Monday, 17 January 2011

The Race, Race, Race Calendar.

Now I’m in no condition to really comment, but I am going to anyway. By this I do not mean that I am in any way inebriated, I have just popped the cap on my first imported beer of the evening, and I dare say it will be the one and only tonight. I am in fact talking about my fitness levels; they are just ok, but not startling; normal I would of thought for this time of year, but nowhere near good enough it seems.

You see, I have to say; things really seem to be changing, the season really truly has begun. People are already going very fast in search of the publicity that their multi-million dollar team sponsors are paying for. It might be January the 17th (probably the 18th, by the time I finish this) but it is on.

This isn’t in itself that surprising; the writing has been on the wall a while. Ten to fifteen years ago a cheeky chappie called Francesco Cabello of the very cool (read bad-assed) Kelme team, changed the game of pro cycling just a little bit. He became the only ever specialist at the previously unheralded Trofeo Mallorca, and slowly inched the parameters of the cycling season, and indeed the cycling world, a little closer to the end of the previous year.

Cabello was a pretty decent rider, who under normal circumstances would have won the odd race here and there, but instead decided he would focus his entire season on the early season races. He would have made a good card player Cabello, because he had simply worked out the odds, he was in the publicity game and he wanted to make sure he would get his.

Races such as Trofeo Mallorca, Luis Puig, and the Ruta Del Sol, had been traditionally pretty laid back ‘training’ races of little importance. However with the modern media beginning its snowball towards the Twittering, jabbering, insatiable, instantaneous beast that it has become, there was an increasing focus on these races. The value of these races, in column inches, photographs and public interest was in fact greater than the worth they had as races.

Winning here was the equivalent of winning a sprint up a mountain on a training camp, and getting put on the cover of a magazine for it.

Cabello would go to altitude in November and December to be ready for these early races, so he clearly wasn’t quite right, but he certainly started something.

Fast forward a few years and I have recently competed in the most fiercely competitive Bay Criterium series anyone has ever known. The absolute cream of Australian cycling took part in the series, as well as a full squad from team Sky.

Team Sky’s presence was interesting, not because they have several Australians on board, but because it costs $10,000 to put a team in the Bay Crits. While other pro riders were happy to be farmed off into the usual composite teams, Sky had clearly looked to the event to garner at least $10,000 worth of publicity by having their own team in the event.

This would suggest that a win in the Bay Crits would have a value in monetary terms, perhaps beyond that of its actual cycling merit – remember these races are not UCI events, they actually pay as little as $350 per win. The series was previously more about appearance fees and a little intensity for the international pros with a little bit of big time excitement for the locals.

Even for the team with the biggest budget in the world, you have to account for every penny, and every effort should be made when that money is spent. Having seen quite how fit some of the Sky riders were looking prior to the event – which starts on the slightly uncomfortably early (at least if you like to enjoy your New Years) date of the 2nd of January.

So what next? If no quarter is given even in races that begin on the second day of the new season, then riders are going to have to start doing preparation races for the preparation races.

Interestingly there is already a criterium series in New South Wales in early December. I don’t think it will be too long before anyone serious about getting their head start at the Bay Crits will be racing these pretty seriously too. They are less than a month apart and crucially of course, get pictures up on cyclingnews.com.

So this year I might stop racing in May, have a break and get ready for starting my next season in September race through December and Jan, take Feb easy and then get ready for Summer again.

O.k. So there is no way I will do this, I lack the inclination more than anything else, but lo and behold: The 12 month racing season is upon us.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Better By Design

I like my teammates. It’s a funny thing the team dynamic, and it is almost impossible to get completely right. There will always be characters that clash, and some egos that are destined to bruise others.

I have to confess to being as bad as anyone else when I think of the harmless things that my team mates can do that for no reason annoy me, or the way I can pick holes in another riders ideas on preparation or race tactics. It’s a professional sport after all; we are all monsters to some degree.

So it was refreshing the other day to be able to think about my teammates outside of the confines of a race or team environment. Part by accident, part by design, I got a glimpse of each and every one of the Rapha Condor Sharp team for 2011 the other day, and I quite liked what I found.

In one of my first tasks as Press Officer for the team this year I had come up with an idea to make more interesting, the usually quite dull, ‘Rider Profiles’ on the team site.

I had been flicking through my sometime well of creative stimulation (courtesy of the ever cool Ms Diana Downs), a book called ‘The Art of Looking Sideways’, when I came across a profile the author Alan Fletcher, had come up with for the Swiss designer Jean Robert.

Apparently Fletcher had been commissioned to write a profile on Robert but had no idea whatsoever as to who Robert was, nor anything about the man. So he simply sent Robert a message simply saying: “Tell me what you like” and Robert’s response was a breathless list of the things that he felt passionate about (printed on page 330, of the book if anyone is interested).

This list was so interesting, in Fletcher’s eyes, that it simply became the profile, and it works marvellously. Better than knowing where the man studied, or a detailed history of his achievements (available anywhere), the profile is actually a very detailed and revealing look into the man himself. Like all the best things in life, it is brilliant because of its simplicity.

I, being the great artist that I am*, then pinched this idea for our own team site. Profiling 13 guys who you may have very little interest in, or may have spent very little time with, can be quite hard. I was also keen to avoid the formulaic pap that most sites churn out, detailing weight and ambitions for the upcoming year can get a little tiring.

So I made the boys do the work themselves, and it makes for highly interesting reading. Seeing what we mostly all have in common (the most common liked thing: girls, followed in equal measure by sunrises and sunsets) and the things that make each one of us a three dimensional human being (Jon Tiernan-Locke likes Guide dogs; who would have thought it?).

I had quite a bit of fun reading these, less so sorting out the punctuation (anyone with even half an idea of what it is to punctuate will know how bad I am at this). But it is good to know that you actually like the blokes you are about to have to share all the good, and all the bad, of a racing season with.

The team profiles will be up on the 2011 team site www.raphacondor.cc after the official press launch at the end of January.