Triathlon trouble

Mallorca Triathlon

In some ways, this post is has been one of the most difficult ones to write. Why? because in some respects it represents a personal failure, and would have been easier just to not write about. But having said that, it also represents a moment in my life which I will never forget and one that I want to remember.

It all started in June 2015 when having finished the Four Peaks Moutain Bike race in Austria, my friends and I were discussing what to do next?  After mulling around various ideas we finally agreed on doing a triathlon together.  At that point, which triathlon? and where? had not been decided.

Over the next few months, my best friend of 25 years Mursel Rexhepi, suggested that we should do the Mallorca Olympic Triathlon. In his words ‘the water would be warm and clear, the scenery would be spectacular and it gave us plenty of time to train as it was in April 2016’.  The thought sounded appealing and despite some concerns over my swimming ability, I signed up and set about preparing myself for the challenge.

The swimming

Having been a lifeguard for some 20 years my swimming was OK but easily my weakest event, I knew I wouldn’t be confident swimming in the sea and was unsure I could cover the Olympic distance of 1500m. I joined the local pool and worked my way up gradually so that I was doing 1500m once a week.  My times gradually came down from 48 minutes to 36 minutes for the distance, so things seemed to be going to plan. Until one night after an intense session in the pool, I was having difficulty breathing. After struggling all night to breathe, next day I booked myself in to see a physio.  He advised me that I was suffering from costochondritis, a condition which had most likely been caused by the repeated pulling action, and over-breathing.  This did knock my confidence but fortunately with a few weeks rest and some exercises, I was able to build up the swimming again to 1500m.

The cycling

For the last ten years my primary sport has been cycling, so for this part of the event, I just carried on doing my normal training which averaged about 70 miles per week.  As it would turn out, the biggest challenge for the cycle leg would be to get my bike in competition shape. I noticed one week before the race, that the bottom bracket was seizing, after two bike shops had told me that they couldn’t replace it, as they didn’t have the tools, I was beginning to think I was going to have to hire a bike to race.  After talking to some people ‘in the know’ my last chance was to take the bike to ‘Lifecycles Lowestoft’, who assured me that they could change the bottom bracket before Sunday when I was due to fly out.

After ordering a special tool on an overnight carrier it took the force of four men to free the bottom bracket, which was ceramic and had been in place for about 10 years. When it finally broke free I was told it sounded like a gun going off and they thought they had cracked the frame.  They hadn’t.  I got my bike back the day before my flight and was starting to feel ready to race.

The run

I had a long history of achilles tendinitus  so I knew that this leg was also going to be a challenge.  For months, I did physio exercises to strengthen my right achilles, then I tried to run.  Good news, I was pain-free. Over the next few weeks, I built up to ten miles on the beach.  In hindsight, this was probably too much too soon and the tendinitis appeared in my left leg.  It was so painful I was hobbling for a whole week afterward.  I persevered for a few weeks, but quickly decided the only way I was going to race was if I stopped running and did the physio exercises on the left leg too.

Unfortunately, this just made it worse, causing me to rest it completely and ice it every night for the six weeks leading up to the race. I could at least start the race pain-free, even if afterwards I would be in pain and limping for a week.  Oh to be young again!

Mallorca

Mallorca is a beautiful island off the Spanish coast.  To arrive ready to race with all my body parts working and a bike ready to race was a big relief.

Collonia Sant Jordi

Pictured: The salt lakes in Collonia Sant Jordi, on the first night.

Race preparation

I had already decided not to run in the week before the race because of my delicate Achilles, so the key things to do were to familiarise myself with the bike course and get used to swimming in the sea.  The bike course was a dream.  Long straight roads, through old Spanish towns and with a surface to die for.  A puncture in the first 20 minutes didn’t amuse me but was fixed with the help of friends and we were soon off again.

The swimming was a different matter.  Having not really swum in the sea and never in a wetsuit, it was a new experience for me.  It was windy during the week so quite choppy in the sea.  I practiced swimming up and down the beach with my friends, trying to get used to the salt water, waves, and fish.  I was finding it difficult.  The fear of swimming out into the unknown was quite overwhelming.

I desperately needed a confidence boost. I needed to convince myself I could swim 1500m in a wetsuit. So next day I visited the ‘Best Swim Centre’ an elite 50m swim centre just down the road from the hotel, which had been set up by two former Olympians.  I’d never swum in a 50m pool and even with the added buoyancy of my wetsuit, I was making hard work of it.  My arms and shoulders ached like never before and I stopped swimming after 900m.  I later worked out that the wetsuit wasn’t fully pulled up and consequently was restricting my shoulder movement and making it difficult to swim.  I must take the time to make sure the wetsuit was fitted properly I kept saying to myself.

That afternoon I decided that to swim right out to sea was beyond my capability.  I’d made up my mind. I wasn’t going to race.  I got on my bike and went to find my friends Mursel and Kathy to tell them of my decision.  Of course, they tried to persuade me that I could do it, but I was frightened and had made up my mind. That afternoon I punished myself for my lack of bottle. I rode out on the bike like a man possessed.  Thirty minutes later  I was at a lighthouse called Cap de Ses Salines.  I was a lonely thought provoking place.  A place where over many years people like me had remembered the dead by piling rocks into little towers.

Cap des Ses Salines

Pictured: My bike at the Cap de Ses Salines Lighthouse

I was very emotional.  I thought of my late father and built a little pile of rocks in his memory.  I looked at the waves crashing all around me and looked deep into my soul to ask myself whether I could do the swim.  During the ride back I decided that I should wait until Friday afternoon at the technical briefing before making my decision.

During the next two days, I thought about all the obstacles and challenges I had overcome previously.  There were many.  I thought about my nephews, and about how scared they were each time they went to a big competition, and about how they looked up to me for an example.  How I always encouraged them to do their best, to have a go.  If I didn’t start this race, could I really say that I had done those things?  No was the answer I came up with.  I must face my fears.

At the technical briefing, I asked one of the former Olympic swimmers for his advice to me as a very  nervous first-time sea swimmer. He said to me,”Wait until everyone else has run into the water, look up every ten strokes so you can pick out the buoys, stay calm and take your time.  Swim near someone if you can.  There are rescue boats, and if you get into trouble just put your hand up.”

This sounded like sound advice and I decided to do the race.  My friends were pleased that I had decided to join them.

Race day

With 1 hr sleep that night, race day had come.  I must have swum the channel and back in my head that night, and now I just wanted to get on the start line.  After breakfast, I met my friends on the beach, and we arranged our kit in the transition area, put on our wetsuits and waited for the ten-minute call.

Men were to go off first with women 7 minutes later. I remembered the swimmers advice, and on the hooter I waited for everyone to run into the sea.  I followed slowly and tried to relax into a slow rhythmic  pace.  I was near my friend Mursel, who encouraged me with regular shouts.  The water got deeper and deeper, the shore got further and further away and the buoys gradually came closer and closer. We had to negotiate 5 buoys in a semicircle clockwise around the bay.  Up until buoy three, I was feeling fine.  My confidence wavered as a wave hit me and knocked me off my rhythm, I switched to breast stroke for a while, to catch my breath.  Breaststroke, crawl, breaststroke, crawl.  I was going to get round one way or another.

The rescue

Suddenly I felt something hit me on the back of the head.  I quickly realised it was the elite women. The lead group swam right over me.  I coughed and spluttered a bit and carried on, but I was starting to feel weaker and the buoys weren’t getting any closer.  Soon I was alone, no swimmers were near me and the waves were getting bigger.  I started to panic and decided that NOW would be a good time to put my hand up.  But nobody saw me.  I rolled over onto my back to try and get my breath but waves were coming over me. I kicked my legs and raised my arm again.  Still nobody.  I could see a lighthouse, I thought it was  on the shore where I needed to swim to, and starting swimming crawl again towards it.  More waves came over me, I put my hand up again.  This time, a lifeguard in a kayak paddled over to me and told me to hold on.

I was breathless and panting like a dog, he tried to pull me on board but the kayak nearly turned over, so we waited for the rescue boat. Four Spanish men hauled me on board, I sat coughing and wheezing, just looking at the floor of the boat and trying to gather my thoughts.  Yes, I was relieved I had been rescued, but at the same time felt such a feeling of failure.

My friends

Once I’d got back on dry land, I went to cheer on my friends Mursel and Kathy.  Both first-time triathletes they were going well, and not known for giving up on anything.  My sadness became joy as I saw them coming round lap after lap of the run, they were going to finish and in excellent time (Mursel 2.33 & Kathy 2.54).  I was so pleased for them and so proud.

M_K_1

Pictured: Mursel and Kathleen Rexhepi

What did I learn?

I learned that especially in a sea swim it’s important that your competence is equal to your bottle.  An Olympic Triathlon is not to be taken lightly.  My intention for the future will be to improve my swimming, practice open water swimming, build up with shorter distances and be very sure of myself before doing another 1500m swim at sea.

Final thoughts

In the end, you are the only one who can make the decision to do it, or not do it.  You are the only one who can motivate yourself to train.  But having the support and encouragement of friends makes it easier and much more fun.  I am looking forward to the next challenge.

Race winner was Rickard Carlsson in 1.50.52, overall second and first woman was Emma Pallant (GBR) in 1.52.03.  Full results.

Event website.

 

Charlie goes to the All England

ESSA_Intermediates_7

This is my story of the day my nephew Charlie Wakefield ran for the first time in the English Schools Athletic Association (ESAA) All England Cross Country Championships.

Having been an athlete all my life, I had dreamed as a boy on many occasions about being good enough to represent my county at the All England Schools Cross Country, despite determination and dedication my lack of ability ensured I was never quite fast enough to be in the top eight runners in my county and thus never ran in the All England.

To find now, that all these years later my nephew has both the determination, dedication and talent to be the best runner not only in his county but in the Eastern Counties fills me with enormous pride, and in some ways fulfills my own boyhood dream.

The night before the race I was at my brothers house and was invited to see Charlie to bed. His bedroom was like a treasure trove of gleaming silver and gold, every space, shelf and wall being filled with trophies, shields and ribbons.  I asked him which he was most proud of?  He picked up a big shield with nameplates going back to the 1970s.  The shield was the Norfolk “County” Shield for the Colts Cross Country winner (Under 13).  I looked closely at the shield to see many names I recognised from the past, the first being Carl Smith who I’d first met and challenged to a race in 1978 at a football match in North Lynn (I lost).  Carl Smith was already representing England when I met him,  a few years later I met him at college and remembered the blond haired boy who literally won all the cross country races by miles.  Now he smoked and seemed to be fairly inactive.  The last time I saw him was at the National Colleges Cross Country Final at Wollaton Park, Nottingham in 1986.  Despite not training and smoking he still beat me by a considerable margin.

The other name which stood out was Darren Mead, who won the trophy twice. At 17 he had the fastest time for his age group in the UK for 1o miles with 48.45. Unsurprisingly he represented England on several occasions peaking in 1986 with 39th place at the World Junior Cross Country in Switzerland.

Charlie was indeed in good company,  my head was full of thoughts of what the future for him might be. I wished him good night and went off to bed myself.

Wollaton_hall_1.jpg

Wollaton Hall, Nottingham was a stunning venue for the event.

After a long drive to Nottingham with his mum Caroline and his coach, Charlie (13) was ready to race.

To qualify for the race every boy had come in the top eight at their own county championships, the prize on the day was the honour of representing England, which was bestowed only on the first eight finishers.

Watching 400 boys in a line waiting for the starting gun to fire is a sight guaranteed to raise the hairs on your neck. BANG! and they’re off.  The determination on the boys faces was obvious for all to see, the pain too.  In the 4.2km race, two of the young athletes pushed themselves beyond their limits and needed the paramedics.  Whilst this was sad to see, it also demonstrated how hard they were pushing.

Here is a short video covering the race:

I saw Charlie run past on both laps, and filled with pride shouted “Go Charlie!”, no noise came out of my mouth, perhaps because I was overcome with emotion.

It wasn’t until after the race I found out that Charlie had lost his shoe after about 150m in thick mud.  I was impressed that he had continued without it and run the whole race with one shoe.  Charlie came 81st from a field of 328, as a 13-year-old he still had plenty of time left in the Junior Boys which was for under 15s. His time of 16:40 over 4.2k was less than 90 seconds behind the winner Harris Mier.

IMG_6421.JPG

“Shoeless Charlie Wakefield” Number 446

Am I proud of Charlie? Yes of course, but also inspired by all those who took part and pleased for my brother Jeremy and his wife Caroline who tirelessly support both children to compete in the sports they enjoy.

What the future holds for “Shoeless Charlie Wakefield” who knows? but one thing is for sure, he runs like the wind……

For Nephew Harry – your time will come, and I will be there too.

Update: on 13th March 2016 Charlie was positioned 20 in the Inter Counties Cross Country in Birmingham (Under 13), he was the highest place finisher from the Eastern Counties.

Protective Four Peaks – Austria

Ian Wakefield

What is the Four Peaks?

OK, I agree it’s a rubbish name for a bike race, however, what used to be the Trans Germany has now become the Four Peaks and is rapidly becoming the best-known European mountain bike stage race.  One thousand participants ride more than 270 kilometers and climb more than 8,860 altitude in meters.  The event is estimated to attract more than 10,000 spectators at the stage locations.

Preparations

I was one of those 1000 competitors, and over the preceding 9 months had prepared myself for the challenges to come.  Or so I thought. Preparing to race across the Alps and training for it in the flat lands of Norfolk is far from ideal and being accident prone didn’t help either, six weeks before the start I hit the deck on a wet slippery road in Macedonia and broke my little finger in two places.  Big deal I hear you say, but would I really be able to hold onto the handlebars tight enough with a broken finger on descents? to cap it all, on a rainy ride to Beccles three days before the start, I once again hit the deck, and now had road rash all down the right side of my body and left, with big bruises across my left thigh, and a broken finger.

Excuses over then, I flew out to Salzburg on Monday 15th June 2015 where I met my long time friends Mursel and Kathleen Rexhepi who had just completed three weeks training in the Swiss Alps.  We drove to the starting location of the race, a beautiful town called Bad Kleinkirchheim.  I couldn’t pronounce it either so it became “Bad Clench and Climb” which amused my friends.

The Tuesday was spent preparing the bikes and familiarising ourselves with the routines, locations and arrangements for race day.

That night was a sleepless night, I was very nervous about what was to come. I had so many doubts.  Had I trained hard enough? Had I trained long enough? Would I be able to cope with all the climbing? Would I be able to manage the descents? What if I fell off and bashed my broken finger again? the questions were endless.

Stage 1 (49 km climbing 2349 m)

Billed as the “Hardest day” this was the one that scared me the most it was over 49.36 km and up two major climbs, giving a total elevation of 2349 m.  Each day included an enduro challenge, ranking riders in terms of their speed down the most technical sections.

The first climb went well and I rode within myself to reach the first summit “Wollaner Nock” in good time.  It was at least 4 years since I had ridden down a steep ski slope so had to get off an walk on occasions.  Into the woods half way down and we were onto the enduro section.

In the rain it was very difficult to manoeuvre across the wet roots, sharp rocks, drops and ledges without coming off and I did so on several occasions.  Finding out later that I was roughly three times slower than the leading rider Juri Ragnoli (ITA) over the same section.

Soon enough we came to the second climb up to “Kolmnock Gipfeltrail”, at 10 – 12% for most of the way, until the top which was 31% and required the rider to carry their bike, in most cases it was too steep even to push.  It seemed to take forever to climb this last few hundred meters. Shortly after this I punctured, and with tubeless tires this really was a pain, the tire wall had a sharp cut which was too big to be sealed by the sealant, it took about twenty minutes of messing around to put an inner tube in and get going again.

Once over the top we were on the Franz Klammer World Cup Downhill Ski slope, which varied between -20 and -27% , the track was wet and slippery and with fingers and forearms aching from braking I was relieved to finish Stage 1.

Ian Wakefield

Ian Wakefield – Four Peaks – Stage 1

Stage 2 (91 km climbing 1969 m)

Although stage 2 was the longest stage at 91 km, it was one I was looking forward to as I knew I’d be able to take advantage of my flat speed, one of my only strengths.  Our opening descent out of Bad Kleinkircheim was neutralised, thankfully traffic police had stopped traffic and the 1000 strong peloton snaked it’s way down the winding road to the riverside in Radentheim.  My favourite part of this stage was drafting in large groups through the flat sections, I especially enjoyed leading some of the small groups although really I knew I should be saving my energy.  Riding in a group was proving to be highly effective as we sped past lone riders and small groups who didn’t have enough energy or motivation to jump on the back.

The stage ended fairly uneventfully in Hermagor, a pretty alpine town.  After washing my bike I decided to ride to my hotel rather than catching the bus, a distance of about 8 km.  The hotel (Strasswirt) was beautiful and the owners friendly and helpful.

Ian Wakefield - Stage 2 - Four Peaks

Ian Wakefield – Four Peaks – Stage 2

Stage 3 (59 km climbing 2421 m)

Next morning at 8 am I had an 8 km ride to the start, my friends and most of the other riders were on the bus.  It was a good opportunity to warm up and get rid of some stiffness in my legs.

Whilst waiting for the start I sat in an archway talking to some German riders who told me they were from Dortmund, I told them my dad (Now deceased) had been stationed there in the 50’s, they told me the camps were no longer there and we had a little joke, but I was thinking of my father, his life, his death and wondering whether his spirit was with me.  I had his Royal Artillery lapel badge in my bag, I touched it for good luck and swallowed to avoid being seen with tears in my eyes.

Stage 3 had the biggest single climb of 1300 m, I felt strong up it and went past many of the riders I’d been riding with or near for the last few days, it took me about 2 hrs, which meant I witnessed the two lead riders Christoph Sauser and Juri Ragnoli on their final descent, coming back down (they had completed the climb in about 1 hr roughly twice as quick as me). Before you judge, bear in mind they averaged 380 watts for the whole climb of 1 hr, I averaged about 208 watts for 2 hrs which was absolutely on my limit.

The second part of the stage became a real challenge for me having burnt too much energy on the first climb. With another very tricky technical section just before the second feed station, I was relieved to make it to the finish relatively unscathed.  When I say that, I actually had bruises all down my chest and stomach where the seat had hit me on steep descents, bruises all down the inside of my thighs where I had tried to grip the seat on rocky descents with my thighs, bruises down the front of both thighs and shins from previous crashes and a broken finger.  I realised at this point I was going to have work on my descending technique, as I felt many of the injuries were down to poor technique.

I

Ian Wakefield – Four Peaks – Stage 3

Stage 4 (71 km climbing 2122 m)

Noticing ten minutes before the start that yesterday’s crashes had caused my seat to be broken and was angled at a 45 degree angle to the side wasn’t an ideal start to the stage, but luckily the neutral service team were able to replace it before the gun went off.

The stage started in Tropolach and although it was raining, it was one I was looking forward to as once again it was flatter and longer, I was feeling stronger with the past three days riding now firmly in my legs.  Going into the mountains I rested long enough at the back of each group on the road to save enough energy to go past to the next group on the road, I did this about six times and was feeling good working my way through the field.  On some of the long climbs off road, I worked with other riders and on occasions took advantage of shelter behind stronger riders, leaving them when they ran out of energy.

The enduro on stage 4 was a pleasure and more like the trails I was used to in Thetford, unfortunately due to poor signing and marshaling I and a half dozen other riders went the wrong way, about 2 miles out of our way half way down.

As I approached 60 km in the pouring rain and mist I dared to think I was going to finish, each climb seemed to become longer, the skies became darker, I became colder but I knew I was getting closer to the end.  Eventually in the distance I could see a peak and I could see the sun shining through, this must be the final climb I kept saying to myself.  As I went over the top, the sun did indeed shine on me, a feeling of warmth came over me and I looked at the sky and said “Dad I’m going to finish”, somehow I felt he was with me.  I remembered his final bike ride to the post office before collapsing with a heart attack and it brought tears to my eyes. I wondered what he would have thought about me on this Austrian mountain, would he have been proud, maybe, maybe not, but what I did know is that I was proud to be his son.

The final descent was truly exhilarating and so close to the finish I was letting the bike run longer and longer between braking.  As I came across the finish line, an enormous sense of achievement, relief and excitement came over me.

Ian Wakefield

Ian Wakefield – Four Peaks – Stage 4

Final thoughts

I didn’t have to wait too long before my team mates Kathy and Mursel came in holding hands across the finish line, it was group hugs all round and an emotional visit to the podium for photos, it was going to take some time for it to sink in what we had all done and overcome.

Before the race I had designed some team jerseys, the motto on them was “Vincit qui se vincit” which translates as “He who conquers himself, conquers” we all conquered ourselves and I personally will treasure the memories and camaraderie from my team mates and other riders for many years to come.

Results

I finished 208 in the masters category which was won by Udo Bolts (GER) a twelve-time finisher of the Tour de France.  The overall race was won by Juri Ragnoli (ITA) who narrowly beat former world champion Christoph Sauser (SWI).

Back to Norfolk

Gressinghall

In years to come I’d like to look back at this blog and remember the times in my life which have been inspiring, emotional or significant.

Coming back to Norfolk is one of those significant moments.  In 1988 when I was 21 years old I left Norfolk and my hometown of King’s Lynn to work in Reading, Berkshire.  I remember clearly how difficult this was and how homesick I was early on.  Since then I have worked all over the country and lived in some beautiful places.

Over all that time, I came to appreciate what a special place Norfolk really was.  I kept thinking that if I’d never left, then I would have taken it for granted and probably would never really have appreciated it.

Twenty six years on and my life changed forever with the death of my father. With an uncertain future through self-employment, and a stream of trips from the Midlands to Norfolk sorting out my dad’s affairs, I started to feel that maybe the time had come to move back to be closer to my family.

I began applying for Jobs in Norfolk, and in July 2014 I was offered a Job at a charity in Norwich.  Finally I had the opportunity to move back to Norfolk, but this meant leaving behind my life in Loughborough and my girlfriend of five years, a heart breaking decision.

Mum helped me to find a cottage near Norwich, and when the time to move came, my brother came with a van to help me.  He later told me that as we passed through Clenchwarton where our dad had lived on our way to my new house, that he talked to dad and told him that he was bringing me home, needless to say this brought a lump to my throat.  My journey was equally emotional remembering all that I had left behind and thinking about the new life I had in front of me.

Bintry Mill, Bintree, Norfolk

Pictured: Bintry Mill, Norfolk where three generations of Wakefield’s lived, going back to the 1780’s.

Slowly I settled in to my house, work and routine.  I began to explore, and started with some of the places and people on my family tree.  I was now living two miles from where my grandfather was born, Swanton Morley.  For over twenty years I had pored over maps of the places my ancestors had lived trying to get a picture in my head of what it was like.  Now I lived there, and each cycle ride took me through the villages and past the houses where my ancestors had lived, loved and died, I felt at home.

Although I was enjoying making lots of new discoveries on my family tree, I really missed not being able to share them with my dad, who would have been interested I’m sure.

One of my favourite things to do in Norfolk, has been to ride for hours down tiny country lanes, ending with visits to friends and family.  The beautiful wildlife, endless beaches, big skies, picturesque villages and friendly locals always make for a memorable ride.

Pictured: Kessingland Beach, Suffolk, where my G G Grandfather Charles Bonney-Georges headless body was washed up in 1901.

Pictured: Kessingland Beach, Suffolk, where my G G Grandfather Charles Bonney-George’s headless body was washed up in 1901.

Many of my ancestors never left Norfolk, I’m starting to understand why …….

NB Featured picture is of the Gressenhall Workhouse gates, where another G G Grandfather Matthew Bowes lived and died.

 

 

Make yourself heard!

Marketing masterclass

I was recently asked by an old CIM colleague of mine Rob Gray to contribute to a piece he’d been asked to write for CIMSPA and their S&PA magazine.  I was flattered to be asked and delighted that the piece was published in October 2014.

It’s really a marketing masterclass aimed at the sports sector, and I really hope my former colleagues from CIMSPA and the sports sector found it insightful and useful.

Here it is – Marketing masterclass

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..

Shortly after the stage John Bridge OBE who is Chief Executive of the Chamber of Commerce in Cambridgeshire published an opinion piece which was very complimentary of the communications during the event here it is: John Bridge Chamber Opinion Piece Aug 14.

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

 

Update: 6th November 2014

Seven months after withdrawing funding, and with continued pressure from organisations such as GB Basketball, UK Sport reinstated funding to the tune of £1.18 million.  This followed a full review and consultation. This is a great result for British Basketball and many other sports and an acknowledgement that the previous funding criteria was flawed, if it was to encourage long term growth of team sports such as Basketball.

Here is a link to the story on the Great Britain Basketball website.