Great rides: Rio de Janeiro’s spectacular 2016 Olympic Cycle Road Race course

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This blog post is about the unexpected discovery of a stunning bike ride that will live long in my memory. When I planned my trip to Rio de Janeiro for the Velo-city 2018 cycling conference my expectations were based on … Continue reading

A cycling oasis in Sydney’s Olympic Park

 

Photo Kevin Mayne

I found that much cycling in Sydney is not for the fainthearted.

However when I went to visit Bicycle New South Wales to catch up with advocacy chat I discovered a cycling oasis around their offices in the Olympic Park site.

Shared use cycle path Olympic Park Sydney

As a not for profit organisation Bicycle New South Wales have a great deal to use legacy buildings on the site of the 2000 games which puts them in an attractive leafy spot on the edge of the park.

Bicycle New South Wales Offices

And perhaps more importantly they are at the heart of one of Sydney’s hot spots for cycling because the other legacy is a network of car free and quiet roads that encourage riders of all abilities. I read that there are 35 km of cycle paths in the Park and the background of parkland, sculpture and outdoor activities is an attractive and inviting background for a spin.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Apparently the fast riders get in here very early in the morning and big pelotons thrash the access roads at high speed while the shared use tracks on the parkland are much more popular with beginners. Throw in a good coffee shop for the post ride chat and it is all here for a captive cycling audience.

Photo by Kevin Mayne

Bike and Train in SydneyI am not sure about the access to the park by bike but on my route there I found another bonus – almost all Sydney trains and ferries carry bikes free, or at the price of a child ticket during peak hours. There are no special cycling places that I could see but every train has a large number of open sections and wheelchair access so it was really easy to use.

As Olympic Park has its own ferry terminal and several nearby stations that was a real bonus. A flexible arrangement like that should be recommended for all cities, and it is especially essential where the highways that link many Sydney suburbs really are not bike friendly. Alternative access opens up resources like Olympic Park to so many more people.

Bicycle New South Wales Thanks to Brian Fong and his colleagues for making me welcome at Bicycle New South Wales.

 

In praise of Nicole Cooke, a real champion

Racing cyclist Nicole Cooke announced her retirement today. Multiple world champion and memorably Olympic Road Race champion at Beijing in 1988

Tonight I heard her giving an excellent interview to the BBC in which she is her usual robust self when describing her views on drug cheats and the impact they have on other riders’ careers. (link below) In the week that Lance Armstrong appears to trying to salvage his reputation on the sorry ground of the Oprah show I think we should salute a real star of our sport.

I am biased about Nicole because I have been following her career for long time and I know that she really is an old school champion, one who made her way up through the sport just before the British Cycling machine started producing champions with almost conveyor like regularity.

Back in the 1990s I was living in Cardiff and I restarted my club riding and racing career with the Cardiff Ajax Cycling Club, then a long standing club with a nice family atmosphere. Down in the schools category a name started to appear regularly – a twelve year old girl was beating all the boys at cyclocross and started winning national championships in unbeatable style. Within a year she was getting a national reputation. I recall Cycling Weekly magazine commenting that most of the senior men could learn a bit from watching her bike handling.

But along with her racing supportive parents Tony and Denise had brought up her and her brother as all round cyclists with a real appreciation of the pastime as well. They had cycled to school and been on cycle touring holidays too but Nicole was always a ferociously competitor and outgrew the gentle riding and school category years ahead of her time. Scarily bright too, doing exams early so they didn’t clash with her racing and a good speaker at social functions and prizegivings.

I have memories of the 15 year old Nicole handing out a thrashing more than a few times at any discipline. A 100 mile February reliability ride in freezing rain and snow, most of the top local riders left my group for dead. While we old men were dying in the café the “youngster” was going the whole way with the lead group – perhaps ideal preparation for that horrible day in Beijing ten or so years later?

Or later that summer when she was given special dispensation to ride outside her youth category with the local senior men as a bit of training. I was well dropped when I pulled off the circuit to watch the race finish, but even by then I had been terrified trying to follow her wheel round some of the corners on the old airfield circuit. Everyone else sort of rode round the corners, Nicole just hauled her bike round in a juddering arc, unforgiving on bike and rider. Not only did she ride with the seniors just below elite level and stay with them all race, she burst from the pack to win the bunch sprint embarrassing some quite handy individuals into the bargain.

She then became our club icon, followed by everyone and gradually a champion respected by everyone throughout the cycling world. Junior champion at every discipline, me shouting at the Eurosport coverage in each victory. Then the Commonwealth Games put her on the national stage, coming from behind after missing a corner after a typical piece of mad and fearless descending.

And that was her style. A colleague of mine at CTC Mick Ives also ran a pro cycling team which Nicole rode for a junior and he said she was relentless and unforgiving on herself and her equipment, driving herself to the limit, probably racing and training too much. Actually now I write this I realise how much she sounds like our other champion Beryl Burton who I have written about quite a bit in the last year or so. (tagged below)

I guess I was one of those who probably believed that she was destined never to quite get the world or Olympic titles she deserved, especially with the coming career of the similarly amazing Marianne Vos. But as if the Olympic title wasn’t enough the sheer bloody mindedness with which she outsprinted Vos for the world title in the same year was the one that had me almost break furniture as I jumped in the air.

That was probably her last brilliant year and it has been tough going since then with injury and team problems, not to mention internal tensions in the British team as her status waned but she remains high on my list as a rider that I would never tire of watching, there was always a possibility that she would do something in almost every race.

She deserves a successful retirement now and the continued respect of our whole cycling world. If she gets her moment in some sort of truth and reconciliation process after all the current rubbish in men’s cycling she will be a force to be reckoned with because she will not hold back.

Respect.

Links – Nicole Cooke on Wikipedia     BBC Radio interview 

#london2012 “I know I ‘cos I was there” – road cycling impressions

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I have posted for first impressions and the fans. There was actually some cycling going on amongst all this. As I said in my previous post I don’t have the equipment for proper sports photography, and frankly when the big … Continue reading

London2012 cycling “We know ‘cos we were there” – celebrating the fans

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Every time a world class bike race has come to the UK since the 1990s organisers have been blown away by the crowds – maybe a million in London for the Tour de France prologue in 2007. We don’t have … Continue reading

#london2012 – “I know ‘cos I was there”

Olympic Stadium London 2012It is not possible to compare my writings with the professionalism of the journalists and photographers covering the Olympic cycling and the energy of the blogging and twitter posters. And my little camera may be good for the blog – but it can’t cope with an Olympic athlete at speed or the size of a stadium.

So instead I am going to post a few personal reflections, things I enjoyed so much about the Olympic Cycling Road Races and Time Trial last week and my visit to the Olympic Stadium yesterday for the athletics.

I have ranted elsewhere about my disappointment with the poor treatment of cycling fans in some aspects of the ticketing but I have to say now that attending the whole thing has been an organisational delight. The national cringe that somehow we would blow it because of transport, weather, surliness or lack of service has been completely disproven, everyone I have spoken to has been unfailingly positive. Yes there were the early tweets about lost bus drivers for athletes but look at it in the context of the numbers who have experienced something they will remember for a long time.

Welsh comedian Max Boyce became famous in the 1970s as a populariser of Welsh rugby fandom. His catchphrase was “I Know ‘cos I was There” – a celebration of watching live. Now I can say “I know ‘cos I was there” for the Olympics, a most extraordinary celebration.

And in case it gets lost at the bottom of the post let me say that the thing that really made the Olympic Park special was the extraordinary attitude of the staff and volunteers in their purple uniforms. Whoever it was that said to them “be an individual” deserves the Knighthood that will go to some of the athletes because this group of all ages, all ethnicities and classes were still going late into the evening with cheerful banter and smiles. When did you last leave a public event where the crowd spontaneously felt the need to say thank you and wave goodbye to the stewards?Humour in the rain

So four events live for me.

Ever since the Olympics were announced for London I knew I wanted to be out at Box Hill for the road races. I was actually born in the shadow of the hill down in Dorking and although we moved away when I was very young I have memories of trips back from time to time. The whole ticketing fiasco annoyed me but somehow or other I would make it. I actually got tickets for the women’s race in the end which gave us access to the hill itself on Sunday. We watched the men’s race at the bottom of the hill in the village of Mickleham which was also on the main circuit of the race so we could see the field nine times and sense the whole race unfurling. In both cases we made a frantic dash for the big screen at a nearby winery – not as fast as the riders heading back to London but certainly quick enough to see the finale of both races.Photo Trevor Mayne

On Time Trial day off to Kingston upon Thames to get some pre-race atmosphere and then just south to Surbiton to find a relatively quieter spot and great views of the riders where a friend of my brother was also offering a dash to the TV after the event too. We were in high hopes – expecting medals for Bradley Wiggins and Emma Pooley, but also enjoying the way time trials can unfold in a very different way to the road races. Perhaps one for the cycling nerds, but I am happy to be characterised that way if you insist. To round it off I had some fun riding down the course with my son before our 30 mile ride home. That was fun in itself, we got applauded on some sections and one cyclist couldn’t help but join us and start chatting about the result. The mood was extraordinary. With over 20 gold medals in the bag now it’s almost impossible to recall that last Wednesday the nation was holding its breath because we hadn’t got there yet despite some near misses. Wiggins and the rowers were like a collective release of breath that let everyone celebrate.

Sorry Fabian Cancellara fans – not your day

And yesterday we got to use the two tickets that I got from the Olympic lottery. If readers are not from the UK you may not be aware of the national fixation with the tickets, but I applied for 22 tickets across 5 sports and I got two, actually better than many people did. Colleagues in Brussels were amazed by the idea of people effectively taking thousand pound gambles, but mine came up with the Olympic Stadium for athletics.So to follow over the weekend three photo and reflection posts – the road races, the time trial day and yesterday at the stadium.Nicole Cooke Team GB