This year’s Rapha Rising saw participants scale a staggering 157,871,940 metres – and we hope that, during their quest for elevation, the riders of the challenge were able to live up to Hinault’s old maxim, however briefly. The Badger embodied a style of climbing that seemed utterly effortless, much like a pianist taking to his bench at the start of a concerto. To wrap up the Rapha Rising challenge, and to set you on course for the rest of the summer’s riding and climbing, we sought advice from a rider who regularly races with the best of the British peloton.
The problem with advice on climbing is that it often comes from riders already good at climbing – that is, those who are preternaturally skinny and none too challenged by gravity. Their advice, though useful, is based in a natural affinity for the pursuit, not in a constant and conscious fight against adversity. In the hope of offering some truly hard-won advice, we turned to Rhys Howells, elite racer with British team Richardsons-Trek, who stands at 191cm tall and weighs 85kg.
Riders focus on diet. I hear stories of guys who rode on the Continent in the 1990s, and their managers would turn up to their houses with skin-fold calipers for impromptu body-fat tests.
I’ve found the biggest difference comes from watching what I eat the day before a big ride. I used to think that I had to cram in as much food as possible, trying to get as much ‘in the tank’ as I could handle. The problem is that if I eat a giant bowl of porridge, I feel like a giant bowl of porridge – slow and stodgy.
Now I eat less before a ride and just make sure I start eating rice bars around 30 minutes into the ride. If you feel light, you go fast.
When you’re in the peloton you can see the guys who are going to try to ride away from you on the climb – there’s something in their form and pedal stroke that sets them apart. You can limit your losses but it means spending time doing boring things like sit-ups and ‘the plank’.
When you have core strength, it’s like someone is pushing your hips into the saddle, letting you put all your strength through the pedals. Of course, when you’re really digging deep you end up wrenching on the bars and weaving across the road like a total novice.
The effort required to climb well isn’t too far removed from the effort required on the flat – I think the main difference is psychological. There’s no escaping a climb, no freewheeling – any momentary pause and you’ll stop, so there’s this pressure to keep on going. The only way to get used to this is to always remind yourself of what climbing feels like, to become well-acquainted with the pain. Keep your head up and keep pedaling – when you start thinking you’re a in a bad way then you’re definitely in a bad way.
The Lincoln Gran Prix goes over a climb called Michaelgate more times than I care to mention. It’s 20%, and it feels like more. There are always huge crowds, and the peloton will hit a bottleneck, then you have to put your foot down on the cobbles, and it’s a nightmare. It’s carnage – there are riders leaning on each other and balancing off the barriers.
I had to get one of the crowd to hold me up while I clipped in. I spotted a bloke leaning over a barrier and I shouted: “Hold me, hold me.” He looked a bit confused. “Hold me like it’s a time trial!” He got the idea and kept me upright.
I don’t think it’s in the rulebook, necessarily, but don’t be afraid to ask for a helping hand from time to time.]]>
Eric Marcotte’s victory in the US national championships was remarkable for its style, its unexpectedness and its worthiness. Marcotte’s team – SmartStop, who also provided second place finisher Travis McCabe – have shown what is possible with a limited budget supplemented by talent and dedication. Marcotte is a chiropractor when he’s not winning races, an example to all of us with a day job. As shown in this race, he’s an exceptionally canny racer – the finale was delicately balanced until the final moments, and Marcotte and McCabe played their cards perfectly to come away with a one-two despite the presence of far more feted racers. The importance of the victory perfectly encapsulated by the reaction of directeur sportif Mike Creed, shown below. (Hopefully Creed will spend some time remedying Marcotte’s apparent fondness for baseball caps).
Reviews of the Spring Classics in much of the cycling media might lead you to believe that Greg Van Avermaet had a season to forget. While he didn’t win a race, this list is a place to recognise the perseverance and panache hidden away in the results sheets. Van Avermaet rode with purpose, unafraid to animate the front of the race while other favourites preferred to watch each other’s wheels. Then, at the tail end of it all, he put in a truly selfless performance in service of Philippe Gilbert on Amstel’s hills – no small feat for a tired rider on the wrong side of 70kg.
For any rider, there are races you are destined to lose. With no prospect of victory, the only thing you can control is the valiance of your fight. The Women’s Tour was just such a race for Emma Pooley, Lotto-Bellisol’s diminutive climber. Pooley took on each stage with an astounding ferocity, by turn fighting to be in the break, establishing the break, bringing it back, protecting a team-mate and leading out sprinters. It was a display of absolute determination and talent.
The phrase ‘race within a race’ is a cycling commentary cliché, but Stage 7 of the Critérium de Dauphiné had so many races within races that Westra’s efforts to take the stage win went almost unnoticed until the final 300m. The stage included five categorised climbs, and Westra was dropped from the break on the final of these. Television didn’t do justice to the drama, mistakenly cutting between images of the leading duo from Katusha, Egor Silin and Yury Trofimov, and of Froome and Contador slightly further down the hill. Most spectators remained unaware of Westra’s heroic efforts as he clawed his way back to the front of the race. He caught the leaders in the final straight, blowing straight past – the looks on the faces of Silin and Trofimov was a heart-breaking mixture of disbelief and despondency.
This joint award is for three riders who demonstrated absolute respect for the Queen of the Classics. United Healthcare’s Chris Jones (formerly of Rapha Focus) is usually at the forefront of the US domestic peloton, lined up for his first Paris-Roubaix. He and his team made a pact that all of the riders were to finish, no matter the difficulty of the racing and conditions. Jones and his team did just that, with tears from some visible as they entered the velodrome. At the front of the race, Thomas and Wiggins embodied much the same spirit. Wiggins put in a huge turn to bring Thomas and a few select others up to the leaders (an effort mostly missed by the television coverage), setting the pair up for top-ten placings. In doing so, the former Tour de France winner earned the respect of the peloton, and Thomas showed that his junior Paris-Roubaix title might soon be paired with a senior one.
Rapha Condor JLT’s performance at this year’s Tour of Korea was dominant, but that’s not the reason they’ve earnt their place on the mid-year panache round up. It’s more that their time there was a display of both panache and the promise of panache to come. Highlights include Mike Cummings, wearing the number one dossard, winning a stage and then working tirelessly for his team-mate, and eventual winner, Hugh Carthy; Hugh’s maturity and race-sense at only 19; and directeur sportif Tom Southam’s dedication to both his young charges and to his panama hat.
Tony Martin’s style is quite distinct. He has the broad stance of a time triallist, an inscrutable, open-mouthed stare, and one of the smoothest pedal strokes in the peloton. If he isn’t preparing for a time trial, he is doing one of two things: dragging a team-mate to the head of affairs, or setting out on long, solo breakaways that come within a hair’s breadth of glory. On Stages 9 and 10, we were treated to both of Martin’s party tricks. He rode some 59km alone, finishing 7:45 ahead of the peloton and more than two-and-a-half minutes ahead of the next best finisher. The very next day, Martin hauled his young Polish team-mate Michał Kwiatkowski to the base of the final climb. When his work was done he blew in the most spectacular fashion, weaving across the slopes of La Planche des Belles Filles in a state of near delirium. These two days proved Martin to be a man of true panache, able to challenge for personal glory and yet willing to bury himself to assist others.
Pauline Ferrand-Prévot may look like a true grimpeur, but her palmarès attests to her status as one of the sport’s true all-rounders. The 22-year-old currently holds the French national road, time trial, mountain bike and cyclocross championships – a feat only bettered by her team-mate, Marianne Vos. Prévot’s Flèche win was an assured performance. With the most super of super-domestiques, Vos, to protect her, Prévot closed gaps to Stevens, Borghini and Armistead with ease, keeping just enough in reserve to overhaul Armistead on the Mur de Huy.
Sprinters rarely get a look-in when it comes to compilations of panache. Their trade is a little too prosaic, relying on calculations, lead-outs and brute force – which is sometimes thrilling but too often leaves fans cold. Bouhanni’s victory in Stage 4 of the Giro was the antithesis of ‘calculated’ sprinting. The stage saw rain of such severity that the peloton petitioned the race director to have the majority of the stage neutralized, and for the times to not count towards the general classification. Shortly after the racing started in earnest, Bouhanni punctured. With the help of team-mates he charged through the bunch, tracking sideways on rain-slick streets, diving through corners that other riders treated with extreme caution. His sprint was launched from leagues behind Luka Mezgec yet managed to overhaul the young Slovenian to take one of the most courageous sprint wins of recent years.
We’ve come to expect a certain level of prudence from our leaders in the world’s greatest race. We understand that too much is at stake – the racing will only be swashbuckling at the most crucial moments, and we should learn to enjoy the tactical effort-matching of most stages. In light of this, Vincenzo Nibali’s performance in Stage 5 of the Tour felt like something from a different age. He rode the cobbles like a seasoned classics specialist, following the lines of the Omega Pharma and Belkin squads with apparent ease. Considering the perennial debate about the parcours design of the biggest races, and whether cobbles belong in a Grand Tour, Nibali showed what it means to be a complete rider.]]>
Part of a series of films to come throughout the 2014 season, both riders and staff provide unique insights into every aspect of the team, showing just why it’s the little things that make Team Sky one of the world’s best.
See all the films and more → The Little Things]]>
We’d like to extend our thanks to the thousands of riders, volunteers and organisers who made the 360 locally organised rides possible. We wish everyone the best of luck with the rest of the summer’s riding, and hope to see you out on the road. We will be publishing a full round up of the day’s events next week, along with some news about the future of the Women’s 100.
Keep sharing highlights from your riding, and see photos and stories from rides all over the world, with the #womens100 tag on Twitter and Instagram. Send your stories, experiences, photos and films to email@example.com, and we’ll share as many as we can.
In that sense, Herrera and the way in which his victory was portrayed by the Colombian press, changed my understanding of pain within the context of cycling. It was necessary, and it was to be admired. And it was not limited to merely struggling against another rider, or against a mountain. It was an instinctively painful affair. This was an understanding that didn’t change significantly in my mind until years later, when Marco Pantani died alone in a hotel room in Rimini in Italy.
Looking back, Herrera being cast as a pseudo-religious figure seems a bit bizarre, though entirely understandable given the way Catholicism continues to dominate Colombian life. I think it strange, however, when people try to do the same with Marco Pantani. So I write not to fetishize or oversimplify the battles he faced but simply because Pantani’s death (and Matt Rendell’s subsequent investigation of it in his excellent Pantani biography) served once again to change my understanding of pain in sport. If Herrera’s bloody face prompted a simple and visceral reaction in me as a kid, Pantani’s life and death showed me the complexities of the human condition, both inside and outside the confines of his sport.
Today, we know that Pantani’s mental illness was not only diagnosed but was largely obscured by the world of competitive cycling in which he became such a star. If anything, it was exacerbated by that very success. According to a psychiatric evaluation from December of 2001, it was determined that, among other things, Pantani presented the following traits: a need for admiration; a disregard for his own safety; a lack of remorse; severe perfectionism; frequent denial; and a lack of empathy which he expressed in his enjoyment of inflicting pain upon others1. He enjoyed making others feel pain, even if it came at his own peril.
While these characteristics seem an obvious recipe for heartache and disaster, they are also the mental traits required to achieve greatness in a sport as unforgiving as road racing. In Pantani’s case, both interpretations are valid. That is a realisation that has changed the way I see cycling, cyclists, and the whole concept of ‘pain’ within sport.
In the end, Pantani was neither a saint, nor a demon. He was something altogether more ordinary; he was simply human, a reality capable of bringing an unbelievable amount of pain.
1 The Death of Marco Pantani: A Biography, by Matt Rendell, Weidenfeld & Nicholson.]]>
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On the blog there’s advice on preparation and motivation as well as a page to help you find a group ride to join on the day itself, but here’s a guide to getting the best out of Strava, the social network and training tool for runners and cyclists.
Strava has been immensely popular for participants in our Festive 500 Challenge, but it’s not all about segments and smashing Queen of the Mountains times. Used right, it can be a fun way of helping you achieve your goals.
First and foremost, don’t forget to join the Women’s 100 Strava Challenge! All riders that complete the Challenge will receive a woven badge to commemorate their achievement.
Join the Women’s 100 on Strava »
Aside from that, here are the Strava and Rapha Women’s 100 Dos and Don’ts.
DO follow all your friends on Strava. You’ll find a ready-made pool of people to share your achievements with, ideas for new routes and motivation. And if a little friendly competition develops, all the better.
DO find famous riders to follow. Yes, they’ll put your achievements into perspective, but the pros are a great source of inspiration. Why not check out some of the riders from the recent Women’s Tour of Britain who log their rides on Strava.
DO name your rides to make it more interesting. Let people know what happened, what you saw and who you were with. Telling the story in the title makes the rides more memorable and will give your followers something to engage with.
DO connect your Instagram to Strava. It’s a great way of sharing with your followers the things you saw on your ride. Here’s some instructions on how to do it »
DO set up a privacy zone around your house. It’ll keep you and your bike safe. Again it’s easy to do – from the Privacy tab on the Strava Settings page.
DON’T get stuck on the same old training loops from your front door. Use the Strava routing feature to explore your local area and keep your motivation up. Another good idea is to make a route then take the train or drive out of your usual area. The ‘Heatmap’ toggle in the controls shows you which roads are popular with local cyclists, and with a pre-planned route you can be sure you won’t get lost.
DO join some Strava clubs. They’re forums for making friends, planning rides and sharing tips. The Rapha Cycle Clubs in London, San Francisco, New York, Sydney all are there – they’re a good place to start.
DO test yourself on segments you ride regularly. As you build up a bank of rides and try to beat your times on roads you ride all the time, you’ll get a good idea of how you’re progressing.
DO switch your default display to women only if you prefer – edit your display preferences.
DON’T feel like every ride is a race. It’s good to test yourself, but you’ll only burn out if you go full gas on every ride.
Remember at all times: this is meant to be fun! Good luck and ride strong.]]>
The recent racing and festivities in Yorkshire were delivered to fans with an undeniably French flavour – the magnificently renamed Côte de Blubberhouses, miles of yellow bunting and adoption of the phrase ‘Tour de Yorkshire’ are testament to this. But long before the great race descended on Yorkshire, one of the county’s cyclists brought his distinct style to bear on continental racing. Brian Robinson was born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, in 1930. We recognise him now from team publicity photographs and race reporting, wearing broad-collared shirts and catwalk-worthy sunglasses while racing up Europeans cols, his hair elegantly slicked. He cut his teeth as a teenager on Yorkshire’s climbs, riding out in the war years with group from the NCU-affiliated Huddersfield Road Club. It’s on these rides – 150 mile escapades fueled by cups of tea and heavily rationed snacks – that Robinson developed his reputation as a rider who could climb, sprint and time trial, depending on what the occasion demanded. In photographs from his days in Yorkshire, Robinson, astride a Johnny Berry frame, had plump cheeks that belied the strength of legs that could ride 70 miles to a race, win, and ride home again. By the time he raced against Fausto Coppi, those plump cheeks were gone, hollowed out by one of the most successful and demanding careers of any post-war British cyclist.
The Izoard is one of the great climbs of the Alps, regularly featured in the world’s biggest race and spoke of with reverence by amateurs and professional alike. Newcomers often remark on its two faces – the north side is lush and green, the south side an arid, rocky monotone. On the slopes of the Izoard is a memorial to Louison Bobet and Fausto Coppi. It’s said that Bobet idolised Coppi, and written accounts make much of his matinee idol looks and winning disposition – something he shared with his idol. Incidentally, they fought on opposite sides of the second world war, – Bobet is rumoured to have ferried messages for the French Resistance, while Coppi was unwillingly conscripted into the Italian ranks, spending a couple of years as a prisoner of war after fighting in the African campaign. The memorial is made up of two plaques featuring the riders’ likenesses in profile – for some reason, they face away from each other. It’s not far away from the spot where Bobet, riding in a breakaway with his team-mate Adolphe Deledda on their way to securing the yellow jersey, the Frenchman spotted Coppi cheering from the roadside, and took a moment to thank him for his support.
On 15th July, 1969, Eddy Merckx rode 130km solo in the Pyrenees, winning the day’s stage by almost eight minutes. He’d go on to win the race, and become the last rider to be first over the Tourmalet and to be crowned victor in Pairs in the same year – perhaps this should be a note to riders with aspirations in the general classification. The story goes that Merckx attacked to spite a team-mate who had agreed to sign for a rival team. Instead of allowing the team-mate to take the KOM points, Merckx attacked. The Cannibal, it seems, valued loyalty and publicly punished disloyalty. His adventure over the Pyrenees enamoured journalists and fans, who were delighted to see the young Belgian attack despite comfortably holding the leader’s jersey. That day, Merckx added eight minutes to his advantage n the general classification. This year, the cyclo-sportif riders will be tackling the same ground on which Merckx launched this blistering attack, but the rocky outcrops are unlikely to be the backdrop to any further examples of Merckxissimo.]]>
With two young daughters and my husband often working out of town, fitting into a group training schedule was near impossible. So, I was a little nervous turning up as a relative newcomer to the sport, a country girl on city roads. But I loved it. I loved that we all had a coffee before our ride and that all these women were going out to ride 100km together, while women all over the world were simultaneously doing the same. I soon realised that riding with others was much more fun and much easier than doing it alone.
My passion for cycling began when my second baby was around 10 months old and I finally started to claw back some ‘me time’. I had always been a keen runner but my post-baby body didn’t like running everyday and I needed to change it up. I also happen to live in arguably the best cycling location in Australia – in Bright, Victoria – and given there’s so much quality riding to be had here, it’s hard not to fall in love with the sport. For me, the freedom and exhilaration on the bike was a double-bonus; I got fitter and stronger, as well asgetting some much needed relief from looking after two very small children.
So, this year, I’ve signed up to do the Women’s 100 again. This time round, however, there’s one small hitch, what you might call a bump in the road – by 20th July, the day of the ride, I’ll be 21 weeks pregnant. How much of an obstacle this proves remains to be seen. Even though I knew I was pregnant when I signed up, I wanted to do it for myself. Partly because last year was such an achievement, but also because I wanted to get some of my friends involved. Perhaps the challenge of riding a 100km pregnant also appealed to me. I like to believe that having babies doesn’t mean women have to give up everything, despite that’s how it feels sometimes.
I trained a lot this past summer, fulfilling more of my riding goals. I finally rode up Mt Hotham a couple of months ago, feeling my fittest ever. Last weekend, I rode 60km with some of the girls I’ll ride with on the Women’s 100 and it was hard. By the end, I was completely spent. My legs are rapidly losing their power and my belly continues to grow and squish into my Winter Tights. I am hoping with all my heart that two years of training will help keep my legs turning over for 100km, and that my tights will still fit in a month’s time.
If nothing else, the Women’s 100 has kept me on the bike when my warm bed was beckoning and my morning sickness was overwhelming. I will keep riding until I can’t ride any longer, and I can only hope that will be after 20th July.