Farewell the mighty Emma Pooley

Big scoop for Sarah Connolly to get Emma Pooley’s retirement story for Rouleur.



I interviewed Emma a few times back in 2009, when I had time to write about women’s cycling. On one occasion she called me back from a train in Switzerland, apologised for missing my call – she was in the lab doing PhD work after training – then proceeded to give a wonderful interview that was honest and engaging.

Most importantly for the time-pressed journalist, she always gave interviews that made the story easy to write – strong quotes, clear responses, thoughtful views.

I’ll miss that. But not as much as I’ll miss her brilliant riding.

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Podcast episode 6 – Women’s Tour and Giro 2014

Between here and the third week of July, it’s hard to think of a more interesting and exciting week in the sport of professional cycling, to use a classic Sherwenism.

The Women’s Tour – a new beginning

First and most importantly, the inaugural Women’s Tour. Let’s skip the nonsense about names and rights, to you and me it is and will always be the Women’s Tour of Britain www.womenstour.co.uk

Equal prize money and race organisation are the big selling points. Now while prize money seems the big deal, it’s the race organisation that really matters.

Simple things that men’s races do as a matter of course, like arranging hotels, not school gymnasiums or hostels. That’s something of a novelty for a lot of women’s races.

Likewise, having a daily highlights programme on terrestrial television, free to air. Now the hardcore will say “why not live?” and I’ll say, take a look at your audience figures. In the UK – on ITV – the daily highlights routinely outperforms the live coverage.

Simply put, more people have an hour free in the evening to watch telly than in the middle of the afternoon. It also allows the race to be packaged with video inserts and insights that would get lost in live coverage.

Those three-minute slots are gold to both host towns and to team sponsors as it gives them the sort of undivided audience attention that makes the investment worthwhile.

Then there’s the quality of the field. It’s all killer, no filler. Everyone has brought their strongest squad to the race. Just take a look at the start list.



Throw in the random variable that no one quite knows how the racing is going to pan out, and it should be guaranteed excitement, like the 2012 Olympic Road Race that inspired it. As Ned Boulting has pointed out, it’s quite a piece of legacy.

If you want to keep up with what’s happening during the day, I recommend their official twitter which is @thewomenstour.

But don’t think of this as the end, until women professionals get a minimum wage for top flight teams, we’re still a long way from home. Nicole Cooke is absolutely right to bang that drum.

Some argue it would collapse a whole number of teams. I say, fine, professional teams that can’t or won’t pay their athletes aren’t credible as professional organisations. Without that credibility in the sport, why would you pay money as a sponsor? I’d want to know that my money was supporting the performance of the team and their being a value to my deal rather more substantive than a logo on the jersey.

Alternatively the UCI could – and in my view should – structure a three to five year transitional period during which it could underpin team finances on a reducing scale to allow them to find and build their financial backing. Ambitious? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Giro – anything could happen

Then there’s the Giro d’Italia, hashtag #giro. If you don’t know the drill by now, it’s the interesting Grand Tour, with decent food in the press room and a relaxed vibe that makes it so much more bearable that the Tour de France.

In redux, it’s a question of who can come second to Nairo Quintano, with Rigoberto Uran, Cadel Evans and Joaquim Rodriguez the most likely. Poor boot-face Michele Scarponi is in there as the token Italian contender.

But the Giro cannot be reduced down to such straightforwardness. This is a race after all where we’ve seen the entire peloton sliding across the finish line like lycra-clad penguins, stage finishes in blizzards and 60-rider escapes in the rain.

Anything can and will happen at the Giro, including starting in Northern Ireland, which is one of the most bizarre crossing of political and sporting paths I’ve seen in a long time.

I’m not even going to try and make a prediction as this is a race which almost always defies them.

Please donate to the following organisations

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Podcast Episode 5 – Just in time for Paris-Roubaix

After too much coffee and – appropriately enough – a Belgian bun, I rattle though some choice morsels in episode 5 of the eternally delayed and somewhat infrequent Chasing Wheels podcast.

- Paris-Roubaix, why will no one let me bet on Manuel Quinziato?

- Speaking of betting, thank you Mr Alex Kristof for winning Milan-San Remo. Proof that if you pay attention you can place a good bet on cycling and win big.

- UCI’s Women’s World Cup coverage, highlights or race report? Why the coverage needs to feel more live and less last weekend.

- Women’s Tour. Great Britain, prepare to stand by your roadsides. We are world class when it comes to lining a road.

- Alberto Contador. He’s flying again, but leave your moral judgements aside. He’s done his time and deserves no more doping criticism for his past than others who are lauded for telling the truth a decade after the act. Also he’s a sneaky blighter with some serious race craft.

- Why the heck don’t they show the last 20km of Women’s Fleche Wallonne? They’re on the finishing circuit, two motos will do the job. And the men’s race is incredibly boring at that point.

Please donate to the following organisations

The London Courier Emergency Fund
The Wolf Centre, Combe Martin Wildlife Park

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Thank you for listening, all feedback welcome.

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Do Yorkshire’s Tour de France sums add up?

The latest in the economic rollercoaster that is Welcome to Yorkshire’s ambitious Grand Depart is that they might have under-estimated an important tender resulting in a £2.3m shortfall.

I don’t think this is the first or last time the project will find that their hopes are matched by the expectations of reality.

A while back, I did some scribbling of numbers of rooms given accommodation was the biggest ticket in the London Grand Depart 2007 numbers (£47m across 2 stages). It’s quite dry on paper, but bear with me.

A rough estimate says Yorkshire has 180,000 bed spaces per night in total. [http://www.yorkshire.com/mediacentre/yorkshire-facts (pop. France = 65.5m/365)]

That’s hotels, guesthouses & B&Bs: ” Yorkshire provides a choice of over 4,868 hotels, guesthouses, self-catering units and campsites with enough bed space to accommodate the entire population of France over the course of a single year.”

So given historic average occupancy of around 50% without the Tour, that leaves 90,000 existing beds available.

[these are handy reports for that sort of info http://www.visitengland.org/Images/July%20EOS%20Newsletter_tcm30-38738.pdf]

The average Leeds hotel is £70 per night. So that’s around £6.3m that it can take per night with every existing bed in Yorkshire taken. [http://www.bighospitality.co.uk/In-the-Spotlight/Hotel-Trends/UK-hotel-rates-slip-as-London-capitalises-on-Olympic-boost ]

At a very generous estimation that everyone stays for a week and you count that as direct economic benefit, then you’d get £44.1m or so.

The London figures of £47m are focused on spending over about 4 days from what I can see in the documents available.

But it’s possible that some did indeed stay for longer, with the Tour forming one component of their time in London. However, there’s nothing to suggest everyone coming to London took an entire week of holiday.

EDIT 03/06/2014 – TfL’s report does actually give a breakdown of stay duration for overseas visitors: “For attendees from outside the UK, numbers of nights away from home were typically higher: One third expected to be away for 4 – 6 nights, a quarter for 5 – 7 nights, 16% for 8 – 10 nights and almost a quarter for more than ten nights.”

In fact, London average daily room rate is almost double Yorkshire at £120 according to the survey mentioned earlier. PWC pushes that figure even higher to around £140 a night: http://www.pwc.co.uk/hospitality-leisure/uk-hotels-forecast/overview-november-2013.jhtml

Figures for campsites & popups would obviously bring in more, but say you hard count the nights the race is in Yorkshire to include the presentations and so on, you’re still way short of the basic number London claimed with more available rooms and a much higher average daily rate per room. I think (but haven’t double checked) that the London figures didn’t include campsite accommodation.

London and Kent generated that £70m or so in total economic impact for a capital city and its surrounding area in a boom economy, with a possibly generous spectator count over two days.

How likely is it that Yorkshire will be able to generate its claimed £100m over two days with a more limited accommodation portfolio in a – relatively speaking – remote region, faced with a global economy still creeping around the fringes of austerity post-2008?

 

UPDATE 24/03/2014 – attempting to compare like for like date

I mulled over these figures at the weekend, trying to see if there’s a more obvious way to illustrate the challenge Yorkshire faces. So, purely as indicative…

In 2007 London room rates were, as far as I can see, still considerably ahead of the rest of the UK. I’ve looked at Greater London Authority figures which put it at over £100, possibly closer to £115-£120 in 2009 [http://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/wp53.pdf]

Caterer & Hotelkeeper gives the average hotel room rate (which excludes cheaper B&B, self-catering and other beds) as £128.78 in June 2007 [http://www.catererandhotelkeeper.co.uk/articles/6/6/2007/314240/the-bench-london-weekly-hotel-performance-to-3-june-2007.htm]

So pitch where you like between these figures, including that after 2007 you have a massive financial derailment that will need to be priced in somewhere.

A draft document from Rotherham council in Yorkshire [https://moderngov.rotherham.gov.uk/documents/s19893/Business%20Plan%202007-8%20v2.doc%20app%20A.pdf] gives the baseline room rate as £55 in 2007/08.

So if London was over £100 (conservatively) average room rate in 2007 and Yorkshire is now £70:

£100 – £70 = £30 difference between the average room rate at the time of the event.

30/70 x 100 = 42.86% is the percentage increase in potential revenue per room that Yorkshire would need to match London.

So for Yorkshire to do similar like-for-like revenue there would need to be a 42% hike in its average room rate.

Or, Yorkshire needs to find 42% more accommodation revenue to match London’s in 2007.

Does that mean it needs 42% more people coming and staying to match London? I’m not sure how these things are calculated and would welcome anyone who can tell me if this is entirely the wrong track.

Transport for London research claims that over the Grand Depart in 2007 “estimated attendance was around three million or more in London and Kent” [http://www.tfl.gov.uk/assets/downloads/businessandpartners/tour-de-france-research-summary.pdf]

So does this mean Yorkshire needs to attract 4.29m over two days to match London?

To put that in context: “The Tour de France attracts 12 million spectators along the route in a typical year’s race” according to Welcome to Yorkshire’s own materials [http://letour.yorkshire.com/news/tour-de-france-the-facts]

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Europe is not the answer

So, according to VeloNews, what cycling needs is more races in shrinking markets with shrinking capital investment, not new races in growing markets with growing capital investment:

“With cycling pinched by recession across much of Europe, coupled with a growing fixation to “internationalize” cycling by shoehorning the sport into untapped markets, this weekend’s Italian romp should serve as a reminder to everyone that well-organized and smartly packaged events set in cycling’s European hotbed remain the sport’s best bet.”

“At its heart and soul, elite pro cycling is a European-based sport.”

Was, not is.

Look at the number of African riders pushing through, the growth of the sport in Asia. All else is nostalgia. Looks at the crowds and mind-blowing scenery of the Tour of Rwanda.

Every bit as good a bet as another European race for my money.

At its heart the “cycling is European” meme is reactionary, xenophobic, bordering on racist. Misty-eyed nostalgia for what wasn’t an economically viable sport will help precisely no one.

If you want “High drama, with the best racers, set against a spectacular “stadium” of natural beauty”, it is impossible to argue that Oman or the Great Wall of China offer a lesser stadium, or that the fields have any less reason to be good.

I’m almost tempted to say it’s willfully stupid to suggest that the history and monuments of either offer less to a bike race than the olive groves of northern Italy.

There were, are and will be races across the globe that have every right to be as much a part of the fabric of the sport as the heritage brand Strade Bianche and the Giro del Lazio in a new dress that is Roma Maxima.

Remember what Strade Bianche started out as in 2007? It’s now on its third race title, after Monte Paschi Eroica, Montepaschi Strade Bianche. A race that’s doing so well it lost a title sponsor and is being propped up largely by the organiser RCS.

Actually, it’s probably not their fault that Monte Paschi is a massive banking basket case. But hey, it’s still “well-organized and smartly packaged”, just not so that it can attract a headline sponsor beyond an “endemic” – in this case helmet manufacturer Limar.

If you want to disagree, go ahead, but first pop quiz:

  • - The Madison is named after a venue in which country?
  • - Fausto Coppi contracted malaria while racing for professional money in which country?
  • - A “North Africa” team first raced in the Tour de France in which year?

The acceptance that their can be no other single power in the sport than ASO is not only historically wrong, ignoring that ASO only became powerful by consolidation and state backing for the Tour de France, it is dangerous for the future of the sport – and ignores ASO’s own failing to monetise its own portfolio beyond the Tour de France.

In layman’s language, the sport’s over-reliance on the Tour de France as an economic driver is exactly putting all your eggs in the one basket.

Allowing one organiser or event to gain control of a sport is exactly how motorsport ended up with the dominance of Formula 1 to the virtual exclusion of everything else. Market plurality of organisers and events within a coherent framework is vital to avoid a litany of issues, from cronyism, to corruption and sudden market failure.

Cycling has a choice: get out of its comfort zone of European races and explore the beauty of the world; or stay where it feels safe and die as a sporting attraction outside of one annual event.

By all means let’s keep heart and soul in the sport, but not at the expense of a body within which it can reside.

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What is the challenge facing British Cycling and Sir Dave Brailsford?

“The size of the challenge in Team Sky has grown over the last few years. Having won the Tour twice, it has put us on the map globally, and it feels like a bigger challenge.” - Sir Dave Brailsford to rethink British Cycling role after Track Worlds

Er, winning Le Tour De France with a British rider was the stated purpose of Team Sky from the outset. How has that challenge changed, or did they think they’d fluke it once and that would be it?

British Cycling repeatedly hammer how it’s about planning to succeed, yet – when they get there – there’s no evidence of having done so. First Wiggins loses his mind at the end of a very successful year, now trying to defend Froome’s title is overwhelming infrastructure they’ve been developing since at least 2009, if not 2008, post-Beijing Olympics.

At the same time, the challenge facing British Cycling’s women on the road keeps on growing, yet I don’t see Sir Dave diverting his time and efforts into that.

Or perhaps it’s all further proof that there is still something endemic within the organisation that would rather play with shiny toys than develop the pathway for women road riders into the elite, or invest serious thinking into expanding the base of participation beyond spuriously numbering every single commute muddling recreational transport in with sporting activity – for example, people riding a bike somewhere to go for a pub lunch – and Sky Ride as some sort of “regular cycling” activity.

UPDATE: It’s been pointed out to me that Sport England doesn’t include commuting in its figures: “excludes any cycling which is exclusively for travel purposes only” – Once a week participation survey. I’ve now amended to reflect this – my view is that a lot of people view riding to work as much as recreational/exercise use as exclusively travel – “It saves me having to go to the gym”, as the oft-heard refrain goes.

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10 things to be excited about in cycling in 2014

There’s plenty to look forward to in 2014, including the possibility of this podcast happening more than last year. So here’s a run down of ten things, in no particular order, that you should be looking forward to in cycling this year.

Nicole Cooke’s autobiography

Outspoken, direct, determined. And usually bang on the money. Interviewing her was always a challenge – she could be curt, didn’t suffer obvious questions and would correct every error or misapprehension – but she was never boring.

Nicole was one of the most intelligent bike racers of any generation or gender. Just watch how she waits, doesn’t panic, then fries Arndt and Vos in the sprint to do something no other rider – male or female – has ever done: Win Olympic and World road race titles in the same year. Bradley Wiggins got a knighthood in 2012 for a Tour de France and Olympic gold double. Nicole still only has an MBE. If her autobiography is half as intelligent and strong as her riding, it will be one of the best cycling books ever.

The Women’s Tour

Britain finally gets a top flight Women’s race, long overdue. Top tier field, equal prize money, terrestrial television coverage on ITV4. So why haven’t sponsors stepped up to a great opportunity to get in for relatively low cost into the burgeoning movement to grow women’s sport? Because they are too obsessed with poor value from safe products like football.

Softening of UCI stance on in-race footage

On the Humans Invent podcast David Millar talks about the documentary on his final season and suggest RCS might give leeway in their races for the makers to use bike-mounted cameras during the race. (It’s a good interview with Millar, well worth a listen)

Start of a cycle of innovation from manufacturers

The UCI’s appointment of GB tech wizard Dimitri Katsanis as a consultant signals a more progressive attitude. It coincides with innovation from different sectors spreading to become universal to cycling – carbon fibre and hydraulic disc braking to name two.

We’ve been stuck at 6.8kg, cable-operated rim braked, double diamond frames for far too long. In terms of what is available and possible compared to when it was introduced in 2000, it looks incredibly outdated. Actually it looked outdated then.

Tour of Dubai

Yes, you could lump this together with Oman and Qatar as Gulf state cultural willy-waving – and you wouldn’t be wrong – and then dismiss it as a new race at the expense of other more “historic” events.

A shame then that most squads look likely  to split the strength of their squads, otherwise the 3 races – Dubai, Qatar, Oman – would make a very coherent Gulf States series across February.

The longer you cling to the fantasy of keeping uneconomic early season races in non-snowy bits of Europe, the less likely the sport will grow. Dubai matters because this isn’t old money shuffled, it’s new money unfolded.

Baku Cycling Project

Let’s be clear, Azerbaijan is an oil-rich, post-Soviet state that barely qualifies as democratic. But this is a sport where Katusha and Astana are established names.

Photographer Camille McMillan is documenting the team on Instagram and they’ve got a well-developed presence online that’s as good as some top tier teams.

Tarmac not being the only way

The growth of gravel racing and cyclocross suggests a return of the unpaved road, opening up a whole new set of opportunities for events. Mountain-biking continues to grow in the UK as an economic force, in particular in Wales and Scotland where facilities are as good as anywhere in the world.

Boonen vs Cancellara fortnight

Flanders, Roubaix. Can Tom make it a record-breaking double? Or will Fabian crush everyone again. Maybe Sagan will ruin the party; maybe Geraint Thomas realise that there’s a good reason people keep on mentioning these races to him and remember not to crash into everyone.

Quintana v the Aussies v the Italians at the Giro

The pocket-sized Colombian could pick up his first Grand Tour in Italy this year, but to do so he’ll have to beat Cadel Evans – perhaps one last throwing of his kitchen sink  at winning a Grand Tour – and Richie Porte – in his first effort at leading a squad over three weeks. Add in every imaginable Italian weather combination and the endearing insolicity with which the race usually develops, it could be quite something.

All Vos, all the time

If you’re not getting the joy from watching Marianne storm every sporting barricade, you’re not really getting what unmatched brilliance is. Few riders are as peerless as Vos in her dominance against genuinely classy opposition.

Please donate to the following organisations

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The church of the high mountain

Roland Barthes wrote of the Tour de France as being in the tradition of epic. Yet there is much to be said for the race as in the tradition of religious experience.

It is perhaps most evident in the veneration of the mountains and the sanctification of those whose glory shines upon them.

According to the Nicene Creed “We are one holy catholic and apostolic church”, or in lay terms a diverse bunch of fans.

When cycling fans, on foot or bicycle, make their journey along the mountain, they follow in the same passion as the riders. For some that passage into the mountains is an act of pilgrimage in an age where religious devotion is frowned upon.

My most recent act of devotion to the mountains took me to the top of the Col de Pailheres, an experience which felt closer to martyrdom than pilgrimage in the spectrum of quasi-religious experience.

Riding or walking up a mountain road is a catholic experience. We all suffer the thinning air, the gradient, the weather differently. Our weight, fitness, adaptation and so on vary wildly.

Yet we are one apostolic body in doing so. We all hold a belief that in the undertaking of, or witness to, the climb we are revealed something devine about humanity and its desire and need to overcome difficulty.

Mont Ventoux is defined by the journey from woodland to the calvary of white rock. The communications mast and the cluster of buildings at the summit, a cubist vision of the crucifixion. Alpe d’Huez counts 21 corners like stations of the cross in its narrative, each recalling an angel ascending into the heavens.

Fallen angels are elevated to sainthood in this church. The flaws of personality that make truly great climbers unable to endure the vicissitudes of the peloton are the same ones that have lead to beatification down the ages.

And like the rolecall of saints, we chose those whose path calls us most strongly. Pantani never called me to his patronage because the suffering was too evident, the redemption so lacking. In Contador I saw a transcendent beauty in his climbing, a fervour that redeemed his evident failings.

In Quintana I see a new icon to take their place in the pantheon, alongside those who have travelled the road before, revealing damascene their brilliance in full view of the church of the high mountain.

Come, worship, one holy catholic apostolic church of the high mountain.

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Episode 3: At last there’s racing to talk about!

  • Track Worlds reviewed
  • Het Nieuwsblad in brief
  • RCS starts a revival in Rome
  • World Series Cycling, will it never go away?
  • Truth and Reconsiliation, what does it really mean?
  • The UCI’s secret life as a Russian doll
  • Death on the public highway in Central London – the solutions are obvious

Links of note

http://www.podiumcafe.com/2013/2/18/4001748/rcs-sport-revives-giro-del-lazio-as-the-roma-maxima
http://www.focus-wtv.tv/video/omloop-het-nieuwsblad-voor-dames
http://velonews.competitor.com/2013/02/news/mcquaid-world-series-of-cycling-has-been-shelved_274151
https://twitter.com/jamesstout/status/305029819085750272
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/../Vodafone-offers-portable-mobile-phone-chargers-to-Tanzanias-off-grid-users.html
http://road.cc/content/news/76510-stats-reveal-londons-deadly-cycling-zone%E2%80%A6-if-youre-woman
http://icycleliverpool.co.uk/2013/02/18/the-ladykiller/
http://www.pelotonmagazine.com/Feedzone/content/6/2133/Wiggins-Sights-Set-on-2013-Giro
http://veloclinic.tumblr.com/post/42994445565/armstrong-biopassport-cover-up
http://www.newcyclingpathway.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/NOT-ABOUT-THE-BLOOD.pdf

Please donate to the following organisations

The London Courier Emergency Fund
The Wolf Centre, Combe Martin Wildlife Park

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Episode 2: The Qatar is operational!

  • Farewell Sandro Carrea
  • Nicole Cooke retires
  • Wiggle Honda – new teams, great, but what about the infrastructure?
  • Tour of Qatar – Al-Jazeera runs women’s race live, so why is it so difficult for others?
  • Yet another chance to talk about Lance Armstrong
  • Parliamentary Inquiry – will it get Britain cycling or put it on the wrong path?

This week’s links of note

http://www.cyclingweekly.co.uk/news/latest/536378/nicole-cooke-retires-from-professional-cycling.html
http://totalwomenscycling.com/news/wiggle-honda-cycling-team-launches-in-london-871/#slide-1
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cycling/21159320
http://www.qatar-tribune.com/data/20130125/content.asp?section=first1_3
http://www.itv.com/news/2013-01-15/cyclist-mark-cavendishs-frustration-boils-over-after-repeated-lance-armstrong-questions/
http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/cycling/21189201
https://twitter.com/Vaughters/status/294596446387310597
http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2013/jan/25/chris-froome-sky-tour-de-france
http://www.velonation.com/News/ID/13809/UCI-disbands-UCIIC-in-favour-of-Truth-and-Reconciliation-Process.aspx
https://twitter.com/carltonreid
https://twitter.com/allpartycycling
Twitter search for #getbritaincycling
http://wCTC report on first session of Parliamentary Inquiry into Cycling
Manc Bike Mummy on the effective ban of 97.8% of people from the road

Please donate to the following organisations

The London Courier Emergency Fund
The Wolf Centre, Combe Martin Wildlife Park

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