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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This gallery contains 9 photos.

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

Is this the most soul destroying debate in cycling?

I haven’t tweeted or blogged since last Wednesday despite having  a whole stack of photos and reflections from the Olympic road cycling races and the amazing performance of the British. I have felt dragged down and fed up by what I regard as the most depressing subject in cycling. For me it’s the subject that almost puts “despair” into “I do not despair”.

As a cyclist interested in sport I have lived through endless drug scandals that dragged the sport into the gutter – and the idiots that still think this is the way forward despite all the evidence that the net is closing. And I can sadly live with the need of some of our advocates to rubbish anyone who doesn’t agree with their approach.

But the discussion of cycle helmets is the cycling subject that drags me down like no other.

I feel the need to put some of this down somewhere – and perhaps to share one small ray of light I discovered in British Columbia – a place with a compulsory helmet law. So back to the blog – and of course the views here are entirely my own.

I was all fired up to blog on Thursday morning but on Wednesday evening the news broke that a cyclist had been killed by an Olympic bus, then in an interview Brad Wiggins was asked about the incident and said that cyclists should look after themselves, including wearing helmets.

It’s the evening after he has achieved something remarkable. It’s not his subject road safety. But of course the BBC has to go major on “Bradley Wiggins calls for compulsory helmets” because they have umpteen hours of news channels to fill.

By Thursday morning London Cycling Campaign and CTC are in full defence mode and even the President of British Cycling has to tackle it when he is speaking about the fantastic system for developing talent that BC has put in place. To be fair, they all did a great job. (More here)

The twittersphere, bloggers, discussion boards were full of fire and fury swamping any pleasure that could be taken from Wiggins and Froomes’s feats and the later victories of the track team. Wiggins was slagged off by the community that just hours before worshipped him.

Somehow I lost interest in the on line cycling world for a few days, I have just treated myself to enjoyment of the sport on TV and the pure pleasure of riding.

It’s not just the UK. Campaigning groups in Spain have been stunned by an out of the blue announcement by a minister to say he wanted to introduce a compulsory helmet bill causing them to have to mobilise both national and international support against the proposal.

And at Velo-city Global 2012 in Vancouver the existence of a compulsory helmet law in British Columbia and the presence of so many advocates from helmet free Europe was just the combination needed to stir the debate endlessly.

Cards on the table. I am 100% against compulsory helmets. I despise the victim blaming that characterises so much reporting about cyclists’ deaths. I have despaired with families because a defence lawyer tries to suggest that not wearing a helmet was a form of negligence by the victim.

But I also wear a helmet – for mountain biking and when I used to race.

When I came to work in cycling back in 1998 I had no idea that this would be one of the discussions that would claim far too big a chunk of my life for the next 15 years – and no doubt will be around for the next 15. And that’s the problem – it just isn’t a subject that anybody outside a very narrow community can understand or engage with, least of all the cycle racing and MTB communities because the helmets are actually made for them – so why would people in lycra understand the issues of helmets for daily cycling?

And as a result it pits cyclist against cyclist, cycling advocate against road safety advocate, it gives free reign to the online trolls who attack cyclists and it heaps guilt on to people who have the most to give to cycling. The UK’s BBC are absolutely awful – they put all of their presenters at every level into helmets for any cycling story because they are so keen to “do the right thing” and they are part of the mindset that bullies politicians into helmets for the same reason.

http://cyberboris.wordpress.com/2011/05/10/woo-hooboris-brings-cycling-revolution-to-outer-london/

Boris in helmet – Image from CYBERBORISJohnson

Even Boris Johnson was dragged into it for a brief time when he became Mayor of London, but Boris is self-confident enough to say “no” – unlike most others. I remember doing an interview on BBC Radio London at the London Cycle Show with the otherwise estimable Sandy Toksvig. Being the BBC they had to have “balance” so they got a senior industry manager from a major multi-national bike company whose company sell a lot of helmets to make the case for lids. When he totally agreed with me that compulsory helmets was a bad thing for cycling the presenters decided that this wasn’t on and started to argue with us themselves.

And perhaps worse of all is the pressure on parents and cycling supporters who feel they cannot let children cycle without the dreaded plastic lid unless they become labelled “bad parents” or “negligent”.

But I am just deeply saddened by the debate itself, the resources it consumes and the time and energy we have lost as a community on a debate we just are not winning and can hardly win without risking damage to ourselves during the fight. Because if society was based on intellect and analysis nobody would speed, everyone would ride bikes, climate change would be resolved and nobody would smoke. And despite the efforts of some researchers who are bashing away some poor studies from years ago offers the pro campaigners their academic fig leaf, along with the comparisons they make with other undoubted road safety successes like seat belts.

www.Cyclehelmets.org is an amazing resource and I am in deep admiration for the team of volunteers and professionals that contribute to it, it would be foolish of me to try and replicate any of those resources here.

But I did amazingly discover one small antidote in Canada, despite the compulsory helmets. Whistler is an interesting case study for all sorts of cycling issues and I will be blogging about it more.

But this community of hardened mountain bikers showed how life really could and should be in relation to helmets. Riders who actually understand cycling risk better than anyone behave in ways that just make sense.

Downhilling?

High speeds, high risk of falling? Big impact if you get it wrong? Then it is full face helmets and even body armour. Even the designs take their lead from skiing and snowboarding as can occasionally be seen when the two take place together.

What to wear for downhillYoung cyclists at bike park

Whistler Bike ParkOffroad cross country – roots and rocks creating a falling hazard?

Kevin MayneWithout the high speeds and the jumps of the downhill tracks the risk is lower and the impact speed is within the spec of the usual cycle helmet. The modern cycle helmet evolved from this world and it is entirely reasonable that it was designed for exactly this use.

The ride to town, or to and from the slopes?

Despite the compulsory helmet law this community knows that the good network of cycling facilities, traffic free town centre and the general understanding that motorists know cyclists are around means that the helmets are irrelevant to their safety.

And no sign that the local police feel any need to do anything about to enforce a law that was dreamed up by remote politicos in Vancouver, they recognise that cycling visitors are an engine of the local economy – so why should they hassle them?Whistler Village

Whistler – common sense helmet use. If only the rest of the debate was this easy.

Olympic cycling………..the good, the bad and the downright bloody stupid

The good

I finally landed some Olympic cycling tickets today. No tickets for the men’s road race viewing areas on Box Hill but at least some for the Sunday to watch the womens. First cycling tickets I have even had a sniff of despite “investing” a significant fortune in the lottery for the velodrome tickets last year.

The bad

Being forced to cough up to stand on a road and watch cycling. I know I’m late in my rant, but at the time all this blew up I was working for CTC and it might not have been politically acceptable for the CEO of a rival/partner (delete as appropriate)  body to our racing organisation to go ballistic over the fact that he couldn’t take his family to the prime spot for cyclists at the Olympics. No such constraints now.

How could anybody involved not know it would be a problem? Why not move the course to somewhere that can be watched by real cycling fans who were frozen out by all the corporates at the Velodrome? They had time. Only in Britain would cycling be reduced to this. Imagine telling the population of Paris that they wouldn’t be able to watch the cycling if they had won the blasted jamboree instead of us.

I love Box Hill – it is a great spot, I have cycled, walked and mountain biked round it. I know it needs to be preserved. So move the race, not remove the people.

The downright bloody stupid

Thanks to the CTC newsletter popping into my in-box on Friday I was able to give my new Brussels colleagues the benefit of some public ranting.

“Train companies to ban cycles during Olympics”.

Thats it. Every train operator who serves any station remotely useful for getting to the cycling has banned bikes for the weekend. I live 30 miles from any viewing point. I had hoped some younger relatives and also less “cycle-mad” adults would be coming out with us to enjoy their only chance to sample 9 billion pounds worth of our money. Chance of a lifetime? Fat chance!

Probably get a lawyer’s letter now for using the word “Olympic” without permission. Perhaps “Olymprics” could become the new name for the officials?