Monday, 29 August 2011

When Eurosport forgot about Wiggins

I like David Harman’s commentary for Eurosport. His enthusiasm and excitement in moments of drama, his ability to identify names in the swirling mass of a bunch sprint. I don’t think I could do it.
But that’s not going to prevent me from having a moan about the commentary of yesterday’s 9th stage of the Tour of Spain, in which we heard all about the chances of virtually all the main players bar one – British hope Bradley Wiggins of Sky.
 Until the Brit’s white national championship jersey was virtually filling the screen, and it became blindingly obvious he was so in the race as he tore it to shreds in the final kilometres.
What I expected yesterday was for our race commentators, Harman accompanied by Brian Smith standing in for Sean Kelly, to speculate on what Wiggins had to do if he was to have a tilt for a final podium place.
At the days ‘start, Wiggins was lying 20th overall at 1.43 and clearly his basic strategy on stage nine was to lose no time on his rivals, on the eve of the time trial in which he hoped to make his mark.
But we didn’t get any of that discussed.
Instead the speculation was about how Katusha’s race leader Joaquin Rodriguez might hold his lead, about what defending champion Vincenzo Nabali of Liquigas might do, what Michele Scarponi of Lampre might do, interspersed with phews and gasps and trademark Harman groans about the hellish gradient and oh, the suffering.
YES!? And where is Wiggo in your jumbled witterings, I shouted at my screen.
THERE he is, I added, right there in the top 20 as the rest of the field splits to bits. Never mind Nabali, Rodriquez or Scarponi, and what they might or might not do, tell us the British viewers that Wiggo is still there and looking good.
Then Ireland's Dan Martin of Garmin attacked, and he and Nabali flew away in the final kilometres.
So, good stuff from the microphone guys about Martin.
And then, at last, as Sky’s Chris Froome took the front of the fragmenting peloton to give chase with Wiggo on his wheel, the talk is all about Froome’s great effort, and yes, it was great.
But why was he doing this?  When a rider is pacing a team-mate like this it’s because that protected team-mate –Wiggins in this case – has ulterior motives.
Was there any speculation as to what they might be?
Only, there’s’ Wiggins on Froome’s wheel. Ooooh, Wiggins is looking really good.
But still nothing about what he had to achieve that day and why. At the very least we knew he had to mark time pending the TT next day. Yet as we watched this astounding display which was killing off Wiggo’s rivals, and Martin and Nabali were pulled back, still not a word about how Wiggo was riding into the bigger picture.
Could it be Wiggins was on the ride of his life, just like he was in the 2009 Tour de France when he finished a magnificent fourth?
Then at last, the commentators woke up to what was happening on their screens, as Froome peeled off and Wiggins hit the front of the Tour of Spain with 1.5 kilometres to the line, leaving the other overall contenders in his wake.
While Martin recovered to sprint past to take a well-deserved victory which moved him up to 12th overall, the pounding Wiggo took fourth place and shot from 20th to 13th overall only one minute off the new overall leader, Rabobank’s Bauke Mollena of the Netherlands.
On paper, Wiggo was now in striking distance of  taking the overall lead in the TT. The question then became, had he anything left in the tank after such a fantastic attacking ride?


Tuesday, 23 August 2011

OLYMPIC plan for Eastway agreed as dispute over Hog Hill looms

AT last, it seems the dispute over the configuration of the 2012 Olympic Games Legacy cycling road and off-road circuits, part of the Velopark to be constructed around the indoor velodrome on the Games site, has been settled.
It is 12 months now since the Olympic Park Legacy Company threw a spanner in the works, by demanding changes to the original layout which had planning permission, thus causing added grief to the cycling organisations who had laboured long and hard to see that the Legacy promised the sport when London won the Olympic bid in 2005 was delivered.
Which would enable the Eastway circuit which had existed on the Hackney site for over 30 years, and which cycling gave up willingly and in good faith, to return post Games.
Yes, we have a wonderful newly built Olympic Velodrome on the site of old Eastway. But unless Eastway can be returned better than it was, the road and off-road circuits the best that can be, the Games will have sold cycling short.

Remember, it was the Lea Valley Regional Park plan for a Velopark which won the Games for London. This plan predated the Olympic bid and was promised as an Olympic Legacy.
But as one issue is settled, more confusion. LOCOG now want use of Hog Hill for Olympic cyclists training next summer.
As a result, Eastway users fear that their temporary relocation to Hog Hill eight miles away is to be denied them, that a summer long season of racing will be cancelled! Hog Hill was provided for them late by the Olympic authorities and opened in 2008, two years after Eastway was closed.
Not so, say LOCOG, they will share the facility with public users!
They will produce a schedule for Olympic and public use. But the cycling world is right to remain remain sceptical that the arrangements being forced upon them won’t still turn the season upside down.
Whatever the outcome, it would have helped if LOCOG had told the users of their intentions before they put in planning application to Redbridge Borough Council to secure the site?
Instead, Eastway users found out second hand, on the reliable cycling grapevine.
Sometimes it must seem that LOCOG is a many headed serpent incapable of joined-up thinking?
The reason LOCOG want use of Hog Hill is because they are bound by the Olympic Charter to provide secure training facilities for endurance cyclists staying in the Olympic Village.
Clearly, the congested environs in that part of London – Stratford – are unsuited for road training.
But Hog Hill is not necessarily suitable to the needs of the riders preparing for the road and time trial events. Hog Hill is a short road circuit of about two or three kilometres, ok for a couple of hours of riding at most. Certainly, the time triallists won’t want to ride up the dirty great hill each lap, the main feature of this attractive and well-used circuit.
LOCOG understand this, it seems, and are also believed to be looking for a suitable 30-kilometre loop on roads around Hog Hill.
The British team, for instance, will not be based in the Olympic Village, but in a Surrey hotel close to the time trial and road race courses.
The Australian team have also indicated they too will be staying in Surrey.
LOCOG want use of Hog Hill from July through to September 2012. But allowing for “build-up and take down” time – to erect security fencing and other additional facilities within the circuit ­­- it effectively means LOCOG will have use of the site from June to October.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Daisy Waugh's offensive remarks in The Sunday Times

A letter in Cycling Weekly (August 18) implored us all to write to The Sunday Times Magazine and the Press Complaints Commission concerning an article by columnist Daisy Waugh. She wrote about how she fantasised driving her car into cyclists!
So I did my bit and wrote to her personally.
"Dear Ms Waugh,
Following your piece in The Sunday Times Magazine (July 17) in which you fantasised about jumping into your car to mow cyclists onto the pavement, be advised there are enough dimwits driving about who do this already, as a result of dangerous driving, without the need for further incitement.
Yesterday, Paralympic cyclist, the Beijing double gold medallist Simon Richardson was seriously injured on the A48 in South Wales when he was struck by a white van which did not stop. A 59-year-old man was later arrested.
Richardson suffered multiple fractures of the spine, a broken pelvis and broken breast bone.
Try fantasising about that."
What I should have added, had I realised it at the time, was to inform Waugh, the fantasist, that this was the second time Richardson has been seriously injured by a car. The first time, 10 years ago, was when he was fit and whole. That collision left him permanently disabled with serious leg and back injuries.
It was a miracle he survived and nothing short of remarkable that he should resume cycling and seven years later win gold at the Beijing Paralympics. He was awarded the MBE.
What is it about Waugh and others of her ilk – fellow Times columnists and cyclist haters Matthew Paris and Jeremy Clarkson for instance – which allows them to make such terrible threats against cyclists in a newspaper or magazine?
Their rants are not being read in a novel, a work of fiction, but in newspapers carrying news, views and, we are led to suppose, valid comments on the real world.
That is what makes Waugh’s lines so offensive.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Last minute road repairs saves Olympic Test Cycle Race

SUNKEN MANHOLE covers update. All eight on a 2.5km stretch of the Box Hill circuit were filled in – given a top coat of tarmac to make the sunken drains level with the road within hours of my reporting the problem to Olympic Games cycling manager Simon Lillistone on the eve of the race.  And so the London – Surrey Cycle Classic on Sunday August 14 flew over the Box Hill roads without incident.
Did my call save the day? Who can say? I don’t expect Simon to give me that satisfaction. And Surrey may have been about to do it all along, late as it was.
But it’s history now. And history will recall that the event was a huge success, as 148 world cycling stars raced through London and around Surrey, watched by tens of thousands of people lining the route.
And British star Mark Cavendish won on The Mall.
Now the organisation must review the workings of the most difficult Olympic event to organise, involving as it does massive road closures in West London and the densely populated county of Surrey. Was the disruption properly explained to local people and businesses?
Lots of complaints in comments posted to news websites. How many were valid, how many were just the usual moaners pitching in with negative comments, the sports haters, et al?

I don’t recall many complaints following the Tour de France visits to southern England in 1994 and London and SE England in 2007.
I loved the test event, the carnival atmosphere in my town, as neighbours released from their usual chores, lined roads quiet since dawn. Strangers chatted with each other, some revealing that although they aren't cycle racing fans as such, they do enjoy watching the TV coverage of the Tour de France.
 There was expectancy; the subtle relaxed change in the local environment that cycle road racing brings to an area.
I was delighted to catch a fleeting glimpse of France’s veteran Olympic champion Jeannie Longo speeding through, given special permission to ride the route ahead of the race.
 The race announcer swept through, paused to tell us a breakaway group of four had six minutes lead.
Ten minutes later, at last, the police outriders, lead cars, then the four men, rushing by to applause.
And some five minutes after, whoosh, the whole bunch spread gutter to gutter, dividing to run either side of centre refuges, hit town to applause from the crowds. And the convoy of following team cars, official cars were hot on their wheels, followed by lone riders snaking their way through after punctures, presumably.
And I heard of one person hit by a plastic bottle thrown by a rider! Souvenir!
And it was gone. Quiet descended. Time to pop in to the local church down the road, where they were serving tea and bacon butties to mark the occasion.
Oh, one more thing. Only one bit of road graffiti spotted when I rode over the course next day.
Somewhere near Box Hill, couldn’t make it out.
But there were two or three stencilled messages in support of Team GB for 2012 on the Zig Zag.
Nothing for the local authority to complain about, I’m sure. Probably wash off.
But let’s look at the bigger picture.
The thing is no one in their right minds would want to run a road race route like this one, with the potential to stitch up so many heavily populated areas.
Running the race through once to another destination, like a Tour stage is one thing, when roads can be opened soon after its passage.  But to describe a huge loop, then run it back over the same roads from 12 miles out meant locking up a huge area for many hours longer.
In reality, the road races could have been staged outside London.
Except this is the London Olympics! And Lord Coe wanted as many events as possible located in the capital.
And why not? It’s a one-off show, perhaps a once in a life time experience. A big show, the greatest sporting show on earth.
Unless, like a lot of people, you consider the Olympics to be the most costly hyped up waste of money.
Hopefully, the Olympic organisers will allow more spectators to see the race on Box Hill next year, when the men’s race cover not two but nine laps, almost half the full race distance around this 15km circuit, while the women do two laps.
So few people were allowed on the Zig Zag climb last Sunday, the race climbed in meditative silence until nearer the top where “caged” enclosures of spectators broke the deafening silence.
If they can’t relax the restrictions – the National Trust is understandably protective of this SSSI – they should find another circuit. Plenty of other hills in Surrey.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Box Hill roads still unfit to race with 20 hours to go before Olympic Test

It’s 2pm on the eve of the Olympic Test Race due in 20 hours’ time. And I have just phoned Olympic Cycling Manager Simon Lillistone to advise him that Surrey County Council have yet to attend to eight sunken manhole covers on the top of the Box Hill circuit.
I said, they are have all been marked with orange spray paint these past two weeks, so the highways people have clocked them. The question is, have they forgotten? Most of the bad potholes had been filled in.
Thanks, he said. He’ll chase it up.
After my one lap of the 15 kilometre circuit, I came across the Australian team and British advisor Gary Beckett. They were about to set off on a recce of the circuit from the Burford Bridge Hotel at the foot of the Zig Zag course.
The team included road stars Stuart O’Grady and Michael Rogers. A group of interested bystanders were watching from outside the hotel.
I told Beckett about the sunken manhole covers. Hit one of them unseen and you’re off, I told him. He duly informed the Aussie team manager, who asked me about them.
I told him where they were, on a 2.5km of straight stretch of road after the summit. He duly informed his men, and off they went, with team car in tow.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Will road painters leave their mark on Olympic test cycle race?

When and where will the Test Race graffiti artists strike?
Two days to go to Sunday’s Olympic Games test cycle road race, the London – Surrey Cycle Classic (August 14) and the question is, when and where will the cycling graffiti artists strike?
And daub, in brilliant white emulsion on Surrey’s freshly laid tarmac, the names of their heroes on the course of the London and Surrey Cycle Classic? Not on the start/finish area, of The Mall, surely? Fulham, perhaps, Putney, Richmond Park, Weybridge, Abinger Hammer, the A25 to Dorking?
The sacred roads of Box Hill, much of which the paranoid National Trust have barricaded off to stop the public treading on rare plants, may not be immune either.
Make no mistake, it will happen, probably very early in the morning. The other question is how will the authorities react. They will probably go ape shit and view it as an act of vandalism on the Queen’s Highway, as they did at the 1982 Goodwood World Road Race Championships.
On that occasion, the cops caught an elderly Italian gent in the act of painting a rider’s name on the road. He claimed he was simply assisting two American women, probably supporters of Greg LeMond who took the silver medal. That didn’t wash with the cops, who arrested him and kept him in the cells overnight.
 Or will the authorities loosen up, and accept that road painting as simply part of cycle race culture?
We are all familiar with this practice from our visits to Continental races.  We’ve seen the messages painted on the roads from those helicopter shots on the Tour de France. Can we presume that the French authorities are more laissez faire? They certainly used to be on other matters. For example,  I recall seeing finish line photographers pushing gendarmes out of the way to stake their place in the road. The gendarmes just shrugged.
Not so in Blighty. Goodwood again, when Italy’s Giuseppe Saronni won the pro title, LeMond took the silver, and Ireland’s Sean Kelly the bronze medal.
As Saronni zoomed into view,   British coppers started to push the snappers back. Famous Dutch photographer Cor Vos wasn’t having any of that.  He shoved a copper out of the way and regained his position. Only to be immediately arrested, hauled off the road and dumped into a police van.
But back to the painters. They do rather like the Alps. Indeed, in my opinion, the practice has got out of hand in some places. Many stretches of road look a complete mess, as fans daub fresh messages over last year’s faded writings.
For Alps read Box Hill,  which needs 10 ascents to equal L’Alpe Duez.  I’ll be checking to see if the road is fit for purpose on the eve of the race, that the 20 pot holes up there – the subject of my Cycling Weekly feature last month - have indeed been filled. The first one and half kilometres of the ascent to the first two hair pins on the Zig Zag have been repaired. Only another 14 kilometres of road to examine – drains to realign, holes to fill, crumbling edges to smooth out, not to mention long stretches through Tadworth needing a completely new surface.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Olympic Test Road Race - Box Hill roads being repaired

Six days to go to Sunday’s London – Surrey Cycle Classic, the 2012 Olympic Games test road race on Sunday, August 14, and fears that Surrey County Council may not carry out the necessary repairs to the Box Hill circuit are proving false, at least as far as the first two kilometres are concerned! After years of neglect, the surface is at last getting a much needed makeover.
The broken surface around the drain cover at the start of the climb has been repaired  and all pot holes as far as the second hairpin have been filled in and new long strips of new tarmac laid over the trouble spots to this point.
Pot holes and rough surfaces around the rest of the circuit are marked out in bright orange and await their fill of tarmac in the coming days.
A star-studded field of over 140 professionals include Britain's Tour de France hero Mark Cavendish and Belgian Classics star Tom Boonen.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A fiasco of Olympic proportions

It’s building into a monumental public relations disaster, the decision to hold the 2012 Olympic road races over beautiful Box Hill in Surrey next July. With the Test Event only a week away, the organisers are saying crowds should stay away because spectator access is to be limited on the Zig Zag climb. All foot paths in the area are to be closed to the public!
It’s hard to credit that the opening event of the 2012 London Games, the spectacular road cycle races to be televised live to billions worldwide, has caused so much strife because of rare plants and insects.
Not that these little darlings are to blame. Pity the organisers didn't learn early on that an area they saw only as a natural public grandstand was so rich in rare species.
Why, I even heard from National Trust member that dormice would be at risk if television had its way and had the tree canopy cut back to allow aerial coverage from helicopters. Dormice get across the road by use of the trees, apparently. Fascinating.
Bet Lord Seb Coe, the boss of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG), didn’t know that when he cited Box Hill as a wonderful place to come and see the race. If you’re a dormouse, possibly, or a Roman Snail, or any of the other precious creatures who will now have the place to themselves.
Makes you wonder why the National Trust agreed to have the Olympic event there in the first place, if they are now so concerned of possible damage caused by thousands of feet to this Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Apparently, LOCOG went over Natural England’s heads by approaching the National Trust first with the idea to run the Olympic road races through Surrey.
There are plenty of other climbs in Surrey. Perhaps the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games will relocate next July’s road races if the forthcoming Test Event on Box Hill proves problematic.
But in London and elsewhere in the county, the race will all probably go with a swing, this unique occasion to watch Britain’s Mark Cavendish take on the world’s top riders on home soil.
Afterall, there is a healthy precedent for a big race like this, the even bigger Tour de France, which has twice visited England in the last 16 years, to massive public acclaim.  There were road closures galore –no problems. Even the air space above the course was closed.
Millions turned out to watch two stages of the Tour in 1994 and again in 2007 when it began from London. And the Tour is a far bigger event than the Olympic road race, often requiring traffic islands and refuges removed to allow passage of 200 riders sandwiched between two huge motorcades, including the commercial caravan preceding it.
As to the views of a minority of local people in my local paper, complaining about the lengthy road closures, get a life. You would think it was a natural disaster coming your way. Go out and witness a unique event. Take some butties, a flask of tea or coffee. Wave a flag. Just stay clear off Box Hill.
Or stay at home and play scrabble.
Roll on Sunday the 14th. I’ll be rooting for Cav as the race storms into Dorking down West Street.

Scourge of the pavement cyclist

Pavement cyclists.  Pests, most of them, unthinking individuals unconcerned at the stress they cause pedestrians.  And they go mostly unchallenged. Except the other evening, when I saw one of the town’s two cycling coppers stop a middle-aged gent who was riding on the pavement.
There was a minute’s discourse between the two, whereupon the copper pedalled off and the pavement cyclist joined the road, where he should have been in the first place. The roads were fairly quiet.
But the other morning I listened to a pavement rider make his excuses. As I walked to the newsagents, he came out of nowhere. He steered away to avoid a collision, saying sorry as he went. He was a newspaper delivery boy reporting to the same newsagent I was headed for.
I confronted him in the shop.
Tell me, I said, why do you ride on the pavement?
Because I don’t want to get knocked off, he replied, a bit sheepishly.
He was 15. I let the matter drop. I could understand why he felt that way. 
I felt it was no good informing him of the claims that cycling safety has improved as more people take up riding - the CTC's (National cycling organisation) "Safety in Numbers" campaign.
Not with  a constant stream of traffic roaring by outside the shop,  on the one-way street.
Fast moving traffic on Britain’s roads has created a hostile environment. Traffic is moving far too fast, passing far too close.
It never used to be this way, before the age of power steering and nippy zippy little motors. Ad campaigns cleverly avoid talking about speed, instead they promote a pacy lifestyle. Same thing.
Then there’s the nightmare of one-way streets, a product of 1960s traffic planning which was about the time cyclists - and pedestrians – were designed out of road planning.
Most of the so-called improvements for cyclists and pedestrians since have been add-on infrastructure and most of it is rubbish.  Cycle lanes are in the main too narrow and often more dangerous to use than the road – thanks to lampposts standing in the middle of them, and even bus shelters! There are a few exceptions, such as the Cycling Superhighways in London, not perfect, but nevertheless, a benchmark for others to follow and improve upon. But such facilities are few and far between.
Local authorities have sold the cycling movement short, by creating shared paths in busy places, where design guides clearly say they shouldn’t be.  It has led to some people thinking all pavements can be cycled on.
The irony is that if all traffic moved more carefully, more slowly, there would be no need for any special cycling facilities, except at major junctions.
The sooner all residential roads have 20mph speed limits, the sooner vulnerable cyclists, like the newsboy, may feel it is safe enough to get back on the road.