Back then, so legend has it, Yatsugatake kept company with the likes of K2, in Pakistan, Kanchenjunga, on the Nepal-India border, and the goddess mother of all the snows herself, Mount Everest. It is a Yatsugatake that exists now only in legend, sent crumbling by a jealous rival, the deity Konohanasakuyahime, protector of Mount Fuji. Located on the shores of Lake Kawaguchi in the Chubu region, Fuji is modern Japan’s highest mountain – and tops out at a paltry 3,776m.
Geologists, for their part, like to point out there may be some truth to Yatsugatake’s claims, theoretically at least; the Yatsugatake range is considerably older that the geological formations around Mount Fuji, and millennia of erosion have done much to diminish its peaks. The highest in the Yatsugatake range still standing is Mount Aka, at 2,899m.
Despite their diminutive status – Japan does not have a single peak above 4,000m, nor one that is home to a single glacier – the mountains around Nobeyama have a heritage in alpinism, a sport once considered the preserve of westerners, which compares favourably with the rest of the world. The Japanese Alpine Club was founded in 1905, and while it lagged behind the British equivalent, whose inception came in 1857, by the best part of half a century, it was inaugurated only three years after the American Alpine Club, established in 1902.
Leading alpinists from both around the world were first alerted to the possibilities for mountain sports in these parts thanks to the Reverend Walter Weston, a visiting English clergyman whose seminal work on a nearby range, Mountaineering and Exploration in the Japanese Alps, was first published in 1896. By 1910, the Japanese military had contracted the services of a leading Austrian climbing instructor, Theodor von Larch, who also lead ski-mountaineering excercises on the slopes of Mount Fuji. Today, Japanese teams can be found at the base camps of all the world’s 14 peaks that soar above 8,000m.
Yet for all the allure of such behemoths, fictional or otherwise, it would be unwise to underestimate the challenge posed by the mountains on Japan’s home soil. The Yatsugatake range that stands sentinel above Nobeyama is still high enough for an ice-climbing season that lasts from November to mid-April. There is also the small matter of contrasts, and the extent to which this exacerbates conditions.
The difference between the summer and winter seasons in the high mountains of Europe is much less marked than it is in Japan, where high terrain undergoes a complete transformation during the snowy season that lasts from late December to early April. In the mountains here, a single fall of snow may well exceed three metres, the sort of vast, uncompacted volume that provides ideal ordnance for avalanches. Temperatures of –20C are considered modest and blizzards are a constant threat. In more northerly reaches, conditions during the snowy season are so severe they are sometimes ranked the equal of the Himalayas during the monsoon season – a time when only the foolhardy venture out – and deaths in Japan’s own climbing season are sadly all too common.
Even at lower elevations, that more recent European import that marks out Nobeyama, the sport of cyclocross, is not insulated against extremes of weather. At 1,345m, the severity of a sea-level winter is amplified significantly. Nobeyama’s local train station, for instance, the highest in Japan, maintains a large, open-air pit and bench behind its main toilet block for when – not if – the flushing toilets freeze over. Throughout winter, a simple journey down Nobeyama’s main street can become quite the ordeal should a whiteout blizzard descend upon the town. The thick morning frosts are referred to as ‘diamond dust’, glinting upon the fields that are said to produce Japan’s sweetest cabbages, lettuces and corn.
In addition to the proximity of world-class mountaineering and cyclocross racing, Nobeyama is known for producing some of Japan’s most successful speed skaters, the thin, cold air not taxing the lungs but fortifying them; the Winter Games were held in Nagano in 1998, the same games where ski legend Herman Maier won both giant slalom and super-G gold medals. The town is also famous for its relationship with stars of another kind, and the Nobeyama Radio Observatory, part of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan, has long stationed a radio telescope here.
The view from the heavens is a fitting leveller in some ways; from space, it is hard to see which mountains of the Earth possess the greater vertical prowess. So, whether you’re camped beneath a ridge in the teeth of an angry wind, grinding through the mud on a final bid for glory, or surrendering your dignity above a frozen pit as the morning train approaches, winter makes the mountains around Nobeyama as tough a place as any.
Questa stagione ha deciso di affrontare per la prima volta il circuito europeo. Ha saltato del tutto la stagione del ciclismo su strada, cambiato le sue tecniche di allenamento e alterato il suo programma agonistico, tutto nella speranza di riuscire a tradurre il suo successo in patria in un trionfo sul campo nella vera culla del ciclocross. Alla vigilia della sua quarta stagione con Rapha, Powers ci ha raccontato cosa si prova a mettere la propria vita in stand-by per molti mesi allo scopo di andare a gareggiare in mezzo al fango del Belgio.
Parallelamente alla carriera agonistica hai anche un team di sviluppo tutto tuo, il J.A.M. Fund. Come è nato?
‘JAM’ sta per Jeremy, Alec [Donahue] e Mukunda [Feldman] – sono i miei soci in questo progetto, nonché i miei migliori amici. Quando mi sono trasferito a Northampton sono stati loro a insegnarmi a cucinare e a badare a me stesso. Poi, con l’avanzare dell’età, la vita ha iniziato a mettersi di traverso, così ci siamo chiesti cosa avremmo potuto fare per ricominciare a stare insieme e fare belle cose. E abbiamo avviato questo team di sviluppo.
La comunità del ciclocross mi ha dato molto, sentivo di dover ricambiare in qualche modo. Quando ce la stai mettendo tutta per sfondare puoi incontrare molti piccoli ostacoli – ad esempio non hai le ginocchiere, i pantaloncini, o persino i telai da bici – quindi abbiamo iniziato a provare a cambiare le cose per un po’ di corridori locali. L’abbiamo chiamato ‘Fund’, fondo, perché eravamo al verde e non avevamo abbastanza denaro per essere classificati come fondazione. Non potevamo nemmeno registrarci come organizzazione non-profit, che è quello che siamo ora.
Non abbiamo sponsor istituzionali ma collaboriamo con alcuni brand del settore e con il Northampton Cycling Club. Finanziamo corridori che vivono nel raggio di un paio d’ore d’auto e ne abbiamo visti alcuni diventare professionisti. Non possiamo conquistare il mondo, ma facciamo quel che possiamo.
Nel ciclocross britannico c’è questa tendenza, per i giovani corridori, di avere un paio d’anni d’oro e poi ritirarsi. Secondo te è possibile che questo avvenga perché il cross non riceve lo stesso sostegno e lo stesso apprezzamento del ciclismo su strada?
Succede anche negli Stati Uniti: molti corridori finiscono per bruciarsi molto in fretta. Se non ti diverti almeno un po’, non c’è ragione di andare avanti. Questi ragazzi si esauriscono perché la cosa smette troppo presto di essere divertente. Stando così le cose, come si fa a insegnare ai giovani atleti a essere dei professionisti? Anche se passassi ai corridori del J.A.M. tutte le mie conoscenze, per loro sarebbe ancora incredibilmente dura. Se dicessi loro ecco, qui è dove mi alleno, questo è ciò che mangio, lui è il mio coach, non funzionerebbe. Per sviluppare queste cose servono anni, e noi stiamo cercando di creare un ambiente dove questo possa succedere.
L’anno scorso hai vinto il tuo primo campionato nazionale, ovviamente è stata una pietra miliare per te. Secondo te com’è andata la scorsa stagione?
Alla grande, ma vorrei comunque aver fatto di meglio a metà percorso. Sono riuscito a trovare la forma per il campionato nazionale. Quando dico che la parte centrale della stagione non è andata bene, in realtà mi riferisco a due soli weekend che, sotto certi aspetti, non sono stati neanche malaccio, ma erano gare che volevo davvero vincere.
Quando sei al massimo esistono ben pochi altri in tutti gli Stati Uniti capaci di batterti. Gareggiare in Europa dà una sensazione diversa?
Diversissima. Con gli altri americani siamo allo stesso livello. Percorriamo le stesse distanze, i circuiti dove corriamo sono gli stessi, e così via. L’Europa è un altro pianeta per me, ma tutti gli altri sono a casa loro. I belgi gareggiano a pochi chilometri da casa e sono circondati da tutte le loro infrastrutture. Le gare sono tutti i giorni sui giornali. Io non faccio parte della loro cricca, non partecipo al gala di fine anno trasmesso in TV in diretta nazionale.
Che cos’è questo gala?
Radunano tutti i corridori e realizzano video divertenti, danno piccoli premi… Immagina una specie di allegri Oscar del ciclocross. Per me gareggiare in Europa e come la Major League del baseball. Ho l’opportunità di entrarci e giocare contro i migliori, ma poi me ne torno nei campionati minori. Ancora non sono tra i Majors, ma mi auguro che i cambiamenti che sto facendo mi ci facciano arrivare. Per come la vedo io non c’è più molto che io possa fare negli States. Le mie ambizioni personali riguardano i campionati mondiali e vedere come me la cavo lì.
Cos’hai cambiato quest’anno?
Tutto. Ho smesso di gareggiare su strada: mi portava a stare via 50 o 60 giorni all’anno, il che era molto duro. Ora ho modo di concentrarmi sulla corsa, sul mio “core”, di portare avanti un allenamento molto specifico. Avere più tempo mi ha fatto davvero bene. Mi sveglio pieno d’energia. Quando gareggiavo su strada e poi tornavo a casa dopo 10, 12, a volte anche 20 giorni di viaggio, mi svegliavo e constatavo che la cosa stava avendo ripercussioni brutali sul mio organismo. Il ciclismo su strada non ti dà il tempo di recuperare, sei in una fossa che diventa sempre più profonda. E da tutti quegli sforzi alla fine non ricavavo nulla. Ora è tutto diverso, ho avuto l’opportunità di andare in mountain bike e di correre con la mia bici da cross tutti i giorni.
Che differenza c’è tra il Jeremy Powers di un anno fa e il JPow di oggi?
Difficile dirlo con esattezza, ma l’anno scorso mi ero appena sposato e Behind the Barriers, il nostro canale TV online, aveva appena iniziato a trasmettere. Ora sento di fare sul serio, di essere più pronto per l’anno che mi aspetta. Lo guardo con occhi diversi.
Quando vuoi eccellere in Europa, inizi a fare più sacrifici. Prima ero solito andare a bermi una birra con gli amici dopo gli intervalli del mercoledì sera, ma ora non più. Cerco di tirar fuori quell’uno o due per cento extra che potrà fare la differenza nei Campionati Mondiali. Uno dei problemi è il riposo e il recupero. Se non ho da fare, per me è difficile riposarmi. Starsene sdraiati tutto il giorno fa sicuramente bene a un ciclista agonistico, ma io non ci riesco facilmente. Per poter affrontare meglio le gare rinuncio a correre in giro come un personaggio dei Looney Tunes.
È quell’uno per cento la differenza tra te e i migliori d’Europa?
Sono un sacco di cose. Alla fine molto lo fa la tecnica, ed è lì che penso di poter fare maggiormente la differenza. Non è questione di migliorare la mia potenza in salita, si tratta di analizzare la mia pedalata, o il mio modo di girare un angolo o di tagliare le curve, perché lì i percorsi sono molto diversi.
Dev’essere strano per un campione nazionale prendere atto di dover migliorare la propria tecnica. Come la cambi?
Negli Stati Uniti le piste sono più veloci, si può correre affiancati, tagliare gli angoli. In quello sono davvero bravo. In Europa non si può fare, ci sono questi curvoni interminabili e devi trovare l’apice. La velocità di gambe, poi, è un’altra cosa. Prima facevo molto motor pacing e lavoro di velocità, che mi avrebbero aiutato nelle gare americane. In Europa è tutto molto più ‘diesel’, bisogna saper fare sforzi prolungati di 10/15 minuti, mettere in gioco un’energia enorme a cadenze basse. Molte gare richiedono cadenze basse, ma i miei risultati di potenza migliori si attestano tra 90 e 110 rpm. Quando i percorsi europei sono fangosi e bisogna pedalare a 60-65 rpm… Non è nelle mie corde, ma con la pratica costante migliorerò.
Poi c’è la natura tecnica dei percorsi europei. L’anno scorso a questo punto della stagione avrei totalizzato non più di tre giorni sulla mia mountain bike. Quest’anno ne ho fatti 40. Mi aiuta a migliorare per il classico ‘momento “Oh merda”’: riuscirò a saltare questo ostacolo? E a fare quella curva? Come farò a non schiantarmi? Sono cose che succedono di continuo nel ciclocross europeo, quindi ho dovuto montare sulla mountain bike per farmi le ossa e affrontare quel tipo di sfide alla ‘chi non risica non rosica’. Se a Namur sfrecci giù per uno scivolo di fango a 25 km all’ora, e riesci a farlo bene, ottieni una ricompensa. Ma se freni finirai nelle retrovie.
Alle grandi gare europee i corridori di grido hanno a disposizione roulotte personali con tanto di marchi in evidenza e uno stuolo di addetti come staff di supporto. Tu come ti sei organizzato per il supporto di quest’anno?
La US Cycling darà una mano per le sistemazioni. Mandano una squadra intera di corridori in trasferta, probabilmente divideremo l’alloggio. Altrimenti mi farò ospitare da alcuni conoscenti nelle Fiandre Occidentali, mentre per l’allenamento starò a Girona, in Spagna.
È complicato organizzare questo tipo di cose?
Sì, può farti ammattire. Ma ormai per me non è più solo ‘un’esperienza di vita’ – è il mio lavoro. Andrò lì per fare il mio lavoro e ottenere dei risultati. Ci concederemo tutto ciò che serve per far bene, e vedremo cosa ne verrà fuori. Non avrò con me mia moglie, il mio cane e i miei amici tutto il tempo, ma cercheremo di mantenere una parvenza di normalità.
Quali sono le tue gare preferite in Europa?
Diegem. Si tiene di notte, verso Natale, e lì me la sono cavata bene. Mi piace anche Roubaix. Anche lì me la sono cavata bene due anni fa. Tabor è fantastica quando non piove. Mi piaccono gli angoli che richiedono vigore. Namur è il contrario – c’è una salita ripidissima, che non è il mio forte. Non sono il ciclista più snello e leggero che ci sia, quindi lassù fatico a tenere la posizione. Poi c’è una pazzesca curva tecnica in discesa, con una corsa di due minuti. È un percorso molto impegnativo per me, ma è il tipo su cui quest’anno ho visto i più grossi miglioramenti. A Roma non ho ancora gareggiato, ma mi dicono sempre che lì potrei cavarmela bene. È un circuito veloce, meno tecnico e con angoli aperti.
Sembra che te la passi molto bene qui in Massachusetts. Sarà dura andar via per un po’?
Dover trascorrere delle settimane lontano da casa mi pesa. Col tempo mi sono accorto che mi pesa molto meno se mia moglie Emily è con me. Quest’anno stiamo organizzando le cose in modo che lei possa stare con me il più possibile. È comunque dura lasciare gli amici, i luoghi dove mi alleno e il mio cane: è attorno a loro che ho costruito la mia vita. Sono sempre stato un nomade, fa parte della vita di un ciclista professionista, specialmente in un Paese grande come gli Stati Uniti. Eppure andare a fare una corsa a tappe in California non mi sembra strano, mentre invece andare in Europa è completamente diverso. È lontanissima, e si sente.
That the barracks have become a rallying point for cyclocross fans is due, in part, to a pair of decommissioned warplanes on its lawn: a Hawker Hunter F4 fighter jet, posed on a concrete plinth with its nose angled towards the grass; and a Sikorsky HSS-1 Seabat helicopter, 60ft long, with a cartoonish red nose cone and the phrases ‘the last one’ and ‘bye bye’ painted along its fuselage. Up close, the jet and helicopter look vaguely comic, stripped of their menace by their ungainly angles and flaking paint – it’s only when looked at from the crest of the course’s sand dunes that their original purpose can be appreciated. They look like they’re coming for you. This perspective would be the riders’ view if they weren’t temporarily distracted by the force of their effort and the pandemonium of the crowd.
For anyone walking to the course along the N396 – which is most people, because the road is closed to cars on the day of big races, and fans are encouraged to park in the town for their morning coffees and lagers – the aircraft conveniently signal the final left-hand turn onto the dunes. The walk from Koksijde on those days is a procession past professional cyclocross’s marks of authenticity – the beer and frites vans, the tarpaulin-covered merchandise stands, the bright and clean team buses and caravans that feature 15ft-vinyl portraits of the most marketable riders, and, perhaps most intriguingly, the banks of saloon-type cars of the emerging talents and waning former stars, stacked full of kit and equipment, driven by a bored but busy friend or relative.
At any other time of year this journey is far less spectacular, if slightly less crowded. The centre of Koksijde is hard to discern due to the sprawl of inelegantly arranged houses – there’s no main square to speak of, just a minor crossroads where the road to De Panne intersects the road to the road to the beachfront neighbourhood of Koksijde-Bad. There are a couple of indistinct cafés that share a decorative palette of faded maroons, a recently built police station opposite a drive-through beer store (both of which are massive), a haberdashery, and a sports bar with faded window stickers from Koksijde’s hosting of the world championship races, in 1996 and 2012.
Police stand outside the station, starting or finishing a patrol, smoking or fixing their garrison caps. If the cafés are closed, and for ostensibly profit-motivated ventures they are closed a disproportionately large amount of the day, you can ask the police where to get a coffee. Well, they say while drumming their fingers on holsters, you can be arrested, and we’ll make you a coffee to drink in the cell, or you can go three kilometres that way. ‘That way’ is the road to De Panne, the next town along the coast. The oddity of not being able to purchase a coffee at 9.30am on a weekday morning doesn’t strike the officers.
This, in the bluntest possible way, is the peculiarity of Koksijde. For one weekend a year, it is the centre of the cyclocross universe, orbited by galaxies of fans, racers and media. The race finishes shortly before sundown on a winter’s Sunday, tens of thousands of drunk fans make their way home, and that’s it. A few hours after nightfall and the town goes back to being a sleepy and rarely thought-of suburb of De Panne.
As Koksijde faces out to the North Sea, it feels as much a part of Scandinavia as it does mainland Europe – a feeling made strange by the thought that the EU parliament is just 130km southeast of here. That Belgium is host to the apparatus of the EU is widely noted as being one the Continent’s greater ironies – the country’s recent history is a litany of obdurate arguing and discord.
Belgium’s political unity, or rather the lack of it, is evidenced by the composition of its cyclocross teams. Of the nine men and two women sent by Belgium to the most recent world championship, in Hoogerheide, not one hailed from Brussels or Wallonia. Flanders also provided the whole squad in Kentucky the year previously, and the year before that, when Koksijde last hosted the championships. The much-mooted separation of Flanders and Wallonia – occasionally referred to, half-jokingly, as ‘Le Divorce’ in the Flemish press – might mean that in future cyclocross championships a French-speaking Belgian gets a look-in.
Koksijde’s course rewards riders who attack it with finesse. The sand, when dry, pulls and grips at the tyres in unpredictable and seemingly sadistic ways, throwing riders from their saddles at the smallest errors in technique. The race’s frontrunners appear to float up the slopes of the dunes, at peace with the parcours, while the stragglers stamp on their pedals, hoping to bludgeon their way to the finish.
When wet, the same sand becomes a cloying and hefty foe, seemingly sucking the bike and its rider deeper into the ground with each lap. The leaders might be able to stay on their bikes through the toughest sections, but anyone more than five wheels back will, undoubtedly, have to sling their bike over their shoulder and briskly run while watching the front of the race slip away.
If you watch close enough you can almost see the riders’ lips moving in silent prayer: please let the rider in front of me make it through unscathed, let me follow their wheel safely, preserve my chance of winning by preserving theirs. The sand of Koksijde inspires a self-interested altruism.
‘Yeah, sure it was good the first time, now what have you got to show us?’
Plenty of things:
After grumblings that Australian cyclocross courses were too easy (by US/EU standards), this course sent a reply that won’t soon be forgotten. With a series of brutal pinch climbs and off-camber corners, it spat and snarled mercilessly at the riders who tried to tame it. The post-race clean up found shattered derailleurs, broken chains and pieces of cassette sprocket; proof of a mighty battle that was waged on Sydney Park Hill.
When we think of extreme conditions in cyclocross, it’s bitter cold and permafrost. But this is Australia – What we got was an oven; nudging 40°C, with nowhere to hide. In addition, we were treated to 45kph wind gusts, before fronting up for dessert – a wild thunderstorm and almost tropical deluge. We baked, chasing our race numbers through the village, we were soaked to the bone.
There is nothing quite like the feel of Super Cross: The cowbells ringing out, the H-Van cranking the caffeine, the Belgian waffles searing-hot from the press; beer flowing, the cameras snapping, competitors and spectators alike swarming around the course, egging their mates to have a go, comparing outrageous costumes and swapping tall tales.
Perhaps this is what makes Super Cross so special, it is as much about the atmosphere as it is about the racing.
And so, the scene was set. Gasping for air, the Elite men wore the worst of the heat. The lead swapped multiple times before Chris Aitken, from the Focus CX team, finally wrestled victory from Allan ‘Alby’ Iacuone, with Michael Crosbie rounding out the podium in third. Lisa Jacobs showed why she wears the national colours as she overcame a course malfunction to take out the women’s elite category ahead of Oenone Wood and Gemma Kernich.
The open men’s field was enormous, with 75 starters wreaking havoc on the timing team. The foam cannon sputtered to life, while self-styled cheer squads wound into full voice. As the wind and heat started to stretch the riders out, Alex Malone charged to victory in Over Yonder Racing colours, with Rod Commerford and Alan Miller following to podium glory. The crowd cheered home every finisher – first-timers and seasoned pros alike – baptising their scorched heads in beer, water and whatever else was handy as riders headed to the foam pit to cool down.
The timing of Super Cross over the Halloween/Día de los Muertos weekend wasn’t lost on savvy costumed Cross riders – with ghouls, ghosts and calaveras lining up alongside rubber ducks, Rubik’s cubes, zombie sailors, aging rock stars, fairies, iPods and even a wheelie-popping shark. Timing went out the window, the Tequila shortcut came into play and celebrations were in full swing.
And then the rain came.
The final twist to this tale sent us huddling under tents and trees as the wind and rain lashed the park. There would be no presentations, no post-race partying, no fond farewells.
As for theatre and drama, it was the perfect conclusion. Hundreds scattered by a merciless storm, without the fitting finish we all thought we deserved. Super Cross 2014 has left us wanting to see more. Like all good sequels it was bigger, more ambitious, more filled with drama. And it’ll be back.
“Bahamontes never had a strategy in the mountains. He just didn’t want anyone on his wheel.”
- Raoul Rémy
Known as The Eagle of Toledo, Bahamontes is one of the sport’s greatest climbers. The son of Cuban immigrants, this Spaniard with scrawny legs was famous for looking nervous on the bicycle, an anxious expression on his face and twitchy hands on the bars. If his victories in the mountains – in 1954, 58, 59, 1962, 63 and 64 – made him a hero at home, his fragile ego prevented him from being one of the great champions. Legend has it that he once stopped at the top of a climb to wait for the peloton so he could descend safely with the pack; while he waited, he ate an ice cream handed to him by a spectator.
“I owe a lot to Bahamontes. I didn’t try to win it again, I could’ve won it 10 times.”
- Lucien Van Impe
Regarded by many as the greatest climber of all time, Lucien Van Impe is, somewhat surprisingly, a Belgian. It was another illustrious climber, Federico Bahamontes, who, at the end of the 1960s, helped Van Impe turn professional by suggesting to Jean Stablinski that he sign the curly-haired youngster. In 1971, Van Impe won the first of six King of the Mountains titles, the others coming in 72, 75, 77, 1981 and 83. Unlike most ‘pure climbers’, Van Impe had the legs for sprinting, too, and could pull off devastating attacks on any kind of climb. The only other man to have achieved six kom titles was Bahamontes himself; when Van Impe was presented with the opportunity to surpass his idol’s record he declined, preferring to leave it at six jerseys each.]]>
When you take the bus or the tube after work it’s like leaving one job for another – I find myself still thinking about the same things I had been thinking about when sitting at my desk. If you’re still stuck thinking about work, you might as well not have left.
Commuting is about getting from A to B, and there’s no escaping this, but if you’re on the bike it’s like you’re using the time rather than just wasting it. Riding for 20 minutes after work is like punctuation for your day, an ‘in between’ time. I think this is because of the simplicity of riding a bike in town – what I mean is that you can’t really avoid thinking about the little things involved of riding a bike: following traffic, making turns, looking after yourself. You’re forced to have these things on your mind for a while, and they’re the opposite of the ‘big’ decisions about money or overheads or critical pathways, you spend the rest of the work day thinking about. Riding slows life down for a few minutes.
You have to remember to dress less warmly for riding, and to keep scarves and gloves in your bag because your neck and fingers can freeze even when the rest of you over heats. The indispensible things are the versatile outer layers, like a good quality rain jacket that doesn’t look like a florescent bin bag.
Get good mudguards and you’ll be in a far better position than the pedestrians, hiding under umbrellas and regretting their choice of shoes on slippery pavement. Sure, it can be a drag getting soaked or riding into a headwind, but at least you have something to fight against. Riding is always the best choice, whatever the weather.]]>
My routine is this: I get woken up by my housemate who comes looking for a good gossip, so we sit around and talk about the ins and outs of work, the goings-on of our friends, the art world, politics, what have you. Then I’ll quickly cook up some porridge and get my kit on, and all my housemates will say, “there goes the queen of lycra,” then I’ll head out to the park on my bike.
I’ve fallen into quite a nice pattern of riding. Wednesdays are normally spent with the Rapha Condor Club who go out for a long ride past North London. There’s the ‘Gents’ ride on Friday, which is full of Londoners trying to pretend they don’t live in London for a couple of hours by getting out into greener pastures. I also ride with a group of women who meet up at the Cycle Club, and we’ll head out once or twice a week.
If I can, I nip off to Regent’s Park before or after work. I went last night and rode around the park clockwise so no one would get on my wheel – sometimes it’s nice to be in your own company, riding for yourself and remembering why you do that. There’s not much natural light around at those times of day, so I’ll often wear something with high-visibility details and flashes of bright colours, like the Women’s Brevet Jersey and Gilet.
Last year I was all set up to race for the first ever time – I was with a team, we had sponsorship from a local shop, we’d made plans for the season – but then I had to have my appendix out, which took me off the bike for a while. It was more than a bit of a downer, but I reset myself for Rapha’s Manchester to London. I’m not sure what I’ll be up to next year, but I know I’ll be out for a ride tomorrow.]]>
The summer felt really long – which isn’t a complaint at all but you can’t keep riding hard indefinitely. I rode Rapha’s Manchester to London in September, then spent a couple of weeks staying with friends in the Peak District, enjoying the climbs and the views. Now I’m back to deadline and coursework and getting things done, which is as good a reason as any to take a couple of easier weeks.
Riding out into Warwickshire’s lanes and country roads is an absolute pleasure – I have the countryside to myself most of the time, and at this time of year it’s as if the world around you changes every day. The weather is unpredictable, so I layer up. Winter collars, hats and leg warmers can be rolled up and stuffed into a jersey pocket when it warms up, or you ride that little bit harder, and pairing the Souplesse Jacket with a merino base layer is about as comfortable combination as you can get. Cold winds can cut through a jersey, but the windproof front panelling of the Souplesse Jacket keeps the cold air out.
As much as I love exploring on my own, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with old riding buddies and trying to tear each other’s legs off. The best group ride around here is called The Bash – 25 riders meet up on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and go out full gas for a couple of hours. Most of the time I’m just holding onto the bike, muttering prayers about not getting dropped, but it’s pretty much the most amount of fun you can have.
I’ve got lots planned, all motivated by the thought of racing for fun for the first time in years. I look at my calendar and cross out the days of exams or big deadlines, then say to myself, I could try some cyclocross here, or do this time trial, or get back into crits. I want to qualify for the national time trial and the British university championships – but for the next couple of weeks you’ll just find me out in the lanes.]]>
The Elites were given a chance to stretch their legs in preparation for the following day’s National Trophy race in Southampton. Jody Crawford of Hargroves RT took his third win in as many attempts in this year’s series, but Hope Factory Racing managed to hold on to the team classification after their strong showing in the first two rounds. Dan Craven of Team Europcar made his cyclocross debut with a guest appearance for the Rapha Development team. Moments after the Elite race, Dan lined up next to fancy-dress pandas, tigers and frogs (amongst others) for a turn in the Fun race – he spent much of the next half hour in the tequila shortcut.
In the Women’s Elite category, Annie Simpson of Hope took her second win of the series, holding off a late charge from the young Yorkshire rider Amira Mellor. Ruby Miller of Hargroves RT rolled over the line less than a minute later, shortly followed by trainee doctor and Rapha rider Sarah Murray, who’s racing only her second season of cyclocross.
The Kids and Youth races saw unprecedented levels of participation, boding well for the future of cyclocross in the UK, while Vets racers demonstrated the virtues of experience as they battled up the muddy climb. In the Seniors, Hackney GT’s Benjamin Lewis bested the field over nine gruelling laps.
Highlights of the racing included Bruce Dalton of the Rouleur team choosing to bunny-hop the barriers rather than bothering to dismount, Dan Craven (almost) mastering cross without so much as a practice lap beforehand (will he run up the next Grand Tour hors catégorie climb?), and one of Rapha’s product developers, Miles Gibbons, gamely racing in a Team Sky skinsuit custom-made for one of their tiniest riders whilst understandably looking a little…constricted.
Rapha Super Cross will return next year, with dates to be announced in the first part of 2015. Stay tuned.
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This was the first time Lisa and I had really spoken. Yes, we’d exchanged pleasantries at cyclocross races across Australia. As she had won many of those elite women’s races, I had congratulated her on her victories, especially when she won both the 2013 and 2014 Elite Women’s category at the Australian Cyclocross National Championships. But we had never had a good chat. Having read the articles she had written, and having seen her interviewed on cycling-related television programmes in her guise as a Cycling Australia board member and Chair of Cycling Australia Athletes Commission I had a pretty good idea of her background, but I was intrigued as to what made her tick. What motivated Lisa? As a lawyer myself, I understand the pressures of work and how difficult it is to train for cycling around work but Lisa takes things to another level.
Lisa first appeared on the domestic women’s cycling scene in 2007 and has been in the top tier of domestic racing, both road and cyclocross, ever since. There have been highs and lows, victories and injuries, a rollercoaster of a ride. In that time, Lisa has represented Australia in road racing and cyclocross.
What got you into serious bike racing?
I was always sporty through school and uni and had a natural interest in cycling. I started my legal career in London. During that time I got into dualthon (bike/run/bike) and multi-sport events. I had a professional licence to race dualthon and competed in a world duathlon championship. In 2007, I came back to Australia and joined a national talent identification program for road cycling being run out of South Australia.
I found I had an aptitude for tour racing and multi-day stage racing. I’ve got pretty good recovery and I can climb pretty well. And I love the strategy of tour racing.
In 2010 you got selected for the Australian National Women’s Road Team.
Yes, that involved a season of racing in Europe with the Australian Institute of Sport including the women’s Giro D’Italia. When I went over there I went straight from a lifestyle where I mainly worked and fit in training around work, into a full time athlete’s schedule with three months of hard core European racing. It was a big adjustment for me and I went into it too hard too early. By the time I got to the Giro I was so over-raced that it was terrible, it was the hardest thing I have ever done.
You got injured around that time.
I’ve had a few long-term injuries over my career ranging from nine months to a year. I would have liked to have gone back over to Europe for another season but the injuries put paid to that. The first time you do anything like that European season it is pretty tough, the second time you have benefitted from the first.
You survived the Australian Institute of Sport selection ‘Survival’ Camp in 2011.
Yes. It was a pretty ground-breaking project for the AIS at the time. They designed the course in conjunction with the SAS and made it properly about survival of the toughest. By the final day I was literally curled up on the floor of a transit van vomiting. They threw everything they could at you over ten days. There was no feedback over the whole time. It was modified after our camp as it was a bit extreme.
I made it to the final five out of 16 starters, and it’s probably one of the things I’m proudest of. It was a good experience of me because I love that kind of stuff. It was the second hardest thing that I have ever done after the Giro. At least you know when at the AIS chances are you won’t die because it’s bad PR for them. It was a great thing to be part of, something quite amazing, and I came out of it with a renewed confidence in what I was capable of doing.
The 2012 Women’s National Road Series got you back into racing.
After an injury-plagued 2011 , in early 2012 I got a call from Donna Rae-Szalinski (my long-time coach) telling me that she didn’t care what form I was in but she needed me to start the Tour of Mersey Valley in Tasmania. If I didn’t start the team couldn’t compete as they needed three riders. So I started, thought I wouldn’t finish, but I won. That started me loving riding again. The Victorian Institute Sport crew is like my second family. We had a really good year. I ended up second in the National Road Series rankings that year to Ruth Corset.
Your first cyclocross race was in June 2012.
I was in the mood for something different as I was training for the mountain bike Tour de Timor at the time and needed to improve my dirt skills. I picked up my cross bike the night before the first national series race, an alloy Apollo that retailed for $1500. Practised a few dismounts and then raced. I won that race and the overall 2012 National Cyclo Cross Series.
Your victory in the 2013 Elite Women’s Cyclocross Nationals was somewhat of a surprise.
In early 2013 I got pretty run down. Tour de Timor the previous year ended for me in the back of an ambulance and my body didn’t really recover over Summer, then in May I went overseas for a family holiday. I came back, tried to race a National Road Seres tour a day later and got taught an absolute lesson. I am very goal focussed so I decided I needed a goal. And I get enjoyment dreaming about the future. I was in terrible form but it usually doesn’t take me too long to find it and my goal was just to have a good race, so that whoever wanted to win that National Championship race would have to earn the victory. I wasn’t going in thinking I could win it, I just wanted to make sure that it would be a hard race. With Donna’s help I put a lot of work into preparation. Coming from being quite unfit in June to being in good form in August takes quite a lot of effort.
What about the infamous bike build?
I got the bike on the Thursday night before the Saturday race, and I had two great mechanics over at my place helping me, Ryan Moody and John Groves. It’s wasn’t a straightforward build as the bike was a prototype and quite unique in design. It took ages. At 11pm we had tubeless wheels exploding with sealant everywhere! On the Friday morning, the day before the race, I rode it for the first time and the seat post kept slipping. A friend who owned a bike shop raided all his bikes for seat post clamps, but because of the sloping top tube design it was difficult to find a clamp that gripped properly. We eventually found one, put on a lot of carbon paste and then duct taped the seat post for good measure. On the day of the race I only had dry tyres and the course was quite muddy. Doing the course inspection I bumped into Paul Larkin who loaned me a set of wheels with great FMB muds on them. Paul also gave the bike the once over. The way I see it, I had four different guys who rescued me before that race and if it hadn’t been for them I’d have been running out the back.
And the victory was your first Australian National Championship.
There was so much stress attached to the days before the race that to come out and win was such a surprise. And I hadn’t really won anything all year. It was a beautiful moment. You did look pretty happy at the end I comment. I went nuts, I’ve never gone that nuts after a race. Usually I’m quite reserved. Although I started realising now that there may be fewer and fewer victories ahead of me so I’ve started celebrating more.
You have an interest in how cycling is governed.
Yes, there have been some good opportunities to get involved in sports governance. When you get to the end of the sports institute process you think about transitioning and you want to stay in the sport as its been part of your life and you want to contribute. A lot of people go into coaching but with my background as a lawyer I have skills in governance. I become Chair of the Cycling Australia Athletes Commission which for the past year came with a seat on the Board of Cycling Australia. I like that I can use my skills as a lawyer for a positive effect for the sport.
What are your racing plans for the next couple of months?
All currently cyclocross. Next week I am going to China for the Qiansen Trophy. This is the second running of China’s only cyclocross race and the second time that I have raced. Last year I had a bad crash and broke my wrist early in the race, but finished (in 14th) because Grover was yelling at me that there was prize money down to 15th! I only found out afterwards that it was broken. I will be racing against some of the top American and European women.
Then I am off to the USA. First to a race in Sacramento then to CrossVegas. It is a race that I am very much looking forward to. It is a course that suits my skills unlike the extremely technical European courses, so I looking forward to having a great battle with some of world’s top female cyclocross racers including multiple US-National Champion Katie Compton and British Champion Helen Wyman. These girls are amazing riders and it’s a big ask just to stay in the bunch at that level but hopefully given that the dry courses in the US are a bit more like Australian courses, I’ll be able to have a crack.
Before all the travel starts I will have to make sure my new bike is completed and working. I suggest to Lisa that she thrives on having bike build deadlines, for example the 2013 Nationals and now this trip. She laughs. It will be finished. Another LJ goal accomplished.
(A couple of weeks after the interview, Lisa came second in the Qiansen Trophy, a Category 2 UCI cross race held near Beijing. She then travelled to the US to compete in CrossVegas, finishing an excellent 17th from a field of 60, including some of the world’s best female cyclocross racers. Lisa was only two minutes off the pace in the forty-minute race in the Las Vegas heat, despite a slipped pedal at the start and feeling under the weather. When I say the world’s best I mean seven of the top-20 ranked UCI riders, including Katie Compton and Helen Wyman).