Rapha Condor Cycling Team New Sponsors

I've just read that cycling team Rapha Condor have added 3 new sponsors for the remainder of the season. Fantastic news to hear that despite the recesssion, companies are investing in cycling. It just shows how much cycling has come on this year. Sky have invested in Skyrides and a new British team for next year's tour and this is even before we starting talking about the fantastic Tour series which recieved twice weekly ITV 4 footage. Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish even got page reports in the likes of The Mirror and and graced the front page of the BBC Sport website! Only a couple of years ago, a small paragraph would have been big news!

Rapha Condor's new sponsors aren't little fish either. Sharp Electronics, Paul Smith Jeans and Malmaison Hotel Group have been added.

Sharp will be pushing their Sharp4Prostate initiative, which will tie in nicely with the Tour of Britain, which is sponsored by The Prostate Cancer Charity.

Super luxurious hotel brand Malmaision will be getting involved with a training camp tour which will see Rapha Condor visit a number of Malmaision hotels over August in the build up to the Tour of Britain. The riders will stay at the hotels and those who are Rapha Condor Club Members will be able to stay at the hotels as part of the hospitality.

Paul Smith Jeans is a nice addition for the fashion conscious Rapha Condor team. Sir Paul is known to be a cycling fantatic, and his fashion brand will work nicely alongside the Rapha brand.

Rapha Condor Cycling Team will be racing at the Blackpool Nocturne on Saturday 1st August. I will be taking part in the Rapha Condor Sportive during the day.

In Conclusion: Tour de France


So, after all the hype the Tour has finally finished for another year. It's mad. Since March I've been looking forward to the Tour, watching all the Spring classics and the past three weeks have just whizzed by.

Well my prediction was right, Alberto Contador scooped up a second Tour De France victory, and he did so with relative ease. It is credit to him, that he has improved from simply being a good climber in the mountains, to now being unstoppable in the time trial. Other than Fabian Cancellara, no-one could touch him in the time trials and then when it came to the mountains, he launched a legendary attack which left everyone for dead, gaining twenty seconds on his rivals - most importantly killing off the Armstrong threat.

Away from there it was down to Andy Schleck to try and take some time away from Contador. He couldn't do it in the time trial, and he found out that even with the help of his brother Frank, he still couldn't get rid of Contador off his wheel in the mountains. Contador simply sat there, bobbing around, letting Andy do all the work. All the while you just knew he had lots left in the tank. It was a fantastic ride by Contador, especially when you consider the pressure he was under from Astana and Lance Armstrong. That attack in the Alps was the turning point, even Armstrong held his hands up and said I can't compete with that.

Credit to Andy Schleck though, although he couldn't shake off Alberto Contador, he lead up all the major climbs, made attacks and rode well. He can't be disappointed with a second place. I think people will have a new found respect for him.

I'll hold my hands up, I didn't think Lance Armstrong would be as good as he was. He was mixing it up with the big guys and finished a credible third. There was no way he could beat Contador and Schleck on the climbs but he hung in there right to the end. He has said he will be back next year, with a new team sponsored by RadioShack. If he keeps up the fitness over Winter and has a good Spring in his legs, it will be very interesting next year, especially with a team surrounding just him.

The Winners

For me there are two big winners of the Tour, and they are both Brits. Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish were nothing short of sensational.

For Bradley Wiggins, to turn from the track to the road and stick it in the climbs with the likes of Contador, Schleck and Armstrong was awesome. I predicted before the Tour he would be one to watch. Many disagreed. Many said he couldn't do it. Many suggested he had doped. If you follow cycling closely you will know Bradley Wiggins is totally against people who dope, his autobiography has many references to his thoughts against doping, so those accusations were uneducated. His determination is second to none. Infact to say his nearest competitor was Armstrong is a credit. His team Garmin didn't let him down, heroic efforts from VandeVelde and David Millar made sure he was always well placed. Bradley finished an incredible 4th and has since hinted he may quit the track for the road. I hope he does because I would love to see him win the Tour.

And then Mark Cavendish. 6 sprint wins including winning in Paris on the Champs-Elysees was awesome. He didn't get the green jersey, a moment of stupidity cost him that. Many claimed the barriers weren't set up correctly, Cav said he was deliberately going slow to allow his team-mate George Hincapie get the yellow jersey. Either way, he was judged to have blocked rival Thor Hushovd and lost all his points for the stage. Lets face it, there wasn't much of an arguement from his team Columbia-HTC too!

Each opportunity to win was executed flawlessly. Needless to say his team worked fantastically to drive the peloton, with Mark Renshaw leading him out perfectly every time. The thing about Mark Cavendish is that he is sharp, he notices movements, and will go early if needs be. His climbing has improved and it will only be time before he becomes a more all rounded sprinter like Thor Hushovd.

Mark's Columbia-HTC team mate Tony Martin and Cervelo's Heinrich Haussler are also worthy mentions. Tony only missing the young rider's jersey to an impressive Andy Schleck, but was in a two man breakaway up Mont Ventoux having lead out Mark Cavendish the day before. Henrich Haussler's breakway in the rain to win alone will remembered for years to come, his tears over the line showed how much it meant to him.

Another shout has to go to Sylvain Chavanel, was there a breakaway he wasn't in?! And Saxo Bank's Fabian Cancellara - where did he come from? After a disappointing Spring, he had the yellow jersey for the opening days after an incredible time trial in Monaco. He fought well and throughout the Tour could be seen on the front too.

The losers


Cadel Evans and the Silence Lotto team. Non-existant and his Tour was over after the team time trial. Once again his weak team let him down.

Carlos Sastre. The former champion was lost in the shadows, non-existant throughout much of the Tour and struggled badly. Sore point for another wise fantastic first year Cervelo performance.

Denis Menchov and the Rabobank team. Did they actually turn up? The Giro D' Italia champion fell off more times than I've hot dinners.

Tom Boonen. Last minute entry having got himself into trouble for snorting Cocaine. Could have won fans back over but left early feeling ill.

Cheshire Plains and Peaks Sportive

Cheshire Plains and Peaks is a new sportive set up by Ian Jerams and Paul Woodrow to raise money for St Rocco's Hospice. There was two options to choose from, either 100k or 100 miles. The 100k went from Stockton Heath, near Warrington, up to Alderley Edge hill and back again, while the 100 mile route continued on through to Macclesfield and spent a few hours in the Peaks, up to the Cat and Fiddle before heading back to Stockton Heath.

I opted for the 100k. The week after the Manchester to Blackpool I was feeling pretty good but then on the Sunday before the Plains and Peaks I came down with a Migraine and felt really tired and groggy for the next couple of days. I was a bit worried that not spinning the legs in the week leading up to the sportive would be a bad move. However I found that the rest had actually done me good and a run to Holmes Chapel and back on Thursday night found the legs to be in good form, just the body feeling lazy.

Come Sunday morning, it was grey. The heavens had opened and it rained constantly all morning. I rolled up to registration at Bridgewater High School, there were warm welcomes and after a quick signature we were given a number. Looking around the hall, I realised that these guys were regulars at pushing out an 'easy' 100 miles. Everyone seemed to be lean figured clutching their amazingly, expensive bikes. Me and my Dave Hinde felt a little out of place!

After an introductory briefing, we headed out on the route. I was first out with a group of 5, soon to be joined by a further 3. In the first mile, the pace was good enough to get the heart rate up and legs going. The next couple of miles the pace stepped up and was very high. I was struggling to keep up and found myself being slipped off the back. I think it was because I hadn't warmed up and the pace was a shock to a still sleeping system. I couldn't be dropped from this group. I pushed hard out of the saddle to keep in touch and eventually I clawed my way back on. Within the next mile or so my body eventually got it's self together and all was ok.

After that I rode comfortably and the 8 of us roared through the country lanes. The pace was good, we got to Alderley Edge is less than 2 hours from Stockton Heath, that was even with a headwind.

I say I rode well, I got dropped dramatically up Alderley Edge hill. Right off the back. I kept calm, from my other rides I learnt not to panic and chugged up at my own pace, keeping my breathing right and fighting past the burning thighs. I got to the top and thankfully a feedstop.

The ride back from Alderley Edge was good, rolling along country roads. I was joined by Graham from the morning's group and together we ate up the miles back home. The only trouble I had was in the last 5 miles, I think with the talking I had lost track of eating. A small drag soon made sure my legs lost any sort of energy. A quick gel sorted that out and the last 2 miles were fine.

The time: 4 hours 5 minutes. Nearly half an hour quicker than Manchester to Blackpool and this time I only stopped once. I was chuffed and I felt good at the end. Ok, I was covered in mud, soaking wet, my shoes had small lakes in them but the legs felt great, not sore or aching.

I would recommend entering next year. There was about 50 of us this year but there is certainly room for growth. The route was nice, riders friendly and the support staff were great.

Manchester to Blackpool Review

The annual Manchester to Blackpool ride has been going for donkeys of years, my Nan used to ride it back in the day! This year proceedings kicked off at Old Trafford, home to Manchester United. This was a really good idea by the organisers, previous years have seen it start in the center of Manchester meaning having to pay £10,000,000 for car parking. Old Trafford had masses of car parking space and all free too.

Rolling up to the car park it was great to see such a turnout, the car park was full, with mini buses dropping off further groups of riders. Signing on was easy, I was glad I had pre-booked our entries as 8am seemed the best time to be setting off for most riders. Having to queue up for 15 minutes to pay, then another 10 minutes to the start would have been too long. Having pre-booked we simply queued for 10 minutes, handed in our entry card and got a map in return (not that you needed one as it was very well signposted).

The ride to Blackpool took in the sights and sounds of Wolseley, Leigh, Wigan, Haigh Hall, Leyland, Chorley, Preston, Preston Docks, Lythm St Annes and finally Blackpool. The ride was pretty flat, the hills were no issue at all, all were easily done in the big ring and were more long drags than sharp climbs.

Between Haigh Hall and Preston Docks was the best part for me, open country lanes and a quiet bypass allowed to dig deep and get some speed in. The worst part was the final 10 miles, a strong headwind was tough work, luckily I got some help from Harvey Hutchinson and we got rotating on the front. The long, long, long 5 mile drag into Blackpool with the headwind and heavy traffic was tiring and I suffered cramp towards the end. The finish was fantastic, a sprint from the traffic lights down the promenade right by the sea front with hundreds of people shouting and cheering you on.

The support of the general public through out the ride was great. The whole 60 miles had people watching at the side of the roads, shouting and cheering on, especially when you were attacking or digging deep.

Dangerous

It was great to see so many riders of all abilities out there. There must have been 10,000 riders on the route, however this lead to problems. The roads, especially for the first and last 20 miles, when we were going through towns were totally jammed with bikes. In my opinion it was really unsafe for both riders and drivers. It was the first time I've ever seen an event this busy.

People also unfortunately rode carelessly, keeping more than two abrest in built up areas and even if they were two abrest they were taking up nearly the whole road! Slow riders were not keeping to the left, some even sat right in the middle of the road. Many didn't look over their shoulder when moving out and one guy nearly spat in my face at one point because he wasn't looking.

This chaos all meant that cars couldn't overtake, and that in return caused faster riders to overtake both bikes and cars. The constant slowing down and sharp acceleration to get past everything was a pain and wasted valuable energy.

I also ride in SPD-SL's which makes it very hard to stop and start quickly so I was constantly on the edge looking ahead for riders pulling out which was also tough when concentrating on keeping focused on my own ride.

In my opinion it was far too busy to go through town centres. It was totally unsafe and the organisers must either reconsider the route next year or limit numbers. It will be a shame to limit numbers as the ride does great things for Christies but safety must be paramount.

Conclusion

I was chuffed with my ride, the legs felt good, the bike was great and despite being slowed down numerous times (together with the strong headwind) I managed a time of 4 hours 25 minutes. If I had a clearish run, I believe, I could have got close to 4 hours. I was really chuffed with my constant speed, at one point I had a train of 6 riders behind me and they dropped off. It was also good that even in the last 200 metres I had a good, fast sprint in me.

Manchester to Blackpool is a great ride, especially for those starting out on Sportives. The ride takes in riders of all qualities, lots of different charities, fancy dress, road bikes and mountain bikes.

There were tons of feed stops, 5 in total stocked up with food, drink and mechnicals. Food and drink was well priced, £3 quid would get you a drink, sandwich and banana. You can be assured that you will never ride alone and that there will always be someone of your ability. If the family isn't coming down to support you can either pre-book a bus back home or we got the train back to Manchester for £15, although be aware they only let 5 bikes on per train!

I would definitely recommend Manchester to Blackpool to anyone. I'll be back next year for a sub 4.

Tour de France 2009

Well the cycling team presentations got underway today in Monaco. This year's Tour De France is shaping to be one of the best with a huge number of riders in the running to win the overall.

A 180 riders will take on 21 days of solid riding, taking on 3,500km. There are 2 individual time trials, the first being the opening stage in Monaco and 1 team time trial which Garmin Slipstream will be looking to take back after Columbia won in the Giro. There is 7 mountain stages altogether with the riders taking on the incredible Mount Ventoux on the penultimate stage. Mount Ventoux is the highest point in Provence, with the riders climbing over 1,800 metres. Mount Ventoux is so vicious that it even has it's own micro climate and claimed the life of british rider Tom Simpson. Never before has a mountain appeared 24 hours before Paris, and could potentially decided the Tour there and then.

Just before the start, Cervelo launched a new cycling team kit, a refreshing white in the baking summer heat of France while Mark Cavendish's Columbia Highroad announced a new sponsor, mobile phone manufacturer HTC. They are now called Columbia-HTC. Sad news that promising climber Dan Martin had to pull out with an injury.

So who to win?

My call is on Astana's Alberto Contador. He looked sharp in the Giro and also Paris-Nice, he has improved on his time trialling which with his exceptional climbing will really help him. He has a very strong team behind him with Armstrong and Leipheimer, who could also be potential winners themselves.

Last year's winner Carlos Sastre returns this time with the Cervelo Test Team. He has fantastic equipment, a nice team behind him and would be one to watch out for going solo on Mount Ventoux.

Cadel Evans has come second twice now, he looked strong in the Giro but he suffers from a bad temper in the field and has no strong support from his team. He has incredible drive and determination and he could do it albeit on his own.

And then there is Lance Armstrong, back from the dead to take a record 8th Tour de France. Can he do it? He has improved considerably but I don't think he can. I can't see him matching it against Contador, Sastre and Evans on the climbs. He will give it a good go, I just hope he supports the real contender in his team first, Contador.

It will also be interesting to see how Andy and Frank Schleck get on in their Saxo Bank team, definately ones to watch in the climbs.

And Mark Cavendish? It is told that he won't be challenging for the green sprinters jersey and going more for stage wins. I believe he can win the green jersey, he is looking fitter than ever, made good decisions throughout the season (such as to pull out of the Giro) and he will get to France.

Also watch out for British riders Bradley Wiggins and David Millar who are look very strong. I'll be keeping an eye on Bradley Wiggins who has improved dramatically and looking very lean. Incredible time triallist and may spring a surprise on the climbs.

All in all this year's Tour de France will be incredible. The full list of riders and teams can be found here. Footage everyday on Eurosport and ITV 4.