This season Rapha was title sponsor for the Wally Gimber Trophy, one of the longest running races in the UK that is organised by an amateur club. Run by Dulwich Paragon CC since 1960, it’s regarded as an early season classic, and has been won by a number of top British riders including Sir Bradley Wiggins.
Supporting grassroots racing has been Rapha’s aim since the brand was established in 2004. The money donated to this year’s race has helped give it National A classification, improved safety measures with increased marshaling and police escort, and upgraded HQ facilities.
James Fairbank, Kendal Noctor, Stuart Marshall and Barry Hughes pinned on the numbers for the RCC with support from Aleda Fitzpatrick, RCC London Concierge, and another RCC racer, Rob Saunders. Here Barry and Rob discuss events from Sunday’s racing.
By Barry Hughes
When I met my wife for dinner on Sunday night (pizza margarita), I described my day as a kind of surreal-pro-cycling-fantasy-show with production values worthy of conspiracy thriller. In order to provide the full Pro Team Experience™ the Rapha Cycling Club had conspired to get me a starting place on a race just enough out of my league to make my participation possible, but not improbable.
Arriving at Rapha HQ everyone was smiling despite the early hour. I was certain I recognised Rob, “The Driver”, from a Rapha advertising campaign, and it was possible that he was an actor. The mysterious nature of this was heightened by the fact that he seemed strangely adept at driving a van, despite this having nothing to do with his “real” job.
The entire production was directed by Aleda, a charming woman occasionally described as a “concierge”. Surely in maintaining the Pro Team Experience™ “soigneur” or even “DS” would have been a better nom de guerre. My concern was immediately assuaged as she proffered coffee from not one, but two identical stainless steel flasks. Later, she would produce more identical containers full of varying flavours of “homemade” rice cakes, delicious morsels she had allegedly thrown together while simultaneously organising a van stocked with everything from performance drinks to pâté… Yes pâté, no exaggeration for effect required…
The Pro Team Experience™ required teammates, of course. Amongst the cast at Rapha HQ was fellow rider James. A Rapha employee whose job consisted of creating brand loyalty for Rapha: Later in the day he would steer himself into a pothole generating a puncture so I wouldn’t be the day’s only DNF in our team. I’m loyal.
Leaving HQ, we drove south of The River (Thames) where we parked at a prearranged location in front of Gail’s, a known purveyor of high quality baked goods. Out of the mist appeared two men on bikes, Stuart and Kendal. Of course Kendal had a beard (no Rapha production could possibly take place without the requisite facial hair) and he had nearly an identical bike to James, from just the sort of niche brand Rapha would be associated with, Feather Cycles. Coincidence? Unlikely. In order to maintain the artifice of a randomly assembled team Stuart had a bike from a consumer brand, although it was festooned with not so subtle hints of participation in some previous Rapha adventure. The Pro Team Experience™ back-story was that my random teammates lead completely separate lives. Yet we dropped Kendal and Stuart off on opposite sides of what I’m pretty sure was the same hill. It was a rare continuity break. It was pretty obvious they must have cycled back to some cast member de-briefing location.
And these two weren’t merely stuntmen. An hour into the journey Kendal casually produced a container of moist and absolutely delicious oatcakes. He too claimed to have made these at home. He then let slip a worried look as I reported having a breakfast of cornflakes, rather than the apparently universally accepted porridge. Marta (a known Rapha collaborator) then appeared immediately as we entered Race HQ offering free porridge. Porridge sponsored by Rapha. You couldn’t make this up.
All of my team exuded a racer’s quiet confidence. Worryingly, Stuart concluded many descriptions of past races with “…so I bridged and won.” After the race Stu’ described his biggest concern as a momentary doubt about his ability to maintain 45kph in a crosswind if he had tried to solo across to the break. This comment could only have been designed to make me feel better about not being able to maintain 45kph for even a nanosecond as I watched the peloton disappear up the road. The fact that his lips remained the colour of the grey skies above for about an hour after the race indicated that he had indeed made an effort.
Kendal’s beard and laid-back demeanour belied his speed. I was surprised on numerous occasions during the race as he magically appeared 40 riders ahead, having been right next to me the moment before.
The part of the Pro Team Experience™ that couldn’t be programmed was the race itself. The upside of not finishing was being able to enjoy watching Stuart and Kendal finish in front of another known Rapha collaborator, the much vaunted Rhys Howells, riding for Richardsons-Trek.
And as I concluded my story of a great day out, my wife cut me short. “You only lasted half the race? I think that’s quite enough pizza for you…”
Thanks to all the cast, production crew and director for a great day at the race.
By Rob Saunders
“Six and a half minutes” crackles the radio. We stand on the crest of a hill awaiting the arrival of our designated riders. There is a heightened sense of anticipation amongst soigneurs, girlfriends and willing family members who have converged on this secluded section of road in Kent.
Conversation loaded with speculation is constant: “Has the group split? Who’ll be the first through? Will he want a bidon? Musette? This lap? Can I have some flapjack?
The feed zone at the Wally Gimber is a disparate group of people, but all with same goal in mind. From the very experienced looking Team Raleigh twins, to competitive Dad’s egging their son on to victory. But there are nerves here by the hedgerow, a job to do: to perform a seamless, split-second hand up to their rider. No room for error.
“Two minutes” crackles the radio. Feeders start to fan out the length of the road, positioning is vital. Too close to the brow of the hill and the sequencing could be out, too far down the road and your rider may miss you amongst the throng of a peloton getting back on the gas and the flurry of items being discarded in the waste zone.
Bidons selected, musettes primed, race information and encouraging words rehearsed, it’s on. Dispatching the goods is an art; get it right and both the rider and feeder feel an instant sense of achievement; get it wrong and the inevitable inquiry awaits back at Race HQ.
“30 seconds” crackles the radio. My arm is at full extension, bidon with gel taped on in my left hand, musette lightly dangling on my index finger, ready to swap out on the split second instruction. Kendal Noctor is my sole focus. Look for the grey and pink jersey, look for the beard. Nerves fill the air and eyes start to focus hard. At this point the snake of riders appear at the foot of the rise, the positioning game commences and heads lift to identify their bounty.
Cruising through the zone he engages eye contact and refuses my advances on this lap, he’s calm, it’s a clear exchange and we agree on a single bidon, next lap.
22 minutes later and Kendal emerges over the brow and swoops towards me. I feel like a falconer, a scrap of essential nutrition on the end of my finger. This time we lock on to each other early, I shout his name to confirm his eyes are tuned in to the gravel patch I’m planted on. I’m off, lightly jogging, bidon/gel combo extended. He swiftly swaps out the bidon from his front cage, left hand extends, bidon placed in the gaping palm of his hand. The whole motion is over in seconds. Job done. For now. There’s another three feeding laps to go…