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A Day At The Races – Tour of Britain 2015


Tour of Britain Stage 7 – Fakenham to Ipswich

Terrain: Country lanes & military airbase

Weather: Lazy drizzle & grey skies

Total Distance: 227.1km                Crowds: Waterproof ponchos everywhere

Start: Fakenham Racecourse        Best Game Face: Graham Briggs

Bradley Wiggins Factor: Parting fans like Moses to make sign-on


Lean racing machines stalk Fakenham racecourse as commonplace, so to see a crowd gathered around the parade ring is nothing unusual here. But today’s runners and riders distinctly lack the expected glossy manes of racehorses, even if Rasmus Quaade does sport a powerful moustache, however plenty here still share a fondness for oats with the thoroughbreds who normally excite the grandstand. This toy town sized venue sits nestled amongst the intricate spaghetti work of Norfolk’s roads, testing both bus and driver as much as any Alpine ascent, resulting in a tediously drawn out transfer for all the riders.

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Unsurprisingly, the day’s dank dawn has done little to persuade the teams away from their space age wagons, with only a handful of British domestic teams bold enough to saddle up on the turbos outside. So unattractive is the weather, that for many of the squads here, the sign-on process has turned into a 100m dash from bus to stage and back. When out onstage however, the speakers gurgle with the daily spiel, guaranteeing each rider’s wave earns a cheer from the crowd; now steaming beneath their complimentary rain ponchos.

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Despite the sport’s huge groundswell of interest on British turf thanks to Cavendish, Wiggins, Armitstead Hoy, Pendleton and Froome; cycling remains a strange beast. There are no true limitations for ambling around the riders and their buses, teams relying on the constraints of social norms stopping strangers from inviting themselves onto the bus and generally being weird. The majority of today’s attendance is firmly ensconced within touching distance of the Team WIGGINS van. A sea of limbs grasping smartphones in place of autograph books, contorting their bodies to rattle off selfies with the thread slim Bradley Wiggins stalking the crowded barrier in shot.

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This knight’s fellow men-at-arms form the remaining five sixths of his battalion, three of whom slink away to sign-on and return with little interest from the crowd. Bradley on the other hand cycles the hundred meters to the stage with an amateur town crier ahead of him, negotiating a gangway through those magnetised into orbit by his charisma.

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Wiggins narrows the scope of a race so acutely that appreciation of the breadth and depth of riders here can became momentarily suspended. Regardless of whether Britain is truly enamoured or simply infatuated by cycling, the profile of the sport has struck an exponential phase of development. This 2015 line-up bolsters World Champions, several National Champions, Grand Tour jersey winners, Monument winners and one of Eritrea’s favourite sons. A once backwater race now sits at the top table of cycling with the room to grow in stature yet further still, admittedly how best to do so is uncertain, though Tour of Britain’s take on the eccentric Tour de France advertising cavalcade could be a start.

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Fakenham’s drizzled starting line becomes populated all of a sudden, the weather inspiring riders for a Le Mans style scramble to saddle up and ride out with no hanging around. The previous six days of racing are already etched deep on the brow of many, exaggerated by the tangible heavy sigh pressing down on the peloton from the cinderblock sky above. As they trickle out from the racecourse like a loose thread, it seems that a miserable day is all that lies in store for these riders.

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Finish – Ipswich Town Centre

Weather: Blue skies and obscene levels of sunshine

Crowds: Skilled in parkour to get a good view

Bradley Wiggins Factor: Encouraging the 60+ age group to sprint over walls


Like ants beneath a magnified sun, the riders now skitter across scorched tarmac, sailing through the technical kilometres preceding the Ipswich town centre finish. Britain’s climate has impersonated a more continental vibe for the latter half of the day, spectators swap their hot chocolate for cool lagers, while riders strip down to short sleeves for the heated finale into town. Whereas Fakenham’s departure point felt like a juddering steam engine building up pressure to leave the station, the habitual scanning from ‘jumbotron’ to finishing straight (and back again), is more akin to waiting for a thundering bullet train to blitz its way to the line. So eager are those gathered to witness the anticipated showdown between Elia Viviani and André Greipel, that the rooftops of estate agents, apartments, bars and banks now become sky-high terraces for those able to negotiate their way to the summit.

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If the start’s modest crowd of enthusiasts and dedicated Rapha/Wiggins acolytes demonstrated a local interest, Stage 7’s town centre finale confirms a nation’s burgeoning obsession. Barriers are five bodies deep, even beyond the finishing line, with 50km still to race before the peloton begin bearing down on the county capital’s outskirts. Time is said to be relative at best, but waiting for first sight of a rider exiting the final bend exaggerates this further still, spectators hung in suspended animation, as minute by minute nothing changes in Ipswich. ‘Jumbotron’ serves as the only assurance that there is indeed a race worth waiting for here. A breath which never quite suffices or the infinite fall of shepard tones, being a spectator feels punishing on occasion, with the prospect of watching paint dry seeming electric after a while.

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Time at the line is focused on one calculation: the exact moment at which your eyes can scan down from the live TV and register that the riders are now before you with only 100m left. From rider to spectator, road racing’s facets are sunk deep within hours of increasing tension, before venting frenziedly and abruptly for the mad rush across the line. Synapses spark in an attempt to translate the initial smattering of vibrant jerseys into rider names, and in turn, vocalise some sort of motivational howl to nudge your favoured rider over the line. Today that rider is André Greipel, cementing his season’s final victory in a year which has seen him collect at least one win from nine of his ten stage race appearances. Who said sprinting stopped at 33 years old?

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Then it dawns across the crowd – “That’s it.”
The race both comes to life and fades within several pedal revolutions; perhaps no other sports is so tightly bonded to ‘the moment’ in that respect. Rugby, tennis and football drag beyond an hour and have their entirety spectated upon from one location, while much of track and field, or even gymnastics, is the repetition of efforts in pursuit of perfection. Staying at home for armchair race coverage fails to guarantee witnessing everything either, as directors cut from camera to camera in an attempt to please every nation’s fans; missing breaks suddenly forming, riders being dropped or losing everything altogether as weather sabotages live feed.

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Those who prop themselves up against a race barrier exchange hours of staring at dire advertising hoardings, for a fleeting moment which places them alongside their heroes. In that moment comes the satisfaction of sharing it with those who inspire you, a process repeated for fans from kilometre zero to the day’s final podium presentation. Photography mirrors this attribute of cycling well, all of the shots here could be flashes in the memory of any individual who turned out for the day. There is no football style ‘build up play’ to be remembered when standing roadside, this sport hinges on being in the right place at the right time; on either side of the barriers.

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Ultimately it becomes an addiction, wanting another pass by the peloton, spotting your favourite rider or dreaming of seeing the race winning move vanish up the road. Even nowadays with parades of press motorbikes surrounding the bunch and helicopters overhead, certain aspects and stories of the race are only documented through those dedicated followers at the roadside. For those who decided to watch Stage 7 at some point from Fakenham to Ipswich, all now possess a moment which intertwines them with the race. Yet a lucky few will have walked away with a story too and it is in the pursuit of those tales which fuels interest to become obsession.

END.


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Rapha Leave JLT-Condor to Fly The Flag

Since Rapha’s recent announcement that they were ceasing to fund Rapha-Condor-JLT next season, it was unsure what would happen to their roster of talented riders. However, it appears Condor and JLT have agreed to stump up the missing funding and have agreed to back the new JLT-Condor team for the foreseeable. Alongside the afore mentioned financial support, the team have also secured Mavic as their garment manufacturer, a serious acquisition which displays the team’s intent for the future.

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JLT-Condor’s roster of riders is not dramatically altered since Rapha packed their bags, the biggest departure currently being that of sprinter Chris Opie. Joining the team for next season includes the returning Australian Richard Lang, after a year away from the sport, and under-23 hot prospect Dante Carpenter; who joins from Zappi’s after a great year which included a top 20 in the senior’s national road race. Team manager John Herety has yet again displayed his talent for striking an effective blend of youth and experience, one which reaps results while allowing talented youngsters to develop through the ranks successfully. With domestic dominance a familiar sight for Herety’s ‘men in black’ in recent years, he will be looking to cement such a foundation in order to build upon 2014’s European ambitions with his new JLT-Condor team.

Confirmed Squad 2015:
Graham Briggs
Ed Clancy
Mike Cuming
Kristian House
Richard Handley
Richard Lang
Felix English (under 23)
Dante Carpenter (under 23)
David McCarthy (under 23)
Ed Laverack (under 23)
Luke Mellor (under 23)
Joe Moses (under 23)
Tom Moses (under 23)
Harry Tanfield (under 23)

Tour of Britain 2014 Attracts Big Teams, But Will It Attract Big Names?

Eight WorldTour teams, five ProConti teams, six Continental teams and the GB squad will contest 2014’s Tour of Britain it has been announced. A total of 20 teams of six riders will bring the total of riders to 120 for the race which begins September 7th. Belkin, BMC, Garmin, Movistar, OPQS, Giant-Shimano, Sky and Tinkoff-Saxo have confirmed their participation for this year’s race, building upon 2013’s count of WorldTour teams from five to eight. But in the face of a hotly contested Vuelta a España, will the race attract the usual array of stars?

A testing course which shall be previewed by Spokenforks in the coming weeks.

A testing course which shall be previewed by Spokenforks in the coming weeks.

Bradley Wiggins was the star and victor of last year’s edition, riding alongside other well known faces such as Dan Martin, Nairo Quintana, Mark Cavendish, Elia Viviani, Gerald Ciolek and Alessandro Petacchi to name a few. But the mountain man who dodged this year’s Tour de France will surely have done so to tackle the Vuelta – Martin & Quintana. Mark Cavendish has only just started to compete again since crashing hard in Harrogate, but could de drawn to his national tour as part of his recuperation plans. Beyond these names it is pure speculation as to who will challenge Wiggins as he attempts to defend his title; could Tinkoff-Saxo bring the inform Majka? Will Giant-Shimano bring a sprinter such as John Degenkolb or even Marcel Kittel? While BMC could easily bring a big name from a roster which includes Cadel Evans, Tejay Van Garderen and Philip Gilbert for example.

The big story of 2013’s race was the emergence of Simon Yates; he took an impressive win against WorldTour opposition on Stage Six and rode consistently enough to secure a podium place for him come the end. Be it rampaging superstars, domestic shocks, domestiques turned leaders or the arrival of a new kid on the block; there is plenty to look forward to in The Tour of Britain 2014. 

Confirmation of teams riding 2014’s Tour of Britain:

 

 WorldTour
• Belkin Pro Cycling (NED)
• BMC Racing Team (USA)
• Garmin Sharp (USA)
• Movistar Team (SPA)
• Omega Pharma Quick-Step (BEL)
• Team Giant Shimano (NED)
• Team Sky (GBR)
• Tinkoff Saxo (RUS)

 

Pro Continental
• Bardiani CSF (ITA)
• IAM Cycling (SWI)
• MTN Qhubeka (RSA)
• Team NetApp Endura (Ger)
• Team Novo Nordisk (USA)

 

Continental/British Domestic
• AN Post Chain Reacton (IRL)
• Madison Genesis (GBR)
• NFTO Pro Cycling (GBR)
• Giordana Racing Team (GBR)
• Rapha Condor JLT (GBR)
• Team Raleigh (GBR)

 

National Team
• Great Britain (GBR)

 

 

 

 

Blythe Wins His First ‘Classic’

Sunday saw the second edition of the RideLondon Classic, the capital’s Olympic legacy road race which traces the route of 2012’s original course through the Surrey countryside before finishing upon The Mall once more. With a race still so new to the calendar it was always going to be difficult to calculate who would win or even whether or not we would see a solo, breakaway or bunch finish by the end of the day.

By lunchtime most of the RideLondon course had experienced a summertime downpour of torrential proportions, flooding roads and shifting all manner of debris onto the course. Bearing these conditions in mind, pre-race favourites such as Team Sky’s Ben Swift and BMC’s ex-World Champion Philipe Gilbert seemed even more likely to be key protagonists as the race approached its vital moments.

The obligatory early skirmishes, so familiar to the British domestic scene, had encouraged former British Champion Kristian House to try his luck at making it into a major breakaway – but no luck. During the peloton’s passage through Richmond Park around the 13km mark, six riders finally formed the escapees and would dangle off the front of the chasing group for most of the day, with the lead being allowed to grow upwards of three minutes at points. The sole representative of the UK scene to make the breakaway was Velosure Giordana’s Steve Lampier, who soon made his intentions to take the day’s King of The Mountains title clear. Despite a a few challenges by his companions, Lampier put in a consistent performance to earn himself a podium place on The Mall. 

The Domestic Scene Was Well Represented On The Podium.

The domestic scene was well represented on the podium.

The chasing peloton let the breakaway have their day contesting the KOM and Sprint competitions before Team Sky applied Ian Stannard and Bradley Wiggins to the front with devastating effect. Reeling in the six man breakaway with the ease of a nine man Grand Tour team, rather than the six man limit the race’s teams found themselves having to cope with. Despite all riders coming back together in the peloton, things began to deteriorate rapidly once again as an 11 man breakaway got free. This contained some of the day’s marked men; Ben Swift, Philipe Gilbert, Sam Bennett and Scott Thwaites, as well as interesting outsiders such as Orica-GreenEDGE prospect Caleb Ewan and an OPQS duo of Steegmans and Alaphilippe.

The large group struggled to keep an organised pace-line functioning throughout its early freedom, something which contributed to Philipe Gilbert’s subsequent attack through Wimbledon – scything the frontrunners down to six. No sooner had this smaller unit formed when the BMC man attacked again, finding himself breaking free of the rest with Frenchman Alaphilippe, the OPQS making his commitment to the attack very clear to Gilbert. For a while this appeared to be a decisive move, Ben Swift looked reluctant to expend too much energy closing the gap with Adam Blythe of NFTO as Cannondale’s Koren took the smallest of turns. Regardless of the initial confusion, the three man chasing group eventually co-ordinated their catch neatly as the five breakaway riders came together once more into Putney.

 

Gilbert and Alaphilippe distance their fellow escapees.

Gilbert and Alaphilippe distance their fellow escapees.

Cat and mouse games soon ensued as the break passed through Admiralty Arch and onto The Mall to contest the winning sprint for 2014’s RideLondon Classic. Koran was poorly placed at the front, immediately spoiling his chances of a shock win, but while Gilbert and Alaphilippe worried about Swift, Swift worried about Blythe; who was sitting last wheel by now. The two Yorkshiremen have spent years racing against one another and Ben Swift was all too aware of how quick his fellow man can be – yet he still was not ready. Jinking out from behind Swift, Adam Blythe unleashed a turn of pace usually seen on the track rather than after 200km of racing, opening a huge gap and cutting back onto the barriers once ahead of the group. It only took a moment to realise nobody was going to deny Blythe this major win since stepping down from the WorldTour, with Swift holding onto second and Alaphilippe taking third. Not only a huge result for the man from Sheffield, but also a great statement for the strength of the British domestic racing scene.

A major result for Adam Blythe and NFTO Racing.

A major result for Adam Blythe and NFTO Racing.