Monday, 24 April 2017

Book Review: Steadfast - Lizzie Armitstead

I've just finished reading the new autobiography of Lizzie Deignan, Steadfast, sent to me by the publishers, Blink Publishing, and have found it an interesting read.

The 284-page hardback, co-written with Guardian sports writer, William Fotheringham takes you through Lizzie's trajectory from all-round sporty schoolgirl in Otley, to World Road Race Champion living in Monaco.

Immediately you start reading, the book launches into the appeal hearing at the Court of Arbitration for Sport against Deignan's suspension from competing, following three "whereabouts" violations.

You get a sense of the anxiety that Deignan was suffering during that period, which was practically on the eve of the road race at the Rio Olympics. It's a wonder she was in a mental state to take the startline after she was cleared of the anti-doping rule violation.

Deignan's statement, originally posted on Twitter following her exoneration is included in the appendix. Also in the book, Deignan gives an explanation of how she arrived in the position of staring down the barrel of a ban that would lead to her missing the Rio Olympics. While there is detail to what she says, the thing that strikes me is how critical Deignan is of the whereabouts system, and how flawed she finds it. She speaks plaintively of how a system that is meant to maintain clean racing, can still end up targeting those who try their best to race clean!

The London 2012 Olympic Silver medallist talks about a number of instances where it is clear that the women's road racing teams are not as well catered to by British Cycling as the men's squads. This was very much highlighted during 2015 World RR Championships and to a degree during the London 2012 Olympics women's time trial event. The discrepancy is quite stark, though for many, it may not be a massive revelation particularly if you have read Nicole Cooke's autobiography.

However, Deignan's love for cycling, particularly with her Boels Dolmans team-mates and other internationals in the women's peloton, plus her rides around the Alpes-Maritimes, comes through. She doesn't seem to be bitter about her experiences when racing.

I was particularly keen to know what the atmosphere really was like at the time of the 2011 World Road Race Championships in Copenhagen. My recollection at the time was that there was quite a lot of friction over how much Nicole Cooke really was willing to ride for Deignan to secure the win at Copenhagen in 2011 [in which Deignan finished seventh after being caught up in a crash, and Cooke sprinted to fourth place] or in London 2012. But there wasn't much mentioned around the story, and things are played down in the book.

One thing that Deignan does clarify though, is the 2011 National Road Race Championships in which Cooke accused Deignan and her then Garmin-Cervelo team-mates of deliberately working together against her to help Deignan win.

I've only mentioned but a few of the aspects of Lizzie Deignan's story in Steadfast. Needless to say, it is a page-turner, which gives the reader an insight into the personality of the 2015 World Road Race Champion, and her determination to do things her way to achieve her goals. She is clearly driven, like all elite athletes.

But I like the fact that Deignan is well grounded and regularly refers to her Yorkshire girl roots and her penchant for a Magnum ice cream - things that show underneath it all, Lizzie Deignan is just a down-to-earth girl telling her inspirational story.


Monday, 17 April 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 9: Geraldine Glowinski

Geraldine is one quarter of a family that lives and breathes cycling (in between structural engineering, snowboarding, and surfing)! I got to known Geraldine when I started club cycling in 2002, and saw her at road races. Little did I know that she had only recently started cycling herself, back then! Yet Geraldine was always very welcoming and offered biking tips and advice. She's also been very helpful in assisting people who want to develop their cycling - be it accompanying youngsters from the local cycling club to races around the UK and beyond, or hosting the Rwandan Cycling team in her home. "Mummy G" has been an impressive figure in the London cycling community, getting out and encouraging others, even after her terrible road traffic accident, which could have put many people off cycling for good.

Geraldine Glowinski, aged 58

Lives: Sanderstead, Surrey

Accounts Director

“I started cycling at the age of 36 after responding to a notice in a local paper to join a riding group for beginner women. I had never ridden a bike before. As a child, my brother being the only boy was given a bike, but I didn't get the same opportunity. 

Since my husband, Marek and two children Philip and Anna were besotted by cycling I felt I needed to see what the sport was all about. It was a case of ‘can't beat them so join them’, particularly as Philip and Anna were urging me to start cycling. Maybe if I didn't ride I would have become a bike widow.

My first outing was a seven-mile ride, stopping for tea and a Kit-Kat. My balance was terrible and I was very nervous of the traffic, but John Turnbull the ride organiser was so patient and amusing. I went home on a high. It was life-changing for me.

After some time, I started doing long rides with a group called the ‘Over The Hill Gang’, which goes out during the week in the lanes around Surrey and Kent. I met an inspiring woman, Ann Bath, who encouraged me to compete in a 10-mile hilly time trial. It was great. 

Then I did road racing, which was really tough. In my first race I couldn't breathe properly and suffered. I was so happy to have finished and to have been encouraged by other riders, that I repeated the experience and slowly improved and gained confidence. 

As well as that, I did a few track omniums and mountain bike races. I loved the skill, speed and reactions in racing, particularly on the track.

Cycling really is my sport. It's my means to escape from life's normal problems. It keeps me fit and active as well as having a like-minded community to call on. For me, cycling provides a social life, and an appreciation for the simple enjoyment of being outdoors.

As far as my family is concerned I know it has kept us close as we are interested in what each other is doing in the cycling world. We know many of the same people, talk the same talk - it’s great.
I must also highlight that we do have a life outside cycling, as we run a structural engineering consultancy and sometimes get involved with personal building projects. Both Philip and Marek are structural engineers, and I work in the company too.

It was Marek who encouraged the children to ride and race, as initially I didn’t know much about the sport. When watching them race it was always heart-stopping when I didn't see them go past at the moment I was expecting to see them. I would be thinking ‘What's happened to them?’ Even now, I hate watching the final sprint in a road race and always feel delighted they have finished an event without incident. Having said that, I had always wanted Philip and Anna to lead active outdoor lives, so it’s a case of ‘Be careful what you wish for!’

I feel I am an extremely lucky woman, because in 2005 I was knocked off my bike by a speeding car on a fast dual carriageway, the A217 in Surrey. I went over the bonnet and smashed the windscreen and missed a wooden stake by inches. My right leg was shattered, but the surgeons were fantastic and saved my leg by putting a titanium pin in.

After I recovered it took me six months to get back on a mountain bike as I didn't initially want to ride on the road. Thankfully I was protected, and helped by the cycling fraternity to get back into cycling again.

Climbing over the Galibier

Nowadays I tend to do long, challenging road and mountain bike cyclosportives, which give me so much satisfaction and allow me to go to different places and countries. One of my favourite places to ride is Mallorca. The roads, climbs, cafes, sun and company make for superb riding and fun.  I usually go there in May and am a Ride Leader on the Legros Training Camp.

My favourite bikes are my Argon 18 carbon road bike and my Trek Procaliber. When I ride the Argon it feels like I'm flying. The Procaliber is a fantastic bike to experience the challenges of mountain biking now that I'm in my fifties, and it makes me want to improve and up my game.

When I go out cycling I am never without my phone. As well as having it for emergencies, I use it to take photos to remind myself of the wonderful views, people and experiences I have on my rides.

Cycling has given me some unforgettable experiences. For instance, I did a nine-day cycling trip from Geneva to Nice (La Route des Grandes Alpes). The weather was atrocious, which made each day a challenge both climbing and descending the Alps. Three of us experienced climbing over a fresh avalanche on the Col du Galibier and lived to tell the tale.

Our family has also been supporting African cycling projects. The Africa Rising Racing team was instigated after the Rwanda Genocide to show that the various factions could work, train and live together, giving hope of re-uniting all the Rwandans after the most horrendous war crimes.

Cycling trip to Rwanda
We went to an auction to help raise funds for the team, and ended up bidding and winning a trip to Rwanda to cycle with some of the team riders. Marek and I went on the trip in January this year.

Also we were asked by Anna one evening, after we’d had a few gin and tonics, if we would host for two weeks four riders from the current team and their coach, so that they could race here. It was a great time and we were happy to be involved in helping these unspoilt lads gain their dreams of getting onto international sponsored teams.

Hosting Team Rwanda 
There are still cycling adventures I would like to have. It would be great to take a bike and a bivvy sleeping bag to cycle and sleep in the open air frequently. I would also like to hire an Italian castle for a month, invite cyclist friends to join us for rides, eating, and drinking - simple!

I would like to inspire other people to ride and enjoy cycling no matter what age they are. For anyone wanting to get into cycling, particularly an adult who may not know how to ride a bike, my advice is to be patient with yourself. Learn to walk before you can run. Join a cycling club that does beginner rides, listen to the advice they give, and enjoy the fellowship and tea-stops. 

Also, don't buy the cheapest bike as you'll have to upgrade very quickly!”

Sunday, 9 April 2017

A jaunt around the White Rose County

I had said I would do it this year, and I managed to do so a couple of weeks ago - that is, to get up to Yorkshire. And it didn't rain!

The first part of my weekend was spent in the North York Moors, where I did some course reconnaissance of the route for the Yorkshire Lass Charity sportive, which takes place in August. I was keen to ride the full 103-mile route, as opposed to the 30-mile and 60-mile options, particularly as this recon will be for an article I'm writing for Cycling Weekly magazine. It was a nice ride, though I must say I did it over a couple of days as I didn't think I would be fit enough to do the whole thing before sunset!

Byland Abbey
In any case, riding the actual 103-mile sportive in one day is the to be saved for the day itself when you spin through the lanes against the clock with a group of other lycra-clad keenies haring down the road. A recon should be taken at a laid back pace, so you have time to enjoy the landscape and sample the local fare during a cafe stop or even at a pub lunch. That's my excuse for riding slowly, and I'm sticking to it!

So, I was treated to some of the best sights that North Yorkshire has to offer - Byland Abbey, the picturesque villages of Boroughbridge, Bishops Monkton and Topcliffe, lovely views of purple heather moorland, and the iconic White Horse Bank. With a gradient of 25% to get up the bank, I had no intention of riding up it - so I dutifully and thankfully followed the direction to ride around it. However, I still had to get up a couple of "easier" 16% options on Beacon Bank and Jerry Carr Bank later on!

White Horse Bank
Historically, the North York Moors have not tended to be visited by cyclists as much as other parts of Yorkshire, like the Dales and the Peak District. But in recent times, since the staging of the international Tour de Yorkshire stage race the profile of this area has been raised.

This year will be no exception when the race once again traces a route up through the Moors as it heads up to Scarborough from Bridlington with a detour up to Whitby and Robin Hood's Bay.

I hope to return to this area again to recce the Tour de Yorkshire route, and hopefully by the time the Yorkshire Lass sportive comes round, I will have been toughened up a little and will have lost some of my Southern softy ways!

The Strava recorded routes from the Yorkshire Lass Sportive

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

On the same weekend that I reconned the Yorkshire Lass Charity sportive I also met up with the good folks from Hull Thursday Club and went on a ride with them. This will also be a feature in a future issue of Cycling Weekly magazine.

Andy, snapping the lads from Hull Thursday Club
The photographer for the day, Andy Jones, and myself met with the guys and one lady at Skidby Windmill. Without much ado we did a spin through the lanes of the Yorkshire Wolds, with the main climbs being around the Nunburnholme area.

Initially I felt happy in the bunch with the guys and was able to hold my own. But just like with the professional cyclists in Wiggle High5, as soon as the road went uphill I got unceremoniously dropped.

They guys were friendly enough and waited for me at the top of the hill or at the junctions, but I still felt a little embarrassed by the fact, and I could feel myself turning into "fat journo who can write, but can't ride!" In fairness I was getting over a cold that had affected my lungs the previous week, but I didn't want to make any excuses. I was just slow!

The Wolds are definitely a good place to train. The hills are not particularly long like what I rode in Mallorca the previous week. Instead they are short and a little sharp, making them a little bit tougher than what you get on those long alpine climbs abroad. Hopefully I will return to the Wolds and this is something else that will make me stronger.

Cafe Velo, Beverley
Our ride was not mercilessly epic, and the lads said they were actually riding slower than usual (crikey)! So I was glad to get to the cafe stop, a very pleasant cycle cafe in Beverley, called Cafe Velo.

The place was decorated with cycling memorabilia from recently as well as from the times of the Milk Race 30 years ago. Gary, the owner had done a good job of decking out the place and making it appealing not just to cyclists, but also to non-cycling folks out in the pretty market squares of Beverley.

Andy and I were treated to some tasty sausage sandwiches and tea, which definitely hit the spot. We also heard lots of tales from the lads at Hull Thursday Club, a cycling club that has almost 110 years of history. There are no surviving members of the club from the time the club formed, but there was one 90-year old who was out on the club run and he seemed as spritely as ever, and probably faster than me up those hills! I almost wanted to check his birth certificate!

So there ended my pleasant Yorkshire weekend. I amassed quite a few good quality miles in my legs, and some interesting words for my article, which should hopefully amuse and entertain club members and other readers alike!

Strava record of the route I did with Hull Thursday Club:
Ride with Hull Thursday Club

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