2017: A Season Review

Chorley Grand Prix | Chorley | 15th April

I kicked off the 2017 season with the race that’s closest to my front door; the Chorley Grand Prix was just a few minutes away from my home in Preston, and took place as the third event in the HSBC UK | Spring Cup Series. Chorley being named the “unhappiest place in the UK” according to the Office for National Statistics in 2016 doesn’t exactly warrant a large amount of tourism for the town. Yet despite the cold and at some points rainy weather, I was still impressed with the number of people that turned out to see Bibby take a solo win. Townsend of BIKE Channel Canyon secured the King of the Mountains competition for the day as Raleigh GAC’s Robbins secured the sprints, while his teammate Sanz retained his lead in the series standings.

Tour de Yorkshire | Harrogate | 29th April

After the Tour de France announced its plans to start in the UK for the 101st edition in 2014, I made sure my family would make a day of it at one of the stages. While it seems common for many cyclists to be influenced to take up the sport by their parents, no-one close to me had been the main reason. It was in fact through watching the journey of the women’s team pursuit squad of Laura Trott, Dani King and Joanna Rowsell at the London Olympics in 2012 that I was inspired to make my way down to the Manchester Velodrome, joining Eastlands and then Sportcity Velo. While I don’t ride on the track anymore, my love for cycling in its many forms is still there – and has fortunately relayed to my parents too. Which is lucky, as I’m not the one insured to drive their car to cycling races, and I’m sure they don’t miss the 6am Saturday starts just to sit down and watch me on the track for 3 hours. I have found the Tour de Yorkshire to be one of the most enjoyable races of the season, despite the fact crowds are left waiting hours to see just a few seconds of the riders as they come past, the atmosphere itself is unmatched. After coming to Yorkshire initially in 2014, then again in 2015 and 2017, it’s easy to see why the event attracts so much attention. The publicity caravans in all their bright colours and loud music throw hats and sweets to the crowd, just like at the Tour de France. The weather might not always be the best, but the spectators sure are. You’ll find people there are easy to talk to; I’ve been offered numerous cups of coffee and even on one occasion, some sunscreen, in exchange for some conversation between the caravan and the time the riders come through. The 2017 edition was no different, yet this time I found myself talking to the legendary Gary Imlach. No stranger to the camera, he eventually got through some outtakes and finished the opening sequence for the day’s coverage on ITV, before making his way to speak to those who had questions for him. After watching the next kilometres unfold on one of the big screens along the finishing straight, my parents and I were able to sit in front of the podium next to the finish line before the riders came through. Bouhanni (Cofidis) managed to outsprint Ewan (Orica) to win the stage, with Tanfield of BIKE Channel Canyon being named most combative on the day. One of the most successful UCI Continental teams at the Tour de Yorkshire, they achieved a third place finish from Opie on stage one, as well as two combativity awards with Tanfield and then Gardias on the final stage, and a rider in the break every day.

 

Lincoln Grand Prix | Lincoln | 14th May

The sun shone down at Lincoln, as my friend Matilda and I took a break from university revision to make a weekend of the final race in the Spring Cup Series. Alice Barnes retained her win from 2016, finishing the women’s 8 lap circuit ahead of Nelson (Team Breeze), winning in a similar style to Bibby of JLT who would take the men’s race. Full race review here. Lincoln was a great race to watch, not only was it good attacking continental cycling – one of the aspects I love most about the sport – but the warm weather made a change from earlier races in the season. Apparently it rained for the few minutes Matilda and I were getting lunch, but we could only tell for the sudden puddles on the floor after coming out of the café we’d gone in to. The majority of the day we spent on the cobbled climb of the Michaelgate, which I didn’t envy the riders having to scale 13 times that day. Walking up it just a few times was enough for me. Eventually we moved from the climb to the finish line, and found that the city centre was also full of people who had found themselves coming out of local pubs to watch the cycling unfold outside. That’s one of the good aspects of having a Grand Prix in the middle of a busy city, even if you’re there by chance, you’ll want to watch to know what’s going on, and there was a lot going on in this race. The Spring Cup Series was yet to be decided on the start line, and Bibby’s refusal to drop a gear after the final climb up the Michaelgate finally resulted in his first Lincoln Grand Prix win, with Townsend of BIKE Channel Canyon finishing 2nd and Holmes of Madison Genesis rounding off the podium on the day.

The results of the Lincoln Grand Prix meant Townsend won the overall for the Spring Cup Series, ahead of Bibby and Sanz.

 

Tour de France | Dusseldorf | 28th June – 3rd July

In my opinion, the Grand Départ signified the line between the old beliefs of German cycling (or cycling in general), and the new. While the symbolism of Tony Martin in the maillot jaune in Germany for the Tour de France would have been symbolic, having the yellow jersey on the (somewhat surprised) shoulders of Geraint Thomas as the first Welshman to wear it was also a sight to see. It was a pleasure to see Le Tour with people who love the sport and appreciate it just as equally as myself, and I was happy to experience the new acceptance of cycling in Germany, in person.

I remember the 2012 Tour de France. Not because I watched Wiggins winning, but actually because of the Wiggins/Froome drama that seemed to occupy my timeline and the daily news. So the first Tour de France that I actually sat and watched the whole way through was in 2013. I was instantly hooked. I remember watching it from start to finish, much to my dad’s (then) annoyance that I was taking up the TV for 6 hours a day on the same channel. He’s come around in that time though, telling me to shout him through when it’s 1km to go, only to walk through with 10km to go and staying anyway. My mum would be there the whole time – she loves cycling just as much, if not more than me.

The Tour de France seems to elicit much more drama than any other Grand Tour. With falling 1km banners, leadership drama, punches and controversial crashes, something will happen almost every day. I say almost as those transitional Grand Tour stages are enough to make anyone despair. No matter how many random facts commentators on both Eurosport and ITV can throw at viewers, or how many times Carlton Kirby can come out with classic Kirby phrases, those transitional stages are something else. But the Tour de France happens to fall conveniently when I finished with college or now, the university year, unlike like the Giro d’Italia which I found myself still watching through my university exams, or the Vuelta a España that reminds me cycling season is practically over. This year I travelled to the start in Dusseldorf with my 3 friends: Matilda, Kerry and Gina. Keejay joined us the day after. We all found ourselves becoming friends through a combined enjoyment of watching people suffer for numerous hours a day on a bike, as well as cycling ourselves. After arriving in Dusseldorf, Tilds, Kerry and I were waiting for Gina’s flight to land. It was here we saw an airport filled with tourists and cyclists, from team chefs to Quintana sitting by himself next to his suitcase for what eventually felt like hours. Really, why was no-one there for him?

A few years ago, having the Tour de France starting in Düsseldorf would be something of an urban myth. The sport was damaged, in general and also in Germany, which had stopped broadcasting the Tour de France in 2012. The numerous doping cases of Armstrong, Zabel, Sinkewitz and Vinokourov, to name but a few, had proved too much. Yet where there was a will, there was a way, and the determination of younger German cyclists banding together, such as Martin, Degenkolb, Kittel and Greipel helped pave the way for a belief in cleaner cycling.

One of my favourite moments this season stems from the team presentation on the 29th of June. After rolling down the ramp from the presentation on the stage, teams would make their way along the Rhine and head to their accommodation. Mathew Hayman stopped to talk to us, and seemed pretty happy when I told him his Paris-Roubaix win was my favourite cycling result of all time. (It still is.) Durbridge pulled up alongside him, and asked us if there were any good bars around. Unfortunately, he would crash out of the Tour de France during the individual time trial on stage 1, maybe not in relation to wanting to get to a good bar in Düsseldorf, but I didn’t ask him after. We also got the chance to talk to the happiest cyclist in the peloton – that being Esteban Chaves – and the cool-as-ever Bernie Eisel, before Taylor Phinney stopped to talk and take photos with us.

We later made our way to the Mythos Tour de France exhibition, complete with wall-mounted past jerseys, rider portraits, classic photograph moments and blood bags attached to an enlarged L’Equipe cover on the Festina affair, followed by the live recording of the Cycling Podcast, with the special guest of Paul Voß.

The 1st of July brought hammering rain onto the streets of Dusseldorf, but spirits weren’t dampened. World Champion and TT master Tony Martin, one of Germany’s greatest cyclists, was expected to win the time trial in his home country and take the first yellow jersey of 2017. He had worn the yellow jersey only once before in his life, in the 2015 Tour after stage 4 saw him break away on the cobbled stage to take the win. (He would crash out the next day while wearing the yellow jersey.) Every rider was cheered down the start ramp and around the full length of the course, but you knew when it was Tony Martin’s turn. The cheering got louder, beers were raised in the air as he shot past in his rainbow skinsuit, managing 4th overall in the wet conditions that brought down Valverde of Movistar to name just one casualty. It would actually be Welshman Geraint Thomas of Team Sky who took the stage – beating teammate Chris Froome with a time of 16:04. Of course, we were ecstatic. A Brit winning on the first stage? Getting the first yellow jersey? In Germany? We loved every single minute of it, even though not everyone in the busy German town square felt that way. Understandable of course – as Tony Martin had been the favourite, and also one of my favourite riders for a few years now. It must’ve hurt.

We saw the riders roll out on stage 2 as we headed to the Canyon pop-up store. They held numerous bikes on display, from Quintana’s Giro pink coloured Ultimate CF SLX to Cadel Evans’ Ultimate CF Pro, complete with a kangaroo on the stem and Australian flag details. Our final day consisted of just having to see the Specialized pop-up store. The free coffee on arrival was heaven, as we watched Tour repeats on the screen upstairs while browsing even more bikes – from Armistead’s Amira to Cancellera’s Tarmac – and Düsseldorf merchandise that we just had to purchase. (Find a more detailed blog post on my time in Düsseldorf here.)

 

Tour de France | Pau | 11th July – 14th July

I was lucky enough to make my way back to the Tour de France just over a week later, this time travelling to Pau in France with my parents, and even luckier to have VIP wristbands.

For the 11th stage, the peloton raced from Eymet to Pau, and as we were watching the action unfold on one of the big screens on the finishing straight – a staple feature of most cycling races – we were invited backstage to see the production of it all. Technical zones, to spaces where video interviews are conducted, it was really interesting to see what goes on behind the scenes. There was also a lot of cables. Cables everywhere. More cables than floor space. My mum and I then headed back to the finishing straight to see the Orica bus pass safely under the line – no repeat of 2013 there.

Another thing I enjoy about cycling races is the excitement that builds when you’re waiting for riders to come sprinting down the final few hundred metres, not helped by the official ‘Red Car’ pulling up at the finish line meaning that they’ll be coming anytime soon. I remember the heartbreak for Bodnar of Bora, reeled back in with only 200m to the finish line after being abandoned by fellow breakaway companions with 23km to go and launching an impressive solo attempt, before Kittel took yet another sprint win.

After the hectic finale we got treated to free glasses of champagne. Well, it would’ve been rude not to.

The 12th stage started in Pau the next day, and I got to see the neutral start before the flag dropped. This marked the end of my Tour de France journey for 2017, as my parents and I spent the rest of the day heading to the Pyrénées. We eventually found out we could’ve spent more time there, as our flight from Pau > Charles de Gaulle got cancelled, then finally rescheduled to Orly all because of Donald Trump being in Paris, but the time we spent there was lovely.

 

Ryedale GP | Ampleforth | 6th August

I’m not entirely sure how I convinced my parents to come to the Ryedale Grand Prix, 2 hours away from Preston, but somehow it worked. The weather wasn’t the most inviting – it was raining at times, and in the moments it wasn’t raining, it was incredibly windy. Unfortunately, as most women’s races seem to start before the men’s at a very early time in the morning, we got there after being held up in traffic. We managed to catch all the action from the men’s race however, from Moses (JLT) and Lowsley-Williams (BIKE Channel Canyon) breaking away as a duo, to the latter retiring due to back cramps, to the commentator telling the crowd over a loudspeaker something along the lines of that certain struggling riders would “probably pull out now, they’re really far behind, no point carrying on” … just as the riders would pass him. They definitely heard.

It was also at Ryedale we made friends with the lovely Ken and Diane from the area. We shared similar opinions on favourite riders and teams, and they also had 2 dogs that just seemed to be loving the race. One thing that really touched me was them wanting to make Ryedale an annual event with us – something which I would love to do, and I have cycling to thank for this!

 

Leicester Castle Classic | Leicester | 13th August

The Leicester Castle Classic was really important for me, not only was it the closest race to my university at Loughborough, but it was the race I started guest blogging for BIKE Channel Canyon (which you can find here) thanks to Hugh McManus and Rob Atkins.

The day wasn’t exactly stress free, at the start line Gardias of BIKE Channel Canyon was just 5 points ahead of Madison Genesis rider McEvoy. During the race a fight broke out on course as a man couldn’t cross over due to oncoming riders, he got pushed back across just in time, before riders shot past in front of him. It was in that same area Madison Genesis riders would crash, while later on a spectator would cross the road, in front of an oncoming rider, causing him to crash and ultimately end his race – which he was leading.

Gardias needed to finish no more than 2 places behind the Madison Genesis rider to take the overall of the Grand Prix Series, but he would ultimately finish just 3 places behind McEvoy on the line, one point as the overall difference. Despite the setback, the Tour of Britain was less than a month away, and it was announced BIKE Channel Canyon would line up alongside fellow UCI Continental teams of JLT-Condor, One Pro Cycling and Madison Genesis.

 

Tour of Britain | Scarborough | 5th September

One of the most important races in cycling calendars, the Tour of Britain never disappoints. It’s always enjoyable watching domestic teams mixed in with World Tour riders, they’re frequently on the attack to contest in King of the Mountains and sprints competitions, as well as getting themselves airtime to showcase their talents to people that might not have seen domestic racing before. Of course, I’m slightly biased here – BIKE Channel Canyon asked me to guest blog for them again during the eight-day race, so my focus was on breakaways which they covered throughout the race. It was a busy event for the team, collecting points in all categories, a 7th place finish on a sprint stage and a combativity award, as well as Opie’s abandonment, Lowsley-Williams disqualification and then Partridge’s retirement after the last stage. There was also a top 14 finish in the time trial from Tanfield, as the highest placed non-WT rider of the day. Not too bad for a rider on a single gear in a different skinsuit!

I first visited the Tour of Britain in Bristol during the 2016 race, and was pretty shocked at the close proximity of all the riders; they had to stay in the same area after the time trial as they still had a circuit race to complete a few hours later. In that time, Tom Dumoulin asked me how to pronounce descent, Tony Martin came riding past in his then-Quick-Step world championship kit, and Rohan Dennis seemed happy to warm down on his rollers outside the BMC team bus.

Always a popular event, crowds didn’t disappoint at the Tour of Britain in 2017 either. Schoolchildren waved flags and posters, and typical British weather didn’t seem to deter many people during any of the stages. I made my way to Scunthorpe for the finish of stage 3, and although the weather was pretty gloomy at the start, the sun started to appear just as the riders were getting closer to the sprint finish. Ewan (Orica-Scott) took the stage win ahead of Boasson Hagen (Dimension Data) and Kristoff (Katusha). Tanfield won the combativity award for his efforts in the break on that day. You can find a full Tour of Britain race review here.

 

Track World Cup | Manchester | 12th November

A year after we had travelled to Glasgow for our first Track World Cup event, Kerry, Matilda and I travelled to the Manchester Velodrome for the 2017 edition in November. I love going to velodromes as the enclosed space makes for louder applauses and the fast nature of events means there’s always something to watch. Session 4 was from 6:30pm, and included the likes of the men’s sprint and omnium, as well as the women’s keirin and 500m time trial. We got to see a double gold for Great Britain, with the men’s team pursuit beating Denmark, and Archibald and Barker pairing up to beat Belgium in the Madison. Keirin queen Kristina Vogel won yet another title, and the British Team KGF proved there’s more ways to get to the top than just through British Cycling.

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2017 saw a mixture of road cycling to track cycling, watching both domestic and World Tour events, abroad and at home, with my family and with my friends, I had an enjoyable year that was topped off by getting into cyclo-cross for the first time. If I had to pick a few favourites, it would be the sunny and spontaneous Lincoln Grand Prix (Matilda asked me if I wanted to go just 2 days before. Of course I’d say yes), getting to blog for BIKE Channel Canyon at the eventful Tour of Britain and travelling to the iconic Tour de France with some of my closest friends, and then my parents. I, for one, can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store!

 

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