Bike

Bike
637 Days To Go is my blog, which was originally started with exactly 637 days until the start of the London 2012 Paralympic Games. And now it's been re-started with 637 days until the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games.



Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Big In Japan**




The email arrived in my inbox months ago. I was being invited to fly to Japan and take part in the Saitama Criterium and then race in the Japan Paracycling Cup. Both firsts for Paracycling in Japan – and both firsts for me.

There wasn’t even a second of hesitation as I hit the reply button and sent back my answer: YES. Without a doubt, yes. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and there was no way I was going to pass it up.

For those that don’t know – the Saitama Criterium is an end-of-year ‘race’ held in Saitama – on the northern outskirts of Tokyo. It is organized by ASO, who also run races such as the Tour de France. It is less of a race and more of a procession as riders follow a scripted race plan, lapping the 3km city centre circuit in front of the thousands of fans gathered to watch. Each year the Tour winner is there along with a host of other supremely talented riders. A few other local teams are also invited along for good measure.

This year as part of the festivities, they held a short time trial on the course, with one rider from each team doing a lap of the course as fast as possible. Along with the Pro riders, they also invited 7 women and 7 Paracyclists to take part. This is where I came in. I would be putting my best lap time up against the likes of Simon Geshke, Joaquim Rodriguez and yes… Chris Froome. It’s all a bit of fun, but it’s not every day you get the chance to race against top Pro riders, in front of 100,000 people!

Accompanying me on this epic journey would be fellow Irish (current) Paracycling TT and Scratch Race World Champion, Eoghan Clifford and our faithful coach Neill Delahaye.

The trip to Japan, despite the long distance, was relatively painless. Sitting on an airplane for 12 hours at a time is never a lot of fun but we got to Japan in one piece. I made sure I had very little sleep before the flight so was able to sleep a bit on the flight and arrived in Tokyo at 6:30am ready for a full day ahead.

We were met by our host, Ryuji Hiratmatsu who works with the Japan Paracycling Federation. Ryuji would be key to us enjoying our trip – and is also the key person behind the Japan Paracycling Cup that was taking place the following weekend. I’ll have more on him in my next post as he deserves his very own article.

The next few days would prove to be a whirlwind of adrenaline and jetlag. We spent a fair bit of time travelling between the hotel where we were sleeping and the hotel where our bikes were stored – just to be able to ride them on turbo trainers in a conference room! Unfortunately the city streets are a bit busy and not really conducive to proper training. All the while, trying to get over the 8 hours of jetlag we were dealing with! Fortunately we only had a couple of days of this to deal with before the festivities started.

Our second night there was spent mingling with all the other invited riders. It was a bit surreal hanging out in a hotel ballroom, eating sushi and drinking beers whilst Grand Tour podium finishers, Paris-Roubaix and Milan-San Remo winners and a host of other cycling gods walked past. I admit to be a fanboy, and I had brought a few jerseys with me to get signed by some key riders. It also gave me a brief chance to introduce myself and chat with them.

The next morning was the big day. Once again we found ourselves in our little hotel conference room, with (effectively) our backstage passes, waiting for the festivities to kick off. Pro riders wandered the hallways freely. At one point I saw Chris Froome sat on a sofa, so I headed over with my Yellow Jersey to get a signature. He invited me to sit down and we chatted for a short period of time as he (mostly) quizzed me on how I lost my leg and my cycling background. I’m not sure why but I couldn’t stop my leg from twitching – I was that nervous!

Eventually it was time to get the event started. We headed downstairs and through the hotel lobby. Throngs of fans had lined up for photos and autographs. Although not exactly for us! All the riders gathered outside the main entrance until Froome came out – and then it was time to leave. We headed out on our bikes onto the race circuit. We (myself and Eoghan) we mixed in with all the other riders. We pedaled around the race circuit in parade fashion – Froome and his teammates just off my rear wheel at times. It was surreal.

After a lap of the circuit we headed to our pit area – which was located inside a small concert arena. The race actually passes through the arena each lap in front of hundreds of seated fans all watching and cheering you on. After a brief introduction – the Paracyclists all headed back onto the course for another lap in front of the crowds. They probably had no idea who we were, but that didn’t stop them from cheering us on as we rolled past. Many of the fans at the edge of the circuit leaned out across the barriers, high-fiving me as I went past. I was loving every second of it.

After another short stop back in the pit area we were called up to the start area for the time trial. Again we rode around the circuit past the gathered crowds to a row of seats near the start ramp. I picked a seat in the long line of chairs and sat myself down to wait for my turn. As I sat there waiting, 2 of the Pro riders sat themselves down in the seats beside me to wait. Let’s just say it made for a photo opportunity I won’t soon forget.




Finally it was my turn to get underway. I rolled up onto the start ramp and waited for the clock to tick down. 5-4-3-2-1…. and off I went. This wasn’t a normal time trial. It was just one lap of a race circuit – on a road bike as fast as possible. An all-out sprint to see how fast I could go around the 3km circuit. There were several corners to negotiate, a descent and ascent under an overhead road (twice), a 180-degree turn in the road, and a passage through the arena on soft rubber floor covering.

I was riding so hard that everything was just a blur. I was pedaling as hard as I could and could barely see where I was going at times. I could hear the cheers of the crowd as I sailed past but definitely not paying much attention. Just trying to get to the finish. And it was over before I knew it.

In the end, I didn’t break any speed records. In fact, I was one of the slowest of the Paracycling riders, but as the most ‘disabled’ that was to be expected. Furthermore, riding a road bike instead of a TT bike doesn’t do me any favours but all that is irrelevant. I was only 37 seconds slower than Chris Froome – and to me – that’s a win. 







**Title is in reference to the Alphaville song “Big in Japan”.







Thursday, 1 October 2015

60 Minutes to Make History



You've probably heard of it - a LOT in the past year: the Hour Record. First it was Jens Voigt, then Matthias Brandle, Rohan Denis, Alex Dowsett and lastly Bradley Wiggins. Along the way there were also failed attempts by Jock Bobridge (an epic failure), Thomas Dekker and Gustav Larsson.

So what is the Hour Record: the furthest distance you can ride in one hour, uninterrupted, on a 250m indoor velodrome. It doesn't sound all that hard at first until you take into account you have to do it on a fixed-gear track bike. So you can't change gear when you get tired. And you have to deal with going around a corner.... every 6 seconds or so!

I've ridden hour-long time trials before. They are easy in comparison. You can drink, eat a gel if you need to, change position, stay cool from the breeze, change cadence, get a break if there is a tailwind, and so on. On the track you have none of that - you have to pre-select the one gear you want to use and stick with it. No food or drink. Just a steadily increasing diet of pain and suffering.

The current record for my Paracycling category (MC2) is held by Laurent Thirionet of France and was set all the way back in 1999. It stands at 41km31m.  It may not sound like a long way (especially in comparison to Wiggins' 54.5km) but keep in mind that we effectively pedal with ONE leg (I have one prosthetic leg and one leg that has no function below the knee). There is a huge, personal extra incentive to break this particular record: Thirionet was the rider that snatched the Bronze Medal from me when he beat me by 1/10th of a second in the Individual Pursuit finals in London 2012.

Before committing to a formal attempt I decided it would be a good idea to do a dry run, to see exactly what it would feel like and how far I could go. I set off with a target in mind and a pace to match. For the first 20 minutes I circled the track with (relative) ease - hitting the lap splits I had in mind. As I got to the middle 20 minutes I thought I had better ease off a bit to make sure I could finish the effort. As soon as I slowed down it started to get harder. The ease at which I had been spinning the gear previously was replaced with a slight heaviness as I now had to push the gear at a slower cadence. I could really feel it now.

On top of this, the strain on my upper body from trying to hold myself crouched in an aero position, especially through the corners, was becoming unbearable. I found myself having to sit up every so often to ease the pain and give myself a chance to breathe better.

But still I soldiered on. The lap times tumbled dramatically at times but I kept on going. It was all about getting to the end of the hour, no matter how slow it might be. As I headed towards the final 15 minutes I was starting to become mildly delirious. I had to really focus on what I was doing. I was lucky to have teammates there shouting me on.

And at last.... the hour was up. It was certainly a telling experience. Nowhere near as easy as I thought it would - but the distance I did was good enough for me to commit to doing a formal attempt. And to putting in the specific training I would need to do to make sure I do a credible attempt.

In truth, I have been planning this attempt for the past year, and it has been on my mind in one form or another for several years. But formal planning started to take shape a year ago. I had actually wanted to spend several months preparing specifically for the attempt, but got sidetracked with things like the World Championships and a trip to Brazil to look at some Rio 2016 training venues. But even these 'distractions' were used as training opportunities.

In the last few weeks I travelled to Palma to do track-specific work. Spending 3 sessions a week on the track, doing long blocks of work above my desired pace. Getting comfortable (if such a thing is possible) riding lap after lap in the aero position and testing out different gearing options. And when not on the track, out on the roads for several hours a day working on my endurance.

And now, the attempt is just a few days away. A year of thinking, planning and worrying will come to a close one way or other. I am confident I have done the work needed to put in a good ride, but as I've seen many a time – anything can happen on the day. I have to be super-vigilant to not start too hard as I'll be feeling great – because a fast start will mean a painfully slow finish and can blow the whole thing.

Furthermore, there is a cost associated with this. It's not cheap to do an attempt. So if you get it wrong, you're out of pocket a hefty sum of money. Get it right, and your name goes int he record books.

I'm hoping people will tune in to watch (just the end at least). It'll be steamed live with the help of a company called "A Crew of a Few Productions". The link to watch is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HGpelVJSbo



suppose the last question is: WHY!?

The answer is complex, yet simple. I want to show people what I can do. With Rio 2016 on the horizon (and another Track World Championships in March before that) I want people to start thinking about Paracycling again. Paracycling was one of the highlights of London 2012, and will be again in Rio. I want people to see what we do and realise how hard it is.

There is the selfish aspect also - I want a world record. I want to write my name in the history books. I've won world titles and (hopefully) will win a Paralympic medal. To add this to my palmares would be a huge honour.

And... I want other paracyclists to have a go. There are very few Hour Record attempts made by paracycling riders, but more should have a go. Maybe this will encourage more people to think about doing it. 

Lastly, I'm hoping to showcase what I can do for my sponsors (current and potential future ones). Rio 2016 is a great opportunity for companies to support world-class Paralympians, and I have a great chance to do well there. I want sponsors to look at me (and other Paralympians) and see the potential we have to succeed, and for them to associate their products with elite and inspiration athletes.

So - tune in on October 10. The festivities should kick off around 1:00PM GMT. Or if you want to come and watch in person - just rock up to the Manchester Velodrome and buy a ticket at the door. It's £10 - and you can make a day of it (The World Masters Track Championships are on all day so it's not just me riding around!)

I'll have another post up soon to thank all the people that have made this happen - and hopefully to report on a new World Record!

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Thank you to ALL involved. The project is GO.

After 2 months of intense fundraising, it is my pleasure to announce I have reached my target. A big THANK YOU to the multitude of people who donated funds (little or large) towards the construction of a new cycling leg for Rio 2016.


The public crowdfunding appeal netted a significant portion of the funds. Due to a complicated fee structure with the crowdfunding site, I had to put in a significant portion of the funds myself before the campaign closed in order to avoid paying extra fees. (So the actual amount raised online is somewhat less than what you might see on the site!) But regardless of that, we still raised enough to move forward. Why? Well - because of two organisations.






As mentioned previously - Eastmond Medicomm has come on board as a key sponsor in the project  and will be along for the ride, helping document the project as we move forward. If not for them, I wouldn't have even started raising funds in the first place. They were the first ones to step forward to put up seed money and gave me hope that I could raise the rest of the money through the public appeal.




The second group I must mention is Pace Rehabilitation. Pace have been there since the very start with me, building my previous cycling prosthetics. Pace have graciously agreed to build this new leg at a discounted rate, meaning I now have the complete budget needed to complete the project at the highest level. Along with technical and aerodynamic advisor, Dr. Bryce Dyer of Bournemouth University, I am confident we will make the best possible leg for Rio.

Pace are at the forefront of prosthetic design in the UK and are now on the cutting edge when it comes to the design and manufacture of sport-specific prosthetics. I started out with them in 2011 and have won two world titles using the legs they have made for me in the past. With the advancements they have made since, I have no doubt that the leg they make for me will propel me to the next level and help bring home that Rio medal I so desperately seek!





I have hated every single second of this fundraising campaign. Asking people, over and over to donate money is something I can't stand – especially for myself. I would much rather be out there raising money for a worthy charity! But it's done now, and so many of you stepped up to help fill the void. I will never have to ask you for help for something personal again!

So keep watching. The project is now just getting started. I've seen the prototype designs. And they are spectacular. Over the coming weeks and months, Pace will be testing several new designs to see which one provides the best aerodynamic benefit – then it will be time to build one for me. And Eastmond Medicomm will be helping keep you updated. And then.... well - the sky's the limit!


Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Racing update: World Cup 2, Switzerland

After a LOT of driving and a quick stop off to ride the Mortirolo climb in Italy (hardest thing I've ever done), it was off to Switzerland for Round 2 of the Paracycling World Cup Series. Video of me DESCENDING off the Mortirolo climb. Short but gives an idea of how tough it was going up!: 

The Swiss World Cup was always going to be a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it featured a pan-flat out-and-back TT that suited me perfectly. On the other hand, it also had the hardest road race course we've ever raced on, with 3 different climbs of varying lengths and gradients to tackle each lap. But as I'd already scored some good qualification points in the Italy World Cup, this weekend was all about pushing myself to see what I could achieve, but without the pressure of needing a result.

The only thing I was worried about for both the TT and road race was the weather. If it stayed dry it would be much easier. In the wet - not as much. Although the TT was flat, there were a few technical turns near the finish that could cause havoc in the wet. And the road race.... well with screaming descents, the wet roads had the potential to really mess things up!

The TT day rolled around and as soon as I threw my legs over the bike to warm up I knew it was going to be a good day. All the right sensations were there. The weather was playing nice and even the wind was blowing a light breeze instead of the howling head/tail it had been in training the day before.

I rolled down the start ramp and quickly got into my aero tuck - making sure not to go too hard right from the start. Even though it was a short TT, I had to make sure not to overdo it for the first few minutes. I settled into my rhythm nicely and as I hit the long, straight stretch of road, started to put the power out nicely.

Hitting the turn at the far end of the course, I accelerated back towards the start/finish, still feeling strong. The nice thing about long, straight roads is you can see up ahead and the people you are chasing. Approaching the last few KMs, I was surprised to see I was catching my minute-man - the guy I had pegged as my main competition. If I had caught him already, I was either having a great ride or he was having a horrible one.

As we hit the technical section at the end of the course I had to sit up a bit so as to not tangle with him through the corners, but managed to power past him on another straight stretch before the final turns into the finish.

I crossed the line and waited. There were still 2 riders to start after me but as they crossed the line it was confirmed - I had won again. And by a huge margin: over 1 minute! Turns out I was having a great ride! 
Powering to the win in the TT

After a day off, it was back to business: road race time. Unfortunately the weather decided it wasn't go to play ball this time. It was cool and raining. It meant it was going to add to the misery of trying to hang onto the climbers in the race, and wasn't going to be able to make up ground on the descents.

The race started and I was immediately on the back foot. As we made up way up the first drag I was already feeling under pressure. We made the turn onto the first sharp climb and as predicted, the race exploded. Riders hammered their way up the sharp incline and I started going backwards. I opted to ride a steady pace - thinking I would regain contact with the group over the top. Huge mistake.

Turns out I was only 11 seconds slower than the main group over that climb. But that was enough for a gap to form. And I never managed to close it again. So now it was going to be about seeing what I could do on my own.

I rode on and came up on another rider - a guy I like to call 'my nemesis'. We have gone head-to-head several times in sprint. And he has always beaten me (although he HAS won the Worlds time in the road race). We worked together to try and catch the riders ahead (to no avail) but more importantly to keep ahead of the riders behind us.

We managed to catch up with his teammate and from that point on I felt like the 2 of them were trying to work me over. One would jump up the road and if I chased after, the other would sit on my wheel and jump past me if we caught up. I just kept riding within myself though.

As we hit the last long climb the final time I decided to push on as hard as I could. The lighter of the two riders powered off up the climb ahead of me. I tried to hold his wheel but soon realised I would blow if I did. I settled into a pace I could sustain for the duration of the climb.

I looked behind me to see I had dropped the other rider. I kept pushing on, thinking to myself that I wanted to break him on the climb. No way did I want to bring him to the line again with me.

As we neared the top, he had closed the gap a little, and as the road flattened out - me managed to ride back up to my wheel. I had decided that no matter what, I would attack on the final lap in a certain spot - and true to myself I did so. I jumped off his rear wheel and sprinted up the road. This gave me a head start into the last descent towards the finish. I could see his teammate up ahead (who wasn't able to descend as fast as us).

Unfortunately, slowly but surely the chasing rider pegged me back again. And as we hit the final sharp bend in the road, I got my line wrong and had to hit the brakes. He dived down the inside of me and made the run towards the line. I kept my cool and accelerated after him. As we got to 500m to go, we caught and passed his teammate. With about 100m to go, I was right on his wheel and he was looking back to see where I was. And I jumped again - using the slipstream to power past him and taking the 'win' from him. 

OK, so it was only for 10th place but it was still a victory of sorts! I had finally beaten him in a sprint. And that... was enough for me!


Racing Update: Italy World Cup

Very quick update on the first World Cup of the year.

Flew out to Italy on the Tuesday to be greeted by some pretty warm temperatures. Even ran into fellow Para-T rider Rik Wadden in the airport!

Drove straight to the hotel, built up my bikes and headed out on the road for a quick look at the TT course. I had heard it was ‘hilly’ so was a bit concerned. But after riding it I realised it wasn’t too bad at all! Short at 12.5km and with no significant climbing, might actually give me a shot at doing well.

Spent the next couple of days getting more familiar with both the TT and road race courses and trying to get used to the heat. Heat really is my enemy and was more worried about that than the course itself.

I found it difficult to get any significant power out on the bike in the days leading up to the TT so was worried that something was wrong. When I woke up (early) on race day, I still had doubts as to how I would perform but all you can do is put them out of your mind and get into race mode.

And so before I knew it I was rolling down the start ramp and out onto the course. Even though it was only 9:30am, it was already 28 degrees. I was thankful the TT would be over quickly!

Within minutes I knew I was on form. It was a struggle to hold back the power and not overdo it from the gun. Always a good sign! I settled into my rhythm and just got on with it. It was a real pleasure to be riding a 100% closed-rode TT - so you are able to use the entire road and pick the best lines and surfaces.

As I made the final turn into the long uphill drag towards the finish (around 3km to go), I spotted 2 riders up ahead - my 1-minute and 2-minute men. I expected to catch the 2-minute man as he’s quite slow, but definitely did not expect to see the other rider (Simon Price who had beat me in the last TT in Italy). It meant I was probably having a good ride.

1km to go and I just piled it on, leaving it all out there. Onto the final few 100 meters across the cobbles and across the line. Most of the other riders were all there - collapsed at the side of the road from he heat and effort. It had been a tough ride for everyone.

A quick check of the timings and it was confirmed: I had won by less than 2 seconds! I can’t honestly say I expected to win, but it was both a joy and relief!

A couple of days later and we were back for the road race. 9 laps of the mostly flat circuit, with that same section of cobbles to negotiate each lap. I was worried about getting through some of the tight corners safely but in the end it worked out OK.

Like many of the races, it was fast and furious from the start. Several attacks straight away with a few riders initially getting away. I stayed near the front all race - and was able to help bring back the first escape, but when 2 of the riders got away again, there was nothing I could do.

From this point on, there were very few people willing to work at the front to bring back the 2 escaped riders - and so their advance grew with each passing lap. I could sense it was now a race for 3rd place - and it was going to be a bunch sprint.

With less than a lap to go I was still staying near the front but as we passed through the feed zone I felt my leg cramp up. I had to ease off the pedals to try and stop it getting worse. I immediately dropped back in the small bunch. As I moved back up, I was wary of the cramp coming back.

And so - we were into the last km - a straight road leading towards one last right hand turn onto the cobbles and a sprint to the finish line. I pushed on, trying to get to the front and into that last corned before the other riders, knowing this would be key to a high finishing position. But as we neared that turn I got boxed out - with riders on other side of me and nowhere to go.

We made the turn towards the finish and I sprinted for all I was worth, but sadly (for me) I ended up in 8th place (6th place in the bunch sprint). Nevertheless, finishing int he bunch is a step forward, especially after riding hard at the front all day.


Next up was the World Cup in Switzerland. Details to follow!


Monday, 18 May 2015

The Rio Leg take a BIG Step Forward



Fundraising efforts for my Rio 2016 Prosthetic leg take a big step forward today, as I'm pleased to announce that Eastmond Medicomm Ltd (www.eastmondmedicomm.com) are coming on board as a key sponsor of the project.

Eastmond Medicomm are one of the UK's leading boutique medical communication agencies. They will be providing a substantial portion of the funds needed to complete this project: the design, development and production of a new prosthetic leg specifically designed for cycling (and in particular, for the Rio 2016 Paralympic Games). 

Nigel Eastmond, Director of Eastmond Medicomm, is enthused by this: "It is fabulous that Colin is at the top of his sport that he regularly competes in events and places highly. His dedication to physical performance in the face of mechanical and neurological compromise is remarkable, and we are proud to encourage Colin's endeavours. We hope that a new, more comfortable leg will help Colin to focus on delivering power to the pedals without ongoing pain."

For my part, I am more than pleased to have Eastmond Medicomm as a partner. I have been in discussions with them for the past several years over their desire to become more involved with the paracycling movement. And their dedication to performance and professionalism is a good fit with my own approach. I relate well to their medical focus, and I look forward to a lasting relationship.


Eastmond Medicomm will be promoting my activities in social media and highlighting the successes afforded by the sheer physical effort and uncompromising emotional commitment of not just myself, but all Paralympic cyclists.

The project will de documented both on this site, and also via a new twitter feed: https://twitter.com/Colinsleg.

In the meantime, the fund-raising efforts still continue in order to reach the initial funding target set out. This will allow the leg to be built and tested the best possible way, and will ultimately deliver the best results! If you are interested in being a part of the project, ANY donation, small or large, can still be made at www.rioleg.com.






About Eastmond Medicomm
Founded in 2010, Eastmond Medicomm Ltd is a medical communication agency providing intelligent consultancy and deliverables to the global pharmaceutical, biotech and devices industries, as well as contract services to other med comms agencies. Contact Eastmond Medicomm via nigel@eastmondmedicomm.com or http://www.eastmondmedicomm.com.