Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Ride London - my favourite biking event

A winning weekend: Podium for the Ride London Classique (Lotte Lepisto, Coryn Rivera, Lisa Brennauer)

So we've just had Prudential Ride London a few weeks ago, and before I even had time to say "Can I get a post-race massage" the ballot opened for the 2018 event, and thousands have already applied for a place!

I must say this is my favourite cycling event. It's a great weekend of biking in London - highly convenient for someone like me who is getting lazier with age, and less willing to travel too far events.

These days I much prefer signing up for events that I can cycle to. This year my ride up to the start of the Ride London 100, at the Olympic Park was straightforward, if a little wet, and really early. (I set off at 4.30 am to make my 6.48 start time.)

I love the ride in as I spot more and more people along the way - leaving from Anerley, then up through Penge, Catford, Lewisham, Greenwich. It's like a snowflake of bikers that gradually grows into a snowball that rolls through the foot tunnel and comes out at the Isle of Dogs. I tend to get a bit hazy about which way to go once I am in East London, but there are no worries as all I need to do is to follow the peloton as it winds its way up through Poplar, Mile End, Hackney and Stratford.

Considering that I'm going to be among 28,000 other cyclists, the start area is always pretty quiet and civilised. You hand your bag into the truck, carry out any last minute bike adjustments with the provided tools and bike pump, then go to the loo. And there's hardly even any queue for that either.

Then we get going to the sound of some motivational music. The MC gives our wave a choice of tunes - either "Walking on Sunshine" or "Mr Blue Sky". It seems that the organisers didn't get the chance to make any last minute changes to their playlist in light of the weather, as the choices are all around sunny days even though the skies are look grey and angry on this July morning! We end up setting off to the sound of the Electric Light Orchestra song, which I guess gives you an idea of the demographic of the riders - not so much MAMILs but MOMILs (much older men in Lycra)! The people in the wave ahead of us had "Start me Up", so I am guessing that must have been full of VOMILs (very old men in Lycra) - albeit folks with a decent taste in music!

Then we speed through the empty streets on our day-long odyssey from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to the Queen Elizabeth central London residence (aka Buckingham Palace) via South-west London and the Surrey Hills.

My ride, like last year, was largely fun, with people out cheering us on along the roadside, bunting in towns like Dorking, Leatherhead, and Kingston-on-Thames. Also what hadn't changed was how tough it was to climb up Leith Hill, and also how I crawled up Box Hill compared to the other times when I ride that slope.

The feedstation at Westcott is always a great relief, and it was very tempting to stay and sit on one of the deckchairs and watch the giant screen. There was even life-size chess to play as well. But I have to push on, and get back to The Mall in time to interview people and do my journalism work.

All smiles at the finish line

Also, this year, like last year I wore eye-catching kit care of Primal Europe, and I got a lot of cheers from like Go Girl, love the armwarmers etc.

So yes, nothing changes when I do this event, even that cramp in legs that I get as I try and charge down the Mall to the finish line! It's always an enjoyable day out. The only real change for me was that my time was half an hour quicker than last year. Maybe next year I will be a little quicker and cramp free.

My media pass for the weekend
Other things to do on that weekend are the Free Cycle on the Saturday, which is one of the most pleasant 10 miles you can do around Central London as there are lots of bike hub stops with sound systems, refreshments, and different demos of cycling to try out.

Then of course there are the pro races - I usually report on the elite race (The Ride London Classique) for Cycling Weekly or Total Women's Cycling on the Saturday, and then on Sunday I go and say hi to the other journos who are down for the weekend, then hang back to see the end of the men's race (Ride London Classic).

This year I was also able to attend the press conferences for the pro races. The conference for the Classique was held at Imperial College and I was able to grab a few words with two of my favourite pro racers, Marianne Vos and Jolien d'Hoore.

Matt Barbet interviews Michael Matthews

The following day I was in Docklands to see if I could speak to Michael Matthews, who was there along with Elia Viviani. It wasn't quite so easy to speak to them, but it was good to at least introduce myself to the Sunweb Team. It was also nice to catch up with Matt Barbet, Channel 5 news anchorman, and cycling presenter/enthusiast.

The Ride London weekend is always a nice time to be in London. There's a fun carefree, and car-free atmosphere, you can catch up with loads of biking enthusiasts, and something about having traffic-free roads allows you to appreciate the beauty of central London.

I would definitely recommend bringing your bike down for it, even if it's just for the Free Cycle.

Related Posts
Ride London!

Monday, 31 July 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 13: Peggy Crome

I met Peggy Crome about 15 years ago, when I was a keen triathlete. We were on a Robin Brew swimming course in Devon. I didn't know how old she was, but I she was a vet (!) and I had a lot of admiration for her, as even then she had quite a lot of triathlons under her belt - more than I could imagine doing!

All those years later she has gone on and taken part in even more racing, representing Britain at the age-group worlds, and also doing Ironman triathlons. She may be coming to a triathlon near you!

Peggy Crome, aged 74

From: Chulmleigh, Devon

Lives: Bideford, Devon

Occupation: Retired maths and physical education teacher

I only got into cycling because it was a triathlon discipline. I had cycled as a kid, though we had very old rickety-rackety bikes at home on the farm.  Those bikes had no brakes and we used to put our feet up on to the back wheel to stop!! Riding around was okay in my childhood as there was hardly any traffic where we lived. Then I left cycling behind till I was about 40 years old when I started triathlons.

I rate cycling second out of the three disciplines, as I came into triathlon from running and that’s what I do best at.
 I do love the speed you can get with cycling around though. It’s far more physical than standing around waiting for buses and trains!

My first experience of being on a road bike was when I borrowed a bike from one of my sons.  I found it quite scary.  Then I had a bit of a nasty experience, with an impatient lorry driver behind me.  I thought I had stopped to let him go by, but I hadn't quite stopped.  

I found myself looking up under the lorry - lucky for me I JUST escaped, and the lorry carried on without stopping. My heart was racing! 
Thankfully nothing like that has happened since.

I have my own bike now, a Specialized Shiv, and it’s quite good. As I have got older, I have had more money to spend, and we old folks need every bit of help we can get from technology to go faster!

Since 2003, I have qualified for 23 age group multisport championships, and have had 19 podium finishes, including nine wins. My golds were at the European Triathlon Championships in Kitzbuhel, Austria (2014), Athlone, Ireland, (2010); at the World Championships in London - Aquathlon (2013), Eilat, Israel - Triathlon (2012), Gold Coast, Australia (Aquathlon and Triathlon) (2009), Vancouver, Canada -Triathlon (2008), Queenstown, New Zealand - Triathlon (2003). I also won gold in the Powerman Long Distance Duathlon (10k-60k 10k run) in Copenhagen, Denmark last year, and bronze at the 70.3 Ironman in Zel am See, Austria, in 2015. 

As I get older I find I have to work harder to stay fitter and free from illness!  I think the worst thing about getting older is that you have to accept slower times and that you are not going to do any more all-time PBs [personal bests]. I get around this problem by setting new targets on January 1st each year. My goal this year is to compete in the World Age-Group champioinships in Rotterdam in September. I doubt that I will do really well there, because I will be the oldest in my age group. But I hope to do well enough to qualify for next year's championships in Australia.

When it comes to bike courses I say the hillier the better! Although I hate hills, Devon is quite hilly and I find that I have an advantage over those who don’t have hills near where they live.
During the bike leg I never get tempted to draft, as I am rubbish at drafting. I like to see where I am going and can never trust the rider in front not to stop suddenly.

When do the 112-bike ride during an Ironman I make use of the three positions you can get into with tri-bars - hands on the bars, on the hubs and on the drops.  I keep changing hand position and shuffle my bottom around to keep comfortable.  If the course is flat, I change up a gear and stand on the pedals - this helps to stretch the legs out.

I train a fair bit on the bike but I don’t do a lot of cycling outside of training. However, right now my campervan is in the garage for major repairs, so it is good that I can still travel around on my old bike.

I do take part in local 10-mile and 25-mile time trials as I find cycling in races with the 'purists' helps to keep me focused, and stops me thinking about putting the rubbish out or what I am going to have for tea!

Last year I did cycle from John O'Groats to Land's End with my granddaughter.  I was 73 years old, and she was 13! That was quite a fun trip.

When I go out riding I never go out without my helmet. It’s the most important thing for me. I also take a stopwatch – no Garmin as I’m not a tecky person!

I use a turbo trainer for when the weather is really bad - like icy, though I try to do as much outdoor cycling as possible. It is good to experience different weather conditions on the bike because you never know what the heavens are going to throw at you on race day.

I find that in my age group, although the number of people racing is fewer the people that take part are very, very serious, especially the Americans. Also, because they are, mostly, retired they have more time to follow their schedules and most importantly, more time to rest and recover.

I mainly do Ironman 70.3 races [1.2-mile swim; 56-mile bike; 21.1-mile run) rather full Ironman races [2.4-mile swim; 112-mile bike; 26.2-mile run]. My family used to be amazed at what I was doing, but now they are used to it and I can no longer 'wow' them. Friends, however, often say, "I want to be like Peggy when I grow up!"...even though they are in their 40s, 50s and 60s!

I have had a few tricky situations to deal with in triathlons. Once, I had a bad crash on the bike leg during a race in Cleveland, America.  However I was able to recover and straighten the handlebars of my bike and after checking my major bones I found the adrenaline kept me going. The day after I discovered I had 14 major bruises on my body and a broken wrist bone!

My toughest race was The World Ironman 70.3 finals at Zell am See-Kaprun, Austria. I like hilly bike courses but this was mad!! There was a 10-mile climb followed by a one-and-a-half-mile 20% gradient at the top of the mountain. My reward was third prize at the end when a couple of others in my age group didn't make the cut off times.

My favourite race in the UK has to be the Ellesmere triathlon in Shropshire – at least once I’ve waded through the duck and goose poo that squelches up between your toes at the start of the lake swim! The rest of the course is good!

The most interesting person I’ve met in triathlon is Tim Don. He has always been very helpful to us age groupers. I remember him advising us how to push a bike up a steep cobbled road once, and telling us how to take advantage of leaning on the bike as well as pushing it. I had the privilege of sharing a taxi with him from Munich airport to Zell am See. I also find Chrissie Wellington a very interesting person. She came down to meet the North Devon Triathlon Club and did a Park Run in Barnstaple with us, then followed us up to Woolacombe Bay for a sea swim.  She was really helpful with the triathletes who were apprehensive about sea swimming.

Triathlon has led me to do a lot of travelling. I have been to New Zealand twice, Australia twice, Beijing, Honolulu, America and lots of other places. I always travel with NIRVANA UK. Although it might work out a little more expensive than travelling independently, it is well worth the extra. All I have to do is put most of my stuff in a bike box and case and get to the nearest airport.
For all the travelling I do, my favourite place to ride is along the Tarka Trail, in North Devon, which I would ride more if I wasn’t racing or training.

My advice to older people who may wish to do endurance sports is to just have a go. Train to cover the distance. Only ever compete against yourself and your own times. It’s best to do an event for your favourite charity first, then the only pressure is to finish the event. The next step is to do it again...quicker!

For me, cycling means three things – freedom; speed; friendship.


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Biking, running and swimming too!

My blog is about cycling, but some of you may know that I also run - something I have done since childhood. I am a member of the Serpentine Running Club, and also run second claim for South London Harriers. Earlier this year I did a 10k race around London, and hope to get out and do a few more running events (as well as the informal Park runs).

Many people don't know that I even swim, albeit not massively well!

My sporting story goes like this - I got into cycling when I realised I needed to know how to ride a bike to get through a triathlon, back when I was doing them in the early noughties.

Once I had a taste of cycling through multi-sports I got lured away by all that the two-wheeled sport has to offer, and now I do more cycling than anything else.

I found the training for the three disciplines of a triathlon difficult to juggle with a normal life. I don;t know how people do it. In fact the people that I have met who do well in age group triathlons just don't live a normal life. Call me boring, but maybe I like just doing normal!

So regular triathloning went out of the window about 12 years ago, and as much as I like watching the exploits of the Brownlee brothers and Non Stanford, I don't really miss doing it myself! However, I still do get a wobble and do one or two cheap, local triathlons a year.

What I do like enjoy though is doing the individual disciplines one at a time. So I do cycling races (which you, dear reader, may already know about), I take part in running races, and now I've discovered swimming races in the open water.

There is something quite refreshing about swimming in the open water. I am not a particularly strong swimmer. In fact I was regularly one of the last  people out of the pool in a triathlon!

But putting on a wetsuit and being in the open air just feels fun. I am not confident enough to just swim anywhere, like the folks from the Outdoor Swimming Society, so I go to one of the various organised sessions and races that take place around London and the home counties - or wherever I happen to be.

There are lots of places to go to. Recently I was at Shepperton, in South-West London, and on a trip to Cheshire I went to Boundary Park, near Joddrell Bank. In all cases the atmosphere was nice and relaxed with changing area, cafe/lounge area, music, and because there were a lot of regulars it was a good place to meet people. I hope to get to other venues in London - West Reservoir in Stoke Newington, Hampstead Ponds, Divers Cove near Redhill, Surrey. I have swum in the Serpentine in Hyde Park as part of an Aquathlon, but hope to go there at a more leisurely pace.

A couple of weeks ago I did the Great London Swim at Royal Victoria docks. I swam 800m and it was fun, if a little salty! The great thing about these swims is the level is so varied, and has ordinary people, not just hard core triathletes, so my result didn't look that bad! I took more than 20 minutes to complete the distance, but I still finished mid-pack! In a triathlon I would have been one of the slowest swimmers!

So that has given me the motivation to carry on with open water swimming events. I hope to do the Great Scottish Swim in Loch Lomond at the end of August, and then Swim Serpentine in September.

And of course I will carry on cycling and running too.

Monday, 3 July 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 12: Gema Fernandez Hernando

52 Cycling Voices has been on  holiday for a short while and is now back refreshed, and with a sun tan after the heatwave in London!

Resuming the series, we hear from a lovely lady I met a few years ago, and hope to see in the not distance future. I met Gema Fernandez Hernando when a group of us went to Menorca to do a cyclosportive there. It was organised by Arturo Sintes Lluch, a guy who knows everyone in Spanish cycling, and in the professional peloton.

It was a good old weekend. I remember meeting Pedro Delgado, Carlos Sastre, and even one of Lance Armstrong's old henchmen, Jose Luis "Chechu" Rubiera. Aside from all that, we had a good time and I got to know Gema. So I am really pleased that she is one of the cycling voices.

Gema Fernandez Hernando, aged 43

From: Torrejón de Ardoz, near Madrid

Occupation: Administrator

"I have been cycling seriously for 12 years. I used to love watching the riders in the Vuelta a Espana when I was young, and really admired them.

My early days in cycling were not very easy. I bought my first racing bike when I was 14 years old, but my family didn´t want me to take up cycle racing because my mum found it scary, and other people thought that I would develop muscles that would make me look like a man! 

Then I joined Torrejón Cycling Club, which I enjoyed. But at the age of 17, I had an accident in which I was hit by a truck. The accident could have been extremely serious, but I escaped with a broken left leg. However, both my tibia and my fibula were broken and I needed a steel pin in my leg for one month. After that my mum forbade me from cycling. 

I did get a mountain bike six years later, and when I started riding it I was so afraid. But I overcame my fear after some time. It wasn’t until 2002, after my mum passed away, that I got a road bike. I find it difficult to ride alone on the road, and the area near where I live is dangerous. I feel a lot better when I am riding with friends.

Most of my friends cycle, including many women, with some of them racing professionally. I have met a lot of interesting people in cycling. The most interesting people have been Miguel Indurain [five-time Tour de France winner] and Leire Olabberia [2008 Beijing Olympic track cycling medallist], but even just my not-so-famous friends inspire me with their constant effort, courage, hard work, and how they struggle to realise their dreams.

No one in my family cycles though, apart from my brother who did just a little bit of mountain biking for a few months. I am seen as the bike crazy one in the family! On a bike I feel free, and I love the sensations cycling brings.

I don’t race but I enjoy doing cyclosportives like Bilbao-Bilabo, Pedro Delgado, La Indurain, Tour of Menorca, plus triathlons and duathlons.

Cycling in my region is a bit dangerous because motorists are not educated about sharing the road. Also, as it’s an industrial area there are a lot of trucks.

The local authorities are getting more involved, thanks to a campaign called #porunaleyjusta, led by Anna Gonzalez. She began the campaign after her husband was killed in a hit-and-run collision with a truck. When the driver was arrested he was judged to have been slightly reckless, and walked free without any sentence. She started a petition to the National Congress to change the law on sentencing reckless drivers, and gained 200,000 signatures.

Nowadays there are more cycle lanes around Madrid, and on the roads up to the mountains. But more still needs to be done. Many drivers don’t know about the 1m 50 safety distance when overtaking cyclists.

Some regions are very good at providing a structure for people who want to take up cycling. For example, in the Basque Country facilities are better and there are a lot more cyclists. Catalunya, Valencia and Andalucia are also good areas for cycling. In Madrid things are getting better and there are women’s and girl’s cycling groups starting up where you can do road and mountain bike training rides.  

Of course places like the Canary Islands, the Balearic Islands, Costa Blanca and Andalucia are very popular areas for cycling holidays. But you can also go to Costa Brava, Asturias and the Basque Country where the landscape in those areas is spectacular. 

In Asturias there are some well-known climbs – Lagos de Covadonga, Angliru, La Farrapona, El fito, San Lorenzo, to name a few. 

In the Basque Country there are lots of little mountains, but the terrain is tough, particularly in Bizkaia or between Guipuzcoa and Navarra, near the French border. The food there is fantastic, so you eat well, and the cycling fans are so crazy! Going there makes me love life, and I have a smile on my face for at least a week afterwards!

My most memorable cycling events have been the Mallorca 167 cyclosportive a few years ago when we rode most of the route in heavy pouring rain; the “Perico” Delgado because it was so tough with four categorised climbs, the Indurain because there were crowds of spectators excitedly cheering me along the way; the Juan Martinez Oliver because many of my friends are there; and the Tour of Menorca. These have all been special events for me.

I am a national commissaire for all categories and disciplines of cycle racing – road, mountain bike, track, cyclocross etc). I love the work but it is very intense as I have to concentrate hard and make very important decisions quickly, as well as record the times correctly.

I never go out without my water bottle. It is obvious, but I have been known to forget it. The first time I did Mallorca 167 I left my water bottle at the hotel and I spent the ride asking for water from other riders who had more than one bottle! Finally, an old guy who was racing gave me one of his bottles. God Bless Him!

Cycling is a very big part of my life. What I do in cycling is like taking the most important vitamin of the day!"

Twitter: @gfhtortu         Instagram:@mgemafh

Other Cycling Voices

Giorgia Bronzini

Tracy Moseley

Geraldine Glowinski

Emily Chappell

Michelle Webster

Grace and Lucy Garner

Hannah Bussey

Carolyn Hewett-Maessen

Caroline Martinez

Niusha Doyom

Maria David

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Manifesto manifesto! - General Election cycling pledges

With just over a week to go, all the political parties have managed to rustle together a manifesto, despite having to give a knee jerk response to Theresa May's calling of a snap general election, and a suspension of campaigning following the Manchester Arena terrorist attack.

I have had a look at the different manifestos to see what the different parties have pledged when it comes to cycling.

Here are the policies from the different parties:

Conservative Party

In their section on Investing in Transport they say:

We will continue to support local authorities to expand cycle networks and upgrade facilities for cyclists at railway stations. 

Later in the section on Children and families they talk about sports, though it's not clear if cycling would be included as a sport! They say:

We shall continue to support school sport, delivering on our commitment to double support for sports in primary schools.

Labour Party

In the transport section they say:

We will invite the National Infrastructure Commission to recommend the next stages for developing and upgrading the National Cycle Network. We reaffirm the commitments in the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. 

I checked in their section on Sport and nothing on cycling is mentioned, and in fact for the sport section just talks about football!

Liberal Democrats

Under the Investing in Transport Section they say:

Design towns and cities as safe and attractive walking spaces and implement the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report. 

Later in the manifesto, in the Access to Culture and Sport section no mention is specifically gave to cycling, but I assume that this will be also included in sports policy.

Protect sports and arts funding via the National Lottery. 

The Green Party

Under the section called A People's Transport System they say:

Clean, safe, accessible public transport and more walking and cycling could make us all healthier and happier. We need a public transport system that takes us where we need to go, affordably and reliably. It should be easy to choose to leave the car at home - or not have one at all. 

Invest in low traffic neighbourhoods and safe, convenient networks of routes for walking and cycling, including safe places for learning to cycle, so people of all ages and those with disabilities can choose to make local trips on foot, by bike or mobility scooter. 

Neither the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) not the Scottish National Party (SNP) had mentioned any pledges towards cycling or cycling infrastructure in their manifestos. The Welsh Party, Plaid Cymru did not have a manifesto available on-line at the time that I looked.

It is a step in the right direction that the major political parties do recognise the need to invest in cycling, at least as part of transport policy. Unsurprisingly, the Green Party leads the way in terms of its pledges. Sadly, some of the smaller parties like UKIP, the SNPs and Plaid Cymru  don't mention it at all.  

Spending on cycling infrastructure is governed mainly at local government level, so is therefore the responsibility of the council. But in order for the council to invest, they need the funds, most of which will come from Central Government. Furthermore, local government policy tends to mirror the overall strategy set out by the Department of Transport. So in essence, it is important that cycle policy is mentioned in political party manifestos, at least so that we know that tomorrow's politicians will keep cycling policy at the front end of their minds.

Related Posts

Friday, 19 May 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 11: Giorgia Bronzini

Giorgia Bronzini is a two-time world road champion from 2010 and 2011. She is now one of the veterans in the women’s road racing peloton, but shows no signs of slowing down. Having gained a win at the recent Amgen  Breakaway from Heart Disease Women's Tour of California, plus podium places at that race and in the Tour de Yorkshire, Giorgia still has a phenomenal turn of pace as she showed in the stage to Sacramento earlier in the week.

I have interviewed Gio (as people call her) a number of times, and I have always found her cheerful, smiling, and with a very zen philosophy about bike racing.

Giorgia Bronzini, aged 33

From: Piacenza, Italy

Professional cycle racer for Wiggle High5

photo from www.wigglehighfive.com
"I come from Piacenza, a small city to the south of Milan that is half the size of Manchester. Piacenza has many churches and the centre dates from medieval times. It is easy to get out of the city and there is a river that leads from there to the sea at Genova in Liguria. Sometimes in the summer I ride this route, which is 130km and then get a lift back home.

Piacenza is a good area for cycling but not a lot of professional cyclists live there. It’s probably because in the winter the weather is not so fun as it is very foggy, and and in the summer it is quite hot and humid. Spring is perfect, and you can do a circuit with mountains and flat roads.

I was a gymnast from age 5 to age 11 and at that time gymnastics classes were very strict and very serious, but I didn’t like being told what to do. I got bored and I wanted to play.

My father had a passion for cycling, and one day when there was a bike race for kids in Piacenza he took me to see this race. I saw a lot of children with bikes and they looked very happy, so I asked my father to let me have a go. He took me to join a small team who gave me a bike, and I decided that this was my sport.  After all my training from gymnastics I found my first bike race so easy. I had a lot of energy and I won comfortably. I was so happy to go home with a trophy!

No one else in my family practices sport to a professional level, but my father and my brother, who is 10 years older than me were very encouraging.  
There are many women who cycle in Italy and amateur cycling in Italy is very developed. You always find a father who races along with his son and other members of the family. Cycling has been a sport for all ages, although now it has been overtaken by football. 

For me, cycling is a large part of my life. Through cycling I have been around the world to many different countries and discovered different cultures. I like to learn about different nationalities and cultures.  Perhaps some of my schoolmates are just working in the local supermarket in Italy now, but I feel I have a lot of things to share with them about my experiences and this could make their lives feel enriched. I never wanted to have a boring life, and cycling can never be boring!

When I won the World Road Race Championships in 2010 at Geelong it was unexpected. No one expected it, not even me!  The following year, in Copenhagen the other girls were really hoping to get the rainbow jersey. I knew this, but I was relaxed and I didn’t think I could win two years in a row.  But it just happened that the Italian team worked well to put me in the perfect position to be there in the final sprint. I couldn’t believe it because in all the sprints I had done that year, against Marianne Vos and Ina Teutenberg I had lost to them both. And the World Championships was the only time that I beat them! That was a highlight of my career. 

However, my low point was at the World Championships in 2014 in Pontferrada. I really prepared for that one, and I really worked hard to be there as it was a harder course. I crashed in the race and used all my power to get back in the race for the final sprint, but I came fourth. I was a bit upset because I did all that work for nothing. Then the following year, in Richmond, USA I just broke my bike at 800m to go, so that was a bit unlucky.

I was unlucky those two years, but then again I had been lucky in 2010 and 2011 – probably when some other people were unlucky. That’s life. I will just wait my turn for the wins to come back again.

Last year was a tough year for me because the Rio Olympics were on and the hilly course was not the best for me but I put myself there to be part of the Olympic team, which is the dream of every athlete. I knew that this could be important for Elisa (Longo-Borghini) and I wanted to help her to try and get the medal. It worked because she got a bronze medal in the road race. 

However for me, I had worked hard to be selected for the Olympics, and this had involved changing my schedule so that I could be better on the climbs. I was therefore unable to think about my goals or my victories during that time.  

I was going to retire in 2016, but I didn’t enjoy the racing so much that year and I didn’t want to stop racing while having those feelings. So straight after the Olympics Rochelle [Gilmore] asked me if I was really really sure I wanted to finish career in that season. She offered me a one year contract, which I accepted.

Interviewing Gio at the Ride London GP in 2014 (photo by Andy Jones)
I am no longer going to schedule a date to retire! At least for this year I would like to feel relaxed and finish my season and achieve the best that I can for myself and the team, and after I will see how I feel at the end of the season. If you are going to finish your career you should finish with a smile and feel satisfied with what you did, and then you can really feel ready to say “now I’m going to stop.” I don’t want to stop when I am feeling grumpy or with tears. So I will wait first before deciding to retire from racing.

For this year I would like to have some wins on the road, though I have not got specific races that I would like to win. And I would like to prepare for the World Road Race Championships in Norway, for the end of the season. My biggest opponent for that event will be the weather. Being Italian, I prefer good weather! So I will need to work on my mindset to be prepared for bad weather.

Being involved with my team mates or sometimes with the national team and helping the younger girls really motivates me. I like to give advice and inspire them. Being with younger riders also makes me feel younger! It is important for me to train so that I can be healthy enough to ride with them and help them! Being able to play a part in a victory from a team member also motivates me to get out and train. 

For example, when I saw Elisa (Longo Borghini) win Strade Bianche this year I was almost crying. Everything was against us that day – there was a crash, a bike change, another bike change, I had to work to pace Elisa back up to the group, Claudia (Lichtenberg) worked with her too, so we all worked together to get that one victory. And that meant a lot to me. Also because some of the girls in my team are my friends I really feel good about working for them. 

I am looking forward to the Women’s Tour as I really like that race. Some days it can be a bit cold for me, but the organisation, the treatment the racers receive, the hospitality is really good. I think the UK is developing women’s cycling a lot. With the track riders and the road riders I think Great Britain is going in the right direction to grow women’s cycling, and I would like to see other nationalities be inspired by Great Britain.

I think that Italian riders who want to develop would be better to race in a foreign team because there they can get the professionalism and learn a lot more. In an Italian team they are protected in a bubble and don’t develop enough. In Italy they are trying to develop the teams with a professionalism, but there is a problem of lack of funding (rather than a lack of willingness). We have some good junior riders in Italy, but if they want to develop they should take their CV to foreign teams in Belgium, Holland, or the UK.

Italy is an old nation and you really can feel that men’s and women’s cycling racing is separate. It is great that we have a women’s Giro d’Italia though. That means a lot to me, and every year the organisers of the women's Giro d'Italia put in a lot of effort to try to give a good stage race over there so I really appreciate that.  For the men’s Giro d’Italia they sometimes invite us to commentate during the stages, so that is how they include women in the event. They have invited me in the past, and if I am able to go then of course I will be there.  

My ideal day out on a bike would be to ride with mates on a sunny day in Tuscany (though not on a Strada Bianca)!  I would do a coastal road that climbs above the coast with good views. Then in the evening I would sit down in a restaurant and have good food and wine. I usually like seafood pasta (Spaghetti allo scoglio). My favourite wine is Prosecco. In red, I like Amaroni, a wine from the Veneto region. I also like Gutturnio, a red fizzy wine from my region. I like this one because it reminds me of home.

Winning a stage of the 2017 Tour of California (www.wigglehighfive.com)
I never go out cycling without my smile! To have a good day I need to be smiling, and in anything that I do if I do it without smiling it ends up sh1t! So most of the time I want to be positive, and most of the time I am. Bad or unlucky things can happen, but it’s you that is going to turn the day around, and with a smile things end up not so bad. 

A person who really inspires me is Usain Bolt, because I think he is amazing. He is perfect! He is fast, has a good body, is funny, smiling all the time, so for me, when I look at him, I think 'Yeah, he is cool!'”    

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Retiring from cycle racing and coping with it

We have just come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, a subject matter that people are becoming increasingly aware of, as we try to find ways to address it in our everyday lives.

The mental health benefits of sport are often talked about, particularly the fact that exercise can relieve stress, and release endorphins that can uplift the mood. So wherever we look we see various incentives and initiatives to try to get us into sport - whether it's cycling or some other activity.

However, what about those at the other end of the scale - the ones who do sport at a competitive level, and then have to stop when it's time to retire?

Earlier this year I wrote an article for Cycling Weekly magazine about how retired professional cyclists cope with their new non-competitive lives.

We often see folks like Chris Hoy, Chris Boardman, David Millar and Rochelle Gilmore on television doing their commentating or getting involved in other initiatives. That's great to see, but for some, the transition can be difficult.

As part of my research for the article I talked to a few retired cyclists and there was quite a mixed bag of fortunes in terms of how they had to deal with it.

For instance, talking to Sean Kelly, he said that he gradually wound down his activity in the last year of his career and that gave him time to think about how he would manage life after racing. Luckily he landed on his feet when he was offered the role of commentator on Eurosport, and has been involved in many other projects. But he did see people get into difficulties, particularly as they fell into a spiral of gambling and drinking.

When David Millar retired from professional cycling in 2014 he went straight into writing his autobiography as well as having surgery - a couple of things which kept him busy. But he admitted that adjusting to life was incredibly hard, and he had to adjust to being with his family more frequently, and even fitting into the routine of what was effectively "his wife's house". He summed it up like this:

“The first year was really f***king hard. You spend your whole life being dictated by season, by months, by weeks since when you were a teenager. I Iived on a purely operational basis for twenty years of my life. Then I retire and boom I become a January to December man with no idea about what each month is supposed to mean to me anymore. You’re out in the real world..." 

Jens Voigt, whose career ended with his world-breaking hour record ride had to come to terms with the fact that he would never be this lean and fit again, and worried about the prospect of getting old, fat and slow on a bike.

I spoke to Olympic Silver medallist, Emma Johansson who is in her first year of retirement, and like David Millar, she talks about the establishing of a new relationship with her husband, who was also her coach. She said finding a new rapport with him had its challenges, as well as her finding a new role in life.

Rochelle Gilmore talked about the wish to still be competitive, and to be able to ride as competitively as before, despite no longer being a professional athlete. In particular, you would not do the volume of training you used to do once you are no longer a professional athlete. She has seen fellow cyclists deal with retirement badly.

"I’ve recently been exposed to a friend’s struggle post retirement and the biggest sign is his isolation from his closest friends. He doesn’t feel like the ‘man’ anymore and seems to be uncomfortable socialising as an average ‘joe blow’ or ‘ex’ pro athlete. It’s very sad to see and we all feel helpless. Athletes who are professional and competing at the highest level should be appointed a career/life mentor during their careers." 

Retiring from top level sport can really have a negative effect on mental health, and this has led to depression in some cases, and even worse, to suicide.

Jenny Truman, a sports psychologist based in the Midlands offered some insights into this:

"Retired athletes can feel a huge sense of loss, as a result of losing such things as:

The incredible emotional high of winning and competing
Physical training which is excellent for the body but most     importantly for the mind
Team spirit and camaraderie
Popularity and adulation
Loss of physical form and signalling a “body in decline”
High Achievement and Perfectionism
Support staff to plan practical aspects like travel,      accommodation and financial affairs 

"They will then be faced with a number of issues:
  • Massive loss of self worth through loss of identity
  • Lack of self belief.  
  • Loss of confidence. 
  • Regrets – “If only I had done x, y, z”
  • Huge sense of emptiness
  • Fear for the future
  • Younger retirees don’t have the life experience or              perspective of older who retire
  • Forced retirement like injury can attract huge resentment."  

Jenny Truman gives the following advice around dealing with retiring from sport:

  • "Think of retirement as a new opportunity to do something different rather than seeing it as a loss.   
  • Look back on your sporting days with gratitude and be thankful for the talent you had and take pride in your achievements and dedication.   
  • Look at what you can do with the extra time you have and take with you the benefits that sport has given you.  This could be friends,  skills you have acquired, contacts made and personal attributes which it will have given you.   
  • Make a plan of what you would like to do with your time /career – set yourself  goals - find out everything you can which will help you achieve them – write it down on paper. Use the goal setting skills you had in your sporting career for your new life.  
  • Continue with keeping fit , this is so important for your mental and physical health. 
  • Recognise the wonderful talents you have in being a competitive sports person and  explore ways in which you can use these in your next chosen career.  This doesn’t have to be in sport (although it can be). Attributes like commitment, hard work, dedication, winning mentality, working as a team member, leadership qualities, understanding tactics/ strategy are all valuable attributes for whatever career you choose.
  • Seek advice if you need help on careers, coping with the change. Share your concerns with people you can trust."
One place that offers support and advice to retiring athletes is Crossing the Line, an Australian organisation that supports athletes across the world and in different disciplines. They are currently working with the Cannondale-Drapac team, and getting them thinking about their personal development both during and after their careers.

The more that athletes receive support and advice as they come into retirement, the less likely they will be to fall into a downward spiral of mental health issues once they stop competing.