Friday, 21 March 2014

Sunday, 16 March 2014

I’ve never seen this before. It could be the same water, but for sure I’ve never seen it here. Its unfamiliarity gives it a difference, even if the breeze is just as fresh, the glisten just as blue. This is the biggest ocean in the world.

I think of the road from St Just to St Ives, the rugged Cornish scenery, an old coal mine tower, the small climb up to Eagle’s Nest way up above Zennor. I picture the white water smashing against the rocks, the tiresome British tarmac, the fresh air. The little holiday cottage and setting out to explore every morning, some of my very first rides. Summer holidays. An old memory.

I think of climbing out of Tossa de Mar, the water down to my right, blue and flat. The road looping up and down, hugging the coastline for eight kilometers or so. The damp corners hiding from the sunlight and the spectacular view. I remember Dave telling me about the day the Tour came along this very road, how special it was, in the break all the way to Barcelona. I picture the turn left up San Grau, climbing with the sea over my shoulder. It’s blue comes in to view again every few hairpins, as the road randomly changes direction, but on the whole it simply simmers silenty behind me. But I do like this climb. And up the last steep ramp I always glance one view back, for it’ll be the last of the day.

You climb slowly up Colemans, rising and dropping, in a way that masks the altitude you are gaining. The road is rough, but nothing like back home, nothing at all like the sapping tarmac of the B3306. There are sheep in the fields at the top, and cows too, sometimes walking on the road. It almost doesn't seem like America up here, a place with fences, borders and strict instruction everywhere, but then up here in the hills it is so different from the cities anyway, and so maybe it’s not so much of a surprise. Over the crest and the narrow road platues. My French teammate asks me what ‘narrow’ means, it’s on the road sign just to our left. I choose to describe it in the context of a narrow mind, he understands.

And then it comes in to view. First through the valley, Russian River I think it is called and then everywhere, all across the horizon. Its amazing. So blue and so vast, in my mind and also plain to see. We rip down the descent and stop at the bottom to turn left on to Highway One. The air is fresh, nothing like anything else I know.

I spend the next fifteen minutes stealing every glance I can, for it’s pretty special to be by the sea. And this is the biggest ocean in the world.

Friday, 28 February 2014

ProCycling Diary #1
[click image to enlarge],

Wednesday, 26 February 2014



Barriers line the street and every hundred yards or so a wooden pole protrudes skyward, a speaker cable tied to the top. Infact everything seems to be cable tied; the sponsor banners, the wires running up and down the road, even the awning across the finish line. This is a travelling circus and the humble cable tie is the perfect metaphor for it’s shoestring nature; cheap, no fuss and ultimately, just as quick to tear down as it is to construct.

Riders, each engrossed in their own routine, linger around cars and vans in their strips. Folding chairs and the eye-watering odour of leg rub hanging in the air completes the obscure scene.

This isn’t the type of race with a PR drive. Nor a race you will have ever heard of. But there is no doubt plenty of the young men fidgeting with safety pins, as they take advice from old men with no idea what they are on about, will have been dreaming of this day for months. Through the now long gone rides of November and December it will have occupied the mind constantly. So too in January, however rather than jubilation and motivation, the thought now provides stone cold fear, the doubt of form and preparation creeping in. It’s all irrelevant now, the race has arrived, the start-finish line been painted, by the local blindman it would appear, and it is time for some pain.

The crowd is mainly made up of local punters. Stood with mild anticipation, their manner reflects the strangity of the sport for spectators. For the race will take most of the day to unfold and only involve, at best, fleeting glances of the athletes for those stood around. Most likely with as many wrinkles as the race has kilometres, these dedicated souls come back every year on this day, the second Sunday of the month. The remaining few hanging over the barriers, instantaneously recognisable as non-locals, are most likely parents and other family members of those racing. There is no glamour at this level. No screaming fans or autograph hunters. These races are almost completely self-consuming; for the reality is that knowone outside of the bubble really gives a shit what happens here. It's the start of the season and an ambiguous race in cowboy country, but for the riders, at this moment in time it is everything.

It’s their raison d'etre and as such it doesn't matter that first prize is a leg of ham, that the numbers they pin on their backs have been used a hundred times before, that nobody is watching.

I once looked up, bullock naked bar a small towel in yet another cold sports hall, to see a pretty girl, sister I would hope, giving a rider just yards away a pre race massage. It was a strange sight in a room full of two hundred members of the opposite sex, mostly stark naked or in some stage of. It made me realise once again, like I do so often, just how deeply ingrained the sport is in the culture around these parts. In today’s race there is no such sister or cheering family members for our man #146. He scribes his sole autograph of the day atop the sign-in ‘stage’ – to vastly over glamorize it, to a deafening cacophony of silence.

Stood on the start line, our man tightens his shoes one last time, adjusts his helmet and tries to zone out from the rabbiting foreign language bouncing all around him. It reminds him how far he is from home and how little he knows of what lays ahead. He looks down at his stem as the commissarie screams instructions out infront of the bunch, it doesn't matter he cant hear, the unfamiliar words would go through one ear and out the other. Euro pop, synonymous with these races and most likely released before he was even born, blares out from the speakers dotted around. Merely background noise, it does little to mask the lack of rapturous fans and the doubts that lay ahead, and is soon drowned out itself by a loud bang from over the otherside of the barriers. Riders clip in ahead and it’s time to go to work…

And then it’s over before it even really started. Fifty uneventful kilometres later he buckles both his wheels on a larger than life pothole. The brakepads rub, the spokes tinkle, and the life falls out of his race. Of course there is a chance of swapping them out, drafting the car and getting back in to the melee. But that quickly evaporates as he pulls to the right hand side of the road, hand in the air, only to watch his team car go sailing by. And before he knows it, so too has every other team in the convoy. No favours in this cut throat peloton. And so he is left standing by the side of the road, the silence, escape from it all, strangely reassuring.

146 climbs off and looks around. His heart slowly starts to return to a more humane level and it dawns on him how screwed he is. Lest I remind you this is cowboy country and 146 is almost completely surrounded by nothing, with no idea of the way home. He stands there for a minute, a boy lost in a world fit for no man and takes in the shit-show of the last five minutes. He roots around in his pockets, scoffing his race food as his Director’s damning words regarding his eating habits bounce around his head. Fuck it.

And then he climbs on the bike and starts to pedal again. His only option, to follow the race route, seems ludicrous, but there is no alternative. For twenty kilometres he saunters along, his moral dampened and his head reminded of his misfortune every blasted turn of the wheels, as his rims rub away on already fully loosened brakes.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Sometimes you just believe you will pop something out.

I hadn’t felt great all day but often I get that feeling from hiding in the wheels. I was however attentive and when I kicked over the top of the first climb I should have felt the zip in my legs and known I was on for a good day. It was just focus. Engrossed in conservation, eeking out every last bit of power I could spare until that last burst to the line, I spent the whole day in a bubble: watching and waiting.

Cycling is often as much about what you don't do, as what you do do I have found.

The run in was hectic. No surprise. There was a roundabout with just over five kilometres to go and I entered in the top ten of the bunch. Sitting pretty I had learnt the difference between ‘good positioning’ and good positioning via being caught behind a few untimely crashes in my first year as a junior. Later that evening my DS had asked me why I had been sat at the back out of the roundabout. He hadn’t seen the rider flick me to fuck just as we entered, forcing me the long way round or straight into a traffic island. From the front to the back in one clean swoop. It's these things you don't see unless you’re racing - the cutthroat moves people pull all day long, the ruthlessness. Even now, four months in to the winter, four months away from racing, I am sure I have probably forgotten quite what it is like.

It drags uphill for a few hundred meters and I make the most of a slight hesitation to move back up to the front of the depleted group. At three k to go there is a petrol station on the right of the road, with a small sign ziptied to a lamppost signifying the distance. I pay little attention to it. Last year on the first stage they had still been inflating the km to go arch as we raced on by, caught completely unawares, so it’s better to go from memory. I could shut my eyes even now, almost a year on, and recount you the exact finish:

Now it runs downhill, fast and wide. We had hit out too early with three riders last year on this finish. This time, despite there only being two of us, I know I have an advantage. Experience. We jostle, but I sit patient on my teammates wheel, shouting to wait, wait, wait a little longer.

Through another roundabout and the bunch lines out before slowing again upon exit. I am not the only one who knows the finish and nobody wants to take it on. Yet. Eyes dart around, I position myself ready to pounce on the inevitable flyer, making my space and readying for the frenzy…

The Belgians come steaming over the top three strong. I barge on to the last wheel and breathe as we pass under the red kite. The tension is building and building. The hours of waiting, positioning, avoiding crashes and saving energy are about to come to a crux. The pace isn’t that fast but nobody is moving up. There must be some tired legs around, but I don't realise it, I’m still in my bubble.

Whenever I ride to a race I get similar legs to today, as if that conservation button has been switched, nothing really in the tank. But then I hit the start line and it all changes. Today my start line doesn't seem to come until the last ten metres. But it is damn perfect timing all the same.

I shift into the little ring just before we turn the righthander and hit the cobbles with fifty hundred metres to go. It must be fifteen percent and steeper all the way to the line now. I am glued to the last Belgians wheel, his teammate having peeled away, their job done. He goes, but of course it's too early and he isn’t really going anywhere anyway. An empty gesture of thanks for his teammates sacrifice as much as anything else.
Last year I hadn’t had nearly enough urgency left in my body at this stage of this game but this time it is different. I let my momentum carry me the first few revs and then, still seated, manoeuvre on to the next wheel that comes by. It is just like I have been taught on the track all be it at a far slower, bumpier speed.

Its 200 metres to the big finish banner now and the Frenchman goes on the left. I jump on to his wheel still waiting. All I can see is his tyre infront of me, the block capitals FRANCE across his backside. It hurts now. But there is one man between me and the finish line and I have got more to come yet. I’ve been thinking of this finish all day, ever since last year infact, and so I wait a little longer. He is still going strong, but I am sat behind, the pedals turning, waiting for me to rise out the chair.

I hold the wheel, biding my time a little longer. The line looms but I am barely aware. I focus and then persuade myself to fire up and let it all out. And with fifteen meters to go, maybe less, I kick with all my might. The cobbles persist but the bike is smooth. I hit tarmac and immediately after a finish line. I get one hand in the air, my right, and probably shout. I can't remember, my heart was beating way to fast to recall all that much.

It felt damn good, of that I am certain. Amidst the grimace, I was definitely smiling.

I ride on in to the small town square, back onto rough stones, staring at the ground and shaking my head. I had won? I couldn't fucking believe it. The chaperone chased after me, the announcer blathered away in the local tounge on the loud speaker and I just kept riding round in circles. Looking down and catching my breathe, I keep reiterating it over and over in my head. ‘You won?! You fucking won?!’


And it doesn't leave me. Not during the hour wait sat on a plastic chair outside doping control, talking shit with the chaperone in what turned out to be a police station. Not lay on my bed that evening, a yellow jersey on the end of my bed. Not even the next day when I stand on the top step of the final podium of the race.

It never leaves you if you don’t let it.


Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Recent press.

Rouleur Article 'An Education' Part One

ProCycling Magazine Diarist Intro.
[Click to enlarge]

Thursday, 2 January 2014


[Something I wrote a few weeks ago that has sat idle on my computer the past few weeks. Happy new year all!]

My parents split over ten years ago and as a result I have always been well accustomed to waking up in different surroundings. A good habit for a cyclist to have I think.

All too recently, no matter the surroundings, I would wake up, remember the day of the week and dread the hours of classrooms to come. However these days it's different, I have a new routine…

I wake at seven forty-five, kill the alarm on my phone and check my emails. For the first minute or two I keep the earplugs in, enjoying the clear silence. My mind is out of bed before I am even really awake, my body following a little slower, a result of the previous days exertions. Gone are the school hours, now I relish every single day, the chance to ride my bike, to explore.

Moving slowly through the low light of the apartment I pull up the quintessentially European shutters I have grown so fond of over the last few months. My slow shitty Carrefour kettle comes to life as my eyes adjust to the pre sunrise gloom. At some point my flatmate comes in and steps hastily upon the scales just as I had moments earlier. We share a few words before settling in to our pre-ride routines for the morning.

Back in my bedroom I pull on my socks first. Sitting on my bed in boxer shorts and a t-shirt this is when the day starts. Clothing up for the day ahead is methodical - every rider their own way of doing things. For me, the winter months and a cold early morning bedroom means that pulling on the socks is the only part of getting dressed that is done slowly. But also with the most enjoyment. The rest? A fumbled juggle, pulling baselayers on quickly to trap the heat of my body, shorts following soon after, quickly adjusted and then covered by tights so as to keep my legs, the most important of muscles for the day ahead, warm and ready.

But back to the socks. It all starts with the socks. And I seem to linger on their moment daily. Maybe it’s simply because there is not many things better to a cyclist than a crisp new pair of white socks, not that I have the pleasure or lack of morality to pull on a new pair everyday! Infact quite the opposite, socks can remain in packages for weeks even months after they are first handed over, ‘saved’ for that big day, but that’s another story for another time.

It’s also because these are particularly special to me. I have watched my idols ride in them, conquering mountain passes and ultimately, my dreams, yet I have also grown up in them for the past four years. I have become well accustomed to their length, their feel over my feet, the routine of pulling them on every single day…

I position them where they feel right, no tan lines to adhere too in this deepest of winter month, no real purpose other than pride in their height, for all the layers will soon hide their very existence at all. But to me they are always there, the smallest of things, but constantly reminding me of so much. Of home and their origin in London, of friends and family, of that team stamping all over the biggest race in the world, and as with anything related to two wheels, of those ever lingering dreams floating endlessly around my head.

Regardless, I know that when I pull on those socks in the morning, lingering a little like I always do, it is time to do business.

[It's ridiculous but today, my first back in Spain after ten festive days of wet and windy rides at home – black neoprene shoes hiding my socks deep down in the warmth, I took immense pleasure, and motivation, from simply looking down at a pair of ever rotating white shoes and socks. Cyclists? We are nuts…]

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


It is quite impossible to follow in the footsteps of your hero's in this sport. Not least because there are none, simply tire tracks, names sprayed on to Tarmac and old wives tales of days gone by. But mostly because each and every rider takes such differing paths. Races, teams and riders come and go so fast that the sport is literally ever changing. Each journey through it complete with an individual narrative, full to the brim with stories to tell, riddles to entertain over a Café.

I have never yet met a boring bike rider.

The only real common denominators in this sport? Hard work and good old-fashioned support. For Cycling is just too god-damn hard without these factors, a truth even I can attest to from my little experience thus far.
They adhorn all manner of surfaces. From my fridge, to my old bedroom wall in London, to the mirror of my new apartment. They are images I conjure up on long climbs, when I feel most at one with the bike, when I dare to dream. They are videos I have watched countless times, races splitting on cobbles, in crosswinds and up famous mythological mountains. They are parts of a culture I am just beginning to discover, delve in to and immerse myself in. Ultimately they are the guys who have changed the sport in this country forever, showing it can be done, showing the rest of the world how to do it.

And I am proud to be following, as much as is possible, in the distant (and not so distant) wheel tracks of a few of these hero's…
I didn’t know Dave Rayner, he tragically and prematurely passed away before I was born. However through many friends and from seeing the lasting legacy he has left on British racing, and particularly young British riders, I feel I know a little what Dave must have been like.

As I climbed yesterday, sun on my neck, the ever-present clichés of my own breath and wheels rolling on the tarmac present, I reminded myself how much I really do love riding my bike. Yes it can be painful, difficult, dangerous and bloody tough, but it is what makes me tick and I think that is probably something I share with the late Dave Rayner.

And that is why, above all else, I am really proud to be representing Dave and all the hard work of the Fund’s committee out on the road this year. A huge thankyou to all for the opportunity, I hope to do your support justice and try to give everyone back home something to be proud of in some way or another.

For more info on the Fun checkout the Dave Rayner website here.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Sat on my toptube, left foot still clipped in, heart racing a little. Taking in my surroundings.

We had just ridden up a tiny little lane, the type that winds its way up the side of a hill at a ludicrous gradient in the way only European roads do so. The sort of road that would never find it’s way into the conformity of a map, but could still reveal so much.

However after a few kilometres of droopy tarmac [as a good friend recently announced mid ride, cyclists naturally become Tarmac connoisseurs, whether they like it or not] rather than snake up and over the hill, this slither unexpectedly stopped. On a climb like this you find yourself accelerating a little every so often, regardless of the time of year, the training notes, simply with the excitement of seeing what the next steep little rise or hairpin will bring.

It brought a lovely little place that I immediately fell in love with. A barnyard on one side, a small stone farmhouse on the other, perched precariously on the hillside like many of the buildings in this part of the world are. We weren’t lost, but equally we didn’t know where we were. Seizing the sense of adventure that comes with new surroundings is all a part of the world we live in. Eternally we hope these new and mysterious lanes may crest the hill and reveal an undiscovered place, and rewardingly, they often do so.

The little lane, the journey along it, had the potential for a story at the least. One of the beauties of this sport being that even if we rest almost incessantly when not pedalling, we see such vast amounts of landscape and culture whilst in the saddle. In particular my appreciation of architecture and nature, wherever I may be, grows exponentially daily. In the moments before we found ourselves here, we skirted around a beautiful lake, yesterday took the coast road and tomorrow will discover a new mountain pass.

But back to the hillside, and an old man slowly walks from the open doorway. The heat now apparent having stopped, an English-Spanish blend drifted our way in the afternoon sun. I noted the slippers and from his gentle smile, a deep appreciation of our journey. He needn’t know the intricacies of what had lead us to his doorstep, nor who we were, he understood cycling.

For just as the signs on the road, directing drivers to leave enough space for cyclists, reveal the sports embedded culture in this part of the world, so too did the directions we went on to gather. Possibly not even needed, for we could only take the same road down before choosing another to chase over the crest of the hillside, I took them, and gratefully, all the same. If only to immerse myself in the surroundings, listen to the local lingo and have a story to share around a busy dining table.

I soon pick up enough of his words to bid him ta luego, and resume training. For amongst all the adventure and unknowns, that is the number one agenda of each day, to train.

And yet, on the next climb a little while later, winding our way up to Sant Hilari, I remember the gratitude of the man, his happiness at seeing us. With that memory on this beautiful road, climbing skyward for twenty-five kilometres, looping around hairpins and under tree cover, I feel completely immersed in my adopted home for the Winter. Revelling, despite the challenges and sometimes strange ways.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

I have been going through some pretty big changes in my life the last few weeks which is possibly the best and only excuse I can give for the lack of content up here.

2014 will see a change from the Black of CC Hackney I have sported all my Cycling life thus far, with a hugely exciting move to the Bissell Cycling Team, formerly known as the Bontrager Cycling Team. Riding for the team under Axel Merckx and Omer Kem will be a huge opportunity and provide a great chance for me to develop as a bike rider. I cannot wait to meet all of my new teammates and get stuck in to the racing season, one of whom, my good friend Nathan Van Hooydonck, came to visit last week in London!

More on the team at a later date, however in the meantime you can hear me yabber away a little about it all on the Humans Invent podcast here and also read some recent press in the links at the bottom of this post!

Being a part of a podcast was a new experience and something I really enjoyed doing, despite having to keep even more of an eye on my big mouth than usual with it being recorded! (Evidently since it's a podcast!) But on a more serious note it was really interesting listening to the pro journo's chat about next years Tour and see the process that goes into the finished piece. I guess it shows how big cycling is getting that there is stuff available almost daily in all sorts of formats now. The wonders of the internet or something like that...

Also discussed in the podcast was my then impending but now completed move to Girona. This is a luxury I can now afford thanks to finishing school, however also with the help I am receiving from Leigh Day and one of my closest sponsors over the last few years, Rapha. One part of all these changes is the slightly sad process of parting ways with my personal sponsors of the last few years, most especially Condor and Rapha who have become (and will remain!) friends as well as supporters. However come the 1st of January I will be a part of one of the most highly regarded development teams in the world, using some equally top notch kit, and this is all a part of the process!

So inspite of my dear love for Hackney, I will be based in currently buzzing fiesta-mad Catalunya for the winter. Alex Peters, fellow co-conspiritor and I will be taking advantage of the climbs and slightly better weather to hopefully get a solid few months training in. As you can see from the image above I already have a Trek Madone 7Series to train on for the winter, a really stunning new piece of kit. With thanks due to the Team and specifically our Mechanic Eric Fostvedt for getting it built so fast! On our first proper ride out here in Girona Alex and I rode the well known Rocacorba climb, with a pretty cool view from the top our reward. Nothing like that in Essex...

Which leads me nicely on to yet another big change, my new partnership with palmarès coaching and specifically Jon Baker, an Exercise Physiologist based at Aberystwyth University. After two brilliant years working with the amazing Matthew Winston on the British Cycling Olympic Development Programme, I am really confident this new partnership will continue to progress and develop my understanding of not only the demands of the sport, but also myself as an athlete. With lots of big climbs and testing roads now our playground in Spain, I am sure Jon is going to have plenty of pain lined up over the next few months, however this is all a part of a challenge and I am already relishing getting stuck in!

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Something I wrote for Leigh Day...

Despite only being eighteen and without a great wealth of life experiences to draw on, I find huge satisfaction in retrospect. There is something quite special, romantic even, about looking back at seemingly insignificant events. Retrospect fits the life of an athlete: Big career progressions boiling down to one or two breakout results, the mindset of learning but never dwelling key to the constant limbo between good and bad days. In cycling, a sport in which you lose disproportionately more than you win, it is probably fair to say such an outlook is a basic requirement…
Just over four years ago I ventured upon one such moment. It was a beautiful early summers day. The type when you start layered in clothes but return bare legged, pockets full and with the re-emergence of some winter-hidden freckles underway. It was my Mum’s birthday, the 15th of June. Marked precisely, yet ultimately just another Sunday morning amongst increasingly many I had begun to dedicate to discovering Essex.
I have always been an athlete of some description. One of my earliest memories is jogging down my street to London Fields for my first Saturday training session. Arsenal socks my pride and joy, heart beating at what lay ahead. Then it was on to swimming, culminating in a channel swim relay five years ago. Eleven hours and thirty-four minutes the fruits of countless mornings spent lapping across Dover harbour. I have and always will find life inside of sport, however before I stumbled into cycling, I think I was always trying to find my true place.
Growing up in the city cycling seemed truly unique and it still does every single day. The mountains I watched on television seemed foreign and incredible, as they still do. In the end it took an unaware mini-cab driver, his car door and some broken bones for me to truly forget the endless laps and chlorinated world of swimming. To find the amazing experiences two wheels seems to so readily present. Quitting has never been my thing and as such leaving swimming, despite the insignificance of what I was achieving, didn't come naturally. And yet like all good moments, I look back and it fitted just right.
‘No cycling for six weeks and no swimming for nine’ were the doctors words. I was pedalling a month later yet haven’t swum since. And how could you? Cycling has brought me so much thus far and it is only just beginning. There are so many moments waiting to be had and then looked back on, it is just about getting out there and finding them.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Leigh Day for their support. Whether I would look back on that Sunday so fondly without their help all those years ago I cannot say. There is no time to dwell, there is riding to be done and self-inflicted but enjoyable pain to be had.

Piece can also be found here.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

With the title of team leader comes responsibility. 

The season may be a long one goes the adage. Full of important races, so they say. But ultimately there is something, put simply, special, about the World Road Race Championships. It’s the day they crown the heavyweight champion of them all. It is a day to be grasped with both hands, a day you just don't let slip away without one hell of a fight. And with an unfamiliar setting, a move into the espoir and senior ranks, just around the corner, it is a day to remember the rainbow bands are something that will never leave your palmares.

What do you want to be? You want to be the best in the world.

Rainbow jerseys aside, the Championships are our sole opportunity to gain some exposure. Not the ego boosting type, no - more the dream living type. The chance to watch your heroes up close, the guys who, embarrassingly maybe, still grace your bedroom wall. To share a dinner table, an awkward lift, an exchange of words in the corridor, it’s an opportunity to be up close with your goals in life and then show the world how you are going to get there, finally letting the legs do the talking.

What is there to be scared of?

Like that nervewracking first date, filled with unknowns, anything can happen. Worrying about the race is futile, yet as a bike rider you still do it. Luck does exist in Cycling, but the old cliché that you ‘make your own luck’ must have been written for the sport. Today you don't even take the chance to slip out of position, it might be the only opportunity you have and that weighs heavy on your mind. It is one day, one race… When a crazy unnamed rider kicks off infront of you, where you would normally drag him back and bellow in his face, you instead get out the way. Risk adverse, today it isn’t worth your breath.

Talk over. Execution…

The boys are on the front, the race under control: a scenario that feels familiar. My hands resting on the hoods, bony wrists straight out infront, the same view as any other race. As we climb beads of sweat tinkle down the side of my face and into my eyes. I pull my fresh from the packet red mitts off and chuck them over the sponsor-clad barriers one at a time, the feeling of bare hands a sub-conscious reminder that it is nearing kick-off time. This all falls within the plan. All adds up to the perfect race so far…
Onto the next climb and the gradient is steeper now. Chain jumping a little but then suddenly legs are spinning round uncontrollably, looking down and seeing nothing there, climbing off and looking back for the service car, race splitting to shit, running up the climb in cleats, photographers lined beside me, seeing names painted on the tarmac now, sound of lenses snapping away louder, overwhelming thoughts of disgust, anger, immediate bitterness. This isnt familiar. This isnt normal. This wasn't what I planned.
Chain is gone.

So whilst I may attempt to make my own luck, today it all still falls away. Whether it was in my grasp I will never know, the chance, 1in199, doesn't seem to suggest so. But my belief, our belief, says otherwise. I could have atleast had the chance to roll my dice, revel in the pressure, put to use my legs. That will have to wait for another day:

Most of those one hundred and ninety eight fly by as I stand there. I don't really see them. It’s a blur.


Sitting on the tailgate of the team van, head in my hands, I hear every pre-race interview go back around my head. I feel every dream I harbored vanish. Between tears I see failure, in the dirt on my once so promisingly white socks, in the shaking of my legs, in those same hands and wrists that hours earlier were filled with so much promise. Like the mitts, everything was saved for this day. The day you don't let things fall through your hands, the day you take the opportunity to show what you can do has gone…

The wait, standing there on the Via Salviati felt like an age but in reality it was just over a minute, maybe a little more. I chased as hard as I could. For a lap, once underway on the spare, I rode over my limits. The unfamiliar neutral service bike didn't feel strange. There was no time for that in utter concentration. But that little more proved to be just too much. My body failed just within reach of the bunch. Going from being completely out of sight down the finish straight to just within touching distance, I gave it my all. My hopes of personal success left with the chain, but I still try to get back to the bunch to give something to SD. Anything to make the race not completely lost…
But it was. And after these words it is forgotten in all but experience. The winter looms large and it is time to restart the hard work.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Some words written, lost and then found on my time spent racing in Luigiana.

The lads had been riding all day. Keeping the day’s break within reach, the long turns they pull are testament to their belief and dedication. Occasionally they drop back down through the bunch, passing me with a nod, returning with a jersey full of bottles. I return instructions, barter with other teams, watch the chalk-board time gaps and ponder our next move. 

The entire race is watching us, I can feel it. The need to have a presence at all times, taxing as it may be, is vital. I have to be in control because today I am not just another rider in the bunch. From kilometre zero two Russians attack, carrying a smattering of other riders along in their wake. The local riders with it all to win, or indeed lose, seem prepared to do nothing. The rest of the bunch, national teams we race week in week out, all follow suit. So we must take on sole responsibility.

I make a silent pledge amongst the whir of the bunch; we will make them pay later on.

Sat just inside the arrowhead of the peloton, watching the kilometres count down, I wait. There is little time for nerves amongst the melee of the bunch. The constant need to hold position or avoid an obstacle in the road demands utter concentration. And yet, every now and then I drift off to somewhere just beyond the horizon - the final climb. The hard work of my teammates filling these thoughts with confidence. And whilst our actions may herald pressure, I mostly find myself simply contemplating the whole scenario, calculating constantly. Every little move planned, every bit of power saved, the final climb weighs heavy on my mind.

The last lap is quickly upon us. We pass our hotel for the week with about thirty kilometres to go and momentarily I wonder a little. Watching the staff stood in the carpark, the spectacle of the race flying by their darting eyes, do they spare a thought for us Brits? I doubt it. Then I look down at my numbers. Soon the pace will lift a little more again, the shit hitting the fan even harder, and so it’s time to move. I may be in the sponsor-littered-leaders jersey, but the gaps don't open any easier. Holding position all day is a constant game. Slip back and it is like the death zone, the time ticking, the risk ever increasing, before it eventually all comes crashing down. So I hip sling a rider to my left and draw level with Matt’s rear wheel. A Dane I have raced with all season lets me into the gap and suddenly it is all happening a little more. Here I am, sat in the hotseat, three lads drilling their chances of a result away infront of me. Three amazing guys pulling me closer and closer to the heights of the summit finish, to whatever our opposition may throw at us.

It's a special feeling, my teammates utterly sacrificing themselves. Earlier in the stage, sat in the bunch, I had promised myself to never let this feel normal. Other riders laying aside their personal ambitions on my behalf, it is something I can never take for granted. I realise how damn cool it is. Having seen first-hand other teams ride like this before, on the television many times more, I appreciate how special it is to execute something like this. I contemplate how much such a show of strength, this absolute unity, scares the other riders. How it sends their minds wandering to that final climb…

And then, with the break all but caught I am right back into the race. We turn to the right and a switch in my head flicks on. It is a perfect scenario. The roundabout up ahead marginally quicker through the left, the wind buffering from the right - little details noticed over the last few laps immediately fall into place. I scream to the lads, currently dead centre on the road, and we hit the gutter in unison. Space enough that I can avoid the glass and gravel of the tarmac edge, but no more. Those behind can enjoy that tightrope walk between the road and the end of their race, today we will dictate. 

All of a sudden the years of trips over to Belgium have paid off, albeit in the most unfamiliar of terrains. It is my first time racing in Italy, but really it’s much of the same. For a moment I imagine the chaos being inflicted behind. A frenzied image springs readily to mind, drawn from my fair share of time spent ducking and diving. However within seconds I have no need for imagination.

There is something thrilling and frightening in equal parts about the crunch of carbon. You have avoided the crash, however nervousness of the bunch instantly goes sky high, the risk increasing ever more. That sound of wheels snapping and frames cracking hits the riders like the first in a long line of dominos, each toppling and ready to fall at any moment. The touch paper has been lit. And yet we continue onward, this crazy race wont stop for anyone. We take a scalp wherever and whenever we can, it's a cutthroat world. Flick or get flicked.

Before I know it we are about to hit the climb, the pace similar to the line up for a bunch kick. I remember the café on the left, the red plastic deckchairs, the Coca-Cola sunshades. I don't even think, I no it is time to go. Lawless does his final big turn, coming to near a stop as he swings off and then it’s left to us. It is time for Sid and I to shine.

At first it is a bit of a scrabble but we avoid the touches of wheels. I love the shitfight of it all. It gives me as much thrill to guide Chris through the chaos on a sprint day as it does to battle for a win myself. But the quiet of the hills, when it is all in a line, your thoughts as much a battle as the gradient, when the pain really really hurts, that's when I feel truly on. That is when I start to notice my breathing, become more wary of my cadence, of the positioning of my hands on the bars. Loss of momentum on the early ramps, surroundings coming into focus for the first time in hours. I see features of the fans by the side of the road, sense the movement of the riders around me settling in to the pain ahead, and then I focus in on the wheel infront. The climb has started…

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Just in from my first proper ride out here in Italy preparing for the Road Race World Championships on Saturday. The roads around here are amazing and we did some really nice climbs on our steady spin through the Toscana region.
I am super excited to announce a partnership with Leigh Day, a London based Law firm specialising in personal injury (in partnership with British Cycling), product liability, clinical negligence, employment, discrimination and human rights. Leigh Day actually helped me a few years ago when I was knocked off out training however will now be supporting me in a more official capacity as a personal sponsor.

It's exciting to be associated with Leigh Day as I approach the next big step up in my career between the Junior racing and U23 ranks. I really hope the partnership will turn out to be a real success.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Keizer De Juniors

Last weekend I was lucky enough to ride the UCI 2.1 two day stage race Keizer De Juniors as part of my final build up to the World Championships in Florence. The weekend would be my last race with John Barclay, as I leave the Junior ranks at the end of this season, so I was hoping for a half decent result to thank him for all the hard work he has put in for me. John has been taking me to races for four years now and I have a ton of brilliant memories of racing in Belgium with him. He has been a real mentor and never fails to inspire me with all his stories ranging right back to the British Pro's such as David Millar, Jeremy Hunt and Roger Hammond.
The first stage proved wet and windy - very wet and with the narrow lanes and muddy corners on the agenda I was expecting some big crashes. I spent a lot of energy in the first few laps of the ten kilometer course trying to be right at the front, however thankfully the big pileups I have become accustomed too were avoided, the race settling down despite the driving rain with more or less everyone keeping it upright.

I managed to miss the early break that went, having a realisation of how 'lazy' my last race was in Italy. Not physically, simply in that all you had to do was go full gas up the climbs whereas here in Belgium it is much more a game of chess, picking and choosing the moves you follow. Despite getting in a few very promising looking counter attacks I never saw the front of the race again and after driving the chase group to bring the gap down, limiting my losses for the GC, I rolled in toward the back. What was essentially the remains of a once two hundred strong bunch now no more than thirty guys, a good sign of the toil some riders had faced on the short bergs and narrow soaking lanes. The aim of not contesting the sprint for tenth or so place being to give myself a slightly earlier TT start time on the Sunday morning 6km individual test and therefor a little more rest before the afternoon stage.
Sunday saw a split day - lots of good training. A fast six kilometer individual time trial in the morning, followed by another good road stage in the afternoon.

Yesterdays stage, in Reningalst, was a very similar course to my very first ever race in Belgium and today's parcour had an 'historic' link too. The afternoon race was a fast technical circuit with a loop through the sand dunes of Koksigde, made famous by the cyclo-cross race held in the every winter, and crucially, yet another town I had raced in with John in my first year as an under sixteen! I love it how these circles and points in life seem to become complete, riding essentially my last race with John in the same town as I did my first.

Back to the race and for the second day in a row I managed to miss the move that slipped away with about thirty kilometers to go. This was much to my disappointment and despite being pretty aggressive early on. On the bright side I had reason to be a little more cheery, my good friend Nathan (who was sitting second on the GC after the TT) had managed to sneak into the attack, escaping the clutches of the Dutch race leader and riding on to take the overall win! I attacked a lap later, firstly with a group of twenty or so, before I decided to give it a nudge solo with three kilometers to go. I emptied the tank over the last couple of clicks, a really good feeling, and crossed the line looking for Nathan, super excited that he had taken the overall win!

In the end I took a top ten on the stage and GC, nothing to light the world on fire but a nice little bit of racing before the World Championships, brushing up on some race fitness and generally getting stuck in. Good fun! Now onto the big one...
A huge thanks to John and Dave for the trip, it has been a great four years racing with you both - I have learnt so much. I hope to do what you have done for me justice in the future.

Secondly a quick thankyou to Condor for the new bike I can be seen riding on above! These guys look after me amazingly and this new frame is SUPER fast! To all at Condor, you guys are the best.

Few more pictures from Lunigiana. Report in post below.