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



Thursday, 27 June 2013

Riding up mountains to Challenge Prejudice and Reduce Hatred.

At the end of last year I received a message on Twitter wishing me a happy birthday from the folks at Cosaveli with a request to get in touch to discuss a project. Always keen to explore new avenues, I gave them a call to see what was up. and my next big adventure began...

Cosaveli (www.cosaveli.com) are an Events company dedicated to creating extraordinary cycling experiences and raising massive amounts of money for charity. As a keen cyclist (obviously), the chance to participate in one of their events was a no-brainer, especially as their philosophy fit in perfectly with one of my stated aims for 2013: to help out with some charitable endeavours. I may come to regret the choice of event... but I suspect it will be a life-changing experience that I will remember for many years to come.

In July of this year I will be participating in the Trois √Čtapes (http://www.troisetapes.org). The Trois Etapes is the ultimate competitive Pro-Am cycling experience. The event is designed to give riders the chance to experience team cycling under race conditions, with the full support that a pro would have in a Grand Tour. The event is designed to incentivise tactical team riding. Each team of 8 riders (7 amateurs and 1 pro) has its own team car and Directeur Sportif. Every rider has a radio link with their team car and the Race Director.

The 2013 edition of the Trois Etapes will see 15 teams compete over four days (26-29 July) over a flat Prologue and three mountain stages whilst raising crucial funds for charities worldwide. And I... am the 'Pro' rider that is leading the team for The Anne Frank Trust (more to come on them shortly).

On the surface, it would seem like a poor choice of event for me. I mean... I can't climb, so why try and lead a team up riders up the Alps? Well, because I want to prove that I CAN climb. And that a guy with one leg is just as capable as riding as anyone else! The fact that the first day features a Prologue time trial in no way influenced my decision to come and show off my skills. (OK, it did. A lot actually!).

The event takes place about a month before my World Championships (coincidentally on an extremely hilly course in Canada) so I'll be using this event to try and hone my climbing skills. But it will be an honour and a privilege to help my team of riders up the climbs. Many of them are novice cyclists who will genuinely benefit from my experience and encouragement. (I'm hoping that there will be at least a few really good riders also that can head up the road to set a good time for our team!). The event is being film for Eurosport and Channel 4 also, so a great opportunity to get a little TV time.

So, that's the background on the event... but how about the more important aspect: the charity I'm riding for! When they asked me to lead the team for the Anne Frank Trust and I found out about their values, I knew it was a perfect fit. So who are the Anne Frank Trust?

The Anne Frank Trust (http://www.annefrank.org.uk) is named after Anne Frank, made famous by her diary, detailing her life during the time she hid from the Nazis in hidden rooms in her house in Amsterdam during the German occupation of the Netherlands. The stated aims of the Trust are "To challenge prejudice and reduce hatred by drawing on the power of Anne Frank's life and diary. To use that power to encourage people to embrace positive attitudes, personal responsibility, and respect for others."

After Anne's death in 1945, her father found and published her diary in order to help challenge the hatred that had killed his daughters.  With Anne's life and inspirational message as their anchor, the Anne Frank Trust works in schools, prisons and communities, educating people about the damage caused by all forms of prejudice and discrimination, and empowering each individual to take a stand against it.

Just a few hard facts I'd like to share...

HATE CRIME
A hate crime is an offence motivated by hostility based on disability, race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation.
• 11 out of every 1,000 crimes is a hate crime (Home Office 2012)
• 43,748 hate crimes were recorded in 2011-12 (Home Office 2012) 


PREJUDICE
• 64% of Britons feel less positive towards at least one minority group (Stonewall 2012) 
• 90% of teachers say their pupils have experienced homophobic bullying (Stonewall 2012) 
• 47% of Britons see Muslims as a threat (ESRC/ISER) 
• 8% increase in race crime in Scotland reported in 2011-12 (BBC News 2012)
• 29% rise in religiously motivated crime in Scotland reported in 2011-12 (BBC News 2012)
• 586 anti-Semitic incidents were logged by the Community Security Trust in 2011(Brin 2012)


As an athlete and person living with a disability, I'm no stranger to mild forms of prejudice. There are people out there that look down on me and my accomplishments and treat the Paralympic movement as some sort of pity exercise. I often find myself striving to try and change perceptions and overcome people's ideas of what is possible for people who are less-abled. My problems are minor in comparison to the hate and discrimination that many others face though. If my riding up giant mountains in France can somehow help lesson the burden that these people face, then it is my privilege to help out.

The event itself will no doubt push me to my limits. I'll be going up against other current and former Pro riders such as Tour winner Carlos Sastre, Songezo Jim, Evie Stevens, Jason White, Thorsten Wilheims, Craig Lewis, Adreas Klier, Daniel Lloyd, Mark Beaumont and Annie Simpson. Some teams and riders will be looking to win whilst others just to finish. After seeing some of the course profiles... I might just be happy to finish!



Monday, 24 June 2013

Mid-Season Review. This time with more hardware.

The saga continues...

This year, less writing and more riding. And the results are starting to show up because of it. I've chosen to focus less on my blog, and spend more time training. Although I'm still regularly found tweeting nonsense on Twitter!

But I'm back here again briefly to update everyone on how the season is going so far. And the news is good. When I last posted I was still struggling to get my TT bike set-up correctly. This has now been resolved and I find myself going faster than before and am much more comfortable than at the start of the season. This is due to the work of my coach and his partner - Ric Stern and Xavier Disley of RST Sports. Not only can I now ride the bike, but I'm much more aero than before. A win-win situation.

I've just returned from 3 weeks on the road. First up was back-to-back World Cup competitions in Italy and Spain. These are the first international races I've done since the Games in London. Crucial for determining where my form is in relation to the competition. And to see how much more work needs to be done to achieve my goal of winning the World's in September.

So... first up was Italy. Tucked away in the north-east corner of the country, nearly on the border of Austria was the little towns of Marlengo and Merano. More Austrian than Italian (possibly because it used to be part of Austria), it is located on the doorstep of the Dolomite mountains. Beautiful scenery and warm temperatures were in abundance.

The time trial was far from traditional. The course snaked it's way through an olive orchard (on paved farming roads), cutting left and right at 90° angles with great frequency before re-joining the main road. At one point we were even routed through a local garden centre car park en route to completing the second lap! And to finish it off – 1km almost straight up. A 15% climb to the finish line made it less of a time trial and more of a hill climb competition!

Climbing, especially on a TT bike, is not my strong suit. The goal for me in the TT was to try and make some time on the flat sections and limit my losses on the climb. I hoped to finish in the top 5, within 30 seconds of the leaders. After blasting my way around the course and pushing myself up the massive incline, I crossed the finish line in first place. This wasn't a huge surprise as I was only the 5th rider to start, with the riders before me being less-experienced than me. But as I sat there at the finish line, watching the leader board as each following rider came across the line, what WAS a surprise was that none of them were faster than me. FInally, one rider managed to beat my time (by a hefty margin). But that was it. None of the other riders beat me, leaving me with the silver medal.

All the riders that had beat me in London (and all of last year) were behind me. The only rider to beat me was a new rider from the USA. I had never competed against him before – and so went to introduce myself to him. Aaron was a true gent. He was genuinely pleased to meet me and a really nice guy to talk to. I hate it when your competition turns out to be so nice!  I could tell that he is definitely the guy to beat this year and without a doubt the toughest opponent I have faced. 

The next day we were off in the road race. This was a mostly flat but very technical circuit of the city streets of Merano. Constantly throwing yourself in and out of tight corners made passing very difficult. There was an uphill drag towards the finish as well to sap your energy before making the final turn into the start-finish straight which was all cobbled. You really had to be on top of your bike-handling skills for this one.

Lap after lap we blasted away. It felt like the race never let up. I was constantly battling to stay up with the lead group which I managed for most of the race. I also (thankfully) managed to avoid all the crashes – usually in the tight corners. In the end, I was overtaken on the final drag towards the finish but managed a very respectable 5th place. The American Aaron, who had beaten me convincingly in the TT, crashed into the barriers on the final corner – most likely on his way to winning the race. Last I heard, he had a broken wrist which will hamper his preparations for the World's a little, but I have no doubt that he will be there in fine form and will be on that podium with me. I just hope I'm on the top step!

That was it for Italy. We packed up and moved on to Spain. A familiar location as this would be my 4th year of racing there. This time there was the added bonus of having my parents and my girlfriend join me to see me race. Unlike previous years, this year would feature a new time trial course. And it was a course that suited me perfectly. Mostly flat, very little to deal with technically and good roads. I was definitely looking forward to this one!

Race day came and it was blisteringly hot. And while the course was flat, there was wind to contend with. It was a short route of about 5.5km in each direction – and we had to do 2 laps of it (22km in total). The key to doing well is good pacing – don't go too hard on the first lap and leave nothing in the tank for the second lap.

I executed the plan to perfection. Rolled down the start ramp and eased into my ride gently. Out on the open road I kept a watchful eye on my power readings and made sure not to push myself too hard, too soon. As I returned through the start-finish area at the end of lap 1, there were loads of people waving at me to slow down, which was odd I thought, as I was in the middle of a race! I sat up and eased my way past and started lap 2. I managed to catch and pass at least 2 riders, so was pretty sure I was having a good ride. Nevertheless, I keep to steady all the way.

After crossing the finish line it ended up taking a while to get official results. But finally the word came in: I had won! By a slender 2 seconds but a win nonetheless. It turns out the entire start-finish area had blown down shortly before I came through and they were telling me to slow down as the workers were actually holding it up, so we could ride underneath! I hadn't noticed - but it had cost me some time. 3rd place was 50 seconds back, so it had been a 2-horse race.

The road race was a disaster. 5 laps of a long, open course, that ended each time on a 750m, 7% COBBLED climb. The cobbles make it extremely difficult to get out of the saddle to pedal, so you have to sit and push up the hill. The worst possible scenario for me. On lap 2, I made a mistake at the top of the climb, lost the wheel of the person I was following and got dropped. I spent the entire next lap trying to catch up, but once out on the open section of the course – you were into a headwind and it was near impossible to make up any ground on your own. I battled on by myself for the rest (majority) of the race, eventually crossing the finish line in 10th place. This was important as it scored me valuable World Cup points. I now sit comfortably in 2nd place overall and with just one more round to go (in Canada, the week before the World Championships), there is a good chance I can still win the overall title.

And lastly, it was off to Ireland this past weekend for the National Championships. The time trial was held on Thursday night on a 40km-long course. Much longer than I normally race, but the course was (again) fairly flat and vast stretches of straight road. Wind was a huge factor here, and surviving the poor road surface would also be an issue.

I put in a decent ride. The only real hiccup was at about 4km from the finish when I lost my chain. I spent the next 30 seconds trying to get it back on, eventually having to stop the bike and put it back on with my hands! It cost me valuable time and a fair amount of stress. But in the end it didn't matter. I crossed the line only 11 seconds behind teammate Cathal Miller. But because he's in a much higher category than me (C5 vs C2), we use a factoring system to 'even out' the times. With the facored time I won by a healthy margin. Teammate Enda Smyth took up the 3rd step of the podium with an excellent ride of his own. If I hadn't lost my chain, I should have managed to set the fastest time straight up. But that's racing. Proud to add a National title to my palmares.

On the Saturday, I decided to try and race in the Vets (over-40) National Road Race Championships. This proved to be a HUGE mistake. I didn't even last 1 lap. And got dropped on the fast DOWNHILL part of the course of all places! 40mph - and I couldn't keep up. These guys are crazy-strong. But I've always said that road racing isn't my strong suit, especially against the best able-bodied Vets in the country.

So that's it! A good start to the season, followed by an even better middle section. But a massive amount of work to do to get ready for the World Championships now. No letting up!

I want to take this opportunity to once again thank to key sponsors that have supported me this year. I have had several equipment failures/breakages/issues that have been sorted out quickly thanks to the 2 main suppliers, and a few others have just been there to help keep me going!

So to Madison UK - thanks for the Cervelo P5 and Shimano parts (and most of all for sorting out the mech hanger when I was stuck for one in Spain), to Fisher Outdoor for sorting out my Look Pedals and fixing my broken Zipp wheel in a rush, and to the continued support of ZipVit (nutritional supplements and vitamins) and 3T (bars, stems, Aero Bars and wheels). You guys make winning possible!