From the searing 43 deg heat of Zagreb, Croatia, British transplant cycling returned to the more familiar surrounds of the wet, windy and cold Cyclopark in Medway, Kent for the Westfield Health British Transplant Games.
Both time trial and circuit race were held on the evening of Friday 24th at this top notch purpose built facility and it was great to catch up with faces new and old. This round of the games is particularly important for many of the riders as it forms the selection event for the British team travelling to Durban, South Africa for the 19th edition of the World Transplant Games in July 2013.
We were greeted with a few teething difficulties, not least the lack of an organiser, but we were graced by a team from British Cycling complete with timing chips who had given up their Friday evening before a Bank Holiday to look after us. After a couple of false starts the time trial got underway with Birmingham’s Steve Nyland setting the early pace with 8mins 35secs for 2 laps of the technical circuit.
Di Higman and Mel Slaney
As the conditions improved and the track dried out, the most remarkable result of the evening was GB team mates Mel Slaney (Sheffield) and Di Higman (Birmingham) both putting in a time of 10.35 and being awarded joint gold.
In the road race, Nyland, pushed close by Gavin Giles, also went on to win in his age category as did a number of other riders including me, Otti Quince, Mel Slaney and Gerald Brown and Simon Ripley. Ottilie now holds all the 6 titles (British, European and World) in both time trial and road race disciplines and is gunning for the fastest scratch time in world next year. Only a brave man would bet against her. And, if you do decide to bet against her…I wouldn’t tell her if I were you…
I’m pretty sure Simon Ripley’s achievements make him the first heart transplant patient to win a double gold medal in the bike race so many congratulations to him. That really does take some balls.
There was a number of new riders testing their skills for the first time following their transplants – bike racing is a scary thing to do, your first race scarier, your first race following a transplant scariest! Everybody finished with a smile on their face, satisfied they had competed – it bodes very well for the future of our particular/peculiar branch of cycle racing.
We are all there to compete – for some of us it’s the only way to pay tribute to the people who have helped us live through their generosity and courage. We win, we lose, whatever, but hopefully we’ll have demonstrated the success of transplantation and encouraged a few people to have a think about signing the Organ Donor Register
Medal winners from the Birmingham team
If you are interested in following the exploits of the GB Transplant Cycling Team, sign up to our Facebook page (imaginatively titled ‘transplant cyclists’) and check back here for blog updates. If you are really
interested, we have a Just Giving page for the entirely self-funded team going to Durban next year. http://www.justgiving.com/GBtransplantcyclingteam
It’s times like these – having just returned from the stunning city of Zagreb - I realise what a lucky man I really am.
Those of you who know my background or have read my book ReCycled will know I’ve had a liver transplant 20 years ago and, as a result, I get to represent Great Britain at the European and World Transplant Games. The 7th edition of the European Transplant and Dialysis Games continue this week in Zagreb, Croatia although the GB team and I have now returned for our own domestic games this coming weekend.
With me for this Croatian cycling adventure was Ottilie Quince, the current double world road and time trial champion, Melissa Slaney, another squad rider from the last world games in Sweden in 2011 and John Leveson, a new and untried rider in the 50-60 age category. Otts and Mel are known entities, both fierce competitors who over the last couple of years have made that tough transition from being athletes (football and show-jumping respectively) firstly to being fit people who own bikes and then to fully fledged racing cyclists. This has not happened by accident but by hard work and dedication, travelling to racing and training events all over the country. The instantly likeable John Leveson came with a track record of respectable 10 mile TT times and successful domestic transplant racing performances but was untried (until last Sunday) internationally.
We were racing at Jarun Park, a stone’s throw from our temporary home at Zagreb University, with the women’s 6.3km TT going off first in the building heat at 9.00. A measured ride from Otti secured the win just 6 seconds ahead of Ulrika Svantesson, a slight but important margin over the Swede. Mel’s time was enough to grab her 3rd place and a hard won bronze medal – well deserved after her determined training and racing this season and her first podium appearance in transplant cycling domestically or internationally.
If that wasn’t close enough, the men’s race was decided by even slimmer margins. John’s time was enough to secure him 7th place in his age category, a creditable first effort at this level and a real marker for what he needs to do over winter.
In my ‘come on Daddy’ 40-50 age category, packed with Italian riders, the early times came in with the excellent Stefano Caredda recording 9mins 45 seconds, his college Iose Bastia 9.41 and, would you believe it, me taking the race by a single second with 9.40. Never has the race been this close before. Just off the podium was Walter Uccheddu, another new Italian rider with ….
As the heat rose to 35 degs, the women’s road race got underway with Swedish rider attacking the pack and getting a gap that only Otti was strong enough to bridge. Mel was riding strongly off the front with Otti making a real attempt at slowing the pace down to give Mel a chance in the sprint. Although ultimately unsuccessful it was exactly the right tactic and showed a real team spirit in risking her own chance of success to help her team mate. Otti went on to take the sprint from Svantesson with Mel rapidly closing the gap and coming in 3rd. Great results from both riders making Otti the reigning World and European champion in both road race and time trial disciplines.
With the temperature rising to 41 deg, John repeated his 7th place in the road race, missing the vital break (there are a lot of experienced racing heads in that category) but picking up experience and acquitting himself well as part of the GB team – a smile never being far from his mouth. We also now know the mild mannered Leveson will go shoulder to shoulder with riders when necessary to hold his place in the bunch! Top work fella!
The flat circuit was always going to be a bit of challenge, making it easier for riders to hang on and not allow a break to go but, in my race, we did manage to get a break of four riders after a couple of digs from Yours Truly. A quick examination of the composition of the break told me I was in big trouble and at something of a disadvantage with my 3 break away colleges being Caredda, Bastia and Uccheddu , the 3 Italian riders who had pushed me so closely in the time trial. Oh dear...:) Inevitably the attacks came and it was my job to chase them down. Iose and Steffano did the attacking with Walter sitting in – I honestly thought he was tired. I managed to keep the break together until 300m from the line, dropping onto the front slowing it down as much as I dared taking everybody over to the barriers so when the sprint came they could only come up one side. Iose came off my wheel first and I followed him. Perfect tactics (for him) he drew me away from the barrier opening a gap and allowing Walter to go through on the inside to take the win. In fairness, I was pretty tired from chasing the attacks down but, even without this, Iose would probably have beaten me in the sprint in any event.
I was happy with 3rd place under the circumstances. It was great quality racing and the Italian team worked me over good a proper (quite rightly, I would expect my riders to do the same thing) but they didn’t get everything their own way. A nice incentive for Durban next year at the World Games.
I’d raced with Stefano a few times before. He is a gentleman (as indeed are all of the Italian riders) and I like the way he races. He sacrificed his own chances for his team mates in the road race and I gave him my GB jersey in the evening at the medal presentation (picture above). All in all, it was a fantastic trip – the racing was well organised and of very high quality - we met up with some old friends and made some new ones and, hopefully in the process, persuaded a few people to have a think about signing the Organ Donor Register.
A few brief reflections if you’ll allow me the time in this over long post.
1. During the heat of competition it’s easy to forget all the riders have all gone through the transplant or dialysis process and have to balance their racing and training with their respective treatments. It’s not always easy, but being able to ride a bike in any capacity is a priceless gift.
2. I burst with pride every time I have the privilege of leading the GB Tx cycling team. I am in awe of their efforts and dedication but don’t tell then this because it will ruin my reputation :)
3. Zagreb is a great city. Funky, friendly and very (very) reasonably priced. Go there if you can. Oh, we had the best ice creams ever as well.
4. The GB Tx team needs support for our next major international competition (the World Transplant Games in Durban 2013) and the training that goes towards it – please send bikes, high quality componentary, kit and money…
And finally, please, Sign Up and Save Lives…
It was hard not to be swept along by the Olympics and to be fair I didn’t try to stop myself. I’m no great fan or aficionado of dancing horses, the jumping into the sand pit game or Taekwondo but I’ve been completely absorbed by it. All of it. Having said that, I'm an easy catch when it comes to sport, once finding myself 3 hours into an international air rifle shooting tournament on Eurosport having lost track of time. Watching any sport being performed at its highest level is transfixing - we all put hours and hours into our cycling so you can imagine the dedication and fights, literally and figuratively, a female boxer has to go through to get recognition in her chosen sport. It’s awe inspiring and engaging.
During the last few days, my overriding feeling about the Olympics was one of not wanting it to end, partly because I’ve enjoyed it so much and partly because I fear the vacuum that comes after it. I’ve been wrapped in a bubble of Olympicness for a couple of weeks even as a spectator. I’m going to miss it but, like when the Tour de France ends, you find a way of coping without the highlights, it just takes time to adjust, right? However, the conclusion of the games will be viewed very differently by the athletes.
My first experience of competing at an international event was the World Transplant Games in 1999. It was a surreal experience to be wearing a navy blue blazer with a GB badge on it, parading as part of a 100 strong team into Heroes’ Square in Budapest surrounded by 2000 others from 50 countries. Even before that, people were stopping us at the airport interested to find out what we were up to, proffering good luck messages and shaking our hands. This was the start of my journey into my first ‘games bubble’.
In the bubble, you’re part of a paramilitary style clique, in uniform and inwardly focused towards a central core of competition with your backs to the outside world. The wagons are circled and the defences are impenetrable. Even family members and supporters travelling with the team can find themselves uncomfortable and excluded.
You compete. You win and you lose. Win and you receive the plaudits of your team, the manager, coaches, friends and supporters. Lose, and you get consolation, support and a warm arm around the shoulder from the same people, all safely within the protective bubble.
When the games are over and you’ve walk back through the front door, dropped your bags and taken the tracksuit off, the bubble well and truly bursts. It dawns very quickly this afternoon will not be frothy coffee in a café with team mates but washing clothes, opening 2 weeks’ worth of bills and getting ready to go back to work. Surely after all the training, the competition and the little metal symbol of your success things will be, well, better? You know, different? Maybe, a little, but you’re out of the bubble and back into the real world with a bump.
For those Olympians who haven’t got on a podium the transition back to real life is going to be hard. For those who’ve won in non-mainstream sports it may be even harder because the momentary recognition will fade rapidly and the come down will be even harder. Perhaps, for the guys who have won gold and achieved their life’s ambition it will be hardest of all, but the dangers of winning things is another topic in its own right. Whatever the results, reality is no longer suspended and it’s back to the mundane.
Thankfully, there is a cure for post games blues – it’s tough medicine, it takes time and it has side effects but it’s this: put the medal on the wall in the downstairs toilet, put the washing away and write down your next target. Then, get the bike, trainers, racquet, horse or whatever out and start preparing for entry into the next wonderful addictive bubble…
…Rich Smith is the author of ReCycled
now available in paperback via Amazon and the Cycling Weekly bookshop…
Lots of very positive news stories at the moment for us cyclists, not least the success of our Olympic road riders – a novel concept after years of success on the track but little in the professional peloton until the arrival of Mark Cavendish and Team Sky. In the gold rush of track medals remember that Froome, Armitstead and Wiggins won bronze, silver and gold on the road.
Armitstead’s success has meant her views on the inequality between men’s and women’s racing, including the lack of opportunities for women to race, the lack of Sky sponsorship and the like, have been heard more widely than perhaps they normally would. This is a good thing.
I know I’m treading on dangerous ground here. You know it and I know it - I’m a middle class, middle aged divorced white male which means I am supremely unqualified to comment on anything regarding women in sport. Or women. Or sport. Having said that, the cycling team I coach contains more women than men and my daughter is a keen sports woman who captains both the County u13 cricket and football teams so I’m a little more than an interested observer.
When it comes to bike racing, look at the typical programme for a day’s circuit race and there will often be age bracketed races for youth and junior riders followed by the Cat 3/4 and E1/2/3 races. In there you’ll usually get the women’s race (not necessarily at the end of the programme) but it will be in there. Most organisers I know feel it is the right and appropriate thing to do although they will quietly admit they worry about the number of entrants it will attract. As I write, the biggest and best attended one day race in the country, the Newport Nocturne, is struggling to attract women riders – 12 are entered so far. The race is schedule for the 1st September and can see crowds of up to 15,000 people – what better platform to promote women’s cycling?
Experience has shown there are relatively few entrants for women’s racing and it often ends up getting cut and combined with the 3s and 4s. Ultimately, it’s a numbers game: there are less of women riders so whilst the women who do race are often strong advocates, they are not backed up by their cohort. Circuit racing with a few riders is rubbish to participate in and rubbish to watch, whatever category it is.
Nicole Cooke’s gold medal at Beijing in the 2008 Olympics is worth as much (in every sense) as Wiggo’s at London 2012 isn’t it? What’s the difference? It may not be right or fair but it is nonetheless true that media interest is greater in men’s sport, more people consume it, watch it, read about it, participate in it and that’s what hardnosed commercial sponsors look at. Sky sponsors a men’s team that rides in the Tour de France because they’ll get more exposure than if they sponsored a women's team. The same applies to my lot – transplant cyclists – we are consistently one of the most successful teams representing GB on a world stage: can we find a sponsor? Can we hell.
Conclusions? Other than get your entries in for the Nocturne, none really, I wouldn’t dare – I’m probably in enough trouble already. The good news is that more young girls are coming into the sport: every branch of the sport as far as I can see. As number swell and interest grows, hopefully there will be more participation, more racing and consequently more chance of attracting sponsorship but grass roots participation is critical.
Rich Smith is a Level 3 British Cycling qualified coach, the current British, European and World Transplant Cycling champion and the author of ‘ReCycled, now available through Amazon and the Cycling Weekly bookshop.
I don’t know about you guys but I’ve lived in an Olympic bubble – specifically a track cycling bubble – for the past week or so. I’ve watched or listened to (why can’t 5 Live get hold of an FM channel?) all of the events and have been completely absorbed by the competition. I went to the morning session on Sunday and watched Ed Clancy do the 4k pursuit as part of the omnium and Vicky Pendleton qualify fastest (in an Olympic record) for the matched sprints.
Pendleton’s psychological battles to attain the kind of mental fortitude needed to become a great champion are well documented and, along with Steve Peters, the British Cycling psychiatrist (note: not
psychologist) she has overcome these sufficiently to hold British, Commonwealth, European, World and Olympic sprint titles all at the same time. She is an incredible champion and her achievements are unrivalled. Equally importantly she has been a role model for many aspiring riders and given track cycling a profile it would never have achieved without her involvement.
Her pending retirement from the sport was trailed long before the Olympics. She knew precisely when it was coming i.e. immediately the Olympic sprint competition was over. Contrast this with another great British cyclist, Roger Hammond, a former world junior cyclo-cross champion and road professional during the years preceding the arrival of Cavendish, Wiggins and the rest. I heard Hammond speak about his career and retirement this year at the British Cycling coaching conference – he was direct, eloquent, entertaining and slightly emotional. He said he could not allow himself to thing about retirement whilst riding because, as soon as he did, he would lose the edge. He’d start thinking about what was coming next rather than focusing on the training and racing at hand and as a consequence, he would not be as well prepared as he could be.
I’m not a sports psychologist – my coaching has only scratched the surface of a deep and complex subject but watching Pendleton yesterday in the sprint final must have been a sports psychologists dream. I suspect it will be repeated 1000’s of times to students of sport – if it isn’t, it really should be as it was a perfect demonstration of what Hammond was talking about.
In the final of the matched sprints, Pendleton won the first heat by 0.001 of a second – a tiny margin even in track sprinting. A few minutes later she was relegated for coming out of the sprinters line after being bumped by Anna Mears meaning she would have to win the next two heats to get the gold medal. It was a harsh but ultimately correct decision and sitting on the rollers when she heard the announcement she mouthed the word ‘farce’. Victoria Pendleton mentally retired at that moment. The next round Mears dominated the sprint (it was brilliant on her part) and won the gold medal despite Pendleton being in the best physical shape of her career. Pendleton didn’t capitulate, but as soon as Mears got in front of her it looked like she didn’t have the heart to contest it. It was one of the best demonstrations of the importance an athlete’s mental strength I’ve ever seen.
As a big Pendleton fan it was an incredible (if rather difficult) mental and physical battle to watch. Pendleton had the proven speed to physically win the sprint and Mears the mental fortitude to even up the battle. She coped with a partisan crowd (the noise was unbelievable) and beat the fastest female sprinter in the world with an amazing display of mental dominance as well as athletic ability. Of course, Pendleton congratulated Mears on her win. Consummate professionals both.
If you want to explore the impact of your mental approach to your riding I would recommend you speak to Pete Hudson at Cyclotheraphy. www.cyclotherapy.org
Pete helps the GB Transplant Team and specialises in overcoming performance blocks and optimising your mental approach to riding.
…Rich Smith is the author of ReCycled a funny book about cycling and less important things like life and death. You can get it through the Cycling Weekly Bookshop
…Rich Smith is a Level 3 British Cycling qualified coach, the current British, European and World Transplant Cycling champion and the author of ReCycled
a funny book about cycling and less important things like life and death…
I had a wonderful trip to the Olympics on Sunday. I was completely blown away by the whole experience and, when I’ve got my head round it a little bit, I’ll try to write some of it down but right now I wanted to look at what bronze medals are all about.
Strange, valuable little fellows with a winning motif all of their own I reckon. There is an old saying that ideally you should win a gold or a bronze, never a silver. The premise being that if you’ve won gold there’s no disputing you’ve won – you’re the best, it’s as simple as that. If you’ve won a silver medal there is that nagging doubt that with a little more application you could
have won gold, you just didn’t want it enough. With a bronze medal you’ve just bloody grateful you’ve got on the podium – there’s an element of the cheeky chancer, the tried really hard and
had a bit of luck about it – it’s a working man’ s or grafters medal.
Winning a bronze medal is like getting a 2:2 degree (I can say this as I’ve got a ‘Desmond’ myself’). It’s a degree but it’s not as smug as a 1st – it shows effort and application more than raw unbridled genius and it has that knowing nod to fellow holders that despite being a bit of a thicky, you’ve managed to persuade the powers that be to give you a certificate. But I would say that would I? A 2:1, the silver medal of degrees, means you’ve tried too hard, you really wanted a 1st, you resent the fact you didn’t get one and will go on about it for years. A bronze medal is the 'second hand Porsche Boxster with 65k on the clock' of medals – ideally you want a brand new 911 but you’re not a millionaire, you’ve had to work for the money and, hey, it’s still a Porsche right?
I’ve been incredibly lucky in my cycling ‘career’. I’ve won all three colours of medals at the World Transplant Games and my first medal in Budapest in 1999 was a bronze. After all these years, it’s still my favourite medal and, yes, I was bloody grateful to step on to that modest 3rd rung of the podium with two better riders who smiled, shuck my hand and thought ‘lucky bastard’. I won a silver medal in the road race in Australian games in 2009 and I can’t look at the picture of the sprint – all I see is me losing the race.
My bronze medal thinking was promoted by witnessing Ed Clancy’s bronze in the omnium at the Olympic velodrome at first hand. He was in fifth going into the final event and put in a kilometre time trial that would have beaten the world’s best specialist in that discipline. The look of sheer delight on his face when his 3rd place was confirmed was wonderful. Now, I know Ed had won a gold in the team pursuit a couple of days before but we all knew, if everything went to plan, there was a good chance of that happening because they are just awesome at it, the bronze was, I am sure, a welcome addition to his significant palmares.
My heart went out to Hunter and Purchase, the two rowers who were just pipped to the gold medal. They thought they’d let everybody down – they were distraught and in tears because they hadn’t quite got the gold medal. They hadn’t let anybody down, they’re heroes: complete heroes, and their attitude and dedication shines through and is a massive credit to them and team GB. I just can’t help thinking the pain may have been a little less if they had taken a bronze rather than a silver.
Now then, this little piece is in defence of the Men (and women) of Bronze, not an attack on noble and proud silver medallists. Please don’t come round in your Porsche, wave your 2:1 at me and punch me up the bracket with your silver medal. Your achievements are noble and significant. Just try a bit harder next time eh? ;)
…Rich Smith is a Level 3 British Cycling qualified coach, the current British, European and World Transplant Cycling champion and the author of ReCycled a funny book about cycling and less important things like life and death…
What a fantastic result yesterday - Wiggo smashed the field and Froome took a bronze. It was with this in mind my lad Charlie and I entered the local 2 up team time trial yesterday evening )he baggsied it first and got to be Brad- typical). Anyway, it got me to thinking…
Time trials remain the backbone of competitive cycle sport in Britain. They have an historical anchor as the sport’s governing body, the forward thinking and imaginative National Cycling Union (NCU), banned mass start road racing before WW2 forcing riders to compete individually against the clock. No really, they did. Honestly…
Despite this, British riders took the discipline to their hearts and now, during the summer months, many cycling clubs will run a mid-week 10 mile time trial supplemented with much posher ‘open’ events over the weekends. A look a recent British cycling heritage will reveal many of the current crop of professional riders come from a time trialling background. Certainly Chris Boardman and Graeme Obree but also David Millar, Wiggo, Alex Dowsett et al.
You’d expect there to be certain differences between the Olympic time trial and the club TT starting at 7pm up the A442 wouldn’t you? You’d be right. Here are a few of them.
1. The Olympic TT started at Hampton Court Palace – the ancestral home of Henry VIII and the Tudor dynasty, hugely influential in the development of English political and religious institutions and one of the most visited tourist attractions in the world. In contrast, club event start at the car park of the ‘Mucky Duck’ where you can get sausage, egg and chips for £2.00 (£1.25 in week if you are on OAP) and you have to keep moving so you don’t stick to the carpet. Oh, and remember to park at the back – in case any ‘proper’ customers turn up.
2. The riders taking part in the Olympic TT are the fastest cyclists in the world. They could cover 10 miles in around 18 minutes, riding at well over 30 mph emitting a massive amount of power whilst retaining a perfectly flat back and a smooth, graceful and efficient style. The club time trial will be won by the one guy who manages to dip below 24 minutes with his club mates coming in 3 to 10 minutes behind him. The final rider will get back as it gets dark. These riders will have a range of ‘styles’ ranging from text book to ‘gorilla engaged in wrestling match with lawn mower’.
3. None of the smoothed legged lean Olympians came face to face with a tractor towing a combine harvester during their race today although this often befalls club riders, evidenced from the look of abject terror on their faces and the amount of straw sticking out of their aero helmets as they return to the finish. Similarly, I don’t recall any of the pro’s reporting being hit square in face with a half-eaten McDonalds hurled from a passing car accompanied by a hearty cry of ‘w*nker!’ and a single finger salute.
4. You’d expect the equipment used by amateurs thrashing up the A442 and the professionals gliding around London to be different and, again, you’d be right. Top of the range carbon framed, wind tunnel tested, disc wheel and power metered equipped steeds costing thousands will be present at the evening club time trial whereas many of the pro’s will be riding stuff their governing bodies have forced upon them. One of the joys of our sport is that you can (just) ride the same equipment as your heroes in the Tour de France. If you follow F1 you have no, repeat, no chance of driving an F1 car but you can (if you’ve got 6 grand to spare) ride the same bike as Brad.
5. Enjoyment? Surprisingly equal. In their professional careers the fleeting joy of victory (that 15 minutes before they find the next target) is tempered by the enormous pressure to perform in a vanishingly small time window before becoming too old, knackered and disillusioned. For the amateur of any age or ability, nothing compares with the unmitigated ecstasy of knocking 2 seconds off your PB or beating ‘Fast’ Eddie, your time trialling nemesis, gaining bragging rights at the post mortem in the Mucky Duck.
If you’re between 12 and 112 and fancy a lash at time trialling, contact your local club and see when and where they are held. If you’re 12, you might be the next Brad. If your 112 you might be the next ‘Fast’ Eddie. Either way, it’s a great accessible way to get into competitive cycle sport.