Nibali wears yellow in Cambridge.

Nibali wear yellow in Cambridge

Vincenzo Nibali is not a name that trips off the tongue but one that I will remember with pride for a very long time. Seeing Vincenzo Nibali the “Mailott jaune” riding through the streets of Cambridge with fellow riders on the 7th July for the 3rd Stage of the 2014 Tour de France brought a big lump to my throat.  Why you ask? From March 2014 I had been employed by Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Council to promote stage 3 to it’s residents, so seeing thousands of people lining the streets, experiencing the deafening roar as the riders passed and seeing the greatest bike riders in the world in the greatest bike race, right in front of me was truly amazing.

The Devil and I

 

The Devil and Me 2009 Monte Carlo

My interest in the Tour de France goes back as long as I can remember and inspires me each year to ride more, ride harder and to be more ambitious.  After witnessing the 1st stage in 2009 which saw Fabian Cancellara win the time trial I was mesmerized.  That stage was in Monte Carlo, a more classic backdrop you just couldn’t imagine.

Among my highlights of that day were meeting the famous “Devil” and also Sean Kelly a legend of the tour.

2009 was one of the first times that electronic gears were used on the time trial bikes, which you could clearly hear as the riders flicked their levers on the steep climbs round the circuit.  Other than the tremendous speed of the riders the other thing that captured my imagination at that time was the helicopters.  Each rider, on setting off at 2 minute intervals, was tracked by the helicopter. Behind each rider was a car bearing the riders name on the bonnet all accompanied by flashing lights sirens and thousands of spectators it was truly spectacular.

Since that day I’ve dreamed of  my own helicopter hovering above me, and behind me a car with my name on. Although I know that will never happen, it certainly makes me ride faster, even on a wet windy day in Derbyshire.

2014 has been a difficult year in my life beginning with the death of my father, who loved to cycle and rode his bike almost everyday, it was shortly after his death that I got a job working on the Tour de France.

Although my father rarely gave compliments I felt sure that he would be proud of my new appointment and my contributions to the greatest bike race on earth.

I worked hard for 4 months, planning, organising and working with colleagues to both make sure Cambridge was appropriately branded with lamp post banners, posters, bunting etc.. and to make sure local residents were aware of the significant disruptions which would affect them on July 7th (a Monday).  This we achieved effectively with a few stressful moments but in the main everything we set out to achieve we did.

Stephen Roche

Stephen Roche 1987 TdF Winner

On the night before the race I was on duty capturing images of the build up, and couldn’t believe my luck when I was introduced to Stephen Roche one of only two riders to win the “Triple Crown” Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and the World road race championships.

So to race day.  Walking into Cambridge at 7 am it was a beautiful day and crowds were already starting to gather. Tour makers were being briefed and the Council were removing bikes locked to railings.  I was looking forward to a historic day.  As part of my role on the Social Media side I had a list of images to send through to control to posted, I worked my way round taking pictures of the crowd, start line, tour buses, big screen and of course the riders.

Just before the start I was given access to the “Tour Village” a secure area where media, riders and officials relaxed and went about their business, it was quite a privilege.  I felt like a little boy in a sweet shop, everywhere I looked there were riders, team mangers and beautiful girls (all dressed in yellow of course).  I took my photo’s then moved on towards the start, as I’d got this far I thought I would ride my luck and walk down the inside of the barriers where riders were gathering, nobody stopped me! It felt like an out of body experience, was I really walking down to the Tour de France start with the worlds greatest riders all around me? I was and in the end as I didn’t have a security pass I decided it would be best to leave voluntarily rather than be ejected which would have been embarrassing, so I hopped over the fence.

Helicopter Stage 3

My Helicopter – I wish :-)

Trying to get to the start on the other side of the barrier was impossible and I had to give up, just too many people.  As I was making my way over to Trumpington Street I got a text from a friend telling me she thought “My Helicopter” had arrived!  It certainly felt like that, I was almost floating down the road with excitement.  A few minutes later the peleton came past preceded by the procession, service cars and numerous police and gendarmerie. Right in the centre was Vincenzo Nibali, the Yellow Jersey – a moment I will remember for the rest of my life..

The Great Basketball Swindle

GB Men at the 2012 Olympics

Introduction

It is with sadness that I find myself writing this blog about the “Great Basketball Swindle” which has seen basketball in Great Britain gradually become swept under the carpet, and now seems to be regarded by many in authority to be a second rate sport.

Back in November 2013 I was really excited to be taken on as the Digital Communications Manager at GB Basketball.  Basketball was a sport I knew nothing about at the time, but what I did know was that it had a great image, was popular all over the world and was especially strong in the inner cities.

Having spent much of my time in previous professional roles trying to create more of, and better opportunities for people to participate in sport at grass roots level, it was a welcome change to be focusing on those at the elite end of the spectrum.

To begin with I was in awe of many of the GB Players, who in general had gone through the UK system and were now playing for some of the top clubs in the world. But as each week progressed and I researched each player to write a weekly update for the website, I felt as if I got to know them and to some extent understood their motivations and what made them tick.

Role Models

The link between grass roots, club, college, county, national and international became clearer and clearer the more research and writing I did. In all it’s estimated that about 350,000 people in the UK play basketball at least once a week, but of course we know only very few of these will ever make it through to the elite ranks.

However as is usual with all sport, most of those who play, aspire to be the best they can be, and perhaps move up to the next level.  We often talk about role models in sport, and basketball in the UK has many. To name but a few, Luol Deng, Andrew Sullivan, Stef Collins and Johannah Leedham.

Luol Deng is a great example of a role model and has an interesting story too. Born in Wau, Sudan (now South Sudan) he is a member of the Dinka ethnic group. As a young boy he moved with his family to Egypt to escape the Second Sudanese Civil War. In Egypt, he met former NBA center Manute Bol, another Dinka, who taught Deng’s older brother, Ajou Deng, how to play basketball while also serving as a mentor for Luol himself. When they were granted political asylum, his family emigrated to Brixton, South London.

While living in Brixton he played for Brixton Basketball Club. He was spotted at the London Youth Games, and progressed to play for England and Great Britain. Deng went to college in the U.S and subsequently went on to play for NBA Teams Chicago Bulls and Cleveland Cavaliers. It is estimated that he now has a Net Worth of $30 million, but he hasn’t forgotten his roots and through his foundation, he recently launched a basketball academy in South London.

Zero funding awarded

Great Britain Basketball who manage the elite teams are funded by UK Sport. On February 4th 2014 I travelled down to London to hear UK Sports decision on whether they would continue to fund Basketball. As I entered the office at 10 am it felt as if someone had died, the room was in silence.  I said “You know don’t you?” the reply came back “Yes we got zero funding”, I didn’t know what to say.  The announcement was embargoed until 2 pm so we had until then to prepare our responses to the public and the sporting world.

The reason given for “Zero” funding was that Basketball had not hit it’s performance targets and that they did not have a realistic chance of a medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics. This may have been the case but was removing all funding the right thing to do?

We decided to focus on all the progress GB Basketball had made in the last few years, and developed the “achievements campaign” to try and turn the tide, reverse the decision and perhaps even change the criteria applied to funding.

At 2 pm there was a media frenzy, the Performance Chairman Roger Moreland had 14 interviews that day across London with journalists eager to get his reaction, which was disappointment, frustration and anger.  The main point he made was that “Team Sports” were being treated unfairly by the funding system, it was much harder to reach the top level in a sport which is played all over the world, and where a whole team has to perform. If sports like basketball in the UK were ever going to achieve an Olympic medal, funding could not be turned on and off. The current focus on medals was not in the best interests of sport in this country.

Performance Chairman Roger Moreland’s reaction

Social Media campaign

So with this as a background we set about launching a social media campaign #nolegacy4bball, a hashtag which represented how we felt.  The 2012 Olympics has been hosted with a focus on legacy, we now felt that basketballs legacy had been killed off, how would this effect young people just starting out. No National Teams to aspire to, no more role models, no aspirations to go to the next level (which was gone) and therefore NO LEGACY!

We focused our campaign on these achievements:

  1. Two GB Players nominated for FIBA Europe Player of the Year
  2. In the 2012 Olympics GB Men lost by 1 point 79-78 to Spain who went on to win Silver
  3. In the 2012 Olympics GB Women lost in overtime to France who went on to win Silver
  4. Both GB Teams now ranked in top 25 in the world compared to 75 plus in 2008
  5. GB Under 20 and England Under 18 teams now play in FIBA Division A
  6. In recent years 6 British players have been nominated for European Championship teams, including one MVP
  7. Basketball is the second biggest team sport after football in the UK.
  8. British players are now the 3rd highest group outside the USA playing in the NCAA Division 1 (55 Players)

#Nolegacy4ball

The campaign was a great success to in terms of raising the issues and challenging the current system, the #nolegacy4bball achieved 3.5 million timeline deliveries on Twitter in an eight week period.

Unfortunately all of our efforts were in vain and at the UK Sport appeal on March 19th GB Basketball were once again told they would receive no funding.  Not long after this myself and colleagues were informed our services would no longer be required, and ‘shell shocked’ basketball administrators began to explore other funding possibilities and to decide which teams could be run and which could not.  To date no solution has been found and many of the GB Teams futures are in question.

I genuinely  hope a solution can be found and that UK Sport will rethink it’s ‘Medal focused’ funding strategy in exchange for a more long term approach. If not the 2012 Legacy for basketball in the UK may be lost forever, thousands of children may never step on court and basketball will be something that happens on the TV.

Below in chronological order is a list of the articles which I wrote for GB Basketball

  1. GB’S DOMINIQUE ALLEN LEADS FRENCH CLUB COB CALAIS TO LF2 FINAL FOUR
  2. GB’S RACHAEL VANDERWAL LEADS UL HUSKIES TO IRISH PREMIER LEAGUE FINAL
  3. GB’S STEPH GANDY TOP SCORES AS HATTERS SECURE 19TH ENGLAND BASKETBALL DIVISION 1 TITLE
  4. SEASON-HIGH POINTS SCORING AND REBOUNDING FOR GB’S TEMI FAGBENLE
  5. GB’S RACHAEL VANDERWAL LEADS UNIVERSITY OF LIMERICK TO FOURTH LEAGUE TITLE
  6. CAREER HIGH 23 POINTS FOR GB’S ELLA CLARK IN NCAA
  7. GB TRIO DOMINATE FOR SHEFFIELD HATTERS
  8. CUP FINAL DOUBLE-DOUBLE FROM GB’S STEF COLLINS NOT ENOUGH TO STOP TEAM NORTHUMBRIA
  9. SHEFFIELD HATTERS STAY TOP WITH GB PLAYERS OUT IN FORCE
  10. WILDCATS WIN BIG AT BETTY CODONA CLASSIC
  11. FIFTH STRAIGHT DOUBLE-DOUBLE FOR GB’S TEMI FAGBENLE
  12. GB’S STEPH GANDY DOMINATES IN HATTERS VICTORY OVER RIDERS!
  13. THIRTY POINTS FOR VANDERWAL AS HUSKIES TOP PREMIER LEAGUE
  14. FOURTH DOUBLE-DOUBLE FOR TEMI FAGBENLE
  15. SPOTLIGHT ON GB SENIOR WOMEN
  16. GB PLAYERS HOME AND AWAY – WEEKEND ROUND-UP

 

 

 

 

 

One thousand kids experience Olympic Legacy


On 5th July 2013 over 1000 children from across Nottinghamshire competed in the Sainsbury’s School Games.  The event which is held twice a year was the culmination of hundreds of level 2 (qualifying events) which had taken place across the county in the months leading up to the final.  All eight of Nottinghamshire’s districts and boroughs took part in a range of sports consisting of athletics, table tennis, tennis, netball, football, cricket, rounders, golf, tag rugby, boccia, mini basketball and basketball.

The competition was preceded by an inspiring opening ceremony at the University of Nottingham’s Park Campus, where there were performances from 13 year old Holly Fallon, pictured below.

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Holly gave an impressive rendition of ‘The Worlds Greatest’ and was interviewed about her choice of song by young leaders from the Nottinghamshire Leadership Academy Network. She told them that she thought the song represented the values of the School Games and that the message was ‘If you try hard enough, and believe in yourself, dreams can come true’.  Jason Gardener (Olympic Gold Medalist) and Charlotte Henshaw (Paralympic Silver Medalist) certainly agreed with this message and during their interview with Tom Burrows (Young Leader) they described their own journeys to the tops of their sports and told the young people how they had started their careers but competing in school sport just like them.

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Pictured – Tom Burrows interviewing Charlotte Henshaw and Jason Gardener.

The opening ceremony also had performances from Oakfield Dance Group who performed a contemporary dance piece inspired by the School Games values of teamwork and determination, the performers were from Oakfield School and Sports College.  They were supported by Holly Fallon who sang ‘Titanium’.

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Pictured – A performer from the Oakfield Dance Group

At the Nottinghamshire School Games we always like to end the opening ceremony with a memorable act which captures the imagination of the young people and ‘fires’ them up for the days competition.  This year was no exception and the honor went to Excelsior School of Dance who qualified for the event by winning the ‘Dance 4′ county dance festival ‘Episodes’.

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Pictured – Excelsior School of Dance in full flow

Sporting Champions provided us with a fantastic compere for the event, a young athlete call Julz Adeniran, Julz who has represented England on several occasions has a personal best for the 110m Hurdles of 13.72 and is ranked in the top 5 Nationally.  Julz introduced all the acts and guests are really spread some of his enthusiasm to the young people (and some old :-) ) when on several occasions he got the audience doing countdowns, cheering and generally raising the roof.

Several local dignitaries attended along with representatives of many of the UK’s most well known sporting organisations, they were thrilled by the opening ceremony and many stayed on to watch the days competitions. Councillor John Knight, Committee Chairman for Culture at Nottinghamshire County Council, said: “Well done to everyone who took part in the summer Nottinghamshire School Games. It has been a wonderful opportunity to showcase sport within our schools in the county and great news that so many children took part.”

The highlight of the day for me was witnessing an Olympic Gold Medal winning sprinter race against the children at the Sportshall Athletics.  Jason was greeted by deafening screams of excitement as he went into the arena, he was handed the microphone and asked the children ‘OK so who thinks they’re fast?‘ ‘I do!‘ they all screamed. ‘OK who thinks they’re faster than me?‘ again ‘I do‘ they all screamed. This was fantastic to see and was raising the hairs on the back of my neck.  Eight children were nominated by their teams to take part in the race, and with a little help from Jason, Corie Cote, of Ryton Park School, pipped him on the line.  For one little boy he would be able to say he’d beaten an Olympic Gold Medalist for the rest of his life.

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On your marks, get set, GO!!! (Jason Gardener races all comers at the School Games)

We hope that Corie may perhaps carry on to emulate his new hero Jason Gardener, but more than that we hope that the young people who competed at the Sainsbury’s School Games will be inspired to make sport and physical activity part of their lives.  In conclusion we’d like to thank all the leaders, volunteers and organisations who helped us to make this event possible.  Special thanks go to Sainsbury’s who have invested £10m to help us ensure that our young people get the best opportunities and experiences from sport in their county.

Photo’s by Eleri Tunstall of Ikootu Photography

This article is written by Ian Wakefield and first appeared on the Sport Nottinghamshire website.

Milk Race 2013 – Nottingham

Christian house and Ed Clancy

The history of the Milk Race is legendary in the UK having run from 1958 right up to the last race in 1993, which was the last time the race came to Nottingham.

So as a lifelong cycling enthusiast it was with great excitement that I made my way to Nottingham city centre on Sunday (26th of May) to witness the revival of one of the greatest British bike races. The revival was brought to life by Anthony Doyle MBE, a former professional cyclist who was World Pursuit Champion in 1980 and 1986.

Unlike the original Milk Race the format of the 2013 race was a criterium, meaning that the cyclists ride a circular course for a set time/number of laps, or sometimes a combination of the two, until you have a winner.

The commentators described Sunday’s course as a tight technical, but fast, three-quarter mile route which centered on Market Square and the Council House in Nottingham.

The day began with a fun ride for families and non-competitive riders around the city centre course.  Some concern was raised before the race over tramlines and how safe they would be to ride over, but the race organisers had temporarily filled the tramlines on sections of the course where this might have been an issue. The focus on families and fun was supported on the day by a collection of cartoon characters merrily dancing their way round the square, and lots of opportunities for kids to try out different bikes and of course a plentiful supply of milk.

Womens Elite Race

The first professional race of the day was the Elite Womens Race, which took place over 50 minutes plus 5 laps.  First prize was £1,000 (the same as the mens’ race).

The favourites for the Elite Womens Race were Emma Trott (Sister of Laura Trott, a double Olympic Gold Medalist and World Champion on the Track) and Dani King from Southampton who won Gold in the 2012 Olympic Team pursuit and is also a double World Champion in the same discipline. The race was started by Dame Sarah Storey, herself a winner of 11 Paralympic Gold Medals.

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The racing was fast and furious with Dani King showing her class early on to pull out a quarter mile lead.  By the end of the race Dani had stretched her winning margin to almost a whole lap. The thousands of spectators lining the route were generous in their appreciation for her display of speed, confidence and endurance. The chasing group crossed the line a few minutes later in a bunched sprint with Hannah Barnes (MG-MaxiFuel) coming in second and Amy Roberts (Wiggle-Honda) third. For the record, my vote for most aggressive rider would certainly be for Emma Trott who consistently made big efforts to ride off the front and she was rewarded with 7th place.

Final Placings:
1 Danielle King – Wiggle Honda – 59:33:00
2 Hannah Barnes – MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
3 Amy Roberts – Wiggle Honda
4 Emily Kay – Scott Contessa Epic
5 Annabel Simpson – Team Hope Factory Racing
6 Charlene Joiner – MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
7 Emma Trott – Boels Dolmans
8 Hayley Jones – Node 4 / Giodana Racing
9 Jessie Walker – Matrix Fitness Racing Academy
10 Lucy Martin – Boels Dolmans

Dani King

Pictured: Dani King (Winner Womens Elite)

Varsity Race

Next up was the Varsity Race between the University of Nottingham and their old rival Nottingham Trent University (NTU).  Having some inside knowledge I knew that the NTU team had been training hard for this, but unfortunately they were outclassed on the day by at least half a lap by both University of Nottingham Teams.

My overriding memory of the race was listening to the disbelief of the Commentator that one of the NTU riders was riding a ‘Fixey’ (fixed wheel bike with no gears) with only one brake.  This caused some amusement from the cycling aficionados around me but, to his credit, the guy put on a good show and demonstrated that it was not all about the bike!

Pride of Nottingham

Now was the turn of the ‘Pride of Nottingham’ Race which was in the same format as the Varsity Race;   one lap per rider relay. Among the teams competing were Nottingham City Council, The Ambulance Service, Police Service and Nottingham Panthers.  The race was undertaken in good spirits with some of the competitors in fancy dress and riding a variety of different styles of bike. Joviality aside, every rider gave 100% obviously inspired by previous races, with the eventual winner being ‘Nottingham Panthers’.

Mens Elite Race

The grand finale was the Mens Elite Race which included two high profile Olympians;  Ed Clancy who won Gold in the 2012 Olympics Team Pursuit (also World Champion) and Stephen Burke who won Olympic Gold in 2012 with Ed Clancy in the same event.

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The race was to be over one hour plus 5 laps. Within a couple of laps two riders, Felix English (Rapha Condor) and French rider Alex Blain (Team Raleigh), had broken away to form a 20 second gap over the chasing group. With average speeds of around 30 mph and with less than 6 inches between riders, the race truly was a spectacle to witness close up. Each time the riders lapped the gap between them and the chase group got bigger and bigger.

With suffering etched into every rider’s face as they embraced the pain and summoned as much mental strength as they could muster to hang on to the wheel in front. With each passing lap more and more riders dropped off the back, unable to keep up with the blistering pace. Once they became lapped then they had to ride off the course.  All in all probably only half the field finished the race because of this rule.

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As the race was coming to its final few laps it was obvious that, with the exception of technical incidents or crashes,  the two lone riders would be victorious.  But who would win the final sprint? English and Blaine were trying to surge away from each other. Over and over they tried to break the shadow of the rider behind until finally, on the last lap, Felix English burst away to beat his rival by a few meters on the line.

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In the frenzy of effort to beat each other the pair had gained almost a lap on the main field, who were lead in a few minutes later by Ed Clancy MBE who won the bunch sprint to claim 3rd place.

Final Placings:
1 Felix English – Rapha Condor JLT  -01:08:58
2 Alex Blain – Team Raleigh
3 Edward Clancy – MBE Rapha Condor JLT
4 Tom Moses – Team Raleigh
5 George Atkins – 100% Me
6 David Lines – MG-Maxifuel Pro Cycling
7 James Williamson  - Node 4 Giordana Racing
8 Roman Van Uden – Node 4 Giordana Racing
9 Graham Biggs – Team Raleigh
10 Sam Witmitz  -Team Raleigh

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Pictured: L to R Alex Blaine (2nd), Felix English (Winner) & Ed Clancy MBE (3rd)

Final Thoughts

It would be amiss of me to end this article without making reference to the tremendous vision, commitment and organisational expertise of Nottingham City Council, British Cycling, The Milk Race, Anthony Doyle MBE and its sponsors;   including the Dairy Council, all of whom not only made the event possible but also a truly memorable experience and an event I hope will make a return to Nottingham very soon.

For all my photos from the Milk Race see:

2013

2014

First published by Sport Nottinghamshire

Keeping the Legacy alive

4000 runners took part in this event.

Is there any evidence to suggest that attitudes to sport and physical activity has changed since the Olympics/Paralympics or has all the enthusiasm disappeared with the extinguishing of the flame?

Being a Chartered Marketer and having worked my whole life in sport, this topic is close to my heart, so over the next few hundred words I will attempt to put the case forward for why Marketers should continue to associate their products and services with sport and sports events in the UK and how ultimately this will benefit everyone and not just the bottom line.

The feel-good factor generated by the Olympics can persist if we want it to. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be” Just watching the Olympics, and being caught up in the national enthusiasm, changed how many people felt. This proves that we may have the capacity to change how we feel without going to doctors, dealers, publicans or supermarkets.

In my view sport, art, music and culture all have the ability to help people make up their minds to be happy. As Marketers we know that people who feel happy are much more likely, to buy things, try new things, and commit to healthier lifestyles this presents many opportunities for companies who have positioned themselves appropriately.

The London 2012 Olympics/Paralympics were not isolated events they were part of a planned ‘Decade of Sport’ for the UK, which began with the Ryder Cup in Wales (2010), then moved on to the Olympics/Paralympics 2012. In 2014 we have the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, 3 Tour de France stages, the Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, in 2015 we have the Rugby World Cup. 2017 sees the World Athletics Championships coming to London and in 2019 the ICC Cricket Work Cup comes to England.  This is not an exhaustive list but does give a flavour of what is to come and the many opportunities for ‘Happy People’ that Marketers will be able to engage with over the next few years.

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Part of the Legacy will be more kids enjoying and playing sport.

Yes that’s all very well I hear you say but is there any evidence?  The most comprehensive measurement of the level of physical activity for the general population in England is the ‘Active People Survey’ this has been running since October 2005. Sport England announced in December that during 2012 there had been an increase of 750,000 people playing sports at least once a week since the same time a year ago and 1.57 m more people than in 2005 when UK won the Olympic bid (See Announcement).

To conclude, participation is certainly on the increase which indicates a significant behavioural change. But that’s not the only thing on the increase, major investment from the government and sponsors such as Sainsbury’s (10 million School Games) and Sky (British Cycling circa £20 million to date) is likely to generate more interest, enthusiasm, events and participation.

With the cost of physical inactivity to the UK’s government currently estimated at £900m (Source BHF), investment is only likely to increase.  I urge Marketers to ‘Play the long game’ and to engage with the sporting community, not only to improve their bottom line (and surely it will) but also to help inspire a generation and to keep the ‘Legacy alive’.

Ian Wakefield

Chartered Marketer and Fellow of the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity

Extracts from this article were published in ‘The Marketer’ in May 2013

Tour of Britain 2012


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Article first posted on Sport Nottinghamshire website Sep 2012

Monday 10th September 2012 saw the Tour of Britain come to Nottingham for the first time in 7 years, altogether about 100 riders, including Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish who has now won 23 Tour de France stages and is ranked 4th on the tours all-time list one place ahead of Lance Armstrong, perhaps the worlds most famous cyclist.

My own start to the day was an early one getting into Nottingham at around 6.30 am. Being a keen cyclist and not wanting to be late for this ‘once in a lifetime’ opportunity I didn’t want to get stuck in traffic or risk being late.

The race was scheduled to start at 10 am prompt, from outside Nottingham Castle which was a superb backdrop to such an event. As the sun was coming up I enjoyed watching the frenzy of activity as sponsor hoardings were erected, TV crews turned up, volunteers arrived and then a bit later on of course, hundreds of excited school children, all frantically waving their sponsor flags and wearing Bradley Wiggins masks took their places at the start.

Last but not least, the riders started to arrive, each one of them was required to sign on before the race started, which provided some great photo opportunities right in front of the Robin Hood statue.

I was lucky enough to get a media pass and access to get right up close to the riders.  I tried to imagine how I would feel were I about to ride to Liverpool on a bike – pretty nervous was the answer, but these guys oozed confidence, many of them bronzed from continental races, covered in scars from previous races and some sporting bandages and wounds from only the day before.

On a more light hearted note the talk on the start line was high spirited and I was amused to see ‘Wiggo’ throw his half eaten energy bar at ‘Cav’ like a naughty schoolboy. You certainly couldn’t accuse ‘Wiggo’ of not having a personality could you?

The race started with military precision at 10 am and on leaving the castle, moved through Old Market Square and on to Wollaton Park.  The first part of the race was a virtual procession (Neutralised) and the race proper started at Trowell Road, near the M1, before climbing into Derbyshire and the Peak District.

Australia’s Leigh Howard eventually outsprinted Mark Cavendish to win the stage as it ended in Cheshire, 41/2 hrs later.

Stage Result

Stage Two, Nottingham to Knowsley, 180.7km
1) Leigh Howard, AUS, Orica GreenEDGE, 4:31:09
2) Mark Cavendish, GBR, Team Sky, same time
3) Boy Van Poppel, NED, UnitedHealthcare Pro Cycling, same time
4) Steele Von Hoff, AUS, Garmin – Sharp, same time
5) Russ Downing, GBR, Endura Racing, same time
6) Sep Vanmarcke, BEL, Garmin – Sharp, same time
7) Wesley Kreder, NED, Vacansoleil – DCM, same time
8) Nathan Haas, AUS, Garmin – Sharp, same time
9) Sam Bennett, IRL, AN Post Sean Kelly, + 0.01
10) Luke Rowe, GBR, Team Sky, same time

For all my Tour of Britain photo’s see:

2012

2012 Olympic Mens MTB Race

Leaders Rock Garden

This post is in memory of Burry Stander who was killed today (Jan 3rd 2012) in South Africa by a Taxi whilst out on a training ride. Burry is pictured leading the Olympic MTB race in this posts featured picture – in the ‘Rock Garden’.

I’ve had a life long ambition to go to the Olympics, first as a competitor when I was inspired by the great Daley Thompson in 1980,  and then later as I realised that I was not gifted or talented that I would have to find another way.

On 6 July 2005 when it was announced that London would host the Games,  I was standing in the athletes lounge at Loughborough University (Where I worked) with hundreds of other sports people.  It is a moment I will always remember which raised the hairs on my neck and bought a lump to my throat.

In the years preceding the Games I applied to become a volunteer but with no luck, then tried applying for tickets twice with no luck, then a friend Rob Butcher invited me to come with him to the Olympic Mountain Bike event for which he had spare tickets.

It was Rob who had introduced me to Mountain Biking over 20 years ago so it felt good to be going with him to this special event.

The race didn’t disappoint, the venue at Hadleigh Farm in Essex was a perfect blend of steep climbs, vicious technical descents, and fast rolling sections.  The whole course was set in a bowl so you could follow the racing almost for the whole 4.75 km lap. (7 laps)

Even when you couldn’t see the riders with the naked eye, there were a selection of big screens showing the action so you didn’t lose track.

 

Kulhavy (Czech Rep) takes the lead

My over-riding memory of the event was to see Nino Schurter (current World Champion ) closely pursued by Jaroslav Kulhavy a Czech rider who had his sights set on a Gold medal.

The speed they came past me on the last lap was unbelievable, the lead changed about 6 times in the last few miles and I remember trying to imagine the pain in their legs and the burning in their lungs, but as Emil Zatopek famously said “An athlete cannot run with money in his pockets, only with dreams in his head and hope in his heart“.

Jaroslav Kulhavy achieved his dream on the 12th August 2012 to beat the World Champion and to become Olympic Gold Medalist.

 

World Champion Schurter pursued by Kulhavy Gold Medalist

One rider who deserves a special mention is Adrien Niyonshuti from Rwanda, for him, just getting to the Olympic Games as a competitor was worth more than a dozen Gold Medals.

 

 Niyonshuti comes into the pits

Niyonshuti was 7 years old when the ethnic majority Hutu tribe started to massacre the minority Tutsis. The rampage lasted 100 days, from April to July 1994. Niyonshuti’s six brothers were among the dead. He survived after hiding in the bush for a week with his parents. For some athletes just showing up is glory enough.

That’s not to say he was there to make up the numbers, far from it, he was only 10 minutes behind the World and Olympic Champion, his story will always be a source of inspiration for me.

My Photo’s and words in the Leicester Mercury