Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Why The Times aren't changing

The Times, they aren’t a changing!
By Keith Bingham
WHEN The Times newspaper gave front page headlines to launch its historic “cyclists’ revolt” in January, to get government to improve cycling safety in towns and cities, it gave the campaign movement fresh impetus and claimed centre stage in Parliament – for a time.
But what have those artful dodgers in the Commons done about it? Besides falling over themselves to sweet talk a major daily newspaper, not much, if you ask me, writes Keith Bingham.
Despite The Times excellent campaign, there remain two big issues holding up real progress: insufficient funding and a lack of a national strategy to bring about the key changes in road infrastructure.
First, let’s do the maths.
According to one of the UK’s leading campaigners, Continental evidence says that when you spend at least £5 per head of population on cycling there is growth.
The Cycling Towns, under the direction of Cycling England – killed off by the government last year to save money - were spending a tenner and achieved an average of 27 per cent growth over 3 years.
This is consistent with a rate of doubling growth over 10 years.
However, to keep this in perspective, this is a doubling from nothing to very little….!
As it stands, in England, government spend on cycling equates to between £1 or £2 per head of population.  It’s higher in Scotland and in London.
In Denmark, Holland, it’s between £10 - £20 per head.
There are 49 million people living in England. So £1 to £2 per head equates to, at best, £98m being spent on cycling. That’s some £150m short of even the basic sum needed to make a difference.
To up this to £5 per head means the government must spend £245m per annum. But this is still half the percentage rate of spend in Holland and Denmark.
So what if the government do the decent thing and spend upwards of £300m per year on cycling?
How will they direct this? Answer, they won’t be able to, unless government takes direct control of Local Authority transport planning for cycling, as the Dutch did over 60 years ago.
This is important because virtually all the work to make the roads safer for cycling will fall under LA control. The Department for Transport has responsibility for the trunk road network which is only about 5 per cent of the road network, whereas the rest comes under LA control!
And government can only advise the LA’s, they cannot impose their will.

Here’s a recent example. The Times identified 100s of major junctions that need to be made safe for cyclists. Transport Minister Norman Baker responded by providing £15 million in funding. However, he can only encourage, not tell, Local authorities to bid for a slice of this cash to carry out the work.
It falls to The Times to ask us, the punters, to write to our local councillors and implore them to bid for funding!
Left to their own devices, the LA’s, who may not necessarily agree with government directives, have,
with very few exceptions, shown that nothing meaningful in cycling planning will ever be achieved. So, The Times faces a big struggle in a country which has shown it doesn’t do strategy.  When the National Cycling Strategy launched with great fanfare in 1996 it was largely meaningless because not only did it have no money before Cycling England were given a few bob in 2005, it couldn’t work in isolation, not without sister strategies for all other modes.
And there never has been a *national strategy for transport, from the canal age in the 1700s, through to the railways in the 1800s, followed by road and air.
*Transport in Britain, from Canal Lock to Gridlock, by Philip Bagwell and Peter Lyth.

Olympic road races explained

By Keith Bingham.
The men will lap this testing 15.5-kilometre circuit nine times for a period of three hours.
They will cover a total of 140km on Box Hill - more than half the 250-kilometre full race.

The women will lap it twice (31km) to cover 130 kilometres in total.
Box Hill is certain to play a big part in deciding who wins Olympic gold on The Mall 40 kilometres away, and spectators are assured of plenty of action.
The riders will have covered 70 kilometres from the London start by the time they start their first ascent of the Zig Zag, when battle will commence. It is unlikely any of the favourites will have made a move before then.
In both races, the field is certain to split asunder after several ascents of The
Zig Zag road, which is followed by a false flat after the summit as far as the Smith and Western restaurant.
SPRINTERS  like Mark Cavendish, currently the fastest in the world in a bunch finish and easily recognisable in his world champion’s rainbow jersey – will want to control the field, as he did to win the test event last year.  
But back then he had both the services of the GB and England teams  setting a fast pace to keep his rivals under lock and key in the main bunch, enabling the Manx missile to unleash his deadly sprint from the pack in the final few hundred metres on The Mall.
However, the test race bears no comparison. It was 100 kilometres shorter for a start, because it included only two laps of Box Hill – not nine.
Another big difference is only a maximum of five riders per team is allowed in the Olympics, instead of the usual nine or 10 men as in most road races. This means teams may not have the same degree of control. In which case, the race is very likely to split up into smaller groups on this circuit.
And should a group succeed in getting clear without Cavendish, and Britain’s Geraint Thomas is with them, and then he could be a major challenger. 

LOOK out for the likes of last year’s Tour de France winner Cadel Evans of Australia, who will want to get ahead, leaving Cavendish behind before The Mall.
Also look out for Belgium’s big star Philippe Gilbert.  Gilbert is a good sprinter, but unable to match Cavendish’s explosive finish.  Should Evans or Gilbert escape in the closing kilometres they’ll be hard to catch.
So, too, will be Swiss star, the 2008 Olympic time trial champion, Fabian Cancellera.
And watch out for Tour de France revelation, the Slovak Peter Sagan, winner of three stages in the first week of the Tour this July.
Sadly, defending Olympic champion Samuel Sanchez of Spain who broke his hand in the Tour is now a doubtful starter.
Britain’s Nicole Cooke is the defending Olympic champion in the women’s race.
She will aim to stay near the front of the field, ready to join any escape that may go on Box Hill. But she is just as capable of winning the bunch sprint should the race regroup for the finish.
Lizzie Armitstead is another Brit to watch. Like Cooke, Armitstead is versatile, and can climb and sprint, and is also strong enough to sustain a lone attack in the closing kilometres.
Opposition will come in the form of Holland’s former world road champion Marianne Vos or Italy’s current world champion Giorgia Bronzini. Both are good in a mass finish, with Vos also capable of breaking clear. Another talent is Swedish champion Emma Johansson, silver medallist to Cooke in the Beijing 2008 Olympic road race.
Team strategy in cycle road racing is often likened to chess, with moves aimed at outwitting rivals. It is the job of each team to do their leader’s bidding. Riders will be assigned duties, to pace the top man back after a mechanical problem, give up their own bike if necessary, or mark rivals.
They do this by chasing them down if they escape the pack. They may box them in or, in windy conditions, expose them to the elements by leaving gaps. If their leader gets clear, they will ride to disrupt the chase, infiltrating the line of chasing riders and “soft pedalling” as they get to the front of it, or just simply sitting on the back of the line like a dead weight, guaranteed to irritate the others. The whole point of the exersize is to make sure their goal scorers, like Cavendish or Cooke or Armitstead – to use a football analogy – conserve energy and are in the right position to finish the job.
Sometimes a teammate will join a leading group early on, specifically to be of assistance to his or her team leader should they escape the field and join up later.
Cavendish, for instance, may calculate on losing a little time to attackers on Box Hill, in the belief his team can help him catch up before the finish.
FIVE or four minutes. That’s the minimum advantage a breakaway group needs over the main field in the final 40 kilometres, if they are to stand any chance of staying ahead to the line.
SIX seconds a kilometre. Some 40 kilometres out, a bunch can close on a leading break at a rate of six seconds every kilometre - if sufficient number of teams commit to the chase.

FASTER than that with 10 kilometres to go. 10 kilometres out, the bunch will really start to move, and close down on the leaders at 10 seconds per kilometre.
However, these calculations apply to eight or nine-man teams, which is the norm. The Olympic road races allow only five-man teams. Cav's one of the five and he will want to save one man to act as a lead-out.  So that leaves only three men to chase. In the Olympics, the chasing is going to be much more complicated, more chaotic.
And the winding roads through London’s suburbs will play to a leading group’s advantage – out of sight, out of mind.

PACING can save a rider 20 per cent more energy. This is because the greater number of riders sharing the pace to break the air resistance can move faster than a few riders sharing the load.
The faster you go the harder it becomes to punch you way through this invisible but nevertheless solid air resistance, unless you have a howling tail wind!
A rider tucked in behind another rider can save 20 per cent more energy – if he’s not too knackered! And over the Olympic distance – longer by some 40 kilometres than the average road race - many riders will be found wanting. If Box Hill doesn’t kill them, the 35-40mph rush from there to The Mall will finish them off.


Cycle road racing at top level is a sport for individuals ridden by teams!
Understandably, this puzzles newcomers to the sport who ask is it fair that one rider gets the glory when his teammates have done much of the donkey work to set him or her up for the finish.

This practice has its origins in the early days of long-distance European road racing when men took up the sport to earn better money than offered in the mines or dreary factory work.
There was far more money to be had from pro bike racing, to put meat on the table for their families. But it was risky. Clearly they couldn’t raise the effort to win or get in the top prizes every time. They’d be dead before they reached 30! But they could help others do so, for a share of the proceeds and a reasonably steady income.

In long-distance events of six hours and more, alliances are absolutely key to getting a good result. So teams are built around a breadwinner, the most talented rider able to finish the job.

Olympic road races explained