Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Manifesto manifesto! - General Election cycling pledges

With just over a week to go, all the political parties have managed to rustle together a manifesto, despite having to give a knee jerk response to Theresa May's calling of a snap general election, and a suspension of campaigning following the Manchester Arena terrorist attack.

I have had a look at the different manifestos to see what the different parties have pledged when it comes to cycling.

Here are the policies from the different parties:

Conservative Party

In their section on Investing in Transport they say:

We will continue to support local authorities to expand cycle networks and upgrade facilities for cyclists at railway stations. 

Later in the section on Children and families they talk about sports, though it's not clear if cycling would be included as a sport! They say:

We shall continue to support school sport, delivering on our commitment to double support for sports in primary schools.

Labour Party

In the transport section they say:

We will invite the National Infrastructure Commission to recommend the next stages for developing and upgrading the National Cycle Network. We reaffirm the commitments in the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy. 

I checked in their section on Sport and nothing on cycling is mentioned, and in fact for the sport section just talks about football!

Liberal Democrats

Under the Investing in Transport Section they say:

Design towns and cities as safe and attractive walking spaces and implement the recommendations of the Get Britain Cycling report. 

Later in the manifesto, in the Access to Culture and Sport section no mention is specifically gave to cycling, but I assume that this will be also included in sports policy.

Protect sports and arts funding via the National Lottery. 

The Green Party

Under the section called A People's Transport System they say:

Clean, safe, accessible public transport and more walking and cycling could make us all healthier and happier. We need a public transport system that takes us where we need to go, affordably and reliably. It should be easy to choose to leave the car at home - or not have one at all. 

Invest in low traffic neighbourhoods and safe, convenient networks of routes for walking and cycling, including safe places for learning to cycle, so people of all ages and those with disabilities can choose to make local trips on foot, by bike or mobility scooter. 

Neither the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) not the Scottish National Party (SNP) had mentioned any pledges towards cycling or cycling infrastructure in their manifestos. The Welsh Party, Plaid Cymru did not have a manifesto available on-line at the time that I looked.

It is a step in the right direction that the major political parties do recognise the need to invest in cycling, at least as part of transport policy. Unsurprisingly, the Green Party leads the way in terms of its pledges. Sadly, some of the smaller parties like UKIP, the SNPs and Plaid Cymru  don't mention it at all.  

Spending on cycling infrastructure is governed mainly at local government level, so is therefore the responsibility of the council. But in order for the council to invest, they need the funds, most of which will come from Central Government. Furthermore, local government policy tends to mirror the overall strategy set out by the Department of Transport. So in essence, it is important that cycle policy is mentioned in political party manifestos, at least so that we know that tomorrow's politicians will keep cycling policy at the front end of their minds.

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Friday, 19 May 2017

52 Cycling Voices - 11: Giorgia Bronzini

Giorgia Bronzini is a two-time world road champion from 2010 and 2011. She is now one of the veterans in the women’s road racing peloton, but shows no signs of slowing down. Having gained a win at the recent Amgen  Breakaway from Heart Disease Women's Tour of California, plus podium places at that race and in the Tour de Yorkshire, Giorgia still has a phenomenal turn of pace as she showed in the stage to Sacramento earlier in the week.

I have interviewed Gio (as people call her) a number of times, and I have always found her cheerful, smiling, and with a very zen philosophy about bike racing.

Giorgia Bronzini, aged 33

From: Piacenza, Italy

Professional cycle racer for Wiggle High5

photo from www.wigglehighfive.com
"I come from Piacenza, a small city to the south of Milan that is half the size of Manchester. Piacenza has many churches and the centre dates from medieval times. It is easy to get out of the city and there is a river that leads from there to the sea at Genova in Liguria. Sometimes in the summer I ride this route, which is 130km and then get a lift back home.

Piacenza is a good area for cycling but not a lot of professional cyclists live there. It’s probably because in the winter the weather is not so fun as it is very foggy, and and in the summer it is quite hot and humid. Spring is perfect, and you can do a circuit with mountains and flat roads.

I was a gymnast from age 5 to age 11 and at that time gymnastics classes were very strict and very serious, but I didn’t like being told what to do. I got bored and I wanted to play.

My father had a passion for cycling, and one day when there was a bike race for kids in Piacenza he took me to see this race. I saw a lot of children with bikes and they looked very happy, so I asked my father to let me have a go. He took me to join a small team who gave me a bike, and I decided that this was my sport.  After all my training from gymnastics I found my first bike race so easy. I had a lot of energy and I won comfortably. I was so happy to go home with a trophy!

No one else in my family practices sport to a professional level, but my father and my brother, who is 10 years older than me were very encouraging.  
There are many women who cycle in Italy and amateur cycling in Italy is very developed. You always find a father who races along with his son and other members of the family. Cycling has been a sport for all ages, although now it has been overtaken by football. 

For me, cycling is a large part of my life. Through cycling I have been around the world to many different countries and discovered different cultures. I like to learn about different nationalities and cultures.  Perhaps some of my schoolmates are just working in the local supermarket in Italy now, but I feel I have a lot of things to share with them about my experiences and this could make their lives feel enriched. I never wanted to have a boring life, and cycling can never be boring!

When I won the World Road Race Championships in 2010 at Geelong it was unexpected. No one expected it, not even me!  The following year, in Copenhagen the other girls were really hoping to get the rainbow jersey. I knew this, but I was relaxed and I didn’t think I could win two years in a row.  But it just happened that the Italian team worked well to put me in the perfect position to be there in the final sprint. I couldn’t believe it because in all the sprints I had done that year, against Marianne Vos and Ina Teutenberg I had lost to them both. And the World Championships was the only time that I beat them! That was a highlight of my career. 

However, my low point was at the World Championships in 2014 in Pontferrada. I really prepared for that one, and I really worked hard to be there as it was a harder course. I crashed in the race and used all my power to get back in the race for the final sprint, but I came fourth. I was a bit upset because I did all that work for nothing. Then the following year, in Richmond, USA I just broke my bike at 800m to go, so that was a bit unlucky.

I was unlucky those two years, but then again I had been lucky in 2010 and 2011 – probably when some other people were unlucky. That’s life. I will just wait my turn for the wins to come back again.

Last year was a tough year for me because the Rio Olympics were on and the hilly course was not the best for me but I put myself there to be part of the Olympic team, which is the dream of every athlete. I knew that this could be important for Elisa (Longo-Borghini) and I wanted to help her to try and get the medal. It worked because she got a bronze medal in the road race. 

However for me, I had worked hard to be selected for the Olympics, and this had involved changing my schedule so that I could be better on the climbs. I was therefore unable to think about my goals or my victories during that time.  

I was going to retire in 2016, but I didn’t enjoy the racing so much that year and I didn’t want to stop racing while having those feelings. So straight after the Olympics Rochelle [Gilmore] asked me if I was really really sure I wanted to finish career in that season. She offered me a one year contract, which I accepted.

Interviewing Gio at the Ride London GP in 2014 (photo by Andy Jones)
I am no longer going to schedule a date to retire! At least for this year I would like to feel relaxed and finish my season and achieve the best that I can for myself and the team, and after I will see how I feel at the end of the season. If you are going to finish your career you should finish with a smile and feel satisfied with what you did, and then you can really feel ready to say “now I’m going to stop.” I don’t want to stop when I am feeling grumpy or with tears. So I will wait first before deciding to retire from racing.

For this year I would like to have some wins on the road, though I have not got specific races that I would like to win. And I would like to prepare for the World Road Race Championships in Norway, for the end of the season. My biggest opponent for that event will be the weather. Being Italian, I prefer good weather! So I will need to work on my mindset to be prepared for bad weather.

Being involved with my team mates or sometimes with the national team and helping the younger girls really motivates me. I like to give advice and inspire them. Being with younger riders also makes me feel younger! It is important for me to train so that I can be healthy enough to ride with them and help them! Being able to play a part in a victory from a team member also motivates me to get out and train. 

For example, when I saw Elisa (Longo Borghini) win Strade Bianche this year I was almost crying. Everything was against us that day – there was a crash, a bike change, another bike change, I had to work to pace Elisa back up to the group, Claudia (Lichtenberg) worked with her too, so we all worked together to get that one victory. And that meant a lot to me. Also because some of the girls in my team are my friends I really feel good about working for them. 

I am looking forward to the Women’s Tour as I really like that race. Some days it can be a bit cold for me, but the organisation, the treatment the racers receive, the hospitality is really good. I think the UK is developing women’s cycling a lot. With the track riders and the road riders I think Great Britain is going in the right direction to grow women’s cycling, and I would like to see other nationalities be inspired by Great Britain.

I think that Italian riders who want to develop would be better to race in a foreign team because there they can get the professionalism and learn a lot more. In an Italian team they are protected in a bubble and don’t develop enough. In Italy they are trying to develop the teams with a professionalism, but there is a problem of lack of funding (rather than a lack of willingness). We have some good junior riders in Italy, but if they want to develop they should take their CV to foreign teams in Belgium, Holland, or the UK.

Italy is an old nation and you really can feel that men’s and women’s cycling racing is separate. It is great that we have a women’s Giro d’Italia though. That means a lot to me, and every year the organisers of the women's Giro d'Italia put in a lot of effort to try to give a good stage race over there so I really appreciate that.  For the men’s Giro d’Italia they sometimes invite us to commentate during the stages, so that is how they include women in the event. They have invited me in the past, and if I am able to go then of course I will be there.  

My ideal day out on a bike would be to ride with mates on a sunny day in Tuscany (though not on a Strada Bianca)!  I would do a coastal road that climbs above the coast with good views. Then in the evening I would sit down in a restaurant and have good food and wine. I usually like seafood pasta (Spaghetti allo scoglio). My favourite wine is Prosecco. In red, I like Amaroni, a wine from the Veneto region. I also like Gutturnio, a red fizzy wine from my region. I like this one because it reminds me of home.

Winning a stage of the 2017 Tour of California (www.wigglehighfive.com)
I never go out cycling without my smile! To have a good day I need to be smiling, and in anything that I do if I do it without smiling it ends up sh1t! So most of the time I want to be positive, and most of the time I am. Bad or unlucky things can happen, but it’s you that is going to turn the day around, and with a smile things end up not so bad. 

A person who really inspires me is Usain Bolt, because I think he is amazing. He is perfect! He is fast, has a good body, is funny, smiling all the time, so for me, when I look at him, I think 'Yeah, he is cool!'”    

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Retiring from cycle racing and coping with it

We have just come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Week, a subject matter that people are becoming increasingly aware of, as we try to find ways to address it in our everyday lives.

The mental health benefits of sport are often talked about, particularly the fact that exercise can relieve stress, and release endorphins that can uplift the mood. So wherever we look we see various incentives and initiatives to try to get us into sport - whether it's cycling or some other activity.

However, what about those at the other end of the scale - the ones who do sport at a competitive level, and then have to stop when it's time to retire?

Earlier this year I wrote an article for Cycling Weekly magazine about how retired professional cyclists cope with their new non-competitive lives.

We often see folks like Chris Hoy, Chris Boardman, David Millar and Rochelle Gilmore on television doing their commentating or getting involved in other initiatives. That's great to see, but for some, the transition can be difficult.

As part of my research for the article I talked to a few retired cyclists and there was quite a mixed bag of fortunes in terms of how they had to deal with it.

For instance, talking to Sean Kelly, he said that he gradually wound down his activity in the last year of his career and that gave him time to think about how he would manage life after racing. Luckily he landed on his feet when he was offered the role of commentator on Eurosport, and has been involved in many other projects. But he did see people get into difficulties, particularly as they fell into a spiral of gambling and drinking.

When David Millar retired from professional cycling in 2014 he went straight into writing his autobiography as well as having surgery - a couple of things which kept him busy. But he admitted that adjusting to life was incredibly hard, and he had to adjust to being with his family more frequently, and even fitting into the routine of what was effectively "his wife's house". He summed it up like this:

“The first year was really f***king hard. You spend your whole life being dictated by season, by months, by weeks since when you were a teenager. I Iived on a purely operational basis for twenty years of my life. Then I retire and boom I become a January to December man with no idea about what each month is supposed to mean to me anymore. You’re out in the real world..." 

Jens Voigt, whose career ended with his world-breaking hour record ride had to come to terms with the fact that he would never be this lean and fit again, and worried about the prospect of getting old, fat and slow on a bike.

I spoke to Olympic Silver medallist, Emma Johansson who is in her first year of retirement, and like David Millar, she talks about the establishing of a new relationship with her husband, who was also her coach. She said finding a new rapport with him had its challenges, as well as her finding a new role in life.

Rochelle Gilmore talked about the wish to still be competitive, and to be able to ride as competitively as before, despite no longer being a professional athlete. In particular, you would not do the volume of training you used to do once you are no longer a professional athlete. She has seen fellow cyclists deal with retirement badly.

"I’ve recently been exposed to a friend’s struggle post retirement and the biggest sign is his isolation from his closest friends. He doesn’t feel like the ‘man’ anymore and seems to be uncomfortable socialising as an average ‘joe blow’ or ‘ex’ pro athlete. It’s very sad to see and we all feel helpless. Athletes who are professional and competing at the highest level should be appointed a career/life mentor during their careers." 

Retiring from top level sport can really have a negative effect on mental health, and this has led to depression in some cases, and even worse, to suicide.

Jenny Truman, a sports psychologist based in the Midlands offered some insights into this:

"Retired athletes can feel a huge sense of loss, as a result of losing such things as:

The incredible emotional high of winning and competing
Physical training which is excellent for the body but most     importantly for the mind
Team spirit and camaraderie
Popularity and adulation
Loss of physical form and signalling a “body in decline”
High Achievement and Perfectionism
Support staff to plan practical aspects like travel,      accommodation and financial affairs 

"They will then be faced with a number of issues:
  • Massive loss of self worth through loss of identity
  • Lack of self belief.  
  • Loss of confidence. 
  • Regrets – “If only I had done x, y, z”
  • Huge sense of emptiness
  • Fear for the future
  • Younger retirees don’t have the life experience or              perspective of older who retire
  • Forced retirement like injury can attract huge resentment."  

Jenny Truman gives the following advice around dealing with retiring from sport:

  • "Think of retirement as a new opportunity to do something different rather than seeing it as a loss.   
  • Look back on your sporting days with gratitude and be thankful for the talent you had and take pride in your achievements and dedication.   
  • Look at what you can do with the extra time you have and take with you the benefits that sport has given you.  This could be friends,  skills you have acquired, contacts made and personal attributes which it will have given you.   
  • Make a plan of what you would like to do with your time /career – set yourself  goals - find out everything you can which will help you achieve them – write it down on paper. Use the goal setting skills you had in your sporting career for your new life.  
  • Continue with keeping fit , this is so important for your mental and physical health. 
  • Recognise the wonderful talents you have in being a competitive sports person and  explore ways in which you can use these in your next chosen career.  This doesn’t have to be in sport (although it can be). Attributes like commitment, hard work, dedication, winning mentality, working as a team member, leadership qualities, understanding tactics/ strategy are all valuable attributes for whatever career you choose.
  • Seek advice if you need help on careers, coping with the change. Share your concerns with people you can trust."
One place that offers support and advice to retiring athletes is Crossing the Line, an Australian organisation that supports athletes across the world and in different disciplines. They are currently working with the Cannondale-Drapac team, and getting them thinking about their personal development both during and after their careers.

The more that athletes receive support and advice as they come into retirement, the less likely they will be to fall into a downward spiral of mental health issues once they stop competing.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Gearing up for the Spin Cycling Festival - a creative alternative

We had the London Bike Show earlier this year - a large glitzy bonanza at the Excel Centre. Now we've got a more down-to-earth alternative taking place in the middle of London and showcasing a bit more of the urban, edgy side of biking than what you see at larger scale international events.

Spin Cycling Festival is coming to London this Friday (12th May) and will be representing at Kensington Olympia all weekend.

I also have a particular interest in the festival as I will be part of the panel for a discussion event run by the Adventure Syndicate, "Nothing to be afraid of." We will talk about overcoming fears of getting out and taking part in events or racing. I must say, I am looking forward to being involved, and seeing my fellow panel members - Jools Walker, Sarah Outen and Helen Lloyd - as well as Emily Chappell of the Adventure Syndicate.

As for the main festival, this will be an expanded version of last year's event, taking place in central London (Kensington Olympia). Now in its fifth year, the Spin Cycling Festival will have stands featuring state-of-the art technologies in clothing, accessories and bikes of interest to urban cyclists, single-speeders, BMX bikers, and weekend warrior roadies.

There'll be zones like the Art Hub and the Makers Lounge displaying various exhibits of cycling art and custom-made frames from independent bike aficionados.

The demo track will have an alternative twist too. Named the Day-night test track, visitors will be able to try out bikes and accessories, as per the name, in a simulated dark, night-time setting.

And when you want a break you can get refreshments from the Camden Town Brewery or the Volcano Coffee Works while following the action from the Giro d'Italia.

I wasn't able to go to last year's event, but I am looking foward to attending this weekend. I get the impression that it will be a bike show at a more human level than the other events. It could be like how the Cycle Show was 15-20 years ago, well before it became the massive scale event it is now at the National Exhibtion Centre. In those days the event was held at the Business Design Centre in Islington. I've always thought it's a shame we don't have that sort of event anymore. So a trip to the Spin Cycling Festival could be the event that fills that gap.

Looking forward to catching up with folks over there.

The Spin Cycling Festival: 12-14 May 2017, Kensington Olympia, London