first began. Women were not encouraged to take part in sport as it was assumed they would stick to doing household duties! But it was later found that sport may benefit women's as well as men's health so they were encouraged to do light exercise. Cycle racing in France was becoming popular, with many cities up and down the country hosting cycle races, usually in conjunction with festivals - watching the men race on velocipedes provided a lot of entertainment, especially as these machines weren't easy to ride, the races contained obstacles to run or jump over and crashes occurred.

Although organisers welcomed women taking part, few or none signed up as their large skirts made it impractical for them to ride. Cycle friendly women's clothing was only in its infancy and many women did not possess the new garments advocated by Amelia Bloomer. Furthermore, many women didn't know how to ride and would not want to embarrass themselves in front of large crowds. Then "Miss America" turned up. She hitched up her revolutionary bloomers and took up the contests held in 1868 in the suburbs of Paris, winning a number of races.

Fortunately for her, the few other women who turned out were still mastering how to ride a velocipede so her wins were quite convincing. Her performances proved a spectacle and her appearance at the races was a crowd puller. What really impressed people was when she competed in the very first cycle race in 1869 - the Paris-Rouen. 

At 7.30 am on 7th November under torrential rain the one hundred competitors, which included Miss America and one other woman set out from the Arc de Triomphe. Only 34 riders completed the race, many abandoning due to mechanical failure, fatigue in the difficult conditions or missing the 24-hour cut-off. Miss America finished in 29th place around 6 o'clock the following morning - some 12 hours after the winner, a British man called James Moore who completed the 123km in 10hours 40 minutes.

Completing the race was quite a feat, and Miss America, as the only woman to have withstood all the rigours and challenges was seen as an instant heroine. It is not known what her real name was. She was the wife of a cycle racer, but she raced under a pseudonym, like other women who competed. Society frowned at the idea of women doing such unladylike things as riding velocipedes, still less, racing. Their participation was seen more as a novel spectacle as an aside to the real races contested by the men - women couldn't possible engage in serious competition! How times have changed!

Related articles

Women's Cycling just got Strongher

Interviewing a few good women

Beryl Burton on the BBC

Saturday, 7 March 2015

10 Sound bites from... Dame Sarah Storey

Sarah Storey made a gallant attempt to break the women's world hour record at the London Revolution Series in Lee Valley VeloPark last week.
Riding her black Ridley Arena speed machine during "the hardest hour of her life" the Pearl Izumi-Sports Tours International rider narrowly missed out on Leontien van Moorsel's 46.065km record from 2003.

Britain's most successful paralympian fell short when she rode 45.502km, however she did break the British women's record (previously held by Yvonne McGregor), the World Masters Age 35-39 record, and the C5 para-cycling record.

Here's what she had to say to the pack of media folks shortly afterwards:

"I emptied the tank and at the end I couldn’t have got any more out of myself."

"You’re just so thirsty and you can’t see because you are sweating into your visor.... you're trying to think logically, and not “Ahh I wanna stop!”

"I couldn’t have trained any harder. I’m the fittest and lightest I’ve ever been since I had Louisa."

"This particular time [to attempt the hour record] fitted in really well. Next year’s all about Rio. I guess you never ever say never but I don’t think I will ever do it again!"

"Records are there to be challenged. I’d love to see Lisa Brennauer [World time trial champion] or Sarah Hammer [World record holder over 3000m] try it."

"I still feel like I’ve got ants in my pants because I can’t move without jerking around. I’m just relieved to have done it!"

"Chris Boardman said it’s an event that should be respected and feared and there’s absolutely no doubt that I’ve both respected it and feared it."

"I always said I was going to come and do the very best I could and that’s exactly what’s happened."

The crowd was amazing and was really behind me. The last 10-15 minutes were incredible and it kept my mind off those horrible feelings in my legs."

"Completing the event teaches you a huge amount. We’ve taken marginal gains to the nth degree....and can apply them to what I’m going to be doing between now and Rio."

Related Articles

Golden girl Storey at London 2012 Paralympics

10 Sound bites from the Aviva Women's Tour

Friday, 6 March 2015

Hello to Wiggle Honda!

My first gig of the year was a trip across to Ghent for the launch of the Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling team. Around 15 journos were taken by Eurostar care of Wiggle/Brand Nation to meet the likes of Dani King, Giorgia Bronzini, and newly crowned World Omnium Champion Annette Edmondson.

Photo by Wiggle Honda
I have been to team launches of women's teams before but not one like this. The hotel, the Standton in Ghent was pretty neat and reminded me of hotels from another world - that's to say hotels where you have a sojourn rather than a functional hotel to crash. It's a shame we were only there for one day!

Back to the launch, the girls were presented at a nearby PoortAckere monastery, where each one in turn rode up the aisle to the reach the stage on their Colnago V1-r bikes. I can't think when I've even seen someone cycle on the interior of a religious establishment - I guess there's a first for everything.

It was good to catch up with a few folks I'd met previously - like Dani King, Giorgia Bronzini and their photographer Bart Hazen. At these things it's also a chance to make a few more contacts. I finally got to meet team manager, Rochelle Gilmore, who certainly sounds very savvy.

He mother was also in attendance, which was jolly supportive her. I must admit, I'd seen her around and had assumed she was a friend of Rochelle's or her sister - rather than her mother. She looked very young and glamorous!

As the team is supported by The Bradley Wiggins Foundation, and Brad was in Belgium on that day in advance of the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, I wondered if he might make an appearance. But there was no sign of him.

One person who did show up and seemed very welcomed was Marc Coucke, CEO of Omega Pharma. There is speculation that Omega may in future sponsor the team.

Anyway, it was a good day out. I interviewed a number of the women, including young British riders Amy Robinson, Anna Christian.

My write-up on the launch is currently on the Sportsister website, and there's a Dani King interview due to go into Cycling Weekly in the future - other bits and pieces will go on this site too.